Ready Player One movie review

For inSing

READY PLAYER ONE

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen
Genre : Sci-fi, action
Run Time : 2h 20m
Opens : 29 March 2018
Rating : PG13

This Easter, several faith-based films are being released, including I Can Only Imagine and Paul, Apostle of Christ. This movie is about an Easter Egg hunt of epic proportions, with none other than Steven Spielberg as our guide.

It is 2045, and teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in ‘the Stacks’, a shantytown outside Columbus, Ohio. Like millions of other people around the world, he escapes the drudgery of life by entering a virtual reality realm known as the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), where he is known as Parzival. His best friend within the sprawling game is Aech (Lena Waithe), who runs a virtual garage.

James Donovan Halliday (Mark Rylance), who created the OASIS with his former partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), has passed away. Halliday has created an Easter Egg hunt – the Easter Egg Hunter (Gunter for short) who finds three keys will inherit Halliday’s fortune of half a trillion dollars, and full control of the OASIS. Wade teams up with Aech, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki) to complete this epic quest.

Their main opponent: the Sixers, an army of Gunters indentured to Innovative Online Industries (IOI). The company’s greedy CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has effectively enslaved players indebted to the company and wants control of the OASIS himself. It’s up to Parzival and company to beat Sorrento to the prize.

Ready Player One is based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline. This is the ultimate geek power fantasy – what if one’s knowledge of pop culture ephemera could actually be used to gain a fortune and save the world?

At its heart, this is a hero’s journey, and the mechanics of the plot are not unlike that of many Young Adult novels with ‘chosen one’ plots. What makes Ready Player One more than the sum of its innumerable references is director Spielberg. Working from a screenplay adapted by Cline and Zak Penn, Spielberg infuses the film with energy, wide-eyed imagination and sheer awe-inspiring spectacle.

Spielberg works in one of two modes: ‘fun Spielberg’ and ‘serious Spielberg’. We saw ‘serious Spielberg’ this past awards season with The Post. While many ‘serious Spielberg’ movies are masterpieces, this reviewer always prefers ‘fun Spielberg’. The self-confessed video game enthusiast gets to indulge his inner gamer, fashioning a dizzying virtual world bursting with detail and lots of existing characters for audiences to point at the screen and recognise.

Ready Player One comments on nostalgia, escapism, and the power of pop culture in shaping our world. Much of Spielberg’s filmography inspires nostalgia, trades in escapism, and he is one of the premiere forces in shaping modern pop culture. Spielberg omitted the overt references to his own oeuvre found in the book, fearing it would come off as too self-indulgent. It feels like no one else could have made this movie, and even over 40 years after inventing the modern blockbuster with Jaws, Spielberg’s still got it. There are times when Ready Player One feels like it’s pandering to its geek target audience, but that’s inherent in the source material. There’s a pleasure in knowing that a filmmaker as exalted as Spielberg demonstrably is a geek at heart.

Of special note among the surfeit of references is a sequence which draws heavily on Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. This is a delightful tribute to the late filmmaker, who was originally set to direct A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg took over after Kubrick’s death.

The staggering scope of the OASIS is effectively conveyed. It feels like a world which would demand nothing less than complete devotion, and it’s therefore easy to buy the idea that people’s lives have been ruined in the pursuit of credits in-game. The visual effects, supervised by Roger Guyett and supplied by vendors including ILM and Digital Domain, are expansive and astounding. Credit also goes to special projects supervisor Deidre Backs, whose job it was to clear licenses to the myriad properties referenced in the film.

Spielberg’s regular composer John Williams dropped out of scoring this film to work on The Post. In his stead is Alan Silvestri, who seems like the best possible replacement for Williams. Silvestri pays homage to his iconic score for Back to the Future with rousing, melodic music.

The characters are all archetypical, but because of the storytelling device of the video game, that’s more than justified. Tye Sheridan’s Wade is a sometimes-dopey geek, a nobody in the real world but a somebody in the OASIS. He’s very much a wish fulfilment figure, but Sheridan is never annoying in the role.

Cooke’s Art3mis is a typical action girl, and the attempt at portraying the vulnerabilities that lie beneath that surface are sometimes clumsy. Cooke is poised to be the next big thing and is often more interesting than Sheridan. The romance is almost absurdly underdeveloped, undercutting Art3mis’ agency in the story somewhat.

Waithe is fun as the stock best friend character, while the two Asian characters seem to be only there so they can do martial arts. The supporting characters don’t get too much development, but that’s a function of the structure, so it’s easy to forgive.

