Movie review: Ready Player One

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the perfect Easter movie all about them Easter Eggs – Ready Player One.

IMDb summary: When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.

Writing

Ready Player One was written by Zak Penn (who worked on The Avengers and some early 2000s Marvel movies) and the author of the original novel Ernest Cline. I have read the book last year and very much enjoyed it. While watching the movie, I didn’t remember all the details, so I wasn’t exactly sure what changes to the narrative were made. However, I do think that the film’s plot was a bit more streamlined than the book’s. Also, as a longtime fan of dystopias of all shapes and sizes, I loved an opportunity to immersive myself in a new one.

What certainly didn’t change (going from the book to the movie) was the plethora of Easter Eggs in the story. In the book, the extensive lists of references were easier to get (or google). Having said that, those lists did feel a bit tedious at times in the text, while a motion picture format is way a more organically fitting format for Easter Eggs. And yet, in my mind, references are harder to get and easier to miss in a visual form. Still, I was quite proud of myself for spotting a lot of cool nods in this film. I’m a sure that I missed a tonne as well too, though.

From the structural point of view, the movie’s writing was good. The opening set-up was a bit heavy-handed and had a lot of narration. That information was necessary for the following story, but I wish that it would have been presented in a less typical fashion. The rest of the narrative was fine – the quest story was entertaining and fairly cohesive, while the characters – interesting and well-developed enough too. Some of the dialogue sounded bit cheesy. Nevertheless, the overall theme and message – to focus on reality rather than the virtual world – was a neat one. Another side message that I got from the movie was a warning to the corporations to not mess with the nerds. Honestly, that just sounds like today’s online discourse when fans go mad if a big company attempts to do something different with the beloved properties.

Directing

Ready Player One was directed by the master Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies, The BFG), who somehow managed to find time to film this movie and to also make The Post, both to be released just months apart. I think he did a spectacular job. First of all, he made a good video game movie that is not even based on a video game but feels like a video game. And yet, in addition to feeling and looking like a video game, the movie also feels like a movie – it has a story and characters and a message. My one gripe with the film was that it was a bit long and did slow down in the second act.

While Spielberg has always been known for revolutionary computer effects, he has also always been a filmmaker who championed the practical aspect of the visual effects. Thus, it was really interesting to see him make a movie that is definitely about 80% CGI. This begs the question – how much of what we are seeing is Spielberg’s vision and how much is the impeccable work of the animation and the art departments? Whoever was responsible for those visuals, they were great: appropriately artificial looking yet somehow not fake. The throwback soundtrack was amazing too.

Acting

Tye Sheridan (the new Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse), Olivia Cooke, and Lena Waithe played the three main ‘players’ in the game and delivered great performances in both the reality and through motion capture as their characters’ avatars. Ben Mendelsohn (Darkest Hour) was a bit of a mustache-twirling villain. I think his villainous performance in Rogue One had more subtlety. T.J. Miller (Deadpool) was good as the comedic relief (not a big surprise). Simon Pegg (MI: Rogue Nation, Star Trek Beyond) also had a small role, while the new Spielberg favorite Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) was amazing and played such a relatable character (an antisocial nerd afraid of taking a leap. That’s literally what’s going to be written on my tombstone). Every time I see Rylance in a new film, I amazed by his versatility. No surprise that Spielberg is putting him in everything now.

In short, Ready Player One is an entertaining extended homage to pop culture and a lovely celebration of all things nerd.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Ready Player One trailer

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Movie review: Darkest Hour

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve finally found time to watch Gary Oldman’s Oscar picture Darkest Hour and this is my review.

IMDb summary: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.

Before we start discussing this film, let me link you to another Churchill biography from 2017 titled, surprise surprise, Churchill. That film focused on the closing moments of WW2 (in contrast to this movie, which explores the opening chapters of it). Also, if you want more context for Darkest Hour, you can watch Dunkirk, also from 2017: the events in that film happen at the same time as the ones in Darkest Hour.

Writing

Darkest Hour was written by Anthony McCarten (writer and producer of The Theory of Everything and a novelist) and he did a spectacular job writing for the character of Churchill (less of a stellar job constructing the story of a film but, then again, the character was the story in the case of this movie).

Churchill was presented as a complex and layered figure, one that had both flaws and redeeming features. He was basically the last choice for the position of PM and, yet he became the hero of the nation and half of the Western world. He came from a privileged background (didn’t even know the correct hand gestures) and, yet was also the man of the people (the underground scene was a great visualization of his transition from being the PM for the government to being the PM of the people). He was also a patriot through and through and, yet he decided to lie to his nation (is there ever a good enough cause to withhold the truth?). He also has worked with people with diverging opinions and personalities all his life and, yet have never really learned to comprise. In addition to being a leader, who deeply felt the loss of his troops (the fact that it is the leader’s main objective to bear the loss is as true in real life as it is in fiction, a.k.a. The Last Jedi), he was also a husband and a father, who sacrificed his family life for the public one. And yet, Churchill’s and his wife Clementine’s relationship was portrayed as a very loving and caring one. The moments of confrontation were present in it too, but the shared feeling between the two individuals was love, at its purest.

