Synopsis: A charismatic jeweler makes a high-stakes bet that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. In a precarious high-wire act, he must balance business, family and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win.
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Idina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield, Judd Hirsch, Eric Bogosian
Director: Benny Safdie, Joshua Safdie
Running Length: 135 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I feel like I usually start some of these review posts with “I was too old for” or “This was before my time” but today I get to say that I’m the perfect age to remember when Adam Sandler rose from a popular utility player on Saturday Night Live to a blockbuster movie star. Happening almost by chance if you really think about it, his dimbulb comedies that played on his goofball charms became quotable and rewatchable fluff that made Sandler millions but didn’t exactly endear him to critics. Audiences and studio heads loved him but his movies became 90 minutes to fear for reviewers as the years went on. Truth be told, the quality took a nosedive as well the more Sandler looped in (and relied on) his stable of friends.
Efforts to go straight netted good feedback, like 2002’s Punch Drunk Love and, to a lesser extent 2004’s Spanglish. In these films it was evident that when Sandler took himself seriously there was something more to him than silly Cajun accents and arrested development man-child characters. Yet he always fell back on these easy riffs, making it difficult to figure out what he really wanted to do with his career. A recent multi-million dollar deal with Netflix gave him freedom to create his own projects and the results…haven’t been spectacular. Only a slight caper comedy, Murder Mystery earlier in 2019, had some spring to its step and that was largely due to costar Jennifer Aniston dragging Sandler along.
So why are we back at the tail end of 2019 again talking about Sandler? Well, after gaining considerable attention for his work in 2017’s serio-comic The Meyerowitz Stories with director Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), he’s teamed up with another buzzy director (actually directors) for Uncut Gems and not only has it brought Sandler the best notices of his career but it might just earn him an Oscar nomination. He’s already picked up numerous critical acclaim, a few early awards, and a handful of nominations in upcoming ceremonies but the real test will be if Academy voters can look past the dreck he’s participated in and appreciate what he’s put into his performance here.
Howard Ratner (Sandler, Blended) is in trouble. It’s 2012 and he’s in debt up to his ears. Borrowing money from one person to pay another, his life is in a constant state of motion of over the counter offers and drop in deals where his bad investments and gambling has put a target on his back. Operating as a jeweler in the Diamond District of New York City, he thinks his luck is about to change with his acquisition of an uncut opal just arrived from Africa he plans to put up for auction. Unable to resist showing off his nest egg, when an recruiter (Lakeith Stanfield, Knives Out) Howard pays under-the-table snags basketball superstar Kevin Garnett (playing himself, admirably) and brings him by to look at some merchandise, Howard lets the opal out of his sight…and that’s when things start to go downhill rapidly.
Balancing an estranged wife (Idina Menzel, Frozen II) and a mistress (Julia Fox) with her own eccentricities and complications, Howard spends the next days tracking his opal while staying ahead of a swarm of the NY loan shark underbelly that have come to collect. His brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian, The Stuff) and his henchmen are ones he’s most wary of, for good reason, and a tense family dinner masks the deadly animosity present between the two men. As the auction draws near and Howard continues to make wrong turns that get him deeper into the dirt, can he right his sinking ship without taking others down with him?
Written and directed by brothers Benny and Joshua Safdie, I suspect audiences will respond to Uncut Gems the way they viewed most of Sandler’s earlier comedies, with a mixture of exasperation and exhilaration…but for different reasons. This is 135 minutes of stress for Howard and, in effect, the viewer as we are sitting right on his shoulder throughout. With an almost voyeuristic nature, we watch as Howard interacts with all manner of people that work around the Diamond District. I’m not sure, but I’d bet many of the people appearing in these scenes actually worked in the stores where the scenes were filmed. There’s an authenticity to the dialogue (it has to have taken the prize for most uses of f**k in 2019) that almost instantly lends credibility to the film and Sandler in particular.
