Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) ☆☆1/2 (2.5/4) : Yes, they’re really going to do that

salmon02 “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is not as whimsy or outrageous as its odd title suggests, and that was a little disappointment for me. The movie is a mild, pleasant comedy, and there is nothing wrong with that, but, considering the rich potential of satire inside its amusing premise, I cannot help but wonder whether it could have pushed itself further for more laughs and amusements. After all, a film about salmon fishing in the middle of desert is surely something we do not see everyday, isn’t it?

That outrageous idea comes from Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked), a Yemeni prince willing to realize his ‘vision’. He enjoys salmon fly fishing at his estate in the Scotland Highlands so much that he becomes determined to introduce it to his people, and he is planning to spend at least 50 million pounds for that. There are probably many better ways to spend such a huge amount of money for his country, but I guess anyone has a right to throw away his money as he wants no matter how much it is.

At the beginning, we see his financial adviser Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) approaching to Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) for technical advices. Not so surprisingly, Dr. Jones initially thinks the project is ‘fundamentally unfeasible’ for a number of good reasons, but, as spending more time with Harriet and the Sheikh, he gradually comes to believe that this preposterous folly can be succeeded if they try under a right condition. It goes without saying that the environment in Yemen may not be appropriate for salmons to inhabit and reproduce, but enough amount of water can be provided through a big dam built for irrigation (it does rain in Yemen although it is not quite often), and transporting 10,000 salmons to Yemen can be easily done once they are secured.

salmon03 The most amusing part in the movie comes from how the people in the British government respond to this absurdity, and Kristin Scott Thomas simply steals the show as Patricia Maxwell, British Prime Minister’s no-nonsense press secretary. As looking for any chance to improve their public image (while a disastrous mosque bombing has just happened in Afghanistan, their Foreign Secretary gets himself into a damaging sex scandal), Maxwell recognizes a good possibility from the Sheikh’s project, so she immediately persuades the Prime Minister to support the project in public even though she probably knows well how absurd and impractical it is. While constantly maintaining her usual prim attitude, Thomas always brings a dry sense of humor into her scenes, and the movie becomes a little more satirical whenever she appears on the screen.

However, the movie focuses more on a developing relationship between Dr. Jones and Harriet, and what we get here is your average British romance in which both sides hold their feelings even when it looks apparent that there is something going back and forth between them. As they spend more time together as colleagues, Dr. Jones and Harriet come to like each other more than before, but then there are some complications which put the distance between them. While Dr. Jones has been increasingly estranged from his wife Mary (Rachael Stirling), he is rather reluctant to end their lifeless marriage like his wife. Harriet becomes distraught when she learns that her current boyfriend Robert (Tom Mison) was possibly killed during a covert military mission in Afghanistan, but she also finds herself drawn to Dr. Jones as he clumsily but kindly consoles and comforts her.

Meanwhile, in spite of several setbacks including a funny backlash from angry British anglers and an assassination attempt by a Yemeni terrorist group which is not so pleased with how the Sheikh tries to change their nation, things are getting done step by step. A stream is created in a dry desert valley, and heaps of salmons are brought and ready to be released into the stream, and Dr. Jones and Harriet hope that those salmons can swim upstream along the stream even though they are not wild ones.

salmon04 In case of the Sheikh, this amiable guy sincerely wishes for something good to be achieved through his project, but the movie never clarifies what he exactly reaches for, and, though speaking like a wise man with good will, he sometimes look like a misguided man who wastes a chunk of his wealth just because he can. There are a few moments of absurd humor in the film such as the Sheikh’s servants wearing both keffiyeh and kilt at his countryside estate, but the screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, which is based on Paul Torday’s novel, sticks to its mild attitude while satirizing no one, and the movie never goes deep into the social/political matters glimpsed behind its story. The social inequality in Yemen is merely implied during one brief scene, and a local terrorist group is more or less than a plot element required for the big scene later in the story.

