Movie: Ready Player One

"Ready Player One"

In the year 2045, people can escape their harsh reality in the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. OASIS creator James Halliday left his immense fortune and control of the Oasis to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir. When unlikely hero Wade Watts conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends–known as the High Five–are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks now–not because I didn’t have anything to write about, but because I wanted to read the book first before I wrote down my thoughts about the movie. And I’m glad I did. Because now I can safely say that I prefer the film version to the source material.

Don’t get me wrong: Ready Player One is a good novel. It’s engaging, for the most part, and it has a great story structure. But the Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation is easier to like. And here are my reasons why:

The film is more pop-culture savvy. A lot of movie reviews have cited that the movie adaptation favored films in its quests and easter eggs. And it is true. But what a lot of them fail to mention is that the film is more aware of what’s popular to the mainstream audience. Not everyone is familiar with the old generation gaming platforms, much less their games. There were a lot of references in the book that flew over my head. So I believe that the film strikes a good balance of including what’s popular, while sticking in obscure references that feels like they were taken from the novel.

The characters are given more to do. The biggest difference between books and TV/film adaptations is the fact that the latter needs to cutaway to what’s happening elsewhere. Books have the luxury of pages, where they can focus on their main protagonist while slowly unraveling the development and objectives of other characters. With those pages, books can foreshadow and plant plot devices that they can harvest later on. TV and movies don’t have the same luxury–and are often restricted by budget and time.

With Ready Player One‘s source material, almost all decisive action comes from our protagonist Wade Watts. And, as such, most of the other characters feel half-baked. Love interest Art3mis doesn’t feel real–even during the final pages, when she and Wade finally meet in person. And there’s even less for players Aech, Daito, and Shoto to do. And here’s where the time constraints of a film worked in favor of the other characters. Because we can’t have hours upon hours of Wade just agonizing over clues, the movie utilized the other characters to figure things out faster than Wade does–or have them become a sounding board for Wade to talk things out with. And, in doing so, the characters feel more developed. Although, to be honest, they’re still not developed enough.

Pacing-wise, the film automatically wins because it’s only a couple of hours long. But more than that, it doesn’t fall into long periods of non-activity like the book. In the novel, when Wade is stuck on something, it feels like author Ernest Cline want us to feel just as stuck as he is. There were a handful of instances when I actually told the book to “get a move on” aloud.

Another thing I thought the film did better is the insertion of Ogden Morrow’s character. The reveal of his character felt like a brilliant move in the film–but in the novel, he quickly read as deus-ex-machina. That said, the book does get to expound more on who Ogden Morrow is, and who he became–but that’s the luxury of pages.

When it comes to the actual challenges though, I’m more split. I love that the movie made the challenges more visual and more personal… But I really liked the novel’s way of complicating the third quest. Both the film and the novel underlines the importance of relationships, but it’s the book that highlights its need better.

And speaking of what the book does better– I also think the novel was better at upping the stakes. The movie puts all the characters in one city, while the book has three of them living outside the US. And then there’s the tension. While the film shows early on how formidable the villains are, they become pretty tame as the rest of the movie unfolds. The book actually allows the villains to kill off one of the heroes.

Now with all this said… I feel like there’s enough of a distinction between the novel and the movie version of Ready Player One that they should be treated as separate entities. They have the same characters and premise, yes, and they do have a similar plot structure. But the things that happen in between? The hows and whys that push the story forward? They’re all pretty much different.

But I still like the movie better.

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Movie: Tomb Raider

"Tomb Raider"

Lara Croft is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished when she was scarcely a teen. Determined to forge her own path, she refuses to take the reins of her father’s global empire just as staunchly as she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone. Advised to face the facts and move forward after seven years without him, even Lara can’t understand what drives her to finally solve the puzzle of his mysterious death. Going explicitly against his final wishes, she leaves everything she knows behind in search of her dad’s last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Hong Kong. If she survives this perilous adventure, it could be the making of her, earning her the name tomb raider.

If you’re a video game fan, it’s highly likely that WB’s reboot of Tomb Raider‘s film franchise is something you might enjoy. Unless you’re a Tomb Raider fan. Then, it’s either you will love the film they produced–or immensely dislike it.

I can’t say I’m a gamer; and although I am familiar with the Tomb Raider franchise (both the games and the Angelina Jolie films), I can’t say I’m a fan. But, that said, I did enjoy this new iteration of Tomb Raider for the thrills it provided. All I had to do was shut off all logical and critical thinking, because that’s when the problems come in.

