Pixels

Posted on July 23, 2015 at 5:37 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments
Profanity: A few bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including drinking to deal with stress and alcohol humor
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi action-style violence, no one permanently injured
Diversity Issues: Some sexist and homophobic "humor"
Date Released to Theaters: July 24, 2015
Date Released to DVD: October 26, 2015
Copyright Sony 2015

I never thought I’d see Max Headroom or “Fantasy Island” again, much less have to explain them to someone sitting next to me who was a toddler when they were on television, but Adam Sandler is still relentlessly working his slacker way through every pop culture meme of the decade where he spent his late teens and early 20’s, and apparently the last decade he was willing to pay attention to. He’s used up most of the good ones. That means that this is another film that was pieced together from the cutting room floors of his previous movies plus VH1’s “I Love the 80’s” series. Yes, I know that it is impossible to believe that there was anything worth remembering that happened in the 80’s that they did not cover. And yet, here we are, with a movie about 1980’s arcade games that have become real-life alien invaders. If you remember and retain some affection for games like Frogger, Pac-Man, Tetris, and Q*bert, or if you like Sandler and are relieved he is not making “Grown-Ups 3,” then you might get a few smiles out of “Pixels.”

Grading on a curve, it is tempting to provide some positive reinforcement for Sandler, who in the hands of director Chris Columbus, is better than some of his recent films. But just because it is safe to say he probably will not be a winner at the Razzies this year does not merit him an endorsement. This movie is less predictable and less entertaining than the charmingly retro 8 bit games to which it pays tribute. And unfortunately, one more element carried over from the 80’s is the idea that homophobic and sexist jokes are funny and permissible. Having a female character be a capable military officer does not mean that it is okay to have the other female characters be one-dimensional (literally, one one case).

Sandler, looking puffy and bored, plays Sam, a Geek Squad-style technician who installs fancy television and gaming equipment in people’s homes. In a flashback, we see that as a kid, he had a natural facility to recognize the patterns in arcade games and made it to second in a national competition. The winner was Eddie (Peter Dinklage from “Game of Thrones”), a mullet-coiffed braggart who triumphed over him in the final round. Another competitor was a whiz kid named Ludlow (Josh Gad, “Frozen’s” Olaf) with poor social skills, conspiracy theories, and a pretty pervy obsession with a video game avatar. And Sam’s loyal friend and supporter was Cooper (Kevin James).

Footage of the competition was sent into space to introduce the galactic community to life on Earth. But it was misinterpreted as a declaration of war, and now the aliens have arrived. Just as in the era of arcade games, they wreak destruction by dissolving everything around them into pixels, according to the same rules and patterns of the original games. Fortunately, if improbably, Cooper is now the President of the United States. So he is able to call on Sam, Eddie (who has to be sprung from prison), and Ludlow to save the day. Helping to coordinate the defense is Violet (Michelle Monaghan), first met by Sam when he is installing a television/game system in her home and finds her sobbing in the closet over her husband leaving her for a Pilates instructor named Sinnamon (with an S) and he comforts and then hits on her. But it turns out that she is actually a top military officer who can muster whole new categories of weapons, train the SEALS, and engage in sizzle-free romantic banter at the same time.

The effects in the battle scenes are fun, turning these very rudimentary characters into real space invaders without losing their iconic 8 bit design. Centipede in particular is impressive, glowing like a Chinese New Year Parade dragon made from Lite-Brite as he slithers through the mushrooms. Like some of the other arcade characters, he is far more vivid and has more personality than the humans in the story.

Parents should know that this film has a handful of bad words, potty humor, sci-fi/action violence with peril and apparent injuries, brief comic view of a portion of a bare butt, and comic but crude sexual references including a threesome. There are alcohol jokes and alcohol is used to deal with stress.

Family discussion: Why did coming in second change Sam’s life? Is Violet a snob? How could the skills you have help save the planet?

