PIXELATED FAILURE

ADAM SANDLER’S NEW SUMMER COMEDY DOESN’T EVEN CARE IF YOU LAUGH AND TAKES IT’S PLACE AS AN EARLY ENTRY FOR 2015’S WORST MOVIE

Director: Chris Columbus Starring: Adam Sandler, Josh Gatt, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Brian Cox and Sean Bean Studio: Columbia Pictures Rated: PG Running Time: 1 Hr, 45 Min You would think by now moviegoers would know better. But no, we keep punching ourselves in the face, over and over again, thus giving studios permission to keep writing bad cheques. And movie fans keep suffering as a result. It’ll be better this time we tell ourselves. It can’t be as bad as last time, it has to get better. It’s the cinematic equivalent of being in a bad relationship or being a Leafs fan; you sacrifice and persevere but your loyalty is rewarded only with disappointment and regret. I am, of course, talking about Adam Sandler movies. His latest big screen offering is the video game themed comedy Pixels, where he plays Sam Brenner, an arcade video game champ in 1982 who defeated classics like Pac-Man, Frogger and Space Invaders all the way to the world championships before running into by Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (eventually played by Peter Dinklage) for the top spot in the world. Fast forward to the present and Brenner is installing TVs for a living, his best friend and childhood sidekick Will Cooper (Kevin James) is now the president of the United States (with toilet bowl-level approval ratings) and he’s constantly reminded that he’s wasting his potential in life, especially when freshly divorced Lt. Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan, whose only purpose seems to be to provide middle aged gamers with eye candy and Sandler’s character with an unattainable but predictable love interest) drops into his life. But before Brenner can take fresh stock of his life, an alien force disguised as 1980’s video games attacks the planet, challenging Earth to a series of battles with the future of the planet hanging in the balance. Brenner and his teenage cohorts are forced into reluctant battle to defend-and save-the world. I’m not going to dissect the plot because, well, this is a summer comedy starring Adam Sandler about aliens invading the planet with 30-year old video games as their instruments of conquest. It isn’t supposed to make sense. But the operative word in that sentence is comedy, and other then a few chuckles, sight gags and Josh Gat (who plays gaming aficionado and conspiracy nut Ludlow Lamonsoff), Pixels fails to be funny. It’s mildly amusing in parts, but it often feels like the movie isn’t even trying to be funny. For the most part it feels like Sandler grabbed a bunch of his friends and a couple new faces and just hung out a little while, cracking inside jokes and reminiscing about the by gone days of video arcades (I lost track of the “in my day” jokes, informing the world how much Donkey Kong was superior to the likes of Halo and Call of Duty). It was almost as if Sandler was only looking to slap something together so they could attach a trailer for October’s Hotel Transylvania 2. Gat is amusing as Ludlow and Peter Dinklage does a decent job as a stereotypical 80’s testosterone-drunk video game jockey (and Brenner’s chief human nemesis), but even a Lannister can’t salvage this less then half hearted attempt at comedy (and Dinklage isn’t given much opportunity to anyway, with less screen time then the other chief players). And that’s the problem with this movie, it doesn’t even feel like it’s trying. No one, primarily Sandler, has any sort of investment or interest in Pixels. At least if the movie tried you could forgive its many, many failures, but outside of a handful of chuckle worthy moments, Pixels is little more then a love letter to a few classic video games and 80’s nerd culture (the nerd does, after all, get the girl in the end). The best way to describe Pixels is as a lazy walk down nostalgia lane for a bunch of Hollywood types who lost interest about half way through. It certainly isn’t worth the price of admission and if you can’t resist the unholy temptation to check Pixels out, well, this is a Tuesday half-pricer if there ever was one. Shayne Kempton

MAKING A MOVIE MOUNTAIN OUT OF AN ANT HILL

ANT-MAN IS A STRONG ADDITION TO MARVEL’S GROWING ROSTER OF MOVIE SUPER HEROES AND IT PROVES THAT THE STUDIO CAN MAKE BOX OFFICE GOLD OUT OF JUST ABOUT ANYTHING

Director: Peyton Reed

Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, Judy Greer

Studio: Marvel/Disney

Rated: PG

Running Time: 1 Hr, 57 Min.

