Tag Archives: Happy Madison

Pixels

At its best, Pixels is The Big Bang Theory of movies.  That’s not a compliment.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

pixels 1There are currently three potential reviews for Pixels floating around in my head.  All are equally, vehemently negative, but each takes the film to task for a different set of faults.  Yeah, this one really is as bad as you’ve heard it and were expecting it to be.  It’s not quite Entourage levels of bad, but it is really, really damn close.  It is a complete failure as a movie, littered with plot and logic holes that you can drive multiple cement trucks through and boasting atrocious performances and lifeless direction, it is a complete failure as nerd bait, such is the absolute contempt that it shows for those it spends 100 minutes pandering to, and it is a misogynistic piece of utter tripe that caused my blood to genuinely boil in anger at multiple points.

This is horrible.  This is absolutely horrible.  To pay money – real actual cash actual money cash real actual dollar – to watch this movie is to enable all of the horrible, self-absorbed people who were involved in this film’s creative process.  Pixels is a movie that hates its target audience – which, bewilderingly, is videogame lovers who matured in the 80s instead of young kids today who love videogames – hates them all with a fiery passion, but loves itself unabashedly, and so spends its entire runtime insulting the characters that its cast are playing whilst flinging adoring wish-fulfilment affection on its cast and the Adam Sandler personality, otherwise known as all of the worst parts of nerdom.

This is not a movie.  This is Happy Madison’s self-insert fan-fiction about how awesome they are.

Our film starts in 1982, and teenager Sam Brenner is the greatest whiz at videogames who ever lived.  Encouraged by his friend Will Cooper, he enters the 1982 World Videogame Championships, meets the incredibly creepy and paranoid Ludlow Lamonsoff, and promptly loses in the final round to self-absorbed cool gamer Eddie Plant.  The Championships are recorded and used as part of a space probe filled with examples of Earth culture, intended to educate any alien race that finds it.  33 years later, Earth is invaded by aliens who have taken the games as a sign of war.  However, the world can be saved if the citizens of Earth can defeat the aliens in giant real-life versions of classic arcade games, so President Cooper (Kevin James, really) recruits Sam (Adam Sandler), Ludlow (Josh Gad, who has officially burnt up all the goodwill he earned from playing Olaf), and Eddie (Peter Dinklage for some ungodly reason) to save the planet.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” I hear some foolish optimist say in the far-off background.  Ah, but you see, I haven’t mentioned the specifics.  Let’s start by talking more about Ludlow Lamonsoff because OH WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT LUDLOW LAMONSOFF.  It would be lazily offensive enough if Ludlow was just a hyper-paranoid basement-dwelling nerd who frequently gets into shouting matches with his grandma and believes that The Zapruda Film was edited because “JFK shot first” (in just one example of this film throwing a bunch of random things you know together to create something meaningless yet is supposed to be a joke).  But, no.  It is far, far, far worse than that.

Ludlow is in love with the lead character of an 80s arcade game called Lady Lisa.  In the 80s portion, he sits around creepily holding conversations with the sprite who is incapable of responding in any way shape or form.  Flash forward 33 years and his obsession has not faltered at all.  He has a full-on shrine to her, constantly notes how he has tried to bring her into reality, and frequently makes reference to wishing to marry her.  This is played for goofball “NERD!” laughs, along with the rest of his personality, instead of the deeply-troubling stunted behaviour that it really is.  And, somehow, this ends up plumbing even lower depths once the aliens inevitably use her as one of their invading force soldiers later on.  I can’t get into it here because spoilers – early next week on my new website (callumpetch.com), there will be a spoiler-filled look at the awfulness of this whole thing – but you had better believe that it caused me to shout “FUCK YOU!” at the film in the middle of a semi-crowded screening.

Eddie, meanwhile, is currently in prison for various incredibly unimportant reasons.  His demands for his release include his own island, a helicopter, not having to pay taxes, and a three-way with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart.  He gets the last two, which, yes, means that he is being paid in women who have no say in the matter.  The film, in fairness, wheels this back somewhat, before plunging ahead full-steam just before the credits roll as yet another part of one of the most hatefully sexist final reels I have ever seen in a blockbuster motion picture.

Then there is Sam.  Sam is The Adam Sandler Character, surprising nobody since this is a Happy Madison movie.  You know the drill by now: aggressively mean, ragingly sexist, spends almost all of the time that the movie runs for insulting his love interest – this time being thanklessly played by Michelle Monaghan and, good lord, what dirt did the casting director have on this lot (which also includes Brian Cox, Sean Bean, and a Jane Krakowski who is quite literally just a background decoration that hangs off of Kevin James’ arm in her every appearance) to get them to appear in this?! – and making claims like she’s a snob for not wanting to have sex with him.  Oh, did I forget to mention that they both meet very shortly after she finds out that her high-school-sweetheart husband is divorcing her and that Sam is the one who keeps initiating the flirting against her will?  Cos those are things that happen.