If you like this, try: “The King of Kong,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and “Galaxy Quest”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Movies Science-Fiction

Earth to Echo

Posted on July 1, 2014 at 5:55 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi-style action and peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2014
Date Released to DVD: October 20, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00MHIKRVA

 

Copyright 2014 Disney


Three kids go on a wild adventure and make an extra-terrestrial friend in this updated take on films like “E.T.” and “The Goonies.” It being 2014, that means that the found footage genre, pioneered in “The Blair Witch Project” and featured in adult thrillers like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield,” has permeated family film as well. What makes this intriguing is that its intended audience of digital natives, kids who played with iPads before they could talk, may just be better able to process the fragmented, jerky cinematography designed to appear as though it was shot by the kids in the story themselves, than any adult in the audience can imagine.

As it begins, an entire community is being shut down for a highway construction project and all of the families who live there have to leave. Three close friends, confident, talkative Tuck (rapper Brian “Astro” Bradley), shy techie Munch (Reese Hartwig), and sensitive Alex (Teo Halm)have received mysterious messages on their phones and they want to find out where it is coming from and what it means.  Some guys from the construction project have some to the door offering to exchange new phone vouchers in exchange for the phones they say they have damaged with their drilling. But the boys realize that their phones are not broken. They are being contacted by someone or something who wants them to find him/her/it.

The trio is able to get away for one last night because their parents are too distracted by the move to notice what they are doing.  They get on their bikes and bring along a movie camera and some “spy glasses” that surreptitiously take movies as well. The signal leads them to a tiny, owl-like robotic alien they call Echo, who needs their help to repair his ship so he can return home. But the “construction guys” are looking for Echo, too. Tuck, Munch, and Alex have to race against time and the men who want to capture Echo in a treasure hunt for the parts Echo needs.

There are no surprises in the storyline, but the likeable kids, cute alien, and novelty of the found footage approach makes this heartwarming story of four friends on a thrilling adventure a good choice for a family outing. Echo does not speak; he/she/it just beeps, which means the kids have to do the talking, and that keeps the focus on what they are learning as they try to understand and take on the responsibility of helping someone in a meaningful way for the first time.

Those not accustomed to the mosaic style of “found footage” films may find it disorienting, but the sense of adventure and the strength of the friendships is palpable throughout, and kids and their families will enjoy being along for the ride.

Parents should know that this film has sci-fi action and peril, some schoolyard language, 0underage drinking and drunkenness and references to tween kissing.

Family discussion: Why did the kids feel “invisible?” What questions would you ask Echo? What did Tuck learn about Alex? Why did Tuck lie about Emma?

If you like this, try: “E.T,” “The Goonies,” “Super 8,” and “The Last Mimzy”

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DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Science-Fiction Stories About Kids

2 Guns

Posted on August 1, 2013 at 6:00 pm

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug dealers
Violence/ Scariness: Constant intense and graphic peril and violence, some very disturbing images, torture, guns, chases, explosions, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 2, 2013
Date Released to DVD: November 19, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BEIYN9Q

 

Copyright Universal 2013


The couple with the most electrifying chemistry on screen so far this year is Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in “2 Guns.” As the title of the the graphic novel by Steven Grant and Mateus Santolouco suggests, it is a double-barreled shoot-em-up. It is very violent, and it seems that the two stars think they are making a more light-hearted, escapist bang bang frolic than the movie can deliver.  The other characters in the often-sour story seem to be in a different movie.  But as long as the two stars are trading quips in syncopation with the rounds of firepower, it is very entertaining.

Washington plays Bobby, a DEA agent who has been undercover for a couple of years infiltrating a Mexico-based drug ring.  Wahlberg is Stig, working undercover for the Navy for the same reason.  We’re told they are the best at what they do, but somehow when they are trading banter about the best doughnuts in three counties and the drug dealer henchman who has been separated from his head they never figure out that they are both working for law enforcement.  Me, I think I might suspect that Bobby was not the usual bad guy when he stops in the middle of a robbery to pick up and soothe a crying baby.  But Stig is too busy being cool to notice.  Other than that, and repeatedly trusting the wrong people, and not making much progress in getting anyone arrested or confiscating any drugs or weapons, they are both crackerjack detectives.

