Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

“READY PLAYER ONE” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Easter Egg: The Movie

Ready Player One is a celebration of entertainment, a pop-culture explosion jam-packed with all of your favorite characters, icons, and memorable moments from your childhood growing up. I couldn’t tell you how many times I grinned ear-to-ear while watching this film, or how many times I jumped up and down in my seat in excitement, or how many times I was overwhelmed from recognizing all of the cameos popping up on the screen at once. This film could have been retitled as Easter Egg: The Movie, because that’s exactly what it is: one giant, gorgeous, deliciously colorful Easter Egg, and man is it fantastic to look at.

Taking place in Columbus, Ohio in 2045, Ready Player One shows us a dystopian future devastated by the effects of climate change and economic inequality. The middle class no longer exists. People live in sheds and old trailer homes instead of houses. The education system is practically non-existent. And no matter where you turn, all signs point to old American life ceasing to exist.

Enter the Oasis, a virtual reality experience where just about anything is possible. The Oasis has become people’s new reality: their place of escape. And whether they’re racing in a re-creation of 1940’s New York City, dancing in an anti-gravity night club, or literally building their own “Minecraft” world, the Oasis is a national treasure that everyone shares together.

One day, the creator of the Oasis James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away, but before he does he records a message for all of his video-gaming fans everywhere. He says that he’s hidden an Easter Egg in the Oasis, an object which hands control of the Oasis over to whoever finds it first. Now determined to find the Easter Egg before business CEO and corporate shrill Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) teams up with his friends to find the Easter Egg and save the Oasis.

The appeal in Ready Player One lies in its nostalgic value; in your ability to discern entertainment icons and characters and get excited at their unexpected appearance. This, of course, seems too simple to be taken seriously. However, Ready Player One is a simple film, and it never asked to be taken seriously. With these rules established, we’re ready to plow ahead and dive head-first into all of the pop-culture fun this movie delivers, and man does it deliver it.

How common are the Easter Eggs in Ready Player One? Very. They are so prominent in the film that they are as integral as the visual effects themselves are. Virtually every scene has at least one throwback to 80’s or 90’s culture. In one of the earliest shots, for instance, Wade can be seen driving around in the Delorean from the Back to the Future franchise. I’m tell you guys, after 28 years with its engine shut off, there’s no greater joy than seeing the Delorean revved up again and tearing the streets up, even if the Delorean and those streets are artificial.

That’s only one Easter Egg among hundreds. King Kong is back from the dead ripping buildings apart, the Iron Giant is reactivated after being shut off for several years, and there’s even a blood-soaked tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. My favorite cameo was one where the Chucky Doll was tossed into a crowd like a grenade, and he starts slicing through hoards of computer-generated enemies like a mincemeat grinder. Yes, a Chucky Doll will do that in this movie. It will do a lot of things.

The cameos, the Easter Eggs, the surprise appearances: they’re all so fun and exciting to watch, and it’s a pure joy to just glance at the screen at random moments and go “Oh look, it’s so-and-so! And also what’s-his-name!” But that’s not the core component of the movie. It’s an important one, yes, but what makes Ready Player One so cherishing is how much these characters mean to these kids playing as them. We’ve all been through those moments in our childhood where we grab our toys, trucks, and action figures and spit out silly noises as we scream and pretend like our toys are fighting each other. Ready Player One is the video-game equivalent of that. Yes, these kids and the villains they’re fighting are inhabiting a fictional world, but the love and passion they have for it is not. For them, it’s as real as any action figure, costume, and video-game controller ever could be. The Oasis is not based in reality, no. But it is their reality, and that’s the important part.

In that, Steven Spielberg finds the human part of this story; the part that turns this movie from merely an entertaining experience to an extraordinary one. When Steven Spielberg was filming the underwater scenes for his shark film Jaws, or had E.T. pointing to Elliot’s forehead, or had that magnificent T-Rex let out a loud, dominant roar in Jurassic Park, he didn’t make any of these scenes from the corporate, money-grabbing mindset of Nolan Sorrento. He created these moments like the kids in Ready Player One created theirs, thinking, dreaming, and playing like storytellers in their own worlds. In that, Spielberg speaks to something much more profound than the need to be entertained: he speaks to the much larger questions of creating ourselves.