The screenwriter also did a very good job with the inclusion of Churchill’s actual speeches into the film. However, while those speeches were truly inspirational, especially the final one, probably not one of the initial listeners (other politicians) were that inspired to do any actual fighting. The scriptwriter also wrote some brilliant dialogue for Churchill and King George VI (yup, the one from The King’s Speech – this is a well cinematized period of the British history) – I especially liked the King’s change of heart moment. Darkest Hour also explored or hinted at some of the wider implications of war. The moment with Churchill calling Franklin D. Roosevelt was a perfect signal of the reversal of fortunes of the former colony and the empire. Speaking about the empire: every WW2 (or any war) movies I watch raise me a question: is there ever the good side in the war? Yes, Hitler was a monster but the British Empire was an empire, that oppressed millions of people around the globe for way longer than Hitler was in power. How do count who is worse? By human loss? By time? By subjective and personal evaluation? Lastly, some historical events portrayed in the film, when put in contemporary context, made me chuckle ironically, like the fact that the majority of the British politicians were ready to compromise, while they are not known for their ability to do the same nowadays (*cough, cough*, Brexit).

Directing

Joe Wright (of such literary adaptations as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina and mainstream missteps as Pan) tackled the Churchill biopic and was quite successful. Darkest Hour was truly a character piece, and a specific glimpse into, rather than a full-on recreation of a historical event. I loved how the camera’s focus was always on Churchill and how he occupied the center of the frame most of the time (I loved the images where Churchill was framed in doors, windows, rooms). I also thought that the drama was constructed quite well, though a film did felt a bit long. Lastly, I reached a sort of a personal epiphany that probably wasn’t intended by the director, when watching the picture. Seeing all the rooms of white old men in the positions of power was all good and appropriate for a historical drama but as soon as I saw them, I had a sad realization that this image has changed very little in the governments of today.

Acting

Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard was his last film – what a step-up in quality this one is) absolutely nailed the titular character. He fully transformed himself into Winston Churchill. While the physical transformation (the make-up and the prosthetics) were impressive, what I found most intriguing (and transformative) about Oldman’s performance was his demeanor, emotional intensity, and his way of speaking. I also appreciated the fact that Oldman played Churchill as a real person rather than a historical figure. By treating Churchill as a person, Oldman (and the director) found room for humor and sarcasm within the character – two things that don’t really come across in the history textbooks. Oldman has won every major acting award so far, thus, an Oscar win is almost a sure bet too.

Kristin Scott Thomas (The Party) brought warmth and strength to Clementine Churchill, while Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) was really good as King George VI and portrayed the royal as a real person rather than a larger than life figure too. Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) was good as the secretary Elizabeth Layton but her character wasn’t really necessary for the film. Also, I feel like a secretary type of character (with either a boyfriend or a family member being at war or in another kind of peril) has been included in alongside portrayal of Churchill: e.g. Ella Purnell played PM’s secretary in Churchill, while Kate Phillips played one on The Crown. Lastly, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane were good as the two main antagonists of Churchill: Neville Chamberlain and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, respectively.

In short, Darkest Hour was a brilliant character piece that featured a truly magnificent performance by Gary Oldman.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Darkest Hour trailer

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Movie review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Movie reviews

Hello!

Do I even need to introduce this movie?! ‘It’s RogueRogue One‘. Let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.

Before we start, if you are interested, this is my The Force Awakens review from last year and this is my more personal post regarding Star Wars. Also, I should probably give you a Spoiler warning, although, if you have seen the original trilogy, you know what was/is the end game for the characters of this story.

Even though the hype for Rogue One was much smaller than for The Force Awakens, I was still excited for it. So, let’s get the short version of the judgment out of the way first: Rogue One is not only the best Star Wars prequel but also might be my favorite movie of this year. It also makes me rethink the top spots on my personal Star Wars preference list.

Writing

Rogue One’s script was written by a duo of screenwriters: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. Weitz has mostly worked on comedies and YA adaptations, like The Golden Compass and the Twilight franchise. He also wrote last year’s Cinderella. Gilroy wrote the majority of the Bourne films, Armageddon, and the critically acclaimed Michael Clayton. Judging Rogue’s One’s narrative, in relation to the scriptwriters’ previous work, I think that this film had the best writing I have seen from both of them.

