Thursday, April 19, 2018

Nerd Alert

Ready Player One
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Mark Rylance, Ben Mendelsohn, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Simon Pegg
Released: March 29, 2018
Viewed in theaters: April 10, 2018

I will be spoiling both the movie AND the book, so you have been warned! And there are things that happen in the book that don't happen in the movie and vice versa.

I remember when the book by Ernest Cline came out in 2011 because I had a subscription to Entertainment Weekly and I first found out about it when it was reviewed in that magazine. I thought the premise sounded interesting, about a teen living in the year 2045 who has an obsession with pop culture from the '80s. However, when I realized that most of the pop culture references were from video games, I decided this book wasn't for me since I knew I wouldn't get any of the references, no matter what decade they were from! Fast forward six years later when I saw a trailer for this movie. I was impressed it was directed by Steven Spielberg (imagine writing a book and having the movie adaptation being directed by SPIELBERG, yeah, I'm jealous!) and thought it looked visually interesting. However, I still wasn't interested in reading/seeing it, but then I decided to check out the book from the library and give it a shot. I really thought I would be bored reading it and wouldn't understand the references. Well, while I mostly didn't understand ALL the references, I ended up really enjoying it and had a lot of fun reading it. The premise of the book (and the movie) is that everybody is obsessed with this virtual world called the Oasis created by a man named James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his friend Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) who were born in 1972 and have an obsession with '80s culture since they were teenagers then and that's when they discovered their love for all things film, video games, music, and anything pop culture. I should also point out that the author was born in 1972. 

The Oasis is this virtual world where you can literally spend your entire day interacting with other people, going to school or work, and traveling to different places all without ever leaving your home. The only thing you still need the real world for is to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom. Naturally, there are a lot of rules in the Oasis and while they touch on some of them in the movie, it's much more thoroughly explained in the book. I think the reason why I enjoyed the book more than the movie is because of this. I feel like I would have been a bit confused if I had seen the movie without reading the book because it seems like you can do anything and go anywhere, but that's not necessarily true. There are levels and points you need to acquire before your avatar can go to certain places; do certain things. 

Our protagonist is eighteen-year-old Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) who goes by the name Parzival in the Oasis. Everyone has an avatar they can control and give their own name and looks. Most of the time they are better looking versions of themselves in real life, but some are well known pop culture characters. In the book, he goes to school in the Oasis, but they skip this detail in the movie. I understand that they don't have time to show everything even if the movie is two hours and twenty minutes! Wade lives in Columbus, Ohio with his aunt and jerk boyfriend because his parents died when he was young. They live in "The Stacks" which are trailer homes stacked on top of one another to save room. Things are looking bleak in 2045 and that's why everyone escapes to the Oasis. 

We find out that five years ago Halliday passed away, but left a message for everyone in the Oasis. He has left a series of clues to find keys and whoever finds all three keys will win his inheritance of 47 billion dollars and complete control of the Oasis. (Keep in mind Morrow is still alive, but he and Halliday had a falling out before his death). Everyone will have to go through a series of challenges based on their knowledge of pop culture, specifically '80s pop culture. Now the least believable thing about the book is a teenager from the 2040s being obsessed with the '80s. I understand that everyone in this world is obsessed with the '80s because it will help the win a crapload of money, but still. Teenagers today don't care about the '80s and why should they? (Even though the '80s IS an amazing decade!) Wade even mentions he's seen Blade Runner a ridiculous amount of times, like 37. Gimme a break. I've never seen any movie that amount of times! But whatever, you just have to go with it and enjoy the ride.

I actually thought the book was going to be ALL '80s references, and while that is the decade where most of the references come from, they also mention pop culture from different decades like The Iron Giant (which makes an appearance in the movie)) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (I assume they were talking about the Peter Jackson films, though I know there is an animated version from 1978...that would be hilarious is they were talking about those, but I'm pretty sure it was the Jackson ones). There's even a scene where the characters are discussing the Indiana Jones movies and how awful Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was. This made me chuckle since Steven Spielberg would end up directing the film adaptation of Ready Player One. I'm guessing that didn't hurt his feelings too much! The movie is just all about pop culture references, not necessarily those from the '80s. 

