Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

Adam Sandler stars in Pixels, the latest in a string of under-performing films. (Image © Columbia Pictures). 

Adam Sandler stars in Pixels, the latest in a string of under-performing films. (Image © Columbia Pictures). 

With all the brutal, enraged things I’ve been reading about Adam Sandler lately, I can’t help but wonder. Part of me keeps thinking that in the time it takes people to absolutely destroy Sandler as a human being, actor, and producer (some of it is fair enough), you could probably watch a movie that will actually enrich your spirit in some way. I don’t care what the movie actually is. Whatever it is that works for you. That one movie that breathes the kind of life into you that our specific definitions of great are is supposed to do. 

If that movie happens to be That’s My Boy, then you’re living a strange life of immense self-loathing, and I would suggest therapy. 

Is Adam Sandler finished? Do you care? 

Admittedly, I care a little. I don’t think Sandler just suddenly stopped being funny to people who didn’t want to admit he was funny, to say nothing of the people who were unapologetic in their love for the lumpy bastard. I also don’t think that our society has magically outgrown sophomoric humor, with the best of Sandler’s work suggesting something far more clever and subversive than that description. What I suspect is that we have been watching a talented comedic actor disintegrate over the past few years, and it’s not something we really want to see anymore.

I can’t say for certain when Sandler suddenly decided to just stop giving a shit. It’s been at least a few years however, and the toll is beginning to show. When his film career began to take off, he was capable of somehow elevating substandard material. He moved through ridiculous movies with an enthusiasm that won over far more people than the harshest of his current detractors would care to admit. If the success of Adam Sandler was merely a case of successful sophomoric humor, Rob Schneider would be able to get work that wasn’t produced by Happy Madison Productions. There was something else about Sandler that made even his dumbest movies oddly likable. 

It has been a long time since we were at that point. Over the course of one increasingly unpleasant movie after another, Sandler became someone who visibly just didn’t care anymore. He became something much worse than the persona he played and quietly mocked in Funny People. To watch Sandler now is to watch a deeply unhappy, terminally bored man show up to collect a paycheck. No one is going to put up with that kind of sad sack shuffle forever.

Pixels is the culmination of this downfall. At the end of the day, it’s not a big deal. Either Sandler will find a way to care about his material again, or he won’t. Smart bets are on the idea that he won’t, and that his current deal with Netflix will just be more of what we’ve gotten lately. Possibly, but I’m optimistic. Whether Sandler just decided to stop showing an interest in his own work, or whether he’s depressed or something equally stupid over the public’s inability to take him seriously in drama-comedies that weren’t called Punch Drunk Love, I’m not really interested. I just want an Adam Sandler movie to come out that’s genuinely funny, if only to me. 

And if not, well, maybe Chris Farley will come back from the dead. 

It Follows (2014): B+

Maika Monroe stars in It follows (Image © RADiUS-TWC/Dimension Films). 

Maika Monroe stars in It follows (Image © RADiUS-TWC/Dimension Films). 

Every time I feel particularly detached from the time in which I lived and breathed everything related to horror, something like It Follows comes along. 

Whether or not it really is a secret morality play about AIDS isn’t something I’m personally interested in. What I’m far more interested in is how brilliantly David Robert Mitchell captured his story of a college girl (the absolutely wonderful Maika Monroe) suddenly becoming the target of an unrelenting supernatural entity, in the wake of having casual sex with someone she just began dating. Again, I’m sure there are ideas hidden beneath the surface of this movie. Again, I’m much more pleased with a horror movie so rich in atmosphere, so exceptional in its pacing, it’s almost suffocating. 

It Follows is pure, almost beautiful in how it quickly it mesmerizes and maintains interest. The score for the film, evoking the best of names like John Carpenter and Goblin, deserves some credit for that, as well. Simply put, It Follows is one of the best horror films of this decade. One can only hope that the proposed sequel is never made. It is highly doubtful that lightning will strike twice for this concept. 