The story

I immensely enjoyed the story of the film: the plot was cohesive and clear and yet the narrative was complex.  All of the 3 acts blended seamlessly – the movie never slowed down. It had the perfect mixture of action and quieter character moments. The picture was also suspenseful and exciting, it compelled me both emotionally and intellectually. I loved the lines about how rebellions are built on hope and the one about taking all the chances. I also adored the world building: the screenwriters respected the canon but also expanded it.

The characters

Rogue One begun as a story of Jyn Erso, but it soon blossomed into a more of an ensemble based movie. I believe that all the characters received a chance to shine and that their presence in the film was more than justified. I also appreciated the fact that the rebel characters were not portrayed as pure heroes but as realistic individuals, who have been through a lot and sometimes had to make the tough decisions, which were not always good. The fact that the alliance was presented as divisive also added more intrigue and realism into the story. Lastly, as we all predicted, the main rebel characters of the film all died. They were basically the real Suicide Squad of this year. The characters were really well developed through small and seemingly unimportant interactions in just one movie that their passing was quite emotional. I was invested in their lives and in their story and I’m quite sad that we only got to spent a few hours with them. All of them were unique and interesting in their own way and I don’t actually think that I can name another recent film with such rich (with potential) characters.

Directing

Godzilla’s director  Gareth Edwards helmed Rogue One and did not disappoint. I loved the scope of the film and all the exciting action in space. I also enjoyed the fact that this film visually looked like a Star Wars movie but had its own unique setting and locations – the fight on the beach and in the water was so cool. I also liked the fact that this movie was grittier and more sophisticated than the other recent fantasy films. The grit was appropriate, effective, and well balanced with funny moments (not like in BvS). The way the new characters were realized visually was super cool too: Ben Mendelsohn’s Krennic’s white cape was impeccable, Donnie Yen’s character’s look was amazing and Forest Whitaker’s Gerrera‘s appearance added so much to the character.

The film also had a few familiar faces popping up in cameos and small roles. At first, I thought that the inclusion of Darth Vader was not necessary as he did not have much to do. However, a couple of scenes with him at the end were so amazing that they made me change my mind. Grand Moff Tarkin also appeared with the help of CGI. The effects looked okay but I, since I knew that the original actor who portrayed the character sadly passed away 20 years ago, I instantly noticed the computer imagery. Leia also cameoed in the film and I think that her CGI face looked better, maybe because we only saw it for a couple of seconds. Lastly, the new droid K-2SO was a really nice addition too. He finally seemed like a fully rounded up character, because all the previous droids would mostly have one purpose. C-3PO is mostly in the films to be an annoying comedic relief, while BB-8’s main job is to be cute. R2-D2 is probably the one who is closest to being a full character, but since the audience can’t understand its speech, it is quite hard to connect with him. K-2SO, on the other hand, seemed like a real person with a distinct personality and yet he was still efficient as a droid.

Music

Michael Giacchino scored the film but my favorite aural parts of the film were, of course, the original soundtrack and the empire’s theme. Hearing that music didn’t make me as emotional as it did last year when The Force Awakens came out, though. Last December, I could not believe that I got to see a Star Wars movie in the cinema. This time around I was just enjoying the experience of watching the film, without paying much attention to the brand under which it was made.

Acting

  • Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso was fabulous. I wasn’t entirely sure how she will do in an action film but she blew me away. She was likable and inspiring but still had the level of darkness inside. I loved Jones’s and Luna’s chemistry and all their scenes together as well.
  • Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. Andor was my favorite character of the film, and Luna’s performance – my favorite performance of the whole cast. He was just so compelling and intriguing. Would love to read a book or a comic with his character’s background. I absolutely loved how damaged and tortured he was inside, but how he still managed to make the right choice. Cassian Andor as character reminded me a bit of Poe Dameron too. I wonder if I’m the only one who saw the resemblance. 
  • Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic was superb. Not only his appearance was cool, but his behavior as the nonchalant bad-ass villain was amazing as well. His whiny brat moments also added a lot of vulnerability to the character. 
  • Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe was so amazing. I loved that we got to see the force from a different perspective though his character and I also loved his action scenes. Yen’s back and forth scenes with Wen Jiang’s character  Baze Malbus were fun too.
  • Mads Mikkelsen played Galen Erso and was really good. I liked him in this film way more than in Doctor Strange. I just think that he got to show more of his dramatic acting skills in this film. 
  • Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook was also a marvelous addition to the cast. I loved his character’s arc and the transition.
  • Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera was spectacular too. His look and behavior were interesting both visually and from the narrative standpoint.
  • Alan Tudyk as K-2SO. Tudyk did a magnificent job with the motion capture as well as with his voice work: he made K-2SO’s dry sense of humor immensely entertaining. 

In short, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was/is another strong addition to the brand. The story was engaging, the characters unique and original, and the space action – spectacular as usual.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Rogue One trailer

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