Pixels

July 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage
Directed by: Chris Columbus (“Home Alone”)
Written by: Tim Herlihy (“Happy Gilmore”) and Timothy Dowling (“Just Go With It”)

Sure, the big-screen’s “Pixels” is ostensibly based on a short film of the same name, a glorified demo reel that features classic arcade characters attacking New York City, but in reality the film is a rip-off and re-skinning of four superior products that came before it. Take the “aliens misunderstand vintage media as how Earth really works” inciting incident from “Galaxy Quest,” season liberally with the crumbs of classic video game nostalgia left behind by “Wreck-It Ralph,” hint at the underdog spirit of the guy who just can’t beat the brash, be-mulleted bad guy in “The King of Kong,” lift, well, pretty much the entire plotline of one segment of an anthology episode of “Futurama”—called “Raiders of the Lost Arcade”—and toss in an indifferent, fading movie star in Adam Sandler and you’ve got the recipe for “Pixels,” a boring excuse for a summer movie that thinks talking about Donkey Kong or Pac-Man appearing on screen as they appear on screen is entertainment in and of itself.

The movie begins somewhat promisingly in 1982, when young Sam Brenner (Anthony Ippolito here, Adam Sandler as an adult) and his best pals Will Cooper (Jared Riley, grown up as Kevin James) and Ludlow Lamonsoff (Jacob Shinder, Josh Gad grown up) ruled the local arcade with their skills. Sam was so good, in fact, that he was able to compete in the video game world championship that year, only to lose his Donkey Kong game in the finals to Eddie Plant (Andrew Bambridge as a kid, Peter Dinklage as an adult), a flashy, arrogant video game rock star. Thirty something years later, Sam never really recovered, living his existence as a lowly flat screen TV installer instead of doing something meaningful with his life. That all changes, though, when Cooper—now the goddamn President of the United States, for some reason—calls upon Sam’s expertise to battle video game villains who somehow mistook a time capsule video of classic arcade games as an act of war.

“Pixels” could have been something special, but alas, director Chris Columbus (himself a faded star) seems content in just referencing classic video game characters instead of exploring why they would be doing what they’re doing as bad guys and what such a retro-gaming friendly alien invasion would mean. The movie treats Sandler and crew like the only people on the planet that understand Pac-Man, for crying out loud, as if iterations of the game haven’t been released on every single video game console for the last 30 years. Summer special effects movies can get away with being a lot of things: stupid, childish, shallow, and so on, but the cardinal sin is to be incredibly boring, and “Pixels” is just that. Download Pac-Man or Donkey Kong to your phone and play those for an hour and 45 minutes instead.

Better Living Through Chemistry

March 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Geoff Moore and David Posamentier (debut)
Written by: Geoff Moore and David Posamentier (debut)

As he did with the independent comedy “The Way, Way Back” last year, actor Sam Rockwell’s performance keeps a pair of first-time directors from striking out with their debut film “Better Living Through Chemistry,” a dark comedy Rockwell owns despite the script’s numerous shortcomings.

In the film, Rockwell plays Doug Varney, a small-town pharmacist who is looked down upon by everyone in his life, including his athletic wife Kara (Michelle Monaghan) and father-in-law and former boss Walter (Ken Howard), who, after retiring, sells his pharmacy to Doug, but refuses to let him change the name. Doug, although he is an “authentically nice guy,” is weak and his life is unfulfilled. But when he meets a new and very attractive resident of his small town, Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde), he finds a new zest for life he never knew he had in him.

It’s unfortunate, however, the same zest can’t be found in the pages of first-time directors/writers Geoff Moore and David Posamentier’s screenplay. Doug’s nice-guy persona works well for Rockwell and it’s great to watch him flex his muscles when Doug finally breaks, but few, if any, of the underwritten secondary characters give him much support. Overall, it’s the tone of Moore and Posamentier’s film that can’t cement itself into one particular genre with much conviction. At times, the dark comedy elements seem like they want to push outside the limited sphere the co-writers have created, but the darker humor and on-the-edge characterizations never expand into much.

