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Unsane • Ready Player One

March 29, 2018

Unsane (***) R

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, Unsane—his second after a four-year breather—is the kind of film being spoke of mainly due to the director’s decision to shoot the film on an iPhone camera. I’ll admit that I found the idea to be a bit gimmicky. It’s one thing when a director does such a thing because they have no other resources at their disposal, as director Sean Baker did with his 2015 drama Tangerine. Soderbergh, of course, is a filmmaker with clout and has ready access to the tools needed to make the types of films he wishes to make. The fact that Unsane was shot with fish-eye style lenses on a camera phone reeks of marketing ploy as much as anything else.

Thankfully, Unsane is such a solid and tight thriller that it would probably work well regardless of the camera on which it was shot. The lower resolution and overall darkness of the picture is a bit distracting at first but once the story grabs hold it’s easy enough to forget the tools used to assemble the film and get lost in the experience. The film’s story takes hold and all of the technical stuff fades into the background. If Soderbergh was looking to prove that storytelling is the most important factor as to whether a film rises or falls then I believe he’s more or less succeeded.

Clair Foy in Unsane

Clair Foy, star of the TV series The Crown, is Sawyer, the heroine of the picture.  It’s quickly established that she’s just recently started a new job and has moved 450 miles away in her quest to start a new life. It’s soon revealed that she left not just for the career change, but also because that she’s been stalked relentlessly by an ex boyfriend.

Sawyer signs on for some therapy and is soon told by her shrink that she’s being committed.  Sawyer protests that she’s fine and doesn’t want to stay. Of course, no one believes her. Pretty soon things get even worse when Sawyer discovers that her stalking ex boyfriend is now employed at the very same psychiatric facility where she’s being held against her will.  Everything is seen from Sawyer’s point of view but whether that is real or imagined is always in question.

Unsane owes a great debt to the 1964 film Shock Corridor, which has a similar plot. Soderbergh has taken that story and goosed it up with some contemporary sensibilities and made it work. It’s a thriller in the grand tradition of the best ones. It may not reach the heights of the established classics but it’s pretty good on its own terms.

Ready Player One (** 1/2) PG-13   

I’ll readily admit that I haven’t played a video game since roughly the same time that Ronald Reagan ran for and won his second term in the White House. That preceding sentence will probably go a long way in articulating my disconnect when it comes to a discussion of the film Ready Player One, a movie experience that certainly is enhanced by one’s appreciation of the art of video gaming. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that it’s a prerequisite for one’s enjoyment of the film but it certainly goes a long way in buoying one’s enthusiasm for a film that contains large sections featuring characters in the midst of virtual game battles.  

Ready Player One is the latest addition to Steven Spielberg’s directorial resume. The projects he’s choosing nowadays seem to have hit a familiar groove; one serious film (think The Post and Bridge of Spies) followed by one made for the masses (think The BFG and the current film in discussion).  The more serious endeavors tend to be tolerable to dull (think Lincoln), while the ones manufactured for the masses tend to feel like bloated extravaganzas made for the broadest possible audience.    


Tye Sheridan in Ready Player One

It’s obvious right from the opening frames of Ready Player One, with its uninspired use of the overplayed Van Halen hit from 1984, Jump, that Spielberg isn’t interested in the least little bit of subversion in his approach to things. The film is filled with needle drops of songs throughout, all of them worn to death by creatively bankrupt radio programmers during the last twenty years or so.

Unfortunately, this is the least of the film’s problems. The plot hinges on a futuristic society in the year 2045 where everyone spends one’s spare time indulging in a virtual reality game known as the OASIS. The recently deceased creator (Mark Rylance) of that game left behind the key to his fortune inside the game.

Enter Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a boy from the poor side of the Cleveland, Ohio. Watts is a master gamer and gets caught up in the action, thinking that by finding the game’s ‘easter egg’ he can pull himself out of poverty. 

The opposition here is represented by a shadowy corporation who wants to retain control of OASIS and will do all in their power to stop Wade’s quest.   

The world of the OASIS is indeed a sight to behold. It’s chockfull of practically every major figure in pop culture from the 60s through the present day. Unfortunately, it seems like all the time and effort went into the production design and not into developing the characters into full fledged human beings. The film doesn’t seem to care about the people that inhabit its world but is more interested in jamming in as many pop culture references as humanly possible. I’ll admit that there’s a clever homage to The Shining amongst the clutter but it’s not enough to save this overlong endeavor with clichéd characters and a nonexistent story arch. It may be a triumph in production design but that’s about the best it has to offer.

Unsane and Ready Player One are both playing in Hickory and all around this area.


Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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