Ready Player One


That Steven Spielberg can’t resist inserting gross sentimentality in his pictures is common knowledge. Even The Post, with a subject matter that is very hard to romanticize, ended on a note that was complicit with the audience’s knowledge of events as to make them laugh or wink with recognition.
On the rare instances when the master subdues his desires to move us, to make us cry or laugh, he ends up with some of the finest pictures in any given year (see: Munich, Schindler’s List, Minority Report). And when he doesn’t, well he still is probably one of the greatest living directors, but I am never as invested as he wants me to be.

The story and setting and characters of Ready Player One, with its emphasis on nostalgia and romance, demand an author with Spielberg’s heart and man, does he deliver. I imagine the thrill he must have experienced when working on this project; when he started working in the film industry nothing of what is now on screen was possible. And now he’s crafting planets called Doom, where characters based on everything you can imagine brawl, and he’s recreating the Overlook hotel with a thrilling twist, and he’s being as romantic as ever, and damn it if it does not feel wonderful.

Here is a man that holds so much joy for the experience of life that he’s been sharing it with the rest of the world since the inception of his career. The most romantic of the legendary film directors, Steven Spielberg has infused in Ready Player One his thrill for life, his ever hopeful view for a happier, if not better, existence in a world that is going to hell.



The Founder


It must say something about the United States that its most important, influential firms got their start based on swindles.

At least as far as film adaptations go, The Social Network, Steve Jobs, and now The Founder have portrayed these titans of industry as dishonest and power hungry, but also super humanly brilliant.

This begs the question: Is success on a global scale dependent on the dismissal of commonly respected values as truth and loyalty?
Or, as a character in the superb Steve Jobs says, is it binary? Can you be gifted and decent at the same time, or does one cancel the other?

Because The Founder is the weakest of the three films, it doesn’t point to that argument being the case, but a general look into the lives of the geniuses these movies explore paints a bleak image to all the fools who bank on morality getting them very far.


Favorite Films 2016

I don’t take it as coincidence that the final film I watched this year had a character proclaim that “there is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no God.”
I don’t take this as coincidence because the recurring theme for most of the 133 movies I watched in 2016, either above or below the surface, was a case arguing for the nonexistence of God.
In a year in which madness ruled the world and chaos abounds globally in earth changing events, but also personally with people seeking a way out of their loneliness and giving in to temptation, I used movies to inform me about such sad state of affairs.
From the unparalleled greed found in comedy War Dogs, to the existential despair of the gorgeous Knight of Cups, I saw God in everything. Or rather, I noticed the urgent need for Him. I noticed the need for Him in the sickening sequences of carnage of Hacksaw Ridge and in humanity’s innate inability to communicate with each other in Arrival. I understood that the only sane way to live in an insane world is for everybody else to think you are insane because you follow not in everybody else’s path, but in obedience to the Lord.
But as Sausage Party so bluntly put it, how do you know it’s obedience or just a delusion? Going back to my opening statement, isn’t it much easier to accept the fact that God is dead, as Rosemary’s Baby implies?

Let the following 10 films, 2016’s favorites, give the answer:

1. There Will Be Blood


The greatest film I watched this year concludes with a preacher denouncing God and calling his faith a superstition. He dies soon after.

2. Steve Jobs


Utterly spellbinding, I was honestly surprised when the credits rolled because I could have sworn I had taken a seat to watch it not even half an hour before.

3. Never Let Me Go


Dressed in earnest melancholy from the first to last frame, this movie robbed me of my tears for a solid five minutes after the screen had turned to black. Coupled with at least two other instances during the film in which I had to wipe my eyes for I could not see very well, I never cried as much during a movie in 2016 than I did when watching this one.

4. The Social Network


I watched this soon after Steve Jobs, can you believe my enormous good fortune?

5. Mustang


“Their spirit would never be broken”, the tagline reads. It’s just their dreams, and hopes, and hearts and family that shatters completely.

6. Sicario


As I write this I am back in El Salvador. It has been 20 months since I moved away, and I am just back for the Christmas season. When I was away I had almost forgotten what it felt like to live constantly in fear of violence by gangs and cartels. Sicario reminded me of it. Being back home does as well.

7. Glass Chin

glass chin

If anybody is reading this and are intrigued by any film on this list, make this a top priority.

8. Green RoomPrintI think I mentioned before how the suspense is so unbearable for the first thirty minutes that I wanted to stop watching and run away.

