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By midlandsmovies, Sep 2 2018 02:11PM



American Animals (2018) Dir. Bart Layton


Covering the story of a real-life robbery committed by four students, American Animals opens with their preparation for the eventful heist before flashbacking to how they came to this dangerous predicament in the first place.


Combing tones to great effect, the recreated drama of 2004 of American Animals is interspersed with interview content from the actual people – who narrate specific parts of the incident – giving it a documentary feel. The film sees Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk) as Spencer Reinhard, a misunderstood (and bored) art student coerced into a shady scheme by his wayward childhood pal Warren Lipka, played by X-Men’s Quicksilver Evan Peters.


Peters’ best friend could be an over-the-top caricature, that is until we see the interview with the real life Lipka – weirdly reminiscent of Samurai Cop’s Matt Hannon – who demonstrates his true wild side with his comedy T-Rex tattoo and quirky demeanour. The two adolescents hatch (or accidentally fall into depending on who you believe) a plan to steal a valuable edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America from their University library and make money by selling them on the black market.


Like 2018’s “I, Tonya”, the film mixes media as we explore alternative viewpoints of the same story. Recollections of background events differ from person to person and at times, the real participants replace the actors by being edited into the dramatic part of the movie itself.


Alongside this, the film comments on crime movies itself. It often changes its style, referencing famous celluloid heists. It switches its colour palette and one scene is even a clear pastiche of Steven Soderbergh’s glossy Ocean Eleven – with its slick one-take camera moves and Vegas Elvis soundtrack. Away from the stylistic techniques, there are also great performances from the two leads rounded out with the inclusion of Blake Jenner as Chas Allen and Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk who fill spots on the heist team’s roster.


And before long we return to the cine-literate influences as the group are given names from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Heck, there’s even a very specific nod to The Dark Knight’s Joker introduction shot. But all these geeky references are not at the expense of an interesting narrative. Whilst the customary plans are being mapped out and surveillance undertaken, the dialogue moves from the planning to questions about America’s past. Information about the USA being the fattest nation on earth is discussed and the appearance of a burning supermarket trolley explore the West’s commercialism and propensity for destruction.


However, the movie’s focus on evolutionary paintings and nature contrasts with this modern discourse. However, it attempts to link both the past and the present and the developments we undergo as we come of age. And the filmmaker deftly proposes this can be applied to the stories we tell. By this, the narrative itself evolves and as the unreliable narrators continue, the film even stops and rewinds like Haneke’s Funny Games. The heist disguises change the youngsters into old men but we clearly see them failing to grow up and take responsibility for their decisions.

As the story continues, the actual heist confounds expectations and takes a tonal shift into darker territory. Natural instincts like worry, sweating and vomiting are edited against grotesque violence. And the boys truly find out that life is not like the movies.


With the real-life protagonists expressing deep remorse for their actions – whilst still disagreeing on many of the details of the incidents years later – the ending of the film wraps up the various strands and is far more complex than a regular Hollywood heist.


The film opens with a title-card stating “This Is Not a True Story” – before the word “not” fades out – showing its obsessions with diverging stories from days gone by. But the boys finally go through one more stage of evolution as they survive their ordeal despite not being the fittest of the pack. And like the characters, the film itself grows up and delivers a beautiful, fun and at times deadly serious look at the theft of maturity.


9/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Aug 29 2018 07:32PM

Review - Movie Catch Up Blog 2018 - Part 3




The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018) Dir. Johannes Roberts

I hadn’t seen The Strangers (2008) until this year and for me it certainly wasn’t worth the wait as we get a pretty bog-standard home-invasion thriller starring Liv Tyler. However, the few thrills that film had going for it are completely absent here in this belated sequel set ten years later where a family are terrorised at a mobile home park by masked assailants. I’m sick of the child mask killer trope it has to be said and some of the character decisions are embarrassing to say the least. I know it’s not high art but come on. If it’s supposed to be a homage/satire of slasher then it’s 20 years too late anway (see Scream and its wicked take-down of the genre) whilst any attempt to create new franchise-defining villains with Dollface and her cohorts was heavy-handed and bland. The kills are uninspiring, motivations non-existent and only Christina Hendricks seems to be aware of the trash she’s in. Half way through I was ‘praying’ for a better movie. 4/10




