Friday, 20 April 2018

I Feel Pretty

(M) ★★

Director: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein.

Cast: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Rory Scovel, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps, Tom Hopper, Lauren Hutton.

"I ... will eat ... your ... soul!"
This feels like it could have been the uplifting "you go girl" movie of the moment; a tale of a "plus-sized" woman making a wish and getting what she wants - which is to "feel pretty". It's like an updated gender-flipped Big combined with a weird inversion of What Women Want. What Big Women Want perhaps? (Sorry, that's terrible, it won't happen again).

But if you find that confusing, then wait til you try to get your head around the message I Feel Pretty is sending out. I'm not a woman - and therefore I'm not the target audience - but I reckon most women would be perplexed by what's on display here.

Schumer stars as Renee, an ordinary woman with self-esteem issues who finds her life transformed when she suffers a head injury during fitness class. The concussion leaves her seeing herself differently - her physical appearance hasn't changed at all, but suddenly the face looking back at her from the mirror is the gorgeous goddess she had always dreamed of becoming.


You can get what writers-directors Kohn and Silverstein are trying to do. They're trying to make a movie about positive body image while getting across the idea that all you need is a bit of confidence and self-belief. These are very worthy ambitions for a film.

Sadly, these ambitions are not achieved because I Feel Pretty's script and delivery is constantly bodyshaming its main character (and a couple of side characters), in a sense belittling its target audience. It's repeatedly asking us to laugh at the misguided notion that Schumer's Renee isn't pretty despite the fact she feels pretty. In reality - and I'm not even going out on a limb with this one - Schumer is an attractive woman, but that's not even the point. Unless I'm reading this completely wrong, the central premise here is supposed to be that Renee is unattractive and we should be laughing at her for not realising she's unattractive.

The movie's obviously pushing a message about being confident and beautiful in your own body, but it continually undermines that message. Case in point is a bikini contest the overconfident Renee enters, competing alongside a lot of women who are conventionally more beautiful than her (at least that's the gag they're going for). We're encouraged to laugh at a woman flaunting her body because ... I'm not sure why. Because she doesn't conform with some kind of idea of beauty? Why are we being asked to laugh here?

Add onto this the film's climax, in which Schumer's character espouses the principle of being comfortable in your own skin, and embracing who you are, in between which she implores women to buy and wear her company's make-up, because, hey, a woman's gotta make a living. Or is it because you can only be comfortable in your skin to a point, and then you need make-up? Obviously there's a very complex discussion out there about the role of make-up, standards of beauty, and the difference between female and male expectations, but this weird mish-mash of commercial and societal ideals of how a woman should look mixed with a "be true unto thineself" spiritual mantra makes for a confusing mess. 

As a result, the film feels like its walking a fine line the whole time - important message about self belief here, laugh at the overconfident ugly-duckling-who-thinks-she's-a-swan there. And bam, the film isn't funny. It's hard to laugh when there's a message about confidence and being beautiful in your own body, while at the same time the film's poking fun at how its lead character looks and laughing at her overconfidence. What laughs there are come between long stretches of fidgety uneasiness.

It's a shame because Schumer is giving it her all. She's as funny as is possible in the situation. Williams is also great as the make-up empire heiress, who is as equally self-conscious as Renee but for different reasons. There is a bit of a feeling Williams wandered on to the set from a much better farce film being made next door. Scovel is also great, but largely the rest of the cast disappear into Schumer's shadow when they should be clamouring to chew the scenery.

I realise I'm not the target audience for this, and I realise there are some really complex issues and societal forces at play here, but I Feel Pretty doesn't nail many of them. And when they do hit a target, something happens to undercut the message, often within a matter of seconds.


Even leaving its big ideas to the side, the script has to work really hard to keep its high concept going until Renee's climactic revelation. By that point, things are getting pretty contrived.