Yes, Ready Player One’s message is a straightforward one. But then, it was meant to be straightforward. What we are given here is not an opportunity to critique, but an opportunity to place ourselves in the VR mindset of these kids, let loose, and have fun. And for all of the action, visual spectacle, humor, heart, and fun that this movie delivers, Ready Player One has only one flaw, and that is that the Super Mario Bros. didn’t make an appearance.

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“JURASSIC WORLD” Review (✫1/2)

Never trust a velociraptor. 

If there is any reason you need convincing as to why some movie franchises need to stay extinct, let Jurassic World be your most recent example. How to I start with this? Well, let me start with a positive: Joe Johnston isn’t directing. Thank God, because I couldn’t stomach another Jurassic Park III. Maybe I already have.

The movie takes place 20 years after the events of Jurassic Park, which is just as well because it literally is more than 20 years after the original was released. The new plot re-writes the history so that The Lost World and Jurassic Park III never took place. Not a change I will be missing since those movies contributed as little to the series as World does.

The film’s cast of characters includes a dinosaur whisperer named Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who controls his own small battalion of velociraptors ready at a moment’s notice. Yes, you read that right. A velociraptor battalion. You get used to such absurdities as the movie goes on. You have Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park manager of the newly-designed Jurassic World. Then you have Zach and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), two brothers who go to Jurassic World for a small vacation away from their parents. Oh yeah, and Claire is their aunt. You can tell their parents are really responsible by sending their kids away to an exotic park filled with man-eating beasts and reptiles with their ditzy, airhead of an estranged aunt to take care of them.

Anyhow, the upgraded, new-and-improved Jurassic World is a major step forward from Jurassic Park, the failed first attempt at a dinosaur park thanks to the hands of John Hammond. But no worries! Jurassic World is the perfected design of Jurassic Park, and nothing can possibly go wrong!

…right? RIGHT?!

Wrong. They do the smartest thing they can do and create a new carnivorous dinosaur called the Indominus that is more powerful than the T-Rex, Spinosaurus and a pack of Velociraptors combined. Hooray for dinosaur science!

As soon as the film opens up, you realize how many stupid characters are packed into the film to create the biggest idiot plot you’ve seen since Idiocracy. Idiot # 1: Whoever decided to create this park after the original one ended so disastrously. Idiot # 2: The mad scientists who decided to create a new carnivorous dinosaur, splicing together the DNA of nature’s most dangerous dinosaurs. Idiot # 3: Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, for deciding to run in high heels the entire movie. Idiot # 4: The park official who thought the dinosaurs could be reused as weapons for tactical takeover. I’m sure he was still wondering what went wrong as one was chewing off his head (Hint: They’re hungry, you moron). Idiot # 5: Mr. DNA, because curse that Clippit wannabe. Idiot # 6: Anyone who thought it was a good idea to pay money to go to this park after knowing what happened at the old one.

It’s true, I’m not a fan of this movie’s conception to begin with. The premise itself has so many logical flaws to begin with, its hard to get into the story. But I’ve been faced with worse cases before and have been happily proven wrong. I had doubts before I went into the theaters to see 22 Jump Street and Guardians of the Galaxy, and those ended up being some of the most fun movies of 2014. If done well, a movie can suspend disbeliefs and be what a summer moviegoing experience is supposed to be: entertaining.

The problem with Jurassic World is that it undermines its own intelligence, and the entertainment value doesn’t pay off despite it. The script starts off with its flaws of logic in the outset and never addresses them in the film, its characters as oblivious to their own faulty thinking as badly as the screenwriters are. The movie continues with an onslaught of cliches and inaccuracies, some of which I rolled my eyes hard at and wondering if I was watching a Roland Emmerich action picture. Some of the worst blows come in the form of dialogue that actors somehow manage to deliver with straight faces (i.e. Lines like “I was with the Navy, not the Navajo” or “Wait until I tell my mom!”). Don’t even ask me how many times characters told each other to run.

