Ready Player One Review

Ready Player One movie posterSynopsis
In the near future when a virtual reality world known as the Oasis serves as the most popular social getaway, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is on the hunt for three hidden keys hidden by the game’s creator. His search puts not only his virtual self but real-world self in the sights of IOI, a corporation looking to control the Oasis.

Review
I wanted to see Ready Player One for exclusively two reasons: 1) it is based around a video game (one of my favorite past times), and 2) it is directed by Steven Spielberg (my favorite director). A marriage of the two was guaranteed to get me into a seat. I know that it is based on a book of the same name, written by Ernest Cline. However, I have never read it so I can’t say how it compares to the source material. What I can say how it stacks up as a film and boy does this film deliver!

As soon as the movie steps into the Oasis, you are overwhelmed with breathtaking visuals. While much of the world looks realistic, it does just enough to prevent itself from falling into the uncanny valley territory, making sure you know it takes place inside a video game. With that, a wide range of environments are visited throughout the film. There’s a race track, a night club, a bustling city, tundra, literally every kind of place imaginable makes an appearance, driving home that the Oasis is a place is inside a video game.

Since half the movie is inside a video game, where literally anything is possible, this movie takes full advantage of that. Every turn of the camera reveals a plethora of pop-culture characters, icons, and items from anything including video games, movies, or television series. Nothing is left out. I can’t wait for the home video release so I can comb through the movie and find all the easter eggs that I missed in the theater. As someone who loves to play video games (one of the reasons this review is so delayed), I felt a real love and reverence for the medium oozing from this film.

No video game movie would be complete without some action and adventure. The action is big and the adventure is exciting. This film takes full advantage of the “anything is possible” aspect of its video game setting that I have mentioned several times already. The opening scene is a car race along a track filled twists and turns and loop-the-loops, populated with all kinds of movie characters. Later the characters have to make it through a portion of The Shining. And then a huge fight sequence happens in and around a castle in an icy world. Even in the real world, there are car chases and excitement throughout. All of it, in the Oasis and the real world, everything is well shot. It doesn’t rely on too much shaky cam or cut-a-ways. What’s important stays in the frame.

World building can be a tricky thing to do. Some movies use flashbacks, some use exposition, Ready Player One does a little of both, as well as its own special method. While Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) narrates some of the basics of how the world works in 2045 after a virtual reality world takes over the real world, the Oasis’ history is given through flashbacks but not in the standard fashion. Instead, the game’s tasks requires Wade and his friends to look through the game’s creator’s memories. This way, the history is integrated into the story itself and doesn’t derail the narrative. I found this technique unique and engaging.

One of my favorite characters was actually the villain I-R0K, voiced by TJ Miller. I-R0K is a gun-for-hire, tasked by the main baddy, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), with eliminating Wade’s avatar inside of the Oasis. Miller infuses I-R0K with his signature wit and humor, creating a character that you know instantly is Miller. His voice feels like a mismatch compared to I-R0K’s large and sinister figure, making it all the more comical (appropriately so).

I thought Ready Player One was GREAT πŸ˜€ From simple things like appearances of popular characters or items, to classic genre tropes, to easter eggs, even to why people play video games in the first place, I felt connected to the story and the characters themselves in a way that I can’t say happens very often to me during a movie. Director Steven Spielberg weaves a dazzling pop culture tapestry and a love letter to games and what it means to be a gamer. There isn’t anything more exciting than playing with your friends or more satisfying than playing simply for the enjoyment of the game. This movie understands that and shares that pleasure in a genuine and beautiful way.

Trivia
Oasis is actually an acronym. It stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. This is mentioned in Ernest Cline’s source novel but not mentioned in the film. (Via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Steven Spielberg – Director
Zak Penn – Screenplay
Ernest Cline – Screenplay

Tye Sheridan – Parzival / Wade
Olivia Cooke – Art3mis / Samantha
Lena Waithe – Aech / Helen
Philip Zhao – Sho
Win Morisaki – Daito
Ben Mendelsohn – Sorrento
TJ Miller – I-R0K
Mark Rylance – Anorak / Halliday
Simon Pegg – Ogden Morrow

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Tomb Raider Review

Tomb Raider movie posterSynopsis
Seven years after her father went missing and was presumed dead, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) discovers his hidden office containing research on Himiko, the ancient Japanese β€œAngel of Death.” Along with boat captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), she travels to the hidden island containing Himiko’s tomb, facing many perils along the way, including her father’s old associate Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins).

