Monday, April 30, 2018

Movie Review - "Ocean's 11" (1960)

I don't say this too often, but there are remakes out there that are better than the originals, even if they are few and far between. Most of the best remakes are the ones that you probably didn't even know were remakes, like Brian De Palma's "Scarface" or Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" and even "The Maltese Falcon," the film that started the film noir genre, is a remake. These retellings often take these old fashion stories further than the originals ever could or tell them in a far more captivating way. In this case, the original Rat Pack's "Ocean's 11" pales in comparison to Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven," mostly due to pacing and a lack of tension from the original.

These films do have nearly identical plots - A group of eleven highly trained professionals decide to pool their talents and cunning to simultaneously rob the biggest casinos in Las Vegas. In the original 1960 version, these men were part of the 82nd Airborne in World War II and are led by Frank Sinatra, while in the remake these men come from around the world and barely know each other while being led by George Clooney, both playing the titular Danny Ocean.

Both films boast an all-star cast for their times, with the 1960's version going all-in on singers-turned-actors like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and big name actors like Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, while the remake of course had actors like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. Where they differ is how these characters interact, with the original going for a more natural and authentic feel. Their conversations are straight to the point and bare-bones, while the remake is full of wit and snappy-dialogue. Neither is inherently worse than the other, since their interactions set the tone for the rest of the film, but in a film that has to quickly set up eleven different personalities, it is nice to see some charisma.

But the biggest difference between these two films is the tension during their heists and how it is practically night-and-day. In the original film, these guys are nonchalant about everything, trying to look as cool as possible while robbing casinos. As a result, they make it look mundane and easy to rob the place that by the time the heist starts, the tension of their plan succeeding has all but faded. In the remake, they stress how impossible this task is and how they'll fail if they make one wrong move, with each scene racking up the suspense higher and higher. I don't get that these guys will fail their mission if they make one wrong move in the original, because they make it look so effortless.

Watching these two is like seeing some guy in a suit steal candy from a baby carriage like it was nothing, and then watching another guy being chased by the cops with a huge bag of money in hand, and see him steal the candy along the way.

Overall, "Ocean's 11" felt like a bore, especially compared to the Rat Pack's other big hit, "Robin and the Seven Hoods." It is your typical heist film with a slight sense of humor, but never to the point that it overwhelms the dry tone. Outside of Sinatra, Martin and Davis Jr., you don't get to know any of the other guys, to the point that side characters like the reformed mobster Duke Santos (Cesar Romero) and a drunk Shirley MacLaine have more character than half of these guys. There's nothing too special here, and I would highly recommend checking out the remake over this film any day.

Final Grade: C

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Movie Review - "Isle of Dogs" (2018)

Wes Anderson, more than any other filmmaker right now, is fully dedicated to his style and injects that into every frame of his movies. All you need to do is look at one still from his movies and you can tell it's a Wes Anderson production. From the framing of a shot to the camera movement that always puts the action in the center of the shot, to the strange almost pale or autumn color scheme, to the unique deadpan humor where every line is delivered like it's their last words, Anderson takes his identity and puts that at the center of the stage. He is not just an artist, but an modern-day auteur.

Sometimes this works out well, like in "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel," while other times it comes across as forced, like in "Moonrise Kingdom." But the best example of Anderson's creative genius has to be when he tried his hand at animation with "Fantastic Mr. Fox," where he treated every little detail, including the backgrounds and outfits his animated characters wear, like a work of art while still keeping it within his typical style. The film takes the limitless imagination of animation and gives Anderson free control to create an new world as if it were his canvas.

So imagine my joy when I find out that Wes Anderson was doing another stop-motion animation film, "Isle of Dogs," only this time it would be an original idea, and it would be a celebration of Japanese culture and Akira Kurosawa films.

"Isle of Dogs" delivers on so many levels, giving the audience everything they have come to expect from Wes Anderson in his typical deadpan style, while feeling like a strange mix of a Kurosawa picture and a Rankin/Bass holiday special, like if "Seven Samurai" met "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The film has a surprising amount of heartfelt moments that make these characters far more than just cute animals, and story with a wonderful lore that feels like something out of "Kubo and the Two Strings."

