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Pixels – Joint Review


Release Date: 24 July 2015 [USA]
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Tim Herlihy - Timothy Dowling [Screenplay] - Tim Herlihy [Screen Story] - Patrick Jean
Cast: Adam Sandler - Kevin James - Michelle Monaghan - Peter Dinklage - Josh Gad

Posted July 27, 2015 by

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Pixels – Joint Review

Jonathan’s Perspective:

If you had any doubts about the antecedent of Chris Columbus’ premise-only action-camp comedy Pixels, you can quickly put them to bed about five minutes into the prologue when Dan Ackroyd appears as the MC of the video arcade championships of 1982.  The references to Ghostbusters will continue throughout.

Two other things to understand about Pixels. One, it isn’t quite as bad as most critics (maybe myself included) would have you believe. If you set aside reason and logic, it can be a modestly pleasant and innocuous way to kill a few hours.  And two, it doesn’t just rip off Ghostbusters. It borrows pretty liberally from 1996’s Independence Day too.

To understand why Pixels mostly fails where Ghostbusters, and to a lesser extent Independence Day succeeded, it is important to recognize the rule of oppositions. When you’re making a comedy, you can take either take a serious premise and treat it in a comic fashion, or you can take a silly premise and play it straight. Either of those things can result in very good film. Back in the mid-‘80s, the era in which Pixels is trapped, Woody Allen demonstrated both approaches in consecutive movies. Purple Rose of Cairo played an absurdist premise straight, and then Hannah and Her Sisters took a serious-minded premise and played it for laughs.

But taking a silly premise and playing silly is unlikely to generate anything noteworthy. That’s what Columbus and screenwriters Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling do. Columbia (not Columbus) may have spent a lot of money on the effects, but they skimp on artistic creativity.

It is a good premise. An alien planet, misinterpreting time capsule footage of popular 1980’s arcade games, sends real life game characters (PacMan, Donkey Kong, etc..) to attack the Earth.  Former champion gamers, now all adult losers, must pull their childhood skills out of mothballs and save the planet.

Did I say all? No, one was fat, and could not fritter his life away. That would be Cooper, who unlike his friends, has grown up to be the President of the United States. Cooper is played by Kevin James. That’s right. Kevin James is the President. That’s all you need to know about how silly the execution is.

I know what really seems silly is me criticizing a movie about larger-than-life Centipedes attacking Hyde Park for not being realistic. But even in silly movies, we have to believe some sort of internal logic. Characters have to behave in recognizable human fashions. That happened in Ghostbusters. When Peter Venkman convinces the Mayor of New York to let the Ghostbusters take a crack at the baddies by telling he can save the lives of “millions of registered voters,” there is a deep comic understanding of what motivates human behavior. You won’t find anything approaching that in Pixels, in which, at a celebratory ball in the middle of a string of alien invasions, one of the Ghostbusters – sorry, they’re called Arcaders in this movie – for no apparent reason, grabs a mic and begins singing with the band.  Pixels is jam-packed with incongruities like that. Some of them are actually funny. But not enough of them.

Then there’s the final battle, in which thousands of alien-created arcade characters are dispatched upon New York ostensibly to destroy the city. But they actually do nothing, as a couple of Arcaders hold the multitudes off. Again, I’m not demanding reality here. But by the rules the movie itself has laid out, there’s no logic to the particulars of the attack.

While that attack is going on, President Kevin James has joined the fray and the remaining Arcaders have paid a visit to the alien mother ship in order to disable the attack. (Did I mention this movie borrows from Independence Day?)

OK, sitting through Pixels is not quite as painful as I am making it out to be. Some of the fight scenes are entertaining. Michelle Monaghan does rather well as the main character’s love interest/high-ranking military advisor in the White House.  That main character, Adam Sandler, in the midst of a professional SoCal-style dry spell, isn’t all that bad either. But he sure doesn’t have the bedraggled wit or the impish charm of Bill Murray’s Venkman.

