‘Pixels’ loses focus

Rating 1.5/5

When I first saw previews for this film, I thought it might be something new, fun, and entertaining. As the release date drew closer, and began to see more previews and longer trailers, I thought it might be just another one of Adam Sandler’s comedies.

I was wrong. It was worse. Watch the trailer below.

Pixels

I gave it half a star based on the reason that I thought it was somewhat interesting concept and it did have some potential but just didn’t seem to go anywhere. For those that have not seen the film, there are some spoilers.

The film begins in the summer of 1982 where childhood friends Sam Brenner (Sandler) and Will Cooper (Kevin James) ride their bikes to the arcade and spend the day playing video games (as a lot of kids did back in those days). Time quickly moves and suddenly Sam and Will are in a video game tournament where they met the ‘Wonder Kid’ Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and quickly become friends. Sam makes it so far in the tournament that he faces off against another gamer, Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), for the championship, where Brenner loses. Here we also get a cameo from Dan Aykroyd as the MC for the tournament and tells those in attendance that a collection of games will be sent to space. This sets the movie in motion. Flash forward 30 years and we learn that aliens have interpreted the video games as a declaration of war and have sent representations of those games, like Galaga, Centipede, and more, to destroy the Earth.

That seems like an interesting, fun concept where real life games attack the Earth in a sort of ‘war of the worlds’ battle. This is where the childhood gamers come into play. Cooper is now the U. S. President. Ludlow still lives with his grandmother in the basement. Brenner is an electronics/home entertainment technician. Plant is in jail but is released by orders of the president. They come together to train with the marines in order to help fight the impending video game invasion.

The film does have some moments. Like when Sam and Ludlow face several Marines in order to “train” them in video games and Ludlow is timid, but then all of the sudden turns into a drill instructor from hell. Or when Sam is talking to President Cooper’s cabinet about the pending invasion and references one of the members as ‘Harry Potter.’

Gad had, I believe, the most entertaining character. I did enjoy his performance. It was reminiscent of what he did on the FX summer show “The Comedians,” which apparently has been cancelled after only one season. I tend to like characters like that. If you haven’t seen the show, it might take some getting used to. Dinklage did have a somewhat interesting character and had some moments playing the cocky guy who thinks he will always get his way. The other characters just didn’t appear to have the steam to carry the movie. Even Sandler playing the underdog who has to overcome the inadequacies he thinks he has in order to be the hero and get the girl. In this case the girl is Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan).

One might enjoy all of the nostalgia of the ‘80s video games and the battle scenes where the gamers take on Centipede, Pac Man, Donkey Kong and a host of other video game characters, but it just isn’t enough to maintain the length of the movie at 106 minutes. The acting, for the most part, did not seem to sustain the characters for a feature length film. This seemed to be more of a sketch or a group of sketches tied together. This was originally a short film with the same name written by Patrick Jean. I believe the film is more suited to be short.

With its few comedic moments here and there, “Pixels” didn’t seem to get the picture. Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling wrote the film. It was directed by Chris Columbus and produced by Happy Madison Productions. It is rated PG-13.

Marvel’s Ant Man Delivers ‘Big’ Fun

Rating 3.5/5

This summer the Marvel movies continue. After “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” was released earlier this year, and next came “Ant-Man.” And while the film has only garnered just over $106,000,000 since its release July 17 on a $130 million dollar budget, it’s certainly not one of Marvel’s biggest blockbusters to date. Watch the trailer below.

Ant Man Trailer

However, the film is not without its merits. Edgar Wright was at the helm before he bowed out. Reportedly Adam Mckay and Paul Rudd penned the rest of the script along with Joe Cornish. They created a lighter tone with this film than the other Marvel films. And it was more lighter and seemed more “family friendly.” I will admit that I’m not an avid comic book reader. I didn’t read a lot of comics in my younger days. I did follow G. I. Joe, Star Wars and Spider-Man some. And maybe a few others here and there. I knew some basics about other superheroes such as Fantastic Four, X-Men, Iron Man, Batman, and Superman. This review is as any of my other reviews as I base it on my view of the script, acting, story and so forth.

