‘Lights Out’ Review

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Director: David F. Sandberg

Writer: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Andi Osho, and Maria Bello

Synopsis: When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Are you – or were – afraid of the dark? It’s okay, so was I. Luckily, we didn’t have a crazed entity coming after us, unless you did and if that’s the case, I’m very sorry. But let’s about the movie Lights Out shall we. The film is loosely based off David F. Sandberg’s short film of the same name, and Sandberg returns to direct a feature-length film that expands on his idea and gives us a story that is more than just a horror film. It’s also helps that he has, arguably, one of the best horror directors as a producer in James Wan.

The film has a simple enough premise. Rebecca (Palmer), who lives alone, finds out that her little brother Martin (Bateman) hasn’t been sleeping after his father – her step-dad – has passed away. However, it isn’t because he’s depressed, it’s because their mother Sophie (Bell) has been presumably talking to herself at night. When Rebecca, reluctantly does back to see her mother, she finds out that Martin has heard – and maybe even seen – someone she thought she was done with: Diana. Eventually, Martin and Rebecca soon find out that Diana isn’t just a figment of their mentally-ill mother’s imagination, but a real creepy – and dangerous – entity that only appears in when the lights go out.

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I have to hand it to Sandberg, who does a great job in his first big film, of course he had help with Wan as a producer, but Sandberg handled himself pretty well. He wasn’t afraid to take chances with his own work, and even managed to create a pretty well done iteration of his short film at the beginning of the film, with his original lead star in Lotta Losten, and Billy Burke.

While the trailers for Lights Out are all about making us afraid of the dark, there is a good family drama story in the film. Rebecca and her mother Sophie haven’t talked in years – a specific number isn’t given – and the only thing is holding them together feels like it is Martin. Once they come together, you can tell they don’t want to be in the same room. Surprisingly, it’s this aspect that I wish was expanded, considering the movie is only an hour and twenty-one minutes.

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That’s not to say the horror moments don’t work or aren’t effective, because they sure as hell do and are. Lights Out is based off the idea that when the lights go out, something is about to go down, and it does. The scenes are tense and nerve-racking that will make you look at every corner of the screen to see where Diana is going to pop out of. Sandberg and cinematographer Marc Spicer even put their actors in the thick of it as they used as much natural light as they could. This shows in the film because it feels like you are right there in the dark with the characters.

The cast also pulls everything together. Palmer’s Rebecca has a great arc in the film with her little brother Martin that has a good progression, and Gabriel Bateman as Martin holds his own, and isn’t the annoying little kid in most horror movies. Alexander DiPersia plays Bret, someone Rebecca is seeing, who brings some levity to the otherwise dramatic or horrifying scenes. Maria Bello is a bit wasted here, as she doesn’t have enough screen time as she should. Her character however is a tragic one. Her mental-illness makes her an easy character to feel for, but again, she’s rarely in the film until the final act of the film. Finally, Alicia Vela-Bailey plays Diana. It’s hard to tell sometimes when Vela-Bailey was actually on set, and when she was a CGI character, because of Vela-Bailey’s performance when she is actually there is so convincing and scary as hell. Every time she moves you can hear clicks and what may be bones readjusting themselves, needless to say, Diana is sure to give you nightmares.

Lights Out works on a lot of accountants, but it does take a misstep when it starts to cluck together a lot of exposition to explain why Diana is back and targeting this family. The reasoning is okay, but the way they went about it was mishandled.

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All in all, Lights Out is a scare-worthy horror film that is sure to make you afraid of the dark again. It does take a misstep trying to make sense of it all, but overall the cast and frightening and tense-filled horror moments making Lights Out a great directorial debut by the man that created the short film the feature-length film is based on.

Lights Out

4 out of 5

‘Pixels’ Review

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Dir:  Chris Columbus

Writer(s): Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling

Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Matt Lintz, Jane Krankowski, and Brian Cox

Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Based on the 2010 short from French director Patrick Jean (which I highly recommend), Pixels extends the idea of classic video games attacking major cities to aliens disguising themselves as classic video games to attack. I was pretty excited to learn they were making a movie based on the short, but was less excited when I heard that Adam Sandler was involved with his Happy Madison Production company. I’ll even admit that the first trailer didn’t do much for me and wasn’t even looking forward to this. The second trailer came out and I was warming up to it. Now, watching the movie itself, well my mind was changed. Pixels is not perfect, but it still is pretty enjoyable.

