Tagged: Adam Sandler

Box Office Democracy: Hotel Transylvania 2

Hotel Transylvania 2 is so much better than Pixels and it’s hard to figure out exactly why. The material isn’t substantially better, it still feels like the scripts are written by an elementary school joke book come to life— although maybe for Hotel Transylvania the living book has to turn in a couple more drafts. The animated medium might open up for a few more ambitious sight gags but it isn’t like Pixels was stingy with the effects shots. Perhaps it’s that with live actors you can see how little effort they’re putting in and how much they’d rather be doing something else, and an animated character looks more engaged even if none of the voice acting is particularly ambitious. It could just be that an engaged Genndy Tartakovsky is far and away better than a Chris Columbus just out for a paycheck. Something makes this movie sparkle while Sandler’s other latter day efforts are tarnished husks.

While almost certainly not intentional, Sandler and Robert Smigel have written an oddly poignant film about Jewish assimilation in the United States. Adam Sandler’s Dracula has always sounded a little more like an old Jewish man than a Romanian count and for this installment they’ve cast Mel Brooks, who’s been the prototypical old Jewish man for almost 50 years, as his father Vlad, but his daughter, Mavis, is played by Selena Gomez who is doing no stereotypical Jewish inflection on her voice at all. Dracula and Vlad are concerned that by marrying a human and having a potentially human baby that their family is losing the connection with their monstrous roots in much the same way the last few generations of American Jews have seen their community disperse out in to the larger gentile world. This is compounded by the rest of the monsters who live in and around the hotel have also largely given up on their traditional monster ways learning to get along with humans as the world now demands. The end hits a little hollow on this front as Dracula never has to come to a firm opinion on the modern or the traditional as the movie invents a synthesis for him but it’s better than I was expecting to be quite honest. Again, I’m quite sure almost none of this subtext is intentional and that this is really just supposed to be a couple degrees of separation from rehashing The Jazz Singer but it’s interesting to think about especially when you consider the script comes from two people who have made careers out of occupying different Jewish staple characters to various degrees.

Otherwise, this is a slightly above average comedy. I laughed often enough, and because it’s an Adam Sandler movie some of those jokes might have been a little easy or a little corny but this is a nitpick from a comedy snob and should not really hold anyone back. I enjoy Tartakovsky’s work immensely and he’s made a visually arresting movie yet again and some of the best bits in the film are sight gags that I choose to believe are mostly his work. Blobby is one of the funniest characters in the film and has no lines just a steady stream of good physical humor.

This is a movie for young kids and, honestly, I probably aged out of the Adam Sandler demographic 15 years ago, but unlike some of his other efforts the Hotel Transylvania movies feel like they’re willing to try and keep me engaged. The showing I went to was crowded with young kids who seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, laughing at all the right moments and quietly paying attention most of the rest of the time. I had a good time too, I was laughing and while perhaps I spent a little too much time figuring out if there was a deeper message about 20th century immigrant communities but this has all of the positive qualities of the best kids movies I’ve reviewed, a solid sequel, and maybe even the basis of a successful franchise.

Box Office Democracy: Pixels

I remember rather clearly the first time I saw the trailer for Pixels. It has a cool introduction about sending examples of 1982 culture in to space and then it quickly moves on to some quick shots of the attack and then the coup de grace of the giant Pac-Man crashing through midtown Manhattan eating a fire truck. For the first minute of the trailer it looked like a movie I would like and then they revealed that Adam Sandler was the star of the movie and all of my interest vanished. I know the kind of movies Adam Sandler makes and they aren’t clever or original, they’re outdated and formulaic. This wouldn’t be a fun deconstruction of old arcade games like Wreck-It Ralph or even a fun action movie like The Last Starfighter. The best-case scenario for Pixels was as the home of a spectacular fart joke. It wasn’t.

