Triple 9

A.K.A what happens when bad movies happen to good actors

Sometimes you will go the cinema and see a film for one actor you particularly like. Occasionally, you are lucky enough to see a film that for two or three of actors who like. It’s rare to find a film that has an entire lead cast that you truly admire. Triple 9 has a cast made up of some truly talented actors (listed with my favourite of their works):

The trailer for the film looked engaging enough, full of twists and deceit. Then, last night at Cineworld’s Unlimited Secret Screening, I got to see Triple 9. The film is a flawed, convoluted and bitterly depressing 116-minute journey. In all honesty, I would have walked out at about 30 minutes in, if it were not for wanting to find out what happened to the characters played by the above actors along with the fact that I wanted to write a fully-informed review about it. My main hope from writing this review is to discover why I instinctively and vehemently did not like this movie.

Michael (Ejiofor) is the head of a criminal crew that is formed of cops and criminals. The film opens with Michael and his crew (Reedus, Mackie, Paul and Clifton Collins Jr.) undertaking a bank robbery. The men are vicious, with an arsenal of tools to threaten. These include guns, explosives and even a portfolio of information about the bank manager’s personal life to adequately blackmail. The crew get what they came for and leave, but their escape is made messy by greed, which leads to the accidental opening of a dye pack which marks all of them. This mistake aside, all appears well and they hand over the item they stole for gangster Irina Vlasov (Winslet). She withholds their payment however, as she wants them to commit an even more high-profile robbery. A robbery that the men think would be impossible. That’s when one of them realises that it would be possible if the gang splits into two. One half would commit the robbery itself, whilst the other half would provide the police with a distraction. The only crime that would distract an entire police force would be  a Triple 9 – the shooting of a fellow officer. The new partner of Marcus (Mackie) would be the ideal target. However Chris (Affleck) is the Sergeant Detective’s (Harleston) nephew, and both men are highly suspicious as to the identities of the crew.  

First and foremost, it is not the cast who are at fault with this movie.Each of the actors brings a great deal to role, not one of them phones in their performance. Each actor uses what little they have been given to great effect. It’s practically everything else that is a problem. The opening sequence is comprised of tight-framing, minimal lighting and dialogue that poses more questions than answers. By starting in media res (mid action) the film trying to engage you what is going on, but does not provide any reason to actually care about the characters who are participating in these events. This is true of the entire film, we are given little-to-no reason to care about any of the characters. The crew are not charismatic or conflicted enough to be anti-heroes, and the ‘heroes’ are too flawed to side with.

The story that then plays out appears cleverer than it actually is, often leaving the audience unsure what is going on but not motivated enough to figure it out. There is little connection between each scene, jumping around between different characters at different times, without any clarity of how much time has passed. It drifts between place, people and time without giving the viewer anything to anchor on. If a point is trying to be created through this technique, some attempt at social-cultural-political commentary, it does not succeed.

Then there’s the music which accompanies each sequence. The entire soundtrack is a lesson on how not-to-be-subtle, and how-to-bulldoze-your-audience. A soundtrack which is effective at building tension should be a mix of soft and loud to truly emphasize the points of tension. It should not be turned up to eleven for Each. And. Every. Single. Dramatic. Moment.

The cinematography is another example of how the film tried to be clever, but instead isolated the audience.  There’s shaky cam, fast-paced editing with a camera that moves too fast to allow the viewer to actually focus on anything. On the Sky Superscreen at the o2 Arena the effect was rather nauseating instead of tension-building.

Finally, for a cast of this skill and range, a director who could reign them in would be key- a key requirement that was clearly forgotten or ignored. At times many of the cast mumble their lines, making dialogue frequently incomprehensible. Perhaps this was a choice of tone, but frustrated audience is perhaps not really a tone. Many of the actors chew the scenery with over-acting and flailing about, always looking so bitter or impassive at what is going on. Then there’s Casey Affleck, not chewing the scenery but chewing gum in every single scene. His manner of chewing gum in this film rivals the mastication skills of a cow, imposing on his dialogue and stealing every scene he’s in just because it is so aggravating. Someone seems to have told him that his character must be channelled through his chewing gum habit, because Affleck seems to put every once of his acting skill into they way he chews that gum. I’ve never seen chewing gum chewed so aggressively or arrogantly outside of the secondary school I work out. He uses it to show the mood of his character, clearly using that instead of acting to provide any semblance of characterisation.

