Quick Movie Review: Ready Player One (2018)

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Steven Spielberg may seem like an odd choice to direct the feature film adaptation of the acclaimed Ernest Cline novel, Ready Player One. First of all, it’s not quite on the same wavelength as recent Spielberg offerings (e.g. The Post or Lincoln). Secondly, the director helped define the exact era being obsessed about in the story.

If you’re an achingly nostalgic person, then this is the movie for you. The film’s protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), is obsessed with ’80s pop culture. It’s the year 2045 and everyone is. In this version of earth, there is a virtual reality world/game called the OASIS, which almost everyone takes part in. They just put on these goggles and enter into their avatar’s body. The world is flooded with references from old video games and movies. Wade’s avatar drives Doc Brown’s DeLorean from Back to the Future.

But Ready Player One has something bigger to say. Touching upon the risks of becoming so detached with the real world that we forget what it’s really like. However, this threat never feels like a reality check in the movie. To the point where perhaps it doesn’t even have an opinion on which is better, one way or another. But that a balance of the two is what should be strived for.

In fact, watching the film may have us dreaming about how cool it would be if a place like this really existed. We can see the baggage that comes with it, but still, wouldn’t it be kinda worth it? To those of us who truly appreciate its purpose, it definitely would.

After the creator of the OASIS dies, he poses a challenge to all the users to find an Easter Egg that will give the finder complete control over the OASIS. So we follow Wade and his friends from inside the game, in a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory sort of way, as they embark on this mission to find the Egg.

The movie takes us back and forth from the OASIS to reality so seamlessly that we almost have to remind ourselves which is which–intentionally, no doubt. Credit to the special effects team as well, but this detail also helps show how close the two worlds actually are.

Spielberg definitely has his hands full, but does well with the highly involved plot. He’s always known how to take a complicated story and trim the fat. In Ready Player One, the story does tend to get confusing a couple of times, but we end up getting back on track each time.

Just about the only thing he doesn’t do well is give us entertaining battle scenes. The nonsensical, Michael Bay-type action is the only aspect that can stifle the momentum a bit and cause our minds to wander–the one thing we don’t want to happen in this movie.

But that isn’t enough to make you dislike Ready Player One even in the slightest, since, unlike Michael Bay, there isn’t an hour’s worth of it.

While Ready Player One is very much inspired by–some would say derivative of–countless films before it, it’s an amalgamation of it all.

It’s the type of film where you should leave your critic’s badge at the door, because the things that it does wrong don’t matter. If you obsess about it, then you’re missing the point. It should be viewed as pure entertainment. It’s a much better experience that way.

Twizard Rating: 96

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Quick Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

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If you look at the first two Tomb Raider films from 2001 and 2003, and then look at this one, you’d never guess they’re from the same franchise unless you take note of the names of the movies or characters.

But this new installment is an origins story. Instead of Angelina Jolie in the role of Lara Croft, we get Alicia Vikander. Vikander is much better for this vulnerable version of Croft, as opposed to Jolie’s smooth arrogance. Here we see her coming to learn her identity as the tomb raider, whereas before, we jump right in and her identity has already been established.

This film serves as an origins story, but is the fan base large enough for anyone to care about an origins story? I suppose it doesn’t really matter these days.

Here, Croft is an aspiring kick boxer who’s in debt to her gym and is barely making ends meet as a bike courier. Her father, Richard (Dominic West), has been missing for 7 years. She refuses to sign the inheritance papers that would guarantee her over a billion dollars, because that would mean that he’s really dead. I guess I can empathize with that sentiment, but it still doesn’t make much logical sense for someone as smart as Croft apparently is.

Her father was obsessed with the supernatural and the hereafter. And Lara finds a clue left behind that sends her on a hunt to find out how he died. And now, apparently she has money to fly to Hong Kong to investigate. (One example of the small details that go lazily overlooked in this new movie.)

As well as a script hits its marks in a macro sense, it needs to hit them in the micro sense, too. That’s where Tomb Raider falters. Overall, the script gives us an extremely intriguing story with a lot of fun twists and turns, but it’s these little things that keep it from being better.

