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, Julia Nickson (uncredited)

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: A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012)

Release Date: June 8th, 2012
Directed by: Chris Hopewell, Crispian Mills
Written by: Crispian Mills
Music by: Michael Price
Cast: Simon Pegg, Clare Higgins, Amara Karan, Paul Freeman, Alan Drake

Pinewood Films, The Works International, Keel Films, Indomina Productions, Universal Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You’re fucked up, Jack. You need therapy.” – Dr. Friedkin, “Oh I haven’t got time. I’ve got a meeting in about an hour.” – Jack

This was an unusual film. I wanted to like it, as I can enjoy Simon Pegg in almost anything. I just couldn’t wrap my head around its bizarreness, which being an aficionado of bizarre film, surprised me.

It had some stuff working for it – Simon Pegg as an eccentric lead character plus amazing cinematography and use of color. It also had things working against it – weird sequences that didn’t feel fluid with the film, a plot that wasn’t as interesting as the premise, choppy editing and an overuse of artistic film devices that felt out of place.

This film struggled to find its identity, as the director seemed to be struggling to figure out just what kind of film he was making. It’s a mish mash of film school clichés filled with a lot of characters who I felt you were supposed to endear yet none of them were remotely likable. It was a very hard film to process and relate too and it fell flat in almost every way. Except visually.

I don’t know this director’s background but this film makes me feel like he was a music video director that thought it would be a good idea to make a feature when he’s never had to create a narrative longer than four minutes. As I said, I don’t know if that’s the director’s background but that’s what this film felt like.

It’s not a bad film, it’s not a good film, it’s a forgettable film. I’ll most likely never watch it again. I don’t feel like I wasted my time on it but it left me with nothing to hold on to.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: The ‘Hellraiser’ Film Series, Part I (1987-1996)

One of the greatest horror franchises in history is the Hellraiser series. Coming from the awesome mind of Clive Barker, this series offered up a mixture of terrifying tales and horrific visuals. It also brought a level of dark fantasy along with it, which became the norm with Barker’s work.

These films go beyond the standard slasher formula that was popular at the time and gave movie-going audiences something fresh and unique. When I was a kid, I was terrified of these films. There was Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and all the other horror icons of that era… and then there was Pinhead. Pinhead was something more evil and darker than anything else I had experienced at the time. Years before even watching these films, his image on the video store shelf was enough to keep me from popping one of these films into my VCR.

Since there are so many Hellraiser films, nine to be exact, I am going to review the first four here. I will follow up in the near future with the rest of the films.

Hellraiser (1987):

Release Date: September 10th, 1987 (London premiere)
Directed by: Clive Barker
Written by: Clive Barker
Based on: The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley

Film Futures, Entertainment Film Distributors, New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We have such sights to show you!” – Lead Cenobite (Pinhead)

The first film in the series is considered the best. Where I stand, it is my second favorite. The highpoint of this film, is that Clive Barker actually directs it and it is based off of his novella, The Hellbound Heart.

This film introduces us to the complex world and characters within this franchise, most notably Pinhead and the other Cenobites, as well as Kirsty Cotton, who is involved in four of the films. It also introduces us to a gritty and graphic visual style that was original at the time.

Visually, the colors, tones and style were hijacked by several industrial and metal artists for their music videos for years following this film. It had a style all its own that went on to transcend the film.

As a story, the plot is solid and one of the most original horror/fantasy tales I’ve ever experienced. Clive Barker is on a level all his own in what he creates. His mind is unique and never seems to disappoint in regards to giving his audience something original and provocative. The word “haunting” is used a lot in reference to dark and dreary things, this film is the epitome of the word, as it attacks all the senses in ways one cannot be prepared for before seeing this movie.

Rating: 9/10

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988):

Release Date: December 23rd, 1988
Directed by: Tony Randel
Written by: Clive Barker, Peter Atkins
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham, Imogen Boorman, Doug Bradley, Barbie Wilde

Film Futures, Troopstar, New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Your suffering will be legendary, even in hell!” – Pinhead

Hellbound is a perfect sequel. It starred many of the same actors from the first film and was worked on by the same crew. The only main difference was that Clive Barker stepped down as director and that spot was filled by Tony Randel, who was an instrumental part in making the first film.

