Uncut Gems

Release: Christmas Day 2019 

→Theater

Written by: Ronald Bronstein; Josh and Benny Safdie 

Directed by: Josh and Benny Safdie

If they have proven anything in their last two movies it’s that few filmmakers stress you out quite like the New York born-and-bred Safdie brothers. Uncut Gems is, in a word, intense. This is a very aggressive mood piece that puts you in the headspace of a man losing control — of his wares, his sanity, his life. Relentlessly paced and cacophonous at almost every turn, the provocative presentation tests your nerves from the opening frame to the very last.

Starring Adam Sandler in a rare dramatic turn, Uncut Gems is the sibling’s follow-up to their attention-getting Good Time (2017). Indeed, if you watched that movie and noted the irony of the title as you watched things go from bad to worse for Robert Pattinson, you’re better prepared for the gauntlet that comes next. Uncut Gems throws us into New York City’s Diamond District and up against walls as Howard Ratner, a high-end jeweler and compulsive gambler, frantically runs around trying to pay off old debts by incurring newer, bigger ones. He’s in deep with the mob, but he also must contend with a wife who hates him, a girlfriend on the side, a basketball player’s superstitions and a doctor with news about a certain body part. It’s probably never been great being Howard but he’s certainly seen better days.

As for the guy playing him? You’d have to go back to the start of the new millennium to find a time when there was this much love for “the Sandman.” He became a critical darling for his work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love (2002) and the praise is arguably even more deserved 17 years later; the 53-year-old is a hurricane force in Uncut Gems. He’s playing a version of characters that have made him a household name in silly comedies galore, but this is one perpetual screw-up whose failures are decidedly unfunny. Not even Barry Egan’s life was this messy. And Sandler really seems to be having fun looking ridiculous, blinged out head-to-toe and sporting extra-curly, extra-greasy hair and a set of fake pearly whites that really pulls the sleazy image together nicely. The wardrobe department helps him look the part, but it’s up to Sandler to walk the walk and talk the talk — and oh boy, does he “talk.”

The theft of a big chunk of stone from the Welo mine in Ethiopia sets the wheels in motion for one wild, turbulent ride. This stone contains pockets of rare opal and is what they call in the trade an uncut gem. Its very existence seems to inspire chaos as we watch crowds swarm around a miner who has just broken his leg in an attempt to extract it. Given the way the movie opens on a different continent, I feel like there’s meant to be some quasi-Blood Diamond commentary here on the real human cost of the gem trade, how first-world materialism is inextricably linked to the suffering and exploitation of the third world, but there’s not quite enough content here to support that wild theory. Ultimately the opening sequence is more effective at establishing aesthetics rather than ethics. There is a hyperactive quality that extends to the rest of the film, particularly in the way people interact, that never allows us to get comfortable. Characters yelling over each other will become an anxiety-inducing motif.

We shift from Africa circa 2010 to America two years later via a crafty (and kinda gross) opening title sequence married to the curious synths of Daniel Lopatin (a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never)’s explorative electronica. The New York captured in Uncut Gems is shaped by the Safdie brothers’ experiences growing up with a father who worked in the Diamond District and has a very specific energy that cinematographer Darius Khondji helps convey through his frenetic camerawork. As it is set in a part of town largely characterized by family-run business, the filmmakers restrict the cityscape to a claustrophobic network of small, private rooms where access is a privilege and often a source of frustration.

Howard’s gem store, a cozy little nook where the world’s creepiest Furby dolls reside, is one such hallowed space. Though we pass through the malfunctioning security vestibule without complication, we are immediately bombarded with Howard’s problems. It’s a particularly bad day today because his debt collectors have come calling. He owes a six-figure sum to a nasty loanshark named Arno (Eric Bogosian), who also happens to be his brother-in-law. He’s bad news enough, but his enforcer Phil (Keith Williams Richards) is the kind of guy whose phone calls and texts you avoid to the detriment of your face. Together these two make for some of the most memorable thugs in recent movie memory — arguably since Daniel Kaluuya went all bad-boy in Steve McQueen’sWidows.

Howard just may be able to save himself when he procures that precious infinity gem stone. He’s confident it will sell in the millions at auction. As we quickly learn his clients have deep pockets — he caters mostly to rappers and athletes, no small thanks to the hustle of his assistant Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) — so he just can’t help but show off the product to Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett, who expresses interest in purchasing it. After listening to Howard wax poetic about its mystical properties KG becomes convinced being in possession of the opal will elevate his game in the NBA Playoffs. To placate the seven-footer (who is actually very good playing himself), Howard agrees to loan him the rock for a night, taking his 2008 championship ring as collateral. He then deviates from his original plan by pawning the ring to place a large bet on the upcoming game. If there’s one thing Howard is more aware of than the danger he’s in it’s the opportunity to make a little profit.

The Safdies actually wrote this screenplay ten years ago, along with frequent collaborator Ronald Bronstein. They’ve created a deliberately circuitous narrative to reflect the sloppy manner in which Howard conducts his business, at the office and elsewhere. Nothing goes smoothly. There are so many intersecting dynamics and diversions and dead ends along the way it’s amazing we even have the time to see what his family life is like (spoiler: it ain’t pretty). His long-suffering wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) knows all about the affair he’s having with his assistant Julia (newcomer Julia Fox). She has agreed to wait until after Passover to divorce him but the way work keeps following Howard home — the little incident with the car trunk, for example — just may expedite that process. Meanwhile his kids don’t really fit into his busy schedule. Of course the neglected family dynamic is a familiar trope, but the Safdies — and particularly Menzel who is really fun to watch — creatively thread it through the narrative to give us a better understanding of how much Howard is truly losing here.