Mendelsohn has found a niche playing middle management supervillains, and Sorrento is squarely in his wheelhouse.  It’s an entertainingly smarmy performance that’s the right side of hammy.

Rylance, Spielberg’s new muse, delivers a deeply affecting performance as misunderstood genius Halliday, who displays traits of Asperger’s syndrome. There’s a Steve Jobs-Steve Wozniak-type dynamic between Halliday and Og, which the film doesn’t quite have the space to flesh out but is compelling based on the little we see of it. This reviewer would love to see a prequel just about Halliday and Og developing the OASIS.

Ready Player One might feel intimidating to those who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool pop culture connoisseurs, but even if one doesn’t get all or even half of the references, there’s plenty to enjoy in seeing a master of the blockbuster work his magic on a massive canvas.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jedd Jong

The Post movie review

For inSing

THE POST

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Allison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods
Genre : Biography/Drama/Historical
Run Time : 1h 56 min
Opens : 18 January 2018
Rating : PG13

         Every awards season, there are bound to be at least a few ‘big important movies’ – films based on true events that have a timely relevance, boasting pedigree in front of and behind the camera. The Post ticks all those boxes.

It is 1971. The New York Times runs a story about how the U.S. government has been lying about the Vietnam War to the public, based on leaked clandestine reports which document the ongoing war, going back over 20 years. These reports were compiled on the instructions of Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), the former Secretary of Defence, for academic study.

Katherine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female owner of The Washington Post, is about to publicly list the paper. While the Initial Public Offering will broaden the Post’s reach, Graham also fears losing the control entrusted to her by her late husband, who succeeded Graham’s father as the owner of the paper.

President Nixon and the Attorney General file an injunction against The New York Times, taking the paper to court over the story. Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) sees the opportunity to dig further into the story. Assistant Editor Ben Bagdikan (Bob Odenkirk) tracks down the source, former analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), and procures more than 4000 pages of the Pentagon Papers. Graham must choose whether to publish, at the risk of her and Bradlee being imprisoned, and with the paper at stake.

The sitting President of the United States has made no secret of his disdain for the press, branding any outlet which runs stories unfavourable to him as “fake news”. This climate prompted Steven Spielberg to rush The Post into production, and he made this film while his next movie Ready Player One was in post-production. The Post makes a statement about the importance of the freedom of the press, but perhaps it makes that statement a little too obviously. “We have to be the check on their power. If we don’t hold them accountable — my god, who will?” Bradlee exclaims, in one of several lines that spell out what the film is about.

Because The Post is made by people who more than know what they’re doing, it gets a lot right. Spielberg’s regular cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, composer John Williams and editor Michael Kahn (with additional editing by Sarah Broshar) do their usual fine work. The movie looks and sounds like how one would expect a 70s-set political thriller to look, and the setting feels authentic – complete with a multitude of unfortunate hairdos. While the first half of the film can be somewhat dry, things get genuinely thrilling as the movie heads towards an exciting conclusion. The stakes are clearly established, and it’s clear that the decisions the characters must make are consequential ones.

Behind the scenes, there’s the success story of Liz Hannah, for whom every aspiring screenwriter’s dream came true: her first screenplay was made into a film by Steven Spielberg. Josh Singer, who won an Oscar for co-writing Spotlight, rewrote Hannah’s script. Hannah had long been fascinated with Graham, and the writer’s boyfriend encouraged her to pen a screenplay about the newspaper heiress.

The Post wants to be a personal story in addition to being a historical account, but struggles with the balance. A scene between Graham and her daughter Lally (Allison Brie) comes off as a slightly awkward attempt to generate emotion while also supplying some backstory.

The Post is at its best when its talented actors are turned loose. Putting Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in a scene together, regardless of context, is bound to produce electrifying results. The role of Kay Graham is comfortably in Streep’s wheelhouse: a powerful woman grappling with a monumental dilemma. Graham must make her way in a man’s world, facing doubt at every turn. She remains warm and personable even in the face of adversity, and is at once a magnetic and comforting presence.

Hanks has fun, biting into the role with relish. Bradlee is a dogged, persistent editor, who is described at one point as a “pirate”. Bradlee is a little more abrasive than your standard charming, affable Hanks part, and he spars with Graham and other characters throughout the film. Hanks and Streep visibly enjoy playing off each other, and Spielberg brings out the best in his stars.

The supporting cast is first-rate too: Paulson is especially likeable as Bradlee’s wife Antoinette, and gets an excellent scene in which she lays out why she admires Graham as Bradlee seems to dismiss his boss’ predicament. Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk is funny and down-to-earth as assistant editor Ben Bagdikan, who flies back to Washington with the Papers safely buckled into the airplane seat next to him.

