Ready Player One

ReadyPlayerOne

Ready Player One

Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Hannah John-Kamen, Phillip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Ralph Ineson, Susan Lynch, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A

In 2045, after much of the economy has collapsed and overpopulation threatens to choke the planet, the one place people can find refuge is a massive, interactive on-line community called OASIS, where people can be or do anything they want. For Wade Watts, spending time in the OASIS is the only thing that gives his life meaning. It’s where his friends are, and it’s where he can escape his decidedly ordinary existence. Upon the death of the OASIS’ creator years earlier, a series of puzzles were activated that, upon completion and collection of three keys, would grant the winner total control over the game. After Wade figures out the first clue to the puzzle, he and his friends race against the players from a rival gaming company, IOI, to finish the game and take control of the OASIS, all while avoiding danger in both the real and virtual worlds.

I haven’t read the book that Ready Player One is based on, so I have no idea how many of the massive number of music, movie, television, and gaming references were or weren’t carried over into the film, and which ones are exclusive to the film itself. I can say that, as someone unfamiliar with the material, I enjoyed the movie. Tye Sheridan works well as an everyman, as he isn’t too fit or ridiculously attractive, and he has good chemistry with his fellow castmates. Getting Steven Spielberg as a director undoubtedly made it easier to obtain the rights to all of the materials, especially since many of references were of movies he either directed or produced.

The special effects are amazing. While the real world scenes mostly just have background filler and a few instances of slightly futuristic technology, the scenes inside the OASIS are fantastic. None of the characters, items, or locations in the game look real-world, with all of it being animated, aside from old video files in the game’s library, which is used to research the creator and find information about the contest. Even when something does have a real world counterpart, the colors are slightly over saturated, giving it a surreal look.

This is a very entertaining movie. As stated before, I haven’t read the book, but that seems like a plus in this case, because I wasn’t worried about all the differences between the two. The sci-fi elements aren’t too overwhelming, so people who don’t usually like sci-fi should find it interesting. The action sequences look great, especially in high definition. As for the story itself, it’s basically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory set in the future, with an eccentric old man leaving his vast empire to a random stranger who has managed to prove themself worthy, but that’s not to say that it isn’t entertaining.

Ready Player One is not available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Early Man

EarlyMan

Early Man

Directed By: Nick Park
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Miriam Margolyes, Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Gina Yashere, Richard Webber, Simon Greenall, Nick Park, et.al.
Rated: PG
Grade: B

Caveman Dug, with his best friend/pet Hognob, lives a somewhat happy existence with his tribe in the valley near their home, despite his wanting to begin hunting larger game, like mammoths and to try and decode the peculiar paintings on their cave walls, which show their ancestors crowding around what appears to be a round object. One night, however, their small, comfortable world is shattered when they’re forced out of their home by ore-mining Bronze Agers, who declare to Dug and the tribe that the stone age is over, and there’s no place for them anymore. Desperate to find a way to get his home back, Dug infiltrates the nearby Bronze Age settlement and discovers that they play a game they call football, which remarkably resembles the old cave paintings Dug inquired about. Dug then decides to challenge the Bronze Agers to a football match which will decide the fate of the cave and surrounding valley.

This is a highly enjoyable movie. While the plot, an origin story for the game of football/soccer, may be a little nonsensical, you can tell that it wasn’t meant to be serious portrayal of the Stone and Bronze Ages. Overall, you can tell that they actors were having fun voicing their roles, and the jokes are genuinely funny, even though most of the comedy tends to lean towards the British end of things, and not of it appears to have been aimed over children’s heads. It’s hard to tell actor chemistry with voice actors since it’s more likely than not that everyone is in different rooms while recording, but the voices all mesh well together.

This movie is animated, and looks to have been done to reflect the claymation-style of animation used in previous movies by these film makers, though it was more than likely done with computer animation. It was done well, though the movie tends to lean towards navy blues rather than go for full-on blacks. The characters and objects have depth and dimension, more so than their hand-drawn counterparts.

Pretty much everyone should find this movie enjoyable, though sometimes British comedy can be a little too subtle for some, this is a kids movie, so the jokes should be on a level that nearly everyone can understand. The plot is easy to follow without needing to be glued to the television, and the hero characters are all likeable.

Early Man is not available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Geostorm

Geostorm

Geostorm

Directed By: Dean Devlin
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Amr Waked, Adepero Oduye, Zazie Beetz, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: C+

In the near future, Earth’s weather has become so extreme that a massive satellite capable of altering the planet’s weather patterns is placed in orbit. However, on the eve of turning over control of the satellite from the United States to the United Nations, a series of severe, and fatal, weather events happen and astrophysical engineer Hank Lawson is sent up to try and figure out what’s going wrong and put a stop to it before the system fails completely, creating a worldwide storm system called a Geostorm.

