Wednesday, November 12, 2014

John Wick


-->DIRECTOR:  Chad Stahelski  LEAD CAST: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen  SCREENWRITER: Derek Kolstad PRODUCERS: Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria   FILM EDITOR: Elizabet Ronaldsdotir            MUSIC: Tyler Bates, Joel Richard  GENRE: Action, thriller CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jonathan Sefa  DISTRIBUTORS: Warner Bros Pictures  LOCATION: New York, USA. RUNNING TIME: 101 mins.
Technical assessment:  3   Moral assessment:  2  CINEMA rating:  V18
Keanu Reeves plays the title character John Wick, a mob assassin who would quit upon falling in love and settling down in marriage. Five years later, his wife dies, but not before she arranges for a dog to be brought to Wick to keep him company after her death.  One day some punks fancy Wick’s car, and failing to grab it from him break into his home that night, searching for the car keys to drive away in the coveted vehicle.  They kill the dog to silence it, and then beat up Wick.  The incident brings Wick out of retirement, and soon learns the leader is Josef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), the son of his former employer, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist).  Viggo dispatches a number of his black-suited thugs to get rid of Wick, while Wick sets out to hunt down Viggo’s son with an ad hoc team composed of former associates, old friends and even enemies (John Lequizamo, Willem Dafoe, Ian MacShane, Adrienne Palicki).
John Wick is an unabashed kick-butt movie whose main protagonist is a seething volcano beneath a placid lake.  Reeves’ screen persona is the strong, silent type; he has never been known to portray roles that require hyper-articulation (think Robert Downey Jr.) or a touch of flamboyance (think Johnny Depp).  
His most potent asset is his screen presence, a mixture of vulnerable looks and dynamic choreography that usually wins audience sympathy.

This very combination, however, tends to make the theme of John Wick—revenge—more palatable than it should be.  Wick’s love-driven retirement as a hit man is a positive value but when his brooding pushes him back to being a killer, something needs to be deeply examined here.  Wick’s lethal prowess overshadows the erstwhile promise of his transformation, leaving behind a trail of dead human beings that’s hardly worth a pet dog and a car, no matter that the dog is from a beloved wife and the car a 1969 Ford Mustang.  The picture of the Wick character that emerges from all the blood drained and the necks snapped is that of an emotionally inert killer who can not extricate himself anymore from the underworld.  John Wick is showing what a career in killing does to a man—despite the power of love Wick loses the moral strength to overcome himself.  He ceases to be a human being—instead he is reduced to being a force of nature, a volcano, a hurricane or a tsunami that has the power to destroy but has no strength to control itself.  He could very well have been named not John Wick, but John Weak.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Judge

