REVIEW: Ready Player One is a huge celebration of pop culture

Anyone with a gaming background, young and old, will rejoice at this visually remarkable virtual reality based tale from Steven Spielberg.

Adapted from Ernest Cline’s 2011 best-seller set in 2045, Ready Player One focuses on Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a virtual reality gaming nerd living in a world where VR headsets are all the range.

Living in the Stacks, a junkyard of trailers in Columbus, Ohio, Wade is just one of many competing for an Easter Egg hidden in the virtual reality world, Oasis, designed by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylace).

The prize for finding the egg secures Halliday’s fortune as well as the Oasis itself – but the fun of the chase soon turns into something much more important when corporate head Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) attempts to get his hands on the egg.

There’s so much to enjoy in Ready Player One, none more so than the celebration of pop culture with a number of references, whether it be it’s 80’s soundtrack or the most incredible set piece based on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Visually, the movie is incredible. With much of the film based inside the virtual reality world, it relies heavily on CGI but in a much more acceptable way than Justice League, which genuinely looked more like a video game.

Ready Player One perhaps isn’t the movie the people expected from Steven Spielberg, nor is it near his best, but it definitely is one that audiences of young and old can enjoy for a number of reasons, none more so than to escape into the unimaginable.


REVIEW: Black Panther isn’t perfect, but it’s the film the world needed

Aside from being one of the more important blockbusters of modern times, which it has rightfully been commended for, Black Panther also does a brilliant job of standing on its own two feet away from the Marvel universe, in more ways than one.

In fact, the only reference to the Avenger world is at the start of the movie where we see T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) inheriting the throne of Wakanda from his father who we saw die in Captain America: Civil War. Director Ryan Coogler clearly avoided any temptation to hinge it on the success of the Avengers franchise and make the most of what brilliant material was available to him.

Concealed from the rest of the world, the futuristic Wakanda is home to an out of this world material that is in danger of being taken advantage of by the modern day South African pirate, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), and then contender to the Wakandan throne, Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), the cousin T’Challa never knew he had.

One of the most striking features of the movie is its score, composed by Ludwig Göransson and Kendrick Lamar, who combine tribal beats with the more familiar orchestral sounds, capturing the tone of the movie with pinpoint accuracy.

Not only is the sound impressive, but the film is visually fulfilling, particularly when scanning the imagined Wakanda – an advanced city concealed by great African plaines. That said, one of the best scenes of the film is far from home, consisting of a car chase brilliantly choreographed in Korea.

It’s no secret that the movie stands out for its positive representation for the black community, but it was also a pleasure to see women so positively appreciated in Black Panther. T’Challa’s tech savvy sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okeye (Danai Gurira) are arguably the unsung heroes of the movie. Lupita Nyong’o is also one of the many brilliant actresses to play a key role in the movie.

The film hits a slight pothole by falling for the classic Marvel third-act trap, climaxing with a CGI filled battle sequence, consisting of attack rhinos which flatter to deceive. Thankfully, the rest of the film is joyous enough not to have it ruined by the typical superhero endings we’re now so used to and tired of.

As a fan of the Marvel universe, I wouldn’t go as far to saying that this is the best of the Marvel films in the franchise. But it certainly is the most remarkable of the bunch and one of the more important blockbusters you will see in modern times bearing in mind the impact it has had around the world.

REVIEW: Lady Bird flies high as Greta Gerwig makes directorial debut

The most charming aspect about Lady Bird is the idea that there is no great twist or typical structure to the movie, but instead is a catalogue of engaging moments.

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a refreshing blend of her quirky, indie roots and commercial, mainstream familiarities which is roughly based on her own story. Yet Lady Bird is also a film that everyone can relate to and enjoy whether they are male or female and regardless of age.

The brilliant Saoirse Ronan plays Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a teenager growing up in Sacramento in 2002. Throughout the movie we follow her journey through the late stages of a Catholic school, her first exploits with the opposite sex, and her general coming of age growing up in a family struggling financially. Most importantly though, we are introduced to the incredibly strained relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), summed up in the opening scene of the movie.

It is this relationship that is the backbone of the movie, and Metcalf is the perfect counter to Ronan’s punchy character. It seems like it will be a shootout between Metcalf and Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour) for Best Supporting Actress. Special mention must also go to Tracy Metts who plays Lady Bird’s gentle, depressed father.