Wade doesn't have any friends in the real world (except in the book he's friends with an old woman who lives in The Stacks who grew up in the '80s and she tells him stories of what that was like, but she's not in the movie), but he has a couple in the Oasis. There's Aech (Lena Waithe) and Artemis (excuse, me, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke)). I was spoiled that Lena Waithe played Aech in the real world, who is actually a male in the Oasis so I figured that was a twist in the book, or Spielberg wanted to make it a twist for the movie, but she does reveal herself to be an African-American woman who is playing as a caucasian male in the Oasis. Aech is very different in the movie because he's described as looking like your everyday high school student, but in the movie he's made to have the physique of The Hulk or The Thing from The Fantastic Four. Artemis plays Parzival's love interest and there's even a scene where he says, "I love you" even though he doesn't even know her in the real world and has never met her. It's pretty cringe-y. There's also two young Japanese boys named Daito and Sho who have nothing much to do in the movie and there's a huge plot in the book that is completely scrapped in the movie where the older one is killed by IOI, the evil corporation led by Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who will stop at nothing to obtain the keys and acquire the fortune and to be able to run the Oasis. These five characters are called the High Five (although that's only mentioned once in the movie) because they were the first five avatars to beat the first challenge and obtain the first key. 

There are three challenges and this is where the movie and book deviate significantly because they are totally different. I can only assume they do this because of licensing rights and because it might be super boring watching someone play Joust against Anorak, the avatar of Halliday. (Even though he's dead, he's still able to access his avatar, but it's better explained in the book). In the movie, the first challenge is a car race (and Parzival drives the DeLorean from Back to the Future) which is a lot more visually fun and also incorporates a lot of pop culture references such as King Kong and the T-rex from Jurassic Park and they even pass a movie marquee which is featuring the newest Jack Slater movie, so that was a deep cut with The Last Action Hero reference!

In the book, even though it may take him more than one try, Parzival is able to beat the challenges because he has spent hours upon hours studying video games and movies and knows every move to make or every line from a movie that he's watched more than 30 times. (Has he seen every '80s movie that many times? That's a little ridiculous!) But in the movie, he gets his answer by going to a museum of Halliday's inner most thoughts where you can access any memory from his life. Don't ask me how that was done, but remember, this IS 2045 so a lot of technical advancements have been put into place to do that kind of thing, apparently. This is where Parzival gets a clue on how to win the first challenge and becomes the first person on the scoreboard.

The second challenge both deals with movies in both forms of media. In the book, all he has to do is play Matthew Broderick in War Games and recite all his lines and he'll win the key. You know, even with a move I've seen many times, I still don't think I would be able to remember every single line of the main character, but he states he's seen War Games several times because he's a nerd. I've seen War Games zero times. I've also seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail zero times which is the last challenge he has to beat in the book. There is mention of The Goonies which excited me but it's only one sentence and is not involved as a challenge, but just as something he does to get more points. There is also mention of several more video games which I have never heard of and I kept crossing my fingers we would get a Super Mario Bros. mention, but, alas, that never happens. He does play Pac-Man (finally! something I have heard of!) where he gets a special coin that will come in handy later on. The movie has them being in the world of The Shining and instead of acting out the entire movie (because that would be a bit much), they have to find Kira, the woman Halliday loved, but she ended up marrying Morrow, so you could say that had something to do with their falling out. I have never seen The Shining (no, thank you!), but I knew about the creepy twins. That was about the only reference from that movie I got. Aech had never seen The Shining either, so when he goes into room 237, everyone in my audience who was familiar with the movie, laughed knowingly. 