As indicated by the advance notices, Sandler is remarkable. Though playing a character hard to root for because you see him making the wrong turn five blocks ahead of the street sign, there’s a charisma he lends Howard where you can’t totally write him off. A scene late in the film where he explains himself exposes a openness that doesn’t soften him so much as documents the path some vulnerable people take when their self-destruction goes unnoticed for too long. There’s a burden this character carries from the moment we meet him, you can almost see it weighing him down the minute he appears on screen and Sandler keeps that sense of needing to unload right through to the end. It’s real follow through and a mature performance from someone that has peddled so long in immaturity.
In addition to Sandler, there’s several supporting performances of note. I wasn’t familiar with Fox before this film but you can bet she’ll be turning up on Hollywood’s radar after enough people have seen this. Taking what could have been a thankless cliché riddled role and making it far more complex, Fox might first seem intrusive to the proceedings in the first hour (which is intentional, I think) but hold fast, the wait for her usefulness is worth it. On the other side of the wedding ring, Menzel is dynamite as Howard’s annoyed wife who can’t wait to divorce her cheating husband and just wishes she could tell more people about it. Known more for her stage work and voicing the Frozen films, Menzel impresses big time in her first substantial dramatic role in front of the camera.
I don’t think Sandler will have a problem getting critics to see his performance in Uncut Gems but I’m wondering if his longtime fans will turn out to see him put his ribald routine to the side, at least for the moment. (His next film is titled the not-promising Hubie Halloween and is directed by Steven Brill who has been behind the camera for numerous Sandler gigs). He’s amassed a new generation of fans via Netflix, hopefully they’re willing to follow him into this new-ish territory and my wish for Sandler is that he sees how green the grass is on the serious side of the street. Even if he makes a movie like Uncut Gems for every two dumb comedies he makes, I think we’ll have made some progress.
Synopsis: Dracula and his friends try to bring out the monster in his half human, half vampire grandson in order to keep Mavis from leaving the hotel.
Stars: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Mel Brooks, Fran Drescher, Keegan-Michael Key
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: As a kid growing up watching Saturday morning cartoons I was more drawn to the adventures of Scooby-Doo than some of the more younger-skewing fare. The best of the best, though, was when the Scooby-Doo episode would be extra-long or even a full length feature ala Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf or my personal favorite Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School. So when the original Hotel Transylvania was released in 2012 I wasn’t all that surprised that I warmed to its silly, spooky charms with little resistance from my inner critic.
Three years later the inevitable sequel is released and it’s one of those rare instances where a second outing inches slightly above its predecessor in the fun factor. Yes, it’s pretty much a retread of the original film with the central message of “Be yourself” reiterated often throughout the trim 89 minutes, but it’s all in the delivery and that’s where the film really takes off.
To recap the first film, Dracula (Adam Sandler, Blended) runs a hotel that caters to all manners of ghouls, ghosts, & monsters and is overprotective of his growing daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez). When human Jonathan (Andy Samberg, The To Do List) happens into the hotel lobby and catches the eye of Mavis, hilarity ensues as Dracula tries to keep the two lovebirds apart.
Picking up right when the original left off, the film opens with (spoiler alert!) the wedding of Mavis and Jonathan, followed by the birth of their firstborn son Dennis who sports the kind of luscious ginger curls that would make Little Orphan Annie salivate. The Count becomes a doting grandpa, even as he grows more concerned by the day that little Dennis may not get his fangs and could be more human than monster. So when Mavis and Jonathan take a trip to visit his family, the Count sets out to help the transformation along before it’s too late, bringing along friends Frankenstein’s Monster (Kevin James), the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key, Vacation, taking over for CeeLo Green), The Invisible Man (David Spade, Entourage), and the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi, Monsters University) on a throwback road trip for morbid support.
As was the case with our first stay in Hotel Transylvania, the gags come a mile a minute but there are less duds in this sequel. It’s all good-natured (if slightly too scary) fun that has its heart in the right place. It’s telling that Sandler seems to be more appealing and certainly livelier as an animated character than he has been lately with his string of ghastly live-action turkeys. Across the board the voice talent is strong, with the exception of Megan Mullally (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) as Jonathan’s suburban mom. Mullaly channels her alter ego from television’s Will and Grace for the hundredth time and even her brief appearance grates on the nerves.