Probably the worst offense comes with the casting. I’m not denying that these are talented actors. From big roles to small ones, each of these cast members have been in roles where they had a strong presence on screen. Now, their presence includes running away from dinosaurs and looking good in sweaty clothes. Simpkins was cute and likable in movies like The Next Three Days and Iron Man 3. Now, he’s an OCD dinosaur nerd who recites species like he’s a dictionary. Robinson was solid in in the coming-of-age drama The Kings Of Summer. Here, he’s in the cliche Gothic-teen phase like those characters you’d see from “Degrassi.” Howard’s resume needs no explanation. Her acting ability is worth more than the pretty-faced ditz role she’s forced into this movie. And Pratt? Ugh. Pratt is the worst. After making as strong a debut as he did in Guardians of The Galaxy, director Colin Trevorrow did the worse thing you possibly could do to Pratt in this movie: he made him boring.

Again, the visuals are amazing. Whoop-de-do. The more I offer the visual effects and the fight sequences as the movie’s strongest points, the more irritated I get at knowing I’m writing the same criticism over, and over, and over, and over again. Yes, the visuals are amazing, but are they good enough to substantiate the movie’s flaws? The original Jurassic Park revolutionized computer imaging years ago when you saw the life-sized dinosaur for the first time in 1993. What big achievement can Jurassic World boast about? Continuing the trend that Jurassic Park started. That’s it.

Great visual effects mean nothing if a plot is not strong enough to stand on its own two legs. Is one character’s solution to outrunning a giant dinosaur seriously to release a bigger, scarier dinosaur? What was she going to do when either dinosaur was finished? And on that note, is she seriously running and doing all of this leg work in high heels???

I’m seeming pretty harsh with this movie. I know it, and I’m sticking by it. The more I thought about my experience with this movie, the more irritated I get at the movie’s ignorances of itself and its audience. This movie’s premise was not the worst thing in the world. Guardians of the Galaxy had an even more preposterous idea to its story with talking trees and raccoons, and it pulled it off with humor and with heart. This movie copied what Jurassic Park did first and better, and it’s artificial efforts show. It needed to understand how prehistoric sequels are nowadays, and how badly it needed to evolve from it.

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It’s Aaron Paul and Scott Waugh, Yo

Straight off the wheels (pun intended) of his award-winning role as Jesse Pinkman in Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad,” actor Aaron Paul’s followup to film is that of street racer Tobey Marshall in Need For Speed, an action movie produced by filmmaker Steven Spielberg loosely based on the video game series of the same name. After attending an early screening of the movie before its release on March 14, Paul and director Scott Waugh (Act Of Valor), sat down with myself and the audience to talk about the movie and what it was like filming the high-octane action thriller.

Question: Before this movie was even made, it was a video game franchise. It was kind of a blank slate for you guys. How did you come up with the story?

Scott Waugh: We just really wanted to come up with a really compelling, really human story that we could develop and really take the audience along for a thrill ride. We just got so lucky enough to get a man like Aaron Paul to play the lead and really put ourself on the map that we’re a different movie and trying to do a throwback to the films that I grew up on, like The French Connection and Vanishing Point.

Q: What exactly were you looking for when you cast Aaron Paul?

SW: Man, I was so pumped when we were trying to cast the movie, and we were literally saying, “Look, I want to find the next Steve McQueen.” His name came up, I never watched “Breaking Bad,” so I didn’t know who the hell Aaron Paul was. The funny part was when his name came up, it was to play Dino. I was like “Really? Let me see some tape on him.” I saw some tape on him. I was like, “Man, this kid is for real. He is so good. Forget Dino, man. This guy should play the lead.” They said no, the studio would never go for that. So they talked me out of it, and then they put Aaron up in front of Spielberg to see which guys he wanted to play around the kid that we thought was going to play Tobey. He saw Aaron’s tape and goes, “Man, this Aaron Paul kid is really fantastic. Why aren’t we considering him for the lead?” And that was it. Long story short, 24 hours later, Aaron Paul was cast.