There are some spoilers below.

This is my first Marvel review and I will say that it did not disappoint. As mentioned, it has not grossed as much as previous films from Marvel in its release, but I don’t necessarily think it has to do with the film being a poor film. I believe Marvel has stated that the character is more or less obscure and not in the mainstream of Iron Man, Captain America, or Spider-Man (even though the previous Spider-Man films were owned by Sony prior to this. Now that the iconic hero is in Marvel’s hands, it should be exciting to see what happens with the hero). It does fit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe well as it does connect with The Avengers and future characters within that universe.

The story revolves around Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his invention of the “Pym Particle,” which allows the shrinking of organic material to a smaller size. Of course we learn Pym was the Ant Man and fought along with S.H.I.E.L.D in his younger days. To make a long story short, in present day USA a former protégé of Pym’s, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has discovered the Pym Particle and is upset with Pym because he locked it away for many years so he could keep it out of the wrong hands. Well apparently it falls into the wrong hands when Cross gets a hold of it. Pym tells Cross, “There’s a reason I buried this.” Cross wants to sell it to the military and create a powerful army of “unseen” soldiers.

Meanwhile, Pym has enlisted the help from his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and an ex-con, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who has just been released from prison and is trying to make a life for himself. Pym allows Lang to steal the suit, with the help from his con buddies Luis (Michael Pena) and Dave (T. I.), and discover its possibilities. After a little give and take, Lang agrees to become the Ant Man and try to stop Cross, who has developed a suit of his own and now calls himself the Yellow Jacket.

The film was a bit more comical than the other Marvel superhero films and it seemed to work for this one. Stoll wasn’t particularly menacing as the antagonist here but still brought conflict into the story and became an obstacle for the hero Lang to overcome, especially when he brought his daughter into the fight. Earlier, Lang is told to “be the hero she already thinks you are.” Of course, Lang rises up and becomes the hero to save the day. The hero and villain appear to have the same type of powers in the film. But what makes the conflict interesting is Yellow Jacket actually has weapons – laser type weapons to be exact. The visual effects made the fight scenes particularly entertaining, especially the climactic battle involving the Ant Man, Yellow Jacket, and a Thomas the Train toy.

Rudd plays a bit of himself, or at least a bit of other roles he’s played before. He seems to play the somewhat cocky character with a seemingly smart ass answer to everything. But I felt it worked for this film. The connection he had with his daughter touched the heart a little and allowed him to do what needs to be done as Pym tells him, “It’s not about saving our world, it’s about saving theirs.”

The supporting cast added to the humor and good overall feel to the story with Judy Greer playing Lang’s ex, Maggie, and Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie, Lang’s daughter. Bobby Cannavale plays Paxton, a cop and Maggie’s new beau. And Saturday Night Live alum Garrett Morris even makes a cameo. Pena and T. I. as Lang’s buddies, along with computer tech Kurt (David Dastmalchian) bring more humor into the mix.

The story and characters were true what the script served. I will say that I may not have enjoyed this film as much as say Iron Man or Captain America (mostly because I didn’t really know about the character until recently prior to the film’s release). This was an enjoyable film and did have entertaining characters and a classic hero/villain conflict that produced some big fun.

“Ant Man” is rated PG-13 and runs just under two hours at 117 minutes. The film is produced by Kevin Feige and directed by Peyton Reed. He took over after Wright left and has directed such comedies as “Bring it On,” “The Break-Up,” and “Yes Man.” The film included two “extra” scenes at mid-credit and a post credit scene. These scenes, of course, allude to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Let’s Move On

The Confederate ‘Battle’ Flag has been removed from the state Capitol. People were chanting ”USA, USA…..” during the ceremony. Do these people not know they’re in the “USA?”

It is part of AMERICAN HISTORY. Not necessarily a proud time in American history, but a part of nonetheless.

Read a story about the flag ceremony here: Flag Removal Ceremony

I believe the flag was going to be put in a museum. So it’s still going to be displayed? Then what is the difference? And the flag has been flying there for something like a little more than half a century and all of the sudden in the last few weeks it’s become an issue? Give me a break. There were people with signs which hinted about moving on. Well I should think people need to move on. If some people view the flag as a symbol of racism and oppression, just move on. Again, it is part of our (United States) history. And now they want to look at other things that may be considered racist or demeaning, and possible remove those things? Come on! Apparently it wasn’t much of an issue until someone pointed it out.