There are moments where it feels like this could work, but by the end the overwhelming sensation is one of confusion. Maybe that says more about being a woman today than a successfully delivered message does.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

GIG REVIEW: Primus & The Dean Ween Group - The Palais, Melbourne, April 15, 2018

Primus & The Dean Ween Group
The Palais, Melbourne
April 15, 2018



Few bands exemplify what was great about the music industry in the '90s quite like Primus.

There is no other era in music in which this San Francisco trio could have been as successful as they have been. They're a bass-fronted band that blended rock, metal, funk, psych, country and jazz, often in bizarre ways. They sound like no other band, before or since. They played songs, delivered in Les Claypool's idiosyncratic nasal twang, about the joys of fishing, hungry and horny cats, and a woman with a pet beaver. Nothing about that screams "radio-friendly unit shifter".

But thanks to the likes of Nirvana, who stood on the shoulders of giants and helped kick down the previously heavily fortified wall between the "mainstream" and "alternative music", bands such as Primus were able to get swept up in the alt-rock gold rush that followed. They signed to a major label and had top 10 albums in the US. They played on popular TV shows and got significant airplay. They toured the world and played high up the bill of huge festivals. No other era of music would have allowed a band as wonderfully eccentric as Primus to flourish like they did. No other era would have afforded them the level of fame they received. Thank the gods for the '90s.


No matter how you describe Primus' music - "psychedelic polka", "funk-metal", "thrash-funk", "experimental rock", "a post-punk Rush" - it's most definitely not for all tastes. Of all the acts to emerge from the '90s and make hay in the alternative heyday, Primus are the least likely lads. They are the great musical underdogs - they were the oddest of the odd who arrived at a remarkable time in musical history where being odd was not only an asset, but it was extremely desirable.

One of the only other bands that could compete with Primus in the weirdness stakes was Ween. So having The Dean Wean Group opening for Claypool and co at The Palais on a rainy Sunday night was perfection - a celebration of peak '90s strangeness that brought a bunch nostalgic Gen-Xers (90 per cent male who most likely smoked weed in high school) out in force.

Deaner, joined by two of his Ween offsiders and an extra guitarist, opened with This Heart Of Palm from his new album rock2, before blasting through one of Ween's brownest latter-period cuts My Own Bare Hands. The one-two punch of these two songs summed up what was in store - lots of lengthy guitar jams (Waste Station 9, The Ritz Carlton) and a bit of Ween-style irreverence (Fingerbangin'). The set culminated in Claypool himself joining the band on stage for a couple of Ween classics in The Mollusk (which found Deaner in surprisingly good voice) and The Rift. All in all it was an enjoyable set of jam rock, better summarised in this piece by Double J's Dan Condon (which makes me somewhat sad because of its opening line).

Deaner, Dave Dreiwitz and Claypool performing The Rift to close The Dean Ween Group's set.

And then it was into the main feast, which opened with Larry "Ler" LaLonde's guitar-as-factory-whistle call to kick off Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers.

"I didn't realise we were going to be playing to a seated audience," Claypool said. "If I'd known that I wouldn't have written such a rockin' setlist." It was a little hard to believe given Primus played this very venue back in 2011 but it had the desired effect and we were all on our feet.

The set was indeed rocking, comprising almost every pre-Brown Album single. It made for a hit-heavy and enjoyable cross-section of their career - three songs from Pork Soda, Sailing The Seas Of Cheese, and Tales From The Punchbowl, as well as a couple from Frizzle Fry. Wynona's Big Brown Beaver was a highlight, as was the war-themed medley of Too Many Puppies and Sgt Baker.

Green Naugahyde cut Moron TV and the new album's The Trek were played for the only time on the tour. We were also treated to new album tracks The Seven and The Storm, which sat nicely in the setlist, being well suited to the long spacey jams their live sets are renowned for.