What is probably saddest about Pixels is the fact that it had the opportunity to be so much smarter. It wastes a potentially good character played by veteran Brian Cox, who in his first scene appears to be channeling the high-level satire of Dr. Strangelove.  It turns a cute-in-small-doses alien Q*bert character into Jar Jar Binks’ first cousin.  And it misses an opportunity to actually say something about the prevalence of gaming, how it has changed since the more innocent and primitive ‘80s, and what that all might mean. It simply has no interest in anything beyond the cheapest of laughs. It plays its game on the easiest of levels.  So even if it offers the occasional win, you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished very much.

(And as side note, for any of you that didn’t get my Pied Piper reference: Pixels is loaded up with what are meant to be iconic characters from the ‘80s, delivering messages from the aliens. Some are so obscure (was that really Hall and Oates?) that you have to wonder who this movie was made for. So I will own up to the fact that I wrote this review primarily for fans of Robert Browning.)

Written By:

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Jonathan Eig
Huffington Post
Full Contributor


Kevin’s Perspective:

We’ve all seen the pitchfork raising reviews calling for Adam Sandler’s immediate retirement. You’ve probably been warned to not watch Pixels and rightly so, the trailers give you the immediate impression that film will be nothing but a travesty. It’s evident however that Sandler will remain a relic of 90’s buddy loser comedy tropes and after a string of flops means he owes it to us as an audience to stop treating us like idiots but this isn’t a review on Adam Sandler, it’s a review on Pixels and it’s also a primer on why we need better films about Video Games that don’t end up making a mockery of itself, with the exception of Wreck-It Ralph.

Pixels is a movie that’s been made that doesn’t take itself seriously but ended up offending a lot of people, simply by existing which is saying something because Pixels is based on a short film on the same name that seems to be pretty entertaining for a two and a half minute film.

There’s not much to be said about Pixels, or “Voxels” if you’re going to look into technicalities. Here’s a bit of the plot if the trailer hasn’t spoiled it for you. Brenner is a video game prodigy nerd in 1982, he and his buddy, Chewie love arcades and competes in the championship and comes in second, losing to Eddie “The Fireblaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) and thus second place among thousands means you’ll never amount to anything. Flash forward to present day, Brenner (Adam Sandler) thus remains a man-child for the rest of his life and is now a Cable TV installer and Chewie (Kevin James ) is President of the United States, yup, I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

He’s not a popular president (Which is a wonder how he won the election) and he has a major problem on his hands. In 82, same time as the arcade championship, Nasa recorded and sent a video as an ideal way of saying hello to Aliens which was wrongly misinterpreted as a declaration of intergalactic war and in such fashion wreak havoc on planet earth in the familiar forms of Galaga, Pac-Man and centipede in some sort of twisted contest to win the planet and converting everything into Pixels.

Also accompanying, the duo are Col. Van Patton (Michelle Monaghan), a mother going through separation that Brenner hit on while he fixed her son’s TV, a perfect fitting to play love interest in a vulnerable state looking for a man as a way to redeem herself. Then there’s “The Wonder Kid” Ludlow (Josh Gad) and Eddie Plant who as the “Arcaders” remain Earth’s only hope of saving them.

Now, with that out of the way, this should reaffirm as a warning again. Pixels is not without a few single laughs in places but that’s all it is and it quickly snowballs into something else more cringe worthy. There’s more plot holes deeper than the pits you fall in Super Mario. Pixels is a dumb comedy and Chris Columbus’ intentions seemed genuine to show a new generation the ways of the old with retro gaming and induce nostalgia but the execution fell and here’s why. Had Pixels been made in the 90’s it would be a different story. The loser image redeeming himself worked back then and it doesn’t now. Now add that somewhere in the mix of Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets Evolution meets, well, Grown Ups.