In the end, Uncut Gems offers a unique but pretty uncomfortable viewing experience. The truly nerve-wracking climax simulates the thrill of a gambler’s high. This confronting drama is a curiosity you admire more than you purely enjoy, though I personally did get a kick out of seeing sports radio personality Mike Francesa pop up in a cameo as one of Howard’s restaurateur friends, Gary — just one of several non-professional actors involved. Uncut Gems is a perfect reminder that being entertained can sometimes mean feeling like you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown for two straight hours.

“I’m not smiling inside.”

Recommendation: Like its protagonist, Uncut Gems is by and large caustic and unpleasant. Sandler acquits himself very well, playing a character you really can’t take your eyes off of even when you want to. Yet for a movie whose style is very in-your-face, it’s the abrasive dialogue that you may have a harder time getting out of your head. To put it magnanimously, the colorful language comes across as authentic New Yorkese. To be more honest: it is the single most compelling reason for me not to sit through this ordeal twice. Please understand this Recommendation section is not written on behalf of Common Sense Media — I’m not one to complain about swear words or someone who evaluates all movies for their Family Values appeal, but in Uncut Gems the f-bombs are excessive to the point of becoming a distraction. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 135 mins.

Quoted: “Come on KG! This is no different than that. This is me. Alright? I’m not an athlete, this is my way. This is how I win.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: IMP Awards; IMDb

Month in Review: August ’19

Well, whaddya know! The little rink-a-dink movie theater down the road from me has just re-opened, and to the tune of recliner seats, dine-in options and a totally revamped lobby that actually makes you feel like you’ve made a good decision with your money by having trotted out to the Pictures. Cinépolis Mansfield (the new voiceover-person-thingy insists it’s pronounced se-NAH-po-leese) isn’t exactly the Cinerama Dome but it was getting to the point where it was the adult equivalent of spending time in a McDonald’s Play Place. There was one theater I went into one time where they had an entire row of seats cordoned off with what appeared to be police tape — the scene of a crime, perhaps? — with every seat damaged in some way and in some cases broken completely. Not exactly good for business in this era where we are ever more basing our decisions on convenience.

Despite the quality of its first incarnation here in Mansfield, New Jersey, the company has a solid reputation. Cinépolis (in essence, “City of Cinema”) is Mexico’s largest theater chain, and to my great surprise, the fourth largest in the world. In 1994, after a series of rebranding efforts and expansions, Cinépolis opened its first multiplex theaters in Tijuana. And those VIP/luxury tickets you enjoy from your local theater chain, you can thank them for that — “Cinépolis VIP” considered a pioneer of the modern Luxury Cinema concept.

Of course it would have been REALLY cool if we had managed to secure the South Korean company CJ 4DPLEX for overhaul duty. If you haven’t heard of the 4Dx in-seat experience (and I hadn’t until recently, I’ll be honest), this is some pretty nifty technology that takes immersive cinema to a whole new level, incorporating gizmos such as vibration/motion coils, air/water jets and yes, even a scent emitter — with apparently up to 100 different odors at the ready, all coordinated of course with the rhythm of the movie. So really, if you’ve ever been to Disney World you have an idea of how this works.

Unfortunately we here in the greater Hackettstown area won’t be smelling any of Adam Sandler’s farts any time soon. Actually, you know what, I’m fine with the renovations as they are . . . However, Cinépolis hopes to be serving beverages to patrons who are of age. All we need now is for them to, ya know, acquire that liquor license. (Thanks for literally going down in flames, Ruby Tuesday!) Indeed, the renovations have made going out to watch movies on the big screen more enjoyable again, more enticing. I’m looking forward to new experiences, accompanied by the occasional adult beverage perhaps. Hopefully you’re along for the ride with me!

Now let’s see what, if anything, happened on Thomas J during the month of August.


New Posts

(proceeds to, ironically, produce exactly no reviews for theatrical releases. Whoops.)

Streaming: Paddleton


Bite Sized Reviews 

Murder Mystery · June 14, 2019 · Directed by Kyle Newacheck · I can’t be the only one who almost forgot they ever saw Murder Mystery. In case you had (or are smarter than I and just plan to avoid it), this is the one where Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston team up as a married couple — Nick and Audrey Spitz — caught up in a bit of circumstantial trick-fuckery when they take a much-delayed honeymoon trip to Europe, only to find themselves accused of murdering a billionaire they barely get to know on his yacht (and who is played by a part-winking, part-wincing Luke Evans). What unfolds is a half-hearted Agatha Christie yarn wherein the only true stakes are personal, between a dishonest detective (he’s just a cop, Little Nicky still hasn’t passed his detective exam) and his frustrated wife. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out where the twists are leading, or really who the real killers are. Murder Mystery is directed by some Joe Schmo who somehow manages to convince Sandler to tone down the Sandler-isms, but the direction overall is rather workmanlike. But hey, at least this isn’t The Do-Over. What was it that I said about that movie? Something about never doing another Adam Sandler movie again, I think? (2/5) 


Notable First Time Viewings

It was time to put aside my biases against the shark-jumping franchise that has become Mission: Impossible. The modern action movie (give or take a Fury Road here, a John Wick there) is becoming homogenous, one IP barely distinguishable from the other in that they each consistently and obligingly trot out the Big Three elements: a sexy cast, at least one sexy car and exotic locales. James Bond, Mission: Impossible, even the Fast & Furious franchise — it’s all starting to sound, feel and even look the same. That said, the M:I movies do have an ace up their sleeve in the form of Tom Cruise. We may have differing views on scientology but no one’s going to deny Cruise has a death-wish — doing not only his own stunts in every movie, but doing increasingly insane ones.

Here’s the cast ranking Cruise’s risk-taking.

