Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

What’s Up Doc? (1972) a (incredibly) belated review

A while back TCM played the 1972 Peter Bogdanovich directed screwball comedy homage What’s Up Doc? Here’s the movie’s trailer/behind the scenes:

I had warm memories of the film but, frankly, hadn’t seen it in at least twenty plus years. I wondered if it was as good as I recalled. The DVR was set, the film recorded, and then a couple of months later and with my wife and daughter sat down to see it.

It wasn’t easy getting those two to sit in!

After some twenty minutes, my daughter bailed. She doesn’t have a lot of patience for “old” films and, frankly, I can’t totally blame her. Nowadays films have a quicker pace to them, and this film certainly started “slow” compared to more recent works.

My wife found at least some of what she saw humorous enough and held on, but I think during those early minutes she too was “touch and go”.

But then, once the movie’s finished with the preliminaries and into the story proper, as well as the slapstick that’s to come, What’s Up Doc? becomes a truly wonderful comedy and very worthy of my pleasant memories.

The plot is complex but never complicated: There are four identical traveling bags held by four different characters.

Two of the suitcases carry totally innocuous items: Judy Maxwell (Barbara Streisand, equally sexy and off the wall as a walking hurricane of a character) has a suitcase of clothing. Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal doing his best to emulate a stuttering, stuffy Cary Grant who, along with his fiancé –Madeline Kahn in her film debut- is headed to a music convention in the hopes of getting a grant to study… Neanderthal music?) carries igneous rocks.

The two other cases contain something far more interesting: Mr. Smith (Michael Murphy) carries a suitcase full of top secret documents. He’s being pursed by a U.S. agent. The last suitcase, owned by Mrs. Van Hoskins (Mabel Albertson), contains a treasure in jewels.

The jewels catch the eye of the shady Hotel Clerk and equally shady Hotel Detective who plan to steal it. The U.S. Government agent, who Mr. Smith quickly gets wise to, wants to retrieve the top secret documents. And all four suitcases wind up, with their owners, in four separate rooms on the 17th floor of the Hotel they are staying at. This results in mass confusion and considerable hilarity.

The movie plays out, for the most part, like a slapstick stage play, with characters talking in and around each other while the identical suitcases move from room to room and character to character while Judy Maxwell takes a liking to her opposite, character-wise, in Howard Bannister.

The set pieces wind up working terrifically, each bigger and better than the other, followed by a breather before getting into the next comedic set piece. I feel the final big set piece, involving Liam Dunn (I won’t give away too much here, for fear of SPOILING a …gulp… 47 year old film) is a perfect climax and the proverbial cherry on top of the pie. Mr. Dunn, best known for appearances on Mel Brooks films, is but one of the people who would go on from this film to work in two of Mel Brooks’ most famous films. He, along with Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, and John Hillerman would go on to appear in Blazing Saddles. All but Mr. Hillerman would also show up in Young Frankenstein.

In conclusion, if you don’t mind seeing “old” films and/or can put up with a few slow minutes in this movie’s opening act (assuming you’re spoiled on the more speedy pace of modern films), What’s Up Doc? is a no-brainer. A hilarious, albeit strangely forgotten, film that stands up quite well with some of the better comedies out there.

Upgrade (2018) a (Mildly) Belated Review

Sometimes, a movie takes you by surprise and rocks your world. Especially when the movie (and, one has to assume, the movie’s makers) are treading into creative areas similar to the one’s I’ve been mining.

Please, please, PLEASE don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the delightful Upgrade is somehow “ripping off” ideas I’ve used in my novels.

Hell no!

What I’m saying is that there are elements in the movie that I recognize in some of my novels… but that’s all they are, similar elements.

The creative playground out there is quite big and it wouldn’t surprise me if writer/director Leigh Whannell’s been reading/watching/admiring some of the same material I have over his life. In other words: If you’ve read and like my books, I suspect you’ll like this movie and, no, it doesn’t “rip off” my books -at all!- but does play in similar territory.

