Ready Player One

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Steven Spielberg

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Hannah John-Kamen, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, and Philip Zhao.

 

Steven Spielberg is back! Back a few short months since The Post was released, and back doing what he does best; making huge, family blockbuster spectacle. Ready Player One is based on the best selling novel by Ernest Cline. I haven’t read that book, but from what I had heard was that it’s a novel full of 80’s pop culture references, that can sometimes feel like just a list of references. Who better to adapt that story then, than Steven Spielberg? Arguably the creator of iconic 80’s pop culture, he has done well to craft this into an engaging tale, whilst avoiding being too self-referential.

Ready Player One is set in the year 2045. The world has become so overcrowded that in the fastest growing city in the world, many people live in a place known as The Stacks. A trailer park where the caravans have been placed on top of each other. Here, we find Tye Sheridan’s Wade Watts, named by his deceased father to sound like a super heros alter ego. Wade lives with his aunt, and a string of her abusive partners. The only place he can go to escape is the OASIS. A virtual reality world where you can be whoever you want to be, and do whatever you want. When the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday played by Mark Rylance, dies, he leaves behind an Easter egg hunt for three hidden keys. Whoever finds all three keys will become the sole owner of the OASIS, and inherit all of Halliday’s wealth. When Wade becomes the first player to find the first key, he becomes the target of Ben Medelsohn and his company IOI, the worlds second largest tech company, who are out to gain control of the OASIS for themselves.

For all of the futuristic technology being used on-screen and behind the camera, this feels like an old-school family blockbuster, and it’s fantastic. This isn’t so much Spielberg reinventing the wheel, but using new technology to show everyone else how this type of film making should be done. It’s brilliant, entertaining, family spectacle. If I wanted to be harsh, I could compare the film to Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, but this film is so much more than that. It’s so much more than just the sum of its references. Yes, they are great fun, and I think I’d have to see the film another five times to catch even half of them, but the joy is in the way that Spielberg and screenwriters Zak Penn and Ernest Cline use them. There are vast battle sequence which are incredibly¬†Easter egg heavy; you have Freddy Krueger, Masterchiefs, Batman, and many more, ¬†but Spielberg doesn’t linger on them. If anything their addition makes the film seem more realistic, who wouldn’t want to play as Batman in a VR world. It’s a film rooted in nostalgia (the warm feeling you get when the amblin logo shows up at the front of the film), but if you came for the references you’ll leave in love with the characters.

Tye Sheridan deserves a lot of credit for the way he manages to inject so much personality with just a voice over. The first half of the movie takes place mainly in the OASIS, which mean that we see a lot of animated versions of the main characters, and not a lot of the human element. The performance capture work is fantastic, and Sheridan is an engaging and likeable lead. Olivia Cooke, best known for some great work on Bates Motel and Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, also shines along with Lena Waithe’s H. As the movie progresses, the real world starts to come more into view, which thematically fits the movie perfectly, as the themes of friendship, sacrifice, and living in the now start to come more into focus. The tone is expertly handled by Spielberg, what might suprise some is how funny the movie is, but Spielberg knows how to walk the line between laughs and raising the stakes. As the film enters its final act, you’re really rooting for the main protagonists. It helps that you’ve got Ben Mendelsohn on villain duties, this is the kind of role he could do in his sleep, and he’s perfect here as the head of a villainous company which has shades of the original RoboCop movie.

Zak Penn does incredibly well adaptating the book. In the novel there’s a task where Wade enters a Monty Python movie, where he can win the task by quoting the movie off by heart. A fun idea, but not very cinematic. Here, Penn has them enter a different movie (I won’t spoil which one), a movie which one of the characters hasn’t seen. The joy here is that the audience know the rules of this movie, and it becomes increasingly funny as the character does all the wrong things. It’s a scene which garnered the biggest laughs of the film, testament to how well it’s been adapted. If the novel has been accused of just being a list of references, I didn’t feel that here. This is a film with a lot of heart, thanks to great lead performances, and some welcome supporting performances from Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg. The movie looks great, and is packed with toe-tapping 80’s tunes. I saw the film in 3D and it looked amazing. Maybe, even the act of putting on your 3D glasses, similar to Wade putting on his VR headset, made the film even more immersive.