However, it’s not all the script’s fault. Director Roar Uthaug has issues handling emotions properly. In an early scene, Lara is seen watching a video that her dad has left her, speaking to her in a “If you’re watching this, I must be dead” type of way. There are no welled up tears, or bittersweet smile–just an apathetic look on Vikander’s face like she was expecting to hear all this. This great opportunity to evoke emotion out of the audience never gets taken advantage of, and we’re left wanting more from it, as well as our lead. If that doesn’t make our hero cry, what will? And do we want to invest our emotions in someone who seems void of them, herself?

But here’s the biggest issue of all: As entertaining as the Vikander Tomb Raider is, her version of Croft isn’t Lara Croft at all. She shares the same name, sure, but nowhere in this film does she show the same passion in digging up and collecting old artifacts, a la Indiana Jones. This version of Croft desperately wants to find her father, but expresses zero interest in historical relics or tombs at all. So what makes her a tomb raider? Nothing. Her dad was. But she is not. It’s hard to say that it does is source material proud.

In a standalone movie of a different name, half of these mistakes would be non-existent, but simply because it calls itself “Tomb Raider” they become irritants. Like, for this review, I’m not even going to go into detail on the legend discussed in this film, because Lara Croft doesn’t care, so why should it matter?

The film is actually highly entertaining with impressive–albeit unrealistic–action scenes, but it just doesn’t feel like a Tomb Raider movie.

Twizard Rating: 79

Quick Movie Review: A Wrinkle In Time (2018)

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There’s a reason why Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel hasn’t been adapted into a feature film before. (There was a forgettable 2003 mini-series, but that’s it.) The story just doesn’t translate to the screen well.

In this most recent version, director Ava DuVernay tries to show us the abstract concept, yet attempts to market the film towards teenagers–succeeding at neither. It’s likely that the powers-that-be had conflicting opinions about which direction the film should go.

From early on, you can tell that A Wrinkle In Time tries to be too cool. But it’s not nearly as cool or fun as it thinks it is. It finds itself stumbling when trying too hard to appeal to a younger audience, and seems awkwardly out of place when it tries to pontificate. It tries to do so much that it’s unable to retain any distinct personality.

The premise seems promising, but never really takes off. And while there are a lot of fun time travel concepts introduced, the filmmakers fail to capitalize on this intrigue.

Thirteen-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) deals with the four year anniversary of her father, Dr. Alexander Murry’s mysterious disappearance. Because of the opening scene, we know that he’s some sort of scientist who’s into time travel and inter-world teleportation. He was apparently looking for the key to allow himself to do so.

So for the whole film, Meg, her brother, and her friend travel from world to world searching for her father.

The story forces this mystique that’s fun at first, but gets old. It never fully explains itself or feels worth it. Disney is trying to put together a narrative version of a concept. An interesting one, but not one that can afford to lack any integrity–or else you get an end product like this one.

But the truth is, even if the novel could be executed well in narrative form, this version of A Wrinkle In Time doesn’t have the other ingredients that typically make a film good, either.

The whole movie is disjointed, from the aimless directing to the convoluted script–which gives us plot points that merely serve as functional to the overall story. There’s no forgetting why everything is happening. We’re hardly ever able to get lost in the movie itself.

Then there’s the acting. It’s pretty bad considering the talents involved. Most of the performances (e.g. Reese Witherspoon, Levi Miller) are reminiscent of overacted children’s theater, while the ones with more potential (e.g. Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis) go underutilized.

The visual effects don’t quite look as up-to-date as they should. But the art design is impressive, so it’s visually pleasing. You might ask how such a beautiful film can be so underwhelming. It’s because it’s more into itself than it should be. And we’re not nearly as impressed with it as it is with itself.

A Wrinkle In Time is a story about the abstract nature of the universe, and to its credit, the film editing is just as abstract. But at times it’s just too much. Once again: It’s a narrative version of a concept and it just doesn’t work.

There are glimpses where we can see it resisting the urge to give into typical cinematic formula. Yet there are other instances where we’re reminded that this is a movie made by Disney, trying to sell tickets and not much more.

So then we’re suddenly not surprised that such a bad movie can somehow manage to make us invested enough to feel for its characters (I’m giving credit to the musical score).

