I just resubmitted my Video Nasties posts. Check ’em out here! At some point, I might even finish this project!
There’s just something about being 9,000 feet up that makes movies that much better. I could be watching the shittiest piece of shit, but I’ll still enjoy something about it just because I’m in that little box canyon. I don’t get the same thrill from South By Southwest or Fantastic Fest, although both of those festivals hold big pieces of my heart.
Telluride really is all about the films. There’s no red carpet. There’s no press junket. There’s no barrier between the celebrities and the moviegoers. There’s a higher ratio of “prestige pictures” than most other festivals I go to. Sadly, that means less genre. But it also means that there are more great films. Definitely more films that you’ll end up hearing about come award season.
Anyway, on to the movies!
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Josh Singer
Based on book by: James R Hansen
In divided times like these, it’s good to see a story about a human achievement that so many thought impossible.
Damien Chazelle, last heard from nearly winning Best Picture for La La Land, teams up again with Ryan Gosling to tell the story of the first man to step foot on the moon. Neil Armstrong was a complicated man. He kept to himself, even when around his wife Janet (Claire Foy). After the death of their daughter, life didn’t seem to have much meaning for Neil, so he put his entire life into becoming an astronaut, really even before the term had been created.
Gosling plays him with is normal stoicism and, once again, it works. I love The Goz, but I think I’ve finally realized that he’s always basically playing the same character. Luckily, that character typically works for the movies that he’s in. And Neil Armstrong is the perfect vehicle for him. Claire Foy was his absolute equal as a woman who was just done with her husband risking his life because he couldn’t feel anything else anymore.
This was, quite possibly, my favorite film of the festival. It’s understated for a film about such an important moment, but there’s plenty of tension even if you know the story perfectly well. And the cast is full of familiar faces: Ciarán Hinds, Kyle Chandler, Ethan Embry, Lukas Haas, Jason Clarke (who I’m always confusing with Patrick Wilson), Patrick Fugit…so many people that I didn’t even realize were in the movie until just now looking at the cast list.
Go see this movie. No matter what Marco Rubio says (he’s absolutely wrong, by the way), this is a movie that will make you proud to be human.
BE NATURAL: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ALICE GUY-BLACHE
Directed by: Pamela B Green
Written by: Pamela B Green/Joan Simon
Did you ever hear the story of Alice Guy-Blaché?
Yeah. I thought not.
Turns out, she was pretty much the first narrative filmmaker. She worked with the Lumière Brothers (and attended their first secret screening) and said, “Why don’t we tell stories instead of just plunking the camera down and waiting for something good to happen?”
She went on to make over 1,000 films, some of which were highly influential. But no one has ever heard of her. Not even Peter Bogdanovich knew who the hell she was. We’ve all heard of the Lumières and Méliès, but Guy-Blaché is a complete mystery.
Pamela B Green is out to change that. Over the last few years, she has done a ton of detective work to find Alice’s history and bring her into the books just like her male counterparts. And she’s doing it with an enigmatic film that traces film history from its beginnings to today. (I had never thought of how the YouTube generation is making films really close to the early filmmakers. Typically, they’re doing this unwittingly, but a few get it…I think…maybe.)
I loved this movie. From the opening animation (moving backward in film history from LA to NYC to Paris) to the narration by Jodie Foster to the interviews with current filmmakers who are learning about Alice for the first time, this is a fun, eye-opening film about the who women have been erased from so much history.
(To be fair, Green doesn’t say that Alice was written out of history JUST because she was a woman. That was a big part of it, though. Most film historians for many years were men and Alice’s films were basically lost. They also were friends with the men who they often gave credit to for her films. So it was a mix of sexism and nepotism that lost Alice her place in history..until now.)
Time to rewrite those history books. Alice Guy-Blaché is coming for you.