Since “My Life as a Dog” (1985), which was his international breakthrough, the director Lasse Hallström has steadily stayed in the mainstream of Hollywood while making a number of solid works such as “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” (1993), “The Cider House Rules” (1999) and “Chocolat” (2000). Although “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is not as good as them, the movie is not without enjoyable things, and Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt has a nice low-key chemistry between them to engage us.

But the movie still feels a little too mild and passable for me to recommend it to you. I have not read Torday’s novel, but I heard from others that the novel was a satire, and I think the movie could have worked better if it had been equipped with more edges. As a romantic comedy film, it is gentle and likable, and you can spend a fairly good time with its warm, soft mood, but the movie seems to forget how silly it is to introduce salmons into an artificial ecosystem which has no other aquatic animals from the start. That is an inherently funny story material indeed, but the movie only dips its feet into its premise, and that is all we can see.

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The Immigrant (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4): A rich, somber classic melodrama from a bygone era

theimmigrant01 Right from its evocative opening shot, “The Immigrant” takes us into the era when many poor, desperate people struggled hard in a world which was not as generous to them as they hoped. They might have some bright hopes about their new life in America as greeted by the Statue of Liberty and the landscape of New York, but they soon faced harsh reality when they got off from their ships in Ellis Island, and that was just the beginning of their long, hard journey toward settlement in their new country.

When Ewa Cybulska (Mario Cotillard) arrives in New York with her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) and other immigrants, this young Polish woman finds herself in a very difficult situation beyond her control. Her sister is taken away from her by customs officers because she is diagnosed to have tuberculosis and has to be quarantined for several months, and then she is told that the address given to her by her aunt living in New York is non-existent.

While she becomes desperate and helpless as being put into detention which may lead to deportation in the worst case, Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), a small-time impresario who already set his eyes on Ewa as looking around the customs for any good-looking women to be exploited by him, approaches to her with an offer she cannot refuse. For getting her sister back, she need money for bribing authorities, and he can give her a chance to earn her money if she agrees to work under his supervision.

theimmigrant02  Bruno has already been handling a number of women, and we see these women going through another seedy night at a night club just for entertaining its drunken, lecherous customers. Ewa is forced to appear on the stage with others at one point, and then she is tumbled into a more degrading circumstance when Bruno brokers a small private meeting between her and a young guy whose father reminds me of that amusing line from “Paint Your Wagon” (1969): “Grace, I give you the boy. Give me back the man.”

As a faithful Catholic woman, Ewa feels guilty about her moral degradation, but this seemingly fragile woman is determined to survive and see her sister again, and she gradually reveals her indomitable spirit inside her. She needs Bruno for getting what she wants, so she lets herself used by him, but she maintains her own dignity in spite of what she has to endure for her survival. The movie usually sticks to her viewpoint, and it mostly steps back from the unsavory details in the story while suggesting enough about her torments and humiliations.

While maintaining its restrained attitude like that, the movie works as a splendid window to a bygone era. The cinematographer Darius Khondji did a fabulous job of setting the rich atmosphere of lights and shadows on the screen which will remind you of those old photographs from the early 20th Century, and the production design by Happy Massee and the costume design by Patricia Norris deserve praises for their painstaking details. The somber score by Christopher Spelman always stands back from the foreground, but it is also crucial in setting the tone of the movie while never interrupting its slow but steady narrative flow.

theimmigrant05 And Marion Cotillard, a talented French actress who has moved forward with more stellar performances since her well-deserved Oscar win for “La Vie en Rose” (2007), gives another good performance to watch here in this film. Even though she did not have much time to prepare herself for a considerable amount of Polish dialogues in the film, she masterfully handles both English and Polish dialogues with a natural accent to be admired (According to my Polish acquaintance Michał Oleszczyk, she really did a good job as far as he could hear), and she effortlessly moves around the wide range of emotions through her expressive face which is reminiscent of many graceful melodrama heroines of classic silent films around the 1910-20s.