The film opens with the long and violent history between cats and dogs, and the people who sided with each animal. One family that tried to eradicate dogs altogether was the Kobayashi clan, almost succeeding until a boy samurai stepped in and put an end to their reign. Cut forward to a dystopian future in Japan where Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has declared that the latest epidemic of dog flu has reached the point where it could start spreading to humans. For the safety of the country and the world, the mayor declares that all dogs in Japan must be relocated to a far-off garbage island.

After the order is sent out, the remaining dogs on Trash Island do what they can to survive, including a group of alpha dogs - Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and their leader Chief (Bryan Cranston). Though things change on the island when a small plane crash lands a small boy (Koyu Rankin) emerges to look for his lost dog Spots. Despite the ever vigilant eye of the Japanese government, the boy and these alpha dogs set out across Trash Island to find his dog so they can once again been seen as "good boys."

"Isle of Dogs" is built upon Wes Anderson's interpretation of the Japanese culture, including their style of Noh theatre, classic Japanese water paintings reimagined with dogs and cats beings the emphasis, and haikus that make no sense. Some might say this is disrespectful, but it comes across as Anderson honoring this ancient culture and their traditions while still giving it his own unique spin, like he did with European cultures in "The Grand Budapest Hotel." This gives the film an even more memorable and unique flavor than we're used to from Anderson.

Most of the humor comes from the deadpan things dogs would say if we could understand them. The film opens up by saying that, while the humans will switch between speaking English and Japanese, all dog barks and growls are translated into English. This leads to most of the dogs talking about rumors they've heard, their favorite foods, and their love for "masters." All of this comes without sacrificing the dry humor of Bill Murray, the crazy ramblings of Jeff Goldblum or the intensity of Bryan Cranston. Basically, Anderson has these actors playing themselves as dogs.

"Isle of Dogs" is the most creative and fulfilling Wes Anderson film to date. The film takes so many different stories related to animation, ancient history and Kurosawa while always feeling like an Anderson picture. For the first time, it feels like he is unrestricted and can use every film trick he's developed over the years to its fullest potential.

Final Grade: A-

Movie Review - "A Quiet Place" (2018)

"A Quiet Place" is one of those rare films where words cannot do the film justice, much like sound throughout the film. It is entirely a visual spectacle that uses the film medium to its fullest potential by creating a Hitchcock-like tale of suspense that weaponizes sound, and must be seen to be believed. This is one film based less on logic and thought and more on emotion and calculations, making it more of a sensation for the eyes and heart, and not so much for your brain.

I feel like "A Quiet Place" is one film that will be looked back on years from now, admired for its unique imagination and how it made everyone terrified every second of the movie by making us fear the noises of our every day lives. It is a brave, bold and nerve-wracking movie from start to finish and saying anything else about it would be a disservice to the visual experience.

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Movie Review - "Blockers" (2018)

"Blockers" took me by surprise in more ways in than one. Based off of the promotional material alone, this one looked like just another run-of-the-mill raunchy R-rated comedy in the same vein as films like "The Hangover." While the idea that a group of parents going to drastic lengths to make sure their children don't have sex on prom night is unique, it can also come across as insincere and insensitive if it isn't done properly, especially when one of your lead actors is pro wrestler John Cena.

Luckily, "Blockers" has far more maturity and complexity to it than your typical raunchy comedy. It's not just that the filmmakers give a believable reason why these parents would act like this, but that you sympathize with these parents because of how much they put onto their children, and how their kids are as much a reflection of themselves as anything else. Combine this with a sense of humor built upon debauchery and teen drama, and you've got a memorable, well-meaning comedy where it's the adults that are coming of age.

Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) have been best friends since the first day of school, but the same cannot be said of their parents, Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), who all seem to dislike each other for one reason or another. Lisa is a single mother who might be spending a little too much time with her daughter Julie, Mitchell acts more like a coach than a father to Kayla, and Hunter has been absent in Sam's life since he and her mother got a divorce. It isn't until the three girls head out for prom night that these three parents find something they don't like - seeing text messages that say their daughters agree to all have sex before the night is done. Without even giving it a second thought, they decide to band together an stop their daughters from making the worst mistake of their lives.

The comedy in "Blockers" is really hit-or-miss, sometimes nailing a big joke and other times falling very flat on the delivery, especially any time the girls try to talk or act hip. Their delivery can be awkward, especially when Kathryn Newton has to stand up against her clingy mother. However, they nail most scenes involving Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz as the father trying way too hard to impress everyone around him with his "wit and charm." John Cena does fine the jokes he's given, but his problem is that he seems restrained for most of the film when it feels like this is an athletic character that is always giving it everything he has. This makes the comedy of "Blockers" feel uneven but unpredictable.

Although the funniest thing in hindsight is that the parents are so committed to stopping their kids from having sex, but they're blind to everything else their children are doing on prom night.

That being said, the true power of "Blockers" lies in its heart. There is a lot of these parents simply sitting down and reflecting on their lives, both before being a parent and how that attitude carried over. In particular, Lisa practically puts every part of her life into raising her child so that she doesn't end up like her - alone, filled with regrets and letting her mistakes dominate her life. She sees this act by her daughter as a sign that her life is a failure.

The two other parents have just as many moments like this, especially Hunter and how he pinned his ego on being a great dad to a daughter that doesn't want him in her life. These moments are done without pandering to the audience or coming across as ham-fisted, only scenes of flawed individuals who wear their emotions on their sleeves breaking down in the heat of the moment.

Overall, "Blockers" proves to be far more than just your standard R-rated comedy through its rather complex characters and the way they interact with each other throughout their strange journey. While the comedy is a mixed affair and the acting ranged from good to mediocre, the screenplay is solid delivers at just the right moments. If you're looking for the funniest film of the year, this isn't going to be it. But if you're searching for a different type of comedy with a great message about parenting and growing up, then "Blockers" will not disappoint.

Final Grade: B

Monday, April 16, 2018

Movie Review - "Captain Blood" (1935)

Whether you know it or not, most of the lore and well-accepted facts about pirates in film came from Michael Curtiz's "Captain Blood." The film is also responsible for launching the career of Errol Flynn, one of the first leading men in Hollywood that was often suave and heroic, but always charismatic, something we see a lot of in todays movies, especially from actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Dwayne Johnson. So basically, everything we love about pirates and blockbusters nowadays started with "Captain Blood."

Set in 17th century England, the film chronicles the rather unpredictable life of Peter Blood (Flynn), an Irish doctor, who performed his duties during the Monmouth rebellion and was convicted of treason when he helped a rebel heal. Rather than being put to death, Blood and the surviving rebels are instead sent by boat to the West Indies where they are sold as slaves to the local Englishmen. Eventually, Blood organizes as a way to get off their little island the only way that makes sense to him - by becoming pirates.

Most of the mythos about pirates that we all know and love today can be traced back to the joy Errol Flynn and his crew of brothers in arms feel as they loot, fight, drink and sail on the high seas. They immediately set up a code of honor among fellow pirates, splitting all of their earnings amongst each other and giving extra gold to those who lost a limb for the sake of the crew. But at the same time, they all show such delight when torturing others, especially Colonel Bishop (Lionel Atwill), who had bought most of them as slaves. This is a pirate life built on the highs and lows they all share together.

Watching "Captain Blood" shows me why I believe we enjoy pirate movies as much as we do, and it is in much the same vein as gangster movies - we're enraptured by their lust for more power, more wealth, in an attempt to satisfy their insatiable greed. Then again, what are pirates but gangsters of the sea? Except rather than fighting with guns and wise cracks, they fight with swords and witty remarks.

