This week saw the debut of a new film column from me for Buffalo.com.
The latest from Steven Spielberg and the home release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” make for a fascinating week for movie lovers. But the must-see is— believe it or not — “Paddington 2,” which just arrived on digital.
Pick of the week: “Ready Player One”
Two years ago, my then-six-year-old son decided he’d like to be Indiana Jones for Halloween, and I was thrilled. As a child of the 1980s, VHS copies of the first three “Jones” films were on an endless loop in my household. What was interesting about my son’s choice, though, was that he’d never actually seen a full Indy film. He knew the character through some old books of mine, a few action figures, and the brief clips I’d shown him from 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
The “Jones” films, of course, were directed by Steven Spielberg, and his ability to grab the attention of kids — and their parents — is unmatched. Even from a few clips and photos, my son was entranced by this heroic figure who just so happens to look a lot like Han Solo. (Go figure!)
This week, the most successful filmmaker of all time is back with a new film, “Ready Player One.” So why is there so little buzz about the director’s adaptation of the nostalgia-overload novel by Ernest Cline? Perhaps it’s because the Spielberg name itself is no longer the family film draw it once was. Consider the underwhelming box office results from his last three kid-friendly efforts, 2011’s “The Adventures of Tintin” and “War Horse,” and 2016’s Roald Dahl adaptation, “The BFG.” All three were imaginative treats, especially “Tintin,” but none took over the zeitgeist.
While the PG-13-rated “Ready Player One” features a cavalcade of references sure to excite mom and dad — from a “Back to the Future” DeLorean to Chucky from “Child’s Play” — pre-teens might feel clueless. Plus, the trailers have struggled with explaining the future-set film’s plot, which is centered on a teenager’s adventures in a virtual reality world called “the OASIS.”
In other words, “Ready Player One” should hold great appeal for adults and maybe some pop culture-savvy teens. But kids won’t be wearing “OASIS”-themed Halloween costumes this fall.
New to digital: “Paddington 2”
The trippy “Annihilation,” the story of a biologist who embarks on a mind-bending secret expedition, is the best film so far this year. In the No. 2 slot is “Paddington 2.” Seriously!
This time around, the beloved bear from darkest Peru becomes entangled with a pompous actor played by a delightful Hugh Grant, and winds up in jail. “Paddington 2” debuted on digital this week (with the DVD/Blu-ray set to follow on April 24), and whether you have children, or not, it’s a must-see.
DVD/Blu-ray pick of the week: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
There is a strong likelihood that you saw “The Last Jedi” in theaters, and it’s even more likely that you have a strong opinion about it. Perhaps now, months after its release, it will be easier for viewers to watch the latest adventures of Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, Poe, and the surviving Skywalkers with an open mind.
The concerns of some adult “Star Wars” fans, of course, were not the concerns of kids. (“How DARE they kill off Luke Skywalker?!” “Calm down, dad.”) The latter audience adored the follow-up to “The Force Awakens.” And guess what? They were correct.
New to streaming: “Little Women” (Netflix)
One of the somewhat forgotten literary adaptations of the 1990s is 1994’s “Little Women,” and that’s a shame. Featuring Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon and a dashing young Christian Bale, this version of the Louisa May Alcott novel is a gem. The film arrives on Netflix on March 28, and it’s a fine film for the entire family. Tweens and young teens will be enchanted.
Just be prepared for some shocked looks when you explain that Jo is the mom from “Stranger Things.”