Ready Player One Movie Review

In a time when much of our popular entertainment is now made by 1980s kids who worshipped at the altar of Steven Spielberg and others, Ready Player One often feels like a loving homage to the product he made. Except it’s made by Spielberg himself and based on a 2011 Ernest Cline novel that also placed Spielberg’s works among its many cultural references. Such an experience runs the considerable risk of collapsing upon itself in a meta avalanche. Yet there’s a reason Spielberg is considered the best in the blockbuster game and he mostly avoids the potential self congratulating pitfalls here. It doesn’t belong in the same stratosphere as his most delicious popcorn offerings, but it contains enough sweetness and eye-popping visuals to be reasonably filling.

We begin in the dystopian future of 2045 where the majority of the Earth’s populace lives in slum conditions. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is among them. He’s an 18-year-old in Columbus, Ohio with deceased parents and a sad life living with his trashy aunt. Wade’s existence matches that of many and their only refuge from squalor is The OASIS. That’s a virtual reality world created by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance), an eccentric developer whose nostalgic tastes inform his fantasy universe. Those preferences include a whole slew of 80s flicks and tunes and more. Players can select alternate identities when they slap on the VR goggles. Wade takes on the persona of Parzival and he cruises around in the iconic DeLorean from Back to the Future. Wade/Parzival isn’t just a run of the mill player. He’s a good one. And he’s among a small group of high level participants known as Gunters.

Following Halliday’s death, it’s revealed he hid an Easter egg in the OASIS and the first player to find it will inherit control of the whole shebang. Wade has noble intentions should he win. So does Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), an expert gamer who attracts Wade’s admiration and his heart. There’s also those who want control of this trillion-dollar game for more devious purposes. That includes Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), corporate overlord of IOI (Innovative Online Industries). That conglomerate envisions total control of this product and go to dangerous lengths to prevent ace players like Parzival and Art3mis from succeeding.

Ready Player One quickly establishes this dense new world to us without making it seem too complicated. We quickly accept the dual nature of these heroes and villains in the depressed looking capital of Ohio and the shimmering alternate reality of the OASIS. In the latter, players can become whoever they want and the programmers can insert anyone in. That allows a lot of references to characters we’ve seen elsewhere. If you have ever imagined King Kong, The Iron Giant, and the murderous Chucky doll in the same feature, your wish is granted.

Much of this is an excuse for dazzling adventure sequences and many of them truly are. There’s a notable horror pic that is the centerpiece of a key scene. Going much more into it would feel like spoiler territory, but I’ll say it’s a pretty amazing highlight. Some of the battles take on a sameness vibe eventually, but the OASIS is consistently a visual wonder to behold.

Leads Sheridan and Cooke are both stellar. Rylance and Simon Pegg as Halliday’s former business partner are memorable. Mendelsohn (as he did in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) brings a satisfying  sinister turn as the bad guy.

Spielberg’s classics have become so because of their heart. Ready Player One is not a classic, but there are moments when the beats of them are well replicated. The picture may be best appreciated by an audience whose nostalgia glasses are usually half full. I’m among them. While you might be watching closely for pop culture references, there’s an overall message of balance between adoration of the past and appreciating the present. The director behind the camera here is deservedly revered for his great past, but he can still provide the goods presently.

*** (out of four)

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Truth or Dare Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse Productions and Universal Pictures are hopeful horror fans will be game for Truth or Dare next weekend. Debuting on Friday the 13th, the film puts a scary spin on the time honored contest that we all familiarized ourselves with in our teens. That’s the target audience that it wishes to reach. Jeff Wadlow, who directed KickAss 2, is behind the camera with a cast including Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, and Landon Liboiron.

Originally scheduled to premiere on April 27, the pic wisely moved off that weekend when Iron Man, Black Panther, and other Avengers claimed it. However, the current release date poses its own problems as fellow genre title A Quiet Place will be in its sophomore frame and likely still making noise.

That said, Blumhouse has a knack for turning low-budget fright fests into hits. They’ve just come off a banner 2017 that included Split, Get Out, and Happy Death Day. I don’t, however, feel Truth or Dare will manage that trio’s grosses. I’ll estimate a debut in the mid teens range.

Truth or Dare opening weekend prediction: $16.7 million

For my Rampage prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/03/rampage-box-office-prediction/

Rampage Box Office Prediction

Pairing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with a bunch of CG animals in an adventure flick? If that sounds like a recipe for box office success, that’s because Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle became Sony’s biggest hit at the end of 2017. And next weekend’s Rampage (while it won’t approach the numbers of that franchise follow-up) looks poised to bring in generous earnings.

