Ready Player One Review

In the future the world sucks and instead of fixing it, humanity decided to fight the ‘broadband wars’ and then create the matrix. But in a fun way, stuffed full of eye popping visuals and amazing levels of pop culture that  all seem to have stopped about 1989.

But that’s Ok thought I setting about researching this review. It’s based on a book about pop culture so maybe it was written in 1994…. Oh, it was written in 2011. Ok then, I’m just going revert back to my inalienable believe that the books don’t matter and get on with reviewing the most Speilbergy film I’ve seen in years.

Which makes sense given that the man himself directed it and it’s therefore completely understandable why there are none of his films referenced here. (He thought it was a bit vain which is completely understandable) He’s not completely absent though, an item from a film he produced does appear in the film.

But there are so, so many items from other films that I have no idea how they were able to get all of the licences for characters ranging from the ninja turtles to the Holy Hand grenade from Monty Python to well, pick a franchise. My personal favorite? Lets just say that aiming to misbehave has thus far served me well in life.

But, one cannot make a film out of pop culture references alone. And here we get to one of several issues with the film. I mean it looks amazing, within seconds of getting out of the cinema I was texting both of the people I know telling them to see this film in IMAX 3d because my inner eight year old was fully in the driving seat and high on a sugar rush.

But, once that sugar rush faded I began to realize how generic the plot-line actually was, with an evil corporation taking on a gang of kids in order to gain control of a thing by undertaking a quest to collect three things. You’ve seen it done a million times and you’ve seen it done better. With villains who actually have backstories and seem slightly menacing or threatening. As well as heroes who have charisma in either the virtual or the real world. Or at least don’t make me wonder if i’m being reminded of a Final Fantasy character or the lead guy from Reboot. 

It’s packed full of cliches, with narration that repeats itself almost word for word maybe twenty minutes apart, with information that wasn’t terribly interesting or relevant the first time around. Also, the real world scenes seem like an imposition as well as dull and uninteresting compared with the rest of the film. It’s like going straight from a really, really sugary cake to Styrofoam at a seconds notice. It’s also to the films detriment as when i’m not being distracted by playing spot the Easter egg I begin to notice just how little I care about any of the people in this film.

Its all very predictable and to be honest I’m not sure how well it will hold up to repeat viewings as CGI visuals age badly and there’s very little to reward you for sitting through it again on the small screen once you’ve freeze-framed through all the film to see how many Easter eggs truly has.

And I wanted more of the real world explained to me. Is there a government? If so, how does a corporation get away with basically slave labor and having their own people abduct people off of the street? What exactly were the ‘Broadband Wars?’ And does anyone truly believe in the  speech that makes everyone fight for you cliche any more? If there world is running on fumes, how does everyone afford VR technology and how is a purely virtual world kept online with such limitations?

I’m not saying the film is hopeless, but once the sugar rush wears off you realize that this is basically The Goonies meets The Matrix whilst running through a Forbidden Planet with your hands outstretched, throwing everything in sight into your basket. And if that sounds fun to you then go see it. In IMAX 3D. I mean there’s absolutely  worse things out there but this could have been so much better. Just a develop the heroes a bit more, get a less generic villain, either develop or ditch the real world stuff, make the plot slightly more complex and you could have a winner.

I mean I fully expect the film to get a nomination for Best Visual Effects and whilst it’s true that the first bight is taken with the eye sooner or later the rest of you has to get involved at some point.

What a missed opportunity.

My Score- If Nothing Else

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Whats going to go wrong with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets?

So far in this series, I have waited for the films to be released into the cold, hard, unforgiving world for their brief moment in the light before dissecting their still warm corpses to see what lessons we can learn but for this one, I’ve got enough evidence to say that there’s no need to wait.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is going to bomb and it is going to bomb bigly. The only question is how much it will bomb by and how many careers will be destroyed by it.

Now, on paper, Valerian seems like a pretty safe bet. Based off of Valérian and Laureline a French science fiction comics series, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967, the final installment was published in 2010. So plenty of source material to work from, the fact that the series has been sold all over the world implies that there is some sort of market out there.

Legendary French director Luc Besson has allegedly been given 209 million dollars to play with and had assembled a cast of stars including Cara Delevingne, Dane DeHaan, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna, Clive Owen and John Goodman.

So, a legendary (in France anyway) series of graphic novels comes to Hollywood for its moment on the silver screen. Wheres the issues?

Eveywhere.

Valerian didn’t come to Hollywood to play. It stayed in France. This is France’s highest budget film…. ever. And it’s not close in any way shape or form.  The closest contender is a French movie called Asterix at the Olympic Games, which cost $82 million to make. Now, with the budget for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets reportedly coming in at a staggering $209 million, that puts it at almost triple the budget of the previous record holder. Now, most Marvel films don’t have budgets of 200 million dollars and they’re as safe as films can get. This is an untried, untested franchise that has very little, if any name recognition outside of its native France.

