Tag Archives: Video Game

“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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“NEED FOR SPEED” Review (✫✫)

Needs more brains if you ask me.

Need For Speed is one of those movies that feels like pressing on the gas pedal. You get a good kick out of it at first, but it doesn’t take long for it to run on empty.

Based loosely on the video game series of the same name, Need For Speed stars Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman) as Tobey Marshall, a car mechanic whose prowess at street racing precedes that of Dom Toretto from Fast and Furious. When Tobey’s closest friend Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) is killed in a race against his wealthy rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), Marshall sets out in a race across the country to find Brewster and make him pay for what he has done.

Directed by Scott Waugh, the filmmaker behind the 2011 war drama Act Of Valor, Need For Speed is a typical Hollywood sports car movie with the typical ingredients you’d expect: a lot of action, few brains, even less wit and an over-dependence on formulaic Hollywood cheese

The screenplay is unbearably generic, to the point where groaning in disbelief is almost a reflex. In the first 20 minutes, we get every racing movie cliché you could possibly find in the handbook, from the underdog street racer stereotype to the prolifically rich and jerk of a rival to the underdog getting framed for a crime that he didn’t commit, seeking revenge on his transgressor. I wonder where we’ve seen that before?

Oh, is this movie bad. From the movie’s first scenes to its very last, it’s a predictable farce that can be easily foreseeable if you’ve seen any street racing movie ever. Case in point: Would I be really giving away any spoilers if I offer that A) Marshall makes it into the final race, B) He beats Brewster in a tedious scene that’s supposed to be the climax and C) He gets a beautiful girl in his arms? Please look at that, and tell me that doesn’t remind you of The Fast and the Furious franchise.

The movie might have been decent if the performances were worth anything more than a ukulele pick. Look at all of the names that are in this movie: Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Aaron Paul. All great and talented actors, whose versatility of projects range from Batman and 28 Weeks Later to Captain America: The First Avenger and “Breaking Bad”. Their roles in this movie are wasted because they are mostly shoved aside for the (dis)pleasure of preposterous stunts, relentless engine revving and unbearably bad CGI animation. The fire effects that can be seen in one scene are so laughably bad that the video game looks more realistic.

The only thing I give the movie credit for is its third act, which is surprisingly affectionate. Dare I say that it may be poetic? No, that would be giving the movie too much credit. Still, it carries a very humble message about it, a grounded and reassuring statement that everything is going to be all right, even if things don’t initially seem that way. This end scene was surprisingly touching and relevant, elevating the movie above its mediocrity, although temporarily.

That still doesn’t change what we have here, though. Need For Speed is a predictable, standard, run-of-the-mill action farce with no surprises or original ideas. It’s almost like playing a video game, except you’re watching the filmmaker play it for you.

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“ELYSIUM” Review (✫✫)

We call it Halo– oops, I meant Elysium.

Elysium is a very specific movie for a very specific audience, a science-fiction film that is too illogical to be taken seriously, yet too solemn to have any good fun. Whenever I attend the movies, I expect either a thought-provoking story trying to instill some idea in its viewers, or an engaging, fun picture intended for the enjoyment of its audience. Never have I seen two tones clash with each other so furiously in a motion picture.

Taking place in the future of 2033, Elysium tells the story of Max Dacosta (Matt Damon), a poor young orphan who is stranded on the destitute slums on Earth since pollution and overpopulation took whatever life it had left long ago. The poor live on Earth while the rich live on an off-world, ring-shaped preservation called “Elysium”, where the fortunate carry out their spoiled, lavish lifestyles and cure diseases in these “health pods” that more or less reboot their bodies. Feeling sick, drowsy or nauseous? Not on Elysium.

Since he lives on Earth, Max is stuck to his harsh day job as a construction worker, building the guard robots that patrol and abuse the citizens on Earth on a daily basis. One day, however, a full, fatal blast of radiation doses him at his work place. Having only five days left to live, Max joins the rebellion on Earth and hatches a scheme to get to Elysium and get himself cured.