In opposite to Cotillard, Joaquin Pheonix, who previously collaborated with the director/co-screenplay writer James Gray in three films, gives an intense portrayal of a conflicted man who becomes not only more despicable but also more pitiful to us. Not so surprisingly, Bruno has certain feelings toward Ewa, and that torments him more as he is reminded again and again that he will never win her heart – even when she chooses to stick to him for a practical reason. His wild temper is always a source of troubles for both of them, and we can clearly see the sign of an upcoming trouble when Emil (Jeremy Renner, who is also good in his rather functional role), Bruno’s cousin who works as Orlando the Magician, appears. Emil comes to care a lot about Ewa, and Bruno naturally becomes jealous of what is going on between Eva and Emil although Ewa is not willing to go along with Emil because of her apparent reason.

What eventually happens later in the story feels contrived to say the least, but the movie holds itself well even at that point, and then it arrives at the haunting finale appropriate for its somber storytelling. I heard that the movie was inspired by the recollections from James Gray’s grandparents who came to America during the 1920s, and Gray says the movie is “my most personal and autobiographical film to date”. I really do not know how much autobiographical his film actually is, but this is a solid period drama not only imbued with care and details and but also supported by excellent lead performances, and that already makes it into something worthwhile to watch.

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Cats in the campus (2014/10/01)

It is October now, but they are enjoying sunny afternoon…

 

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Whistle Blower (2014) ☆☆☆(3/4) : Against a big national lie

whistleblower02 South Korean film “Whistle Blower” gave me and other audiences an odd experience to talk about. Although it emphasizes that its story is entirely fictional, I and others knew too well that it was inspired by a big academic scandal which shook the whole nation a few years ago. Many things including its characters are fictional indeed, but we could not help but think of that real-life incident still vividly remembered by us.

Around 2005, Dr. Hwang Woo-suk of South Korea published two research articles in the academic journal Science, and he quickly drew lots of attention from many scientists all over the world after the publication of his articles. He claimed that he succeeded in cloning embryonic stem cells for the first time, and that certainly catapulted him into the top position of his field while many South Korean people became very proud of his research achievement.

However, his ‘achievement’ got quickly crumbled when it was scrutinized by others including my long-suffering adviser professor and other biology professors of KAIST later in that year. Despite many accusations and protests from Dr. Hwang’s unquestioning supporters, it became more apparent that there were really serious fabrications in his stem cell data, and Science eventually withdrew Dr. Hwang’s articles as it was confirmed that Dr. Hwang was guilty of fabrication and other ethical misconducts in his increasingly questionable research.

whistleblower01 The story of the movie mainly revolves around Yoon Min-cheol(Park Hae-il), the producer of a local TV report program not so far from “60 Minutes”. While looking for any good news material as usual, he comes upon a possible scoop on the illegal ovum purchase behind a famous infertility clinic in Seoul, but then he learns that the clinic is closely involved with Dr. Lee Jang-hwan(Lee Kyeong-yong), who is the fictional counterpart of Dr. Hwang in the film.

Because of Dr. Lee’s increasing fame and influence, Min-cheol and his colleagues clearly see that they must be very careful about their investigation as much as they can. Dr. Lee has already become a big national hero boasted and supported by South Korean people and media, and we see Dr. Lee going through several important public events as a prominent public figure. He gives a nice motivation speech for many young hopeful students during one scene, and then we watch him emphasizing to government officials on how much his stem cell cloning research can go further to help those hopeless patients who cannot possibly be happier to hear what he promises to them.

While being aware of the possible big risk, Min-cheol decides to go for whatever truth he may find at the end of his investigation, but, as you already know, the truth is far more shocking than he expected. Not long after he approaches to a young researcher who once worked directly under Dr. Lee but resigned from his position right before the publication of Dr. Lee’s article, Min-cheol comes to learn from him that there was no cloned stem cell from the beginning. Although there is no evidence to prove that, Min-ho(Yoo Yeon-seok) sincerely swears to Min-cheol that he is telling the truth, and Min-cheol comes to believe him despite his initial disbelief on this unbelievable revelation.

whistleblower04 He and I-seul(Song Ha-yoon), a plucky rookie reporter who happens to work under him, dig more deeply. As they learn more about the lies behind Dr. Lee’s glorious media image, they feel more risk in their secret investigation. When he hears about what they are doing, Dr. Lee pulls some strings to be protected, and Min-cheol and others around him soon find themselves cornered into a very difficult circumstance. Many people become very angry just because they dare to have a doubt about Dr. Lee, and I can assure you that what is depicted in the film is not an exaggerated mass hysteria; lots of South Korean people were really furious about what MBC, the real-life counterpart of the TV broadcasting company in the film, was going to broadcast at that time, and MBC had to endure lots of backlash until the situation became more favorable enough to fully expose Dr. Hwang’s fraud on TV.

