Past Lives”, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering etc etc. 

Past Lives is the fea­ture debut from Celine Song and arrives gar­land­ed with awards and fes­tooned with dew and misty-eyed reviews. 

A 12 year old boy and a girl are sep­a­rat­ed when the girl’s fam­i­ly emi­grate from Korea to north Amer­i­ca. 12 years lat­er they redis­cov­er one anoth­er on a thing called the Inter­net, and 12 years after that they final­ly meet, when he pays her a vis­it in New York where she now lives with her writer husband. 

What a joy it is to see a female film mak­er final­ly being giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make some­thing that’s every bit as for­mu­la­ic and as dogged­ly sen­ti­men­tal as any­thing pro­duced by one of her male counterparts. 

Past Lives is every bit as dull and con­ven­tion­al as any of the recent offer­ings from Steven Spiel­berg or Ron Howard. Or, for that mat­ter, as Oppen­heimer was, a film that did such a ster­ling job of look­ing exact­ly like some­thing that either of the for­mer pair could have made. 

The, yawn, Fableman.

In fair­ness, and in stark con­trast to The Fable­mans, Oppen­heimer or prac­ti­cal­ly any oth­er film we’re sub­ject­ed to these days at the cin­e­ma, at least Past Lives has the good grace to come in at under the 2 hour mark. But lordy, they’re some of the slow­est min­utes you’ll ever have to sit through

Pre­dictably then it’s being loud­ly her­ald­ed from all around the Hol­ly­wood hills. And none of us will be sur­prised when Song gets reward­ed by the bean-coun­ters with one of the vehi­cles pro­pelling one of the cere­al-pack­et, action-fig­ure, meal-deal super­hero fran­chis­es that keep draw­ing pre-teens to mul­ti­plex­es to feast on buck­ets of salt and gal­lons of sugar.

Past Lives is absolute­ly fine. It’s per­fect­ly inof­fen­sive, tech­ni­cal­ly com­pe­tent and pro­fes­sion­al­ly pro­duced. Her agent must be thrilled.

You can see the trail­er to Past Lives here:

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Ready Player One, the new Spielberg film. Yawn.

Ready Play­er One.

So Ready Play­er One, the New Sev­en Spiel­berg film, is a for­mu­la­ic, painful­ly pre­dictable pas­tiche of the gen­uine­ly cin­e­mat­ic. So what? What should we expect from the lat­est Hol­ly­wood blockbuster?

For what it’s worth, the sto­ry revolves around a Steve Jobs type tech wiz­ard and his cre­ation of the Oasis. This is the vir­tu­al real­i­ty video game world where every­one in the uni­verse, that is to say in Amer­i­ca, escapes to in the year 2045. By then, we will have so thor­ough­ly trashed the actu­al world that life will only be bear­able in the vir­tu­al one acces­si­ble through our ubiq­ui­tous screens.

Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Before his death, this lat­ter day Willy Won­ka announces that he has hid­den three keys with­in the world of the game, and whom­so­ev­er retrieves them shall be bequeathed his entire for­tune and, more impor­tant­ly, the world of Oasis.

And so our teenage orphan-hero teams up with a mot­ley crew of juve­nile waifs and strays in a race to retrieve the three keys before the evil rival cor­po­ra­tion gets their hands on them first. And, much more impor­tant­ly, to win the love and respect of the inven­tor father fig­ure, who con­tin­ues to live on in the world of the game.

It’s not hard to see what they were try­ing to do here. A few decades ago, Hol­ly­wood film mak­ers looked at the way mer­chan­dis­ing was threat­en­ing the world of film mak­ing, and they chose to address it head on by mak­ing Toy Sto­ry, one of the best trio of films that Hol­ly­wood has ever pro­duced. And so, watch­ing today as all of those dol­lars dis­ap­pear into the abyss that is the gam­ing world, they’ve tried to make a Hol­ly­wood film about, and addressed to, gamers.

Toy Sto­ry.

Bizarrely though, they’ve drowned it all in a sea of cul­tur­al ref­er­ences from the 70s and 80s. Not one or two sly nods to Back to The Future and Atari. It’s a nev­er-end­ing bar­rage of increas­ing­ly tedious and, worse, poor­ly cho­sen ref­er­ences. So they’ve pro­duced a film aimed at the under 30s which will only appeal to the 40s, and, much more like­ly, the 50s, 60s, and overs. There’s one espe­cial­ly cringe-induc­ing scene in a vir­tu­al club that’s the cin­e­mat­ic equiv­a­lent of see­ing your uncle try­ing to break­dance to Bon Jovi at your cousin’s wedding.

The fact that this is the new Spiel­berg film shouldn’t, I sup­pose, sur­prise us. After all, it’s a long, long time since he made Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1975 and ’81. His only film of note in the last 30 years or so was Catch Me If You Can and the first hour and a half of Minor­i­ty Report, both in 2002. And let’s not even men­tion the exe­crable Indi­ana Jones and the King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull.

Catch Me if You Can.

No, what’s so dis­ap­point­ing about Ready Play­er One is its look and feel. It’s so thin and flim­sy, so undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed and incon­se­quen­tial, so cheap look­ing and just so, well, dig­i­tal. A dig­i­tal screen can be won­der­ful­ly engag­ing in the pri­va­cy of your own space. But up on the vast expanse of the sil­ver screen it gets lost, and is reduced to being hor­ri­bly flat and lifeless.

Very unwise­ly, Spiel­berg ref­er­ences Stan­ley Kubrick (reviewed ear­li­er here), his cin­e­mat­ic hero and father fig­ure, in one of the key scenes. But all this does is to remind us of why it is that real film mak­ers go to such trou­ble to source actu­al loca­tions, prop­er peri­od fur­ni­ture, tac­tile cos­tumes and phys­i­cal trinkets.

Bar­ry Lyndon.

So with a film like Bar­ry Lyn­don, and not with­stand­ing its many, many flaws, it still has a mag­nif­i­cent phys­i­cal­i­ty and a tan­gi­ble solid­i­ty to it, because of the man­u­al process through which the images were put togeth­er. In con­trast, when you know that the edge of the cliff that your hero might be about to dri­ve over is mere­ly made up of pix­els, you couldn’t care less.

But much more to the point, and most obvi­ous­ly of all, who wants to watch a video game you’re not allowed to actu­al­ly play? Imag­ine peer­ing over someone’s shoul­der, and being told you have to stand there and watch as they spend two and half hours play­ing a game that you’re nev­er going to get a turn on. Who the hell was the Hol­ly­wood genius who agreed to green light that idea?

You can see the trail­er for Ready Play­er One here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right of below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month, on All the very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!