For the slightly older set and adults that fondly remember those Saturday morning adventures with Scooby-Doo, Hotel Transylvania 2 may not be five star entertainment but it’s worth checking into.
We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.
I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.
I just wasn’t prepared for July. It hit me like a ton of bricks, a wave of cinematic excursions that made my head spin. So many movies were released that it was hard to keep track from week to week what was arriving and what was still waiting for its release date. As you can see below, I had a lot of catching-up to do
The month began with the disappointment of Terminator Genisys. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger but it for sure wasn’t the muddled misfire that was supposed to reboot this franchise. Badly cast with shoddy special effects, this was supposed to be the beginning of something but should likely be the end (though it did do well overseas so we may yet get another one of these in a few years).
A few summers back I lamented how bad the original Magic Mike was. Trading eye candy entertainment for any semblance of watchable narrative, it was another dud (for me) from Steven Soderbergh. So you’d understand why I wasn’t keen on Magic Mike XXL because I felt we’d already been there done that. Much to my delight, the sequel was much better than its predecessor, maintaining the fun frivolity of the world of male strippers while injecting some personality into the proceedings. Quite possible the biggest surprise of the summer for me.
I learned a lot from the wise documentary Amy, chronicling the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, the singer with the bluesy voice and broken butterfly backstory. She had a lot to overcome and the film made a compelling argument that she would still be here today had she had a better support system.
Though I loved the Minions in the Despicable Me films, I didn’t care for their solo outing with its half-baked story and less that inspired vocal work. It felt like a quick cash-grab and it looks like it accomplished its goal. Hopefully next time they’ll come back with a better story and more convincing actors.
The found footage horror movie had its death knell with The Gallows, a brainless exercise in tedium peppered with cheap scares and lousy acting. Could have (and should have) been much better.
Now we approach a stretch where I checked out for a bit – but I’m atoning for it now with these mini-reviews.
Movie Review ~ Batkid Begins The Facts: Synopsis: On one day, in one city, the world comes together to grant one 5-year-old cancer patient his wish. Batkid Begins looks at the ‘why’ of this flash phenomenon. Stars: Miles Scott Director: Dana Nachman Rated: PG Running Length: 87 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: Can I admit something to you and not have you hate me? When I first saw the media frenzy around this back in 2013 I remember rolling my eyes are the saccharine nature of the whole endeavor. Why would an entire city be brought to a screeching halt because of one kid’s wish to be Batman for a day? Well, the documentary Batkid Begins showed me why and by the end I was feeling like a lout for my initial feelings and wiping away the happy tears the film easily brings forth from the viewer. Following the planning and execution by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to give a 5 year old leukemia survivor the day of his dreams, viewers get a glimpse at what goes into even the smallest wish granted by the organization. While it at times comes off like a big advertisement, it’s heart is most certainly in the right place and I found myself getting choked up with each good deed and promise fulfilled by a host of people involved in making the day come off without a hitch. An audience-pleasing winner.
Movie Review ~ The Overnight The Facts: Synopsis: A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. Stars: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche Director: Patrick Brice Rated: R Running Length: 79 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: There and gone in an instant, The Overnight is a film better suited for home viewing anyway. A couple (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) new to the area meet Jason Schwartzman at a local playground where both of their children are playing. Their kids have hit it off so Schwartzmann invites the family over for more fun, but when the kids go to bed Schwartzman and his wife Judith Godrèche have more interesting games to play for the unsuspecting couple. Saying more would spoil the fun but it’s an adults only evening with oodles of twists and turns as both couples bare their secrets (and their bodies) before the night is over. Already famous for its full frontal shots of Schwartzman and Scott (sorry, both are wearing prosthetics), at 79 minutes the movie is short but does start to feel long in the middle section. It helps immensely that all four actors are competent and comfortable with the material…the story doesn’t hold back and neither do they.