In the realm of disaster movies, Geostorm is near middling. At this point in time, the plots can get somewhat predictable, and while the actual plot has some originality, for the most part it could be nearly any disaster movie made in the last 20 years or so. The acting is sufficient, though Butler and Sturgess aren’t the best at imitating American accents (fun fact: there’s a line where Butler’s character says he and his brother were born in the UK before moving to the US as kids, most likely to cover for the fact that neither one of their leads can pass off an American accent very believably). As far as entertainment value is concerned, it’s slightly more so than your average disaster flick, probably due to the previously stated somewhat original plot. The actors themselves have a decent chemistry. Butler and Sturgess are believable as brothers, and Sturgess has good chemistry with Cornish, who plays his love interest. There’s also a hint at a possible potential romance between Butler and Lara’s characters, but it doesn’t go beyond a few long looks and isn’t really addressed.

The special effects are really well done. They show instances of extreme weather developing on a rapid scale, several shots and scenes taking place in space, and some instances of slightly futuristic technology. It’s all handled well, and nothing looks too obvious. The background filler is also done well.

If you’re looking for a fun popcorn flick, then this is definitely recommended. You don’t need to think too much about the plot, and there’s enough action to keep you interested. There’s also something of a whodunnit, with two possible choices for the mastermind behind the weather plot. It also serves as a bit of a cautionary tale about global warming, and the increasing severity of natural disasters and storms without getting too preachy.

Geostorm is not available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Truth or Dare

TruthOrDare

Truth or Dare?

Directed By: Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk, Landon Liboiron, Sam Lerner, Aurora Perrineau, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: B

While with her friends in Mexico on spring break, Olivia meets Carter, an attractive stranger who promises to take the group to nearby party. After bringing them to a remote, abandon mission, he challenges them all to a game of Truth or Dare, which they reluctantly agree to. As the game progresses and the friends being infighting, Carter finally revealed that they were lured there, and that the game they’re playing is real, and has real-world consequences. Unamused and tired, they head back to their hotel, and eventually home, where Olivia and her friends soon begin seeing strange messages appear around them all asking one thing: Truth or Dare?

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of teen-aimed horror movies, much like there was on the late 1990s/early 2000s, and Truth or Dare is one of the more recent offerings. Like most horror movies, there’s a slight sci-fi/fantasy element mixed in, and like most horror movies, it’s not prominent enough to take casual viewers out of the story. The movie itself actually takes a standard genre plot – partying teens mess with the supernatural and face the consequences – and adds the unique twist that the core group of characters are innocent victims brought in to keep feeding the force behind the game. The actors all have decent chemistry, and for the most part, resemble the college grad students they’re supposed to be. With a PG-13 rating, the movie is relatively bloodless, with only a few graphically gory deaths.

The most prominent effect in the movie is the facial distortion used for when people are possessed by the entity behind the game, and according to the various sources, it was meant to look like an unusual Snapchat filter. There’s also one scene where an unnamed character is burned to death, though it looks like it may have been done practically, with a stunt person and a mannequin. Anything else is just background filler.

As far as horror movies go, this one seems to be a fairly safe bet. It’s intense enough to keep casual fans interested, but not so much as to completely freak them out. The fact that the protagonists are initially bystanders is an interesting take on typical horror plotlines, and the ending isn’t what you typically get from them either. It should hold up to repeat viewings, possibly getting more enjoyable since you can relax and take in hints you may not have noticed the first time around. There’s really only one glaring plothole, but since it’s tied to deus ex machina, it doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.

Truth or Dare isn’t available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but ir can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Assault on Arkham

AssaultOnArkham

Batman: Assault on Arkham

Directed By: Jay Oliva, Ethan Spaulding
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Neal McDonough, Hynden Walch, Matthew Gray Gubler, CCH Pounder, Giancarlo Esposito, Jennifer Hale, John DiMaggio, Greg Ellis, Nolan North, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A

After the Riddler is captured by Batman and sent to Arkham Asylum, ARGUS director Amanda Waller activates the Suicide Squad, which is an elite group of villains tasked to perform undercover operations for the government. The group is tasked with finding the Riddler in Arkham and retrieving sensitive information he stole from ARGUS. Meanwhile, they must avoid piquing Batman’s interest while he searches Gotham for a dirty bomb that the Joker has assembled and hidden somewhere in the city.

Assault on Arkham, which is part of DC’s Animated Universe, is another movie that sets a standard for their animated fare. The storyline is solid, and the voice actors, which include a handful of recognizable names, all do well, with no one giving a particularly over the top performance (unless the character calls for it, that is). As stated in previous reviews, I’m not familiar with comic books outside of televison and movies, so I have no idea if this movie corresponds with a particular comic book arc, or if it’s an original story. The characters all seem to mesh well together, but again, I’m not overly familiar with their comic counterparts.

