‘Ready Player One’: Throwbacks, Action, (Slightly Mediocre) Acting, Oh My!

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

Welcome to the significantly more intense and highly anticipated Wreck-it Ralph/Tron remix that is Ready Player One. A movie that can only be described by asking you to picture the Iron Giant – yes, the one from the 1999 movie – in an all out war against Godzilla.

Can you picture it? Good.

In Steven Spielberg’s newest movie based off of the highly acclaimed novel by Ernest Cline, we get to live in the world of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) as he navigates through a crazy complicated Easter egg hunt – which somehow managed to involve King Kong jumping off a building attempting to destroy a DeLorean complete with a flux capacitor – that only took half of the movie to explain.

This was an Easter egg hunt for half a trillion dollars and the sole proprietorship of a video game world called the “Oasis”, given that it’s the only sane place for the majority of people in a post factory apocalypse world. It was created by a slightly senile man by the name of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) who does a good job of showing up at very odd but convenient times throughout the movie.

Sheridan stars alongside Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds), who plays Samantha Cook, a slightly self conscious in real life but confident in the Oasis girl, whom is also aiming to win the hunt.

As the first thirty-ish minutes of the movie comes and goes, it becomes pretty obvious that this is no one’s best performance. Cooke is unbearably monotone during certain points in the movie where a little emotion would’ve furthered the character. Sheridan’s performance equals that of X-Men, which may or may not be a good thing.

Take it as you will.

On top of the slightly mediocre acting, the camera angles and special effects towards the beginning of the film can be nauseating and rather jam-packed with the many references you want to scream at (it actually zooms in on Minecraft World before the camera does a 360 degree flip into a space fight). Fortunately, this didn’t manage to bring down the style of the production design and clearly thought out cinematography that was put into the film as a whole.

Aside from these aspects, the actual plot left something to be desired. As aforementioned, the description of the Easter egg hunt by James Halliday was very complex and took half of the movie to fully explain, although it did have a very interesting opening scene that described the  bare minimum of rules – or the lack of them – in the game.

The subplot of Ready Player One actually did better than most movies usually do. This one was very much the classic cliche love story, but it directly connected to the main plot that not many can successfully do nowadays and actually make it look good.

As an audience member, I was more connected to the actual story of the subplot rather than the main plotline. Now, if we are talking about special effects…. Then oh boy did that main storyline have some great effects. You tell me that seeing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the entire character cast of Halo in the same scene isn’t absolutely iconic.

All in all, Ready Player One is simply a movie to enjoy. To see hundreds of fan-favorite characters from movies, video games, and TV shows all over the course of two hours might be a dream to someone, but trashy to another. This movie packed the references, but did it well. With special effects and the beautiful set, it becomes almost easy to look past the acting and the storyline.

My Rating: 84%

Acting: 2.9/4

Cinematography: 3.6/4

Story: 3.1/4

Enjoyability: 3.9/4


‘7 Days in Entebbe’ Will Keep You Waiting… and Waiting

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

Ever wanted a history film about Israeli-Palestinian relations but didn’t want to sit through 5 hours of the entire history? Well, the new film ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ might be the film for you, but you also willing to sit through almost 2 hours of a single drawn out event that happens over the span of one week.

Based on real life events, ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ tracks the 1976 hijacking of an AirFrance plane en route to Paris from Tel Aviv. Widely known as a terrorist plot, it was in hopes for the Israeli government to release it’s terrorist prisoners by holding their Jewish residents hostage.

So far, it seems like the perfect film for the average history buff.

Well, even though it sounds interesting on paper, the film didn’t amount to any high expectation. The lack of action – until the very end – seemed to drag the pace and the audience with it. Most of the film consisted of Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl’s characters waiting around watching the hostages while acting superior and pretending they knew how to use a gun.

For Israeli-Palestinian history I would instead suggest watching the 2011 documentary ‘Promises’. It has much more emotional appeal and a completely unbiased look at the conflict.

Now, I don’t want to attack all aspects of the film considering one of its strengths was actually in its performances. I might be a little biased towards Brühl because I believe that he can do no wrong but the entire cast showed that a bad movie can still have good aspects to it – including acting.

It wasn’t superb, but it was enough to be appreciated.

Overall, ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ wasn’t the Israeli-Palestinian history flick that some were expecting. If you were hoping for a highly entertaining film with an important message – I would pick a different film. The only knowledge gained is that these two nations just need to work things out and find peace – as if we didn’t already know that.

