Movie Review: “The Cobbler”

Starring
Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, Method Man, Melonie Diaz, Dustin Hoffman, Ellen Barkin, Lynn Cohen
Director
Thomas McCarthy

Adam Sandler’s dramatic career hasn’t been as successful as he probably would have liked, because after earning rave reviews for his work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love,” he’s failed to replicate that potential in other roles, from “Spanglish” to “Funny People.” So when it was announced that the actor would be teaming up with writer/director Thomas McCarthy for his new film, “The Cobbler,” the stage seemed set for Sandler to prove that it wasn’t just a one-off. Unfortunately, the movie is pretty awful, and though he doesn’t quite reach the same heights that he did with “Punch-Drunk Love,” Sandler isn’t the problem. Instead, it’s the tone deaf script and, to a lesser degree, McCarthy’s muddled direction, which is even more surprising coming from the co-writer of “Up” and the filmmaker behind indie gems like “The Station Agent” and “Win Win.”

Max Simkin (Sandler) is a fourth-generation cobbler who’s taken over his family’s shoe repair store in Manhattan after his father (Dustin Hoffman) abandoned Max and his mother with no explanation. When his equipment breaks one night while fixing the soles on a pair of shoes, Max heads down to the basement to use an antique stitching machine that, unbeknownst to him, has magical powers that transform him into a doppelganger of the shoes’ owner when he puts them on. (As long as that person is a size 10 ½ like Max, of course). Excited by the numerous possibilities that it offers, Max takes advantage of his newfound ability by getting revenge on a particularly rude customer (Method Man), only to get mixed up in a criminal scheme to redevelop the Lower East Side by a corrupt real estate mogul (Ellen Barkin).

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Blu Tuesday: Night at the Museum and R100

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“NIght at the Musem: Secret of the Tomb”

WHAT: When the tablet of Ahkmenrah begins to erode, causing the exhibits at the Museum of Natural History to act strangely when they come to life, Larry (Ben Stiller) and his son, Nick (Skyler Gisondo), travel to London to consult Ahkmenrah’s parents at the British Museum about how to fix the tablet before it loses its power forever.

WHY: If there’s one good thing to come out of “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” it’s that it marks the end of the adventure-comedy franchise. While the first movie was based on a fairly clever idea that sadly never rose above its broad humor and ridiculous plotting, the first sequel lacked any originality whatsoever, recycling the same jokes and moving the action to a different location to justify the introduction of new characters. “Secret of the Tomb” is basically the exact same movie, but whereas “Battle of the Smithsonian” at least benefitted from the addition of Amy Adams to the cast, the third installment is stuck with the usually charming Dan Stevens playing the utterly annoying Sir Lancelot. (And if you’re wondering what a fictional character is even doing in a museum, it just goes to show how little thought goes into the making of these films.) The “Night at the Museum” movies are kiddie fare, plain and simple, but just because they’re targeted towards children doesn’t mean that they can’t be intelligent, funny or exciting. “Secret of the Tomb” is none of these things, which makes you wonder how it managed to attract the talent that it did.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Shawn Levy, there are seven featurettes covering things like visuals effects, stunt choreography and comedic shenanigans on the set, as well as seven deleted/extended scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“R100″

WHAT: Lonely furniture salesman Takafumi Katayama (Nao Ohmori) enlists the services of a secret BDSM club that specializes in guerilla acts of public punishment and humiliation. But when one of the dominatrices is killed during a surprise house call, Takafumi must face off against an army of leather-clad women in order to protect his family.

WHY: Proving that there’s no such thing as “too weird” in Japanese cinema, director Hitoshi Matsumoto’s “R100” is a symphony of oddity that doesn’t push the envelope so much as test the viewer’s patience about what exactly they’re watching. A meta-comedy satirizing Japan’s film rating system (in which an R18 is equivalent to the MPAA’s NC-17), the movie proposes that it’s so far out there only people over the age of 100 can fully appreciate its contents. The truth is that “R100” isn’t nearly as risqué as it would like you to believe. Despite the unique premise, Matsumoto doesn’t do enough interesting things with it to warrant a full-length feature, and with the exception of a few elements – including the comical irony of casting “Ichi the Killer” star Nao Ohmori in the lead role (bringing the sadist-masochist relationship full circle) – it’s never as funny as it promises, either. Fans of Matsumoto’s past films (“Big Man Japan,” “Symbol”) and this type of gonzo filmmaking in general will no doubt enjoy his latest effort, but don’t go digging for a deeper artistic meaning, because “R100” is merely weird for the sake of being weird. Nothing more, nothing less.