For a film that wants to be the next The Usual Suspects, L.A Confidential or Training Day Triple 9 is a film that is far too hurried (a remarkable feat at two hours long) and far-fetched to be so. For an account of corrupt cops that is completely true, and is far more powerful and gripping, watch Precinct Seven Five.

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The 5th Wave

The worst film of 2016 (well, 23 days in at least…)

Did you know that discount retailer Poundland (for those outside the UK it’s a shop where everything costs £1, which is roughly 1.32 euro or 1.43 dollars) stocks its own brand of Lego Star Wars? It’s called Battle of the Galactic. It’s an incredibly cheap and tacky-looking rip off of the original. That is what ‘The 5th Wave’ is to franchises like ‘The Hunger Games’ or even ‘Maze Runner’ and ‘Divergent’. It’s cheapily made, poorly constructed and steals the best bits from other films/books then regurgitates them into a mediocre mess. What makes this film even more ‘impressive’ is that it is not even ‘so bad it’s good’. It’s just really really bad and remarkably boring.

Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz) was a ‘super normal teenage girl’. She had friends, went to parties, had a 2.2 family and had a crush called Ben Parish (Nick Robinson) who she spent most of her time day-dreaming about. But then… ‘it’ appeared. Some sort of alien space ship came from nowhere and started hovering above America. For ten days nothing happened. On the tenth day the first attack happened (the 1st wave) and destroyed all electric currents, followed shortly after by waves 2, 3 and 4. Most of the Earth’s population has been killed, with Cassie going with her family to a refugee camp. It’s at the camp that she is separated from her young brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur).  Nobody knows when the Fifth Wave will strike, or in what from it will strike, but it will happen. Against a backdrop of mistrust and fear Cassie makes a desperate journey to find her little brother, on the way meeting mysterious stranger Evan (Alex Roe) who may just be her only hope.

I would like to apologise in advance if, when you read that plot summary above you thought ‘Hey! This doesn’t sound quite so bad!’ Upon rereading it I have made the film sound far more interesting than it actually is. Between each of those events there is so much talking, needless and endless mundane talking, and dire reflecting. Whenever the action picks up it’s then forced to slow again by some pitifully-lacking, poorly-scripted, cliche-ridden sentiments.  For a film that is supposedly the end of the world, the world it features is so dreary and mind-numbingly boring that you do end up wishing for armageddon to happen so the film will end and you can go home.

Considering this film is a 15 (Hunger Games interestingly is a 12A) there is little to warrant it. The action here is so minimal, so bland and lacking in emotion compared to the superior franchise. The set pieces the film possess are so ineffective, clunky and predictable that there is little chance for escapism. The film becomes more and more absurd with each mind-numbingly boring sequence, yet remains utterly lacking in enjoyment. There is an occasional some-what amusing joke that gets shoe-horned into the narrative, but these moments are few and far between.

However, there was one factor about this film that was really reassuring – that will allow me to sleep a little lighter at night. The one thing I did learn from this film was that no matter how bad the alien apocalypse gets, I can still get my beauty products. There’s Moretz’s survivalist with the perfect hair, the sergeant (Maria Bello) with the perfect lipstick/foundation combo, and the smoky kohl-rimmed eyes (a pretty bad-ass Maika Monroe). It’s immensely reassuring to know that no-matter how desperate my battle for survival may get, my look will still be on-point. 

This film is not entertaining enough to hate-watch, or to watch ironically. There’s not even enough to make a drinking game out of it. I can’t even be bothered to turn this into a film rant. It’s just bad. It’s cheapily made, lazily shot with adequate-enough acting. The obvious intention is for this to be the start of a new franchise, one which nobody will want. In a week where I got to see ‘The Revenant’, a film which proved the potential power that film can have, I endured this film which shows that not everyone can handle the responsibility that the great power of cinema can have.

Watch it. Or don’t. Either way – it’s bad.

