Ready Player One

March 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic Park”)
Written by: Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) & Ernest Cline (“Fanboys”)

One could fairly say I’m an easy mark for what “Ready Player One” brings to the table, at least on a surface level. A quick look at how I, a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, live my day-to-day life would certainly lead you to believe I’d be all the way down for a movie with references to “Back to the Future,” the Bigfoot monster truck, Pizza Hut’s old logo, “Jurassic Park,” and even its ill-fated summer of 1993 competition “Last Action Hero,” for crying out loud.

Yes, I have inflatable “Star Wars: Episode I” promotional Pepsi cans in my living room to go with several McDonald’s Happy Meal displays, so I clearly love bathing in consumerist nostalgia. But I still like a good, fun story to go with my warm fuzzies, and thankfully Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” delivers.

Set in 2045 Columbus, Ohio after some unknown near-apocalyptic event (something called “The Corn Syrup Riots” is mentioned), the population spends its free time inside the Oasis, a virtual world that doubles as a giant online multiplayer game and sort of the next evolution of social media. One of those is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teen who goes by the name Parzival while in the Oasis, his avatar a wispy, elven humanoid who drives a modified version of Doc Brown’s Delorean time machine. He and best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), a giant, tech-savvy ogre, are “Gunters,” short for “egg hunters,” which means they’re looking for a treasure left behind in the virtual world by its late creator, James Halliday (Spielberg’s frequent collaborator Mark Rylance). Whoever find’s Halliday’s Easter Egg gets control of the Oasis, which is why Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and his company IOI are eager to find it for themselves in order to infinitely monetize the user experience. It’s up to Parzival, Aech, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and their other Gunter friends to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Based on the best-selling (and highly divisive among nerds) novel by Ernest Cline (also a co-writer here), “Ready Player One” wisely broadens its horizons under Spielberg’s direction. Gone are the inside-baseball challenges that faced the characters in the book, esoterica like completing a level of “Dungeons & Dragons” or reenacting a scene from “WarGames,” instead replaced with huge race littered with recognizable vehicles from movies and video games and sequence inside a very famous haunted hotel where blood takes the elevator. Spielberg recognizes the appeal that filling the screen with pop culture artifacts brings, and even gets to play with some of the toys he first unleashed decades ago, like a ravenous T-rex that chomps at racers. But it’s far from the empty nostalgia that can make some recoil, instead a mondo-Spielbergian adventure in a future that it opines may not be as unlikely as it seems. Now, where can I get a Mayor Goldie Wilson re-election poster?

The Incredible Hulk

June 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth
Directed by: Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter”)
Written by: Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) and Edward Norton (debut)

Hulk returns to the big screen, this time as “The Incredible Hulk,” a reimaging of the underappreciated and artistic Ang Lee version of 2003. Sadly, the film feels like a brittle stepping stone for the bigger picture at Marvel: setting up for an “Avengers” flick sometime in the near future.

Although the new cinematic version of the mean, green superhero wants to completely disassociate itself from its predecessor, the story seems to begin right where the Lee picture left off. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana then, Edward Norton now) is living in Brazil trying to control the monster inside his gamma ray-filled body.

This means if you don’t know the mythology of the Hulk, polish up on your comic book history because “The Incredible Hulk” doesn’t have time to explain. Head screenwriter Zak Penn (“X-2”) decides to simply breeze through Banner’s background and scientific discovery, which comes by way of a cliché montage during the films opening credits

It’s been 158 days since the Hulk has emerged when we see Banner, who is making a living working in a bottling factory. On his wrist he wears a small watch-like monitor that lets him know when his heart rate increases, which, in turn, warns him that the big green guy could make an appearance if he doesn’t control himself. This is an unwarranted and erroneous addition to Banner’s story. While the comic book, TV show, and 2003 film versions explain that Bruce only transforms into the Hulk when he became angry, this Hulk has to take deep breath for everything including running long distances and getting overly excited while in bed with Betty Ross (Jennifer Connolly then, Liv Tyler now).

Betty and Bruce are reunited when Bruce returns to the states after Betty’s father, Gen. Thaddeus Ross (Sam Elliott then, William Hurt now) and the U.S. government locate the drifter and attempt to capture him so they can create more Hulks as military weapons. To help, Gen. Ross recruits super soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who later becomes the Abomination, to hunt for the Hulk and subdue him.

In more mainstream fashion and with far less style and originality, “The Incredible Hulk,” helmed by unproven action director Louis Leterrier (“Unleashed”), follows the same pattern of most superhero/comic book movies. Although this “Hulk” tends to lean more toward the 1970’s TV series, which starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, there’s really not much emotion behind the Hulk to say the audience is immersed in his personal story and conflict. Simply playing the TV show’s theme song during one part of the movie isn’t going to cut it.

For those Hulk fans who were critical of the lack of action in the Lee version, there’s more in this one. But really, are a couple extra smashed tanks really benefiting a story that should be focusing on a tormented soul? Lee’s version was brave enough to try something completely different that all the trivial comic book adaptations. In “The Incredible Hulk,” Leterrier and crew are just mixing up the same imitative concoction and pouring it out green this time.