Thursday, March 1, 2018

Ready Player One...(book review)

First let me premise this by saying that when I say I have "read" something, that usually means that I have listened to it on audiobook. I have a much higher memory retention rate when listening to something as opposed to reading. (just wish I could have learned this back in high school) With that being said I do enjoy actually picking up a book and reading and I will make sure to acknowledge that when I do a review on something I have actually read. Thanks and enjoy...

If you grew up in the 1980's and resided anywhere on the nerd-geek spectrum, all it takes is the right Rush or Genesis song to bring you back to the video arcade.  Or if you’re lucky enough, like myself, to be transported back into your living room, arguing with your sibling over who gets to be first player on Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo.  This was before video games became visually stunning and able to be controlled just by waving your hand in the air.
It might not sound like much, but if you're the right age, the feeling of nostalgia can be almost overwhelming. Those arcade games, and those fond memories, are the subject of Ernest Cline's unapologetically nerdy debut novel, Ready Player One. The narrative takes place 30 years into the future.
Set in Oklahoma in 2044, Cline's novel follows Wade Watts, unpopular high-schooler who spends all his free time in the OASIS, a virtual-reality online game that's become something like Second Life on steroids. The country has fallen into near-total collapse, with the majority of Americans living in abject poverty and dodging violent criminals on every corner. "I never wanted to return to the real world," Wade says. "Because the real world sucked."
With no realistic prospects, many people around the globe have dedicated their lives to finding an "Easter egg" that the designer of the OASIS has embedded somewhere in the game's vast expanse. Whoever is first to solve a series of puzzles — all of which are based on geeky 1980's cultural icons like Dungeons & Dragons and the movie War Games — will inherit the designer's enormous estate. When Wade unlocks the first puzzle, he's forced to move quickly, desperate to be the first to find the Easter egg, all the while dodging a team of murderous corporate villains.
There's no doubt that Cline had a very specific audience in mind, but don't let the 1980's-intensive subject matter put you off. Ready Player One is ridiculously fun and large-hearted, and you don't have to remember the Reagan administration to love it. (Though depending on your age, you might want to keep Wikipedia open so you can decipher the references to Oingo Boingo, Real Genius and Max Headroom.)
Cline takes a far-out premise and engages the reader instantly. I never thought I could be on the edge of my seat while reading about a session of the arcade game Joust, but the author's energetic, deeply felt narrative makes it almost impossible to stop turning the pages. Cline is that rare writer who can translate his own dorky enthusiasms into prose that's both hilarious and compassionate. It's more fun than a day at the arcade — you'll wish you could make it go on and on just by inserting more quarters.
I give this a 5 out of 5 - An instant classic
Have you read Ready Player One? Do you love it or hate it? Do you plan on seeing the movie adaptation when it comes out in March 2018? Let me know, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Game Night...

I was able to see Game Night yesterday and I have to say it exceeded my expectations for an action comedy that seems a tad smarter than recent entries in the genre. This is a smart adult flick that manages to be as much fun as a game night itself, maybe even more.  It stars a terrific cast that never overplays their hand, even as the premise threatens to careen out of control. Fortunately it never really does, despite the obligatory chases and credibility-stretching situations common to this type of movie. Writer Mark Perez and directors John Francis Daley keep it all afloat with a number of amusing scenes that pay off big in laughs.  

Of course it helps to have such accomplished actors as Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams on board as your leads. They play a comfortably married pair named Max and Annie whose whole relationship was built on their mutual love for games-playing. It continued even to their wedding and now for their once-a week game nights for friends. Into this equation one night comes Brooks, Bateman’s unpredictable but clearly successful brother who arrives with the announcement that he is going to host a game night at his uber-expensive house — a murder-mystery concept with his fancy sports car as the ultimate prize.

