“This Isn’t Just A Game. I’m Talking About Actual Life And Death Stuff…”
With The Post earlier this year garnering a wide flurry of Oscar nominations and a critical consensus which boarded on the side of rousing positivity, a return to form for director Steven Spielberg after the yawn-inducing mediocrity of The BFG was welcomed with open arms, and with only three months since its’ release here in the UK, Spielberg returns once again to the movie-fold with Ready Player One, a cinematic adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 science fiction adventure novel of the same name. Projected in 3D for its’ preview screening release, Spielberg’s latest primarily focuses on Tye Sheridan’s (X-Men: Apocalypse) Wade Watts, a slum-stricken teen who uses the environment of the OASIS, a virtual reality gaming platform created by Mark Rylance’s (Dunkirk) recently deceased James Halliday, to both escape his daily slumber and more importantly, to join many others in the hunt for three “Easter Eggs” left within the game by Halliday before his death which give the finder both riches beyond belief and the key to control of the entire OASIS itself. With pop culture references galore and an upbeat, heroic sensibility, Spielberg’s latest undeniably should work in the hands of a filmmaker renowned for popcorn delights, but with a brain scorching over-reliance on digital effects and a screenplay both absent of emotion and effective engagement, Ready Player One doesn’t work as a whole and is merely saved by individual elements which make it passable rather than thoroughly entertaining.
With an obvious social commentary regarding the nature and impact of modern technology, Spielberg’s movie mixes the subversive ideas within Cronenberg’s Existenz and Videodrome with a obvious love for the science fiction genre in its’ eye-watering levels of on-screen references, levels which makes The Cabin in the Woods look like a passing fling with its’ respective horror genre, but too a staggering amount which by the half-way point does become overly tacky and cheap. With an entire segment dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the set-piece is a real bottle spinner in regards to how one might respond, with my own personal obsession with Kubrick’s masterpiece resulting in a subverted distaste to seeing our on-screen heroes quickly pop through the Overlook Hotel, music cues and all, and instead making me think how I would rather be watching The Shining instead. With Ready Player One a movie which Spielberg himself has coined as the most difficult movie he’s worked on since Saving Private Ryan due to the staggering levels of visual effects, the CGI battle scenes really aren’t worth the time, particularly in a final act which boarders on George Lucas style dullness and a complete lack of character engagement when at least eighty percent of the film is spent inside the OASIS itself with digitally designed “avatars”. With Ben Mendelsohn once again resigned to Rogue One style typecasting as the film’s one-note central antagonist and a ear-scraping level of exposition heavy dialogue, Ready Player One certainly has more negative aspects than positive, and for a director who time and time again has proven that giant gargantuan science fiction spectacle is part and parcel of his day job, Spielberg’s latest annoyingly doesn’t hit the heavy heights we are all very much used to.
Overall Score: 4/10
“There’s No Hiding From This Son, We Have A Job To Do…”
The release of a new Christopher Nolan movie is always the time for utmost rejoice, a filmmaker who fundamentally adores the classic ways and means of cinema, and more impressively, a director who, like a modern incarnation of Steven Spielberg, is a guaranteed win for both box office and critical success, something of which each and every one of his films have achieved since his early work all the way back in 2000 with Memento. After the brilliance of Interstellar, a film which although may have been slightly divisive with critics, undoubtedly remains up there with the best work Nolan has offered up so far in terms of spectacle, the London-born filmmaker returns this week with Dunkirk, a live-action blockbuster focusing on the infamous titular evacuation which took place during the early stages of the Second World War and a movie which holds extra levels of kudos for being filmed in the heart of my very own hometown in sunny, sunny Dorset. Whilst you can expect nothing less than a movie with many different levels of wonder from a director such as Nolan, Dunkirk still manages to exceed the already vertigo-esque levels of anticipation which preceded it, and to put the experience of watching Dunkirk into words is a staggering undertaking in itself but what Nolan has ultimately accomplished can only be regarded as a masterpiece of spectacle, sound and sumptuous levels of tension, resulting in the best film to be released so far this year.
