Monday, July 27, 2015

Double Review: Paper Towns and Pixels.

Hello everyone, and as the month of July begins coming to a close, and Oscar season will be in full effect come September, I decided to lend my attention to a few more notable summer flicks, with more like Trainwreck and Mr. Holmes to follow I hope. Today, I’ll be taking a look at two very different but much anticipated new releases. The first is the latest adaptation of one of Fault in Our Stars author John Green’s books, and the other is the latest Adam Sandler vehicle Pixels. Enjoy reading!

Paper Towns:
When The Fault in Our Stars released last year, it was a smash hit for young filmgoers everywhere, containing all the classic hallmarks of great teen entertainment; Romance, comedy, kids dying of terminal cancer, all that good stuff. However, non-fans were split, with many viewers (yours truly, included) feeling manipulated by its exploitation. That said, the follow up adaptation of one of John Green’s book is much less likely to infuriate you in that regard, starring Nat Wolff as a young man who becomes obsessed with uncovering the mystery of his longtime neighbor and friend’s disappearance.

Taking its name from a common trick in maps in using false town names to detect copyright infringement and copying, the original book was a very sweet, very funny, and very clever series of discoveries with each new development hooking you in. This new movie makes numerous changes from its source material to fit a truncated running time, none the least of which includes the expansion of the character Angela’s role and the downplaying of Ben’s erratic personality, but outside of a few inspired shake ups, it often alters to the point of oversimplifying its source material. When you really take a step back, the film doesn’t allow you the same opportunity to admire the subtly brilliant intricacies of Margo’s breadcrumb trail, for example. At some point, I know my thoughts on the book and the movie have to reach some divide, but even as its own thing, this movie’s rushing of events feels very apparent, and never really can decide if its more offbeat romance or buddy road trip movie.

That said, the direction and casting are all too charming and irresistible for me to dislike this movie. The cast all have such a natural playfulness and engaging chemistry with each other, oftentimes their segments of delightful bantering and bickering contributing so much heart to the film. Nat Wolff, despite me not having been impressed with his output, makes for a fitting representation of Quentin, seamlessly translating his initially passive nature, and effortlessly adopting a more loose and laid-back attitude as he begins exiting his comfort zone. That said, it’s Cara Delevingne who makes for a perfect Margo Roth Spiegelman. The young model turned actress understands Margo to her deepest roots, and so too does the film as it uses her beautiful looks to capture Margo’s unattainable-dream-girl meets girl-next-door essence, with so many individuals making rumors and assumptions as to what this person’s personality is really like, as opposed to getting to know the actual person for the fascinating human that they are.

So, it’s with all these charming qualities that I simply can’t hate Paper Towns, but with that said, it still doesn’t meet the potential for the incredible film it could be.

*** / *****

But if Paper Towns can be described as not living up to its incredible potential, then Pixels can only be described as crushing, shredding, and destroying every ounce of its potential. Based on a 2010 computer animated short of the same name, the film is about the idea of an advanced alien race coming across our culture, and mistaking it (specifically the 8-bit video games of the 80’s arcades) as a declaration of war. Something like this could have made for a fantastic satire and alternative to the modern action film, but falls victim to Adam Sandler’s treacherous Happy Madison company hacking away at all of its inspiration.

Were this in the hands of a team like Phil Lord and Chris Miller, best known for The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, I could see a film like this excelling all across the board, but the entire movie falls apart because of its production influence. Adam Sandler makes for a very poor leading man, painted as a disgusting and douchy twit constantly spouting weak jokes and wooden dialogue and exposition that doesn’t give us much to root for, and the fact that he gets placed in a thoroughly unrealistic romance opposite Michelle Monaghan, herself zero note and charmless here, drags the movie down so much. Much of his usual friends show up as well, with Kevin James playing the President of the United States (again, you just lost me), and the likes of Dan Aykroyd and Nick Swardson making brief cameos for all of 30 seconds.

However, even looking beyond all of that, the movie is utterly awful. Director Chris Columbus (of Home Alone and Harry Potter fame) approaches much of the material completely ill-equipped and lacking enthusiasm or distinct spirit. The action sequences, while certainly nostalgic, hold no weight to the film because none of the characters are the least bit engaging or sympathetic, and the filmmakers seem to think that nostalgia alone will be able to add dimension in execution where there is none on paper, instead feeling absolutely vapid and making you wish you could just play anyone of those classic games yourself. The humor is largely in bad taste and utterly juvenile (including an offensive “Engrish” speaking caricature of Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani), often making you squirm and trying to resist punching the seat in front of you.

The film’s own internal logic itself is heavily flawed, with numerous rule breaking events occurring. Much of the action sequences are played by the typical rules of their original games, yet for reasons that cannot be explained, human beings can activate cheat codes to help them win a game which the aliens cry foul at, and yet the aliens themselves constantly ignore their own gameplay rules. The film’s many game characters, surreal as they may be, are left standing there with the writers not having any idea what to do with them, and it certainly doesn’t help when pure random things as distracting as Matt Frewer briefly reprising his cult classic Max Headroom character appear with little to no proper establishment.

Also, as if this couldn’t be Adam Sandler enough, if you didn’t know that Sony produced this movie, you’ll certainly be reminded with how much of their products they shove down your throat (including footage from The Last of Us that makes me wish I were playing that instead of watching this). At this point, I’m practically scrounging for anything positive to say about the film, so my mind is flashing to the many supporting players. Josh Gad, though hilarious, is left stranded with shallow Chris Farley antics, and a character with deeply disturbing psychological issues. A too-good-for-this Peter Dinklage made me laugh once in this entire movie, but leaves little to no lasting value in the rest of the movie, which not once made me crack a smile. Brian Cox and Sean Bean are wasted as two military men stereotyped beyond belief, and the numerous other characters are terrible Big Bang Theory rejects that don’t justify the writing space.

I physically felt embarrassed to have sat through Pixels in theaters. To not only see a great idea get butchered so thoroughly, but to have it butchered into a product this shamefully boring and insulting is absolutely criminal. Adam Sandler certainly played a heavy part in all of this, but even if you took his name off of this movie, I would still hate this stupid, unfunny bomb. It’s dated, hollow, and simply a poorly executed film in every aspect. It is not the worst movie I’ve seen, but it is the worst movie I’ve ever watched in a cinema. All in all, Sandler’s attempt at a comeback (between films like The Cobbler and this) has been nothing short of unfortunate.

Zero Stars! / *****

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