With The Hunger Games series concluding more than two years ago and the Divergent series crashing and burning with its third film, the so-called Young Adult genre has all but died in the film world. That is not to say studios aren’t still trying to find the next Hunger Games, but they have become much more cautious with the amount of money they are throwing at dubious investments. In my review of Divergent, I talked about the correlation between box office draw and book sales for this genre, noting that many of the attempts at starting a franchise died after getting stuck on whatever is on the floor of a movie theater (Dave Barry dubbed it cinemuck) because studios were only paying lip service to book sales.
The Maze Runner debuted a few months after Divergent (in 2014) and, after a nearly-three year hiatus, is concluding with the third and final book of the trilogy, The Death Cure. As of early 2015, The Maze Runner series had sold more than ten million copies, so it probably sits somewhere around fifteen to twenty million total copies by now (it is much harder than you think to find book sales figures). Between that and the previous two films grossing north of $300 million each (on budgets of $34 and $61 million), 20th Century Fox could comfortably finish the trilogy, betting that the third movie will also turn a profit. That is, until they decided to open The Death Cure in January instead of September (like the last two films).
(Side note: James Dashner, author of the series, has written two prequels since concluding the trilogy, but those two books will almost definitely never see an adaptation.)
(Also, SPOILER ALERT, unless you’ve read the books.)
The hiatus I mentioned is one of the biggest problems with this film. Like others I spoke to prior to the film, none of us could remember much, if anything, about the previous film (or, as it turns out, the final book). The Death Cure begins with a train hijacking. The words you are looking for are “uh, what now?” I was completely confused by this scene because, again, I had forgotten 99% of The Scorch Trials. I remembered the main character, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), that a virus had infected most of humanity and turned them into zombies, and that the WCKD organization was trying to find a cure by terrorizing children, but I most definitely did not remember Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) or anyone having cars or trains. But, I remembered liking the books and being okay with the previous films, so train hijacking it is.
Thomas and friends are the hijackers, their goal being to rescue their friend, Minho (Ki Hong Lee). I really tried to enjoy this scene for the popcorn-action it was, but I have eyes and ears that were offended by the absurd contrivances and cliches that filled this scene. If you thought storm troopers and every bad guy in every episode of The A-Team were bad shots, wait ‘til you see the WCKD security troops’ lack of aim. At one point, Vince (Barry Pepper) jumps out from cover in front of several WCKD guys firing automatic rifles from about fifty feet away and isn’t so much as winged by a bullet. Meanwhile, Jorge avoids being blown up by a hover-plane that can defy gravity but doesn’t have automatic aim or guided missiles. Jorge manages to commandeer the plane, shows up at the train just as the WCKD troops are a couple dozen yards from the train and doesn’t shoot all of them to end the fight. Instead, they hook grapnels from the plane to one of the train cars and lift it into the sky with the hijacking crew dangling from the sides. And still the WCKD guys manage to hit nothing but air, probably because they were shocked that the train just happened to stop exactly where a bunch more of Thomas’ friends were hiding in anticipation of the train stopping exactly where they were hiding. I apologize for the detail here, but the entire movie plays out like that scene.
I’d like to tell you what the main plot of this film was, but I never figured it out. Minho wasn’t on the train car they stole, so Thomas decides he is going to storm WCKD’s home city (the last city still standing) to rescue Minho. Seriously, that is Thomas’ objective for the entire film. Meanwhile, WCKD is still trying to find a cure to the virus and has resorted to piping nightmares directly into Minho’s brain (while he’s still awake), hoping it will create enough midi-chlorians or something to kill the virus. I don’t know, but Minho sure looked scared.
“I’m pretty sure he’s divergent. I mean, uh…nevermind.”
At the city, Thomas and crew meet a guy (Walton Goggins) who is definitely infected, but who also says “I’m a businessman” when Thomas asks for help getting into the city. Based on the rest of the movie, his business is wholly composed of blowing a hole in the city wall as a suicide bomber so the rest of the infected mob can burn and pillage the city while murdering as many of its occupants as possible. All this after giving an Independence Day styled speech promising the people they can have the city instead of living outside the walls as refuse. What is happening?
Remember, everything that has happened in this trilogy is supposed to lead up to discovering the cure for the virus. Yeah, WCKD seems evil, but they are trying to save the entire human race and Thomas is actively fighting them and destroying everything in his wake in order to rescue one guy who might be the key to curing everyone. Given that scenario, it’s much harder to root for Thomas and against WCKD, but the movie makes it easy when they cast Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger) as the chief antagonist and everyone hates Littlefinger. At one point, Gillen’s character (Janson, WCKD’s chief of security – and, again, SPOILER ALERT) will shoot his colleague in the back after Thomas turns himself in and also after finding out Thomas’ blood contains the cure. In fact, Janson won’t stop shooting at Thomas for several minutes shortly thereafter. The most maddening thing of all is that death has nothing to do with the cure and the title promised us a death cure. The book actually does explain this, but I guess the screenwriter thought stealing the end of Divergent was more palatable than stealing the end of The Matrix trilogy.