 

Burnt

A rather overcooked romantic dramedy

Does anyone these days aspire to be Gordon Ramsey? Do they wish to control a kitchen as their lair, spewing and spouting swearwords and insults as they prowl? Ramsey had his peak popularity in the mid-noughties, which is probably when this film was first placed on the boil. It then got forgotten about, rushed to be finished with all of its ingredients past sell their best before date.

Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is in New Orleans shucking oysters, noting down the amount as he does so. He hits one million, downs his tools and walks out despots protestations of his employer. Those million oysters were his penance for his past indiscretions, now complete he can have a second chance. He goes to London to reunite his crew, although there is much bad blood between them. Adam was a rock star chef in 90s Paris – renowned for his ability and persona. However Adam was also a drugs, alcohol and sex addict who managed to burn all of his bridges who was forced to flee Paris and go into hiding. He must be forgiven by his old friends and new (Sienna Miller’s Helene) to his dream of three Michelin stars.

The film’s main ingredient (when will the cooking puns end?!?) is Bradley Cooper. Considering the fact the film’s main plot is so outdated it is perhaps the only reason people will go to see the film. However his character is so unappealing and unsympathetic that you’ll feel had. His character’s closest real-life counterpart is Gordon Ramsey, swearing continuously and having frequent blow-ups about food, with every other character either swooning over his apparent but unproven genius or admonishing him for wasting said-genius. There is genuinely no reason to like his character, which is this film’s fatal flaw. As the narrative limbers from one ‘disaster’ to a next tension is supposedly created by our concern on how he will cope/survive. If we don’t like the character enduring the trials then we don’t really care. This isn’t helped by the lack of realism within these trials – he is hounded by drug lords for the money he owes them. These drug lords are immensely polite, turning up occasionally to speak to him away from other people, and only visiting once or twice to hound him for the large amount he owes them. We are meant to care about Cooper’s character – experience concern that he may not achieve his ambition for three Mitchelin stars. Instead we experience disinterest or distain for such an ass-hat of a character.

Sienna Miller however is gutsy, transforming herself into a tattooed, pierced and partly shaven-haired single mother sous chef. Her character is far appealing than Cooper’s. Yet she is forced to endure conversations with Cooper’s character of the nature of food and eating. These conversations are nauseating to watch, not because they are hunger-inducing but for the sheer pretentiousness of their proclamations.  ‘We eat to stop eating.’ – That’s sooo deep! The rest of the friendship group are entertaining if one-note; the ex-prisoner, the novice, the daddy issues, the rival etc. The script is bland, drifting from one drama to another, and filled with stupid lines about how John Adams used to be an addict and how he hurt people when he was an addict. It’s all so ridiculous and bordering-on fluff.

If you’re seeing this for Bradley Cooper then don’t waste your time. If you’re seeing it for the food, just re-watch an episode of Hell’s Kitchen. An incredibly dated waste of a movie.

The Last Witch Hunter

Lightweight, idiotic and trashy – but not in a good way…

First with the positives; I got to walk on a red carpet last night! After picking up the tickets to the premiere from a tent just off Leicester Square Gardens, then seeing the hundred-odd people surrounding the red carpet, I then got to walk it! It was a pretty incredible experience. Although it was brief, and unsurprisingly no-one knew/cared who I was, it was a bit like walking on air. Perhaps more of a case of floating along than walking the red carpet. There was a brief Q&A before the actual screening of the film – with three of the main stars (Vin Diesel, Michael Caine and Rose Leslie) and director (Breck Eisner) which was also exciting – primarily as I can now say I was sat less than 20 feet away from Michael Caine. Now onto the less positive stuff; i.e. the film itself…

800-years-ago Kaulder (Vin Diesel) lost his wife and daughter to murdering witches. Determined for revenge/justice he joins a raid to destroy the Queen of the witches. Many of his peers die, but Kaulder does not. Kaulder is the last man standing in a face-off with the Queen, one which results in both of their apparent deaths. However, the Queen curses Kaulder in her last breaths to remain immortal – never to love and never to find peace. Now living in present day New York, Kaulder works with a religious sect to combat the thread of witchcraft. His liaison, Dolan 36 (Michael Caine), is one of his closest friends and about to retire leaving Dolan 37 (Elijah Wood) as his replacement. But when tragedy strikes, and Kaulder realises the Queen is returning, he must rely on help from the unlikeliest of people – a witch called Chloe (Rose Leslie).