But what makes this film stand out is because of Errol Flynn's performance, easily able to bounce between dramatic moments of loss and heartbreak and moments of pure joy as he falls in love with the pirate lifestyle, all while feeling like the same caring selfless person he was at the beginning of the movie. Flynn gives this performance his all, always glowing with a radiating energy in his quieter moments with Olivia de Havilland that shows a vulnerable man who wants so much more out of the world. Flynn takes what could have been a simple swash-buckling role and turns it into a flawed man with a large sense of honor that is angry at the world.

Overall, "Captain Blood" is a great time and one of the best action pieces out of the 1930s. It sets the standard by which all other pirate movies are graded on, and still remains a charming Errol Flynn movie. If you're curious to see where pirates in Hollywood started from, or want to see the evolution of action stars throughout the decades, then this one is right up your alley.

Final Grade: B+

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Movie Review - "A Man Escaped" (1956)

"A Man Escaped" is, above all else, an experience in claustrophobia. Set in a Nazi prison for members of the French Resistance, the film follows Fontaine (Francois Leterrier) as he does everything in his power to escape his German captors with the very few tools he has. There is hardly a word of dialogue and it is mostly set in one jail cell, yet this film does so much with so very little by making the mundane and trivial feel so monumental and important.

The strength in "A Man Escaped" lies in its uncertainty and strength in the littlest of details. Small things that we take for granted, like the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway, the passing of a note between prison members, the way the wood breaks off the prison door, are all of far more importance and tension than any of the characters or story. The entire film is made up of these details. This is by no means a classical drama, bragging about its big moments with tons of characterization, instead opting out for a more human and scintillating tale of survival.

The films' director, Robert Bresson, is a revolutionary director of French cinema, always making minimalistic films that have less of a story and more of a single narrative focus. Bresson also never hired any professional actors, instead usually casting those who had little to no acting experience, because then their reactions and emotions are genuine instead of feeling forced. Bresson was also captured by the Nazis when he was part of the French Resistance, so this film plays with his own fears and struggles while he attempted to escape twice.

Overall, there is no other film like "A Man Escaped" that feels so focused and concise while always being so gripping. Unconventional, while remaining relatable and honest in its depiction of prison escapes. It is not just an achievement in French cinema, but one of the best claustrophobic thrillers ever made.

Final Grade: B

Friday, April 13, 2018

Movie Review - "Dark Victory" (1939)

Before soap operas could be broadcast daily on television, there had to be movies that gave viewers the same impact of a melodrama about eccentric people getting into life-and-death situations. One such film is "Dark Victory," a 1939 film staring Bette Davis, George Bent, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan and Henry Travers and its utterly manipulative and forced story, which follows a young selfish socialite (Davis) being diagnosed with a rare brain tumor and that she has only months left to live.

Her doctor (Brent) slowly starts to fall in love with her and believes he shouldn't have the power to say who lives and who dies, and so he doesn't tell her that she's dying, instead letting her lead her hedonistic lifestyle like she always has, without any knowledge that her end is coming very soon.

While this type of story can be quite an emotional rollercoaster, "Dark Victory"'s execution of this story is more eye-rolling and manipulative than it needed to be. The film is filled to the brim with clichés - her doctor was ten minutes away from retiring from brain surgery before she walked in, she has no regard for human life but loves her horses and dogs to death, and of course the classic doctor falling in love with his patient cliché, even though Davis and Brent's characters have next to nothing in common. But what really drives it all home is how forced it feels that the doctor has to hide her own faith from her for reasons that don't even begin to make sense.

The only reason he doesn't tell her that she's dying from the start is because the plot says so. Because they need half an hour of the doctor and her best friend (Geraldine Fitzgerald) hiding the truth from her while pretending like nothing is wrong, and then another half hour of Davis reacting to the truth. The movie would be so simple if she knew what was going to happen, and the last thing this film wants to be is simple.

If there is one positive out of "Dark Victory" it is the acting from everyone in the cast. I was surprised to learn that George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan and Henry Travers were all in the same film, but I was even more surprised to see that all of them turned out stellar performances. All of them felt like they were moments away from emotional breakdowns, or in Henry Travers case, breaking into tears.