Now, in fairness, if this was where our cast started and they grew and changed as the movie went on, then maybe I’d be able to let this slide.  As a bunch of terrible people grew up emotionally into non-shitty people who could move on from their glory days and manchild ways.  But that’s not what happens.  In fact, none of these people change.  At all.  These characters remain the exact same for 105 minutes barring one development for Sam, which doesn’t actually have anything to do with him improving as a person, and Eddie, who becomes less of a jerk to guys and also has a development that has nothing to do with him as a person.  There are no arcs, no real developments, no change, no growth.  These people start off as they are and then are rewarded for how they are with fame and women despite being terrible raging sexists.

And it’s not just offensive in how that leads to a glamorisation of all of the worst, most entitled parts of geekiness and nerdom – the ones who completely believed their parents when they were told by them that one day everything will come to them and that women will love them for who they are, and so never changed – it’s offensive in how it leads to a movie with nothing going on.  Oh, sure, there are big (supposedly) expensive action scenes and world-ending stakes, but there’s nothing really going on.  No depth, nothing below the surface that isn’t just being ragingly, actively sexist.

Why are any of these people the way that they are, besides fodder for snobby outdated and lazy “NERDS!” jokes?  Why is Kevin James’ president character still friends with Adam Sandler 33 years on, for reasons other than “to make the plot happen”?  Why does the offending game footage have to be captured from the championships that our characters enter?  Other than the fact that they use some of the games that the guys have played, it’s never once brought up even though this information in the prologue SHOULD ACTUALLY MEAN SOMETHING!  Why mention that the aliens were once a peaceful race until they found the probe if that’s not actually going to mean anything in the finale?!  You’d think that would lead to an ending that’s solved through words instead of pointless power fantasy wish fulfilment, but nope!  Evil aliens!  Donkey Kong!

That kind of absolute laziness abounds throughout so much of the film that I don’t feel guilty for nitpicking, because it’s indicative of how little thought went into the movie as a whole.  Why do the humans spend the first and last games being the good guys, yet spend the Pac-Man game being the ghosts?  Why does Q*bert not speak Q*bertese?  Why are there things like Tetris and Max Headroom running about when they came well after 1982, which is when the probe went up?  Since Q*bert is a trophy given to the humans after winning a game, why do the aliens refer to him as a traitor later on?  They GAVE THE HUMANS Q*Bert!  Why is Lady Lisa, during the full-on invasion, rendered as a real person instead of an 8-bit sprite?  What is the deal with the entire Iwatani – who is not the real Professor Iwatani, although the real Iwatani does cameo, so, other question: why isn’t Iwatani just playing himself – Pac-Man segment?  Everybody knows that these are aliens pretending to be videogame characters so why, in this moment, does everybody pretend that they aren’t?

Since when can you perform cheat codes in Arcade games?  Why can this somehow translate to reality?  And, more importantly, WHY THE FUCK IS THIS GLARING FACTUAL INACCURACY A CENTRAL GODDAMN PLOT POINT?!

See, that right there is all the evidence one needs to realise that Pixels is not fit for purpose.  Seriously, WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR?  It’s definitely not for kids, despite the focus on videogames and the presence of characters and games like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, because most of its “humour” traffics in sex gags, 80s references, gay panic jokes, and outdated “NERD!” stereotypes, not to mention the toxic sexism that developing minds should be kept far away from.  It’s not even for nerds, because it spends 105 minutes spitting in their faces with every last lazy cliché that has ever been levelled at nerds over the years – the movie equivalent of The Big Bang Theory.  Christ, it’s arguably not even for those who matured in the 80s, since it doesn’t do anything with any part of its set-up that a million other films haven’t done better.

No, Pixels is for Happy Madison.  It’s for Adam Sandler, it’s for Kevin James, it’s for the film’s director Chris Columbus.  This is their self-insert power-fantasy, where they play terrible man-children who are hated by the world for (at least according to the film’s point of view) no good reason, until they end up saving us all without having to grow or change or improve as people and we all love them because, aww, they’re not such bad guys after all(!)  And then women throw themselves at them for being so amazing and everything ends peachy-keen.  What really gets me is that the film is so blatant about this.  There’s no pretence that this is anything other than an extended ego-stroking or masturbation session that we are all voluntarily subjecting ourselves to.

Do you want to know how obvious this is?  Kevin James plays The President Of The United States.  He’s apparently near-illiterate, and he starts the film off being hated, seemingly because his policies are causing financial ruin for the younger generation and he’s lead America into some kind of war.  But he’s just such a lovable bumbling kind-hearted kinda guy who just wants to spend time with his wife and friends, and can’t the media just get off his back already?  And then, once he starts turning the tide of the alien invasion, EVERYBODY loves him!  This is represented by a scene in which a dastardly reporter tries to trip him up at a press conference with a tough question filled with big words but is foiled because every other journalist shouts at the mean reporter, Kevin James gives a witty answer, and we end the scene with everybody pointing and laughing at the meany-pants reporter who is crying after being thoroughly served.

