Steven Spielberg – Ready Player One

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I know that Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One gets a lot of negative criticism; too much reliance on nostalgia,overly simplistic writing, tons of tropes. It is an easy book to hate on but let’s be realistic, Cline’s novel is a ton of fun to read and it does have a gripping plot. Inevitably an adaptation was bound to happen and Steven Spielberg is probably the best person to direct this type of film. Also it is worth noting that Ernest Cline wrote the screenplay so I guess any changes to the book were officially overseen by Cline.

Like the book, the film opens up in a futuristic world, which is so bad, everyone escapes via a virtual reality program called OASIS created by the eccentric James Halliday, who is deceased when the film starts.

On frequent visitor of OASIS is Wade Watts who has a mission: to find the three Easter Eggs that Halliday left in the OASIS when he died. Anyone who finds these eggs will have sole control over OASIS. However rival company IOI want OASIS badly and are hunting eggs on a larger scale. IOI head, Nolan Sorrento will stop at nothing to find the eggs, even if it means killing.

Obviously you can guess how this is going to end but the main message is that, no matter how bad reality is, one has to face. No matter how wonderful the other world is one needs to live life.

Personally I liked this film. It is fun, fast paced and most of all has tons and tons of references to pop culture: from films to video games. In some cases this could be daunting to the point of annoying but here it works. I enjoyed playing ‘spot the reference’ Mind you some are explained to the audience but on the whole it is up to the viewer to guess. The cleverest moment is when Wade is transported to a certain Kubrick film in order to find a clue. It is brilliant and well executed.

That is not to say that the film has flaws: character development could have been better. There’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope and maybe OASIS could have been slightly prettier, just to act as a contrast to the real world. Still though Ready Player One is a pleasurable movie, just don’t look into it that much and you’ll enjoy the ride.

 

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The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro (dir)

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The Shape of Water falls into that category of films that are solid, beautiful to look at but have a predictable story. Despite the predictability the film is so good that the simplistic plot can be easily ignored. The other films that are in a similar vein are Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre and Michael Radford’s The Postman.

The film is essentially about a mute cleaner who works at a top secret  building, who falls in love with a fishlike humanoid, not too dissimilar to the creature from the black lagoon. She smuggles him out of the building and he lives with her and her close friend. Obviously the nasty head of the agency wants him back due to pressure of the military and eventually discovers where the creature is staying, which leads to a showdown but the fishman does escape and takes his love with him to the sea where they live happily ever after. There’s also a tiny subplot which concerns Russian spies but there’s no need to delve into that. All I can say is that it ties nicely with the main storyline.

A more cynical person could point out the flaws instantly. You can spot the bad guy after the first five minutes, you know that there will be a happy ending, you know that there will be a death. However, I didn’t care.

The Shape of Water, is an aesthetic masterpiece. After the credit roll my girlfriend remarked that the coloration of the film is like Jean Pierre Jeunot’s Amelie that, combined with del Toro’s distinct visuals heightens your senses when watching the film.

There’s also a lot of charm, the characters may be one dimensional but it doesn’t matter. You will still emote for the main protagonists or show hatred for the bad guys in this film. The Shape of Water sucks you in. It’s a wonderful story from beginning to end.

I did have one gripe though.

The baddy of the film, compulsively eats mints. When he is nervous he bites them but normally he sucks on them loudly. I cannot stand the sound of people eating, let alone the clacking of mints against teeth and every time I heard that character suck his mints I would shudder. Thankfully this only happens about five times throughout the movie.

What else can I say? now and then we need a film that is well structured but also manages to welcome you into their world and seduce you. I felt that Shape of Water managed that. After all cinema is supposed to be a form of escape and del Toro’s latest follows that maxim excellently.