Aaron Paul: Yeah, it’s such a surreal thing. I never knew about the whole Dino conversation, literally until this press tour, but when it was sent to me on my desk, I always thought that they were always interested in me with Tobey. I read the title page. It said Need For Speed, you know, what is this movie really going to be about? Is there going to be a really solid story there? I read it, and I was just so invested in these characters from the very beginning, and when I talked to Scott, he told me he wanted to do a throwback to the classic car culture films, such as Bullet and Vanishing Point. I’ve been such a huge fan of Steve McQueen forever, and that just got me very excited about jumping on board.

Q: How did you go about training, getting ready for the role, Aaron?

AP: That was the thing. When I talked to Scott, when we first had conversations about this project, he said, “Now listen, if you want to jump on board, I’m going to really need you to learn how to drive.” And I knew how to drive before, but nothing like this, and so he was like, “If you want to do this, I’m going to get you some serious seat time in these cars.” Really, the first day working on this project was on a racetrack, a closed down racetrack, from sunrise to sunset, just really learning how to get out of problematic situations and then learning how to drive around corners, do reverse 180s. Just madness. Just so much fun.

TS: What was the best stunt you got to do during the shoot?

AP: All the freeway stuff. I was weaving through traffic, most of that was me, so I had to drive at pretty high speeds. We closed down freeways for five to seven miles, but it had to be that long because we were going so fast, so we were eating a lot of the road really quick. There’s a shot right when Pete went over the bridge, Tobey flips around and goes back for him. Scotty wanted me to fly directly at the camera and slide and get inches away from the camera that is attached to a cameraman that was him. That was very terrifying for me because to get it to slide the way that he wanted it, I needed to be going 65-70 miles an hour and then use the brake and then slide and get this far away. The first take we did it—

SW: He pussed out on the first two, got like 15 feet away from me. I came up to him after the second one, and I was like, “All right bro, here’s what you need to do. Don’t worry about me. I’ve been hit by a car several times. I’m cool with it. Just come in and hit your mark, and if you hit me, I’ll just flip over the top of it.”

AP: Which did not make me feel any better about the situation.

SW: It was pretty funny, so he’s coming in around 65-70 miles an hour. And I can tell, because he shifted into fourth. And I was like “Oh shit, now he’s coming in really fast.” He came in, started sliding towards me, and I will be the first one to say I pussed out and closed my eyes. The tires stopped, and I was still standing, and I opened my eyes and he’s literally two inches away from my camera. And I was like “Did I get it?” I didn’t even know if I got the shot.

Q: Scott, you used the cameras that you used to collaborate with your dad when you were younger, right?

SW: Yeah, I was so lucky, I grew up in this crazy household. My father was the original [stunt coordinator of] Spiderman in the ’76 TV show, he was a stuntman and a circus performer, and I had a trapeze in my backyard, a bunch of crazy stuff like that. My dad became a director, and he always wanted to put the audience in the movies, rather than sit back. He came up with this device in the ’80s called a helmet camera, which is like a film camera on your head. So, it’s not like a go-pro, it’s like 30 pounds on your head. So, take a dumbbell when you go to the gym, set it on your head and go walk around. I used to tell my dad, “This is going to kill somebody,” because it’s too heavy. And, of course, my dad would put it on my head, and that’s why I don’t do stunts anymore, because my neck is stretched all the way to my chest. But what happened was because of my dad. It really gave me the insights to come up with the new technology to do first person so you can drive. The audience gets to drive in this movie, kind of like Act Of Valor. You got to actually participate in the Seals’ escapades. It’s just that I’ve been able to fortunately do what my dad always aspired to do because technology has finally caught up with us.

Q: Aaron, to finish this off, what was your favorite car, and can you call me a bitch?

AP: First of all, my favorite car had to be the Gran Torino. I mean, all those cars are so much fun to drive, but I just wanted to take the Gran Torino home with me. We were fighting for the Gran Torino during the entire shoot. We had two identical Gran Torinos. One got totaled by accident during one of the races, so there was one remaining, and we would just look at each other and just mess with each other during the rest of the shoot. Neither of us won because DreamWorks has the keys.

