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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)!

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Half A Decade In Film – 2011

2011 seems so long ago now. It’s hard to imagine films even existing back then. The fields were all green, the sky unpolluted and movies were just a figment of the imagination.

That’s clearly not true. But certainly Failed Critics didn’t exist until the following year, so anything that went before it was obviously just practice until our arrival. Film criticism in particular wouldn’t reach its zenith until 2012 with the inception of this website (……)!

OK, so that might not be true either! Nevertheless, Liam, Paul, Mike, Andrew and Owen all return for another entry to our Half A Decade In Film series as they cast their minds back all those years and each take a look at their favourite film of 2011 as we continue with our Decade In Film spin-off series.


Source Code

© 2010 Vendome PicturesAny soldier I’ve ever served with would say that one death is service enough.

It seems insane to say it now, but I wasn’t always a Jake Gyllenhaal fan. Not least of all because just typing his name for this article brings up that obnoxious squiggly red line that tries to convince me that I can’t bloody spell!
I liked his earlier films. Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead are great. But for the most part they are great in spite of Mr Gyllenhaal’s inclusion. I tended to judge him more on rubbish films like The Day After Tomorrow and stuff I just didn’t like, like Donnie Darko and with those in mind I just never saw the appeal of Jake and his performances. Until I saw Source Code that is.

The weird thing is that Gyllenhaal’s performance wasn’t anything special! It wasn’t crap, but it was one of those times when you could name any number of half decent actors that do the role just as well. But the direction, was absolutely superb and anyone in the role of Gyllenhaal’s Army Pilot would have been great as Duncan Jones (the guy that made the excellent Moon) dragged the best out of everyone involved.

Gyllenhaal is Colter Stevens, an Army Pilot who’s last memory is of being on mission in Afghanistan. Suddenly waking up on a train opposite Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) he takes a few minutes to figure out what is going on and where he is. In those minutes, his train explodes and kills everyone on board.

Waking from the explosion like a bad dream, Stevens is told he is part of an experiment called “Source Code” and he is being used to stop a terrorist attack that is due to happen in the next few hours having already blown up a commuter train. He is being sent back to relive the last few minutes on that train and find the bomber.

Annoying and silly tacked-on “Hollywood” ending aside, what should be a so-so plot to an average screenplay (written by the guy that wrote Species 3 and 4, for Christ’s sake) is brought to brilliant life with Duncan Jones’ direction as Gyllenhaal thrillingly races against the clock time and time again in a sci-fi Groundhog Day with a shorter memory span, for a generation that’s grown up with The Matrix!

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Super 8

super 8“According to my Uncle Seth, an accident like this is exceptionally rare.”

After the success of  JJ Abram’s Star Trek, there was a buzz about Super 8, a creature-feature which many now consider to be Abrams homage to the Spielberg films of the 80’s. There are some similarities that’s for sure; it uses the same heartbeat, the same suspense and creates a great character dynamic that some of Spielberg’s films have used. Yet it never really reaches the dizzy heights or emotions that those kinds of films hit. E.T broke your heart, The Goonies made you really care about a bunch of misfit kids, and Close Encounters left you in awe. Super 8 never gets there for me, yet that said it is still a great film and one which really does entertain me.

Abrams doesn’t just follow one Spielberg film, he amalgamates a collection of them. A group of friends: not as misfit as the Goonies but pretty close. The broken home: here the family is ripped apart by tragedy and the husband left to bring up his son in a haze of grief and loneliness. Friendships torn apart and rebuilt, romance and of course let’s not forget about the alien. The alien is along ET’s path, while it’s a bit more ferocious then ET, Abram’s alien is just as lost and alone has the little planet loving alien we all cried over (well some of us) back in the 80’s. Being held in captivity and under constant scrutiny and testing, all the alien wants to do is go home.

Once the alien escapes after the rather over-the-top yet quite spectacular train crash, the hunt is on, a town in fear, the military spinning the truth and we are back to Close Encounters. Objects going missing, strange sounds in the distance and of course we need one of the kids to go missing as well. Abram builds the tension from the train crash slowly and surely to he finally reveals his alien in all its glory. While I do like the final third of the film, the ending seems a little flat after everything which has come before it. I was just lacking a real connection to the alien, the kids or even the grieving father and son, and it just feels a nice and satisfactory end to the film, but it doesn’t really spoil it for me.

There isn’t really that much I dislike about Super 8 (except the end). It has a superb score from Michael Giacchino, some wonderful cinematography from Larry Fong and a really solid cast of kids and adults. Kyle Chandler is superb as the father, along with the gang of kids led by Joel Courtney and the wonderful Elle Fanning, they all give solid performances from a decent script. Visually the look of the film is stunning, the train crash without doubt one of my favourite scenes of the whole film. As I said Abram’s is channelling Speilberg but never really pulls it off completely but even so it’s a rather brave attempt and one of my favourite films of 2011.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Rise of the Planet of the Apes

rise of the apesPlease, Mr. Jacobs! Lives are at stake! These are animals with personalities, with attachments!

I’ve written and talked extensively about my fondness for the Planet of the Apes films, book, comics, TV show and remakes. Most recently in my review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I explain a little about the time I first saw Rise of… in the cinema upon its release (coincidentally on my birthday!)

