Monday, April 9, 2018

Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One is expensive (175 million dollar) and disorienting (two-thirds of the film takes place in game space), loaded with pop culture references and self-referential witticisms, but, regrettably, it is also overstuffed and emotionally inert for long stretches. Most of the film's interest is in the execution of Spielberg's singular transporting vision onto the screen which occasionally in the past has fallen just short of full realization (see Bruce the shark from Jaws). In this case, the picture is a visual marvel set in the near future where citizens escape their overpopulated existence through a virtual reality game called Oasis, taking on avatars and living a fantasy life that occasionally means warring fantastic creatures to accumulate points and coins. Spielberg's hero is the teenage orphan Wade (Tye Sheridan), whose avatar, Parzival, is a skillful bad-ass who often teams with other masked players in Oasis. He befriends a rogue female avatar named Art3mis / real name Samantha (Olivia Cooke), who is actually playing the game to find a way to destroy it. This crew joins the rest of the gaming universe in a challenge to find secret keys that will lead to an Easter Egg hidden by the game's creator (Mark Rylance) somewhere in the guts of the virtual world that will pay trillions of dollars and transfer control of the game to the winner. Ben Mendelsohn plays the head of the gaming company plotting to keep anyone from wresting control out of his hands. Yes, it's convoluted as hell, which is much of its problem, the other part  being the actual people get so little screen time that the audience never really develops a connection with them and so their quest (while amazing to watch) feels remote.

Saturday, April 7, 2018


In John Curran's Chappaquiddick, Sen. Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) is portrayed as the whipping boy of the Kennedy clan, who did absolutely everything wrong after driving off a bridge on Martha's Vineyard and leaving a devoted campaign worker (Kate Mara) to drown. As portrayed by the masterful Mr. Clarke, Kennedy is at once despicable and pitiful, but certainly no more callous than the stable of power brokers and spinmeisters who had been doing the palsied and indomitable Joe Kennedy's (Bruce Dern) bidding for years and are called to save the senator from himself. The screenplay by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan is smart and confines the story to the week after the accident, which, coincidentally was the time of the first moon walk -- the time of one Kennedy's posthumous space age triumph and his youngest brother's near implosion.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Quiet Place

John Krasinski's mean monster thriller, A Quiet Place, makes clear what's at stake in a truly startling way within the picture's first five minutes and adds layers of complication and dreadful concern through to the last reel. Krasinski directs himself and Emily Blunt as the parents of a small family trying to stay alive after what appears to have been an alien invasion that left humankind scattered, scarce and scared. The beasties are hideous, ravenous and blind; they hunt using sound, which means to avoid attack one must be quiet -- always. Contributing more than a little irony to this entertaining pressure cooker of a movie is the young actress Millicent Simmonds, who plays the couple's oldest child, who uses a hearing aid. Simmonds, who actually is deaf, brings an emotional weight to her role that nearly matches the more senior members of the cast and that's saying a lot considering what Emily Blunt must face down during the course of this terrific picture.

Monday, April 2, 2018

District (2017)

Anthony Bawn (nee Newsome) created an interesting, no budget TV series last year that was streamed on what his company describes as the only black-owned, LGBTQ service on the web. District, which is now playing as a single hour-long piece on Amazon, explores the intersections of blackness, maleness and sexuality in an original context, IMO -- labor exploitation among black men in Atlanta. The series / film stars Brandon Anthony, the most polished of the half-dozen men in the cast, whose character, Miller, is an elaborately tattooed, under-employed hustler of sorts who is preyed upon by his occasional lover Jayvon, a homeless drug addict who nonetheless rocks a swimmer's build. One of Miller's generous "friends" introduces him to a secretive cartel of black construction contractors called the Brotherhood, from whom he learns that strings are attached to everything. The film suffers from uneven performances from cast members (all of the men are out-acted by Tami Roman as Miller's straight-talking, imprisoned mother), poor sound editing and mixing, and a curious narrative voice-over from Miller that's distorted to sound like anonymous witness testimony.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...