Review of “Ready Player One”

In 2045 the world is such a sad and depressing place many people spend the majority of their free time in a virtual world called the Oasis where they can be and do anything. Oasis was the creation of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). The two had a falling out and Halliday bought out Morrow. Halliday was a genius but also had difficulty dealing with people. He wanted the Oasis to be a place where people could break out of their shells and explore what they loved. One of those explorers is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). In the Oasis his avatar is called Parzival. When Halliday died he released a recorded announcement saying he’d hidden an Easter egg in the Oasis. Three keys are required to gain access to the Easter egg. Whoever finds it will become the owner of the Oasis. This sets off a frenzy of activity to find the keys. Those that hunt for the Easter egg are called gunters (egg hunters) and Wade is one of these along with his friend Aech, a combination troll and android-looking creature that is great at building and rebuilding vehicles. If your avatar is killed in the games of the Oasis you lose all your upgrades and your money and have to start from scratch. Using all their resources to find the keys is Innovative Online Industries, or IOI. They build much of the real world hardware that is used to access the Oasis. Leading IOI is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who worked with Halliday and Morrow when the Oasis was created. He plans to turn much of the Oasis into advertising space once IOI finds the Easter egg. During his search Wade as Parzival meets the avatar Art3mis. She is a famous gamer and Wade quickly falls in love with her. Of course they have never met in real life so Art3mis could be completely unlike her avatar and Wade would never know. Still, the two become close as they search for clues they believe are hidden in the archive of Halliday’s life. When Wade finds the first key he comes to the attention of Sorrento who puts his security chief F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) on the case to find and eliminate him in the real world. He also uses the avatar I-ROk (voiced by T.J. Miller) to try and kill his avatar in the Oasis.

“Ready Player One” is the kind of movie that can drive some people insane. Those people are completists. They must finish whatever they start and they must find all the little nooks and crannies where some information might be hidden. A completist will need to find every pop culture reference made in Steven Spielberg’s film that is stuffed to the brim with them. If you just have to know them all there are guides on the Internet and a Google search will find them. I find that kind of thing exhausting and am happy with the sudden flash of recognition when seeing a familiar video game or movie character. There was a great deal that made me happy in “Ready Player One” besides the familiar pop culture and music choices. It is a fun film.

While some of the real critics have complained “Ready Player One” is too concerned about cramming in as many pop culture references as possible and giving less attention to the story, I respectfully disagree. Script writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, Cline wrote the book the movie is based on, have put forth a very simple story: Unrelenting greed never leads to a happy future. It may not be the deepest or most complicated story for a movie but it does work especially considering the current political and economic climate. Nolan Sorrento is the embodiment of corporate greed. He sees the Oasis only as a cash cow to be exploited and not for the opportunities of expression and freedom it allows. Those that are aware of his cynical view of the Oasis are determined to stop him despite Sorrento having a huge corporation and dozens of people working to find the keys. It is a classic David and Goliath story and with Steven Spielberg at the controls it is a well-told story.

The CGI of “Ready Player One” is pretty spectacular. What I liked best about it was the hundreds of artists used to create the Oasis got the physics right. When a car crashes or an object breaks it looks real. There are many moments in the film that could have been visual deal breakers. Where the trajectory of a falling object or the apparent weight of a stone block from the wall of a castle could have looked wrong or conveniently too light but everything in the virtual world looked legit. It’s also a small miracle the artists were able to accurately render the dozens of toy, movie and video game characters and references. If you see a character from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Arkham video game or the motorcycle from “Akira” it will be done with a great deal of loving detail. The visuals of “Ready Player One” are the true stars of the movie.

I also enjoyed the performances in the real world scenes. Tye Sheridan does put upon teen very well. His Wade Watts is wide-eyed but also world-weary in a life that appears to be wearing him down. Escaping to his hideaway inside a discarded van buried deep in a junk yard, Wade has created an oasis of his own allowing him to escape into the virtual world. Orphaned young and living with an aunt that cares more about her abusive boyfriend than she does about him, Wade is essentially alone in a world that has gone mostly mad. He’s doing the best he can and the Oasis is a place he can freely express himself. While it might not win him an Oscar this performance will certainly get Tye Sheridan more work.

Olivia Cooke is the real world version of Art3mis. Cooke plays Samantha, a leader of the rebellion against IOI. While her avatar in the Oasis is brash and confident Samantha is anything but. She has a pale port wine stain birthmark over and on her right eye. She is very self-conscious of this blemish and it has clearly been a point of pain and suffering to her psyche. Samantha’s escape to the Oasis is clearly her attempt to soothe her pain and be the hero she can feel inside. It takes a desperate act to break her out of her self-imposed emotional exile and allow the bravery she has inside to escape. She takes chances and makes decisions that go against her own self-interest in an attempt to serve the greater good. It is a character young women can look to as a role-model.