Joining Max and Anna are their game night regulars Kevin and Michelle, along with a female-obsessed single guy Ryan. But this time, with the stakes dramatically increased, brings a work colleague, an older woman than his usual types named Sarah, whom he thinks will add the smarts he needs to win. Predictably, real life invades this scenario when Brooks is kidnapped, a “fake” FBI agent is shot, and all hell breaks loose. But is it all part of the elaborate game Brooks has concocted, or are there really bad guys inadvertently invited to the party?

There are so many twists that I won’t spoil them for you here, but ultimately this movie has nothing on its agenda but to entertain, and that it does in spades despite some fairly graphic violence. Even with all the mayhem around them, the characters all have other things on their minds, including Max and Annie’s ongoing but so far unsuccessful effort to have a child. And then there is the running conversation between Kevin and Michelle, after a quick game of Never Have I Ever leads Kevin to question his wife why she hesitated to answer that one. It also results in the opportunity for a lot of great Denzel Washington gags including one at the end of the final credits, so stay in your seats.

Also getting into the middle of the action is next-door neighbor Max, a cop who used to be a regular at game nights but now is persona non grata after his divorce. He can’t understand why he is no longer invited and spends most of his time alone at home with his white fluffy dog as his only company. But Max becomes a key player as the night rolls on, and in one scene where the dog has been drenched inadvertently with dripping blood from Bateman’s injured arm is hysterical and steals the show. Also turning up are Michael C. Hall and Danny Huston among others, but I won’t give the reasons for their appearances.
Hats off to Bateman, who is simply one of the best at this sort of thing, and McAdams, who shows a real adeptness for comedy here. Don’t expect to see Game Night at next year’s Oscars, but as a good time out at the movies, it is totally game.
I give this a rating of...4 out of 5 🎭🎭🎭🎭(add to personal collection)
Do you plan to see Game Night?  Have you already seen it?  Did you like or hate it?  Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Look, Up in the sky...

Even for those of us who grew up loving Richard Donner's direction and Christopher Reeves' portrayal of Superman, it's hard denying Man of Steel as the best film version the last son of Krypton has had.  Thanks to the fresh take Christopher Nolan and David Goyer have for the screenplay and with the absolute badass attitude director Zack Snyder has 
always been good at.
     Right from the start, Man of Steel trumps expectations. The first 15-20 minutes of Snyder's film shows us a Krypton we've never seen before, a world torn by civil war, and though the planet's fate is certainly sealed it shows us a series of space battles that amp the suspense to the highest.  Though the team behind the film is set in place to reboot the franchise, there's definitely an understanding of the basic premise behind Superman's origin. A baby born on a dying planet. A father's (Russell Crowe) choice to send him to a remote planet where he will be perceived as a God. The ensuing childhood and parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) in small-town Kansas that instill in the "all powerful" boy a notion of absolute morality. These are staples in the story of Superman, but they are necessities, that make bold attempts at bringing originality into the story at every turn.
     Now we jump 30 years after Krypton's destruction. We are introduced to Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) as an adult, drifting around the Earth with an understanding of his abilities but nothing of a sense of place. Taking the same approach that made "Smallville" such a hit, Man of Steel shows us a Clark Kent at odds between what he can do and not knowing how the world would react to exactly what he is, an alien.  This is the best decision Man of Steel makes. Somewhere in the first incarnations of Superman on film the notion that he is an alien being got swept under a rug of a righteous America.  And with that understanding of Clark Kent's nature and mankind's reaction to such a thing comes the science fiction genre Superman has always deserved to fit into.   
     Now the film is ramping into action as soon as a scene begins then leaping back and forth  in and out of flashbacks that build the conditioned origin we've seen before.  In between those flashbacks and Clark Kent's incongruity we're introduced to Lois Lane (Amy Adams) . Once again, she's the adventurous reporter from Metropolis' Daily Planet, but instead of her knowledge of Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman only coming when the man walks through the newspaper's doors, Nolan and Goyer allow her to be precisely what she is, a damn good reporter.  On the other side, fresh as her character is here, the pacing never allows the love story between the two to blossom. There's very little chemistry between the two, and it's hard to lay that at the feet of the actors. The two characters seem to fall in love  because that's how the Lois & Clark story goes. There simply isn't enough room for breath here to allow the relationship to build. 
     Before we know it, the real threat of Man of Steel rears his ugly head, and when I say "ugly", I'm really just talking about Michael Shannon.  His General Zod is the protector of Krypton, its people, and its way of life, was suprisingly better than I expected.  Once his ships enter our atmosphere - somewhere near the 90-minute mark of this 143-minute-long film - and gives Clark Kent the ultimate ultimatum to reveal himself, Man of Steel's frustration in pacing is completely swept away by roaring, epic, and yes, awesome escapism.   
     The action on display in the last hour of Man of Steel is among the biggest and best Summer blockbusters could possibly offer. Giant ships land on our planet. Massive explosions rip through Clark Kent's world, first his hometown of Smallville and then his future home of Metropolis. We even get the fight-and-flight treatment the Superman films have never been able to perfect, that idea of two characters who can defy gravity beating the hell out of each other in mid-air. Once the blue suit and red cape come on, the excitement takes off, and any issues one might have with Man of Steel are quickly forgotten.
       It helps that every actor in the film seems to be giving 110%, especially Cavill if you count the hours he very clearly put in at the gym - My God, that man is ripped. Despite the lack of chemistry between he and Adams, their every individual scene works effortlessly. So, too, does Shannon, who has gone from creepy to downright terrifying as Zod. If the threat level isn't made clear by the the size of his plot in the film it absolutely is by his energy on display.           
       Nonetheless, imperfections and all, Man of Steel remains the best Superman film we're allowed to have. As with any of these reboots, it leaves us yearning for a sequel where the origin story isn't as front-and-center. Regardless, this fresh, ironically grounded Clark Kent tale Nolan and Goyer have decided to tell is a welcome return for comic book's most iconic figure. With the announcement this past weekend that Man of Steel 2 will be a Superman/Batman movie, it just brings all of us DC fanboys that much closer to a Justice League movie and with that making all of our dreams come true.  What did you think of "Man of Steel?"  Comment below and let me know.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Waiting for Forever...