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol OK. This was fun. The bit at the end there with Ethan Hunt spying on his estranged-but-not-by-choice wife is cheesy, but it’s all well taken. The team chemistry is a little different — we temporarily lose Ving Rhames but pick up Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton — but the action is what drives these movies. And what about that action? I rate the film’s signature Burj Khalifa sequence right up there with that green dress — pretty breathtaking.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation A noticeable step up in quality, both in the overall story and the marriage of insane action set pieces and quieter character-driven moments. The stakes are convincingly more dire, and we get some robust supporting characters to help give the film more weight, such as Alec Baldwin, who’s on top form playing a hard-ass CIA director, and Rebecca Ferguson, who shows up as a force to be reckoned with, stealing both Tom Cruise’s thunder and my palpitating heart. This movie was actually quite impressive, especially considering the fact I was consuming this big spectacle on a 55-inch screen rather than a three-story-tall one. Rogue Nation‘s even more of a James Bond globe-trotting affair, but the writing has improved in general, so really, what’s so wrong with a little familiarity, even a little déjà vu? I’m excited that this film’s director/writer, Christopher McQuarrie, returns in the following film.)

And speaking of which, up next (maybe tonight): Fall-out. (This is going to get crazy, isn’t it?)


Beer of the Month

Firestone Walker’s Luponic Distortion is a true thing of beauty. The base beer for this series remains the same (an India Pale Ale), but every year they mix up the hop blend to create a slightly different flavor profile. The label on this year’s batch claims hints of Pina colada, key lime and nectarine, but I’m sorry. All I taste is 100% pure marijuana. And I am 200% okay with that.


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: Tom Little; http://www.lehighvalleylive.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Month in Review: August ’17

To encourage a bit more variety in my blogging posts and to help distance this site from the one of old, I’m installing this monthly post where I summarize the previous month’s activity in a wraparound that will hopefully give people the chance to go back and find stuff they might have missed, as well as keep them apprised of any changes or news that happened that month.

First of all, I’d like to give an acknowledgement to the victims of the ridiculous storm that slammed not once but twice into the Texas-Louisiana coast over the last week, almost 12 years from the day since the costliest natural disaster in American history gutted New Orleans. The images coming out of Houston and the surrounding areas are going to be difficult to shake, harrowing reminders of our increasingly tenuous relationship with Mother Nature. Those images, like the ones below, only serve to heighten the urgency in documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth and its sequel, which was recently released into theaters this past month to a chorus of crickets.

On a lighter note, August offered an interesting collection of theater trips for me. I visited Dunkirk (twice, once with my dad), traveled to Berlin with Charlize Theron and to the Deep South with . . . Daniel Craig (?!). I rekindled my disdain for The Circle in a belated review, while inadvertently stumbling upon one of my favorites of the entire year in Brigsby Bear. Loved, loved, loved, loved that movie. So much so, I gave it only my third HIGH FIVE of the year.

August found me once again dodging my responsibilities to my 2017 Blindspot challenge. Apologies to those who may have been anticipating a review for I Love You Philip Morris. I will make it up to you this month with a look back at QT’s Reservoir Dogs. And yes, I did just say Reservoir Dogs is on my Blindspot list.

Don’t judge.


New Posts

New Releases: Dunkirk; Atomic Blonde; Logan Lucky; The Circle; Brigsby Bear

Movie News

I’ve been pretty impressed with the number of actors and Generally Famous Faces who have contributed their own money to victims of Hurricane/Tropical Depression Harvey. I can only hope the money will be put to good use.

A bittersweet farewell to acclaimed director Tobe Hooper, whose original Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired nightmares in everyone but me, apparently.

↓The Speculation Section It is early, yes, but Oscar buzz has returned and I for one am excited. Which movie is going to receive all the accolades, which ones are going to pull surprises and which ones are going to play the role of the unloved red-headed stepchild at the 90th Academy Awards next February? Christopher Nolan’s latest is among the most obvious of multi-Oscar heavyweights, though you also should not count out Wonder Woman or War for the Planet of the Apes either. It’s an unfair world and I know Brigsby Bear doesn’t have a shot in hell, but IMO it’s right up there as one of the year’s greatest treasures.

But what about those that we still don’t know anything about? What if I told you that not only was a movie starring Adam Sandler up for consideration this year, but that the star himself is as well? How hard would you laugh? (How much would I blame you?) The movie is called The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected) and will drop into theaters this October. Meanwhile, Guillermo del Toro apparently has something good cooking with his seriously cool-titled The Shape of Water, with early word pegging it as potentially the Pan’s Labyrinth director’s best work to date. Alexander Payne (Sideways; Nebraska) is due for a new release this season as well and he already has a lot of critics in his corner with Downsizing, a “social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself.” Honey, I just shrunk Matt Damon.

Blogging Updates 

Recent additions to my Netflix queue that you may see reviewed sometime in the near future*: What Happened to Monday?; The Number 23; To the Bone; Okja; Oklahoma City; The Discovery; The Most Hated Woman in America; Abattoir; Chasing Coral; The Wailing; Deidra and Laney Rob a Train. 

* To make things interesting, I’ll turn this over to you guys — of those titles, I’ll take and review the top three most popular choices. But this will only work if I get enough feedback. So don’t be shy! Weigh in with your thoughts about which Netflix flick I should tackle first, second and third!

Photo credits: http://www.pbs.org; http://www.time.com; http://www.nbcnews.com; http://www.abcnews.go.com 

The Do-Over

'The Do Over' movie poster

Release: Friday, May 27, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Kevin Barnett; Chris Pappas

Directed by: Steven Brill

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. They are terrible and unfunny. It’s only kind of funny if you think about Sandler using that pistol to put whatever’s left of his career out of its misery.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. There is zero acting in this movie. Cero. Nada.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. In this one, he (Max) and his friend (Charlie) fake their own deaths so they can escape their depressing current lives, for good. I wish Adam Sandler and David Spade faked their own deaths and they’d go be something different somewhere else.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. Paula Patton is seriously incredible looking in this movie though. Oh, that was a weird type-o. That was supposed to say something about how badly this film failed the Bechdel Test.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. Can I take the last hour and forty-whatever-minutes, and have a Do-Over? For the love of god man.

doovercb1

Recommendation: You know what? It’s really painful to watch talent just go completely to Justin Bieber-levels of waste. If Adam Sandler doesn’t want to try, I’m not going to either.

