Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Sin City - A Dame to Kill For, The Maze Runner

It's taking me longer than I anticipated to get back into the swing of reviewing things again here on Beta is Dead (the previous blog was actually started after I was half-way through this one). To make matters worse both the movies we’re looking at today are pretty much old news and you’ve already either seen them or at least decided that you’re not going to bother seeing them. The cost of being idle is high when you’re a writer, I guess.

Anyway today we’ll be looking at two film adaptations, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and The Maze Runner. Sin City 2 is the long promised sequel to the 2005 film and both movies are (mostly) based on the comic of the same name by Frank Miller. Now I’m not sure what the shit took so long for this movie to get made but here’s a list of movies Robert Rodriguez chose to direct over Sin City 2 during the near decade gap:

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005)

Planet Terror (2007)

Shorts (2009)

Machete (2010)

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011)

Machete Kills (2013)

No less than three kids films and a full length version of a fake trailer AND its sequel (neither of which were all that great). Planet Terror is the only film on that list that doesn’t feel like a waste of time to me. Oh yeah, Frank Miller directed The Spirit in 2008 and it was one of the worst films of the decade; that’s not as important but it’s still notable.

The Maze Runner is based on a young adult novel of the same name by James Dashner that originally came out in 2009. And…that’s pretty much all I know about it. The Maze Runner did extremely well in the Box Office while Sin City 2 was a major bomb, possibly the biggest bomb of the summer. But as we learned from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Dredd, and any Transformers movie monetary success does not always determine the film’s quality.

Two reviews after the jump.



Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Director(s): Robert Rodriguez; Frank Miller

Writer(s): Frank Miller

Starring: Josh Brolin, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Powers Boothe 

Like its predecessor Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is actually a collection of stories based on the original Sin City comics. Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private detective with a violent past, is contacted by his old girlfriend Ava Lord (Eva Green) who insinuates life with her wealthy husband is literal torture causing Dwight to act despite his better judgment. A gambler by the name of Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hits Sin City with the aim at crashing the back-room poker game of the corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe)…with deadly consequences. Several years following the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) the increasingly unstable Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) plots to murder the Senator Roark in revenge.

There was a time where I was incredibly excited for the prospect of a sequel to Sin City. There have been a couple of issues since that have put a damper on that; the abundance of similar movies in the interim, my growing anger and frustration at Frank Miller as a creator and a human being, and, of course, the fact that IT’S BEEN NINE F**KING YEARS SINCE THE LAST ONE!!! Seriously, any momentum Robert Rodriguez had from the original film was absolutely stone cold by the time this film hit. That’s at least 60% of the reason this film bombed so badly.

Only good things happen to "people of color" in Sin City, right?
 As for the film itself….meh. The effects absolutely were improved, with nearly a full decade passing it better had, so yes, everything was looking impressive in the visual category. Also the titular story, “A Dame to Kill For”, is just as good as anything from the first movie as it had me very invested despite the fact that I knew more or less how it would end. There were a lot of good performances in the film as well but I particularly enjoyed Eva Green, who seemed born to play the character of Ava Lord, and Mickey Rourke as Marv, who is just as good as in the previous film despite the novelty having worn off. JGL pretty much carries his story on his back as the cocky Johnny though there were other problems in that area that I’ll get into shortly. Powers Booth is solid as the evil Senator while Dennis Haysbert does a fine job at replacing the late Michael Clark Duncan as Manute. Josh Brolin is pretty good but, I don’t know, I think Clive Owen was better at playing the nice guy/volcano that was Dwight. The fact that Owen didn’t even make an appearance in this movie pisses me off greatly. I don’t know whose fault it was to not re-cast him, whether it was Rodriguez or even Owen himself, but that person deserves a backhand and possibly a follow-up spitting on. I’m going to go ahead and declare that to be a totally reasonable reaction to the situation.

The weakest parts of the film were the two original tales. While “The Long Bad Night” had all the potential in the world, and the charismatic JGL and Powers Booth work well together, it felt like the story didn’t go as far as it needed and ended more with a whimper than a bang. Meanwhile “Nancy’s Last Dance” is a bit of a mess. The whole story feels a bit less thought out than the ones from the original comic and came off more like a lackluster epilogue to “That Yellow Bastard” than anything else. Nancy is nowhere near as interesting or cool as the other point of view characters and since she’s the only female protagonist in any of the stories we’ve seen on the big screen I find that troubling. It feels like in order to give Nancy some characterization (which she didn’t have a ton of in the original) Frank Miller wrote her as an unstable drunk and I don’t think it worked. The suddenness of the conclusion of the story, and the film, didn't really help anything. The inclusion of Ghost John Hartigan was ridiculous and superfluous as his presence had no (or perhaps “incredibly little”) effect on the plot other than hijacking the narration. It felt like a lazy way to justify bringing Bruce Willis back and I really don’t think the plot needed him at all. Marv’s presence in the story is also a bit annoying mainly due to the fact that the film overused Mickey Rourke and by the last segment it had gotten pretty noticeable (though I can kind of understand the filmmakers’ logic since Marv is easily most interesting character in the franchise and “The Hard Goodbye” is the quintessential Sin City tale).

