This weekend’s biggest releases couldn’t be more different. With Pixels, Adam Sandler is back to continue his tirade on the art of cinema. He goes up against Jake Gyllenhaal in the boxing drama, Southpaw.
In 2010, Patrick Jean created a 2 1/2 minute film short called Pixels. The video immediately went viral and the story idea was soon available for bidding to the big studios. The good news is that Jean sold the concept for $1 million and was tapped to direct the project. The bad news is that Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company bought the rights. It wasn’t long before Jean left the project, due to several script rewrites. Chris Columbus took over directorial duties, which should mean good things, right?
As Pixels begins, we see young Sandler and Kevin James in 1982 as they spend their days at the local arcade. Sandler seems born to master the rhythm and coding found in arcade classics. But, when he loses the National Arcade Championship in a close game of Donkey Kong, he apparently loses all drive and grows up to be Adam Sandler working for the equivalent of the Geek Squad.
He and James, who is now the U.S. President, still hang out. Aliens, who received our kitschy pop culture enthused transmission from 1984, apparently viewed it as a threat of war. Almost immediately, our naval base in Guam is attacked by what seems to be invaders from Galaga. The White House attempts to respond, and who do they recruit for the cause? Adam Sandler, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage, who are all former arcade champions. Michelle Monaghan involuntarily joins the team as their military liaison.
This team of nerds, equipped with light guns (?), stand at the forefront of the pixelated invasion that is meant to bring the end of the high definition world as we know it.
The only thing you need to know about the movie is this – It’s exactly what you’re expecting.
If you like Adam Sandler and his lazy brand of comedy, you’ll have plenty to laugh at. His movies are successful for a reason. The audience is there. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the critics. I’m actually surprised to see critics revile this movie so badly. They knew it would be bad going in, so I’m not sure why there is a feeling of betrayal.
Of course, any movie where a larger-than-life Pac-Man traverses the streets of New York should be fun to watch. Unfortunately, there is little fun to it. The cast, with the exception of Gad and Dinklage, seem to be bored. It seems that only Peter Dinklage knows what kind of movie he’s in. He plays up his Billy Mitchell-esque (go watch King of Kong if you don’t understand that reference) persona and you can’t help but wish he was playing opposite actual actors, instead of just guys that walked on set and read their lines 20 minutes before filming.
Pixels walks a fine line between being a bro comedy and being family friendly. The physical humor is meant for kids. Q’Bert, who gets a decent amount of screen time, ends up being the Jar Jar Binks of Pixels. Adults may cringe every time he speaks, while kids won’t be able to get enough. This movie should have taken out some foul language and just been focused on the younger market.
Comedy-wise, Pixels won’t surprise you. I expected to guffaw once and chuckle twice and I got just that. I mostly laughed due to Brian Cox incredulous Admiral. The rest of the movie shoves in so many ’80s references, that it starts to feel like a long episode of Family Guy.
There is no reason to see Pixels. You will walk out thinking that it was a disappointing experiment. If nothing else, it is essentially the plot of Independence Day with video game characters. That movie was fun once, right? D+
In Southpaw, we enter the life of Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) years into his boxing career. We learn that he was raised in a boys home, with no relatives to speak of. He rose from his poor upbringing to achieve greatness as a lightweight boxer, having an undefeated streak of 43-0. The problem with Billy being so great, is that he knows it. He has reached a point in his career where he allows himself to get beat up badly, just so he can come back in the end and knock out his opponent.
His wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), who had the same upbringing, attends every match. Although, she is getting tired of the constant abuse Billy puts his body through. Through the success, Billy and Maureen have built a great life full of wealth. They have a great mansion, fancy cars and an entourage. Because Billy is at the top of the world, there is only one direction to go. He soon has to deal with an immediate tragedy. This begins of downward spiral where he realizes he has blown every dime he’s ever made, adding to his severe alcoholism and drug habits. His life is crushed further as the State takes his daughter to Child Protective Services.
In many ways, Southpaw is reminiscent of Denzel Washington’s addiction story, Flight. Viewers may think they’re coming to see a boxing movie, but will get a drama about redemption and keeping a family together. That said, there is still a decent amount of boxing and an awesome training montage, which is mandatory in every boxing movie.
For the first third, I felt that Gyllenhaal’s talents were being wasted as a thuggish boxer who does little more than mumble. However, his talents start showing as soon as he is acting opposite his new boxing trainer, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker). As Whitaker always does, he adds a level of genuine sentimentality to the picture and starts Hope’s journey through a process of humility and redemption.
In essence, this is what the movie is about. You aren’t meant to like Billy Hope. He is a winner, but is dead to nearly everything in the world. Even when he loses everything, he can’t bring himself to make a change and somehow manages to make everything worse.
It’s hard to watch any boxing movie and not draw comparisons to one of the Rocky movies. If nothing else, this is a very dramatic version of Rocky III. Sadly, Survivor does not contribute to the soundtrack. Instead, we get Eminem.
The story, while standard and familiar, packs an emotional punch (sorry) because of the acting caliber involved. The combination of Gyllenhaal, McAdams and Whitaker make Southpaw better than it probably deserves to be. Adding to the talent is young Oona Laurence, who plays Hope’s daughter. She ends up being the only thing that anchors Hope to reality.
Because it’s a boxing movie, you will be swept up in the emotion at the end. I don’t even like sports movies, but can’t get enough of boxing flicks. The story is a bit predictable, but the acting and raw emotion overcomes the flaws. B