Review: Pixels

Pixels-Donkey-Kong-467

DIR: Chris Columbus • WRI: Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling • PRO: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Allen Covert, Adam Sandler • DOP: Amir Mokri • ED: Peck Prior, Hughes Winborne • DES: Peter Wenham • MUS: Henry Jackman • CAST: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan

Pixels is one of the worst films I’ve had the displeasure of watching, and an immediate contender for the worst feature film of 2015. Badly written, badly acted, and so disgustingly misogynistic I’m amazed anyone approved this script for shooting.

Basically, what happened here is that Sandler and his goon squad from Happy Madison took a brilliant concept for a film, and messed up. Terribly.

So, the plot of this train-wreck is that in 1982, some video-game footage, taken from an arcade competition, where we see our lead characters as children, was sent in a probe to outer space, in the hope that aliens would find it and realise what lovely beings the human race are. And indeed, aliens did find it, and they somehow mistook it for a declaration of war, and decided to launch a full-scale offensive against Earth, the aliens presumably having nothing better to do. Wait a minute, let me get this straight. Aliens find this thing that’s been randomly floating through space for the last 30 years, which would indicate that it’s gotten pretty far away from Earth at this point, somehow mistake it for a declaration of war, and instead of going back home to get their defences ready for the invasion that they think is oncoming, instead they immediately fly over to Earth and launch an attack without even trying to contact earth’s leaders about the transmission? Maybe asking about it, making sure it was a declaration of war before killing millions? For an alien society which the film at a later point establishes as peace-loving, they seemed very quick to launch an offensive against the planet. Anyway, as you may have seen in the trailers, instead of the traditional alien Warcraft flying around destroying things, the aliens instead use creatures modelled from the data they got from the probe, i.e. they send down giant pixelated versions of Pacman, etc. to kill us.

They decide to challenge humanity to a video-game off, i.e. giant rounds of one videogame or another get played, the winner of each round gets one point, if humanity get more points, the aliens leave peacefully and stop trying to destroy us. This causes U.S. President Cooper, played by Kevin James, (no really) to call upon the arcade champions of 1982, the year the probe was sent up, to play for the Earth, as he considers them the Earth’s best hope, and this begins another man-child hero’s journey similar to Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison.

We’re then introduced to the gamer characters, and of course they’re the stereotypical weirdo gamers who have of course done nothing with their lives, because it’s of course inconceivable to think that any video-game fans could possibly have normal lives… Oh wait, yes it is, it’s just that writing a character like that would be original, and originality is too much to ask of a film like Pixels. To be honest, I would have understood the point of maybe one of them being a loser still infatuated with gaming, while the others have moved on with their respective lives, perhaps there could have been a character arc about the loser learning about the dangers of all-consuming nostalgia, the need for variation in our hobbies, and the need to grow up and do something constructive as well as have hobbies?

As the trailers have been boasting, this film doesn’t just feature James and Sandler, it also has  Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad, and both are… absolutely terrible. Dinklage, for some reason, spends the entire film doing a voice which I think was meant to indicate that he was from the hood, and although he did admittedly make me laugh once, the one and only time I laughed during the run-time of this supposed comedy, Josh Gad messed up completely. Not only does every one of his jokes fall flat on its face with an audible thud, he seems to confuse comedy with screeching like a prepubescent child whose balls are still in his neck trying to match the screeches of a Dragon-ball Z character as they power up for 10 hours. And of course, it goes without saying that tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum do their usual things: Sandler comes out with unfunny one-liners while James does the usual “clumsy funny fat guy” routine he’s been doing since King of Queens.

I’ve heard a few people call this film Scott Pilgrim for complete douches, and I agree. You see, whereas Scott Pilgrim used the video-game rules in real life thing as a way to tell an interesting story that used gaming iconography to make thoughtful commentary on love and the human condition, Pixels uses video-game iconography to show us a video-game character, say “oh look, I recognise that and for some reason that now qualifies as a joke! Oh look its frogger! Give us money to remind you frogger existed!”

There’s another sub-plot involving Gad’s creepy caricature of the stereotypical gaming nerd being madly in love with a Buffy the vampire-slayer-esque action chick, (who by the way wears an outfit that looks like it was designed by a hormonal teenage boy with scissors for hands, and who never speaks) and when he finally meets her, she can for some reason go non-pixelated even though all the other aliens look like they were beamed straight off an NES. .