Last summer, Marvel Studios turned an obscure, barely known property into box office gold when Guardians of the Galaxy became one of the year’s top grossing movies, launching a new gravy train in the process. The question the House of Ideas, and their corporate owners-The House of the Mouse-are asking themselves this summer is if they can capture that same lightning in a Marvel coloured bottle with the little known super hero Ant-Man. Especially during a year where they’ve been outshone by rival studio Universal Pictures, despite the success of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Pixar’s Inside/ Out. While Time will tell if Ant-Man can match Guardians box office magic, it’s a pretty good entry in Marvel’s cinematic universe and it may not only launch one hot new property for the studio, but possibly two while adding a pair of new faces to Marvel’s list of Avengers-worthy characters.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has just gotten out of prison for “burglaring” a corporation that was robbing its customers (Lang got the swindled customers their money back and publically shamed the corporation in question, making him a modern day Robin Hood). Despite having an electronic engineering degree though, Scott finds that the pickings for ex-cons in the job market are less then slim and his inability to find gainful employment prevents him from seeing his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and her uptight cop fiancé (Bobby Cannavale). Faced with the possibility of losing his daughter, Scott reluctantly falls back into his old life of crime, assisted by his makeshift gang lead by former cellmate Luis (Michael Pena). Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) on the other hand, is a reclusive scientist whose been protecting a lifetime of secrets and mourning his late wife ever since he was forced out of the company he founded by his former protégé Daren Cross (Corey Stoll). But when his greatest secret is uncovered and weaponized for profit, Pym and his estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) find themselves searching for a new ally to help steal this dangerous new technology before Cross can sell it to some very unsavoury parties. The three soon find themselves in a somewhat uneasy partnership.

Ant-Man’s story is about as straight forward as possible. Villain steals a weapon that will make a lot of bad guys really, really dangerous (on a global scale) and the good guys are trying to steal it before the villain can make the world a more dangerous place. In fact the plot is pretty reminiscent of the first Iron Man movie, with themes of technological Pandora’s boxes and corporate greed. It’s well paced, with just enough humour laced through it to supply a few laughs between refreshingly original and fresh action scenes. The film’s visual effects and stunts do a perfect job of exploring a rarely explored movie frontier; the world of the microscopic. Whether it’s navigating a building’s plumbing or leading a stampede of ants through underground tunnels or battling the film’s villain inside a briefcase or on a train set, Ant-Man offers plenty of new super hero action. Director Peyton Reed does an excellent job of keeping the action and fight scenes moving smoothly and organically; the visual approach of insect sized combatants could easily become dizzying and stomach turning but Ant-Man keeps it easy on the eyes without cheaping out. Ant-Man can easily stand on its own as a super hero movie, deftly establishing the hero’s mythos for movie-goers unfamiliar with the character (which is just about everyone), but it drops plenty of references to other Marvel movies (including an fight scene with another recently introduced Avenger) and has just enough story threads woven into the script that it can integrate itself into the larger Marvel Cinematic universe. The post credit scene introduces a new character entirely and could allow Ant-Man to spring board a second property on top of it’s titular one, meaning Marvel could hit two home runs on a single pitch.

Judd is efficient as the good-natured, occasionally wise cracking Lang and Douglas does his part as the elder, slightly cantankerous Pym. Lilly steals more then a few scenes as the tough, emotionally weathered Hope and Pena dutifully serves his role as the film’s primary source of comedy. Stoll isn’t exactly intimidating as the film’s chief villain, but the story doesn’t seem to give his character much venom above his jilted corporate ambition. All in all, Ant-Man isn’t the best that Marvel has offered movie audiences, but it isn’t the worst either. In short (pardon the pun), Ant-Man is a solid addition to Marvel’s growing list of properties and should help keep fresh life in the Avengers franchise as the initial wave of characters prepares for retirement. And isn’t that all you can ask for from a summer super hero movie based on a character almost no one knows?

