Sunday, May 1, 2016

What In The HE (Double Hockey Sticks) Happened?

Thanks to "Watchathon" on Comcast, many 2015 movies were available to be streamed for free last week.

It's always grand to watch movies that you actually have been dying to see, but it was also a fantastic time, without having to waste actual money renting them, to check out those flicks that got terrible reviews. Bless you Comcast.

When something is deemed god-awful by a large chunk of the population, don't your senses start tingling with anticipation and questioning, "Well, HOW bad is it?"

Although, even when a movie stinks up the rating system over at Rotten Tomatoes, I've always been open to the possibility of a movie proving critics wrong. On a regular basis I'm bewitched with love over a flick that no one else cared for (Safe Haven is ringing a bell). However, that doesn't always happen.

Sometimes a movie is such a mess that almost universally people exclaim, "What the F!", or the more child friendly phrase used as the title to this post.

These are the kinds of movies that completely fell of the rails from beginning to end - arguments with writers/directors might have caused a rift which ended up impacting the script or the studios could have insisted on cutting scenes and re-editing the final product. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. When a bunch of creative minds come together it can create magic, but it often also leads to the demise of an entire product.

Two movies that came out in 2015 seemed to have it all figured out. Both movies feature solid casts, one had masterful digital effects, and the other had a prestige writer/director. So, what made the final released product of Aloha (19% on Rotten Tomatoes) and Pixels (17%) a total mess? You'd have to see both to actually believe the level of disaster.

Let's start with the movie that I turned on about an hour after finishing up watching Spotlight for the second time - that would be the Adam Sandler non-fun romp that is Pixels. Just to be clear - I watched the 2015 Best Picture winner, pretty much directly followed by this six time Razzie nominee. That's really a way to get clarity on well executed vs. ill conceived storytelling.

On the outside Pixels looks like a promising idea for the world we are currently living in that is obsessed with tech and video games. You may have also guessed that it's a fun spoof on all those end of the world action movies that keep coming out, right? Those ideas sound like a wonderful taking off point for a flick that an entire family of all ages could check out.

And that's exactly how the movie begins - back in 1982 with some kid video game wizards plugging all of their change into the machines at an arcade. Then after a moment of fun nostalgia, we are transported, with a thud of drastically cut editing, into the present where these children have now grown up to be Adam Sandler and Kevin James (whose professions are a "Geek Squad" type home technology installer and THE PRESIDENT of the USA, respectively).

Right off the bat, Sandler appears to be having a bummer of a time. His boy like charm and charisma from his past films seems to have been left behind. If Sandler is not even having fun with this movie, how is anyone watching it supposed to rise above that emotional level? Once that vibe from Sandler is introduced, everything about this turns into complete nonsense.

The concept that aliens intercepted a time capsule containing video games and they have created video game characters to use to attack Earth, could have been amusing, but something happened between idea and execution that made this movie totally fail.

Arguably the most important part of a movie, the script, is not thought out well. Characters talk through all the action in dull fashion instead of showing what is happening, the plot entirely jumps around without explaining what is going on, and worst of all, half of the time, a talented cast of people are just sitting and giving reaction shots to whatever "alien attack" they are supposed to be seeing on TV.

The hilarious Jane Krakowski is totally wasted and barely given a line as basic "silent arm candy First Lady" to Kevin James and the "romantic" interactions between Sandler and the lead female character, played by Michelle Monaghan, are painful to sit through. Really though, everyone besides Sandler, is playing to the wacky romp of a movie that this was supposed to be. Sean Bean, Josh Gad, and Peter Dinklage showed up to play, giving it their all, and made it somewhat palatable to sit through. They each went full campy and over the top, which is exactly what the all around vibe should have been.

Maybe all the money for fixing the incoherent dialogue and nonsensical plot progression went to the visual effects? At least that all looked fantastic.

On one side of a weekend's watching experience we have a movie that could have been neat, and on the other, we have a movie that should never have been made. Those hacked Sony e-mails don't lie.

See, that trailer makes it seem like there is a coherent story. Don't be fooled. People should have said no. Money should never have been exchanged. Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, and Alec Baldwin should have just taken a vacation in Hawaii instead. Hey, maybe that's exactly why this movie got made...

Much apologies to American filmmaking treasure Cameron Crowe. The negative reception of this movie has already dragged him through piles of sludge, so there really is no need for another voice to echo the same negativity. And yet, I'm too baffled to just let Aloha go by without voicing concerns.

Aloha is the most confusing movie I've even laid eyes on. Not since Gigli have I walked away from a movie wondering, "what was that even about?" If you asked me right now to explain the story, you'd have to come meet me in person so I could draw pictures and use excessive hand motions. (You might need to give me a minute break though - I'm awfully tired after having just given a 15-minute talking performance describing the three episodes of Nashville that my brother missed.)

Well, here I'll give it a go anyway. You see Bradley Cooper is going to Hawaii to help with blessing a gate (?). He flies there on a military plane, because he either is still in the military or used to be, and he used to date Rachel McAdams, but might be interested in Emma Stone. Then there's a whole dilemma with a satellite...never mind.

Sorry, I'll at least try to explain the movie watching experience.

At the very beginning, Bradley Cooper's character starts a long, fast paced, voice over monologue - one of those monologues that fans of Crowe's movies are familiar with. Within a minute of Cooper talking I literally (and I do mean the actual definition of literally) had no idea what was going on. The words and pictures were zooming by and I just kept telling myself it will be all sorted out soon. "This will make sense eventually", I said to myself, as I rocked back and forth in pure maddening confusion. But no, it never did make sense.

Even now looking back, I'm not totally sure what Cooper's job was, which is a HUGE part of the plot, and I still question how some of the characters were connected to each other. Cooper might have in the past worked for Alec Baldwin, but then again, I'm not totally sure. Just as much plot could be understood if the dialogue had been in a foreign language. It's not a good sign if a drama about modern day people  (not aliens) dealing with relationships and professions goes completely over the head of a viewing audience.

Overall, there is one baffling question - what about this story made an incredible writer like Cameron Crowe say, "I just have to write about that!"? This is currently boggling my mind.

Then there's the whole issue of Emma Stone playing a woman whose father is half Asian/half Hawaiian. Crowe has said that this character is based on a person he knows and I get that she's not supposed to look like her background, but it is a dicey casting decision to make, especially when Hollywood is getting so much flack for "white-washing" roles. The internet has since exploded with criticism. That controversy was just the spoiled icing on the cake for this movie that, honestly, never stood a chance.

It's impossible for someone to always get it right, even for a director like Crowe who has struggled in more recent years, but has created many treasured American classics (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Say Anything). No one likes to see talented people falter either, yet sometimes that creative magic just doesn't come together and it's okay. For Aloha and Pixels we ask, "what happened?", but we all learn from our mistakes, don't we? 

Until next time.

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