There’s also the problem of this film having no idea who its audience is. Given all the retro-gaming references, you’d assume it was meant as a nostalgia trip for all the members of Generation X that would have grown up in the arcades playing these games, but since anyone who actually played these games in the arcades would be 30-40 by now, why is the humour so blatantly dumbed down and made for 6-year-old children? Every single one of the unfunny jokes in this film is like something a six-year-old might laugh at. I get that they want to make it kid-friendly so parents will spend money on it for their children, there is business sense there, but could they not have had a few innuendos, some Dreamworks-esque adult joke that kids won’t understand?

You know what hurts the most about this film? The fact that it could have been good. Let’s go back to the beginning of the film, the arcade championship. I actually did enjoy the first few scenes of this film, and the child actors they got to play the kid versions of Sandler, James, Dinklage and Gad were surprisingly good, and this film is directed by Chris Columbus, director of the first two Home Alone movies, the first two Harry Potter movies, and the classic Mrs. Doubtfire, proving that he knows how to get good performances out of child actors, a skill not every director has. What if, instead of skipping ahead 30 years, the alien invasion had happened back in 1982, and we had spent the entire film with the children? We still could have had the whole retro-game thing, and if it had been set back then, it would have been even more of a nostalgia trip for the Gen Xers who grew up with these games. It could have been The Lost Boys with aliens. It could have worked. If they’d tightened up the script a little bit and gotten rid of the misogyny, it could have been good!

In the interest of objectivity, I feel I should mention the fact that the CGI is genuinely excellent, and looks amazing! It’s just too bad everything else about this film falls flat.

Alright, I’ve been dancing around this issue long enough, I think it’s time to address the giant, tuberculotic elephant in the room: the rampant sexism and complete disregard for all female characters. Firstly, Adam Sandler and Michelle Monaghan have about as much chemistry as Hayden Christianson and Natalie Portman had in the Star Wars prequels, and Sandler comes across as pretty eerie a lot of the time, especially when he first meets Monaghan. Honestly, if you edited “Creep” by Radiohead over the scene where Sandler and Monaghan first meet, it would be quite fitting. Then there’s the larger issue, i.e. the fact that there are a total of five female characters in this entire film. Two have no dialogue, and one of those two spends all her screen-time walking around in a Xena: Warrior Princess-esque fetish outfit, two are celebrity cameos, four of them are princess peach-esque trophies for the male characters, and only two of them have any relevance to the over-arching alien invasion plot.

In the end, this movie is easily the worst thing to happen to gaming since Jack Thompson. The acting’s sub-par across the board, the script is terrible, none of the jokes are funny, it’s openly misogynistic, and Columbus finally made a film worse than Nine Months. Well done.

Darren Beattie

12A (See IFCO for details)
105 minutes

Pixels  is released 14th August 2015

Pixels – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Blended

Sandler-and-Barrymore

DIR: Frank Coraci • WRISimon Kinberg PRO: Jack Giarraputo, Mike Karz, Adam Sandler • DOP: Julio Macat • ED: Tom Costain • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Ivan Menchell, Clare Sera

“The new Adam Sandler comedy” are words that strike a Pavlovian response in most film critics around the world, to the extent that if he’s not being directed by Judd Apatow or P.T. Anderson, it’s probably a safe bet that whatever the movie is, it’s probably going to be one of the worst movies you’ll see that year. We can safely assume that it’s just going to be him and a group of his “funny mates” like Kevin James or Rob Schneider or someone else that only Adam Sandler finds humourous, set against the backdrop of what is essentially a holiday for Adam Sandler and all his mates (Just Go With It – Hawaii, Jack & Jill – Royal Caribbean Cruise, Grown Ups – Lake House).

In fact, the only redeeming factor in Sandler’s career has been Drew Barrymore, co-starring with him in what is inarguably his best film, and then re-starring with him in what has been one of the very few watchable rom-com’s Sandler has been in from the last decade. But if you take the quality dip from The Wedding Singer to 50 First Dates, and multiply that by a hundred, that’s where we are with Blended.

Sandler plays Jim, a recent widower with three daughters, who goes on a first date with Barrymore, who plays Lauren, a recent divorcee with two sons. The date doesn’t go well, but a series of fiercely unbelievable events ends up with them accidentally going on holiday together to Sun City in South Africa (there’s that holiday we mentioned earlier). Spattered about the place are bit roles filled by the likes of Terry Crews, Joel McHale, Kevin Nealon and Shaquille O’Neal (there’s those mates we mentioned earlier), but really this comes down to Sandler and Barrymore first hating each other, and then slowly coming to love each other, because… Well, there’s the problem.

