Ready Player One (2018)

Ready Player One

Wade (Tye Sheridan) is one of many who daily journey into the OASIS

It is no secret that movies and video games have not mixed well in the past, be it video games based on movies (there are too many to count that are bad, but E.T. is probably the most notorious) or movies based on video games (anyone remember Mortal Kombat: Annihilation?), it is hard for these two industries to get along, with a few exceptions (Wreck It Ralph and the Goldeneye Video game come to mind). Finally, it is as if Steven Spielberg has come between the two, shouting “ENOUGH!”, and has given us a great film in Ready Player One.

Based off the book of the same name by Ernest Cline, the world is a very different place in 2045 (though not as different as the year 2049 in the Blade Runner sequel). Everyone has one place to escape, which is the OASIS, a virtual reality where gamers can basically do everything you would want in video games and/or social media. We meet our hero Wade (Tye Sheridan, who I have been a fan of since 2013’s underrated Mud), who lives in the projects of Columbus, Ohio, which is now one of the biggest cities in the world. As Parzival (his Avatar), he is on a quest to find the three keys that will win him the ultimate “Easter Egg”, and complete control of the OASIS. The contest was designed by the late creator Halliday (Mark Rylance), after he severed his partnership with Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).

There are many unsung rules of the OASIS, such as never giving your real name, even if you fall for the gorgeous avatar Artemis (Olivia Cooke). They both are pursued by a company that calls themselves the sixers, lead by the tyrannical Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Sorrento also needs some help from a pro gamer named I-ROk, who is voiced to perfection by T.J. Miller (who needs a hit after starring in The Emoji Movie).

I have never read the book, but I would wager the Orb of Osuvox that only Steven Spielberg (arguably one of the best film makers who ever lived) could have done this book justice. The secret of Spielberg’s success in Ready Player One is not just that he shows us countless objects from pop culture, but that he does not just rub it in our face. He trusts us enough to find them on our own. It is also not his main objective to show us special effects (which are obviously superior), but to tell a story (as it is for any director).

Parents, the movie is a strong PG-13. There is no real sexual content (though some innuendo, kissing, partial nudity, and revealing clothing). There is a good amount of swearing (including one F bomb, though it is used rather comically), though nothing the normal middle schooler has not heard these days. There is also one part of the movie that talks a bit about the horror classic The Shining (which I would hope kids have not seen at too young of an age). The scene in Room 237 is shown, though not all of the one character in the bathtub is.

Yes, the movie does over stay its welcome (especially in the second half), but there was rarely a time when I wanted the film to end. I expect a lot of parents will be getting references the kids will not, obviously meaning parents will enjoy this as well.

At one point, Halliday says something about how we need to remember to spend time in reality, to remember that is what real is.

That does not help when a movie like Ready Player One seems so life-like.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

 

Blade Runner 2049

One of many images that are entrancing in Blade Runner 2049

Despite some holes and question marks in the screenplay, Blade Runner 2049 still manages to be the best sci-fi sequel since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It is a movie that challenges the mind and brightens your eyes with some of the most gorgeous imagery of recent years. I have only seen the original once, but I know that I have to return to get some answers (though not all the questions will have them).

The plot is a lot harder to follow this time around, but not too terrible. Basically, the new Blade Runner in town is named “K” (Ryan Gosling). After reporting to his boss (Robin Wright, having a very decent year with this film and Wonder Woman) the discovery of a dead replicant who died giving birth to a child, he is sent out to erase the mistake and kill the child. As he digs deeper, he realizes he is more and more in danger. It eventually leads him to the Deckard (Harrison Ford).

I will stop there for two reasons: I don’t wish to ruin any plot points, and I am also afraid that I may have still misunderstood the plot. I can talk about a few other characters, however. Dave Bautista (Drax of Guardians of the Galaxy) is rather surprisingly subtle and reserved as a runaway replicant. The owner of the replicants is played by Jared Leto, proving to be a better villain (or is he?) than he was in Suicide Squad. One of my favorite performances came from Ana de Armas as Joi. Joi is basically Suri, but far more upgraded. She has been with K (who she now names Joe) for so long she is almost like a personal secretary. So lovely and ironic is it that she is one of the most human characters in the film.

Now we get to the visuals. They are, quite simply, marvelous and uncanny. It should come as no surprise, mainly thanks to two men. The first is director Denis Villeneuve (who recently was nominated for 2016’s Arrival). He knows how to pace the film at the right tempo: If you think there is not enough action in the film, you are not paying attention.

