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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: Adaption of “Endurance” Ernest Shackleton’s fated Antarctic voyage

Recently I finished the book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible voyage” and ever since I’ve been obsessed with what a film adaption of this tale would look like. Below I’ve assembled a cast and crew that would create a unique and vibrant adaption of this actual voyage. This is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his attempt to organize a crew, and a ship, to travel to the southern pole and become the first to traverse the Antarctic continent from sea to sea as his previous journey south ended with him being beaten to the south pole by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. This attempt would also go awry, as fate would have it, the crew of the endurance would never make it to the Antarctic coast. At about a day’s journey from their destination the Endurance became trapped in floating pack ice in the Weddell sea.

For months the crew of the Endurance stayed on ship hoping for the ice-floe to give, but its grip only tightened further until they had to abandon ship before the ice crushed the Endurance. Thus the crew camped out on the floe, surviving blizzards, sea life, starvation, and boredom until it broke up and they could make a break for land. It was a grueling journey with flares of mutiny, dog sledding races, soccer matches, theatre shows and musical entertainment by way of banjo. That doesn’t even cover the second half of the journey, which consisted of Shackleton and several crew members sailing in a twenty foot lifeboat across 800 miles (roughly) of raging seas in some of the most dangerous waters on the planet. The true story is thrilling, harrowing, and full of the extent to which humanity can struggle and fight just to live another day.

I haven’t, however, casted for the entire crew of the endurance. The Endurance’s crew consisted of 28 members including Shackleton, but I have tried to cast for the majority of crew members that have some sort of standout personality or that have moments over the course of their journey that play into a compelling narrative better. I’m sure there are regulars in the film casting world that would be capable of such scale and lengthy film shoots. I honestly see this as being a very long film because of the nature of the story, as a lot of it is the crew lying in wait on the floe, and later waiting on Elephant island, but it is sparsed with more intense times throughout. What has to be considered here is the essential world building, and the immersion of the story, as it is in the world of 1914, during World War One. I’d suggest longer takes and shots, lingering on thought and expression at times. Look at “The Hateful Eight” (Ironically this is a film I initially did not enjoy but have come to find it to be more of a masterpiece in some regards) and how patience in camera work made for better and more intuitive character moments, it also helped to set the mood for the narrative.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Iñárritu proved incredible skill as a director in both “Birdman” and “The Revenant” winning two Best Director oscars for both, two years in a row, with “Birdman” receiving Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture as well. Shackleton’s story does share similar themes that “The Revenant” also tackled, ‘Man versus Nature’ and the grit to go through extreme hardships, but the Fate of the Endurance and her crew is a bit different. There is no revenge here, just man tempting the fates of nature and getting a horrid hand of cards dealt their way, but striving nonetheless. It is about the neccesary implementation of optimism and hope, even in the darkest of times. Alejandro Iñárritu has done groundbreaking things with his cinematopgraphy choices in both “The Revenant” and “Birdman” and I believe he could do wonders with this material.

Writers: Steven Zaillian and the Coen brothers

Steven Zaillian was one of the main screenwriters on “Gangs of New York”, which is in my opinion one of the very best films set within a historical context. That film is grounded and has a good sense about the world that it has to efficiently emulate and become. Combined with the Coen brothers who have an extensive record of creating films within very specific time settings (from “The Big Lebowski” to “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and  “Inside Llewyn Davis” among others), not to mention their outright skill in the writing department AND the fact that they’ve been known to join in on the writing efforts of other films at times (“Bridge of Spies”). This is a team that has the credentials and the skill to pull this film off.

Cast:

Ernest Shackleton (Expedition Leader): Liam Neeson

With Shackleton being of Irish descent I believe Liam Neeson is uniquely qualified to pull off the stoic optimism of this legendary explorer excellently. While Neeson has recently evolved into an action star in the last decade he has the gravitas and grit when needed, just look at “The Grey” (For the ‘Man versus Nature’ argument) and Scorsese’s upcoming film “Silence”, a story of jesuits sent to 17th century Japan to retrieve a fellow jesuit wherein Neeson portrays the mentor of the jesuits. Shackleton was a born leader and it was under his authority and compassion that led them all to survive. Shackelton’s mantra of unity and show of humanity was infectious among the crew, often leading them all to rise to his example and treat each other with tremendous compassion. He broke the barriers between the classism that was more present in society at the time. He ordered everyone to perform all tasks, he even washed the floors himself and served the men hot milk (One of the few morsales of food and liquid available at the time) when trapped on the floes. To Shackleton, survival and maintaining the morality of the crew was far more important than any scrap of glory once he knew they would never make it to the Antarctic coast, he simply changed gears and made new goals, mostly that of the crew’s survival and return home. Liam Neeson could portray that confidence, optimism, and sense of checked urgency without folding under the immense pressure that Shackleton was constantly facing. Plus-an argument that could be made for each of these actors included below- who wouldn’t want to work with the director that just won two best director oscars and won one best picture, but was nominated for it twice?!