Rated: NR

Running Time: way too long

Quoted: “What was so terrible about your life that you wanted a whole new one?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.joblo.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: 50 First Dates (2004)

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Tragically, yet another Drew Sandler-Adam Barrymore film is debuting this coming weekend — I don’t know, something called Blended, and to help celebrate this simply FABULOUS event. . . . (he says, with the entire jar of sarcasm spilled out all over the table). . . I am throwing it back to 2004, to a time when the two were reunited for their second go-around in a rom-com (bonus points go to the commenter with the other film they are in). This movie I do have to admit to enjoying on some level roughly approaching loving. I know, I know. I know what this means. Well, I don’t know, actually. . .because I have assumed my little laminated Film Critic Card was revoked the day I started this theme for TBT! So I basically have no apologies at this point. I’ll just come right out and say it. One of my guilty pleasure films is definitely

Today’s food for thought: 50 First Dates

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

Release: February 13, 2004

[DVD]

Adam Sandler has gotten into this very nasty habit of recycling his old friends in his movies. It’s almost as if a phone call is made to each and every one of them — including the Rob Schneiders, the Kevin Nealons, the Allen Coverts — within days of their latest outing being released to international audiences. The phone call probably goes a little something like:

“Hey, you assholes wanna go do that again? Aright, sick! Just come up with another cool, exotic location and we’ll do it; I’ll stuff my egg-shaped head in my private jet and pick ya’ll up on my way. By the way, you’ve still got that really funny-looking penis, right? Okay, alright. Awesome. We’re going to rely on that as our running gag for this next movie. Shut up. It’ll work. Trust me.”

Quite frankly I’d be excited to be receiving that phone call if I were any of those names just mentioned. The one thing about working with a guy like Adam Sandler is you really can’t complain about the job security. He’ll keep you in business, but unfortunately and in no small way ironically, that would be to your career’s detriment in all likelihood.  He’s comfortable magnetizing the same names again and again because that’s exactly what it is: comfortable. While that’s a strategy not likely to benefit Sandler’s acting range, it’s one that has actually produced the odd one or two little charmers.

50 First Dates was a good example of a final product reaping modest benefits of Sandler’s almost defiant conditions of labor. The cast is one that catches sparks, though it never catches fire; and while the contents aren’t anything a Monday-through-Friday Adam Sandler hater would ever bat an eyelid at, it’s with a great sense of relativism when I say you could do a lot worse than when Henry met Lucy.

Henry Roth, the man apparently no woman can resist (what a joke that is!) had stumbled across someone who he considered the woman of his dreams in the totally, amazingly, ridiculously, stupendously romantic locale of Hawaii. One morning while grabbing breakfast at a local diner on one of the main islands, Henry spotted a cute blonde girl sitting alone, and decided to approach her. An employee at the diner cautioned him, informing him she suffered from chronic short-term memory loss following a terrible car accident years back. Henry found himself too smitten to listen, though, and proceeded to do everything in his power to help Lucy remember who he was. The resultant pursuit of love wound up far more interesting than it had any right to be, even as all the jokes still appeared to attend the same old Sandler school of the scatological.

Life lessons are, naturally, in abundance in Adam Sandler flicks. Let’s see all the ways in which I can twist the plot of this one into suiting my blog’s own selfish needs, shall we:

  1. 20131226_133305

    Life’s full of tough choices. If it comes down to playing a trick on a really fat, heavily-tattooed bartender, or playing one on an innocent, sweet little girl with memory loss, pick which one will make you the lesser asshole of the two.

  2. MV5BMjAxNzI2MDA4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDExMzE3._V1_SX640_SY720_

    Variety is the spice of life. Tired of the bar scene as a place to pick up girls? Try faking a breakdown, with only a cute little penguin as your road buddy, as an attempt to flirt with potential female passers-by. If this doesn’t work, you could always fake your own kidnapping by hogtying yourself up in the back of your truck. That might be overreaching, though. . .

  3. 1677474,YLP7zQLz6ZSLuWzmze0PW+cnYRhdXbprbGh7njsvg0iMHY6n9UFdx_F1sfhwcUnP_6c6uuIOt37+Um3E6fWHFg==

    Is today a shirtless day? Or is it a mesh-shirt day? Sometimes it’s f**king impossible to make the decision. Life really is difficult sometimes. Especially if you live in Hawaii.

  4. 166614-210970-504png-620x

    Hey man, if aquariums make you super-horny, then aquariums make you super-horny. Often, life requires no further explanation or conditions other than what’s obvious. Some people are just touched in the head.

  5. MCDFIFI CO041

    Life demands you ingest the advice of your elders. With time comes experience, so if you have the legendary Dan Aykroyd in your face telling you your movie needs more ghosts to be busted in it, then by god you should listen. Too bad the advice here falls on deaf ears. . . .

3-0Recommendation: 50 First Dates narrowly avoids being lumped in with the rest of Sandler’s monotonous schlub-fests as it pays attention to something fairly important: chemistry between it’s two leads. Of course, this particular film banks on the fact that Sandler and Barrymore have that already established. Even still, it remains routinely funny, occasionally vulgar and always cliched and predictable viewing that offends the palate far less often than many other Sandler offerings. 50 First Dates is a film with a beguiling charm, if only because it relies on the strength of two actors who have done the very same thing years before.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes I wish my wife had Goldfield Syndrome. That way she wouldn’t remember last night when I called her mother a loud, obnoxious drunk with a face like J. Edgar Hoover’s ass. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: google images 

TBT: Big Daddy (1999)

new-tbt-logo

May is moving on with or without me, and now that I’ve committed to doing Adam Sandler movies this month, I kind of can’t wait for it to be over so I don’t have to be responsible for these posts anymore. I already know several people who question me. I want to make it up to them. I can maybe make them some real shortbread pie or something, and maybe send it to them? Eric, how expensive was shipping and handling on your Shitfest trophies??? Anyway, yes, indeed the month and the theme continues onward, to my third favorite of his old little shitty-ography.  