The second, and possibly most critical, is cinematographer and legend Roger Deakins. Here is hoping that his losing track record at the Oscars (0-13) might end next February. Watching the movie, I had that same feeling when watching films from Studio Ghibli. You could pause each shot, and look at them for hours. You know what? I take back what I said: Roger Deakins will win the long overdue Oscar, and will get a standing ovation.

Parents, even if you children may have seen the original, you should be warned that his film has a lot more nudity in it than the first one. While the only real sex is through blurry glass, there is still a bit of sound. Add in the swearing and (not so horrible) action/violence, and you have a movie for only High School and above.

I mentioned before that the plot does have some holes: one character clearly betrays another and then shows their utmost loyalty. Even so, this movie is worth seeing just for the visuals alone. They are haunting, spellbinding, breathtaking, cold,…seriously, words don’t do the visuals justice.

On the sights alone, Blade Runner 2049 is a movie that, once seen, is something we people will not believe.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

 

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

ET

The image speaks for itself…

There is a scene in E.T. when Mike (Robert MacNaughton) is describing the relationship between his younger brother Elliot (Henry Thomas) and the alien to a grown-up.

Mike: He communicates through Elliot.

Grown-up: Elliot thinks it’s thoughts?

Mike: No. Elliot feels his feelings.

The idea of feeling of feelings is what makes Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece so endearing. A good director knows how to read the minds of the audience, but a great director knows the feelings of the audience as well. In the case of E.T., the main audience is not just children, but the child in all of us.

Another key feature of the film is how Spielberg films from a point of view. Nearly every scene is filmed from the point of view of E.T. or Elliot (and sometimes his siblings). The only adults we really actually see in the film is the mother (Dee Wallace) and (for the second half) Keys (Peter Coyote). We never really see anything from their point of view. There are a few exceptions. We do see Keys looking for E.T. after his family has left him on earth. We also get that wonderful comic scene of how the mother thinks she hears a noise from Elliot’s closet, and actually does “see” E.T. hidden in the stuffed animals.

It truly baffles me whenever I meet someone who does not like this film, but I am beside myself when it is someone who has never even seen the film. The story is still well-known to them though. Elliot is the middle child (always the unsung hero is the middle child) of Mary, a single mom of three (the other is a young Drew Barrymore as Gertie). As a middle child myself, it was impossible for me not to relate to Elliot. My parents also were separated, I wished to always hang out with my older brother’s friends, and I had a younger sibling who I thought got more attention than I did. In short, life was hard to a degree.

Enter E.T., who is as shocked to meet a human as Elliot is meeting an alien (though the best reaction comes from Gertie). All of the scenes with Elliot prove that Henry Thomas gives perhaps the best (if not the most famous) performance by a young male actor in film history (his audition tape was equally compelling). It is a little bit of a shame though, because it does overshadow the fine work given by his siblings. MacNaughton does start off as the wise scheming older brother, but is still kind-hearted and more understanding (especially at the end). It is also a credit to show Barrymore (who has had acting in her family bloodline for generations) as a little girl who is far smarter than the others give her credit for.

Along with the comic moments, the movie clearly has movies of suspense. The “chase” scene is heart pounding to anyone, regardless of age or knowledge of the outcome. No small part of this is due to the other star of this film (and nearly every Spielberg film), legendary composer John Williams. Like every movie he has composed, E.T. would be a totally different (and really not at all brilliant) film without John Williams.

Then comes the moment, as the suspense becomes utmost relief and wonder. You know the scene, you know the moment. I don’t need to explain how it is etched in our minds and hearts and souls for eternity.

Parents, if you have not let your kids see this movie yet, I don’t know what you are waiting for. I would say any age. Yes, there are scary moments, but it is a movie where being scared is okay. Yes, some of the adults seem like villains, but they really aren’t actual villains. There is also some swearing.

Whether you watch the original theatrical version, the updated version (with updated special effects and two added scenes), it is clear a movie is a classic if the only bad thing about it is the video game (which I thankfully never got to play).

E.T. is just flawless entertainment for anyone.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind

The imagery speaks for itself…

The main thing I remember from my first viewing of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind as a child was that I could start playing the five notes as I started Concert Band around the age of eleven. Imagine my disappointment when, after finally revisiting the movie years later, I have been playing the notes the wrong way! Oh well…

Two years after Jaws brought Steven Spielberg into the limelight, he unleashed one of the most wonder oozing films of all time. Sci-Fi films can go one of two ways: They can go the way of action and adventure (as was the case with another 1977 classic, Star Wars), or they can show how we feel about the wonders of the universe. CEOT3K falls in the latter category.

