Greetings cherished readers! Welcome back, it’s been awhile! How are you doing? How’s life? How’s the wife? I come to you now as a man who has completed a Master’s degree in Film, meaning (result pending) I am a Master of Film. Knell before me (but don’t, who knows I may yet fail). As a result of my panicked work to finish my dissertation, my blog had to stand on the side-lines for a short while. But fear not, it always comes back, if you like it or not. First up on the catch up is a double feature of two films which failed to make much of an impression amongst this crowded summer roster.
Pixels (Dir: Chris Columbus)
Pixels encapsulates the rather dreary summer that Sony Pictures have suffered (something which was probably inevitable after last year’s email hacks). The Adam Sandler comedy has been claimed by some critics to be of the most offensive movies of the former Happy Gilmore’s career. Some would have you believe it’s near on un-watch-able. But the best I can say for it is, it’s not THAT bad. Still pretty bad. But not that bad.
When aliens attack Earth in the form of 1980s Arcade game characters, the world calls upon old arcade game champions, including down on his luck AV-man Brenner (Adam Sandler), to fend off the alien hoards and protect the planet.
Cool concept, right? Apart from Sandler’s name being present in that summary, that concept has all the makings of a super fun summer flick which should delight people of all ages. That, unfortunately, hasn’t quite worked out to be the case. While the set-pieces certainly comes thick and fast, the presence of Sandler drags this film down to the dirt, making it rather hard to determine whom it is being targeted at.
With Chris Columbus in the director’s chair, the proceedings kick off with a suitably Amblin-esque throwback to the 80s as we see our future heroes as kids in the glory days of the Arcade. We see shades of the Columbus who wrote Gremlins and The Goonies in these moments, and everything moves at an enjoyable pace and sets up the proceedings rather nicely. Once our characters have grown up and Brennan is a struggling AV guy, with best friend (Kevin James, of course) now the President of the United States calling him in to assist with the Alien threat, the film starts to dabble in more low-brow comedy, off-setting the tone in to something quite bizarre. When the comedy starts to rely on homophobia, sexism and strange inter-racial sex with video-game characters, you know you’ve headed down the wrong path.
What keeps Pixels from being all that offensive is the bright and vibrant action sequences which bring the Arcade characters to life. The Pac-Man sequence is the highlight, as there is a cheeky energy given to the alien invaders. Columbus is a sure-hand at these kind of sequences and he makes sure that the moments you have come to see truly pay-off. It’s just a shame that there is so much Sandler mugging in-between to get there.
Pixels could have been a fun flick, you feel, if Columbus had more of a say in the content of the flick, as much of what is present seems guided by Sandler’s own Hollywood criteria. It is not a completely worthless experience, there’s a great deal of fun to be had from some admittedly imaginative set pieces, it just seems to go out of its way to make sure you don’t enjoy those moments as much as you could. 2/5
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Dir: Guy Ritchie)
The case of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is not that it is a film which comes up short in terms of quality (for the most part) it is just a case that no one has particularly responded to it, with the film failing to cross $100 million worldwide so far (y’owch). It probably didn’t help that it was preceded by a superior spy movie just 3 weeks before it in the form of Rogue Nation, but it should not rob from what is a highly enjoyable and very stylish 60s throwback which revels in its period and allows the vistas and its stars to ooze with charm and sophistication.
What craft Ritchie attributes to his aesthetic is not shared with his story-telling techniques, as this throwback does somewhat lack in anything all that exciting when it comes to the plot mechanics. There is a loose thread plot involving the development of a nuclear device by a third part other than the United States or the Soviet Union, forcing the two to put their best two agents together, CIA’s Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB’s Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), in order to put an end to potential destruction.
While the story allows for the forming of an excellent villainess in the guise of Elizabeth Debicki, the story only just about strings the set pieces together, and even then not every set piece is successful. The opening escape from East Berlin is wondrous and sets down the tone rather perfectly, with Daniel Pemberton’s score adding a great deal of panache, while Cavill and Hammer establish their conflicting personalities (hot-head vs. pragmatist). It also introduces Alicia Vikander as a charming third point in the central trifecta.
The film never hits the heights of its opening, which is a shame because if it had kept up such giddy heights, we would have had an absolute gem. What we do have is something that worked perfectly fine as a wind-down at the end of the summer season, something familiar, with the odd moment of sly irreverence for its genre, but one which tries to supply simple thrills by delivering stylish action, attractive stars and glamorous costumes/settings. It falls apart in the final act in which Ritchie relies on his hand-held camera-work characterised in his previous flicks, feeling out of place with the rest of the film. The strength of the chemistry across the cast carries the film through the moments when it becomes stuck in the proverbial mud. A surprisingly entertaining, if inconsistent, breeze. 3/5