Oh dear. Just, oh dear. This film is as good as its trailers (i.e a shambles). Again, as I have done with previous reviews, I will rely on bullet points to make my rant somewhat comprehensible.

  • The Plot – Derivative and out-dated. During the Q&A the director boasted of the film’s originality; proud of the fact it is not based on a comic book/tv series etc. After watching the film, this appears to be a flawed statement. The narrative is far from ambitious or new. The plot twist is immensely vanilla. All of the dialogue is just exposition, telling the audience what has happened/what will happen next. The scene with Max in the bakery, and the conversation between Kaulder and Dolan 37 exemplifies this, with Kaulder actually saying to 37, ‘Did you understand any of that?’ This is purely for the ‘benefit’ of the audience, who are clearly being presumed to be of minimal intellect. Kaulder then ‘kindly’ explains it to 37/us. The actual mission Kaulder is on is both absurd and poorly-paced, drifting from one set piece to the next. The story itself is messy, and how it is told it unbearably flat.
  • Gender roles – Who doesn’t love a casual bit of misogyny in their cinema? In a year that saw our silver screens graced with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in Mad Max: Fury Road we have a film that returns us to the woman-as-sidekick/pretty face. Considering how fierce her turn as Ygritte in Game Of Thrones was, Leslie is ill-served here. Her character is a witch, dressed in black and with loads of jewellery (another tick for the lack of originality box). The character could have been given any career but no, Chloe works as a bartender. [Spoiler alert!] it gets burnt down at some point and she spends a good chunk of time blaming Kaulder, moaning that the bar was all she had. Clearly she had forgotten just how big her Central New York apartment is (a problematic feature of tv/film is giving broke characters unrealistically fabulous apartments – a topic for another time). She then spends much of the time in emotional turmoil and needing to be rescued. Her witch powers are the kind that requite her to sit still and go into people’s minds – disappointing considering she could have been scripted to instead kick ass with her powers or even be able to defend herself without his help. The fact Vin Diesel himself must be almost twice Leslie’s age, and his character about 775 years older, a suggested romantic subplot is both ridiculous and patronising. Why not hire an older actress if so insistent on partnering them off? The fact that her accent wavers from cut-glass to eardrum-slicing really doesn’t help her characters attempts at appeal.
  • Vin Diesel – Kaulder is sad (blank expression and monotonal voice). Kaulder is being sardonic (blank expression and monotonal voice). Kaulder is being brave (blank expression and monotonal voice). Vin Diesel crosses the line from being hilariously bad in this role to being depressingly bad. His attempts at quips and banter fall flat without intonation and emotion. Vin Diesel in person has a great deal of charm but is so unconvincing in this with an incredibly wooden performance. Coincidentally you’ll spend the whole film waiting to boom the line, ‘I am…’ Character traits for Kaulder are heavy-handed added on – his predilection for watches to show that he’s deep and reflects of time because he’s immortal. He drives a fast sports car because he can afford one as he’s lived forever. He only sleeps with air hostess as he has a fear of commitment. All of these attempts at providing depth instead reveal how transparent the plot and its characters are.
  • Direction – The special effects are so bland and unspectacular, almost sludgy in presentation. Even without advertising (which has a separate budget) this film cost $90 million to make. Where did it all go?

This film is not even entertaining to be ‘so bad it’s good’. It’s just bad. Bad and boring, which is an unforgiveable crime in cinema.  Avoid.

The Visit

Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers.

Aged nineteen a small town girl, living in a lonely world, ran away with a substitute English teacher. Her parents had tried to persuade her that it was an awful idea. They had begged her to stay. On that afternoon, before she fled, something ‘awful’ happened during that confrontation, which led to the relationship between her and her parents being severed. The girl and her now-husband had a baby girl shortly after, followed two years later by a baby boy. Ten years later the substitute English teacher ran away with another woman, leaving behind his wife and two young children. A difficult five years followed, with the three still struggling to come to terms with the abandonment. That’s when a message arrives from her parents, who found them online. They acknowledge that it may be difficult to re-establish their relationship with their daughter, but would love to start one with their grandchildren. The grandchildren agree and beg to visit their grandparents. The mother reluctantly agrees, sending them off to her old hometown, whilst she herself goes on holiday with her new partner.

