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Entries in Peter Dinklage (4)

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
May232014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The “X-Men” movie franchise has had a bumpy ride. It started off strong, but then stumbled with “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006 before hitting its lowest point with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” in 2009. It has been on a steady upward swing ever since and once again found its footing with 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” But the newest film, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” is on a whole other level. This is easily the best “X-Men” movie to date, a wildly entertaining, perfectly acted, visually stunning comic book movie that reaches levels few other comic book movies have. The buzz so far this year has been all about the latest “Captain America,” but after sitting through this, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering what all the fuss was about.

In the early 70s, a doctor by the name of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) had a grand plan. Due to what he saw as an inherent danger to the human species by mutants, he proposed the creation of robots called sentinels that could sniff out mutants and exterminate them. The plan was initially turned down, but after his death by the hands of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the government moved forward with it by utilizing Mystique’s DNA, which allowed these sentinels to adapt to the powers being used against them. Now, nearly all mutants, as well as regular humans who have the dormant mutant gene in them, have been wiped out. Only a select few remain, including Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). One of the remaining mutants, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), has the ability to transport someone’s consciousness to the past, allowing them to alter history to their liking. The process can be damaging to one’s brain the further back in time one goes, but luckily, Wolverine has regenerative abilities and volunteers to take up the task. With time running out, he is transported back to 1973 to try to convince the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X (James McAvoy) to help him stop Mystique from killing Trask and, thus, ending the mutant/human war before it begins.

It sounds complicated what with the constant back and forth and jet-setting narrative that jumps from New York City to Moscow to China to Vietnam to Paris to Washington, DC and back again, but it never is. “Days of Future Past” is a brilliantly constructed film, a cohesive whole in every way. Not once does it hit a narrative lull or forget to follow up on side stories. It takes dozens of characters, from both the past and present, and juggles them all flawlessly, with characters disappearing only after their narrative usefulness has concluded. No single character is included as fan service, but rather because they are necessary to tell the story at hand.

The beauty of it is that “Days of Future Past” never sacrifices story for spectacle. Everything that makes the X-Men characters great is intact here, including the overall themes of tolerance, acceptance and doing right to others despite the wrong they may do to you. In today’s world of rampant homophobia and other forms of bigotry, the X-Men have never been more relevant and “Days of Future Past” benefits from a setting where such bigotry was more commonplace and where America had just been on the losing end of an unpopular war. Because of the latter, the call to war against the mutants seems less like a necessity than it does a need to retain political legitimacy, to show the people of America that the country is still powerful. Despite its historical setting, the film works today by highlighting increased political tension that leads to unrest, a tension that exists today and seems to only be getting worse.

Even if you took away the terrific story and thought provoking themes, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” would be a mesmerizing film, thanks to some of the most mind-blowing superhero action ever put to screen. In particular, one scene focusing on Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is guaranteed to be one of the best, most exciting and funniest moments you’ll see all year. From the moment the film begins, a high bar is set with its action, but instead of dropping off until the slam-bang finale as many films do, it actually gets better as it goes on. Aside from some needless 3D effects, the visuals are astounding and really bring these scenes, and the overall world, to life. Director Bryan Singer, coming off of a two film slump with “Valkyrie” and “Jack and the Giant Slayer,” has never been better. The things he manages to pull off and the control he shows over what would in lesser hands be a cluttered mess makes this his single most impressive endeavor to date.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a special movie. Even those who are finding themselves diagnosed with superhero fatigue after the onslaught of films we’ve been given over the last few years will find their interest reinvigorated after this. Singer does with this what Joss Whedon tried to do with “The Avengers,” but failed: he skillfully juggles each character, giving each important player just enough screen time to make them narratively relevant, and creates a meaningful story amidst the insane action. You could even argue that whereas each of the Avengers were primarily off doing their own things in that film (Iron Man flying around the buildings, Thor fighting his brother on top of one, Captain America fighting baddies on the ground, etc.), the X-Men use their powers in tandem, as a singular group fighting a common enemy, not as multiple heroes spread across a large area, which gives them more of a dynamic in the otherwise hectic action scenes.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” sets a new standard for superhero movies. It reaches about as close to perfection as is possible and is guaranteed to be one of the best of the year. X-Men fan or not, you’re going to want to see this one.

X-Men: Days of Future Past receives 5/5

Friday
Jul132012

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Never before has a series been more average than Ice Age. That’s meant neither as a compliment or a criticism, mind you. It’s simply an observation. None of the entries do anything offensively bad, but none of them do anything particularly amazing either. Each installment’s quality is so close to the ones prior that the difference is negligible. The newest entry in one of the blandest franchises ever, Ice Age: Continental Drift, brings more of what we expect: hit-and-miss comedy and action that somehow manages to be both exciting and uninteresting at the same time. It’s impossible to feel anything other than ambivalence towards it, as it does nothing worthy of anger or cheer. It simply plays out before you, ends and life goes on.

Ice Age: Continental Drift once again follows the unruly herd of animals we’ve grown to somewhat enjoy, including mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah), sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and saber-toothed tiger Diego (Dennis Leary), this time as they live through the shifting of the continents. Since the last time we saw them, Manny and Ellie have had a daughter named Peaches (Keke Palmer) who is now a teenager and crushing on Ethan (Drake). When she goes to a dangerous area to see Ethan, Peaches and Manny get in a fight. Soon after, they are separated due to the shifting continents, but vow to find each other again so that the last words they exchange aren’t from a fight. But while Peaches and her mother only need to walk away from the moving mountains, Manny is stranded at sea on a block of ice with his two buddies and Granny (Wanda Sykes), Sid’s grandmother. Eventually, they run into a sea pirate named Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), foil him and steal his ship, to which Gutt vows revenge, following Manny and the gang on their journey home.