Truth or Dare (2018) Dir. Jeff Wadlow

Blumhouse's Truth or Dare? I guess once you have a reputation with a couple of horror successes you can slap your name in front of any old trash like Tarantino does at his worst and expect the brand recognition to get bums on seats alone. And away with the quality, as quality this is not. Horror is one of those specific genres where you have to sift through many more films to find the gems – it could be argued those gems are all the more special – but this Final Destination-esque teen scary movie sits firmly in the bargain bin. A group of adolescents realise they will die if they fail to share a truth or complete a dare and they attempt to do their best to beat the real-life deadly game which originated with a supernatural curse from Mexico. A convoluted set of exposition-heavy rules confuses what could have been a freaky slasher and the actors are sadly given clichéd characters which they are unable to do much with. And from the “acclaimed” director of the awful Kick Ass 2 and the Kevin James starring True Memoirs of an International Assassin I’m not sure why I was surprised to find out the real truth. And what is that truth? It’s utter rubbish. 4/10




10 x 10 (2018) Dir. Suzi Ewing

Making quite a name for himself in roles as a terroriser of women, Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) stars as Lewis in this new dark chiller involving kidnap and obsession. More like Denis Villenueve’s Prisoners than the Coens’ Fargo, the kidnapping occurs in an everyday US strip-mall car park as Cathy (Calvary’s Kelly Reilly) heads to her vehicle unaware of the evil about to befall her. An unobtrusive hand-held filming style captures the brutality of the attack before Cathy is smothered, tied and placed in the trunk of Lewis’ car. The beats of the soundtrack merge perfectly with our own imagined beats of pounding fists in futile attempts to escape. She is soon whisked off to Lewis’ home where he has constructed a 10 x 10 padded cell with 4-feet thick concrete walls and a recording system. Diving straight in, the film wastes no time in getting to its set-up and without much information we are, like Cathy, oblivious as to the reasons as to why we are here. And how to possibly escape.


The film is slow and meticulous – Evan’s methodical food-making hinting at an obsessive darkness – but there are flashes of action in Cathy’s escape attempts with bottle smashing and gun shots. The film twists and turns and darker secrets come to light but the script and cinematography are mediocre despite the two fine leads. Melodramatic with lacklustre interest 10 x 10 is simply too leaden to be anything more than a footnote on the stars’ résumés 5.5/10



The Devil’s Doorway (2018) Dir. Aislinn Clarke

With one of the best concepts for a horror in many a year, I was excited to see Aislinn’s Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway which tells the story of two priests who investigate supernatural events at an Irish home for “fallen women”. Whilst the double-act set up is certainly Exorcist-inspired, the unfortunate character traits meant I couldn’t help but be reminded of classic UK sitcom Father Ted. Father Thomas Riley (a frankly brilliant Lalor Roddy) is the old jaded priest with a crisis of faith whilst Father John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn) is a naïve and inexperienced younger believer. (Ted and Dougal respectively). Set in 1960 and using a handheld 16mm camera style, the sense of time and place was superb and Helena Bereen as Mother Superior is as terrifying and intimidating as you could have wanted. Maybe I’m being too harsh but something just wasn’t working despite these excellent elements. From the clichéd door knocks and paranormal child voices to your average jump scare and foreboding corridors, the film failed to leap into more interesting territory despite its high ecclesiastical aspirations. Which was a big shame. Certainly a filmmaker with some aptitude, I have faith we’ll be seeing more from Clarke but this isn’t quite the film it could or wanted to be. 6/10




Journey’s End (2018) Dir. Saul Dibb

A new adaptation of the play by R. C. Sherriff is the 5th time the World War I drama has moved from stage to screen following Journey's End (1930), The Other Side, Aces High and a 1988 BBC TV film. With a fantastic cast what we get is Asa Butterfield’s young Second Lieutenant Raleigh posted to the front-line where his hopeful fighter soon realises the ravages of war can take its toll even on the most experienced of Captains. The gifted Sam Claflin as Stanhope is the Captain in question whose vicious drunken words and tough exterior cover a more sympathetic and broken man conflicted with torment and the horrors of fighting.


