THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and Action

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Directed by: Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly

Written by: Mikael Hed, Mikko Polla & John Cohen

(based on the video game ANGRY BIRDS by Rovio Entertainment)

Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key & Blake Shelton

I wasn’t expecting THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE to be great. After all, this film is based on an addicting cell phone app. That’s the current state of the film industry though, where a TETRIS trilogy gets greenlit and an EMOJI MOVIE is currently in production. I watched ANGRY BIRDS with hopes that it might be serviceable family entertainment. Not up to Disney or Pixar standards, but somewhere along the lines of a lesser DreamWorks film. I was horribly mistaken. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is one of the worst animated films I’ve seen in a long time and it’s not like this film doesn’t have good production values behind it either. ANGRY BIRDS features a talented voice cast and has solid animation, but the script is offensively lazy and a large portion of the jokes fall flat.

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On the aptly named Bird Island, easily infuriated Red (Jason Sudeikis) has been sentenced to anger management. In this frustrating program, the red flightless bird reluctantly befriends speedy Chuck (Josh Gad) and explosive Bomb (Danny McBride). Red’s anger management classes encounter unexpected turbulence when a mysterious ship arrives, filled with green pigs. The pigs are led by charismatic leader Leonard (Bill Hader), who quickly becomes popular in the bird community. However, Red becomes suspicious of these pigs and is written off as paranoid by his fellow feathered citizens. Soon enough, the outcast trio of angry birds become the only hope for Bird Island’s unhatched eggs.

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To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t exactly sold on ANGRY BIRDS being a film from the get-go. The marketing was lame, but I heard a few surprisingly positive reviews and the animation looked good. This film was made by Finnish company Rovio Entertainment, the very same company that made the ANGRY BIRDS app to begin with, and currently holds the record for the largest budget in Finnish film history. Apparently those investments paid off for them, because this film banked at the box office and there’s already a sequel in the works. Why am I discussing the production of this film, rather than the qualities of the movie itself? Well, those details seem remarkably more interesting than anything I can really say about this dull slog of wasted animation.

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The film’s story seems to be making itself up as it goes along, with many filler scenes before the all too brief conflict between angry birds and green pigs. This film seems like an origin story for the ANGRY BIRDS universe, but forgets part of why that game was so enjoyable in the first place. You’re launching birds at evil green pigs to retrieve eggs. This movie takes over an hour before it finally reaches that point, not that it necessarily would have been better to watch birds vs. pigs for an hour of screen time. What I’m getting at is that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE runs way too long. This film could have easily been shortened by 20 or 30 minutes and it would have made for a less painful experience.

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The film’s talented voice cast is completely wasted on bottom-of-the-barrel potty humor and pop culture references. Both of those can be well-executed in kid’s films, but ANGRY BIRDS drops the ball numerous times. There’s a forced SHINING reference with two pigs, a Calvin Klein ad with a pig, cholesterol jokes and plenty of substituted profanity (e.g. “Peck my life” and “Shell yes”). Are we laughing yet? Well, if those don’t do it for you, surely you’ll be rolling in the aisle from lame bird puns, a sequence of a snot-nosed bird flying through the air and smearing mucus everywhere, butts being thrown into other birds faces, and an elongated pee joke that’s already been spoiled in the trailer. It’s a wonder that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE wound up hitting 3,932 theaters, because this thing feels like it should be debuting direct-to-video in Redbox and discount Wal-Mart bins.

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Are there any redeeming qualities to ANGRY BIRDS? Well, two adult-aimed jokes are genuinely clever and the animation is fun to look at. I’m not going to pretend like I’m the target audience for THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE, because I’m clearly not. However, THE LEGO MOVIE also sounded stupid in theory and wound up being one of the best films of 2014. It’s possible to make any idea, regardless of how idiotic and stupid it sounds, into a great or fun film, if there’s enough talent, effort and love thrown into the project. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is not that kind of movie. Instead, this lazy cash-grab will probably occupy bored children for 97 minutes, but likely won’t do much for teenage viewers and adults.