Bobby has some issues.  He is a loner.  He does not “have people.”   He has a sometime girlfriend, a Justice Department attorney named Deb (Paula Patton).  “Did you ever love me?” she asks him when they are in bed together.  “I meant to love you,” he says.  Stig is more easy-going, but he may be too far in the other direction when it comes to trust, not able to see when his “people” are less loyal to him than he is to them.  That may be part of the explanation for their mutual blind spot in not figuring out that they were both doing the same thing.  Neither they nor we have much time to think about that as very quickly it turns out that they have been set up and betrayed, and they will need to find a way to work together in the midst of being hunted down by three separate groups who want to kill them.

After that, it’s just banter, chase, banter, shoot-out, banter, a couple of torture scenes, banter, betrayal, more quippy banter, and then ludicrous even in the context of this movie side-story about the perils of illegal immigration, then pay-off (literally).  It is an uneasy mix, but the stars own the fizzy dialogue with such brio, electricity and pure charisma that they provide the real explosive power.

Parents should know that this film includes constant comic book-style violence, some graphic and disturbing images, torture, guns, explosions, chases, fights, many characters injured and killed, non-explicit sexual situation, female nudity, some strong language, and pervasive corruption.

Family discussion: The issue of loyalty occurs several different times in this movie.  How do Bobby and Stig show their views about loyalty?  How does Deb?  How do their views change over the course of the story?

If you like this, try: “Lethal Weapon,” “Shoot ’em Up,” and “The Other Guys”

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Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Crime DVD/Blu-Ray

Margin Call

Posted on October 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm

A
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Constant profanity and bad language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, job loss, betrayal
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 21, 2011
Date Released to DVD: May 1, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B005FITIGO
Copyright Roadside Attractions 2011

Investors can make bets by promising to buy stock at a higher or lower price than the current day’s valuation.  If all goes well, they never actually have to buy the stock.  They can keep buying and selling the bets with borrowed money without ever having to buy the underlying securities.  But if it does not go well, the investor gets what is known as a margin call and has to come up with the cash.

The financial meltdown of 2008 was like a margin call for America, and we will be paying off that debt for a long time.  This movie, as tightly wound as a thriller, takes us through a fictionalized version of the night when it all tipped over from going well to not going well at an enormous Wall Street company, and it was time to pay the piper and a lot of others as well.

“You guys ever been through this before?” asks Will (Paul Bettany), as some serious looking people in suits start tapping people on the shoulder and saying, “I’m afraid we have to speak with you” to the people in cubicles  “Best to ignore it, keep your head down, go back to work.  Don’t watch.”

“The majority of this floor is being let go today,” says the serious woman in a suit.  She speaks of “certain precautions that may seem punitive.”  She glances down at the paperwork when she speaks of “your — 19 — years” with the (never-named) company.  And then we see people carrying cardboard boxes of belongings out the front door of a shiny skyscraper, their eyes blinking in the unaccustomed sunlight.

This is nothing new, as Will’s comment informs us.  It is a routine, if brutal pruning of the staff.  This is a cutthroat business and periodically some throats get cut.  And periodically Will has to speak to those left behind: “These were good people and they were good at their jobs, but you are better.  We will not think of them again.”  Back to work watching all those screens with all those numbers.

But one of the departed has left something behind.  There is evident irony in the name of the division that has been gutted.  It is the Risk Management group.  And the 19-year veteran who has been shown the door has been working on a new analysis of the firm’s position.  He turns his thumb drive over to the young colleague who has been kept on, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a literal rocket scientist with “a PhD in propulsion,” who plugs a few holes in the formula that reveal that the firm is in their terms, “projected losses are greater than the current value of the company.”  In other words, on the verge of collapse.  That is when it gets interesting.  Sullivan has proven that there are going to be some devastating losses.  The question is who will pay for them.

The rest of the long night will be devoted to answering that question.  It is like a long game of musical chairs, except that these people get to decide when to stop the music so they can get to the chairs before everyone else.

The guy at the top is John Tuld (Jeremy Irons).  Given a choice between reputation and money, he has no hesitation in choosing money.  He tells the head of sales, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) to sell the ticking time bomb securities by assuring their clients that they are solid investments, even though Rogers points out that no one will ever trust them again.  “You’re selling something you know has no value.”  “We’re selling to willing buyers at fair market value so that we can survive.”