 

The movie starts off in the early 80s when friends Sam Brenner (Sandler) and Cooper (James) go to a grand opening of an arcade. Sam becomes a local favorite because he’s really good at the games and Cooper tells him to enter a championship league. There they meet Ludlow (Gad) and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Dinklage). Skip ahead to the present and Cooper is now the President of the United States, while Brenner works as an installation guy. However, Cooper soon has lot on his plate when a military base is attacked overseas in the form of Galaga.

 

Cooper and Lt. Col. Violet van Patten (Monaghan) – who early on in the film had already meet Brenner and the two don’t completely get along – bring in Brenner and Ludlow, who is a conspiracy theorist and is the one that actually brings up the notion of aliens disguising themselves as classic video game characters, in to help the military lead by Admiral Porter (Cox) to take them down. They also need the help of a now jailed Eddie to take down the aliens.

 

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Like I mentioned before, I wasn’t really looking forward toward Pixels. I, probably, like many of you, thought this was going to be another unfunny, dumb, lame joke (although there are flat jokes in there) movie by Adam Sandler. Also, like I said, Pixels is not a perfect movie. Once you get past the notion that Kevin James is playing the President somehow, they never mention how he became president, and how everyone somewhat accepts the idea that it is aliens disguising themselves as classic video games OR even that they bring in civilians to deal with the situation, Pixels is enjoyable for the most part. All that sounds nitpicky, but it’s hard to avoid it once you watch the movie.

 

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The idea behind the aliens thinking that the capsule that was sent up to space to make communication them was an act of war is pretty interesting, but it is never really fleshed out. It is bought up, but they way they handled it was off to me. Even some of clichés the movie brings up didn’t bother me so much as it will probably other people. The clichés, dare I say this, work for the movie, but only to a certain extent. Some of the references are dated, but considering the concept of the movie you don’t necessarily have to forgive it, but it helps you experience the movie better. I’m not making excuses for the movie, but at the end of the day it is an Adam Sandler movie.

 

Speaking of Sandler, he does okay here. Although, I haven’t really watched a Sandler film in a long time, it does look at times like he’s phoning it in sometimes. Josh Gad has his funny moments and plays a bit the role a bit over-the-top, but the role calls for it and Gad nails it. Peter Dinklage looks like he’s having fun playing the role and even has some scene stealing lines as the arrogant and egotistical video game player. The personality fades away a bit near the end unfortunately, but he will no doubt be a fan-favorite, if not for the character then at least for fact that it’s played by Peter Dinklage.

 

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Michelle Monaghan, the only real female actress of the movie besides Jane Krakowski who doesn’t really do anything than being the First Lady, has her own moments to shine as well. Although, without spoiling it, the character feels a bit inconsistent when you first see her to later in the final act. Still she holds her own with what she’s given. Kevin James also doesn’t get a lot to do here, sure he has a couple good moments, but for the most part he’s a supporting character that pops in every now and then.

 

The rest of the supporting cast don’t do much and play into the clichés that I briefly spoke of earlier. Brian Cox’s Admiral Porter is the tough and no nonsense-type that doesn’t believe in “the arcaders.” While Ashley Benson’s Lady Lisa doesn’t show up until the final act and doesn’t even speak a line of dialogue. A nice surprise is fan favorite Sean Bean pops in a small role as another military leader that also doesn’t believe in the “arcaders.”

 

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If you don’t like the story or the characters then the action sequences should at least be fun for you. The heavily promoted Pac-Man chase scene is pretty fun to watch in its entirety and the King Kong fight is probably the next highlight, if not the highlight of the movie. The special effects is pretty cool and during the action sequences really elevate the scenes a little more.

 

All in all, Pixels was surprisingly enjoyable. Some of the jokes fall flat, but for the most part you’ll laugh for sure at some of the jokes. The movie does seem targeted a bit toward families, but pay attention to the rating, it is PG-13 for some language. If you’re a video gamer, especially the old-school games, you’ll enjoy some of the references scattered throughout. Pixels isn’t going to win any awards – maybe some Razzies – but go and judge for yourselves. Pixels is a lot of fun for the most part, and this is coming from a guy that wasn’t looking forward to it.

 

Pixels

3.5 out of 5

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