Review
Mentioning a film is a video game adaptation is often met with a moan and a groan. While some are a few diamonds in the rough, most are OK at best, if not downright dreadful. Going into the theater to see Tomb Raider, I was cautious but at the same time hopeful. The Angelina Jolie take on the character was fun and I really liked what I saw in the trailers. It helped, too, that I’ve heard a lot of good things about the 2013 Tomb Raider game reboot (which this is what this film is based on). Leaving the theater, I was actually optimistic about the future of an Alicia Vikander-led Tomb Raider series.

One thing this movie is not lacking in is adventure. From start to finish, Lara is zooming from one place to another, running from something or fighting someone. Not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff but it was exciting. There was an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or National Treasure element to it so of course I was going to enjoy it. Even when the film was between action pieces, it kept your attention, moving Lara towards the end goal.

My mom watched this with me and when it was over I asked her if she liked it. Her response was β€œYeah, it was easy to follow.” The plot wasn’t overly complicated. Nothing felt extraneous or unnecessary. There were no extra side-plots, nor any crazy twists or turns. Every scene had one goal: getting Lara to the tomb. There are clear breadcrumbs laid to be picked up in potential future sequels but they do not take away from this film. This is the correct way to start a film franchise.

Lara Croft is an iconic video game character. Portraying a character who is beloved by so many can be intimidating. Luckily, Alicia Vikander is up to the task. She was fantastic as a younger, less experienced Lara. She nails the look of Lara’s most recent incarnation to a tee. And the muscle she put on for the role is remarkable. It really help sells that Lara would be able to pull the crazy stunts she does, no matter how improbable they may seem. In the same vein of films like John Wick, she, despite being the hero, isn’t invincible; She constantly is getting beat and bruised but continuously finds a way use her brain and skills to come out on top. Vikander performed many of her own stunts, clearly showing a love and dedication to the role that comes across on screen.

It seems lately Hollywood has been moving away from making women in film damsels-in-distress or helpless love interests. Instead, we are seeing more bad-ass and kick-ass heroines than ever before. The beating Lara endures throughout the movie is what you would expect from an 80s action hero. It’s over-the-top, insane, gritty, and quite frankly, unbelievable but oh-so enjoyable to watch and root for. I can’t think of many films where the lead role is a woman and can be comparable to an Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kurt Russel, or Sylvester Stallone role. If that’s not progress I don’t know what is.

I thought Tomb Raider was GOOD πŸ™‚ Director Roar Uthaug not only managed to make a decent video game movie, but a decent adventure movie as well. While it was mostly unoriginal as an adventure movie, pulling inspiration from many successful adventure films, and generic, it was generic fun. And really, fun is all I ask for.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Roar Uthaug – Director
Geneva Robertson-Dworet – Screenplay / Story
Alastair Siddons – Screenplay
Evan Daugherty – Story
Tom Holkenborg – Composer

Alicia Vikander – Lara Croft
Dominic West – Lord Richard Croft
Walton Goggins – Mathias Vogel
Daniel Wu – Lu Ren
Kristen Scott Thomas – Ana Miller
Derek Jacobi – Mr. Yaffe
Alexandre Willaume – Lieutenant
Tamer Burjaq – Mercenary
Adrian Collins – Mercenary
Keenan Arrison – Mercenary
Andrian Mazive – Mercenary
Milton Schorr – Mercenary
Maisy De Freitas – Young Lara (7 years old)

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Review

Synopsis
Alex O’Connell (Luke Ford), trying to escape the shadow of his famous parents Rick (Brendan Frasier) and Evelyn (Maria Bello) O’Connell, locates the cursed first Emperor of Qin (Jet Li) in China. However, General Yang (Anthony Chau-Sang Wong) is also after the Emperor to resurrect him to rule the world. When the Emperor is awakened, the O’Connells must once again stop a terrible evil from taking over the world.