But the real star of the show was Bette Davis, who sold this entire character and her wide range of character quirks, both subtle and over-the-top. She undergoes one of the most melodramatic metamorphosis' I've ever seen, and she never comes across as anything more than authentic and genuine, all while remaining strong and fiercely independent. She makes the big emotional scenes feel bigger and the sad moments stick in the back of your mind long after you've watched the film. Davis owns this role and she makes this a movie worth seeing.

Although, other than a great cast of actors, "Dark Victory" doesn't have much else going for it. The film feels dated and is more than a little manipulative. There were many times that the film tried to force an emotional response, and it often did not work. If you like cheesy and cliché melodramas that feel like something out of "General Hospital" or "Days of Our Lives," then you'll enjoy this one just fine. But besides that, the only reason I'd want to check out "Dark Victory" is because of its surprising amount of great performances.

Final Grade: C

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Movie Review - "Fanny and Alexander" (1982)

Now that I have watched five Ingmar Bergman films, I think I can safely say that none of his films resonate with me and that they are more irritating than enjoyable. Sitting through "Fanny and Alexander" was a chore - over three hours of people running through castles and houses with little rhyme or reason, while still having that excruciatingly slow and unforgiving Ingmar Bergman pace that makes the whole movie feel like its on the strongest sleep aids known to man.

There comes a point in filmmaking when a director becomes too self-indulgent, thinking that his art and style outweighs everything else, and Bergman takes that to its most extreme, to the point that I cannot get into his movies. I find all of Bergman's films, including "Fanny and Alexander" to be devoid of energy and passion to the point that I want to scream at the film to do something interesting or entertaining.

But let me take a moment to address anyone out there that are interested in film exploration or wishes to expand their pallet to foreign cinema - Just because I've never been entertained or enraptured by an Ingmar Bergman film doesn't mean you shouldn't watch his movies. I believe I understand why people enjoy his movies, because they are the most artistic example of filmmaking.

They feel like paintings that could be hung in museums for everyone to see, and we all have different reactions to those pieces of art. For some people, Bergman's art has a lot to say about our inner fears and how they change over time, and they believe he says it in the most melancholy and natural way possible. Others, like myself, get nothing out of it and I just feel like I'm staring at a blank canvas. But that's the power of subjectivity in art - your perspective and point of view changes everything, to the point that you get an entirely different outcome from it than anyone else.

Honestly, I nearly fell asleep multiple times during "Fanny and Alexander," due to its monotonous and dull tone with a lack of anything interesting happening for a excruciatingly long periods of time. But then again, if Bergman's films have taught me anything, it is that they are an acquired taste. I can't say that I had a good time watching this film, but I understand why others would enjoy this tale of two children learning their place in the world after a tragic event.

At least this one didn't make me pull my hair out like "Persona" did.

Final Grade: D+

Monday, April 9, 2018

Movie Review - "Wings" (1927)

If some films age like wine, while others age like wet bread, then William A. Wellman's "Wings" is just about the finest vintage a movie can get. Released in 1927, "Wings" was the first film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture (technically, it wasn't called the "Best Picture" Oscar yet, and they had a similar award that same year that went to "Sunrise: A Tale of Two Lovers, but this film still won the award) and I feel in many ways it is just as historically significant as other films from that era like "The Birth of a Nation" and "The Jazz Singer," except with far less insulting racism. Watching this film over 90 years after its release, I can say this film not only holds up, but is just as engrossing as many action films made today.

"Wings" tells the tale of two young men, Jack (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen), from a small American town who immediately enlist in World War I when they get the chance to fight for their country. Both are assigned to the air force, where they learn to become pilots and very quickly become two of the best pilots fighting for their side. Meanwhile, Mary (Clara Bow) is madly in love with Jack, who barely even gives her the time of day, and eventually decides to join to the war in her own way, by being an ambulance driver.