Playing out in the muddy dugout over four days of 1918, the cast is fleshed out with gifted turns from heavyweights Tom Sturridge, Toby Jones, Stephen Graham and Paul Bettany. Bettany channels the stiff-upper-lip of a traditional British soldier but also gives his character empathy and pathos as the inevitability of an over-the-top raid to capture a German soldier dawns on him and his men. Grand and distinguished, the film is an admirable adaptation although I was yearning for some more scenes outside the trenches given the cinematic medium. Understandably, the confines of the trenches play their own entrapped character (akin to Kubrick’s Paths of Glory) and the film enlightens the audience on the multifaceted aspects of war and how the horrific pressures can affect different individuals. Journey’s End is therefore a dignified, if slightly by-the-numbers, tale of struggling tactics and temperaments in the trenches. 6.5/10


Michael Sales







By midlandsmovies, Aug 26 2018 07:36AM



Revenge (2018) Dir. Coralie Fargeat


A rape-revenge action horror, Revenge is certainly not for the faint at heart. Director Coralie Fargeat has created a visceral show of bloody violence and dreamy imaginations as a young girl escapes into the wilderness to hide and stalk her tormentors.


Married man Richard (Kevin Janssens) flies out his secret lover Jen (Matilda Lutz) to a remote house in the desert for a saucy weekend together but are interrupted by the arrival of his hunting pals Stain (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède). After a night of partying, Stan rapes Jen in a vile act whilst Dimitri stands by. When Richard returns, the situation spirals out of hand and with a promise of paying her off and returning her home, he pushes her from a cliff where she is impaled on a tree.


Leaving her for dead, the film uses incredibly strong imagery throughout. As Jen pulls herself off the tree, her battered, bruised and bloodied body twists and contorts. Audiences will be fixated in the hope she survives but at the same time will struggle to watch as they turn away from the stark and graphic images on screen. And the film never lets up.


Jen’s thoughts turn to survival and with little dialogue Lutz does well with her role bringing depth to what is truly a b-movie concept. She is also both stalked and the stalker. Jen needs to simultaneously avoid the men yet needs the cars and guns they possess to escape from the harsh desert, which acts as its own villain in her survival plans. When her wounds begin to take hold a hallucinatory drug allows her to cauterize the wound but plays havoc with her version of reality.


After acquiring a gun and when Stan’s SUV runs out of petrol, Jen becomes sniper and in an exchange of shooting, the film’s most stomach-turning scene is “merely” a shard of glass through a bare foot. Removing it slowly, the sequence is simply shot and all the more revolting because of it. See similar French drama/realism in the fantastic Martyrs and Raw, both comparative nasty gallic pieces.


The film does play out much as you expect so doesn’t push many boundaries with its action-drama-violence. And although it’s been claimed it’s some sort of feminist revision, it’s no Love Witch for sure. I’d argue that whilst there are sprinkling of those themes throughout, they are a smokescreen for the usual revenge flick clichés and tropes.


But that’s no bad thing. The nasty violence should bring in the splatter fans, whilst the more discerning can enjoy a depth of character and ideas rarely seen in this brand of furious filmmaking. With intense scenes, Revenge is a non-mainstream cinematic coup that explores slightly deeper themes than your average personal payback piece to provide exploitation pleasures and explosive sequences.


8/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Aug 19 2018 03:05PM

Review - Movie Catch Up Blog 2018 - Part 2


Another selection of films from 2018 that we've caught up with later in the year!




Blockers (2018) Dir. Kay Cannon

A 90s style sex comedy which harks back to its closest cousin American Pie (1999) Blockers tells the story of three girls who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. With their protective parents discovering their saucy plans, they endeavour to prevent their offspring’s goals in a series of (“cock”) blocking moves. A directorial debut of some comedic flair, Blockers takes what could be a seedy premise and gives it a dash of heart which American comedies so much need to avoid the full-on gross-out humour and improv-style that has plagued the genre in the 2010s.