“Why don’t we just do what we did in the book?”
Yes, I’m putting far too much thought into a movie whose writers clearly didn’t, but the shitty writing is a common theme among many of the YA films. Far too many of them end up junking the source material (which The Death Cure very much did), even though the source material is what everyone wants to see in the movie. The Death Cure was easily twenty minutes too long (at a very bloated and explosion-y 142 minutes) and somehow made most of its characters shallower in the process. I left the movie feeling disappointed because nothing is really resolved by the end and discovering the cure ended up being a MacGuffin. Mostly, I was just bored because the last film left zero impression on my memory so I didn’t care about any of these characters. But, hey, train hijacking.
Rating: Ask for all but a dollar back and hope the upcoming A Wrinkle in Time remembered what its audience is paying to see.
Raise your hand if you get super excited when you first hear about a new Gerard Butler movie. Anyone? No? Okay, raise your hand if you loved 300 and forgave Butler for doing bad rom-coms like The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter. Still nothing, huh? How about this – raise your hand if you are not the least bit surprised that a Butler-led film is opening mid-January because you have seen at least one of Geostorm, Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen, or Gods of Egypt. Ah, there we go. Sadly, I have seen three of those gems, so I fully expected Butler’s new Den of Thieves to remind us why we watch Oscar-bait in January instead of the usual drunken-mistakes that are dumped on us just after the New Year. To my astonishment, Den of Thieves did not vomit all over us.
(SPOILERS ahead, but you will still be able to drive home after.)
The film opens with a crew of four well-trained and heavily armed thieves stealing an armored truck. They have a shoot-out with the cops, a car chase, and escape into the depths of Los Angeles. The next morning, Big Nick (Butler) and his High Crimes unit of the LAPD investigate the crime scene, trade barbs with an FBI guy (only Nick, that is), and wonder why the thieves would steal an empty armored truck. While the two scenes are fairly typical for this type of movie, it sucks the audience in because we want to know why as well. Plus, we received free hats marketing the film prior to entering the theater, so the entire experience was quickly at plus-two.
Totally worth it.
Act one of the film is where I realized we were not watching a throwaway winter action flick. While some critics complained of a long running time (140 minutes for the full film), I was happy to see quality time devoted to fleshing out characters, which is most definitely not a hallmark of Butler films (though my wife would like me to mention that P.S. I Love You was a very good Butler film, character development and all. You’re welcome dear). In addition to getting a look into Nick’s professional and personal life, we learn a lot about the heist crew, led by Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber). You may remember Schreiber as Pornstache (Orange is the New Black), but where Pornstache was just creepy and not ripped, Merriman is menacing and looks like he could snap Big Nick in half. But, Merriman is also very intelligent and cool under pressure, which makes him that much more dangerous and intriguing as a villain. Merriman is the kind of guy you would not want to run into in a dark alley. Or a lit alley. Or ever.
On the same side of the coin, Nick appears to be just short of a criminal himself and definitely not a great human. He cares little for police procedure, has nothing but disdain for any authorities outside of his squad, and runs his squad much like a cartel boss. When his wife discovers he cheated on her with a stripper, she leaves with their two daughters and my reaction was “I kind of hope Merrimen shoots Nick.” As we did with Walter White, we are actively rooting for Merrimen to succeed in whatever heist he is planning and boy is it a doozy. Merrimen wants to rob the Federal Reserve Bank.
Borrowing heavily from Ocean’s Eleven (and other great heist movies), we get a detailed explanation of the plan, as well as a brief history of how close previous attempts came to success (none were even close). However, Den of Thieves has a trick up its sleeve. Nick has managed to turn one of Merrimen’s crew and the film takes a twist that is so surprising, my jaw audibly snapped open. I am going to stop there with regards to the plot, but we need to back up to talk about the characters a little more.
Even Butler is confused by the quality of this film.
There were a couple of scenes that felt out of place and pointless until I realized what the film was doing. The first act spent time establishing the professional credentials of our heroes and villains, but the second act spends time muddying the waters by making all of them seem very human. In one scene, Nick is served with divorce papers and my initial reaction was “who cares about paperwork in a heist film?” Then, Nick goes to see his daughter and breaks down crying in his truck. In another scene, Levi Ensen (50 Cent), one of the thieves, pulls the old intimidate-the-male-prom-date gag, but with added help from the entire crew. In both cases, the movie makes us re-evaluate our impressions of these guys, which makes it harder to root for either side. The idea that this movie might have multi-dimensional characters and a well-thought-out, tight plot never crossed my mind.
