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Ready Player One

We got to see Ready Player One with Steven Spielberg himself at SXSW – it was truly one of the most seminal moments I am likely to ever experience as a movie reviewer, and more importantly, as a movie fan. Sean wrote about it weeks ago, but I realized that I had something to add to the conversation.

I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One back in 2011 and I thought it was a tonne of fun. But it’s a highly nerdy book and I am not remotely nerdy. I do, however, know some nerds, and I eagerly pushed the book on them (it made for an EXTREMELY easy Christmas season: it knocked all the brothers-in-law off my list at once). I seem to recall Sean reading it in Mexico, and as I’d anticipated, he ate it right up. But for the many references that I just didn’t get, I still felt the energy and excitement of the book were translated to me. So while we were excited to hear that Spielberg was taking this on, we were less than thrilled to sit back and wait for three years for it to become reality. And then when were finally treated to a trailer I thought: holy moly, I don’t think I remember this book! So I reread the book a few months ago and prepared myself for its big March 29 release date – yes, we’d be busy in 2 different cities celebrating Easter, and Grandma’s 95th birthday, and my sister visiting from over 1000km away, and making the great variety of baked goods requisite for such a long weekend – but surely we’d be able to squeeze it in. But alas, no need! While in Austin, Texas for the SXSW festival, Ready Player One was revealed to be the secret screening. Both Cline and the movie’s star Tye Sheridan are hometown boys, which READY PLAYER ONEmeans 300k of the festival’s attendees were vying for just 1000 seats in the venue. Some people may be discouraged by those odds, but not Sean! He gamely spent hours lined up outside (while I watched Blindspotting, which was an incredible festival revelation) but his dedication paid off, and we got in, got some pretty fabulous seats actually, and sat among people who were just so incredibly excited to see the movie they hardly stopped cheering for a single second of the film’s 140 minute run time.

First of all, for fans of the book: the movie Ready Player One carries all of the novel’s essence but none of its spoilers. The big, showy challenge scenes are all-new for the movie, so you get to enjoy it and be surprised by, and if I may say: delighted by it. It hits exactly the right tone but it’s new and it’s exciting. And some of the new stuff IS REALLY FUCKING COOL. But Spielberg HIMSELF asked me not to spill the beans, so I won’t. And I wouldn’t want to in any case: not every movie is capable of enchanting us, and I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of that simple little thrill of pleasure.

Second, to fans of Speilberg: this is the most ‘Spielbergian’ film of the century. By which I mean, Spielberg himself has really gotten away from Spielberg-type movies. He hasn’t done blockbustery, popcorny movies in years. Lately he’s concentrated on smaller films, like The Post, and Bridge of Spies, which I have actually loved. It’s a different, more grown-up Spielberg; they’re movies that feel almost indie in nature, if not for the souped up cast. Dramatic stuff, more grounded, dark and moody, and often political. But little Stevie finds his inner child, indeed his inner fanboy, and allows himself to just express exuberant joy once again on the big screen – and even, and I do honestly believe this was hard for him, allow his own film legacy, to be paid homage in this film right alongside other iconic pop culture moments from the 1970s right through the early 90s.

Ready Player One feels like Steven Spielberg has thrown himself a parade, and he’s got every one of his time-honoured tricks riding big loud floats. It’s fantastic. I’ve heard the Internet shitting on the fact that this film is load with pop culture nostalgia and I can’t for the life of me understand that. I mean, the first time you see the film, you won’t notice half, or likely a third, of what’s hidden in there. Spielberg himself doesn’t know every single thing that’s been recreated in the film – he was surprised readyplayerone-56b7d103-d459-4ff3-89ac-e6342be40e01to find a Gremlin long after he’d already approved the scene, and he’ll continue to be surprised by Easter eggs (how fitting, for this weekend!). In subsequent viewings, you could easily play a drinking game with friends, or a Bingo game would be fun, just spotting all the cool things the brilliant art department and visual effects people slipped in there – it’s like the hoarders of movies with so many layers it’ll take forever before you reach the dead cat layer.

