FlixChatter Review: The Darkest Minds (2018)

guestpost

Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Writer: Chad Hodge
Running Time: 1h 44min

Review by: Vitali Gueron

When you think of good movies that were adapted from young adult novels, you should think of The Hunger Games films, the Divergent series and The Maze Runner trilogy. Unfortunately, you should not be thinking of the subpar movie The Darkest Minds, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, written by Chad Hodge and based on Alexandra Bracken‘s young adult novel of the same name. This movie is not evenly-paced, full of post-apocalyptic/dystopian clichés and has a very cheesy teenage romance.

The movie starts off in near-future version of America where children suddenly begin dying off from a mysterious disease. The few that do survive have some kind of enhanced/supernatural abilities, and they’re color-coded according to their creepy glowing eyes. Some are deemed safe by the government — greens have a heightened intelligence, blues have telekinetic powers, and yellows can control electricity. But a few are too dangerous to keep alive – reds that can start fires and a select few who are orange, meaning they can control minds. The government imprisons the greens, blues and yellows and kills off the reds and oranges (with the exception of a few that are kept alive to be used for the government’s diabolical methods).

The main character in the movie is Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) who has orange glowing eyes, but convinces a doctor that she is actually green, meaning that she is not killed but rather imprisoned to a child labor camp – which is unsurprisingly a total bummer. She gets smuggled out of the camp by a strange doctor named Cate Connor (Mandy Moore) who is a member of a group that fights against the government’s policies. Ruby does not believe her and escapes to find a group of three teens who just had escaped from another child labor camp – blue Liam (played by Harris Dickinson, who looks way too old to be a teenager), green Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and yellow Zu (Miya Cech). The four set off to find a secret camp, run by Clancy Gray (Patrick Gibson), who is the president’s son – a supposed good guy who helps escaped teenagers and shelters them away for government soldiers – and is also the only other known orange alive.

Unsurprisingly, Ruby and Liam’s relationship begins to take off just in time for her to be seduced by the orange-eyed Clancy along with his unclear motives. By this point in the movie, the story is flying ahead at warp speed, and before we realize what just happened, there are government soldiers working under Clancy, who’ve captured most runaway kids at the camp. Somehow Ruby manages to escape the government trap but her group with Liam, Chubs and Zu gets split up and one member sustains life-threatening injuries rescuing Ruby. Next thing we know, Ruby is back with Doctor Cate, making a deal to spare Liam’s life. Because of the movie’s uneven pacing, our heroes move rapidly from one conflict to the next without properly ramping up or down the tension.

I don’t know what’s worst about The Darkest Minds – the way too much time given to the film’s corny romance or the underdeveloped story that has predictable twists come far too quickly to make you feel invested. Since this movie is based on a book series by Alexandra Bracken, it naturally suggests that several movie sequels are to follow. My recommendation for the studio is to cut its losses and forget about even considering a sequel. And my recommendation for potential viewers is to save almost two-hours of your life by avoiding this movie. If you are looking for a good movie that was adapted from young adult novel, try re-watching The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. Don’t bother wasting your time by watching this movie – even if you are in the target demographic of being a young adult. Or you can watch the 2011 Diablo Cody-written comedy Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron.


Have you seen ‘The Darkest Minds’? Well, what did you think? 

Music Break – Favorite fairy tale music inspired by ABC’s ‘Once Upon A Time’

I just started catching up on the ABC show Once Upon A Time this past weekend, so that inspired me to pick the music for today’s Music Break. I’ve only watched two episodes from the first season but I quite like it so far, though some of the acting is a bit over the top. As someone growing up with Disney fairy tale movies, the premise appeals to me so we’ll see if the show has enough going for it to keep me interested. Nice to see Robert Carlyle in it as Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold. The Glasgow-native is easily the best actor on that show, and no I’m not just saying that for my penchant for Scottish actors 😉

Anyway, inspired by that show, here are three favorite fairy tale music from the classic and current fairy tale movies:

SNOW WHITE (1937)

You can’t beat the classics. Even 75 years later, Snow White is still hot property, what with two films made with that character this year alone! There are really too many to choose from as the whole soundtrack is great, but I love this finale of Love’s First Kiss. It’s enchanting, sweet and full of hope, the kind of stuff Disney music is known for, and the choir singing Someday my Prince will come really warms the heart.

Original music by Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith, with Adriana Caselotti and Harry Stockwell as the voice of Snow White and Prince Charming, respectively.


P.S. My all time favorite music from Disney ‘Princess’ movies is actually Once Upon a Dream from Sleeping Beauty, which I’ve highlighted in a stand alone post a year ago.