After mis-steps with The BFG and Tin Tin, Spielberg delivers one of his best family blockbusters, retaking his throne as the king of family friendly entertainment. This film is a blast from start to finish. Containing plenty of action, laughs, and heart, it uses its futuristic set-up to deliver some old-school thrills. You’ll want to go straight back into the cinema after it’s finished. If not to catch some more Easter eggs, than to spend some more time in this world, and with these characters.

9/10

Darkest Hour

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Joe Wright

Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Medelsohn, Ronald Pickup, and Stephen Dillane.

Joe Wright is a curious director. Hailed as a visionary by many, his CV is an eclectic mix of action movie (Hanna), fantasy romp (Pan), and futuristic television (he directed the episode Nosedive for Black Mirror). Wright always comes back though, to what could be described as his bread and butter, historical dramas. It’s in period pieces such as Pride and Prejudice, and Atonement where Wright really made his name. Here, he returns to the well once again, in fact the most famous shot in Wrights career was the Dunkirk beach sequence in Atonement, the events of which this movie is based around. It’s a return to form after the bizarre mess that was Pan, and sees the director pair one of Britains greatest ever actors with one of its most iconic men.

Darkest Hour starts with the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, a war time Prime Minister who has lost the support of the house. The Conservative party decide to place Winston Churchill in charge, a man who whilst controversial within his own party would have the support of the Labour Party. Churchill is elected at the beginning of May 1940, and the film tells the trials and tribulations of his first month as PM. He has to deal with a Europe which is slowly succumbing to the onslaught from Nazi Germany, the crisis at Dunkirk, and dissent from within his own party, who are looking to oust him if he doesn’t consider peace talks with Hitler.

It’s almost unavoidable to talk about this film and not mention the acting. Gary Oldman gives us a true masterclass in the craft. Joe Wright and Oldman blend make-up, acting, writing, and direction together to portray a completely believable, absorbing character. At first you marvel at the job that Oldman is doing, and then you forget it’s Gary Oldman, for the next hour and a half you are watching Winston Churchill. Oldman doesn’t just play the icon though, he imbues Churchill with a humanity. If the blustering speeches get the headlines, it’s Oldman’s work at showing us the frailty of the man which is truly spectacular. Wright surrounds Oldman with fantastic actors as well. Lily James is wonderful, but it’s Kristin Scott-Thomas and Ben Medelsohn who really shine, having a huge impact with very little screen time. Scott-Thomas, as Churchill’s wife portraying the stoic nature of her sacrifice, and the love she has for her husband. Mendelsohn as King George, putting in an understated but moving performance.

Wright makes the history and politics easy to follow, and accessible. It’s a character piece which takes it cues from Shakespearean plays, and the stories of Roman emperors. The action is confined to the war room, and to the back stabbing political world. The war is reduced to aerial shots, offering us context to Churchill’s inner turmoil. It’s in Wright’s direction that the film excels. For a film whose characters actions have such wide spread global repercussions, Wright keeps it incredibly claustrophobic. It’s mostly shot inside, with very little light. Wright takes joy in juxtaposing Churchill’s political position with that of his nation. See how the camera gets tighter on Churchill’s face as both the fate of those at Dunkirk gets more dire, and his party push him towards peace talks; or how he frames a telephone call between Churchill and President Roosevelt, linking how isolated Churchill had become, and in turn Britain had become. Wright ratchets up the tension to unbearable levels, similar to the feat Christopher Nolan pulled off with Dunkirk.

This is not a flawless film though. Having such a tight focus on just one month of Churchill’s time in office, there will always be avenues you wish had been explored further. Kristin Scott-Thomas does fantastically well with very little, but you do wish this relationship had been explored further. Similarly, Lily James’ Elizabeth Layton, acts as a great entry point for the audience, but you wish she had been given a bit more character. There is also a sequence on an underground train, which has the potential to de-rail the whole film. Although Churchill had a reputation for popping up in different parts of London to speak to the public, there is no evidence of this scene ever taking place. It’s placement in the film feels very convenient, and for a film which had done so much with subtleties, it feels too on the nose. It also destroys the momentum that had been building.

Darkest Hour is a terrific character study of Winston Churchill, and Gary Oldman’s performance will go down as one of the all time greats. Wright uses his film to say some great things about standing behind your convictions, and having courage under fire. It’s about making those hard decisions, to stand behind your principles even if it means complete annihilation. It’s minimalistic in style, but Wright still adds some flourishes, a transition from a bombed battlefield to a fallen soldiers face being a stand out. It’s a well put together film, that can’t help but stumble in places.

7/10