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“Ready Player One” packs fun and replay value

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Steven Spielberg is the only director I can think of who can handle an adaptation like this. He has taken novels before with harsher characters and environments like Jaws or Jurassic Park. After having read Ready Player One, I figured he would have the opportunity to fix all the problems I had with the book’s pacing, story-line and connections to the characters. In many ways, Spielberg succeeds. However, there are times when I do feel there could be room for improvement here and there. On the whole, I’m still thankful to have a version that is far different from the source and knows when to have fun.

The story is set in the not-too distant future of 2045, were trailer parks are basically giant stacks of RVs. Everyone in the world is more invested in a virtual reality system called the OASIS, that is sort of like the Internet. The biggest difference is that it give many the ability to do what they want, even to go as far to cosplay as The Joker from Batman or drive the DeLorean from Back to the Future.

The creator of the OASIS, Jim Halliday (Mark Rylance), passes away and leaves his inheritance in the form of a giant video game. The set-up is simple. Beat the three levels, collect all three keys and the winner will get half a trillion dollars and complete control of the OASIS. Now, that is enough for everyone to jump to their VR visors and start hunting.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is one of the players, who goes by the avatar name Parzival. In many ways, the Wade character is dorky, but at least identifiable. Unlike the Ernest Cline novel, where the character constantly spits out 1980s references, he at least seeks more than the prize. While his ambition is to beat the game, he’s not too selfish and knows when to help others out in need.

This comes to another character he meets named Art3mis (Olivia Cook), who is more than a girl with a badass attitude. I liked the tough approach they give her and they do hint she is much smarter than you think. Her and Wade hit it off with a romance that is a tad dorky, but cute enough to be accepted. They both have the same goal in mind to do something better for the world and both come from tragic backstories. Cliche, but they are better compared to the novel.

Also in the chase is a greedy business man named Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who seeks to control the OASIS and make it an entire business affair. I found Nolan to be the right balance of cartoony for a video game character and his personality works well as a fun villain. There are times when he can get threatening near the end, but something about him lacks a certain menace like Matthew Modine’s character from Stranger Things. Yes, this guy will go as far to cheat his way, like in the novel, and they do allow extra time for us to know how big of a scum he is. While I didn’t find him threatening, at least until the last third, I still thought Mendelsohn’s performance was at least fun.

And that is the key word here, fun. Spielberg packs many scenes full of action and thrills that warrant much replay value. However, this is where the problem of this version of Ready Player One comes in. So much time is spend on these great set pieces, that we don’t get much with our characters. There are some nifty ideas like a museum in honor of Halliday that is run by a robot butler and moments like those got a good laugh out of me. But all of that is used for the sacrifice of knowing our characters more. When Wade does meet up with the real-life counterparts of his online friends, they meet, greet and move on to beat the final level. Part of me wishes that we could spend maybe a few minutes more understanding who these people are. I admit, the novel did add some interesting backstories to these kids which are somewhat missed.

Most of our time is spent going into 1980s horror movies, racing around New York and a battle, so massive, that I predict you will rent this on DVD and spend hours and hours freeze framing to see if your favorite character is there. The final moments alone are certain worth the admission price as characters from movies and video games band together to go against Sorrento and his army. But all of that at the risk of lacking development in certain things and people. There are times when they visually show the emotion and even visually show the way the world works without spelling it out. And yet, there are some lines of dialogue, or narration at the start, that exist just to set up things in this world.

But does that make Ready Player One worth skipping out? I don’t think so. Director Steven Spielberg is able to dig into elements of Cline’s novel and provide the best from the book while also adding needed improvement. Not everything is fixed, but I did except that. For all its faults, this movie still packs much that the average moviegoer can enjoy. If you liked Jaws, Jurassic Park, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Duel, The Goonies, Young Sherlock Holmes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit or The Adventures of Tintin, stop what you are doing and see this movie. After all, a little escapism from reality wouldn’t hurt….

Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon: Stranger Things (Season 1)

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Stranger Things court NetflixOf all the TV shows that have debuted in recent years, nothing has compared to how much appreciation Stranger Things has gotten. Created by the Duffer Brothers, this grand throwback to everything 1980s feels more a time capsule of the decade. Coming from someone who is an easy prey for 1980s era movies, this series channels every 1980s pop culture trope/reference in existence and somehow weaves perfectly them together. One minute, it feels like Steven Spielberg is directing it, then it pulls something supernatural from a Stephen King story or includes teen drama from a John Hughes movie. For a series that offers so much, I didn’t think all these plot lines would somehow be tied together.

tumblr_inline_oac2ra1nhr1t6ym0o_1280Everything is centered on the disappearance of a kid named Will (Noah Schnapp) whose very vanishing triggers a domino effect of story. One minute, his mother (Winona Ryder) thinks found a way to communicate with her son through electricity, then suddenly the local police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) uncovers a bizarre conspiracy linked to Will’s disappearance. Even thought it all sounds complex on paper, this whole thing is easy to follow as we jump from one character to the next. Each plot thread either adds more clues to the odd things happening in town or helps the viewer get more acquainted with the people in the area.

boys-and-eleven-radio-roomThings get more complicated when a group of Will’s friends find a girl named “Eleven” (chilling performance by Millie Bobby Brown) who has telekinetic powers beyond belief and may hold the key to finding their missing friend Will. As expected, this is where most of the Spielberg-E.T. cliches kick in with the creature being hidden in the house as the thing tries to understand the world outside. But, there comes a set of fresh elements to keep it interesting. For one, Eleven looks like a normal girl and has the opportunity to hide within society. It gives the character more open freedom to act among people which is kind of a scary thought. Imagine if Carrie had the chance to mingle in a modern high school and you didn’t know she had these powerful abilities like channeling other worlds or destroying things with her mind. How would a normal human being be able to know she has the will to bend reality when they look like a normal person?

The John Hughes elements are centered around one of the boy’s sisters (Natalia Dyer) who pines for the hot jock and, you can sort of see where it goes. In laws of predictability, there is an outcast of some form she feels bad for, but believes he deserves help and it causes her boyfriend to act like a complete jerk about it-Again, you can clearly see where it goes. However, what you don’t except is the jock to actually turn around and even be some form of help at the end. At one point, he becomes useful in a fight against this bizarre monster near the climax and it shows that maybe he’s not that bad as you think.

21-stranger-things-steve-nancy.w1200.h630That’s what I love the most about this series. It keeps adding all these twists and turns keeping you second guessing about what’s coming next. For every new turn in the story, you just can’t help but wonder how it will all end. Even with things like the “big bad government agents,” which is a tiring cliche, Stranger Things knows how to use this well by showing how more devious they can be. Not since E.T. have I felt this trope can really pose as a huge threat. These are people that will do anything to keep a huge secret, even if it means faking a death or holding a family hostage.

There’s so much more I wish I could talk about, but it’s best for you to see Stranger Things for yourself. With season 2 around the corner, now would be a good time to catch up and see what everyone’s been praising about. For an 8 episode season, it’s really worth your time, If you like small tows with big mysteries like Twin Peaks or throwbacks like Super 8, this is worth the nostalgia trip. I’d go into deeper detail on why so much of it succeeds, but then I would have to ruin a good bulk of the plot your meant to discover. The best I can say is for anyone who grew up on a childhood diet of Spielberg, John Carpenter and Joe Dante with a small pinch of Stephen King’s writing, this is for the older crowd who grew up on those elements.

Stranger Things VHS Blu Ray DVD1On a side note, I should bring to light of the show’s recent Blu-Ray/DVD release. Target held an exclusive “special collector’s” edition where the packaging resembles an old VHS tape. Once the slipcover is removed, the discs are housed in a container that resembles a VHS tape with a “Be Kind Rewind” sticker for added nostalgia. It’s a nifty idea, but there is one major drawback. All you get is the entire first season on both Blu-ray and DVD in a fancy packaging…and that’s it. No audio commentaries from the Duffer Brothers, additional supplements or even a single behind the scenes featurette.

Stranger Things VHS Blu Ray DVD2Fans might be disappointed in the lack of extra material, but at least the first season can be seen in some physical form outside of the digital medium. The other additional plus is for people who don’t have Netflix can actually check this series out. Well for $24.99, it’s not a bad deal seeing this form of packaging is perfect for a show like this. However, it leaves you feeling there should be more to explore after binge watching a show like this. Considering there will be 3 more seasons (including the next one coming this Halloween) afterwards, it leaves one to wonder if there will be this “complete series” release. For now, I’m pleased to had this one in my collection, but this show deserves much better when housed in a grand box like this.