This is my favorite in the series. The style, tone and themes of the film are an expansion of what we were given in the first installment.

Hellbound takes things to a whole new level and starts to open the doors of the Hellraiser universe much more than its predecessor. We are given insight into the origin of Pinhead and the Cenobites. The mythos is also expanded and explained to a larger degree.

The film’s main protagonist is frightening as hell and adds somewhat of a contrast to the personality of Pinhead. He is a much eviler character with more sinister and selfish motivations, where Pinhead is more of an automaton being summoned by characters throughout the films.

The expansion of the mythos, the bigger villain and the fact that this stayed true to the essence of the original picture, is why Hellbound is my favorite. I also feel that it has the best rewatchability factor compared to all the other films in the series.

Rating: 8.75/10

Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992):

Release Date: May 1992 (Milan)
Directed by: Anthony Hickox
Written by: Peter Atkins, Tony Randel
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Randy Miller
Cast: Terry Farrell, Paula Marshall, Kevin Bernhardt, Peter Boynton, Doug Bradley

Dimension Films, Fifth Avenue Entertainment, Trans Atlantic Entertainment, Miramax Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“There is no good, Monroe. There is no evil. There is only flesh.” – Pinhead

This is the start of the decline of the series.

Hell On Earth was not as good as the first two but it wasn’t an awful sequel. It continued to expand on the Hellraiser mythos and the complexities of Pinhead’s character.

Doug Bradley as Pinhead was the highlight of this film and he got to act a little more and experiment with the character, as this was the first film to really make him the star of the series. He got more screen time here than probably the first two films combined and it made this film enjoyable, despite its flaws.

While Kirtsy shows up in a cameo part, this was the first film without her as a protagonist. Actress Terry Farrell did good stepping into the role of hero. She was a strong character and was believable in the part, as she fought off the hordes of hell in order to bring a little balance to the universe.

The character of Terri was cute as hell but ultimately, her fate sucked. Between her and her scumbag boyfriend’s bickering and turn to evil, I kind of saw a very likable character too easily transformed into a despised character and it just didn’t seem to work well.

The biggest complaint about this installment in the series, is that the new Cenobites were awful. One had a television camera for an eye, another threw CDs like Chinese stars, it was gimmicky and atrocious. In fact, they looked like a couple fanboys doing some Borg cosplay at a Star Trek convention.

While this was a step down from the previous films, this one is still enjoyable.

Rating: 6/10

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996):

Release Date: March 8th, 1996
Directed by: Kevin Yagher (as Alan Smithee), Joe Chapelle (uncredited)
Written by: Peter Atkins
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Daniel Licht
Cast: Bruce Ramsay, Valentina Vargas, Adam Scott, Doug Bradley, Phil Fondacaro

Dimension Films, Miramax Films, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks?” – Pinhead

Now we have reached the infamous fourth film in the series, Bloodline. I say “infamous” because the consensus is that this film was total shit and it was responsible for all the other sequels not getting theatrical releases. Well okay, it wasn’t a great movie. Although, it still had some good shit in it.

Granted, this film starts off in space and as most of us know, whenever a horror franchise goes to space, it is the end of the franchise. Friday the 13th tried it and failed, Leprechaun tried it and failed and Critters tried it and failed. There are probably others too but you get the picture. Unlike the films I just mentioned though, Hellraiser: Bloodline didn’t turn to complete shit when they decided to go the space route. I guess some of that can be attributed to the fact that this story jumped around in time.

In fact, due to following different generations in time throughout this film, Bloodline felt more like an anthology movie. It also expanded the mythos once again and gave us an interesting origin for the puzzle box a.k.a. the Lament Configuration.

Doug Bradley was fantastic again and at this point, four films in, he has reached the horror icon level only reserved for characters like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.

An added bonus, is that the Cenobites are back to being in awesome form and not looking like phaser fodder from the set of Star Trek: Voyager.

Rating: 6/10

And that’s it for the first four films in the series, I will soon follow up with part two of this review, covering films five through eight… and maybe the recent remake, if I can stomach sitting through its weak 75 minutes.