But enough preamble. Here’s the trailer for Upgrade:

As you can see by the above, Upgrade involves one Gray Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, quite good) who is a mechanic and something of a technophobe living in the near future where computers are everywhere and a creeping dystopia is coming to life. When we meet him, he’s doing the finishing touches on a Trans-Am Firebird, the type many would be familiar as being in the movie Smokey and the Bandit, when his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) arrives from work.

They have some light banter before Gray insists his wife accompany him to deliver the Trans-Am to the man who hired him to refurbish it. Turns out the man is a computer genius who heads a large tech company and whose work his wife is familiar with. The man is sullen and awkward, but offers to show them his latest project, a new computer chip which he states will revolutionize the world.

Upon leaving the reclusive man’s home, Gray and Asha’s self-driving car is hacked and crashed. A group of toughs come to rob them and Asha is shot and killed while Gray is rendered a quadraplegic.

Understandably morose following a painful recovery that has this once independent man a widower and tied to a wheelchair, he is visited by his previous employer, who states the chip he showed him might just be able to get him on his feet again.

And that’s about all the spoiling I’m going to do for this film.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know some of what’s to come, but this very low budget (supposedly around $5 million) film is quite amazing. It’s lean, mean, and doesn’t waste a second of your time while delivering a clever story that is at times familiar (boo!) only to surprise you with some well thought out twists and turns (yay!).

The ending, too, proved a fascinating, well thought out piece of cinema, giving you the proverbial cherry on top of the cake.

While Upgrade doesn’t necessarily revolutionize B movies, it offers plenty of thrills and clever storytelling. Further, despite its ending it also allows for -if the writer/director is interested- sequels which could examine… well… that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

If you haven’t seen it, give Upgrade a whirl. It’s well worth your time.

Post-script: I noted on director/writer Leigh Whannell’s IMDB listing that he’s attached to the Escape From New York remake. A very, very interesting choice. Given how much I liked Upgrade and how that film was set in a pseudo near-future not unlike the original Escape From New York, I can certainly see the reason he was chosen.

Could be good.

A Simple Favor (2018) a (mildly) belated review

When A Simple Favor was released last year, I knew absolutely nothing about it. It was one of those films that, quite simply, weren’t on my radar. But I recall reading plenty of good reviews and became intrigued.

I wanted to see the film with my wife but a couple of weeks passed and the film, by that time, left theaters and, therefore, we had to wait until it was available on home video to see it. A couple of days ago, we did just that.

A Simple Favor, directed by Paul Fieg (The Heat, Spy, Bridesmaids), stars Anna Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers, a geeky single mom whose entire life seems to revolve around her son and her video blogs. She meets Emily Nelson (Blake Lively in an absolutely terrific turn) one day and things change for her in all kinds of bizarre ways.

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

As I mentioned above and need to repeat, Blake Lively is incredible in this movie as the enigmatic Emily, a woman married to a one-time best-selling author who works for a high flying talent agency. She is as beautiful as she is enigmatic, a classic noir blonde that you just know is all kinds of trouble.

Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie, on the other hand, is the meek and impressionable type, though she too has her secrets and skills, and when she’s asked to do a “simple favor”, pick up Emily’s son from school, and Emily subsequently disappears, an eerie mystery develops and the police become involved. What follows is a serpentine story that throws plenty of curves at you… along with a healthy dose of laughs.

Yes, laughs.

For Paul Fieg, known mostly for comedy, isn’t about to let the film become too dark and gloomy. The tone is generally light and, if I have any particular criticism, its that perhaps there should have been a point where it did get a little darker, especially during the film’s final act.

But I won’t get into details. To say much more would be a crime!

A Simple Favor is a very easy recommendation, a film that uses certain well worn tropes to create a noir-like mystery film but which is also a pretty damn funny and, therefore, quite creative.

And Blake Lively… jeeze. I never had strong feelings for her as an actress one way or another, but she’s so damn good in this role.