Starring Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena – the ex-wrestler is surprisingly becoming one of my favourite American comedians and a far better actor than The Rock in my opinion – they are the trio of parents who try to stop their children Julie (Kathryn Newton), Sam (Gideon Adlon) and Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) from doing the dirty.


As well as the solid gags and situations, a splattering of deeper themes are sprinkled throughout including overprotective parents, blossoming sexuality and parental neglect during difficult teenage years. And whilst a couple of scenes seemed unnecessary – a rectum beer bong (!) is probably the worst offender – all 6 lead actors do well with the material as they give their characters heart and empathy. Blockers’ best aspect are the honest performances and tender moments however. Hardly breaking new ground, the film is a fun romp (pardon the pun) that takes its ideas seriously but with a winning formula of hilarity and honesty. 7/10



The Endless (2018) Dir. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

With a draw dropping trailer, The Endless promised a dark drama with fantastic visuals as a strange, possibly apocalyptic, entity descends on a cult in the wilderness. Directors Benson and Moorhead also star as two brothers who return to a mysterious group of zealots they escaped from in their past. Struggling to move forward in their lives, the brothers have differing views of the cult and whilst their friends seem the same as many years ago, eerie events lead them to suspect there are still many unanswered questions.


The film sadly doesn’t live up to the trailer promise and opens poorly with an attempt to instil mystery falling flat with bland talking head interviews and a convoluted explanation of the events so far. Once the brothers arrive at the compound the film steps up a gear but spectacularly fails to provide any drama to keep the narrative pushing forward. With trees falling, a baseball apparently “floating” and a stranger repeatedly running there’s plenty of mysteries set up to explore but the Endless struggles to engage with rather dull characters and a narrative that, somewhat ironically, never gets going. As it proceeds I found my interest waning and with so little conflict or explanation, the worst state of all kicked in and I started not to care.


[Spoiler] The film’s one interesting concept is a reveal that this movie actually cross-overs with the directors’ previous film Resolution. If you are to watch the Endless then I highly recommend you catch that first. Aside from the surprise sequel concept (it’s no Split I assure you) there are some obvious circular comparisons in the visuals (a cup here, a ring fireplace there) which showed the inexperience of the directors with such weak parallels.


Whilst there were attempts to explore the truths behind the inexplicable events, I had sadly already lost interest by the final act. Comparisons to the TV show Lost were inevitable when rabbit hole story threads go down other rabbit holes, which, after a while, simply made no sense. In the end though, a great set of ideas and some admirable rich themes are completely undercut by a stale and moribund narrative and bland characters. A real missed opportunity that endlessly disappoints. 6/10



Ghost Stories (2018) Dir. Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson

A horror anthology with echoes of Jacob’s Ladder, Ghost Story also has a splattering of dark comedy by co-writer and co-director Jeremy Dyson from the legendary League of Gentlemen. Fellow writer-director Andy Nyman also stars as the film’s lead as a presenter who debunks psychics, but is then sent to investigate three mysterious tales by the famous 1970s supernatural sceptic who inspired him. First up is a ghostly fable involving a night watchman haunted by his daughter’s spirit, then a teenager spooked by a malevolent being in the woods and we end with a poltergeist encounter with a new-born.


The tales work well as short shockers but the film couldn’t quite work the balance of humour and horror. The appearance of comedic talents Martin Freeman and the Fast Show’s Paul Whitehouse meant the tales weren’t as terrifying as they needed to be. With a conclusion that felt more cop-out than revelatory, the whole production is well meaning but a bit meandering. Ghost Stories may supply a few charms for fans of retro UK Hammer horror but for me it would have suited TV far more than the cinema. A story of missed opportunities. 6/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Aug 12 2018 07:00AM



Thoroughbreds (2018) Dir. Cory Finley


With a funky hipster trailer Thoroughbreds was sold as a modern knowing twist on something along the lines of Scream, when in fact it is a far darker exploration of revenge and bitterness away from slasher genre conventions.