TANGLED (2010)

Tangled is Disney’s 50th animated feature and it boast the maestro that is Alan Menken as the composer. I grew up listening to his Disney songs, it’s amazing how he could keep churning up beautiful music for every piece that fits the theme of the film so perfectly! According to IMDb trivia, he’s currently tied with famed costume designer Edith Head for third most Academy Awards won, with eight Oscar win. He has won best score and best song for four Disney animated movies: The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas (1995).

This romantic piece is by far my favorite from the film. I always tear up every time I watch it. The scenery with all those lanterns are pure Disney magic, I love Rapunzel’s face as she watches them fly to the sky. I LOVE both Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi’s voice in the duet, I had no idea he could sing so well! I was rooting for this to win Best Original Song at the Oscar, but ironically, Randy Newman’s We Belong Together for Pixar’s Toy Story 3 ended up taking the trophy.

BRAVE (2012)

I was thrilled when I heard that Scottish composer Patrick Doyle was going to work on this film! I LOVE his work in Sense & Sensibility and Thor, among others (see my tribute post). Per Wiki, in order to bring some of Scotland’s native flavor to the music, Doyle used native Scottish instruments such as bagpipes, a solo fiddle, Celtic harps, flutes and the bodhrán, with an electronically treated dulcimer and cimbalom to give it a more contemporary feel. “I employed many classic Scottish dance rhythms such as reels, jigs, and strathspeys, which not only serve the action but keep it authentic,” said Doyle.

Well the result is a gorgeous and lush Celtic music that adds so much to the authenticity of the film. I like the joyful and rousing Touch The Sky that matches the exuberance of Princess Merida, but my favorite is the instrumental piece that captures the Scottish theme so well. I LOVE this one called Legends Are Lessons, especially after the 2:35 mark when the bagpipes start playing. I wish I could be transported to the Scottish Highlands as I’m listening to it! 😀


I hope you enjoy these songs. What are YOUR favorite Disney/Pixar soundtrack?

Weekend Roundup: Rockin’ w/ Scott Pilgrim and Getting all Tangled up

Happy Monday! Hope y’all enjoyed a wonderful April Fools Weekend and nobody pulled a prank on ya. It felt quite Spring-y over the weekend but today it’s back to parka-weather with rain and high winds 😦

Just a quick box office news, looks like Hop was a heapin’ success for Universal this weekend with $38 million and despite its stellar review, the Jake Gyllenhaal sci-fi actioner Source Code only managed to rake up $15 mil to come in second (per The Numbers). Well, there still isn’t anything worth seeing at the cinema after I last saw Jane Eyre, but there are a few recent releases I’ve missed so it’s always nice to catch up on those. After watching quite a dark-themed movie last week (Constantine), we opted for something decidedly lighter this time.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott & Ramona and the seven evil exes

I’ve blogged about this movie a while ago when this movie was sort of trampled by Expendables vs Eat, Pray Love at the box office back in August 2010. And lots of people offered a theory why it flopped — it only made about half of its $60 million budget domestically — when I talked about chameleon vs. perpetually-cast actors post.

The primary reason I was even interested to see this movie is because of director Edgar Wright, who frequently is part of the British comedy trio with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and just like those two, this one was also well-received critically. And guess what, it really was entertaining!

Here’s the gist: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), is 23-year-old bass guitarist in an up-and-coming garage rock band who fell head over heels in love the second he laid eyes on a girl with colorful hair named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ramona reciprocated despite her initial hesitation, but in order to date her, Scott must defeat the league of her seven evil exes who are in control of her love life.

The story is based on a graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley which I’ve never read, but I must say watching the movie is like seeing the comic book comes to live. Wright’s direction is inventive and fun, utilizing the multiple panels style just like the comic strip and have the words from the comic book being projected on screen, depicting the ‘fantasy’ realm the characters inhabit. Unlike in real life, no matter how hard the people are punched or how far they fall down from the air, they never get hurt. When they perish, they just burst into a confetti of pennies in the air. The fight scenes are all fun to watch but at the same time it makes it hard to really connect and empathize with the characters as they never really seem to be in peril.

But for a movie that’s seemingly more style over substance, I thought the script is pretty good, it’s full of witty and funny dialog that’s pretty engaging throughout. I particularly enjoyed the fight scenes between Pilgrim and Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans, Brandon ‘Superman’ Routh and indie-darling Jason Schwartzman, which are the more well-known actors playing the evil exes. All of the actors inhabit their characters really well, and though I think Cera should branch out more acting-wise, this is definitely the kind of role he’s best at and Wright makes the most of it. Winstead is beautiful and is worthy of the affection of seemingly every guy she meets, but she doesn’t come across very sympathetic nor expressive, so it’s a bit tough to warm up to her character.