The movie is animated to look somewhere between computer animated and hand-drawn, but it was likely done on computer. The animation itself is well done. Not too much of the movie takes place during the daytime, but the colors pop, and the shadows don’t get fuzzy.

One good thing about most comic book movies (both comic book and live action) is that you don’t need to be overly familiar with the source material to enjoy the movie. This should appeal to anyone wanting to see a decent action movie who doesn’t mind it being animated. Although there are a few graphic death scenes (a few characters literally get their heads blown off), so if you’re wary of that, then you might not want to let young children watch.

Batman: Assault on Arkham isn’t available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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ZOMBIES

Zombies

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S

Directed By: Paul Hoen
Starring: Meg Donnelly, Milo Manheim, Trevor Tordjman, Emilia McCarthy, Kylee Russell, James Godfrey, Kingston Foster, Naomi Snieckus, et. al.
Rated: Y7
Network: Disney
Grade: A-

In idyllic Seabrook, everything – and everyone – is perfect, and if you’re not perfect, you’re either forced to conform, or you’re hidden away. When an accident at a nearby chemical plant creates a toxic green fog that turns all it touches into brain-hungry zombies, the citizens build a wall to keep the hungry hoards away. Decades later, the zombies, aided by technological advances, are able to curb their impulses and lead normal, productive lives, and eventually the teens living in what’s known as Zombietown are allowed to attend Seabrook High School. Once there, zombie students Zed and his friends Eliza and Bonzo are excited to finally be included in a real school and possibly join extracurricular activities like football, computer club, and band, only to find out that they’re stuck in the basement away from the other students. After Zed is caught wandering the school and a shutdown is in place, he meets Addison, a pretty blonde cheerleader who was raised to believe that all zombies are evil, but also wants to see the good in everyone since she carries a secret of her own. Together, Zed and Addison try to erase the lines between humans and zombies and finally get the two groups reintegrated.

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is a fairly typical DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie), with a standard boy-meets-girl/Romeo and Juliet story. Despite the standardized format and rather predictable ending, the movie is actually very entertaining. As long as you like musicals, that is. Like most DCOMs these days, this movie features several song and dance numbers, which vary between surprisingly good and laughably cheesy. The acting is about what you’d expect from a TV movie aimed at kids. Most of the supporting characters get a bit over the top, but the main actors hold their own. Since most of the actors in the movie are relative unknowns or are just getting their first major role, nothing should be held against them for being a tad bit over dramatic at times.

Since this is a made-for-TV movie, there are very little special effects used. When they do use them, though, they’re not that bad. There are some zombie transition effects at one point in the movie, and a couple of the dance sequences have some stage effects, and what little else is used is background filler.

If you like DCOMs, or just cheery movies with happy, although slightly predictable, endings, then you’ll like Z-O-M-B-I-E-S. Despite the fact that half the characters are zombies, there’s no real sci-fi or horror elements used, and the movie is entirely bloodless. It’s also a good movie for kids to watch to help teach them about tolerance and accepting those who are different from what society deems as “normal.”

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is available free to stream from the DisneyNOW app, and purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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The Awakening

Awakening

The Awakening

Directed By: Nick Murphy
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Shaun Dooley, Joseph Mawle, et. al.
Rated: R
Grade: A-

In 1921, just after World War I has ended, psychics and supernaturalists have become highly popular with those grieving the loss of their loved ones. Florence Cathcart, however, has made a career of debunking the supernatural and exposing the charlatans taking advantage of those overcome with grief. After being approached by Robert Mallory, a teacher at an all-boys boarding school in the country, which he says has been plagued with sightings of ghosts, she’s hesitant to involve herself. However, when she learns that these sighting have culminated in the death of one of the students, she ultimately agrees to help. Shortly after her arrival, the students are released on holiday, leaving only Florence, Robert, the caretaker, the school’s matron, and a young boy who’s parents live too far away for him to visit over the break. After everyone else has gone, Florence begins experiencing a terrifying sequence of events, ultimately leading to her delving into her own past, as well as the school’s history.

The Awakening could simply have been a stereotypical ghost story, with the nonbeliever being converted with the first hint of supernatural activity, however, this film chooses to have her remaining skeptical, even after being confronted with what most would consider solid proof. The hazy, dreary setting of the English countryside in the rainy season, most of the color seems to have been leeched from the scenes, which adds to the tense, supernatural atmosphere. The actors all do well with their roles, and give off an air of slight unease that increases as the supposed haunting intensifies. The storyline is well done, and not quite as predictable as some others in the same genre. The movie is probably more of a thriller than a horror, as it’s relatively bloodless aside from a scene where the caretaker attempts to assault Florence, and a flashback sequence that shows how her family died.