Pixels was bad, but I had set my expectations so low that I didn’t find it unbearable. It’s sad that you’re rooting for the one character that isn’t even real. Q*bert is obviously tied in to bring a few decent laughs which also gets ruined when he promptly pisses himself in the face of impending danger for the sake of cheap laughs but he becomes essential for the film to the point that he becomes a more “serviceable”

character towards the ending. It’s a wonder why Dinklage and his mullet even signed on for this film. But while he must be happy walking away with his paycheck, even he probably realizes how underutilized he was. In the quest to make a good light hearted video game movie, you can see Sony name dropping all their IP’s such as Playstation 4 or the Smurfs which makes this film look like “Spot your favorite gaming character” in some chaotic video game orchestra.

In light of other things, it also gives audiences a jaded look on “the gamer” and affirms too many stereotypes in today’s context which are just plain wrong. Especially a point in the game where if retro gaming was all about finding patterns and logical ways to beat the game, today’s games are all about staying alive. Super Mario, Street Fighter or Doom weren’t any learning lessons for studios to keep pumping out video game based movies which is why we have something like Pixels.

Written By:

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Kevin Sebastian
Freelance Contributor


Theo’s Perspective:

You have to admit, the idea of a mulleted Peter Dinklage firing a laser cannon is appealing, and the idea of watching a video game taking form and life in the real world may sound like a kid’s dream… So what other reasons could you need to watch ‘Pixels’? Well, my first answer would be “that I don’t want to watch another happy-groovy flick with the Americans wining at the end and they all kiss each other, etc…” Needless to say, if you are as demanding as I am, you are quite in a pickle.

Chris Columbus (from ‘Home Alone’, ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ and the two first films from the ‘Harry Potter’ saga) inspires him from a short film produced in 2010, soberly called ‘Pixels’, to direct this invasion from an alien planet that misunderstood our peaceful intents : in 1982, the very first videogame championship is recorded by NASA, and the footage are send away in the galaxy in order to prove to any potential life form that the human race is resourceful and eager to communicate. Three decades later, we find back the kids that attempted the 1982 championship: Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler, from ‘Grown Ups’, ‘Click’ and ’50 First Dates’) is now a “TV guy”, Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad, from ‘Wish I Was Here’, ‘She Wants Me’ and ‘21’) is still deep into his conspiracy theories, and as bad in social relations as he was when he was a kid, William Cooper (Kevin James, from ‘Zookeeper’, ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’ and ‘Hitch’) is now the President of the United States, because, after all, why not ? Someone must be the President at some point, right? Their nemesis, Eddy Plant (Peter Dinklage, from ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’, ‘Death at a Funeral’ and of course the ‘Game of Thrones’ series) serves several sentences in jail.

These four little birds will eventually reunite to fight back the doom coming from space, shaped in all these games they know too well: Centipede, Asteroid, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong… all the classics from the eighties. In their quest, they will be sidekicked by Colonel Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan) who will design and develop the weapons to counter the invasion.

Even before watching the movie, I had a hunch regarding the main characters, and specifically Brenner and Plant, being nemesis for life after Plant defeated Brenner at the 1982 championship for the title. Those two guys are the exact copies of what were Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, as they are presented to us in the documentary “The King of Kong” (released in 2007, which I truly recommend). Even the awful mullet, that Billy Mitchell wears with pride and content, is here worn in the same ways by Eddy

Plant, and, as you could imagine, the “secret” of Billy Mitchell that we learn at the end of “The King of Kong” is the same that Eddy Plant is concerned with… It can’t be a coincidence.

I will be blunt, this movie is not to be praised for the quality of its direction, nor of its scenario, but more for its fun: the cast (dredged with spicy appearances) clearly enjoyed themselves in this crazy situations, the replies are as hilarious as unexpected, but it’s really a shame to see all those good ingredients baked in such a conventional dish…

If you are, like me, an old-school gamer, if you do admit that Peter Dinklage is an awesome and majestic actor, and if you are willing to forget about the said conventional dish, you should enjoy ‘Pixels’ for a good piece of entertainment… and please don’t leave your seats right after the end of the movie: the credits are worth the few minutes they last!

Written By:

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Theo Tessa
Full Contributor


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