Rogers is not the only one who raises concerns, moral and financial.  But writer-director J.C. Chandor lets us see when and how each of them topple, and what makes them topple, which turns out to be money.  Dale repeatedly says there is nothing that can get him to go back inside the building and yet there he is, back in the building.  Rogers says he will not sell these risky securities to clients because “you don’t sell anything to anybody unless they’ll come back to you for more.”  But he does.

This could just as easily be set in the scuzzy world of the real-estate salesmen of “Glengarry Glen Ross” or the “leave the gun, take the cannoli” world of “The Godfather.”  Chandor keeps enough of the real story to keep things vivid and meaningful but does not get mired in jargon.  Crisp performances by everyone keep things taut until a surprising detour at the end.  For the first time we leave the world of glass and concrete for an intensely personal moment of loss and grief.  “Our talents have been used for the greater good,” one character says, reminding us that the very selection process that takes people who are capable of more tangible contributions are unable to resist the big money that pays them a many-times multiple for financial engineering over mechanical engineering.  And reminding us, too, that if we let people who care only about money make the decisions they will make decisions that are only about money for them.

 

(more…)

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Inspired by a true story Movies Thriller

Zombieland

Posted on February 2, 2010 at 8:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for horror violence/gore and language
Profanity: Constant very bad language, some crude
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence, characters injured, killed, and eaten, zombies and other graphic and grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 2, 2009
Date Released to DVD: February 2, 2010

What is it about zombies?

Dating back to 1932’s “White Zombie,” the stories of the relentless, omnivorous undead and the humans who try to escape them have been one of film’s most popular genres, with sub-genres including the flourishing category of zombie comedies, best described as gallows humor, gasps of horror alternating with gasps of laughter. Zombie films turn out to provide many opportunities for some core elements of humor, especially the juxtaposition of dire circumstances with trivial detail and the deconstruction of our assumptions about what we need and the norms of lifestyle and behavior. As its title suggests, “Zombieland‘s” take is darkly comic, with zombie encounters as theme park or video game. It even ends up in a real theme park, the few remaining humans battling the hordes from rides and concession stands.

Copyright 2019 SPHE

One thing about zombies is that they thin out the herd. In this story, only four non-zombie humans seem to be left, which gives them an opportunity to try to band together with people with whom they would otherwise have nothing in common and show each other and themselves that they are capable of more in both physical courage and relationships than they ever thought possible.

The mixed bag, all known only by the names of cities, includes shy college student (Jesse Eisenberg) who tries to maintain some sense of control by compulsively making lists of rules for survival. He meets up with a modern-day cowboy (Woody Harrelson) in search of his favorite Hostess treat and a pair of sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who have their own methods for taking care of themselves. And even though they have not much idea where they are going or why they should go there, they hit the road.

Funny zombie movies can be just as scary as straight zombie movies, but they leaven the terror with humor that comes as the characters try to find some element of normalcy in between double-tapping zombies (one of the rules), grabbing whatever they want among the abandoned cars and grocery stores. It also includes checking out the home of a major movie star who shows up for an hilariously deadpan cameo before one last zombie attack in the actual amusement park — that juxtaposition element again.

The actors, including the movie star, are all superb. Eisenberg and Stone are two of the most talented young performers in movies and they hit just the right notes here. The usual getting-to-know-and-trust-you road trip developments play out in a manner that is both endearing and funny, as when Eisenberg asks Breslin if her sister has a boyfriend as though there are any other possible candidates for dating who would have a very different idea of having her for dinner. It goes on a little too long and does not match the inspired lunacy of “Shaun of the Dead,” but it will keep zombie-philic audiences as happy as finding the very last Twinkie.

Parents should know that this film has extreme and graphic violence involving zombies, guns, characters in peril, injured, killed, and eaten, drinking, smoking, and very strong language including crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Why didn’t the characters use their real names? What do you think of Columbus’ list of rules? What makes zombie movies so popular?

If you like this, try: “Dawn of the Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “I am Legend,” and “28 Days Later”

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DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy Horror movie review Movies
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