Warner Brothers’ Tomb Raider plays off like a video game. Like a Tomb Raider video game, actually. You have puzzles, you have bad guys, you have adventures, and you have heroine Lara Croft hanging off edges and climbing things. Over and over. Unfortunately it also has something the Tomb Raider franchise usually don’t allow: accountability.

The entire plot of the film hinges on the fact that Lara Croft’s father obsesses over a piece of Japanese myth. And the film only moves because of Lara’s drive to find her father. Everything that goes wrong afterwards is because of their accountability. And while it is good for heroes to be held accountable for their actions, it is extremely frustrating for a moviegoer to have a heroine who causes the film’s conflicts in the first place.

I’m sure the film’s writers did their best to make the film grounded, and for Lara Croft to not come out of the movie a two-dimensional caricature of her video game persona. On top of the brains and brawn that was inherent in the character, they also gave Lara heart and flaws. But it’s one thing for a character to overcome their flaws to save the world, and a completely different thing for the character’s flaws to be the reason the world needs saving in the first place. And there lies the one reason I can’t fully get on board with this new Tomb Raider film:

Lara Croft’s flaws don’t make her human–they make her a problem.

If you’re not the type of moviegoer who scrutinizes plot and character details though, Tomb Raider is still a fun action-adventure film. Roar Uthaug does a great job making the film feel like a video game–in a very good way. Alicia Vikander is no Angelina Jolie–which is also a good thing–and delivers a Lara Croft unlike any other.

Bottom line: Tomb Raider is a good enough film with lots of exhilarating action sequences, but I’ll probably pass on a sequel if they make one.

Big thanks, by the way, to Chris Cantada for inviting me to the premiere. Watch out for his review soon on his Cantada Force Reviews channel on YouTube.

Movie: Murder on the Orient Express

"Murder on the Orient Express"

What starts out as a lavish train ride through Europe quickly unfolds into one of the most stylish, suspenseful and thrilling mysteries ever told. From the novel by best-selling author Agatha Christie, “Murder on the Orient Express” tells the tale of thirteen strangers stranded on a train, where everyone’s a suspect. One man must race against time to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

First of all, I would like to thank my friend Chris (and 20th Century Fox Philippine) for bringing me along to an advanced screening of Murder on the Orient Express. That said, I was not paid to say good things about the film. Which I feel like I should say, because I will be saying a lot of good things about the film.

Sir Kenneth Branagh is, in my humble opinion, the most entertaining Hercule Poirot I’ve had the pleasure of watching. (Although, I haven’t seen that many.) He is, from the moment he enters the screen, a commanding presence. And I think that’s half of the battle won for this latest adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, having a likeable and funny protagonist.

Another thing I liked about the film is that it didn’t feel the need to add to or update the material to make it harder for viewers to solve. There were a couple of changes to the source material, if I’m not mistaken, but it only makes for a tighter story-telling.

I liked how the film establishes Poirot’s aptitude at solving mysteries quickly in the beginning, wisely introducing the main character to viewers who are not as familiar to the character and his history. And I liked how the film establishes possibilities in who the culprit could be.

I don’t remember how it went in the novel, but in the film, the suspects are introduced and fleshed out one by one. And I love how there is a vulnerability to each character, even as they are shown to be despicable. Dame Judi Dench is most exemplary here, as she bosses her maid around while still showing so much contained emotion.

I also have to commend the writing of the screenplay, as all the clues are spread out in the dialogue and the characters’ actions. Nothing feels planted, even though most of the clues really were planted. The hints dropped fell naturally, and seemingly without thought, that it gives viewers a sense of euphoria when the mystery slowly unravels with callbacks to the clues.

And then there’s the cinematography. Murder on the Orient Express is beautiful. It feels like a film from a different era with the way each character was framed, with the way light is used and infused into certain scenes. It was awe-inspiring.

Don’t get me wrong, there were faults to be found too. It was comically funny that whenever the camera would pan through the train, all the characters seem to be looking out the window. And certain scenes (and lines) seemed to have been included just to make the film funnier. But they’re small nitpicks in comparison to what the film was able to accomplish: which was to present a straightforward murder mystery that didn’t need to twist every which way just to make sure the viewers doesn’t solve the case too quickly.

Murder on the Orient Express opens here, in the Philippines, today.