The Warner Bros release is based loosely on the 1980s video game. It marks Johnson’s third collaboration with director Brad Peyton following Journey: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas. Both of those titles managed to top the century mark ($103 million and $155 million respectively) and this should do the same. Costars include Naomie Harris, Malin Ackerman, Joe Manganiello, Jake Lacy, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Perhaps more importantly, other costars are giant gorillas, wolf’s, and alligators.

The question is whether Rampage falls more in line with $27 million debut of Journey 2 or the $54 million accomplished by Andreas. The former seems a bit low to me while the latter is high. I’ll project a mid to possibly high 30s opening is more the ticket.

Rampage opening weekend prediction: $36.6 million

For my Truth or Dare prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/03/truth-or-dare-box-office-prediction/

Box Office Predictions: April 6-8

A quartet of newcomers roll into the marketplace this weekend looking to make some noise at the box office. We have the critically acclaimed horror pic A Quiet Place, critically acclaimed raunchy comedy Blockers, true-life sports drama The Miracle Season, and true-life political drama Chappaquiddick. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each of them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/27/a-quiet-place-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/28/blockers-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/30/the-miracle-season-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/30/chappaquiddick-box-office-prediction/

A Quiet Place seems primed for a healthy debut and my plus $30 million estimate places it firmly in first place. Blockers certainly has breakout potential with its positive word-of-mouth and it could manage to climb higher than my low to mid teens projection. That would put it in third place behind the second weekend of Ready Player One, which I’m thinking will lose close to half its audience in its sophomore frame.

As for The Miracle Season and Chappaquiddick, my respective estimates of $3.8 million and $2.3 million put both of them outside the top 5.

Acrimony (which was 2nd over the Easter holiday) is likely to suffer a hefty decline in weekend #2 and that could leave it battling Black Panther for the five-spot. I’ll give Marvel’s superhero the edge. In fact, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that I Could Only Imagine could place fifth, pushing Acrimony to sixth.

And with that, my top 5 projections for the weekend ahead:

1. A Quiet Place

Predicted Gross: $31.2 million

2. Ready Player One

Predicted Gross: $21.8 million

3. Blockers

Predicted Gross: $15.2 million

4. Black Panther

Predicted Gross: $7.2 million

5. Acrimony

Predicted Gross: $6.5 million

Box Office Results (March 30-April 1) 

Ready Player One easily ruled the charts over Easter weekend. It met expectations and delivered Steven Spielberg his largest opener in a decade since 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (and fifth largest ever not adjusted for inflation). The sci-fi adventure grossed $41.7 million over the traditional Friday to Sunday portion of the weekend, topping my $36.7 million estimate and $53.7 million since its Wednesday evening roll out (just ahead of my $50.8 million projection).

The Tyler Perry directed psychological thriller Acrimony exceeded my expectations, opening in second with a solid $17.1 million compared to my $13.2 million projection. As mentioned, a large second weekend dip is probable.

Black Panther placed third with $11.4 million to bring its jaw dropping total to $650 million. My prediction? $11.4 million!!

Surprise hit I Can Only Imagine was fourth with $10.4 million, just under my $11.2 million prediction for $55 million overall.

Last week’s #1 Pacific Rim Uprising fell to fifth with a massive 67% drop and $9.3 million, under my $11.7 million estimate. The sequel has made $45 million in two weeks.

Finally, faith-based sequel God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness stumbled out of the gate with a meager $2.6 million debut in 12th place, just over half of my $5.1 million forecast.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Chappaquiddick Box Office Prediction

Arriving in theaters a little later than anticipated, historical drama Chappaquiddick debuts next weekend. Directed by John Curran, the film recounts the 1969 car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne and Ted Kennedy’s role in it. Jason Clarke plays Kennedy with Kate Mara as Kopechne. Supporting players include Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, Jim Gaffigan, Taylor Nichols, and Clancy Brown.

The pic receives its first screening last fall at the Toronto Film Festival. Reviews were mostly positive and it stands at 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, reaction was muted enough that Entertainment Studios moved it from its December 2017 awards qualifying run to this April roll out.

Chappaquiddick likely faces a tough road ahead. Premiering on approximately 1500 screens, its only real hope to appeal to older moviegoers who recall the events from nearly a half century ago. I’ll project that only gets this to $2-$3 million.

Chappaquiddick opening weekend prediction: $2.3 million

For my A Quiet Place prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/27/a-quiet-place-box-office-prediction/

For my Blockers prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/28/blockers-box-office-prediction/

For my A Miracle Season prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/30/the-miracle-season-box-office-prediction/

The Miracle Season Box Office Prediction

Upstart studio LD Entertainment is hoping for a crowd next weekend when The Miracle Season debuts. The sports drama tells the true story of a high school volleyball team whose captain dies suddenly and the inspiring aftermath of that event. Oscar winners Helen Hunt and William Hurt star alongside Erin Moriarty and Danika Yorush. Sean McNamara directs.