There’s no denying that The Post is timely and well-made, but perhaps it’s a little too aware of its status as a big important movie. It takes audiences from Point A to B with enough clarity, but perhaps not enough nuance, and it will be hard for some viewers to see past how obviously The Post is calibrated for awards season appeal.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The BFG

For F*** Magazine

THE BFG

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Hall
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 hr 57 mins
Opens : 18 August 2016
Rating : PG

The BFG posterDuring the 90s, Wall Street securities analyst Joe Tinker stated “there are only two brand names in the business: Disney and Spielberg.” Now, these two juggernaut childhood-shapers have joined forces with The BFG. Sophie (Barnhill) is a young orphan who is spirited away to Giant Country by the Big Friendly Giant, or BFG (Rylance). The BFG catches and distributes dreams to the children of London in the dead of night. Sophie is initially fearful of the BFG, but is soon convinced that he is benign. The other giants who call Giant Country home however, are not. The man-eating giants, led by the towering Fleshlumpeater (Clement) and his sidekick Bloodbottler (Hader), bully the BFG and suspect that he might be harbouring a tasty “human bean”. Sophie decides to set up an audience for the BFG with none other than Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II (Wilton), so the other nasty giants can be dealt with once and for all.

The BFG Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance 1

The BFG is adapted from Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book of the same name. Steven Spielberg was once strongly associated with heart-warming escapist tales, but over the last two decades or so has turned most of his attention to prestige pictures like Lincoln and Bridge of Spies – though there’s still the occasional The Adventures of Tintin or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The BFG re-teams Spielberg with the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who penned E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; the film is dedicated to her memory. The BFG has plenty of charm, but lacks a narrative impetus, and is thus difficult to get into. Not every movie has to feature life-and-death stakes, but surely Spielberg of all people knows that a little peril can go a long way. For most of the film, Sophie is pretty much just hanging out with the BFG, and even when she’s threatened by the supposedly fearsome giants, the sense of danger just doesn’t take hold.

The BFG Mark Rylance Buckingham Palace breakfast

 

The BFG is very agreeable family entertainment, and in keeping in the “sweetness tinged with rudeness” spirit of Dahl’s writing, features what is likely the first-ever fart joke in a Spielberg movie. The performance capture work and the visual effects that integrate Sophie with the computer-generated giants are of excellent quality. Visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, whose credits include the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, Avatar, and Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is a four-time Oscar winner, after all. There is, however, a noticeable trade-off: the giants, the villainous ones in particular, can sometimes come off as cartoony, because making them too realistic would result in falling headlong into the dreaded uncanny valley. As it stands, some audience members might find the BFG creepy rather than endearing, but this reviewer isn’t among them.

The BFG Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance 2

Rylance, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his turn in Bridge of Spies, seems to have become Spielberg’s new favourite person: he’s already secured roles in the director’s next two films, Ready Player One and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. The design of the BFG himself retains the defining features as drawn by Dahl’s regular illustrator Quentin Blake, and the performance capture approach allows for all of Rylance’s subtle expressions to shine through. The malapropisms and neologisms that pepper the BFG’s speech, as delivered by Rylance, give the character a folksy charm. He’s the absent-minded but well-meaning doddering grandfather, having taken on a larger-than-life form. The BFG also has a surprisingly tragic backstory that isn’t in the book, and as a tool for character development, it does work.

The BFG Ruby Barnhill 1

Barnhill makes for a spirited Sophie, with a dash of another Dahl protagonist, Matilda, evident in this incarnation. The interaction between Sophie and the BFG is wonderfully acted by both performers, and Barnhill’s turn is all the more impressive when one remembers there wasn’t actually a giant there for her to act against. In some ways, its reminiscent of Neel Sethi’s Mowgli from The Jungle Book earlier this year. Barnhill certainly deserves a place in the pantheon of memorable child actors from Spielberg films.

The BFG evil giants

 

While a semblance of Rylance’s features is evident in the BFG’s digitally animated face, Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler and the other markedly less friendly giants do not resemble their respective voice/performance capture actors, meaning that less of the performers’ personality comes through. Wilton moves from Downton Abbey to Buckingham Palace, and her portrayal of the Queen is amusing and affectionate without becoming too much of a caricature. As the Queen’s butler Tibbs, Rafe Spall is on fine comic form. Rebecca Hall, Spall’s co-star from the Wide Sargasso Sea TV movie, is the picture of class as the Queen’s maid Mary.

