Ready Player One


Viewed – 11 April 2018  Cinema

I went into this not knowing much.  However, for as long as I can recall I’ve been a huge fan of much celebrated director Steven Spielberg, and usually seek out his movies when they land.  Yet this particular effort seemed like something different whilst at the same time an accuse for Spielberg to throw his hat back into a field he’d pretty much pioneered.  Did he still have it to deliver blockbuster spectacle once again?

ready-player-one

Set in 2046, a society lives in the slums governed by rich corporations who run everything whilst the general public turn to a virtual world for escape.  One such player, Wade Watts (Ty Sheridan)  finds escape from his real world problems by entering the ‘oasis’ a vast online game where the only limitations are one’s imagination, where all your favourite pop-culture, video-game and movie obsessions run wild.  Following the death of the world’s creator, the reclusive, eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance) it transpires he has left an ‘easter egg’ and if a player can find it, he will own it all, worth trillions.  Of course a shady government organization lust for such power also, and so a race to unlock the game world’s secrets is on.

Art3misThis was an interesting cinema experience.  The theatre I was in was fairly bare considering the movie had not long been released, and it got me thinking well, this isn’t a sequel, a remake or a comic book movie.  That’s a shame that cinema going has become that marginalized, but I guess it’s inevitable and probably why Valerian bombed at the box office.  I predict a similar fate for this, which would be disappointing because this was refreshing, imaginative and most importantly – a barrel load of fun.  At it’s core it’s kind of a cross between Wreck It Ralph and The Matrix, with a sprinkling of Tron for good measure.  The writer of the book it’s based on clearly had many influences, and the wealth of references, cameos and nods to movies, games and music is exhausting.  Initially I had trouble getting into the movie – it’s a bit of an avalanche of information and visual excess … but once I adjusted I was along for the ride.  The rag-tag team of ‘resistance’ who team up to beat the game are a likable bunch especially Bates Motels’ Olivia CookeBen Mendelsohn also makes for a suitable boo-hiss villain and I got a kick out of each character’s video-game alter egos (think avatars from games like World of Warcraft or Destiny).  This is a movie that plays to the geek in us, it seemed to work for me as a gamer and a movie geek but I can see it possibly dividing audiences as a result – and well, all that recognisable imagery doesn’t exactly serve the story.  However with amazing sequences like a section in the Overlook Hotel from The Shining and lots of spectacle and fun characters, I had a great time with this.

Tired of superhero movies?  See this.  Want something different?  See this.  Love geek culture?  See this.  Simple as that.

Verdict:  4 /5

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Once Were Warriors


Viewed – 03 April 2018  Blu-ray

I remember really liking this gritty drama back when I watched it in the mid nineties.  It made a bit of a name of actor Temeura Morrison, who went on to play Jango Fet in the Star Wars prequels amongst other movies.  This tells the story of a New Zealand Maori family headed by Jake, a charismatic tough guy prone to violent outbursts and a liking for alcohol.  However it’s his wife who keeps the family together whilst he gets drunk with his friends at the local bar, and it’s her we follow as this brittle family try to stick together during increasing hardships.

Once-Were-Warriors

An authentic look at suburban Maori life and the society they inhabit, with local gangs and homelessness and the constant threat of violence.  It’s gripping and has a resemblance to movies like Boyz N The Hood and Menace to Society whilst at the same time having it’s own aesthetic and sense of time and place.  The good times are portrayed with more than a little cheese however with characters breaking into singing to portray happiness, but it’s the hard times the movie excels at and doesn’t shy away from the horrors of domestic abuse.  This is unflinching stuff, elevated by some decent performances especially from Rena Owen and an electrifying, career defining turn from Morrison.  However support actors come off as rather amateurish and you get the impression, perhaps for realism the director may have cast one or two non-actors.

This remains a tough watch even today and makes for a engrossing and thought-provoking experience.  Another gem from the 90s that you may not be that familiar with but is well worth you time.

The Blu-ray, to my knowledge the first time the movie has been given the HD treatment, is pleasing but underwhelming.  I found the image, whilst clean seemed overly soft, and the rather drab colour palette used doesn’t help.  However it’s still the best the movie has probably ever looked.  The soundtrack is in both uncompressed 2.0 stereo or DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and delivers clear dialogue and impactful music when used.  Extras consist of a detailed ‘where are they now’ documentary, an interview with director Lee Tamahori and a trailer.  Not too shabby.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Night of the Living Dead


Viewed – 31 March 2018  Blu-ray

Criterion Collection

Growing up in the 80s and 90s I had a taste for zombie movies, and cut my teeth on movies like Return of the Living Dead parts 1 & 2 and even obscure oddities like The Video Dead.  However the much celebrated godfather of the genre, George A Romero mostly passed me by, and I hadn’t been that taken by Dawn of the Dead.  You see, I was more into the practical effects, and a sillier vibe to proceedings rather than the much talked about social commentary and seriousness of Romero’s approach.  So of course I never even got around to the 1968 genre-defining original that started it all.

Night of the Living Dead zombies

Although not the first zombie movie, for it’s time it seemed daring and streets ahead of what had been seen before (with the unusual casting of a black lead actor).  It presented a new type of horror that wasn’t set in a haunted house or the Carpathian mountains … but in a world we exist in, with familiar locales and normal people beset by extraordinary events.  When a young woman witnesses her brother get attacked in a grave yard by some strange man, she runs for safety, and eventually holds up in a seemingly abandoned house, where she’s soon joined by a man who quickly takes charge of the situation.  There the two barricade themselves in and gradually witness the undead march on the house.  Will they survive the night?