Movie Review ~ Ant-Man The Facts: Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, David Dastmalchian, T.I. , Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Martin Donovan, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Gregg Turkington, Abby Ryder Fortson Director: Peyton Reed Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 117 minutes TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: Early troubles with the start of production with Ant-Man and some seriously questionable teasers/trailers didn’t get me very excited for this mid-summer superhero movie. I think Marvel was hoping that Ant-Man would score along the lines of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxybut it’s sadly missing the humor that made Guardians so much fun. It’s not a total wash though because for every 10 minutes of standard origin-story developments, there’s a solid 5 minutes of exciting action sequences to wake audiences up from their slumber. I know that with an origin story you need to cover a lot of ground and Ant-Man, to its additional credit, doesn’t waste much time in getting to the goods…but it’s a cheap-o undertaking and one that feels like a second-string entry in Marvel’s blockbuster universe. Paul Rudd makes for a surprisingly solid action lead as does Corey Stoll as Rudd’s nemesis, but Evangeline Lilly labors too much under her severe wig (that seems to change lengths multiple times, in the middle of scenes) and isn’t a good enough actress to carry some weighty responsibilities. A decent entry as far as Marvel films go…but I’m not clamoring for a sequel any time soon.
Movie Review ~ Irrational Man The Facts: Synopsis: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Sophie von Haselberg Director: Woody Allen Rated: R Running Length: 96 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: It happens every year and every year you never quite know what to expect. I’m speaking, of course, of the annual Woody Allen release and like many of the directors works, it’s a hit or miss affair. I’m constantly in awe that Allen has churned out a film a year (sometimes two a year) for the last three decades and even the really bad ones aren’t as terrible as the other dreck dumped on us during the summer. Last year Magic in the Moonlight was dismissed as too slight even for Allen but I enjoyed its frothy charm…something that was missing from the more serious-minded Irrational Man. As a boozy professor that gets into hot water in his New England college town, Joaquin Phoenix was perhaps the wrong choice because the actor plagues himself far too much for Allen’s light material. At least co-star Emma Stone helps keep Phoenix from the quicksand of his own creation but she can’t be in every scene and it’s when Phoenix is on his own that the film goes slack. Then there’s Parker Posey who I’m becoming convinced is simply not of this earth and doesn’t try to hide it anymore. Bizarre line readings and the tendency to let her mouth hang open are only the tip of Posey’s strange acting iceberg. Very much in line with the dark humor of Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Irrational Man should hold your interest for a time but it’s quickie ending feels like Allen was ready to move on to his next film rather than put a period at the end things.
Movie Review ~ Trainwreck The Facts: Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy. Stars: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, LeBron James, Method Man Director: Judd Apatow Rated: R Running Length: 125 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: One of the true success stories of the summer has to have been Amy Schumer, not so much for writing and starring in Trainwreck but the collective impact she’s had on the comedy scene. Unapologetic in her crassness and wise in her observations, Schumer is a comic moving like a shooting star and it’s nice to report that I think she’s a pretty decent actress as well. As much as I enjoy Schumer I was nervous that she was attaching herself to director Judd Apatow because Apatow, as we all know, has a way of turning in muddled work. Unfortunately, Apatow’s influence led the film to be about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and ultimately overstaying its welcome. I don’t care what anyone says about the appearance of LeBron James as a bona fide supporting player, his entire storyline should have been excised and the film wouldn’t have suffered at all. The problems get worse because Apatow likes to cast non-actors in his film and put in cameos when you least expect it…to the detriment of the flow of the narrative. He stumbles badly in several places here but is saved by Schumer and Bill Hader as the opposites attract duo that confidently lead the film. Special mention must, again, be made to Tilda Swinton for disappearing within her role as Schumer’s glam yet grim boss. Worth it for Schumer, Swinton, and Hader…but watch it at home so you can fast forward through the slow Apatow-ish parts.