The BFG Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Penelope Wilton and Ruby Barnhill

The scenes in which the BFG carefully crafts the dreams could be seen as a metaphor for filmmaking, and Spielberg is a consummate crafter of dreams. It’s pretty to look at and composer John Williams is in full Harry Potter mode here – unfortunately, the music is pleasant but nowhere as memorable. Alas, The BFG is far from his most magical work, and we’re not sure that the typical kid’s attention span would be able to withstand its unhurried pace.

Summary: The BFG features delightful performances from its two leads, but the lack of narrative drive means it’s only intermittently engaging.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Resurrecting the Dinosaurs: the special effects of Jurassic Park

As published in Issue #64/65 of F*** Magazine

Text:
RESURRECTING THE DINOSAURS
F*** goes back to the genesis of the Jurassic Park film series and explores the movie magic that brought the park’s denizens back from extinction
.
By Jedd Jong
This June, Jurassic World continues the legacy of a film franchise that has enthralled audiences with its depictions of prehistoric beasts stomping among (and occasionally chomping on) mankind. The first Jurassic Park movie, which was released in 1993, broke more than its share of ground in the realm of special and visual effects that marked a great leap forward in filmmaking technology. In the story, it is InGen’s geneticists who clone dinosaurs from preserved DNA, but behind the scenes, it was Stan Winston Studio, Tippett Studio and Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) who resurrected these titans of a bygone era.

Jurassic Park is based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. Even before the book was published, a fierce bidding war for the film rights was sparked. Universal Pictures, director Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment won the rights. Spielberg had a tough time working with animatronic creatures on Jaws, which was plagued by constantly malfunctioning mechanical sharks. The plan of action was that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Parkwould be created with the joint methods of stop-motion puppets and full-scale animatronic dinosaurs.
Spielberg first turned to theme park attraction creator Bob Gurr, who was working on a King Kongattraction at Universal Studios. Upon realising that particular method was infeasible, the director sought the help of Stan Winston, a legendary special effects creator whose studio was responsible for the monsters of the Alien, Terminator and Predator franchises, amongst other films. “Everyone who does the kind of work we do are dinosaur fans,” Winston professed. The puppets, which would be used for wide shots of the dinosaurs in motion, were to be created by animator Phil Tippett. Tippett had devised an improved stop-motion animation technique called “go-motion”, which he used on the film Dragonslayer. The addition of digital motion blurring would reduce the jerkiness that is characteristic of stop-motion animation.

Winston engaged concept artist Mark “Crash” McCreery to begin designing the dinosaurs; McCreery’s artwork informed by palaeontologist Jack Horner, who has been a consultant for all the Jurassic Park films so far. Among Horner’s contributions was the then-recent discovery that dinosaurs were more closely related to birds than they were to reptiles. Initially, the Raptors would’ve been depicted with snake-like flicking tongues, an idea Horner nixed. The intent was that these would be living, breathing creatures that the audience could buy as real animals rather than otherworldly movie monsters. The design process started a full year before actual production began. “We wanted these dinosaurs to be authentic, not ‘Hollywood’ dinosaurs, and so we really did our research,” Winston said.
Over at pioneering visual effects house ILM, famous for their work on the Star Wars saga, visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren was in charge of digitally enhancing Tippett’s puppetry work and exploring new uses for computer graphics in the making of the film. In the midst of pre-production, ILM presented computer-generated test footage to Spielberg, which depicted a heard of skeletal Gallimimus running through a field. It turns out that actors aren’t the only ones who practice method acting as the ILM animators studied under a movement coach and performed the Gallimimus run to provide their own reference material.
Animators Mark Dippé and Steve Williams later worked on animating a walk cycle for the T-rex. Spielberg was impressed, saying “it was so authentic and smooth, I said ‘well that’s the future, that’s the way it’s going to be from now on’…this technology came along and changed my movie forever and in that sense changed the world forever.”
Naturally, Tippett and his go-motion animation team were devastated by this change of approach to the wide shots. “It was a big emotional moment, like when your dog dies,” Tippett recalled.

