Episode 097: Miracle

The 2018 Winter Olympics are in full swing as we get together to discuss a film about one of the greatest upsets in sports history, the United States victory over Russia in the 1980 Winter Olympics – the “Miracle on Ice.” MIRACLE is one of the most accurate biopics ever made and a highly rousing, emotional true story that inspires. We were filled with emotion during this depiction of the dream run by the USA Hockey team, and we hope you enjoy our conversation.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:21

(Aaron – Fifty Shades Freed)
(Patrick – Bernie)

Miracle Review – 0:14:56

The Connecting Point – 1:13:39

 

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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE (2018)

GOING IN

Better late than never, right? A year after its original release date, Wes Ball’s final installment of his Maze Runner trilogy is here. Thankfully, star Dylan O’Brien has fully recovered from the serious injuries sustained while filming and is ready to bring this high octane franchise to its riveting conclusion. James Dashner’s series has always been one of my favorite Young Adult dystopian trilogies. I read each one as they came out, and vividly remember waiting in line at midnight to pick up my copy of The Death Cure. I read it in one sitting that day and mostly enjoyed the way in which the story wraps up for Thomas, Teresa, and the Gladers. Maze Runner: The Death Cure will follow the remaining escapees as they try to save their friends from the legendary Last City, which of course is under WCKD control. Thus far Wes Ball has done a solid job, with the previous entries being his only feature length films to date. I’m excited to see how the film story plays out differently than the books and optimistic that this will be an exciting adventure right up to the last minute.

2 Hours and 20 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

Last year (2017), movie fans were treated to the final film of a rare trilogy that got better with each successive installment. Granted, the Planet of the Apes series was not based on young adult books as is The Maze Runner Trilogy, but it provided an example of just how good progressive storytelling can be. After Wes Ball’s hot start with the claustrophobic and mysterious thriller The Maze Runner, book two’s adaptation of The Scorch Trials was just another race and chase action film adding very little complexity and character depth. And unfortunately, taking the opposite trajectory of that incredible aforementioned series, The Death Cure does not in fact bring this series back to life but instead sends it off in an explosive, fiery, forgettable mess.

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. Book fans – this is not the adaptation you probably expect. A good 75% of the story has been changed and the parts that do remain are out of order and have a much different feel to them. One of the most important facets of James Dashner’s novels is that Thomas and Teresa (and Aris later) can communicate telepathically. This was understandably removed from the adaptations because it would have been a nightmare to try and show cinematically. However, in doing so the story is stripped of an enormous amount of emotional depth and relationship building between the two leads that is never adequately replaced. In fact, there is so little movie reason given for Thomas to be relentlessly in love with Teresa that it makes the events of this final film fall very, very flat. And speaking of Aris? After an important introduction in film two, he all but disappears completely in The Death Cure. Other book character changes abound, with new ones being inserted or old ones altered completely to fulfill the different story requirements of the film series. Wherever you stand on how accurate book-to-movie adaptations should be, just know that the changes made in The Scorch Trials have been double-downed on. This is no longer The Death Cure story you know, complete with a different ending, which makes one wonder why a book series is adapted at all if the changes are going to be this glaring.

Unfortunately, even removing a desire to see the story as it was written originally, Ball’s third film still isn’t very good. The story as told is extremely generic with almost nothing unexpected taking place. The film begins with an incredible train action scene and then quickly plunges into over an hour of drama. It’s this section that hurts the film immensely and turns it into a bit of a bore. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) has never been more moody, brooding, and pouty. Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), likewise, goes through the entire film with almost the same facial expression. The two form one of the most emotionless pairs I’ve ever seen. There are a few scenes in the film that did evoke some feelings, but none of them coming from the main characters is a problem. Instead it’s Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar) who are genuinely intriguing characters and stand out as the best performances of the film, as well as worthy of the most feels. Sadly, their strength just further shows the weaknesses of the leads so enjoyment is offset by disappointment. And when it comes to villains, Janson (Aidan Gillen) is about as cookie-cutter as they come. Gillen’s role in this series was clearly increased due to his rising fame from Game of Thrones, and I’m not a fan of his performance at all.

Eventually the film shifts back into pure adrenaline-fueled action, which Wes Ball has shown he can do well. The finale is chaotic in that everything-must-blow-up-because-bigger-is-better way. There are definitely some great (and dangerous looking) practical effects, but also plenty of moments that push the boundaries of realism so far into ridiculousness that it’s hard to take seriously. Where in the past Ball seems to have shown some restraint, there is none to be found here, and the movie is worse for it.

VERDICT

The Maze Runner is a series that offered so much potential, but Wes Ball’s final installment does not earn the emotional stakes its conclusion hinges on. Though I still believe Dylan O’Brien can be a star, his lack of range in this performance does leave me a little worried. I can’t help but compare this adaptation to its source material, where it uses the same characters to tell a much more interesting story, but even when taken on its own merit The Death Cure just isn’t that interesting. It’s too long, with a weak melodramatic center, and overly frantic seizure-inducing action that is the worst of the series. Fans of the series should probably still check it out, and may come away with a slightly better experience, but don’t hope for much more lest you be as disappointed as I am.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Feelin’ TV: May 29-June 4

Expiration dates can be a good thing. If cows didn’t gently whisper the use by date of their milk into the ears of dairy farmers, we’d regularly be pouring chunky liquid onto our Frosted Flakes. We’d never know when to throw out sour cream. We’d neglect to change the oil in our cars and destroy our engines. We’d have human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria…but I digress. While television dramas that adhere to the old school case of the week style story structure can continue in perpetuity, some dramas need expiration dates. Dexter is my go to example of this. Much of seasons 1-4 were as good as anything on television. But it was getting less and less plausible that Dexter wouldn’t be caught every minute of every episode. Had the show-runners and the network agreed that Dexter would end after season five or season six, it might have a place in the conversation about best TV shows of the 00’s. Instead, because of viewership numbers, Showtime squeezed every last bit of creative juice from Dexter’s orange and just kept squeezing until they had four more seasons of utter garbage that spoiled the first four seasons by association. In contrast, well thought of shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men set expiration dates for themselves, allowing the creators to focus their storytelling on their eventual end game. The Leftovers and The Americans have done this and produced some of their best episodes since. While it makes me sad to think that there’s only one episode of The Leftovers and one season of The Americans to go, I appreciate the decision knowing that I’ll see quality storytelling written with the end in mind.