Night of the Living DeadDirector George A Romero presents a striking and effective, if rather rough around the edges experience, helped immeasurably by unconventional camera work and a claustrophobic setting.  His editing and direction cranks up the intensity, with a group of characters all offering up different viewpoints.  Performances aren’t that great however, and I found myself irritated by how pathetic female characters were, especially the character of ‘Barbara’ despite a strong introduction.  Yet working with a very low budget, applying at times experimental guerrilla film making techniques this still somehow achieves genuine shocks and an unpredictable narrative filled with creepy imagery.    With this taken into account and despite it’s age and at times amateurish performances … I had a better time than expected, which proves just how much it set in place, and still stands as the blue-print for what was to follow.

NOTLD CriterionThe Criterion Blu-ray is jam-packed with extras, but firstly I’ll say the classy black & white 4k-restored image presented in 1.37.1 ratio (yep we get black bars either side of the screen) is vivid and detailed.  It’s grainy but not overly so and generally creates an effective almost film-noir look that I appreciated.  The soundtrack whilst only in it’s original mono is sharp, has clear dialogue and the various moments of orchestral score (taken from believe it or not, stock library audio) is used well and at times creates a welcome Hammer-horror / 50s b-movie aesthetic.  We also get two commentaries, both from key members of the cast and crew, recorded in the 90s, and there’s several new featurettes / interviews covering the impact the movie has had on popular culture (with interviews with Frank Darabont, Guillermo Del Toro and Robert Rodriguez) along with archival footage.  For fans of the movie, this feels like the definitive release, and anyone who has never seen it before, especially if you are a fan of the genre horror – this is the version to own.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

Justice League


Viewed – 27 March 2018  Blu-ray

After the critically panned yet commercial smash that was Batman V Superman (a movie I stand by as not being as bad as they say), we get this excuse to bring together several notable (and less notable) figures from DC comic’s illustrious history; namely Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash, Aqua Man and Cyborg, when a centuries old, banished demon returns to claim three powerful cubes that if united will give him the power to conquer worlds.  Yeah, the villain, Steppenwolf is basically Apocalypse from X-Men er…Apocalypse, but minus Oscar Isaac’s charisma, although by no means is he an unappealing adversary.  Then we get the problem that Superman is dead, but there may be hope of resurrecting him if Batman’s plan works out.

Justice League

Some people like to focus on a person’s imperfections.  The same can be said when it comes to movie criticism, and I’ll admit I have been guilty of that in the past.  However I am also a strong believer that some imperfections can be forgiven if they don’t ruin the overall experience.  One such example is the rather luke-warm reception given to this latest entry in DC’s attempt to rival Marvel’s cinematic universe, which for the most part the company has fallen in the shadow of constantly.  Yet having sat through it’s refreshingly lean-2hrs I came away wondering what people had issues with.  The story whilst not anything ground-breaking is perfectly suitable and engaging to bring together these characters, and a witty script handles many egos together on screen particularly well, giving each individual a moment to shine.  I especially enjoyed the slightly out-of-his-depth Flash and I found the otherwise unfamiliar Cyborg intriguing with his semi-Frankenstein’s monster backstory.  Affleck again proves himself a worthy Batman / Bruce Wayne and thankfully Henry Cavill’s Superman gets some great moments also, with his resurrection handled rather well.  Add to this a wonderfully likable (and damn sexy) turn from Gadot’s Wonder Woman and I found myself mostly buzzing from this.

The troubled development with director Zack Snyder having to pass the reigns to Joss Whedon is barely noticeable unless scrutinizing the tone of every scene.  Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is a little side-lined but that’s to be expected with so many characters to focus on, and there’s some questionable CGI / green screen moments.  Oh and that bit with Superman sporting CGI moustache-removal (in one brief scene) is a tad jarring. Also I’d have liked a bit more focus on the villain and just how he seems to psychically know the whereabouts of each ‘hidden’ cube. Thankfully such shortcomings are made up for by plenty of great action, superheroes kicking butt and bags of personality.

So ignore the nay-sayers, ‘cause this one’s definitely worth a watch.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Midnight Special


Viewed – 20 March 2018  Netflix

I certainly love me some science fiction, especially if it’s offering something different or unusual than I’ve seen before, not just alien invasions or space exploration.  Here we’re presented with what appears to me a rather X-Files-like scenario of a young boy who has been taken from a religious group and reported abducted.  Police and shady government officials, along with members of the religious group are hot on his trail and that of his kidnappers, one of which turns out to be his father.

Midnight Special

A cast headed by an actor increasingly becoming a favourite, Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire) also see’s Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst along for the ride..  The mystery surrounding the child and just why everyone seems out to nab him is intriguing and what transpires certainly kept me hooked.  However with somewhat subdued performances, especially from a rather sleepy Shannon who normally delivers such intense characters, I was left a little frustrated.  Nobody seems all that affected by the increasingly bizarre or life and death situation they find themselves in … bar perhaps Edgerton who isn’t evenly emotionally connected to the situation other than being an old friend of Shannon’s.  Add to this an under-explored backstory (just how did the boy become a part of the religious group, what happened to the mother…and who was she?) this is a movie that leaves a little too much unanswered to be satisfying.

Jeff Nichols’ direction however is solid, at times eerie and atmospheric, decorated with some impressive visuals. Along occasional heart-in-mouth moments (the motel), I still had a good time with this, despite it not being the complete package.

Verdict:  3 /5