It's convenient that all these stories take place before Marv died in the first flick
 At the end of the day Sin City 2 fails to live up to the original and the sting of that fact is greatly increased by how goddamn long it took to get done. The parts of the movie that work are as good as anything Rodriguez and Miller did in the first film but the parts that did not work felt like pale imitations of the original; like a sequel someone did to cash in on the property. Of course those types of sequel usually don’t take ten years to make but whatever. A Dame to Kill For is decent and certainly not the worst movie I’ve seen this year by a wide margin. However as a whole it’s not a flick I feel a burning desire to ever see again and seeing how it’s predecessor is one of my favorite movies I find that very distressing.

I give Sin City: A Dame to Kill For 3 Adorable Pandas out of 5.



Pros 

-The story “A Dame to Kill For” recaptures the magic of the first film

-Numerous standouts in the cast

-The effects looked good

Cons 

-The original stories were disappointing at best

-The film overuses Marv

- Ghost John Hartigan was completely superfluous



The Maze Runner 

Director: Wes Ball

Writer(s): Noah Oppenheim; Grant Pierce Myers; T.S. Nowlin

Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Kaya Scodelario

A nameless, teenager with amnesia (Dylan O’Brien) awakens in an elevator as it makes it away to grassy valley. He is greeted by a group of boys who tell him that he is in the Glade. Their leader Alby (Aml Ameen) explains their situation: they live in this grassy area that is surrounded by a deadly maze and supplies are sent to them on a monthly basis along with a new boy. The maze is automatically locked at night and no one caught outside has ever survived. The teen eventually remembers his name is Thomas, but nothing else, and attempts to join the new society. Still he is greatly curious to about the maze despite only “Runners” being allowed to explore it. Not long after Thomas arrives a series of events begin to take place that not only put all of the boys in great danger but threaten to destroy everything they understand about the world.

I must report that despite absolutely nothing about this film appealing to me beforehand it was actually pretty good. I hadn’t even wanted to watch it; the movie theater botched the flick I was trying to see (Lucy) and instead I was allowed to see The Maze Runner in IMAX with no additional charge (and also a free movie pass, so I won’t be naming the theater’s name since I happily accept bribes). So perhaps it was because my expectations were so low but I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this flick. Aside from the plot moving too quickly, a common problem with films based on novels, I enjoyed the story and most of all I was very into the world they presented. The concept of the titular maze is fascinating and the execution of it in the movie itself was very interesting. There were aspects of the plot that I could see coming but at the same time there were some that I could not and was genuinely invested. Also there was genuine tension as no one seemed safe from the dangers of the Maze.

One has no personality, the other has a one-note personality
Clearly an ideal on-screen couple
The effects are pretty good for what the film was and the world we see looks very good. The action sequences tended to be pretty well paced and choreographed and I had a good time watching them. Granted a lot of them took place at night but things weren’t as difficult to see as in, say, Pacific Rim but then again it are a much different kind of movie.

That all said the world can be interesting and tension filled but without decent characters there’s only so far a story can go. Sadly this is where The Maze Runner trips and falls. The entire cast is made up of two-dimensional bores at best and pieces of cardboard at worst. Even Thomas, our protagonist, is pretty damn bland making it difficult to develop any emotion connection with him. He’s brave and he’s more inquisitive than his fellows but there’s little more to him than that. The worst culprit is Teresa whose main personally trait seems to be that she’s a girl and offers little else for the rest of the film. She is a prop or possibly even a plot device. Seeing as she’s pretty much the movie’s sole female character you’d think the filmmakers would actually make her, you know, an actual character but mostly she just stands around or talk to Thomas. Yay feminism?

The character Gally gets special mention as he’s written to have an antagonistic relationship with Thomas but the writers apparently decided not to give him any reason to have one. He’s a jerk and argumentative of the sake of someone needing to dislike the hero, which is hugely lazy and is evidence that the filmmakers don’t think very highly of their audience. As this flick is based on a young adult novel I’m fairly certain that that’s the case since I doubt Hollywood sees the fans of the original book as anything more than potential money bags.

Now if you haven’t already guessed I have not read the original novel (mainly because I’m, you know, thirty) so the differences in the adaptation doesn’t bother me. However as I understand it the movie takes A LOT of liberties with the source material. From seemingly little changes that have greater consequences to the story (Gally actually has a reason to mistrust Thomas in the book) to what appears to be a slightly different ending I imagine that anyone who loved the book may be put off since in some ways it’s not the same plot and doesn’t have the same characters. However if you’re like me and haven’t read the book you won’t care.

Seriously, Gally, what the f@#$ is your problem?
Still when watching the movie even I could tell there was something missing although that may have been the lack of likeable characters. A movie with a cast of wooden planks can only be so interesting but surprisingly The Maze Runner manages to be an entertaining romp despite its rather serious problems. As far as dystopian movies starring teenage characters go it’s fine and I imagine the target audience will like it (in fact it did very well in the Box Office) but even though it’s fun it never comes close to being a great movie. See it with your kids and you probably won’t go crazy while sitting through it.

I give The Maze Runner 3 Adorable Pandas out of 5.




Pros 

-Pretty decent plot

-Good action 

-Interesting world

Cons

-Weak characters

-The one female character is barely a character

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