There’s nothing in Pixels that feels substantial enough to criticize. The plot is a mess and full of contradictions starting with the premise that aliens recreated video games down to glitches in the 1982 code of Galaga (a crucial plot point for Sandler to prove his credentials early in the film) from a video tape of children playing the game. The aliens communicate through the images of 80s pop culture icons and it’s a nice device, one of the only things that feel that way in the whole film, but other than some exposition thrown in the third act we never learn anything about this menace other than they attack using video games. The movie pretends to venerate this bygone era of arcade gaming but then makes choices that anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the subject matter knows are complete bunk like cheat codes in Pac-Man or Q*bert, famous for his garbled voice and word balloons filled with symbols, giving extensive exposition in English. It feels like everything about the movie was hammered out over lunch one day and no one ever thought about it again. I almost feel stupid complaining about it because I’ve already thought about it more than everyone who worked on the movie.

All of the characters in Pixels are paper-thin nothings but the women seem to get a particularly short end of the stick. The female lead (Michelle Monaghan) is a Lieutenant Colonel and in charge of some nebulous DARPA team but all of her character traits are defined by men she is attracted to (Sandler), she was cheated on by her husband, and she doesn’t want her son to be harmed. She might even do better than Jane Krakowski who plays the First Lady of the United States who doesn’t understand that her husband is busy with his job and demands he make time for ludicrous public dates in some kind of effort to become some shrew singularity. There’s the ideal virtual woman of video games (Ashley Benson) who doesn’t talk even when brought to life by these aliens even when other characters that never talked in their games talk. None of these characters in a vacuum would be that big of a deal but when they’re all like this and even the off-screen female characters are treated poorly (slutty pilates instructor, ex-wife who has an affair with fertility doctor) it adds up to a sour taste in the mouth. Luckily it doesn’t linger because nothing in this film is capable of holding the minds o the audience for more than a few minutes,

Pixels is similarly unkind to nerdy men, a demographic in far less peril in film but one that deserves better than this movie. These characters are all just aspects of the sexless loser nerd stereotype that has persisted for 30 years and should feel outdated at this point. The movie installs a central principle of its anchor relationship that nerds are better kissers because they appreciate it more. The movie wants to play on this nostalgia for pop culture icons and is then spectacularly unkind to the people who would feel most warmly about it. When The Big Bang Theory is doing dramatically better at characterization than your feature film it’s time to scrap the whole thing and move on.

I wish I thought Adam Sandler cared that this is a bad movie. He’s made so many bad movies in a row, produced so many bad movies in a row, that I have to believe he’s either completely insane and believes these movies are fantastic or he knows they’re good enough to get paid, get to the next one, and keep supporting whatever golden yacht lifestyle he lives. I wish he made better movies, selfishly, so I wouldn’t feel compelled to go see these wretched things to review them. We’ve all heard the stories coming out of his next film, The Furious Six, and we can probably guess this isn’t getting any better. Adam Sandler can do better than this, he has before, and I wish he cared enough to do better again.

Martha Thomases: Bill Cosby Remembered

Bill Cosby Snow White

Hello, everybody! This might be another column in which I am wrong.

Well, not entirely wrong. We’re talking about my personal opinions and tastes, and while you might not like them, you can’t exactly say I don’t have those particular feelings.

So, here it is: I think Bill Cosby is really funny.

I don’t think he’s a good person. I don’t think he’s the same person as Dr. Huxtable or Alexander Scott, because those are fictional characters with writers putting together the words they speak.

But I think his stand-up is, for the most part, really funny.

By his stand-up, I mean his stories and his jokes, the ones he tells about racing with his friends when he was a kid, or going out to dinner with his wife. I most definitely do not mean his lectures to the African-American community about pulling up their pants or not cussing.

Those jokes, the ones that I like, are something I’ve shared with my friends since high school. We could convulse each other by repeating them, no matter how many times we had laughed at them before. Those remain some of my fondest memories of bonding with the women who remain an amusing part of my life.

Is it possible to separate the work from the man? Can I ever watch The Cosby Show again and laugh?

I would like to. And I would like that choice.

In the wake of all the terrible allegations (and disclosures!) about the real human being, Bill Cosby, a large number of media outlets have stopped running his programs. And I understand that, because these media companies need to be conscious of their bottom line, and they can’t seem to supporting a serial rapist.

Because, apparently, a lot of people can’t tell the difference between Dr. Huxtable and Bill Cosby.

Nothing I’m saying should be interpreted as a defense of Cosby. I’m not saying that the crimes he is said to have committed are less important than my need to be entertained.