Once again, the story revolves around two or more characters being separated from each other and journeying to reunite. Each movie is the same as the last and it’s tiresome. Nearly all of the freshness from this franchise evaporated with the credits of the original Ice Age. Since then, every facet of every movie has felt outdated and overdone, with the sole exception of the Scrat character. Though the most silent of all the characters, he’s by far the most interesting and is instantly recognizable to anyone who has seen an animated movie in the theater over the last 10 years. The lovable squirrel who is always after that elusive acorn is the only thing in the entire franchise that has stood the test of time and still manages to delight while everything around him bores. However, Ice Age: Continental Drift severely limits new screen time for the little guy. I specify “new” because Scrat’s first two segments, including the opening that sparks the entire movie, have been seen before as shorts prior to other films. The filmmakers, in one of the most boneheaded moves I’ve seen in a long time, reused those shorts rather than create new material and much of the joy from seeing Scrat is sucked away in the process. The following Scrat segments don’t bring much to the table either because they’re far too short to be interesting, much shorter than the previous movies.

And just like the previous movies, the action is routine and the comedy fairly standard, aside from one hilarious joke about how the previous movie, where the characters found themselves in an underground dinosaur utopia hidden beneath the ice, didn’t make any sense. But as simple as these movies are, it’s amazing how the smallest things are overlooked. In Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Diego was suffering from a sickness, or old age, or something like that. It wasn’t really explained, even as his vision blurred and breathing grew increasingly heavy. Continental Drift similarly ignores that set-up, never minding the fact that 10 years have passed since we were first introduced to the gang and that many of them should be on a health decline.

There are also some annoying pop culture references in the film as well that, just like the other films, don’t fit into the Ice Age setting, a setting that doesn’t provide a lot of leeway for story development in the first place. But even with all those problems, Ice Age: Continental Drift and, indeed, the rest of the series, doesn’t do anything harmful—it teaches valuable lessons about family, love and friendship and it’s hard to deride it for that—yet it’s so spectacularly unspectacular that it’s hard to muster up anything more than an ambiguous shrug when someone asks about its quality. In a time when animated movies have eclipsed the whole notion of “being just for kids,” Ice Age: Continental Drift has no place.

Ice Age: Continental Drift receives 2/5

Friday
Apr162010

Death at a Funeral

Rarely does a movie come along that is so funny you laugh until you can't breathe. The British 2007 comedy Death at a Funeral is one of those rarities. While a lot of British humor is hit and miss with American audiences, Death at a Funeral successfully bridged that gap and made itself accessible to everyone domestic and abroad. The remake can only wish to attain that status. It tries hard, but ultimately this Americanized Death at a Funeral feels like a shoddy rehash of the wonderful original.

The film stars Chris Rock as Aaron, the oldest son of his recently deceased father. Today is his burial day and the turnout is great. Everyone from his family, as well as many of his friends, have all shown up to give him a fond farewell. Among them are his brother Russell (Danny Glover), his author son Ryan (Martin Lawrence), his nephew (Columbus Short), his niece Elaine (Zoe Saldana) and her boyfriend Oscar (James Marsden). But thanks to some hallucinogenic drugs and a little person named Frank (Peter Dinklage), who claims to have had some, shall we say, uncouth rendezvous with him, his funeral is about to get a little more zany than the usual.

Death at a Funeral follows its British predecessor to the letter. The writer, Dean Craig, penned both scripts, though it really seems more like a copy and paste job than a whole new script in and of itself. This version follows the original, quite literally, scene by scene and rehashes the exact same jokes word for word. There are minor differences here and there, but by and large this is the same movie.

Which is to say the writing is brilliant. The absurd twists and turns both movies make are delightful and work despite their inherent goofiness. The writing takes a morbid subject and somehow wrings laughs out of a period normally set aside for grieving.

Or at least that's how the original worked. What this remake proves is how crucial comedic delivery is to a film. Despite using the same jokes that came from the same writer who more or less used the same script, this version of the film lacks laughs because the actors simply aren't up to the challenge. Rock is a poor replacement for Matthew Macfayden, who played his part in the original. Macfayden brought the character to life. He played him in a soft spoken kind of way. You could tell he was grieving over his father and in distress by the crazy events unfolding around him. All he wanted was to get the day over with and move on. Rock doesn't do that. You never sense that he, or any other attendee for that matter, is grieving in any way. He stands up there and does his usual schtick better suited for a stand-up routine, but never brings any depth to his character. Most actors fall into this category.

That is except for James Marsden. Playing the role Alan Tudyk knocked out of the park in the original, Marsden breaks from the monotony of the rest of the cast and switches his performance up. Rather than simply mimicking the cast of the original, he is allowed to roam free and be as goofy as he wants. Being the unfortunate victim of an accidental acid hit doesn't hurt of course, but nevertheless he plays his part wonderfully and produces the most laughs of anyone in the film.

But that doesn't change the fact that this is simply an inferior product to the original. Contrary to last week's Date Night, which had bad writing, but was saved by excellent performances from two hilarious leads, Death at a Funeral has terrific writing, but is hurt by poor performances from actors who don't know what to do with their characters. I wouldn't say I hated this Americanized remake, but why would I recommend it when I can simply point readers to the far superior original?

Death at a Funeral receives 2.5/5