We are first introduced to Olivia Cooke as Amanda (The Quiet Ones, Ouija) who joins fellow horror stalwart Lily, who is played terrifically by Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) as friends who begin a dark alliance together.


Amanda states she feels little emotion and has been in trouble for animal cruelty after putting her injured horse out of misery with a knife. After being forced to meet Lily owing to a concerned parent, the pair soon rekindle their friendship and come across Lily’s cruel step-father Mark. Their smart teenager cynicism soon grows into far more creepy territory as they discuss the possibility of killing him.


Taylor-Joy as the prim puritan who slowly reveals her morbid aims is excellent and her steely persona contrasts with Cooke’s troubled and emotionally stunted Amanda who is a mix of disturbing unhappiness and dark sarcasm.


The late (and great) Anton Yelchin appears as a drifter druggie who duo try to lure into committing the crime as the girls twist and scheme to arrange their macabre proposal. His scatty and thoughtless criminal is a more humorous role and gives the film some space outside the claustrophobic confines of Lily’s oppressive house.


Thoroughbreds therefore sits with both Heavenly Creatures (1994) and Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker (2013) as brilliant left-field and artistic studies of evil teenage tearaways. And its intentionally slow and deliberate camera moves and suburban setting are akin to those found in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and allows audiences to both be drawn into the image whilst slowly building unbearable dread. This is especially true during the third act as their psychotic plans begin to play out.


New York composer Erik Friedlander delivers a beautifully eerie score which compliments the well-designed visuals and director Finley shows a masterful control and maturity in his debut feature.


With Taylor-Joy having success with a string of hit horror roles, she is also developing far beyond her “scream queen” tag and Thoroughbreds is another fantastic addition to her career. With Cooke’s sociopathic Amanda matching her every step along the way and Yelchin showing why he is a talent so sorely missed, the film delivers a wonderful atmospheric mix of themes.


Thoroughbreds is an accomplished exploration of both egotistical and conflicted morals with an exceptional cast working at the top of their game.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Aug 12 2018 07:00AM



A Quiet Place (2018) Dir. John Krasinski


Set in the year 2020 where the population has been decimated by an unknown but deadly foe, a family attempts to stay alive in A Quiet Place – the directorial debut of The Office’s John Krasinski.


The film introduces us to the Abbott family which comprises of Lee (Krasinki), his pregnant wife Evelyn (Krasinki’s real-life partner Emily Blunt) and their deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and son Marcus (Noah Jupe). We are shown how youngest son Beau is killed by creatures which hunt by sound after he plays with a noisy toy given to him by his sister and, as we jump forward many years, the guilt still plays on her mind.


Very quickly establishing the rules of the world, the creatures are hyper-sensitive to noise yet the family are safe if a louder sounds masks their clamouring. All the while Lee attempts to contact potential survivors by radio but even the smallest clatter sends the family into a panic as they survive as pilgrims using what they can scavenge from abandoned shops and the surrounding forest.


Given sound plays such a prominent part in the film – or a lack of – the film is almost entirely without spoken dialogue and uses subtitles and a mix of sign-language to convey the expressive communication between the family members. Krasinski therefore demonstrates fantastic cinematic flair to create images, sequences and development all without verbal cues.


Action scenes are built to a crescendo of tension as the absence of sound focuses the audience on the tiniest of details. And in one particular scene, just an upturned nail on a stair. When a foot inevitably comes to stand on said rusty protrusion the slow accumulation of dread is what makes A Quiet Place so engaging. But the film doesn’t let up with all this pressure. The arrival of a nearby creature sees Blunt’s wife suddenly go into labour and we’re thrown into another life or death sequence.


Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf in real life, is excellent as the troubled but resourceful youngster and is involved in another nerve-wracking scene atop a grain silo where noise, suffocation and nail-biting terror continue the remarkable twitchy sequences. Her scenes also have their sound removed which puts a greater focus on the visual elements whilst the alien creatures’ clicking mixes a bat’s echolocation with insectoid creepy crawly effectiveness.