If nothing else, see the film for her!

Overlord (2018) a (mildly) belated review

As I’ve made it plain many times before, it is difficult for me to find the free time nowadays to sit down and watch a film, much less go to theaters and catch the latest big or not-quite-so big release.

Instead, I make a note of what’s come out and, if I have the time, sneak films in whenever I possibly can.

One of last year’s releases, the World War 2/Horror hybrid Overlord, caught my attention but it wasn’t until now, weeks after its digital video release, that I’ve had a chance to sit down and watch it. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

The film sure looks like a live action version of the video game Wolfenstein, complete with similar font used in its title…

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(A quick aside: I have very fond memories of the game that served as inspiration to this one, Castle Wolfenstein, originally released back in the early 1980’s. A friend at our High School had an Apple II computer and this game and we spent many a fun hour playing it, along with Ultima II! Here’s what that game looked like:

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Yeah, we’ve come a very long way, graphic’s wise!)

Getting back to Overlord, the film begins promisingly enough. We are quite literally plopped right in the thick of things, with a group of paratroopers, among them our heroes, about to deploy behind enemy lines shortly –very shortly- before D-Day.

Things, as they are wont to do, go frightfully sideways as Nazi air flak rips through the plane. Our heroes jump into the fire, quite literally, and we follow Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a Haitian/African American paratrooper (yeah, the film plays more than a little fast and loose with Army integration circa 1944) as he barely makes it out of the plane and onto the ground.

Boyce and a group of three other survivors of the doomed flight get together and make their way to their target: A very small French village which has a church up the road from it in which the Nazis have taken over. The Nazis have a communications station in the church and it is this groups’ primary mission to wipe it out before daybreak and D-Day, when the communications array could harm the incoming troops.

So there we have it, the tense mission and tight deadline.

But wait, there’s more!

When the soldiers are within the village planning their moves, an added complication: There’s something else going on in that Nazi-held church, something that looks like a science experiment gone extremely wrong…

Overlord, as already mentioned, starts well enough and had me interested in where it was going despite some of the politically correct elements thrust upon the story in an effort to give us a more “diverse” cast of characters.

Unfortunately, as the movie progressed and our heroes were in the village, it felt like the movie’s creator’s had used up their deck of creative cards. Frankly, as the movie progressed it settled into a neither terribly bad nor terribly good “groove” and never got out of it.

Worse, the film’s actions became predictable. When the big bad Nazi showed up, you knew the heroes would do something about him. But when he got away, you just knew he’d become… well… I don’t want to get too spoilery but, suffice it to say, along with a general deflation, the film’s story beats became only too obvious.

In the end, Overlord was an “ok” film in my eyes. Visually, they nailed the look nicely and some of the gore effects were very well done.

But having said that, the film couldn’t build upon its opening act and, instead, coasted to an all too obvious -and never as exciting as it should have been- ending.

A shame.

Hotel Artemis (2018) a (mildly) belated Review

When I first heard about this movie, I was excited. Written and directed by Drew Pearce (screenwriter for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Iron Man 3), the film sounded like something right up my alley: A noir near-future crime/action drama featuring a most curious cast and a claustrophobic setting.

The movie, to my eyes, felt like something a young John Carpenter might come up with.

And, in many ways, it is.

Set in the near future of (if memory serves) 2028 Los Angeles, Hotel Artemis concerns a highly fortified building which secretly houses a medical clinic which heals criminals. The Artemis is run by two people, “The Nurse” (Jodie Foster, made up to look very old and fuddy-duddy) and Everest (Dave Bautista, quite good as the muscle with a heart).

The movie begins with a robbery that goes bad. Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his gang rob a bank during a riot. There is a shootout afterwards and one of the gang members is killed while Waikiki’s brother is injured. The two head to the Hotel Artemis to get healed and meet up with The Nurse and a couple of other clients in house, including the mysterious Nice (Sofia Boutella) and the loudmouth Acapulco (Charlie Day).

