SXSW 2018: A few things we learned at the ‘Ready Player One’ VR experience

A light tunnel leads to the OASIS at the “Ready Player One” experience during the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, March 8, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In anticipation of the March 29 release of Steven Spielberg’s new action adventure, “Ready Player One,” attendees at this year’s South by Southwest Conference and Festivals can check out the immersive Ready Player One Experience with Vive VR. The two-story installation is at Brazos Hall on East Fourth Street from March 9-11; there was a preview party March 8.

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Let’s discuss it. All quotes are from a news release about the event.

“The RFID wristband (guests receive at the entrance) will keep score as guests test their knowledge of `80s trivia.”

Anyone over 40 will crush the trivia. The down side is then you get to see millennials totally stumped by questions about, like, Richard Pryor being in “Superman III,” and then you feel incredibly, monstrously old and begin eyeing the bar with a very certain desperation as you start counting the number of SXSWs you have covered.

“Visitors can browse at Avatar Outfitters, offering the Hot Topic Ready Player One Pop-Up Shop.  Guests will have a chance to score officially licensed gear, including exclusive T-shirts, caps, jewelry, backpacks, collectible pins and other cool accessories, as well as fan-favorite Funko Pop! vinyl figures.”

This is a merch shop. I took photos of the stuff and sent them to my 9-year-old, who recently finished the book and loved it and is very excited indeed for the movie. One of these days, FunkoPops are going to all move to the next phase of their evolution and kill us all, I just know it.

MORE PHOTOS: ‘Ready Player One’ VR experience at SXSW

“Guests can try out the “Ready Player One” Avatar Creator by VIVE to choose their new digital identity, and then send the avatar to their personal email.”

I did this, and because I am kind of terrible at many, many video game things (ex: I am pretty sure I called my avatar “Joe”), my avatar managed to look EXACTLY like me with small tweaks. IRL, I do not have a large disk in the middle of my head, nor am I made of wood and wouldn’t tuck jeans into boots — in fact, why is that even an option?


“Drop into 2045’s hottest nightclub, The Distracted Globe, where infinity mirrors create the impression of being gravity-free for a cool photo op, and guests can enjoy ‘Ready Player One’-themed specialty cocktails.”

There was never more than one person in there at a time when I was there, but I bet it looked pretty cool filled up.

The Distracted Globe, a nightclub in “Ready Player One,” attempts to create the feeling of being gravity free with infinity mirrors at the “Ready Player One” experience during the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, March 8, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It seemed like the DJ was cutting together every single hit from 1982 or so to 1989. At one point Eric B and Rakin’s “I Know You Got Soul” cut right at “pump up the volume” into the stripped down bit from “Jack and Diane,” of all things, instead of Bomb the Bass’s “Beat Dis,” as God intended, and it was kind of an existential crisis for everyone, again, over 40. Everyone else’s face held a a very “Whatever, man” expression, which is probably the correct response.

The second floor featured an installation that looked like the stacks of mobile homes envisioned in the book (and movie).


Each “trailer” featured one or two VR rigs that had various VR versions of classic arcade games and “RP1”-inspired “experiences.”

Raymond Wong plays a VR game at the “Ready Player One” experience during the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, March 8, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

I was also very bad at this. I picked the DJ one and just kind of stood there for a bit, switching between various points-of-view. Make sure the headset fits TIGHTLY on your head — I didn’t, and the bleed-through from outside noise was substantial, which pretty well takes you out of the moment.

Want more? “On March 10, the SXSW Film Festival will hold its 25th Edition party, celebrating the anniversary of the film festival, at the Experience. On Sunday, March 11, the venue will hold a livestream, Ready Player One LIVE at SXSW, powered by Twitch and IMDb, hosted by Aisha Tyler and correspondent Alex Correa. The stream will be live on and and will feature some of the stars and filmmakers from “Ready Player One,” including cast members Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao and Ben Mendelsohn; screenwriter Zak Penn; and author/screenwriter/co-producer Ernest Cline.”

SXSW party guide
Tips to make the most of your SXSW Film experience

Four sci-fi films we’re looking forward to this summer

Aliens, apes, other dimensions and a thousand planets. Here are four sci-fi films we’re looking forward to.