There's a huge subplot of the book where Parzival gets captured by IOI on purpose in order to hack in their system and acquire some codes. They give this plot to Artemis in the movie. They also completely wipe away the plot where Morrow offers to help the High Five (well, four, at this point), who are all in danger from IOI (they've already killed the older Japanese boy and killed everyone living in The Stacks because they thought Wade was there, but he wasn't) and offers to fly them to his home in Oregon. He does not offer any help in the movie, but instead the High Five (who all conveniently live in the same city) end up together in the real world. Wade ends up meeting Samantha (Artemis) in the middle of the movie and I think this works better than in the book where he literally meets her for the first time on the penultimate page. It's pretty late when they meet each other face to face. However, while I like his interaction with Samantha better in the movie than in the book, I think his interaction with Helen (Aech) is better in the book. He is shocked at first to see that not only is Aech a woman, but she's also African-American, but he realizes it's still Aech and is very happy to meet her and you hear her story and why she chose her avatar. In the movie, she's just like, yep, this is me. Surprise! 

The third key involves him having to enter a castle that's been blocked by the IOI. Parzival enlists a bunch of avatars to help them and a huge battle ensues. I had to go to the bathroom during this part, so I know I missed a lot of pop culture references with different characters fighting in the battle. I heard Chucky was there...seriously, who would want to make their avatar a murdering doll? And an ugly one at that? That is one sick individual. I looked at a website that listed all the pop culture references in the movie and I know I missed a lot. Not just the ones that went over my head, but also ones that I would be familiar with, but there are some that go by so fast that it's easy to miss them if you blink. I heard there was gremlins in this movie, but I totally missed them! There's also other famous pop culture cars in the first challenge that I didn't register seeing. This might actually be a better movie to rent or stream so you can pause your DVD or device or rewind if necessary. So this movie if a lot of fun if you want to see all of those. 

The movie ends with Wade beating the last challenge, which is some early video games and everyone is happy. He gets a crapload of money and complete access to the Oasis and his first rule is that nobody will have access to the Oasis on Tuesday and Thursday so they can experience the real world. Insert eye roll here. 

While the movie has some fun scenes, I would recommend the book over it. I just had more fun reading the book than I did seeing the movie. I think you have to be a real nerd to appreciate it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Treasure Hunters

National Treasure
Director John Turteltaub
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer
Released: November 19, 2004
Viewed in theaters: November 27, 2004

Picture it: Lincoln, Nebraska, Thanksgiving 2004. My family is debating over which movie we should see one evening. I want to see National Treasure. My brother wants to see Alexander. I don't know what my parents voted for, but one or both of them must have wanted to see Alexander (the Oliver Stone movie with Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie...I have a feeling most people have forgotten about the existence of that movie!) because we ended up seeing that. I was so mad because that movie looked like a total snooze fest and I was right! I was so bored during the three plus hours I sat through it. (It could have been only a little over two hours for all I know, but it definitely felt LONG!) Even my family agreed it was a terrible and boring movie and pretty much admitted we chose the wrong movie. Now, National Treasure isn't the best movie in the world, but at least it's a hell of a lot more entertaining and fun than some long drawn out historical movie. (There's a good bet I will never review Alexander for this blog!) Now I did end up seeing this movie with my mom (she must have either voted with me or didn't care which movie we saw or maybe she just felt bad for me) the next day, but it still infuriates me that I wasted three hours of my life watching Alexander!

This is probably the only family friendly movie Nicolas Cage has ever made. This and its sequel, which I've only seen once (I've seen this one a handful of times). Oh, and that Christmas movie he did with Tea Leoni. There's probably a few others he's made too, but they seem to be very rare for the actor who is mostly known for R-rated action movies. See Rock, The. Or Con Air. Or Face/Off. In this Indiana Jones/Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?/The Goonies hybrid, he plays Ben Gates whose ancestors were part of some secret society who hid a bunch of treasure. He's had his eye on the prize since his great grandfather (played by Christopher Plummer) told him the story as a young boy, but it isn't until "current day" 2004 when he gets anywhere near finding it. 