DIRECTOR:  David Dobkin  LEAD CAST: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent DOnofrio, Jeremy Strong  SCREENWRITER: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque  PRODUCER:  Susan Downey, David Gambino, David Dobkin  EDITOR:  Mark Livolsi  MUSIC:  Thomas Newman  GENRE:  Drama  CINEMATOGRAPHY: Janusz Kaminski  DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros  LOCATION:  United States  RUNNING TIME:  2 hours, 20 minutes
Technical assessment: 3.5    Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating:  V14   MTRCB rating: PG                                  
Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.), a top-notch lawyer in Chicago, returns to his hometown after so many years in Carlinville, Indiana, to attend his mother’s funeral.  His visit evokes memories of his past, touching wounds caused by the estranged relationship with his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall).  This makes him want to fly back to Chicago soon after the funeral. On the plane, he receives a phone call from his brother telling him that their father has been arrested for murder charges. This compels him to stay on so he could defend his fathera reputable judge of their town. However, the cobwebs of their family’s past, hurts and grudges will not make it easy for both of them to win the case. 
The Judge is an intense family-court drama highlighting the acting prowess of Downey and Duvall. The father-son complex dynamics set in the legal back drop is interesting enough to make the film stand for the rest of the running time. However, the excessive subplots that are mostly unnecessary and left unresolved distract the film from its central conflict and do not add-up to the otherwise compelling narrative. The film’s best moments are the ones that are quiet, honest, and simple—the father-son, father-daughter, grandfather-granddaughter, brother-brother scenes are very basic ones but emotionally charged. Most of the film’s highlights happen in the courtroom but the real drama lies in the quietness of moments when we see the complicated web of emotions displayed in the conversations and confrontations of the lead characters, and even in scenes when we literally hear nothing but pregnant pauses and angst-filled stillness.
Amidst the courtroom drama and familial conflict, forgiveness and integrity are at the core of the film. Hank’s and Judge Joseph’s characters are equally complex and complicated. Both are resentful and have axes to grind with each other. Both are good legal authorities, Hank as a lawyer, and Joseph as a judge. The audience can see clearly where both are coming from as the narrative unfolds. Both are neither really good nor really bad….they are just byproducts of their past. But then, the present compels both men to make difficult decisions—this time around, each has a different take on the law. Here, it is clearly depicted that wisdom comes with age as Judge Joseph stands firm on his integrity as a judge—to uphold the law even if it would result in his own incarceration—given his delicate condition. Integrity above self—that is what he wants to imply. He resents the time when he had to bend the law for emotional reasons.  Hank has to learn all this in time—that sometimes, it is necessary to lose a case for the greater good. The law makes everyone equal, and that is very clear in the film. As Hank comes to this realization, he slowly starts to melt down and forgive his father, and himself. Most commendable in the film is highlighting the significance of love and family in anyone’s life—whatever your stature is. In the end, no matter what one has achieved, one would always come back to his or her roots. Achievements are nothing compared to meaningful relationships one builds—and it starts with the family where everyone is accepted (Hank’s youngest brother is intellectually challenged, yet he is very much loved in the family), where everyone makes sacrifices (Hank’s eldest brother, Glenn, has given up baseball for the sake of family), and everyone loves everyone in their own ways. Sometimes, they fail each other, but no one really fails in love. And that’s what The Judge really all about—love that is thicker than blood. However, some subplots distract the film from the core message—there is the insinuation of possible incest which is totally unnecessary, and the unresolved marital conflict of Hank that stayed in the backseat while he makes amends with an old flame. These create confusion even if they are just in the sidelights. CINEMA finds the film suitable only to audience 14 and above.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gone Girl


Director: David Fincher; Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris; Story and Screenplay: Gillian Flynn; Cinematographer: Jeff Cronenweth; Editor: Kirk Baxter; Musical Director: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross; Producers: Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon; Genre: Drama-Suspense; Location: Missouri; Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics; Running Time: 149 minutes;

Technical assessment: 4   Moral Assessment: 2.5
MTRCB : R13   CINEMA rating: V18

Nick Dunne (Affleck) comes home on his 5th wedding anniversary but instead he finds his house in disarray and his wife, Amy (Pike), missing. The media pick up on the story as Amy is a celebrated New York children’s book author and the entire community begins to support the search for her. The local police, led by Detective Boney (Dickens), uncover a trail of clues supposedly left by Amy for Nick’s anniversary treasure hunting, and evidence against Nick’s violent nature and murder cover up begin to surface. The Nick and Amy love story unfold from opposing views of Nick’s narration and Amy’s diary, but the truth is soon learnt.
David Fincher’s Gone Girl is a flawless adaptation of its literary counterpart. Viewers hold their breath as much as the readers did at every turn of Gillian Flynn’s book. The plot is a genius of a narrative with unexpected reveals and intelligent developments. The unparalleled timelines and non-linear storytelling heighten the tension of the mystery like the flawless icing of a perfectly baked cake intoxicating the viewers to hang on to each scene. Love gone sour is not a new storyline but in the creative visions of Flynn and Fincher, the ill-fated Nick-Amy love affair turns brilliantly evocative. Affleck, Pike and Dickens deliver a restrained but powerful interpretation of their characters. So do all the other supporting and minor casts who play their roles with deliberate passion and rawness. The screenplay is witty and almost haunting. There are several memorable and quotable lines, not only because of the cadence and rhythm but because viewers feel these lines are spoken directly to them. The ending might not work well with everyone but it does disturb deep enough to make the viewer flinch and rethink his personal life. Gone Girl is one of those masterfully adapted films that work with or without the book.
Gone Girl pokes at two things: marriage on trial and media giving trial. On the one hand, we see ordinary couple falling in and out of love, building and breaking a relationship. While Amy’s character has some psychological issues that probably rationalize her crimes, we have to see how Nick and Amy decided to move on with their marriage when faced with a financial crisis at first and emotional crisis eventually. Marriage needs work from both parties. Working to keep the marriage requires two ingredients: honesty
and selflessness. These go beyond simple commitment and romance because when a partner decides to live for himself and bend the truth, a relationship is doomed.
On the other hand, we see how razor sharp media is in sensationalizing to the point of satire. Did media live up to its purpose to expose the truth or a truth that sells? Did media become a stronghold for the voiceless or was it merely a reenactment of selective voices that make the ratings?  Media in Gone Girl is a mockery of the profession as it is in real life these days. Sadly, a lot of people choose to buy and swallow sensationalism rather than become discerning and informed viewers.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Trial