Jim and Lauren are so intrinsically unlikeable, that you kind of don’t want them to get together at all. The script comes up with belaboured reasons for them to fall in love – They both drink their coffee the same way! Gasp! – but he is such a selfish ignorant douchebag and she is such an anal nagging harpy that you could care less if they find happiness. Coupled with that are their kids; both of Barrymore’s sons are horribly annoying, to the point where you hope the director makes some risky choices, turns the film into a The Ghost & The Darkness rip-off and they both get violently killed by lions, while Sandler’s daughters fair a little better, but only because they appear to have recognisable human personalities.

So between the unlikeable characters, the unfunny script, the painfully apparent product placement (you’ll have a hankering for Hooters by the time the end credits arrive) and the fact that all of this actually came from the director of The Wedding Crasher, we’re now living in a time when even a watchable Adam Sandler movie, let alone a good one, has become something of a pipe-dream. Avoid.

Rory Cashin

12A (See IFCO for details)
117 mins

Blended is released on 23rd May 2014

Blended – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Hotel Transylvania

DIR: Genndy Tartakovsky  WRI:Peter Baynham, Robert Smigel PRO: Michelle Murdocca  ED: Catherine Apple DES: Marcelo Vignali  CAST:  Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, David Spade

At first glance the prospects for the latest animated offering from Sony Pictures are quite bleak. The only pedigree lauded on the poster ‘from the studio that brought you The Smurfs’ suggests this film could be doomed to mediocrity. A closer inspection does offer some hope. Boasting a formidable cast and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack and Star Wars: The Clone Wars) there is certainly potential.

 

The story largely centres on Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) who, having lost his wife to an angry mob swears to protect his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) forever. To this end he builds a sanctuary for monsters everywhere. Hidden in a ‘spooky’ forest and surrounded by the land of the undead this sanctuary is the Hotel Transylvania. Monsters of all shapes and sizes can come to holiday in the luxurious castle and take refuge from the dreadful humans who are, as taught by the count, the real monsters. Given the opportunity, they will stop at nothing to destroy the count and his friends.

 

We join the story on the eve of Mavis’ 118th birthday, for which a large celebration is being planned. In attendance are all the counts friends; Uncle ‘Frank’ Frankenstein (Kevin James), Wayne the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Griffin The Invisible Man (David Spade), Murray the Mummy (CeeLo Green) and their respective other halves. All is going according to plan until both the party and the safety of the hotel are threatened when hapless human backpacker Jonathan (Andy Samberg) follows some of Dracula’s minions back to the monsters’ haven. After a failed attempt to sneak Jonathan out of the hotel unnoticed, the Count is forced to disguise the intruder as a monster himself. Dracula invents increasingly elaborate explanations ultimately introducing Jonathan as ‘JohnnyStein’ the cousin of Frankenstein’s right arm and a party planner there to help with the festivities to honour Mavis. Much to the ire of Dracula, Johnny quickly gains the admiration of the monsters due to his carefree nature, and even wins the heart of Mavis herself with his tales of the world beyond Hotel Transylvania, before he is ultimately revealed as an imposter.

 

From the outset there are some cheap laughs that will certainly appeal to the younger audience but the film suffers throughout by failing to choose a target demographic or appeal equally to several. Whereas titles such as Toy Story succeeded in pleasing children while simultaneously appealing to the adults who are accompanying them, Hotel Transylvania seems to flip flop between the two goals. Some of the more childish humour seems forced and without real substance, largely focusing on slapstick sight gags and the consumption of disgusting foods such as pancakes filled with worms. On the other hand some of the more mature jokes border on the macabre or are simply throwaway lines at the end of scenes which are easily missed. The plot also seems to lose direction after the initial exposition, settles into clichés and unconvincingly meanders towards a third-act resolution. Despite the flailing narrative there are some real gems in the script. Sandler carries his character’s neuroses expertly and the scenes with Samberg will likely bring a smile to your face if not a chuckle from your lips.

 

Hotel Transylvania lacks the universal appeal or emotional resonance of a Pixar title but it is by no means a bad film. There is plenty on offer to keep children entertained although adults may be a tad bored by the time the credits roll.

