Ready Player One

April 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

Dystopian futures are a steady fixture of sci-fi films–particularly “thinking” films. “Ready Player One” is no “1984” though–unless it was an arcade game. But thinking isn’t really the point of “Ready Player One”, the new Steven Spielberg film that really tries to push the video game zeitgeist of this millennium into the forefront, with the idea that in the future we can change the world–virtually.

Based upon the novel by Ernest Cline, the film stars Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, who lives in a run-down neighborhood called “The Stacks” in Columbus, OH. Not much backstory is given on this, and very little is known about Wade–except that his parents are dead and he’s living with his aunt–before we’re thrust into the OASIS, a virtual world of gaming and Second Life-like sandbox gameplay. Watts is known as Parzival in that world, and can change his “avatar” into anything he wants. Basically, OASIS is the world we all wish we could live in, while The Stacks is the reality that everyone wants to escape from.

Is there a statement about escaping reality for idealism? Not as such. But, Wade finds friendships in the OASIS that are unmatched in the real world, where it seems he has none. His gaggle of chums includes a big fix-it guy, Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhou), and Daito (Win Morisaki). He also meets a famous female player, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), whom he befriends and eventually becomes his love interest. These players aren’t just mulling around the OASIS, though–even though you can–there is a challenge that is posed to all players in the world for an ultimate goal: own the OASIS yourself.

James Halliday (Mark Rylance), co-creator of the program, has died, and left Easter Eggs behind as a way to win a game to become sole proprietor of the OASIS. Basically, just like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, you could be Charlie Bucket. The Easter Eggs are hidden within 3 individual challenges, each with their own puzzle to solve. One of them involves Halliday’s origins to creating OASIS and having a crush on a woman that he never chases in real life. This becomes a focal point of the story, in which Wade can relate to Halliday’s unrequited love. That woman becomes Halliday’s best friend’s wife, and the two of them fall out of friendship. The both of them created OASIS together. His name is Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg, finally mastering an American accent), and Morrow continues to operate the OASIS after Halliday’s departure, and death.

We learn that Halliday was a very meek guy, but with big ideas. He wanted to pursue a life of love and adventure, but decided ultimately that gaming was his passion. Wade has a bit of self discovery while pursuing this story, and decides he won’t be like Halliday, and instead take a chance on things rather than squander them.

The villain in all of this is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), a corporate mogul who owns Innovative Online Industries (IOI), that serves as a third party hardware support for OASIS. Also, Sorrento wants his own hand in the cookie jar, and own OASIS in totality. He dispatches a litany of indentured servants, known as Sixers (not the basketball team), who are supposed to help him complete the challenges and win the game. He finds that Wade and his gang are becoming a nuisance for him, so he tries to destroy them–even in real life.

Reality vs. virtuality is explored somewhat in this mess of a plot, that is far too deep for this 2 hour-and-some-change film. Certainly, I’m sure the book digs deeper at the dystopian reality vs. ideal virtual world. The movie tries to turn this into a blockbuster action flick, and all of those elements work fine–we are talking about Spielberg here. The romance between Wade and Art3mis is also cute and the friendship angle works great. But there always seems to be something missing–the film presents its own Easter Egg.

But it’s never found, and ultimately the final product is a sleek, somewhat entertaining film. It probably was better suited as a mini-series or short series to explore all of these other facets that are hinted at but never developed. Once the game is over, you still feel like something needs to be achieved.

My rating: :?

Dark Places

August 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

“Dark Places” is the second adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel. The first, of course, was the acclaimed “Gone Girl”, which was adapted by Flynn herself. Here, her work is written for the screen and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who has mostly done French language films (except for 2009’s “Walled In”). The two films could not be farther apart in terms of quality of narrative execution, and adaptation itself. Where “Gone Girl” successfully brought page to screen with the same depth and care, “Dark Places” feels like it’s merely a recitation of the book.

The story revolves around Libby Day (Charlize Theron, who may be miscast for this role), who when she was a child, witnessed the murder of nearly her entire family save her older teenage brother Ben, who is convicted of the killings. She is coaxed into witness testimony that sends Ben to life in prison–but years later, a group of people called the “Kill Club” (they follow serial murders and try to solve cases on their own) believe that he may be innocent. One of the leaders of the group, Lyle (Nicholas Hoult), tries to persuade Libby to reevaluate her stance that her brother is guilty. There are inconsistencies in the crime scene itself and Ben doesn’t seem to have a real motive. Back in 1985, during the mass hysteria of satanic occult witch hunts, it was easy for a jury to believe that Ben was a devil worshiper and wanted to make a sacrifice to Satan. In actuality, Ben (Tye Sheridan) is a meek, quiet, reserved normal boy who gets in with a crowd that claims to be Satanists. Older Ben (Corey Stoll) now claims he is innocent, and wants Libby to change her testimony in order to clear him. But she still doesn’t necessarily believe that he didn’t do it. What she begins to discover is that there were other people involved with that night–including Ben’s girlfriend Diondra (Chloe Grace-Moretz) and even his own father, Runner (Sean Bridgers). When his mother Patty (Christina Hendricks) and two sisters Michelle and Debbie are murdered, they are killed in different ways, suggesting there may have been more than one culprit.

The film, like the book, jumps around between timelines, sometimes going back to 1985 on the day of the murders and the hours preceding them, and then going to present day where we have the older versions of the characters being visited by Libby to try and piece together what really happened. In the book, this is all done in a way that makes the story more a thriller than a character study–but it succeeds in being both, really. The movie tries to replicate that, but because it begins jumping around too early (in a book you can get away with that because you can always go back and use reference points), anyone who hasn’t read the book would probably be confused and check out emotionally rather quickly. The story seems like it would be compelling enough to string together a 3 act story easily, but there are too many characters and too much going on to be able to follow it if you’re not already familiar with the material.

The individual scenes are nicely acted. All of the sets are well done, and there is a sense of desperation in the murky atmosphere of the rural midwest. Instead of using that as a theme, however, it’s more like a backdrop. A set, simply to set the stage. The characters speak to each other but they don’t interact. There is no real conflict, no stakes, nothing to gain or lose. We don’t really care if Libby sets her brother free or finds the truth because nothing was established in the first 15 minutes that made us really care about the outcome.

In “Gone Girl”, Flynn is able to reconstruct her novel and keep the theme intact with David Fincher’s masterful directing ability. Not to say that Paquet-Brenner is incapable–but it’s disappointing to see someone completely botch a compelling story simply by missing the point that you need to set everything up credibly and with enough simplicity that the story unfolds naturally and comprehensively. Here, we are given little cuts of meat rather than the whole steak. And it definitely leaves one starving for a better†movie.

My rating:†:(