As the riots outside continue, electricity is on and off and our cast of characters interact. The pressure rises when Morgan, a police officer (Jenny Slate) appears at the door of the hotel injured and, almost simultaneously, Crosby Franklin (Zachary Quinto), son of powerful mobster Niagra (Jeff Goldblum… if you’ve seen the trailer of the film, which I’ll present below, you’ve seen roughly 1/4th of his total screen time within the film!) calls in that he’s on his way for treatment.

Morgan, it turns out, is known to The Nurse. More specifically, Morgan knew The Nurse’s son, who perished mysteriously (though we’ll soon find out everything about that) and though the Artemis does not take in police, The Nurse goes against her rules and takes her in.

Anyway, Niagra soon arrives and things go sideways in many ways (I’ll not spoil the story) and eventually we reach a conclusion.

Unfortunately, the film is never terribly action filled (except for the opening and closing acts) and the story presented, while interesting, isn’t that interesting. Worse, by the end we’re supposed to find a nobility in a few characters who sacrifice themselves for others but the film hasn’t presented viewers a strong enough reason for us to feel this is anything more than plot contrivance.

In the end, Hotel Artemis is a misfire, IMHO, an intriguing enough concept which could have used a stronger -much stronger- script.

Too bad.

Predator 2 (1990) a (very!) belated review

Way back in 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in what was arguably his second biggest/best role -after The Terminator, of course- as Dutch in the classic horror/action hybrid Predator

The movie, directed by John McTiernan (whose next film following this was the criminally forgotten Die Hard… 😉 ), managed to mix horror and action in equal doses and, further, presented a villain in the form of the alien Predator which was truly fearsome and made one wonder how someone as seemingly invincible as Mr. Schwarzenegger would survive.

Three years later a sequel to that film appeared. Cleverly (I kid, I kid) titled Predator 2, the 1990 sequel was directed by Stephen Hopkins (Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, numerous TV credits including 24) and starred Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Bill Paxton…

Unlike Aliens, the sequel to the terrific Alien, the movie wasn’t a huge box-office hit or held in as high esteem. Despite this, the Predator creature proved popular enough to appear in several subsequent films, up to and including last year’s The Predator.

I was curious to re-watch Predator 2 (don’t ask why), and a couple of nights ago I put it on, sat back, and watched it. I found it a most curious experience.

The movie takes the original Predator’s setting from the jungles into the then near future L.A. (the movie, as mentioned, was released in 1990 but the film’s opening states the action takes place in 1997). This near future L.A. was heavily influenced by the original Robocop. It is a hellscape of disorder, gangs, and heavy guns; of cops overwhelmed and dealing with sleazy TV reporters (including a cameo by the late right wing mouth-breather Morton Downey Jr.) eager to report on the latest street-level outrage.

The movie is certainly ambitious in presenting a very full cast of characters. It begins by introducing us to Danny Glover’s Lt. Harrigan (the movie’s protagonist) and his crew. The crew consists of his right hand man Archuleta (Ruben Blades) and right hand woman Cantrell (Maria Conchita Alonso). When introduced they are involved in a street level gang gunfight that’s gone out of control. Thanks to the actions of Harrigan, the bad guys retreat into a building. As Harrigan is about to order a raid on that building, he gets an order from above that he’s to stand down, that someone else will take care of the hoods.

Renegade as he is, Harrigan ignores orders and his crew raid the building. Within the crew find a grisly and bloody massacre. One gang banger is left alive and Harrigan pursues him to the roof and wipes him out. Afterwards, Harrigan spots something… strange (though fans of the original Predator know what it is): A weird figure who isn’t quite visible.

Back on the street, Harrigan is reamed out by Captain Heinemann (Robert Davi, pretty much wasted in what amounts to a cameo role as the cliched “stern Captain”). Another, strange group of people arrive at the scene and take over. They are led by an equally strange Peter Keyes (Gary Busey, also in what amounts to a cameo role), who seem to know more about what’s going on than they’re willing to say.