THE GREAT BUSTER
Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich
Written by: Peter Bogdanovich
Buster Keaton is one of the greats of silent film. He sometimes gets lost in the shuffle because of Chaplin (who was amazing), but he absolutely deserves to be pulled back into the spotlight. In fact, it might be a perfect time to reassess Buster. Chaplin’s sincerity and sentimentality are great, but they don’t reflect our times anymore. We need The Great Stone-Face that shows so much emotion without showing a bit.
Peter Bogdanovich is the consummate film historian. He’s been at it for a long time and was friends with a lot of the old classic film stars and directors. He never got to meet Buster, but his love for the man and his gifts shows through in every frame of this documentary.
I learned a lot from the film, but I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly in-depth investigation. Anyone who knows much about the man and his films won’t get much out of it, but they will have fun putting some of his films in the context of his life and the state of film at the time.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the Q&A session after. Boggy and Leonard Maltin seemed to just be two old men trying to one-up each other on how much they love Buster.
But you won’t have to sit through that. Just sit back and enjoy the story of Buster Keaton and how he changed comedy forever right at the beginning of film history.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles/Oja Kodar
Speaking of Boggy and his old friends, this is the final film of his most famous old friend, Orson Welles. Over 40 years ago, Welles got a bunch of his friends together and put them all in a film about an aging film director named Jake Hannaford (John Huston) and his sycophants having a birthday party on the last day of his life. Peter plays his lead sycophant, Brooks Otterlake. Susan Strasberg is a Pauling Kael-esque critic talking about how Hannaford and his ilk are terrible to women. Robert Random and Oja Kodar (Welles’ squeeze at the time) are seemingly the only two people in Hannaford’s last film, which makes no sense to the studio people watching the footage. It just looks like a bunch of artsy nudity with no point. Of course, his hangers-on all think it’s his masterpiece.
F For Fake, which was Welles’ last finished film, is great. The editing is crazy and the style is modern. It’s a weird mishmash of documentary and narrative about frauds and magic.
The Other Side Of The Wind is edited in the same style. According to Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall, this was because there was no budget and he had to edit together what he had, shotting when he could, often years apart. Then he would take years to edit. So we’re lucky to get the backs of peoples’ heads as they’re talking. As revolutionary as this editing style is, it’s also a little unnerving. And, while F For Fake is barely an hour and a half, this film is over two hours or constant cutting back and forth between about 200 different characters in three or four different scenes. Welles cut a lot of his later films like this out of necessity. I wonder if he meant it to be seen as revolutionary or if he was pissed off that he had to do it this way.
Overall, The Other Side Of The Wind is an interesting mess. I don’t know if I can truly recommend it to people who aren’t huge fans of Orson Welles. I love the contrast between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood. There’s also the fact that Welles can obviously see how the News are holding up the Olds even when they’re obviously past their prime. Welles loved John Huston, but by the time this film was being made, he was done making great films, unless you consider Annie to be a “great film.” Maybe The Dead?
One thing that really struck me was how misogynistic the characters are. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to like Hannaford or not. Luckily, the Q&A was there to help. Apparently, even though Welles treated his wives like shit, he hated the macho grandstanding of so many classic Hollywood filmmakers. (After all, he is one of the few filmmakers who actually cited Alice Guy-Blaché as an influence in Be Natural. He and Hitchcock, believe it or not.) Hannaford was actually supposed to be the villain of this film, which makes me feel a little bit better.
I don’t know. I might need to see this film again to really figure out how I feel about it. But on first viewing, I think I kinda like it but don’t think it’s anywhere near a masterpiece.
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by: Deborah Davis/Tony McNamara
Yorgos Lanthimos is an interesting filmmaker. His films tend to be nearly impenetrable, emotionless, and hilariously detached. And, yet, everyone loves them because they’re so bizarre and funny.
Granted, I’ve only seen The Lobster, but that tends to be the going opinion of his films.
The Favourite is different…but the same. I think it’s far more mainstream than The Lobster, but it still keeps the semi-detached style of the earlier films.
Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is Quen Anne’s (Olivia Coleman) best friend and confidant. Really, Lady Sarah is the queen while Anne is a whiny, indecisive, ill-prepared figurehead.