The film does not entirely focus on a main character so much as the emotions the characters (and we in real life) feel when we see anything we don’t understand, yet are still yearning to learn more. It is clear that many things are happening and catching the attention of many people. One of them is Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrician who notices something one night that he can’t explain, but will not let go by, even if his wife (Teri Garr) wants nothing to do with it. He also meets Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), a single mother trying to look out for her son Barry (Cary Guffey).

While all actors give convincing performances (Dillon was nominated for an Oscar, and Guffey is a scene stealer), the movie belongs to the people behind the camera. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (who won the film’s only Oscar), supplies each frame with the imagery and color that give each one a life of its own. As is the case with every movie he has composed, John Williams brings life to the soul and backbone of the picture. Finally, it is Spielberg who keeps us somewhat fearful until, at just the right moment, he changes our fear to awe.

Parents, there is very little here that will be bad for a kid. Some swearing, but nothing horrible. The PG rating is justified.

 

I have a friend of mine, Jimmy, who is not a big fan of “old” movies, since it is sometimes hard to feel nostalgic for movies of the past. My response to him is that while there are many movies of the past that are forgettable but (to a degree) gives the viewer a feeling of nostalgia, there are a select few that are downright timeless. They exceed the time they were made in, and speak to anyone with a pulse, regardless of the year they were born in. There is no doubt in my mind that Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind is a pure and timeless classic.

Note: I do now know how to play the five notes. G A F F (an octave lower) and C.

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

war for the planet of the apes

Caesar (Andy Serkis) won’t let a gun to the head stop the “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Next to the original Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight Trilogy, I would argue that the Planet of the Apes trilogy is also as solid a movie trilogy as they come. I still, sadly, have yet to see the original with Charlton Heston, but I consider it proof that the reinvented Apes trilogy (which, thankfully, has nothing to do with the remake Tim Burton tried in 2001) is for fans of the original as well as those who have not seen it, and War for the Planet of the Apes is a startling conclusion.

It has been quite a journey for Caesar (Andy Serkis, proving his is not just a great motion capture actor, but a great actor in general). He has protected his apes through it all, but now learns from his son that there is another place beyond the trees where the apes can be in peace.

Sadly, there is The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who knows the apes as nothing but a pest. Caesar tries to head after The Colonel after he unravels tragedy upon Caesar. Along the way, Caesar’s buddy Maurice (Karin Konoval) meets a mute child named Nova (newcomer Amiah Miller).

The special effects are really remarkable here. At no point in this movie did I really have the feeling I was looking at a special effect. It also clearly helps that the filmmakers (lead by director Matt Reeves) have given so much depth and humanity to the apes that it is not too hard to root against the humans.

Parents, if your kids have seen the previous ones, they will be fine here. There is violence and action, but no sexual stuff of any kind (I honestly don’t even remember hearing any swearing.) Basically, middle school and above.

There are some things I admit I was confused on (how can a horse hold a big ape? Why is Caesar one of only a few who can speak?). Nevertheless, War for the Planet of the Apes is a cinematic win for the trilogy as well as the 2017 summer.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Space Between Us (2017)

The Space between us

The chemistry between Butterfield and Robertson is rather good…

Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson have rather great chemistry in The Space Between Us, but even that chemistry is bombarded by a very unstable script that does not know what the audience wants to see.

You would be hard pressed to find anyone who does not like an actor like Gary Oldman, but his scenes in the beginning go far too long. The movie tells the story of how Gardener Elliot (Butterfield), the first person born on Mars, comes to visit Earth. I can understand needing to know a little of how he got to be born on Mars, but the movie spends far too much time telling us about his mother (Janet Montgomery) leads the first mission to make a colony on Mars known as East Texas. His birth is supposed to be a secret, but he has managed to make a friendship with a girl on earth named Tulsa (Robertson), who has been in and out of foster care. Gardner mentions he is confided to home, due to an illness (which is technically true, since the gravity of Earth would mess up with his genetics).

After Gardner gets to Earth, and manages to make it to Tulsa (through uninteresting scenarios), we finally get to something worth watching. I am always a fan of good romance films (and am a proud sucker for “puppy love”), and the chemistry that Butterfield and Robertson has is the highlight of the film. Both work off each other with the skills of talented thespians (though both will get better with more work in the years to come). Neither are (in a sense) highly attractive, but are (oddly enough) much more down to earth.

Sadly, the other characters (including a mother like character played by Carla Gugino) reenter the film and bring the story down. I kept wishing the movie would have had a point of view, either from Gardner or Tulsa. Instead, we see them as outsiders.

