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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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

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Movie Pitch: Indiana Jones (5) and The Lost City of Atlantis

Now that we know Steven Spielberg will be directing the fifth Indiana Jones with Harrison Ford returning as the titular treasure hunter we can have some fun speculating in the meantime. What follows is not just a movie pitch, but an idea that I believe would make for a strong entry in the adventure series. Obviously, not all will agree, and that’s okay. Lets just all dream of a better Indiana Jones sequel together.

Okay, so:

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: *Not George Lucas

Cast: Harrison Ford, Shia Labeouf (patience), Daniel Day-Lewis, Chris Hemsworth & Mark Rylance

Plot:

It’s 1963 and Shia Lebouf’s Mutt from “Kingdom of The Crystal Skull” is on the trail of a South American war monger (Daniel Day-Lewis) that’s been manipulating villages into mind controlled slaves. Rumor has it the ruthless leader of the violent gang was seen with an artifact that allows for such a transformation over mind and body. Mutt tracks the gang but gets too close, seen, and caught. The man-in-charge leaves no prisoners and sends Mutt’s corpse back to the closest inhabited town to ward off any other would-be pursuers.

We find Dr. Jones examining a recently discovered temple in Central America when he receives word of Mutt’s demise. With Marion back stateside, bed ridden with a worsening case of alzheimer’s, Indy swears to find out the truth behind his son’s death. He leaves for South America with his most recent collegue, Samuel Kern, (Mark Rylance) an expert in diseases of the mind and tribal languages along with his steadfast assistant Kel Worth (Chris Hemsworth).

From there the group follows the trail of the band of criminals as they weave further into the jungle. Indy and company slowly piece together what they are after upon spotting them. It is not immediately revealed that Daniel Day Lewis’s character is a former Nazi, that comes later, but what they do figure out is that Lewis and his gang of miscreants are after the Lost City of Atlantis.. but why? To revive the catatonic body of Adolf Hitler that they have been hiding in secret all these years, of course. It turns out he was wounded upon their exit of Germany, the body that the allies found in the bunker was obviously an illusion to throw the allied governments off their trail.

The elite team of escaped Nazis want to raise Atlantis out of the depths because of the rumored healing properties and psyche warping abilities surrounding the small continent-city. I’d honestly love them to succeed until they get to the altar where Hitler is woken and placed in the device, only to have his face melt off similarly to the scene in “Raiders of The Lost Ark”, because who doesn’t want to see Hitler get his face melted off?

There’s a lot in play that could be changed or altered, but I believe there is a solid idea in there for a compelling return, and end, to the Indiana Jones film series.

Filmmaking ideas:

This film will need a lot of underwater shots. Who knows, maybe this will be what excites Spielberg the most, a new filmmaking challenge. He could even have James Cameron on as an advisor with his groundbreaking work in the waves.

I would almost entirely stick to on location shots, props, and huge sets as much as possible. Indiana Jones lived in the first half of the 20th century, and that was a far more palpable and tactile world than the one we live in now. At least in the romantic sense.

Mutt lives?

I feel like this could go either way. It would likely just be seen as fan service and a darker turn for the series so maybe killing the character off wouldn’t be the best bet. I wouldn’t want the character to go down the same path as Indiana Jones however, he should have his own story. I’d also be interested to see what Shia Labeouf himself would like to do with the character, with the amount of hate this movie (somewhat unfairly in my opinion but I recognize I’m in the minority on that one) received I doubt he would want to return unless it was worth his while. Maybe he’s thought of a tasteful way to end his character, or maybe he just wants an off screen death and nothing to do with the production. Although why anyone would want to turn down any amount of work with Steven Spielberg is beyond me.

Location of Atlantis

Originally I thought it could be fun to play with the myth of the Bermuda Triangle. The lost city’s docile effects on nature being the turbulent storms that the area is known for.. and mind warping, which could explain all the downed ships and planes over the years. However if we’re going with a more reality based concept Atlantis was probably located far closer to the “western world” at the time, Greece, Rome, etc. Although certain accounts only cite that it is “Far off in the Atlantic Ocean” and that it was “larger than Ancient Libya and Asia Minor combined”

Artifact that draws them to Atlantis

My Atlantis lore is a little rusty at best but all we really need is a good Macguffin, all of Indy’s stories have a solid one. Of course the screenwriters could simply make something up entirely that has no basis in lore, but if there was a viable object in particular that would be nice.

