film

Review: Ready Player One

Written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline and directed by Steven Spielberg, “Ready Player One” is an adaption of the pop culture obsessed book written by Ernest Cline in 2011. As someone who read and enjoyed the book several years before the film’s release, I was looking forward to an adaption of it. I never in my life expected Steven Spielberg to be the one to adapt it though, and it had me ecstatic over the possibilities. Though, with many studios and entertainment companies re-doing major popular franchises since the book’s publication there was some concern over the nostalgia overload that this title could be a part of. There was the danger of taking popular characters, much beloved titles and art (in general), and utilizing them purely for the maligned and profit seeking purposes of member-berries. Which would ultimately undercut the whole point and heart of the story. Luckily the right hands were guiding this film and the heart imbued in the book, with a focus on what makes pop culture so loved by so many people, stayed intact.

Ready-Player-One

I’m getting ahead of myself though. “Ready Player One” is about Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) a teenager living in Columbus Ohio in the year 2045. His life in the real world is fairly awful, he lives in ‘the stacks’, a slum of welded together trailers stacked on top of each other with people crammed together inside them living as best they can. Wade lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend as his parents had died when he was young. We get a few lines describing the poverty of the age, how after the corn-syrup droughts and the internet blackouts most people simply tried to survive instead of trying to solve the problems in the world. Most have devoted themselves to living through the virtual reality system known as the Oasis. Though the Oasis itself, while given a good quick explanation of what it was in the beginning of the movie, is actually a much larger part of society in the book than what the movie mentions (though, my few nitpicks are really just the sacrifices that one has to take when adapting a book to film).

DQv5_mVVoAAeNn7

The movie doesn’t quite accurately present the scale of what the Oasis means for society in the world of 2045. It’s not just games and quests, the digital currency in the oasis is what the real world runs on now. More than that though, the Oasis reinvented the education system; kids hologram into their classrooms from around the world and learn and interact via this system. People take their vacations in the Oasis, they love there, they kill (avatars) there, steal there, thrive there, squander their money and lives there. The Oasis is the internet a thousand times over. It’s taken over the brick and mortar institutions of the real world and given imagination and escape a currency. At the core of this world evolving technology is James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the tech guru that created the Oasis, and who upon his death released the greatest challenge the world had ever seen. He had hidden an Easter egg somewhere within the Oasis. All a user had to do was solve a few riddles, complete several challenges, and win three keys which would grant said user the sole rights and proprietorship of the Oasis earning Halliday’s half a trillion dollar riches left behind and control over the most powerful company in the world.

636573171667454204-RPO-FP-083.jpg

 

Which of course means that there’s an evil corporation out there trying to find Halliday’s egg too. Innovative Online Industries (IOI) is headed by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) a smug clean-cut suit that perfectly embodies The Man. IOI utilizes forced servitude through bankruptcy and fees to amass an army of players that they run through the various challenges in an attempt to overwhelm and swarm the competition to victory. The normal players dub this amorphous group the sixers as every sixer is only identified by a string of numbers, all of which start with six. So, as you can imagine the movie dives into a fun, but predictable, plot of rebellious youth fighting the power hungry corporation run by an out-of-touch old white guy. Which I am completely fine with if the movie is handled well and entertaining. For me, “Ready Player One” does just that.

readyplayerone

Wade and his friends Aech (Lena Waithe), Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Sho (Philip Zhao) are some of the few users that are still trying to complete the quest five years after everyone else had abandoned the idea. The challenges themselves are fairly different from the book’s challenges, but they’re all in the same spirit as those in the book. The first one being a race through New York City with ramps, traps, and obstacles aplenty-like King Kong for example. While this is vastly different from the book Spielberg kicks off the film with this thrilling sequence that is in itself in adoration of a good race. I won’t go into great detail about the other two, but the one second challenge was an absolute joy to watch, I’ll just note that it heavily involves the movie version of “The Shining”.

b0164778_20184681.jpg

Honestly, I went into this film with hope, but measured expectations. If you think this is the sort of film or story you’d enjoy- then I expect you might really have fun with this movie. However if you came to this movie looking for the most thought provoking or profound ideas, then I’m sorry but you came to the wrong theater. I’m not downgrading the movie in this way, its just that this isn’t the story for you if that’s what you wanted. This is a movie that is in love with pop culture, yes, there are characters and imagery from pop culture charging across the screen throughout the run-time, but it doesn’t seem shameless in its depiction, or as haphazardly contrived as it could have been in lesser hands. This was, for me, the first time in years that Spielberg has recaptured his former filmmaking magic that has been missing in most of his post-millenium work. I had a thoroughly good time at the theater, and I definitely give it a recommendation.

