The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Posted on September 17, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

The first Maze Runner movie had an arresting premise and a solid structure, literally and metaphorcally. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), with his memory wiped, arrived at a mysterious facility called The Glade, populated entirely by teenage boys. It turned out to be an enormous maze that re-arranged itself every night, when horrible monsters called The Grievers came out and one sting from them caused madness.

Thomas figured out how to escape from the maze at the end of the film, but the triumph was tempered by indicators that his worst problems were just beginning and by our knowledge that there were two more books in the series by James Dasher scheduled to be made into movies. “The Scorch Trials” is the second.

This sequel is very much a transitional film, with non-stop action and not much story. It’s as though Dasher decided to throw just about every bad thing possible at Thomas and his small band of escapees from The Glade.

They are greeted warmly by a man whose first indicator of untrustworthiness is that he does not introduce himself. When asked, instead of saying his name, he says, “You can call me Janson” (Aiden Gillen). But the teenagers are so happy to have a shower, food, and real beds that they are not inclined to question the bleak, prison-like structure with high security doors. And Janson’s promise to send them to a place free of the virus and blight that wiped out most life on earth sounds so good that they believe it, especially when they see the other teenagers in the facility cheering each night as another group is selected to leave for the haven he described.

But Thomas is skeptical, and when Aris (Jacob Lofland), a boy who has been at the facility for weeks, takes him on a tour through the air ducts, they discover that instead of being brought to a wonderful new home the teens who have a genetic immunity to “the flare” disease that wiped out most humans are being taken to a medical facility to be drained of their blood for doctors working to find a cure, even at the expense of the kids’ lives. Thomas leads yet another escape, though Janson taunts him that no one can survive the Scorch, the wasteland conditions outside the bunker. Thomas and his friends, including Aris, battle sandstorms and lightning, zombies, and outlaws.

So much happens that it gets repetitive. If a major character appears trapped and you hear a bang, you can bet the bang is a last minute save from behind the bad guy. Some red shirts don’t make it and there are some twists of alliances and betrayals, but eventually it is more video game than story, raising questions that are more “how does this make sense?” than “looking forward to the answers in part three!”

Parents should know that the film has constant very intense peril and extensive violence including zombies, lethal medical procedures, guns, and explosions, suicides, some very disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, a kiss, some strong language, and teen substance abuse.

Family discussion: How is Thomas different from the other characters in the way he evaluates his options? Why did Teresa make her controversial decision?

If you like this, try: the books and the first movie in the series, the “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” movies

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Drama Science-Fiction Series/Sequel Stories about Teens

Snitch

Posted on February 21, 2013 at 6:00 pm

“Snitch” tries to be three things at once, but it doesn’t do any of them very well.

First, it wants to be a drama about fathers and sons.  John Matthews (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is a good man who who risks everything, even his own life and the lives of his family, to save his teenaged son from a ten-year prison sentence.  John owns a construction company that is solid but struggling a bit because of the economy.  His son is Jason (Rafi Gavron), who lives with his mother, John’s first wife (Melina Kanakaredes), and uses her last name because he is angry at his father for leaving them.  Jason makes a foolish mistake and agrees to accept a shipment of some pills from a friend.  It is a trap.

Three of the key characters in the story make big sacrifices to help their sons, but the theme is heavy-handed and the dialog so clunky it feels like an after-school special.

Second, it wants to be an action film, because John finds that the only way to get Jason out of prison in less than ten years is to deliver an important arrest to the federal prosecutor.  Jason refuses to entrap any of his friends (as he was entrapped by the friend who sent him the drugs), even to reduce his sentence.  So, John decides to go undercover in a very high risk sting operation involving criminals at the top of an international drug cartel.  He gets badly beat up the first time he tries to make a connection to a drug dealer.  But with the help of an employee who is now determined to go straight after two prison terms for narcotics distribution, he is introduced to Malik (Michael Williamson), a typical movie drug dealer — black, gangsta, and living in a house with almost no furniture and loud rap music.  John has no street cred whatsoever.  But he does have big semis and a legitimate business to give him good cover for transporting big, heavy bags in them.  And even the suspicious Malik understands that the economy is lousy, and is persuaded that a law-abiding citizen like John could be desperate enough to fill some of those cement bags with cocaine.

So there are some shoot-outs and chases, but they are poorly staged and uninvolving.  So as much as the movie tries to make us believe he is just a good guy from the suburbs who does not know anything about guns and criminals, this is The Rock.  We never feel the sense of peril that would create some tension, and we miss the expected sense of satisfaction when no cans of whup-ass are opened.

Third, the movie tries to be an issue film, taking on the unintended consequences of the mandatory minimum sentences legislation that was supposed to reduce the unfairness in assigning penalties for drug-related offenses and get tough on drugs but instead created a whole new level of unfairness and got tough only on low-level users.  When judges no longer have discretion to assign prison terms based on individual circumstances, the only mitigating factors are the defendants’ ability and willingness to turn over bigger fish.  Susan Sarandon, once again stuck in a role far beneath her, plays the ambitious US Attorney and political candidate who is so over-the-top that it undermines the institutional pervasiveness of the problem the filmmakers are trying to convey.  They do more to make their point with a credit-sequence note about the impact of mandatory minimums than they accomplish through the film.  And the recent documentary “The House I Live In” addresses the issue far more compellingly.

It’s a triple disappointment.  But most of all, it is just dull.

Parents should know that this film includes characters are drug dealers, drinking, smoking, drug use, violence including knives, fights, shoot-outs, and chases with characters injured and killed, and some strong language.

Family discussion: How did being a father of a son change the decisions made by three characters in the movie?  Why did John say his son taught him about character and integrity?  Do mandatory minimum sentencing laws do what they were intended to do?

If you like this, try: “The House I Live in” and “Narc”

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Action/Adventure Crime Drama Inspired by a true story

Lois Wilson, the Woman Behind Al-Anon

Posted on April 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

“When Love is Not Enough,” the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about Lois Wilson, the wife of the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, will premiere this weekend starring Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper. Lois Wilson recognized that the friends and families of alcoholics needed a place to share their stories and find support. She had learned that those who love alcoholics could not change them but that they could find their own peace. And so she and helped to found the Al-Anon Family Groups. From the initial 48 who responded to her in 1951, it grew to over 29,000 groups worldwide and a membership of over 387,000, reaching out with a blog, podcasts, publications, and the core of their program, their in-person meetings, held all over the world. “In Al-Anon and Alateen, members share their own experience, strength, and hope with each other. You will meet others who share your feelings and frustrations, if not your exact situation. We come together to learn a better way of life, to find happiness whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.”

The motto is, “To help them, you have to help yourself first.” They tell their members, “It is estimated that each alcoholic affects the lives of at least four other people… alcoholism is truly a family disease. No matter what relationship you have with an alcoholic, whether they are still drinking or not, all who have been affected by someone else’s drinking can find solutions that lead to serenity in the Al-Anon/Alateen fellowship.”

Here Bill and Lois Wilson tell their story.

“I believe that people are good if you give them half a chance and that good is more powerful than evil.

The world seems to me excruciatingly, almost painfully beautiful at times, and the goodness and kindness of people often exceed that which even I expect.”

– Lois Burnham Wilson

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