Today’s food for thought: Big Daddy

big-daddy-movie-poster

Release: June 25, 1999

[DVD]

Big Daddy marks the third of a triumvirate of decent Sandler comedies from the mid-to-late ’90s that, while earning a certain reputation through the collective opinion of mainstream critics, managed to garner a significant fanbase for Sandler. This film is the last one he would do before starting up his own production company, Happy Madison Productions. Yes, that ever-reliable entity we can all thank for churning out garbage on a very frequent basis starring Adam Sandler and friends hogging a camera in a backyard for 90 minutes at a time.

This film is — surprise, surprise — not a far cry from its scatological cousins, Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison (not to mention a smattering of other, lesser offensive outings later on down the pike) who enjoyed making fun of the elderly, the homeless, the funny-looking. . .and women. The whole goal of being in an Adam Sandler movie was that you can act like a dick and get paid. This is my underlying theory of how they are able to keep cranking out true stinkers one after another in today’s market, anyway. It makes a lot of sense. Movies can be made quickly and cheaply when there is a 10-page script, most of the pages of which contain 80% choice language and made-up words.

The Big Daddy iteration of Sandler’s shtick concerns a 32-year-old unmotivated tollbooth operator finding himself in a limbo between growing up and facing being alone because of his stubborn ways. All around him his friends are getting ahead in life by proposing to long-time girlfriends and getting relocated to China for positions in law firms. Sonny himself has a law degree but hasn’t found the will to study and pass the bar exam and get his act fully together. However, an opportunity to do so presents itself when young Julian (played by twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse) appears on his trodden doorstep.

While Sonny’s initially reluctant to take on any more responsibility than the current crap-ton that he has, he finds himself becoming close with Julian and even enjoys acting like a role model for the kid, even if at times he’s a questionable one. Unfortunately it is later discovered by a Social Services worker that Julian was meant to be in the care of his biological father, Sonny’s roommate and friend and that Sonny’s extensive caretaking has been a complete circumvention of the law. He faces kidnapping and fraud charges.

I’m sure there are a few life lessons to be found somewhere in this comedy, let’s see what we can find, shall we:

  1. bigd25

    You should learn to smile more, for you have Jon Stewart for a father. Granted, there was that little issue of him jetting off to China for years to become a successful lawyer while never knowing you existed, but these things happen. You must learn that not even Jon Stewart is perfect.

  2. fhd999BDD_Kristy_Swanson_009

    Life is all about experience. I’ll just leave it at that.

  3. ijYwM2_large

    “The Birds and the Bees” discussion can never be held too early. Of course, this conversation can go into greater detail if put off until later. Then again, if you put this off til too much later, . . ah crap. That’s a real catch-22.

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    Life requires you be patient. Not everything will fall completely into place at first. But you might find things coming together a bit quicker if you upgrade your vocabulary beyond that of a fifth grader. Don’t worry, though. No one in the real world actually judges you if you can’t spell ‘hippopotamus.’

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    Birthday parties are life’s little way of showing you a progress bar on the side of your Life Screen. Where you hold your parties, who hosts them for you and who attends them says a lot about who, what and where you are in your own life. Go on, enjoy it. Even if it’s at a strip joint. Or excuse me, a Hooters.

3-0Recommendation: Big Daddy is  . . .well, it’s Big Daddy. It’s neither the finest of Sandler’s offerings (a relative term for many people, this I do understand) but it’s far removed from the worst of his current drivel. Sandwiched comfortably among Sandler’s more memorable outings, this story benefits greatly from strong chemistry between it’s foul-mouthed lead and a pair of charming little twins who this reviewer still cannot tell apart. It falls into the same grooves as all Sandler’s creations do but manages to remain an enjoyable and surprisingly heartwarming raunch-fest that naturally belongs in the discussion of the man’s better contributions to the comedy of the 90s.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Fish! Pony! Hip, hip hop, hip hop anonymous? Damn you! You gave him the easy ones.”

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Photo credits: google images

TBT: Billy Madison (1995)

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As I watch my viewership for this feature steadily decline this month, I fearlessly and somewhat defiantly plod onwards with the Adam Sandler theme for May. So, yes. It’s basically more of the same silliness this week. Same guy. Same copious amounts of bullshitting around in front of a camera (and getting paid for it). Same review format. We’re. . .or rather, I am going to extract five more profound life lessons from the noble, the poetic, the damn-near Confuscian writings of Sandler. Prepare yourselves for another day of enlightenment here on TBT

Today’s food for thought: Billy Madison

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Release: February 10, 1995

[DVD]

Just in case you are wondering: no, I will not make out with you.

You need to get that out of your head right now. We live in a society with rules for a reason. One does not simply go around making out with everyone they see in sight; that’s just not. . . you know, that’s just not how it works. Unfortunately, the entire planet can’t operate like one collective Hedonistic resort like Sandler’s Billy Madison thinks it might. At least, this would best explain his actions after he awkwardly put one of his female classmates on the spot by loudly declaring to the rest of the science lab that he wouldn’t demonstrate public displays of affection during class. A female classmate that’s about half his age. A female classmate that doesn’t want a thing to do with him.

