‘What happens in a fantasy can be more involving than what happens in life, and thank goodness for that.’ – Roger Ebert
The first throwaway kids film of the Summer
Most of the Western world will have played, or at least heard of, the Angry Birds franchise which flew its way into our lives in 2009. Since then the download figures of the app have entered the billions category. Endless merchandise has successfully infiltrated the shops and the production of a movie is not that surprising, with that kind of pre-sold audience it makes business sense, although a degree of universal dubiousness was held over the prospect of 90 minutes of screentime being generated from a mobile phone app. The end result? Well, it’s not offensive or massively memorable…
Red (Jason Sudeikis) is the loner of Bird island. An orphan who has always been treated with a degree of suspicion and amusement by his fellow citizens he’s never really fitted in. Since childhood he has been quick to anger, something that is ill-regarded by everyone else, and when a new incident occurs which leads him to lose his temper once more he is sentences to anger management classes. The classes are run by Matilda (Maya Rudolph) and are attended by regulars Chuck (Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride) and Terence (Sean Penn). The four of them want to help Red and offer friendship, which he refuses. When a pig explorer, called Leonard (Bill Hader), comes to island Red is quick to voice his suspicions. When disaster strikes there is only one person Red thinks he can turn to, the Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) who has been missing for years, and he’s going to need the help from those he just tried to reject.
By all rights Angry Birds is better than any app turned film deserves to be. It’s frequently entertaining and induces enough laughs whilst watching to earn its ticket price. However it’s a cinema watching experience that is resolutely hollow. Only 15 hours on from watching and I’m hard pressed to name a favourite sequence from the film – it lacks the substance we now come to expect from animated movies. The characters are silly and fun enough, the jokes deliver frequently and occasionally crudely amusing. The audience favourite character will probably be Chuck, but that will most likely be his resemblance to characters such Quicksilver or Deadpool – just U-rated versions! Also it needs to be said that is a mighty fine cast-list! It’s a shame there talent’s are pretty underused here.
Considering Angry Birds started just after an advert for the very long awaited Finding Dory and the Angry Birds villain also voiced a character (Fear) in Inside out , well a comparison between this and Pixar is an obvious thing to make. Angry Birds is not Pixar or Zootropolis, it does not have the warmth or wit nor anything occurring that is anywhere near as memorable as the aforementioned movies. But with Half Term on the horizon there’s enough here to distract the children for 90 minutes with more than enough amuse the parents too.
You’ll Never Be Alone Again!
If you did not find yourself singing along when you read the above sentence, or are not aware of how that sentence links to the film’s title, this may not be the film for you. (Answer – it’s the central lyric to Justice Vs Simian’s 2008 hit ‘We Are Your Friends‘) The film is aimed squarely at Generation Y, bringing remnants of a traditional coming-of-age narrative together with modernity and scoring it with electronica. And it really works. Surprisingly so. It’s released at the perfect time, at the tail end of the summer, as the film reflects the comedown and bittersweetness this time of year brings. It’s the last party of the summer, are you in?
Cole (Zac Efron) is a 23-year old struggling DJ who lives in the San Fernando valley, the urbanised area on the other side of the Hollywood Hills, and dreams of becoming a world-renowned record producer. Cole’s three closest friends also dream of something big, something more than the lot they have been handed. Thursday night socials are the highlight of their week. The foursome spend the day hustling a crowd for nightclub, then reap the small rewards in the night with free drinks, the attention of women and the possibility of a small sum. During these night’s Cole gets to perform a set to warm-up the crowd for the headline act. It’s the only time he really feels alive. One night that headline act is James (Wes Bentley), a celebrity DJ who is losing the battles against his demons. He fears that he has lost his talent and relies on alcohol to push such thoughts away. His assistant and girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) loves him but is hurt to see him struggle in this way. James quickly becomes Cole’s mentor, becoming a big part of his life. So does Sophie, who Cole forms a connection with, which will force him into making difficult decisions about his future.