Despite this being a horror/thriller involving ghosts, the special effects are kept to a minimum. There’s some heavy saturation in flashback scenes, and the most of the scenes at the school have color timing done to mute the tones, but none of it is too flashy, and there are little, if any, ghostly effects. All other effects are kept to background filler, and aren’t noticeable.

Fans of horror/thrillers and ghost stories will enjoy this film. While there’s no real action, the movie instead going for psychological drama, the story is interesting and intense enough to hold your attention. Also, while you don’t necessarily need to pay strict attention to the plot, it’s also not a movies you can ignore for long periods without losing your place. It’s also not so intense that you’ll only want to watch it once.

The Awakening is not available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Oldboy

OldBoy

Oldboy

Directed By: Spike Lee
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elisabeth Olsen, Michael Imperioli, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Pom Klementiff, et.al.
Rated: R
Grade: C+

Joe Doucett is a drunk, a liar, and a sleazy marketing salesman. On the night of his daughter’s third birthday, he’s kidnapped by persons unknown, and placed hotel-like prison cell, where he is denied human contact and fed a steady diet of vodka and crappy Chinese food. While there, he learns that his exwife was brutally raped and murdered, and that he was framed for the crime. Over the course of two decades, learns of his daughter’s life after her mother’s murder through an Unsolved Mysteries-type show, which inspires him to quit drinking, get in shape, and try to deduce who could have wanted him taken and framed for a crime he didn’t commit so that he can reunite with her. After his twenty-year imprisonment is up, Joe is mysteriously released, and is given a limited amount of time to discover why he was taken or else something terrible will happen to his daughter.

Oldboy is a remake of a Korean movie that was based on a manga. Though the initial storyline is interesting – who took Joe Doucett and why? – the film quickly dives into strange, and occasionally reaches depths of what the fuck. For the most part, the acting is fairly decent. Brolin does an above average job playing the sleazy, abrasive drunk, though he seems to lose his footing in the scenes after Joe is released. Olsen tries her best to keep up with the more seasoned actors in the film, but for all her open hearted earnestness, she doesn’t quite believably convey the character’s broken soul. Copely’s bad guy Adrian doesn’t quite reach the desired depths of menacing, and ends up coming off as a mustache-twirling scenery chewer. As I’m unfamiliar with the source materials, I can’t say how this film measures up beyond second-hand comments about some watered down plot points and how the manga and the original Korean film had superior endings. Other than that, the film doesn’t shy away from the violence portrayed throughout much of the plot.

There are no noticeable effects aside from some saturation tinkering for a couple of flashbacks in other to give them a foggy, overexposed look. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much beyond background filler.

This movie isn’t for the faint of heart. With graphic violence and instances of incest, only those with strong constitutions will be able to make it through, and even then they might cringe at the memory of the plot. It’s also an involved plot line that requires you to pay attention so you don’t get lost wondering what’s going on. Those who do brave the movie may only want to watch it once, unless you’re a diehard fan of one of the actors in the film.

Oldboy is not available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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The Purge

Purge

The Purge

Directed By: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Ty Oller, Arija Bareikis, et.al.
Rated: R
Grade: A

In the near future, the United States has a 12-hour period once a year in which all crime is legal and all emergency services are suspended, called The Purge. As one wealthy family settles in behind their high-tech security system, they see a bloodied stranger asking for shelter. After one of them lets the man in, the people pursuing him come knocking, and they plan to use any means necessary to get the man back and take revenge for the killing of one of their own.

The Purge is a horror thriller that uses its low-budget and short runtime to its advantage. Low-lighting and jump scares account for most of the genre elements used. The action takes a little time to get going, but once it does, there are very few breathing periods until the last couple of scenes. Hawke and Headey do well as the blissfully ignorant rich people living in their own little bubble, and the pair have a decent chemistry that makes them believable as a couple. Wakefield, however, is the real standout. As the leader of the home invaders, he carries a sense of maniacal menace thinly veiled by a sheen of polite patience and charm. His character even goes so far as to shoot one of his own crew after they suggest immediate force to get their target back, instead of waiting for the family to hand the man over of their own accord. The writing seems fairly typical for a horror movie. Though there does seem to be a little more thought put into the plot than is standard for these types of movies. The fact that, in the movie, the Purge is treated like a holiday or sporting event, with stats about various cities participation percentages, is almost more scary than the home invasion plot.

Since the movie was made on a shoestring budget, most of the effects practical. The background filler is somewhat noticeable in places, but since most of the movie takes place in one location, it doesn’t detract from the film.

If you enjoy horror movies, you’ll probably enjoy The Purge. It’s scary enough to keep you entertained, but not so scary you’ll regret having watched it when you’re trying to sleep. If nothing else, it would serve as good background noise when you’re working on something and don’t want to do so in silence, and it’s probably something you’ll be comfortable with watching more than once.

The Purge is not available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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