With echoes of 2016’s horror-stalker film HUSH, A Quiet Place also uses sound brilliantly as we are sometimes thrust into the situation alongside our characters – whilst also being aware of sounds they are not. Krasinski brings his strong everyman persona to a father who risks everything to protect his children yet his technical expertise in managing diegetic sound with a cinematic score is masterfully balanced as to keep viewers right on the edge of their seat.


The unique creature design uses hard plates with muscular appendages and (mostly) avoids the bland Cloverfield-style computer game horde style of a Chitauri warrior. Which give them real menace even when finally revealed up close. But it’s the tremendous performances from the entire clan who give believability and emotion to what could be standard b-movie scares than really engages.


People have compared this to previous annual horror highlights The Witch and The Babadook but A Quiet Place’s style is far more accessible than those. It harks back to the visual language of early cinema so well it has an almost universal appeal.


Mostly avoiding jump scares, the real silent success is Krasinski himself who has taken an original idea and created a script and debut film with hugely entertaining results. Throwing in scenes of real anxiety, unease and boldness, Krasinski’s virtuoso film uses each of these elements to create a satisfying blend that delights but has more than its share of frights.


9/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 5 2018 07:00AM



Isle of Dogs (2018) Dir. Wes Anderson


Pretentious. Hipster. Smug. You name it, I’ve said it about Wes Anderson films. His pop-up book aesthetic and cardboard characters have never done it for me sadly. Where there have been successes – my favourites being 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums and 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – the bold colourful stylistic choices from the director found fans from across the spectrum, but for me the hollow “model railway” compositions have often been a side-show nuisance. And with a similar look to all his output I’ve consistently struggled to discover much development beyond his first few movies.


But – and it is a real big but – his latest film Isle of Dogs is nothing short of a triumph. And I’m as surprised as anyone. This stop-motion animation has all the director’s usual norms, yet here they are in the service of a shaggy dog tale that works on many levels.


Loosely inspired by seeing a road sign for the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets (England), Anderson has set his film in a near-future Japan, where a canine-flu outbreak sees dogs banished to Trash Island by Mayor Kenji Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). 6 months later, the Mayor’s young nephew Atari then crash lands on the island as he searches for his exiled dog called Spots.


Saving Atari from a less-than-pleasant rescue team is a pack of hounds comprising Bryan Cranston as Chief, Edward Norton as Rex, Bob Balaban as King, Bill Murray as Boss and Jeff Goldblum as Duke. The group agree to help Atari in his search as a journey begins across the bizarre island.


Anderson’s “flat” shooting style works perfectly here and is reminiscent of Asian shadow puppetry seen using Kageboushi (silhouette). This ancient form of storytelling and entertainment uses back-lit cut out figures and although Anderson’s brilliantly animated scruffy dogs have more shape to them, his 2-D worlds sit nicely within this cultural look.


As a prelude to cinematography with use of slides, music and voice, Anderson’s film uses this influence to make his film simplistic but also cinematic. The voice work of established Anderson veterans is superb – with a world weariness coming across in each of their husky tones. Their gruff smarminess is complimented with real emotion and pathos whilst Anderson doesn’t scrimp on the silly comedy at times too.


A stylistic choice to avoid English subtitles on the Japanese speakers further emphasises the shared cultural understanding and far from appropriation, I saw the film’s focus on Asian ancestry as a love-letter to its many respected charms, beliefs and customs. The animation and design are also top-notch. Each dog has its own persona whilst their tribulations through garbage factories and fights with other packs are excellently conveyed in sequences filled with Anderson’s dry wit.


Another fine detail is the multi-faceted nature of the movie. One could read it as a cultural discussion, an auteur animation, a fight against power, a look at family units or just simply a tall children’s tale and all would be valid. Like the best of Pixar – Isle of Dogs takes universal ideas and delivers them back to a young and a mature audience to interpret without flagrantly pandering to either.


