Film Review: Ready Player One (2018)

Release Date: March 11th, 2018 (SXSW)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Based on: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Letitia Wright, Clare Higgins, McKenna Grace

Village Roadshow Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Farah Films & Management, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.” – Parzival

*There be spoilers here!

The first thing that people who read the book are going to ask is, “How much did they change?” The short answer is, “Everything.”

In fact, there is so much that has changed that it’s too much to list out. As my friend Greg said once the credits started rolling, “They should change it to say ‘vaguely inspired by Ready Player One.'” And that’s pretty much how I feel, as someone who read the book first.

The main thing that this film is lacking is heart and soul. The book did a decent job building up characters and making the first time meetings meaningful and sweet, the film just drops the real humans in with no warning, halfway through the story. In the book, none of these people actually meet until the very end, as they unite in the real world for the big final battle.

And for some reason, maybe because Spielberg is besties with George Lucas, this version has some sort of “rebellion” that already exists and abducts Parzival in an effort to get him to join. This leads to him meeting Artemis before the midpoint of the film. In the book, she’s so freaked out by her own appearance that she won’t actually meet Parzival until the very end. Here, her birthmark was something that could be easily covered up with foundation. I’ve seen plenty of girls who have looked far worse without makeup… hell, with makeup. And in a world where most people are poverty stricken and dirty with facial tattoos, the whole thing is ridiculous.

The biggest problem with the movie is it took a decent book with some good ideas and it made them worse. I was hoping that Spielberg could put his hand in the story and use his magic to fix up the weaker bits. But the story is so different than the book that those weak bits are gone. Sadly, they’re replaced with something much more superficial, artificial and monotonous.

Every time that something with real weight happened in this movie, it didn’t have the weight that it did in the book. I think the book benefits from having Wade/Parzival tell his story from the first-person point-of-view. The movie is just a movie without any narration, internal monologue or anything that can really add more the the story. You just don’t feel anything for these people, their situation or the events themselves. The film needs a lot more seasoning.

Additionally, the challenges were terrible. The first one is a motor race with a small detail no one was able to crack for over five years. Yet anytime a new video game comes out in the real world, our real world, some guy on YouTube finds all the Easter eggs and secrets within the first 24 hours of playing it. But in a future world where the population is probably double what it is now, where everyone is obsessed with solving the first challenge, not one single person thought to themselves, “I wonder what will happen if I drive backwards?” In reality, some noob would’ve done it by mistake and solved the puzzle.

The second challenge brought the characters into a recreation of The Shining but as cool as it was initially, it still didn’t measure up to the similar sequences in the book, where Parzival had to reenact a role in a film from start to finish. Whatever. We ended up with The Shining being populated by dancing, green glowing zombies for some reason.

The final gate was the closest to the original version but was still a heavily altered and simplified version.

One thing I was hoping would make it in the movie was the battle between Ultraman and Mechagodzilla during the big finale. Ultraman was replaced with a Gundam. Mechagodzilla was there but the design was something new and looked more like a generic metal dinosaur than any version of Mechagodzilla we’ve ever seen.

And what the hell was with Sorrento leaving his password right on his pod? Make your password something you can remember that way you don’t get easily hacked? You’re the top dog in the second largest corporation in the friggin’ world and you basically wore a t-shirt saying, “Please hack me! My password is…” I can’t accept the stupidity of this plot point, he’s not an assistant principal from a John Hughes movie. Plus, in the film they dumb him down and make him rely solely on the knowledge of his minions, as opposed to being savvy on his own and only calling for backup when stumped.

The film fails in comparison to the book and the book was hardly a literary classic. I could pontificate about all the shit I didn’t like and take this review to 5000-plus words but I think I’ve made my point about the negative side of the equation here.

On the side of positives there is sadly only really a few.

One, Mark Rylance was fantastic as Halliday and played the character in a way that was even better than what I saw in my own head while reading the book. He was really the only character I felt a connection to by the end of the film. Which is sad, as he’s barely in it.