A Wrinkle In Time is a movie conflicted with itself. Subtle details become vague and unexplained, while the filmmakers belabor the obvious through redundant and boring sequences. Its point is that darkness is the only thing that moves faster than light. But the way it interprets that darkness is much more subjective than a moral compass would have it be.

And now I’m belaboring my own point. But at least mine doesn’t take 2 hours to do so.

If you want a similar, more watchable movie, check out 1984’s The NeverEnding Story. It covers much of the same ground but with much less of an agenda.

Twizard Rating: 54

Quick Movie Review: Game Night (2018)

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Rachel McAdams is a really good actress, but she’s never been in straight-up comedies. In fact, if you think about it, she hasn’t really been in one since 2004’s Mean Girls–the movie that catalyzed her stardom. So putting her opposite Jason Bateman in Game Night is a smart choice. The two of them have great chemistry. In fact, it’s so good that it nearly overshadows the rest of the film. Luckily, the well-crafted script helps to keep it together.

The comedy often falls apart when they aren’t on screen. And while McAdams does a superb job on her own, it’s Bateman who is the thread holding it together with everyone else. He changes the dynamic of their jokes. Others are funnier when Bateman is in the scene merely because of his presence–the anticipation of how we expect him to react. That tension is what makes him one of the best straight-men in this era of comedy.

Bateman plays Max, who has inferiority issues with his brother, Brooks, played by Kyle Chandler. Everyone loves Brooks and is constantly affirming Max’s insecurities. And from early on, we get a sense that the whole film is going to be one of those spit-on-the-protagonist stories.

But it’s not. Brooks is very obviously not a nice person, yet everyone is still blinded by his apparent coolness. However, Max’s wife, Annie (Rachel McAdams), sees right through Brooks’ nonsense and the film wisely never pins her against her husband.

Every week Max and Annie host a game night at their house. Usually it consists of charades or Pictionary, but this time Brooks puts together an elaborate murder-mystery game for them to play. However, they don’t realize that they’ve embarked on a real-life mission to solve an actual kidnapping.

It’s not that the other actors in the film aren’t funny, it’s that they’re just given too many one-liners, making them one-dimensional. One of the characters, Ryan (Billy Magnussen), is the stereotypical dumb guy. In the movie he’s funny, but tragically overused. Almost as though they had too many jokes for him and just couldn’t decide which ones they liked best. Many of them fall flat. Not because they aren’t funny, but because the audience doesn’t know they’re funny.

But on the plus side, the characters’ jokes always fit the characters, and there was obviously some sort of archetypal distinction between each one.

Game Night has some nice deep moments. The sentimentality isn’t forced or cliched or obviously pointed to. It’s well-written.

And I would be remiss not to mention the always-great Jesse Plemons as Max and Annie’s creepy neighbor, Gary, who always tries to invite himself to their game nights. He’s featured in the film a perfect amount and it’s always a treat when he’s included in the scene.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)

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Unlike other Marvel films, Black Panther’s premise isn’t convoluted or confusing. The fluid storytelling helps, but it also does away with aliens and paint-by-numbers villains. It doesn’t require any esoteric knowledge or a following of every previous Marvel movie up until this point. In fact, you barely remember that it’s part of that universe at all.

The story follows the African nation of Wakanda and its heir to the throne, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Wakanda is thought to be a third world country by the rest of the world, but it secretly has an infinite supply of the metal called Vibranium. Vibranium can cure disease, supply unlimited energy, and is used to make indestructible armor and the most powerful weapons you could ever imagine. T’Challa’s conflict is whether or not to share this technology with the rest of the world to help them. Will the world use it peacefully, like the people of Wakanda? Or will they abuse its power, invoking greed?

Boseman does an excellent job as the title character, proving once again that he’s one of the most reliably consistent actors in Hollywood. He carries the film well, showing us both earnestness and pride. There may not be anyone else who could have done this convincingly, properly giving us as good of a character transformation as he has.

On the other side of T’Challa is Killmonger, an Oakland-born villain who knows of Wakanda’s Vibranium and thinks it should be used to help the oppressed conquer their oppressors. Killmonger comes from the streets and has turned his frustrations into violence–like many do–but this time, he has somewhat of an “in”.