Review
It seems that in today’s movie landscape, studios try to milk their successful franchises for every cent they can. Brendan Frasier’s Mummy series is one such casualty. Released seven years after The Mummy Returns, Universal brings Rick O’Connell (Frasier) out of retirement to once again battle a mummy, one that is not Imhotep this time, and does so with a different creative team. The results, as you might guess, are a bit of a mixed bag.

The mummy this time, known as The Emperor, is played by Jet Li, who does well with such a one-dimensional character. Although his good performance might be because the role is much more action-heavy this time than Arnold Vosloo’s role as the mummy and Li excels at such action sequences. However, the character seemed to lack any motivation except for personal power, which is pretty generic. I wasn’t expecting anything deep from this sort of film but at least Imhotep’s actions were fueled by his love for Anck-Su-Namun.

Rachel Weisz did not return for this film. Instead, the role of Evelyn was played by Maria Bello. As Evy, I don’t think Bello did a bad job. She held her own during the action sequences and I don’t really have anything negative about her acting. However, throughout the entire movie, there was this small feeling like there was something off. She merely lacked the chemistry Weisz did with Frasier. It felt like they were simply going through the motions and didn’t feel like they were having as much fun together as Frasier and Weisz did. Although, Bello did have a good introduction scene which clearly noted she was not the same Evy as before.

Speaking of no chemistry, an older Alex O’Connell (who lost his English accent somewhere over the years) is played by Luke Ford. Alex forms a relationship with Lin (Isabella Leong), a protector of the Emperor’s tomb because how dare there be a young, handsome man in an action movie who doesn’t have a love interest. Like Frasier and Bello, Ford and Leong lack the chemistry to make their characters’ relationship feel genuine. That’s not even including the writing that makes it feel forced. Their entire relationship feels shoehorned in because they wanted a new couple by the end of the film.

I think this movie’s biggest flaw, though, is that it lacks the fun the previous two Mummy movies possessed. It is much more action-oriented than the previous films and lacking the comedy element. Which is not entirely a bad thing since there are plenty of action movies that don’t have a comedic component. However, there was a sense of whimsical fun the other films had that made them extremely entertaining, even if slightly campy. There is just too much seriousness in this film for the franchise it is a part of.

I thought The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was OK 😐 As an action movie, it’s pretty good but when it is compared as a Mummy movie to the rest in the series, it doesn’t hold up. The sense of fun feels left behind and there is a lack of chemistry between the actors. This is one franchise where the studio should have left well enough alone.

Also read my reviews for The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rob Cohen – Director
Alfred Gough – Writer
Miles Miller – Writer
Randy Edelman – Composer

Brendan Frasier – Rick O’Connell
Maria Bello – Evelyn O’Connell
John Hannah – Jonathan Carnahan
Luke Ford – Alex O’Connell
Isabella Leong – Lin
Michelle Yeoh – Zi Yuan
Jet Li – Emperor
Anthony Chau-Sang Wong – General Yang
Jessey Meng – Choi
Liam Cunningham – β€œMad Dog” Maguire
David Calder – Roger Wilson

Lightning Review: The Mummy Returns

Synopsis
Meela (Patricia Velasquez) the reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namun, locates Imhotep’s (Arnold Vosloo) body in the city of Hamunaptra. She hopes to use Imhotep’s powers to defeat the Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson) and take control of the army he commands. Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) calls upon Rick O’Connell (Brendan Frasier) and his wife Evy (Rachel Weisz) to once again defeat Imhotep.

Review
What makes The Mummy so enjoyable is that it never took itself seriously and just had fun with its story. The Mummy Returns is much of the same which, like any sequel, is both a good and bad. The core group of Brendan Frasier, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo returns and have the same fantastic chemistry from before. Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay has a much bigger role this time around and syncs with the group very well. The film’s sense of humor is pretty much the same as before, although the comedy is not as prominent this time around. It seems this time, there was more of a skew towards the action-adventure side of things instead of a pretty even balance like before. Not that that’s good or bad, it just gives the film a different feel. Newcomer Shaun Parkes as Rick’s pilot pal Izzy is my favorite of the new members of the cast but he feels underused, especially since he is a funny addition. The Mummy Returns is Dwayne Johnson’s first big movie role. I say big but he only appears in the opening scene and as CGI in the final battle scene, which has not aged well at all.

I thought The Mummy Returns was GOOD πŸ™‚ While not nearly as charming as The Mummy, it is still a decent popcorn flick.