Along comes Abigail (Emma Stone), a young woman who claims to be related to Sarah. She is put to work in the kitchens and, despite all odds, starts to work her way up to the queen and vies for Sarah’s place at her side.
The script is witty, the acting is great and this might be Lanthimos’s most accessible film yet, even though it’s still dark and, at times, so tense that it’s hard to watch.
See this one with your best friend. Then hope that they’re not conniving to take your place.
(PS – I think Rachel Weisz is the new Helena Bonham Carter. I’m perfectly ok with this.)
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by: Phil Hay/Matt Manfredi
Full disclosure, here: I was among the only people who liked this movie. Everyone else told me how awful it was. I don’t believe them. At all.
Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) could be called broken. She could also be called a Destroyer. She’s destroyed her career. She’s destroyed her family. She’s destroyed herself.
And she’s a cop.
Years ago, she and Chris (Sebastian Stan) went undercover to break up a cult-like group of bank robbers. The leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell), is a sadistic piece of shit who, if he wasn’t a villain, he wouldn’t be anything.
Now it looks like Silas is back and Erin is taking it upon herself to go after Silas even though she can barely stand on her own because of her own addictions.
Nicole Kidman is amazing, as always. She embodies addiction, depression and the end of days. Her attempt at reconciling her past is heartbreaking and harsh. This is a dirty, gross film and Nicole a force to be reckoned with.
THE GHOST OF PETER SELLERS
Directed by: Peter Medak
In 1972, Peter Medak was on his way up. He had just made The Ruling Class with Peter O’Toole and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. O’Toole was nominated for an Oscar. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe. His next film, A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg, was nominated for a few awards, too, even though it’s not as well-known today.
So, what do you do next? You torpedo your career by making a film with no script and the most self-destructive comedian of the time. Of course.
This is Medak’s documentary about making a doomed film that, unfortunately for him, was finished. Ghost In The Noonday Sun was finally released 10 years later on pay TV and it is apparently nearly unwatchable. What was the problem? Well, Sellers sold Medak on the movie. Then, a week after filming started, he wanted to be fired from it. He was bored. He hated every minute of being on set. He just wanted to go home. He threw tantrums. He faked a heart attack. He brought his best friend/worst enemy (Spike Milligan) to finish the script, but it never truly got finished.
Like Lost In La Mancha before it, The Ghost Of Peter Sellers shows what can happen when everything goes wrong on a set. It’s also Peter Medak going back to get some sort of closure on it and the death of his friend who was much more self-destructive than anyone really knew. It’s a really good film that’s kinda heartbreaking in its way.
Directed by: Ricki Stern/Anne Sundberg
This is a scary time for women. It’s a scary time for anyone with a brain. Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the US is in danger of being overturned basically at any minute. And with a new, very conservative Justice possibly on his way into the Supreme Court, it could actually happen.
Reversing Roe is a film about that struggle, but it’s also about the history of abortion in America. Director Ricki Stern was appalled when she spoke to some young women who didn’t understand what the big fuss was about. Why is Roe v Wade so important? Why should we care if abortion is legal? We don’t plan on getting one!
So she and her directing partner, Anne Sundberg, set about to teach everyone within the sound of their cinematic voice exactly why they should be worried. They go back to a time when women were dying in back allies because abortion was illegal. Then they take us through the passing of Roe v Wade when the Republicans pushed for it to be passed. (That’s right. It was basically a bipartisan effort, but the Republicans really spear-headed it.) Then we see how the evangelicals took over the Republican Party and turned them into the anti-choice party. And how they created the concept of “partial birth” abortions, something that doesn’t actually exist.
This film isn’t going to change anyone’s minds, unfortunately. Vehemently anti-choice people will never watch it. Or, if they do, they won’t believe it. But it’s very important for another reason: to make people who are on the fence see how important this decision is and why it MUST NOT be overturned. That is why it’s highly recommended to anyone with an open mind.