My Rating: 56%

Acting: 3/4

Cinematography: 2/4

Story: 2/4

Enjoyability: 2/4

‘Bridge to Terabithia’: How One Death Changed Disney

For our first Time Warp Tuesday, where we cover older movies that have changed the film industry, we review ‘Bridge to Terabithia’.

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

In February of 2007, Walt Disney Pictures released ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. This was quite different from most of the children’s movies that Disney had made at the time. It was, in fact, their first live action film where a lead character under the age of 18 dies.

In this one, 13 year old Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) attempts to swing on a rope over a stream, falls, hits her head, and dies on impact. This only occurs in the story after persuading the audience to form a bond with Leslie, as she has an imagination one only wishes they could obtain. He further influences us to adore her as she gradually brings the main character, Jess (Josh Hutcherson), out of what seemed like a never ending but still growing depression.

This was all intentional from the mind of both director Gábor Csupó (‘The Rugrats’, ‘The Simpsons’) and Katherine Paterson (author of the book preceding the film) as they wanted to show – in a tragic way – how to open your mind to seeing the loss of Leslie as something much more.

Disney is no stranger to developing deaths that would later have meaning. There was ‘Bambi’, ‘The Brave Little Toaster’, and ‘The Lion King’.

Too soon Mufasa, too soon.

‘Bridge to Terabithia’ showed a side to Disney that it had never really touched. It was sensitive and they didn’t know how a child’s death would be received among critics. Fortunately for them, it did wonderful with a certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 85%. As Jennie Punter of Globe and Mail stated, “It’s the sort of movie I admire more in retrospect than I did while watching it.”

Punter had a very valid point that not everyone sees. A friend of mine, after watching the film for the first time just a week ago, said as the credits begun rolling, “I didn’t like it. It was just sad. It was happy the entire way and then they killed her, which there was no reason for them to do.” I understood at first, but it was easy to recognize why the author wrote her death in the first place and why the director stuck true to it.

Death is always seen as a tragic event and that, of course, is true. In film, however, death can be a symbol of something much bigger. ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ successfully opened the imagination of children and teaching them to use it to help mourn after a loss. That isn’t a tragedy, that is called a victory.

How Comedy Got Its Groove Back With ‘Game Night’

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

Production companies are constantly pushing out their yearly quota of comedy films so it’s become easier for the beloved genre to lose its quality. In 2018, comedy got its groove back with the well crafted and star studded ‘Game Night’.

Directed by Jonathan Goldstein and ‘Freaks and Geeks’ star John Francis Daley, the film follows three couples on their regular Friday game night. This, predictably, is disrupted when outsider Brooks (Kyle Chandler) decides to crash the party and fuel the ongoing game night competition with his brother Max (Jason Bateman). He inevitably creates trouble when his murder mystery game turns into his own kidnapping which leads the rest of the gang on a goose chase around the city to find him.

What this film does so well is bringing the audience on the many intricate and wild adventures that the characters go through while never becoming too complicated or messy. There are plot twists, tons of smart humor, and unique characters that we begin to love and root for as each one finds a unique solution to every new problem.

There’s the dorky couple (Bateman and Rachel McAdams), the bickering couple (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury), and the “opposites attract” couple (Billy Magnussen and Sharon Horgan) along with the creepy-but-means-well neighbor (Jesse Plemons). Each character has their own side issues going on that seem minute compared to the life threatening game of gangs, kidnapping, and murder that they are oblivious to.

How could any of this be seen as funny when they could potentially die? Well, it’s comedy. In the world of comedy we take nothing seriously. One character is shot in the arm and because of the great writing, directing, and performances, there is only abrupt laughter and the occasional crying from laughing too hard. This is what an audience goer wants to see in a comedy. Many films resort to lame jokes, farce humor, and an overdone story instead of the clever and comedic strategies of films such as ‘We’re The Millers’ and ‘Horrible Bosses’.

We’re looking at you, ‘Rough Night’.

With a number of other comedies on their way to the silver screen, ‘Game Night’ proves that they don’t have to stick to a certain formula and that it can be smart and interesting while being genuinely funny.

My Rating: 93.7%

Acting: 4/4

Cinematography: 3/4

Story: 4/4

Enjoyability: 4/4

Spy Torture Porn: A ‘Red Sparrow’ Review

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

In a world where Hollywood is already littered with spy movies, ‘Red Sparrow’ gives us a twist on the genre that we definitely did not ask for: A revolting combination of torture, rape, and a storyline that fails to grab an audience’s attention.