For someone who was incredibly indifferent about this director’s previous work, it has been more than a pleasant experience to find a film that satisfies me like most of them satisfy his fans. Cameos from Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton and even Yoko Ono round out the eclectic cast and provide some unique depth to the more basic story. So, the Isle of Dogs comes highly recommended from me and I found this surprising litter of canine characters and prevailing pedigree pups an absolute joy throughout their adventures on Trash Island.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Aug 5 2018 07:00AM



Ready Player One (2018) Dir. Steven Spielberg


Co-written by Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand) and the novel’s author Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is a new film struggling hard to condense the pop-culture complexity of the book into a 2-hour action blockbuster from Steven Spielberg.


In 2045, the world’s decimated population is immersed in the OASIS – a virtual reality world where ‘anything goes’ – and whose creator James "Anorak" Halliday (Spielberg stalwart Mark Rylance) runs a contest to challenge players to uncover three hidden keys in the game to win full ownership of the pixelated world. A corporation run by Nolan Sorrento (the perennially evil Ben Mendelsohn) is out to use an army of players to find these treasures whilst teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and his online friends try to get there first.


The beginning is everything I feared from the trailer. Figuratively and literally, the film’s opening is like watching a friend play a computer game – full of CGI, uncanny valley avatars and obvious pop culture references. The cool quirkiness of a Zombieland-esque voiceover filling in the backstory helps flesh the story out but the images are akin to the visual hell of Speed Racer (which is also referenced in the film itself). Its backwards in its introduction with a very quick ‘real-world’ segment before the likeable Sheridan has his amiable acting ditched for an elf-like cartoon avatar.


Ben Mendehlson is having some fun as he overacts his way through a very 80s inspired villain and whilst there are echoes of both Tron films, the quirky Mark Rylance as the OASIS’s creator channels South Park’s Matt Stone, Garth from Wayne’s World and (obviously) Steve Jobs in an eclectic performance.


The film sees Sheridan’s virtual character Parzival team up with Lena Waithe’s virtual mechanic Aech, Philip Zhao’s Sho, Win Morisaki’s Daito and Olivia Cooke’s feisty Art3mis as the "High Five", an informal group jumping from the game challenges to a virtual archive. The archive contains video clips reconstructing Halliday's life which provides clues to the game’s construction, history and to the concealed prizes too.


These historical sections are great and the scenes give a more human aspect to a film filled with so much spinning camera which, as a non-video game player, demonstrated how unattuned to this aesthetic I am. The film is so kinetic I struggled to focus on the action as the camera zipped from one millisecond shot to the next.


It’s not all bad however. I did find myself warming up to the (many) Back to the Future nods – from snippets of score, a ‘Zemeckis cube’ and the DeLorean itself. A section where the gang ‘visit’ The Shining is very good. Like Back to the Future 2, the characters actually go back into the movie in a phenomenal sequence that recreates the iconic hotel and visuals from Kubrick’s film flawlessly.


Whilst the tone varies between Wreck It Ralph and his own Minority Report, Spielberg becomes guilty of the teal/orange ending at the film’s finale making it look like every other blockbuster. The Michael Bay-ness of a huge CGI battle which although looks the business, uses stupidly quick editing and a constantly spinning camera that will give all but die-hard video game fans a migraine.


So I really just wished Ready Player One slowed down so I could savour the characters, story and action. It would really benefit from it as a movie but, again, feels like a real-life game delivering a style to satisfy gamers’ short attention spans.


But that leaves us the question as to who is the film for in the end? Whilst the style reflects modern gaming (MMRPGs and Metal Gear Solid aesthetics) the film references are pure 80s so what’s the audience here? At 38, I recognised most allusions to the trivia of the past but some will be aimed at kids who wouldn’t have a clue about Mad Balls, Chucky and Mecha Godzilla.


Fans of the book may find joy in seeing all their childhood pop-culture dreams come to life but the film feels a mish-mash of wildly varying tones and styles. The actors do the best they can with the material but by spending so long in the OASIS, the computer-generated ‘sprites’ left me cold without the human attachment so badly needed. A fun ride at times for sure, Ready Player One is an entertaining and sometimes dazzling blockbuster for the family. But bring your headache pills for the unfortunate messy action and endless trivia nods which are both at the expense of real character arcs.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



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