Because a number of notable similarities, “Whistle Blower” will certainly remind you of Michael Mann’s “The Insider”(1999), another movie inspired by a real-life story about people struggling to get the truth known in public. While it is not better than that terrific film, the director Lim Soon-rye moves its rather simple plot with efficient pace, and the actors in the film did a competent job as the parts of the story. While Park Hae-il gives an earnest lead performance as a seasoned journalist hero with some idealism inside his heart, Yoo Yeon-seok is also solid as a conflicted whistle blower who worry more about others than himself, and Lee Kyeong-young, a veteran South Korean actor who becomes ubiquitous especially in this year, is well cast as a shady man who comes to realize that he has gone too far with his lies. One small private scene of his may make you feel a little sorry for his despicable character, but that does not change the undeniable fact that he committed an academic crime which is going to tarnish his career forever – and he does deserve what he gets in the end.

Like Dr. Haruko Obokata, who also got herself into her own big academic scandal due to the fabrication of her ‘revolutionary’ cell research, Dr. Hwang Woo-suk became a disgraceful figure in his field after his scandal, but, believe or not, this shameless fraud has been somehow allowed and financed to do more researches in South Korea as reported in a recent New York Time article. He went back to his usual animal cloning, and I remember well when it was reported three years ago that he successfully cloned a certain ‘endangered species’ called coyote. What a silly rotten joke he was.

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Seven Psychopaths (2012) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4) : Screenplay work in criminal process

sevenpsychopaths01 “Seven Psychopaths” is about one funny screenplay writing process which is cheerfully juxtaposed with absurd humor and striking violence to shock you and then amuse you. As we follow its convoluted plot, it becomes apparent to us that it is dancing on the line between fiction and reality, and the movie, which is full of shocks and surprises I don’t dare to reveal, has lots of fun with many things including its inherent flaws which richly deserve the consequent self-criticism later in its story.

The title of the movie comes from an unfinished screenplay which has so far nothing but its very title at present. Marty(Colin Farrell), a struggling Hollywood screenplay writer who has a little problem with drinking(but he says he is not an alcoholic), has been trying to write a story about seven psychopaths, but this poor guy is still going nowhere without any good material for his idea, and he becomes more desperate as drinking more.

While Marty tries to fill his screenplay, the movie presents a number of odd, colorful characters one by one. His actor friend Billy Bickle(Sam Rockwell), who may remind you of the hero of “Taxi Driver”(1976) due to his last name, is willing to provide several good ideas of his to Marty, but then Marty finds himself being tumbled into a complicated situation mainly because of Billy’s part-time criminal business with his partner Hans(Christopher Walken). Billy and Hans steal pet dogs to get reward money from caring owners looking for their dogs, and their latest kidnapped dog, a cute shih tzu dog named Bonny, turns out to be owned by Charlie(Woody Harrelson), a vicious mob boss who will stop at nothing for getting back his dear dog. Considering his violent temper which makes an ironic contrast with his incorrigible affection toward his pet, Charlie may inspire a nice psychopath character for Marty’s screenplay – if Marty is lucky enough to get out of this dangerous trouble.

sevenpsychopaths08 As the plot of the movie thickens, Marty’s screenplay also goes through development with more potentials. We get the moody story of a repentant killer who has been followed by someone patiently waiting for vengeance since his murder, and then we are introduced to a Vietnamese priest who is about to reach to the end of his vengeful journey. Some unknown guy keeps killing high-ranking gang members, and, as this case draws the attention of the local media, Billy suggests to Marty that this killer can be an interesting story material. In the case of a mysterious old guy named Zachariah(Tome Waits), his very violent life story comes with one of the most morbidly humorous scene in the film; I will not go into details for not spoiling your fun, but let’s say its sheer bizarreness will induce a couple of big laughs from you.