With a clue that the treasure "lies with Charlotte", he leads an expedition to the Arctic which includes his right-hand man, Riley (Justin Bartha), who's pretty much in the movie to be the comic relief and a post-Boromir, pre-Ned Stark Sean Bean who plays his partner turned arch nemesis, Ian, and then some other guy who's Ian's crony. Not only do they find the ship in the ice, after, like, five seconds of chipping away, but they find the most important part of the ship which provides a clue. They figure out the clue pertains to the Declaration of Independence that will lead them to the treasure. Now that I think about it, this movie is a precursor to The DaVinci Code. Ian wants to steal the DoI, but Ben puts his foot down and says absolutely not. We then learn that Ian and his crony are bad guys as they try to kill Ben and Riley, and while they escape, they don't succeed in killing the two good guys.

When they return to D.C., Ben tries to warn anyone who will listen that the DoI is in danger of being stolen, but no one takes them seriously because there is no possible way for the DoI to be stolen because it is perfectly safe and secure. "The Declaration of Independence" is uttered many times during the film. It wasn't until halfway through the movie when I realized I should have been keeping count of how many times it was said, but by then, it was too late. I'm pretty sure if there was a category in The Guinness Book of World Records for the most times the phrase "The Declaration of Independence " is uttered in a movie, National Treasure would be victorious. Since the FBI won't listen to them, they go to the National Archives and warn Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) who also dismisses them and assures them the artifact is very safe.

Ben believes the only way to keep the DoI safe is to steal it himself. At least he will make sure its returned while Ian and his cronies won't care if it gets mucked up in the process of stealing it and using it to find the treasure. Plus, let's be honest, Ben wants that sweet treasure for himself. Riley tells Ben there is no possible way for them to steal the DoI because it's protected by security beyond measure, but Ben has found a loophole and plans to steal it when it's being treated in the preservation room, the only place where it won't be under (so much) lock and key. He and Riley devise this big plan that, of course, goes without a hitch. First, they have to make sure the DoI will be sent to the preservation room so Riley goes to the National Archives and surreptitiously points a laser light at it or something so a warning goes off to indicate that something has been tampered with it. No idea if this is a real thing or not. You know, I have been to D.C. a handful of times (maybe four) and I have never seen the DoI.

They plan to have the DoI in the preservation room the same night a big gala will be going on at the National Archives building. Ben will be the one doing the stealing while Riley stays in the van to direct him and warn him if there's any problems. Ben goes in as a maintenance man (he stole the identity of another maintenance man so he would be on the list...or something...I don't know...this whole plan is so convoluted) and is able to get through, no questions asked. I did think it was funny when Riley and Ben pull up at the building right before they're about to pull off the heist and as Ben is getting out of the van, Riley asks him, "Are you sure this is a good idea?" and Ben just slams the door, totally ignoring him.

Once Ben is in, he changes into a tuxedo in the restroom. He does this right in the open, and not in a stall. I at least hoped he locked the door so nobody would see him changing out of a maintenance outfit in a tuxedo because that wouldn't look suspicious! He enters the party where he chats with Abigail, taking her glass of champagne so she can take another glass for her date. You see, this is all part of the plan because they need her fingerprints to get into the preservation room. Ben will use a black light to see which keys she has pressed for the password and they figure out it's "Valley Forge".

Nobody is in the preservation room at all, so Ben is able to get the DoI. However, he's not alone for long as Ian and his cronies have the same idea to steal it that night and they're about to enter the room. Ben takes the whole thing, bullet proof glass and all that the DoI is surrounded in. It's a good thing he has it because once he's on the elevator and the bad guys enter, they start shooting at him and he uses it as a shield. He takes out the DoI and rolls it up like a poster. My favorite part of the movie is when he goes into the gift shop and the cashier sees it on his person and asks him if he's trying to steal that. She tells him it's $35 and he says, "For this? That's a lot." Haha, for the real DoI? I would say that's a steal! He ends up paying $70 because he buys that and then gets a replica to throw off Ian later.

