Ready Player One (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

In the future, the world has become overcrowded and crappy. So, as a means of escape, people turn to the Oasis, a massive, interconnected virtual reality where they can play games, fight, and make friends. And money. Lots and lots of money. That aspect is key, since the Oasis is, quite literally, the most valuable thing in the world, since everyone on the planet uses it. And for good reason. Inside the Oasis, you can do whatever, be whatever, you want. You want to climb Mount Everest with Batman? You got it. You wanna blow up the Death Star with Frodo? No problem. Anyway, when the creator of the Oasis dies, he hides a golden egg somewhere in the void, and the only way to access it is by completing three trials, each of which unlocks a special key. Finding the egg will result in the winner gaining complete control over the Oasis, something that literally everyone in the world, especially major corporations, wants. So the chase is on to see who will complete the Trials, find the egg, and take control over the Oasis. You want to find out who wins? Well, you’ll just have to buy a ticket and see for yourself.

Ready Player One is jaw dropping, pulse-pounding, pure nerd-gasmic joy. There is never a dull moment in this movie, and the creativity and energy with which this film’s world is drawn cannot be compared. If you’re a fan of video games, anime, comic books, or movies from the 80s, you will have so much fun with this flick. I certainly did. Seeing things like King Kong, the DeLorean from Back To The Future, and the motorcycle from Akira all coexisting in the same frame, and flipping over each other in a truly bonkers chase scene, made my inner child squeal with joy. Steven Spielberg was absolutely the right man to helm this picture. Not only did he create a lot of the pop culture icons referenced in this movie, but he really has a great sense for action, building worlds, and creating a sustained sense of wonder. And if you didn’t know after watching Schindler’s List, Lincoln, and Bridge Of Spies, he works really well with actors too. All the performances in this film are great. The stand outs, for me, are Lena Waithe, or as you may know her, Denise from Master Of None, Olivia Cooke as the female lead, and Ben Mendelsohn as the villain. All of them get the chance to shine, and they really are a lot of fun to watch. And, as if this needs saying, the special effects, music, editing and cinematography are all superb. If you want to go to the movies and watch something big, loud, and nerdy in the best possible way, this flick is for you.

Now, as much as I love Ready Player One, and, trust me, I’ll probably go see it two or three more times, I do have problems with it. Most of them are script related. For starters, the first fifteen minutes are extremely exposition heavy. There’s a lot of voice over, explaining what the Oasis is, and how it works, and, honestly, most of it is unnecessary. The opening shot shows our hero, Wade Watts, walking past people hooked up to VR devices, and we get brief glimpses of their inner fantasies. That shot has no dialogue whatsoever, and it tells us everything we need to know about the Oasis. All the extra voice over is just unnecessary. And as fun as the actors in this movie are, the characters they’re playing are kind of shallow. All we really know about Wade is that he’s an orphan, who lives with his AUnt, and she has an abusive boyfriend. That’s pretty much it. And it’s more ore less like that for all the other characters too. Yes, they have funny dialogue. Yes, they do cool things. But, if you were to ask me something personal about them, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Because there’s really nothing to them. So if you want to watch a film that has deep, fully fleshed-out characters, this picture probably isn’t for you. But if you just want to have a good time at the movies, without being talked down to, and have a deep love for the pop culture of a bygone era, don’t hesitate to give it a look.

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Animal Kingdom (2010)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

When his mother dies of a heroin overdose, 17-year-old J goes to live with his estranged Grandmother and Uncles, a family of petty criminals in Melbourne, Australia. There’s his Grandma, Smurf, who seems loving and doting. There’s his volatile Uncle Craig, who deals drugs to get by. There’s his other Uncle, Darren, who’s just a few years older than him. And, finally, there’s Pope, the oldest brother, who is in hiding from the police. The film is set during a period in Australian history when bank robbery is out of control, as is the police force, who will kill criminal’s at the drop of a hat. And that, essentially, is what this film is about; waiting for that hat to drop. Because, on the surface, everyone is nice, and everything is going just fine. But there’s always an undercurrent of menace and tension. And when something inevitably goes wrong, the family comes apart, and, as the title suggests, the animals start eating each other.

