Ready Player One (Movie Review)

Ready Player OneVirtual Reality is designed. It is designed to be played, to lose and respawn, and to be won. Reality is not designed. It cannot be played, but it can be won, or lost.

It is 2045. The world is about as messed up as it is now. Virtual Reality is the means by which most jobs are done, but is also everyone’s primary escape from the doldrums and misery of everyday life. The most popular game is Oasis, where people can live out almost any fantasy. The game is the product of an eccentric programmer who left an elusive Easter egg buried within it. Whoever finds the egg wins fortunes – in real life.

“Ready Player One” is not a deep film, but it is certainly a fun movie. It is rife with nostalgic bits: MTV music cues, movie references, and original Atari console games. In fact, the references are rather distant throwbacks. It is doubtful anyone born after 1990 will get half of the references, but that will not prevent them from enjoying the ride.

Spielberg has done a good job with this movie. The direction, editing, cinematography, and effects are well done and seamless. Alan Silvestri (too many known movie scores to mention) does a good job mixing new pieces with bits and clips from the wayback machine. All the actors do a fine job, though I was not particularly taken with Ben Mendelsohn, playing the villain, Nolan Sorrento. I could not help but think they really wanted Harrison Ford or Kurtwood Smith in the role.
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While well executed across the board, it is not a soul-changer. That said – it is worth the ticket.

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The Last Jedi Errata

TLJ ErrataI have previously laid out what I consider problems with The Last Jedi in my Critique of the movie. However, I would like to zero in on a particular set of problems – moviemaking and storytelling.

In The Last Jedi, General Leia Organa is blown out of a battle-cruiser, only to survive the vacuum of space and fly back, ala Mary Poppins, to the cruiser. This is a major moviemaking error, and is a serious storytelling misstep.

The Moviemaking Error:
Having already shot most of her scenes, Carrie Fisher passed away on December 27, 2016 – nearly one year before the release of The Last Jedi. By keeping the Leia Organa character alive, the production crew is now forced to:
1. CGI and vocally imitate Leia in any subsequent movie, or
2. Replace her with another actor, or
3. Kill the character off screen, with no potential for a tribute or final word.

None of these options will be happily received. They have written in guaranteed disappointment. All the while, they had a wonderful opportunity. With a little editing, and maybe a touch of CGI, they could have yielded a far superior set-up for the next film in the sequence. The battle-cruiser blowout could have been a poignant passing away of a significant warrior during battle, and a moment for a fitting tribute to Ms. Fisher.

The Storytelling Error:
None of the major characters experience growth in The Last Jedi. Moreover, what a Jedi is has become confused and conflicted. While Darth Vader carried some light in him, it took his son, Luke, to expose it. This is Luke’s driving force – the ability to see the light side in those who have it. He did not see it in the Emperor.

In The Last Jedi, Luke is conflicted over Kylo. He sees only the dark side in him, though Luke has hope, so he stays his hand.

Here is where the writers / producers missed a golden opportunity. During the space battle, Leia should have died. Cut to Luke training Rey. Luke suddenly slumps, feeling a tremor in the force – not the silencing of a million souls, but the loss of a single, significant soul. Luke shortly learns from Chewie, via communique with the Alliance, that Leia has passed.

This would be the ultimate motivation for getting Luke involved with the fight, to stop hiding and rejoin the Rebel Alliance. Moreover, he knows he cannot face Kylo. His old fears would well up. If he kills Kylo, given his past, his journey to the dark side would be complete. Instead, he takes Rey more firmly under his wing. She must be ready, for she must face Kylo – her brother.

This provides growth and change for characters within The Last Jedi. It sets up serious battles and confrontations for the next installment. It eliminates concerns with re-creating Leia, while providing Luke with a seriously deep motivating force. Furthermore, it balances the Skywalker story arc. Where Luke battled over the dark and light of his father, Rey would have to battle over the light and dark of her brother, who seeks to rule The First Order, and also battle over her own dark and light as she would have the knowledge her brother had killed her father.