The visuals were the best of any Primus tour to date, utilising five big screens to show snippets of film clips or images from the kids' book The Rainbow Gnomes which their new album The Desaturating Seven is based on. The only downside was the band were largely kept in darkness for the show - good luck to anyone trying to figure out how Ler or Les do what they do.

While it would have been nice to hear a lot more of Claypool's vocals and a tad more bass definition in the mix, the show was deeply satisfying, all the more so for the appearance of Dean Ween to help jam out the encore Southbound Pachyderm.

Deaner and Les jam out a lengthy version of Southbound Pachyderm.

The hit-heavy set may have had some fans lamenting the lack of surprises - Welcome To The World was probably the deepest cut in the setlist - but that was the set we got in 2011 as a Soundwave sideshow. The 2018 show felt like the big reward for a seven-year wait. And it's a pretty safe bet a good proportion of Sunday night's crowd were there in 2011. Primus fans are fans for life. I'm sure most of us will be back to do it all again in a few years time (fingers crossed).

A final thought: it would be great if Primus finally started playing some stuff from Antipop, but we can't have it all now, can we?



Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Meyerowitz Stories

(MA15+) ★★★★

Director: Noah Baumbach.

Cast: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Grace Van Patten, Candice Bergen, Rebecca Miller, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver.

"The Cable Guy? Well, at least I didn't make The Ridiculous Six."
This may be stating the obvious, but Netflix is making us change the preconceptions we have about movies.

In the past, when a film didn't get a cinema release, it was presumed the film wasn't good enough. It would take the ill-fated straight-to-DVD route and end up filling the final spots on a 10-for-$10 video store mid-week special.

So there's a tendency for those of us old enough to remember video stores to expect a Netflix-made movie - ie. one that hasn't had a cinema release - to be a pile of crap. Even the Cannes Film Festival got on its high horse about the issue, banning films that haven't been screened in a French cinema from competing for the Palme d'Or, which is effectively a ban on films made for streaming services.

This ban came about because of two films - Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories - which were in competition for Cannes' top gong until they came up against a French law that mandates three years between cinema release and appearance on a streaming service (for reasons known only to the French).

This brings us to The Meyerowitz Stories, which is a great film regardless of the size of the screen it premiered on. While this modern notion isn't good enough for the folks at Cannes, it should be enough for the rest of us to help erase the preconceptions that a lack of cinema release denotes a lack of quality.

Baumbach's latest is a dissection of an upper-middle class New York family headed by almost-famous sculptor Harold (Hoffman). The return of his recently separated son Danny (Sandler) to the family home sparks a reappraisal of their relationship, particularly in regard to how Danny's half-brother Matthew (Stiller) always appeared to be the favoured son.

Floating around the edges are Danny's also ignored sister Jean (Marvel), Danny's college-bound daughter Eliza (Van Patten), and Harold's latest wife Maureen (Thompson), all of whom have their own dysfunctions.


Baumbach's script is a veritable shrink's couch worth of neuroses and issues, most of which stem from something a parent did or didn't do. The mistakes of Harold's past and his inadequacies as an artist and a patriarch create a spiral of tensions and problems that drive a story that wouldn't be out of place in a Woody Allen film.

While its narrative is a smidge too long - there's a repeated feeling of imminent endings during the final half hour - it's continually engrossing, and the characters, for all their foibles and idiocies, are worth watching. Only Jean is short-changed. Marvel does a great job as the most dour and ignored of the Meyerowitz clan, but her character is also largely ignored by the script. When her big moment finally comes, it's a clunky reveal that quickly shifts focus back on to Danny and Matthew.

The pairing of Stiller and Sandler as the at-odds step-brothers is an inspired piece of casting. Both are great when they get given strong dramatic roles, and both have rarely been better. Stiller in particular shows a depth unsighted since The Royal Tenenbaums, and it may be damning his performance with faint praise, but this is the best turn of his career.