9. The End of the Tour


Stamped on David Foster Wallace’s (Jason Segel) wall is a Bible verse. The man was living in solitude and he ached. Naturally he turned to prayer. It didn’t work. How do we deal with situations like this one, when one believes in a loving God?

10. Spotlight


While the first film on this list was a denunciation of the faith, the last one can serve as proof that doing that may be the wise thing to do. The heralds of the faith, those who are called to protect the weak, feed the hungry, abide by righteousness and lead by example have turned astray, taking with them a multitude of sad souls. This infuriates me. Belief in God is dwindling not so much because He is silent, but because those who are supposed to speak on His behalf have corrupted his message to the  point of disgust.
What are we to do?
If you have not seen this movie yet, there’s a character that gives an illuminating response on the matter.
I will leave it there.

Pawn Sacrifice


The series of crazy geniuses continues with Pawn Sacrifice, a movie about one of history’s best chess players, who also seemed to lack social skills. But while both Jobs and Zuckerberg seem to act that way willingly, there does seem to be some actual mental health problems with Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire).
I promise this series on talented people, who are also difficult to engage with, was not planned. But I’m thinking if I should not keep this going.
Is it really binary? Is there no way to be a decent human being while also being extremely (insert positive adjective here)?
I think I’ll look for a movie that has a sole historical protagonist at the center and see what conclusions I can come up with.


The Social Network


After being so transfixed by Steve Jobs, necessity mandated I added another Aaron Sorkin penned movie to my must watch list. To my immense happiness, The Social Network, which also revolves around the creation of something that has forever changed mankind, is as equally fascinating.

But whereas Steve Jobs proved compelling by letting me witness the man in his natural surroundings, and ended with a note of uplift, The Social Network threw me into a world where deceit and hypocrisy lurked around every corner, ending on a much, much sadder image.

There’s a scene near the end of Steve Jobs in which his lifelong friend tells him that human nature is not binary. One can still be a genius while retaining common decency. True words, it seems, until you meet Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg). Undoubtedly smart and quick to turn a phrase, he is also an envious jerk who seems to care little about money, as the only thing he desires is somebody else’s appreciation. But since he wants to be appreciated for his smarts and witticisms, this sets him into a vicious cycle he could only break free from if he realized there is no shame in saying sorry, nor anything wrong with sincere humbleness.
The symptoms of the two main characters in these films may differ, but the disease remains the same: they seem to lack what in vulgar terms would be deemed empathy.

The tragedy of their stories lies in how ironic it all becomes at the end. Between these two men, communication between humanity will never be the same. They have brought millions of people together, allowed friendships to bloom and encouraged discussions that can and have made for a more stimulating place to be. The friendless creators watch as their creation is the friendliest on earth.

But the films are as much about these world famous figures as they are about us, give and take a couple billion dollars. You don’t have to necessarily wear flip flops or a turtle neck every day to see yourself reflected in the image of a man not knowing what to do with his daughter; to wince with pain as you see a restless young man in front of a computer screen, aching for a girl to tell him all the value he holds.


Steve Jobs


Behold, the most compelling motion picture I have seen this 2016!
It is not computers or telephones. It is exactly what those gadgets, cool as they may be, lack. A human heart.
That this film manages to burrow deep into the motivations, desires and psyche of a man many hail as one of the planet’s greatest, in a little over two hours is absolutely amazing. Our hearts, our minds! That is what makes a film compelling. The ability to recognize our fellow man up on the screen and empathize, and laugh in recognition and cry in regret. This movie, from start to finish, has everything that makes cinema not just a gimmick, but an art form.


Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies Launch One Sheet(1)“It has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes”, he said to me, as if a numerical score was the final push I needed to go for Bridge of Spies instead of Steve Jobs.
“Plus”, the unnamed character continued, “the audience rating for Steve Jobs is not very good.”

I did not respond, and an hour later we were sitting in a dark theater watching Spielberg’s latest.
I honestly think audiences don’t give a damn about a critic’s opinion, for if it were so, the box office scenario would look very, very different.
But I do think Rotten Tomatoes has over simplified the “good movie bad movie” argument, while at the same time making it even more difficult for those cinema aficionados who would like to have a simple conversation about movies.

I say it has made it more difficult because if you enjoy a movie that has 100% rating on RT, but a 50% audience one, and you are trying to convince a friend to watch it, said friend will just say “critics man…go for audience instead”
But then, they’ll cite a “fresh” rating on the site as evidence that whichever film they like is in fact good.

This subject deserves further exploring, as I am still gathering my thoughts from last night. For the time being, it will have to do.