Because of its quirky mix of humor and violence, the movie surely reminds you a lot of the works by Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, but it has its own music to play, and the director/screenplay writer Martin McDonagh, who previously made a terrific directorial debut with “In Bruges”(2008), deftly tickles us with his playful game between reality and fiction. If you pay some attention to a number of details in the film such as how two different characters share similar mannerisms while indirectly mirroring each other at times, you will probably wonder whether the certain scenes in the movie are imagined during Marty’s ongoing writing process.

The movie frankly admits that aspect to us with ample humor from the beginning, and it even goes further during its second half as the story(or Martin’s screenplay, perhaps) switches its gear to a more contemplative mode which can be described as an existential brainstorming for Marty and others(and McDonagh, probably). The characters were introduced and then established, and then the plot has been developed nicely despite its visible problems which are thoughtfully and amusingly pointed out at one point, and now it really needs a good way to take care of everything which has been unfolded on its table.

sevenpsychopaths07  During the second viewing of the film at last night, I appreciated more how McDonagh’s clever screenplay masterfully leads its story and characters into unexpected territories and then neatly goes back to where it started for the required ending. Humor and drama are always intertwined with each other in the interactions between its characters, and one of the good examples is an atypical case of Mexican Standoff during its climax part, which comes with a poignant outcome as following its inexorable logics.

The actors in the movie are enjoyable to watch, and they wonderfully capture the sly humor in McDonagh’s smart, self-conscious dialogues. While Colin Farrell, who previously collaborated with McDonagh in “In Bruges”, is a sane, likable center of the story, we have a bunch of interesting actors like Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Pitt, Zeljko Ivanek, Harry Dean Stanton, and Tom Waits. Through his irrepressible performance, Rockwell proves again that he is one of the most valuable character actors working in Hollywood, and Walken, who can easily switch between comedy and drama in his own uncanny screen presence, is particularly good during the scene involved with his character’s suggestion for Marty’s screenplay. That suggestion feels a little too preposterous when we reflect on it later, but Walken makes it work through his convincing delivery, so we can believe it for a while at least.

I must mention that good actresses like Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe, and Olga Kurylenko do not have many things to do in contrast while being merely treated as expendable secondary characters in the film, but I guess that aspect is intended as one of the jokes on its ‘flawed’ plot, and “Seven Psychopaths” is entertaining enough to overlook its minor ‘flaws’. Maybe it really needs more rewriting, but it is still a fun experience with that adorable dog you’d love to pat.

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A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A sombre but intense noir thriller

awalkamongthetombstones05 Through its tarnished hero’s melancholic investigation process, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” looks into the dark, twisted face of human evil, and there are several chilling moments which will make you cringe or gasp for the horror implied during these moments. I was disturbed by its dark, harsh scenes, and I felt lots of uneasiness with what might happen in the film, but I was also gripped by its good storytelling which steadily accumulates tension in its somber, meditative tone. This is a thriller film where story and characterization come first with style and atmosphere to engage and unnerve us, and it eventually works as a gray personal drama of desolation and redemption instead of being a run-of-mill thriller movie with lots of bangs and crashes.

Liam Neeson, who gives his best performance since “The Grey”(2011) here in this film, plays Matthew Scudder, an ex-cop who is currently working as an unlicensed private detective. After an incident shown in the prologue scene, he left the police even though he was not blamed for what happened during that incident, and now he becomes a lot different from who he was 8 years ago. While still haunted by his personal demon, he looks more reserved and thoughtful in his demeanors, and he also stopped drinking. We see him attending his another AA meeting, and he humbly shows his sobriety chip to his fellow AA members who need help and support as much as he once did.