The grandchildren make their own way there by train, and are met at the station by their anxiously waiting grandparents who are holding a banner decorated with welcomes. They drive back to the family home, and a mutual fondness is formed. The grandparents dot on the grandchildren and their quirks, and the grandchildren are bemused by these old folks whose bedtime is 9:30pm. At 10.15pm the granddaughter leaves her bedroom to be greeted by her grandmother pacing the downstairs in a trance and projectile vomiting. The next day this is explained away by a tummy bug.

For the rest of their week-long stay the grandchildren realise that there is more than just character quirks going on here, something is seriously wrong. What makes them think this? The grandfather stores hundreds of used adult diapers in the shed. The grandmother runs around the house naked at night scraping the walls and crawling around the floor. She sits in a rocking chair cackling to herself whilst staring at the wall. She chases them underneath the house. She has a breakdown whilst discussing ‘that afternoon’ and also spends one night waiting outside the grandchildren’s room holding a knife.

When having a conversation via Skype with their mother they hold the camera towards the grandparents and the plot twist is revealed – those are not actually their grandparents. The mother tells them to try to escape and that she is on their way. The grandchildren are trapped into playing a game of trivial pursuit, during the course of which all is revealed. For when the granddaughter escapes into the basement she find the bodies of an elderly couple – a framed photograph beside them reveals that they were her grandparents. The imposters are escaped mental patients, who wanted to pretend to have a family just for a week. They were jealous of the actual grandparents, who were volunteer therapists. In fact, the fake-grandmother had actually drowned both of her own children.

Two confrontations happen, with fake-grandfather rubbing a used diaper in the face of the grandson and the fake-grandmother chasing the granddaughter around a locked bedroom. The granddaughter kills the fake-grandmother with shards of a broken mirror. The grandson, with the aid of his sister, kills the fake-grandfather by slamming his head in the fridge doors multiple times. The mother then arrives and takes them to safety; the final scene has the mother revealing the ‘awful’ events of that afternoon fifteen years ago. She had slapped her mother and her father had slapped her in return. Fade to black.

There are so many issues with this film it is hard to start. So instead of a normal review, which would instead become an incomprehensible and lengthy rant, I will instead use bullet points to divide these issues into sections.

  • Child Safety: The fact the mother does not actually check the children have been collected by the right people. Yes, she has not seen or spoken her parents for fifteen years who explain her reluctance to do so, but surely any parent would want to perform some sort of check? This aspect then undermines and already ridiculous plot twist. During the week the mother tries to explain away the oddness of the grandparents by stating that they elderly. But, realistically, the problems that the grandchildren are describing cannot be explained by that when considering how old the grandparents should be. If the mother was nineteen when she had the children, the oldest of which is now fifteen, her parents really couldn’t be much older than seventy. When her children describe these incidents to her, wouldn’t she be shocked that her parents were acting in such a way?
  • Plot twist: After a week of increasingly terrifying antics from the grandparents – which they attempt to explain away with a night-induced form of sleep disorder as well as a– to explain be explained away by the fact ‘well, they were crazy’ is so flawed and archaic that it’s offensive. Considering this is 2015, to have a portrayal of escaped mental patients is already asking for trouble, but to then assign them traits such as staring into the distance at nothing, an obsession with bodily functions, homicidal tendencies (involving knives, hammers and ovens), crawling along floors, scrapping at walls and screaming is disturbing in its facileness. The fact that both grandparents try to explain away their behaviours with varying excuses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s may anger some, let alone the fact the children do not question whether these things could actually be related to the frightening behaviour of their grandparents, is also problematic.
  • Storytelling: This is yet another M Night Shyamalan film that depends on a twist. The Sixth Sense is viewed as his best attempt at this, though that film only holds up for two viewings maximum before the novelty is shed. Interestingly, at the preview screening I attended Shyamalan was asked whether he wrote the plot twist first then filled in the rest. Shyamalan vehemently denied this, claiming he wrote stories about people and the twist followed. There is no evidence of this claim upon watching The Visit. Unlike The Sixth Sense, few will inflict a repeat viewing upon themselves. The film hinges on the twist, and your opinion on the twist will depend on whether you actually care about the main characters.
  • Characterisation: The grandchildren will divide audiences. 15-year-old Beca is a profoundly pretentious wanna-be documentary maker, who views life as a series of moments that she could record if they have the correct lighting and naturalistic elements. 13-year-old Tyler is a wanna-be rapper who tries to make up for his pre-pubescent features with attempts at charm and swagger. He likes to freestyle rap. They are each given a character trait which the film deems in need of ‘fixing’. Beca has low self-esteem and cannot look at herself in the mirror. Tyler is a germaphobe. Again, if you end up caring about the characters who may consider this important. Or, you may think it’s a waste of time.
  • Shaky Cam: Used to tell the entire film. Overused and nausea-inducing.
  • Genre mash-up: A blending of genres can work. This one doesn’t. Shyamalan explained that he wanted to blend family drama with the horror elements, along with comedy. The result is a film which is confused about what it actually wants it to be. It creates tension, sheds it to try to make you laugh, then tries for a quick scare.
  • Ending: Five people die during the film. By having a final sequence with the mother recounting the events of that afternoon fifteen years ago, reconnecting with herself and her past, then suggests that this was the entire purpose of the movie. That everything her children endured, and that those five people died for, was to allow her to come to terms with the events and herself. The fact the actual events of that afternoon remain secret creates tension that is bound for anti-climax. For what could be as awful as what her children endured, or the fact both her parents are now dead? Yes, the fact she hit her mother and her father retaliated was awful, but if one were to rank awful events during this film it would not own the number one place. The fact we are not given many opportunities prior to develop sympathy for her, reduces the emotional response that is supposed to be generated.