Grade: D

PIXELS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Language and Suggestive Comments

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Directed by: Chris Columbus

Written by: Tim Herlihy & Timothy Dowling

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox & Ashley Benson

PIXELS is based on a 2010 French short film. That goofy little short was entertaining and cool, even if little time was put into an actual story. It was a quick excuse to watch pixelated video game characters wreak havoc on the real world. A full-length feature with this premise might be fun in the right hands, but that potential drops a bit when Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison (a company that doesn’t exactly have a reputation for making good movies) produces said film. PIXELS is a movie fighting with itself over becoming one of two things. One of these possibilities is a goofy nostalgia-filled adventure and the other is your typical low-bar Adam Sandler comedy. Guess which one wins.

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In 1982, NASA launched a time capsule (with footage of TV shows, commercials, presidential speeches, and video games) in hope of making contact with extraterrestrial life. Aliens misinterpreted our message as a declaration of war and have sent real-life versions of video games to our planet for a dangerous “competition.” The loser of the competition gets their planet annihilated. Our only hope lies in Sam Brenner (a washed-up loser and 2nd place video game pro), Will Cooper (Brenner’s best friend and President of the United States), Ludlow (another video game champ and conspiracy theorist), and Eddie Plant (an ex-con and Brenner’s former video game rival). This small band of heroes must work together through real life “games” if they hope to save our planet from certain doom.

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Now, that premise actually sounds like it could be fun. In fact, the script practically writes itself. I was one of the people who saw the trailer for PIXELS and got genuinely excited. For the record, the film is not a total failure (despite the verbal thrashing it’s receiving from most critics). There are a couple of enjoyable scenes. Not surprisingly, these come in parts of the movie with video game characters. A real life game of Centipede is enjoyable for what it is and a Pac-Man chase through the streets of New York stands out as the film’s biggest highlight. I’d be lying if I said that the effects in this movie didn’t look good either. There was clearly a big budget and it was used. However, everything between the video game scenes and a lackluster finale cause this film to fall flat on its face.

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This is because PIXELS winds up being a Sandler comedy through and through. It might not be scraping the bottom of the barrel like JACK AND JILL or THAT’S MY BOY, but the film is significantly weighed down by unlikable characters and (very) cheap jokes. Aside from a few chuckles, I can’t recall any big laughs in this whole movie. Sandler doesn’t even seem to be trying in his washed-up loser role (that feels so much like his other washed-up loser roles) and Josh Gad mistakes shouting for being funny. Though that’s not entirely on his shoulders as the script doesn’t provide him with much material to begin with. Kevin James seems to be playing himself and just so happens to be the President of the United States. That could have made for some laughs, but feels like a missed opportunity. Sean Bean and Brian Cox show up for a quick paycheck, while Peter Dinklage delivers the only semi-decent performance of the cast as an overly obnoxious jerk.

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At one point in the film, Sandler’s character is watching a preteen boy play a FALLOUT-style video game and points out that the game doesn’t have a pattern and simply chugs along with “no rhyme or reason.” That one comment can sum up the entire screenplay. There doesn’t really seem to be a reason for why things happen during parts of this story and the movie doesn’t seem to care. That wouldn’t necessarily be all bad if we were given cool-looking scenes to satiate our appetite for video game characters terrorizing the real world, but instead we’re handed a half-assed romantic subplot (because I guess this movie needed one of those) and a huge plot hole that’s simply taken as part of the story. The huge gap in movie logic is simply accepted as an excuse for a finale that feels too forced and jumbled.

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There’s probably a good movie lying somewhere inside of PIXELS. However, the cool premise loses out to becoming just another lame Adam Sandler comedy. You can feel potential radiating off the screen and not much of it was used. Why is Q*Bert a prominent side character featured for a few quick and easy jokes, but Mario is only seen once hopping around in the background? What about other gems like Dig Dug or Asteroids (which we see a character playing, but never comes to fruition)? The biggest question of all comes in why was so much time and money poured into what essentially amounts to yet another bad Adam Sandler comedy that has more spectacle than the rest of his filmography? If you want a great throwback to old-school video games, stick to WRECK-IT RALPH. If you want a good Sandler movie, stick to HAPPY GILMORE, ANGER MANAGEMENT or BIG DADDY. I simply can’t see PIXELS satisfying anyone. What a waste.