Once back at the station Harrigan and company meet newbie -and loudmouth- Lambert (Bill Paxton, playing a mild variation of his smart-ass Aliens character) and, with the cast in place, we get to the mystery of what’s killing the violent gangs of L.A., and whether the creature behind these massacres has targeted Harrigan and his people as well.

The problem with Predator 2 versus the first movie is that there are too many moving parts. As I mentioned, Robert Davi’s “stern Captain” is a cliche of a character and, frankly, could have been done away with to give the story proper more time to breath. Further, I got the feeling the theatrical cut of the film left plenty of scenes on the cutting room floor.

Perhaps the biggest example of this is when Harrigan presents to the crusty (another cliche) lab lady the Predator spear-head for examination. Only thing is: We never see Harrigan get the spear head. A certain character gets it before they… get it, but we never see Harrigan pick the piece of evidence up. It’s left to a clumsy voice over to have Harrigan states he got it from a dead person’s hand but never see that actual scene.

Eventually Harrigan goes mano-a-mano with the Predator, and it is in this prolonged bit that the movie’s logic takes its hardest fall. It’s simply impossible to believe after seeing the fierce Predator of the first movie to believe Harrigan could go after this Predator like he does… and actually have him on the run.

Finally, the climactic way Harrigan takes out this Predator requires the fearsome and clever alien become incredibly stupid and allow him(it?)self to get within stabbing distance of our hero.

So, yeah, as a sequel to the wonderful original, Predator 2 falls short.

However, and after saying all this, Predator 2 is far from the worst sequel to a terrific original film I’ve seen. There are serious problems with the film but I admired the film’s makers ambitions even if they ultimately fell short of the mark.

Chato’s Land (1972) a (ridiculously) belated review

Back when I was very young and growing up in the early 1970’s, there were certain posters which presented what would become iconic images and were found almost everywhere.  One of them was Rachel Welch in the film One Million Years B.C.

Boys like me loved that image, but I recall another poster that was found in/around that time, this one (I suppose!) being more eye candy for the ladies in the form of a very well toned Charles Bronson from the 1972 film Chato’s Land

This image served as the inspiration to the famous poster…

Chato’s Land was on one of the Starz! channels the other day and I happened to catch it from the very near beginning.  I recalled seeing the film a number of years ago but remembered not all that much about it.  I did recall liking it well enough, even if I didn’t feel it was one of Mr. Bronson’s best works.

So I sat back and watched it and was fascinated by what I saw.

The film starts with Bronson’s Chato going to a small town’s bar and being confronted by the racist ramblings/provocations of the town sheriff.  Chato, you see, is half-Apache and in this era and time the “white folks” don’t much like seeing Apache Indians in their establishments.

The sheriff eggs on Chato, insulting him and trying to make him act.  Eventually, and despite Chato warning him not to, the sheriff draws his gun but Chato is a faster draw and guns the man down.

Chato leaves town as word spreads that an Apache gunned down not only a “white man”, but the town’s sheriff!

We are then introduced to Jack Palance’s Captain Whitmore, a veteran of the Civil War originally on the side of the Confederacy.  He is a well respected and seemingly noble veteran and, with the Sheriff gone, it is up to him to get together a posse and hunt down Chato.  He pulls out his old war costume and builds up his posse.  Right from the get-go, however, the viewer realizes that the crew is a motley one.  There are some who are decent individuals while others are clearly hot-heads or worse.

The group heads out of town in search of Chato and things eventually go sideways as Chato proves a far more elusive, and deadly, prey.

Watching Chato’s Land today, I found myself fascinated by the story it presented.  It’s a simple one, essentially a long chase by horseback of the character of Chato and the simultaneous degradation of a group of what were friends.

Chato himself is presented as almost more myth than a “real” person and Charles Bronson is given very little dialogue throughout.  He is always a step ahead of the posse, except in one sequence involving his wife where the posse comes upon his home and the more vulgar members of the group violently rape her.

