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Entries in michelle monaghan (3)

Thursday
Jul232015

Pixels

If there’s one actor working today that is hated by seemingly every moviegoer and critic across the globe, it’s Adam Sandler. There’s a good reason for that, as he pukes out a new film every year, each one seemingly worse than the last. After the train wrecks that were “Jack and Jill” and “Grown Ups 2,” which are easily two of the most mind-numbing, soul crushing, rage inducing, insipid cinematic abortions of the last few years, it would be easy to write off his newest, “Pixels,” as more of the same, but that would be unfair. While it still succumbs to many of the problems most Adam Sandler movies do, there was some genuine effort put into this one and while it won’t blow anyone away, it’s unlikely to be the subject of derision among those willing to give it a shot.

Sandler plays Brenner, an electronics expert at a Geek Squad-esque retail company, and his best friend, Cooper (Kevin James), has overshadowed him in their adulthood and has worked his way up to the highest office in the country, residing as the President of the United States. As kids, Brenner was a video game expert, competing in the 1982 Worldwide Video Arcade Championships and falling short to only one other competitor, Eddie (Peter Dinklage). As part of an initiative to find potential life in the universe and introduce our customs to them, NASA sent video feeds of this tournament out into space. Over 20 years later, it’s learned that we did indeed stumble upon aliens, but they have misinterpreted those video feeds as a declaration of war. Using intense bundles of energy disguised as classic games such as Galaga, Pac-Man, Centipede and more, they begin their attack and the only way to save the world is to abide by the rules of the games and defeat them. After the world’s militaries struggle in battle, the President figures, who better to defeat the aliens than the best arcade gamers in the world?

As someone who grew up with classic video games, has an affinity for them and still enjoys them to this day, I approached “Pixels” with trepidation, fearful that they may take some of the most beloved pop culture icons of all time and ruin them with a plethora of bodily fluid and fat jokes, as Sandler and James movies are wont to do; “I guarantee Kevin James will attempt to eat a Pac-Man fruit at some point in the movie,” I joked to a co-worker prior to the film’s pre-screening. However, “Pixels” shows a surprising amount of restraint; aside from one quip from Dinklage to James, the jokes rarely took the low road with slapstick and fat jokes. More importantly, it treats these classic games with the respect they deserve. It could be argued that not enough was done with them to justify their inclusion—games like “Paperboy” and “Frogger” show up for no other reason than for viewers to acknowledge that they’re there—and such an argument wouldn’t be wrong; “Pixels,” for all of its potential, is decidedly lacking in imagination.

But while it doesn’t fully utilize these games to the extent it could, nor does it abuse them. There is a clear love for these games that shines onscreen and the very nature of the story only proves this fact, as the characters discuss classic gaming strategies and the mechanical patterns those old arcade games were known for. While gaming today is more randomized, games of old were meticulously programmed and, with some effort, the entire game could be memorized and beaten by following a pattern and “Pixels” revels in that. At times, certain gaming mainstays are forced into the proceedings, particularly one scene involving a cheat code that makes absolutely no sense, but the affection is there. So if you’re worried your memories of your time with these classic games may be tarnished, fear not. “Pixels” treats them with respect.

Still, “Pixels” stumbles heavily with a weak story and a forced in romance—evidently, Sandler can’t go through an entire movie without kissing a pretty girl, this time played by Michelle Monaghan, in a surprisingly more intelligent role than most female fodder in Sandler’s movies as a military weapons specialist. Most egregious, however, is Sandler’s continued insistence to pack as many noticeable faces into his films as he possibly can, including cameos from Dan Patrick, Sean Bean and a nothing role for Jane Krakowski as Cooper’s just-for-show wife. It also plays into the worst gamer stereotypes—you know the ones: they’re lazy, they don’t have friends or socialize, they live in their parents’ basements—but it also celebrates gamers, as it’s ultimately the gamer geeks who have to save the day.

With all that said, “Pixels” remains both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment, as it’s largely a give-and-take affair. It doesn’t feel like your typical inane Sandler movie, but it doesn’t do anything to stand out from the crowd. The humor is amusing, but it’s never truly funny. The action is competent, but overall underwhelming, as the film never capitalizes on the inherent abilities of the very games and characters it portrays. But it does just enough to work. Perhaps low expectations contributed to my overall enjoyment of it—an understandable state of mind given recent Kevin James and Adam Sandler films—and it may be slight, but “Pixels” is admittedly fun.

Pixels receives 3/5

Friday
Sep302011

Machine Gun Preacher

If you’re anything like me, the title Machine Gun Preacher gets you excited. It’s a great name that forced visions of a good, old fashioned exploitative Grindhouse movie to rush through my head in excited anticipation. I could see the poster all too clear: a man of the cloth holding a giant gun front and center with the tagline in dripping red, “Jesus died for your sins. He’ll kill you for them.” I assumed the title was an all-you-need-to-know type, like Snakes on a Plane or Cowboys & Aliens, but perhaps I let my excitement get the best of me because Machine Gun Preacher is not what I pictured. It’s a true story with religious significance that thinks its artistic endeavors are reaching something profound when, really, it isn’t.

The story begins in Southern Sudan where we get to witness the brutality of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a vicious military group that abducts and murders the people in surrounding villages. Flash forward to “Pennsylvania, USA, a few years earlier” (a title card that is, oddly, both specific and unspecific at the same time) and Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is being released from prison. He is a violent, abusive junkie who treats his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), like a lesser individual. After a night of drug use with an unnamed pal (Michael Shannon), he attacks and stabs a man, placing him in critical condition in the hospital. Thankfully, he seeks help and begins going to church with Lynn, where he finds God and considers it his calling to help others. He begins by building a church across the street from his home, but soon winds up in Africa, rescuing orphaned children and fighting back against the LRA.

