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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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Old School Review: Duel (1971)

Written by Richard Matheson and directed by Steven Spielberg “Duel” has been at the top of my “To-Watch” list for some time now as it was Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut for feature length films. “Duel” stars Dennis Weaver as David Mann, a salesman on his way to a meeting on the southern California desert highways when he passes a large gasoline truck. Thinking nothing of it, Mann goes about his way until the truck gets dangerously close and begins a dangerous duel- to the death!

This may be a TV movie from 1972, but it still holds up as a solid suspense-driven thriller. Clocking in at a clean 89 minutes for the theatrical version “Duel” mainly works as well as it does due to Spielberg’s keen eye for direction and staging. Throughout the film you can see the kernels of skill developing into what will become synonymous with a certain great white shark a few years from this release. Spielberg himself cites Hitchcock as his main influence for this tale of attempted vehicular manslaughter, and you can tell- particularly in the diner sequence in which Mann tries to identify his would-be killer once he notices the gnarly tanker truck parked outside. The film relies on little dialogue, the story is mostly told visually and this showcases Spielberg’s obvious talent even further. What really impressed me though was the details of the production.

Spielberg had to fight to shoot on location, the studio wanted the genre thriller shot on a sound stage in Hollywood, but he argued that an on-location shoot would be far more compelling for the audience as shooting inside on a stage would be obviously fake and therefore lose inherent value i.e. money. They bargained on the more difficult location shoot but pressed Spielberg for time. They would only have ten days for their production. According to interviews with Spielberg the shoot ended up going two or three days over, but that the studio execs were impressed enough with the amount and quality of shots that he got initially that they allowed it, begrudgingly. Spielberg stayed in a motel during the production and had wrapped his room in a bird’s eye view map of the entire production that worked as his storyboard, he didn’t even get to see the dailies of film as he didn’t have enough time to go back to the studio and check the work. After finishing the production he hired five editors to scramble and piece the thriller together as they only had three weeks from production to the air date.

In the end “Duel” is a comparable genre thriller that exceeds expectation due to the capable hands it was in. If you haven’t seen this one, give it a shot, with as short as it is the film doesn’t overstay its welcome and you get to see Dennis Weaver lose his mind as he’s being chased down by a giant killer semi-truck. Which is pretty damn entertaining in my opinion.

 

 

Final Score: 1 red valiant and a box of rattlesnakes

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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

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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

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Top Five Directors That Marvel Studios Needs

Now that Marvel Studios’ resident miracle maker Kevin Feige doesn’t have to answer to a creative committee for major upcoming decisions regarding the properties at hand he has the option to court talent and crew like never before. Ike Perlmutter, the reportedly penny pinching CEO has been moved on to the Marvel Television department and Mr. Feige, along with Louis D’Esposito and Victoria Alonso, now answer only to Alan Horn, head of Disney Studios. This is excellent news for the throngs of Marvel Studios fans old and new as it allows the studio to freely fund their creative projects the way they want. This means previously considered “Untouchable” actors and filmmakers are now conceivably on the table. Below I’ve listed the five directors that I believe would most improve the Marvel comics properties and help bring not only their inherent audiences with them, but also new and refreshing perspectives to the anthology of films which is something that is beginning to become more needed as time goes on. Similarly to how Marvel fixed it’s third act issues with Captain America’s first flick I believe this new era of possibilities will only strengthen the stories and execution that come with the territory. Here are my thoughts on who should join the roster.

1 JJ Abrams

While JJ is currently off in a galaxy far far away he will need to make more films after his deep space sandbox days are over. It helps that he’s only committed himself to episode 7 so that he may return to original works, or other creative properties that he would like to immerse himself in. He’s seemingly become a master at jumping into established franchises and making magic out of them, ie Star Trek, Mission Impossible, & (hopefully) Star Wars. So I wouldn’t put it as too far a stretch of the imagination for him to take on a Marvel Comics property. I think, and this one might be a stretch, but hear me out, that Abrams would be an excellent choice for “Thor: Ragnarok”. Abrams has proven that he can be comfortable in the cosmic side of things while this project would offer that up in a fresh and exciting way. Personally I’ve quite enjoyed the “Thor” movies but there could easily be an argument made that out of all the main Avengers (save Hulk) that the Norse God’s trilogy has been the weakest overall. The series needs a shot in the arm for its biggest story yet and Ragnarok is HUGE, it will need a crew and director suited for the trials and tribulations that this story demands. JJ Abrams would be the best creative solution to Thor’s issues in my mind.