This sequence, which to some degree makes little sense (why did Chato decide to lose track of the posse?  Did he not fear they might track him to his home?), is nonetheless important in the film’s story as it exposes the ugliness of a mob and shows that Jack Palance’s noble character has one HUGE flaw: He is a coward.  He, and a friend of his in the posse, knows what’s going on is not right yet he does not act.  He is unwilling to stand up for what is right and force his by now mostly out of control mob to stop.

What Chato’s Land presents, essentially, is the tale of how a few rotten apples in a group -and the lack of courage on the part of those who should know better to speak up- damns an entire group to failure and, in the case of this film, death.

And in some ways, it made me think of current political events.

I’ll say no more about that, though given the movie’s original release date of 1972, whatever symbolism was originally presented likely had more to do with the events in Vietnam.

In the end, Chato’s Land delivers a deeper story than one would think and manages to rise a  bit above its more “typical” western/pulp/revenge roots.  While it may not be a lost “classic”, I found it worth revisiting.

Recommended.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018) a (right on time!) review

One can’t help but admire the length and breath of influence Sir Conan Arthur Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, has had over the years.

There are so may works featuring oddball/quirky detectives solving bizarre crimes while accompanied by their more “normal” sidekicks/partners and almost every one of them owes gratitude to Mr. Doyle’s Holmes.

So too it is with the late Stieg Larsson’s original Milennium Trilogy of novels, the most famous of which was the first titled The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and which has already been filmed twice featuring both Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara in what is the most provocative role of the books, that of punk hacker -and oddball- extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander.  Salander’s Watson is journalist Mikael Blomkvist and their setting is the cold environs of Sweden.

The Girl in the Spider Web, based on a “new” Dragon Tattoo novel by David Lagercrantz, features Claire Foy as Salander and Sverrir Gudnasson as Blomkvist.

The movie takes place a few years after the original trilogy of stories and we find Salander hired by a skittish American techno genius who created a program capable of linking up and taking over every nuclear missile in the world.

He fears he made a very big mistake in both creating and giving the program to the U.S. government and wants it back so he can get rid of it.  He asks Salander to get the one and only copy of it from a Pentagon computer and she agrees (plot hole #1: Do you really think such a powerful program would somehow be limited to one copy only?).

Anyway, what Salander doesn’t realize is that there are already eyes on her employer and, after she manages to get the program, the evil schenannigans start and, soon enough, Salander is on the run for her life.   After her apartment is torched with her in it (plot hole #2: Do the villains want to kill Salander or frame her?  Truly this is the most irritating bit in the film and reminds me of the same problem with the last James Bond film Spectre.  The villain seems to want the protagonist to live so that they can personally take them out, yet their henchmen sure do seem intent on killing the protagonist anyway!), Salander enlists the aid of journalist Mikael Blumpkist and the game of cat and mouse formally begins.

Despite those two very irritating plot points that I mentioned above, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a decent enough film which, sadly, winds up being its main problem.

Apart from those two irritations, there is nothing in the film that will make you howl or shake your head or scream at the screen.  Alas, neither is there anything in this film that will blow your proverbial socks off.  You’ve seen most of this stuff before, and at times far better, in other works.

While the film is handsomely constructed, well directed, well acted, and the scenery is pretty, the plot and story provide little punch and, ultimately, are rather weak tea.

I suspect over time this is one of those films that will drift out of my mind and soon be forgotten.

Neither terribly good nor genuinely bad, The Girl in the Spider’s Web just is.

Ready Player One (2018) a (mildly) belated review

One of the nice things about going on a trip like I did (sorry for sounding like I’m rubbing it in… I honestly don’t mean to!) is that if you’re lucky and, like me, you travel via “regular” class (ie, not first class), you’ll find yourself traveling in an airplane that offers individual monitors filled with diversions during your long trip.