Thomas Orde-Lees (Storekeeper): Martin Freeman

Orde-Lees was a particularly sassy fellow as far as the rest of the crew was concerned. Labeled a prima donna by some of the crew, he held one of the most perceptive journals out of everyone as he so often complained of others’ nuisances, in his eyes. After Freeman’s performance in “The World’s End”, among many other films and shows,  I am convinced that Martin Freeman could pull off the slightly adverse crew member with his somewhat grumpy demeanor and general negativity towards their odds of survival.

Frank Worsley (Captain/on South Georgia trip): Michael McElhatton

As Captain of the Endurance Worsley needs a character actor with a presence, and Michael McElhatton has presence in spades. You might know him as Roose Bolton, Ramsey’s father, from Game of Thrones. This role would be far less antagonistic than that of the Bolton clan but his projected power in leadership that he portrays on Game of Thrones would most likely transfer to film well. He was also chosen to go with Shackleton on his treacherous journey to South Georgia Island from Elephant Island as Worsley had become adept at navigating in the ever worsening conditions ever since their departure from “Patience Camp” on the pack ice.

Frank Wild (Second-in-command): Eddie Marsan

Eddie Marsan may have portrayed a pushover in the film “The World’s End” but I believe he not only has the smaller framed look of Wild, but the acting ability as well. Wild was an important player in this journey as he often was confided in by Shackleton, and he took on many roles once everything had turned from exploration to that of survival. Marsan has had an incredible amount of side character roles in television and film and is well rounded enough to be able to pull this off efficiently.

Huberht Hudson (Navigator): Tim Roth

Hudson was an indespensible asset on the Endurance as he helped them to find their position while lost at sea on their floating savior/menace of ice. Tim Roth is equally indespensible in every film or show I’ve seen him in and I believe he’d only add gravitas to the ordeal.

Thomas Crean (2nd officer/on South Georgia trip): Sean Bean

While not as commanding a role as he’s had before, this role would be a bit different for Bean. A tough everyman for the English in 1914 Crean proudly became the ‘Father’ of a set of puppies on the trip proving to have a heart of gold under that rugged exterior. Crean is also one of the few characters that travels with Shackleton through the 800 mile journey to South Georgia Island. You need strong willed character actors to portray the enduring battle for survival, and Sean Bean can emote strength, loyalty, and respect effectively. Crean was a man that followed orders, but didn’t quit when it got tough, for he was tougher.

George Marston (Artist): Daniel Radcliffe

As with “Swiss Army Man” and “Horns” Daniel Radliffe seems to be choosing odd yet fun roles since his departure from the wizarding world of magic and nothing would set him apart from that realm of storytelling more than a hard dose of realism set against the backdrop of a dying breed of conquest and adventure at the beginning of World War One. Marston may not have been the biggest standout character among the journey, but he has a unique perspective from the other crew as the journey’s official Artist, he could play with the material within common sense for the character and make smaller moments shine whereas others may not be able to do as much with the role.

Frank Hurley (Photographer): Simon Pegg

Hurley had an interesting perspective within this journey as the photographer of the expedition, he took (and saved) all the pictures and film we currently have today. In fact the picture at the top of the article was taken by Hurley and has Frank Worsley and Lionel Greenstreet in the picture with the Endurance in the harbour of South Georgia Island below, the last stop before getting caught in the pack ice. As such a character, one that frames and views people and spaces, Hurley has qualities that I think Simon Pegg would excel at portraying. Pegg is exceptionally good at imbuing heart and he has a genuine authenticity that would play well into such a character.

