READY PLAYER ONE/TOMB RAIDER/MIDNIGHT SUN

Published On April 3, 2018 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

READY PLAYER ONE/TOMB RAIDER/MIDNIGHT SUN

2018 may be only three months old as of this writing in early April, but the year has already produced five fun, entertaining—and recommended—movies, including the blockbuster comic book science fiction fantasy blockbuster “Black Panther;” the black comedy—and actually funny for a modern-day comedy–“Game Night;” and now, during just the past few weeks, Steven Spielberg’s excellent, rollicking, blast-of-a-good-time-at-the-movies science fiction action adventure thriller “Ready Player One;” “Tomb Raider,” an action adventure fantasy reboot that’s actually better than the series’ previous two original films and which features a strong, independent and radiant Alicia Vikander, who’s better in the role of Lara Croft than Angelina Jolie ever was; and “Midnight Sun,” a positive, optimistic and hopeful teen-oriented drama romance tearjerker that manages to deliver a strong, encouraging message about love and life despite some inherent tragic and sad plot consequences.

That’s a very good start to the year in film, and hopefully Hollywood can continue this streak as filmgoers head into the second quarter of the year. Thus, below, three positive reviews of three highly-recommended films—all of which are still in the theaters as of early April, 2018.

 

READY PLAYER ONE
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Ben Mendelsohn, T. J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance
Written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline
Based on the book “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by Steven Spielberg, Donald De Line, Dan Farah, Kristie Macosko Krieger
Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski
Edited by Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar
Music by Alan Silvestri

Steven Spielberg’s science fiction action-adventure popcorn movie “Ready Player One,” based on the popular 2011 novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, is a blast at the movies—fast, fun, funny, consistently entertaining, filled with pop-culture references, movie references, plenty of messages for the bizarro computer age, and full of action, adventure and plenty of breathtaking, mind-blowing visual effects.

“Ready Player One” continues Spielberg’s amazingly successful stream of top-notch, above-average, excellent films in recent years (and, of course, throughout his now nearly-fifty-year-old career), which more recently includes 2017’s “The Post,” 2016’s “The BFG,” 2015’s “Bridge of Spies,’ 2012’s “Lincoln,” 2011’s “War Horse,” 2005’s “Munich” and 2002’s “Catch Me If You Can.” Not too shabby, Mr. Spielberg—not too shabby. Add “Ready Player One” to that list of excellent, instantly-memorable and enjoyable films.

“Ready Player One” should appeal to general audiences–anyone who enjoys a good sci-fi fantasy action-adventure popcorn movie–but the movie will definitely appeal on a huge scale to gamers of all types, sci-fi fans, fantasy fans, comic book fans (the movie has a slight comic book feel), teens (the movie has a huge teen-oriented appeal, but people of any age can enjoy the film), computer and digital and internet fans, technology fans, engineers, and programmers.

Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg lead a highly-charged, energetic ensemble cast that stays committed to the movie’s futuristic, forward-thinking, technology-oriented atmosphere, but who also stay firmly grounded, humanistic and likeable amid all of the technology and visual effects.

“Ready Player One” opened wide on Thursday, March 29, 2018, during spring break for many students, and this was definitely the movie to see during the holidays.

One major quality of the movie is its yearning to be strong, positive and hopeful amid a generally deteriorating, desperate, crumbling dystopian futuristic world that on its surface doesn’t seem to offer much hope. But it’s a Spielberg movie–that’s a good thing–and in the end, humanity, humanisim, reality, positivity, optimism, hope and good wins out over digital and computer escapist worlds, digital creations, avatars, virtual reality, negativity, pessimism, despair and evil, and that’s not a spoiler on any level–it’s the major message, theme and lesson of the entire film.

In “Ready Player One,” it’s the year 2045, and things are generally looking pretty bleak. Over-population, over-crowding, run-down and overly-small and cramped housing, depleted resources, violence, police states, horrible class differences—does this suddenly should horribly familiar for 2018, sadly?—and other dystopian, post-apocalyptic aspects rule over a world torn apart by despair and just a general lack of hope for the future. Thus, a desperate populace unfortunately and addictively retreats to a virtual reality world, which crazily is better at times than the real world—but with the inherent, concurrent, actual—and very real—dangers that accompany any fake, false and phony virtual reality, computer, digital, cell phone, tablet, video game and alternate worlds. The sad people in 2045 may retreat to a virtual reality world known as the Oasis—of course, it’s not an oasis on any level—but they are simply retreating into a vicious circle of ever-deepening despair, addiction, un-reality, falsehoods, phoniness and danger. This premise presented in “Ready Player One” is interesting—but the premise sends an important message vital for current times: No escape to any digital or fake world can ever—ever—make up for the positives, pleasures and simple satisfactions of the real world.