Without giving anything more away, the third act is one of the tensest pieces of film I have seen in a long time. Because the film did such a great job of blurring the traditional good guy/bad guy lines, I had no idea how the movie was going to play out. Everything was on the table – from everyone dying in a massive shootout to Nick and team thwarting the big heist to Merrimen and crew pulling of the job and shooting Nick in the face to Keyser Soze sneaking in, stealing the money, and killing everyone himself. The sky’s the limit!
In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed a movie I expected to be typical January/Butler garbage. Not only were my expectations ground into a fine powder by the film, but someone (namely director Christian Gudegast) finally figured out how to properly use Gerard Butler. Maybe I will give Geostorm a chance.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back. Aside from the Oscar-bait, you won’t find any better this time of year.
Happy 2018 everybody. As we welcome in 2018, I’m hoping to spend a lot of executive time in my shithole. If you were wishing for 2018 to be a fresh start, keep on wishing everybody. On behalf of all non-deplorable Americans, I apologize to Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Africa, Norway, the Netherlands, children (immigrant and non-immigrant), elephants, the dictionary, geniuses, and oceanic life (this is not a comprehensive list) for the last eleven days and almost all of 2017. We don’t know who the human (?) occupying the White House will insult or attack next, but we are as concerned as you are. Please remember that he does not represent or speak for the majority of us and that we hope this nightmare ends as quickly as you do. In the meantime, please enjoy this token of our appreciation – a movie starring Liam Neeson, an Irish-American immigrant raised in a working class family who hasn’t fled the United States yet.
(SPOILER ALERT. I’m sorry again.)
In The Commuter, Neeson plays Michael McCauley, an Irish immigrant, ex-cop, insurance salesman who really wants to make sure every knows he is sixty years old. He commutes by train into New York City every day for work and knows all the regular riders’ faces. He has done everything right in life (according to himself and his boss), but is unexpectedly fired one day and, instead of a severance package, is given a health insurance policy as a parting gift on his way out the door. I can’t prove Mitch McConnell wrote that little nugget into the screenplay, but demonizing healthcare by using it to slap an elderly Irish immigrant in the face is definitely the brain child of an (R).
(Note: Casting Liam Neeson as an Irish immigrant is a little too on the nose.)
Did I mention I was old? And Irish?
On his (presumably) last train ride home, Michael is pondering how he is going to break the news to his wife and pay his son’s college tuition when a woman (Vera Farmiga) sits down and starts chatting his ear off. Since Michael is a much more pleasant seatmate than Ann Coulter, he indulges the woman, who proceeds to offer up a hypothetical question – for $100K, would he perform a task that is meaningless to him, but has consequences to someone else (the task being simply to identify a stranger on the train and plant a GPS tracker on the person’s bag)? He immediately asks appropriate questions, so we know he has morals, but he also just lost his job and has two mortgages, so we know he will take the bait (if he finds and takes the $25K she hid in the bathroom, he is effectively agreeing). However, he immediately has second thoughts, but train lady (who departed the train promptly after the conversation concluded, but contacts him via phone) is having none of it. She quickly resorts to threats (against his family) and tells him he has until the last stop on the line to finish the job. Had the writers put as much effort into thinking out the rest of the plot as they did the opening scene depicting Michael’s commute (quasi-time lapsed over ten years), the movie would have been extremely compelling and a thrill to watch. Instead, we got a half-hearted movie asking the question “who dat?” while Michael fumbles back and forth through the half-dozen train cars for the majority of the film.
One glaring problem with the film is that Michael, as written, is a terrible choice for train lady’s game and this movie. He comes off like a stranger on the train, even though the film goes out of its way to make sure we know he has ridden this particular train route every day for ten years. He interacts with a couple of familiar people occasionally, but even one of the regular train attendants treats Michael like he’s never met him. Plus, the film pounds home that Michael is an ex-cop, but has the investigative and interrogation skills of a towel rack. To be fair, he quickly narrows down the list of suspects by looking at ticket stubs that are conveniently sticking up out of every seat on the train (the ones getting off at the stop identified by train lady), but after that he has to strike up conversations with them to further his quest. To put it mildly, his people skills are the equivalent of a nerdy middle school boy trying to ask his crush out for hamburgers, but the boy is also a bull and his crush is the china shop. Mixed metaphors aside, we’re fairly sure why he’s an ex-cop and an ex-salesman.