"Wings" was the only silent film to win Best Picture (until "The Artist" bucked that trend in 2011), but the film still has a very effective use of sound, as well as color. The only noises we hear throughout the film are the sounds of engines, mostly those of a biplane, and the sound of gun fire. It works in the opposite way of the comedic sound effects of a late Charlie Chaplin film - it draws your attention, making the spectacle of war feel far more real than it ever felt before. While the film uses lots of colored tints and lenses, the color that sticks out is the burning yellow flames of a crashing biplane, making that carnage stand out even more.

But what's truly impressive about "Wings" is its camera work and how it perfected filming airplanes in motion. We might take shots of multiple airplanes flying in formation for granted these days, but in 1927 when cameras weighed hundreds of pounds and were mostly never in motion during a shot, that makes the cinematography of this film even more impressive. There were no miniatures or fake explosions in this film - if a plane rams into the ground with the pilot still inside, that really happened.

Multiple aerial dog fights are shown throughout this film, all with beautifully crisp camera movement, always using the vast emptiness of the sky to its advantage. On top of that, there are loads of shots within the cockpit of Jack and David's planes, which Charles Rogers and Richard Arlen had to film themselves, since the camera was so heavy they couldn't carry another person. So while they were flying the plane and acting at the same time, they also had to be the camera men too.

"Wings" is the most impressive and awe-inspiring movie of its time, mastering techniques in the 1920s that are still dangerous today. Everything about this film feels authentic, helped by William A. Wellman's superb direction and experience in aviation. It has the utmost respect for those who served and the hardships they went through, no matter what they did during the war. I strongly recommend this, not just to film or aviation buffs, but to those who want to see an example of how you don't need talking or much of a story to have a wonderful movie.

Final Grade: A-

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Movie Review - "A Night to Remember" (1958)

Believe it or not, James Cameron's "Titanic" was not the first time the tragic tale of the unsinkable luxury ship was adapted to film - and many would argue it is not the best adaptation of this well-known story. And after seeing Roy Ward Baker's "A Night to Remember," I agree with those people.

While Cameron's film changed some of the historical aspects for the sake of dramatic storytelling, "A Night to Remember" prides itself on being as accurate, almost documentary-like, as possible. Rather than playing with our emotions at the cost of changing what actually happened, we get sucked into the authentic tale of a situation that could have easily been prevented and how it quickly turns into a hopeless one for thousands of people, all because of ego and pride getting in the way.

On top of that, for a non-Hollywood film made in 1958, this black-and-white film looks stunning, with amazing detail from the lavish halls to the submerging engine room. Even the models of the sinking ship and its interiors filling up with water are so authentic that seeing them slowly submerge into the depths is just as effective as Cameron's film, if not more so here due to the realistic tone of the movie.

But of course, the main focus of "A Night to Remember" is on the 2,200 people stuck aboard the sinking ship with only enough lifeboats for 1,200 people, and how these people cope with death creeping up on them.

The film mostly follows Second Officer Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More), the highest ranking officer to survive, as he prepares to board the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage. The mood is electric, as everyone is excited to be apart of history being passengers on not only the largest ship every built, but also one that has been touted as being unsinkable. It even gets to the point where the captain and the senior staff feel like they can relax, since they have nothing to fear. As a result, the crew of the Titanic miss a lot of obvious warnings and hazards until they're right on top of a giant iceberg.

As the ship begins to sink, we watch that same electricity turn from shocking to deadly. The gravity of the situation is first handled with calm and sorrow, only for it to escalate to full blown panic and chaos as the front of the ship starts to go under. At which point, the focus switches to the brave men doing their best to save as many lives as possible, and how the passengers react to the icy water slowly surrounding them. Some are dumbfounded and unaccepting, while others realize there is no escape and hand on to the little life they have left. It's like watching something beautiful slowly be destroyed from on-high and being unable to do anything about the desperate pleas and cries for help.