Avoiding completely the notion of a stereotypical, singular, character-driven wartime epic in the vein of Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, Nolan’s determined decision to focus on the triage of land, sea and air narrative threads means that although we are in the company of many different characters throughout each of them, their really isn’t time to discover backstory for any of the respective characters before the real power of the movie starts to come to fruition. From the first opening shot, screeching bullets and the tick-tock of Hans Zimmer’s unbelievably stunning soundtrack grip you in a contortion of spellbinding unrelenting tension, with the face of Fionn Whitehead’s youth-inflicted Tommy at the heart and centre of peril for most, if not all, of the time you share his particular journey of death and destruction, all caused by the unseen entity of the enemy soldier. Whilst Zimmer is renowned for being the brains behind classic musical soundtracks of the past, Dunkirk is undeniably up there with his best work to date, using Nolan’s own personal fob-watch at the heart of the metronome-esque piece of music which fuels the rising anxiety which encompasses the main thrust of the narrative, and by utilising his work hand in hand with the simply stupendous sound design, Dunkirk is the type of movie which is crying out to only be watched on the biggest screen possible in order to truly experience the craft at the heart of it.
With the film’s cinematography being left in the hands of Hoyte van Hoytema, whose previous works includes Her, Spectre and Nolan’s own science fiction epic, Interstellar, it comes as no surprise that Dunkirk is absolutely beautiful to behold, and although the particular screening in which I was in was the normalised digital approach to projection, if you are lucky enough to get the chance to witness Dunkirk in IMAX 35mm or 70mm, take it, with scenes of tantalising air to air battles and sweeping camera shots of soldier infested beaches showcasing an artist at the top of his respective game. Whilst pretenders such as the likes of Michael Bay believe the best use of IMAX cameras is to showcase how endless amounts of pointless explosions look within the format, thank god for the likes of Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker who is grounded completely in the epic grittiness of practicality and more importantly, a director who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of film. Dunkirk isn’t simply just a movie, it is a masterstroke of spectacle and a work of artistic tendency, and a film which not only results in the best blockbuster of the year and perhaps, even the past decade, but is the finest of examples of why cinema is so darn integral and important to those who truly love to witness a filmmaker at the peak of his powers. Nolan is just that, and in spades.
Overall Score: 10/10
“Never Go To The Window, Never Look Behind The Curtain…”
Who doesn’t love Roald Dahl? Not only have countless cinematic works been based upon his literary catalogue over the course of over half a century, but his presence is still continuing to this very day, with Hollywood understanding that re-imaginings and reboots of his works on the big screen will always guarantee to bring in the masses, whilst hardcore Bond fans will know his influence on the script for You Only Live Twice, the first Bond film in which we see the ominous presence of Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld and his evil looking Persian cat. Anyhow, this time around it’s The BFG which gets the reboot treatment, directed this time by Steven Spielberg and continuing the successful collaboration of Bridge of Spies by placing Oscar winner Mark Rylance in the lead role. Whilst the CGI and design of Rylance’s titular BFG is a fantastic achievement in itself, the film as a whole is one that is surprisingly mediocre, one in which suffers from a wide range of pacing issues, a yawn-inducing first half and a lacklustre plot thread based around the intent of our beloved heroine, Sophie.
Although Spielberg is a director whom I appreciate highly, The BFG is a surprisingly empty and rather shallow fantasy, one that focuses entirely on the structure and creation of Rylance’s BFG and seemingly forgets to include any real sense of direction whatsoever. Beginning with a first act in which we are taken to Giant Country, the film descends into a rather slow slew of tedious pacing issues, in which the introduction of Rylance’s character is overshadowed by such and subsequently becomes something you quickly get bored with. After a good drawn out 90 minutes, the film does improve when we are taken into the halls of Buckingham Palace, a final act which seemingly woke up the entirety of the audience in my particular screening, with the laughs and quickfire jokes swiftly erasing the pain of the film so far before it. With Spielberg at the reigns and Rylance in command of his beloved character, The BFG should have been something spectacular. Instead, Spielberg’s latest is surprisingly mediocre, a word rarely associated with talent of such a kind.