2 Christopher Nolan

The man that brought Batman back to life is no stranger to mind bending genre fair and he very well might be the dressing that the “Inhumans” movie will need. With his revered use of practical effects mixed with comprehensive CGI and the ability to pull real character depth out of traditionally ill fated on screen conceptions of villains a la Two Face then I see nothing but potential for this pairing. Nolan might be busy with a trilogy of “Akira” movies for Warner Brothers but if he ever wants to try the other side of the Superhero fence I firmly believe it should be with the fantastical Inhumans.

3 Kathryn Bigelow

There are multiple reasons Kathryn Bigelow would be a fine choice for a number of caped genre fair flicks but there’s really only one character in mind that I think would go hand in hand with her style and substance choices. Captain Marvel. The character is going to be a powerhouse of a force in the MCU and she needs to be handled with care,  remember, she’s the only leading lady in Marvel’s care as of right now. Bigelow’s style and direction would only benefit the subject matter but also the character of Carol Danvers as a person, the director has proven she can take great care in fostering strong female characters. And we can’t forget to mention that Ms Danvers herself comes from a military background, another checked box in Bigelow’s filmography. Bigelow is the obvious choice.

4 Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle is very good at taking a unique perspective and flexing it over odd creative choices. Case in point, “Trainspotting”, “Trance”, and “28 Days Later”, well, 28 days isn’t as weird as it was a new take on the age old Zombie flick that surpassed expectations. This entry is more of a theoretical choice when it comes to the specific film I think he would be best at, but if the MCU heads ever decide to make a “Moonknight” movie, they should remember Danny Boyle. Moonknight is such an unrecognized and underused title when compared to the big four (Avengers) he would be an excellent palette cleanser from what what came before. Marc Spector, the Moon Knight, is a vigilante that brutally delivers justice while receiving instruction on high from the Egyptian god Khonshu.. and he has multiple personalities… and Schizophrenia. So is he really hearing declarations from the God? That’s just part of the fun. There’s no doubt in my mind that Danny Boyle would have an absolute blast making this weird character come alive onscreen, and he should!

5 Steven Spielberg

Even with his recent comments about the Superhero genre eventually going the way of the western, who wouldn’t want the king of movie magic laying his fingerprints over one of the comic giant’s properties? I can think of no better option than Spiderman himself. Arguably the most well known Superhero the world over, Spiderman would the quintessential choice for this legend of filmmaking. Think about it, make Tom Hanks Uncle Ben, allowing for a brief cameo so as not to use up too much of his time and voila! Perfection. Can you think of a better pairing between director and character than this? The character with the most heart getting the director with the most human touch and magical whimsy ever to be involved together? Shoot me now because this is the end all be all of theoretical-but-totally-not-gonna-happen ideas. I can dream though..

Honorable Mentions

Quentin Tarantino

I wish I could say I’d feel comfortable with meshing Tarantino into the Marvel universe but other than the Punisher I see no real possibility for this one. I’m sure he’s do a fantastic revenge thriller for the character, but would the director even want to get involved?

Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

If we can’t get Spielberg then Lord and Miller would be excellent choices for the Spiderman character, maybe for one of his sequels? Their brand of humor and general favorability would mesh wonderfully with the quips and heart surrounding Spidey, which makes all the sense in the world as they are already working on some sort of animated Spiderman film, so I’m clearly not alone in this assumption.

So there you have it, those are the directors that I feel would be the best options for Marvel Studios to pursue in the coming years now that money isn’t as much of an obstacle as it had been. Hopefully we’ll see one of these visionaries take on a Marvel property, I’d love to see what they do with the boundless options this MCU sandbox has afforded us!