I suppose that’s understandable. He was, after all, a spoilt-rotten child stuck in a grown man’s body, this Billy Madison guy. And when it comes to intelligence, he’s not entirely with the program. Although, he did enroll in “a program” of sorts, as part of a deal with his father. In order for Billy to have any shot at all of his father handing the reigns of his Fortune 500 company, Madison Hotels, over to him, Billy must return to school — early grade school, that is — and complete his education all the way through to senior year in high school to prove that he was competent enough to manage the hotel chain. Mr. Madison (Darren McGavin) admitted to Billy that he had to bribe all of his teachers to allow him to ‘pass’ when he was going through school for the first time. Thus, the ridiculously un-adjusted manchild played by a young and unruly Adam Sandler.

The challenge also meant having to de-throne the current successor to his father, a sniveling weasel named Eric Gordon (Bradley Whitford) in a climactic battle of wits in a winner-take-all final competition, yet another quasi-condition of Billy’s graduation process. Given how Eric hated Billy with a passion, and that he also had a deep-seated dislike of the owner of the company himself, the day would prove to be quite the hurdle. Other obstacles presented themselves conveniently for Billy as he found himself struggling to catch up on everything he didn’t learn before, including learning how to. . . .love? Indeed, Miss Veronica Vaughn would become the apple of his pervy eye as Billy spent the allotted two weeks in the third grade before moving up in the world.

The film will never do anything to sway opinion for those who are firmly anti-Sandler, but the Billy Madison-Veronica Vaughn relationship turned out to be one of his better concoctions. There wasn’t much difference in physical size between the two nor was the age gap that drastic, yet Billy remained this incredibly small person for most of the film because of his profound social stifling growing up as daddy’s boy in the big mansion.

Life’s rough when you’re Billy Madison, so here are a few tips to keep a level head:

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    On a number of occasions, life is gonna try and sell ya some bullshit. It’ll be up to you to decide for yourself what to believe, and most of the time it won’t be easy. But here’s a clue: if the stories you’re hearing are coming from a bus driver with some epic mutton chops, best just to discard whatever he’s telling you. Even if it sounds great.

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    Life is short. Don’t fritter it away by dropping out of classes and all that supposed ‘hip shit’ kids are doing these days. Stay in school. Indeed, stay as long as you can. . . . (Also, don’t be the kid taking advice from a man-child sporting a jean-jacket and repeating the third grade.)

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    Life often can feel like a dream. Sometimes it helps to reach out to someone and question whether what you’re experiencing is too good to be true, or if it is really happening.

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    Karma. It has a GPS and it will find you one day. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do to just. . . forgive someone. . .

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    Don’t lie to yourself. That day WILL come. Be prepared for it, for it will take your all not to turn around and completely beat the shit out of the guys behind you who are already betting against a happy and healthy future for you. There’s no time to pay attention to these fools. Trust in yourself and those who have supported you.

3-0Recommendation: Billy Madison ranks up there among Sandler’s better films in his young career. It fits into what I consider the trio of Adam Sandler “classics” (to abuse the term): this, along with Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy. These three films don’t distinguish themselves a great deal from one another in terms of their style of comedy, but the key thing to note about them is that they were all actually funny. Recycled plot lines and jokes in today’s Sandler schtick run rampant, with no signs of the pandemic slowing down at all any time soon. Between his insanely immature Billy and the breathtaking Bridgette Wilson as Veronica Vaughn (not to mention a classic cameo from an always-welcomed Chris Farley), Sandler’s 1995 effort remains a favorite for many. This guy included.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

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Photo credits: http://www.nerdfitness.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Happy Gilmore (1996)

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Well, clearly this month is going to go one of two ways for my loyal TBT readers — May is a month officially dedicated to the trashy, juvenile and downright offensive antics of one Adam Sandler. While I’m of the camp that actually doesn’t completely hate his guts yet, his insistence on recycling the same group of jerk-off friends and characters in films is a tactic that’s clearly established an alarming rate of diminishing returns. It’s not the slump itself that makes me lose respect for the guy so much as it’s his indifference to being in a slump. He’s acting as if he’s already entered his twilight years, which very well may be the case now, given future productions requesting his services don’t appear to be trying anything different. The funny Adam may as well be in retirement. Nonetheless, there was a time when I truly enjoyed what he brought to the big screen. Sure, he never was a contender for any award outside of a Golden Raspberry, and his routine has always revolved around foul language and debasing himself in a variety of ways, but these are things that I’ve never personally had a problem with laughing my fool head off at. The good old days have long since passed, but I still get a bit of nostalgia looking back on them. 

Today’s food for thought: Happy Gilmore

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Release: February 16, 1996

[DVD]

I’m sure to many Happy Gilmore will always be Adam Sandler. Wait, shit. Strike that, and reverse it.

It’s the role that competes with maybe only one other — his insanely childish Billy Madison from the year before — as being THE character I would frequently and mistakenly associate with Sandler’s real-life persona. (Maybe it really is similar.) There was something natural and believable about Sandler’s on-screen energy. This was also my first impression of the guy, so I had nothing to compare it to then. I was a sixth-grader in New York at the time when I first watched Sandler throw his temper tantrums out on the 18th green; when I witnessed golf clubs flying through the air with uncommon grace; when I first realized that, holy crap — some women really can rock short hair.

This was the story of everyone’s favorite hockey player-turned-golfer who switched sports out of necessity to keep his sweet old grandma in her home and out of the wretched old-people facility she was forced into by the government. An emotional person, Happy got tossed from his hockey team after getting into a fight with virtually everyone on it, and only became further enraged learning of his grandma’s situation. When his aptitude for golf was subsequently discovered by a former pro named Chubbs (Carl Weathers), who now spends his days maintaining a shoddy driving range, Happy’s quick to dismiss the idea and conveniently tried to prevent the rest of the film’s beyond-inevitable developments.

Speaking of inevitable: I think the time has come once again for the review format to change here. This showcase of Adam Sandler’s profound talents deserves a different treatment, seeing as it’s a true testament to classic cinema, and adds further proof that, indeed, “all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” (I hope to God that at least someone has picked up on the mounting sarcasm here. . .)