Abigail figure out what's going on and she gets involved in a car chase and this is when Ben gives Ian the fake DoI. Ben, Riley, and Abigail end up at Ben's father's (Jon Voight) house. Since Ben used a credit card to pay for the DoI poster he can't go back to his own house. The DoI goes through a lot of duress during its time out in the real world and it's truly amazing it made it back in one piece. Using lemon juice and heat, they find some clues on the back. But instead of a map like they thought they would find, it's a bunch of numbers that pertain to some letters written by Benjamin Franklin that are important to the case. The letters, which Ben's father used to own, have now been donated to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

The clues and many different cities they visit (D.C., Philly, New York, Boston) reminds me of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, only the version where you're trying to find her in the U.S., which isn't as fun. There's a scene where they go to an Urban Outfitters in Philly to buy new clothes so they won't look so conspicuous in their fancy gala clothes. Right out in the open, when they're buying their clothes, they're talking about the clues. I'm surprised nobody gave them any odd looks. I mean, if you were in an Urban Outfitters and heard three adults talking about going to the Liberty Bell to find the next clue that will lead to long-lost treasure, wouldn't you be a little suspicious?

The clue leads them to a brick in the wall where Ben finds these old-fashioned spectacles used to look at the map and find the next clue. I can't remember exactly where in the movie Nicolas Cage says this, but there's a scene where he finds a clue and he says, "Can it really be that simple?" Everything leading to the clue is just so ridiculously easy, it's almost laughable. But it is a Disney family film, so the best thing is to just enjoy the ride.

Right on their heels is Ian and his cronies. Ben wants them to split up so Ian can't have the DoI and glasses at the same time because they need both to decipher the next clue. He takes the glasses and Riley and Abigail take the DoI. This thing gets drug through the streets of Philly and into a meat market. True, it's in a protective tube, but still. Ian apprehends the DoI and he also kidnaps Ben's father as a hostage in order to get the glasses.

An FBI agent played by Harvey Keitel has captured Ben and tells him he has two options: he can either go to jail or he can tell them where they can find the DoI and go to jail, knowing he did the right thing. Ben escapes and ends up in New York to join the search for the treasure which Ian and his cronies have now joined. The next clue is underneath the Trinity Church and they are all on this rickety makeshift elevator and one of the no-name bad guys falls off and plunges into this never ending abyss of darkness. Where did this chasm come from? All the characters are trying to jump to safety and there's a moment where Ben, holding on to the arm of a dangling Abigail, has to decide between saving her or saving the DoI which is now starting to slip from his shoulder. (Oh yeah, I should mention, Ben got it back). He asks Abigail if she trusts him and lets go of her once he's sure she'll land on a platform a few feet below them. He apologizes later for dropping her and she assures him it's okay and that she would have done the same thing. Can you imagine how much sh*t he would have been in if he had let the Declaration of Independence fall into a deep abyss of darkness? History would be lost forever! FOR-EV-ER!

Ben and his father tell Ian and his cronies that the next clue is in Boston because of the lantern they see. Leaving Ben, Ben's father, Abigail, and Riley, Ian and his cronies start to go back up on the makeshift elevator, leaving the others without any way to get back up. They start protesting, but it's really a non-issue, because surprise! Ben gave them a decoy answer and the next clue is actually right where they are! Who didn't see that coming? They find a huge room (seriously, this thing must have been five football fields long!) filled with treasure after treasure after treasure. There are mummies! Scrolls from the Library of Alexandria! An important looking medallion! And lots of other stuff! And, most importantly, there are stairs to an exit.

Ben calls the police and hands back the DoI to Keitel, who, in return tells him that someone has to go to jail. Ben offers him a bribe of ten billion dollars and tells him he can get him the real bad guy who's in Boston where they arrest Ian and his cronies. Poor Sean Bean. But at least he didn't die this time!

The priceless artifacts have been donated to museums all over the world. There's a joke that Ben and Riley, who are credited with finding the treasure, only got one percent of the profits and Riley is complaining about that while driving a fancy convertible and tells Ben he could have bought a bigger house and the camera pans back to show a huge mansion. Haha, even with only one percent, they still got a ton of money. Bring on National Treasure 3!