That was the case on the way to California: Each seat had an individual monitor on which you could watch TV shows, movies, play games, etc. etc.  The first film I saw via this device was A Quiet Place (reviewed here).  The trip proved long enough to allow me to see another recent release, the Steven Spielberg directed Ready Player One.

Based on the 1980’s nostalgia heavy novel by Ernest Cline, the movie is filled with references to -natch- movies, TV shows, video games, and general pop culture, much -though not all- of which is heavily 1980’s oriented.

If you’ve read the book (I have not), there is an interesting review quote on one of the edition’s covers…

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I know it’s tough to see, but on the upper left hand corner of this cover is the following quote from USA Today:

Enchanting.  WILLY WONKA meets THE MATRIX.

This quote essentially gets to the heart of what Ready Player One, the movie, is.  Here’s the trailer:

Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts, a young man who looks curiously like a young, beardless Steven Spielberg…

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…who, in the year 2045, lives in your typical concrete and metal degrading city-hellscape and, like most of the people, longs to live there as little as possible.  Like many, he often heads out to the “Oasis”, a virtual reality playground wherein people can do all sorts of things with their Avatars, from playing games to participating in any sort of events (nightclubs, dances, romance, etc.).  This, obviously, is the Matrix-like part of the movie.

Oasis, we find in an exposition heavy first 10 minutes or so of the film, was created by an eccentric -and deceased- man by the name of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) who has hidden in this vast virtual playground 3 “keys” which, if found, will entitle the person who gets them control over Oasis.  And there, ladies and gentlemen, is your Willy Wonka element.

As you can guess, Wade Watts and his friends wind up chasing down the keys while an evil/no-good/bad industrialist tries to get the jump on them.

And… and…

It’s okay, I suppose, but the movie, on a whole, left me more underwhelmed than it should have.

That’s not to say there aren’t some delightful sequences, the biggest/best of which involves the hunt for the second key.  I won’t give the elements of this away, but it involves recreating key sequences from a very famous film originally released in 1980, a film which was directed by a person many, including myself, feel is one of the greatest directors there ever was.  I’ll say no more.

The problem with Ready Player One is that the film moves along at a rapid pace but doesn’t allow us to get sufficiently invested in the characters.  The fact of the matter is that they’re barely that: They’re the “good guys” and that’s that.  They’re up against the “bad guys” and that’s that.

Yet as a viewer I never felt they were in any big danger.  The film simply never makes us feel like there are real stakes involved, even though some ancillary characters are eliminated in “real life”.

Again, though, the film isn’t a total bust.  Along with the hunt for the second key, I did find myself laughing at a few sequences/jokes here and there, and it was kinda fun to try to spot all the “easter eggs” this film is filled with.

I also thought it was kinda fun that the film’s climax makes reference to the very first video game that did indeed feature an easter egg (as a long time video game player, I was aware of the game and the egg, so this stuff wasn’t a huge surprise to me).

Yet I can’t help but return to my main complaints: The movie never drew me in as much as I would have hoped and there is never a proper sense of suspense regarding the adventures shared.  We’re also, unfortunately, dealing with characters who are two dimensional and hard to care for.

(I could also get nitpicky and note the way the first key is found seemed waaaay too easy, especially when the movie notes how for so many years people going to Oasis were unable to “solve” it.  Considering the types of easter eggs found by people in all sorts of video games -some deviously well hidden, including that “first” easter egg- this “solution” was… lame).

So…

The bottom line is: The film has its moments and, as spectacle, is interesting.  But it could, indeed should, have been more.  I’d recommend it to those who are fascinated with video games and general pop culture.  Others may want to stay away.

A Quiet Place (2018) a (mildly) belated review

It’s a strange thing to find yourself enjoying, indeed, enjoying quite a bit, a film that by all rights should have triggered all kinds of logic problems in one’s mind.  Logic problems that, in a lesser film, would have made you walk away shaking your head and/or laughing at the silliness of the story you just witnessed.

A Quiet Place is just such a film.