The tale of the Titanic is one of the most tragic and heartbreaking stories in modern times, and "A Night to Remember" captures the tragedy in the most brilliant, accurate and moving way possible. If you only ever watch one movie about this story, forget about Jack and Rose, and see one of the most wonderfully human movies ever made.

Final Grade: A

Friday, April 6, 2018

Movie Review - "Ready Player One" (2018)

Pop culture references: The Movie!

To be fair, "Ready Player One" is the type of movie I always imagined that could serve as a crossover between every type of franchise imaginable, including television, movies, video games, books, and so much more. The fact that Steven Spielberg is at the helm for it and he adds his charming whimsical style to everything does make most of this film a delight to sit through, if only to see Spielberg turn a below-average book into an enjoyable movie.

Though to be more specific, Spielberg gives us three amazing sequences and an otherwise forgettable average film. These three scenes are all worth the price of admission, enjoyable in their own rights while being more than just a field of references and Easter eggs. Each of them reminds us why we loved things like King Kong, "Back to the Future" and "The Shining" in the first place, all while this movie creates its own identity and plays with these unique situations.

Set in the year 2045, most of the world is made up of slums and inescapable gloom. But then again, most people don't live in the real world anymore - they live in a virtual world where you can do anything or be anything, known as the OASIS. Outside of eating, sleeping and having to go to the bathroom, everyone spends all their time in this world, created by a mix of an 80s nerd and Steve Jobs, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). But when Halliday passes away, he sends out a message saying that he put in one final Easter egg that, when found by bringing all three keys to his in-game character, would give this person total control over the OASIS and all of his shares and stocks in his company, which effectively means control of the world.

The film follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teenager that worships Halliday and his creation, who tries everything to find all three keys and the Easter egg. But as he slowly gets closer to the truth, the corporation known as IOI threatens him and his friend so they can be the first to obtain ultimate power and control.

The strength of "Ready Player One" lies in its ability to connect with so many different people and what they care about. No matter what you liked growing up, there will be at least one moment anywhere in the movie that you'll be able to point to and smile because of a pop culture reference about something you love. Not just a reference you get or understand, but something you truly care about. Spielberg takes the time and effort to make each moment like that really sink in and let you soak in all of its glory. Whether that's watching King Kong and the T-Rex from "Jurassic Park" tear up race cars, seeing people interact with many of the scenes from "The Shining" in different ways, or a plethora of video game characters fighting to Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," there will be something for everybody.

Though, if I'm being perfectly honest, that moment for me came near the end of the film when the villain cheats in the video game world and pilots a giant robot that may or may not resemble one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. It gets even sweeter when said giant robot starts beating the stuffing out of the Iron Giant and a Gundam. Let's just say I had a perpetual smile on my face during that entire final battle.

The film never takes itself too seriously, which helps when it transitions back into the real world to keep the same care-free, fun-loving tone throughout the film. This is helped with a scary-looking bounty hunter, voiced by T.J. Miller from "Silicon Valley" and "Deadpool," that calls himself i-Rock. He is quick to poke fun at the video game logic while working well off the villain (Ben Mendelsohn) and his lack of pop culture knowledge.

Outside of that and the three exciting and inventive sequences throughout the film, there isn't a whole lot going for "Ready Player One." The rest of the film is a serviceable popcorn flick that follows the traditional Spielberg-style, though without really diving into the characters or the quotable lines. Anytime they go back to the real world, it only makes me wish they spent more time in the virtual one just to see what they'll do next. This makes some parts of the film drag, but never to the point that it feels boring.

Overall though, "Ready Player One" is Steven Spielberg's best film since "Catch Me If You Can," if only because of his love and passion for all things nerdy and geeky and how that translates on screen. Not only does this film look amazing, but it is fun to see so many different characters from all sorts of franchises interacting with one another. While not always entertaining, it is never bad or disappointing. This is a worthwhile popcorn flick and one that anyone born after 1975 will appreciate one way or another.