The Visit is only roughly ninety minutes long, but it feels like so much more. It’s bloated with ridiculousness, flawed ideas and frustrating characters.

M Night Shyamalan explaining his 'craft'

M Night Shyamalan explaining his ‘craft’

No Escape

Escape from [insert name of fictional Asian city here]

Considering the plot, characterisation and cinematography this film contains, it is not difficult to imagine it being made in the 1980’s (with Harrison Ford replacing Owen Wilson as the lead hero) or even the 1950’s (starring Jimmy Stewart). This is not a way of complimenting the film and suggesting it is timeless, anything but. This film is dreary, predictable and exceptionally dated. It’s portrayal of foreign conflict and politics is extremely problematic, a one-sided view of global issues that is almost xenophobic in presentation. The only thing that separates No Escape from a B-movie shown on the dark and misty unknown entities of Sky Movies channels after channel 315 is it’s talented cast, who are severely let down by the dross of a screenplay. Having not stayed for the end credits (in my desperation to leave the cinema)  I can only presume my hunch that the ‘research’ for this film was the greatest hits of The Daily Mail is in fact true…
Jack (Owen Wilson), an American engineer, leaves behind a failed business to drag his family to 
Southeast Asia to head his water manufacturing company’s new plant there. When they get there; they seem to be having problems, the electronics don’t work and rarely any cars are seen in the streets. When he goes to the market the next morning, he finds himself caught in the middle of a violent rebellion headed by armed rebels executing foreigners. Unbeknownst to Jack, just days before these armed rebels assassinated their prime minster. Jack must get back to the hotel and with the help of a mysterious British “tourist” (Pierce Brosnan), must get his family to the American Embassy in the midst of the chaos. But is there any escape? 
Firstly, the family. Jack is the archaic kind of hero of cinema long ago. He’s the Everyman. A husband. A father. By agreeing to this new job he has uprooted his family and doesn’t appreciate how they might feel, so he must learn his lesson through enduring this hero’s journey. He has a jarringly good range of survival skills; he knows instantaneously how to survive the most incredible and most ridiculous situations without having to think about it. Most depressingly of all, he is intentionally presented as all charmness and niceties whereas his wife Annie (Lake Bell) spends most of the film crying or with her face contorted into fear/outrage.  And, as bad as it will sound, their children are unbearably annoying. The majority of hurdles the family face are either caused by the children or severely complicated by the children. Pierce Brosnan enters, exits and reenters the film to little effect. His presence here echos something Micheal Caine declared when once asked about his role in Jaws: The Revenge,’ I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.’ That must be the only reason that Brosnan is here giving a throwaway performance as a mysterious lothario Cockney.
The film’s biggest error is its portrayal of the ‘enemy’, The way the armed rebels are presented could have been an intelligent examination of ISIS or other militant groups. Instead they reflect the sentiments of those who use the term ‘swarm’ to label those currently seeking European asylum. They are characiatures: nameless, faceless and brainless. They are zombies, an epidemic the hero must save his family from.
No Escape mistakes creating tension by instead creating frustration. It’s one-part popcorn movie to two-parts shameless exploitation.