As for Sandler, this is exactly the kind of film that makes you hate the majority of his output all the more. He's a great dramedy actor, as seen in Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, and Funny People, yet we spends the bulk of his time making shit like Grown Ups, The Ridiculous Six, Pixels, The Do-Over, Just Go With It, etc etc. If he would just stick to the straighter films, the world of movies would be a much better place.

The rarely disappointing Hoffman doesn't disappoint as the centre of the film's emotional turmoil. He's a jerk but Hoffman gives the role enough humanity to ensure we can never completely hate Harold Meyerowitz.

Baumbach conjures up a nice level of humour that's occasionally dark but always on the money. His trick of cutting scenes mid-sentence for laughs is funny although feels a little overplayed by the end, and his eye for character is spot-on. Overall its a strong and oddly enjoyable film, thanks in no small part to its top-shelf cast and Baumbach's quality script.

If this is the type of film we can expect from Netflix in the future, then Cannes might want to rethink their rules.



Thursday, 12 April 2018

Rampage

(M) ★★★

Director: Brad Peyton.

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Liles, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacy, P. J. Byrne, Joe Manganiello.

Kong's bleach job was a hit.
Video game adaptations, as a rule, suck.

Sure, some of those movies have their defenders, but check out this Rotten Tomatoes list. Saved you a click - not a single film above 50 per cent positive reviews. That means none of those movies (and there's almost 50 on the list) has been better than "so-so".

It's somewhat hilarious that all of these previous computer game movies, which have tried to bring to life the elaborate stories and characters from the console adventures, have been surpassed by Rampage, a film based on a largely plotless arcade game from the '80s.

By most measures, Rampage is certainly not a great film, but when measured against its own ambitions and how it delivers on them, then it totally earns a "good" rating (AKA three stars). It's big dumb fun - nothing more, nothing less. But what else do you expect from a film based on a video game about three giant mutated animals destroying a city?

The plot, for what it's worth, centres on primatologist and ex-soldier Davis Okoye (Johnson) and his friend George, who just happens to be an albino silverback gorilla (a mo-capped Liles).

When George is infected by a weaponised DNA mutation from space (it makes sense in the context of the opening act, trust me) he joins a couple of other similarly altered beasts on a destructive rampage. But who can stop them before they tear Chicago to the ground?


The film's high concept isn't going to win any awards, but almost everything the movie does works within the scope of its world and what it's trying to do. It rarely takes itself too seriously, it relishes its occasional bad-ass one-liners, and it features three massive super-animals smashing a city (and each other). And it has The Rock.

Johnson's ability to elevate anything he's in is supremely under-rated. Here he adds welcome depth to his character with a performance that is surprisingly well-rounded and keeps the film from disappearing into a Sharknado of silliness. Sure, he flies helicopters and straps on a grenade launcher, but he also gives a wonderfully sensitive performance - the kind that makes you wonder why the hell he's not getting offered straight-up dramatic roles. I'm going to go out on a limb and say one day he's going to win some acting awards that don't have "MTV" or "Kid's Choice" in the title. Seriously - Johnson has chops, and if not for his position as the heart and soul of Rampage, this would be a far lesser film. Can someone please cast him in something other than a comedy or actioner? Thank you.

The subgenre of giant monster (kaiju) movies runs the gamut from the schlocky pulp of Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus (2010), King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) and Pacific Rim (2013) to the allegorical, thematic and technical excellence of Gojira (1954), Godzilla (2014), King Kong (1933) and Cloverfield (2008). Rampage certainly hews toward the former, but does so with a certain level of decency. Yes, it's inane and silly, but it's not a decisively bad film by any technical measure.

Sure, it's far from perfect. It could do with better human villains - Åkerman is one-dimensional and Lacy's just annoying - and its ending flat-out ignores a huge number of deaths caused by George. Also there are a few creaky script moments. particularly those that have to be delivered by Harris or that try to portray Johnson as some kind of anti-social loner.