Grade: D+

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Violence and Action, some Suggestive Material, Nudity and Language

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Directed by: Bryan Singer

Written by: Simon Kinberg

(based on the comic books DAYS OF FUTURE PAST by Chris Claremont & John Byrne)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Booboo Stewart, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Evan Peters, Josh Helman & Lucas Till

How far comic book movies have come. If you traveled back to 2000 and told any X-Men fan that there would be seven films in the series with the Days Of Future Past storyline being covered in a 2014 installment, they probably would have either groaned (in fear of Hollywood screwing it all up) or laughed in your face (taking the whole thing as wishful thinking). Through the great entries (X-MEN 2 and FIRST CLASS) to the just plain bad (ORIGINS: WOLVERINE and X-MEN 3), the X-MEN series has seen good times and rough spots. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (the seventh movie!) is the most accomplished film in the series. This is a superhero fan’s wet-dream come true and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t wind up being the best (and biggest) movie of Summer 2014. So many things could have gone wrong in the ambitious scope of this project. Tons of characters are sprawling over two different time periods and the plot might have easily wound up in confusing convoluted areas. With original X-MEN 1 & 2 director Bryan Singer directing, FUTURE PAST easily winds up being one of the best superhero movies of all-time and takes bold new directions for the franchise.

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The future is a bleak wasteland. Mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels have run rampant and civilization is in ashes as mutants are being reduced to an endangered species. As well-known mutants are dying left and right from these killing machines, one last hope emerges. Kitty Pryde (a.k.a. Shadowcat seen in X-MEN 3) has developed a mutation that allows the consciousness of a person to be taken back in time. In order to avert the event that caused the 50-year downward spiral of the creation of the Sentinels, Wolverine’s consciousness travel back to his 1973 self in order to change the future. This means finding a disheveled Professor X, a locked-up Magneto, and a vengeance-seeking Mystique before history repeats itself or the future winds up on a potentially darker course. To give too many details away would spoil some of the fun to be had in this superhero extravaganza. Comic book nerds and those who have a vague recollection of the “Future Past” storyline will find that creative liberties have been taken, but it all works out in favor for an infinitely satisfying summer blockbuster that delivers on every level imaginable.

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Immediately taking a darker tone than any of the previous installments, FUTURE PAST makes it clear that everything hinges on the journey that Wolverine and the younger mutants are taking in order to save the world. Employing the use of every single big mutant imaginable and some really cool nods to the previous films, this is most definitely a movie made for fans. I can’t imagine anyone walking into this seventh X-MEN movie without having seen the original movies, but it’s pretty much required to have watched them all or you’re going to be severely lost. It’s not as if the movie is so convoluted and intricate that it requires you having finished a marathon of the series mere hours before walking in, but it helps if you’re an X-MEN movie junkie.

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The time-traveling aspect of the movie could have easily been a B-movie level gimmick, but the way it pertains to the plot and how it’s being used makes all the difference. Everything being played so straight-faced in this would-be ridiculous scenario works as movie magic on the audience to treat it seriously and invest their emotions into watching everything play out in front of your eyes. FUTURE PAST is a movie so gripping, exciting, and well-paced from frame one that I felt as if I was in the film. That’s the primary purpose of this visual art-form to begin with. Movies are meant to suck you into a completely other world and kept you in that universe for the running time. For a movie running at over two hours, everything is extremely well-paced. Nothing is left to drag and my anxiety levels were going up for the characters as story got drastically more complicated.

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The brilliance of FIRST CLASS (which is easily the second highest entry in the series) combines with the balls-to-the-wall creative nature of X-MEN 2 (the third highest entry in the series) in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. It’s a game-changer in the series that has left me excited for the many more sequels there are to come (it’s been reported that some of the newcomers have signed on for four more films). Things have changed. An impact has been made. The wrongs of the two lesser entries have been corrected in the writing of this latest installment. This is a superhero movie that absolutely shines out of, not only the X-MEN series, but the entire comic book film genre as a whole. Christopher Nolan brought us the DARK KNIGHT trilogy and it seems like Singer’s X-MEN is more than willing to be a substitute for that series!

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What else can I really say that you don’t already assume? Every cast member (despite how small some of their roles are) does a fantastic job in their parts. Some reprising characters for the sixth time now and others are fresh faces, but they all play on the same level of competent talent. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is awesome! It’s absolutely awesome and plays on an epic scale. Those two words (awesome, epic) are overused in this internet age, but they truly apply to this latest sequel. One of the most complex storylines in the comics has made its way to the big screen in brilliant fashion. FUTURE PAST is probably going to wind up being the biggest movie of the summer. It’s one of the best films 2014 has to offer (thus far). This makes me so excited to see all the things that are coming next, beginning with APOCALYPSE in 2016.

