Ready Player One is Vintage Spielberg with Real Heart and Soul

Ready Player One Wade Watts

Every time I sit down and attempt to organize my thoughts so I can write about Ready Player One (the movie) I can’t decide how to approach it—do I talk about the movie alone, the movie and the book, or the movie, the book, and the chatter surrounding it? But the more I think about the relationship Ready Player One has with readers and multiple mediums, the more I realize how perfect these relationships reflect what the book is.

Ready Player One is more than just a story, it’s a conversation. It’s an examination of how we interact with the past, with the things we love, and with technology. As such, it’s difficult to discuss the movie in terms of what’s on the screen alone—though I will—because the texture of the Ready Player One experience is so robust. Part of the book’s magic was its ability to cover so much ...

Chun Li and Tracer Ready Player One

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is Smarter and More Insightful Than You’ve Been Told

Let me just say something right at the start, because it needs to be said: I love Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Normally, I wouldn’t have to thrust such a declarative statement at the top of my post; but, the thing is, what started as a simple review of the book leading up to the movie has turned into a defense, strangely. Because at this point in time, it’s impossible to talk about Ready Player One without acknowledging the chatter surrounding it. And there’s a lot of chatter.

Now, far be it for me to tell people what opinions they should and shouldn’t have. I certainly don’t want to argue someone down from their own conclusions. What I’m writing here is my take on the book—particularly why I enjoyed it so much, and why, to me, it’s an important book for our time. Is Ready Player One a nostalgia-fueled, reference-laden, ...

Five Sci-Fi Books That Are More Relevant Now Than Ever

There’s an old saying that I’m certain you’ve heard before: “May you live in interesting times.”

The phrase is a translation of a Chinese curse, because peace, harmony, all those niceties make for a dull existence. War, unrest, injustice—now that makes for interesting times. It’s like Orson Wells said in his famous speech in Carol Reed’s classic film The Third Man:

In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

If that holds true, then boy oh boy are we living in interesting times.

Not that this is something to boast about. It’s not. Luckily, though, we have many tools of resistance at our fingertips, tools that help us fight ...

Moving Forward with The Last Jedi

There’s a saying, attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, that says “you cannot step in the same river twice.” It’s a quote I’ve been thinking about a lot about since watching (and re-watching, and re-watching) The Last Jedi.

A lot has been said about the latest Star Wars film and its relationship to the past. Some people are firmly of the mindset that The Last Jedi ruined what’s come before, in terms of key elements like our understanding of the Force to the treatment of Luke Skywalker. Others say that the film marks an important pivot for the franchise as it respectfully moves away from its long, detailed history and charts a new future. Still others contend that nostalgia is a dangerous thing, and the purpose of The Last Jedi was to gleefully destroy everything that’s come before it.

While I certainly believe that two of these interpretations are ...

The Phantom Menace Also Defied Star Wars Expectations

Boy oh boy has The Last Jedi stirred up a hornet’s nest.

But, look: I’m not here to discuss that whole thing. Not at the moment, at least. Rather, let’s go back to the halcyon days of Star Was fandom, back to 1999 where there wasn’t all this debating over who was a “real” Star Wars fan or any talk about a single movie ruining the entire franchise.

Oh wait.

Like 2017, 1999 (and beyond) proved to be a contentious year for the Star Wars franchise. On May 19, The Phantom Menace was released in theatres, kicking off the beginning of the prequel trilogy and what can fairly be described as a tumultuous chapter in the Star Wars franchise. Due in part to the growth of the internet, the prequels became the target of rage, mockery, humor, discussion, debate, and pretty much everything in-between. Whether you love or hate these ...

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Proves it’s Okay to Have Some Serious Fun

Many moons ago, when I was a young lad attending ye olde undergraduate university, I was filled with visions of writing big, rollicking sci-fi and fantasy stories. My heroes were Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Star Wars (yes, your hero can be a movie and not a person—just roll with it). I settled into my first creative writing class and was promptly told—in a syllabus about the size of a Robert Jordan novel, ironically—that I could take my ideas of writing genre fiction and go straight to hell. Serious Writers—yes, writers is intentionally capitalized in this context—didn’t dabble in space and elves and lightsabers, and if I turned in a story that even tickled my professor’s olfactory senses with a whiff of genre, it would go unread and, therefore, ungraded.

Suffice to say, that class was a fucking drag.

Now, this isn’t going to be a ...

Anakin Skywalker Was a Gray Jedi

“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Since Luke Skywalker dropped that bomb in the middle of the Star Wars universe in the first trailer for The Last Jedi, questions have been swirling:

Has Luke turned to the Dark Side?