Final Score: Three Keys and 1 Easter Egg

Advertisements
film

Review: Pacific Rim – Uprising

Written by Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, T.S. Nowlin, and Steven S. DeKnight and directed by DeKnight, “Pacific Rim Uprising” is the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s initial film featuring giant robots fighting giant monsters in 2013. Uprising takes place ten years after the end of the first film and focuses on the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, Jake (John Boyega). As the film likes to point out on several occasions, Jake is not his father, and there’s a feeling that the screenwriters’ would like you to measure your expectations as this film is not Guillermo’s either. Which isn’t to say that the sequel isn’t fun, it has plenty of giant robot fighting action to sate the core audience, rather the film simply lacks the stylistic touches that Guillermo brought to the genre film the first time around. When the action does begin though, it is pure genre fun.

Pacific-Rim-LA-RIVOLTA

This film has a harder place to begin with than the first, how do you follow up cancelling the apocalypse after all? Set during a rebuilding post-war society, there’s less inherent drama to drum up the tension, so the focus falls to Jake and his run in with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) a young upstart Jaeger engineer who’s built her own pint-sized mech. While Jake had reaped the benefits of a broken world on the black market, Amara had built something from it- illegally though. When they’re both caught and turned in, they are given a choice, recruit to the PDCC (Pan Pacific Defense Corps) or imprisonment. Once they arrive at the shatterdome the story follows some atypical Top Gun style cadet infighting with Scott Eastwood using his father’s likeness to great effect as the lead Ranger Nate Lambert (Jake’s former Jaeger co-pilot) before turning our attention to the returning characters from the first film.

Pacific-Rim-Uprising-Trailer-2-30

Gratefully, one of the best attributes of this film is that it very much lives and breathes in the world created by the first “Pacific Rim”. The quirks and peculiarities of the first are kept in place, each Jaeger still needs two pilots who need to be drift compatible in order to pilot them, the headquarters of each base the PDCC runs are still called shatterdomes, there are even a few breaches and plot points from the first film that come back in surprising- but spoilery– ways that I feel would be best discovered through a watch of Uprising itself. Speaking of twists and turns, I won’t divulge the details, but I personally found them to be delightfully weird and a fun contribution to the world of Pacific Rim as a whole.

Now, as for the downsides of the film, there’s a noticeable lack of style and atmosphere that the first film was steeped in. There was a few questionable choices throughout the story as well. While Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Dr. Newton “Newt” Geiszler (Charlie Day), and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) all return in various scenes, the lead from the first film, Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), is only mentioned once. His absence from the story is never explained whatsoever, not even a line to say that he’d died in-between films. Another equally confusing decision is the lack of use of the score, or theme, from the first film. It’s brought back for one short montage and never noted on again- which is a shame as the first one used that signature theme as often as possible and helped to craft the tone of the film. Another palpable vacancy is the sense of scale and weight that accompanied the Jaegers and Kaiju in the first film. They were gigantic, yes, but slower in movement while the angles and framing accented the towering nature of these behemoths. Uprising certainly has gigantic and thrilling action sequences, but the Jaegers here are so unrealistically nimble and graceful in their actions that immersion becomes more of an afterthought to the Power Rangers style choreographed fight sequences. My last nitpick here is of the flat lighting. Which, yes, might seem incredibly nitpicky of me, but while this provides admittedly more visual clarity during some fight scenes, it speaks to the overall theme of lacking atmosphere and the touches of artistic quality that comes from a more deft filmmaker.

merlin_135716733_21ef312b-3d76-455d-bef7-f2584c9988a6-master768

Overall I have to say I honestly really enjoyed “Pacific Rim Uprising”. It might not have everything that made the first film special, but it certainly has a lot of what works in this genre of movies- beautiful special effects and lots of visually stunning fight scenes. The film introduced some good new characters and an intriguing evolution to the mythos that I didn’t expect. You probably already know if this is a film you’d enjoy or not, but if you liked the first film, this is a solid sequel- even with a few detracting factors.

Final Score: 3 Kaiju, 4 Jaegers

film

Review: The Disaster Artist

Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and directed by James Franco, “The Disaster Artist” is the true story of the making of the now infamous cult classic/midnight movie extraordinaire, “The Room”. At the center of this hurricane of a film production is the friendship between Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). The film begins with Greg taking an acting class in San Francisco where he timidly makes an attempt at the scene he’s been given before quietly sitting back down. Immediately after that the acting teacher asks if anyone else would like to make an attempt at the material. One lone voice responds to that call. Tommy Wiseau meanders down the stairs and proceeds to throw everything at his scene, quite literally. He grumbles and screeches, climbs the set structures to jump off and dramatically lay out on the floor- all while wailing without shame. This is Wiseau in a nutshell, confident and shameless-even when his instincts betray his intentions. Greg, meanwhile, is mesmerized by this display of fearlessness and seeks out Tommy after class to seek an attempt at capturing what Wiseau has in spades, confidence beyond measure and consideration. The long-haired and heavily accented force of nature accepts and after a scene in a diner where he pushes Greg to recite some lines loudly while ignoring the onlooking of everyone in the restaurant, they agree to go to Los Angeles to break into acting. These small moments are the foundation upon which the rest of the film rests, two weird nobodies sharing a dream and conspiring to beat the odds and secure that dream.