I still haven’t even told you what this movie’s about, but you’ve already gleaned that from elsewhere, haven’t you? It’s basically about the near future where the world has gotten so bleak that everyone prefers to live in this virtual world called the Oasis. The creator of the Oasis dies, and leaves the rights to it to whomever can win a little game that he’s rigged. Now, the Oasis is definitely worth a kabillion dollars, but it’s worth even more politically. So while our protagonists are kids, they’re up against not just adults but corporations in order to win control of this thing. And the Oasis creator (played by Mark Rylance) is a guy just enamoured with the 80s, so everything he does is basically a loving tribute to the “golden age” of gaming. But you don’t need to be able to pick up on those references in order to enjoy the story – they’re just the window dressing on a dystopian tale as old time.

The fact is, the world in Ready Player One is not so far from our own, and it feels worrying possible. The real trick, the one the movie keeps bumping up against, is to ask yourself: what are we taking from this virtual world, and how are we using it to make meaningful connections in the real world? Though this fight is online, the repercussions exist in the real world, and this creates an interesting duality between the avatar characters online and their real life counterparts. Though it looks and feels like a game, the stakes are high and the consequences dire. There’s some really flashy editing that allows us to move back and forth between worlds, and some truly exceptional visual effects mean the movement between the two feels natural but looks distinct.

And at its heart, this movie tells a story like many of Spielberg’s best: that of friendship, trust, and human connection. The film omits some of the book’s more subversive themes – race, gender, class – and given its scope and run time, it’s no wonder. There simply isn’t enough space to explore this world from corner to corner (read the book!). Instead, this movie submerses you in a world of pure imagination.

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Ready Player One

ready-player-oneThere are very few immutable truths in this world, but here’s one: if you don’t like Steven Spielberg’s movies, then you don’t like movies. The brilliance of Ready Player One (and it is brilliant) is that it’s a Spielberg movie through and through, only because its source material references Spielberg repeatedly, the result is something exponentially more Spielberg than you could ever have though possible.  Ready Player One is a true blockbuster and a worthy addition to Spielberg’s list of classics.

All the references contained here, not just to Spielberg’s past work but to every pop culture thing ever, are essential for this movie to work, and Spielberg clearly knows it. Moreover, he embraces it without reservation. After all, the book (which should be read immediately by anyone between ages 30 and 50 who grew up playing videogames) is the perfect vessel for 80s nostalgia. The movie clearly is trying to top the book’s reference count, and it may have succeeded (the totals are way too high to accurately count).

What is great about the book remains great in the movie. And yet, the movie and book tell significantly different stories, which is greater still because there are all sorts of some amazing surprises to be found in the film even if you’ve read the book repeatedly. At tonight’s SXSW world premiere, Spielberg introduced the film by stating he approached it as pure fan service and his mission was to give the people in the seats exactly what they wanted, and I can confirm he accomplished exactly that. Oh, yes, that’s right, WE GOT TO WATCH READY PLAYER ONE WITH STEVEN SPIELBERG. It was every bit as mindblowing as it sounds.

Also mindblowing: one particular sequence in the movie that pays homage to a classic film (incidentally, it’s not an homage to a Spielberg film; rather, it’s to a film directed by someone who influenced Spielberg – and it’s not something that was in the book).  I do not think I am exaggerating to say it is one of the finest sequences that Spielberg has given us, which obviously is a big deal because we are talking about STEVEN FUCKING SPIELBERG. You will know this sequence when you see it, and as soon as you do you will want to immediately see it again. And again. And again.

That amazing sequence is a standout but it’s not alone. There are several other incredible set pieces in Ready Player One, containing some of the best visual effects we’ve ever seen. Of course, the effects are only window dressing. What makes the scenes so great is Spielberg. As the camera swerves and dodges, and as avatars fight monsters, drive cars through obstacle courses, and traverse epic battlefields by leaps and bounds, the viewer is never lost for a second, because we are being guided through the chaos by a master. I loved this movie and I bet you will too. I’m just sorry to have to wait two weeks before I can watch it again.

 

The Post

In 1971, Kay Graham was the first of her kind, a female newspaper publisher, but she was never supposed to have the job. The Washington Post was part of the family business but her father passed it down not to her, but to her husband. But when her husband committed suicide, she stepped into shoes that had always been loafers, not heels.

Then, something amazing happens: someone leaks top secret documents that detail the Vietnam cover-up that spanned 4 U.S. presidents including the current one, Richard Nixon, who’s kind of a dick. The NY Times gets ahold of them but gets shut down by Tricky Dick and his cronies. The papers then filter down to The Washington Post, and Kay Graham has to decide whether she’s going to risk her little empire AND a serious prison sentence.