I content they plan to establish that Rey and Kylo are brother and sister, which still allows for some of the aforementioned turmoil. However, they will have to spend part of the next movie resolving the technical problems of the Leia character. They have eliminated the possibility of Luke’s physical involvement, not to mention having reduced the Rebel Alliance to a group so small they cannot put together a football team. Moreover, they have clouded what it means to be Jedi and the concepts of good and evil, of punishment and redemption, and totally missed the Skywalker story arc.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Critique

Star Wars - The Last JediForewarning – there will be spoilers, though I will give a heads-up before I get into them. First, I want to discuss my thoughts on why people love something that has become so bad…

Star Wars fans are just that, fans – the shorthand for fanatics. They are die-hards. Financially speaking, Disney was smart to buy up the franchise, at any cost. They knew it is a cash-bantha they can milk into perpetuity.

Star Wars has become a religion to some people. It is possible to slap the Star Wars logo on anything and increase sales. During episodes IV, V, and VI, merchandising was just finding its footing. It was not new. A decade before Star Wars, I had a Man from U.N.C.L.E. spy kit, a Lone Ranger mask and gun, and had put together a Superman model kit. TV and movies had been on the merchandise trail for a while. During Star Wars original episode years, merchandising hit a new stride. We expected action figures, lunchboxes, posters, and t-shirts. That was part of the territory. However, it moved into a new space, becoming collectable cups, happy-meals, Chef Boyardee Star Wars pasta, and so much more.

It became clear during the prequel episodes, the faithful would buy anything with the logo on it. The lines of toys became endless and licensing of the logo became as important as the stories themselves. Now, in the sequel era, the branding is boundless, ranging from the aforementioned toys to the Norelco Star Wars electric shaver and the Renault Zoe Star Wars car. No matter how big or small, cheap or expensive, valuable or valueless, put the Star Wars logo on it and you will sell more of it.

Unfortunately, this extends to the movies themselves. The Star Wars logo is like a cross to a Christian. Anything it adorns is holy, and therefore good. The worst movie in years will put butts in the seats, often for two or three viewings, and generate a glassy-eyed drone of “Star Wars movie, full of good. Star Wars movie, full of good”, like nuns reciting rosaries and Hail Mary’s. It is blasphemous to slander the works of Star Wars, even though it may be purely crap.

Star Wars fans have allowed themselves to be brainwashed and indoctrinated. They are either gullible, ignorant, or dumb, choosing to ignore their own sensibilities to worship at the franchise alters. I pray they wake up. I invoke them to shout, “No more”, and stop throwing their money, time, and attention away at poorly conceived, poorly executed, hyper-advertised bantha poo-do. I am not suggesting they call for a halt to the franchise – on the contrary. I am asking them to ask more of its producers. More thought, more effort, more attention to the substance, and less on how many licenses they can sell.

A long time ago, in a theater not so far, far away, a story began to unfold. It was cheap, it was simple, but it was sensitive and riveting, and spoke of grander things. Now the fanatics that shout its name are blasting it into atoms.

On to the critique / review – there will be spoilers…

The Last Jedi is, in a word, horrible. There is no redeeming quality in it. It fails on every level. It has been a long, long time since I have been tempted to walk out on a movie. I was sorely tempted during this one.

Costuming is appalling. Our new female captain, which should have been a strong female role, is dressed in an evening gown and high heels while on the bridge of the Rebel Alliance cruiser. I remember the days when Commander Organa wore military garb, and was always ready for battle. A casino filled with aliens is a rip-off of the Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba the Hut’s palace scenes. However, instead of bizarre aliens with complex costumes, all of these aliens wear Western European tuxedos and gowns, as if the costumer robbed the closets from the set of The Great Gatsby.

The cinematography and visualization is amateurish. There is no sense of how to shoot over-the-shoulder conversations, or how to balance light and dark. There are frame compositions so unbalanced and poor that they would fail a first year art class.

The sound effects, once the magical spark of the franchise, are completely rehashed. Not a single original, fresh sound effect is generated. They even sink so low as to appropriate sound effects from episode IV for no apparent reason other than they are sound effects from episode IV.

The musical score is another redo. John Williams took a CD from episodes IV, V, and VI, and did a cut and paste. The score does not propel or highlight. It does not build tension, nor foreshadow. It is simply music for music’s sake. Other than the opening brass blast that marks every Star Wars movie, there is literally no memorable musical moment.