You get where he’s coming from and agree that Vibranium should be used to help people, but don’t necessarily like his violent approach to getting it done. In fact, T’Challa gets it too. The hero and the villain have the same end goal, but their way of going about it is just different. One is a tyrant while the other is a compassionate leader.

Killmonger is one of the most intriguing Marvel villains to date. He and X-Men’s Magneto. We dislike them, yet are given empathy for them. Killmonger is willing to sacrifice everything, including people he loves, for his beliefs, while the Wakandans are willing to sacrifice beliefs and morals for their own country. It’s subtle, but extremely poignant.

Wakanda has a lie that’s gotten out of hand. Like any big and necessary change, there needs to be conflict and civil disagreement beforehand. And that’s what happens here. Some serve their nation because of their own personal obligation, while others see that this is about much more than that. It’s about serving the greater good.

As far as surface-level stuff, Black Panther isn’t entirely unflawed. Other than a cool car chase sequence towards the beginning, the action scenes are lacking a bit of originality. However, the score by composer Ludwig Goransson and its utilization by director Ryan Coogler makes them feel epic. The whole movie has this feel. Maybe more than any other in this cinematic universe. And that’s with the subpar action.

The film is so nuanced. It helps that it has a director rooted in the independent film world. Coogler conducts the drama on the same level as the best we’ve ever seen in an action film. He knows how to build conflict and tension, and how to make the audience think. A little food for though is always good.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

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Hunger Games is, hands down, the most famous post-apocalyptic YA film series. And it’s ironic that only half of the series is good. The first two Hunger Games are fantastic, but the last two are pretty bad, with the 3rd film being borderline unwatchable. Maze Runner should be the real star of the genre. And while this final installment is a slight step below the previous two, it’s entertaining at the very least.

Even that aside, the series has a lot going for it. The characters are way more likable. We can relate to them more since they don’t just spend hours of the film brooding. I know it’s probably more realistic in these dire circumstances, but it’s just not very entertaining to watch someone mope about on screen for that long. In Maze Runner, we also don’t get some forced love triangle that turns out to have an even more forced resolution. Hunger Games may be filled way more with edgy political commentary and a grand philosophical meaning, but Maze Runner has stuff to say itself. Hunger Games began as a cool concept but didn’t know where to go from there. It almost wanted too badly to be artsy, which just made it seem self-indulgent. While the Maze Runner films know how to be entertaining and never really try to be pretentious.

With that said, the impact of this film, as well as the driving purpose for the characters in it, will only seem worth it to those of us who are fans of, and have an invested interest in the previous two movies.

Minho has been captured by WCKD so they can torture and run tests on him, so Thomas and his crew attempt to break him out of their headquarters. Pretty much the whole movie is based on this premise–including an elaborate and action-packed scene at the beginning where they steal a train car, hoping that Minho is inside. But it turns out it’s all for naught since they got the wrong train.

It’s an event that’s created to justify a nearly two and a half hour movie, but at least what follows is entertaining and gives us nice closure to the series. Even if it wouldn’t have happened at all if they hadn’t stolen the wrong train car.

It does get a little frustrating and confusing at times because you have the tendency to over think it. When reality is, there’s not much to think about. It’s a basic plot that takes 142 minutes to be accomplished. And while much of it turns out to be unnecessary and in vain, it never actually feels that long. Mostly because it’s really entertaining all the way through.

The only derailment of that enjoyment is when we get confused or lost due to the film relying too much on the audience remembering details from its predecessor. But even if you do remember, it gets slightly convoluted with the plot holes that keep popping up.

There’s nothing countering the tension–not enough at stake. Or at least, you don’t realize what’s at stake until the very end. It’s not quite as poetic and masterful as its predecessor, but that’s a really hard act to follow.

With the first movie being a great jump-off point for the series, creating mystery and intrigue, and the second movie being a near-perfect follow-up that not only improves on its predecessor, but becomes an amazing standalone film in its own right, this finale may not quite be the one we’ve been waiting for. However, they could have done the unthinkable and tried to separate it into two terrible films and it could have been much, much worse.

Twizard Rating: 79