See this film on Netflix. It’s getting a release before the midterms.
And vote blue.
THE OLD MAN & THE GUN
Directed by: David Lowery
Written by: David Lowery
Based on article by: David Grann
This is it, y’all. Robert Redford is done. This is his last film. He says he’s retiring from acting after this.
Luckily, it’s a good one!
Forrest Tucker (Redford) is a career criminal. Ok. He’s a little more than that. He’s escaped from some sort of prison 16 times. Every time he’s started robbing banks again almost immediately. He just can’t help himself.
This last time, he’s in Texas and he meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek) just after his latest job. Will he stop robbing banks for her? Or will he keep on going with his buddies, Teddy and Waller (Danny Glover and Tom Waits)? Or will John Hunt (Casey Affleck) catch up to him and arrest him?
This is a really fun, old-school crime flick with super charming performances by everybody. It’s quiet (like most of Lowery’s films) and probably the most fun film I saw at the festival.
And it’s a great way to close out this review. It was good to be back at the Telluride Film Festival!
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Charlie Wachtel/David Rabinowitz/Kevin Willmott/Spike Lee
Based on book by: Ron Stallworth
Just…yeah. Holy shit.
(There may be some spoilers in this review. Sorry about that, but there are things I need to talk about and some of those things are about the ending.)
This is exactly the right movie at exactly the right time. Not since Do The Right Thing has Spike Lee had his finger so directly on the pulse of this nation. Bamboozled came close, but it wasn’t quite this good and had some bad press at the time, so it disappeared pretty quickly.
BlacKkKlansman is the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a Colorado Springs rookie cop who took it upon himself to take on the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 70s. He was promoted very early on to inspector. One day, he just called up the leader of the local Klan, put on his best white voice, and asked to become a member.
It wasn’t until a bit later that he realized what he had done (including the fact that he used his real name). That’s when he went to his chief (Robert John Burke) for permission to pursue with the help of the surveillieance team, Flip Zimmerman and Jimmy Creek (Adam Driver and Michael Buscemi…Steve’s brother who looks so much like him that I was just shocked that it wasn’t him).
With Flip standing in for him in face to face meetings, Ron manages to infiltrate the Klan and, in fact, rise in its ranks to be the local leader despite the misgivings of Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen), the loose cannon of the Klan Krew. You see, Felix thinks that Ron/Flip is a Jew…which, of course, he is.
Meanwhile, Felix and his wife Connie (Ashlie Atkinson) are planning something awful.
Ron is quickly raising his profile among the Klan and ends up talking to David Duke (Topher Grace) on the phone. But he’s also starting a relationship with the leader of a black student organization, Patrice (Laura Harrier from Spider-Man: Homecoming). Unfortunately, he’s doing so partly because he’s undercover trying to find out if there’s something brewing on that side, too. So, yeah. Starting a relationship with a lie.
Of course, these two sides clash and things start to boil in Colorado Springs.
Just about everything in this movie crackles with relevancy to today’s predicament. The rhetoric that the Klan uses hasn’t changed one bit. It’s just become more mainstream because of certain people rising up in the world of politices to become “leaders.”
As much fun as the film is (and it is a LOT of fun), by the end of it you’re just left in your seat, devestated by how far we haven’t come. The modern footage that is tacked on to the end of the film shows trump saying so many of the things that David Duke said in the 70s, using many of the same phrases (“America First!”) and footage of Duke himself using the words of trump.
Then the footage of Charlottesville. THAT was rough. I knew it was coming, but it still hit me right in the gut and I just had to sit in the theatre for a bit and let the anger and pain wash through me.
Another thing that really hit me was just how stupid all of the Klansmen were. Even Duke. They were all so easily duped and didn’t seem to have too many brain cells to rub together. In fact, they were so stupid that, as a small group, they were completely ineffectual. They had no plans and no organization. They just met every once in a while to shot pool and drink beer. (One of them is played by Paul Walter Hauser with the same mouth-breathing, fake bravura stupidity that he brilliantly put into his character in I, Tonya.)
