Ready Player One Review

The amazing thing about nostalgia is that, at one point or another, all of us feel it. Whether it’s watching a favorite childhood movie (like Back to the Future) or plugging in a long-forgotten video game (like GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64), everybody loves reminiscing. And never has this love for nostalgia and pop cultural ever been taken to such a level as Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster film, Ready Player One.

In the dystopian future of 2045, life has become so bleak that everyone plugs in and tunes out into a virtual reality video game known as the OASIS. In OASIS, anyone can assume the avatars of any creature, being, or pop culture related character, living the life they wish they could in reality. After the creator of this VR technology dies, a rat race ensues for a hidden Easter egg he placed inside the game. The first one who finds it receives not only untold riches, but the deed to the OASIS itself.

Enter our main character Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young orphan who’s become very good at the game, who looks to find the Easter egg first. With the help of his friends Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe), they hope to save OASIS (and possibly the world) from a tyrannical company called IOI. All of our heroes learning true friendship, acceptance, and bravery in the process.

Ready Player One is chock-full of easily marketable nostalgic properties of some of the most iconic games and movies. The Iron Giant, Overwatch, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Street Fighter, the works. If you can name it (and it existed between 1980 and 2000), it was probably included in the movie.

The environment the characters inhabit (a pivotal piece to the film) is bleak and hopeless, especially once it’s contrasted with the slick, awe-inspiring creativity of the OASIS. The imagery is often colorful and attractive to the eye, and the many situations our protagonists come across test the imaginative boundaries of this world.

One scene that really caught my eye was the ten-minute sequence dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining, in which our main characters must travel through iconic scenes of the film in search of a hidden key. We see great homages to a great horror movie done in ways that could be described as funny, scary, and intense.

It’s well known that Spielberg was a friend of Kubrick and envied his unique directing style. The same could also be said for Kubrick, who wished he could make a mass-appealing family adventure flick like Spielberg but died before he could make that a reality. Well in Ready Player One Spielberg seamlessly weaves The Shining into his family-friendly action flick. A wonderful tribute to a wonderful director.

It’s this kind of care and affection that Spielberg has for his audience and fellow filmmakers that makes Ready Player One work on such a phenomenal level. Running the plot and technicalities of this film through my head, I came to the conclusion that this shouldn’t work. Such a mashup of pop culture should be, quite frankly, stupid; pandering to a small demographic of people who obsess over this sort of thing. Yet Spielberg pulled it off, effectively making the film both fast-paced and exciting for all audiences.

The film does come across its share of minor hiccups along the way. For example, a plethora of exposition is dumped on the audience throughout the first thirty minutes; so much so that some information is actually repeated twice. A lot of this backstory knowledge didn’t need explaining and could’ve easily been shown to the audience rather than told.

Another criticism is actually the main lead of Wade Watts, again played by Tye Sheridan. Sheridan fairs much better as a voice actor rather than live-action, as his expressions aren’t particularly strong or convincing.

This doesn’t damper the overall spirit of the film, which gets its messages across in a firm but gentle way. Escapism can be great and help us to connect and foster relationships with distant people. But as the creator of The OASIS nicely puts it, eventually we all need to face reality, as it’s the only place to get a decent meal.

There’s even potential commentary on the politics behind gaming, microtransactions, and advertising. Sometimes it’s clever and thought provoking, other times it’s so heavy-handed that I kind of relished it.

Ready Player One transcends fanboyism and taps into a wide audience of eagerly nostalgic individuals. At points it goes too far with the pop culture references, and sometimes it’s subtler (like a beloved television character who passes by in the background). I believe Ready Player One meets in the middle and fulfills the desires and expectations of a variety of moviegoers.

For the uptight contrarians who feel that this is mindless and of poor quality, perhaps you should wait outside the theaters playing Ready Player One. There, you can greet the multitudes of well-satisfied fans (young and old) to state your antagonistic case.

For what it’s worth, I had a marvelous time watching Ready Player One and truly believe that there’s something for everybody in it. It’s fast-paced, touching, and all-around fascinating, and I hope others can take as much pleasure from it as I have.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Young Frankenstein Review

During the month of October, I had the incredible experience of viewing Mel Brook’s 1974 comedy classic Young Frankenstein on the big screen. Sitting in an almost completely empty theater, I watched in admiration as one of my favorite actors played out one of his most famous roles, just as people did in 1974.

The story, a comedic spoof based on various film adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, focuses in on the well-educated medical doctor Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder). Frederick discovers that he has just inherited the Transylvania castle of his famous grandfather, who conducted experiments in attempts to reanimate the dead. Initially hesitant, Frederick decides to recreate his grandfather’s experiments with the help of an unlikely group of odd individuals.