Another positive is that it was fun in the right sort of way but it still wasn’t enough to make up for the soullessness and randomness of this adaptation.

I can’t think of another positive.

The biggest highlight of the film was the big battle at the end but it was still a mess. There were so many pop culture references running around on the screen that it was hard to focus on any one of them and you just sort of see this mish mash of shit where if the camera stops moving for one second, you might make out a Battletoad, Spawn, Ryu or a Ninja Turtle. But at least Chucky from Child’s Play got to kick some ass for a few seconds.

I don’t know, man. I had high hopes for this and I left the theater feeling empty and completely unemotional. This was like a vacuum that sucked everything out of me for well over two hours. I walked out of the theater a dumbfounded blank.

This film is like an excited toddler showing you all their toys by throwing them at your face with the speed of the Flash for two hours and twenty minutes. There is no real semblance of a plot, just toys bouncing off of your face and incomprehensible toddler rambling.

Also, Spielberg produces those terrible Michael Bay Transformers movies. This was the perfect opportunity to use accurate looking Autobots and Decpeticons. I mean, what the shit, dude?! You’re telling me the G1 versions of Optimus Prime and Megatron aren’t avatars in the Oasis?

Between the execution of this film and Spielberg’s weird comments about Netflix the other day, I think homeboy is starting to show his age.

Lastly, Zak Penn is awful. Truly, awful. How does he keep getting hired to write shit?

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Maybe the novel it is “based on” but the book is superior.

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Release Date: September 1st, 2017 (Telluride)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Perfect World Pictures, Working Title Films, Focus Features, 125 Minutes

Review:

“You can not reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.” – Winston Churchill

Now that there are nine or so films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, there is more competition and it opens the floor up to more films that may otherwise get snubbed. But on the flip side of that, sometimes there are pictures that work their way onto the ballot that shouldn’t be there. Actually, it’s pretty common now. Darkest Hour is one of those films.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it enough to leave with a positive opinion of the film but if a movie is nominated for Best Picture of the Year, it had better be pretty damn exceptional.

Darkest Hour boasts some incredible acting but to be brutally honest, even great acting can’t save a disjointed and oddly paced film. While I was pulled into Gary Oldman’s Churchill, as he dominated nearly every scene, the film just shifted around like loose marbles in a shoe box. I felt like a cat watching a laser pointer.

While the film has also been nominated for Best Cinematography, I didn’t like it at all. The picture was dark and smudgy. Maybe the projector was on the fritz in my theater but the trailers before the movie all looked normal. This was a film shot with boring colors in dark places with high contrast lighting. While that can be presented well, I felt like I was watching a big television event from a major network in the ’90s and not a major motion picture on the big screen in 2018. The presentation made it feel like a mid-’90s BBC docudrama.

The strength of the film is the performances by the actors, especially Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn, as the King. The two women, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James, also did fine work but were limited in their roles, as Churchill was always the film’s primary focal point. Another strength was the presentation of Churchill, as Oldman’s transformation looked seamless and perfect.

The film only covers the few weeks between Churchill’s rise to the role of Prime Minister to the moment where he decides whether he is going to go to war with the Nazis or negotiate a treaty. We all know how this ends but it’s how he came to his decision that is the gist of the film’s story. While parts of the film drag and should have been whittled down, the last twenty minutes or so were really solid.

Darkest Hour was a good movie but it lacked in a lot of areas that a Picture of the Year nominee shouldn’t. But the Academy is incredibly political and that could very well be the reason why this is getting major accolades.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Dunkirk, I mean… they happen at the same time and both films came out in the same year.

TV Review: Bloodline (2015-2017)

Original Run: March 20th, 2015 – May 26th, 2017
Created by: Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, Daniel Zelman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tony Morales, Edward Rogers, James S. Levine
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Jacinda Barrett, Jamie McShane, Enrique Murciano, Sam Shepard, Sissy Spacek, Katie Finneran, John Leguizamo, Andrea Riseborough, Chloë Sevigny, David Zayas, Beau Bridges, Mario Van Peebles, Mia Kirshner

KZK Productions, Sony Pictures Television, Netflix, 33 Episodes, 48-68 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is a show that came highly recommended by several people. I put it off until now but picked it up just in time to binge through it and catch the final season as it debuted.