That’s the main message throughout “One,” and it drives the film forward—even though, intentionally ironically, most of the movie takes place in that virtual reality world. Some may mistake the film as championing virtual reality and computers and digital worlds, but they would be horribly mistaken. Spielberg’s really saying, hey, it’s okay to enjoy these worlds for an hour or two on the silver screen through Hollywood magic, visual and special effects and in the form of a movie, but when you leave the movie, please remember that it’s just a movie, and in life, it’s the real world that really matters. Again, everything about “Ready Player One” comes back to that theme.

Although the film is anchored by an energetic, well-acted ensemble of young actors—who all do extremely well in this film—the real central characters are Mark Rylance’s quirky, eccentric and socially-awkward computer genius James Halliday, a Steve Jobs-Bill Gates-Elon Musk-Richard Branson-Stephen Hawking hybrid who is the creator of Oasis and who is smart enough to realize his creation’s dangers, and Simon Pegg’s Ogden Morrow, a co-creator of the Oasis and an early business and creative partner of Halliday. It’s really Halliday and Morrow who are to be alternately praised and blamed for the Oasis, and these character’s haunting presence throughout the film—Halliday has passed away (that’s not a spoiler) and Morrow has left the company (that’s not a spoiler, either)—provide the true story and plot anchor and foundation, because it’s their initial actions and inventiveness and concerns that overshadow everything else that occurs in the story.

And that story is an interesting one. Knowing that he was dying (this is not a spoiler, please remember), Halliday, before his death, programmed an elaborate program, Anorak’s Quest, into the Oasis filled with clues and ciphers and puzzles and codes leading to an ultimate prize, and quite a great prize that is—full ownership of Oasis and a ton of money from Halliday’s estate. Thus, it’s up to Oasis users to try and work their way through the Oasis alternate world, find the hidden clues left by Halliday, elude the bad corporate guys trying to get their first for evil, corporate greed reasons (the corporate types and their fascist police thugs are the villians in the film), and win the Oasis and Halliday’s quite-generous estate.

As it turns out, a poor (just in terms of money), kid-next-door, likeable teenager named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), 18, living in a deteriorating, crumbling and crowded lower-class neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, tends to exhibit brilliant instincts, knowledge and tendencies when he puts on his goggles and enters Oasis—he has done his research, he has a particularly strong level of insight and intelligence regarding Halliday’s clues and the Quest game, and he tends to know who to trust and who not to trust inside the Oasis. Thus, Watts gathers an equally-likeable, fun, and often-funny crew of comrades in the Oasis and together, just like Frodo and Sam and their eclectic band of soldiers, warriors and heroes, Watts and his army of teens navigate Halliday’s maze of myriad challenges to try and ultimately win, literally own the Oasis, get rich—and outwit and out-survive the bad guys.

It’s all just a continuous blast and hoot and immense fun at the movies. Spielberg here exhibits his popcorn-entertainment sensibilities—large, big, glossy, light-hearted, positive, upbeat—but always with brilliant, smart and inventive movie instincts and tricks and gizmos accompanying the more populist tendencies. And that’s been his brilliance, even in his darkest dramas—Steven Spielberg knows how to keep filmgoers attentive, knows how to not be too dark amid the darkest dramas, knows how to include moments of humor and grace and compassion and humanity amid the more serious drama, and, with his lighter films, he knows how to deliver the populist goods—but also with a good, strong dose of messaging, themes, lessons and just overall intelligence. “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “The BFG,” the “Indiana Jones” films, “War of the Worlds and his other science-fiction and fantasy genre films may have appealed to the masses on a populist, lighter, general-entertainment level, but be quite assured that every one of these blockbuster-type of genre films had its share of very important messages, themes, lessons and morals. And even though that’s true, those messages and morals were never pounded over the head in a heavy-handed manner. While moviegoers watched these films, and enjoyed them, and were thrilled—they also knew that there were some important, intelligent messages to take away when they left the theater, also.

That applies to “Ready Player One” as well. And those aforementioned important, intelligent messages in this entertaining sci-fic fantasy blockbuster could not be more relevant and important in 2018!