If there exists a film that is so universally hailed as comedic and undeniably hilarious, then it was probably directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks utilizes every level of humor to its fullest effect, whether it be simple slapstick or a subtler humor that takes a couple of viewings to fully appreciate.

Discussing humor can be a difficult and daunting task, partly because of the subjective nature of comedy. There are only so many ways that I can say a scene from Young Frankenstein is funny, and only so many ways I can say entire films made in its image are not. Yet, with that established, I believe Young Frankenstein to be comedic genius. Brooks takes a beloved source material and handles it with such care, delicacy, and most of all, lunacy.

Pondering such questions as, “What if Igor was in denial that he had a hump?” Or even, “What if Frankenstein’s monster meeting the blind man had a more comedic punch to it?” It’s questions like these that any individual can conjure up in their heads, but only Brooks has the audacity to carry it out on the big screen.

Playing the role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Gene Wilder gives what I would argue the best performance of his career. The frantic ravings and occasional lunacy of a mad scientist in denial about his family heritage is about as outlandish as imaginable, and Wilder fits the bill. Not only that, he becomes the character, going beyond the call of duty to give the audience an unforgettable experience. And is it surprising for me to say that whenever I hear somebody talk about Frankenstein, I first think of this movie, rather than the Universal classic?

One can hardly forget the enigmatic supporting cast, who help make this lovely masterpiece what we know it as today. My personal favorite would be Igor (Marty Feldman), a dimwitted wisecracker with a knack for making the situation worse. Something about Igor has always appealed to me unlike anyone else in the film. His onscreen presence alone is enough to elicit hysterical laughter from yours truly.

Young Frankenstein is a film I re-explore at least once a year, typically around the Halloween season, and for good reason. It’s listed as one of the greatest comedies of all time by the American Film Institute (14th), Bravo TV (56th), Rolling Stone (5th), and was even selected for the Library of Congress National Film Registry. It’s a beloved masterpiece that will hopefully be respected by moviegoers for years to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

 

Pacific Rim: Uprising Review

Pacific Rim Uprising is the same as its predecessor in every way, only two steps in a worse direction.

It takes place ten years after the conclusive events of Pacific Rim, only now there is a new enemy that threatens humanity. We focus in on out semi-main protagonist Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), who was once a promising soldier now turned to a life of crime. But, when giant evil robots and monsters return for round 2, Pentecost must return to pilot his giant robot and save the day. At least, that’s the general gist of what’s going on.

The biggest fundamental flaw with the film is that the characters are poorly written and don’t fit with this story. Never are they charming, funny, or even relatable. They just felt like people in a film studio doing stuff. Their personalities were the cookie cutter stereotypes done in the most clichéd way imaginable. There was the tough military guy played by Scott Eastwood, as well as the cool rebellious dude, who felt more like he was playing a discount John Boyega rather than the real John Boyega. And who can forget the sciency guy who speaks in intellectual jargon and looks like a coked-out Willem DaFoe.

All together, they try their best to give audiences as bland and forgettable of an experience as science fiction can possibly allow.

The climax does provide us with the robots vs. monsters fight we were promised, albeit not as stylish or exciting as the previous film. Maybe it was the unconvincing CGI effects, or perhaps the exhaustion from the last ninety minutes setting in. Whatever the case, this action sequence wasn’t nearly as intense or rousing as it should’ve been.

Those pulling the strings of Pacific Rim Uprising seemed too preoccupied with turning this into the next summer blockbuster franchise. Little effort was put into characterization and overly complex story, resulting in a hodgepodge of sci-fi nonsense that rivals the intelligence of Transformers 5Pacific Rim Uprising is just fine for those who want to watch a monster get beat up for twenty minutes, so long as they’re willing to sit through ninety minutes of gibberish to get there.

Pacific Rim was a big, dumb, exciting action movie. This one was just dumb.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

 

Space Cop (2016) Review

Probably my biggest inspiration for pursuing film criticism (as well as one my favorite pastimes) is watching the film review-based web series of Red Letter Media. Often noted for their sardonic and hypercritical tone, Red Letter Media has helped to shape the way I view movies. The creators of RLM (Jay Bauman and Mike Stoklassa) have directed several of their own independent films in the past, most notably their 2016 sci-fi schlock picture Space Cop.

Space Cop stars the internet’s very own Rich Evans as the inept and careless police officer from the future, Space Cop. Space Cop travels back in time to the present to stop a renegade team of aliens that threaten the extinction of humanity. In the present, Space Cop must team up with a cryogenically frozen cop from the past who’s thawed out in the present. With two different cops from two different time periods on the same case, they’ll have to learn to work together to save the day.

Space Cop is as strange and awkward of a film as the title and plot clearly suggest. Average Joe moviegoers having the foresight to see this, you’re probably not watching Space Cop because you found it at the local Family Video or while browsing Netflix. No, you’re watching because you’re a fan of the popular web series by Red Letter Media.