Instead what I’m going to do is list five life lessons you can learn through the film’s butchering of the sport of golf. Without further ado, let’s tee off, shall we:

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    Life requires thick skin, so learn how to thicken it. Try taking 100-mile-an-hour golf balls straight to the chest every day for ten minutes, and see how quickly you man up. If this doesn’t prove quick enough, maybe try taking them to the forehead.

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    Life’s going to force you to make some tough choices. For the love of God and all that is holy, please, make the responsible one(s).

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    The world isn’t an awfully logical place. It helps to be able to think rationally every now and again. When you feel like you aren’t, all you need to do is visit your happy place. Everyone has one.

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    Life is going to kick, knock or trample you down. But no matter how you fall, it’s how you respond to that goddamn game-show host who’s all up in your grill that counts. So make it.

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    Above all, observe the Golden Rule. Yes, doing unto others as you would have others do unto you does apply to inanimate objects. Don’t be ignorant.

There we have it, a very hastily-compiled list of five profound take-aways from one of Sandler’s unquestionably stronger films. Happy Gilmore may not offer much in the way of genuine advice or even much of an inspiring story, but the film was a great deal of fun, and it excelled in generating fond memories. In particular, Ben Stiller’s cameo as the world’s worst orderly and the gigantic Richard Kiel (playing Gilmore’s construction boss, Mr. Larson) only seemed to get better with age. Adam may be broken now and in disrepair, but once upon a time he really worked well.

Now — on to the next phase! Tune in next week folks. Or don’t. Because it’s going to be Adam Sandler all month long. 😀

3-0Recommendation: Happy Gilmore stands out among Sandler’s filmography since it remained in an era that was more or less free from the symptoms that plague his films of today: it can’t exactly be called original, but it featured rip-roaring humor, a touching story (who doesn’t root for grannie, come on) and a hilarious foil in Christopher McDonald’s Shooter McGavin (what a great name, by the way) — three elements that eventually will come to be recycled to death in his later offerings. All that said, this film does nothing to sway the opinion of anyone on the other side of the fence. Of course, all of this is pretty obvious. . .do I need to actually recommend this one?

Rated: R (for really really really ridiculous)

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “You can trouble me for a warm glass of shut the hell up! Now you will go to sleep, or I will put you to sleep. Check the name tag; you’re in my world now grandma!”

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Photo credits: google images 

TBT: Anger Management (2003)

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Even though today’s entry is indeed an Adam Sandler picture, this one retains a little bit of value. At least with me it does. Until I am being overthrown by another writer on this blog, Sandler has a decent chance of me actually sticking up for his antics. . . just this one time. Whatever it is about this match-up, it works, and works well; though what comes out of this film is nothing unusual and nothing that wouldn’t sway opinion necessarily of the guy one way or another either, but somewhere in here there’s gold and it also qualifies as being ‘feel-good.’ 

Today’s food for thought: Anger Management

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Release: April 11, 2003

[DVD]

In this episode, Sandler gets tasered by an overzealous airline marshall, gets his ass kicked by a Buddhist monk, and finds out that his really cute girlfriend might have eyes for someone else. If this sounds to you like every other Sandler comedy ever made, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Thanks to Anger Management‘s casting director this film gets infinitely more interesting because of the pairing of another angry Sandler with an equally off-the-handle Jack Nicholson, as they star in this somewhat memorable comedy as Dave Buznik and Dr. Buddy Rydell, respectively.

After getting into a tussle with a flight attendant, Dave finds himself court-ordered to undergo several weeks of anger management/therapy. It is there that he runs across Dr. Rydell again — it’s the same man he sat with on the plane (who may or may not have started all of this). Making the mistake of assuming this guy is on his side leads Dave to think the therapy session will not only be easy to get through, but ultimately something he won’t have to endure. Unfortunately, things don’t go well during his first session and his temperament is revealed to everyone quickly. This is when Rydell recommends that the number of sessions should be doubled.

Under Rydell’s supervision, Dave finds his life becoming more and more oppressive. First he’s forced to partner up with the insufferable Chuck (John Turturro) and participate in some kind of demented buddy-system, wherein each person is meant to be able to vent frustration to someone outside of the class. Lucky for Dave, he’s been saddled with the worst of the worst. The two prove to be trainwreck waiting to happen, and indeed Dave snaps again at a bar, forcing Judge Daniels (Lynne Thigpen)’s gavel yet again. She demands that Mr. Buznik undergo intensified, round-the-clock therapy which would required Dr. Rydell to move in with him and completely overhaul his life.

As the movie goes on, Rydell steps up the ridiculousness with each of his lessons, requiring Dave to stop everything and anything that might trigger anger and even make audio notes of any progress he’s making. Apparently part of the treatment will also involve getting felt up by Woody Harrelson-as-transvestite:

Eventually Dave finds himself unable to tolerate the seeming injustices that are being done to him, as he doesn’t consider himself to be THAT angry of a person. He reaches his breaking point when Buddy suggests that Dave and his girlfriend (Marissa Tomei) take a break for awhile.

Anger Management is by no means a brilliant movie, but it suffices as a decent buddy-comedy that takes Sandler and Nicholson to some pretty funny places. It’s minor work for Jack, that’s for sure, but interestingly enough, Sandler becomes much more watchable when the two begin to really bump heads late in the film (literally and figuratively). Nicholson is clearly having a nice time collecting a paycheck and making up words like “gooze-frabba” and spouting out silly one-liners that seem to only enrage Sandler’s character.

The interplay between the two leads, along with some highlights from John C. Reilly, Harrelson, and Heather Graham works well enough to carry this film for an hour and forty-five minutes.