“We’re extinct, we’re the dinosaurs, and that irony wasn’t lost on any of us,” said dinosaur motion supervisor Randal M. Dutra. This was given a nod in the dialogue of the film, when palaeontologist Dr. Alan Grant says “we’re out of a job” and mathematician Ian Malcolm corrects him by saying “don’t you mean extinct?” However, the work that Tippett and his team had developed did not go to waste – the elaborate go-motion puppets were used to create animatics (moving storyboards) that helped Spielberg plan the action beats precisely and served as a guide to the other animators and puppeteers involved. Tippett’s team also designed a telemetry system called the “Dinosaur Input Device” that could project tactilely manipulated movements on a scaled-down armature onto the full-sized animatronic dinosaurs, lending a hands-on element to the way the digital dinosaurs were controlled.
Years later, Tippett became a minor internet meme due to his credit as “dinosaur supervisor”, with posts on tumblr jokingly berating him for the mayhem brought about by dinosaurs as depicted in the film. In 2013, he sent out a tweet in response, playing along with the joke: “Everyone on the internet thinks they could be a better dino supervisor – BUT YOU WEREN’T THERE.”
Principal photography began in August 1992 on the Hawaiian island of Kuai. The first dinosaur to be filmed was the sickly Triceratops, built full-size by Winston’s shop. The Triceratops was sculpted by Joey Orosco, who used reference photographs of elephants and a white rhinoceros taken at a local zoo. The Triceratops puppet was positioned over a pit that could accommodate up to 11 puppeteers.
Prolific human actors like Sir Richard Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum were cast in Jurassic Park, but the biggest star was undoubtedly the full-size animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex used to film the main road attack. “It’s one thing seeing a great big model, [but] a model that moves and breathes and works with you was something else,” Neill noted. The hulking animatronic creation was set up at the largest soundstage in Warner Bros. Studios, dressed to mimic the T-rexpaddock and main road that had been built in Kuai.
Even after being up to the task of designing and building a mechanical behemoth that had to act opposite the human cast, Winston and his crew had another major hurdle to overcome. Spielberg thought that having the scene take place in the rain would be more exciting and that it would enhance the atmosphere. The T-rex was calibrated for weight and not designed to be waterproof. After spending some time under the rain machines, the giant robot would begin to vibrate uncontrollably because the foam rubber skin had started soaking up water. The crew had to dry the T-rex off by slapping it with shammy towels.
The other signature sequence from the movie is the “Raptors in the kitchen” scene, in which two Velociraptors stalk Tim and Lexi into the visitor’s centre’s industrial kitchen. Actor Joseph Mazzello, who played Tim, called the Velociraptors“the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” The way these creatures moved had to be deliberate and reflect a frightening intelligence. “I remember being on set for the kitchen scene and looking behind a counter and seeing about 15 people all operating a different part of the Raptor,” Mazzello added.
For McCreery and art department coordinator John Rosengrant, their work on Jurassic Park wasn’t restricted to sitting behind desks. In addition to designing the dinosaurs, McCreery and Rosengrant got to play them, getting into specially designed Raptor suits to portray the two dinosaurs in the kitchen sequence. To simulate Raptor anatomy, the performers had to assume an awkward pose inside the suits, as if they were skiing. “My back would go out after about 30 minutes,” Rosengrant recalled, “and that was after having trained a couple of hours a day for weeks.”
“It was exhilarating but torture at the same time,” McCreery agreed. “It’s kind of scary because there’s that claustrophobic-type feeling. You’d have a little monitor in front of your face and then that would go out and you’d be blind and hoping you were doing the right thing.”
For the moment in which the Raptor leaps up onto the countertop and when there’s fast running involved, it’s handed off to a CGI Raptorto allow for more fluidity. “That’s a great, great sequence showing basically all the tools working [together], every one of ‘em,” said special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri.
One often-overlooked element in making the dinosaurs convincing as actual animals is sound design. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom was tasked with creating vocalisations for the T-rexthat weren’t the usual monster movie roar. The T-rex’s roars were a combination of recorded samples from baby elephants, alligators, tigers, whales, and Rydstrom’s own pet Jack Russell terrier, Buster. The Velociraptors’ signature screech came from combining noises from geese, horses and dolphins. In addition, there was a bizarrely risqué source for the Raptors’ calls: “It’s somewhat embarrassing, but when the Raptors bark at each other to communicate, it’s a tortoise having sex,” Rydstrom revealed.
 Jurassic Park was a box office smash and a hit with critics as well, spawning three further sequels, the latest of which is this summer’s Jurassic World. Stan Winston Studio and ILM continued to collaborate on The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III. After Winston’s death in 2008, Lindsay Macgowan, Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant, and Alan Scott, who had worked at Stan Winston Studio for over 20 years, founded their own company, Legacy Effects. Legacy Effects is in charge of creating the animatronic dinosaurs for director Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, with Tim Alexander supervising the visual effects at ILM. Tippett Studio is involved in the process as well. While the trailers for the film have drawn some flak for a supposed over-reliance on computer-generated imagery, it is encouraging that several key behind-the-scenes figures from the original Jurassic Park are returning for the fourth go-round. We trust that these movie magicians’ handiwork will thrill new audiences and remind long-time Jurassic Park fans of how they first became spellbound.