Grade: A+

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence, Language Throughout, some Drug Use and Sexuality

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Directed by: Joe Lynch

Written by: Kevin Dreyfuss & Matt Wall

Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage, Summer Glau, Margarita Levieva, Jimmi Simpson & Danny Pudi

It’s impossible to properly review KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM without delving a bit into the three-year-long wait that fans endured and the messy studio politics that befell the final cut of the film. The trailer and rough cut of KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM originally premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con a few years back to much fanfare. Supposedly a theatrical release was in tow, but there were problems with the studio (to say the least). The big business suits recut the film (supposedly changing up the direction, the tone, and snipping out a good portion of the running time). The resulting cut is the one that recently received a limited theatrical run, a VOD release, and is now available everywhere on home video, much to director Joe Lynch’s dismay. Obviously, I cannot judge the unseen director’s cut, but I can say that there aren’t many echoes of a potentially good film that can be seen in this final cut. I seriously doubt that the original version was much better than this lame attempt at a horror-comedy.

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A slacker named Joe is suffering from the recent break-up from his girlfriend. After getting him high and drunk, his two nerdy best friends shanghai him in full costume to a LARP. Reluctantly Joe finds some fun in the goofy surroundings. Everyone’s enjoyment is ruined when Eric, a misguided level-26 wizard, uses a real spell during the game and winds up summoning a succubus from Hell (that bears a striking resemblance to Joe’s ex-girlfriend). As the game goes on, the bodies pile up from the bloodthirsty witch and the fake heroes must summon the real courage to defeat the beautiful demon.

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KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM could have been a lot of fun with a clever script and good direction. Joe Lynch has proved himself to be quite the funny guy in the past with his wraparound segment in 2011’s CHILLERAMA and co-starring role in the horror sitcom HOLLISTON. To be fair, BADASSDOM is not fully his creation, seeing as the producers seemingly butchered this final cut. He’s responsible for a portion of it. From what I could see in this reduced 86-minute long cut was that most of the humor (some of which did get a few chuckles out of me) consists of the same joke hammered in over and over again. We get that the LARPers are taking this stuff very seriously and treating it as an epic quest, which does make for some funny scenes (e.g. the introduction of each kingdom).

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The cast showcases some big names. The most notable of which for nerds is GAME OF THRONES’ Peter Dinklage. Dinklage can be an amazing actor given the right role and has a knack for good comedy (see ELF for his memorable scenes). Here the man isn’t given a whole lot to do and, true to every character featured, isn’t that compelling. I didn’t root for any of these people to succeed simply because I didn’t care about them at all. The usually hilarious Steve Zahn seems to be phoning it in as well. Ryan Kwanten and Summer Glau are equally as bland as the leads. The only real shining star that I enjoyed watching was Jimmi Simpson (a recurring actor on IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA). He’s the only cast member that got any chuckles out of me and seems to be giving it his all as the douchebag game master. This character takes himself way too seriously (speaking entirely in Middle English, save for a couple of out-of-game moments) and provided the highlights of the entire film (one of which is given near the beginning).

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The effects themselves range from solid practical man-in-suit work to really crappy CGI that looks unfinished. The real criminal sin in KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM has already been mentioned though and that’s the lack of laughs. It’s a horror-comedy without any great jokes or solid scares. The film has the production values of a glorified Syfy Channel movie that happened to snag some big names to get involved with it. This is no insult to Joe Lynch, because the man delivers solid horror-comedy (aforementioned CHILLERAMA) when he’s given the right material to do so. KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM just seems like a miss for everybody involved, lest we mentioned the viewer’s precious time that’s wasted watching this garbage.

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At a scant 86 minutes, KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM feels far too long. Most of the jokes seem to be hitting the exact same mark over and over again. It’s an entire movie based around one joke that doesn’t have the creativity to expand on a clever premise in creative ways. The effects work on the final monster is decent enough, but almost every other effect took me right out of the film in evaluating how corny it looked. Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn are wasted, while Jimmi Simpson is one of the only redeeming things here. This is a forced comedy that’s seldom funny. KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM doth sucketh quite heartily!

Grade: D

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