disaster

This movie could have easily been a joke where the audience laughs at the ridiculous nature and choices of Tommy Wiseau and crew (and admittedly we do), but the film makes a serious effort to never make Wiseau the butt of the joke in a malevolent or mean-spirited fashion. It’s more along the lines of the audience rooting for Wiseau and Sestero, but then laughing when they fail in spectacular fashion. There’s an admirable stab at infusing humanity into the mysterious Wiseau so that we don’t feel as though we’re kicking him when he’s down. Instead the laughter is complimented by a hand offering assistance and encouragement at another go at it.

artista-do-desastre-840x577

After living and striving in Los Angeles for several months with next to nothing to show for their acting efforts, Sestero and Wiseau ultimately decide to try and make their own film instead. With Tommy’s seemingly endless funds and ambition the two scrape together a production crew, and cast the film with much bluster and blundering involved. If you know anything about the basics of filmmaking you’ll find a lot to laugh about. For example, Tommy and Greg go to a film rental shop to get some gear and instead of renting the expensive cameras, lenses, and filmstock, Wiseau opts to simply buy it all, both the film and the video cameras- everything. The budget details for “The Room” must have been staggering and quite amusing. Like choosing to build an alleyway set that looks exactly like the one just outside the studio, or the questionable choice to green-screen the Los Angeles skyline- of which they also have access to. That’s just the tip of the myriad of oddball and expensive creative choices that led to the creation of this very specific movie.

Disaster-Artist-James-Franco-Tommy-Wiseau-Pictures

“The Disaster Artist” is an oddball of entertainment. The Franco brothers did a lot to portray the two midnight movie makers with heart and ambition, and that’s why the film succeeds at the end of the day. Sure, the weirdly acute creative decisions of “The Room” provide hearty laughter with it’s most infamous scenes recreated, “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART LISA!” and “Oh Hai Mark” among many others, but with the grounded focus on friendship and creative ambition against all odds (and then some), “The Disaster Artist” repurposes that same love for the cinema that got so many people involved in filmmaking to begin with. Perhaps the strangest product to come from Hollywood in years, this film was a joy to watch, and laugh with.

 

Final Score: 158 takes of “Oh Hai Mark”

*Oh and for a more in depth look into the horde of celebrity and comedian cameos in the film, check this out:

https://www.wmagazine.com/story/the-disaster-artist-celebrity-cameos-guide

P.S. The next pairing of these two titans of B-movie mania is actually right around the corner. “Best F(r)iends”, written by Sestero and starring both Wiseau and Sestero, has been described as ‘like a Hitchcock noir- but with Tommy Wiseau‘ So that should be quite the unique piece. I say check it out, (I actually will be seeing this one) you probably won’t see anything like it- their track record indicates as much.

P.P.S. It’s also being released in two volumes, a la “Kill Bill”, Vol. 1 will play in 600 select theaters nationwide on March 30 and April 2, followed by Vol. 2 on June 1 and June 4.

film

Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

Written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons and directed by Roar Uthaug, “Tomb Raider” is the third film adaption of the popular video game series of the same name- whilst also being a reboot that in itself is an adaption of the series’ most recent reboot to the video game series that was released in 2013 (whew, that was a lot). Alicia Vikander stars as Lara Croft this time around in a much more grounded take on the action adventure series than the prior Angelina Jolie films (which, I have to say are quite a lot of fun in their own right). In this origin of the character Lara’s father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), became obsessed with ancient myths and artifacts after the death of her mother and had absconded off to a mysterious island in the pacific near Japan seven years prior to search for the tomb of Himiko, the cursed first empress of Japan. Myth and legend shrouded her legacy, but all cite a supposed apocalyptic scenario that would be unleashed upon the world if her tomb were to be disturbed. Lord Croft had pursued the legend with The Trinity at his coattails, an evil organization looking to weaponize the myth. He sought to keep the tomb hidden and out of the hands of the Syndicate… err, the Nazis… I mean… Trinity– yes them, that’s the one.

TOMB-RAIDER-1417.dng

When we meet Lara in the first act she’s living in London on a shoestring budget, refusing to accept her father’s inheritance- signing that contract would be accepting his death. Instead she makes ends meet by training at a small gym and cycling through the crowded streets as a courier. Right off the bat the film sets the mood firmly in the momentum and thrill of Lara’s life. After overhearing the details of a lucrative courier race, in which a paint can is strapped to her bike leaking paint with a fox tail attached and only given a moments head start, she’s accepted the challenge and races through London closely followed by a league of cyclists. This scene was cleverly shot and a fun way to kickstart the film’s energetic sense of fun. Which is one of the film’s best attributes overall.