EXTRAS: There’s an included booklet featuring a short interview with actress Lindsay Kay Hayward, but sadly, that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Movie Review: “Chappie”

Starring
Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo
Director
Neill Blomkamp

There’s still reason to be hopeful about 20th Century Fox’s decision to hand the reigns of the next “Alien” movie to Neill Blomkamp, but the bloom is likely to be off the rose for a lot of sci-fi fans after they take a gander at “Chappie,” which continues Blomkamp’s series of declining returns after the disappointing “Elysium.”

It is in no way surprising that among the first words uttered by an audience member upon the conclusion of the advance screening of “Chappie” involved the phrase “if ‘Robocop’ and ‘Short Circuit’ had a baby.” After all, the film – co-written by Blomkamp and his wife, Terri Tachell – takes place in the not-too-distant future and revolves around the decision by the city of Johannesburg, South Africa to adopt a partially robotic police force. These aren’t cyborgs, a la the officer formerly known as Alex Murphy: they’re 100% robot, designed by programmer extraordinaire Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). Despite what he’s already achieved in his field, Wilson continues to strive for a greater breakthrough, focusing his sights on the goal of cracking the consciousness code, as it were, and creating the first sentient robot.

As you might expect, Wilson achieves this goal in short order, but his boss (played by Sigourney Weaver) isn’t wooed by his pitch to experiment with his consciousness program on a damaged robot marked for destruction and denies his request. Now, in fairness, his pitch is really, really terrible. Who goes to the head of a company that makes police robots and starts off by mentioning that one of the benefits of sentience is that a robot can judge the merits of art and write its own poetry? But as you might also expect, her denial in no way stops him from deciding to swipe the deactivated robot and do his experiment anyway.

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Movie Review: “Unfinished Business”

Starring
Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, Sienna Miller, James Marsden
Director
Ken Scott

Ken Scott, the filmmaker behind “Starbuck” and its Hollywood remake, “Delivery Man,” has reunited with Vince Vaughn, the lead from his bland 2013 film, for another project. The idea of the director and star of that comedy teaming up again isn’t exactly enticing, and neither is the final result, because once again, the duo has failed to deliver with “Unfinished Business.”

Vaughn stars as Daniel Trunkman, a salesman who quits his unsatisfying job and goes off to start his own business. What does Trunkman sell for a living? A product so boring that it’s hardly ever mentioned in the film, and when it is, Trunkman only comments on how dull the merchandise is. Trunkman only has two employees, Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and Mike Pancake (Dave Franco), an odd but satisfying pairing responsible for most of the film’s scarce laughs. The small company is in serious need of a sale, so when a financially promising opportunity rises, the boss and his employees will stop at nothing to close the potential deal. Their work brings them to Berlin, where they’ll have to compete against Trunkman’s old boss, Charlie (Sienna Miller), for the sale.

While “Unfinished Business” initially looks to be an ensemble comedy, it mostly rests on the shoulders of its biggest star, which is a shame. Vaughn isn’t an actor that pushes himself to new places. He has a comedic persona which he rarely strays from, often playing straight shooters with a motormouth, and that’s the character he plays once again in Scott’s film. Every comic note Vaughn hits is stale and expected. There’s nothing fresh about his style or approach anymore; it’s tired and outdated. As for Wilkinson and Franco, they’re far more energetic and engaged than their co-star.

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Movie Review: “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

Starring
Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Richard Gere, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle
Director
John Madden

When “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” opened in May 2012, it was viewed as a smart piece of counterprogramming to “The Avengers.” But something strange happened along the way: the senior-targeted dramedy became a box office hit in its own right, earning $136 million worldwide on a modest $10 million budget. Though its success was unexpected, no one could have imagined that it would breed a sequel, and yet here we are, four years later, with the gang reunited for another Indian adventure like some sort of Avengers-style retiree supergroup. Including the words “second best” in the title probably wasn’t intended as a comment on the movie’s quality, but while it’s not as good as its predecessor, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” still skates by on the delightful charm of its ensemble cast.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been in operation for eight months now, and passionate owner Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) has grand ambitions to expand by purchasing a derelict hotel nearby. Sonny and assistant manager Muriel (Maggie Smith) travel to the U.S. to pitch their business plan to hotel tycoon Ty Burley (David Strathairn), and he agrees to send an inspector to check out the property. So when American tourist Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) arrives at the hotel claiming that he’s there to write his first novel, Sonny believes that he’s actually the inspector in disguise, waiting on him hand and foot instead of attending to his ceremonial duties for his forthcoming marriage to Sunaina (Tena Desae). Meanwhile, Evelyn (Judi Dench) is offered an amazing job opportunity that could affect her budding relationship with Douglas (Bill Nighy); Madge (Celia Imrie) is forced to choose between two Indian suitors; and Norman (Ronald Pickup) accidentally puts out a hit on his new girlfriend, Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

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