It’s important to keep in mind that, throughout this review, I will be basing my thoughts entirely around the movie adaptation of the Red Sparrow book by Jason Matthews rather than the book itself.

Jennifer Lawrence gets the unfortunate opportunity to play Dominika Egorova, a Russian girl who cares more about her mother’s safety than anything else. She is also a ballerina in a highly respectable company, but that is quickly taken away from her after she suffers an injury that destroys her career. That was just one of many plotlines that manages to drift off into oblivion.

She later witnesses something that she shouldn’t have which turns into the first (of many) rape scenes. This is where this movie falls apart in its entirety. In a dragged out amount of dialogue and confusing reasoning, Egorova is forced to enter a government-run Sparrow school where she comes to discover that sometimes pleasuring someone against your will is just a part of the job.

Modern cinema’s messages, folks!

After she leaves this school, you might expect there to be action (considering this is an action movie), but even that aims to disappoint. The most you’ll see in this movie is a few cars screeching, Lawrence being tortured with water, and a prolonged skin grafting scene.

And if you’re not attracted to the lack of action, then you can just pay attention to the destructive story that switches around so much there practically isn’t a story.

‘Red Sparrow’ was the first movie of the 2018 movie season that provided absolutely nothing to the culture of cinema this year (‘Fifty Shades Freed’ and ‘Winchester’, who also provided next to nothing to modern cinema, still added more than this movie did).

I would forgive it’s flaws if the director wasn’t seasoned, but that’s not the case. Francis Lawrence directed the entire ‘Hunger Games’ franchise and the classic ‘I Am Legend’. Maybe he hadn’t read the book, maybe this was just a flop in his bucket. Either way, this was not strong on anyone’s part.

‘Red Sparrow’ had the vague potential to be successful in the spy genre, such as ‘Atomic Blonde’, but lacks substance, an actual story, and focuses more on the erotica and torture aspects. The torture-porn genre might be more suited for this film.

My Rating: 50%

Acting: 3/4

Cinematography: 2.5/4

Story: 1/4

Enjoyability: 1.5/4

‘Thoroughbreds’: The Cinematic Study of a Twisted Mind

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

With the rise of teenage girls being the center of film nowadays, Thoroughbreds proves to be the oddball amongst the usual coming-of-age drama. It’s not a Lady Bird and it’s certainly no Sixteen Candles – but that is the beauty of it. It’s a commentary on humanity itself.

The New York based playwright Cory Finley makes a promising leap from stage to screen with his directorial debut that showcases his broad understanding of tension and empathy.

Set within the privileged bubble of upper class America, the emotional Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the emotionally deficient Amanda (Olivia Cooke) strike up an unlikely friendship as they bond over their vindictive plan of wiping out Lily’s step-father, Mark (Paul Sparks). The story, although initially carrying a very horror-esque style, uses suspense to bring even the slow moments meaning and purpose leading up to the dramatic climax at the end.  

Although the lack of action resulted in a sluggish pace, Finley uses it intentionally. Much of the nervous build up is due to the eerie and disturbing score, composed by Erik Friedlander, that is made up of all of the sounds one might hear in an empty, noisy mansion (i.e. creaks, footsteps, and rumbling). Using this, the film can produce the fear that the characters feel and the frightening tension between them.

The suspense, of course, could not have been achieved without the performances of its stars Cooke and Taylor-Joy. Both actresses instill anxiety in their audience while exposing the behavior of the unsuspecting everyday psychopath. Cooke takes on a character that is very unusual for her to play but delivers the dark and sociopathic Amanda effortlessly and never strays away from the idea that she is still a human and not entirely empty. Amanda is intelligent, emotionless, and leading a carefree life away from remorse or guilt.

On the other hand, Taylor-Joy plays the over emotional, self-centered Lily who seemingly could never hurt a fly. But the actress takes this character to a whole other level that compares her morality against Amanda’s and contemplates if living a life of no emotion really makes a difference in situations where morality is violated.

Could Lily, filled with rage for her stepfather, be a vengeful killer or is the overwhelming feeling of guilt and losing her humanity a deal breaker? Lily is used as a contrast for Amanda – and vice versa- to inquire if one is more capable than the other of murder.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter.

Whether you’re a borderline psychopath or an emotion-lead killer, both are capable of the worst. Both use either their feelings – or the lack thereof – as a motive. Lily uses them as revenge towards her stepfather, Mark, while Amanda kind of just doesn’t care as she believes she has nothing to truly live for.  