Kudos to young actors Tye Sheridan, 21; Olivia Cooke, 24; Lena Waithe, 33; Win Morisaki, 27; and Philip Zhao, who portray the members of Wade’s crusaders who work together to figure out Halliday’s clues and save the Oasis. They nickname themselves the “High Five,” and these five characters—thanks to these five real-life actors—are just winning—likeable, even loveable, positive, funny, caring, strong, independent, talented and smart enough to know that they have to work together as a team in their quest to save the Oasis, and, possibly, the world. Watching these young actors portray their real-life characters as well as their virtual reality world avatars is, just like the film itself, continually entertaining.

Kudos to Steven Spielberg for casting relatively unknown actors to play the leads in this huge film, which various media sources have said has a whoppingly humongous production budget of an estimated $175 million. But it’s not really a risky move for Spielberg—he always casts his projects exceedingly well—like any excellent director must do—and that’s literally true going all the way back to Spielberg’s start as a television director at the age of 23 in 1969, when he worked on the pilot episode of Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery.” Spielberg has always cast his television and film projects excellently, and he has wisely assembled an entertaining ensemble of young actors for the leads in “Ready Player One.” Tye Sheridan plays Watts and Olivia Cooke plays his main teammate on the High Five, Samantha Cook. Together, they’re reminiscent of a younger Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood, working on clues, dodging traps, fighting goons and villians, and trying their best to do their jobs while slowly realizing there’s, perhaps, just a bit of romance and affection lurking behind the macho posturing, bravado, adventuring and fighting.

And, of course, there’s the state-of-the-art, dazzling and breathtaking visual, special, computer, green screen, motion-capture and digital effects—most of the movie’s sets, actually, are visual effects sets. However, again, Spielberg and his talented production crew are smart enough to know how to keep the virtual reality from being too overbearing and too ridiculously, well, ridiculous, and how to balance the virtual world with enough shots of the real world to keep things balanced, grounded and rooted enough in the real world to, well, keep things real.

However, as always with modern-day visual effects spectacles, kudos and congratulations must be extended to the literally hundreds of hard visual effects workers at scores of visual effects companies who spent long, tedious hours on the effects in “Ready Player One.” The results, as noted, are always dazzling and impressive, and filmgoers will enjoy their time in this virtual reality fantasy world. It’s dizzying and busy and flashy and otherworldly, but in this particular film, that’s a good thing—and it’s also always entertaining.

“Ready Player One” was based on the book by Ernest Cline, as noted, and Spielberg welcomed Cline on the set as not only a co-screenwriter, but also as an on-set adviser on many of the pop culture references and insights, according to a recent story focused on Cline and the movie on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Not that Steven Spielberg really needs any lessons or help on pop culture—he’s been a leader in that field in films and on television for, as noted, 49 years now, but it’s always nice to have a pop-culture-oriented writer on hand for some extra insight, and it was nice and kind of Spielberg to welcome Cline on the set and to work so closely with him. That collaboration and cooperation with the writer of the source novel obviously led to a good, strong and smart screenplay, a nice cooperation from the source writer—and obviously a positive vibe on the set and an exceptionally insightful take on the source material by Spielberg. And Cline has had nothing but positive things to say about Spielberg, the moviemaking experience and the movie, so all is well on that front.

“Ready Player One” is the movie to see this spring, and it’s even worth seeing again, it’s that good. However, it’s wise to heed the messages, lessons, themes and morals of this movie, every second of every day in this digital age: No matter what escapes or games or apps or social media pages or videos or texts or e-mails or pictures or interactions or whatevers or gimmicks or gizmos or thingamajigs that people find and enjoy online or in virtual reality or on computers, tablets, phones or other devices, no matter what people find in electronic and digital worlds, in the end, at the end of the day, and in the beginning, and at the start of the day, there’s nothing more real, more satisfying and more beautiful and welcoming—and real—as the real world. That’s a lesson worth remembering every second of every day.

 

TOMB RAIDER
Starring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas
Written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons
Story by Evan Daugherty and Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Based on “Tomb Raider” by Crystal Dynamics
Directed by Roar Uthaug
Produced by Graham King
Cinematography by George Richmond
Edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Tronick
Music by Junkie XL

The re-boot of “Tomb Raider,” with a radiant, glowing (yes, glowing) Alicia Vikander in the lead role and an excellent supporting cast, is rousing, stirring, suspenseful, action-packed—and simply a fun, entertaining escapist time at the movies.

Vikander is perfect for this role–beautiful, sexy, tough, independent, physical–and she bursts off of the screen in this role. Kudos to the producers and director for casting this young actress (she’s 29) as Lara Croft–it’s perfect casting. In fact, she’s better in the role than Angeline Jolie was in the previous 2001 and 2003 Tomb Raider movies.