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3-5Recommendation: This won’t change the minds of anyone who’s already opposed to Adam Sandler’s school of comedy but at the same time, it’s not like this is Sandler at his most obnoxious, either. (We might leave that distinction up for grabs among his more dismal failures Jack & Jill, Zohan and That’s My Boy.) However, if you do buy into the fact that Sandler just likes to have a good time on-set — this must have been a real treat for him getting to work alongside a legend like Jack — and make movies about the good times he and his Hollywood friends share, Anger Management is a good one to pick up and talk over for half the time. Sometimes films are best watched half-heartedly.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: The Waterboy (1998)

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To round up August TBTs I really would like to review a football movie in light of the upcoming season that has somehow invited itself upon our doorstep. Yes, the end of August, for me anyway, is quite exciting for reasons beyond upcoming movie releases. This weekend, my Tennessee Vols (Shout Out!) #GBO #YOVO (“You’re Only a Vol Once”) shall play their season opener, wherein we will probably be whooping some ass, seeing as though the first game is always a one-sided affair to give the host an extra boost of confidence and maximize the crowd’s enjoyment to kick things off. So, with the beginning of the fall sports season occupying about as much space in my mind from here on out as the movies will be, I figured this would be a good theme for this week. Of course, this particular film selection is sillier than all Hell, but it still qualifies for one of my more memorable football/sports films to date. And, in a way, this will be a throwback to the glory days of Adam Sandler’s career, before he became (or tried to become) more serious, more mature and clearly, less creative. R.I.P. Good Adam Sandler. 

Today’s food for thought: The Waterboy.

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Release: November 6, 1998

[VHS]

Bobby Boucher (Sandler) may not have much going on inside his head, but he does serve one very important purpose, and my, how passionate he is about that purpose: providing his football team the necessary water they need to stay hydrated. Getting constantly heckled and made fun of doesn’t really bother Bobby much (at least he doesn’t show it at first), and it sure doesn’t bother head coach Red Beaulieu (Jerry Reed) until one day he decides to make an example out of Bobby and unceremoniously relieve him of his duties at the fictionalized University of Louisiana, citing him as “a distraction to his players.”

When Bobby is then picked up later as a waterboy for an in-state rival team, the South Central Louisiana State University Mud Dogs, the head coach, Coach Klein (played by none other than “The Fonz”) notices the new-hire to harbor a particular talent that could be more useful on the field than off of it. He soon convinces Bobby to start playing for his team, seeing in him a potential for getting his coaching mojo back since his genius playbook was stolen by his sworn enemy, Beaulieu some years back.

Klein discovers an incredible tackler in Bobby Boucher, the awkward albeit friendly simpleton who has been sheltered all his life by his overbearing mother (Kathy Bates). Klein encourages the kid to take out his frustrations on the field, and channel all that energy into being the best tackler he can be. And because Henry Winkler is. . . .well, Henry Winkler, a really strong and memorably bond is formed between this coach who’s lately been unsure of his coaching skills and the newest member of the team.

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“Hmm….how to take down an entire offensive line of Fonz’s. . . ?”

Of course, this is an Adam Sandler flick. An early one, but still a Sandler flick. That means this film is more formulaic than Baby Gerber’s. Bobby gets booted from one team only to join another, finds a special talent, hones it while at the same time proving to his teammates he belongs after they initially reject him, and he goes on to become the team’s hero. Why, of course this movie is going to be unrelentingly dumb. It’s going to be predictable from the beginning. Yet, the core of the entertainment usually lies within Sandler’s colorful characters, and his Bobby Boucher is no exception. He’s a special kind of Southerner, one with a small brain but a big heart. And all the while he’s poking fun of the over-juiced jock/football player. You can’t exactly call this genius work, but there’s no way you can deny him the creative bit.

Another Sandler custom is that one can always be sure to be introduced to a few similarly-ridiculous characters that somehow make Sandler’s character more likely to fit in, if given the right moment. Case in point, there’s the usual cast of friends to work beside Sandler and provide for him the typical goofy, puerile atmosphere. He enlisted the help of Jonathan Loughran (Sandler’s personal assistant on every set); Peter Dante; Allen Covert; Rob Schneider; and some others to bring that familiar Sandler circus to the sidelines. As is also customary in a Sandler flick, there’s likely to be a few stand-out cameos as well. This time, he convinced sports commentators Jimmy Johnson, Brent Musberger, and Dan Patrick to get in on the action and they apparently seem to embrace his school of humor as they each deliver one-liners that are more often than not hilarious.

Sandler does make it easy to rail against his films, but The Waterboy will forever be one of his best efforts. It is unapologetically stupid and impressively redneck, yes that’s true. But it is a fan-boatload of fun. How can anyone hate someone who commutes to and from his job via lawn mower? This is a guy who makes John Deere look like a legitimate lifestyle! As the water boy slowly makes a name for himself, he finds a girl to stand beside him (Vicki Vallencourt — this movie features some classy names, by the way), and eventually the entire community that is South Central Louisiana has the water boy’s back as he takes the team to a title game against the dreaded Beaulieu and the Cougars. Again, it’s the rise to fame that you’ve seen depicted a million zillion times before, but nonetheless it’s about as endearing as Sandler has or ever will be.

How the times have changed.

3-0Recommendation: Any fan of Sandler’s has already bought a copy of this and has watched it to death. If you haven’t already seen this you’re likely to never get to it, which is quite alright. It would seem the ‘Recommendation’ section has never felt more redundant. The movie features Adam Sandler at his most idiotic, but hey — I’ll take this over his recent fumbling attempts to be more family-oriented. (How Grown Ups is meant to portray adult life in the mind of Adam Sandler is beyond me.) In my eyes, you don’t really get much more vintage Sandler than The Waterboy. Filled with stupidity, the movie is also somewhat sweet; plus, it makes a redneck bon mot out of the sport of football, making the SEC look even better than it already is. And, of course, in the spirit of the season, LET’S GO VOLS!!!!

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 90 mins.

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