“War for the Planet of the Apes”


“Alien: Covenant.” Well, it certainly looks terrifying (and pretty gross). Ridley Scott continues his re-mining of the “Alien” franchise with this sequel to “Prometheus” starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir and James Franco, whom I can easily see being destroyed by a xenomorph. Full review later this week. (May 19)


“Kill Switch.” Dan Stevens, so brilliant in FX’s “Legion,” starring in a lowish-budget sci-fi movie about inter-dimensional travel? Sign me up. COME ON, IT LOOKS FUN. (June 16)

“War for the Planet of the Apes.” I have warm feelings toward the rebooted Planet of the Apes series — it will never be as cool as the original, but what is? It’s Caesar the ape (Andy Serkis) versus Woody Harrelson and a whole mess of humans. Given the events of the past few years, it is pretty much impossible not to root for the apes. (July 14)

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” Oh, man. Luc Besson knocked it out of the park with the visual lunacy in “The Fifth Element,” which took a mess of inspiration from French sci-fi comics. So some of us have probably inappropriately high hopes for this adaptation of a French comic book space opera. We hold out hope for something seriously weird. (July 21)


Check out the full summer movie preview here.

Here’s why the trailer for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is FANTASTIC

“He stood alone..” (From Thor #362, words and art by Walter Simonson

Oh, man.

Oh, maaaaaaan.

Behold the magnificence that is the totally excellent trailer for “Thor: Ragnarok.”



I know, right? Here are my favorite bits, which are spoilers for what you just watched. Didn’t watch it? Go watch it. Do it again.

I have been waiting for Marvel to use Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in a scene or movie or SOMETHING involving Thor for years. It is as totally awesome as I hoped it would be.

Cate Blanchett as Hela, the Asgardian goddess of  death, CRUSHING Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, which is an object we, the people, have been told is pretty well indestructible and so totally awesome only Thor can pick the thing up. Yet, here we are.

“He’s a friend from work!” OK, so, it looks like Ragnarok will take bits from a few different storylines from various comics: some Thor stuff from various points in the comics run is being paired with a completely different, non-Thor  storyline from 2006 called “Planet Hulk.”

Written by Greg Pak, “Planet Hulk” involves a bunch of ostensible heroes who shoot Hulk into space because he’s just too dangerous (nice friends, huh?) Hulk ends up on a planet full of monsters not unlike himself, and gladiator combat ensues. Thor isn’t in the original “Plant Hulk” (nor is Jeff Goldblum, for that matter) and, quite frankly, the “Planet Hulk” arc would make a pretty excellent movie in and of itself, but this could be a clever way to get some of that imagery into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That said, expect howls of outrage from fanboys furious with the fact that a) the “Planet Hulk” ideas are in there at all and b) that this trailer mixes comedy with Ragnarok, which is, you know, according to Norse mythology, supposed to be the end of the world. From the retro music to the jokes to the font, there is a very “Guardians of the Galaxy” vibe to this thing. 

However, and this is a big however, said fanboy/girl jaws hit the floor around the 1:04 mark.

Did you happen to notice the gent with the two M-16s? That is a guy named Skurge and he is played by Karl Urban.

Now, Skurge was a punchline for years in “Thor” comics — an inept and silly bad guy who was inept in spite of the fact that his name was Skurge the Executioner, which sounds like something that should be written on the side of a van.

But in the hands of the legitimately brilliant Walter Simonson — whose 1980s run on “Thor” is one of the all-time great runs on a superhero comic — this doofus was given one of the greatest hero moments in comics.

Seriously, if you want to see a 30- or 40-something “Thor” fan burst into tears INSTANTLY, walk up to him or her and say “He stood alone at Gjallerbru.” (Lord, I am getting verklempt typing this out.)

This essay by the great Chris Sims breaks it down. There are spoilers in there for a 30-year-old comic (and possibly for Skurge’s role in “Thor: Ragnarok”) but his analysis, per usual, is spot on.

Or you could just read “Thor” #362.

As for me and my house, we are going to watch the trailer again. And also “Thor” #362. And maybe cry.

SXSW Film review: ‘The Greasy Strangler’

Brayden (Sky Elobar) feels the paternal wrath of his father Big Ronnie (Michael St Michaels). Credit: Maren Tedin
Brayden (Sky Elobar) feels the paternal wrath of his father Big Ronnie (Michael St Michaels). Credit: Maren Tedin

What do grease, stuntcocks, disco, pink and sex have in common? Well, they all figure heavily in “The Greasy Strangler.”