Just one of the electrifying fight sequences

Despite the dazzling visuals though, in the end I got a bit of a video-game fatigue from watching all of the crazy fight scenes, but clearly I’m not the intended target market for this. The music especially isn’t my thing outside of the context of the movie and the quirkiness also wears out after a while which makes me doubt about the movie’s lasting appeal compared to previous Edgar Wright’s movies. ‘An epic of epic epicness?’ Hmmm, not quite. But for a Friday night entertainment, it was a rockin’ good time.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Tangled

Seems to me that the movies that have been such absolute delight to watch have been animated features. Two of last year’s top five favorite movies were both from that genre and it probably will be so again this year, including this one from Disney. Now, I grew up with Disney Princesses flicks so naturally I’m a sucker for a film like Tangled. Yet for whatever reason, I didn’t get to see this on the big screen, which I really regret now. We actually bought tickets for them last Fall but ended up seeing The Social Network instead which were playing a bit earlier next door. In any case, I’m glad I finally did. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this movie!!

Tangled‘s got everything you’d expect from a fairy tale movie. Obviously you’ve got the Princess, the dashing Prince-like love interest, the evil motherly figure, the quirky townsfolk and of course, the expansive castle. Originally titled Rapunzel, it’s based on the classic German fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm of a magically long-maned Princess who’s locked in a tower by her wicked, selfish ‘mother.’ Disney apparently changed the title to be more appealing to boys who might be deterred from seeing a Princess flick (per Wikipedia). They also argued that Rapunzel isn’t the only main character in the film, as Flynn Rider is also featured prominently in the film. Instead of a traditional prince, Rider is a thief on the run who stumbled upon her and inadvertently changed her world forever.


Whether or not the title-switch tactic worked, this one was a real winner for Disney. It’s grossed more than half a billion dollars worldwide, more than double the cost to make. Yep, Tangled cost $260 million to produce, perhaps a lot of it goes to the 3D rendering, and it shows. The Wiki article mentioned that the filmmakers combined ‘the best of both worlds’ of CGI technology and traditional hand-drawn animation Disney’s famous for and the result is impressive. This is by far one of the most picturesque and colorful animated features I’ve ever seen and the animation is smooth and seamless. I really was in awe of how gorgeous every scene is, with the night scene of the two main characters on a boat surrounded by lanterns. It was nothing short of magical.

This Princess flick has come a long way from the classics as far as the character goes. Rapunzel is a heck of a lot more assertive and strong but never losing her naivete and vulnerability. She’s bubbly and vivacious but not dim-witted. Her interaction with Flynn from the moment they met is endearing right from the start, but it’s refreshing to see that she’s not immediately swooning over the guy despite he’s the first one she’s ever met. Flynn is the typical charming bad boy, self-seeking at first but finds his heart over time. Voiced by Mandy Moore and Chuck‘s Zachary Levi, it’s a lovely combination that’s supported by an equally wonderful supporting cast. In fact, the two non-talking animal characters, Maximus the horse and Pascal the little chameleon are such lovable and memorable creatures, while Tony-award-winning Donna Murphy is excellent in the voice role of villainous Mother Gothel.

As with any Disney’s works, especially when 8-time-Oscar-winner Alan Menken is involved, the music is one of the best part of the movie. All the musical segments are lively and just pleasing to the ear, with I See The Light as my absolute favorite, it was such a lovely duet. The lantern scene when the song appears is my favorite as well, yes it’s on the schmaltzy side but you’d be hard pressed to deny its charm.

Tangled’s plot reminds me a bit of Little Mermaid (a girl longing for freedom and Pascal is like the new Sebastian) and part of Sleeping Beauty (she’s separated from her parents all her life), but yet it’s still a pretty unique story that kept me laughing and crying throughout. I also like the fact that Disney keeps this one pretty clean and wholesome, as a lot of animated features these days are filled with crude jokes and inappropriate innuendos. By the end I was totally enamored by this movie and the Blu-ray is now on its way from Amazon 🙂 Disney still reigns when it comes to romantic animated features and this one is definitely a keeper for years to come.

5 out of 5 reels

Well, what movie(s) did you manage to see this weekend? If you’ve seen either one of the movies above, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them as well.