Gerwig tells this story so genuinely and honestly that it is so relatable for so many people who would have had similar struggles at that stage of their lives. Yet there is a quirky teenage charm to it all that is very much down to her and the movie’s cast who are all on top form. Lady Bird guarantees laughs and tears, but will leave you with an overwhelming feeling of melancholic warmth.


REVIEW: Jake Gyllenhaal pushes for Oscar in Stronger

One thing that Stronger does well is avoiding becoming the typically patriotic propaganda following a tragic event. There’s no doubting that Boston as a city and the United States as a nation came together after the devastating bombings in the 2013 Boston marathon. But far too many movies based on tragic real-life events are far too elaborate and nationalistic – the obvious examples being American Sniper and Patriots Day.

Where Stronger thrives is having the ability to look past the collective and focusing on a quite inspiring individual, Jeff Bauman, who suffered life changing injuries as a result of the incident.

The movie follows the memoirs of Bauman, a blue-collar everyday man who loses the bottom half of his legs following the bombings, and the resulting struggles he faces when rebuilding his life. The working-class Bauman must deal with his new hero-like status, not helped by his overpowering mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson) and his on and off relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany).

Stronger is almost the perfect movie for Gyllenhaal right now – the everyday, working-class character facing tragedy gives plenty for him to work with a remind us of what a brilliant actor he has become. And as we enter award season, his name is likely to be mentioned for his big-eyed, turmoil-fueled performance.

The acting is the best aspect of the movie, which won’t last too long in the memory. But there should also be a special mention for Miranda Richardson and Tatiana Maslany. Richardson, playing Jeff’s heavy-drinking mother who gets caught up in the hero status of her son, brings a lot of life to a tough, difficult character whilst Maslany plays the despairing ex-girlfriend who faces just as much struggle negotiating a strenuous relationship with Jeff.

Stronger should be commended for not milking the political aspect of the attack and instead focusing more on the aftermath of an individual and his struggles, whereas similar films insist on waving the red, white and blue. David Gordon-Green’s movie is a refreshing take on a real-life tragedy with strong performances and portrayed well enough.


REVIEW: Ingrid Goes West tells the bleak story of a social media addict

Just take a moment to think about how much time you spend on your smartphone. Think about how much of your week is spent on social media, scrolling through the endless amounts of selfies and filtered pictures.

Do you ever get envious or judge people based on what they post on social media? Wish that picture of you from Friday night got more likes on Facebook or that you had more followers on Instagram?

Well this is Ingrid cranked all the way to maximum and the poignant message in the dark comedy, Ingrid Goes West, is of how social media promotes an illusion of connectivity which is currently being cast on a generation in today’s society.

This movie comes so close to homing in on that warning but cops out right at the end when all of its good work comes undone and any caution about the perils of social media evaporate literally within the last 20 seconds of the film.

Ingrid is played by Aubrey Plaza who fits the role of the main character perfectly. The 33 year-old has come a long way in a short space of time since Parks and Recreation and here she plays an unstable social media stalker.

We get an understanding of just how media obsessive she is at the start when she pepper sprays her friend at her wedding for not inviting her only to discover that the bride wasn’t a friend but had once commented on one of Ingrid’s Instagram posts.

After recovering from that episode, Ingrid then decides to move to LA to track down Instagram expert, Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), who she had come across and begins to fixate upon.

Through a series of creepy acts, she tricks Taylor into befriending her and the pair begin spending time together before it all falls apart when Ingrid’s dark secrets are revealed.

None of the characters in the movie are particularly likeable and therefore make the film a rather uncomfortable experience all round. Just think how annoying it is being out with your friends when everyone is staring at their phones or taking selfies – now think how annoying that would be just to watch unfold.

The one aspect of relief is Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Ingrid’s landlord in LA and Batman fanatic who offers a number of laugh out loud moments to the proceedings and the only one who has any concept of reality.

The devastating twist at the end should have been where the movie ended and landed its knockout blow of a message. But where 99% of the film is about the dangers of social media obsession, the remaining 1% is the closing sequence to the film that completely obliterates any positive message it was trying to promote. It ultimately lets down what is otherwise a poignant, contemporary movie.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Review

Following his brief cameo in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man gets his own outing in Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s the latest rebranding of the web-slinger following Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s 21st century efforts but given it’s affiliation with the Avengers franchise, it’s difficult to compare this modernised vision of the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.