But in the plus column is Morgan's "cowboy" government agent, who is the right blend of good/bad guy, as well as Johnson's performance and the sheer "I've never seen that before" spectacle of its giant beasties battling each other and Chicago. The first two acts are also surprisingly solid, as is Byrne's bit role (it would have been good to see more of him, although it makes sense not to, so well played scriptwriters).

Rampage is not great by any of stretch of the imagination, but it's also not terrible. It's simply good at exactly what it sets out to be good at, and that is to unleash three giant mutated animals (and The Rock) on the city of Chicago. And what could be wrong with that?

***

PS. On a side note, this raises the question of "why is this video game adaptation better than all those other video game adaptations that failed?". The answer appears to lie in two key factors: 1) the high concept or knowing why the game worked, and 2) being a good film instead of being beholden to a good game.

So in the case of Rampage, the high concept was simply "giant animals smash city". That was the appeal of the game, so it's the appeal of the movie. Nothing more, nothing less.

On the second point, the game's blissful idiocy (certainly in the incarnation I played as a kid) works in the film's favour because there is no mythology to adhere to or slavish fan-base to appeal to (probably). It's blissfully unencumbered - the film can focus on being an enjoyable version of "giant animals smash city" and not have to worry about any other crap, which seems to be the crap that doesn't always transfer over to a filmic platform and merely serves as useless fan service.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

A Quiet Place

(M) ★★★★★

Director: John Krasinski.

Cast: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe.

Somewhere, out among the corn, M Night Shyamalan was closing in on his prey.

Here it is - the most innovative horror film since The Blair Witch Project.

It's high concept is delivered with minimal fuss and maximum impact, making this the unbeatable frontrunner for scary movie of the year.

Director Krasinski stars alongside real-life wife Blunt as a husband and wife trying to keep their family alive in a post-apocalyptic world. In this sparsely populated place, the big bad is a bunch of blind aliens that hunt by sound - make a noise and you're dead.


It's a deliriously simple set-up, but it's a great one. Better yet, it's expertly delivered by Krasinski and his cast and crew.

The script (by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and Krasinski) makes the most of its silent world and delivers terror from unlikely sources, such as a kid's toy in the unforgettable opening scene. It manages to create interesting characters despite the lack of spoken dialogue, aided in no small amount by its four stars. Blunt in particular is a stand-out as the stoic mother trying to hold herself and her family together against a world that wants to quite literally tear them apart.

The audio is the key here, and full marks go to Erik Aadahl and his team for the job they've done. With very little audible dialogue in the film, they use every colour in their sonic palette to help paint a tense picture for your ears. Ditto for Marco Beltrami's score, which has to do a lot of heavy lifting and works a treat. It doesn't set the world on fire with originality - it's filled with the usual high-pitch dissonance and low semi-tone growls - but you won't consciously notice it a lot of the time, even when it's the only thing you can hear. Being present and not standing out is one of the best things you could ask for in the situation.

Krasinski doesn't try to do anything too flashy with his direction - he just gets out of the way of his story and cast and lets it all do its thing. His choices are smart choices, such as spending much of his comparatively low budget (US$17m) on his monsters, which is money well spent.

There are some questions you'll have about certain plot elements, including a couple of key things at the end, but these are largely irrelevant or potentially answerable. What really matters is that in the heat of the moment, A Quiet Place is edge-of-your-seat, heart-in-your-mouth kind of stuff.

While it lacks the thematic depth of last year's Get Out, it shares the distinction of being a horror film we will be talking about for years to come.



Wednesday, 4 April 2018

GIG REVIEW: Gomez - 170 Russell, Melbourne, April 1, 2018

Gomez
170 Russell, Melbourne
April 1, 2018



"Anyone else feel like they're 19 again?" quipped Tom Gray after a particularly joyous singalong of Gomez's Get Myself Arrested, one of the breakthrough singles on their award-winning debut album.