Movie Review ~ Mr. Holmes The Facts: Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. Stars: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Philip Davis, Milo Parker Director: Bill Condon Rated: PG Running Length: 104 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: In reality, I probably should have given Mr. Holmes a more thorough review than I’m about to give here…but I have a feeling I’ll have a chance to discuss it more over the next few months because if all is right with the world Ian McKellen will find himself nominated in a few Best Actor categories during the end of the year awards round-up. McKellen plays an aged Sherlock Holmes living in the country, attended to by a no-nonsense housekeeper (Laura Linney) and entertained by her young son. There’s actually three Holmes on display here as the present Holmes recalls two previous cases he was involved with that had an impact on his life. With a smart script from Jeffrey Hatcher adapted from a popular novel, it’s directed with a mellow grandeur by Bill Condon. Condon and McKellen scored before with the fascinating Gods and Monsters and here’s hoping they go the distance with this one too. An interesting tidbit, at one point Holmes ventures out to see a Sherlock Holmes movie…and the actor playing Holmes on screen (Nicholas Rowe) played the detective in 1986’s fun frolic Young Sherlock Holmes.
Movie Review ~ Paper Towns The Facts: Synopsis: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door. Stars: Nat Wolff, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith Director: Jake Schreir Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 109 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: After The Fault in Our Stars became a runaway hit last summer movie studios were looking for the next big alt-teen romance that could lure YA audiences away from summer action flicks. Turns out they didn’t have to look far because Paper Towns was adapted from the novel by the same author as The Fault in Our Stars. While Paper Towns doesn’t center around a disease that threatens to tear our lovebirds apart, it has its own mystery about it as Nat Wolff goes looking for his recently vanished neighbor (Cara Delevingne) that he’s been enamored with (or more like fascinated by) since they were children. Following the clues she seemingly left for him, Wolff and his friends embark on a journey of discovery where they Learn Life Lessons. The film kept my interest for most of the running length and it’s only in the final passages when all is explained does it feel a little like a letdown. Still, there’s a smart air of riskiness that elevates the film and more often than not it lands on the good side of taking that risky step.
Movie Review ~ Pixels The Facts: 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. Stars: Adam Sandler, Brian Cox, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad Director: Chris Columbus Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 105 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: A movie where everyone involved should hang their head in shame. There’s actually some semblance of a good idea here with aliens attacking earth with classic arcade games but unfortunately it gets trampled by Adam Sandler’s lazy acting, Kevin James bad acting, and Josh Gad’s awful everything. Michelle Monaghan looks positively embarrassed to be sharing scenes (especially romantic ones) with Sandler and only Peter Dinklage comes out relatively unscathed in a campy, mullet wearing performance. For fans of ‘80s nostalgia there are some pleasant diversions as video game characters pop up in (supposedly) comical ways and I think that director Chirs Columbus really did give the material a chance to be something interesting…but Sandler and his crew suck the life out of everything and are so devoid of any vested interest that you wonder why you should care at all either.
Movie Review ~ Southpaw The Facts: Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track. Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Clare Foley, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris Director: Antoine Fuqua Rated: R Running Length: 123 minutes TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: By now, we know that Jake Gyllenhaal is a smart actor. With role after role from Prisoners to Nightcrawler to End of Watch we’ve seen that he’s up for most any challenge and likes to dive deep into his roles. So it’s not surprising that he was drawn to this tale of redemption concerning a famous boxer at the top of his game dealt a series of terrible blows (in more ways than one) and his eventual path back to himself. What is surprising is that while the performances are very good you can’t get away from the fact that the story feels recycled and originally intended for a different set of lower string stars. I’m always on the fence regarding Forest Whitaker but as the wise boxing manager that grudgingly comes to Gyllenhaal’s aid, the actor reminds us why he so deserved his Best Actor Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. Also turning in a great performance in Rachel McAdams (The Vow) as Gyllenhaal’s high school sweetheart, mother of his daughter, and the only one that seems to have his best interest at heart.
Southpaw was also at the center of some controversy that arose this summer about movie trailers that give away too much of the film. If you have seen the trailer for Southpaw you know what I’m talking about…if you haven’t, please go into the movie blind. I had a faint idea what the spoiler was and even that made the first ¼ of the film much less involving. Worth it for the performances but gets knocked out by an also-ran plot.
