‘This is Where I Leave You’ Will Leave You Laughing ; ‘The Maze Runner’ Futuristic Teen Thriller

this is where i leave you
Movie Info

The dramatic comedy “This is Where I Leave You” is directed by Shawn Levy, and based on the hilarious and poignant best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper. It features a starring ensemble cast including Golden Globe winner Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development”); Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Tina Fey (“30 Rock”); and two-time Oscar (R) winner, multiple Golden Globe honoree and 2013 Emmy Award nominee Jane Fonda (“Klute,” “Coming Home,” HBO’s “The Newsroom”). (c) Warner Bros
R, 1 hr. 43 min.

‘This Is Where I Leave You’

by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

A naughty comedy for the masses.
You laugh in spite of yourself in This Is Where I Leave You, a potty-mouthed comedy with enough exasperation, aggravations, long-standing grievances and get-me-outta-here moments of family stress to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever had to endure large clan gatherings that might have lasted a bit too long. The fact that many people will find something or someone to identify with here, even if they don’t have a mother with big new boobs prone to talking about sex most of the time the way Jane Fonda does here, should make Shawn’s Levy’s first R-rated comedy a much-needed hit for Warner Bros. with the Meet the Parents audience.

Best-selling novelist and Banshee co-creator Jonathan Tropper had the clout to adapt his own book for the screen, and he gets right down to business in the opening scenes with the double-whammy of having mild-mannered New York radio producer Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) find his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) playing hide the sausage with Judd’s radio shock-jock boss (Dax Shepard), then learn that his father has died.

Looking for a way to force the Altman family to stay together for more than the minimum time necessary to bury the old man, Tropper comes up with the contrivance that, even though Dad wasn’t an observant Jew (and Mom’s a WASP), the deceased insisted that his family sit shiva for seven days at the rambling suburban homestead. “You are all grounded,” their glamorous mother Hilary (Fonda) announces, to the dismay of her squabbling children Judd, Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver). Wendy’s objection that, “You’re sitting in the same spot where we put the Christmas tree,” carries no weight with imperious Mom.

This is not a family in which laying low and keeping your troubles to yourself are an option. A child psychologist who 25 years earlier became famous by writing a huge best-seller, Cradle & All, in which she laid out every family secret about her own kids, to their eternal distress, matriarch Hilary sees nothing inappropriate about using the mourning period to rave once again about her late husband’s sexual attributes and prowess. “Secrets are cancer to a family,” she insists to her kids lined all in a row beside her.

Paul is the boringly responsible son who jumps whenever baby-desperate wife Annie (Kathryn Hahn) insists that he try to impregnate her. Wendy, whose marriage is none-to-great, tells everyone else what’s best for them, more than living up to the bossypants sobriquet of the actress who play her. And then there’s Phillip, a man/child who drives a hot car and shows up late at the funeral with a beautiful woman (Connie Britton) nearly twice his age but behaves like an attention-needy child.

Then there are the ones who got away. For the depressed Judd, this would be Penny (Rose Byrne), a lovely high school sweetheart not averse to taking things a step further all these years later. And never far from Wendy’s mind is neighbor heartthrob Horry (Timothy Olyphant), a gentle soul whose accidental brain damage leaves him with little memory.

Having placed all these emotional balls in the air, Tropper turns on the wind machine to make them ricochet all over the place. The relentless sexual references are so numerous as to make it seem that the writer set a daily quota for himself, and Wendy’s overbearing I-know-better attitude leaves little question why her husband makes himself scarce. Everyone here is obnoxious to one degree or another, but enough of it amusing in an appalling sort of way that it’s difficult to not be at least partly won over by the brashness of the compulsively uncensored talk and behavior.

Particularly farcical is Annie’s stealth mission to the basement, where Judd sleeps wedged onto a fold-out bed, to resolve her pregnancy issue once and for all (the two were an item before she married Paul). Things only get more complicated when Judd’s straying wife shows up, reconciliation in mind, but with the horndog d.j. not far behind. In time-honored farcical tradition, Tropper has a topper up his sleeve for the very end, and it’s a nice one you don’t see coming.

Looking pretty darn good, thank you very much, Fonda dominates every scene she’s in; this is her most successful film appearance since she returned to acting in 2005 after a 15-year layoff, as well as a reminder of her screen roots in comedy. Playing it low-keyed compared to everyone else in the cast, Bateman maintains just enough sympathy as a bit of a sad-sack who admits he’s never taken a risk in life, while Britton excels in the film’s one touching scene, in which her smart older woman serenely faces the facts about the mistake she’s made with the immature Phillip. The other performers well known where the laughs are and go for them expediently.

Levy’s orchestration of the mayhem is silky smooth.


the maze runner

Movie Info

When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of other boys, he has no memory of the outside world other than strange dreams about a mysterious organization known as W.C.K.D. Only by piecing together fragments of his past with clues he discovers in the maze can Thomas hope to uncover his true purpose and a way to escape. Based upon the best-selling novel by James Dashner.