Many of the critics’ reviews of this thoroughly investigative film were missing this point. Manohla Dargis states in her New York Times piece that Cory Finley “never settles on a point or theme” and seems to be “invested in performing a cultural autopsy on Lily and Amanda”. While it is agreeable that the dissection of privilege and class was an odd message to the film, Dargis also misses the true theme. Finley aimed to reinforce the idea that humans, psychopath or not, are fully aware and completely capable of the violation that they are partaking in.

Thoroughbreds dives into the world of psychopathy and human capability by successfully developing a new lens of how every mind is different from another but no matter what the condition is, anyone can be twisted.

My Rating: 87.5%

Acting: 4/4

Cinematography: 3.5/4

Story: 3.5/4

Enjoyability: 3/4


The Unordinary Simon: A ‘Love, Simon’ Review

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

It’s an undeniable fact that ‘Love, Simon’ hit the classic closeted high school student’s coming out story with a variety of twists and a cycle of failed love interests that anyone can relate to, gay or straight.

Located in a Georgia neighborhood where Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) lives, – and most people in the real world wish they lived – he and his group of the most ideal best friends one could ever have, including a soccer player, a grunge fanatic, and a gorgeous theatre newbie, make their way through life living as millennial and liberally as they could manage. Which, debating on who you know, those terms have become practically synonymous with each other. Not usually in Georgia, I’ll admit.

No southern pride, no stereotypical racism, basically nothing that could, in any way, prove that they live in the heart of Georgia. Unless you paid attention to the one time that patriarch Jack Spier (Josh Duhamel) wore a Georgia t-shirt, you would think they live in the suburbs of California.

Maybe that was intentional on director Greg Burlanti’s part for not wanting southern habits and stereotypes influencing the movie and its story. Or it wasn’t intentional and Burleski simply thought the story didn’t need it. Either way, that’s one negative statement that ‘Love, Simon’ avoided at all costs.

That didn’t stop the negativity from drizzling on in through other reviews stating just how ordinary Simon’s story is. Or, in Daniel D’addario’s TIME Magazine article, he questions whether or not YA audiences need this movie because “there’s no reason that the first gay romantic comedy…necessarily needed to look so much like the pat, flat rom-coms with which today’s teens are barely familiar.”

‘Love, Simon’ is anything but ordinary. Sure, he may be from a cookie cutter white family living in a cookie cutter white neighborhood (except for the four or five ethnic people we see throughout the film, three of which just so happen to be leads in the film) and going to a cookie cutter high school, but that may be exactly what makes the movie unique.

I mean, It’s an LGBT movie where the protagonist is a closeted white teen boy whose best friends consist of a white girl, a black male, a black female, and to further it even more, Simon has a black love interest. If you ask me, that’s exactly the kind of unordinary that society wishes actually was ordinary.

That’s the definition of what we need, Mr. Journalist-Who-Wants-To-Cause-Problems.

Simon invites us into a cringey, tragic, but altogether fulfilling story of the most modern way of falling in love with someone – through the internet. He professes his love for his anonymous Romeo weeks before he actually knew who it was. Only Simon would be lucky enough that who it actually was – no spoilers, I swear – was attractive and not some 40 year old white guy typing anonymously to the cute teen from his computer.

I’ve got to say that it sure does help that the entire school just so happens to religiously follow the same blog, CreekSecrets, named after their Californian high school (Sorry! I meant Georgian*). This is a blog where everyone posts just about every fragment of gossip they hear around school in a day and – as if this didn’t already feel like high school enough – everyone believes everything.

This here may be the second reason that this movie is so remarkably the opposite of ordinary. It hypes up the teen life so much that it makes you cringe in your seat knowing that teenagers actually act like this.

It should be emphasized that Simon’s story is so far from what most closeted teens actually go through, but it is one version of a story that’s been told a million different ways. Not everyone lives in a place where people can be accepting, but it is possible. This is a movie to prove that point.

That point is exactly where ‘Love, Simon’ transforms from just an ordinary coming out story to a unique blend of breaking boundaries and turning what might be seen as generic into a movie worth watching. It teaches the most valuable life lessons a questioning kid can receive: sometimes, after holding your breath for so long, it’s more important to just exhale.

My Rating: 91%

Acting: 3.5/4

Cinematography: 3/4

Story: 4/4

Enjoyability: 4/4