Ready Player One (2018)

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Screeching into cinemas this weekend at 88 mph, is the latest feature from Steven Spielberg. It’s fast, fun and enjoyable but that doesn’t completely override the shortcomings of the plot.

Set in 2045, the population are avid fans and players within the OASIS; a virtual reality world where they can be who they want and try to find an Easter egg, only obtained by finding 3 keys placed by creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Trying to lead the pack is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) who soon learns from fellow gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) that there’s more at stake, than just a sprawling game.

I’ll kick off by saying, this is an energetic and pacy film that certainly, for the first two thirds at least, manages to speedily put across a massive virtual landscape of endless possibilities. The immersive quality isn’t fully felt but it comes and goes nicely, as if we’re window shoppers to this electrically charged Easter egg hunt. It’s only within the last third that this movie begins to trail and slightly feel like a slog, as the story it’s thinly been telling, takes over from the nostalgia trip and descends into a predictable and less than exciting mode.

There may indeed be problems but I can’t review this Spielberg outing without spouting fanboy praise for a sequence at the Overlook. I wasn’t expecting that at all, it’s at once hilarious and effectively spooky to see the hexagon carpeted floors of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, in a film that families will watch! The entire sequence was done brilliantly and I enjoyed it further, knowing what would happen in rooms etc.

Nostalgia is clearly what is selling this film and I have no issues with that, it’s a seat filler. People love being reminded of fun flashes to their past and this movie sees games and pop cultural figures storm the cinematic screen with giddy abandon. Marvin the Martian, The Iron Giant and Halo Spartans are just a few of the brilliant visual tie-ins Spielberg and the effects team have gifted us, but there should be more to it down to the main narrative, yet at points it does feel like this is a film solely riding on the cool delight of spotting characters from games, film and TV dotted around.

Music also forms a huge factor of the feel-good fuzzy feeling as Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and Van Halen all riff on this film’s clear course to Nostalgia-ville. There’s a general fun vibe to had with this film and even though there are problems with the story being devoid of heart or much emotion, a side-lined female character who becomes not much more than a love interest and a show of characters that don’t really develop and therefore never grabbed my attention, it’s a movie of wonder and bright colour, zippy visual treats and a technological feat that should be admired.

Sheridan plays the guy out in the sticks aspiring to win and the lead with a lesson in love, in a way that’s alright enough but I’d never say he was someone I rooted for, he’s kind of just there amongst a world bursting with other avatars. Cooke sprinkles some cool chick moves to her turn as the helpful love sidekick and I found her more interesting to watch than Sheridan, as I did with the hench figure of Aech and their subsequent reveal. Ben Mendelsohn is always an effective presence but his role as the villainous Nolan Sorrento is hot and cold, there’s flickers of chilling menace and then it dissipates. Rylance comes and goes but is a fun addition, with a kind of Wayne’s World/Bill and Ted gamer geek, stoner attribute to his character.

The story isn’t as strong or as engaging as it deserves to be but I have to applaud Steven Spielberg and the visual effects crew, for creating a film that is a lively rush for the senses.

7/10

 

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Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10

 

Absolutely Anything (2015)

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Just more than slightly silly, this movie by one fourth of brilliant British comedy giants, The Monty Python crew is predictable, mostly unfunny and something I actually wouldn’t recommend. It’s up there in intergalactic space ready to be demolished by aliens for being so bad.

Down in the dumps and poxy teacher Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) happens to one day receive powers that lets him do absolutely anything. This is down to a group of aliens who challenge Earth’s survival to the good or evil actions taken by one human with the gift. Neil becomes power happy and tries using it to win the attentions of neighbour Catherine (Kate Beckinsale).

The film, from the trailer at least, seemed like something to me that I’d enjoy. However banal and overdone a concept it is, I was intrigued by the tomfoolery of it all and the special voice casting. Sadly this is overshadowed by a flat script and general weariness throughout. It’s got no style and feels like a Nickelodeon show at times, in terms of how it looks. Even with a comedic director at the helm it suffers, as if Terry Jones is working from the frazzled dumb part of his brain. It could have had heart and easily could have been both dumb and clever humour, but it most assuredly is not.

Terry Jones and Gavin Scott join heads as writers, though apart from maybe a couple of smirk inducing qualities, it never feels as if a script has been put together. The entire movie comes across sadly pathetic. It sparks me off thinking that a child would come up with this idea and run with it, loving its mad course of action. Jones, I feel, even with the stupid side of Python comedy, should know better. It’s truly a stinker and though it runs at less than 90 minutes and I saw it for free at the cinema, I would have rather been absolutely anywhere else.

Sci-fi angles, British school set ups and romantic threads come together and fray before they even manifest as healthy plot lines. The characters are one dimensional and the graphics overload of the surreal alien race are where most of the time and budget clearly went to. I admit a couple of moments regarding the things Neil does with the power are quite alright but that doesn’t suffice for the rest of the drivel either side.

Simon Pegg stars, proving he’s happy to go in most films and that’s why he’s nearly everywhere these days on the silver screen. He’s giving Benedict Cumberbatch a run for his overflowing money. Pegg plays Pegg and does nothing different in a role so dull and tame that I don’t see how you really find him likable as Catherine states. Kate Beckinsale as aforementioned Catherine is okay, but has nothing outstanding to do or nothing funny to demonstrate potential comedy chops she may have. The excitement I had for the Python reunion (kind of) is short lived as their parts are reduced to daft squabbles and naff numerical jokes. Robin Williams can’t even grace the film with his talent, though his doggy voiced scenes are good, they pale to the canine in ‘The Voices’. It’s only a sliver of the improv genius Williams clearly had.