The Flix List: Five notable female singers who (suprisingly) can act

A Whitney Houston song came on the other day on my way home from work. Though the song wasn’t from The Bodyguard, it got me thinking about how much I liked that movie. Kind of like Notting Hill, The Bodyguard tells the story of a major star falling for an ordinary fella, though it didn’t share the same fairy tale ending. Then it got me thinking about what other female singers who actually have pretty decent acting chops. Well, some of you might have read this post about actors who are (surprisingly) good singers from last year, so the professions are reversed in this case.

There are probably more singers who should just focus on their music though, with Madonna & Beyonce at the top of that list, but let’s not focus on the negative. An obvious example of singers who can act is Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar for her acting debut in Dreamgirls (which I haven’t seen yet). But I’m excluding her from this list because at the time her singing career wasn’t that prominent yet, her claim to fame was from being the sixth runner-up on American Idol. Besides, I’m only going to include contemporary singers whose movies I have actually seen, which is why Barbra Streissand isn’t on the list either, though she’s also won an Oscar. Anyway, here they are in random order:

  1. Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale)
    I absolutely adore Houston’s magnificent voice, she really has one of the best pipes in the business. But you know what, the girl’s also blessed with on-screen charisma, even though her acting chops probably doesn’t equal her singing talent. I thought she was sympathetic and engaging in The Bodyguard as superstar Rachel Marron. Of course she was basically playing herself but she could be embarrassingly bad like Mariah Carey in Glitter. She also pulls off a believable chemistry with co-star Kevin Costner as the object of her affection. That part wasn’t that hard though, even as I rewatched the music video clips from the movie, I too was swooning over Costner all over again 🙂  I also like Waiting to Exhale a lot, and Houston held her own amongst other black actors in that movie.
    ….
  2. Queen Latifah (Chicago, Stranger than Fiction)
    It’s hard to dispute Latifah’s charm and congeniality, and that comes across effortlessly on screen as well. She’s been in quite a few movie and tv projects since the early 90s, but it wasn’t until about a decade later when the hip-hop star got major recognition for her acting in Chicago. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the larger-than-life and smoldering Matron Mama Morton, which she lost out to co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones. She was also quite effective in a small role as Emma Thompson’s no-nonsense publishing assistant, proving yet again that she can handle both dramatic and comedic roles.
    ….
  3. Bette Midler (Beaches, The First Wives Club, The Stepford Wives)
    I picked Midler as she impressed me in these movies (though the last two movies themselves weren’t that great), but apparently according to her IMDb page, she was nominated for TWO Oscars. One for The Rose (1979) and For the Boys (1991), neither one I have seen. For me, she’s always going to be remembered for her role as CC Bloom, alongside Barbara Hershey in Beaches, one of the most memorable friendship movies that boast a wonderful soundtrack sang by Midler herself.

  4. Cher (Moonstruck, Mermaids)
    As I had just seen Moonstruck last month, it’s still clear in my head how good Cher’s performance was in that movie. It’s an interesting casting choice that paid off in the end. It’s really a great role for her, not sure if it merits a Best Actress Oscar as I don’t know who else was nominated that year, but certainly worthy of a nomination. She really became Loretta Castorini, the widow who unwittingly falls for her fiance’s brother. One of the best-written female character who’s strong, funny and has one of the most memorable transformation from frumpy to a stunningly glamorous woman. The only other movie I’ve seen her in was Mermaids, playing the role of a free-spirited single mother with panache as well as vulnerability.
  5. Mandy Moore (American Dreamz, Romance & Cigarettes)
    A lot of young pop stars her age have tried their hand at acting (Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, etc.), but I think Moore is probably one of the few that shows a real talent for it. The first time I saw her was in a bawdy musical comedy Romance & Cigarettes at TIFF back in 2005, as the teenage daughter of James Gandolfini & Susan Sarandon. She was pretty good, though the scene stealer in that was Kate Winslet as a foul-mouthed English call girl and Gandolfini’s mistress. The other movie I saw her in was the political comedy American Dreamz, where Moore plays an ambitious teen vying for her chance of stardom in an American Idol-like show. She was spot on and quite hilarious, proving that she has a knack for comedic roles. Looks like the 26-year-old is still juggling singing and acting, and she’s nabbed some lead roles as well, though her movie choices definitely could use some improvement.
    ….
    Honorable mention: J Lo (showed a lot of promise in Out of Sight, quite likable in The Wedding Planner) but generally she’s not as multitalented as she thinks she is.

***

Well, I’m probably missing a few important ones. Feel free to add to the list and enlighten me which singers you think are pretty good actors.