Pixels

This is not a film; it’s an endurance test.

The best simile to describe this film? It’s as if the writers of the film were like children on Halloween, though instead of pick’n mixing sweets they pick’n mixed pieces of a generation’s childhood nostalgia. Then, just like a child having a sugar rush before the inevitable crash and throwing up. The resulting technicolour vomit in this case is ‘Pixels’, which will leave you with the same feelings of regret and shame of a sweet-tooth binge. Throughout watching you’ll be left wondering who thought this mash-up of beloved video-games and crappy cinema was a good idea and why they spent $88 million making it. Before you carry on reading I will warn at this point that here be SPOILERS as this will not be a film review but will mostly become an essay on why this film is so bad and has had such negative reviews. Whenever one goes to see a film that has been as poorly received as this film, there is always a degree of hope that ‘Maybe it’s not as bad as the reviews say?’ or ‘Surely it has a couple of good moments!’ Prepare to be disappointed…

In case you’ve not seen the trailers, here is a plot summary. The film opens in the Summer of 1982, with 13-year olds Sam Brenner (later played by Adam Sandler) and Will Cooper (later played by Kevin James) excited by the opening of a video game arcade opening in their town. Both are naturals at the games, with Sam able to win most (but not all, hint hint!) games due to his innate ability to identify and memorise the formulas.  Will is good at crane machines (a skill momentarily useful later in the film, unsurprisingly). Will persuades Sam to enter the ‘Arcade Game Championships’ which their hometown is conventionally hosting, with Dan Aykroyd (WHY?!?) playing MC. He announces that a time capsule featuring aspects of the game championships is being launched into space (an example of the neon flashing exposition light I mentioned in my review yesterday!) They meet Ludlow Lamonsoff (later played by Josh Gad) who is opposed with a game character called Lady Lisa (more on this later) and befriend him as he is a kindred spirit. Sam breezes through the competition, but stumbles at the final hurdle when he loses playing Donkey Kong to Eddie Plant (later played by Peter Dinklage, another WHY?!?!).

The film then comes to the present day. Will is now president of the United States (no reason is given as to why this happened, how or what skills the man actually has to befit him of this title. He is a buffoon for the majority of the film, so maybe this is an attempt at satire?) It’s alluded that Sam never recovered from the loss, his second place status at a game championship scuppered his dreams of MIT and probable resulting success (because that is totally believable and not at all odd or regressive). Sam instead works for ‘Nerd’ a company who install electronics and software (because clearly a company supplying these skills had to be given that name). Whenever he arrives at a house for a job he must state, ‘Hello. I am a Nerd from Nerd Squad.’ (Yes, presumably someone got paid for this literary masterpiece.) At his latest job he meets a divorcee called Violet (Michelle Monaghan)  who lives with her son Matty. Sam bonds with Matty over video games (they are of seemingly similar maturity) and has a ‘moment’ with Violet where they almost kiss. Or, more accurately, he goes to kiss her and she refuses (of course, how dare she!) He berates her for being a snob as to why she din’;t kiss him (ignoring the fact he is a self-entitled man-child who is not the catch he seems to believe he is). He then throws back the killer line, ‘I’m a good kisser. All us nerd are. It’s because we’re so grateful.'( I, on the other hand, am grateful not to have meet such an arrogant arsehat.)