But once they get a national leader on their side and see that he has his eyes on politics, THAT is when they get dangerous. They start to understand that there are more people like them everywhere. They see their way of life dying out. They gang up together. They form actual plans. And then explosions start.
Contrast this with the organizations of the African Americans in the film. They have meetings. They go to a speech by Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) and are filled with hope. They speak of violence (“I would rather you kill a racist cop than a Vietnamese soldier”), but they don’t necessarily advocate it. They see their way of life gaining power even as they feel powerless. The hope on the faces of the people at Ture’s speech is beautiful.
Every single American needs to see this film. I don’t know if it will change minds, but it will show us that this hatred has been going on for a long, long time, and that many of the players are the same. Even if they have different faces, they’re the same idiots. From the opening with Alec Baldwin as Dr Kennebrew Beauregard (a cross between Alex Jones and trump, sputtering and roaring hatred in outtakes of a racist training film) to Harry Belafonte talking about wtinessing a lynching to the closing footage of Charllottesville, this actually IS history written with lightning. (I type that with a big “eff you” to Woodrow Wilson.)
It will also show us that we need to take their power away if we are ever going to beat them again. Do not allow them to win any more elections. Do not allow them to take away our hope. Do not allow them.
The hatred must end.
Hey, everybody. I’m busy watching every Disney animated feature over here. Check it out.
Directed by: Anthony Russo/Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus/Stephen McFeely
Based on characters created by: Everyone under the Marvel Sun
I’ve been sitting with this movie for a week. I feel like I still don’t really know how I feel about it. I know that I liked it, hence the four-star rating. But I’m not really sure how much it affected me. I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think it’s done things that no other series has managed. Over 18 movies in 10 years, it’s managed to build a solid world with multiple important characters that we love. Sure, there have been weak entries, here and there (Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, any Thor movie not also called Ragnarok), but even the weak ones are watchable and even enjoyable on a certain level. (Even if it’s really only Kat Denning that makes it watchable.)
Basically, for someone who has never read comic books for any substantial length of time, I’m fully invested in the adventures of Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)…and every other character that could possibly fall under the “Avengers” title, even if they haven’t officially been named “Avengers.” If even one of them falls in battle, it’s going to crush my little geek heart…right?
When last we met with the Avengers, they were in disarray. Cap and Tony had split everyone up by being on opposite sides of a Civil War. Do the Avengers need government oversight? Or should they just be allowed to be their own thing, basically lording over the entire world? Both sides made good points…although, I was pretty firmly on the side of Cap. These guys saved the world more than once. If anyone needs government oversight, it’s Tony Stark. He’s the one who allowed Ultron to happen. His creations were weaponized by themselves. He’s an arms dealer, for Stan Lee’s sake! Everyone else is pretty altruistic.
But that’s neither here nor there. Bruce suddenly shows back up on Earth after a couple of years of fighting on Ian Malcolm’s planet, and he’s got a warning: Thanos is coming. And Hell’s coming with him. It’s time to get the band back together, whatever it costs. Even if Rhodie (Don Cheadle) has to be court-martialed to do it.
So our friends go to all corners of the universe. Tony and Spidey (Tom Holland) end up on a ship trying to stop one of Thanos’s minions. Thor and half of the Guardians head to Nidavellir to get a new weapon. The other half of the Guardians head to Titan, home of Thanos. Everyone else on Earth heads to Wakanda to try to extract the Mind Stone from Vision (Paul Bettany) so they can destroy it without killing him.
Lots of fun stuff happens for the next nearly three hours. Not only do a lot of people get beaten down, but they manage to keep this dark stuff lighthearted. I mean…Thanos is trying to collect all of the Infinity Stones to stick in his Gauntlet so he can destroy HALF OF THE FUCKING PEOPLE IN THE UNIVERSE! Why, you might ask? Because there are just too damn many people. Resources have been depleted. People live in poverty and hunger. His solution, instead of creating more resources, is to kill half of everyone. Because he’s batshit insane. He’s a monster. He’s inconsolably crazy.