Released earlier this year to great acclaim, A Quiet Place stars and was co-written and directed by John Krasinski (best known -at least up to now and that may well change!- for The Office).  His real life wife Emily Blunt co-stars in the film playing his -what else?- wife and Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, and Cade Woodward play their children.

The scenario is a frightening one: Strange, murderous creatures with hides as tough as metal and claws which can pierce through metal have appeared on Earth in the not too distant past.  These creatures have decimated humanity, appearing mysteriously and wiping out anything they can get their claws on.  Thing is: The creatures appear to be very sensitive to sound, so Earth’s only survivors are those who have been able to not make noise while trying to find a way to fight these seemingly indestructible monsters.

At the start of the film we are introduced to the Abbotts, the family we will follow through this movie.  I’ll tread very carefully here regarding spoilers, but suffice to say they lead a very quiet life, aided to a great extent by the fact that their eldest daughter is mute and thus had already developed the ability to communicate with her -and among each other- through sign language.

We follow them during one trip to the city for supplies and then a short time later during one fateful day where Mrs. Elliot, pregnant with child, and the family confront their worst nightmares.

It is terrific, suspenseful stuff and, wisely, John Krasinski knows how to build tension without going into gore.  This is an elegant film, a film that shows Mr. Krasinski’s a student of the masters.  His work here reminded me, quite positively, of Alfred Hitchcock.  The suspense at times was that good.

However…

As I said before, the main problem one might have with the film depends entirely on how willing one is to forgive the film’s many logic lapses and allow the work to, well, work for you despite these lapses.

I suppose if I get into them I’ll have to deal with SPOILERS so let me do so in a moment.

Before I do, let me say this: The problems I’m about to note below didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film.  Despite these problems, the film works, and works quite well.

Very much recommended.

Now then….

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

 

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!

Still there?

Welp, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Now then, as I said before, the film involves these mysterious monsters who are apparently blind and hunt their prey purely through sound.

In other words, you make a noticeable sound and… bang, you’re dead.

Which begs the question: Why the heck didn’t humanity simply create a series of noisemakers to draw these blind creatures to where they want them to be then rain hell upon them?

How about leading them like lemmings after, say, a remote controlled vehicle and over a very high ravine?

I mean, there seem to me to be a number of ways humanity could -indeed should- have been able to use the monster’s main attribute against them.

The movie’s climax does feature a use of this, effectively finding a noise that bothers/freezes the creatures so they can be picked off, but, again, if sound is their way of hunting, why not put speakers all over a city and blast music 24 hours a day to disorient and draw them in?

But that’s just one logic issue.  Here’s another: How exactly did the Abbots have electricity in their farm?  The movie shows they have lights and a camera system which they use to watch their property.  It’s all well and good, but how do they have this?

If they’re using a generator, it would make noise and that, naturally, would attract the monsters.  I didn’t see any solar arrays, so that seems out.  This is presented in the film but never explained in any way.

Finally, the movie’s climax features a very emotional scene in which the head of the family sacrifices himself for his children, who are pinned down inside a truck while one of these monsters are attacking them.

The monster had attacked and injured the father and he makes eye contact with his children, tells them through hand signs that he loves them, then yells out loud drawing the monster to him and getting killed.

Pardon my French here, but this scene was the one that bothered me the most of all the ones I’ve presented so far.

Why the fuck did he yell?

He had an axe in his hand.  He could have tossed it against the metal shack to his side to make noise to draw the creature away.  Why did he choose to yell and draw the creature right at him.

It was an emotional scene.  It was a scene that ratcheted up the already near unbearable tension… yet it was a scene that made little sense.

IF, of course, you let it.  That one, as I said before, bothered me more than the others, but even it wasn’t enough to make me hate this film.

Congratulations, all involved.  You took a somewhat flawed/illogical concept that could have failed pretty spectacularly in lesser hands yet delivered a first rate suspense/horror film.

As I said before and I’ll repeat again: Recommended.