The rest of the supporting cast is great but special kudos goes to Mark Rylance as Halliday. There is a childlike innocence to Halliday that tugs at the heartstrings. He’s clearly on the autism spectrum and struggling to make his vision clear to his partner Morrow played by Simon Pegg. Halliday wants everyone to see the Oasis the way he does: As a limitless playground to be enjoyed by all. There are moments when Halliday is speaking that I just wanted to hug him and tell him everything is going to be okay. Rylance is an amazing actor with incredible range and emotional depth. His Halliday is a child that can’t understand the complexities of business and why the world has to be so mean. He also thinks the Oasis should be used for fun and not for life. It’s a lesson that is saved for near the end of the film that even his love for his creation has its limits. It is a wonderfully subtle and emotional performance.

“Ready Player One” is rated PG-13 for language, bloody images, partial nudity, sci-fi action violence and some suggestive material. There are battles between video game characters and fights of various other types. The partial nudity is from a scene that takes place within the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” and involves a woman getting out of a bathtub. There is no actual nudity. The suggestive material also involves “The Shining” scene along with a mildly seductive dance between the two main characters. “The Shining” is also the source of the bloody images with tidal wave coming from the elevators. There are also a few real world injuries that show some minor bleeding. Foul language is scattered and mild.

My advice for seeing “Ready Player One” is to just let the pop culture references flow over you and don’t try to identify every character that’s been pulled from nearly every movie and video game from the last 50-plus years. Simply sit back and enjoy the magic and childlike wonder on display from the master of fantasy and adventure movie making. It is good to see Spielberg back to making a good old-fashioned crowd-pleasing bit of popcorn cinema. You’ll leave the theater far happier than you entered it.

“Ready Player One” gets five stars.

This week four new movies hope they have something to offer you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Blockers—

Chappaquiddick—

The Miracle Season—

A Quiet Place—

Subscribe, like, rate, and listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you get your podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Star Trek Beyond”

Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is in the third year of a five year mission on board the United Federation of Planets Starship Enterprise. The day to day life of traveling from planet to planet, engaging in diplomatic missions and seeing the same faces among the crew every day is beginning to feel monotonous. An opportunity for promotion to Vice-Admiral and taking over operations of the newest starbase named Yorktown has Kirk thinking of a change of direction in his career. First officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also considering a change, leaving Starfleet and settling permanently on New Vulcan to help reestablish and repopulate his culture. While docked at Starbase Yorktown a small vessel appears out of a nearby nebula. The sole occupant, an alien named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) says her ship was disabled and crashed on a planet inside the nebula. She managed to escape in an effort to find help. Kirk and his crew are sent on a rescue mission to retrieve any survivors. Electromagnetic emissions from the gas in the nebula make communicating with Yorktown impossible. As they approach the planet, a swarm of small ships numbering in the thousands approach the Enterprise. Moving in a coordinated way, the ships crash into Enterprise, tearing her apart. Some ships are manned and soldiers begin attacking the crew. The leader of this attack is named Krall (Idris Elba) and he is looking for something onboard the Federation ship. Despite all their efforts Enterprise is lost and Kirk orders the crew to abandon ship. Some of the escape pods make it to the surface while others are intercepted by the alien ships and carried off. Kirk figures out what Krall is looking for, a piece of alien technology, and he hides it before abandoning ship. On the surface he runs into Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the pair begin looking for surviving shipmates. Spock and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) wind up inside one of the manned alien ships and manage to take it over but still crash land on the planet with Spock being severely injured. Communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and helmsman Sulu (John Cho) are among a group of other crew being held captive by Krall and his men. Chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) was in an escape pod alone but is found by Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) on the surface. She explains her family was killed by Krall’s right hand man Manis (Joe Taslim) but she managed to escape and lives in the remains of a crashed Federation starship named Franklin that went missing over one-hundred years earlier. Krall has a deep hatred for the Federation with plans to exact his revenge…but why?

“Star Trek Beyond” had some goodwill to restore after the less than enthusiastically received “Star Trek Into Darkness.” All the secrecy and misdirection surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch and who he was playing, along with other story issues, left a bad taste in the mouths of fans. This on top of the controversy caused by the first film blowing up the cherished and nearly 50 year old timeline had long-time Trek fans grumbling how the reboot had ignored everything good and important about the original series (or TOS as it is called) and turned it into just another special effect and stunts filled summer popcorn franchise. I can’t argue against any of their complaints and I even share some of them; however, strictly looking at “Star Trek Beyond” as a bit of populist entertainment it is the best of the rebooted series so far.