Movie Review ~ Samba The Facts: Synopsis: Samba migrated to France ten years ago from Senegal, and has since been plugging away at various lowly jobs. Alice is a senior executive who has recently undergone a burn-out. Both struggle to get out of their dead-end lives. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers, while Alice tries to get her life back on track until fate draws them together. Stars: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin, Isaka Sawadogo Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano Rated: R Running Length: 118 minutes TMMM Score: (5.5/10) Review: Of all the movies I’m talking about in this wrap-up this is one I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’ve never heard of. And you couldn’t be blamed because this barely made a blip on the usually forgiving art-house circuit. From the star and directors of 2012’s dynamite The Intouchables comes this story of an immigrant man living in France who crosses paths with a burned out executive when the man is discovered to be an illegal alien. Omar Sy (Jurassic World) and Charlotte Gainsbourg don’t have that much chemistry but in a weird way it works for the oddball romance that develops over the course of the film. I never could get a real feel if the movie was a comedy, drama, or something in between…and neither could most of the people involved. Slightly recommended but only if the plot or stars appeal to you.
That almost did it for July…but there was still one weekend to go! Moving up several months from its planned December release, the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise had its brains in the right place but at times forgot to bring its brawn. I still prefer Ghost Protocol to Rogue Nation but as long as star Tom Cruise keeps making these films interesting I’ll keep accepting future missions. Here’s hoping he brings along Rebecca Ferguson again because finally there is a female that is every bit a match to Cruise’s daring agent.
I wasn’t sold at all when I heard that Warner Brothers was planning on remaking National Lampoon’s Vacation but as time went on I heard more that it was more of a sequel than a reboot (resequel?) and I started coming around to the idea of a new Vacation. I enjoyed Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as the hapless couple traveling cross-country with their children…but audiences and most critics didn’t. It wasn’t a great movie and was probably too crude to be part of your Vacation marathons…but I have to say the worst part about it was when original stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo showed up. Still, I’m hoping it made enough money to warrant a holiday themed sequel. In any event…it’s a damn sight better than European Vacation.
Wow – July didn’t skimp on variety, did it? Arguably the hottest month for releases, it carried over the promise of May and June and laid a path for August to do quite well…but could it top the three months that came before it?
Synopsis: A look at the sexual frustrations that young teenagers and adults face in today’s world.
Release Date: October 3, 2014
Thoughts: Earlier in 2014 Jason Reitman had what some consider his first real stumble with the coolly received Labor Day. I was one of the few that seemed to absolve it from its awkward assembly and languid pacing because it’s clear that Reitman is a filmmaker that knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants to say. With October’s Men, Women & Children, Reitman is taking a page from the American Beauty experience and digging under the perfect veneer of a suburbia and its inhabitants. With its tantalizing images played over a silky update of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, I get the feeling Men, Women & Children has the potential to truly put Reitman on the A list if handled correctly.
Synopsis: After a bad blind date, a man and woman find themselves stuck together at a resort for families, where their attraction grows as their respective kids benefit from the burgeoning relationship.
Stars: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Joel McHale, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kevin Nealon, Jessica Lowe, Terry Crews, Dan Patrick, Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lynd, Kyle Red Silverstein, Braxton Beckham
Review: Let me take you back to 1998 when Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler first teamed up for the retro fun of The Wedding Singer. Here was a movie that capitalized on the enormous appeal of Barrymore and the comedic shenanigans of Sandler that hit the right notes, poked fun at itself, and had the most excellent rapping granny that left the audience in stitches. Six years later, Barrymore and Sandler tried to recapture that chemistry in 50 First Dates, a pleasant but arguably lesser bauble for the duo that nonetheless brought Sandler ever so briefly back from the absurd films he was drifting into.
It’s 10 years later and while Barrymore (Cat’s Eye, Big Miracle) has matured in her film selections and even displayed some genuine strength in her performances, Sandler (Hotel Transylvania) has regressed even further. After years of delivering knuckle-dragging doofus roles I’m wondering if Sandler’s manager suggested re-teaming with Barrymore again as a way to hit the reset button on a career that was flagging. Barrymore, bless her heart, took the bait and the end result is Blended.