DIRECTOR:  Chito Rono  LEAD CAST:  John Lloyd Cruz, Richard Gomez, Jessy Mendiola, Gretchen Barretto, Enique Gil, Sylvia Sanches, Vincent de Jesus  PRODUCER & DISTRIBUTOR:  Star Cinema GENRE:  Family drama  LOCATION:  Philippines  RUNNING TIME:   132 minutes
Technical assessment: 3   Moral Assessment: 3  MTRCB rating: R13   CINEMA rating: V14 
Guwapo at mabait pero “mentally challenged” si Ronald, (John Lloyd Cruz), naglilingkod bilang hardinero sa isang paaralan upang makapagtapos siya ng elementarya.  Nagsisilbing “tutor” niya ang gurong si Bessy (Jessy Mendiola) na itinuturing naman siyang kaibigan.  Ngunit “in love” si Ronald kay Bessy, at sa kanyang payak na pang-unawa, mahal din siya ni Bessy.  May kakalat na video ng dalawa na mukhang ginagahasa ni Ronald si Bessy.  Madedemanda si Ronald ng “rape”, at magsisimula ang masalimuot na takbo ng tahimik nilang buhay.
Maganda at nakaduduro ng isipan ang kuwentong hinangad na isalaysay ng The Trial, at hindi rin karaniwan ang ganitong tema sa industriya ng pelikulang Pilipino, bagay na nagsilbing hamon sa mga nagsiganap.  Bagama’t pasado naman ang pagganap ng karamihan sa mga tauhan, minsan ay “magaralgal” ang atake nila Gomez at Lloyd Cruz sa kani-kaniyang mga papel—nasasapawan ng kanilang imahen bilang mga artista ang katauhang kanilang kinakatawan sa pelikula.  Yon bang, hindi ka nila “madala” sa pag-arte nila, naroon pa rin sa likuran ng isip mo na “Sine lang yan, yan si John Lloyd, iyan si Richard.”  Hindi rin makinis ang pagkakatagni-tagni ng mga pangyayari, para tuloy “inimbento” lang ang storya para makagawa lang ng pelikula.  Kulang sa realismo ang characterization, at maraming “daplis” o “inconsistency” ang katauhan ni Ronald, pero maayos ang pagkakaguhit ng ginampanan ni Mendiola.
Maganda ang hangarin ng The Trial na ipagtanggol ang mga “kapos” sa kakayahan ng isip, at batikusin ang mga huwad na pagmamamabuti ng ilang mga nakaaangat sa buhay.  Sana’y pinalalim pa nito ang mensaheng iyon, pero hindi ito nangyari.  May isang malaki at maling hakbanging ginawa ang The Trial na nakabawas sa kabubuan ng magandang hangarin at mga katangian nito.  Iyon ay ang pagtuon ng labis na pansin sa relasyon ng mag-asawang Gomez at Baretto bilang Atty. Julian at Amanda Bien na tumutulong sa kaso ni Ronald.  Talos naming dapat sabikin ang manonood sa katotohanang huhubaran sa dulo ng pelikula, pero nakaka-labnaw sa halaga ng pangunahing mensahe ng The Trial sub-plot ng mag-asawang magusot ang buhay.  Oo nga’t mabuti ang ipinakitang pagpapatawad at pagkakasundo ng mag-asawa pero minadali ito, kulang sa lalim—bagay na naging sanhi ng pagsasanga ng layunin ng pelikula.  Pag may nagtanong sa iyo tuloy kung tungkol ba sa ano yung The Trial, malamang hindi mo masasabi kung ito ba’y tungkol sa paglilitis na mag-aangat sa ating kamalayan hinggil sa taong tulad ni Ronald, o tungkol sa happy ending na dinala ng paglilitis?  Kayo ang humusga.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Equalizer