You know what?  I retract my sub-heading.  At least The Big Bang Theory is made for the enjoyment of other people.  Pixels exists to serve nobody but the people who made it as a 105 minute exercise in them telling themselves that they are awesome as they are and everybody who says otherwise is a mean-old jerk.  The very last thing that any of us should do is enable this shit by giving them money for it.

Callum Petch got Pac-Man fever, it’s driving him crazy.  He now writes for his own website (callumpetch.com)! Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

A semi-comprehensive guide to the 23 times that I gave Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 the middle-finger salute.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Fair Warning: there are minor spoilers, if you really care about this sort of thing with regards to Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 of all goddamn movies.

I

Nearly 30 seconds into this utterly atrocious and pointless sequel to the inexplicable sleeper hit of January 2009.  That’s how long it takes for the first of these to occur, because I know you’re curious.  Since Jayma Mays decided that she had better things to do than appear in a sequel to Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the film has to figure out how to write her character out of the series, since she married Paul in the closing credits of the last film.  Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2’s solution is to have her divorce Paul six days later through post because, as the film explicitly notes, she apparently “came to her senses”.  Also there was apparently projectile vomiting.

It’s an incredibly cruel send-off, one that goes entirely against the paper-thin character she was given in the first terrible movie, and feels very much like spite from the film’s producer, star and co-writer Kevin James.  Look, I realise that it probably hurts to be rejected by somebody who voluntarily served tours in two goddamn Smurfs movies, but this still feels like a mean-spirited and childish “FINE! I didn’t want to play with you anyway!” situation.  Not to mention the fact that Paul’s prior wife was explicitly noted as only using him for a Green Card.  This doesn’t paint a very good picture when it comes to your gender politics, friend.

II

About 20 seconds later, his mother is ran over by a milk truck and killed.  You know, I was under the impression that family entertainment isn’t supposed to be incredibly mean-spirited, but I guess I was wrong on that front.

III

Paul Blart’s daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez) has just found out that her long shot application submission to UCLA has just been approved, at the same time that Paul has been sent an invitation to attend a National Security Guard Convention in Las Vegas.  Paul tells his news first, drops some spiel about how he’s glad that she’ll always be around because every woman in his life – because Paul only has female acquaintances in his life for some reason – leaves him, and then asks what her news is.  She opts to keep it hidden from him and I proudly raise my middle finger high.

Why do films keep doing this?  Sure, the act of having a character purposefully choosing to withhold information from another is as old as time and is basically the backbone of a literal tonne or seven of great stories.  But I’m not talking about those, I’m talking about instances like this which typically lead to drama of the laziest goddamn kind and a whole bunch of irritating Idiot Plots.  How hard is it for a film to actually try, dammit?  Then I remember that this is a film that barely 5 minutes ago dispatched two female characters by sudden divorce and random death respectively, and I realise that nobody involved in this production has ever heard of the concept of effort.

IV

One of Blart’s friends (Loni Love) introduces herself as he’s in line to get checked into the hotel and I prepare for her to reveal herself as nothing more than a sassy black stereotype because that’s all black women are good for in comedies, I guess.  I am proven right almost immediately.  Yay, me.

V

Paul is acting quite the insufferable egotistical jerk whilst trying to check in.  The first Paul Blart very much had the problem of not knowing whether Paul should be a lovable loser who’s a bit of a sad-sack because he realises the apparent futility of his job, or whether he’s a self-absorbed jerk who takes his job way too seriously.  This film’s one scene in the original mall seems to lean towards the former, but then this scene and pretty much everything else in the film swings the pendulum decidedly the other way.  It still wants you to feel sorry for and like him, though, which I can’t do because he’s played by Kevin James and I just do not like Kevin James.  Hence why douchey Paul Blart earns another middle-finger.

VI

The hotel’s general manager (Daniella Alonso) is now apologising to Paul and Maya for the mix-up with their room and makes the mistake of touching hands with Paul Blart.  He interprets this as her having a thing for him and spends the next minute rebuffing her and explaining how he knows that she just has to be into him.  Initially, it seems very much like Paul being the overblown egotistical jerk that the movie is oblivious to him being, but then it lingers on her looking at him from a distance as the scene ends and I proceed to raise the bird high and proud because I know exactly where this is going.