It was a fitting question that summed up the night for many. After all, recapturing lost youth and the transportational nature of nostalgia were key reasons for the sell-out show at 170 Russell (a second show was added for Monday night due to popular demand). We were there to celebrate 20 years since that first album - Bring It On - came into the world, introducing us to this multi-voiced five-piece from Southport, UK.

That album was played in full - from slow groove opener Get Miles to the "weird" (Gray's word, not mine) psych closer Rie's Wagon (closing soundscape snippet The Comeback was omitted but that's just a sample of Get Miles anyway). There were the hits - 78 Stone Wobble, Get Myself Arrested, Whippin' Piccadilly - but after living with the album for 20 years, even the deep cuts sound like hits now.

Hearing it all live, in order, showcased both the album's diversity and its unity - the seemingly disparate aspects that have made Gomez such an exciting prospect for two decades. Get Miles and its follower Whippin' Piccadilly ("We don't usually play that one second," chuckled Gray) sound like two different bands, and there is also considerable distance between the neo-blues of 78 Stone Wobble and the ska-skip of Get Myself Arrested. Yet the through-lines become clear - those delicious harmonies, Ian Ball's preference for his tremelo pedal, Ben Ottewell's slide guitar flourishes, and the dabblings of Americana throughout. And then there's Ottewell's voice - a rich bluesy bark that adds a distinct flavour to everything he sings in, which is pretty much everything on this album.


It's the combination of the three voices - Ottewell, Ball and Gray - that has always been the drawcard with Gomez. It gave the albums that aforementioned diversity, and when all three sing together, bam, there's the aforementioned unity. Having seen them live in 2009 opening for The Black Keys and feeling like the harmonies were off a bit, Sunday's show was a validation.

There's also the songwriting of course. Hearing Bubblegum Years (a live rarity) in concert was a treat, as was Gray's kooky Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone. But every song on Bring It On has a cool hook in it, or a sweet chord change, or just something about it that makes your ears prick up and take notice. Seeing Bring It On performed in its entirety was a reminder of what a strong album it is from go to whoa.

Capping it all off was the rest of the setlist, which featured five songs from album #2 (Liquid Skin) and Shot Shot (the opening single from In Our Gun). While We Haven't Turned Around was a notable omission, this was very much a setlist geared towards the ground-level fans. The second night was similarly focused on the early years, throwing in rarities collection Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline cut Bring Your Lovin' Back Here and third album highlight Ruff Stuff. Nothing post-2002 - that was the rule.

Here's hoping we get the Liquid Skin 20th anniversary tour next year.

You can sign up and watch the concert in full here.


Thursday, 29 March 2018

Ready Player One

(M) ★★★½

Director: Steven Spielberg.

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Simon Pegg, Hannah John-Kamen.

Gandalf had stumbled onto the set of the new Final Fantasy movie by mistake.
Is it stating the obvious to say Spielberg is the greatest director of all time? Or is that too safe of a bet? Not "hot take" enough for ya?

Anyway, what's continually impressive about his career is his ability to switch gears. After the excellent Cold War spy drama Bridge Of Spies, he did a decent job on the family-friendly flick The BFG, before diving into this epic-scale sci-fi adventure. Oh and in the middle of the massive post-production period of Ready Player One, he made and released the tidy little journo-thriller The Post.

It's all evidence of Spielberg's understanding of what makes films tick. No matter the genre, his ability to give audiences what they crave (whether they know it or not) is what makes him the best in the biz. Understanding how a plot should roll, where the beats need to be, how to make you cheer and boo - it's all there in everything he does. Looking back, he hasn't made a bad film since Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, and from all accounts a fair amount of the blame for that can be levelled at his old mate George Lucas. Yes, not every film has been pure top shelf, but he rarely serves up anything crap.