After his bout with Captain America, a 15-year-old Peter Parker (Holland) must come back down to reality and tackle his everyday teenage life of school and girls as well as his relationship with his aunt May (Melissa Tomei). This all proves tricky once he considers himself an official Avenger, pestering Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) for more involvement in the initiative.

After crossing paths with supernatural arms dealer, The Vulture (Michael Keaton), Peter can’t help but put everything else in his life on hold and find a way to prove that he is worthy of Avenger status.

Director Jon Watts brings a melancholic and indie tone to the superhero, in particular during the scenes where we see Peter step away from his Spider-Man duties. There’s plenty of charm and humour with Holland an important catalyst in that as well as the teenage based pop soundtrack playing behind it all.

Ultimately, the movie is a small component of something much bigger, with Avengers: Infinity War to come next year and that certainly modernises the Spider-Man brand, but there is still a sense of independence the movie that is refreshing to see.

There’s plenty to admire in Spider-Man: Homecoming as it does a good job of balancing it’s own world with the broader Avengers universe. With that in mind, it’s hard to compare it with Sam Raimi’s noughties trilogy and the two rather forgotten rebrandings in 2012 with Andrew Garfield. It’s a completely new reimagining of the character, which won’t blow audiences away by any means, but will charm viewers nevertheless.

Baywatch – Review

Plenty of incredible looking people, some cheap action thrills and a decent amount of comedy is exactly what you can expect from the new movie adaptation of Baywatch. It’s a movie one will go into with low expectations and leave having had a couple of chuckles, but without being left with any lasting impressions. But ultimately that is what a movie like Baywatch is specifically there for.

Dwayne Johnson plays the updated version of David Hasselhoff’s Mitch Buchanen, a dedicated and much-loved head lifeguard of Baywatch beach in Miami. When recruiting for new talent to join the team patrolling the bay, Mitch clashes with Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced former Olympic champion swimmer whose cocky attitude leads him to believe he can stroll into the role.

After being awarded the job, Brody soon discovers there’s a lot more to the part than just being a lifeguard as he and the rest of the team look to bring down the dangerous drug-lord, Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), who jeopardises the future of the Bay.

Director Seth Gordon is probably best known for 2011’s Horrible Bosses, so immediately you know what kind of crass humour is going to be involved. And fortunately for Baywatch, there are a number of chuckles to be had which partially makes up for the terrible storyline and budget action sequences. Johnson and Efron have a fun on-screen relationship and along with Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach, there’s plenty to visually admire.

The movie as a whole is poor, but it certainly surpasses the lowest of expectations that audiences will be going in with. Baywatch is incredibly forgettable but a few laughs and some cheap action scenes mean it’s not the worst watch ever.

Patriots Day – Review


Director Peter Berg for a while has been on the brink of producing something special. He may have had a number of blips with the likes of Hancock and Battleship, but he has also produced some impressive docudramas including The Kingdom, Lone Survivor and last year’s Deepwater Horizon. His latest venture, Patriots Day, sees him take on the story of the 2013 Boston bombings – and it is the movie that takes Berg’s directing prowess to next level.

The film follows the true events of the bombings as well as the incredible subsequent events when two brothers, Damerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, target the finish line of the Boston marathon with a pair of homemade bombs, killing three people and injuring hundreds more. Detective Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg, who is also the only fictional character in the movie) was on duty at the time of the explosions and is seemingly our main protagonist throughout the movie.

All other characters in the film (barring Michelle Monaghan’s role as Tommy’s despairing wife) are real life accounts from victims Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) and her partner Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) to all police officials including Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K Simmons). Along with FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), they play huge roles in the aftermath of the bombings, searching tirelessly for the two brothers in quite an amazing few days in Boston. The movie ends with touching interviews and images from the day which you can’t help but feel moved by.

Berg has a knack of mixing together devastation and sentimentality. We are introduced to Boston on the morning of the bombings as a quirky, lazy place with a number of wise cracks from all the characters – an easy going opening to the movie. But as a result, we are immediately invested in the characters, including the two brothers with whom we ascertain their motives and background of throughout – discovering more about the antagonists is another admirable trait of Berg’s.

The scene of the explosions isn’t over-egged by Berg, but from this moment on the audience is gripped by the pure tension the subsequent events exploit. And these said events are quite incredible – it’s almost best to go into the movie without knowing too much of what happened in the days that followed.