While there is action and special effect aplenty in the film what makes this movie work best is the relationships between the characters and how they interact under the stress of the situation. The standout of these is Spock and McCoy. These two frequently bicker like an old married couple and nothing changes during their time lost on the planet while trying to keep from being captured. The pair also manages to show a level of caring and respect for one another that turns their trying time into a kind of relationship counseling. While still managing to insult one another in some of the most amusing ways possible, Spock and Bones strengthen their bond as both crewmates and friends.

The script from actor Simon Pegg and writer Doug Jung does a great job of isolating the crew from one another and allowing our main players to explore their relationships on a more intimate level. It turns the film into an examination of the dynamics at work amongst the crew and allows for more heart and humor than one might expect given the situation in which they find themselves.

If the film has an issue it is in the motivations of the bad guy. Krall is all anger and revenge that isn’t very well explained. Even once his reasons and the plot twist (spoiled by an online trailer) are revealed it doesn’t make that much sense. It’s difficult to discuss without spoiling it but Krall has some history with the Federation and feels abandoned by the union of civilizations. His desire is to tear it apart but the reasons given for his hatred and all-consuming thirst for revenge don’t seem to add up to killing millions. Of course we’ve seen what little it takes for someone with a handgun, a rifle or even a truck to decide that as many people as possible must die. Still, Krall’s desire for blood isn’t supported by what’s in his story.

“Star Trek Beyond” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Phasers and other weapons are fired appearing to at least injure if not kill some background characters. One character has the ability to suck the life out of people, leaving them withered. There’s a rather brutal scene of hand to hand combat between two characters near the end of the film. The swarming spaceships that destroy Enterprise could disturb some younger children. Foul language is very limited and mild.

The death of Leonard Nimoy who played Spock in the TV series and an older version of Zachary Quinto’s Spock in the first two reboot films is handled with a great deal of class and sensitivity while also offering an olive branch to the fans of the original cast. It’s the kind of gesture that buys the new version of “Star Trek” a great deal of goodwill. It also helps that the filmmakers have put together a very entertaining and exciting film. While the good old days of “Star Trek” tackling difficult societal issues is probably long gone (except possibly in the new TV series coming in 2017), looking at all the movies in the series shows none of the theatrical releases was much more than an action/adventure movie set in space. Those that argue against the rebooted “Star Trek” films as just another special effects-heavy popcorn film aren’t wrong; but they’ve never been the heady and socially conscious expressions that the best of the TV episodes were. Fans should just enjoy that a crew with familiar names is traveling the cosmos onboard a ship we’ve dreamed of boarding one day.

“Star Trek Beyond” gets five stars.

This week, maternal comedy, covert action and social media tension are the subjects of new films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Moms—

Jason Bourne—

Nerve—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tracking a worldwide terrorist organization called the Syndicate. He believes they are responsible for political assassinations around the world that all looked like tragic accidents. Each of these acts also led to political upheaval in the countries where they occurred. CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) believes Hunt is creating conspiracies in his mind and wants the IMF defunded and absorbed into his agency and convinces a Senate subcommittee. Agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) now works directly under Director Hunley but still tries to protect and help Hunt where he can. Hunt is captured by the Syndicate; but just before he’s going to be tortured by Janik “Bone Doctor” Vinter (Jens Hulten), Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) helps to kill the guards watching him and set him free. Ilsa appears to be a deep-cover agent working within the Syndicate for another intelligence agency. She stays behind to protect her cover. Hunt contacts Brandt to tell him what he’s discovered and is informed the IMF is no more. Hunt decides to stay in the field despite now being declared a target of the CIA. Hunt covertly contacts electronic intelligence expert Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to help him track down the leader of the Syndicate: A man he’s only seen once killing an innocent woman. The chase will lead Hunt, Ilsa, Brandt, Dunn and fellow agent Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) around the world in an effort to take down a terrorist group that seems to have eyes, ears and assassins everywhere.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” has the slick and polished look of the most recent “James Bond” movies but has a decidedly lighter tone. While the fate of the world is equally at risk in this film series based on the TV show that ran 1966-1973, the characters are allowed to make a degree of fun of the situation that Bond is rarely allowed. While Bond is a lone figure with minimal support from his agency, Ethan Hunt is part of a larger and much more active ensemble. Hunt is frequently saved by one of his fellow agents, either directly or remotely, setting this view of espionage apart from its British counterpart. Each approach has its merits and the M:I series gets a bit more narrative mileage from the comradery of its characters.

