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

The Post

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Steven Spielberg

Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, Alison Brie, David Cross, Sarah Paulson, and Jesse Plemons.

Spielberg. Streep. Hanks. Three of the biggest names in film. Teaming up together for the first time. You’re already expecting a quality film, filled with importance, and gravitas. I’m first in line for every new Spielberg film. The idea of this master craftsman directing two of the greatest actors of our generation is enough to send anyone’s expectations sky high.  Spielberg makes two types of movies these days: family blockbuster, and historically important dramas. For every Jurassic Park there is a Schindler’s List, for every BFG there is a Lincoln, and this year we have Ready Player One and The Post. An important historical drama that can come across too much like an intellectual exercise.

The film follows Kay Graham, owner of The Post, and Ben Bradlee, The Post’s editor. Kay, played by Streep, is a woman battling for respect in a mans world. She’s in the middle of turning The Post into a public company, whilst still retaining her families control. This will all go smoothly unless a crisis puts the sale in jeopardy. This crisis appears in the form of the Pentagon Papers. A government report on the Vietnam war, which if released would have turned the American people against their involvement in the war, perhaps ending the war six years earlier. The New York Times publishes these papers, but are soon shut down by the Nixon administration. When the papers are obtained by The Washington Post, Graham finds herself caught between the future of her company, and Tom Hanks’ Ben Bradlee’s desire to publish the papers in order to hold the government accountable.

The film is a fantastic study of shifting power dynamics. Whether it’s between the government and the people, those with the moral high ground and those without it, or between men and women. The setting of the film may be the struggle to publish the papers, but the heart of the film is Kay Graham’s struggle as a woman in a mans world. Spielberg directs these scenes with a fierce intelligence. Nothing is coincidental. Take the scene where Graham arrives at Wall Street, as she climbs the stairs past a group of women to reach the top and a room full of men, which is perfectly mirrored near the end of the movie. Or the scenes between Bradlee and Graham where the camera suddenly goes high, pointing down at Streep, making her look small in the frame, and how the camera slowly lowers as she fights back, turning the two of them into equals. This is a director at the top of his craft.

The sublime ensemble cast are all fantastic too, with Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk emerging as a real standout next to the heavy hitters of Hanks and Streep. The film is at its most fun when following Odenkirk, a reporter on the search for the Pentagon Papers. During these moments, where the film is a journalistic thriller along the lines of All The Presidents Men, is when the film really starts to flourish. It’s thrilling, entertaining, and fun. Spielberg wrings the minutiae of reporting, and publishing a newspaper for all the tension it’s worth. When in the newsroom his camera never stops for breath, constantly moving and swirling around the corridors and offices. It throws the audience directly into the situation.

It’s a superbly well made film, but somehow manages to feel unsatisfying. Like having the greatest chef in the world and the best ingredients, but finding your meal has been undercooked. After a great prologue, the film suffers a dull half hour, incredibly heavy with exposition. It’s all important stuff, but the delivery is far from compelling. The film also has some pacing issues, slowing down whenever Streep is on the screen. Streep is her usual fantastic self, but the way Spielberg tells her part of the story comes across as too much of an intellectual exercise, both for the director and the audience. It robs the films climax of the emotional heft it should have had.

Superbly acted. Well made. Entertaining in parts. Spielberg’s The Post is a fascinating story with some real parallels with the modern world. It’s a shame that it too often comes across as an exercise in making a good film rather than being great one.

7/10