Harry McNeish (Carpenter/on South Georgia trip): Walton Goggins

McNeish would be an especially fun role to have Walton Goggins in. As the only member of the party to really step forward to begin a mutiny, before having Shackleton firmly stand his ground as the authority figure, McNeish has a special amount of conflict within his character. He is also one of the crew chosen to go with Shackleton on the trip to South Georgia as his loyalty and ability to influence others came into question. Goggins is rightfully getting more recognition in the film world due to his scene stealing role in “The Hateful Eight”, and I feel he could do this role justice.

Charles Green (Cook): Charlie Day

In my opinion Charlie Day should be in more and bigger roles whenever possible. His antics on the show “Its always Sunny in Philadelphia” are ridiculous and entertaining, but out of the other roles he’s popped up in, I believe I see talents greater than that of Charlie Kelly, ‘King of the Rats’ (Although I do love that character). Green was noted as having a squeaky voice and being conscientious- yet scatterbrained. Does this not sound like the character type Charlie Day has become known for? As the chef that continually serves the crew in the worst of conditions Charlie could have ample opportunity to flex the role and show off his ability to weather any storm and survive, if he can bring anything from the Charlie Kelly character- it would be his skill in survival.

John Vincent (Seaman/on South Georgia trip): Adam Baldwin

You may remember this Baldwin from a little sci-fi show from the early 2000’s called “Firefly”. As Jayne on that show Baldwin expressed a lot of what we’d need for Vincent, essentially a strong strongman (Vincent had been an amateur boxer and wrestler before taking on work on the open seas) that attempts bullying behavior among the crew and is thus also picked by Shackleton to go on the journey to South Georgia, he’s loyal, just slightly antagonistic. Adam Baldwin could excel in this role.

Timothy McCarthy (Seaman/on South Georgia trip): Sharlto Copley

This may be a smaller role on the journey but as one of the capable seaman on the trip Copley could have great fun in being an eternal optimist in the worst of it. He was also chosen to go on the journey to South Georgia and maintained a sunny attitude once proclaiming “Another fine day” to McNeish when switching shifts at the till, to which I believe McNeish later recorded in his journal as “Insufferably optimistic”, but don’t quote me on that.

Lionel Greenstreet (First Officer): Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman is an actor with an incredible set of range, just watch “Kate and Leopold”, “The Wolverine”, and “Les Misérables” to get an idea. As an outspoken officer aboard the ship Greenstreet held his level of authority and was well liked. Later in the expedition he ran one of the dog teams and ended up killing an 800 lb Weddell seal with the help of Dr. Macklin. Jackman would be yet another indespensible asset to the film.

Leonard Hussey (Meteorologist): John C. Reilly

John C. reilly has done serious roles before (“Gangs of New York” for example), and he would fit in well here. Hussey had little qualifications going into the trip but Shackleton eyed his potential crewmates with more than just record and experience although those were ample qualifiers as well. He relied on gut and intuition. It paid off with Hussey as he was rather proficient at his work.

Dr. Alexander Macklin (Surgeon): Christoph Waltz

Macklin was a worldy man having been born in India and traveled globally before his family returned to England where he began his certification to become a doctor. When he was interviewed by Shackleton for acceptance on the expedition he asked Macklin what was wrong with his eyes, as Macklin wore glasses, he humorously replied “Many a wise face would look foolish without them” That clinched the decision for Shackleton and he was aboard the Endurance. After they became trapped Macklin was put in charge of a team of dogs, his quickly became the best team of all the men, running sledges through the ice from the ship before it was crushed entirely. They also held races in the ice to abate boredom and apathy. Once getting to Elephant island Macklin and the other surgeon remained on the island to attend to Rickenson (one of the seamen) as he had a heart attack upon reaching the island, and Blackboro as he’d gotten gangrene on one of his feet and eventually had it removed. Christoph Waltz has the charm and wit to pull this character off well enough, plus giving him a worldly background would be easy for such a wordly actor.

Perce Blackboro (Stowaway): Paul Dano

Paul Dano does sadness and uncertainty incredibly well, see “Swiss Army Man” for a perfect example of this. As a stowaway who is caught and given work only to have an awful time after that, Dano would excel in this young character’s fear of being stranded on the ice. Even worse is the fact that he loses a foot due to gangrene after they leave the floe in the boats, being awash in freezing cold saltwater consistently for seven days straight without being able to move and almost no sleep and even less food will do that. Dano is amazing at emoting during times of struggle and strife, and this role is full of that.