It takes Rockwell to craft his lead role into a likeable and believable character to make “Chemistry” really snap together. By the time that happens, Jane Fonda has made an on-camera cameo (added to her role as narrator of the film, which turns out to be unrewarding) and the picture just sort of dissolves from memory like Aspirin in water.

Machine Gun Preacher

October 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
Directed by:  Marc Forster (“Stranger Than Fiction”)
Written by:  Jason Keller (“Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie”)

When you hear the title “Machine Gun Preacher” paired with the phrase “starring Gerard Butler,” you probably imagine some pulpy, mindless B-movie wherein Scottish beefcake Butler plays a squared-jawed man of God, automatic weapon in hand, turning to righteous violence as a last resort in an effort to protect, I don’t know, some poor villagers or something. And you’d be right, except instead of “pulpy, mindless B-movie” it’s actually “drama based on a true story” that also features numerous people leaping away dramatically from RPG explosions.

Butler stars as Sam Childers, a low-life biker/drug dealer/all-around criminal just released from prison for charges unknown. Despite giving him some brief post-slammer car sex, Sam’s wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) immediately becomes the target of his rage after he learns she’s stopped stripping and found God. Sam storms out of the trailer and hooks up with old friend/partner in crime Donnie (Michael Shannon). They use a little heroin, rob a crack house at gun point, and speed around town while simultaneously shooting up. It’s during this drug-fueled joyride that they decide to pick up a hitchhiker. Not surprisingly, he turns out to be a stabbin’ hobo and his knife is soon at Donnie’s throat. Sam distracts the bum and ends up turning the blade on him, leaving the drifter for dead on the side of the road.

Nearly killing a man ends up being the last straw for Sam. He begins attending church with Lynn and their young daughter, and a baptism sends him down a path toward redemption. Sam sets about making an honest living, starting his own construction business, building his own modest church and rescuing Donnie from the clutches of drugs and alcohol. When a visiting pastor speaks to the congregation about the struggles of orphans in Sudan, Sam takes a new mission and jets off to Africa, finding more than he bargained for and transforming from missionary to mercenary in the process.

Despite being based on a true story, director Marc Forster (“Quantam of Solace”) never elevates the material to the realm of believability, what with Butler and his good looks and ripped physique looking nothing like a drugged up biker, or a scene featuring Butler’s character blowing a hole in the floor of his trailer with a shotgun and using his body as a shield to save his family from a tornado. And any mildly affecting drama the movie stumbles upon is always undone by Butler blasting away bad guys in the next scene Rambo-style, complete with headband. “Machine Gun Preacher” strives to be an action movie with a message. Too bad that message gets mowed down in a hail of gunfire.

Jake Gyllenhaal & cast/crew – Source Code

April 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the sci-fi action thriller “Source Code,” Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up inside the body of another man eight minutes before he and a train full of commuters on a Chicago train are killed by a terrorist’s bomb. Wired into a military program allowing him to travel through time, Capt. Colter is repeatedly transported into his avatar each time getting closer and closer to finding the source of the bomb and stopping it from detonating.

During the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas last month, I got the opportunity to sit down with “Source Code” director Duncan Jones, screenwriter Ben Ripley, and actors Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, and Vera Farmiga to talk about their new film and what is so intriguing about the sci-fi genre.

Duncan, You’ve described “Source Code” as a “thinking man’s sci-fi movie.” Can you elaborate on that idea and compare it to other sci-fi movies that might be a bit more mainstream?

Duncan Jones: Yeah, I see it as a contemporary thriller. There are definitely science fiction elements to it. It builds on that foundation and needs it for the story to work. But the heart of the film is about relationships. I think a lot of it comes from the set up that Ben wrote.

Ben Ripley: Yeah, there’s not a lot of tech in “Source Code.” There are no starships or lasers. We’re not in outer space. The technology is implied. I think that challenges you a little more whereas mainstream science fiction is going to try to wow you by setting the film on the surface of another planet; it’s the spectacle of it all. This is internal. This is a character mystery first and foremost.