Bloodline is a show that is really up and down. It starts out a bit slow but builds towards something strong, compelling and powerful as the first season comes to an end.

The second season isn’t as good as the first and it is tough to sit through some of it, as it loses its pacing and doesn’t really seem all that interesting in resolving anything or bringing any sort of balance to the characters’ situations or them spiraling crazily out of control.

The third season suffers from multiple personality disorder. A big portion of the season deals with a trial where you expect there to be some real closure but there is none. Then the season ends and the show ends with still… no friggin’ closure.

Bloodline had the tagline of “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.” In reality, they are all horrible people. There are a few good and innocent characters but they are all dragged down into the murky shit that is the lives and personalities of the main characters. The Rayburns are an awful family of awful people who are willing to do anything to anyone in an effort to play up appearances because the Rayburn name is apparently the equivalent to royalty in the Florida Keys.

The only really good character is the only one that actually starts out as a criminal. Danny, played by Ben Mendelsohn (most famous for being the baddie in Star Wars: Rogue One), is a great and dynamic character. You are never sure of what his motivations are but there is something redeeming about him, even if he does despicable things. By the end of the show, however, he is the least despicable member of his shitty family of fuck ups.

The big problem with the show is that you don’t like anyone and it makes it hard to care about any of them. Truthfully, I wanted to see justice for everything that they did but it never comes. The show ends in the most unsatisfying way and all the innocent people effected by these self-important assholes are left with nothing.

The show also ends on a cliffhanger but it is a weak cliffhanger because even though you are left guessing, after three seasons you know that truth and justice won’t prevail. With the Rayburns, self-preservation is their disease, even though all their attempts at it have disastrous results that ultimately ruin their lives anyway. This is a long drawn out story where no one learns anything or really evolves other than getting worse and worse.

To be fair, the acting is stellar and the cinematography is amazing as hell. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make a show all on its own. The writing dissolves as this show rolls on past its first season. Frankly, its a story that seems to be designed to torture the viewer, unless the viewer doesn’t have a moral compass or a burning desire to see justice prevail in the end.

It sounds like I’m coming down hard on the show but I didn’t hate it. I was mostly just annoyed by it and in the end, it all seemed pointless.

Film Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Release Date: December 10th, 2016 (Pantages Theatre Premiere)
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 133 Minutes

rogue-oneReview:

“I have a bad feeling about th…” – K-2SO

I would never say something like this carelessly; I may have a new favorite Star Wars film. Time will tell if it holds up for me but it is the closest thing to the Original Trilogy that we have seen since it ended in 1983. Also, Rogue One really just magnifies how flawed last year’s The Force Awakens is.

Rogue One is its own film. It is not a rehash of anything you’ve seen before in the Star Wars cinematic universe. It is also darker and a lot more realistic. It is the grittiest Star Wars film but it is also full of optimism, more than any of the previous pictures.

When it comes to the art of filmmaking, I would have to say that Rogue One takes the cake out of all the movies in the franchise. It’s the most beautiful Star Wars film ever made. It is also the best written and the best acted. The cinematography is beyond majestic. The score, even though it isn’t done by John Williams, is pretty fantastic. While Empire Strikes Back will probably still reign as champion, as far as the majority’s favorite movie, Rogue One is a better film. And to be completely honest, I didn’t think that was possible.

Sure, this film isn’t perfection. It has some flaws. But it has less flaws than any Star Wars film before it. And compared to The Force Awakens, this picture has some really big balls. It isn’t built with the blueprints to an old house. Also, it isn’t afraid to draw from the Prequel Trilogy, as it brings in some characters and vehicles from those films. It was actually really cool to see Disney acknowledge the prequels, as I thought they were trying to ignore them.