Much has been made from the well-publicized stunt of strapping Tom Cruise to the side of a plane and filming him as it took off. The advertising for the film certainly didn’t bury the lead as this is the first scene in the movie. While it is probably the biggest stunt in the film, there are plenty more that occupy a great deal of the film’s over two hour running time. Whether sliding down a rope from the roof of the Vienna Opera House or holding his breath for six minutes to film an underwater scene in one take, Cruise delivers big thrills at great personal risk to himself and his multimillion dollar paychecks.

Whether the acting is any good is kind of beside the point in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” but it is good. The entire cast is spot on with particular praise for Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust. Without giving too much away, her loyalties are always in doubt as she never plays her role with too many clues as to which way she might go. She also looks good in a silky yellow dress as she prepares to carry out an assassination. Ferguson is also adept at physical stunts, performing more than a few wild and vicious moves.

Simon Pegg is always reliable for some lighter moments as tech genius Benji Dunn; but these lighter moments are actually a set up for some dark times near the end of the film. Audiences don’t like seeing the smart, friendly characters face mortal danger. It gives us even more stress than when we watch the characters that we expect to be at the edge of death. We have learned Ethan Hunt can extract himself from every situation; but Benji is far more adept at hacking a security system, not beating up a security guard. After all, his name is Benji…like the dog.

Alec Baldwin also provides a secondary heavy that is almost as detestable as the leader of the Syndicate. Baldwin’s CIA Director Hunley shares many attributes with Baldwin’s “30 Rock” character Jack Donaghy: Both are decisive, ruthless and like to talk in a low growl when they are making a point. Baldwin doesn’t have that much screen time but he uses it to full effect. Hunley is portrayed as a bit of blowhard that talks a good game but has trouble delivering what he promises. Baldwin tackles the role with an intensity that says Hunley might be a bit of a braggart but he means business. It’s a very good performance.

If there’s anything I can complain about in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” it’s the omnipotent villain trope that has played a part in nearly all this series. The Syndicate seems to be everywhere and always prepared no matter what Hunt or his colleagues do. The story elements seem to require someone on the inside of the CIA and IMF in order to be as well informed as they appear. I guess this would be a spoiler so prepare yourself: No one is exposed as working with the bad guys. A couple of red herrings are dropped here and there but none of them ever converts into a double agent. The leader of the Syndicate is supposed to be the product of a friendly government’s intelligence agency that goes rogue and creates his own organization to commit chaos around the world. It would seem that he is far better trained than any of the people trying to stop him as his presence is unknown to every other spy agency in the world. It’s all a bit too neat and tidy to occur in a world where every email, phone call and Internet search is collected by one organization or another for analysis. I would hope someone sifting through all that metadata would notice something that would tip off the CIA. I suppose this is yet another example of me thinking too much about a movie plot but it always strikes me as odd when a bad guy can gather so much material and so many operatives and fly completely under the radar.

All in all, this is a minor complaint as everything that is good about “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” far outweighs the bad. From the cinematography to the action to the interplay between the characters to most of the story, the film is a huge love letter to fans of the series.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action & violence and brief partial nudity. There are several fist fights, a knife fight, car chases, car wrecks, motorcycle chases, motorcycle wrecks and shootings in the film. There is far more blood in the trailer for the new “Hitman” film than there is in this entire movie. The brief partial nudity is so brief and partial I’m surprised it was mentioned. It is the back of a woman as she takes off some wet clothes and puts on dry clothes. Foul language is brief and scattered.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” opened at number one at the box office but with the lowest opening of any of the previous four films. Some news stories attribute this to the bad publicity Cruise received from the HBO documentary on Scientology. That seems unlikely. Perhaps the public is just tired of big budget, big action flicks; especially the fifth in a series. Aside from strapping Cruise to the side of a plane (that everyone with an Internet connection could see as many times as they wanted), what was really different about this version of M:I? The answer is nothing. This is a really well done version of the thing we’ve seen four times before. If people decide not to go should we really be that surprised?

The film is doing well worldwide so we can expect a sixth M:I to be released in two or three years as Cruise has already agreed to star in it. If the studio and Cruise don’t mind a little free and unwanted advice, may I suggest you figure out some twist or variation on the spy genre that will surprise people and drive them to tell their friends about what a unique experience the next M:I is. Otherwise, even the rest of the world may start staying home.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” gets five stars.

Two new films open this week and I’ll see at least one of them.

Fantastic Four—

The Gift—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.