Slated to open on approximately 1700 screens, Season is hoping its PG rating and subject matter appeals to a young female audience. I’m not confident it reaches the demographic it intends to serve. I’ll estimate a gross under $5 million.

The Miracle Season opening weekend prediction: $3.8 million

For my A Quiet Place prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/27/a-quiet-place-box-office-prediction/

For my Blockers prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/28/blockers-box-office-prediction/

For my Chappaquiddick prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/30/chappaquiddick-box-office-prediction/

All the Money in the World Movie Review

Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is made with all the competence in the world you would imagine from this filmmaker retelling one of the most famous kidnappings in modern history. It’s a story built for a cinematic rendering that’s moderately successful in its execution. The screenplay from David Scarpa takes liberties with what really happened on occasion, but sticks to many of the bizarre facts surrounding the taking of John Paul Getty III.

In 1973, 16-year-old Getty (Charlie Plummer) was living a carefree life in Rome when he was abducted.  The demands for ransom were based on good cause. Getty’s grandfather is J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, no relation to the actor playing his grandson). Not only is the elder Getty currently the wealthiest man on Earth, the oil tycoon is the wealthiest man to ever walk it. There’s one significant issue: he’s also notoriously stingy and his potential heirs are not enjoying his riches.

That means young Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) must ask her former father-in-law for the $17 million demanded for his safe return. Paul’s father (Andrew Buchan) is essentially out of the picture both literally and figuratively – off somewhere in a drug induced haze. Mr. Getty has no interest in paying. Some of his reasons seem valid as he figures it will be open season on all his grandkids if he acquieses. Most of his actions re-enforce his reputation as a persnickety cheapskate.

Mr. Getty does direct one of his advisers, former CIA man Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to investigate. He believes at first that Paul may have set up the snatching himself for a generous payday. When that wrongheaded theory proves false, a lengthy negotiation develops between Gail, Mr. Getty, and a rather large group of crime figures involved in Paul’s capture.

All the Money in the World, of course, has its own notable backstory as Kevin Spacey filmed the entire role portraying Mr. Getty. When numerous sordid allegations came forth about him, director Scott made the unheard of decision to recast the role with Plummer just weeks before its release. You wouldn’t know of the behind the scenes drama upon viewership. The 88-year-old gives a strong performance as the unlikable billionaire who never seems to recognize normal human emotion or find a dollar he doesn’t attempt to stretch as far as humanly possible. Similar acclaim goes to Williams as the mother desperately trying to come up with solutions when everyone else assumes she can just snap her fingers and cash magically appears. Another solid performance worthy of mention is Romain Duris as Cinquanta, one of the kidnappers who develops a bond with Paul and is far more sympathetic to the situation than his grandpa is. The weak spot is Wahlberg. He’s an actor capable of fine work, but I never managed to fully buy him here as the hardened CIA man.

Some of the events depicted here are accentuated for dramatic effect, including an ending for Mr. Getty that didn’t follow until years later. Most of the time, the picture glides by on Scott’s sturdy direction and its inherently compelling tale of inheritors with a bad benefactor.

Phantom Thread Movie Review

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread serves up a recipe that is both deliciously lush in its look and sickeningly pitch black in its sneaky comedic sensibilities. It’s a fascinating concoction to behold with an alleged swan song performance by Daniel Day-Lewis where he’s occasionally upstaged by the women around him.

The three-time Oscar winner is Reynolds Woodcock, a brilliant fashion designer in 1950s London. He’s the go to dressmaker for high society and he delves into his work with the serious and intense manner in which, well, Day-Lewis inhabits his roles. Reynolds is a forever bachelor who worships his deceased mother and holds an extremely and maybe too close relationship with sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who assists with his thriving and thrifty business.

A trip to the countryside introduces Reynolds to Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young waitress. He asks her to dinner and in quick succession, she’s moved in with him. Alma serves a dress model at first, but is soon his latest muse (we imagine there’s been several) and love interest. She quickly realizes that her new and fancy world revolves around Reynolds and his routine that he despises being disrupted. He’s a tortured genius and egomaniac. Yet the roads we foresee this union dissolving into are not always what writer/director Anderson has up his sleeve.

That’s partly because Alma doesn’t turn out to be just a needy girlfriend. Some of the film’s biggest surprises and key moments come from her choices on how to deal with Reynolds. Krieps gives us a feisty and fantastic performance to behold. Manville’s work is quite impressive as well. Sister Cyril is an intriguing presence – always steps away from Reynolds and bizarrely attached to him. She’s also the only person who can speak any truth to him until Alma enters the frame.