Paddy Delaney

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
91 mins

Hotel Transylvania is released on 12th October 2012

Hotel Transylvania    –  Official Website

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Cinema Review: That’s My Boy

DIR: Sean Anders • WRI: David Caspe  • PRO: Allen Covert,  Jack Giarraputo, Heather Parry , Adam Sandler • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Tom Costain • DES: Aaron Osborne • CAST: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Susan Sarandon

That’s My Boy is both mind-numbing and coarse. The only positive aspect to the film is the gradual bonding of the father Donny (Sandler) and Todd (Samberg). Other than that there is nothing creative or original about this film – Sandlers latest instalment to a long list of unscrupulous movies. It stinks of been there done that; but not in respect to the activities of the film, it’s more just a new version of his last movie which wears a little thin and is pretty dull.

Written by David Caspe and  directed by Sean Anders, this is another of Sandler’s characters classic examples of a wild teenager abused by his peers as in many of his previous roles e.g. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore. It makes one wonder how these films see the light of day and pull in any profit, Sandler can be classed as a bit of a Zoolander, a one-look wonder.

Although underneath all the bravado it’s plain to see all Donny was short of was a mother’s love and his own father wasn’t the greatest role model – is this a dig at the social system?

Donny (Sandler) starts out wanting to use his son Todd (Andy Samberg) as a get out of jail free card but then realises his son’s happiness comes first as he teaches his adult son Todd to ride a bike for the first time; And later weaning him off his comforter – a spare pair of underpants which he keeps tucked in his waistband due to the fact that his father forgot to pick him up from school and he pooped himself. Finally embracing and telling Todd he loves him puts an empathic spin on the film, however very quickly the tone is lowered yet again as a drunk Vanilla Ice urinates like a fountain in the bushes before Todd makes love to his future wife’s wedding dress.

The film in general is poor taste and a classic example of Hollywood’s effect on modern cinema. This film is smeared with smut and is not for the faint-hearted.

Juls Nicholl-Stimpson

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
114 mins

That’s My Boy is released on 7th September 2012

That’s My Boy– Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPV2L2CGWdQ

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Cinema Review: Jack and Jill

ha ha ha

DIR: Dennis Dugan • WRI: Steve Koren, Adam Sandler • PRO: Todd Garner, Jack Giarraputo • DOP: Dean Cundey • ED: Tom Costain • DES: Perry Andelin Blake • Cast: Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes

It’s not exactly the worst job in the world, being a film reviewer. But sometimes it can feel a little bit like torture. There’s different types of bad movies; there’s the kind of movie you knew nothing about beforehand so you had no idea how bad it was going to be, then there’s the kind of movie you had high expectations for and they disappoint, and then there’s the kind of movie that you know already is going to be awful and you can see it coming at you like a car in the night and there’s nothing you can do to avoid it and no matter how bad you think it’s going to be it still somehow manages to be even worse than that. Jack & Jill is that kind of movie.

Jack (Adam Sandler) is happily married Erin (Katie Holmes) and he has lovely kids and he has a great job and everything in his life is perfect. Except that every Thanksgiving his twin sister Jill (also Adam Sandler) comes to visit, and this year she’s planning on staying for quite a bit longer than usual… Also, one of Jack’s potential clients, Al Pacino (playing a version of himself that would him to be in a cross-dressing Adam Sandler movie) takes a shining to Jill and…

You know what? No. Just no. Don’t see this movie. It’s beyond reviewing. Every once great comedian seems to ruin himself with family comedies (Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy have done it before him), and the nadir is usually the cross-dressing/fat-suit movie, and then hopefully the actor will see the errors of his way and try to pick better projects to be in. Sandler has shown he can act before in Punch Drunk Love, and more recently seemed to send up his own career in Funny People, so there was hope that he was on the road to recovery. But a quick look at his upcoming projects show that he’s currently working on Grown Ups 2 and a movie version of the boardgame CandyLand. There is no hope for Sandler. Let’s just rewatch Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer and remember him fondly the way he used to be.

Rory Cashin

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Jack and Jill is released on 3rd February 2012

Jack and Jill – Official Website

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Just Go with It

just-go-with-it-aniston-sandler-photo

DIR: Dennis Dugan • WRI: Allan Loeb, Timothy Dowling • PRO: Jack Giarraputo, Heather Parry, Adam Sandler • DOP: Theo van de Sande • DES: Perry Andelin Blake • CAST: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker

It’s no secret to movie-goers that Adam Sandler’s band of merry men, Happy Madison, have become suckers for formulaic comedy and this new romantic comedy offering Just Go with It is no different. For them though, it seems to work and you may find yourself laughing more than you might have expected.