Sam gets a call from Will, telling him to get to the White House asap. He gets there and finds out that Violet wasn’t in fact following him in her care (because obviously he is such a catch that she will be so filled with regret for letting him go that she must follow and ensnare him) but is instead a Lieutenant Corporal. It turns out Earth has started been invaded by aliens using old video games to attack Earth (wonder who saw that coming from the opening? Maybe everyone?!?) They are told that first to three wins is the ultimate winner. If Sam and his arcade buddies loss, then it’s Game Over for Earth. After winning a level they are awarded a trophy, a ‘warrior’ from the opposition. After completing ‘Centipede’ in Hyde Park (overseen by Sean Bean. WHY?!?) then ‘Pac-Man’ in New York City they are awarded Q*bert (last seen in the far superior ‘Wreck It Ralph!) They then have a ball to celebrate (even though they still must complete one more challenge…) Sam and Violet bond (over her attractiveness and his infantility) when the aliens announce that Eddie, who had been released from prison (imprisoned for fraud. Surprising, as I thought a Lannister always paid their debts…sorry…not sorry.) to help the cause, had in fact cheated when playing ‘Pac-Man’. In fact Eddie even cheated during the championships, so Sam was the worthy winner that he always believed he was and spent the past 30 years brooding over (because that’s normal…) The aliens do not react will to that cheating, taking Matty as a trophy and sending their entire fleet to destroy Earth. However, they are given a reprieve within the invitation to enter the battleship and ‘meet the boss’ . The team split up. Violet, Sam and Will enter leaving behind Ludlow to ‘defend Earth’ (I wouldn’t hold out much for that.) He’s soon joined by Eddie, then Lady Lisa (the collection of pixels Ludlow had spent his life lusting over).

Meanwhile Sam, Eddie and Violet find out that the ‘boss’ is Donkey Kong. We are then given the unnecessary reminder that this is the only game Sam ‘sucks at.’ Yet, with the realisation that his 13-year-old self rightfully worn the world championships he is filled with enough confidence (as if he wasn’t inflated with enough of it) to beat Donkey Kong, rescue Matty and save Earth from annihilation. The aliens on Earth are destroyed, including Lady Lisa which devastates Ludlow. Yet somehow, during the awards ceremony for their ‘heroic’ efforts Q’bert transforms into Lady Lisa (no reason or explanation is given as to how or why). Fast forward to a year later, Ludlow and Lady Lisa are married and have five Q’bert children. THE END.

There are two main issues (of many) about this film that I really need to discuss. One, Lady Lisa. From the age of ten Ludlow worships her. Then she appears as a warrior for the opposition, but does not retain the pixel format of every other single alien and instead becomes human. She is incredibly attractive and Ludlow is overcome with emotion. Lady Lisa proceeds to fight Ludlow until he declares love for her. Obviously, as this is the kind of wish-fulfillment world this film is set in, his unrequited love and obsession with her is enough to persuade her to stop fighting him. Then when Ludlow announces to Eddie she is actually his fiancee she just smiles. When Q*bert then regenerates into her she is thrilled to see Ludlow. All of this is done without a single line from Lady Lisa herself, she does not utter a single word or do anything beyond looking gorgeous or briefly flailing a sword around. It’s the one of the more distressing negative stereotypes of ‘nerdom’, of obsessive and controlling lust and views of women as objects, brought to life.

Two, the film’s message is condescending garbage. The entire story-arch is to redeem Adam Sandler’s character, to give him the adulation and recognition he felt he always deserved. It’s as if they want him to represent every ‘nerd’ in the audience and try to clumsily reassure them that they aren’t actually wasting their lives playing videogames, you are actually heroes. It is this kind of ‘the geeks shall inherit the Earth’ bullshit narrative that is the waste of time, space and energy. It implies that anyone who thinks of themselves or is labelled as being anything considered ‘nerdy’ has this consuming desire to be appreciated for their niche skills asset or affirmation of self worth, which is total bollocks. f I want to spend hours playing zelda, Sims or song pop! Then that is my choice. I don’t need you patronising cockends telling me that’ll it’s fine and may even all for a greater cause. I know my ability of being able to guess an 80s song from 6 seconds of intro will never be called upon to help save the Earth, and I’ve no idea who these writers believe actually think in that way. Maybe themselves?

‘Pixels’ is a cynical and empty attempt to jump on the ‘nerdom’ bandwagon. A total misfire. A synthetic attempt which instead undermines and humiliates anyone who considers themselves ‘nerdy’.