Duncan, since “Source Code” is your second film, did you worry about what is known in the film industry as “the sophomore slump” – where your second film doesn’t live up to the critical success of your first?

I have to be honest, I didn’t think about it while I was shooting the film. It was a term I was familiar with, but I didn’t really have time to worry about it until we started talking to press and media. (Laughs) You start thinking about it when someone asks, “Well, what’s the third film called?”

Jake, this is the first sci-fi film you’ve made since “Donnie Darko” in 2001. How exciting was it to find your way back to this genre?

It was great. First of all, the screenplay was fantastic. For me, when Duncan decided he wanted to do it, that was it. I was excited because I feel like doing a sci-fi movie gives you the opportunity to use your mind in a way you normally don’t. Usually, you’re focused on character and not how a character is moving through a situation. Even if the character is moving through something, there are always rules of reality. In the world of sci-fi there aren’t any rules. It offered me the opportunity in my performance to pretty much do anything. That was a thrill. The process was fun because there is so much you can do

Was Duncan open to all your ideas?

All the time. I would say, “I’m going to try something crazy” and he’d say, “Do it, mate.” The crazier the better for him. He was like, “Weirder! Go weirder! You can do anything you want to anybody.” I found a real kindred spirit in that. He has this really big heart and is fascinated with details. It’s rare to see that in a movie like this.

Michelle, this is a fairly complicated script. When you were shooting it, did you ever have to stop and make sure you knew exactly where you were in the story?

Absolutely. I think the first time I read it, I had to read it again. The great thing about the movie is that it’s totally engaging. It literally grabs you from the first 10 or 20 pages. But you’re in an alternate reality part of the time so it definitely is confusing trying to work it out. You see the words on the page, but visually you’re trying to work it out in your head.

How did you manage to keep everything in order in your head and shoot what’s basically the same scene over and over again?

Well, when it came time to shoot it, it was really tricky. We were doing the same eight minutes. Playing those eight minutes over and over again was the most intriguing and challenging thing as an actress. We wanted to make them engaging and add all the subtleties. We would huddle up for a good hour prior to each scene over three days to make sure we were all in the same place in the story. We shot them chronologically, which was a nice luxury to have. We wanted to start each scene with a clear idea of what we wanted to puzzle together. That was our clear goal.

If you were to have the opportunity to go back and correct something in the past, would you or do you believe everything happens for a reason?

I’m a really big believer that everything happens for a reason, but if I could have eight minutes just to experience something again it would be my wedding because it was way too fast. No, I wasn’t drunk. (Laughs) It’s one of those things like, “Oh my gosh, I wish I could hear those speeches again! Oh, I wish I had a second shot at that first dance!” If I could have eight minutes again I would have that day.

You studied journalism for a long time…

Yeah, I did!

Could you see yourself on the other side of this table asking the questions?

Yeah, sure! It’s funny because for years that’s all I wanted to do and that’s what I studied. Then I discovered acting and found out when I was researching for roles I was doing the who, what, when, where, why. That’s how I prepare for all my roles now. So, I didn’t waste all that money [for college]. It was such a relief.

Vera, what were the challenges of playing a role that was fairly stationary from your character’s perspective?

Yeah, there wasn’t much movement. I was in a roller chair so I could roll back and forth and swivel right and left. My movement was confined. I knew my face was going to be massive and probably skewed in the way cameras skew your face when you’re video chatting. It forced me to think about their psycho-spiritual connection and maneuvering from an ocular standpoint. This role isn’t something I would particularly be drawn to, but because it is so opposite of what I’m usually drawn to, I took a look at it. Duncan Jones on the cover sheet was enough to get a yes from me. To be a part of an intricate puzzle was enough to get a yes from me. I think the challenge was to consider what the character was not saying and to read what was between the lines. I think that allowed for more life. I think the challenges were to convey all of that.

And convey it while reciting some very technical dialogue.

In all candor, that kind of dialogue – that expository dialogue – is just boring to execute. So, the challenge of that was to find life beyond the information. My character had to be a whip-cracker with information, but I also wanted to find a way to convey what her morale dilemma is and how that would play out.