Two people couldn't have been closer friends while they were growing up, unfortunately Emma (Rachel Bilson) and Will (Tom Sturridge) lost touch a long time ago as far as she knows. To Will, Emma never stopped being the most important person in his life. Believing them to be forever linked, he goes wherever she goes.  He survives by his talents as a street entertainer and when Emma's father gets sick she returns to their hometown, and Will again follows in her footsteps.  It's at this time that Will  finally finds the courage to profess his love yet he finds that it's not as easy as you would think.  I found this movie to be very simple and predictable.  Tom Sturridge did a very good job portraying the love sick, simple minded goof, while Rachel Bilson seemed very bland and unemotional even when her ex-boyfriend was arrested for murder.  The plot also seems to leave a little to be desired.  It glosses over, what could and should have been, important key plot lines that would give the characters more depth.  For instance when Emma's dad passes away there is a brief mention by Will's brother on how she and her mom are coping with it and she answers, "We're just fine."  Really? Your father just died and your fine with no tears or emotion.  She must be taking acting lessons from Kristen Stuart.    My favorite part was the quirkiness that Will's character brought.  He, by far, was the best part of the movie and actually made me laugh a couple of times.  Overall I would have to give this movie a rating of: FORGETFUL.  I will not remember this movie next week.  If you like what you have read or completely disagree.  Let me know and comment below.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Friends with Benefits...