Parents, there is some sensuality in the film (both leads are sleeping together in sleeping bags), and some swearing. Still, I would think the PG-13 rating is ok for those in Middle School and above.

Now a memo to my young readers. Please don’t be mad if I seem unaware of what a good romance movie can be. I want to say that you as young people can find far much better movies than this one. Films like Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, City Lights, Before Sunrise, It Happened One Night, Singin’ in the RainMoonrise Kingdom, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Princess Bride, A Walk to Remember, and even the High School Musical movies (though I would guess you have seen them).

Those were some I admit I was thinking of wanting to re watch while watching The Space Between Us.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

 

 

Power Rangers (2017)

Power Rangers

From left, Trini (Becky G), Billy (RJ Cyler) Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), and Zack (Ludi Lin) disccover their path to become Power Rangers

There is no way for me to review Power Rangers without any form of bias.

I was seven when I was the Red Ranger for Halloween back in first grade, so I am the perfect target audience for this reboot. It is hard to say if the world of the Power Rangers will be able to move on from generation to generation (like Star Wars, which is the gold standard in that category), but I have no doubt that nineties kids like myself will feel a fresh breath of air with this reboot.

Basically, Power Rangers tells the story of five teenagers: Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G). All five hardly know each other from their High School in Angel Grove, but one day all stumble upon something in the mountains that leads them to an ancient spaceship. It is run by Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his robot helper Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader). Zordon warns the teenagers of the oncoming threat of his former teammate Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

Aside from the original TV series (those were so the days), another clear inspiration for this movie is actually John Hughes 1985 masterpiece The Breakfast Club. It is not hard to see each of them resemble one of the original five (the jock, the beauty queen, the nerd, the punk, and the basket case), as they all meet for the first time in detention for their own different reasons. There is a scene where they all are around a camp fire to get to know one another better, and I honestly felt more moved than I thought possible.

All of the actors do rather fine work as well (Cranston actually was originally a villain in one of the original series’ episodes). For me, the key stand out was RJ Cyler as Billy. He is on the autistic spectrum (which he says to Jason, though I don’t think he needed to because it would not be too hard for us to find out). Being on the spectrum myself, I tip my hat to RJ Cyler for his portrayal.

It should also be noted that there is talk of one of the other rangers (Trini) on being a homosexual. This is mentioned, but does not go much further.

Parents, the movie is PG-13 for good reason. There is obviously a good amount of action (which was awesome to look at), some swearing (like that a normal junior high kid would hear), and a little bit of revealing clothing (we see Kimberly take her shirt off to jump in a lake, wearing only her underwear. This lasts a few seconds). Basically, middle school or above.

Though my inner seven-year old would love to say this is one of the best movies in the world, I am old enough to know it does have flaws (the scenes for Jason having to be on house arrest were not supportive, nor made much sense when thought about). Still, this is one reboot I hope has some good longevity to spare (and is far better than the 1995 film).

All nineties kids, you know what I am going to say…

It’s morphin’ time!

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Life (2017)

Life

Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the crew that discovers new “Life”.

Perhaps this movie rubbed me the wrong way, but boy was I not happy with Life.

Despite a talented cast that includes Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, some nice special effects, and a (very) few moving visuals, the story offers us nothing we have not seen before (it is basically Alien).

The movie opens with a long (and I mean long) continuous shot of the crew aboard a space craft about to recover a specimen retrieved from Mars. After some careful testing, Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) is able to bring the small amoeba like creature to life. Back on earth, an elementary school was selected to pick the name of the creature, and names it Calvin.

If you have seen the trailer, you know things are about to go wrong, as this creature (who somehow grows eyes) is able to pick off a crew member one by one. Some of these deaths are (in their own weird way), nice to look at. One such crew member has Calvin enter their mouth and literally eat their insides.

Possible the biggest problem I had with the movie was the fact that the trailer truly gave away almost all you need to know. We know that they have to kill this creature (which somehow grows eyes) before it gets to earth, no matter what, so the possibility of survival is very minimal in our minds even before we buy the ticket.

Parents, the movie is rated R, mainly for the violence (which is standard, though shows like The Walking Dead have the same amount) and swearing (a good amount of it, including many F bombs). Depending on your kids, middle schoolers may be ok with it, but I doubt it.

Ok, I won’t give away the ending of this movie, but I need to talk about it. Just when I thought the movie could not get any more standard and boring, they tack on an ending so bizarre and out-of-place that I was thinking the movie’s director (Daniel Espinosa, who is talented) would make M. Nigh Syamalan confused. It is an ending that is on par with the 2001 Planet of the Apes remake by Tim Burton (the one with Mark Wahlberg).

