READY PLAYER ONE (Steven Spielberg, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Ready Player One:

1. During the olden days, my only goal in life was to be the top scorer of our family in a game of Pac-Man. I would wake up in the middle of the night while everyone slept (especially my mom who would get really cranky with the additional electricity consumption) and silently crouch over this black plastic Atari controller for hours on end while gobbling pellets and running away from ghosts named Pinky and Blinky.

Whenever we had guests or relatives come over for lunch or dinner, I would be in front of the TV screen and showing off (a better term would be pakitang-gilas) my agility and dexterity through a video game. “Yan lang ang ginagawa niyan buong araw”, my dad would proudly say while I continued to wow the crowd with the completion of every level. Weeks later, my brother would master the newest Missile Command game and that signalled the end of my Pac-Man glory days.

2. I never really considered myself as a certified gamer even if I had played a lot of games across different platforms (from the ancient Nintendo Family Computer to the current PlayStation 4). I couldn’t even learn the basic controls in Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat and my usual battle consisted of pushing every button while hoping for a special attack. Still, my insides would tingle at the mere mention of Space Invaders, Super Mario Bros., Civilization, or Final Fantasy. It was this same geeky pride plus the astounding power of nostalgia that made me enjoy this film which seemed to coast on an abundance of pop culture references (easter eggs galore!). I loudly squealed in my seat when a chocobo appeared during the ultimate battle sequence.

3. Spielberg films had always been criticized for their overt sentimentality and it was surprisingly lacking in this one. I expected myself to turn into a puddle of emotions when Wade/Parzival (a terribly bland Tye Sheridan) unlocked the third puzzle, but it just didn’t feel completely magical (I probably cried more when Charlie discovered that he won the final Golden Ticket for the Chocolate Factory). Maybe it was because the movie was already running on for far too long or that it was trying to generate last minute faux excitement, but my brain was just screaming “Just stick that freakin’ key in that effin’ hole, dammit!”.

4. I really liked how the coolest sequence in the movie was a nod to the huge disappointment of my all-time favorite author on the adaptation of one of his finest novels. The twins, Room 237 with the naked old lady, the river of blood from the elevator, and the iconic axe hacking itself on the bathroom door, stuff of a true classic. I never fully understood Stephen King’s disdain for The Shining film considering that the thought of Danny repeatedly croaking the word “Redrum” while holding a giant knife still freaked me to this day.

5. Has anyone read the book (or is a real-life Sheldon Cooper)? Kindly enlighten me on the following burning questions:

• Who was funding The Oasis? I knew James Halliday (a great Mark Rylance) was a trillionaire, but did he really have that much money to keep a game running for more than five years after his death? I was just curious because when Parzival retrieved the first key, he won 100,000 virtual coins that he used to purchase a body suit in the real world.

• Why would such a powerful man like Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) not even bother to memorize his password? It was only B055man69 and not something tough like B0$$m4n_Ph0wz_aQuoH69. Did he have a reason for scribbling down such a confidential information on a piece of paper and keeping it on his armrest other than being a MacGuffin?

• Who was Gundam and was he really that popular? (Fanboys, please don’t kill me. I seriously had no clue.)

6. More than the shoulder pads, leotards, and heavy perms, the 80’s would best be remembered because of its glorious songs, no? Nothing would beat humming along to a good old Hall & Oates song on your best days. (I would always associate Blondie’s One Way or Another with Mean Girls, though. Yup, Trang Pak made out with Coach Carr.)

7. Wouldn’t it be fun if their online personas/avatars were completely far off from their real identities? When Aech (Lena Waithe) mentioned that the real Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) could actually be an overweight old man, I really wished this were true. Wasn’t it Wade himself who said that people stayed in The Oasis because of all the things that they could be? Why didn’t we get a lot more of these people playing out their online fantasies? It could have saved us from the icky (and forced) love story as well. That part was even more horrific than the thought of virtual reality putting an end to human connections. Besides, shouldn’t reality be real?

Rating: ★★★☆☆

ARRIVAL (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Arrival:

1. Whenever I watch these alien invasion films, I always find comfort in the fact that these creatures very rarely attacked our country. In this one, they sent twelve pods in twelve different territories and not even one bothered to settle in (or anywhere near) the Philippines.

They must have heard of the MMDA’s revised number coding scheme and decided that our nation did not have the brains to aid in world peace. Or maybe they found out about our aggressive and unforgiving war on drugs and it scared them because let’s face it, symbol-spewing squids floating in thick clouds of smoke sounded highly (stress on high) suspicious to me.

2. “If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?” Thank you for that wonderful question. I honestly had not given this much thought and if I tried to answer it now I would probably end up babbling even worse than Janina San Miguel (homaygahd!). What I really liked about it though was that it opened this discussion about free will vs destiny.

Regardless if one could turn back time or see the future, it signified that everything in our lives was a result of our choices. Nobody was predetermined to be single and lonely, it was ultimately your choice bes.