BUT…he’s also kinda right. Like Killmonger and Vulture before him, he’s an actual sympathetic villain, not just a “let’s kill everybody because I likes killin'” villain. He sees the suffering of the world and wants to do something about it. This, to him, is the only way. Creating more resources would just cause it all to happen again. And he would have to constantly be creating more resources for the rest of his life. And more people would come. And the cycle would be neverending. Killing half the beings in the universe means that the few resources that are left will last a LOT longer and it will take millennia to restore the universe to the numbers that we have now. So, yes. Kill ’em all! (Or half.)
By the end of the movie, I actually kinda LIKE Thanos. I mean, I wouldn’t have him over for coffee, or anything. He might turn one of my cats to dust. But I get it.
So, what are my issues with the movie?
(Here there be spoilers, because I really can’t talk about this movie, or my problems with my feelings about it, without them.)
My main issue with the movie is an issue with comics in general: nothing sticks. At the end of the film, Thanos wins. He gets all six Infinity Stones, snaps his fingers and half of all beings in the universe are turned to dust.
This includes half of our heroes. Black Panther? Gone. Dr Strange? Gone. Falcon? Gone. Spidey? Gone. (THAT was hard. Man, they got his death right. That was…hard to watch.)
Then the movie ends. Just…ends. Thanos goes back to Titan and sits down to watch the sunset. Cap and Tony fall down and cry over their lost brothers and sisters in arms. And we’re left to…what? Wait until next year to see that all of them are coming right back.
No, really. Not only is this comic book land, where death is never forever, but it’s also movie land, where we know whose contracts are up and who has a sequel coming. Black Panther and Spider-Man? Their sequels are due out next year or the year after. So, they’re coming back. I might have teared up a bit when Peter Parker said, “I don’t wanna go!” while Tony held him in his arms like a dying son…but I know he’s coming back. I know that they’re going to get the Gauntlet and someone is going to turn back time to where no one is dead.
Ok…maybe a few are actually gone. I’m betting that Heimdall (Idris Elba) is gone. Idris was done with this character years ago.
But the ones whose contracts are actually up? They’re still here. Chris Evans is done. He’s been done for a few years, now. He just wants to hang out with his girlfriend, direct, and swim in pools full of money. Iron Man 4 might be coming out in the near-ish future, but Robert Downey, Jr is done. He’s absolutely ready to pass the suit.
I know that this story couldn’t have been contained in one movie. At least, not under four hours. But I think releasing them a year apart is a mistake. We’re all sitting here, thinking about what happened, and saying, “Ya know…nothing mattered. The only thing that matters is HOW they get out, not THAT they get out. We KNOW that they’ll get out.”
I know that Captain Marvel is next and will likely have SOME connection to the events of this movie, even if it takes place in the 90s. (Can she travel through time? Because they’re going to have to age Brie Larson up if she’s going to play 2019 Carol Danvers eventually.) And the Ant-Man & Wasp movie is right after that. It will DEFINITELY have some repercussions from this movie, no matter how insulated Scott and Hope are from the Avengers, right now. (They’re not in this movie at all. “Wait. There’s an Ant-Man?!”)
But, really, we’re just waiting for next year for the emotional content of this movie to actually MEAN something. Until then, True Believers…we’re just in limbo, wondering what it all meant.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Ernest Cline/Zak Penn
(Seriously. I couldn’t choose a poster. So you get a few of ’em.)
Back in 2011, a book was released by an unknown writer from Austin named Ernest Cline. Upon its release, it garnered praise from Entertainment Weekly, NPR, AV Club, Huffington Post and dozens of other publications. It shot to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List, becoming one of the biggest geek books ever.