Interesting facts about Mrs. Graham: she was not a powerful business person, or used to MV5BMTg5Nzg3NjUzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTY5NzA1NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_being in charge. She’d never had another job. She was naturally meek, and kind of nervous. She was surrounded by assertive men, some of whom weren’t crazy to have her among their midst and certainly didn’t see her as an equal never mind a boss, and none of whom were shy about voicing their opinions. She was, however, an accomplished socialite, which in the city of Washington, means she counted many prominent politicians among her friends – and the particular politician at the epicenter of this scandal was among her closest. These facts are not to diminish her but to illustrate just how courageous she truly was to take the stance she did.

Newsflash: Steven Spielberg is a good director. Yeah, we already knew this, but this film had me noticing all kinds of little details that I admired greatly. This movie has the feel of a smart and sharp little indie; it’s taut and thrilling and lots of fun. It gets a little heavy-handed at times but its best moments are when it’s showing, not telling.

Maybe Spielberg’s greatest asset is his incredible ensemble cast. Tom Hanks is the fevered editor, and he’s flawless. Bob Odenkirk is stupendous as a hard-working investigative journalist. But of course it’s Meryl Streep who steals the show as Kay Graham. It’s not a showy role. Mrs. Graham is never the biggest personality in the room. She’s not commanding, but we are nevertheless riveted by Ms. Streep. Her shaking hands, her tremulous lip – we see how hard this for her, and so we admire her all the more for doing it.

You are not contractually allowed to write a review of this film without using the word “timely”. About a year ago, Nixon was down-graded to only the second most douche-baggiest president in history. Truth matters. The press belongs to the governed, not the governors. Support journalism. Subscribe to a newspaper, even if you read it online. One day they’ll be making movies about this time. But this is not just a news story, it’s also, of course, a nod to feminism. Mrs. Graham walks through a sea of secretaries before she’s admitted to the all-male floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She faces a Supreme Court that has never had a female Justice and wouldn’t for another decade. When someone says that Mrs. Graham’s father willing the family business to Kay’s husband says a lot about the man, Tom Hanks replies that actually, it says more about the time. So yeah, this is the movie we all need right now. It’s essential viewing. But even if wasn’t so “timely”, it’s so thoroughly peppered by exceptionally talented people that The Post is an easy recommendation and a damn fine film.

Child Actors

You probably heard the controversy surrounding Angelina Jolie’s new movie about Cambodia. In a recent article in Vanity Fair, she admitted that in order to find a Cambodian child who could play a large role, the casting directors set up a game. They put money on the table and asked the kids to think of something they needed money for, and then to snatch it away. Then the director would pretend to catch the child, and the kid would have to come up with a lie. The little girl who ultimately won the part, Srey Moch, distinguished herself by being the only kid to stare at the money for an extraordinary length of time. Jolie said: “When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion. All these different things came flooding back. When she was asked later what the money was for, she said her grandfather had died, and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.” You might think that’s a clever way to see a child’s range of emotions, or you might think it cruel to go into a third world country and taunt children with money. The internet seems to favour the latter.

It got me thinking though – what DO auditions look like when you’re casting a kid? Typically, not like that. Even for small children, casting directors will typically work off a script.

Something in the neighbourhood of 40 000 kids auditioned for the part of Harry Potter. Steven Spielberg had wanted Haley Joel Osment for the part and backed out of directing the project when he clashed over this with JK Rowling. Daniel Radcliffe landed the part: “My mum sent in a Polaroid of me to the BBC, because I’ve always wanted to act since I was five. My mum and dad never thought it was a very good idea. I went for about five auditions and then I got the part. The best thing about filming is going to all the different locations and staying in hotels. They have Sky and I haven’t got that at home.”

922af5a6afe0a38af48e22b17347eb8c--drew-barrymore-young-celebrity-kidsSpielberg lost that battle but he normally has a pretty keen eye for casting the right kid in his movies. Drew Barrymore recalls auditioning for him for Poltergeist: “lied my face off. I told him I was in a rock ‘n roll band. I was a drummer, of course, because drummers are the coolest, and that I was a cook.” He didn’t think she was right for Poltergeist but kept her in mind for something else…and that’s how she landed E.T.

