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Spielberg finds fun in ‘Ready Player One’ – ‘Captain Marvel’ adds Gregg, Hounsou

‘Why can’t we go backward for once?’ wonders the protagonist of “Ready Player One” shortly before gunning his “Back to the Future” DeLorean in reverse. “Really put the pedal to the metal.”

Pressing rewind is, if anything, an understandable desire these days. But in today’s reboot, remake-mad movies, it’s not exactly swimming against the tide. Yet Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” a rollicking virtual-world geekfest flooded by ’80s ephemera, doesn’t just want to wade back into the past. It wants to race into it at full throttle. For those who get their fix through pop nostalgia, “Ready Player One” is — for better or worse — an indulgent, dizzying overdose.

In a dystopian 2045 where the world looks mostly like a trash heap, teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in “The Stacks” — not aisles of books but towering piles of mobile homes — in Columbus, Ohio, with his aunt. “These days,” he narrates, “reality’s a bummer.” With bleakness all around, seemingly everyone is addicted to strapping on a headset and entering the virtual-reality landscape of the OASIS. There, an individual can transform into a digital avatar — live-action or animated, human or extraterrestrial, Sonny or Cher — and do basically anything. Your imagination is your only limit. You can even, we’re told, climb Mt. Everest with Batman! Presumably the thin air would make him less grumpy.

It’s been five years since the death of OASIS creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a fizzy-haired Steve Jobs-meets-Willy Wonka nerd deity who left behind a trio of Easter Eggs — hidden clues — in his game. The first one to find the keys and follow them to the end will win the rights to the trillion-dollar company. Wade, who goes by Parzival inside OASIS, is among the competitors still trying to crack the first challenge — a blistering melee through New York City streets where racers must evade, among other things, King Kong and the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park.”

At the film’s SXSW premiere, Spielberg introduced “Ready Player One,” based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 best-seller, as a “movie,” not a “film.” Spielberg, too, is here turning back the clock — just four months after releasing his well-timed ode to the freedom of the press, “The Post” — with a thrill-ride spectacle that harkens back to his pre-”Schindler’s List” days and the more popcorn-friendly flights of movie magic that Spielberg conjured before focusing on more “serious” tales.

The funny, sometimes awkward irony of “Ready Player One” is that Spielberg isn’t just making a movie like his old movies; he’s making a movie awash with his old movies. Sounding almost embarrassed, Spielberg — who initially thought a younger director ought to direct Cline and Zak Penn’s script — has said he stripped out many of his own references from the screenplay.

But the universe of “Ready Player One” remains a loving, fanboy homage to the escapist entertainments Spielberg did more than anyone to create. “Ready Player One” could conceivably be titled “Spielberg: The Remix.” Watching it is a little like seeing him sit in with a Spielberg cover band — a band that’s, like, totally stoked to have the master in their midst.

It’s also an opportunity for one of cinema’s most absurdly skilled and most insanely popular directors to reckon with both his blockbuster legacy and the more digitally versed generations of fantasy-seekers that have followed him. In the OASIS, there are solo players called “gunters” like Parzival and his VR-crush Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), who believe deeply in the game and its maker. And there are companies, specifically one called Innovative Online Industries led by a slick suit named Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who sends armies of players into battle in hopes of capturing the lucrative company and — in the most sinister of anti-nerd plots — open up OASIS to advertising.

When it’s not careening through ’80s references from Tootsie Roll Pop commercials to Buckaroo Banzai, “Ready Player One” is an Internet parable. There’s mention of prior “bandwidth riots” ahead of this battle over keeping OASIS an open playground to all. “Ready Player One” is both game and war, the stakes of which are occasionally lessened by the fact that it’s a land of make believe. Much of “Ready Player One” also promotes a tiresome gamer culture where “real” fanboys outrank “haters,” geeks vie with suits, and tech wizards are slavishly worshipped. In between the book and the movie, Gamergate exposed the toxicity of the video-game culture lionized here.

In Steven Spielberg’s new movie “Ready Player One,” disgruntled citizens in the year 2045 don virtual reality headsets to enter a digital universe where they can dance at hot clubs or race fancy cars through the streets of New York. “We are really are excited to show people VR is not something futuristic,” said JB McRee, HTC Vive’s senior manager of product marketing. “It really is something that exists now.”

Actress Lena Waithe, who plays an auto mechanic in the Oasis, said she enjoys VR but encouraged limits to time spent in a virtual world.

“It’s fascinating, but it can be a little dangerous if you play in it too much,” she said. “There needs to be a bit of balance. I think that’s the message we are trying to get through with the film.”


LOS ANGELES: Filming for Marvel’s first female-fronted superhero tentpole, “Captain Marvel,” began Monday in Los Angeles, and a behind-the-scenes photo of a pilot-suit-clad Brie Larson posing in the cockpit of a plane celebrates the occasion.

In the picture, Larson, the Oscar-winning actress who stars as the title character, smiles alongside Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing Commander. Larson shadowed Leavitt at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to prepare for her role, which is based on the comic book character Carol Danvers, an Air Force Officer turned superhero.

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, “Captain Marvel” marks the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following the yet-to-be-released “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Marvel also announced that Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Lee Pace (Ronan the Accuser), and Djimon Hounsou (Korath the Pursuer) have officially joined the pic.

The star-studded cast also includes Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Jude Law as Mar-Vell, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Algenis Perez Soto, Rune Temte, and McKenna Grace. (Agencies)

Other filming locations for “Captain Marvel” include Fresno, Calif, and Louisiana, while Los Angeles will serve as its primary production base. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige produced the movie, which hits theaters on March 8, 2019. Other members of its creative team include “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” cinematographer Ben Davis and “Gravity” production designer Andy Nicholson. (Agencies)

By Jake Coyle

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