I have never quite experienced a film like this. Not since “Eraserhead” have I been so thoroughly irked, entertained and disgusted at the same time.

Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) are a father and son duo who run a walking tour of disco lore in Los Angeles. A beautiful woman shows up for a tour one day and incites a competition for her love between Big Ronnie and Big Brayden, while an oily stranger also shows up leaving cadavers and grease in his wake.

Strange would be an understatement, but “The Greasy Strangler” is not just strange for strange’s sake. There’s a method to the madness of director and co-writer, Jim Hosking.

The film is hilarious at times, revolting at others, a slasher rom-com turned on its head, set to an awesome original electronic score.

At the very least Michaels’ and Elobar’s on-screen dynamic is worth the hour and a half, and Michaels’ performance alone is something to behold in all its greasy splendor.

Stay greasy.

You can catch “The Greasy Strangler” again at 10:30 p.m. Monday at the Alamo South.

Austin Film Festival 2015: According to AFF, the show must go on

rainorshine11:05 a.m.: You might have noticed the torrential rain.

According to the Austin Film Festival’s twitter and webpage, all events are, so far, taking place as scheduled.

However, AFF programmer Erin Hallagan advises paying close attention to the website ( and the twitter feed ( for updates.



“Jaws” on the Water is here (on Saturday)

Jaws on the water
Jaws on the water

Yes, it’s going down; as one wag on Twitter put it, “I am not sure I could go to this unless I was really hammered.”

For the first time since 2002, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this landmark movie, Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow is hosting “Jaws on the Water” at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Texas Ski Ranch. Tickets include use of an inner tube for all patrons. Feel free to bring your own, but the price is the same). There is a Wahoo’s tacos for food, and many, many bars. Bring a bathing suit and a towel. There are no storage lockers on site, so bring only what you need to survive. No refunds if you are a wuss.

TONIGHT: Savage Gold at the Austin Film Society, “Mr. Arkadin” at Drafthouse Ritz

Tonight’s cool screenings:

Savage-Gold-LogoMax Meehan and Lars Nilsen present yet another dope edition of Savage Gold, their carefully programmed, faintly insane series of “strange and unseen materials” from the collections of, well, VHS collectors.  As their webpage puts it, “These shows are for the most adventurous viewers, offering everything from microbudget, shot on video action epics to homemade music videos and more.” Tonight, 8 p.m. $5, AFS Screening Room (1901 East 51st St) . Here is the tickets link.

Also tonight, as part of the Drafthouse’s Orson Welles extravaganza, check out a 35mm confidentialreportwellesprint of the strange and often misunderstood 1955 movie “Mr. Arkadin” aka “Confidential Report.”  Welles plays a billionaire who contracts an American outlaw to investigate his past. Further scrambling an already complicated movie, there is no “director’s cut” or definitive version of “Arkadin.” The Drafthouse site notes that there are “at least eight different cuts of the film, three radio plays, a novel, and several long-lost sequences. ” Here is a primer.
In that, “Arkadin” is a great example of the notion of unreliable narrator (or narrative unreliability) made literal in the physical object of the movie, inadvertently anticipating remix culture, YouTube cuts, fan culture, etc. The story of “Mr. Arkadin” is never really over; this is just one version.   Tickets are $10.25, show starts at 7 p.m.

‘Roar’ star John Marshall in Austin for Friday, Saturday and Sunday screenings

ROAR_StairsJohn Marshall, co-star of the movie “Roar” (and son of  “Roar” director Noel Marshall) is in town this weekend to discuss the completely bonkers 1981 film now reissued by Drafthouse Films.

Here is Charles Ealy’s review of this film, which, like it or not, does not look like (or move like or pounce like) anything else.

As the Drafthouse is fond of emphasizing in its press materials for the film “No animals were harmed in the making of this movie. 70 members of the cast and crew were.” (And we aren’t talking sprains or small cuts; the injuries involved torn scalps, gangrene and broken bones.)

Marshall will be speaking after screenings at  7:30pm and 10:40pm tonight (April 24) , 7:30pm and 9:35pm Saturday and 6:50 p.m. Sunday, all at Alamo South Lamar.