Humorously referred to as “hack frauds” by their core audience, RLM shares a cordial love-hate relationship with their fans and peers. Space Cop is a wonderful extension of this sentiment. Plenty of fans seem divided on the quality of the film, despite its purposeful attempt at absurdity.

Some scenes are hilarious and get a good chuckle. Other scenes are just painful to sit through and carry on for too long. Some sets are designed with an intentional cheapness that felt self-aware, which I kind of admired. Other sets felt a little too lazy, as if they were crunched for time on the production (like bad 80’s movies). The acting from our leads was overly theatrical in a lot of places, but occasionally was more distracting than humorous.

Despite all these conflictions, I believe the film stays true to its intended purpose, serving as a nice sendup to 80’s schlock films that the makers of Space Cop obviously took inspiration from. Schlock films of the past made little logical sense, had corny dialogue, and included over-the-top protagonists that loved to ham it up. All these aspects are confidently showcased in Space Cop, either to the enjoyment (or agitation) of the moviegoer.

Space Cop is a sci-fi schlockfest with as niche of an audience as humanly possible, mostly because it was made with the intent to be terrible. Therefore, it’s ill-advised that a traditional moviegoer watches Space Cop, unless they take masochistic pleasure in viewing bad movies (of forcing friends to).

Red Letter Media is at their funniest and most clever on their internet review shows Half in the Bag and Best of the Worst, where they often discuss terrible, long-forgotten films. RLM’s honest reactions to bad movies are infinitely more entertaining than the scripted puns and gags of Space Cop. Those who decide to venture into Space Cop territory would benefit greatly from listening to the commentary track, as you might get more out of the experience doing so.

-Zachary Flint

The Verdict: B-

Tomb Raider Review: The Last Crusade Meets National Treasures

There has never been a good video game movie. Never. Period. Not a single one. Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, and House of the Dead, all failures.

Time and time again audiences get pumped up for the next video game adaptation, only to be entirely disappointed by the end product. Some try to defend such films like Assassin’s Creed and Resident Evil, only for their opinions to be muffled by the multitudes of disgruntled moviegoers calling BS. It’s hard to blame the stubborn dissonance of the few, as making one decent adaptation of a video game isn’t asking for much. Yet, the closest we ever got to something good was Mortal Kombat in 1995, and even that was off the mark.

In many respects, I believe Tomb Raider to have finally broken this curse, giving audiences something entertaining and worthwhile to watch.

The film follows a young Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), an adventurous individual whose father (Dominic West) mysteriously disappeared years ago. Lara embarks on a treacherous journey to his last known whereabouts, a mythical Japanese island with an ancient (and powerful) tomb located on it. Upon arrival, she discovers a secret organization already there, looking for the tomb to use it for evil. Lara must now use her bravery to outsmart the organization and venture into unknown territories.

Tomb Raider is like the goofy, hilariously inept version of Indiana Jones. Take the plot of The Last Crusade, sprinkle in some National Treasures, and voilà! A perfect Tomb Raider recipe. Equipped with confusing ancient booby traps, numerous gun fights, and questionable logic/deductions, Tomb Raider is thrillingly incompetent in the sincerest of ways. It knows its far-fetched, so why not have some fun with it?

Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft is the most respectable and serious part of the film, and this isn’t to be taken lightly. Her performance makes the movie what it is and gives it some real credibility. Any scene involving Vikander I was following along intently and very invested.

Her character of Croft has a somber and scarred side to her, but also an adventurous and carefree one. Her actions frequently reminded me of Indiana Jones, in that she wasn’t always trying to be some macho action hero. If somebody pulls a knife on her when she’s unarmed, she runs away! Croft doesn’t win every fistfight, in fact she loses about half the time! Scenes like these make her behaviors more relatable and comical for the audience.

The last five minutes or so, dedicated to setting up a potential sequel, didn’t sit quite well with me. It seemed hastily rushed and forced at the end, with no real buildup to what the film was leading audiences to assume. Tagging on something so trivial when the real adventure is already over was trite and unnecessary, and to conclude on it was disappointing.

Nonetheless Tomb Raider was exactly what it needed to be and precisely what it set out to be. Lots of big action movie fun. It has plenty of blunders and illogical moments, as well as some hokey acting and cheesy lines, but the overall experience remains untainted. I enjoyed myself and the time I spent watching Tomb Raider, and I hope others can share in that feeling too.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

A Wrinkle in Time Review: A Wrinkled Mess

Seeing as Disney didn’t get the memo sent by the writers of Tomorrowland, that when you write a film that’s too universally idealistic and preachy it loses any sense of realism to viewers, they made the same mistake again. This time with the fantasy/adventure movie A Wrinkle in Time.