At the time, I absolutely adored it. After the terrible trailer showing apes leaping off bridges onto helicopters, I half expected a dreadful, CGI filled blockbuster with less redeeming qualities than Tim Burton’s attempt to tell Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet tale. However, I was pleasantly surprised as this clever little sci-fi began to carefully tell a story of an old man with dementia, a potential cure being tested on an ape (Caesar) that begins to grow in intelligence, learns to communicate and, er, leads an uprising.

I’ve since watched it a couple of more times and although that surprise is obviously no longer present, it’s still no less entertaining. It’s everything that’s required of a sci-fi blockbuster. It’s got heart, a great story, decent performances (brilliant performances in the case of Andy Serkis and John Lithgow), an epic climax and it looks utterly breathtaking.

The fact that director Rupert Wyatt and his writers got the tone so absolutely spot on that it completely fits in with the Planet of the Apes franchise, yet felt fresh and modern in a way that some of the dated original sequels don’t any more, is testament to not only their ability, but also to the source material. Quite simply, as much as I loved Conquest of and Escape from, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the series since 1968. And probably the best science fiction blockbuster released between District 9 and a certain Marvel movie a year later.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


The Yellow Sea

the yellow seaDon’t forget it. If you forget it, your family’s all dead.

One of my favourite Korean films is The Chaser (2008), the tale of a cop/pimp and a serial killer, which as the title suggests, has an awful lot of chasing. The team behind it, director (Na Hong-jin) and stars (Kim Yun-seok & Ha Jung-woo) team up again for The Yellow Sea. That the phenomenal The Chaser was a debut effort put The Yellow Sea top of my ‘to see list’ for 2011.

It’s a simple set up, gambling debt ridden cab driver is offered a way out of his problems……..go to Korea and kill someone. It takes a while to get going, and I can’t deny the simplistic plot is then burdened with a sub-plot about his wife and a small army of characters that you don’t care about or are just not fleshed out that well. So why do I love this film so much…?

…A good Korean gangster caper needs the following ingredients. A completely inept Police force, people being hit around the head repeatedly, ridiculous melodrama, no guns, the main protagonist being outnumbered to a ridiculous degree in fights and chase scenes and of course, close combat involving knives.

The Yellow Sea does all of this. It’s very, very stabby…..and axey….and er…large unidentified animal boney…if it can be used to beat, stab and kill people, it will be. Rivers of blood, things being chopped off, lots of screaming and of course….lots of chasing. This is to The Chaser, what The Raid 2 was to The Raid. All the fun of the first film is there, but they’ve shoe-horned in a proper film too.

I’ve seen this 3 times, this was my first look at the slimmed down directors cut for US audiences. I still don’t understand a lot of it, but you can’t help but enjoy spending time with the main characters, and that alone made this my favourite film of 2011.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Le Havre

le havreYou don’t deserve such a good wife. You’re not worth her.” “No-one is, so I’ll do.

Written and directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Le Havre is a wonderfully karmic comedy drama set in the titular French port.

Marcel Marx is a financially struggling shoeshine who comes across a young Gabonese boy desperately trying to hide. The shipping container he and his compatriots stowed away had been delayed & diverted from its intended destination of London and opened by heavily armed immigration authorities. The boy, Idrissa, is the only member of the party to make a bolt for the door and get away.

The film follows Marcel’s struggles to help the boy evade capture and make his escape across the Channel to join his mother in London.

They face numerous obstacles; Marcel’s wife’s seemingly terminal illness, the media frenzy about immigration issues, the government authorities’ high profile crack down and the local police have Marcel marked down as chief suspect.

Those familiar with Kaurismaki’s work will recognise many of his signature touches. It’s a simple story about the basic, human decency of ordinary people. All his usual trademarks are present, the constant cigarette smoking, the dog, the importance of music and the wonderfully wry, deadpan humour.

One of the most interesting characters is Monet, the local Inspector. His morals and motives are far from obvious, you are kept guessing right to the end of the film. His encounters with Marcel are so uncomfortable. Is he speaking “Off Duty”, as he claims? Is he genuinely warning Marcel that the net is closing in out of compassion? Or is he slyly trying to wheedle out information by putting Marcel at ease? He brings to mind a slower moving, morose version of Columbo. Hardly surprising, as both are clearly inspired by Dostoevsky’s Porfiry Petrovich.

A highlight, maybe not entirely for the right reasons, is the Charity Concert performance of French recording artist Little Bob, making a cameo appearance. Imagine an elderly Ewok dressed in 1980’s biker leathers and you’re on the right lines.

The only slight disappointment in the whole film is the performance of Kati Outinen as Marcel’s wife Arletty. A truly superb actress, she is somewhat restricted by her character’s illness, but this is still far from the level of performance she’s given in any of Kaurismaki’s other films.

A hugely enjoyable film, with compassion and decency as its main themes.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Five films there that span a few different genres and continents but are all equally as excellent as each other, I’m sure you’ll agree. Or, maybe you don’t agree and think we’ve erroneously overlooked an obvious choice? Let us know in the comments section below. Otherwise, you’ll have to stew in your own angry juices until we return next week with five of our favourite films released in 2012.