DIRECTOR:  Antoine Fuqua  LEAD CAST:  Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, ChloĆ« Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo  SCREENWRITER:  Richard Wenk, Michael Sloan  PRODUCER:  Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Tony Eldridge, Mace Neufeld, Michael Sloan, Steve Tisch, Denzel Washington, Richard Wenk  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Harry Gregson-Williams  CINEMATOGRAPHER  Mauro Fiore  EDITING: John Refoua  GENRE:  Action, Crime, Thriller  LOCATION:  USA  DISTRIBUTOR:  Columbia Pictures  RUNNING TIME:   132 minutes 
Technical assessment: 3.5  Moral assessment:  2  MTRCB rating: R16  CINEMA rating: V18 
On a self-imposed retirement and turning his back on his unexplained past, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is an unobtrusive and affable figure who lives alone and daily takes the bus to work.  He leads a quiet life working as a shelf-stocker at a home improvement chain store; his spare apartment, all-natural diet, his mantra “body-mind-spirit”, and his neat appearance indicate his passion for order.  An insomniac, he whiles away his nights reading a book while sipping tea at a nearby diner where he meets Teri (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz), an underage prostitute shabbily treated by her Russian handlers.
The “equalizer” in the story is a retired CIA agent programmed to kill, and it is in this area that The Equalizer earns points for its lead star’s performance as a well-intentioned, conflicted killing machine, a perfect role for 59-year old Washington.  The plot is as old as time itself, drawing inspiration from the welding of Robin Hood and MacGyver attributes, and rather predictable: the exploited and helpless are helped by a character who can’t remain unmoved by injustice.  The protagonist is no superhero boasting (CGI-assisted) superhuman feats; and although his efficiency in accomplishing his murderous objectives is quite remarkable, his genius still falls within the bounds of human possibilities.
What can the viewer bring home from watching a slow-burn thriller that’s The Equalizer?  The story is not about gangsters although it condemns them, nor about the oppressed although it defends them; it is a character study about a man seeking redemption from his past transgressions but knows of only one path to find it.  If the skill to kill were a gift, this “equalizer” would be super-gifted.  In any given situation the killer is in his elements, moved more by intuition than by instinct, a made and not a born murderer.  The tandem of director Fuqua and actor Washington (Oscar winner in Training Day) works well to make a heroic figure out of a criminal.  Here lies the danger: a congenial actor playing a vigilante figure would make it easier for viewers to cheer for violence, after all, the bad guys are consummate masters of atrocity here.  As you, the viewer, leave the cinema and The Equalizer sinks deeper into your mind and images of the brutal killings done in the name of justice cling to your memory, you might want to ponder the gray zone humanity has wandered into—“making the wrong choices to get to the right place.”

Hari ng Tondo

DIRECTOR: Carlos Siguion-Reyna  LEAD CAST: Robert Arevalo, Rez Cortez, Cris Villonco  SCREENWRITER:  Bibeth Orteza  PRODUCER:  Bibeth Orteza  PRODUCTION COMPANIES: Reyna Films, Central Digital Labs  EDITOR: Manet Dayrit  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Mike Salomon  GENRE:  Drama, Family  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jay Abello  DISTRIBUTOR:  Star Cinema Productions  LOCATION: Philippines RUNNING TIME:  91 mins