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Movie-Pitch Mondays! Remake of “The Magnificent Seven”

Starting this week my goal is to keep pace with more weekly postings, Movie Pitch Mondays is that first step. This is where I imagine how I would approach the casting, the direction of plot, and crew that inhabit the production of this theoretical film. Description and vision of each film can vary from piece to piece.

For my first pitch I would love to see a remake of the old western classic “The Magnificent Seven”. Which itself was an Old-West style remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese-language film “Seven Samurai”. I know there’s a current remake of this property under way right now, set to be directed by Antoine Fuqua with Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, & Vincent D’Onofrio among others signed to star. This is simply how I would arrange the property.

The Cast, with character descriptions:

Tom Hanks as the Sheriff with a heart of gold and wit of steel.

Aaron Paul as the Deputy, loyal and proud yet a shadowy past.

James McAvoy as the angry Scottish indentured Railroad worker.

Simon Pegg as the Neurotic Englishman that translates for McAvoy’s character, inventive.

Michael Pena as a wanted bank robber from south of the border seeking asylum.

Vin Diesel as the tough Miner that’s had enough and demands a call to action.

Robert Downey Jr. as the devilishly charming Southern Gentleman, in from the East.

Patrick Stewart as The face of bureaucratic, crushing, power. Joyless.

Tim Roth as Business partner to Stewart’s character, The Good Cop to Stewart’s bad.

The Crew:

Director: JJ Abrams

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie

I chose JJ for this piece not only because I personally want to see what he could do in this most classic of sandboxes, but also because I believe he would handle that territory of filmmaking well. I would trust his handling of the genre. After “Star Trek”, and now “Wars” a western will almost be akin to retiring if we’re scaling for box office numbers anyways. JJ has a unique visual style, and I’m assuming his cinematographers would come along with him on subsequent projects. He can handle a piece such as this, a big ensemble cast that has many moving parts while maintaining just the right slow burn pace that is representative of the genre as a whole, but respectful of its varied and long history. What I think JJ brings to this potential film that is most needed is his sense of “Magic” that he has somehow acquired, that almost unfathomable subtle touch of magic that makes the film feel impervious to negativity. If that makes any sense. He’s very Spielbergian in that way, which is why I also chose to add in Tom Hanks as the emotional anchor of the piece.

Christopher McQuarrie has a history of delivering knock out screenplays, and just wrote and directed the latest “Mission Impossible” installment, “Rogue Nation”. With “The Usual Suspects” in particular, and “Edge of Tomorrow” in a lesser way, McQuarrie has proven himself capable of multifaceted and complex screenplays. Though this film won’t be a mind blowing reveal like the ending of “The Usual Suspects” it will have multiple things going on all at once and I believe his style would only compliment it.

I see the plot essentially maintaining the general idea that a group of gunslingers ban together to save a small Mexican town overrun by bandits. However in my revision we would place the setting in America and the Sheriff is the initial push in banding together forces both local and afar to save the town from a crushing pair of British businessman that bought their way into the Oil business and need a railway to run their product through the town for high speed purposes. From there the film almost writes itself to be honest. First the threat is established by the foreign businessmen, then when they are turned down a terrible act of violence is carried out. Perhaps the child of Vin Diesel’s character? Dark, but a high character motivator. You’d have your traditional recruitment scenes wherein Hanks rounds up anyone who isn’t too scared of the threat aka Vin Diesel. Next up, the people that have great needs for which they will join up if reimbursed/helped, a la Pena, Pegg, and McAvoy. Lastly, the wild card, or Robert Downey Jr’s character, the charismatic big talker blown in from the east who is really a washed up legend and feels obliged to take up the cause.Lest the townspeople neglect him or worse, find out his true tale and exile him.

This could be a really fun throwback to Western and Samurai tales. I may have wandered too far from the original concept, but every remake has to have its own skin, it’s own purpose, otherwise why do it at all? Obviously the third Act has to have large numbers of muscle/militia bought by the businessmen that end up carrying out an onslaught on the town and its people. Maybe even have Aaron Paul’s young and nimble deputy fall in battle as in the initial Western remake? Like I said there’s a lot you could do with this, I love the idea of it and while this will look almost nothing like the actual remake that is being made right now, I can dream, and you should too! That’s my Movie Pitch for this week!