It also got its share of backlash. The lead character, Wade Watts (aka Parzival), was a “nice guy” who didn’t know how to take no for an answer. He was a “gatekeeper,” asking his love interest, Artemis, a bunch of questions to make sure that she was as knowledgable of 80s culture as he was. Art3mis seemed to be a prize for him to win, along with the Easter Egg. She was a “Mary Sue,” only there to prop up Wade’s adventures.
I missed a lot of this when I read the book a year or two later. Ok. I missed ALL of it. I fell in love almost immediately. I know that almost every geek book is written basically for me, being a straight, white dude. I absolutely get that. But this felt like the first one (that I had read, anyway) that spoke DIRECTLY to me, the kid who had no luck with women, was obsessed with a time that he wasn’t involved in (for me, it was the 60s), and basically spoke a different language to everyone around him. (Try quoting Laugh-In to a bunch of teenagers in 1989. Or (just to show that I wasn’t COMPLETELY backdated) discuss the intricacies of a Genesis video. I was told “NO! No one knows this because no one’s that weird!”) Basically, I was Wade Watts. I just wan’t into RPGs.
The book is problematic as fuck. So is Ernie, even though he has a kickass car. (That poem. Oh, god, that poem.) But I had a lot of fun with it.
Fast forward a few years and the only person who could possibly make an adventure movie about a kid who’s obsessed with the 80s makes a movie of Ready Player One. Will he fix the problematic bullshit? Will he be able to make a movie out of this that people who found the book insufferable will like?
Read on, my Audience Of One.
Let’s start with the actual story: Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is an orphan living with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend in 2045 Columbus, Ohio. The population is so huge, now, that mobile homes are stacked on top of each other, dozens high. His (an millions of others’) only escape from the drudgery of modern life is the OASIS, a virtual world where you can be anyone or anything you want to be. You might be the poorest, weakest kid in Peoria, but in the OASIS, you can be a giant ogre who can fight like Jet Li. That’s why it’s so popular in a world where everyone has been numbed to the fact that the world is shit.
James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) created the OASIS to be for everyone. Halliday, especially, wanted it to remain free for everyone with only some accessories costing money. (Most, though, can be won in game.) Morrow was the public face of the company, while Halliday was the private heart.
When Halliday died, he left the OASIS rudderless, but not without a future. He hid three keys to an Easter Egg somewhere in the game. Whoever found the Egg won control of the OASIS. So, Steve Wozniak meets Willy Wonka.
Wade (along with basically everyone else in the world) is after the Egg. In game, he’s Parzival, a fairly normal looking dude who drives a DeLoreon. His friend, Aech (Lena Waithe) is a master builder. He’s working on an Iron Giant in his machine shop. (I say “he” because in game, Aech is “he.” In the RL, though, she’s Helen Harris, an African-American lesbian. This would be a spoiler if it wasn’t already written everywhere. But Wade doesn’t find out until mid-movie…even though they’re best friends.)
In the race for the first key, Parzival meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), one of the leading “Gunters.” (That’s “Egg Hunter” to you and me, Russ.) In the way that so many movie characters are, he’s immediately in love…or something like it. He saves her from being killed by King Kong. She gives him a bit of a cold shoulder, but eventually goes back to Aech’s shop to get her motorcycle fixed. (Yes, it’s the one from Akira.) This starts a friendship that seems far more real an mutual than the one in the book.
Of course, there’s a villain after it, too. IOI, run by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), wants to get the Egg so that they can take over the OASIS and start charging for it. They want to commoditize the hell out of it. ‘Cause, why not, right?
Anyway, fun, Spielbergian adventure ensues.
Seriously, this movie is a LOT of fun. Spielberg took the bones of the book and had Cline and Zak Penn (of Marvel fame) take out most of the egregiously problematic bullshit. There’s no more gatekeeping (although Art3mis does a little bit to Parzival) and Art3mis does quite a bit of saving, herself. Oh, and all of that “But WE SHOULD BE TOGETHERRRRRRRRR” stuff? It’s gone. The relationship between Parzival and Art3mis (and Wade and Samantha) comes about way more organically and mutually, starting as a friendship.