The special effects are tired. CGI is CGI – the ability to create space battles without layer lines or Chroma key drift is standard fare these days. With Star Wars, you would expect a host of new droids as special effect, and yet no new design appears. However, we did get a boatload of annoying little animals, but even these are remixes. The Ahch-To (Jedi island) caretakers are only Jawas in reverse. Where Jawas are short beings who wear black, and tear things apart, the Lanai are short beings who wear white, and put things back together. I’m sure that took hours of planning to come up with.

The direction is dismal, as seen through the poor cinematography and the unforgivable lapses of continuity, the lack of foreshadowing, and the piss-poor pacing. For example, the aforementioned Ahch-To caretakers: We spend an entire day and night on Ahch-To, without a single Lanai to be seen. We even travel the island, following Luke as he milks banthas, and spearfishes. Then suddenly, when Rey blasts a hole in a wall, the Lanai are everywhere, and they never leave. Where the island appeared desolate the day before, for the rest of the movie, it is teaming with these annoyances. This miraculous pop-up of items or people is commonplace in this movie. Someone needs lessons in foreshadowing and in how to set a scene.

To the direction, the major light saber battle is beyond disappointment. I felt far more engaged watching the 60+ year old Alec Guinness battle a guy in a costume that did not allow shoulder movement, than I did watching these youngsters display poor body mechanics.

The list of failures is almost endless, so I will close with the failure of the plot. It goes nowhere other than to reduce the Rebel Alliance to a handful of people, while at the same time violating so many Star Wars and storytelling principles. Just as The Force Awakens was a redo of A New Hope, The Last Jedi is just a redo of The Empire Strikes Back, except they reversed the major order. Instead of an ATAT battle on a white wasteland and then an escape from Hoth, the rebels escape their planet only to arrive at an ATAT battle on a white wasteland. Kylo experiences no growth or change. His emo-tantrums run throughout the movie, though he is not rebuked for them. His dark versus light struggle is unresolved. Rey does not grow or change. She learns nothing new. In the end, she is as conflicted with the light and the dark as she ever was. Luke, who was secluded from the world at the start of the movie, is even more secluded at the end. Finn is a waste of our time, as is Rose and Poe. I thought we were going to have a fitting tribute to Carrie Fisher, but apparently, they intend to CGI her for the rest of time.

The pattern of redoing the original episodes, but with only one-tenth of the skill, is clear, so you do not have to guess about Kylo and Rey. The Jedi will Return, and we will learn they are brother and sister. The work is so poorly conceived, they cannot hide their big surprise.

It is not worth the ticket. It really is not worth your time. The world will continue to spin if you do not see it, and perhaps the powers that be will learn a lesson. The Force is in you – not in this.

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MovingI am moving.

Well, not me, the person. I’m staying put, but I am moving this blog.

I have used Yahoo to host several web sites over the years. In the past, they did a good job at a reasonable price. However, those days are over.

In recent years, with buy-out after buy-out, their services have suffered. Their service is slow for one thing, but for a personal blog that didn’t matter so much.

Recently, they have run into some real troubles. My blog uses the WordPress engine. Changes at Yahoo now make it impossible to update the WordPress engine or any of its fine plug-ins.

Moreover, Yahoo has, intentionally or otherwise, painted themselves into a corner that prevents web host customers from downloading their own content. We all can debate prices or speed or offerings, however these two difficulties are completely unacceptable.

As such, be aware there will be some changes coming to this blog. There may be a little downtime, though I will do what I can to make the change as quickly as possible. It is also possible some links or images may run into trouble. I feel confident I can keep the content in tact, but back-links and images might be a jumble for a while.

Now, back to the moving process…

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Blade Runner 2049

Blade-Runner-2049All civilization is built on slavery…

New bites into old franchises often go sour, but not in this case. Blade Runner 2049 hits every mark. It has all the flavor, and all the nuance. It continues the story, and grows it. It answers some of the original questions, but not all, and generates just as many new question, as it should.

All aspects of the production are well done, though I cannot speak to the 3D, as I did not see the 3D version.
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This is well worth the ticket.

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