Has he discovered something about the Jedi Order that will redefine what the term “Jedi” means?

Will Rey evolve past the binary Dark/Light Side and become the first (canonical) Gray Jedi?


Okay, the last one isn’t a question. It’s a demand. From all of us—and we’re serious, Lucasfilm.


The central nugget here is that all signs are pointing to a new era for the Jedi. One that’s more ambiguous in its understanding of good and evil; one that’s more complex, perhaps darker, and less—again—binary.

If only we had Star Wars stories that explored the uneasy complexities of the Jedi Order. If only, ...

ambiguity The Last Jedi Star Wars prequels
ambiguity The Last Jedi Star Wars prequels

The Unappreciated Genius of John Carpenter

John Carpenter is one of the greatest American filmmakers. Ever. Period. The end.

There—I’ll just come out swinging. See, I toyed with several different ways of saying what I mean to say. Initially, I started this piece by talking about the names commonly associated with American filmmaking auteurs: Scorsese, Kubrick, and Paul Thomas Anderson to name a few. The point I was trying to make was how, when the idea of great American filmmakers is discussed, John Carpenter is generally left out of the conversation—and it’s a total injustice.

So, let’s take a spin down retrospective lane and look at the movies that make Carpenter one of the greats. Because I’ll tell you what: From 1976 until 1986, Carpenter crafted a streak of films that are arguably as good as any other ten-year period from even the most celebrated and acclaimed directors.

Let’s start in 1976, the year Carpenter released his ...

6 Books to Tide You Over Until Star Wars: The Last Jedi

For most Star Wars fans, there’s one true thing that surrounds us, and binds us. Sure, we may squabble about which movie is the best and argue over who Snoke really is (it’s the angry resurrected ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn, obvs), but we all agree that there’s no such thing as too much Star Wars. But the fact is, only so much Star Wars exists. Granted, when all’s told between movies, TV shows, canon novels, non-canon novels, video games, board games, and comics, there’s a lot of content out there. But it’s already been five months since Rogue One, and a grim reality is taking hold: there’s still 200 whole days that separate us from our next cinematic Star Wars fix. And if you’ve already read/watched/consumed everything there is to consume, you’re going to need to fill your time with… something. Well, if you can’t have Star Wars, ...
A Thousand Pieces of You excerpt Claudia Gray

How George Lucas’s Love of Cinema Changed Movies Forever

In 1975, a little movie about big trouble in a New England resort town came along and changed American cinema. That movie was Jaws, the Steven Spielberg-directed shark thriller that’s credited with inventing the summer blockbuster. Not only was Jaws a runaway box office success, but it was a bit of an anomaly in the fabric of 1970s American filmmaking. After all, from a certain point of view, the ‘70s can be understood as the American art house decade; in no other period did auteur-driven movies—such as The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The French Connection—find so much mainstream success. Jaws, though, gave audiences something totally different, and people came in droves to see it. And then, just two summers later, audiences’ desire for big budget, genre-drive movies was cemented when Star Wars took the entire world by storm. But for all ...

10 Reasons Why Attack of the Clones Is Better Than You Remember

Well, well. Look at A New Hope hogging all the Star Wars attention this month. I suppose it’s a big deal that the landmark film is celebrating its 40th anniversary, but like Luke and Han bogarting all the glory from Chewie at the Yavin ceremony, something’s being forgotten. Because there’s another Star Wars anniversary that no one’s talking about: The 15-year anniversary of the release of Attack of the Clones. If you’re still reading this, know that I’m being facetious—at least partly. Because, no, Attack of the Clones isn’t equivalent to A New Hope. I’m not a crazy person. But I do love the prequel movies. I love them for the way they expanded the Star Wars universe, I love them for their ambition, and I love them for the tragic story they weaved. I’d even go so far to say that, in a world where tent-pole summer blockbusters ...

Strange Days: A Flawed but Fascinating Look at Racism, Voyeurism, and the Future

  I don’t know how Kathryn Bigelow is still making movies. Don’t get me wrong—I’m very, very glad she is, because she’s one of the best directors around. Up until 2008’s The Hurt Locker, Bigelow directed movie after movie that went unnoticed or unappreciated. While a box office success, Point Break doesn’t receive nearly enough credit for being one of the most stylish action movies to come out of the ’90s. Near Dark—my goodness, Near Dark is vampire movie paradise. The Weight of Water is fascinating. And then there’s Strange Days, which is Bigelow at her best, delivering a sci-fi thriller/noir that’s prescient even now,  in 2017. In 1995? To say it was ahead of its time would be like dropping a 1967 Chevelle into Victorian England and calling it advanced. Strange Days, from a bird’s-eye view, is this: at the dawn of the new millennium, ...