Machine Gun Preacher strikes me as a movie that only a select few will enjoy. Despite its Christian themed story and values, it features explicit sex, graphic violence, atrocities of war and offensive language, including racial slurs. It will undoubtedly turn off the more conservative viewers who would not normally watch this sort of thing. On the other side of the coin are the non-believers who, if they even venture into the theater at all, will see everything through cynical eyes. At one point, Sam is distraught and thinking about giving up after the LRA burns down the church and orphanage. Lynn tells him it was merely a test from God, but if He truly sent them to destroy, then surely He must have condoned the killing of the innocent too, a conundrum that goes against the very basis of religious indoctrination. It’s moments like these where the more skeptical among us will roll their eyes.

Still, at least Sam has that thought. As any normal human being would, he begins to question his own faith after witnessing the murder and destruction around him, wondering how a just and loving god could allow these terrible events to occur. It’s a natural progression that is, unfortunately, impeded by a screenplay that doesn’t take the time to develop it. His character goes through the motions without ever truly experiencing them. His loss of faith is barely touched upon (perhaps so as not to alienate the Christians in the audience) and his journey into it is rushed past the point of credulity. For the first 20 minutes, you watch him attack, steal from and abuse those around him, but after attending one, only one, church service, he finds himself a changed man. Before you know it, the racist you just watched shove a gun in a black man’s face is sharing a Coke with an African. This is a moment that should be heartwarming, but it instead feels forced, cheesy and manipulative because the necessary work to get us there had not been done.

Machine Gun Preacher has a rough start. The performances and character actions are so wildly over-the-top, they’re hard to take seriously, the heavy-handedness gets grating—the filmmakers try far too hard to make Sam an outrageously sinful man, so as to make his eventual redemption that much sweeter— and the churchgoers are stereotypes, waving their arms around in the air like they’re swatting bugs. Eventually, as the title suggests, Sam goes Rambo on the rebels, emerging from clouds of smoke with rocket launcher in hand, and it begins to pick up. Regardless of what one may think of his violent approach to helping, it can’t be argued he doesn’t make a difference.

So many people use religion wrong, but Sam Childers is a guy who uses it right. He was a lowlife, drug using criminal who turned his life around and dedicated it to helping others. He’s still going strong today. One can’t help but admire him, but his biopic is decidedly lackluster. Machine Gun Preacher feels like a made-for-television movie and is missing the gravitas it needs to tell its story.

Machine Gun Preacher receives 2.5/5

Friday
Apr012011

Source Code

Director Duncan Jones is a talented filmmaker. Last year’s Moon was a terrific little science fiction film that deviated from your standard genre fare. It actually had ideas and wasn’t about endless gunfights with random alien creatures (although those can be fun too, as seen with the recent Battle: Los Angeles). It was a very good movie, but stumbled just enough to fall shy of greatness. His follow-up, Source Code is analytically identical. It comes so close, but thanks in large part to a miscalculated ending, Jones again finds himself just out of reach of achieving something special.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot for the US Army. One day, he inexplicably wakes up on a train sitting across from Christina, played by Michelle Monaghan. He doesn’t know how he got there and is confused that this woman sitting across from him, whom he has never met, is addressing him as Sean. As he attempts to explain to her that he isn’t who she thinks he is, a bomb goes off on the train. Suddenly, he wakes up in a capsule with a video monitor of Sergeant Carol Goodwin, played by Vera Farmiga, who begins to talk to him about the events on the train. Although he doesn’t know how he became involved, he learns that he is a participant in the government’s newest technology, dubbed the Source Code, which allows him to relive through somebody else’s eyes the last eight minutes of their life. His actions in the Source Code don’t change the course of time or the outcome of the event, but if Stevens can find the bomb and figure out who planted it, he may be able to stop further disasters from happening.

Source Code is a movie with its pieces scattered everywhere and intentionally so. Things are purposely vague at first, but as the movie begins to repeat itself, changing little things each time, the puzzle starts to come together. Stevens lives through the same eight minutes each time and as he does, so do you. Like him, you’ll memorize how events will play out in different scenarios and, rather than simply watch him solve the mystery, you’ll become an active sleuth yourself. It almost becomes a game of who can figure it out first, the viewer or the character in the movie?

In these ways, Source Code works the brain, but it doesn’t forget the more visceral senses either and delivers a healthy dose of excitement and action amidst the thought provoking subject matter. Although you eventually become numb to the explosion that inevitably occurs every time you’re on-board that train, it’s the events leading up to it that manage to keep your adrenaline rushing. Because he is told he cannot manipulate the space time continuum and nothing he does to these already deceased people has any consequence, it allows him to do and act as he pleases, which includes holding passengers up at gunpoint and breaking into areas he otherwise wouldn’t go.

Unfortunately, Source Code shoots itself in the foot as the conclusion rolls around. Without giving anything away, it should have ended five minutes sooner, but it instead opts to give audiences the easy ending rather than the tough one. This epilogue goes against the very essence of the film and effectively ruins its chances of garnering any end of the year awards.

Other problems persist, like the underdeveloped romance between Stevens and Christina, but Source Code is nevertheless intricate, tight and, most importantly, not confusing (as long as you’re paying attention, that is). It delivers everything you could ask for in a thriller and refuses to dumb down its subject matter for an audience that would rather be spoon-fed everything. And for that, I commend it.

Source Code receives 4/5