“Tomb Raider” recalls bits of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “National Treasure 1 and 2,” “The Da Vinci Code,” Stephen Sommers’ classic 1999 version of “The Mummy”–and a thousand other similar action-adventure-fantasy films, but the movie still retains some modern-day sensibilities due to excellent, state-of-the-art visual effects, whirring cinematography and present-day winks, nods and humor. Although derived from those thousand previous, similar films, and although it’s a reboot of two previous movies from just a few years ago, “Tomb Raider” remains fresh, action-packed, fun–and entertaining.

“Tomb Raider” opened on March 16, 2018—and it would have been the perfect escapist movie to during the recent St. Patrick’s Day weekend–the film is a fun time at the movies to escape the dreary, cold, mid-March winter weather, and it’s a great movie to see before heading out to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations! However, it’s early April now, and the film is still running in some theaters—and it’s still a great escapist film to see this spring!

Vikander plays Croft as a young, tough, independent college student who is actually the heiress to the rich, successful company that was started by her father. However, in a unique twist, while the company honchos wait patiently for Croft to do her duty and take over the company as specified in her father’s will, she refuses, lives a sparse life as a college student on the edge, and even though she’s due vast riches that would provide her security for life, she doesn’t take over the company. Croft still believes that her father is still alive, and she won’t take over the company until she proves that her father is alive—or dead. Thus, she’s led to a mysterious boat captain with a mysterious map to a mysterious island where her father was off following deadly clues to the secrets of ancient worlds, leaders, lands—and superstitions.

Croft undertakes a dangerous journey to find her father—not for fame or fortune or glory, but for simply the love of her father. it’s been seven years since her father left, and Croft does everything she can, risking her life, spending her last independent dollars, making personal sacrifices, just to find her father. The resulting adventure on that mysterious island is a hoot—mysterious traps, puzzles, clues, supernatural beings, old bodies, vast tombs beneath the Earth’s surface, and an army of evil villains out to find the same ancient powers that Croft’s dad was searching for. Thus, Croft, the army of villains—again, from a suspicious, corrupt company of thugs—and others who were taken prisoner by the company and treated like slaves come to battle on the mysterious island, to prevent a long-buried evil from escaping and taking over the world, to free the prisoners, to defeat the bad guys and—to help Croft possibly maybe find her long-gone father.

Vikander was perfectly cast as Lara Croft—she’s beautiful, sexy, tough, able to handle the physicality of the role, and endearing enough via her open personality to not appear too tough and perfect in the role. She’s smart enough to keep Croft grounded and relatable, despite her beauty, which, again, bursts off the screen. Vikander is one of the more watchable, interesting young actresses working in film today, and taking this fantasy action-adventure was a great move for her at this time in her career.

The supporting cast is excellent, the direction is strong, and the visual effects compliment the action, add to the action, and contribute to the otherworldly, supernatural aspects of the story. Director Roar Uthaug, working with veteran editor Stuart Baird and co-editor Michael Tronick and screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Giddons, has crafted a fun, classy, stylish and escapist fantasy action-adventure film that stays true to the Lara Croft canon and world, improves on the Tomb Raider series, and, in general, provides a fun spring time at the movies.

 

MIDNIGHT SUN
Starring Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard
Written by Eric Kirsten
Based on “Midnight Sun” by Kenji Bando
Directed by Scott Speer
Produced by Jen Gatien, John Rickard and Zack Schiller
Cinematography by Karsten Gopinath
Edited by Michelle Harrison and Tia Nolan
Music by Nate Wolcott

There’s something quite positive to be said about a teen-oriented romantic drama tearjerker that manages to provide a message of hope, optimism, positivity and love amid an underlying tragedy that at its core tears at your heart—and manages to be a quite good film despite going up against every plot point that could elicit sneers and jeers from the more cynical, negative, pessimistic—and, ultimately, more Scrooge-like—moviegoers. However, “Midnight Sun,” the film in question, does manage to provide a positive message and does manage to be a good film—and a good film worth seeing at the theaters. But when you do go, and you should—get out the handkerchiefs.