I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen Rogue One yet but there are several familiar faces that pop in and out of this movie. Great characters from the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy. Some of these are very iconic characters.

Before this movie, the world probably assumed that a Star Wars movie devoid of Jedi would be a boring ride. Rogue One proves that to be completely false. While the Force is mentioned heavily, there is only one actual Force user in the movie but he doesn’t even do anything until the end and it happens very quickly.

The big final battle in Rogue One is breathtaking. It reminds me a lot of some of the great battles you could have in the old Rogue Squadron games. They feature classic Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire warships, X-wings and TIE Fighters. There are even some cool new vehicles mixed in. The planet is a pretty sight with its pristine beaches and the AT-ACT is a really cool alternate version of the iconic AT-AT from the Battle of Hoth in Empire Strikes Back.

When I wrote my review of The Force Awakens, last year, it was really long because there was so much to pick apart. I just can’t find anything to really criticize this film for. Everything about it just felt right. It gave me the experience I have craved since being disappointed with The Phantom Menace in 1999. And being that it is the best looking movie in the franchise, it gets extra kudos for that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Film Review: Lost River (2014)

Release Date: May 20th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ryan Gosling
Written by: Ryan Gosling
Music by: Johnny Jewel
Cast: Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Iain De Caestecker, Matt Smith, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Barbara Steele

Bold Films, Marc Platt Productions, Phantasma, Warner Bros. Pictures, 95 Minutes

lost-riverReview:

Ryan Gosling was never an actor I cared for either way. He did some decent indy films but was mostly associated with romance flicks and being a former member of the Mickey Mouse Club alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. He was a guy that was just kind of there and not really on my radar.

Then he starred in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and I was pretty intrigued by him. No, not like all those ladies who swoon over The Notebook but because there was just something about his presence in that film, despite him being a very quiet character.

He went on to do some other really interesting films and also worked with Refn again in the polarizing Only God Forgives. So when, shortly after seeing that movie, I heard that Gosling was writing and directing something, I was pretty intrigued. I’d had hoped that some of what he learned working with the accomplished Refn, would rub off.

Initially, Lost River was met with a lot of negative reviews. It was kind of off-putting when I saw the critical response to the film, after it was shown at Cannes. However, Refn’s Only God Forgives was lambasted by many and I liked that film regardless of the critical consensus. I also don’t take critics responses too seriously and some of the best films, historically speaking, were trashed when they first came out.

While I really liked Gosling’s Lost River, I don’t see it as being a historically important film. That is, unless Gosling goes on to make some really amazing films and this one goes on to be remembered as his first in a line of visual stunning and trippy pictures.

Lost River is kind of an homage of Refn’s visual style, which Gosling probably became comfortable with mimicking after being immersed in it while filming two visually alluring films. It also has a sort of David Lynch bizarreness to it.

One thing that must be pointed out, is that the music was great. Johnny Jewel developed a really good score for this picture and it blended well, weaving in and out of this well-balanced mixture of darkness and vibrant colors.

The acting in the picture is solid but the characters, although relatable, don’t at all feel fleshed out enough. I thought Matt Smith, most famous for being the bow-tie-wearing eleventh Doctor in the Doctor Who franchise, was pretty stellar as the unstable, creepy and appropriately named Bully. He was just an evil and extremely violent force of nature that had a very threatening and terrifying presence every time he was on-screen. Saoirse Ronan and Iain De Caestecker did a pretty fine job with their roles too. However, as much as I have always loved Christina Hendricks, her character felt the flattest, even though she had some of the most interesting material in the film.

Lost River is a pretty uncomfortable movie that reflects some really dark parts of life but it also never dismisses hope or a way out for its characters. It is beautiful to look at and it is interesting enough to keep you engaged for an hour and a half.

The critics can obviously say what they want, but for a directorial debut, Ryan Gosling gave us a real human story with a good message that was visually fulfilling. While this didn’t knock the ball out of the park, it was pretty deep in the outfield. For a debut film, there aren’t very many directors that can say that.