Animal Kingdom is a very unusual film. It’s a crime thriller with very little violence–except for a few, highly effective, moments–a slow pace, and a greater emphasis on character. It’s the sort of movie that if it was made in America, where pictures tend to move faster and have more bloodshed, probably wouldn’t be as good or interesting. And that’d be a shame, because if there are two words that can aptly summarize Animal Kingdom, they are “good” and “interesting.”

This is a taught, well-acted, well-written family drama,with some fascinating characters, and some very disturbing moments. What it honestly reminded me of was the works of Harold Pinter. If you’ve never heard of him, he was a British playwright, known for penning so-called “comedies of menace.” These were stories set in mundane locations, like a suburban living room, or a dinner party where everyone’s acting nice, but you’re always uneasy, because you suspect that something bad is about to happen. And, most of the time, something bad does happen. Animal Kingdom has that same feel, because there are several points where you’re not sure if you’re supposed to like the main family or not. On the surface, they seem nice and normal. They eat dinner together. They take care of each other. In one scene, J’s uncle chastises him for not washing his hands. And yet, in a heartbeat, they’ll pull a gun on someone, or ask J to do something violent and illegal. And that is what keeps you invested; the uncertainty; the not knowing whether or not you can trust these people. For this reason, and the stellar performances, particularly from Ben Mendelsohn, whom plays Pope, and Jackie Weaver, whom plays Smurf, I would highly recommend Animal Kingdom to you all. It is a well-written, well-acted crime drama with great tension, and I think you all would enjoy it if you saw it.

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

A stuntman, struggling to provide for his family. A cop, grappling with corruption in his unit. A teenager, haunted by the death of his father. These men are flawed, but they all want to do the right thing. And each, in his own way, is trapped in the town of Schenectady, or The Place Beyond The Pines.

The best way to describe this movie is “artsy.” And when I say that, I mean it in both the best, and worst, ways possible. It’s artsy in a good way because it’s narrative and scenes are uniquely structured, with whole sequences being done in single, unbroken takes, and the storyline unfolding in a non-Aristotelian manner. The acting is also very subdued ad naturalistic, as it tends to be in lower budget indie films. It’s artsy in a bad way in that the pacing is very slow, the naturalistic acting sometimes comes off as garbled and incomprehensible, and the unconventional camerawork sometimes drains tension from scenes. For instance, the storyline involving Ryan Gosling’s stuntman character features many chases, and these scenes are almost all done in long, unbroken takes. Now, on the one hand, being able to see everything in your action scene is great. Too many action films rely on quick cutting and shaky cam to cover up the fact that the actors can’t pull off stunts and fight scenes. But when every scene in your movie is edited in the same, slow, ponderous manner, regardless of what the scene actually is, that’s a bad thing. You don’t want to shoot a chase the same way that you shoot a conversation in a diner. And Place Beyond The Pines does that. There are many points where quick cutting could have been used to great effect, such as to cut down extraneous seconds of footage, to show how anxious and jumpy a character is feeling, or simply to keep the audience engaged. The reason why we have cutting in films, particularly in dialogue scenes, is to keep the audience’s eyes moving. If everything is happening at the same speed, in the same frame, we get bored. Place Beyond The Pines has action a plenty, but that action is shot and edited in such a way that our eyes stop moving, and we lose interest. Combine this with the movie’s length, it’s about 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and you’ve got a film that’s not for everyone.

Nevertheless,Place Beyond the Pine’s unique narrative structure, strong performances, and surprisingly star-studded cast–including Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Mahershala Ali and Dane DeHaan–do make it worth watching. If you don’t like slow pacing, and long run times, maybe watch something else. But if you’re okay with that, give it a look. You’ll probably like it.