Final Grade: B

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Movie Review - "Lust for Life" (1956)

There's a conflict inside me on Vincente Minnelli's "Lust for Life." This is a very passionate, raw portrayal of Vincent van Gogh, displaying his entire life's work, his flaws, desires and personal mistakes for the world to see, yet in the reminding us the impact van Gogh left on the world. And yet, like van Gogh himself, it honestly feels like that same passion and energy has no direction or reason to stick with the audience, like we're just watching a documentary about Vincent Van Gogh and not a dramatic reenactment of his life.

So on the one hand, there's a lot of great work being put into this film, especially from Kirk Douglas and his nuance performance that shows how conflicted and worried van Gogh can be, but also his drive to share the way he sees the world with everyone else, as well as Vincente Minnelli's love of von Gogh's paintings and how they're scattered throughout the entire picture.

But, on the other hand, none of it is given any meaning. As great as Douglas' performance was, I didn't find any reason to care about his struggles or problems because of how standoffish and rude he was, making him a rather unlikable character that does little to redeem himself. It would be like watching someone insult his closest friends just to find out that he's great at playing the piano - he might be an amazing musician, but that isn't enough to make a worthwhile main character, let alone an entire movie.

"Lust for Life" certainly isn't a terrible movie. It is visually pleasing, especially at capturing what brought about Vincent van Gogh's inspirations for painting, and Kirk Douglas does a masterful job at walking the tight rope between crazy and passionate that he's always been stunning at. It's just that the film never really draws you in and makes you care about van Gogh's character and his struggles, leaving most of this painting as a blank slate.

Final Grade: C-

Monday, April 2, 2018

Movie Review - "Jailhouse Rock" (1957)

Films starring insanely popular bands, musicians or singers have always had varying success depending on how you personally feel about that performer. "Hard Day's Night" could be one of the greatest pieces of cinema you'll ever see or just a look at a day in the life of the Beatles, all depending on how you feel about the boys from Liverpool, while the same can be said for nearly every film with Bob Dylan.

But the biggest example of this in Hollywood has always been Elvis Presley and the wide range of films he made during his long and varied career, from tongue-in-cheek comedies to exploring Seattle's world fair. Though none of his 31 movies were quite as personal and heartfelt as "Jailhouse Rock," a stark contrast to his other film appearances. Shot in black-and-white, the story is said to have drawn inspiration from many of Elvis' real life experiences, namely finding fame and fortune from an early age and how that shaped him as he became an adult.

Even then, this type of story has been told many times before and with greater gravitas. It feels like "Jailhouse Rock" doesn't quite go all the way with its darker, more personal premise about how fame corrupts and changes people, and pulls back to remind the audience that they're watching an Elvis Presley movie. So, in that respect, how you feel about this film depends on how you feel about Elvis as both a musician and a person.

Elvis plays Vince Everett, a young construction worker who accidentally kills a stranger in a bar fight and is sentenced to two years in prison. While there, his cellmate, washed-up country singer Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy) teaches Vince how to sing and play the guitar, and finds out that he has a natural talent for it. Once Vince gets out of prison, he sets out to make a new name for himself in the music business despite his standoffish and fiery attitude.

I feel the only reason parts of "Jailhouse Rock" works is because the journey Vince undergoes once he's released from prison so closely parallels Elvis' own journey. It is a case of art imitating life and life imitating art, watching Elvis struggle with the lives he's stepped on to get where he is, as well as the raw talent and charisma that made him a star in the first place. To see Elvis be put in a position like this, and with a camera pointed at him the entire time, makes "Jailhouse Rock" worth watching.

That being said, the film moves slowly, has a rather unpleasant and uncomfortable tone throughout most of it, and ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth with its half-baked climax and resolution. It feels like they couldn't make up their mind if they wanted this to be a serious dark drama with someone who has experienced how dark it can be, or a happy musical about a misguided talent with a heart of gold, and that hurts the tone and atmosphere of this movie.

Still, if you like Elvis, "Jailhouse Rock" is worth checking out, if only to see Elvis basically playing himself. But if that doesn't interest you, nothing else about this one will either.

Final Grade: C