So where does this one sit in his career? The definitive answer will come when The Incredible Suit slots it into his excellent Spielberg ranking list (although he didn't rate The BFG so nobody's perfect), but for now Ready Player One is in the pile of shameless entertainers Spielberg wheels out from time to time. It's part-The Adventures Of Tintin, part-Minority Report, and part-The Goonies (which he produced).

Based somewhat loosely on Ernest Cline's 2011 novel, Ready Player One is set in a future where the majority of people spend their time in The Oasis, a massive online gaming experience where you can do whatever you want and be whoever you want.

In the wake of the death of The Oasis' creator James Halliday (Rylance), everyone is hunting for the Easter Egg he left behind in the digital realm - a MacGuffin that gives its finder ownership of the entire Oasis. This bequeathment pits lowly teens like Wade Watts AKA Parzival (Sheridan) up against evil corporations such as IOI, which is owned by the hissable Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn).


Mixing a CGI-enhanced real world with a fully motion-captured digital one, this is Spielberg's most visually ambitious film since Tintin. Both planes of existence are beautifully realised, although maybe a stronger palette difference would have been better.

But when it's firing on all cylinders, it's hard to top. An early car race (once the clunky world-set-up exposition is out of the way) is full on and a bit mind-blowing, as is the scale of the final battle. The pace in this is like that of a novice in a car racing game - foot to the floor, all the time.

Where it falls down is in its characters. The most fascinating creation is Halliday. Rylance (quickly becoming Spielberg's muse - this is film #3 with him) gives a fleeting but intriguing performance means Halliday looms over the film in a sadly beautiful way. His spectral presence helps make the MacGuffins less MacGuffiny and the clues less computer gamey, as they hint at increasingly interesting character depths.

The next most interesting role is Mendelsohn's Sorrento, who is surprisingly well-rounded for a villain, followed by the hero Parzival. Sheridan does a good job in the lead, but his character feels underwritten. We know enough to care, and his desires and actions drag us along, but he's nowhere to be seen on the leaderboard of great Spielberg characters.

Faring far worse is Cooke as Artemis (it's spelt Art3mis but I'm having no part of that shit). Artemis is an incredibly important player in the story but done a disservice by the script. She's headstrong and smart, which is great, but the whole "love interest" side of things slips through too easily and is undercooked, bringing her character down to a strangely bland level. Equally shortchanged are the rest of Parzival's mates (played by Waithe, Zhao and Morisaki), who turn up when it's important for the plot and are entirely one-dimensional. TJ Miller's B-villain I-Rok is also a little underdone, but a very welcome addition as comic relief.

The plot feels a little clunky in places, and devolves into a weirdly kidsy ending, which is pretty odd for a film that references Alien in a pretty full on way and bases a whole sequence on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. But something it does incredibly well is manage to be, for all intents and purposes, a film based on a (admittedly non-existent) video game. With its various levels, puzzles and plot points that revolve around gameplay mechanics, Ready Player One shows it is theoretically possible (in a very meta kind of way) to make a computer game adaptation that doesn't suck.

I haven't read the book, but after reading a plot summary it seems like the film may have turned shit into sherbet. One hangover from the book that is inescapable however, and quite frankly odd, is the movie's fixation on the '80s. It's a bit cute for those of a certain age who might be prone to pop-culture fanaticism, and it is somewhat understandable - it stems from Halliday having grown-up in the '80s - but it's really weird for all these teens in 2045 to be running around with a love of an era six decades ago. It would be akin to adolescents in 2018 being obsessed with late '50s culture, listening to Bill Haley and Buddy Holly while greasing up their hair and idolising James Dean. Or kids in the '80s dressing up as flappers and listening to '20s jazz.

Peculiarities aside, Ready Player One is a burst of fun which is breathlessly paced and visually stunning. It never lets up and is thoroughly gripping, especially if you are Gen X or Gen Y and were known to game in your youth. It's unlikely to find its way in to a Spielberg top 10, but nonetheless it's another crowdpleaser from the master.