And there’s Day-Lewis, an actor who can do more with a line reading choice or facial expression than nearly anyone else. With Reynolds Woodcock, we have one more memorable and unique creation. He’s seemingly incapable of nothing less.

Anderson, of course, already directed Day-Lewis as the unforgettable oil baron in There Will Be Blood. They mix well together. Like all of Anderson’s work, this is a visually sumptuous experience where the gorgeous score from Jonny Greenwood and costume design from Mark Bridges are especially noteworthy.

Phantom Thread hides some of its best tricks for the end. It may have you wanting to watch the off kilter courtship of its subjects a second time – or to again watch a great auteur in fine form with a trio of performances to match.

***1/2 (out of four)

 

Blockers Box Office Prediction

Like its direct competitor A Quiet Place that also opens next weekend, Blockers made quite an impression with journalists and festival goers when it debuted at South by Southwest earlier this month. The raunchy comedy about parents trying to prevent their daughters plan to lose their virginity on prom night marks the directorial debut of Kay Cannon, best known for penning the Pitch Perfect franchise. The cast includes John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Graham Phillips, and Hannibal Buress.

Its festival premiere caused some buzz and it now stands at 91% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. The Universal release has now been pegged as a potential sleeper at the box office. Competition is light in the genre and the solid reviews should help. As I see it, the ceiling for Blockers is likely the $17 million achieved in February by Game Night, another comedy that received kudos from the critical community.

I’m not sure it will reach quite that high. I’ll project an opening in the low to mid teens and it could continue to play in subsequent weekends, just as Game Night has.

Blockers opening weekend prediction: $15.2 million

For my A Quiet Place prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/27/a-quiet-place-box-office-prediction/

For my The Miracle Season prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/30/the-miracle-season-box-office-prediction/

For my Chappaquiddick prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/30/chappaquiddick-box-office-prediction/

Molly’s Game Movie Review

At its best, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is cinematic music. Like many distinctive screenwriters icluding Mamet and Tarantino, he has an unmistakable style. There’s a zippy and often whip smart quality present. We heard that melody in The Social Network and on “The West Wing” and large parts of A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs. On occasion, there are heavy-handed and slightly preachy notes in his wordy tunes.

We know what we’re getting in a Sorkin screenplay. An unknown until now is how he performs behind the lens and Molly’s Game answers it. The frequent highs and more infrequent lows of his writing are present here. And he pleasingly proves he’s got some style in the director’s chair, too.

The film is based on the real life story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who went from a wannabe Olympic skier sidelined by freak injury to underground poker syndicate magnate. It’s an improbable yarn where truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Following her slopes related incident, Molly travels to L.A. and soon finds herself as assistant to a rich on paper and sleazy real estate developer (Jeremy Strong). He seems far more concerned with his high stakes poker game that involves celebrities and the West Coast wealthy – all male. Molly starts out basically holding their money. That doesn’t last long as her intellect soon has her running the show.

This puts her in constant contact with an unnamed movie star played by Michael Cera. A quick look at the facts of Bloom’s true events would put Tobey Maguire as the actual actor. Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t dwell on the famous names that real Molly came in contact with, as apparently the subject’s book this is based on didn’t either. I will say this. If half the stuff about Maguire (err Cera’s character) is accurate, he’s not exactly your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

It also puts her in proximity with far worse types than bratty leading men. There’s the Mob, in Italian and Russian form. And that’s where it all gets truly dangerous. These individuals provide a risk to her personal safety, as do the drug fueled measures she takes on her own to keep the business rolling in celebrity, Mafia, and trust fund kid cash.

Molly’s Game is told in flashback as our central figure’s legal troubles mount. Idris Elba is her skilled and sympathetic lawyer. Kevin Costner is her hard charging dad – a therapist who is always seeking perfection from his daughter. It’s their dynamic that turns out to be the key one here and provides a window into Molly’s behavior. In some ways, it’s a relationship we’ve seen countless times onscreen before and this doesn’t add much freshness.

That said, when Sorkin’s writing is at its best, it’s an entertaining sound. Molly’s Game gives us plenty of long exchanges between particularly Chastain and Elba that qualify. We’ve seen the world of closed-door poker (in the solid Rounders for example) before, but not often. The writer/director frequently excels at displaying this fast-paced universe that just a minor segment of the ultra rich are privy to.

Chastain is present in nearly every frame and she provides another electric performance as a strong female getting it done in a male dominated universe. Elba offers sturdy support. Even though Costner’s subplot is the most routine, he adds some depth in the third act as the complicated dad.

Those familiar with Sorkin’s word games will find plenty to enjoy here. It doesn’t rise to the level of The Social Network, mind you. It does comfortably give me confidence that his dialogue works just fine with him also wearing the director’s hat.

*** (out of four)