A notice to the visual effects designer that handled the majority of the film’s designs: I’m suing you for plagiarism. Video game fans will notice this more than me, but every single piece of designs for Elysium, the machines and anything else in the movie bears a strikingly similar resemblance to a Microsoft video game called Halo. Look it up. The robots, the armor, the weapons, the vehicles,the landscape, even the ring design of Elysium all bear multiple similarities to their counterparts in that video game to the point where it is no longer inspiration and becomes an issue of copyright. Frankly, I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t sued them already.

Back to the matter at hand. What is there to say about this movie? Well, it’s written and directed by Neil Blomkamp, the same filmmaker behind District 9, who ironically was also in the running for adapting the Halo movie to the big screen. Matt Damon is the lead, a role previously offered to white rappers Eminem and Ninja, and Sharlto Copley plays a vicious bounty hunter that’s chasing after Dacosta, a sharp contrast to the bureaucratic role he adopted in his first collaboration with Blomkamp in District 9.

I myself have not seen District 9, although I’ve really wanted to. The words I’ve heard to describe the movie have been praising nonetheless, with phrases I’ve heard including “greatly entertaining”, “raw and intensely-blooded”, “aggressively original”, and “an un-compromising geo-political/xenophobic commentary.”

I feel like everything I heard about District 9 is everything that Elysium isn’t, save for all of the pointless blood and gore. Don’t get me wrong, there are good parts in Elysium, but that’s all they are: complete, fully realized parts of one broken, misshapen whole. The first hour is absolutely mesmerizing, immersing us in this world full of spectacle, bigotry and the unfair treatment of social classes. I love the opening sequence of the film because it painted a picture in between Earth and Elysium similarly to how one paints a picture of the rich and the poor. It truly touched and gripped me,  preparing me for an exhilarating experience filled with deepness and social commentary.

So what happened? Matt Damon gets doused with radiation and he straps on a large freakin’ robot suit that is about as lumpy and inconvenient as the metal suit Tony builds at the beginning of Iron Man. All of the emotional relevance I talked about at the beginning of the movie is now gone. What’s in the place of the drama and the social commentary is an action movie, filled with all sorts of the gunshots, robots, big ships, and the machine “whilring” sounds all the same. The worst part?  None of the action is either original or exhilarating. It’s just an awkward boxing match of punches and grabs that looks about as visually appealing as a round of “Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots”.

Oh, Matt Damon does a good job being a puppet in the movie, but that’s all he is: a puppet, with no emotional gravity or relevance until the end of the picture. But even then, what do we have for the other 120 minutes? Just the typical bad boy character with big muscles dragging around a metal suit and shouting the F-word.

There are also multiple lapses in the film’s logic that can’t help but bother me. Why doesn’t Elysium have any defense systems? Why do they have to rely on a bounty hunter to shoot some spaceships down from the grounds on Earth? How can you aim at ships in space when you can’t even see them from the planet? Why does Max experience headaches randomly that are neither explained or elaborated? Why does it take one person multiple hours and a lot of painkillers to surgically install armor, whereas it takes another person mere minutes to put it on?

The worst, and most frustrating hole, however, comes from Elysium itself. Do the inhabitants there realize that Earth’s inhabitants are not after their home, but rather, their healing pods that they keep exclusively on Elysium? That’s why they invade the preservation, for crying out loud. Why, then, are they so selfish in keeping those pods and not at least building a few for the hospitals on Earth? The U.S. used to spend over $50,000 on foreign aid to other counties, and Elysium is obviously much better off than we are. Are Elysium’s inhabitants really so stupid to not realize that if they built a few of those pods down to earth, the tension would ease and they perhaps would be left alone? Their attitude is so selfish to the point that their actions are no longer sees as cruel and they begin to seem less realistic.

Yes, it paints imagery of the rich and the poor. Yes, it has its own philosophy of racism and social class. Yes, it has messages on healthcare and humanity. Laddy-freaking-da. What is the point of the messages if the film is no good? We were supposed to get a film that was smart, exciting, and dramatic. What we got instead from Elysium was an experience that is dull, confusing, and uninspired.

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