Sorry, but Life is not worth wasting yours.

Overall: One and a half Stars * 1/2

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

 

Kong Skull Island

The King has returned.

Were he alive, I would think my dad would have loved this movie.

Back as a kid, he got me hooked on King Kong with the 1962 Japanese film King Kong vs. Godzilla (a movie you can never convince me is anything but great). If I remember correctly, I wanted Kong to win while my older brother was rooting for Godzilla (SPOILER: Kong wins).

Over the years, I have seen a few other monster movies, from the great King Kong remake in 2005 (a film my dad did not like) to the Godzilla films of 1998 (a let down) and 2014 (mildly good).

In Kong: Skull Island, the movie is set in the 1970s just after the Vietnam War. A researcher Bill (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston (Corey Hawkins) get the ok to explore a new island found on satellite photos. Of course, they need a military escort, which is led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, of course). Joining their crew is tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, proving he can be more than Thor’s adopted brother Loki) and photographer Mason Weaver (Oscar winner Brie Larson).

What I liked about this film was that, unlike other films when we had to wait a while to see the star (and really, who else would steal the show over Kong?), director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives us a look at him rather soon into the movie. The same can also be said about some of the other creatures in the movie (I feel I should note there are some giant ants that look like spiders, for those of you who have arachnophobia).

Parents, the movie is rated PG-13 mainly for the swearing (I counted one F bomb) and the action (the violence is there, but is not any worse than that of The Lord of the Rings movies). Middle School and up is fine.

There are some scenes that seem tacked on that make the movie go on a lot longer than it needs to, but there are plenty of action scenes that make the movie more that worth recommending. There are some scary moments, but not any that will haunt your kids for days. If anything, they are the sequences that make kids turn away, yet look back in an instant.

To see the cast and crew treat a film icon like King Kong with this much honor and respect (which is really all Kong ever wanted) is a breath of fresh air.

(Note: There is a scene after the credits, which, if it is telling the truth, will have me buying tickets in a heartbeat).

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogue-one

The Walkers have returned for Rogue One…

There are many elements of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that make it stand alone from other films in the Star Wars saga, but that does not make it any better. I won’t go into spoilers, but there is one key part of a Star Wars movie that you would expect to have and this film does not. I won’t say what it is, but when you see it, I hope you are not as let down as I was.

I was always a Star Wars fan since I first saw it at the age of 7 or 8 (the original trilogy came out before I was born), yet I admit I still was unsure of what to expect with the movie, but about twenty minutes or so into it, I started getting “a bad feeling about this”. If you don’t know the Star Wars films (and you should), Rogue One is supposed to take place right in between episodes three (Revenge of the Sith) and four (A New Hope). It tells the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose mother is killed after her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken by an Imperial Commander, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), to return to the Empire to help finish the Death Star, despite not wanting to go.

Eventually, Jyn  meets up with another rebel named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who is accompanied by a scene stealing K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). While he has nothing on R2-D2 (possibly my favorite character of all time), K-2SO does hold his own. We get other characters including a blind Baze Malbus (Donnie Yen), his friend Chirrut Imwe (Wen Jiang), pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and the mysterious gritty Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

One of the main problems that the movie (along with The Force Awakens, which I feel was much better) is that it lacks a good villain. Krennic is an imperial officer who does have other authorities to report to, mainly Moff Tarkin (originally played by Peter Cushing in the first Star Wars, though now is CGI enhanced on actor Guy Henry, which I must admit looked pretty awesome). Still, there is no way around the fact that it is Darth Vader (still voiced, as he always should be, by James Earl Jones) that commands the screen. No matter your thought on this or any film in the franchise, the image of the all black suit sends chills down your spine.

This also causes a dilemma, because the movie was apparently supposed to be known as a stand alone. Sure, some minor characters make appearances that I would consider as “easter eggs”, but we get other main characters (besides Vader) who make brief cameos. While I was ok with the one at the end of the film, there was another during a lift off scene that was totally tacked on and not needed at all (much like the titles of the names of all the planets).

Parents, despite it being a PG-13 movie, there is nothing completely wrong here at all that a child of 8 or 9 could not see. Characters die, but if they have seen any of the other films, they are fine here.

Is this movie better than the originals? Heavens no. Is it better than the prequels? I don’t know (it has been a while since I saw those, although I am still confident my least favorite of all Star Wars films is Episode Two). For one reason or another, Rogue One does seem to miss the gravitas that makes the Star Wars universe so wonderful in the first place.

Overall: Two and a Half Stars ** 1/2