Shayne Kempton

MINION MANIA

THE TRUE STARS OF THE DESPICABLE ME FRANCHISE FINALLY GET THEIR OWN LONG AWAITED MOVIE, AND IT LIVES UP TO THE ANTICIPATION

Director: Kyle Baldin and Pierre Coffin

Starring: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Saunders and Steve Carell

Studio: Universal/Illumination

Rated: G

Running Time: I Hr, 31 Min

When Despicable Me conquered theatres in 2010 and the sequel busted the box office 3 years later, it was universally agreed that while both movies had a few other things going for them, the true stars were Gru’s army of diminutive yellow minions, who carried out his bidding, assembled and maintained his array of weapons and super villain gadgets and assisted him on his heists and adventures. It was only natural then that the little yellow super stars deserved a movie where they got top billing (in fact, Universal announced the Minions stand alone movie shortly after the successful debut of Despicable Me 2 in the summer of 2013). Minions has been one of the most anticipated movies this summer, and as it turns out, for good reason.

The minions story goes back to the dawn of time, when they crawled out of the ocean around the same time mankind’s evolutionary ancestors did, and right away their search began for the Big Boss, the Alpha Villain they could serve faithfully. Unfortunately for both them and their adopted employer, the minions enthusiasm usually lead to a bad end for whoever they’re calling boss at the time, and one such disastrous incident forces them to seek refuge in one of Earth’s polar wastelands. There they build a society and live out their master less lives, but the absence of a Big Boss begins to weigh on them and one by one they lose focus and drift into a deep, melancholy depression. Until one day, an enterprising minion by the name of Kevin decides that he’ll act out his daydreams of being a hero and will venture out into the world to find a new boss for the minions to serve, bringing purpose back to their lives. Joined by the overzealous Stuart and he reluctant, mostly uninterested Bob, Stuart sets out on an adventure that reveals just how the minions came to be in the service of the super villain Gru. Although before they begin helping Gru rob banks, the banana loving minions find themselves in the temporary employ of the world’s greatest super villain, the seductive yet merciless Scarlet Overkill (voiced perfectly by Sandra Bullock).

If you loved the zany antics and spontaneous slap stick of the of the first two movies, you’ll love Minions. Not a scene goes by without Kevin, Bob and Stuart getting themselves into some sort of manic stupidity and then trying to get out of it with even more nonsense. And their limited but hilarious vocabulary serve as exclamation marks for the physical comedy. It’s like watching shorter, squeakier versions of the Three Stooges in a world with even less physics. The plot serves only to move from one sight gag to the next, which is the whole point. Kids and adults alike will find Minions hilarious, sometimes for the identical reasons and sometimes for totally separate ones. Bullock does a fine job voicing Scarlet Overkill, lending the villain plenty of tender, maternal sweetness when she’s being manipulative or taunting, and injecting plenty of cartoon venom when Overkill becomes borderline homicidal. Jon Hamm, who voices Overkill’s inventor husband Herb, is convincing as a stereotypical hippie paramour who seems to just tag along for the fun and if Pierre Coffin, who has voiced the minions since they were first unleashed onto pop culture (and is a co-director here) doesn’t get any love this Oscar season, it will be a cinematic crime. Minions succeeds at capturing a very 60’s flavour for the film, and deliciously mines British culture, from Beatle mania to London coppers to the Monarchy itself for plenty of its laughs (especially the scene where Queen Elizabeth goes all Monday Night Raw on one of our stars, giving him a lecture on gentlemanly behaviour while she’s kicking his little yellow ass). But the best thing about Minions is that even though the little yellow guys are the movie’s unquestioned stars, it leaves you wanting more (Universal has one more Despicable Me up their sleeves, scheduled for a 2017 release, before likely putting the franchise to bed).

Industry insiders will be watching to see if Minions can match or best the success of Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out (Universal and Disney have had a an intriguing tug of war at the box office all year long, with Universal looking like it’s got the upper hand for the time being, while Disney has one mother of a bullet left in it’s chamber that goes by the name of Star Wars). Minions opening weekend is blowing everything else out of the water with a near record debut (estimated second highest animated opening in history), proving the little yellow tykes have tonnes of marketing appeal. Now the question is how they’ll fare against competition like Ant-Man and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation over the next few weeks. But box office economics aside, this is definitely one you want to take the kids to see, even if it only gives you an excuse to see it yourself.

Shayne Kempton