The film stars Storm Reid as Meg Murry, a self-conscious young girl whose scientist dad (Chris Pine) went missing four years ago (after all, it is a Disney movie, at least one parent must be gone or dead). Her father had been working on something called the tesseract (no he’s not an Avenger) that allows you to travel through space and time. And through a string of events I still don’t fully understand, Meg meets three astral travelers (played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling) who inform her that her father is alive and needs her help on a distant planet. Meg then goes with the three travelers on a journey of a lifetime to save her father and bring him home.

Sadly for A Wrinkle in Time, the only halfway decent performance came from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who was barely even in the movie. Everyone else was either mugging for the camera or just acted too ridiculous to take seriously. I refuse to believe the actors and actresses are solely to blame, as the writing hardly served as a platform to work off. Most of these characters didn’t have defined personalities or motivations, and some didn’t have any reason being in the film at all.

Aside from the main cast, characters seemed to drop in and out of the film haphazardly, with no driving force moving the plot forward. Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace is who introduces us to the three traveling Mrs., yet it’s never explained how he knows who they are or where he met them in the first place. And while information like this is pertinent to convey to the audience, they choose to instead spell out the obvious with on the nose backstory’s that we already understood.

Even the special effects, which are usually showcased in these kinds of fantasy/adventure movies, were subdued and hidden. It was as if they were so embarrassed of the end product that they purposely held back on the FX when they stitched the film together in post. Moments that should’ve been visually awe-inspiring and magical were incredibly lackluster and unconvincing.

One of A Wrinkle in Times many morals it tries to convince the audience is that your flaws and imperfections make you who you are, and that everyone has their faults. A good, genuine message for kids. However, the protagonist Meg is written too perfectly and altruistically to the point where she has no real character flaws herself. All this making her an impossible person to relate to.

The other messages have the same effect. You create this oversimplified world where all the woes of humanity are boiled down into this one evil entity. It goes so overboard in so many ways that I couldn’t take any of it seriously. I think kids would appreciate a simpler, well thought out message (like the one about self-esteem and self-efficacy) over some ham-fisted hippie morals.

I can’t really tell whether A Wrinkle in Time’s themes were incompetently well intentioned or hippy-dippy propaganda meant to manipulate kids rather than inspire them. Regardless of the intent, the film was a boring mess of half-baked ideas and lamely written characters. I’d like to conclude this review with a little quote of my own for Mrs. Who to use:

“This movie sucks.”

-Zachary Flint, American

The Verdict: D-

The Strangers: Prey at Night Review

The Strangers: Prey at Night is an earnest attempt to make a fun and effective horror flick, unlike many cheap studio products of our time. Sadly this genuine attempt at scares is thwarted many a time by the lack of understanding of how to successfully craft a movie.

You know the story. A family wrapped in turmoil is trapped in an isolated trailer park with three masked individuals hunting them down just for the thrill of it. The family proceeds to fight for their lives for approximately one hour, all of this resulting in a deadly bloodbath.

The cast was well-picked and gave strong performances all around, despite portraying the stereotype characters that audiences stopped caring about years ago. And of its precious eighty-five minute runtime, the film spends an incredible amount of time developing these characters. While characterization scenes like this are often throwaways for scary movies, here it’s refreshingly purposeful.

Many scenes within The Strangers served no purpose whatsoever, and many shots lingered for way too long on nothing of importance. Instead of being intense and scary, it was more a scattershot of scenes that were either too fast-paced or excruciatingly slow.

Not helping The Strangers odd situation was its soundtrack, which was the very definition of a hot mess. Using a mixture of 80’s hits and original score, the music was so bombastic and in your face that it kills any sort of mood or style that the film was trying to establish. The opening title card has this very eerie music and tone to it that I found intriguing, but then the film cuts to a suburban family packing up their belongings to go on a trip and yet continues playing that creepy music. Where’s the consistency? What sense does that make? And this isn’t just a minor forgettable instance, as the film is full of these inconsistencies. Almost every scene where a person is killed or stabbed has an upbeat tune playing loudly in the background, which was so on the nose it became off-putting. The upbeat music contrasts with the frightening imagery, we get it.

The Strangers still leaves us on a strong note, going the extra mile into territories of excess and outrageousness, including a rather strange nod towards The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the end. It certainly off-sets the preestablished “realism” the film had, but nonetheless it was still one of the more exciting bits it had to offer.

The Strangers: Prey at Night is the most frustrating kind of film, one that has lots of misguided potential. It wants to be a slow-moving, tense horror film with characters the audience will care about; yet has a loud soundtrack, uneven pacing, and an ending that, while enjoyable, goes too far off the rails for the mood it was trying to set. The filmmakers clearly confused an excessive soundtrack an unnecessary lingering shots with suspense. And in a film like this, that’s an unfortunate concept to mix up.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint