Tag Archives: steven speilberg

‘Ready Player One’ Looks Great but Lacks Story

Steven Spielberg has to be the busiest AARP member this side of Clint Eastwood…

“Ready Player One” is the adaption of the popular 2011 book by Ernest Cline (who co-wrote the screenplay here with Zak Penn). Set in the year 2045 where humanity has become obsessed with a virtual reality game called the OASIS, a young man (Tye Sheridan) tries to stop a large corporation (run by Ben Mendelsohn) from finding the keys to taking it over. Olivia Cooke, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance also star as Spielberg directs.

The book this is based on became a bit of a cultural phenomenon because of just how many pop culture references it jammed into its 385 pages. From the Iron Giant to the DeLorean, Batman to “The Shining,” the film adaptation tries its best to include as many nods to pop culture and nerd fandom nods as possible as well. For fans of the novel and video games, “Ready Player One” may serve its purpose but for casual filmgoers there may not be enough in this film to satisfy.

The fact that 71-year-old Steven Spielberg would take on a $175 million blockbuster like this is impressive and almost feel-good, since he inspired so many of the projects that would in-turn be referenced (there are a few “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” nods throughout). The film moves at a brisk pace, its 140 minute runtime is never felt in-full, but it never feels fully justified. I haven’t read the book but my friend who has said that this actually was majorly condensed version of it, which surprised me since the plot and character development is lacking.

If you’re going from a straight kid’s action movie perspective then I’m sure the “good guys need to stop evil cooperation from taking over the world” line will get the job done, however for a movie that sets itself up to have such a big scale and great stakes it just is a little disappointing.

The real-world events outside the OASIS are just never compelling and one could argue that that is the point, that reality has become such a drag that escaping into VR is the only out. However that clearly was not Spielberg’s actual attempt and instead he just wanted to coast by those sections in order to get back to the game.

In the OASIS there are some truly manic moments of sheer fun, including one chaotic race through the streets of New York City that includes King Kong, fireworks and wrecking balls. It’s moments like these where “Ready Player One” is at its best, but unfortunately there are only three or four sections like it.

The acting here ranges from great to serviceable, with the standout by far being Mark Rylance. The creator of the OASIS who has recently passed away, Rylance plays his role with such heart-breaking simplicity as a man who loves video games but could never figure out how to love a person. He has several great flashback scenes and adds a layer of emotion and humanity to a film that sometimes is lacking.

As the main character Tye Sheridan is fine enough but is never interesting or captivating, and T.J. Miller and Ben Mendelsohn are both just playing the same kind of characters they always do to varying degrees of effectiveness.

“Ready Player One” was built to be in-the-moment entertainment and in that regard it is a moderate success. But it is a bit underwhelming and never as much fun as it should be, and while it pacing is often brisk enough you still can’t help but feel this could’ve been condensed into a two hour film. For a movie that cost $175 million and includes most every film and video game character known to man this should have been a culmination of pop culture and itself been referenced for years to come; the fact that it isn’t will disappoint some more than others.

Critic’s Grade: C+

‘Bridge of Spies’ Well-Crafted But Slow Cold War Thriller

Bridge_of_Spies_posterTom Hanks starring in a Steven Spielberg period piece. Yup, Oscar Season is upon us.

Based on a true story, “Bridge of Spies” stars Hanks as a New York lawyer who must organize a swap of a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) and a captured American pilot (Austin Stowell) during the Cold War. Spielberg directs.

The bar is always going to be set high for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks when the two are doing their own thing, so when they team up (this is the fourth time in their careers), expectations are through the roof. So is “Bridge of Spies” the full-blown, hands-down best film of the year? No, unfortunately not, however it is still a very well-crafted espionage thriller that offers solid work from two of the most famous men in Hollywood history.

The best way I can describe “Bridge of Spies” is I admire and appreciate it more than I enjoyed it (much like “Sicario”). That’s not to say the film is not watchable, far from it; you’re more likely to find an honest politician than an unwatchable Tom Hanks film. But the pacing and the dialogue-driven narrative definitely weigh down admirable work from Hanks and Spielberg, as well as Rylance.

The acting in the film is everything you would expect from a Steven Spielberg movie, and saying Tom Hanks gives a great performance would be a waste of time because at this point we expect (and often receive) nothing less. Hanks’ James Donovan is a likable guy who is in way over his head in political maneuverings he doesn’t fully understand.

The real star of the show, however, is Mark Rylance’s captured Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel. Rylance steals every scene he is in, yet somehow does it with a calm, cool demeanor. He is funny without being distracting, earns our sympathy without pandering. It’s one of my favorite performances of the year and if this film gets no other talk in the next few months, I hope Rylance gets recognized for his work here.

“Bridge of Spies” is a Steven Spielberg film is ever there was one. He continues to play by Hollywood’s rules, not trying anything special with the camera or daring with the narrative. There are those trademark Spielberg “one shot” scenes that don’t feel like they’re one single take because of his masterful placement and movement of the camera, which those are always a treat.

The biggest gripe I have is that the film really isn’t paced well, and all too often scenes just drag on. There are select parts here and there that are truly engaging, such as the scene where Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane is shot down, as well as the final spy swap, but those masterfully crafted sequences are sandwiched between scenes of two men exchanging law and politic talk and to the average American in 2015 that is hardly what we go to the movies for.

Rating a film like this really gets at me. Do I grade it based off entertainment factor and replay value, or how well it is crafted? Because the film is well directed and expertly acted, and the 1950’s set designs are spot-on. That being said, will I ever watch “Bridge of Spies” again? Probably not, it didn’t stick with me that much (outside Rylance, because once again, wow).

So if you love Hanks and/or Spielberg and want to see them at their Hanks and Spielberg-iest, enjoy period pieces, AND you are able to put up with a lot of talking, then “Bridge of Spies” is for you. I am giving it an overall recommendation, but before I leave you…did I mention Mark Rylance is amazing here?

Critics Rating: 6/10