3. My brain would often short-circuit in these high-concept sci-fi movies (hello Interstellar!) so a Denis Villeneuve high-concept sci-fi movie was just overkill. I would not even pretend that I fully understood Enemy, but I really liked how it challenged every fiber of my being.

This one was a bit more accessible, with clues sprinkled very much like Easter eggs and scenes that you could easily recall and make you go “Ahhhhh” hours after watching. My favorite was the constant reference to the name Hannah (a palindrome) and how it tied up with the overall theme (and the lead character not believing in beginnings and endings).

4. Much had been said about the Oscar crime committed against Amy Adams (as cunning linguist Dr. Louise Banks), but at least she could sleep soundly at night knowing that she delivered the performance of her life. Every movement, every sigh, every tear, all played to absolute perfection.

5. Could someone explain why a caged bird was with them inside the pod? I initially thought it was used to determine if humans could breathe there, but then they never really took off their hazmat suits until Louise defied orders. Paging Sheldon Cooper!

6. Similar to the recent Miss Universe question and answer debacle, this clearly proved that proper communication and translation were critical in every situation. It could mean the difference between “offer weapon” and “use weapon”. And as one character stated, “Language would be the first weapon drawn in conflict”.

But it really wasn’t about being able to speak a particular language, but being able to influence and inspire other people. Oh, wait…homaygahd!

7. “I’ve had my head tilted up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me most? It wasn’t meeting them. It was meeting you.” So what would be the heptapod symbol for kilig?

Rating: ★★★★★

HIDDEN FIGURES (Theodore Melfi, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Hidden Figures:

1. Jimmy Kimmel in the recent Oscars telecast said it best when he introduced the amazing trio of actresses in this film as Algebra’s Angels.

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae portrayed Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson respectively, the real-life brains behind NASA’s space exploration program in the early ’60s. These women’s admirable display of courage and resiliency (and basically kicked ass!) amidst the blatant racial and gender discrimination in Virginia during that time was a story that needed to be told (“Every time we have a chance to move ahead, they move the finish line”).

As expected, I cried my heart out throughout the movie’s entirety. Surprisingly, none of it was because of the mathematical equations (elliptical vs parabolic!) written on the board.

2. Katherine was obviously a gifted child because at a young age she could identify all the various shapes (rhombus! tetrahedron!) on a window design even if I could only see pointed shapes and a swirling blob pattern. She reminded me so much of John Nash, another genius that saw symbols float from windows that led to his Nobel Prize.

As the adult Katherine, Taraji dialled her famous feisty persona several notches down and it effectively worked in her favor. Cookie Lyon would never run half a mile just to pee in a colored bathroom so it was a pleasant surprise when this plucky side showed up in that outburst scene where Katherine, fully drenched from the rain and probably 10 pounds lighter from all the running, stood up to her supervisor (Kevin Costner) who questioned her long bathroom breaks (“I have to run to Timbuktu just to relieve myself!”).

Still surprised she didn’t get an Oscar nomination for that brilliant scene which fully summarized the hurt and embarrassment caused by segregation (colored bathrooms, colored coffee pot, colored fountain, colored seats at the back of the bus, colored entrance in buildings, unbelievable!!). And yes, I cried even more when Costner took a sledgehammer and knocked down that bathroom sign (“Here at NASA, we all pee the same color”). Bring a box of tissues!

3. Given the heavy and serious themes, the movie still managed to wring out laughs from all of the tension. Most of the humor came from the scenes with Janelle (who actually channeled Cookie) and whose character Mary couldn’t care less what the others thought of her liberal ideals (“I have the right to see fine men regardless of color”).

Weirdly enough, I couldn’t hold back my tears even if some scenes were played for laughs (again, all the running done to the bathroom was just heartbreaking). This inspirational film couldn’t be accused of emotional manipulation if all of my pain was self-inflicted, right?

4. “No shoe is worth a life.” This obviously happened pre-Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo.

5. If there was one thing I wasn’t too fond of, it was the amount of time devoted to Katherine’s lovelife. I knew it was meant to humanize her considering that she was a walking computer, but we could have done without it. At 127 minutes, the movie obviously needed a bit of trimming.

6. I really loved the slice of pie reference made to Octavia. I probably held off on eating chocolate pie for a full year after seeing Minnie’s recipe on The Help.

7. Were those huge contraptions the first IBM computer models? They actually looked like the scariest dialysis machines. Kids these days are just way fortunate (read: entitled).

8. Kirsten Dunst played her bitchy supervisor role so well that I wanted to slap her Legal Wife-style when she made Dorothy look like a custodian and asked her to push those heavy files back using a steel cart. Oh, the nerdddddd!!

Speaking of, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) naturally played the head engineer. Not surprised at all that the cast won the SAG for Best Ensemble.

9. So happy to live in a time when these women are hidden figures no more. Nothing can trump that feeling. Oh, wait…

Rating: ★★★★☆