MOVIE BUFF-ET: Spielberg returns to adventure movie roots with ‘Ready Player One’

Warner Bros.

It’s appropriate Steven Spielberg’s latest movie “Ready Player One” is in theaters on Easter weekend because the movie is essentially one big Easter egg hunt.

Hunting an Easter egg in a virtual reality game-scape is the plot of the movie, and it’s what the viewers will be doing while watching the film that is populated with a preponderance of pop culture cameos that will have film fans watching and re-watching this movie for years just to catch all the references.

New In Local Theaters

  • Ready Player One (PG-13) 2 hr. 20 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Town, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Skylight)
    » Watch trailer
  • Tyler Perry’s Acrimony (R) 2 hrs.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills)
    » Watch trailer
  • God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness (PG) 1 hr. 46 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills)
    » Watch trailer

The movie which stars Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts/Parzival and Olivia Cooke as Samantha/Art3mis is a grand return for Spielberg to the popcorn adventure style of film on which he made his bones in the 1970s and early 1980s. It truly is a love letter to the influence film, video games, social media, and other forms of pop entertainment and fandom have had on our culture.

Or is it?

The film could also be construed as a downy, soft almost grandfatherly cautionary tale about how the truly good things in life are found in personal relationships and experiences that are off the Internet.

Maybe Spielberg is feeling a bit of guilt for the cult of fandom many of his works helped create?

The tale set in the year 2045 tells of a world that has become so downtrodden and dreay that people of all ages had rather escape to the Oasis, a virtual-reality game platform created by a socially and emotionally stunted Steve Jobs-type genius named James Halliday (Mark Rylance). The game allows skilled players to live like kings, pirates, giant robots, weird or sexy aliens or whatever character their imagination can create in the Oasis and live out any type of fantasy they want.

A player can just have fun in the Oasis, or they can join the quest for the golden Easter egg that Halliday hid in the system before he died. The gamer who finds the Easter egg takes control of Halliday’s company, his fortune, and the Oasis to do with as she or he pleases.

With that much power and money at stake, gamers form clans to search for the egg and evil corporations like IOI, headed by the wicked and calculating Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), go to any lengths to hire or blackmail the most skilled and knowledgable gamers as assets to help find the egg.

Sheridan and Cook’s avatars are two of the better egg hunters who have not aligned with IOI, and when Sheridan’s Parzival avatar finds the first of four keys that unlock the way to the Halliday’s hidden egg, they and their other friends come at odds with IOI.

The movie is great fun even for a non-gamer, near neo-Luddite like me. It’s supremely well-crafted as all Spielberg films are, and it has tons of heart.

Now, some are going overboard about the film that really is a souped-up, contemporary retelling Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by extolling it as some sort of revelation. It’s a good movie by one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and adored director, but nothing more. It’s a mid-range Spielberg flick, but that still tops much of the output we see from Hollywood.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 20 min.
Grade: B

Paul, Apostle of Christ

Writer-director Andrew Hyatt is to be congratulated for a job well done with his film “Paul, Apostle of Christ.”

On a slim $5 million budget, the filmmaker crafted a solid movie that focuses on the plight and persecution of first-century Christians in Rome under Nero’s death grip. It’s told through the lens of biblical figures Paul (Jame Faulkner), Luke (Jim Caviezel), Priscilla (Joanne Whalley), and Aquila (John Lynch).

While more adventurous films about the life of Paul could still be made, the movie hits many of the high spots of Paul’s life as detailed in the book “Acts of the Apostles.”

The crux of the film is Luke putting his life on the line to visit his mentor Paul in a Mamertine prison so that he can write down the history of the early Church as told by Paul, who is nearing the end of his life.

The film does take dramatic license to craft a narrative around what is basically primer of Paul’s teachings, using the character of Mauritius (Olivier Martinez),as the prefect of Marmertine Prison. Mauritius’ daughter is ill and despite consulting Roman healers and offering prayer by him and his wife to their pagan gods, the girl continues to suffer. As Mauritius deals more with Paul and Luke, he becomes more and more intrigued by their faith in Christ and his teachings, as well as Luke’s skills as a physician.

The film’s budget and time constraints are its greatest limitations as the acting is solid throughout and story is good. However, the budget does limit the scope of story being told. A faithful and complete telling of missionary journeys of Paul as told in “Acts of the Apostles” would be grand epic that could feed a long series of films.

The best scene in the movie comes near the end with Paul using a non-biblical parable to explain membership in the Christian Church in a very eloquent, precise and touching manner. The film is worth watching for that scene alone.

Though the film is not gory or overly graphic, it does not skirt the heinous persecution early Christians suffered at the hand of Nero’s rule. Charred bodies of martyred Christians are depicted, lighting the streets of Rome, and while the Nero’s circuses where Christians were mauled by starved bears and lions are not visually depicted, they are discussed by characters in the film.

(PG) 1 hr. 46 min.
Grade: B

Classic Corner

Rankin/Bass Easter Specials

The stop-motion and traditional animation company Rankin/Bass Productions is best known for its series of Christmas specials such as “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman,” which fans and children are treated to with multiple showings each Christmas season, but did you know, the company paid homage the Easter Bunny, too?

In between telling their Christmas tales, Rankin/Bass squeezed in three Easter specials that gave three different origins of the Easter Bunny. All three are quite fun and colorful for young children who have never seen them and possibly for their parents or even grandparents who remember them fondly from their childhood.

If you are looking for a show to pass the time with on this Easter weekend, you might get a kick out of these sugary concoctions.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

Peter Cottontail (voiced by Casey Kasem) is the heir apparent to the mantle of the chief Easter Bunny, but when a night of partying causes him to oversleep, his succession is in question. The evil Irontail (voiced by Vincent Price) wants the mantle, too, so he can twist the holiday more to his morbid liking. Peter Cottontail must travel back in time in an attempt to give away all his eggs or the evil Irontail will ruin Easter for everyone. Danny Kaye narrates the delightful 1971 special as Seymour S. Sassafras.

The First Easter Rabbit

Loosely based on Margery Williams’ “The Velveteen Rabbit,” the special tells the story of how Stuffy, a stuffed toy rabbit, was saved from being burned because of possible scarlet fever infection by a fairy named Calliope. She then transforms him into the first Easter Rabbit. Burl Ives narrates the story just as he did the first Rankin/Bass production “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” The 1976 special is traditionally animated rather than using stop-motion.

The Easter Bunny Is Coming to Town

“The Easter Bunny Is Coming to Town” not only introduces another origin for the Easter Bunny, but it also gives mythical origins for many of the trappings of the holiday, such as the bonnets, eggs, and jelly beans. This 1977 special will remind you of R/B’s earlier film “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” from 1970, which gave away all of Kris Kringle’s secrets. It’s even narrated by Fred Astaire again as holiday mailman Special Delivery Kluger.