PG-13, 1 hr. 54 min.

Action & Adventure, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
‘The Maze Runner’: Film Review

by Justin Lowe
The Bottom Line

Managing fan expectations could turn out to be this movie’s principal challenge.

Dylan O’Brien and Kaya Scodelario co-star in Wes Ball’s feature directing debut, a futuristic teen thriller
When Fox picked up the feature version of animator Wes Ball’s short film Ruin in 2012, the deal quickly led to the studio offering Ball The Maze Runner as his full-length directing debut. Entrusted with the first novel in author James Dashner’s futuristic series of four young adult books, Ball appears to be implementing a strategy that’s predicated more on quickly launching a film franchise than developing a substantive long-form narrative.

When The Maze Runner was published in 2009, it became a New York Times best-seller, and it’s easy to understand why: Dashner has fashioned a distinctive, if derivative, dystopian storyline that’s easily recognizable, along with archetypal characters engaged in a constant, thrilling struggle for their lives. Although the principal protagonists’ survival is never seriously in doubt, it’s threatened frequently enough to maintain interest, so with anticipation regarding the novel’s adaptation already running high, the release is likely to see substantive response from teens and Dashner’s literary fans.

Ball opens the film with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) arriving in the Glade at the center of the Maze just like every other teen boy before him — on a freight elevator that unloads him and some meager cargo in a vast open area covered by meadows and woods that’s surrounded by massive concrete walls. Unable to remember any details from his past, he’s quickly assimilated into the makeshift society that the population of several dozen teens has created, even though all of them suffer from a similar state of trauma-induced amnesia. Alby (Aml Ameen), the first arrival, and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) form the leadership team, and enforcer Gally (Will Poulter) provides any physical persuasion required to keep everyone in line performing their assigned tasks. Gardeners and goat herders provision the camp, craftsmen fashion shelters and tools, but the Runners get the most respect.

Every night, the Maze that surrounds the Glade shifts configuration, and every day, the Runners enter the labyrinth guided by Minho (Ki Hong Lee) to map each iteration in an ongoing quest to find a way out, but they must return to the Glade before nightfall and the emergence of the terrifying Grievers, giant spider-like biomechanical predators that patrol the Maze. After more than three years of exploration, they’re still searching for the secret to the Maze, but it takes Thomas’ unique perspective to open up new possibilities when he’s quickly promoted to Runner after helping Alby and Minho survive a night in the Maze, an unprecedented feat.

The arrival of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the only girl ever sent to the Glade, upsets the delicate social order further, particularly since she appears to have some mysterious connection with Thomas, although neither can remember exactly what it might be. Thomas and Minho’s search continues to turn up more clues, including an electronic device retrieved from a slaughtered Griever that might help them unlock the Maze’s inner workings. But with Alby gravely injured in a Griever attack and Gally aggressively pushing back against any attempts to abandon the Glade, Thomas and Teresa will need to convince the other boys that a direct and strategic penetration of the Maze is their best hope for escape and survival.

The Maze Runner’s similarities to well-known literary works (Nineteen Eighty-Four and Lord of the Flies among them) and speculative fiction thrillers (Logan’s Run, Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, for instance) are almost more reassuring than disconcerting. In fact, it’s this recurrent sense of familiarity rather than any distinct originality that makes the film consistently engaging, although never outright challenging.

This lack of narrative sophistication is exemplified by “WCKD,” the mysterious organization directed by Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) that has trapped the kids in the Maze and consistently thwarts their attempts to discover the justification for their incarceration, making belated third-act plot revelations far more frustrating than gratifying.

You can’t blame the kids for all the confusion, however. With most of his memories inaccessibly buried in his subconscious, Thomas becomes a bundle of instincts and impulses, dominated by a restless curiosity that O’Brien expresses rather realistically. Scodelario doesn’t figure in the action until well into the film, when she initially causes a sensation by disrupting the masculine equilibrium, but then gets quickly relegated to sidekick status. Equally lacking in backstory, most of the sizable supporting cast has scant opportunity to build character, although Brodie-Sangster and Poulter are better differentiated as Thomas’ advocate and antagonist, respectively.

Clarkson barely registers in the film’s final scenes, and Lee’s Minho character gets drastically shortchanged; a significant slip-up considering his integral role investigating the mystery of the Maze. Aside from some uneven handling of the cast, Ball competently styles the action sequences throughout the film and capitalizes on his VFX expertise with pulse-pounding scenes tracking the Runners through the Maze battling Grievers.

Whether Ball will next get the chance to put his talents toward directing Ruin or The Scorch Trials, the second novel in Dashner’s series that’s already in development at Fox, may well depend on the initial success of The Maze Runner.

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