Haley Joel Osment also went on to star in a Spielberg film – A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Osment’s acting career started by accident at the age of 4 when he and his Mom randomly ran into a talent scout at IKEA. When he got called in for his first audition, he was asked to describe the biggest thing he’d ever seen. Osment talked about seeing a movie in IMAX, and that’s how he got cast in a Pizza Hut commercial for their “Big Foot” pizza. The rest is history.

 

 

“What’s interesting about casting children is, some children understand instinctually how to be still in front of a camera,” casting director Fiona Weir explains. “That isn’t something you can teach kids; it’s something they understand or not. Acting on-camera is b0d3c2e59c77845d83baab01078af08fabout being, not about performing, the way that children often do in school plays, making something bigger. It’s not always the noisy kids that we’re looking for; it’s the quiet kids at the back.” That was very important when Weir  was casting for Room, in which a 5 year old boy and his mother escape their rapist-captor. One of those quiet kids was 7-year-old Jacob Tremblay, who caught her attention fairly early in the casting process. He had the interiority Weir and director Lenny Abrahamson wanted to see. “It was very evident how gifted Jacob was,” Weir says. “He’s a really bright and inventive child.”

Kirsty McGregor had a grueling search of her own when it came to casting the part of the young Saroo Brierly, the child from Lion. She scoured schools in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Calcutta, and spent months watching 2,000 taped auditions, conducting 200 in-person workshops, and coordinating callback after callback to get the right young Saroo for the movie. She culled the prospects from 2000 to 200 and flew to India to see them in person, with director Garth Davis. “We’d start in larger groups of 10, and we’d do workshops and rs_634x1024-170226153353-634.Sunny-Pawar-Oscrs.ms.022617play games, and we took our acting coach Miranda Harcourt, who’s amazing with kids, with us. We had an interpreter, obviously, and from those groups of 10, we narrowed it down to the final list and called them back again. It was a very thorough process. It was about four months from the time they started putting people on tape in India to when they started doing callbacks, and it was long and very intense every day, with another 100 or 200 tapes coming in. You can’t miss anybody.” Eventually they paired their top two youngsters with the top two adolescents would would play the older brother, and found the right chemistry. Anyone who’s seen Lion will know that little Sunny Pawar was a particularly bright spot in the film and he really livened up the red carpets during awards season, just as Jacob Tremblay had done the year before.

 

Have you heard any juicy stories about kids auditioning for parts? Ever auditioned for anything yourself?

 

 

The BFG

I liked but didn’t love The BFG. There’s lots to like: Mark Rylance’s tongue trips over Roald Dahl’s language just so; the animation manages to be both technically and precisely perfect while also being quite fanciful; the BFG’s universe is literally the stuff of dreams.

But I didn’t really connect with it. And like most things in life, I blame my mother. I grew up without Roald Dahl. Tiny little Jay was a voracious bfg-movie-2016-mark-rylancereader. I spent my nights under my unicorn comforter with a flashlight and a stack of books. As a kid I devoured Robert Munsch, Judy Blume, and E.B. White. Roald Dahl? Never heard of him.

Sean had, of course. His childhood was idyllic. I’m sure his mother never missed an opportunity to give him chocolate chip cookies warm out of the oven, or to blow gently on his skinned knee before applying the Band-Aid, or to predict what children’s book would be turned into a movie 35 years hence when he was an Asshole despite her best efforts.

But I don’t think Sean liked it any better than I did. Which, again, is not to say we didn’t like it. Just that…well, it failed to really engage. Director Steven Spielberg is paying so much attention to getting every little detail right, to fleshing out every nook and cranny of this ethereal place, to bfg-movie-2016-mark-rylance-ruby-barnhilldusting out the cobwebby corners of our imaginations, that he forgets to pick up the pace. We’re not all lumbering giants. Some of us have the attention spans of fleas. Not me, mind you. But certainly my nephew, who at 2 and a half with his angelic ringlets and heart-melting smile, needs a lot of action to keep him sitting still. And The BFG has very little. In fact, the movie’s greatest adventure culminates in a pot of tea with the Queen of England (a very amusing Penelope Wilton). Even I thought it a little absurd that in the face of child-eating giants, tea-time was still observed, but a kid will be downright baffled. My nephew’s only knowledge of the Queen is probably from that Minion movie wherein they endeavour to steal her crown. He doesn’t give two farts about British humour. And wasn’t this supposed to be a kids’ movie, after all?