Just Go with It follows convoluted plot-line which intends to surprise and thrill with its twists but falls somewhat short as these twists are adhering to an unwritten formula that audiences have experienced on too many occasions. There are some laugh-out-loud moments as Sandler expertly uses his physical comedy and pathos in perfect measure, but these moments are all too few and they do not rectify an audience’s inability to get behind their protagonist.

Sandler plays Danny, a man so apparently bruised and battered by previous love that he re-invents himself in his new position as a plastic surgeon. The problem is (and there’s always a problem boys and girls) that Danny has fallen into a trap of consistently lying to prospective love interests about his marital status in order to garner sympathy. When he falls for a much younger schoolteacher, he enlists the help of his long-suffering assistant to pretend to be his soon to be ex wife in order to be ‘honest’ with his current love. Naturally, hilarity ensues.

Jennifer Aniston plays Katherine, Sandler’s apparently ‘dowdy’ assistant. Aniston plays her role surprisingly straight and cements herself as the undisputed sweetheart of romantic comedy. Here she perfectly times an awkwardly composed scripts and creates one of the few likeable characters in the film. The scenes in which Aniston is ‘revealed’ as being a beautiful woman are unintentionally laughable as it would seem that it’s very hard to make Aniston look anything but gorgeous.

A welcome treat here are Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck who play Aniston’s children who effortlessly manipulate the awkwardness of the situation Sandler finds himself in. Gluck is an especially exciting find here as he completely steals every scene and displays expert comic timing to rival Sandler’s. An odd addition is Nicole Kidman whose presence seems entirely out of place, Kidman completely overstates the comedy in her scenes and over-acts her position to the point of baffling the audience. It almost seems as though her character from Moulin Rouge has wandered onto the wrong set whilst searching for her costumes.

A perfectly competent Valentine’s Day watch, it will garner plenty of belly laughs during the film, but once you’ve left the cinema you may struggle to remember what exactly was funny in the first place. Just Go with It is a watchable comedy which follows an all-too-familiar formula, but the awards ceremonies needn’t be worried.

Ciara O’Brien


Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

Just Go with It is released on 11th February 2011

Just Go with It – Official Website

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Grown Ups

Grown Ups

DIR: Dennis Dugan • WRI: Adam Sandler, Fred Wolf • PRO: Jack Giarraputo, Adam Sandler • DOP: Theo van de Sande • ED: Tom Costain • DES: Perry Andelin Blake • CAST: Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, Norm MacDonald, David Spade

If you enter the words ‘grown up’ and ‘Adam Sandler’ into a search engine you get zero matches. Okay that’s not actually true but it quite possibly was until recently. Familiar face though he is, ‘grown up’ wouldn’t be the first adjective to spring to mind when describing him so what is he doing in a film entitled Grown Ups?

The pitch is simple – get Sandler and his equally immature peers in the comical shapes of Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider in the same camera lens and watch all that beautiful money pour in. How could it fail? It could and it does, cataclysmically so.

The plot (likely written on a napkin) centres on a group of childhood friends who drift apart and are reunited thirty years later for the funeral of their basketball coach. They spend the weekend together in a holiday cabin with their families as they reminisce about simpler times amid chastising their children for their cell phones and apparent heliophobia.

There’s nothing wrong with a lack of plot in a comedy once you back it up with plenty of laughs and this is where Grown Ups fails in fully matured proportions. It’s like being a guest at a school reunion where you are forced to sit in on their private jokes and dull reminiscences that are only funny if you were there thirty years ago. Instead of constructive dialogue, the ‘grown ups’ call each other fat, and laugh and complain about getting old and then the cycle begins again. Grown Ups is a fine example of that phenomenon where time passes achingly slow when you’re surrounded by idiots in a forced conversation, perhaps at a school reunion.

I would count myself a fan of Sandler’s earlier work but Grown Ups is a sorry sight when compared to the likes of The Wedding Singer or Happy Gilmore. It makes for uncomfortable viewing; like an aged rock star putting on a greatest hits tour which is such a disappointment that it actually spoils their back catalogue. Sometimes it’s better to just enjoy your memories instead of trying to recreate the experience, failing horribly, and boring the unfortunate guest at your reunion.

Peter White

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Grown Ups
is released on 27th August 2010

Grown Ups Official Website

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