Casting

Obviously getting Daniel Day-Lewis for an Indiana Jones movie, especially as a Nazi on a quest to revive the Führer, would be difficult to say the least. Let’s be honest though, he’s won three academy awards for best actor, the man has absolutely nothing to prove. If he wanted to pursue a roll in one of cinema’s classic series and bring an unprecedented level of gravitas to a potentially generic role otherwise, why not? He’d probably have a great deal of fun in the process as well, but who am I to say? I’d simply just love to see him do it, especially after his scene stealing role in “Gangs of New York”.

I chose to add Mark Rylance to the crew because Spielberg loves to work with his regulars and adding Rylance to the series couldn’t hurt for the level of acting he would bring as well. Plus He’d be another knowledgable character to aide in the search for Atlantis.

Chris Hemsworth as Rylance’s assistant/personal body guard would add a youthful charisma to the team. He’s also entirely capable of acting as the tough and foreboding muscle, or a sort of “thief with a heart of gold” type. Plus somebody has to be able to throw a solid punch around besides Indy, and even he’s getting up there.

Thanks for taking the time to read and (hopefully enjoy) my musings on what I think would be a fun take on ending the Indiana Jones series now that we know we’ll be getting another one anyways. What would you like to see in the next/last Indiana Jones film? Let me know in the comments!

 

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis

film

Review: Bridge of Spies, Spielberg almost does it again

‘Bridge of Spies’ is a movie that doesn’t seem to quite know what it wants to be. As many have undoubtedly already stated this movie is expertly crafted, no doubt about it, but when the name Spielberg is at the forefront, people come to the cinema with weighty expectations. The film has this disjointed feeling from start to finish, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a well made movie, just that there clear stylistic choices that are somewhat at odds with each other. Perhaps the silver screen pairing of the Coen Brothers on the screenplay and Spielberg’s direction tendencies just weren’t quite the match made in movie heaven that some thought it would end up being.

The film centers around the true life events of James Donovan, an American insurance lawyer in 1957 that ends up being selected to defend a recently captured Soviet spy, Rudolph Abel, acted quite well by Mark Rylance. As this is happening an American pilot is captured across the Soviet border while on a reconnaissance mission to gain precious info on the Russians. This time it is the CIA that comes to Donovan to get him to negotiate their spy for ours. Thus begins the heart of the movie. I will say there are plenty of great choices in the film. Obviously Hanks does a stellar job, but curiously in a handful of scenes it almost seems as if even Hanks is almost going through the motions of the film. His scenes with Russian spy Abel are always on point though. There is visually clever editing throughout, and the production team that designed the sets used deserve applause because never once do you feel as if the characters are not in the year 1957.

Lets get to the meat of it though. It feels as though Spielberg wasn’t sure if he wanted to create something more in line with his more serious films like ‘Lincoln’ or ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or his popcorn flicks like ‘Jaws’, ‘Jurassic Park’, or even ‘Catch me if you can’. The film is chock full of idealistic speeches given by Tom Hanks’ character James Donovan. It’s also sprinkled throughout with moments of dynamic tension concerning foot chases, aerial action, and terse negotiating. This wouldn’t be so bad if these same things weren’t also happening in other areas of the film as a whole. This is firstly evident in the writing. Now, this film is very well written, that’s not the issue here. The Issue is that the Coen brothers’ style, which can be felt whenever a character opens their mouth, seems to be running at a different pace than the action, acting, or plot. For example, its often repeated for the main character to ‘be careful’ as danger is afoot, in fact danger is frequently mentioned, but you never quite feel as if anyone you care about in the movie is in any palpable danger at all. It never fully feels as though the two ends of the spectrum are in tandem with each other. They’re both good and well in execution, they just feel out of sync with each other.

There is however one obviously glaring omission in this Spielberg flick. No John Williams. Which is a bit of a let down because the composer and director have come to be recognized with one another after all this time. This is only the second film that Spielberg has not collaborated with Williams on for the score. And you can tell. It almost seems as if Spielberg had a conversation with composer Thomas Newman asking him to “Just try and do what John Williams would do” because the score consistently tries to reach the heights of the legendary composer while only getting to some knockoff version that sounds like Danny Elfman trying to do John Williams instead.

Let it be known however that none of this means that the film is not good or entertaining, it is. We as moviegoers have simply come to expect a more complete package from Steven Spielberg at this point. The movie has heart, a whole lot of it, and at the end you’ll probably leave with slightly warm feelings about it, but I doubt the film ‘WOW’ed anyone at all. When you begin to be associated with wowing people, they will come to expect it. Maybe next time Spielberg. We still love you.

Final Score: 8/10