To complain about Spielberg feels a little cheap, even to me. I do hope older children will give this one a chance despite its leisurely unfolding because it really is a darling world with a great heart-felt story. And because I’m usually the first to complain when a kids’ movie is all primary colours and non-stop flatulence (It’s worth noting, however, that this movie does contain a fart joke so big and bad you might even call it treasonous). But let’s face it: I was a smidge bored. Sean should have brought a colouring book and a baggie of Cheerios to keep me entertained. I was enchanted by the intricate animation, by the sight of the Big Friendly Giant’s downy neck hairs swaying in the breeze from a young girl’s breath while perched on his big friendly shoulder. But it wasn’t enough. I needed more. And if that’s what you’re hearing for an impatient little Asshole, what chance does a 7 year old really have?

 

 

Let us know what you thought of the movie. What age range would you suggest? Did you read the book as a child, or read it your own?

Raiders!The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

In the summer of 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theatres, impressing untold numbers of children, but three little boys in particular.

Chris, Jayson, and Eric collaborated in making a scene-for-scene recreation of the movie. Just 12 years old when they started, they spent every spring break, summer vacation, and Christmas holiday shooting scenes for the next 7 years. The next 7 years, guys! How many kids do you know with that kind of attention span? Or for that matter, how unusual to keep the same interests (and friends) all throughout puberty!

Filmed over 7 years, the kids get progressively bigger. The scenes, however, were shot out of order. It’s a real document of their childhood if not totally accurate to Spielberg’s vision. The stunts and effects were all kid-conceived and kid-supervised. They lit each other on fire, they leapt from moving vehicles. They kept their parents on the down-lo.

All these years later, they reunite (as adults, some of them with kids the age they were when they first started) to do the one scene that they never pulled off in their childhood: the airplane scene. Unwilling to compromise, they raise money to build an actual plane, and plan to actually blow it up. They’ve got 9 days to pull off 124 shots, and they’re already crazy over budget. Plus, their wives and bosses aren’t too happy with them. Is this the fulfillment of a childhood dream, or a case of you can’t go home again?

Either way, this is a cool movie. It puts you in touch with that joyful passion that maybe only kids can possess. This movie has champions in Eli Roth and Ernest Cline, author of Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One. It ignites the geeky fire in all of us, and angers the responsible adult in me. It might also make you a little weepy for the dreams you left behind.

 

 

 

Tell me: what weird thing did you spend a lot of time doing as a kid? I wrote plays, then directed them. I also devoted a lot of time to highly-produced lip-sync concerts where my friends and I covered Jem tunes.

 

 

West Side Story

Steven Spielberg wants to make a musical, and not just any musical, but a remake of West Side Story. Reportedly Tony Kushner’s already working on a script.

Coincidentally (or not) a certain Chris Evans has been mouthing around town that he’d love to do a musical too – specifically, West Side Story.

It sounds like this thing’s going to happen but before it does you’d better make sure you’ve seen the original. It took audiences by storm in 1961 and won an astounding 10 Academy Awards, including best picture.

The 1961 version starred a young Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as the lead characters Maria and Tony, who are basically Romeo and Juliet, if you watch carefully enough. They come from not two feuding families but two warring gangs, sworn enemies soon swooning in young love. But if you know your Shakespeare, you know their love is heading for tragedy.

Happily, this classic film is back in theatres.

Quebec City can  see it at Cinema Le Clap July 24-26

Vancouver can watch it at Pacific Cinematheque June 30-July 3 or on July 9 at the Rio Theatre

ballet.gifWatch it, and let us know what you think. Does Beymer make a good Tony, or would Elvis Presley (the director’s first choice) have done better? And how will Captain America fill the role?

During the entire production, the actors wore out 200 pairs of shoes, applied more than 100lbs of make-up, and split 27 pairs of pants. Will Spielberg get away with such a dancey remake? Would we even want him to?

See how many of the songs you know from other pop culture references. In my head “Gee, Officer Krupke” is always sung in Larry David’s voice. And Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson made “I Feel Pretty” famous again in Anger Management. Where did you first hear the songs?

 

Audrey Hepburn was the original choice to play Maria but was too pregnant at the time to accept. Who is today’s Hepburn equivalent? Or is it blasphemy to even ask?