I’m going to spend the vast majority of this film as a disembodied voice. That’s why I’m dressed like this.
Because Michael’s skill set is never established, we are forced to endure a string of awkward confrontations ranging from Michael harassing a teenage girl to mad-dogging a tough-guy during an impromptu Texas Hold ‘Em game. It’s like the writers had no idea that if anyone knows how to talk to people, or at least strike up conversations, it’s insurance salesmen, closely followed by cops. Thus, the audience is left wondering when Taken-dad will show up and start bad-assing his way around the train and investigation because this is a Liam Neeson film; how could it not?
Michael isn’t the only part of the script that the writers flubbed. Another is in train-lady’s approach. Instead of just assuming he was up to the task, she should have given him a truly innocent task to complete to begin with and just claimed to be spicing up an otherwise long, monotonous journey. She also should have stayed on the train, which would have added a really fun dynamic to the investigation, as she could have remained really ambiguous to the audience and kept Michael from getting so suspicious. Unfortunately, the production studios don’t listen to my Movie Fixers Podcast, so I wasn’t consulted to prevent this sorely lacking screenplay from being shot on film.
Hey guys? San Neill here. I’m in this movie too, you know!
The third, and biggest whiff, was in the climax. Again, SPOILER ALERT, but what the hell was the end game for train-lady after Michael failed the quest? Train-lady’s proxy (who was telegraphed in this film, by the way), reveals himself to the fifteen people left on the train (after a physics-defying crash that left the audience in hysterics at what clearly was not intended as comedy) while completely surrounded by cops and demands Michael reveal the identity of the suspect. Part of the plan was to frame Michael for everything, but Proxy just told everyone that Michael was telling the truth about everything and Proxy has a gun with far fewer bullets than people on the train, one of which must be used to kill the suspect. Plus, snipers have a magic color-coder scope that marks Proxy and can see all of the passenger’s heat signatures through the walls of the train car. In other words, they will literally see Proxy kill everyone on the train (which is apparently plan C). Thankfully, I wasn’t the only person laughing during this nonsense.
After the movie was over, I tried to talk myself into liking this film, but myself just wasn’t having it. If you don’t scratch the surface of the film, don’t need anything more than watching Liam Neeson fight a few people, and don’t host a podcast devoted to identifying and fixing flaws in movies, you’ll probably be satisfied with The Commuter. It has the bones of a very cool movie, but was released in early January for a reason. Like most Neeson-led flicks post-Taken, you’ll probably forget you saw The Commuter within a week because it isn’t good enough to chat about or bad enough to complain about. Well, unless you make that commute too.
Rating: Ask for seven dollars back and donate it to any charity helping people listed in the first-paragraph apology.
Are you a #Regulator or an #Outlaw? Pick a side and go see #DenOfThieves in theaters January 19. OR click the link for your chance to download a printable pass for you and a guest to attend the advance screening on January 17! http://stxtickets.com/WORLDVIRALTV
DEN OF THIEVES (STXFilms)
Opens: January 19th, 2018
Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Brian van Holt, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Story by: Christian Gudegast & Paul Scheuring
Screenplay by: Christian Gudegast
Director: Christian Gudegast
DEN OF THIEVES is a gritty Los Angeles crime saga which follows the intersecting and often personally connected lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank of downtown Los Angeles.
Do you want to see FOREVER MY GIRL before it hits theaters? Well send your full name and birthdate to AlliedIMDenver@gmail.com and enter subject line ‘MY GIRL’ for your chance to win two reserved seats at the advance screening on Tuesday, January 16th at 7:00PM in Denver! Entry deadline is Monday, January 15th, winners will be notified then! FOREVER MY GIRL opens in select Denver theaters in January.
Release Date: January, 2018
Synopsis: A music superstar reunites with his first love and realizes the steep price he has paid for his success in Forever My Girl, an uplifting and emotional romance based on the novel by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heidi McLaughlin. Liam Page (Alex Roe) and his high-school sweetheart Josie Preston (Jessica Rothe) were the golden couple of Saint Augustine, Louisiana, until Liam left her at the altar for a shot at fame and fortune. Eight years later, Liam returns to his tiny hometown for the first time as a world-famous recording artist, but not even his own father is thrilled to see him. As he tries to rebuild the bridges he burned years earlier, Liam reconnects with his small-town roots, his close-knit community and Josie, the girl he left behind. As he attempts to reclaim everything he loved and lost, Josie does her best to keep him out of her heart, but life has one more surprise waiting for Liam, one that could change everything, in this heartwarming look at love, family and second chances.