Source Code

April 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Directed by: Duncan Jones (“Moon”)
Written by: Ben Ripley (debut)

Playing like a bizarre mix of the Billy Murray comedy “Groundhog’s Day” and the early 90s TV series “Quantum Leap,” director Duncan Jones’ second feature film, “Source Code,” is an exciting and smart sci-fi story that proves original ideas still exist out there – even if you have to search beyond time and space.

In “Source Code,” Jake Gyllenhaal (“Love and Other Drugs”) plays Capt. Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot stationed in Afghanistan who wakes up one day to discover he is no longer himself. He now inhabits the body of a high school teacher traveling into Chicago on a train with one of his fellow colleagues and possible love interest (Michlle Monaghan).

Extremely confused for the first half hour of the film, Capt. Colter soon learns he is part of a special mission, which gives him eight minutes to find a terrorist who ultimately ends up bombing the train he is on. Sent back and forth into this parallel universe by military officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and a team of scientists, Capt. Colter is forced to participate in what Goodwin calls a Source Code, a time reassignment program (way more interesting than the time traveling hooey Gyllenhaal goes through in “Prince of Persia”) that allows him to revisit past events in hopes of retrieving vital information and saving lives.

Shot in a Hitchockian-type style that keeps the intensity high, director Jones knows how to thread scenes together with inventiveness. Each time Capt. Colter fails at his mission, he awakes inside a mechanical pod, asked to report on what he has seen, and is sent back again without much warning. Like Sam Rockwell in Jones’ first film “Moon,” Capt. Colter is overwhelmed by isolation. Gyllenhaal, in a very convincing peroformance, gives his character depth and likeability. Each time he asks to speak to his father, Jones hits us hard with heartbreaking compassion.

It’s because of this that “Source Code” is more than just a fun sci-fi ride through the creative mind of Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley; there’s actually a reason we care about our leading man and the pain he is feeling as he is jerked around between worlds. While Jones delivers an enjoyable balance of charm and humor to the picture, it’s the emotional pull that keeps us deep inside “Source Code” eager to see the captain emerge from the smoke and mirrors.

Due Date

November 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”)
Written by: Alan R. Cohen (TV’s “King of the Hill”), Alan Freedland (TV’s “King of the Hill”), Adam Sztykiel (“Made of Honor”), Todd Phillips (“Old School”)

We’ll give overrated director Todd Phillips (“The Hangover,” “School for Scoundrels”) the benefit of the doubt and say his new comedy “Due Date” is a homage to 1987’s John Hughes classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and not just a raunchy rip-off. With that said, “Due Date” isn’t a lot of other things as well, primarily funny.

Yes, there are amusing moments in “Due Date.” It would be impossible to go through an entire feature film without laughing at something “Hangover” scene-stealer Zach Galifianakis does or without enjoying the darker comic situations conveyed through yet another of Robert Downey Jr.’s cynical characters.

But overall, the odd pairing of Downey Jr. and Galifianakis is far from enough. “Due Date” is nothing more than a barrel-full of cheap and obvious jokes that will hit with mainstream audiences who think the bearded one can do no wrong.

In “Due Date,” Peter Highman (Downey Jr.) is forced to travel cross country with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) when the two are somehow put on the no-fly list after a ridiculous scenario at the airport with Homeland Security.

Although he is worried he won’t make it from Atlanta to L.A. to witness the birth of his first child, high-strung Peter takes his chances with Ethan, a slouchy guy with “90 friends on Facebook…12 of them are pending” and a dream to star on a sitcom as beloved as “Two and a Half Men.”

What follows is a dim-witted road trip fastened together by scenes of Galifianakis acting as quirky as he can without the slightest bit of common sense. This might work in a movie like “Dumb and Dumber,” but not in a comedy that wants to be both stupid and sincere all in the same breath.

Downey Jr. and Galifianakis have some chemistry that keeps “Due Date” from ending up a lost cause, but without a script that really drives the story forward all that’ s left are gags featuring masturbating mammals and a joke where Galifianakis’ character mistakes a sign that says “Mexico” with “Texaco.” Could the screenwriter really not get any clever than that?