Also read my reviews of The Mummy and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Stephen Sommers – Director / Writer
Alan Silvestri – Composer

Brendan Frasier – Rick O’Connell
Rachel Weisz – Evelyn Carnahan
John Hannah – Jonathan Carnahan
Freddie Boath – Alex O’Connell
Arnold Vosloo – Imhotep
Oded Fehr – Ardeth Bay
Patricia Velasquez – Meela / Anck-Su-Namun
Alun Armstrong – Mr. Hafez
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – Lock-Nah
Shaun Parkes – Izzy
Dwayne Johnson – The Scorpion King

The Mummy (1999) Review

The Mummy (1999) movie posterSynopsis
Evy (Rachel Weisz) is a librarian who is interested in Egypt’s history. When her brother Jonathan (John Hannah) introduces her to Rick O’Connell (Brendan Frasier), who has been to the hidden city of Hamunaptra, the three of them set off for the city. While in Hamunaptra, they inadvertently release Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), an ancient evil who had been sealed away for more than three thousand years.

Review
If you’ve read my list of my five favorite films from my childhood, then you will know that The Mummy was a go-to film for me in my younger years. If you didn’t know that, well then now you do. Sometimes watching a film as an adult that you loved as a child can skew your viewpoint as to whether or not the film is actually good or you just like it now because you liked it then. Could this be the case for me with The Mummy? Do nostalgia goggles make me like this movie more than I should? No, not at all.

Even after nearly 20 years later, I still find myself continually enjoying this film. A lot of that comes from the three main protagonists. Brendan Frasier, Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah are simply marvelous together. It’s hard to pick a favorite our of the three. Frasier as Rick O’Connell has the action side of things down. O’Connell is the leader of the three, showing them how to get to Hamunaptra, always ready for any fight, whether that is with his fists or with one of the many guns in his arsenal. Evy, played by Weisz, hasn’t been out in the field much but is very knowledgeable in Egyptian history, easily filling a role neither of the boys could do. Even though Frasier gets many of the film’s comedic moments, most of them belong to Hannah’s Jonathan, Evy’s kleptomaniac and somewhat self-centered brother.

Besides perfect casting, the three leads have great synergy. The three of them together result in several of the best scenes of the film. It is clear that they were having a good time and were having fun making the movie, which makes it more enjoyable for the audience in turn. Each character had their own voice and personality, allowing for each one to have a unique part so they didn’t all feel like similar characters, which it feels like some comedies do. It wasn’t just the heroes who stand out but the main villain as well. Arnold Vosloo was great as Imhotep, the titular mummy. Vosloo has noble malice about him that fits Imhotep perfectly.

One of The Mummy’s strongest aspects is that it has a clear sense of identity. Yes, the film is based of the 1930s horror classic, and it payed homage to that by trying to add a few scares every here and there, but it is primarily an action/adventure/comedy film and it understood that. There was a good balance between the action and the comedy. It’s also a little cheesy but it embraced it. I think a lot of this came down to the actors. As I said before, they were clearly having fun and it prevented the moving from taking itself too seriously, embracing itself for what it is.

This sense of identity and balance between action and comedy gave the movie a good pace. It moved quick but not too quick. There was plenty of action but it never became too much. The story was understandable but not too complicated or too simplistic. It kept moving forward without being bogged down by unnecessary side plots or characters. Writer/director Stephen Sommers did a great job finding the perfect balance.

I thought The Mummy was GREAT πŸ˜€ It is hard to pick what I like best about this film. Brendan Frasier, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo all did fantastic with their parts and meshed well together. The story is simple yet fun, and the film feels much shorter than it is. I find myself watching this movie on a regular basis and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Also read my reviews of The Mummy Returns and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Favorite Quote
Evelyn: You lied to me.
Jonathan: I lie to everybody. What makes you so special?
Evelyn: I am your sister.
Jonathan: Yes, well that just makes you more gullible.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Stephen Sommers – Director / Screenplay / Story
Lloyd Fonvielle – Story
Kevin Jarre – Story
Jerry Goldsmith – Composer

