Adam Sandler Wastes the Potential of "Pixels" Review

Writing off Adam Sandler movies as probable train wrecks before you even see them isn’t just a common practice, it’s also a wise one. For a star who seems to be fully entrenched in that phase of his career where he’ll sign on to any project as long as there’s a paycheck, Adam Sandler has shown he’s still capable of doing more than his usual underdog hero schtick, he just doesn’t want to. Films outside his comfort zone like Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, and Funny People now happen with increasing rarity, and instead we’re now getting a non-stop parade of formulaic garbage like The Cobbler, Blended, Grown Ups, That’s My Boy, and so on. Pixels is now the latest atrocity on that list, and though it gets a couple laughs, the rest of the film is a wasteland of duds in a story based on a short film from 2010 (which deserved a better feature film adaptation than Sandler has given it).

Oct
22
2015
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"Empire" Feels Like a Mini-Series Stretched Into a Series Review

Empire caused quite a stir when it debuted on Fox as the more mature, hip-hop-centric, older sibling to Glee. It still had a lot of the melodrama that drew crowds to Glee, but it also boasted a far more mature outlook on the state of music in our modern age and it had Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson headlining its cast. Right from the start it had a lot of promise in its corner, and from there it managed to make the most of it in many ways, while still managing to underwhelm expectations in others by taking the easy way out on a number of plotpoints. As such, Empire truly was the spiritual successor to Glee: so much raw potential that the writing didn’t quite know how to handle it. That indecision makes the first season feel like a mini-series that got picked up for a second run, forcing the writers to reverse some of the bolder decisions from the pilot in favor of choices that would add to the premise’s longevity.

Oct
22
2015
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"Fresh Off the Boat" Disembarks Onto Shaky Ground Review

Family sitcoms have been around since the earliest days of television and will likely outlive us all, especially since they benefit from the post-mortem gift of syndication. Television has had roughly 60 years to fine tune the format with classics like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Home Improvement, The Simpsons, and so forth, but even today contemporary entries are still finding ways to freshen the genre. One such improvement being an increase in the role of the kids and how much they contribute to the comedy, and not just with cutesie one-liners. Unfortunately, that’s where Fresh Off the Boat falls short in its comparison to other contemporary hits like Modern Family or The Goldbergs: the child actors (Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler, and Ian Chen) just aren’t up to snuff and don’t have the comedic timing to really make the most of their material. By contrast, as the parents, Randall Park and Constance Wu seem to nail every line and have amazing chemistry. It’s a combination that makes the show feel lopsided at best, and cliched at its worst.

Oct
22
2015
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"Jane the Virgin" Births Some Sharp Melodrama Satire Review

Though US soap operas like Days of Our Lives and General Hospital have been running for fifty years or longer, they don’t hold nearly the same level of attention in the US popular culture consciousness as telenovelas do in countless other countries in the world, perhaps most notably in Latin America. Whereas American pop culture treats soap operas with a heaping load of derision or mockery (even using comparisons to them as a way to demean a film or TV show relies too much on melodrama), other cultures have massive followings for their telenovelas, and it looks like American pop culture is finally ready to stop purely lampooning it and emulating it as well. CW’s Jane the Virgin takes the telenovela format mainstream with an absurd premise that features all the usual staples: love, affairs, love affairs, murder, schemes, amnesia, unexpected pregnancy, betrayal, and, of course, amnesia.

Unlike US soap operas, however, it uses these devices with loads of wit and in such a way that skewers their melodramatic nature so that Jane the Virgin is fun to watch from start to finish.

Oct
15
2015
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The Breezy Content of "Survivor's Remorse" Doesn't Fit its Somber Title Review

With Straight Outta Compton fresh on everybody’s minds and further stuffing Hollywood’s happily filled wallets, it will be interesting to see what becomes of Survivor’s Remorse’s growing fanbase when it returns for a recently announced third season on Starz. An unapologetic mashup of HBO’s Ballers and Entourage (someone at Starz really wants Starz to be HBO), the show from Executive Producer LeBron James, doesn’t offer anything fresh, but the viewing audience seems to like the repackaging.

Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher) is a young baller from the tough part of Boston who signs a lucrative contract to play for Atlanta. The show picks up as he relocates his *ahem* entourage to a swanky new penthouse, sharing his meteoric rise with his crass mother, Cassie (Tichina Arnold), his wheeling-and-dealing manager/cousin Reggie (RonReaco Lee), his groupie uncle Julius (Mike Epps), and his manipulative sister Mary Charles (Erica Ash). With the same pornographic depiction of wealth customary to Vince, Drama, E, and Turtle, the show makes no effort to live up to its title, which seems to suggest a more dramatic undertone, instead reveling in the debauchery and misdeeds of a family from modest beginnings thrust into the extravagant spotlight.

Oct
15
2015
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As Good as "Avatar" Is, It'd Be Even Better in HD Review

People can debate all they want about whether or not Avatar: The Last Airbender is technically an “Anime” in the strictest sense or if M. Night Shyamalan’s horrific adaptation should have taken three films instead of trying to cram the show into a single movie, but as far as the animated series is concerned, its legacy remains rather untarnished as the best American-made series to come out of American pop culture’s fascination with Asian animation and themes. However, while the series is stellar and any set like this one that brings together all three seasons equally so, it’s hard to get too excited about a complete series set when it’s still being released on DVD and not remastered for an HD release on Blu-ray. Avatar: The Last Airbenderdeserves a Blu-ray release, so here’s hoping this set isn't the final iteration of this series that fans can expect for home video and rather just the last attempt at soaking up sales for an SD set before an HD set is released sometime in the near future.

Oct
13
2015
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Everyone Deserves A Little "Gameplay" Review

This is the story of everything that happened next.

Being a bit on the nerd side myself, it's hard for me to dispute the central theme of Gameplay (2014), which is that video games have become an integral part of human life. The argument goes well beyond Candy Crush and Farmville--though they are definitely a part of it--to the psychological ordering of global retail. The phenomenon began in a very humble state. Utah, in fact, with a group of computer nerds playing a game of their own creation called Spacewar! where they shot little square dots at larger square dots. Nolan Bushnell met these guys one day and was inspired to put together a similar toy box alongside pinball machines. His first attempt failed quite miserably, but his second entry into the field was a massive success: Pong. A game with two paddles going up and down to bounce a little ball back and forth was the first successful attempt to make humans go crazy to the sound of *pop*.

Oct
12
2015
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"The Returned" Aren't Welcome Review

Something really weird happened.

In another edition of US television adequately stealing a European television mystery program in the endless pursuit to keep Americans from reading, A&E has brought Les revenants (2012) over the water and called it The Returned (2015). In ten episodes, we get a surprising amount of characters with more sub-plots than you can count. For reasons unknown, the semi-recently deceased of this small Washington town have crawled out from whence they died and avoided newspapers long enough to be shocked by the news of their own death. Perhaps surprisingly, these newly revived individuals expend most of their energies dealing with their on-hold squabbles rather than basking in the joy of life. But the real lesson of The Returned is that not everybody who comes back from the dead deserves a celebration.

Oct
12
2015
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We All Might Learn A "Lesson" Review

Someone has just stolen my wallet.

When a student's wallet is stolen, English teacher Nade (Margita Gosheva) takes the matter very seriously, using all her rhetorical skills to guilt the culprit into a confession. No one confesses. It weighs on her and she vows to teach the little thief a lesson. Things at home are pretty rocky as well. Her husband Mladen (Ivan Barnev), while a caring father, has a problem with alcohol and money. When the creditors threaten to take the house, Nade has to scramble to get the money together. She tries to shake down a deadbeat boss who has yet to pay her for her translation work. She takes out loans. She tries to get some money from her estranged father. At every turn, something goes wrong and Nade is living every moment on the edge of personal disaster. The impunity of that little thief looms larger and larger in her mind.

Oct
12
2015
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"The Walking Dead" Slows Its Pace But Ups Its Impact Review

Not many genre series have their best moments five seasons in, but that’s how long it’s taken AMC’s The Walking Dead to accrue the history required to deliver an impact more meaningful than just the loss of a fan-favorite character or the letdown when a destination inevitably fails to be what our core group of protagonists had hoped. With four seasons’ worth of character development informing character interactions and decisions, Walking Dead has molded its characters into a fiercely loyal family that’s at once both a force of savage brutality and civility. Having imbued them with such a distrust of outsiders and forced them to adapt to a dangerous world, we now see them face the series’ hardest question: can they ever really assimilate back into a society? Or will any society that attempts to assimilate them be forced to change to accommodate the mindsets Grimes and company learned out in the wilderness?

Oct
12
2015
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