Movie: The Fault in our Stars

"The Fault in our Stars"

Hazel and Gus are two extraordinary teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them – and us – on an unforgettable journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that they met and fell in love at a cancer support group. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, based upon the number-one bestselling novel by John Green, explores the funny, thrilling and tragic business of being alive and in love.” (C) Fox

I understand that The Fault in our Stars is a love story. I do. But the thing that sets it apart is not that it’s a love story between teens with Cancer. What sets it apart is that their love story helps them understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. That life will go on for the people who love them. This is why The Imperial Affliction plot thread was important, because it was a representation of their fears. But the only thing we got out of this very important plot thread was lip service.

The film version of The Fault in our Stars focuses on the love story between Augustus Waters and, our protagonist, Hazel Grace Lancaster. And, if I’m going to be honest, it’s not really any different from other doomed love stories. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. But can’t be together because of ‘reasons.’ And yet they still get together anyway, making the most of the time they have together. And then one of them dies. The end.

Oh, come off it. That’s not a spoiler. They’re people with cancer. You know one of them is going to die.

Going back to my point: The Fault in our Stars distilled down to just romance isn’t special. Not for me. Because it was the relationships of this two star-crossed lovers to people other than each other that really made their love story special. Because they were learning from each other not to better themselves, but to be better people to those around them.

The source material deals with death. The book is brimming with death. Not explicitly, but we feel it with the way characters stop being mentioned. We feel it when one character loses his eyes. We feel it whenever Hazel Grace looks at her mother watching over her, caring for her, rushing to her if she so much as gasps out of air.

Yes, the film did take said scenes to the big screen version. But most of it was played to comic effect. The rest became merely words that needed to be said.

Unlike some people online, I don’t think John Green is infallible. Nor do I think that The Fault in our Stars is the be-all and end-all of books. But it was a book I recommended to people because of the fact that that it was a love story not just between boy and girl, but between the main characters and their family and friends too.

Because the book was bigger than just another love story.

Separate from the book, the movie was decent enough. But it’s not a good adaptation for me. I already had more, so I wasn’t going to expect less. I just hope that the film encourages people to read the book, for a better experience with The Fault in our Stars.

Movie: Pedro Calungsod

"Pedro Calungsod"

I really wanted to like this film. Not because I’m Catholic, I’m not, but because I want to see a non-mainstream story make a mark on a mainstream event like the Metro Manila Film Festival.

Unfortunately, while the sentiments behind this film is lovely (as is the cinematography), the story itself is not.

Pedro Calungsod: Batang Martir is a fictionalized retelling of the life that the newly canonized saint led back in the day. I say fictionalized because, if I remember correctly, no one really knows the entire story of Calungsod’s life. Just snippets. Enough to get him beatified almost a couple of decades ago.

The film follows Calungsod, portrayed by Rocco Nacino, as he joins a mission that would take him to an island off the coasts of the Visayan region, where Spanish priests wish to spread the good word of Christianity.

We are then treated to a series of events that take place in that island; events that supposedly happened in real life. Events that are really boring to watch, to be perfectly honest.

Conflicts break out suddenly and are never followed up on. The every day life shown in between conflicts are pretty peaceful, and feel really off because these people are supposed to be living in constant fear of a seige.

You never really understand the motivation of any of the characters shown–save for Christian Vasquez’s Spanish priest and Nacino’s Calungsod. Then again, they’re the central characters. They’re men of faith and nothing else; and they will defend their faith to their last breath.

And they do.

And then you wonder: what was the reason for this movie to be made? I mean, really? What was the point? Because I don’t get it. We see Calungsod die early on in the film. And then we see the journey they make towards the island. Their every day life. And then, just because one man is angry, Calungsod dies. And the film ends.

Really, that’s it.

The scenes are beautifully shot. Christian Vasquez makes it known that he can be a serious actor. Victor Basa looks pretty while he baptizes the natives (and the dead). Rocco Nacino looks weird with his wig. Alvin Aragon has a weird accent while speaking Bisaya.

And that’s pretty much what I took from the film. I don’t think that’s what the producers intended when they decided to produce this. It’s definitely not what I expected when I went in the theater.

I wish I could say Pedro Calungsod is a must-watch, but it just might turn people off non-mainstream Filipino films.

