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Been a fan for a while, glad to see this kid breaking wide.

Spielberg isn’t a master because he managed to turn a mostly terrible book by Ernest Cline into a mostly good movie. He’s a master because he managed to keep this masturbatory, self-congratulatory and self-referential engine of self-promotion from being a nonstop cringe-fest. I don’t know how he did it. Scholars will study Ready Player One to unlock the mysteries of director’s making movies that are really just nonstop commercials for the 80’s and themselves (at their peak) and this somehow being… fun? Even if this is the only time it ever happens, it’ll be fascinating to look back on Ready Player One a few years from now as a wash of projects try and fail to ape this or that aspect of its success.

I expected Ready Player One to be better than the book by sheer virtue of being a movie. I think it stumbles over some of the more difficult aspects of adapting a book as expository as this one, resulting in an overly-expository movie that doesn’t dot every i or cross every t to quite the extent it could have. But in general, it boils down the trashier and more wheel-spinny aspects of the novel into simpler, essential elements that are at once surprising in their lack of cynicism and cheerfully cheesy in the way that Amblin movies usually have been.

I don’t buy everything Ready Player One is selling, not by a long shot, but it’s hard to deny that Spielberg knew exactly how to give such a broad cartoon enough oomph, crunch, and basic emotional depth to keep it from being just a commercial. It’s no Lego Movie, though, and has a pat, old man’s ethos which I’m sure will turn off the more astute and socially aware audience members. Especially those who aren’t pacified by repetitive inclusions of video game or comic book characters bought and paid for by huge corporations like Activision and DC much like ad-space on a NASCAR track. There’s probably a greater portion of the audience that will respond to the pandering in exactly the way they’re intended to, but I hope this very obvious ploy can be looked past so that Ready Player One is understood as deeply self-contradictory along with all the other ways it revolves around itself. The list could get longer than it already has. It’s a testament to Spielberg’s raw ability as a filmmaker that this doesn’t sink the movie, that the specific scenes and nuts and bolts storytelling are strong enough to rise above the emptiness at the heart of it all.

READY SPOILERS MANY

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This looks like just another war scene, but it’s threaded with horror. That’s this movie in a nutshell.

I was pretty conflicted about Interstellar and I’m kind of conflicted about Christopher Nolan in general. I, to an extent, agree with most of the criticisms that dog his work. But I also think Inception is one of the best movies ever made, with his Batman movies being some of the most overrated. To say I had low expectations for Dunkirk would be disingenuous because I had no expectations for Dunkirk. Good or bad. I was curious because it was a wartime event that hadn’t been covered in a huge movie, at least as a focus piece (Atonement has Dunkirk-related scenes). I was also curious to see what Nolan would do with a war movie, since he’s been doing high concept genre stuff for almost his whole career. On some level, I suspected that Dunkirk was about the safest move Nolan could have made after Interstellar failed to light the world on fire. I was wrong about this being a safe movie, but my lack of expectation was rewarded by one of the most pleasant and arresting surprises I’ve had in a theater for a super long time.

“Pleasant” is not really a word that you’d associate with this movie except maybe in the way I just did, where I’m really talking more about the feeling of surprise. Dunkirk is not so much aggressive as it is relentless and that energy, an almost constant rising action toward a very rewarding climax, is mostly steeped in the emotional resonance of horror even as it is delivered with familiar tropes of the war genre (duty, courage, banding together, grandiose and personal heroism, and so on). So while this is definitely a war movie, it’s also the second best horror movie of 2017. It is intense and it’ll make you squirm in your seat. A lot. All this while being one of the least violent, but loudest, war movies since Saving Private Ryan changed the game. What helps is Nolan’s mostly unsentimental point of view. This movie is not full of the customary jingoism and sentimentality of the American war film (these elements are present sparingly, and are mostly earned), but nor is it political in the sense of having a clear message about “war” except perhaps that it is something you survive rather than win.

There have been criticisms that there’s no story or characters here, but I think it’s interesting that Nolan stripped down his usual reliance on plot, exposition, and high concepts. He has the most trouble with plot and theme across his work, and these things are less important in Dunkirk than is the craft of telling a story through moving pictures.  There’s very little dialogue, so character comes across subtly through facial expressions and the few important choices that are available to each person. Dunkirk has a small, intimate cast, and approaches the historical events with a clever and almost seamless editing conceit of showing events at different points as if they are happening all at the same time… until they are. Dunkirk is a tremendous movie, and one that deserves to be seen at the best theater you have access to.

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