House of Cards needs an expiration date. Don’t get me wrong. I love House of Cards. This has been said a lot about a lot of different actors, but I would actually pay money to sit and watch Kevin Spacey read the phone book in character as Frank Underwood. Robin Wright is bone-chilling as the cold and calculating Claire. Michael Kelly is creepy as hell as the ruthlessly loyal Doug Stamper. Season five, which dropped on Netflix last week, even adds Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson to the mix as a pair of DC power-brokers with ambiguous motives, and predictably, they’re fantastic. There’s a lot about season five that I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, so much of the narrative feels meandering and aimless. Thankfully, the final two episodes snap the story into focus and give me hope for a possible season six, but I can’t imagine that the Underwood’s story has much more than one season left in them if they want to remain interesting. The first three seasons of the show were so riveting as Frank and Claire schemed and lied and bribed and murdered their way into the White House that the last two, while still fun, paled in comparison. If you haven’t gotten to it yet, I’m not at all saying that season five was bad. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I just don’t know how much I’ll continue to enjoy it in the future if subsequent seasons don’t have the end in mind.

In other news…

• “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” I’ve already mentioned The Americans briefly above, but I wanted to take a moment to applaud the show on the completion of a tight, concise, riveting and gut-wrenching season. It looked like the Jennings family might be on the way out of the game, but as Phillip and Elizabeth find out, it’s not an easy game to quit. The finale was chock full of nice little character moments that I appreciate the show taking the time to recognize. Paige effectively saying her goodbyes to Pastor Tim, Martha being given the chance for some happiness in her new home, the entire montage set to Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and Phillip’s moment of decision about what to do with the intel that is going to keep him from doing what he wants are all given the time they need to breathe even though there’s a lot of business to get down to. All that was missing was Oleg, whose stories haven’t always interested me but whose situation I’ve found to be quite intriguing this season. As the Jennings’ begin to hear about the cracks in their idealized homeland of 1980’s Soviet Russia, there’s something that resonates with this 2017 American too. We’re seeing with Oleg’s story that as the differences between the living conditions of the rulers and the ruled widens, the ruled are less concerned with the consequences of showing their disdain for the systems that oppress them. In the past year or so, we’ve seen the kind of change that this sort of awakening can produce. As for me though, I much more enjoy watching the Jennings family than I enjoy watching the news. At least when it comes to their homeland, I know how the story ends.

• It was hard for me to think about the series finale of Damon Lindelof’s HBO series The Leftovers without thinking about the finale of his similarly themed show, ABC’s Lost. I was a big fan of Lost until that finale, at which point I became rather annoyed that I had ever watched the show at all. The problem with Lost was that it asked lots of questions and the implication was, both in the show and through interviews with the show’s creators, that it was going to eventually provide the answers to those questions for viewers. What ended up happening was, instead of providing the answers to five seasons of questions, the sixth season simply concerned itself with asking its own questions and answering those, leaving a lot unresolved. Looking back on that finale that aired in May of 2010, it would’ve been nearly impossible to pull off a satisfying conclusion to the story because there was simply too much ground to cover. It’s an interesting contrast to The Leftovers, a show that raised a whole heck of a lot of questions but, to its credit, never promised answers to any of them. Answers were not what the show was about. What The Leftovers turned out to be was a character study about how people cope when there aren’t any answers to be found. While there’s probably plenty of intrigue that could be mined from finding the answers to the questions that would arise if 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappeared, Lindelof and Tom Perrotta (the writer on whose novel the first season was based) chose to take the route of telling smaller, more personal stories of a few of the people who were left behind. There was some really, really weird stuff going on in the post-Great Departure world. It was stuff that if I really thought about it, I’d want to have its purpose explained to me. But people do weird things when they don’t have answers to the tragedies that occur in their lives, and The Leftovers is better for deciding to be concerned with those people and not the circumstances that caused or led to the tragedy. In that way, it would’ve been almost impossible for me to be disappointed with this week’s finale, and indeed I was not. In fact, I’d consider it among the best series finales that I’ve ever seen. From the opening moments with Nora (Carrie Coon) and Matt (Christopher Eccleston) doing Mad Libs (sorry, Matt Libs) by the sea to the final comforting images of two characters assuring each other that in a world where nothing is certain, they can be certain in their belief in each other. Alan Sepinwall wrote a long, detailed and spoiler filled review of the finale and the show itself over at Uproxx. If you’re a fan of the show, I suggest checking it out.

Thanks to the people who have given me a few suggestions about some things to watch while most shows are on hiatus in July and August. I’ve almost gotten through 2 seasons of Luther this week upon the recommendation of Phillip, a loyal reader and regular participant on our Facebook page. Other shows on the docket are The Goldbergs, Halt and Catch Fire and at some point, I’m going to have to catch up with the latest season of Orphan Black that recently became available on Amazon. What am I missing? Give me your suggestions in the comments or on Facebook.

Next week we’ll cover Fargo and Better Call Saul more in depth as both have moved the pieces into place for exciting ends to their seasons.