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Ready Player One Delivers Pulpy, Frantic Fun

Reviews of "Ready Player One" and "Game Over, Man!," plus local movie news and notes.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

To state the obvious: The best Steven Spielberg movies are fun.

There are good Spielberg movies that are no fun at all, of course, but the movies that make him ... well, him, are enchanting, wondrous fun. “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Jaws.” Big pulpy fun full of thrills and perfect set pieces.

“Ready Player One,” the novel by Ernest Cline, is also fun.

Few would describe it as a significant work of literature (and its love affair with cultural name-checks has riled some more curmudgeonly commentators), but it is an incredibly fun work of fiction. The book is Robert Louis Stevenson for the 21st century, an upgrade of rollicking adventure tales for the modern world.

So: the film version of “Ready Player One,” directed by Spielberg and adapted by Cline (with Zak Penn), is successfully and thoroughly fun.

For the uninitiated: In the near future, resources are scant and most of the population ekes out an existence in dangerous, dirty urban trailer parks. No matter to many of them, though, as most waking hours are spent inside the OASIS, a virtual-reality simulation thousands of planets wide; this isn’t just where people go for leisure, but where they learn, do business, fall in love and (primarily) engage in every form of wish-fulfillment imaginable.

That includes a mad dash for fortune and glory in the form of a high-stakes easter egg hunt coded into the OASIS by its founder, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). After his death, Halliday sent the service’s millions of users searching for a series of keys that would lead to a literal easter egg — which would grant the winner Halliday’s full fortune and total control of the OASIS.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), as his alter-ego Parzival, and his love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) are dedicated egg hunters, drawing the ire of an evil corporation under the leadership of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who would very much like to take control of the OASIS and monetize it to death.

A warning for devotees of the book: the big-screen “Ready Player One” couldn’t be more different from the print version, retaining little but the premise, themes and characters from the novel. To be sure, this was a matter of necessity; most of what transpires in the written form consists of thinking, exploring and playing video games, none of which is inherently cinematic. Everything that does transpire on the big screen is very much in line with the spirit of the novel, but the circumstances — and, indeed, the references — are all different.

That’s no knock; it’s just best to prepare for the distinction if you’re familiar with the source material.

“Ready Player One” is a rollicking adventure in the style of Spielberg’s best work, inching closer to those blockbusters of the 20th century than the director has in years. It’s not vintage Spielberg, no, but it is a particularly convincing imitation of those pictures. The cast is good; the effects are better. Like the novel, it’s not exactly high art — there are some significant flaws, and plenty of pandering — but you’ll be hard pressed to find a better time at the cinema.

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What’s the polar opposite of fun? It’s not boredom, really; it’s more the state of being fully engaged by something completely unpleasant. That is a very fine description of “Game Over, Man!,” the new comedy released today on Netflix. (Normally, I’d include a link to a trailer here, but ... just no.) Created by and starring the team from the sitcom “Workaholics” — Adam Devine, Blake Anderson and Anders Holm (who wrote the script) — “Game Over, Man!” is a limp “Die Hard” parody absolutely obsessed with extreme gore, C-list celebrity cameos and the male organ. The leads play a trio of stoner hotel staffers with entrepreneurial ambitions; they pitch their idea to a visiting mogul, but then everyone’s taken hostage. It’s aggressively unfunny, sure, but that in and of itself is common enough; what’s exceptional about “Game Over, Man!’ is how willfully offensive it is. While many films are accidentally problematic, this one really leans in to how little it thinks of any number of demographics. Netflix has been raising its profile as a source of original narrative features recently, a trend which will hopefully mean that movies as bad as “Game Over, Man!” will not get a green light in the future.

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The Montage: Tickets are now on sale for the 2018 JFilm Festival, which will be held from April 26 through May 6 at South Side Works Cinema. The 20 films on the schedule are all making their Pittsburgh premiere, including documentaries “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” and “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel,” about the country’s embrace of baseball. The festival also includes the world premiere of Pittsburgh-based filmmaker David Bernabo’s “In a Dark Wood.” Individual tickets and festival passes are available ... Row House Cinema explores action cinema in black film this week, showing “Bad Boys,” “Cleopatra Jones,” “The Brother From Another Planet,” “The Harder they Come” and “Space is the Place” as part of Black Action Heroes on Film Week ... “Mustang,” a French-Turkish Oscar nominee from 2016, will this week be revived at Regent Square Theater as part of Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Women’s History Month programming.


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