Murder on the Orient Express (1974): B-

Few filmmakers bounced around so many different types of films as Sidney Lumet did. It’s a little hard to imagine that the man who directed Dog Day Afternoon also made this enormously funny, mildly silly adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel of the same name. 

Direct the film he did, nicely capturing the atmosphere of the time and story, while also knowing when to simply hang back to let the audience enjoy a very impressive cast banter back-and-forth with Albert Finney’s charming, effective Hercule Poirot. This is a movie that includes Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, and Martin Balsam. Keeping up with all the characters, and whether or not they had in any part in the actual murder on the Orient Express, never gets tiresome. 

The payoff may annoy you, but honestly, my guess is that you’re going to be enjoying yourself too much to care. 

The Right Stuff (1983): A-

The Right Stuff holds up surprisingly well. Covering events like Project Mercury, Phillip Kaufman (another excellent director with a highly varied resume), this sprawling epic manages to keep things interesting. This is in spite of a running time that goes just over the three-hour mark.

A lot of that interest comes from the material itself, which will prove to be genuinely compelling to those fascinated by the early days of when our dreams of taking to the stars began to take on a legitimate, tangible shape. Even as the movie takes some fairly steep liberties with the actual events, it’s still something that feels absolutely leveled in reality every step of the way.

The rest of the film’s enduring quality is from a slew of good performances from actors like Ed Harris, Pamela Reed, Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard (perhaps the best acting gig of his career), Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Quaid. The movie juggles heroic characters, government scumbags, dreamers, and everyone else who played one role or another in one of the most of the important periods in America’s love/hate relationship with the space program. It zigs and zags across an expansive period of time, and never fails to shortchange one character or story in favor of another. Everything is given equal time during a film that honestly doesn’t feel like it comes with a running time of 192 minutes. 

The Homesman (2014): B+

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones star in The Homesman (Image © Roadside Attractions/Saban Films). 

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones star in The Homesman (Image © Roadside Attractions/Saban Films). 

As long as Tommy Lee Jones continues to present such weird, wonderful stories as a director, I could give a shit if he smiles or doesn’t at awards ceremonies.

The Homesman continues the fantastic trend of Jones working with offbeat stories and presenting them with a vision that is entirely his own. His presentation of what some call a feminist western is pretty close to perfect, only occasionally losing focus in its desire to match the wandering, terrified spirits of its characters. This spirit is particularly potent in Jones’ George Briggs, and in that of Hillary Swank’s deeply effecting portrayal of a woman named Mary Bee Cuddy. The notion of these distinctly lost souls finding each other is the rich undercurrent to the main thread of Cuddy enlisting Briggs to help her ferry a group of mentally-ill women from Nebraska to Iowa. All of it makes for good film.

Even when the story seems to slow down a little, the complexities of both Briggs and Cuddy, and how their individual personalities collide, never falters for even a moment. This is not a major film by any means, but even someone who doesn’t like westerns should take watching it under consideration. It reminds us that Jones is still a very good actor, and it’s Swank’s best work in what feels like ages. 

Chuck and Buck (2000): B-

Mike White is perhaps best known for playing Jack Black’s long-suffering pal in School of Rock. Before that, he wrote and starred in one of the most disturbing comedies of its time.

Chuck and Buck is a story about a lot of things. It’s about a friendship between two men (White and Chuck Weitz, both of whom turn in perfect, complementary performances). It’s also about arrested development, childhood, unrequited love (of a kind), obsession, and the potential damage that can be caused by even the best of memories. White plays with all of these subjects, all the while never losing sight of the fact that this is ultimately a character study. His own performance manages to connect us to at least some concept of empathy, even as his character goes right off the deep end.

Chuck and Buck is a comedy for the most part, but in its telling of one friend’s uncomfortable attachment to another friend, and what the shared memories symbolize to the one who clearly holds them dearer, Chuck and Buck is also something of a very minor horror story. Although it’s not scary by any means, it is at times one of the most unsettling films that still qualifies as a comedy that you are ever going to see.