Oh, and also, you’re a bitch.

-David Dunn

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“LINCOLN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A man, not a monument, named Lincoln.

I’m rarely made more aware of what Lincoln was in history than what this powerful biopic reminds me: Lincoln was a man.  He wasn’t a fable.  He wasn’t a myth.  He wasn’t some sanctified holy figure that was crowned with solely freeing the slaves.  He wasn’t even technically honest Abe.  Abraham Lincoln was, solely, earnestly, realistically, the 16th President of the United States.  He was for the Union, he despised slavery, he was humble on approach, and he always fought intently for the things that he believed in: the things that he thought were right.

Depicting the final months of Lincoln’s presidency, including the end of the civil war and the abolishment of slavery, Lincoln is a very personal view of the final months of Abraham Lincoln’s life.  In that period Lincoln pushed for african freedom, dealt with conflicting opinions of his cabinet, sought peace negotiations with the confederacy, managed an entire union, and was in a state of emotional grief with his family after the recent death of Lincoln’s middle child, Willie.  If you told me that Lincoln had an easy time during his term as American president, I would call you grossly inaccurate.

In this drama-driven biopic, Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Abraham Lincoln.  When you watch him in this movie, I guarantee you that you won’t recognize him.  Day-Lewis doesn’t just portray the famous president: he embodies and embraces Lincoln’s spirit on every possible level, from the weariness in his voice to the hunch in his back.  His performance is so acute, there is barely any indication that he even is Daniel Day-Lewis.  For two and half hours he disappears into his role, and we briefly witness the miraculous resurrection of Lincoln through Daniel Day-Lewis.  The film lives and breathes on Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance.

Even then, a great actor cannot do anything without great material.  Enter Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner.  Kushner, who co-wrote Spielberg’s earlier history epic, Munich returns here to compose a story that is as complex and insightful as it is dramatic and informative.  Speilberg obviously needs no introduction.  For a decade-defining career as Speilberg’s, and for a project as personal to Spielberg as Lincoln, its obvious he would pay as much attention and focus to this era as he would with Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan.

Even then, I’m surprised at Spielberg’s role in this movie.  He’s effective as a director with this film, but he’s not the highlight.  He kind of takes a backseat to Kushner’s screenplay and Day-Lewis’ performance, with him serving as the production’s moderator rather than their visionary.

Which believe me, I’m fine with that.  At times, a director must learn to step back and just let the production flow into place.  Here, Spielberg is a great moderator, carefully directing Day-Lewis through Kushner’s fragile, elaborate script and always making sure he never takes the wrong step along the journey.  It isn’t like Spielberg’s previous films where it relies on flashy effects and CGI: this film is carefully paced through revealing dialogue and personal character development.  While it’s a step out of Speilberg’s comfort zone, it more than works for this production.  Lincoln is one of Spielberg’s most personal and most effective works to date.

The film’s only problem: pace.  Because this film relies on dialogue and performance as its greatest assets, there are times where the film becomes so muddled within its political kurfuffle and babbling that at times its hard to keep track of all at once.  You should know what I’m talking about: Senators and Congressmen shout and babble about to each other in such incoherent conversation that our ears zoom out for a bit and miss some key information we’ll need to remember later on.  This will be a problem for some viewers in the audience, as it will be difficult for some people to be hooked on the beginning of Lincoln’s story because of its slow, slow, slow pace.

But even then, I’m so absorbed into Lincoln’s story and Day-Lewis’ performance that I don’t even care about this minute fault.  The one thing that defines this film, the one thing Spielberg, Kushner, and Day-Lewis got right more than anything else is Lincoln’s compassion, his character, and his humanity.

I remember an interview Speilberg and Day-Lewis gave to Yahoo!Movies earlier this year.  When asked about the gravity of the challenge of bringing Lincoln’s legacy to life on the big screen, Spielberg had this to say about his lifelong dream project:

“…we have a big responsibility in telling the story,” Spielberg said. “And we determined that we didn’t want to make a movie about a monument named Lincoln, we wanted to make a movie about a man named Lincoln.”

A man.

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