I’ll say that Blended started out with a curious promise of something better…so much so that I remarked to my theater companion that, though the film was uniquely dumb, I was actually enjoying it. Clearly the movie was going to end up in the “Pleasant” category on my Enjoyable Time at the Movies scale.
Then I guess the inevitable happened. Once the audience was fooled into thinking the movie wasn’t going to be the lame write-off we’ve come to expect from a Sandler film, that nice rug of laid back fun was yanked from under us and Blended became another obnoxious bore of a flick that isn’t worth your time or your second-thoughts.
One thing the trailers fail to inform you is that precious little time of the film is spent in the African setting that’s in most of the promotional materials, even the poster. In fact, you have to wait at least 45 minutes before Africa is even mentioned and by that time you may be diagramming your escape plan from the theater. There’s some business of Barrymore and Sandler being set-up on a date, one that goes horribly wrong at the local Hooters. Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera’s wafer-brained script miraculously has the two meeting again, all in service to the single parents being in the right place at the right time to hear about an unused vacation package in Africa purchased by the head of Dick’s Sporting Goods.
OK…if anyone can legitimately watch this film and tell me how middle class Sandler and Barrymore manage to find the funding to go on this trip I will write a song about you and sing it in a slow straight tone ala Carey Mulligan in Shame. Even more…how Dick’s employee Sandler manages to have the private number of the owner of Dick’s in his cell phone. Or why Barrymore’s co-worker (a so-so Wendi McLendon-Covey) who was dating Dick would put her in touch with a man that she just dumped. At that point, the movie completely lost me and it never recovered.
The conveniences continue when Sandler and his three girls and Barrymore and her two boys arrive at an African resort that looks straight out of Epcot Center. The suite the two blended families have to share, the indignities they all suffer, and the attractions they embark on are over the top and provide zero laughs along the way. It doesn’t help that all five children are the kind of home schooled straight out of acting class teeth gnashers either…
It’s hard to develop any sympathy for both children and adults in the film because they’re either incompetent dipsticks (like Kevin Nealon and Jessica Lowe) spouting the kind of giggly double entendres that went out of style when people stopped saying “righteous”, incorrigible snobs (Joel McHale, the very definition of autopilot) with lackluster line deliveries, or a mixture of both.
Director Frank Coraci (a frequent Sandler collaborator and director of The Wedding Singer) isn’t talented enough to hide the many weaknesses of the script or coax some semblance of authenticity from the performances. Someone also dropped the ball in telling the extras that not only should you not look into the camera, you shouldn’t stare into it for long stretches of time when the action takes place elsewhere.
Running a truly punishing 117 minutes, I’d expect any sane audience member will not only be able to predict the ending but will know the exact dialogue and setting where it’ll take place. Even after the credits begin to roll, Sandler and company aren’t through with us because anyone who is desperately trying to rouse their friends rendered comatose from lack of laughs will be subjected to Sandler and his real life children bleating their way through the kind of home spun song that you’d record in a Hallmark card to give on Mother’s Day. Truly awful.
The third time’s for sure not the charm where Barrymore and Sandler are concerned. At this point, Sandler should start paying us to come see his films, though I’d require compensation in advance. Barrymore, to her credit, remains ageless and shows flashes of the breezy carefree nature that has always made her a bright light…even if she’ll never be an award worthy actress. A definite pass and an early contender for worst of 2014, Blended throws its audience on the rocks.
Synopsis: After a bad blind date, a man and woman find themselves stuck together at a resort for families, where their attraction grows as their respective kids benefit from the burgeoning relationship.
Release Date: May 23, 2014
Thoughts: Wow…it’s hard to believe that it’s been sixteen years since Drew Barrymore (Big Miracle) and Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania) first worked together in the smash hit, The Wedding Singer! That 80’s set film was a pleasant retro flashback and succeeded because Barrymore was operating a peak charm and Sandler’s laid-back vibe had yet to be obliterated by a seemingly never-ending string of juvenile garbage films. After reuniting in 2004 for 50 First Dates, Barrymore and Sandler are joining forces again to see if lightning could strike for a third time. While Sandler’s films have miraculously made a boatload of money and Barrymore works consistently, neither has made a memorable film for ages…so could this pleasant (but very silly) looking comedy really work to their advantage? The Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci is back on board which could be a good thing…until you see he was also at the helm for dreadful efforts like Around the World in 80 Days, Zookeeper, and Sandler’s Click.