“Midnight Sun” tells the story about a beautiful, smart, engaging, talented young teenage girl who has just about everything in the world—except the ability to go outside in the sun. Lead character Katie Price (played to perfection by the beautiful, engaging Bella Thorne) has a rare disease, xeroderma pigmentosum—a real, actual disease, by the way—that prevents Price from getting any possible exposure to the sun. She lives and breathes and works and plays and interacts with her single father and others just like anyone else—except she cannot go out in the sun, at all. Thus, Price spends her days inside her house, protected by special windows, and she can and does go out at night. She lives in a beautiful house, has a wonderfully loving, caring, kind father (wonderfully played by Rob Riggle, who keeps his usual obnoxious qualities from many other characters in other projects completely out of this film, perhaps probably playing the most kind, sympathetic character Riggle has played in quite a while), has friends, including her cute, spunky, funky, tough—and equally caring—best friend Morgan (a wonderfully endearing Quinn Shephard, who will steal hearts almost as much as Thorne’s Price), and even writes pop songs and sometimes performs them as a street busker at a train station near her house. She is the picture of a perfect teenage girl—except, again, she cannot go out during the day.

Through the years, Price sees neighbor Charlie through her window, but she never has the courage to contact him. But she eventually meets the teenage Charlie (a wonderful Patrick Schwarzenegger, who is indeed Arnold’s son, and who in one performance in one film immediately delivers a better, more grounded, more real acting performance than anything Arnold Schwarzenegger did in any of his films) while she’s out busking one night—and a friendship and then romance soon develops. At first, Katie and Charlie have a great relationship and romance, but Katie at first doesn’t tell Charlie about her disease. When Charlie does find out about her disease, though, his positive, kind and caring reaction provides one of the many positive lessons that are given in this wonderful film—that true love means more than just going out during the daytime. Charlie accepts Katie’s disease and insists on staying together, and his actions alone provide for the first frantic search for tissues in the movie theater. Alas, there will be more frantic searches for tissues, and, no, that’s not really a spoiler. If you think that’s a spoiler, just how many teenage romance disease movies have you actually watched?

Yes, “Midnight Sun” would appear on the surface to be a clichéd teenage romance tragedy disease movie, with roots in “Romeo and Juliet,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”—a similar, equally-excellent film from 2015—a thousand Hallmark television films, and a thousand other similar movies, but, well, thanks to that aforementioned overall positive, hopeful, endearing and optimistic and loving approach to this movie and this story and these characters by kind-hearted director Scott Speer, writer Eric Kirsten, adapting this film from the 2006 Japanese film of the same name that was written by Kenji Bando and directed by Norihiro Koizumi, and a cast and crew who remain dedicated and attentive to the basic goodness of their characters, this movie overcomes any cliches and any glitches to just be, well, darn likeable, loving, kind and, again, positive. Speer’s direction is assured, the actors are excellent, the story is compelling and it does tug at your heart, the production quality is excellent, with a nice, glowing, soft set of hues and colors that always shine positive from cinematographer Karsten Gopinath.

The point needs to made repeatedly—for it’s the foundation and one of the main messages of the film—that “Midnight Sun,” despite that tragic undercurrent, remains positive and hopeful. The movies sends many important messages—the power and importance of true love; the power of a father’s love for his daughter and a daughter’s love for her father; of looking out for people amid the worst of circumstances; of true friendship and looking out for friends no matter what life throws at you; the reality that people in this world have to deal with all manners and types of horrible diseases and afflictions that affect their lives, and it’s up to everyone to approach life every day with sympathy, compassion, caring and kindness toward people; to help people with diseases and afflictions and physical and mental problems as much as we possibly can help them; and to honor and respect and support the power of true love in life.

Does that sound corny, trite and overly sentimental? If it does to you, then you’re too cynical, because all of that is true, and all of that forms the real cornerstone, rock and foundation of fundamental life. And those core foundations and fundamentals of live—simply, love, caring, kindness, affection, friendship, hopefulness, optimism and positivity—are the messages of “Midnight Sun” and the qualities of life that the movies unabashedly and directly embraces and celebrates. And if it takes a few tears—and a few tissues—to get these messages across to people, well, all the more power to “Midnight Sun.”

So put aside any cynicism and negativity, and go out and see “Midnight Sun.” You may shed a tear, but you may also find that the movie manages to be a feel-good movie and experience. You may just walk out of the theater wiping away tears but also smiling at the positives in life at the same time. That’s life, the movies tells us—sometimes, people have to live a life amid a midnight sun, capturing what joys and happy times they can capture, while they can capture them. Life is short, no one knows what the next dawn or sunrise will bring, so enjoy life and all it brings while you can, the movie tells us. And with messages like that, there’s actually no cliches, no triteness, no over-sentiment and nothing wrong about “Midnight Sun.” Because the movie is sending a message of truth—kind-hearted, positive truth—but truth nonetheless. So go see “Midnight Sun” while you can—you never know what the next dawn or sunrise will bring in life.

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