 

 

Wes Anderson Retrospective: The Royal Tenenbaums

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Mother’s day 2002.  I was having lunch with my grandparents but my mind wasn’t there, it was on the 4:00 screening of a film which received positive reviews. It was by the same guy who did Rushmore, a film I missed out on due to exams and I was determined not to miss this one, mainly because I also read quite a few Wes Anderson interviews and this heightened my expectations. I HAD to see why the media were going crazy over this director.

After watching The Royal Tenenbaums I instantly declared it my new fave movie: it was quirky, funny and was in the form of a story, an aspect I still like to this day. For me, this film even looked different; lots of bright colors, walls with funny patterns and the use of futura. One month after the film’s screening, I went to watch it again at our art house cinema.

Now many years later and several viewings later. I can say that I think The Royal Tenenbaums is Wes Anderson at his best. It is perfect. The viewer can feel that Anderson has got total control over everything, from the story to the overall look.

Royal Tenenbaum left his family and seperated from his wife and after twenty or so years is hearing that she is remarrying, something he does not like so he decides to move back to his old house, Royal, though always has an ulterior motive and he also being kicked out of the hotel he lives in.

At the same time his three children, all prodigies gone wrong have returned to the house as well. At this point Royal believes that it is time to make amends for all the things he did in the past.

Calling the Royal Tenenbaums a family saga is not doing it justice, Anderson pulls off complex familial relations and yet makes everything seem light and breezy. Sure over the bright colors there are pretty dark undertones but it’s balanced well. As always a great film needs an strong supporting cast and The Royal Tenenbaums has a big one, something Wes Anderson would continue doing for many of his films, and they all give a 100% effort. Gene Hackman is a perfect loveable sleazeball , Gwyneth Paltrow is superb as the moody Margot Tenenbaum, the Wilson brothers reappear Luke as failed tennis star Richie and Owen as his crazed best friend Eli, Ben Stiller is an excellent neurotic Chas Tenenbaum, Bill Murray gives a funny performance as the hopeless but determined Raleigh St Clair and Anjelica Houston as the long suffering Mrs. Tenenbaum – just great.

The Royal Tenenbaums is Wes Anderson’s masterpiece, and although not my personal favourite film, it still ranks highly as the essential Wes Anderson to watch if you are new to his work. Of course the soundtrack is perfect, no need to mention that.

Quintessential Wes Anderson Moment: So many to choose from but I love the part when Royal takes his grandchildren for a fun day out, which involves gatecrashing tormenting drivers, shoplifting and betting on dog fights.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Martin McDonagh (dir) Two Mini Reviews.

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In order to try something new both my girlfriend, Camille and I decided to write a mini review of Three Billboards… Really the experiment is to see what aspects we would tackle. To make sure we don’t influence each other we won’t be seeing each other’s reviews until the post is up.

Camille’s review:

What’s the worst thing that can happen to a person? Being raped & killed is quite bad, but having someone you love raped & murdered is worse, I think. The premise of this film is set out quite plainly, as plainly as a message on a billboard.

Femininity

Strength and femininity are at odds in this narrative. In the scene with Angela, Mildred’s hair is long, but after the murder Mildred’s image changes. Her hair is cut short: shaved at the back, but with a ponytail on top – an amalgamation of masculine and feminine, she wears the same blue overalls, no make up. Did Mildred ‘toughen up’ and become masculine to be strong in her tragedy?

In contrast to Mildred, the male characters show only weakness. Chief Willoughby does not solve the crime. He doesn’t spend his last few months alive trying to find a solution, he gives up and leaves loose ends, he is afraid of pain. Officer Dixon’s weakness frustrates him into violent anger, and he too does not solve the crime.

Town as character

This film takes on a lot of issues that are particularly problematic in the south of the US. There are many references to an outdated way of thinking, on racism and homophobia, and sexism. Are progressive ways of thinking changing the landscape of America? Or is everything staying the same?

Hope

In the end, nobody solves the crime. Girls will be raped, and murdered, and criminals will get away. The world is cruel and nothing has any meaning. Life will go on, we will die, and life will still go on.