But, thinks you Luc Besson is directing it! He directed The Fifth Element! That he did, 20 years ago. And it’s been dividing audiences ever since. I feel that I should also point out that nothing he has done in intervening two decades has come anywhere close to the scale of this project. Yes, Besson has done Stopmotion, CGI  and action films but none of them have had budgets anywhere near a hundred million dollars, let alone 209 million! And he’s not consistent in the quality of his films either. For every Lucy he’s made, there’s a Taken 2 or 3. I don’t he’s ever made a flop, but he’s no Spielberg.

But leaving all that aside, you then have the issue that we are currently experiencing something of a glut of blockbusters at the moment. At least Jupiter Ascending (the last time anyone tried to do a new space opera franchise) had the good sense to be released in the wasteland of January, a time when there was very little to compete with because to my mind, even if Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had no direct competition it would be a tough sell, but the week before Fox is releasing War for the Planet of the Apes and Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic Dunkirk will be competing with it directly. Not to mention that Spider-Man: Homecoming will still be hanging around for its third weekend at the box office. With so many tried and true franchises out there, why would you sped your hard earned money on anything else?

And then we move on to star power.

There isn’t any really.

I’m not saying that Cara Delvigne isn’t a star, but she’s a new one and she has never headlined a major film before. Her role in Suicide Squad was little more than a glorified cameo and as for Dane DeHaan, his highest profile role was as Harry Obsbourne in the Incredible SpiderMan 2. I’ve seen him in a few films and whilst he never disgraces himself, he’s never looked like leading man material to me. Especially when according to Wikipedia his character can be described as “as a typical square-jawed hero figure, who is strong and dependable”

Even looking at two comparable films Enders Game and Jupiter Ascending, you find nothing to cheer about. Enders Game had a budget of 110–115 million but made only
125.5 million,  As of January 2014, Lionsgate was waiting to make a decision on a sequel film, and was also considering a television series. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Jupiter Ascending on the other hand had a budget of $176 million and made a mere
184 million with any talk of a sequel being met with hysterical laughter. Hell, even The Wachowskis have claimed that it’s pretty much killed their career as far as high budget blockbusters go.

So there you go, all the reasons why, as far as i’m concerned,  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will be one of, if not the biggest bombs of the year.

But what do you think?

 

Ghost In The Shell Review

Ghost In The Shell is based on one of the most influential manga of all time (which I’ve never read) and one of the greatest anime films of all time (which I’ve never seen) and bearing that in mind, I have to ask- Do both of them resemble an uninspired remake of 1987 film classic Robocop?

I’m deadly serious- in a world where the government has either collapsed or become completely irrelevant, a person who was converted into a cyborg against their will fights systematic corruption inside their own corporation whilst under constant threat of being shut down or having their memories wipes whilst trying to work out where the machine ends and the human begins.

Hell there’s even a boss battle at the end against what might as well be ED-209.

But there’s none of the satire that made Robocop a classic, none of the epic violence that made this film stand out hell, there’s hardly any violence at all. The films 110 million dollar budget condemned it to a 12a rating which has limited what I imagine could have been several very exciting action scenes.

And as for the philosophical underpinnings about morality, memories defining us, what does it mean to be human and was the whitewashing controversy overblown? All the dialogue is so on the nose that I was quite surprised to find out that Christopher Nolan hadn’t ‘borrowed’ the script. Instead it turns out that Spielberg had the rights since 2008 and has resisted the urge to drown it in his trademark sugar.

The film is literally dark though- I think someone forgot to hire a lighting guy or decided to spend the lighting money on instead hiring the sides of more London busses.

They certainly spent money hiring a legendary director though- getting the one, the only… Rupert Sanders! Who has directed such timeless classics as Snow White and the Huntsman and… erm… literally nothing else. Good move there Dreamworks.

And naturally, for a film set in Japan, based off of Japanese source material  but with seemingly no Japanese involvement in either the writing, producing or cinematography, the whole thing seems to have been filmed in New Zealand. Which, did mean that the geishas featured in many of the films trailers wore physical full-head masks, created by Weta Workshop, modeled after Japanese actress Rila Fukushima. Even the opening or ‘exploding’ of the geishas’ heads was handled mechanically rather than by using CGI. Which would normally get a gold star from me but since they feature for about 10 seconds and everything else is bad CGI, I was just left wondering why they bothered putting so much effort into something that barely mattered.

There are some good things, the film has some gorgeous shots but since the film is based off of a manga i’m just going to assume that they were direct lifts rather from the source material rather than from originals from the Directors mind so no points from me there.