Technical assessment: 4   Moral assessment: 2.5  CINEMA Rating:  V 14
Nang mapag-alaman ng mayamang negosyanteng  si  Ricky (Robert Arevalo) na nauubos na ang kanyang yaman, nakita niya ito bilang resulta ng pagiging maluho ng kanyang mag-anak na nahirati na sa marangyang buhay. Dahil dito, upang paigtingin ang kanyang punto, nagdesisyon siyang bumalik sa lugar kung saan siya nagmula bago siya umasensoang Tondo. Magbabalik siya sa lugar at maninirahan sa isang pag-aari niyang gusali. Hahamunin din ni Ricky ang kanyang dalawang apo (Cris Villonco at Rafa Siguion-Reyna) na sumama sa kanya upang mas lalo pa silang matuto sa buhay—malayo sa karangyaan na kanilang kinagisnan. Tutol naman dito ang mga anak at manugang ni Ricky (Eric Quizon, Ali Sotto, Audie Gemora) kaya’t gagawa sila ng paraan upang isabotahe ang plano ni Ricky sa pamamagitan ng pakikipagsabwatan sa katiwala (Rez Cortez) nito.
Malinis ang pagkakagawa ng Hari ng Tondo. Mayroon itong kwentong busilak sa katotohanan ng lipunan at naglalayong imulat ang manonood sa maraming usapin na malimit ay nakakaligtaan. Naiparating nito ang mensahe sa pamamaraang hindi melodramatiko at malabis na realismo kundi sa mahusay na paghahalo ng drama at katatawananang resulta’y isang bagong mukha ng Tondo, isang Tondong puno ng pag-asa sa kabila ng dumi at kahirapan.  Bagay na bihira nating masaksihan.  Walang itulak-kabigin sa galling ng pagganap ni Arevalo pati na ng lahat ng mga nagsiganap. Natural ang kanilang pag-arte at nababagay sila sa kani-kanyang papel.  Sila ang mga nagpa-igting sa kabuuang galing ng pelikula. Maganda at maayos din ang kuha ng kamera. Ang daloy naman ng kuwento ay madaling sundan at may maayos na sanga-sangang kuwento na sumasalamin sa mukha ng Tondo.
Isang mundo na desperado, nakasadlak sa kahirapan ngunit nanatiling may pag-asa—iyan ang bagong Tondo na ipinakita sa pelikula. Kahanga-hanga ang pagpapaigting nito sa mensaheng hindi salapi ang pinakamahalaga sa buhay ng tao kundi ang pakikipagkapwa-tao. Ang pera ay maaring mawala ngunit ang relasyon na inalagaan ay parating nandiyan.  Niyakap din ng pelikula ang kahulugan ng simpleng pamumuhay na siyang susi sa tunay na kaligayahan.  Ang tunay na pagmamahal ay hindi nasusukat sa yaman o panlabas na anyo kundi sa nilalaman ng puso. Iyun nga lang, may ilang maseselang eksena ng pagtatalik ng hindi pa mag-asawa, pati na ang pagkondena sa homoseksualidad na sadyang nakakabahalabaka matularan at isipin ng mga batang manonood na ito ay tama sapagkat walang malinaw na tinig ang pelikula ukol dito—bagkus ay kinu-kunsinti pa nga, maliban na lamang kung ang isa ay nang-aabuso na. Kahanga-hanga rin kung paanong naninindigan ang mga kababaihan ng pelikula laban sa karahasan at pang-aabuso ng kalalakihan sa babae.  Sa bandang huli’y mag-iiwan ng mahalagang aral ang pelikula ukol sa buhay at sa lipunang ating ginagalawanna dapat tayong maging bukas sa problema ng paligid at huwag kalimutan ang ating pananagutan sa kapwa marating man natin ang rurok ng tagumpay at pagtamasa ng ginhawa, bagay na ininuturo sa atin ng Simbahanang mahalin ang Diyos, kasunod ang kapwa.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dementia

Direction: Percy Intalan Lead cast: Nora Aunor, Jasmine Curtis, Bing Loyzaga, Yul Servo, Chynna Ortaleza Writer: Jun Lana Cinematography:  Mackie Galvez  Production: Octobertrain Films, The IdeaFirst Company Music: Von de Guzman  Location: Batanes Genre: Drama, mystery thriller  Distributor: Regal Films

