Thursday 27 October 2016

Movie Reviews: Pixels, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Fantastic Four


Pixels loses focus, Diary of a Teenage Girl shines and Fantastic Four fails to live up to its title


Comedy/Action. Starring: Adam Sandler, Michelle Monagahan, Josh Gad, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Jane Krakowski. Director: Chris Columbus. Cert: 12 

The warm, sepia-tinted glow of nostalgia has always been a safe bet in Hollywood, though the warm, sepia-tinted glow of childhood memories are often the cornerstones of the summer's tentpole films. But instead of comic book heroes like Spider-Man or Superman, why not make a film about… computer games?

On the surface, Pixels appears a safe bet. Chris Columbus - of Harry Potter and Home Alone renown - is in the director's chair. He is a safe pair of hands, more than used to letting his imagination, not to mention his capacity for frolics and fun, off the leash.

To its makers' credit, Pixels kicks off with a rather intriguing premise: NASA sends a time capsule into space with relics from the 80s, including a Rubik's Cube and classic arcade games like Donkey Kong and Pacman (sadly, the Regan administration got left at home. But anyway). Ostensibly ended as a way to reach out to other life forms in a positive way, the dastardly aliens took one look at Pacman's inanimate face and got the wrong message altogether. Pacman has been sent back to earth but…meep, he's now a bad guy, programmed to wreak havoc.

Much like Pacman, Adam Sandler's career has seen better days, most of them in the last century. Perhaps it's just his natural demeanour, but Sandler always seems as though he is merely clocking in and getting through each take with droopy-lidded ennui. But perhaps a smidge of world-weariness is needed to play Sam, a video games-playing champ in his youth who has all but squandered his life. Currently, he installs home entertainment systems for a living, wondering where it all went wrong.

But when aliens create giant versions of the classic arcade games to send to earth, Sam finds himself in the unlikely position of being the earth's great hope for salvation. Enlisting the services of two other computer game nerds (played by Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage), and with the encouragement of the US President (Kevin James), off he goes on his mission.

Even under the eye of an industry veteran like Columbus, the special effects fall some way short of the mark. There are a few 80s related gags played out for an older audience, but even they get stale within minutes.

It isn't fast, it isn't furious, and it will leave you hankering for another - any other - summer blockbuster to hit the sweet spot. If you can imagine such a thing.

Diary Of A Teenage Girl


Comedy/Drama. Starring Bel Powley, Kirsten Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, Christopher Meloni. Director: Marielle Heller. Cert: 18

Don't let this film's generic title fool you: at the heart of its story is a 15-year-old girl Minnie (Bel Powley) experiencing her sexual awakening in 1970s San Francisco.

Minnie has a lupine appetite for adventure, lust and experimentation. Kicking off proceedings is an affair with 35-year-old Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), the semi-dopey partner of her mother Charlotte (Kristen Wigg). Minnie has had a crush on Monroe for some time, so wastes no time in getting her flirt on.

It isn't long, however, before she starts searching elsewhere for kicks, and thus Minnie ends up on an odyssey that involves showing a classmate a thing or two, group sex with her best friend, and a drug-fuelled fling with a girl. Harry Potter, it ain't.

But what really sets Diary apart from the pack is that Minnie is rarely seen as a victim of her own sexuality, or a symbol of oversexed youth gone wild. Writer/director Heller treats Minnie as being an agent of her own destiny; a young girl investigating some complex feelings for the first time.

It's what makes the film feel deliciously organic. It's certainly the most authentic take on girlhood I've seen in some time.

Much of the film's quiet power, admittedly, goes to Powley, who is in fact a British actress in her 20s. She manages to imbue a wide-eyed innocence into Minnie.

Wigg also manages to deliver a compelling performance as Minnie's semi-invested mother, while Skarsgard makes Monroe the likeable victim of Minnie's rampant sexual appetite, rather than the predator.

Adolescence is all about testing boundaries, trying to make a mark in the world, and being audacious, trying to get oneself heard against a blizzard of more established voices. Suffice to say that Diary Of A Teenage Girl achieves all this, and more.

Rating ****


Fantastic Four


Action/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Adventure. Miles Teller, Michael B Jordan, Kate Mara, Toby Kebbell, Jamie Bell, Reg E Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson. Director: Josh Trank.

Cert: 12A

If at first you don’t succeed, please gracefully admit defeat.

That would be my heartfelt

advice to filmmakers who have been striving for decades to bring Marvel Comics’ longest running superhero team to life on the big screen.

A low budget Fantastic Four shot in 1993 and produced by Roger Corman was never released and a vapid 2005 blockbuster starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis spawned an equally-dull second attempt two years later.

Now Josh Trank, who helmed the slick sci-fi fantasy Chronicle, attempts to reboot the franchise with a hip, young cast but with similarly depressing results.

The opening chapters of most superhero film franchises only have to illuminate one origin story, but Fantastic Four has the unenviable task of putting flesh on the bones of a quartet of distinctly different protagonists and their mentally unhinged arch-nemesis.

Miles Teller, who was mesmerising in Whiplash, squanders his talent as Reed Richards, an inquisitive student from Oyster Bay, New York, who creates a ‘cymatic matter

shuttle’ with best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) that transports objects between two realms.

Dr Franklin Storm (Reg E Cathey), Dean of the Baxter Institute, offers Reed a scholarship to realise his dream of inter-dimensional travel as part of a privately funded team that includes Storm’s adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), hot-headed son Johnny (Michael B Jordan) and computer scientist Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell).

Disaster strikes during the first teleportation and Victor is lost, presumed dead. The survivors recuperate with “aggressively abnormal conditions” at a classified facility known as Area 57.

Reed can stretch his human form to outrageous lengths and Sue can become invisible and generate force fields. Johnny can set himself ablaze and take flight, while Ben (pictured) is cocooned inside stone armour and can perform feats of incredible strength.

Fantastic Four delivers a soulless blitzkrieg of wanton destruction, hung limply on an undernourished screenplay. Trank’s film is devoid of jeopardy, even when Dr Doom conjures a black hole to bring about mankind’s downfall.

Part of us secretly hopes he succeeds. Total annihilation is a small price to rule out the possibility of a Fantastic Four sequel.

> Damon Smith


Rating **

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