Sunday, August 2, 2015

Theatrical Review: Pixels

Date: Saturday, August 1 2015
Time: 2:20pm
Location: Pocono Movieplex
Party: 3 (my mom, sister and myself)

Brenner- Adam Sandler
Cooper- Kevin James
Ludlow- Josh Gad

Fireblaster- Peter Dinklage
Violet- Michelle Monaghan
Lady Lisa- Ashley Benson

Director: Chris Columbus (Harry Potter, Step-Mom, Mrs. Doubtfire)
Based on a short  film by Patrick Jean

Duration: 106 minutes (+ 3? previews)


Opening Remarks
When we first arrived, the theater was empty and the previews had already begun. By the time the opening credits started, a family or two filed in behind us and laughed along with us. Granted, the laughs were few, but we all were kind of on the same ride.

I mentioned on previous reviews that I looked forward to this movie based on the trailer alone. Thought it was going to be one of the biggest nerdgasms EVER-- seeing old 80's video games come to life, even if they were here to kill us.
Then we found out that it was this year's Adam Sandler/Happy Madison production...

Much Ado about Adam Sandler

I've reviewed Adam Sandler twice already. "50 first dates" was my favorite of his chick-flick movies (and my favorite Drew Barrymore movie). And he was great in "Spanglish" as a dramatic actor, but he wasn't the biggest draw of the movie.
Nowadays, when you hear he's attached to a movie, there's a collective GROAN and echo of "How does this idiot kept getting movies made?"
The only logical answer: he's lucky enough to have his own production company. Happy Madison is named after two of his successful 90's movies: Billy Madison & Happy Gilmore.
His brand of comedy, I'll call, PG-obnoxiousness, idiocy and self-deprecation. Those two films succeeded because they were well-written and dealt from an emotional core.
But all the latest movies he'd put together, the "Grown Ups" movies, "Jack & Jill," etc., his brand of comedy has gotten so ridiculously blown out of proportion... :sigh:

What's the point of all this?
While the comedy of this movie was good, the fact Adam Sandler was attached to it pretty much doomed it to fail. No matter how cool the special effects are. In fact, it might have been worth to see this in 3D for the Centipede and Pac-Man sequences.
But I'm getting ahead of myself...


We start in 1982.
Seth Gordon being one of the executive producers was a smart move if only for this opening scene-- he's behind "The Goldbergs," an ABC sitcom set in the 80's, which I LOVE as someone who loves the 80's.

So in 1982, we see younger versions of our four male leads participate in an Arcade Game tournament. Eddie aka "Fireblaster" is the egomaniac champ with an entourage and he winds up psyching Adam Sandler out in the final round (Donkey Kong), taking the trophy.
Also to remember in this tournament: it will be videotaped and sent into space by NASA.

In the present, all of our gamers have more or less become losers... although it is pretty cool that Adam Sandler knows how to install big screen TV's and video game systems. His electronic talents haven't gone completely to waste.
For whatever ungodly reason, Kevin James becomes our next president and he happens to one trying to promote literacy when his reading level is in the basement. I don't know about you, but any universe where Kevin James is president has me worrying about our future.

As it turns out, the videotape we sent into space, an alien race took that as a declaration of war and sent all these video game characters to Earth to destroy us.
Challenges are issued rather cleverly, combining 80's celebrity icons with Bad Lip Reading. The department of defense even says that anyone could have done that with their computers to create a hoax... they can do it, they have the technology...

But the threat soon enough becomes credible and the so-called losers finally get to use their video-gaming skills for something important.

Characters and Actors
First of all, it is so nice to not have Sean Bean die in this. He plays the Colonel in charge of the army.

Michelle Monaghan, who I'd praised in my "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" review, holds her own here as the army's Lieutenant and the first scene she and Adam Sandler share together is pretty funny. But I'd have to agree with another review I read (written by a woman I'm willing to bet is a feminist): she isn't given enough to do and her character is more or less confined to female stereotypes. (What I didn't agree with was her harping about no strong female characters in this movie... speaking as a woman myself, I'm sorry, but we can't always have that luxury. Besides, it's not as if girls played video games in the 80's... that I know of..).

Another review said Adam Sandler was on auto-pilot throughout this. I didn't think he was all that bad, compared to the recent movies I refused to watch based on their trailers. But I was in this movie more for the different "levels" and "challenges" than him.

If any actors stood out, it was Josh Gad... ever-so-lovable and funny... Olaf is going places ;)
and Peter Dinklage. He's the only reason my mom came with us to this movie :P He's a bad-ass character in "Game of Thrones" and it's fun seeing him in this type of role-- where he can crack a smile and a joke. And considering his character spent the past several years in prison for tax evasion and such, you never really know what to expect from him. Let's just say he does some things that don't really come as a surprise, but I praise the writers for it.

Video Games
When I got my Playstation for Christmas, it came with Crash Bandicoot: Warped (which I sold cuz I couldn't beat it and the disc was glitchy), Frogger (which I played a lot with my friends back in the early 2000's) and Namco Arcade Museum.
So I know some of my vintage 80's video games. I'm good at Galaga and decent at Pac-Man and we saw some of these characters throughout the movie.
As I said before, the special effects in the battle sequences were nerdgasm worthy. So cool seeing them in person and so realistic.
The final battle scene where it's all-out war... not so much. Maybe because it was too chaotic or I didn't recognize as many of the characters anymore.

But I loved how the writing included just about everything about video gaming that nerds have been aware of for decades: everything from cheat codes to patterns to old vs. new. Adam Sandler shares some scenes with Michelle Monaghan's son where they talk about how video games have changed over the years. When it became less about patterns and more about "pretending you're the guy and you don't want to die."

We also address how some nerds fall in love with pixels and Josh Gad sees his personal fantasy come to life in the form of Lady Lisa. Granted, she's there to kill him, but that was a nice touch.
As was the inclusion of Q*Bert as a character.

Final Word
When it comes to bringing video game characters to life... just maybe you're better off leaving Adam Sandler and his gang out of it...
"Wreck-It Ralph," on the other hand, would be a much more worthy venture if seeing video games brought to life is your cup of tea. The writing's super clever, it has a lot of heart and the nerdgasms are more prevalent... plus there's a wicked twist at the end that still blows my mind :P

And FYI, it is worth sticking through some of the credits: they replay the entire movie within 2 minutes using vintage 8-bit video game animation. It's pretty cool.

Grade: B

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