Let’s all move on from the past. People need to let the hate go from their hearts and view it as a symbol of our past and how far we have supposedly come. But if people keep playing the race card or become offended by everything, then this country can’t move forward.

For example, there is someone who is now petitioning for ‘Cracker Barrel’ to change the restaurant’s name to the ‘Caucasian Barrel.’ Seriously? The restaurant has been around for how long? And now someone sees it as offensive? The petitioner says it offends ‘European Americans.’

Read the story here: Petition to Change Name

I mean REALLY! What’s next? Let’s take down the American Flag because it is also a symbol of oppression this country put on the Native Americans at a time when the U. S. Military didn’t have a problem with treating them like ‘lesser’ people.

Let’s remove all monuments and things that ‘remind’ us of the past. Let’s just forget about Rosa Parks and the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. because that represents a time of civil and racial unrest.

We should look at these pieces of history as learning points, because I do think that’s what we should be doing. I thought we made great progress in areas like this, but it really seems, in the 21st century, we’re reverting back to what it was a half a century or more ago.

Let’s learn from our mistakes, move on, and just try to get along.

A review of ‘White House Down’

Rating 3.5

This film was released a couple of months after “Olympus Has Fallen” premiered. At first, I found it odd that there were two similar films released just months apart from each other that contained similar situations. But nonetheless, the film was released and garnered nearly $25,000,000 in its opening weekend. The film went on to gross a little more than $200,000,000 worldwide with a budget of about $150,000,000. Not bad. You can view the trailer below.

White House Down

There are some similarities as the hero of the story, much like “Olympus Has Fallen” and “Die Hard,” finds himself inside the main action and attempts to thwart the terrorists’ plot. John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a capitol police officer, also aspiring to become Secret Service, accompanying his daughter Emily (Joey King), who appears to know a lot about the history of the White House and is very eager to share her knowledge, on a tour of the White House with several other people. Slowly, the terrorist plot unfolds and Cale has to save President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), his daughter and the country. Soon we learn Martin Walker (James Woods), a senior Secret Service agent set to retire, is an insider working with the terrorists, a paramilitary group led by Stenz (Jason Clarke).

The film appeared to have somewhat of a slow start but did pick up and move right into the action. While the attack appeared to be well coordinated, it didn’t have the impact the attack sequence from ‘Olympus’ had. The attack here occurred mostly inside on the grounds. And the plot seemed plausible and believable, but it seemed like a lot to go through for the villains to achieve their goals.

Writer James Vanderbilt penned this action-comedy. He most recently came off from writing the Spider-Man reboot (“The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2”). Director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “2012,” and “The Day After Tomorrow”) took the script and weaved action, comedy, and destruction together in an entertaining way that it was enjoyable to watch despite some of the character flaws and the way everything seemed to be wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end, even for an action-comedy.

The performances were less than stellar, but in most cases were believable. Tatum was good as a wannabe Secret Service agent, but I thought his performance still lacked a certain something – like maybe some needed voice inflection here and there. Foxx nearly shined as the President who was able to put on sneakers so he could run more efficiently and kick some bad-guy ass, but yet still maintain a certain level of professionalism and authority. Woods was credible as the retiring agent who had a grudge against the president, and apparently cooked up the terrorist plot, then employed the services of Stenz and his men to help him carry it out. Clarke was a determined individual and you could tell he was fighting for a cause and would stop at nothing to get the job done and kill whoever got in his way. Maggie Gyllanhaal played Carol Finnerty, Deputy Special Agent with the Secret Service. She interviewed Cale earlier in the film as he applied for a position with the Secret Service. Her performance just didn’t catch on for me. It almost appeared one-dimensional as she seemingly played the character with the same level of intensity throughout the film.

White House Down

The film was released by Columbia Pictures and runs 132 minutes. All in all it had action, comedy, explosions, likable characters and a decent story, which made it enjoyable and fun to watch.