After that meeting, somebody approaches to him for help, but it is not for sobriety. A struggling young addict named Peter Kristo(Dan Stevens) wants Scudder to meet his brother Kenny(Dan Stevens), and Kenny asks Scudder to find who was responsible for kidnapping his dear wife. He did pay the ransom as demanded after some negotiation, but his wife was brutally murdered in the end, and he was devastated when he found what happened to her. Because he is involved in drug business, Kenny cannot possibly request the police to investigate this case, so he wants help from Scudder, who can be hired to do an unofficial investigation for him.

awalkamongthetombstones02Scudder does not accept the case at first, but he changes his mind after learning a little more about how cruelly Kenny’s wife was tortured before getting killed. As he patiently gathers clues during his investigation, it gradually becomes clear to him that there is a duo of sadistic kidnappers preying on family members of drug business people – and Kenny’s wife was not their first victim.

We meet these two horrible guys in advance. We watch how meticulous they are in their work, and we observe how ordinary they look on the surface, and then we are horrified to see that they are ready to strike again. Maintaining their plain façade as usual, they silently go around together for spotting any suitable hostage around their potential target, and we get an insidious sequence at one point in which they search for the prey around their target’s house while not noticed by others.

The director Scott Frank, who wrote the adapted screenplay for “Out of Sight”(1998) and made a directorial debut with underrated “The Lookout”(2007), sets the tone right from the opening scene, and he never lets it slip away from the screen throughout his film. The sense of doom and dread is always around Scudder as he goes around his bleak world which does not give much comfort for him and others, and the cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who previously did a wonderful job in “The Master”(2012), gives us atmospheric moments which slowly draw our attention through careful scene composition and lighting. Even without the amusing mentions of Y2K(the story is set in New York during late 1999), the movie is already packed with darkness as a neo-noir film, and that feeling is further amplified especially when Scudder must save an innocent young girl from those dangerous kidnappers.

awalkamongthetombstones03 The movie is based on the novel with the same name by Lawrence Block, which is one of his 17 Matthew Scudder novels. I only read “A Dance at the Slaughterhouse”, which incidentally preceded “A Walk Among the Tombstones”, around 20 years ago, but I can say that the adapted screenplay by Scott Frank maintains our interest well with its good dialogue and solid characterization. The movie certainly disturbs us with its restrained but effective depiction of savage evil, but it also interests us as a grim but compelling journey into the darkness of human heart, and that aspect particularly reminds me of the recent TV series “True Detective”, which also vividly and hauntingly illuminates the worst sides of humanity through its disturbing crime tale.

Liam Neeson is perfectly case as a desolate tough hero with quiet intensity. There are a few moments which may take you back to “Taken”(2008) and his other recent action thriller films, but he gives a more nuanced performance which slowly reveals his complex character’s steely side along with deep remorse and guilt remaining inside him. Neeson is always good at internalizing heroes haunted by their checkered past, and his performance reminds us again that this wonderful actor is too good to be wasted in passable films like “Non-Stop”(2014).

The supporting actors surrounding Neeson give different shades to the story through their good performances. While Dan Stevens and Boyd Holbrook give human aspects to their characters, David Harbour and Eric Nelsen are utterly vile and frightening as the villains of the movie, and young actor Brian “Astro” Bradley holds his place as a bright homeless kid who becomes close to Scudder after their chance encounter.

While there are notable missteps in the film(its climax intercut with each step of the 12-step program feels more like an overkill despite its dramatic intent), “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is effective as a crime thriller, and I was stimulated by the skills and techniques put into the film. Its trailer makes it look like another action flick featuring Liam Neeson, but this is a completely different kind of film, and it will satisfy you if you are ready for a well-made film which is dark, gritty, and haunting enough to linger on your mind even after its end credits.

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The Maze Runner (2014) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4) : It runs around many familiar things

themazerunner03 Running around many familiar things we have seen before, “The Maze Runner” is as much as you can expect from a film based on popular SF young adult novel. It surely has a teenager hero who will clash with the oppressive dystopian system where he is put into, and it certainly presents lots of danger in front of him and other adolescent characters who will support or inhibit him over the course of the story, and it will definitely be continued in another chapter of their futuristic coming-of-age story.