VII

Blart sees Maya planning to head down to the pool in a swimsuit where, we are all led to believe, a boy that she is sweet on will be waiting for her.  Paul proceeds to “You’re not going out like that” her and forces her to take an armoury’s worth of protective devices as precautions.  I know exactly where this is going and I am sick to death of the “if only you silly women had just listened to and stuck by your man/father then none of this would have happened” sub-genre of films, so out comes the vitriolic finger, once again.

VIII

Paul spies one of his friends being loudly rejected by a woman at a bar and resolves to intervene and resolve the situation.  It turns out that his friend, who is incredibly drunk, had propositioned her at the bar and is refusing to take “no” for an answer and just leave.  Paul turns the situation around on the woman, claiming that she was asking to be approached and/or hit on by a guy because she was sat alone at a bar drinking, and insists that she should be thanking the guy for harassing her.  And she agrees!

This movie, this family movie, really did just do a straight-faced sequence of Mansplaining.  Middle finger goes straight back up.

paul blart 2 2

IX

The hotel general manager is back and, exactly as predicted, she’s falling for Paul Blart for reasons that are inexplicable even to herself, almost like she realises her horrible situation and the merciless gods from upon high who are forcing her to act this way.  The bird gets another flight.

X

Can we all agree that relatively inexpensive CGI is the worst thing to happen to Happy Madison Productions in their history other than, you know, them still producing films?  Paul Blart is now spending an inordinate and painfully long time fighting a CGI bird that pretty much never looks like it’s in the same plane of existence as Kevin James is.  I respond by displaying my own bird, which is only a bird in the metaphorical and colloquial sense but is still more convincing as a real bird than the one on film ever will be.

XI

There’s a Mexican security guard as one of the secondary characters.  He’s the only one asleep during Blart’s big keynote speech because lazy Mexican stereotypes.  This was supposedly funny to someone.  I give a middle finger with an equivalent amount of effort.

XII

Maya accidentally stumbles into the bad guys’ suite and is captured.  “See!  This wouldn’t have happened if she listened to her dad and went to his keynote instead of going out and partying!  Father always knows best,” the film implicitly speaks.  This middle finger comes out of reflex more than any actual disdain as, like I said earlier, I’m just completely sick of this subgenre by this point and can’t muster up anything more than a half-hearted acknowledgment of “yep, that’s crappy”.

XIII

Paul’s hypoglycaemia kicks in as he’s trying to threaten the villain (Neal McDonough, of all sodding people).  I’ve always been annoyed by this aspect of these terrible, terrible goddamn films because they’re almost always played for “fat man fall down go boom” comedy instead of anything serious.  You could use this aspect as a legitimate piece of drama, a stakes-raiser during the action and something that can severely set Paul back if it kicked in at the wrong time.  Instead, and barring the one time that he fakes it at the end of the first movie, it’s almost always played as “fat man fall down go boom”.

And not even a funny or well-constructed “fat man fall down go boom”, either, which makes it even more insulting.  I send that finger up into the air for wasted potential.  Come on Kevin James, have some goddamn self-respect.

XIV

The hotel general manager is back again.  You know, I’m starting to get the feeling that Kevin James is just using this series as an ego-stroking vanity project more than anything else.  Not quite sure what’s giving that impression, though…  I still despise everything about this plotline, raising that middle-finger in the air as if it will actually do a goddamn thing.

XV

Paul Blart has just shoved a woman into a pool for pretty much no reason.  Our hero, folks.  Cue the middle finger.

The next five entries have been skipped as they constitute proper spoilers, I guess.

XXI

You know that sequence in the trailer where Paul hits on a horseback Sherriff?  The one set to West Coast Rap because white guys doing things whilst Rap music plays is apparently just that goddamn funny?  In the film itself, the scene is set to what basically amounts to Bro-Country.  I would rather listen to the collective sound of a hundred Crazy Frogs being mutilated than listen to Bro-Country.  This middle finger occurs due to abysmal musical standards.

XXII

The CGI horse joke sucked in the trailer and it still sucks now.  I middle finger to represent all those hard-working visual effects artists whose craft is being continuously pissed upon every time a Happy Madison film uses this stuff.

XXIII

The credits are now finally rolling.  I’ve managed to survive an interminable and somehow-even-longer-feeling 94 minutes of terrible jokes, dreadful performances, direct-to-video-quality direction – which is actually an insult to direct-to-video films, in all honesty – a surprising amount of sexism, and just general goddamn misery.  I feel like I have gained nothing except a completely wasted 94 minutes, and that fills me with anger.  I am angrier at this than I am at the film I watched beforehand, which is one that tried to play a scene of forced rape between two men for legitimate comedy!  This was a bad, bad, bad film with no redeeming qualities that actively wasted my time.

So I do the only thing that is fitting in this situation.  I stand up, I proudly give Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 the middle finger salute, let it hang there for a few seconds, then I gather my things and leave the cinema screen.

Callum Petch never thought he’d ever meet someone.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!