Film Reviews: The Maze Runner & Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For

These reviews were originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30 September 2014.

Film Review: The Maze Runner

Based on yet another young adult fiction book series that you will never read, The Maze Runner initially shows promise. Within seconds, the audience is thrust into the action as our amnesiac protagonist arrives via elevator at “The Glade”. We share his disorientation as he attempts to remember who he is, establish his place within the primitive society developed by his fellow inmates and discover why he has been dropped into the middle of a giant labyrinth.

I had high hopes for this film. Sure, I prefer my labyrinths with Muppets, Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie (in a fright wig) but the premise intrigued me. Unfortunately, what first time feature director Wes Ball delivers is a fun ride which ultimately frustrates.

This truly is a teen action film by numbers. We have a dystopian future where unprepared teens are thrown into a deadly high concept arena as part of some nefarious conspiracy. Sound familiar?

As the lead, Dylan O’Brien (TV’s Teen Wolf) is appealing but certainly does have the charisma that Jennifer Lawrence radiates in The Hunger Games franchise. Actor on the rise, Will Poulter (We’re the Millers, Son of Rambow) impresses as the alpha male of the group. In a testosterone heavy cast, lone female castaway Kaya Scodelario (TV’s Skins) does her best with an underwritten role.

The film hits its stride once we leave The Glade (think Lord of the Flies meets Peter Pan’s Lost Boys meets an all male summer camp) and start exploring the deadly titular labyrinth. The set designs are inspired, as are the deadly spider-like Grievers which roam the maze.

By the last act, it becomes clear that no resolution will be given to any plot strands. The credits roll on a cliffhanger and you’ll leave the cinema with nothing but questions and a slightly bad taste in your mouth.

Film Review: Sin City : A Dame to Kill For

From the “sequels that no-one asked for” department comes the follow-up to the visually stunning and highly original Sin City (2005). By virtue of being more of the same, co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have managed to concoct three more graphic novel-inspired noir tales that now have little impact from a visual style perspective. And also now in pointless 3D.

The majority of the original cast return for this outing, including Mickey Rourke as the overcoat wearing killer Marv. Well received as a supporting character in the original, gruff tough guy Marv is now a central character, which for me is now a case of too much of a good thing. Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba reprise their roles, joining newcomers Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin and a very naked Eva Green.

The bullets fly and the white blood flows thick. Once you become accustomed (or re-accustomed) to the visuals, it’s just a matter of whether you appreciate the very deliberate storytelling style of the film. I didn’t. I just felt completely disconnected from what was happening on the screen. Maybe that is the desired effect.

Strangely released during the school holidays, this particularly non-kid friendly film is likely to sink without a trace at the box office. Wait for the DVD, or even better still, read the graphic novel.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:28  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: Searching for Sugarman

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on 3rd March 2013.

This year’s Oscars came and went with few surprises. Sure, Christoph Waltz beat out everybody’s favourite curmudgeon Tommy Lee Jones in the Best Supporting Actor category. And solid thriller Argo took out the Best Picture gong, over my pick, the brilliant Zero Dark Thirty. All of the other major categories fell as predicted to deserving winners in an awards ceremony that is rapidly losing relevance.

As always, picking up an Oscar directs millions of extra eyeballs towards a film. Argo, a movie that pretty much everyone except me had seen before the ceremony, will benefit with a boost in retail sales and rentals. Hell, even my mother was raving about Argo in January. I’ve since caught up, but for my money, the film that deserves its dues post-Oscars is the winner of the Best Documentary category, the amazing Searching for Sugarman.

Directed by Swede Malik Bendjelloul, the film focuses on Sixto Rodriguez, an American folk musician who recorded two little heard albums in the early seventies, Cold Fact and Coming from Reality, and then disappeared without a trace. In a bizarre twist of fate, a copy of Cold Fact made its way to South Africa, where Rodriguez’s anti-authoritarian lyrics found an audience in a country at war with itself over apartheid.

Half a million copies of Rodriguez albums were sold in South Africa, however, due to its political isolation for much of the seventies and eighties, little else was known about the singer. All they had was his likeness which adorned his record covers. Rumours circulated about his suicide which eventually became accepted fact.

The documentary follows two Cape Town fans, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, as they set out in the late nineties to find out what really happened to Rodriguez.

It would be a crime for me to say anything else about what happens next. What’s important is that you do not read anything else about this film (besides this review) before you see it.

The soundtrack, which consists of original Rodriguez tunes, is magnificent and I’m sure, like me, you’ll be adding a copy Cold Fact to your shopping list before the credits end.

Searching for Sugarman is a fascinating tale about a musician who unknowingly became an icon. His story and the search to find him are unbelievable, if not for the fact that it is a true tale. The film is a near perfect example of storytelling at its finest, and will stay with you long after its 86 minute running time.