When our young(and good-looking) hero wakes up during the opening scene, he does not remember much about who he is, let alone how he happens to be put into a big freight elevator. Along with a number of supplies, he is being sent to somewhere, and the elevator soon arrives at its destination, which is a wide field surrounded by big giant walls. He is greeted by a group of adolescent boys, and they do not know why they were sent to this place either; they only know that a new boy is sent to them along with the basic supplies for them every month through that freight elevator, which they nicknamed “the Box”.

Not long after joining their small community, Thomas(Dylan O’Brien) manages to remember his own name like others did, and we see how the community has been maintained as he befriends a number of other boys. While Alby(Aml Ameen) is the thoughtful leader of the bunch, Gally(Will Poulter) and Newt(Thomas Brodie-Sangster) are two of the key members of the community, and it is shown that each boy in the community has a job to do for sustaining their community. We see several wooden constructions they built, and we see them working on the field for growing vegetables, and we also see their welcoming evening party for Thomas with their rudimentary booze. In short, this is like an alternative version of “Lord of the Flies” with better clothes and better behaviors.

themazerunner01 Life is not bad in “Glade”, but the boys are eager to get out of their closed world. While it looks like it is impossible to climb up these towering walls, there is the opening to the maze beyond the walls, so a number of selected boys, who are called “Runner”, enter the maze to search for any possible escape route. Runners, led by Minho(Ki Hong Lee), are the most able-bodied ones among the boys because they must run around the maze as much as possible and then get out of it quickly before day is over. The opening to the maze is always closed precisely according to its schedule, and nobody has ever survived the night in the maze because of the hideous monsters called “Grievers”. Furthermore, the inner structure of the maze is constantly changed, and that makes the Runners’ mission much harder.

Of course, Thomas becomes very curious about what is beyond the walls despite others’ warning, and he soon enters the maze even though he is not permitted to do that. The maze is the most fascinating element in the movie, and the director Wes Ball imbues this big, ominous labyrinth with lots of uneasiness and menace oozing out from its murky corners and walls. While there are several impressive shots which emphasize its gray, oppressive atmosphere, the movie also looks around the rusty details inside this vast structure for giving some gritty texture to its world, and the sound effects in the film are effectively utilized along with the uneasy moments of silence. Grievers, which look like a biometallic mix of spider and scorpion, are scary CGI creatures which can frighten some of young audiences a lot, and their terrifying presence is palpable even when we only hear their noises.

While Thomas and other boys try to explore more deeply into the maze after what is probably a possible breakthrough for them, a sudden change comes into their circumstance. The Box unexpectedly goes into another operation, and it sends them a girl in this time. Although she does not remember everything, Teresa(Kaya Scodelario) remembers Thomas, and Thomas becomes more determined to find the escape route, which may provide the answer to why he and others were sent to Glade.

themazerunner04 It will not be much of a spoiler to tell you that Thomas and some of the boys eventually stick together to go through the maze later in the movie, for I think you already have a pretty good idea about what is really happening at this point. Although the third part of the movie is packed with enough action and thrill to grip our attention, what is revealed and explained at the tame end of its climax part is too preposterous to accept, and you may wonder whether the maze is really an effective mean for an insidious plan involved with the character played by Patricia Clarkson.

The young actors in the film do their jobs as required, and we can only hope this may be a chance for better things to come for them. Dylan O’Brien is adequate as the lead actor, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Aml Ammen, Ki Hong Lee, and Blake Cooper(he played a likable chubby boy named Chuck) ably fill their major supporting roles. As the sole female character among the boys, Kaya Scodelario does not have many things to do compared to her co-actors, but her role will probably be expanded in the upcoming sequel.

The movie is based on James Dashner’s young adult novel with the same name, and I heard the book is the first chapter of the trilogy. Although how much successful “The Maze Runner” will be in the box office is not determined yet, the studio has already begun the production of its sequel, and so we will see the next story around 2015. I am not that enthusiastic about the movie because it does not have many things to distinguish itself from “The Hunger Games”(2012) and other similar films, but I observed its potential despite my disappointment, so I will keep my mind opened to that – for now.

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