‘Olympus Has Fallen’ a familiar action film that delivers

Rating 3.5/5

This film was released a little over two years ago. It is from Sony Pictures and runs just under two hours. Director Antoine Fuqua, who directed “King Arthur” in 2004, “Shooter” in 2007, and most recently last year’s “The Equalizer” with Denzel Washington, has taken the script from Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt and delivered a tense action-drama. And with the pending release of a sequel entitled “London Has Fallen” to be released early next year, I decided to go back to the film and offer my take. You can watch the trailer for the sequel below.

London Has Fallen

Is the film a masterpiece? Not quite. Was it a runaway hit? Not hardly. Or at least not the hit the filmmakers possibly hoped it would be. However, with a budget of $70,000,000 and grossing more than $160,000,000 worldwide, it did carry its own. I will mention there are some spoilers. The ‘Olympus’ trailer can be viewed below.

Olympus Has Fallen

When it was released, there were several comparisons to “Die Hard.” I would agree that it had some similarities as it was about a former Secret Service agent Mike Banning, played by Gerard Butler, who now has taken a desk job in the treasury after a winter car accident results in the loss of the First Lady. However, a terrorist attack on the White House springs him into action and Banning finds himself in the White House, unbeknown to the terrorists at first, and tries to figure out what is going on. I believe that’s about as close to “Die Hard” it gets.

The day begins like any other day. U. S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is meeting with the South Korean Prime Minister. After the attack, the President is rushed to the bunker and goes against protocol to allow the Prime Minister and his team in the bunker as well. From there, the terrorists carry out their plan by someone inside the Prime Minister’s detail, who we find out later is a known terrorist known as Kang (Rick Yune). Kang was not necessarily real threatening as a villain but was believable as a man who thought what he was trying to do was right. With the president and vice president being held hostage, the duties of the acting president fall under the Speaker of the House Alan Trumball, played by Morgan Freeman. He was calm and collected, yet forceful when needed, as the acting president. Eckhart was believable as a strong president and a loving father to his son.

Olympus Has Fallen

To me the film had elements of the television series “24” with its inside job players. The most notable is a former Secret Service agent played by Dylan McDermott. He is at the White House on the day of the attack and is supposed to be in retirement, although his presence is never quite fully explained. But I guess the terrorists can’t have the access they have without someone being there on the inside that was part of the government. The majority of the film also took place within a 24-hour period, much like the series. Additionally, Butler’s character was ex-special forces, similar to Kiefer Sutherland’s character on “24.”

From the onset, one can see the attack on the White House was a well-coordinated attack. There might have been a couple of things that might make you scratch your head. For example, a bus was blown up at a certain time for a distraction. It might make you wonder how the terrorists would know that the bus would be there at that exact moment for their plan to work. But again, it follows the idea that this was a well-planned attack. Additionally, the terrorists did have some help from the inside as well. I’m sure that made things a little easier to coordinate. All in all, the action seemed to flow at a good pace and seemed enjoyable as an action-drama.

Weighing in on ’21 Grams’

Rating 4/5

The film is an older film released in 2004 from Focus Features. It runs about two hours and five minutes. Mexican film director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, most notably directing last year’s Oscar-winning film “Birdman” with Michael Keaton, takes Guillermo Arriaga’s script and tells a beautiful story with heart and style. Inarritu does so with flashbacks weaving the characters’ lives together in a climactic end. You can view the trailer below.

21 Grams

The story involves Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), who is in need of a new heart, his wife Mary Rivers (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts), a former drug addict and housewife, Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro), an ex-con who has found Jesus, and Marianne Jordan (Melissa Leo), Jack’s wife.

After a tragic accident, these lives become intertwined, building up to the climax and tells each character’s story through unique non-linear storytelling. Much like “Memento” before, flashbacks and flash forwards tell the story, which honestly, I thought was a little distracting at first but I quickly bought into the convention and let the characters and story unfold before me.

The title of the film comes from a line from Paul as he says, “They say we lose 21 grams at the exact moment of death … How much do we gain?”

