“Maze Runner: The Death Cure”: Dylan O’Brien returns from injury and commands the entire film

Maze Runner: The Death Cure” (directed Wes Ball), the third in the Maze franchise based on James Dashner’s novels (which have gone into the prequel area now) had a delayed release, due to the injury of its charismatic lead actor, Dylan O’Brien as the rebel leader Thomas. There some accounts of this on USAToday, Vanity Fair, and DenofGeek.

The film picks up with the idea that most of the world has been destroyed by a pandemic of the “Flare Virus” which seems to leave its victims scarred as if by severe Kaposi’s Sarcoma as well as turning into rabid zombies. But Thomas, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) are among the “immune”, as they leave an internment camp to rescue Minho (Ki Hong Lee), held in “the city” in a medical lab where his serum will be used for a cure.

The dystopian world as shown is quite devastated, looking as if there had been widespread war. I thought, this is what Trump may be risking for us with North Korea.

When the kids arrive at the City, they have to find their way around “The Wall” guarding it, which of course reminds me of Trump’s “Build that Wall”.  There is a system of tunnels and gangplanks. Thomas negotiates with another kid Gally (Will Poulter) to get him on his side. The City itself resembles what you would see in China, with highrise spires and politicized signs  — and curfew.  No gay bars around. No Facebook. It’s noteworthy that the screenplay had been finished before Trump’s election, yet it seems to anticipate the issues Trump bas pandered.

The plot gets dense, as the “Wicked” plot to save themselves by kidnapping “the immune” and draining them for cures.  Patricia Clarkson is venomous enough as mastermind Ava (women are villains here). The 140 minute film builds up to a catastrophic conclusion, where the city falls down in building pancakings like multiple 9/11’s and Thomas, although injured (as in real life) is rescued.   The plot, of course, reminds me of right wing calls for quarantine of AIDS patients and even al; gay men during the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic.

Then there is a Baxian epilogue on what looks like Hawaii (the film was largely shot in South Africa) where Thomas is setting himself up in an intentional community, well off the grid, camping out on the coast, and remembering the people who were lost.  Thomas will be an important person in this world that is starting over without technology.  That kind of future would not be for me.  It’s sad that some of the other kids, appealing as they are, didn’t make it.

Second video:  anybody notice something “wrong” right at the beginning?

Legacy reviews of two previous films in trilogy.

South African desert mountain scenery (wiki).

Name: Maze Runner: The Death Cure
Director, writer:  Wes Ball
Released:  2018 (orig 2017, delayed by injury to lead)
Format:  2.35:1, Imax
When and how viewed:  Regal Potomac Yards, late 2018/2/6, fair audience
Length:  141
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  official
Stars:  4 out of 5  ****-

(Posted: Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 12:30 PM EST)

Dylan O’Brien plays super-hero in Vince Flynn’s “American Assassin”, and the subject matter is very grave in the world of Trump

On the evening of September 11, 2001 I attended a screening of Michael Cuesta’s “L.I.E. ” (Long Island Expressway) at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis.  I won’t dawdle on the theme right now (a teen’s relationship with an older man played by Brian Cox), but I want to recall that I met Cuesta in a hotel bar after the show – because he couldn’t fly back to New York in the wake of the 9/11 groundings (No, the bar wasn’t the Saloon or the Nineties.)

I met author Vince Flynn at a booksigning party at a Barnes and Noble in Edina, for his self-published “Term Limits” (them it was Cloak and Dagger Press. before Pocket Books gave him a contract), in the fall of 1997, just after I had moved to Minneapolis myself.  We had a discussion about the whole process, which I had just executed with my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book.

Vince Flynn beat me to the movies.  He also died in 2013 at age 47 of unusually aggressive prostate cancer.

Flynn’s genre of techno-thrillers, sometimes compared to Tom Clancy,  adapted quickly to the end of the old Cold War and the new world of terrorism and rogue and failed states

Mike Cuesta’s latest film  comes from Flynn’s “American Assassin” (2010) which turns out to be eerily prescient with the concern over a rogue state using nuclear weapons.  This time, the state is Iran, rather than North Korea.

But the movie is also part of the Mitch Rapp series.  This time, Rapp is played by 26-year-old Dylan O’Brien (“Rhe Maze”).  In the opening scene, Mitch is with his fiancée (Charlotte Vega) on a Florida beach when a gruesome radical Islamist terror attack mows down everyone on the beach with automatic weapons.  Mitch loses his love despite surviving himself with minor injuries. He swears personal revenge.  Back in his Rhode Island apartment, having flunked out of college, he finds his calling. He pretends to be a Muslim and gets recruited by ISIS on Twitter (an activity Trump says he wants to shut down despite his own use of the platform) and goes into the Dark Web.  Soon he is in Libya.  But he has already made arrangements with other mercenaries to become a saboteur, even as he fools his ISIS “trainers” at first.

Fast forward and he is being interviewed by the CIA (director played by Sanaa Lathan, convincing in a minority-cast role as sufficiently authoritative) and trained by a former seal (Michael Keaton) in various virtual reality settings.  The “ghost” arms dealer (Taylor Kitsch) hardly looks like one.

The film moves around the world, from London to Poland, to Turkey, Romania, and Italy, as Mitch tracks down a parts of a bomb intended for Tel Aviv.  Yes, an underwater nuke can produce a mushroom cloud and destroy a lot of ships in the area.

The real problem right now is that North Korea has more than one nuke, to be sure.  I wonder if any of Flynn’s novels deal with the EMP threat (E1 and E3 are different parts).

Dylan O’Brien’s performance merits note.  Yes, he rather comes across as superman, verging on a comic book hero.  He usually looks clean cut and boyish, with a little wad of chest hair on the beach that survives.  When he tries to look like an ISIS fighter in disguise, he isn’t convincing. In most scenes, despite all the mayhem, his pretty physicality remains intact, very slender, very muscular, as if prepared not for “Dancing with the Stars” but for a big gay disco with all the dirty dancing.  Milo Yiannopoulos would find him admirable (because “thin” is “in”).  Flynn’s writing manages to keep romance and family as a kind of “afterthought” behind the real super-hero, even given Rapp’s earnestness.  But, didn’t that perspective come from James Bond — what it means to be a man.

The film was shot in Thailand. Istanbul, Rome, Malta, and London.

Name:  “American Assassin”
Director, writer:  Michael Cuesta, Vince Flynn
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, weekday PM, small audience
Length:  105
Rating:  R
Companies:  CBS Films, Lionsgate
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)