 

My review:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri poses an ethical question: What if an unsolved investigation was exposed to the public in the most outrageous way possible? would there be repercussions? and if so what type?

This is the main plot of Martin McDonagh’s latest film. The main protagonist, Mildred, played excellently by Frances McDormand hires three billboards and pastes the sentences ‘Raped While Dying’ ‘And Still No Arrests?’ and ‘How Come Chief Willoughby?’ Her aim being to coerce the police force to find the person who raped and burnt Mildred’s daughter, which has taken seven months.

At first the plan works but McDonagh throws another ethical problem. Chief Willoughby has cancer and the stress of the billboards is not helping it. Nonetheless Mildred will keep the billboards up.

As a result the police force rebel and Willoughby is getting worse, which results with him committing suicide. We viewers know it’s not the billboards, although as one of his final acts Willoughby pays to keep the billboards up for another month, in order to keep the investigation going AND to get her into further trouble. However Mildred becomes the enemy.

The final ethical question comes from officer Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell, who is superb as the officer who does not behave like someone is to protect law and order: he is a racist, violent, is homophobic and a drunk. By the end of the film he is fired and yet does something which is character worthy and does not get his job back.

Although I want to keep this short. There’s a scene where Mildred gives a speech about culpability, and yet she commits two actions. One is drilling a hole in a dentist’s finger and she denies it. The other act is a form of mistaken revenge and she only admits this to Dixon, who cannot do anything to her.

Was Mildred’s actions correct? should she have put the billboards down in order to help the sick policeman? despite her talk of culpability she refuses to acknowledge her actions, is she a hypocrite for doing so?  Although Three Billboards leaves it up to the viewer to decide and rightly so. Ultimately despite what happens life still continues, regardless of our actions.

 

Wes Anderson Retrospective: Rushmore

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I found Wes Anderson’s debut film, Bottle Rocket, disappointing. Thankfully for his second outing Rushmore Anderson took all the flaws of his debut and got rid of them. The end result is nothing less than perfect.

When you watch Rushmore you know that you’re watching a Wes Anderson film. Nearly all the trademarks of his future films can be found here: The use of the Futura font, quirky man children, a strong sense of aesthetic, a feel good ending, and of course, an amazing soundtrack. True some of these elements were in Bottle Rocket but here they are prominent.

As always the story is a simple one, Max Fischer (Jason Schwatrzman), an underachiever at the prestigious school, Rushmore, falls in love with with the primary school teacher (Oliva Williams). At the same time he he befriends nouveau riche Herman Blume (Bill murray), who also falls in love with the teacher. Eventually both try to win her heart and sabotage each other’s lives until the conflict is resolved.

Rushmore is just brilliant. The cast put their soul into their performances, in fact Bill Murray’s role as Herman Blume resurrected an ailing career. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first role and Olivia William’s second movie experience. As one can see all three actors had successful roles afterwards.

However it’s not only the three characters which make this film great. It’s the amount of charm it exudes. It also is the inventiveness ( Max holds plays that put the greatest movie director to shame) and there are the humorous moments,  most of all I think that Rushmore feels fresh, even twenty years later. There’s a timeless feel that makes you conscious of the fact that this is something special. Finally Wes Anderson has made something that is distinct (yes I know there’s a heavy influence of French directors in his work) and rare: a romantic comedy that takes the usual tropes and gives them a distinctive look.

Quitessential Wes Anderson Moment:  Max’s after party at the end of Rushmore will make you feel so good that you’ll wish that you were physically there.

 

Click here to read my Bottle Rocket review

Wes Anderson Retrospective: Bottle Rocket

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Bottle Rocket is a mixed bag of a film. I do know that it is Wes Anderson’s debut so one can’t expect a masterpiece but it does have positive aspects.

