It's time to be amazed! Spielberg takes us on an exhilarating sci-fi joyride into the world of videogames and the 1980s in Ready Player One, writes BRIAN VINER
Ready Player One (12A)
Verdict: Mad, but entertaining
Anyone who wants to plunge back into the Eighties this Easter Weekend can either go to see Nik Kershaw in concert in Bridlington, or, perhaps more conveniently, seek out Ready Player One at their nearest multiplex.
Steven Spielberg's exhilarating sci-fi blockbuster might be set in 2045, a time when takeaway pizzas are delivered by drones, but in many ways it's an inversion of his pal Robert Zemeckis's 1985 movie Back To The Future. It is Forward To The Past.
Anyone who wants to plunge back into the Eighties this Easter Weekend can seek out Ready Player One at their nearest multiplex. Pictured, Tye Sheridan in the film
By way of homage, there's even a nifty device called a Zemeckis Cube, which looks like the one designed by Rubik that was all the rage 30-odd years ago, but here is used to turn back time by 60 seconds. The film is gleefully stuffed with other references to popular culture in the Eighties and early Nineties, including Chucky, the maniacal doll in the Child's Play films, and Spielberg's own Jurassic Park.
Spielberg was also close to Stanley Kubrick, and there is a cherishably weird sequence inspired by Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece The Shining.
Meanwhile, Wham! and Duran Duran are among the acts on a soundtrack that will either make you weep for your mullet hair and leg-warmers, or weep that you ever had them.
Ready Player One is based on Ernest Cline's 2011 novel of the same name, and Cline helped to write the screenplay, too. Yet it's clear from the start whose hand is on the joystick.
In a narrative driven by video-game avatars (the computerised alter ego of the human being at the controls), Mark Rylance, playing a genial, ageing, super-wealthy nerd, is surely intended to be Spielberg's own digitally-generated self.
Steven Spielberg's exhilarating sci-fi blockbuster (pictured) might be set in 2045, but in many ways it's an inversion of his pal Robert Zemeckis's 1985 movie Back To The Future
Rylance is James Halliday, a computer-programming billionaire who long ago, with his business partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), conceived a video game called OASIS.
In the dystopian world of 2045, OASIS has become a universal form of escapism, an exciting virtual society that offers a seductive alternative to life on an over-populated actual planet blighted by 'the Corn Syrup droughts' and 'the Bandwidth riots'.
Our hero is young Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who was born after humanity 'stopped trying to fix problems and just tried to outlive them'. Wade lives with his aunt (Susan Lynch) and her abusive partner (Ralph Ineson) in a kind of vertical shanty town in Columbus, Ohio.
Wade's own OASIS avatar is a super-cool character called Parzival, who effectively becomes the Charlie Bucket to Halliday's Willie Wonka when the latter lets on that he has hidden three elusive keys in his virtual universe.
The three keys are part of an 'Easter egg' hunt (the geek term for secret message), which will yield (don't ask me how) immense riches and control of the Oasis. Wade is therefore an egg-hunter, abbreviated to 'gunter'.
He enlists the help of a small, resourceful gang of fellow gunters and their avatars, including sexy Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), but naturally there is a fiendish villain to contend with, a corporate slimeball (splendidly played by Ben Mendelsohn) called Nolan Sorrento.
Will Sorrento find the eggs before Wade's alias Parzival and his chums? You can guess the answer, but it's a whole lot of CGI fun going along for the ride, even one that lasts two hours and 19 minutes.
Isle of Dogs (PG)
Verdict: Barkingly original
If Steven Spielberg is one of the world's greatest mainstream film directors, Wes Anderson is one of the greatest ploughing a furrow somewhere diagonal to the mainstream. I loved his last feature, 2014's singular The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Isle Of Dogs is a notch or two stranger still, but beguilingly clever and funny. Like Anderson's 2009 film Fantastic Mr Fox, it is a stop-motion animation, but this one ambitiously, and triumphantly, combines classic cartoon anthropomorphism with a respectful (if not quite reverential) bow to Japanese popular culture.
The main setting is a godforsaken island, used as a rubbish dump, just off Japan's coast. All the canine inhabitants of Megasaki City have been banished there in 'a tidal wave of anti-dog hysteria' following epidemics of dog flu and the even more dreaded snout fever.
Isle Of Dogs is a stop-motion animation, but this one ambitiously, and triumphantly, combines classic cartoon anthropomorphism with a respectful bow to Japanese popular culture
Among them are a stray called Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston), and the more respectable Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). Then there's the refined Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), for whom Chief falls in a sweet echo of the 1955 Disney classic Lady And The Tramp. He is her bit of ruff.