Showing like a dead eyed ‘Bruce Almighty’, this film begs you to wonder why. Just why, seriously, even expecting a daft movie won’t prepare you for the disengaging, unfunny terror that is involved.

2.5/10

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015)

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When you go in to see a Mission: Impossible film you can always guarantee action, fun and a well constructed story, try and forgot the second one, and this outing is no exception, really taking action packed to the limits we see badass Cruise globe-hopping in a darker tale as a twisted version of the spy force become the ones to find.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is under investigation with the rest of IMF – Impossible Mission Force, he uses his time to focus on his theory that an operative titled The Syndicate is to blame for a series of accidents. Pulling back together tech whizz Benji (Simon Pegg) Hunt tries to track down the leader of this evil group to prove IMF is a worthy organisation. Though mysterious newbie Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) may prove to be a help and hindrance as all actions shoot towards the finale.

Just to put it out there, I do love Mission: Impossible movies, there’s something so entertaining about them that even if the plot sometimes weakens I don’t really notice or care. Yet this fifth installment has an interesting arc, with a darker take on an IMF set up being one step ahead of Ethan’s usual one step ahead routine. The story is engaging and it pulls together more than a couple of impossible mission scenarios while still balancing that undercurrent of finding a shadow organisation. At times you can tell where things may go, as in it being a tale of them being shut down and scrutinised, this ‘in hiding’ situation comes with certain expectations but it’s done well.

Now to the action, where Cruise clearly has no insurance policy or one so high that I fear for the people behind the camera yanking at the collar as he runs about the place like a mini rocket. When a film begins with a sequence so barmy and yet brilliant as Tom Cruise jumping onto a moving plane and then hanging on as it takes off, you know you’re in for a ride and a half. That moment is no less cool even if you’ve seen the trailers and adverts multiple times. Then car and motorbike chases, fist fights and an underwater task pile in to add more fun to the mix as the movie progresses its 130 minute run time.

Christopher McQuarrie follows up Brad Bird’s glorious Ghost Protocol with a film that packs a lot in but it looks good too. It appears like it should, establishing shots of worldwide locations, fast crazed close ups for the fighting and slow builds for the Impossible moments, like Benji taking the nervous trip through a Moroccan power station. It might not be stylish or have some kind of poetic handle but McQuarrie gifts the film that necessary summer blockbuster vibe and focuses on presenting these action scenes in an exhilarating way.

Highlight of the film for me, in terms of directing, music and action is the Austrian Opera scene which is a fantastically grand series of events that looks breathtaking even if it’s taking in the backstage of an opera. The theatrical way it keeps on building, rigging keeps on moving and characters add to Hunt’s confusion of who to trust which we join, is masterful. It’s a beautiful sequence aided by a fantastic score and stands out as intriguing, classy and gripping.

The music scored by Joe Kraemer is orchestral and swelling to do its best in raising the hairs on the back of your neck. He utilises the theme by Lalo Schifrin, adding country flavour to the famous sounds, in London it becomes classic and regal and it Morocco it comes across exotic. The score in between is just as neat in adding to the visuals and building that sense of urgency in the battles Ethan must face. Cleverly as well, from the beginning using a record shop to discuss classical music, the film takes it further by blending sections of ‘Nessun Dorma’ underneath scenes which comes to fruition in that opera sequence in Vienna.

Tom Cruise is the man when it comes to doing stunts. He’s always reliable for action and this film makes that statement no less true. Gladly you’re not watching a double or CGI, you know that the man up there on screen is none other than Cruise. His determination is what makes him likable and he pretty much is Ethan Hunt. Rebecca Ferguson is an enigmatic arrival in the franchise, balancing that shadowy ambiguity really well. Step aside critics as well as she’s a kick ass female character that can hold her own, provides a challenge for the male lead and isn’t there for a romantic entanglement. Simon Pegg, once more comes back for that ingredient of light relief though his role is amped up more as he’s put on the field in a bigger way and could face the consequences. Jeremy Renner is slightly sidelined to a suit and politics role as he hangs back traversing Hunley’s orders. Alec Baldwin who I can no longer see as anyone but Jack Donaghy is there as the role Baldwin can do in his sleep but therefore it sells. Ving Rhames exudes cool in a glare though he too is on the outskirts with Renner as it becomes the Ethan & Benji show. Then there’s Sean Harris as the most chilling villain yet, his costuming adding to the slender figure of Harris’ precise acting, creepily calm voice and cold stare.

It isn’t the best in the series but it ticks all the boxes required for a fun and entertaining watch with enough action to please the senses. It’s a cool summer blast of mystery, thrills and spills to make way for more I’m sure.

7.5/10

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2. The World’s End – The third and final part of Wright/Frost/Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy and in some ways the best, in comedic terms perhaps not as there aren’t as many laugh out loud moments but it’s the grandest affair of the three. The fight sequences are incredible and clearly Edgar Wright picked up some knowhow on his directing do for ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’. The robot-alien takeover idea has been done before but clearly this is where they riff on old films and cliches to make it funny. This film is clever in it’s foreshadowing, using the opening story of them as teenagers to play on what will and does happen later on, the pub names too play a part. It’s intelligent writing and uses a darker theme than the previous two which I liked as it gave the film a better theme and story. You sort of hate but love Gary King (Pegg) throughout. The characters all have moments of glory and it really shines as a superb comedy with interesting dramatic elements of letting go and growing up. The ending was probably the only part I didn’t like, the aftermath and conclusions felt perhaps a little too hinged on but apart from that this was a highlight of the film year.