I’ve been slacking off lately so to make up for it — a double feature.
This Is Where I Leave You
This new comedy/drama from director Shawn Levy and writer Jonathan Tropper is like a lesser version of last winter’s “August: Osage County.” The family is slightly less dysfunctional and the story is slightly less compelling. Still, I found it slightly more entertaining.
Jane Fonda stars as Hillary, matriarch of the Altman family. She’s a celebrity psychologist who naturally has caused his children all kinds of embarrassment by making them the subjects of her best-selling books. When her husband dies, the children are all called home to spend seven days sitting Shiva, per their father’s last wish.
Corey Stoll stars as Paul, the oldest son. He’s the no-nonsense, responsible one who has been running the family business. His wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) desperately wants a baby. Since Paul has the least problems he gets the least amount of screen time.
Tina Fey plays daughter Wendy, stuck in a loveless marriage with two small children. Her true love is next-door-neighbor Horry (Timothy Olyphant), who suffered brain damage due to a car accident way back when they were dating.
Jason Bateman plays Judd, the central character of the piece. Judd’s life was actually going pretty well until the day his father died — which also happened to be the day he discovered his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) was cheating on him with his boss (Dax Shepard).
Finally we have the youngest sibling, Phillip (Adam Driver). Phillip is immature and irresponsible. He arrives late for the funeral and brings with him a girlfriend. Tracy (Connie Britton) is a psychologist like mom. She’s significantly older than Phillip.
Take these characters, toss in an old flame of Judd’s (Rose Byrne), toss them around for seven days condensed into a couple of hours, and that’s your film. There are scenes to make you laugh, scenes to pull at your heartstrings, but it all felt pretty insubstantial. The emotional tug of the story wasn’t there.
If you’re a big fan of infidelity you’ll enjoy this movie. There’s a twist at the end that had me more confused than shocked because for the entire film I was assuming the woman who was around all the time was Hillary’s sister since she was never properly identified.
I did like the cast and they are the main selling point for “This Is Where I Leave You.” The actors deserved a better story.
The Maze Runner
After suffering through five “Twilight” movies I decided I was going to be far more selective before attending a film based on a young adult book series. Call it a moment of weakness or just a really slow few weeks of new releases, but I broke down and went to see “The Maze Runner.”
Based on the first book in a trilogy (thank God there are only three) by James Dashner, “The Maze Runner” takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where kids are being used and abused for the benefit of adults (see also, “The Hunger Games”). You’d think kids today would have enough to worry about with Ebola, ISIS, global warming and the inevitable collapse of Social Security.
Dylan O’Brien stars as Thomas, a teenager who awakes one day to find he’s on a freight elevator that deposits him in a large green field surrounded by other young men. Thomas has no memory of who his past life, an affliction everyone there shares.
Thomas’ new home, known as The Glade, is surrounded by tall, immense walls that open once in the morning and once at night. Behind the walls is an intricate maze that changes every night. There are also monsters — cyborg spiders known as Grievers– who wander the maze. No one knows what’s on the other side of the maze.
The teen and pre-teen males who populate The Glade have formed a somewhat self-sufficient society led by Alby (Aml Ameen) and his second-in-command Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster). Everyone has a role to play and at the top of the food chain are the maze runners — boys who go into the maze every morning and map out as much of it as they can before the gates close at night.
Not content to grow crops, Thomas wants to go into the maze and get to the other side. His rebellious actions create a great deal of trouble for the group but eventually he convinces enough of them to make a run for it.
“The Maze Runner” has a few things going for it. I liked the young cast and the design work of the maze and it’s surroundings. I was less impressed with the Grievers and the way most of the action sequences took place in the dark so you couldn’t make out what was going on.
But the film really falls apart when you get to the other side of the maze. I won’t blow the explanation here, let’s just say it left me slightly confused but mostly unimpressed.
And then the movie commits the ultimate sin for the first film in (what the filmmakers’ hope is) a franchise: it doesn’t come with a satisfying ending. After almost two hours we learn that we haven’t really watched a movie, we’ve just watched an extended trailer for the next movie.
Bad move. Always make that first film self-contained because you never know if you’re going to get to make that second film (see ‘Eragon” and “The Golden Compass,” among others). I should want to watch a sequel because I want to spend more time in this world and with these characters, not because I want to know what the point was of the previous film.