Smart Spielberg and sweet Jane 

click to enlarge COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES - Ready, set, go Steven Spielberg's latest film is Ready Player One, set in the not-too-distant future.
  • Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Ready, set, go Steven Spielberg's latest film is Ready Player One, set in the not-too-distant future.

"Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not just use the dollar as a bookmark?"

Steven Spielberg said that. And while younger Canadians may not remember them from the pre-loonie era of paper currency, in Spielberg's homeland America paper $1 bills are still the standard. Regardless, it's hard to argue with that kind of common sense wisdom. Especially from a cat whose movies have grossed a mind-blowing $9.44-billion dollars worldwide over the past half-century.

And there's more profits on the way. Spielberg is a one-man cinematic dream factory and his latest flick, Ready Player One, opens this week at the Whistler Village 8. The tonal opposite of Spielberg's last outing (historical political thriller The Post) this one is a bit like staring at a strobe light while two decades of pop-culture downloads through a USB-C cable jacked straight through your retinas and into your hypothalamus (with the correct adapter, of course). And it's going to be big.

Based on a novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One starts in in a multi-leveled dystopian trailer park outside of Columbus, Ohio in 2045. The world is so hyper saturated in marketing and bullshit that nearly everyone, including orphan/protagonist Wade Watts, spends most of their time plugged into their computers­—virtual reality is not only here, it's the future of reality.

Welcome to The Oasis, a be-anyone, do-anything, pop culture melting pot/immersive universe created by a tech genius named James Halliday, who disappeared and left control of his universe (and the future) to anyone who can complete three impossible challenges and prove their worthiness by finding a hidden Easter Egg.

Because it's a fantasy world built and played by the people of our near future, Ready Player One's Oasis is literally built out of recycled imagery and ideas from our current past (mostly the '80s. The warning being that we are already so nostalgic and backwards facing that very little of interest will be created in the next two decades). After Wade Watts cracks the first stage of the ultimate contest for the future of everything he and his friends find themselves thrust deep into a VR "game" with real-world consequences.

This movie fires hard and fast. Think Tron meets The Fifth Element meets Charlie and The Chocolate Factory meets Death Race 2000 while reading comic books on amphetamines with Wreck-It Ralph playing on a 12-foot screen behind you. This is an eyeball burner and it sparks with the kind of manic, obsessive energy few would expect from a filmmaker Spielberg's age (he's 71).

But Steve is slick, and while he's always excelled at adventure, he can also create human characters and leave audiences with plenty to discuss. On the surface this flick is a trippy, flashy adventure designed to celebrate geekdom, but underneath that it's also a critique of consumer meta-culture and the homogenization of ideas (if everyone can be their favourite anything, who's inclined to create something of their own?).

It's also a shitload of fun. Spielberg's tapped into the fountain of youth and, despite his success, he knows it's not something you can buy with dollar, dollar bills y'all.

Tonally opposite, the download/stream of the month is Jane, a found footage documentary about incredible chimpanzee researcher, conservationist, and ultimate badass, Jane Goodall.

Directed by Brett Morgan (Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck) this one pieces together contemporary interviews with stunningly crisp 1960s footage of 26-year-old Goodall in the jungles of Tanzania embedding herself into an animal world/society no human had explored before.

The animal footage is endearing (baby chimps), exhilarating (savage food frenzies), and heartbreaking (polio outbreak) but through it all Goodall, who had no formal scientific training, shines as Goodall shines as a woman with integrity and grit who always knew what she wanted to do in life, made it happen, and helped create a better world because of it.

Jane is available on iTunes.

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