Brendan Fraser – Rick O’Connell
Rachel Weisz – Evelyn Carnahan
John Hannah – Jonathan Carnahan
Arnold Vosloo – Imhotep
Kevin J. O’Connor – Beni Gabor
Jonathan Hyde – Dr. Allen Chamberlan
Oded Fehr – Ardeth Bay
Erick Avari – Dr. Terrence Bey
Stephen Dunham – Mr. Henderson
Corey Johnson – Mr. Daniels
Tuc Watkins – Mr. Burns
Omid Djalili – Warden Gad Hassan
Bernard Fox – Captain Winston Havlock
Patricia Velasquez – Anck Su Namun
Aharon Ipale – Pharoh Seti I

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets Review

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets movie posterSynopsis
After being presented with evidence that his great-great-grandfather was part of the Lincoln assassination, Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage) goes on a quest to clear his family name. To do so, he must follow clues that could lead to the legendary city of gold, Cibola.

Review
If you’ve seen National Treasure, you will know what to expect out of National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. What makes this work as a sequel is that it keeps what was great from the first film and puts it into a new story. The same characters are here doing the same thing, which might sound like a rehash but it is no different than Indiana Jones or Lora Croft going on another adventure. It may be the same concept but the execution is different.

Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, and Diane Kruger all return and maintain their great chemistry. The banter between the three of them, like the first film, is so much fun. Together, they make the film work. Helen Mirren was an absolute joy and a great addition to the cast. She fit right in with Cage, Bartha, and Kruger and is clearly having as much fun as they are.

The baddie this time is Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), the man who presents the evidence against Gates’ ancestor. Ian Howe was a good counterpart to Gates in the previous movie but he didn’t feel menacing. I didn’t not like him, which can actually take away from a villain. Mitch was one of those characters that I love to hate. Like Ian, he proves that he can go toe-to-toe with Gates but Mitch has the attitude to feel like the bad guy. Maybe it was the difference between Sean Bean and Ed Harris or maybe it was the way the characters were written. Either way, the villain was much stronger this time.

Since this is the second film, we know all about these characters and what they do. Therefore, National Treasure 2 doesn’t waste any time before heading out on the search for the treasure. Within the first scene, the hunt is set up and the Ben (Cage), Riley (Bartha), and Abigail (Kruger) are on their way. It helps get the film moving and spend maximum time watching them on their search.

National Treasure was all about US history and our founding fathers. National Treasure 2 is still about US history but it also incorporates international locations as well. One clue leads the group to France and another send them to England. Since our history is influenced by many others from many different countries and nationalities, it was fun to see that aspect of our history integrated into the story.

I’m going to talk about some spoilers so if you haven’t seen the film, skip this paragraph. OK, so the whole hunt was to prove that the reason Thomas Gates (Ben’s ancestor) tried to destroy the page from Booth’s diary was to destroy the treasure map, while Mitch claimed Thomas burned the page to hide his involvement in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln. Finding the City of Gold was somehow supposed to prove Ben’s point. But the film never answers why Thomas’ name was on page in the first place. Following the map and finding where it leads doesn’t prove that he wasn’t involved. Although as the viewer we can assume that Thomas wasn’t involved in the assassination plot and he burned it to destroy the treasure map, we are never actually given an explanation as to why his name is on the page.

I thought National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets was GOOD :-). The great chemistry between the three leads returns and the villain is much more threatening this time around. If you enjoyed the previous film, there is no doubt that you will enjoy this film as well.

Also check out my review of National Treasure.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Jon Turtletaub – Director
Marianne Wibberley – Screenplay / Story
Cormac Wibberley – Screenplay / Story
Gegory Poirier – Story
Ted Elliot – Story
Terry Russio – Story
Trevor Rabin – Score

Nicolas Cage – Ben Gates
Justin Bartha – Riley Poole
Diane Kruger – Abigail Chase
Jon Voight – Patrick Gates
Helen Mirren – Emily Appleton
Ed Harris – Mitch Wilkinson
Harvey Keitel – Sadusky
Bruce Greenwood – The President
Ty Burrell – Conner
Michael Maize – Daniel
Timothy V. Murphy – Seth
Alicia Coppola – FBI Agent Spellman
Armando Riesco – FBI Agent Hendricks
Joel Gretsch – Thomas Gates
William Brent – Charles Gates
Brent Briscoe – Michael O’Laughlen
Christian Camargo – John Wilkes Booth