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Synopsis: After moving his family back to his hometown to be with his friends and their kids, Lenny finds out that between old bullies, new bullies, schizo bus drivers, drunk cops on skis, and 400 costumed party crashers sometimes crazy follows you.
Release Date: July 12, 2013
Thoughts: Grudgingly, I’ll admit that when I caught the original Grown Ups at a second-run movie theater I liked it more than I thought I would. A few years later, I’m confident that I’m over these types of lame-brained comedies from lame-brains Adam Sandler, David Spade, and director Dennis Dugan (other stars Kevin James and Chris Rock get a pass…for now). This summer releasing sequel looks like more of the same antics so chances are I’ll wait on this one to see if lightning can strike twice at the discount movie houses.
Review: While most of the adults get a steady stream of horror films each October, it’s a rare occurrence to get something with a scary slant made for the younger set. Obviously it can’t be too scary or the target audience will spend the rest of the year sleeping in bed with their parents, but it can’t be too goofy to keep parents away either. Hotel Transylvania strikes a nice balance in this regard, utilizing its spooky skeleton to provide the setting for a tale filled with charm and laughs.
The best thing about the movie is usually the worst thing about certain films…Adam Sandler. Sandler has the distinction of turning out some of the most odious films in the last few years and while they originally started out as box office hits, audiences are clearly tiring of his arrested development mouth breather characters and opting for different movie choices instead. It’s a wise move, then, that Sandler is returning to the animated field (after 2002’s dreadful 8 Crazy Nights) and bringing along a few select members of his troupe of goofballs.
Growing up, I was a huge fan of Scooby-Doo and their animated features. Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School was a nice mash-up of monster genres that were in line with the Universal Studios line of monster flicks and a few Abbot & Costello films. Working in a similar fashion, Hotel Transylvania brings together many of the famous monsters from the past without the usual wink-wink nudge-nudge exhausting bits. Creatures like the Frankenstein monster, the Werewolf, the Invisible Man, and the Mummy are just a few of the familiar frames you’ll come into contact with.
The film is equitable with time and provides enough interesting bits about these monsters so that the audiences can see they are just like the rest of us (kinda) with their own familiar familial troubles and self-doubting moments. It’s nothing revolutionary but it was nice to see a little more shine put on these characters than other films have attempted to do over the years. It’s certainly more character development than any Sandler film of the last 10 years.
Following a simple story of a parent reluctant to let their child grow up, Hotel Transylvania plays nice with its audience and overall theme of acceptance in the face of a challenge. It’s not hard to figure out how this one will end up, so even if you are simply awaiting the final outcome the film is smart enough to know that it needs to fill in the rest of the movie with enough comedy to hold your attention.
Admission to the film should come with a seat belt in addition to your 3D glasses. It hits the ground running at such a frantic, frenetic speed that your brain may be rolling before the first reel is over. It’s just gag after gag after gag after gag after gag….breather…then it starts all over again. That’s OK for select passages but couple that with some vivid computer animation and decent 3D work and it can become overwhelming very quick.
It’s a credit, then, that most of these yuk-filled super sequences land more jokes than they miss. The overgrown kid in me responded to the pace and the monster references while the adult liked the message about looking beyond the physical and into the heart of the matter. Parents can take their kids to this with confidence that while it may spook them a bit, it just as easily can spark good conversations on the drive home.
I’m not sure if saying this is the best Adam Sandler film in recent memory is saying anything but…well…I’ve said it. I think putting the animated actor Sandler into an animated film has solved the problem of his work as of late: he’s a cartoon anyway so actually making him one seems like a natural fit. His work and the voices of his close friends help make Hotel Transylvania a pleasant stay.