Essentially this heist film has glimpses of Wes Anderson’s directorial trademarks that would show up with greater precision in future films. There those quick camera pans, that boyish enthusiasm his characters embody whenever they have some sort of task they want to undertake. There’s the great taste in music which always occurs at the right time and there’s the overall quirkiness that his characters display. As I said these are glimpses, mostly in the two main robberies that take place. Also the man/boy attitude to love is something that Anderson has stuck with in his whole filmography.

What the film lacks is a strong aesthetic. Honestly  Bottle Rocket could be mistaken for those types of indie films that used to crop up on cable TV on a weekday, usually during lunchtime. Throughout the duration of Bottle Rocket I had to keep reminding myself that I was watching a Wes Anderson movie.

Bottle Roccket does not have that warm, heartful feeling and comes off as rather cold film with some setpieces that are OK .  This is not to say that Bottle Rocket is a failure but it’s not amazing either and borders on average: The characters are good, the plot is good, even the conclusion is good, which will probably let a chuckle escape but Bottle Rocket is clearly missing that oomph which is prevalent in Anderson’s other works.

Typical Wes Anderson Moment: Without any doubt, the final robbery in a warehouse was only time I remembered that I was watching a Wes Anderson film.

 

Black Panther – Ryan Coogler (dir)

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Would you believe that the above pic was the only image I liked??!!

As always before I actually go into the film, let’s mention the bits that link up with the MCU canon.

Black Panther made his first appearance in the MCU in Captain America: Civil War ( or Avengers 2.5) where he sided with Cap’s team.

There’s also the reappearance of Ulysses Klaue, who made his first appearance in The Avengers: Age of Ultron and had his hand lopped off by Ultron and provided the evil robot with the material vibranium, which was stolen from Wakanda, the only place where one can find vibranium,  in 1992.

The film begins with the people who stole the vibranium and sold it to Klaue, which is a neat way of tying everything up and exploring new possibilities, which Coogler does with Black Panther.

As such this is an origin story but honestly given the plot the focus is not on Black Panther per se.

The Black Panther is T’challa and at the start of the film he has succeeded his deceased father as the king of Wakanda. At this point int he film Wakanda is an area that is closed off and does not offer any aid to the poorer African countries. In fact the Wakandians go out of their way to portray their city as a third world one, when in reality vibranium is making the city one of the most technologically advanced one in the world. One main rule is that no stranger can enter Wakanada. Despite this they and the three other tribes that live in this city are peaceful people. T’Challa himself is a noble person and wants to promote stability in Wakanda.

Things start to go awry when T’Challa’s cousin, Killmonger returns to Wakanda ( I can’t tell the back story to this as it will spoil a lot – one thing though, Klaue features heavily) and battle T’Challa and manages to take over the throne. Killmonger has one aim: to make Wakanda known to the world and to silence anyone who has oppressed black people, unfortunately the method he chooses are akin to terrorist ones.

So on one side we have the peaceful T’Challa being oppressed by the chaotic Killmonger and after being banished from his kingdom he has to restore Wakanda to its former state.

So far, so lion king or so Shakespeare (and James Bond). As this is a superhero movie you can guess what happens and Wakanda is restored while T’Challa promotes Wakanda’s richness through peaceful and diplomatic methods.

Personally Black Panther is a secondary character in this film. It is Wakanda that is the main focus and I liked that about Black Panther. Coogler manages to take the usual superhero tropes and turn them into something fresh. At first one thinks one is watching a normal Marvel movie but then Coogler changes your mind about half an hour in and still manages to create things that make superhero movies great: stunning visuals and amazing, thrilling battle scenes.

Black Panther is a triumph. Weaving Black empowerment philosophy with feminism, trust me there’s no damsel in distress here: total gender equality. This may be the cleverest film in the MCU AND it is definitely capable of being a stand alone film in the process, something the majority of the films in this series are not really able to do. Personally Black Panther is officially my number one of the Marvel movies.