I believe that line sums up the context of the film as the characters struggle with their own lives and come to terms with the life changing moment that affects all of them in the film. The story develops to hint upon what we, as people, do in our own life that can impact others. Inarritu stated that he believes all people are connected in some way. He goes on to say how one person’s actions affect another and how that person’s actions affect another and so on and so on. It is a little mind boggling to think that we are connected in some way. That our actions seem to and can have a ripple effect upon the world. I guess it can happen. And it certainly happens in this film.

Penn gives a remarkable performance as in “I Am Sam” and “Mystic River.” Through the story, he became a lost soul who was desperately trying to hang on but thought there was only one way out. Watts was believable as a former drug addict dealing with her past demons and coming to terms with her family’s death. Del Toro gives a gripping performance as a born-again Christian who is trying to find his way before the tragic event that alters the characters’ lives. Gainsbourg and Leo give heartfelt performances, as Paul and Jack’s wives respectively, and show how their lives are together changed over the course of events in the story.

21 Grams

It is a classic piece of storytelling that brings together the emotional events in the story in a way that a traditional linear structure would not. It allows the viewer to follow the characters on the emotional ride throughout the developing story and by the end the audience can be in the moment with the characters.

The film was nominated through several American and International organizations and took home 34 awards.

‘Terminator’ franchise gets a reboot, but does not compute

Rating 2.5/5

I read an article about two years ago that claimed there was talk about making a fifth installment in the sci-fi franchise. The article didn’t state at the time if this was a reboot (another sequel) or a remake of the first James Cameron directed classic. I posted an article about it at the time stating I didn’t see a need for another sequel, as “Rise of the Machines” and “Salvation” didn’t really deliver for me. And I didn’t think the original could be improved upon in any great way.

Terminator-Genisys

After viewing ‘Genisys’ my theories were correct, and there didn’t seem to be a need for this fifth installment. Don’t get me wrong. I thought it had somewhat of an interesting premise and it played with alternate timelines and took time travel to a different level (and not necessarily a good one). View the trailer below.

http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1249751321//embed?autoplay=false&width=480“>Terminator: Genisys

It begins with a narration of how the world was before Judgment Day and how it is after. This leads to a battle where the resistance attacks Skynet on the night Skynet sends back the T-800 (or Cyberdyne Systems model number 101…aka Arnold Schwarzenegger) to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor in an attempt to prohibit John Connor, the leader of the resistance, from being born. A trusted soldier and friend to John, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers to go back to protect her. This is where it gets a little convoluted and confusing. Without bogging you down with all the time travel and alternate timelines, I’ll just say it didn’t quite work for me. It left me with more questions than answers. And, needless to say they left the film open for possible sequels, with an end of credits scene (much like Marvel has done with their films). And I don’t know how you can really top the near masterpieces that were ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day.’

Some of the acting was decent but could have been better. Schwarzenegger was decent and delivered some of his deadpan funny lines and showed he can still create some action. I thought Courtney delivered a somewhat stiff portrayal of Kyle Reese. It was much different than the great performance Michael Biehn portrayed in 1984. Emilia Clarke played the young Sarah Connor in 1984 and played it with some strength. John Connor was portrayed by Jason Clarke and seemed to shine in the role (considering there was only one other adult John Connor played in the franchise – Christian Bale).

The film moved along at a decent pace for the action and the action, fights and chase sequences provided entertainment and some excitement. One chase/action sequence involved a speeding bus and then flipping said bus to where it crashes and ends up dangling from a bridge. The sequence was thrilling to an extent, but still lacked that Cameron-esque excitement. Then there was an insane helicopter chase through the sky and city of San Francisco. While it had its moments, it again lacked some of the action that Cameron delivered.

I don’t feel the film delivered a reason for its existence. It seemed at times they were almost disregarding the first two films and then at the same time referencing the first classic with recreations of the some of the most iconic moments and timeline from the first ‘Terminator.’

The film was released by Paramount and directed by Alan Taylor, who most recently directed the second ‘Thor’ film from Marvel. Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier wrote the script based on the characters created by Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd. It runs 126 minutes and is rated PG-13.