Technical assessment: 3.5   
Moral assessment: 2.5   
CINEMA rating: V14   
Uuwi mula sa Amerika ang mag-asawang Elaine at Rommel (Bing Loyzaga at Yul Servo), kasama ang dalagang anak na si Rachel  (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) upang alagaan si Mara (Nora Aunor), kapatid ni Elaine na may dementia, isang kalagayan ng matinding pagkalimot at panglalabo ng isip.  Sa pag-asang makatutulong sa paggaling ng demensya ni Mara ang pagbabalik nito sa bahay na kanyang kinalakihan, magbabakasyon silang lahat sa kanilang ancestral home sa Batanes.  
Tatlong bagay ang matatawag na mga “panalong puhunan” ng Dementia:  ang Batanes, ang musika, at si Nora Aunor.
Isipin nyo na lang, kung siyudad o isang makabagong probinsya ang pangyayarihan ng istorya, tiyak na mababawasan ang hiwaga nito—di tulad ng Batanes na pumupukaw sa pagkamalikhain ng cinematographer.  Ang musika: sa simula pa lamang ay isinisilid na nito ang damdamin ng manonood sa isang “mood” na mananatili sa kahabaan ng pelikula. 
At si Nora Aunor?  Tila ipinanganak siya para gumanap sa ganitong mga papel—tulad ng sa Himala—kung saan ang kanyang katauhan ay tila isang bugtong, nababalot ng hiwaga, lalo pa’t kakaunti ang mga linyang dapat bigkasin ng aktres kaya’t babantayan mo na lang ang kanyang mukha, mga mata, at kilos upang matanto mo ang kahalagahan nito sa pagbubuo ng salaysay.
Napakagaling ng pagkakagamit ng angking ganda ng Batanes uang isulong ang drama; malamang ay inspirasyon na rin ito sa mga artista upang gampanan nang kahanga-hanga ang kanilang mga papel.  Kakatwa lamang na ang ikinabawas ng lakas ng Dementia ay ang mga idinagdag ditong sangkap na hindi makatuturan.
Malaman ang kuwento ng Dementia, bagama’t may mga sangkap itong kapag kinuwenta mo na sa dulo ay kalabisan lang naman pala, hindi nakakadagdag sa kabuluhan o takbo ng istorya; sinadya kaya ito para “iligaw” ang pagpapalagay ng manonood, o kaya’y upang “busugin” ang sabik ng mga tao sa karaniwang katatakutang natatagpuan sa karaniwang horror movies?
Kahit na may mga panggulat na eksena at multo ang Dementia, hindi ito isang “horror movie” o kababalaghan kaya.  Ito’y isang palaisipan na nag-aanyaya sa manonood na sakyan ang kalagayan ng isang taong may demensya—kinakalawang ang alala-ala, pumupurol ang isipan.
Naililibing kaya kasama ng isang yumaong mahal sa buhay ang kasawiang namagitan sa dalawang nilalang?  Ito ang nais bungkalin ng Dementia: sadya kayang nakakalimot ang may sakit, o mayroon lamang siyang gustong ibaon sa limot?  Kung sadyang nakakalimot na nga siya, bakit may isang higit pang makapangyarihang ala-ala ang tumatangging sumama sa libingan?  Ano ang tunay na bumabagabag kay Mara—demensya, o konsiyensya?

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Maze Runner


DIRECTOR: Wes Ball  LEAD CAST: Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Kaya Scodelario, Chris Sheffield, Anish Surepeddi, Patricia Clarkson  SCREENWRITER: Noah Openheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin  PRODUCER:  Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Ellen Godsmith-Vein, Lee Stollman  EDITOR:  Dan Zimmerman  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  John Paesano  COSTUME DESIGNER:  Simonetta Mariano  GENRE: science fiction, action thriller  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Enrique Chediak  DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox  LOCATION:  Louisiana, USA  RUNNING TIME:   113 Minutes
Technical assessment: 4  Moral assessment: 3  CINEMA rating:  PG 13
     Debuting director Wes Ball opens the movie with 16-year-old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) struggling in a freight elevator shooting up underground. It surfaces in a place inhabited by teen boys he had never met before.  He learns he is now in “the glade”—a wide expanse of meadows and woods surrounded by massive concrete walls.  The glade has been home to the boys who have been placed there, one each month, for the past three years, arriving like Thomas in the same conveyor, remembering nothing of their past except their names.  This makeshift society is led by the first arrival Alby (Aml Ameen); having survived in the glade alone for one month, he has become their natural leader.  Newt (Thomas Brodie Sangster), second in command, tells Thomas they are virtual prisoners in the glade, the eye of an enormous maze whose ever-shifting walls are too high to scale.  It is the duty of Gally (Will Poulter) to enforce the rules in the glade, the most important of which is never to enter the door to the maze—a tantalizing portal that closes by itself at night when gigantic bio-mechanical creatures called Grievers patrol the maze.   Thomas is warned that no one has ever survived a night in the maze.
     Adapted from James Dashner’s bestselling 2009 book of the same title, post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie version of The Maze Runner joins the ranks of The Hunger Games and Divergents as young-adult adventure thriller.  Although the story is compelling, it is not without loopholes.  The absence of a back story also hinders characterization, although acting is adequate and convincing, given the bit of uneven handling of the cast. The Maze Runner’s strongest technical point is the action, which owes its excitement to the sensible balance between CGI and natural human skills.  No superhero strength for the characters, no demi-godly powers, no flying—just running and a great deal of guts.
     The Maze Runner has for its redemptive elements a strong moral worldview and the message that man has an innate capacity for good.   Despite the loss of past memory, its characters display courage, selflessness, kindness, and a sense of sacrifice.  Although clueless about their confinement in the glade, the boys prove that teamwork can build a harmonious community where each has a duty to keep their habitat livable.   Living off the land, they grow their own food, some are goatherds, some are craftsmen making tools and building dwellings from sticks.  Three rules of paramount importance in the glade: Do your part with work, never harm another Glader, and never go into the maze.