I’m saying that The Cosby Show didn’t commit any crimes. The work is separate from the star, even when that star is the creator and producer.

There are people working in comics who, in their personal lives, act abominably. I’m not going to call out any one in particular, because none of these people is a public figure and I’m not talking about criminal actions, but I tend not to support their work with my entertainment dollars. I won’t stop you from doing so, if you enjoy the work.

I’m much more likely to noisily air my displeasure when the work itself is repulsive to me, either personally or politically. For example, I’m certainly not going to watch this new Adam Sandler movie when it comes out, unless reviewers tell me the depiction of Native Americans is the exact opposite of what the link describes. And I’m going to have trouble with Mr. Sandler’s work in general, because of this story told by Rose McGowan and others.

Is Adam Sandler the only person in Hollywood with offensive politics? No, of course not. Do I sometimes find myself at a movie that I wouldn’t want to support? Yeah, it happens. I’m not consistent. I contain multitudes.

In the meantime, can someone bring back Barney Miller? That was really funny and, in my memory, was remarkable inclusive and understanding for its time.

Martha Thomases: The Usual Gang

Are you watching the last season of Mad Men? It’s our last chance to see Jon Hamm in so many crisp suits – at least for a while.

It’s also a weird sort of time travel, at least for me. I figure that I’m about the same age as Sally, the oldest daughter in Don Draper’s (i.e. Hamm’s) family, so I’m watching events I lived through, but from the perspective of my parents, if they were stunningly beautiful, not Jewish, lived in New York, and worked in advertising in the 1960s.

In the ten fictional years since the show started, we’ve watched the turbulent 1960s from the point of view of successful, media-savvy adults, mostly men. We saw Kennedy get elected and assassinated. We saw the Civil Rights movement and Woodstock. We saw Americans land on the moon.

This season, it’s 1970. And it’s remarkable how that time, 45 years ago, is so much like now.

If you click on the link, you’ll read an insightful analysis of Sunday’s episode when both Peggy (the first woman to write copy at our fictional ad agency) and especially Joan (a secretary who became an account executive and partner at the firm) faced subtle (in Peggy’s case) and not-subtle-at-all (in Joan’s case) sexism.

My problem with the episode is that it didn’t play like something from the past. That crap still goes on far too much. Even (maybe especially) in the so-called “liberal” entertainment industry. (See here for an extremely vile assortment of examples).

This is bad news for working women, and it’s bad news for society in general. We miss out on different points of view and we miss out on the great work people with different backgrounds can do. There is no reason to think you have better talent available from a smaller group of applicants.

Comics have the same problem, albeit with less money at stake. When I was at DC in the 1990s, at least one prominent editor said as a statement of fact that women can’t write superhero comics. This is the cousin to the Hollywood attitude that female superheroes can’t star in movies. At least in comics (again, probably because less money is involved), we have writers like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone, Amanda Connor, and G. Willow Wilson as best-selling examples to the contrary. (Also probably dozens of others. Forgive my laziness at looking up stuff.)

We suffer as an audience when we are only offered the stories of white people. Most recently, a group of Native American actors walked off the set of an Adam Sandler movie because the dialogue was so profoundly offensive to them. As this article about the incident suggests, Native Americans get far fewer roles than they should, so it took great courage to give up a paycheck. I hope that the attention they get encourages someone to make a comedy movie from their point of view. It has to be funnier than Jack and Jill .

Nearly 30 years ago, when I saw Spike Lee’s School Daze, I walked out of the movie theater thinking, “That’s how black people talk when there are no white people around.” I’ll never know whether or not that’s true, but I felt I had been offered the chance to eavesdrop on a different world. I still enjoy that opportunity, but Spike Lee did it in a way that had singing and dancing.

Of course, no one actually talks the way people do in the movies. We hem and haw more, we don’t finish our sentences, and we digress from the subject at hand. Movie people talk with precision because they only have two hours to tell the whole story.

Mad Men isn’t a bad show because its point of view is limited. Every piece of art has a limited point of view. The way to enjoy different points of view is to live your life and pay attention. One purpose of entertainment should be to open our eyes to other experiences.