The only problem, on a social level, that I really saw was the fact that TJ Miller was still in it. That guy’s a dickbag. Funny, sure. But a dickbag. BUT, I kinda understand why he’s still in it. When shit started coming out about Kevin Spacey, Ridley Scott was able to gather the crew back together to reshoot the 6 minutes of film that he was in with Christopher Plummer. It cost a couple mill, but it was pretty easy. They shot everything in about a day.
TJ Miller’s character in this is fully CGI, but based on his face. In order to change it, you have to get a full team of animators in, find a new actor, recreate a character, re-animate the entire 20 minutes or so that he’s in and, honestly, probably re-write the character, too, because it seemed to be based on Miller’s actual character, not just something that Cline and Penn wrote. It would have cost upwards of $20-30 million and months of work. (Principle photography was done in late 2016. The allegations against Miller came out in late 2017. Most of the work on his character was probably already done.) It was probably easier to take the backlash. Sad, but true.
Notice one thing that I did in this review: I barely mentioned the fact that all of these characters are obsessed with the 80s and there are, literally, 100s of references to 80s nostalgia. (I have a feeling that, even if I watch it 100 times, I still won’t catch all of them.) That’s because, while the 80s nostalgia is fun and I loved it, it wasn’t the entire point of the story. The characters didn’t talk in pop culture references, like an action version of Reality Bites. The 80s stuff was important, but not overwhelming.
What the movie is really about is reality vs fantasy. The OASIS is fantasy. It’s a fantasy that allows people to be who they want to be, sure. It allows them to escape from the hell that is their lives. But reality is just that: reality. You can’t live your life in a fantasy world. Because, as Halliday says, where else can you get a decent meal?
Is it as good as Spielberg of the 70s-90s? I mean…how do you top Raiders, Jaws or Jurassic Park? You don’t. He can’t make a movie like those again. I’m not asking for him to make another Raiders. All I want is a good movie, and this was definitely it. Absolutely. It’s a good, solid action movie that really immerses its audience into a new world. I saw it in 70mm 2D, but I hope to see it again in IMAX 3D. From what I hear, it’s a completely different experience. It’s the way that Spielberg meant for it to be seen.
Whether you liked the book or not, whether you think that it was a fun vision of a dystopian future or a geek-boy’s Twilight (seriously?), go check out the movie. It’s a ton of fun.
Hey, everybody. Been a long time since we rock ‘n rolled. I’ve made a pretty rash decision and archived all of my old stuff. In light of the current wave of activity against saying really stupid shit, I’ve decided to preemptively take my stuff down and re-tool my website. This isn’t me saying, “I’ve said stupid shit and I don’t want anyone to see it.” This is me saying, “I have no idea if I’ve said stupid shit, so I’m making this decision on my own just in case there’s something in here that might be seen as horrible in the current social climate.”
I am all for the #MeToo movement and the dethroning of toxic masculinity that’s been happening over the last year. It’s a very good thing. Things change and people wake up to the idiocy of the past. I’m sure that I did or said some pretty awful things in my past. (I mean, nothing physical. But definitely verbal.) But I, like everyone else who is actually paying attention, am trying to be better. At some point, if I ever have time, I might go through and re-read some of my old stuff to vet it for this new climate. Maybe I won’t find anything or I’ll edit it. Then I’ll re-post it. Or maybe I’ll just decide that it was horribly written and I’ll be embarrassed by THAT. Then it will just sit in the private archive to feed my neuroses.
Anyway, I’m thinking of a new direction to take the Professor. Hopefully, this new direction will be something that people will like and will get me excited to write about media again. Maybe it will be something that will help me reconcile my love of grindhouse, exploitation and genre media in a world where it’s not cool to be exploitative. You know, how do you enjoy a movie like Last House On The Left (really, you don’t “enjoy” it) or Friday The 13th and still be a “woke dude”?
Hey, I’m not a monster, but I sure do like watching monsters of all types.
See you all real soon.