The characters are all stock and underdeveloped, with Scarlett putting in an amazing performance despite the inevitable whitewashing controversy that has followed this film around.But, in the words of   Mamoru Oshii (director of the original films) “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply … I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics.”

Also, A female Japanese American writer, Yoshida, has written extensively about the transmutability of Major Kusanagi’s identity, and about the “racial mystery zone” that so much anime, including Ghost in the Shell, occupies. “Japanese audiences, unlike American audiences, don’t understand Motoko to be a Japanese character,” Yoshida writes. “Of course, it’s a different issue for Japanese Americans, who grew up forced to think about identity in a much more tactile way”.

According to Yoshida, “Japan is a nation of people who are almost 100% ethnically Japanese. Accordingly, the average Japanese citizen’s outlook on diversity is much less influenced by pluralism than the outlooks of many Asian Americans, who live in a country where popular culture rarely represents them well, if at all. Hence, many Japanese Americans may find Johansson’s casting in a Ghost in the Shell movie distressing, while native Japanese observers make nothing of it”

Because when asked Japanese  fans were surprised that the casting had caused controversy, as they had assumed that a Hollywood production would choose a white actress. They felt the appearance of the protagonist was immaterial due to the franchise’s themes of self-identity and the blurring of artificial and natural bodies.

Ghost In The Shell is a dull predictable 106 minute long slog with a few good performances and visual shots failing to save it from stagnation and being forgotten immediately. I have no idea why it was made or who it was made for and neither does anyone else from the state of the box office receipts.

My Score- Skip It 

The BFG Review

Take one of the greatest children’s authors in history, add in arguably the greatest director of all time, throw in 140 million dollars and Oscar winner Mark Rylance, then stew for 25 years in development hell and you wind up with The BFG.

As for the end result?

It’s not half bad.

It’s not perfect. Not by a long shot. The story (written in 1982) really hasn’t aged well and it can’t seem to decide whether to set itself in (what I assume to be) the 1960’s or the modern day. And yet again, we find ourselves in a film which, much like The Jungle Book features an untrained, inexperienced child actor ( Ruby Barnhill- the is literally her first anything) wondering around green screen sets looking vaguely confused and generally being completely abysmal as child actors in her situation are wont to do.

However, I don’t want to give the impression that this film is poor because there’s a lot here that works- I laughed at quite a few scenes, Mark Rylance is superb as the BFG and it does feature some really impressive looking moments. But the pacing is incredibly slow in the first half and it seems quite rushed in the second. And that’s not including the fact that it feels horrifically padded- a bloated pulsating mass of a 2 hour film instead of a lean whippet of a 90-100 minute experience.

This is definitely a film which would have benefited no end form being either full CGI or animated… with say Del Boy as the BFG and being released in 1989 with a 2 minute 44 second song dedicated to.. erm.. ‘Whizzpopping’ Or am I getting off topic again?

Back to the 2016 version. And it’s got a major issue with it’s tone- it’s no secret the Dahls books are horrifically dark, (it wouldn’t take much to turn one into a straight 18 horror film in my opinion) but Spielberg seems to have drawn the stories teeth. I mean a film with 8 cannibal giants in should feel slightly dark or is that just me?

The film does have moments where it works, but the pacing is weird, its half an hour too long with easily 40 minutes worth of padding, the child actor alternates between tolerable and insufferable and the plot has been mercilessly stretched. But Rylance is amazing in the title role, with a lot of the effects working and quite a few laughs coming out of it. But it’s a missed opportunity at best.

My score- If Nothing Else 

 

Bridge of Spies Review

 

Plot- During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

Review- And so this is how the “Year of the Spy” ends. Not with the disappointing Spectre, but with one of the great films of this year and arguable one of the greatest spy stories every told. Even better, it’s based on a true story.

Bridge of Spies is a triumph on every single level. The acting is uniformly magnificent, every shot perfect, the atmospheres and attention to period detail is exquisite. Its got humor and suspense and a sense of a man who isn’t quite sure if he’s out of his depth or not but is going to keep trying to do the right thing.

True, there are little niggles- Tom Hanks (as he is want to do) does come across a little bit like a boy scout, everyone in this film has a cold and… er…. I ‘ll come back to the niggles.

This is an old school spy film, of grey men sitting around and talking,  before sending someone off on a seemingly impossible mission. If your expecting car chases, explosions and gun-play (as I suspect some of my fellow audience members were) are going to leave very disappointed. This is a film about avoiding conflict at all costs. And you feel the constant threat of what could happen if things go sideways.

I was a little surprised to see the soundtrack for this film being timed at 48:52 as I was loving the fact that whole stretches of the film passed without a single not being played. Either that or Thomas Newman has put together an incredibly subtle soundtrack. Is that a niggle? It’s going to have to do.

Don’t be surprised when this shows up in my “top ten films of the year” in a month or so.

My Score- SEE IT NOW!