Eagle Eye

September 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton
Directed by: D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”)
Written by: Hillary Seitz (“Insomnia”), John Glenn (debut), Travis Wright (debut), Dan McDermott (debut)

Looks like the Patriot Act wasn’t such a good idea after all. At least that’s what the U.S. citizens who are forced to carry out terroristic conspiracies think in “Eagle Eye,” the newest action thriller directed by D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”).

Don’t look now but regular people are being is listened to and watched through the technology they use everyday. Jerry Shaw, local employee of the Copy Cabana, realizes this first hand when he answers his cell phone and a mysterious female voice on the other end begins to give him directions so he can escape a situation he has no control over.

Having just buried his twin brother, who was in the military, Jerry doesn’t know what to believe when he find a surplus of weapons in his apartment and $750,000 in his once meager bank account. Soon, Jerry is running for his life from FBI agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), who thinks he is part of some sort of terrorism plot.

Deciding to follow the directions of the unidentified woman who continues to call him, Jerry is led into a car driven by Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a desperate mother who receives a message telling her that she has also been “activated” and that her son will be harmed if she does not comply with similar instructions. Before they know exactly what they’re involved in, the newly-introduced duo is blindly chasing after something although they have no idea what it is.

Helmed by four screenwriters, which can sometimes raise a red flag in any script, the idea of cyber-terrorism presented in “Eagle Eye” feels outdated even when it takes an Orwellian approach and adds clever twists to modernize the story. Still, the advances in the film’s surveillance techniques aren’t too impressive and the writers end up driving the plot uncomfortably close to ridiculous. It’s especially meaningless by the third act when the curtain is pulled back to reveal the cause of all the mayhem. There’s not much to beam over in the writers’ decision making at this point. And there’s only so much a talented LaBeouf can do, even if he is supposed to be the next Tom Hanks.

Although in some earlier scenes the paranoia factor reaches some intense moments a la David Fincher’s “The Game,” those instances are too few and far between and Jerry and Rachel’s mad dash to the finish line pulls up limp. “Eagle Eye,” with all its underlying messages about high-tech governmental regulation, manages to become a bit more exciting than finding a convenient store with a dashboard GPS.

Made of Honor

May 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan, Sydney Pollack
Directed by: Paul Weiland (“City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold”)
Written by: Adam Sztykiel (debut), Deborah Kaplan (“Josie and the Pussycats”), Harry Elfont (“Surviving Christmas”)

If anyone knows how to milk their status as a romantic lead it’s actor Patrick Dempsey. From his “McDreamy” reputation on TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy” to his all-around good-guy persona in films like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Enchanted,” Dempsey is a far cry away from the nerdy lead he took in 1987’s “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

That film, at least, could be considered a sweet romantic comedy. In his new rom com, “Made of Honor,” the script makes about as much sense as the homonym in its title, which isn’t much.

Riddled with countless clichés (“You’re the perfect man, but not the perfect man for me.” Really? Is that all it takes to write a screenplay?) and some pointless and annoying dialogue, “Made of Honor” tells the story of Tom (Dempsey), a billionaire inventor who realizes he is in love with his best friend Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) just before she introduces him to her new fiancée.

When Hannah asks Tom to be her maid of honor for her wedding, Tom jumps at the chance, not because he is interested in picking out floral arrangements with her, but because he thinks he has a better chance of sabotaging the engagement by being closer to the future bride.

A hapless, hopeless romantic comedy, there is no real sense of friendship between Tom and Hannah right from the start. The trio of writers who offer this dud want us to believe that such a great, life-long friendship develops because they are able to do things like pick off each other’s food and guess what the other will order from the bakery. The premise and characterizations are so careless and irritating it’s a wonder how the director of Bill Cosby’s “Leonard 6” (considered by many as one of the worst movies ever made) got financing for something so dim-witted and poorly written.

If you want a great romantic comedy, flip the sexes around and revisit “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Even Cameron Diaz’s sometimes earsplitting role in that isn’t as grating as Dempsey’s is in this.