When Atari (Koyu Rankin), the 12-year-old ward of the city's corrupt mayor, decides that he wants to be reunited with his own doggie bodyguard, his beloved Spots (Liev Schreiber), he steals a light aircraft and flies to the island, where he makes some valuable mutt allies.
He is further helped in the search by an apparently psychic pug called Oracle (Tilda Swinton). In the meantime, back in Megasaki City, a backlash against the mayor is led by an American exchange student called Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig).
If all this sounds somewhat surreal, that's because it emphatically is, even before Yoko Ono pops up, voicing a scientist called Yoko Ono.
By all accounts, Anderson intended Isle Of Dogs partly as a homage to great Japanese directors such as Akira Kurosawa. Certainly, it's one for cinephiles, but don't let that put you off. It's silly, charming, exquisitely animated and gloriously original, if just a little bit barking.
High school jink that will have you in stitches
Verdict: Slick, resonant comedy
When my daughter, then 17, first brought a boyfriend home to stay the night, I confess that I showed him to the spare room, held his gaze for a little longer than was comfortable for either of us, and said 'this is where you'll be sleeping'.
Meanwhile, my wife was downstairs dealing with my daughter's furious indignation, saying: 'Daddy won't let him share your room so just do what teenagers have always done and creep across the landing when we're asleep.' Outrageous, I know. And not because she still called me Daddy.
If the film Blockers has a single message, it's one I rather endorse: that most decent, sensible teenagers can be trusted to make their own decisions
The always-relevant topic of parents agonising about their teenage daughters' sex lives is dealt with, sometimes lewdly, often uproariously, in Blockers. I truly hadn't expected to enjoy it so much, but it is wonderfully slick, painfully resonant and laugh-out-loud funny in more than a few places.
Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) have known each other since their three daughters became best friends on their first day at elementary school. Now the girls, Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon), are preparing to leave high school for college. Julie has a steady boyfriend, Kayla is unattached, and Sam thinks she's probably gay, but that doesn't alter the pact they make: that they will all lose their virginity on prom night.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, their parents discover the plan by reading their text messages and resolve to stop them. Predictably, great hilarity ensues, but amid all the riotous slapstick (and, in truth, one or two gross-out scenes that veer a bit too close to The In-Betweeners films for my liking), there's a surprisingly punchy, sophisticated wit.
The writers are brothers Jim and Brian Kehoe, while Kay Cannon, who wrote the Pitch Perfect movies, makes an admirably assured directorial debut. She keeps the tone light and the pace brisk, yet does not overlook some serious themes, like the double-standards of those who think that it is fine for boys to be sexually active but not for girls.
If the film has a single message, it's one I rather endorse: that most decent, sensible teenagers can be trusted to make their own decisions about these matters, and parental interference is generally not helpful. Mind you, that's easy for me to say. My daughter isn't 17 any more.
Paddy the ageing boxer doesn't quite ring true...
Verdict: A bit heavy handed
Paddy Considine is a marvellous actor whose debut feature as a writer-director was the powerful 2011 film Tyrannosaur.
Journeyman is his second such venture, and once again he boldly tackles a difficult subject, in this case the tragic decline of a champion boxer who has suffered brain damage in the ring.
Paddy Considine (pictured) is a marvellous actor whose debut feature as a writer-director was the powerful 2011 film Tyrannosaur
Considine himself plays Matty Burton, the world middleweight champion who wins his final fight, but pays a terrible price. Before the fight he is a devoted husband to Emma (Jodie Whittaker).
They have a baby he adores. He is a good man. But then he collapses and when finally he emerges from hospital he has become a child himself — and a difficult one at that, prone to sudden, violent rages.
At its best, Journeyman is a harrowing spectacle, superbly acted. But the story-telling is uneven. Once Matty has been reduced by brain damage, his entourage abandons him. The media show no interest in his sad story, either, which is not even remotely plausible of a British reigning world champion. Apart from a spot of occupational therapy, society and even the medical profession appear to leave him alone. So, in due course, does Emma.
Not much of this rings true. And I’m not sure I quite buy Considine, who is well into his 40s, as a boxing champ. It’s a role for a younger actor.
On the other hand, he is brilliant at conveying the physical and emotional transformation of a fit man into one who is desperately reduced. And Considine’s own manifest love of boxing shines through; the film is not an indictment of the so-called ‘noble art’. Indeed, it is boxing that enables Matty to make sense of his life again.
So if it’s possible to admire a film without quite believing in it, that’s how I feel about Journeyman. It isn’t a knock-out, like last year’s superior Jawbone, but there are rewards if you go the distance.
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