The Fifth Element: Luc Besson’s Wild and Crazy Masterpiece



The more I think about The Fifth Element, the more I realize it’s a movie that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. It’s such a pastiche of different influences, from Blade Runner to Chris Foss to Akira to Star Wars to The Incal (so much so that Jodorowsky sued The Fifth Element writer/director Luc Besson for plagiarism). Yet never, to me, does The Fifth Element feel like a rip-off, or a second-rate version of something greater. Because while the movie wears its influences on its sleeve—with joyful exuberance, in fact—it also subverts every single one of them by refusing to take itself seriously. It’s like Besson took a sample of sci-fi’s greatest hits, put them all in a blender and hit frappe—while maniacally laughing the entire time.

The story is pretty simple: the ultimate evil is coming, and only the ultimate good can stop it. Chosen ...


Starship Troopers: Paul Verhoeven’s Manic, Misunderstood Satire

starshiptroopers-newsreel My goodness, is Starship Troopers an under-appreciated movie. It’s also a strange movie, even by ’90s standards. It shares a space with Demolition Man, representing satirical sci-fi movies that, now, have more or less become a punchline. Demolition Man—while it’s admirable for what it was trying to do—suffers from poor execution. But Starship Troopers hits the exact mark it’s going for; it’s just largely misunderstood by audiences. The thing is, if you watch Starship Troopers with a straight face, it doesn’t work all that well. It’s weirdly melodramatic, the performances aren’t all that good, and the antagonists are just giant bugs, amongst other things. It can be seen as “one-dimensional” or “immature,” as Roger Ebert, and other critics, have complained. But, as with all Paul Verhoeven movies, Starship Troopers is not meant to be watched with a straight face. Verhoeven makes movies with his tongue buried so deep ...

6 Books to Tide You Over Until Star Wars: Episode VIII

vader-potter For most Star Wars fans, there’s one true thing that surrounds us, and binds us. Sure, we may squabble about which movie is the best and argue over who Snoke really is (it’s the angry resurrected ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn, obvs), but we all agree that there’s no such thing as too much Star Wars. But the fact is, only so much Star Wars exists. Granted, when all’s told between movies, TV shows, canon novels, non-canon novels, video games, board games, and comics, there’s a lot of content out there. But as the dust is settling on the box office juggernaut that is Rogue One, a grim reality is taking hold: there’s eleven long months that separate us from our next cinematic Star Wars fix. And if you’ve already read/watched/consumed everything there is to consume, you’re going to need to fill your time with…something. Well, if you can’t have Star Wars...
A Thousand Pieces of You excerpt Claudia Gray

How Rogue One Connects to the Star Wars Past, Present, and Future

rogueone-poster Well, we now have it: the very first Star Wars anthology film (and, in my opinion, it’s an absolutely magnificent one). It’s the first of two anthology movies that are on Disney/Lucasfilm’s docket, the other being the Han Solo installment, covering his pre-A New Hope adventures and slated for a May 2018 release. Judging by Rogue One’s terrific $155 million opening weekend, there will be plenty more standalone Star Wars tales to come. Which is a good thing. But, these movies don’t come without challenges. Particularly, it’s always going to be tough to get casual Star Wars fans to understand how the anthology flicks fit into the overarching story. Since 1977, the Star Wars story has been confined to the episode movies, and those have pretty much been all about the Skywalker saga. Sure, the Star Wars universe itself has long stretched beyond the episodes with the story ...

Communication and Faith in Arrival

arrival-featured   There’s a moment in Arrival where Louise (played wonderfully by the always perfect Amy Adams) is in the alien spacecraft and, acting against military orders, she removes her protective suit. The soldiers accompanying Louise’s mission to find a way to communicate with the aliens—dubbed the heptapods—don’t know how to respond. Do they stop Louise? Abort the mission? Something worse? Despite knowing the air is breathable and the atmosphere is harmless, the soldiers are still stunned by Louise’s decision, and they are absolutely unwilling to follow her lead. They don’t share her impulse or her willingness to take a risk. But, most of all, they don’t share her faith. Faith, of course, is a very tricky thing to discuss. When I think about faith in the context of a movie like Arrival, I’m not drawing on the binary discussion “do you or do you not believe in God?” ...