Based on the trailers for We Are Your Friends it would have been easy to rule it out as an Entourage for the millennials. Cole’s crew is made up of similar archetypes as Entourage– the ‘hot head’, the ‘hustler’, the ‘brains’ and with Cole as the ‘talent’. Yet several aspects of the film prevent it from deserving this status, and in fact elevate it above it. Specifically the direction and cinematography. Directed and co-written by Max Joseph (one of the co-hosts of MTV’s Catfish) the film’s tone echoes the world it is set in: the humidity of LA, the tense uncertainty of their environment and the sheer unadulterated escapist joy that music can bring. Joseph makes some unique choices along the way with some stand-out sequences including the blend of live action and animation at the art gallery after-party and Cole’s scientific explanation of how to truly get the party started. It’s the twist 2/3 into the film, along with a sleazy sub-plot, that brings the film back to Earth and makes this a far more realistic tale than the overindulgence and consumerist pornography of Entourage. We Are Your Friends is the ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ to the ‘Holiday’ of Entourage; this is a life in which the party isn’t always worth the resulting hangover.
Zac Efron excels in his role as lead. He brings an engaging mix of ambition and drive, retaining our sympathies throughout each difficult decision. This film marks Emily Ratajkowski’s leading role (after rising to prominence in the music video for ‘Blurred Lines’) and she’s reasonably good with the material she has been given, stuck in a relationship in which she must watch her partner indulging in excess whilst having feelings for Cole. However in this film she does have an annoying habit of pouting after each utterance, and spends most of the film frowning. This could be an attempt at characterisation, but there could have been more done with the role of the enchanting muse.
The film, like it’s soundtrack, is pulsive and hypnotic. Watch this if you want to prolong your Summer for that little bit longer, or if you want to see a genuine feel-good movie.
A witty and endearing sister comedy
A ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ was a term coined (and since abandoned) by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2007. It refers to a stock character type; a female character who is bubbly and quirky, who enters the life of a brooding, serious male to help him embrace the joys and wonderment of life. (See Kristen Dunst in Elizabethtown, Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Zooey Deschanel in practically every movie.) Typically, though not in every case, the MPDG is shown through the eyes of the male character (known as the Male Gaze) who idealises her, lusting after her and placing her on a pedestal. What’s interesting, and truly refreshing about Mistress America is that some of the MPDG and her narrative ways are on display whilst also being subverted and questioned. This film is the story of a hipster-sect but told with old-fashioned sophistication; an honest look at the complexities between worship and reality. But instead of a traditional romance the focus is on friendship.
Tracy Fishcoe (Lola Kirke) is an 18-year-old college freshman undertaking her first semester in New York. She’s not enjoying it. It’s not what she had expected, feeling like she doesn’t fit in. In fact her life feels like she’s at a party where she ‘doesn’t no anyone.’ She gets rejected by a boy, then rejected for an elite writing society and every attempt she makes to try and fit in becomes just another knock-back. Her soon-to-be-remarried mother suggests Tracy call her Brooke (Greta Gerwig) as this marriage will make the pair step-sisters. Brooke also lives in New York, but Tracy is too intimated to make the phonecall, believing this woman 14-year her senior would not want anything to do with her. However one lonely dinner -time she takes the chance to call Brooke, who instantly agrees to meet her. They enjoy a crazy night-out together, and continue to meet-up. When Brooke’s restaurant dreams start to fall through, Tracy endeavours to help the woman she now views as a sister.
In many ways Brooke meets a lot of the criteria of a MPDG, she’s the life and soul of every party. She knows everyone, appears able to do anything, and is keen to immerse Tracy in her world. Brooke even has a ‘quirky’ habit, appearing to not listen to other people so conservations with her sound disjointed.Even after meeting Brooke just the once Tracy is inspired to writer new short story, about thinly veiled version of Brooke. If this film wanted to be conventional or typical, it could have stayed this way. Brooke could have just stayed as Tracy’s muse, whose pure function is to inspire and guide her (an aspect that is mentioned within the latter half of the film). What’s so clever and makes the film so heart-warming is it isn’t just about that. It’s about friendship and sisterhood. It’s about how life doesn’t always meet up to it’s expectations and isn’t always as easy as it appears to other people. It’s the act of putting on a smile whilst inside you’re terrified.
When you’re 18 you’re certain that by the time you’re 30 everything will be sorted. That you’ll know everything, have everything and life will be sorted. Mistress America shows that really doesn’t happen, but that’s not a bad thing.
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’.