24 July 2015

The Road to a Blockbuster: Boxers, Indies, and The Worst Sandler Film Ever

Lo and behold it is the dawn of another Summer Friday, and with that we have not one, not two, but three major films dropping on the nation vying for our ever-precious cultural attention. What are the odds that any of these new films breaks away and becomes a critical, commercial, or cultural giant? Stay tuned as we tear into the delicate Paper Towns (2015), the fierce Southpaw (2015), and the cinematic affront against God, Pixels (2015).
What the fuck is this about?

Let's get Paper Towns out of the way first. My complete knowledge of this film comes from the past forty-five seconds of googling, so here it goes. It's an adaptation of a young adult novel written by John Green in 2008, who is also the author of The Fault in Our Stars, which was converted into a surprisingly successful under-the-radar film last summer.

At first glance, Paper Towns may not seem like much, but it's got quite a bit going for it. The Fault in Our Stars (2014) took off both on Shailene Woodley's rising star (wha-hey!) and its canny young female counter-programming against all the mindless bashing smashing blockbusters of the summer. Paper Towns is in a similar position to court decent demographics, although there has been more girl-centric fare this year, but it's lacking that major star. Now, Cara Delevingne is pretty well known amongst teenage girls from her modeling, but I'm not sure appearing in "Bad Blood" equates to Shailene Woodley-level fame. Suicide Squad (2016) ought to help her profile, and the timing of the trailer bodes well to match her face with the chick from Paper Towns, but I mean, c'mon, no one knows who Cara Delevingne is. Or even how to pronounce that last time.

All I'll say is don't necessarily count out Paper Towns, because it's the only movie of its kind dropping this summer. At the same time, though, you can't expect another Fault in Our Stars, which also rocked out to that great Charlie XCX jam "Boom Clap," which I always thought described my farts pretty well. But whatever, I'm sure this will be profitable no matter how much it makes at the Box Office.

So let's move on to Southpaw. Now, this actually looks like a pretty sweet movie featuring Jake Gyllenhaal who is doing crazy body transformation stuff lately like this and Nightcrawler (2014). He's also proving more and more that he's a pretty legit actor, with the aforementioned Nightcrawler as well as his pair of Denis Villeneuve flicks, Prisoners (2013) and Enemy (2013). The dude is just hankering for an Oscar, and the Academy does love its boxers. De Niro's Raging Bull (1980) is the obvious one, but we've also got more recent wins from Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Christian Bale (by way of being a former boxer/current trainer/crackhead) in The Fighter (2010). I'm not sure Southpaw is really enough of a stand-out role that's getting a lot of attention for Gyllenhaal, but you've got to think it's on his mind. And he's totally committing his body for it.
So, do you crossfit, or...?

Southpaw supports an impressive cast, with Rachel "Detective Bezzerides" McAdams, Forest "Which Way He Lookin?!" Whitaker, and uh...50 Cent rounding out the cast. They're all pretty bankable players right now and there's no reason why this flick can't get a lot of love. It's more adult sports drama than blockbuster, and there's typically not much of that to go around in Summer. 2015 is looking like an odd year for the Boxing Movie, with Creed (2015) being the other big name release, along with a handful of others. Unfortunately, even without the Rocky tie-in, Creed looks like the better flick over Southpaw, although the latter looks way more intense, and that throbbing Eminem jam GETS THE PEOPLE GOING.

In ten years this will be forever known as "that Jake Gyllenhaal boxing movie," which is perfectly fine. It can join "that Jake Gyllenhaal war movie," "that dumb Jake Gyllenhaal time travel movie," and of course, the "Jake Gyllenhaal gay cowboy movie." Now play the game of guessing the names of all those flicks without clicking the links. I actually couldn't recall Source Code (2011), which is the first result if you search Google for "Jake Gyllenhaal time travel movie," but if you actually search for "dumb Jake Gyllenhaal time travel movie," I got Donnie Darko (2001). Anyway, I can't see this making much huger waves than that, but other adult drama flicks have proven that there is a market out there.

That is to say that Southpaw could be like, the American Sniper (2014) of the summer. I'm not totally sold on that, that movie made its bank off its real-life subject matter, general love for Brad Cooper, and its throbbing flirtation with controversy. Still, it's there, and of any new movie this week, Southpaw is definitely the one that could go off, especially without especially stiff competition anywhere near it, including Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) next week which feels more like a dud than it should. But I could eat my words.

So last but not least, we have Pixels. Oh Pixels. Ever since I saw that first terrible, terrible, awful trailer I've been waiting to tear this shit apart. There isn't a doubt in my mind that this loud, expensive, ambiguous genre-styled, self-indulgent film won't end up being one of the worst of the year. I am filled with such seething rage at the mere thought that this movie actually exists that I would literally vomit in terror.

If that joke sounds familiar, it's because I yanked it from Futurama, par for the course for this bad boy, who literally made an entire movie out of a sketch from "Anthology of Interest II" (S3;E18), where...classic video game characters invade from outer space and attack New New York. Pixels is nominally inspired by the 2010 short film "Pixels" which I actually remember watching and enjoying with far less annoyance, possibly because it felt more like a clever use of special effects and mystery instead of an aggravating rip-off.

Don't get me wrong, there is much more rough shit going on here than just a neb of Futurama. It's just that no part of this looks like it was made for...anybody. Children are likely the primary target, with the bright colors, bad jokes, and general goofiness - but are kids really going to be thrilled to finally see Donkey Kong and Pacman as villains on the big screen? So it's more like the parents who will be nostalgic for this shit will be more tolerable taking their dumb wiener kids to see this? The trailer was painful. So much of the film just seems to lay everything out in the simplest way possible. "Donkey Kong - the one game you could never beat!" I fucking wonder what will be the final game that Adam Sandler has to beat. For fuck's holy sake.

I'm even mostly a Sandler apologist. I'll consider Billy Madison (1995) and Happy Gilmore (1996) among the finest comedies of the 90s, and even more recent shit like You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008) has some really fine parts that excel in unrepentant zaniness. Eight Crazy Nights (2002) might be one of the finest adult animated films ever made (alright, that genre is slim), and yes - yes, folks, I even went gaga for That's My Boy (2012) and consider it one of the funnier films of the current half-decade. And dammit, I'll even admit that Grown-Ups (2010) does the best job of capturing that "friends a at a lakehouse with their shitty families" experience since The Great Outdoors (1988).

Now, having said, that, Adam Sandler has contributed more to the demise of the art of cinema in the past five years than any living human on the planet. He has completely eroded any trust in his brand, until only the most diehard of juvenile followers are left standing. Pixels is the paradigm of this high concept, cheap joke telling, unwanted kind of movie-making. When I saw unwanted, I mean that it's impossible to watch this and think "Oh, that's clever" or even "Wow! That looks cool!" Nothing seems to be firing well. I honestly feel sorry for most of the actors, some of who have respectable careers.

The bottom line, though, is whether or not this will make any money. I really don't think so. It's a straight children's action-comedy, which has some precedent for success. There's the Night at the Museum movies, or Spy Kids, or Sandler's own Bedtime Stories (2008) or something, but all in all this moreover reeks of desperation on the part of Sandler, who is still making some good coin on each film, but appears to be completely devoid of any attempts at making good or even competent, funny, classic movies anymore. I still love That's My Boy, but I'm in an extreme minority there.

So what do you think? Which terrible film will you see this weekend? I hear Jurassic World is good and still playing in a few theaters...

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