Berg doesn’t struggle with the high number of character profiles – in fact Wahlberg’s role isn’t necessarily outdoing anyone else, he is just one of the many heroes that Berg is patriotically portraying. As a result, Patriots Day is some of his best work. It’s a captivating watch, incredibly moving and a true homage to all the victims and heroes of the tragic events of those few days.

Gold – Review


The story behind Gold is quite a remarkable one but the telling of it by director Stephen Gaghan fails to sparkle. All the ingredients suggest that this could have been a classic, money based caper but the end product is merely a lacklustre wannabe Wolf of Wall Street.

Matthew McConaughey (who possibly was casted following his brief appearance in Wolf of Wall Street) plays Kenny Wells, a man who is on the brink of driving his family’s business into bankruptcy in the late 80’s. Following a literal dream he has one night, Kenny goes all out into the prospecting game, venturing to Indonesia to meet Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a fellow prospector who believes he knows where to get digging deep in the jungle territory.

The pair forms a business partnership and soon enough begin hiring local Indonesian villagers to start digging for the buried riches. Back home in Nevada, Kenny has a group of salesman set up in order to gain investors in the new business venture, along with his partner Kay (Bryce Dallas-Howard), who enjoys the sudden income increase when Kenny and Michael seemingly strike lucky. Consequently, a number of New York firms as well as various other parties become interested in Kenny’s project.

Unsurprisingly, McConaughey is the most notable and watchable component of the movie. He has clearly prepared himself and then some for the role with the receding hair line and incredibly rotund belly – that said, how challenging can it be to prepare for a role by piling on the pounds? The performance itself is typically engrossing, making the mundane conversations and confrontations that bit more intriguing.

Unfortunately not much can be said for the rest of the movie. Gaghan uses musical montages with pop tunes from the 80s in an attempt to create a fast paced, Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short type movie. It’s all in vain as the film never really takes off at any stage, nor takes any risks unlike its main protagonist leaving a blunt and lacklustre end product. That’s hard to believe with a storyline such as this (though if one was to dig further, you’d find that the movie only barely matches the true story that it claims to be inspired by).

With McConaughey being the sole sparkle to gleam from the movie, Gold is one that promised a lot but doesn’t dig deep enough shine as brightly as its subject matter.

Manchester By The Sea – Review


Manchester by the Sea is possibly the film that brings Casey Affleck out of the shadow of older brother, Ben, in terms of acting prowess. The heart-breaking and bleak storyline brings out the absolute best in Affleck, and with a Golden Globe already under his belt, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him grab an Oscar at the end of this month either.

He plays Lee Chandler, a janitor in Boston, leading a mundane and exiled life following a dark tragedy in his life. After learning that his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died, he finds himself back in his hometown of Manchester, where he discovers that he will have to look after Joe’s 16-year-old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Lee now finds himself in a difficult position, fighting demons in his past and now struggling to come to terms with having to take on the huge task of his selfish and reluctant nephew. As the film progresses, we learn more about Lee’s past, discovering that he was a social, happy go lucky kind of guy as well as a loving husband, father and uncle to a younger Patrick. That is until the incident that turns him into this cold, deadpan character as the film continues to evolve with Lee’s past and present beginning to converge.

It’s hard to see the Oscar for best actor heading anywhere other than Affleck’s direction. The piece of casting for Lee is an absolute masterstroke as Affleck nails this fractured, empty soul yet with something so dark brooding deep inside which is so difficult for an actor to portray. There are certain aspects of Affleck that display this perfectly whether it is his slumped shoulders or his motionless facial features. They don’t give away much, but you know for sure that there is a rage and ache deep inside of Lee, showing no real emotion despite the occasional angry outburst at a customer and the odd scrap in a bar.

Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan also does a cracking job of setting the tone of the movie. The snow and frostiness of the scenery captures the cold nature of the movie, and there are certain dull and uneventful moments throughout the film that will bypass without any consideration but will gradually build the feeling of pain and difficulty amongst the characters. This can be something as basic as being unable to find a parked car. Simple and mundane, but more effective than one might originally think.

There’s no doubt Manchester by the Sea will leave its audience in a dark place and guarantees the odd tear, and credit has to go to Lonergan as well as Affleck for his gloomy performance – he will be seeing gold come the end of the month for sure. The movie in general will leave a sour taste in your mouth, but in a good way.