TombRaiderW.jpg

Once Lara makes her way to the Croft building to begrudgingly accept her inheritance, she’s given a puzzling cryptex that she solves as she’s being read the specifics of her father’s will, as if she were simply fidgeting. As she does so, a key pops out with a clue that leads her to her father’s own tomb- where she discovers the details of his globe-trotting adventures. She’s quickly off to follow his trail and discover the path he took to his death. She ends up in China before long to question the captain that chartered her father to the remote island. Instead she finds Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) the son of the captain she sought. After some squabbling she offers him a payday worth his while and they set sail, so to speak, for the island dead set in the middle of the devil’s sea.

tomb-raider-vikander-movie-review-60d1ef1f-ae0c-44d8-8c57-17b1a5f92901-Lara-Croft-Tomb-Raider

Once she’s stepped upon the island she meets the villain of the film, Mathias Vogel, an employee of the shapeless Trinity organization played with serviceable cruelty by Walton Goggins. From there the film goes about the usual tropes of any action adventure movie or video game, i.e. solving puzzles, sneaking past unnamed and heinous henchmen, encountering dizzying thrills, all in service of seeking the eponymous tomb. So that’s all well and good, but is the film successful in its execution of these well-worn adventure themed devices? I would say that it does. While this film never reaches the heights of Indiana Jones, it does enough to separate itself as a story all it’s own while maintaining a solid sense of momentum and adequate adventure thrills. Alicia Vikander was an excellent casting choice for this reboot, while the script never reaches for the wise-cracking snark and personality of her video game peer in Nathan Drake, she does a lot with what she’s given. You can feel her struggle and her purpose in seeking answers to her father’s mysterious end.

tomb-raider-review

This latest version of “Tomb Raider” gives a lot of potential for a solid string of sequels if the studio so chooses. There could be some polish done in the future, maybe learn what didn’t exactly work in this entry for example, and this could very well turn into quite an enjoyable series. Though the last five minutes of the film do go a bit over the top in their obvious hopes for another shot at the material. While the film lacks some magic in the writing and the plot points feel a bit familiar, it’s still good fun at the theater!

 

 

Final Score: three puzzles, one island, and a good deal of fun

film

Review: DeathWish (2018)

Written by Joe Carnahan and directed by Eli Roth, “Death Wish” is the 2018 remake of the Charles Bronson led 1974 crime/revenge movie. It’s also a heaping pile of poorly timed garbage. Have you ever seen a revenge movie? Generally speaking, the hero usually loses his family or loved ones-or is simply wronged in some form, and he then pursues vigilante justice after the legal system fails him. That’s this whole movie. Which, I could forgive if the film was either, A) comically over-the-top with it’s violence and tone, B) had something important to say- at all, or C) if the film wasn’t as rote, banal, and as bland as it turned out to be.

landscape-1501768395-screen-shot-2017-08-03-at-145208

To be fair, going into this showing I had zero expectations. In fact the whole point of going to see this film with friends was to ‘go see a bad movie’ together. Whew, well by that metric, the film was a success. Which is a shame in all honesty, Bruce Willis used to be a Movie Star-with a capital M! Now he’s relegated to shoehorned and forced ‘action titles’ that rank among this film’s quality. The last ‘Die Hard’ was a travesty and the man’s been sleeping-walking through bad films ever since. The only hope I had going into this film was that Eli Roth, as a well known horror director, could bring a sort of tongue in cheek levity to the film’s untimely subject matter and make it comedically palatable. I was quite wrong with that hope.

death-wish-trailer-image-master768

If it had been tackled with any sort of imagination instead of the tired ‘been there, done that!’ filmmaking tactics that gave way to this film, there could have been something worthwhile there. In my opinion the most significant problem with the film was it’s lack of confidence. It felt as if there was a tug-of-war between wanting to craft a shoot ’em up gore fest grindhouse flick, and a serious gritty crime film with a glaze of nostalgia for those left wanting after the finale of ‘Breaking Bad’. Speaking of which, Dean Norris and Vincent D’Onofrio both make attempts within the margins of this script to elevate the films status- even if only for a moment- but they too fail in this effort. The material is weak, the direction was left wanting, the script was mind numbing, and Bruce Willis was dead-eyed from the opening scenes to the credits roll. Trust me, you can skip this one. In fact, if you’re looking for some so bad it’s good content I’ll leave a link below to an episode of ‘Best of the Worst’ from Red Letter Media on YouTube. In this particular episode they discuss the third ‘Death Wish’ with Charles Bronson, among other equally bad movies, which is far more entertaining than the current remake in theaters.

Final Score: 1 Wish… FOR DEATH(!)