Television: Sherlock and the Empty Hearse

"The Empty Hearse"

Two years after the devastating effects of The Reichenbach Fall, Dr John Watson has got on with his life. New horizons, romance and a comforting domestic future beckon. But, with London under threat of a huge terrorist attack, Sherlock Holmes is about to rise from the grave with all the theatricality that comes so naturally to him. It’s what his best friend wanted more than anything, but for John Watson it might well be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’! If Sherlock thinks everything will be just as he left it though, he’s in for a very big surprise…

It looks like Steven Moffat saved all his smarts for Sherlock and left none for Doctor Who. But this isn’t about Doctor Who. This is about Sherlock Holmes, and BBC’s brilliant adaptation that takes the detective to the present time. And currently, the only show under Steven Moffat that has any semblance of brilliance.

Last time on Sherlock, we saw our titular detective fall to his death–only to attend his own funeral. In the first episode off the new series, we quickly find out how Sherlock survived the fall. Or do we? The way Sherlock tells the story is open to interpretation. He really might be telling the truth, but he could also be trying to pull a fast one. It wouldn’t be out of character for him. I don’t plan on dwelling on the mystery. I’m just happy to have three new episodes of Sherlock.

The first order of business is to bring Sherlock back to everyone’s lives. It takes a third of the episode to integrate him back into people’s lives, but I’m not complaining. Benedict Cumberbatch, the bastard, is perfect in every aspect. The ways he breaks the news to the people he cares about are Standard Sherlock, but he gives them each a personal touch depending on the relationship his character shares with whoever he’s talking to in the scene.

Amanda Abbington is a glorious addition to the cast. I was afraid that I wouldn’t like whoever they cast as Mary Morstan, since I’m already content with the existing cast from the first two series. I feared that introducing Watson’s wife might change the chemistry of the show. But I was wrong. Abbington’s first series of scenes doesn’t actually make much of an impact. I won’t share why. But once we do get to meet Mary and see how her relationship with Watson works, she immediately wins us over.

Well, she won me over at least.

Louise Brealey, our dear Molly Hooper, also steps up as she gets more screen time. Brealey gives life to Molly with such enthusiasm and seriousness, that I would actually like to see her help out more in Sherlock’s cases. She gives a new dynamic to the Holmes-Watson tandem, and I think the team behind BBC’s Sherlock would do well to explore it. If not in this new batch of episodes, then maybe the ones for Series 4.

But the best part of The Empty Hearse is this: it’s fun to watch. Series 2 of Sherlock reached too much into intellect. The writers sought to one up us every step of the way. The Empty Hearse brings something back that hasn’t been seen since the first series: fun. It’s not tiring to watch The Empty Hearse. Our minds do not get taxed. We get sharp wit and smart entertainment, without the show becoming overbearing… or too smug about its brilliance.

Movie: 10000 Hours

"10000 Hours"The movie deserved its best picture win, even though I enjoyed the Kimmy Dora prequel more.

10000 Hours tells the story of a senator who has, all his life, believed that justice will prevail. Until justice turns against him. Afraid of how the law will be twisted to keep him from revealing the truth about the administration’s corruption, the senator takes off–to search for the one thing that would unmask the corrupt, even if he ‘disappears’ permanently.

What I loved about the film was the pacing. You know how you don’t notice the time when you’re engrossed with what you’re watching? That happened. I lost track of time. I was hanging on to the events unfolding on screen. 10000 Hours was gripping, and I credit this to director Bb. Joyce Bernal.

Bernal is known for her romantic comedies and her dramatic soap operas, but after 10000 Hours, I think she should be known now for her versatility as a director. Although, I would credit her background on the dramatic for making most of the action scenes in the film necessary–

Of course, she’s not the only reason why the film worked.

I’m not a fan of Robin Padilla, but I must say that he is effective as the senator on the run. The character is flawed, and Padilla doesn’t pretend otherwise. Sure, this is nothing new for Padilla. But you have to appreciate an actor who knows not to overexert, or to overact.

Ketchup Eusebio manages to steal every single one of the handful of scenes he is in. Bela Padilla has shown growth as an actress, and Cholo Barretto gives as much as he takes in the scenes he shares with Mylene Dizon.

But the best part of the film is that the unnecessary scenes are minimal, and those that aren’t important are kept short.

Of course, no movie is perfect. And I would just like to point out how wishy-washy Bella Padilla’s character is. For someone who has built her life on journalism and exposing the truth, the reveal of her character’s origins come completely out of the blue–and a little out of character.

But aside from that one tiny complaint, I applaud the existence of 10000 Hours. I don’t usually enjoy watching action films, so this is a pleasant and welcome surprise.