     Friends with Benefits is the story of Dylan (Justin Timberlake), an art director from Los Angeles and Jamie (Mila Kunis), an Executive Recruiter from New York City.  They meet while Jamie is trying to recruit Dylan for a position with GQ in NYC.  After initial reluctance to leave his family and home life behind, Dylan is finally convinced by not only the company’s offer but also the excitement with which Jamie hypes New York.  Finally moved in and starting to get the feel of his new position, Dylan is really only left with one companion, Jamie.  One night, while lounging and watching a romantic movie together, the two begin to ponder the relationships they’ve seen presented onscreen over the years and why sex has to be so emotionally involved.  From there, they decide they can make a sexual relationship with no lingering romantic emotions work, thus becoming the titular friends with benefits.  This, naturally, leads to complications as the two are forced to deal with their ever-evolving relationship and their feelings for themselves, others and one another.  Here is the trailer for you to check it our for yourself...
     The first element of this movie that caught my attention was the look.  Whether it’s the shoreline on the California coast, the skyline of midtown Manhattan or the amount of good looking people who make up the cast, each is shown in a way that makes them decidedly desirable.
     The second element to catch my attention was Justin Timberlake’s acting… and I definatly mean that in an good way.  Though the man has obviously made strides to step up his many talents (see: The Social Network), he definitely comes off as an actor that is serious about making good acting choices.

     Though it earns its R rating, the movie cops out when it comes to the sex scenes. With the exception of a few shots of Timberlake’s ass, everything is strategically placed to avoid revealing too much flesh. If you (like me) were hoping for some nudity from Mila Kunis – forget it. Even her one ultra-quick ass shot is a body double. Ultimately the sex scenes, through relatively frequent, are way too tame to sustain any real interest. It’s not like I was expecting Showgirls or something, but come on – this is supposed to be a sex romp.

     Overall I would say that this movie was a very pleasent surprise.  My wife and I were not expecting to laugh half as much as we did.  Let me know what you thought by leaving a comment below.  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

And then there were dinosaurs...

Terra Nova is an entertaining action-adventure/mystery that will appeal to fans who enjoy dinosaur fight scenes, touching family moments, and suggestions of deep mystery.

The Steven Spielberg-produced show follows Jim Shannon, an ex-cop in jail, whose family consists of surgeon wife Liz and their three kids, Josh, Maddie, and Zoe. While imprisoned, his wife gets an offer to go to Terra Nova, an untouched earth reached through a time portal.

Much of the pilot is spent explaining the parameters of this world. In 2149, the earth has become a polluted wreck of a planet where people must wear gas masks at all times to protect themselves from the air. Scientists have discovered a new timestream (thus ensuring that fiddling around in the past won't destroy the future -- the quantum mechanics here is a little iffy) to take humans 85 million years into the past, where air has oxygen in it and dinosaurs roam the earth.

In the future earth families are limited to two children, a rule the Shannons break for some unexplained reason. Jim -- in jail -- and Zoe -- not allowed -- must stowaway into the past.

The past is a lush paradise with solar panels, wind turbines, exotic fruits and little cottages that let in the sunlight (a novelty for our futuristic friends). It's a spectacular backdrop (filmed in Australia) of snaking vines, immense trees, and strange animals. Commander Nathaniel Taylor (from Avatar fame) is the leader of this little camp, and according to him, the first man ever to have arrived in Terra Nova.

"We are at the dawn of a new civilization," he tells the assembled crowd.

The Shannons spend some time wandering the village and getting overly excited about produce, but the parts of the pilot not used to set up the show are primarily filled with pure action. Terra Nova plays a little like a condensed version of every classic science-fiction action flick you've ever seen. One of the more thrilling scenes shows us a group of teens trapped in a car, surrounded by slashers (velociraptor-like dinosaurs) as they frantically gun through window slots.

Terra Nova is also tinged with shades of Lost, and not just because of the jungle. We meet the Sixers, renegade humans who control the quarry and live outside of the village's boundaries. Unlike the "others" (from Lost), the Sixers seem to believe in some mysterious conspiracy involving unintelligible scribbles on rocks and speculation about what Terra Nova was really founded for.

The Shannons, are likeable enough, if not yet fully fleshed out. In a funny quirk of character, Maddie is a monumental nerd who occasional spouts out scientific facts about the size of the moon and the bone structure of dinosaurs -- seriously guys, this is a new world.

Overall I would give Terra Nova a rating of 4 out of 5 and I would  recommend this show to any one of my friends, (as I acutally already have).  Have you already seen it?  What did you think?  Let me know by leaving a comment below!