Overall Score: 5/10
Best Supporting Actor
Here we are once again… The 88th Academy Awards is upon us, swiftly bringing with it a rafter of talent, talent that has simmered and shone throughout a cinematic year in which bears have been fought, evil deeds exposed and Mexican drug-lords being dispatched quicker than you can whisper Sicario. Beginning Black Ribbon’s venture and exploration into the realms of Oscar Nomination goodness is the category of Best Supporting Actor, an award currently clutched onto by the majestic J.K Simmons for his electric portrayal of Terrence Fletcher in last years Whiplash, Black Ribbon’s favourite film of 2016. Aiming to steal the limelight from under Mr. Simmons’ shoes is a string of actors well accustomed to critical acclaim in the past with theatre legend Mark Rylance being nominated for his role in Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies, Christian Bale for Wall Street comedy-drama The Big Short, Tom Hardy for his role in the sublime The Revenant, and of course, Mark Ruffalo for the equally brilliant Spotlight. Oh yeah, and there’s Sylvester Stallone for Creed.
Looking at the bookies and by word of mouth on the movie grapevine, favourite this year for winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor lies on the shoulders of both Mr. Stallone for Creed and Mr. Rylance for Bridge of Spies, with both being successful at previous movie ceremonies; Stallone at the Golden Globes and Rylance at the BAFTA’s. As for those who may have been overlooked, both Benicio Del Toro for Sicario and Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation would have been potential winners for their roles in two superb films, whilst the fear of Oscar white-washing isn’t helped by the fact that the cast from Straight Outta Compton was completely ignored, particularly Jason Mitchell for his role as Eazy-E. It maybe just me, but the inclusion of any of these overlooked talents may have made this years’ ceremony a bit more thrilling. Anyway, here are the nominations:
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Christian Bale – The Big Short
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Sylvester Stallone – Creed
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Next Time: Best Supporting Actress!
“We Have To Have The Conversations Our Governments Cant…”
Much like Disney, Marvel, and Bond, the singular word that is “Spielberg” automatically creates a blinding vortex of cinematic vigor and eager anticipation, a feat of which is arguably expected more so than any other directorial name that has come and gone in the past thirty years or so in the eyes (or ears) of the widespread general public. Of course such a household name such as Steven Spielberg has been helped in part to the simply spellbinding back catalogue that Steven Spielberg has created over the course of more than forty years, of which includes my personal favourites Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan, and the first three Indian Jones movies among many many others that have gone on to win both critical and financial acclaim as well as a rafter of awards including the odd Oscar or two. With Bridge of Spies, Spielberg’s latest offering only continues his remarkable career, combining the reliable acting efforts of Tom Hanks, the writing credits of the Coen Brothers, and a Thomas Newman score, creating a classy, entertaining, and pleasingly intelligent Cold War thriller.
Bridge of Spies focuses on the true story of American lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) and his attempt to successfully negotiate the exchange of the captive Soviet Union spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) for Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), an American pilot who was shot down and captured by the Russians during the height of the Cold War in 1957. What makes Bridge of Spies rather splendid is due to a wide range of different factors. One of the most important within the film was how, much like many Cold War era flicks including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Dr. Strangelove, Bridge of Spies manages to effectively handle the strange sense of paranoia and impending doom present in such an ambiguous era where nuclear disaster was a realistic and dangerous threat to both the Soviet Union and the US. Although not being directly part of the main plot threads, the possibility of nuclear war is rife throughout Bridge of Spies and is particularly startling during a scene in which we witness a young classroom watch help guides regarding what to do if a nuclear strike ever occurs on US soil, a frightening experience if ever there was one.
Yes, the Coen Brothers led script is aptly superb, and Janusz Kaminski’s chilly cinematography adheres to the notion of the rather ironically named “Cold War”, but the true winners here are no doubt the leading actors with Tom Hanks continuing on with his fine acting form present in Captain Phillips, whilst esteemed stage actor Mark Ryland as the Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel. also stands out with his suave, silent and sophisticated portrayal of the convicted felon, unsure of his future in either the confines of the US or his freedom in the homeland of Soviet Russia, being a integral part to the films’ effectiveness. Although a shade too long in places, and ending on a sense of sentimentality that Spielberg is wholly renowned for, Bridge of Spies will no doubt be a huge part of next years’ Oscar ceremonials as classy Spielberg war flicks tend to be the best kind of Oscar bait, but unlike some supposed Oscar tipped films that are set to come out in the upcoming months or so, Bridge of Spies is one film where it does deserve the credit it hopefully will get in the near future or so and fits snugly into the ever-growing list of films directed by one Comrade Spielberg.