‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’
(PG-13, 131 minutes, Twentieth Century Fox): Second chapter of James Dashner’s Y.A. series about teenagers trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world. Even if you’re not familiar with Dashner’s trilogy, anyone who saw the first film knows that no one in this expanding cinematic “Maze” universe is to be trusted. The element of suspicion will serve you well in a sequel – gripping and well shot but overly busy and filled with betrayal – that soon has Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and company on the lam from their saviors and dodging an obstacle course that includes a sandstorm, zombielike creatures called cranks, lightning, distrustful rebels and a doped-up human trafficker (Alan Tudyk) who lures adolescent victims with a creepy rave.
The plot of the first film was elegant in its enigmatic simplicity: Escape from this prison/puzzle and discover who the wardens are. In “Scorch,” the bad guys at least have the decency to advertise. Directed by Wes Ball with the same brio he brought to “The Maze Runner,” the film is not without its pleasures, which come from fine performances by O’Brien and a supporting cast that includes Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Patricia Clarkson, Giancarlo Esposito, Lili Taylor and Barry Pepper. It’s not a bad movie. It’s like several pretty good ones. Contains extended sequences of violence and action, some mature thematic elements, substance use and crude language. Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, gag reel galleries of concept art and storyboards, theatrical trailers. Blu-ray: “Janson’s Report,” a perfect bridge from the film that’s full of debriefing videos with Janson, Thomas, Newt, Minho, Frypan and Aris after they arrive at the compound; “Secrets of the Scorch,” visual effects breakdowns and reels
‘Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation’
(PG-13, 131 minutes, Paramount): Tom Cruise returns as special agent Ethan Hunt in this well-reviewed fifth installment in the “Mission: Impossible” saga. Preposterous, playful and shamelessly entertaining, the film obeys the first rule of action thrillers-cum-star vehicles: Take this all too seriously and you’re dead meat. Cruise, who delivers a Dorian Gray-like performance in his fifth outing as Ethan Hunt, knows this in his preternaturally uncreaky bones. Starting things off with an impressively realistic stunt, hanging off the side of an ascending airplane – which he performed himself, according to pre-opening publicity – Cruise strides through “Rogue Nation” with the combination of swagger and winking self-deprecation that have helped make him one of Hollywood’s most enduring and, dang it, lovable screen products. Just when viewers are about to give into full eye roll – when he displays the perfectly sculpted chest that his contract apparently stipulates he bare in every movie, say, or lays one of his penetrating Blue Steel looks on the baddie du jour – he delivers a perfectly timed pratfall or handsomely dim retort.
“Rogue Nation” turns out to be a fleet, well-crafted, effortlessly stylish addition to the “Mission: Impossible” canon in which outlandish derring-do, risibly arcane stakes and a woefully overlong running time are leavened by an endearing sense of humor that at times approaches high camp. Contains sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity. Blu-ray extras: Commentary by Cruise and director-screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie; seven featurettes go behind the scenes and explore the stunts and story: “Lighting the Fuse,” “Cruise Control,” “Heroes,” “Cruising Altitude,” “Mission: Immersible,” “Sand Theft Auto” and “The Missions Continue.”
(R, 117 minutes, Universal): Sequel to the surprise 2012 hit “Ted” finds the novelty of a profane, pot-smoking Teddy bear wearing thin. With “Ted 2,” director and co-writer Seth MacFarlane – who also voices the Boston-accented, profanity-spewing plushie of the title – tries to re-bottle that lightning, making a halfhearted bid for humanistic respectability in the bargain. As the film opens, Ted is marrying his sweetie from the first film, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). One year later, they’re bickering about bills and throwing epithets at each other. Advised that a baby would cure all their marital woes, Ted and Tami-Lynn decide to expand their family, an adventure that stops short when they’re informed that, in the eyes of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Ted is not legally a person, but property.
As with the first movie, the novelty of “Ted 2” lies in the hostile, puerile, graphically gross verbiage that spews out of the mouth of the otherwise cuddly protagonist, as well as the copious amounts of dope that flow into it. And, as in the first movie, those novelties fade quickly. The coarseness and monotony of politically incorrect jokes wear the viewer down. Whether his intentions are innocent or ham-handedly cynical, MacFarlane – the man who gave us the song “We Saw Your Boobs” at the 2013 Oscars, and who lards his film with running jokes about gay sex and the physical endowment of African American men – has made “Ted 2” less a spirited defense of tolerance and equality than a facile, only fitfully funny burlesque.
Contains crude sexual content, pervasive profanity and drug use. Extras: “Thunder Buddies 4 Lyfe,” “Roadtripping,” “Creating Comic-Con,” commentary with Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild and Jessica Barth. Blu-ray adds “A Giant Opening Dance Number,” deleted scenes, gag reel, “Cameo Buddies.”
‘He Named Me Malala’
(PG-13, 88 minutes, 20th Century Fox): In this documentary about Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim presents an affectionate and moving portrait of Malala that also paints her as remarkably brave, poised, funny, articulate, smart, self-aware, resilient and curious. Targeted by the Taliban because of her outspoken advocacy of girls’ education – via a BBC blog she started contributing to at age 11 – Malala was shot in the head, resulting in partial facial paralysis and a destroyed eardrum. Yet she says she harbors no anger toward her assailant. Guggenheim’s portrait emphasizes, paradoxically, his subject’s ordinariness, even as it makes a case that she is anything but ordinary.
A strong theme of the film is the unusually close bond between Malala and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. Although he was the first to encourage her to speak out for girls’ education as a child – arguably putting his daughter at risk – she refuses to blame him for what happened to her. It is when Malala talks about changing the world that you actually might start to believe that this kid, who is still only 18, could someday make a difference. Guggenheim is clearly in awe of her. By the end of “He Named Me Malala,” you may be, too. Contains disturbing images and thematic material involving threats made against a child.
Also out Dec. 15
- “Mission: Impossible – 5-Movie Blu-ray Collection”
- “The Surface”
- “Tokyo Fiancee”
- “Top Spin”
- “Wolf Totem”
- “Best of History Gift Set”
- “Duck Dynasty: Seasons 1-8”
- “HISTORY Bible Collection”
- “HISTORY War Collection”
- “Teen Wolf Season 5 Part 1”