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After a strong, sweet and funny start, Adam Sandler’s latest Netflix effort, The Week Of, falls apart in its second half.

Sandler plays Kenny, a dad whose daughter (Allison Strong) is getting married in a week. He sees it as his last chance to do something for her, so he tries his best to put together an impressive spread for the two families. Chris Rock plays the father of the groom, a wealthy heart surgeon who isn’t impressed with the hotel Kenny has picked. Others on hand include Rachel Dratch (It’s good to see her!) as Kenny’s wife, and Steve Buscemi as a sleazy family member with amazing climbing abilities.

Directed by Robert Smigel, the film goes on long enough for the jokes to start dying from old age. A joke involving a legless uncle starts funny, gets funnier, almost gets really funny … then goes stale.

As a Howard Stern fan, I was happy to finally see the culmination of Ronnie the Limo Driver’s hard work; he’s a bad actor, but he was better than I thought he would be. (He’s a convincing sleeper.)

Having grown up on Long Island, I can say the movie does a good job of capturing the region, from the accents to the undying loyalty to Billy Joel. You have to have some respect for a comedy that kills a legless man by throwing him into a bounce pit in the middle of a strip club—but that’s not enough to make it a winner. That’s a shame, because Sandler is actually fairly endearing here, and some of the performers bring at least their B- game. The Week Of just needed to be about 25 minutes shorter, and 35 percent funnier.

The Week Of is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

As of Jan. 1, the holiday season is over—but the tourist/snowbird season is cranking into high gear, meaning there are a ton of fabulous events to take in across the Coachella Valley.

The McCallum Theatre is hosting a lot of sold-out events in January, but there are still tickets left for a few great shows. At 8 p.m., Monday, Jan. 22, operatic baritone singer Nathan Gunn will be performing from the Great American Songbook, as well as songs by Leonard Cohen and … Pearl Jam. Operatic Pearl Jam? Whoa! Tickets are $27 to $87. At 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25, Broadway legends Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune will take the stage. These greats have 12 Tony Awards between them! Tickets are $37 to $67. At 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 29, piano virtuoso Jeffrey Siegel will be performing his variations on classical piano pieces, all while offering commentary. Siegel has played with some of the world’s best orchestras, so this is one you won’t want to miss. Tickets are $22 to $42. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino had a rocking holiday season and is sailing into January with a great schedule. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12, Motown R&B and soul legend Smokey Robinson will be performing. Smokey Robinson is an icon—even Bob Dylan listed Smokey Robinson as one of his favorite singers. His list of awards and honors is endless. Tickets are $29 to $59. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 19, if you’re a man wondering where your wife is, she might be at the Michael Bolton concert. Bolton is a good sport and hasn’t been afraid to poke fun at himself, as seen in Netflix’s Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Special. Oh, he’s won two Grammy Awards and has sold more than 65 million records, too. Tickets are $29 to $59. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 26, witness the spectacle of Adam Sandler going back to standup comedy and performing his comedy songs. It’s been years since he’s performed these types of shows; given his massive Netflix contract; he certainly doesn’t need the money. Tickets are $79 to $139. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa is going to be sizzling in January with hot events. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 13, our favorite show is coming back: It’s Thunder from Down Under! That’s right, the all-male Aussie review that makes women scream will return to the Coachella Valley. Tickets are $15 to $25. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 20, crooner Burt Bacharach (right) will perform. The “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” scribe is always popular when he comes to the Coachella Valley, which is no wonder, considering Bacharach has written some of the greatest songs ever—plus he performs them beautifully. Tickets are $40 to $60. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 27, comedy great Howie Mandel will be performing with Preacher Lawson. I’ve always found Mandel a little odd, with his fears of germs and his refusal to shake people’s hands, but he’s an icon. Tickets are $35 to $55. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 has some fantastic weekend shows coming in January. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12, comedian and actor Mike Epps will do his thing. You might remember Epps for performing opposite Ice Cube as Day-Day in Next Friday and Friday After Next. One of Epps’ funniest moments in my opinion was when he told the story of Baby-D and her “Y2K snacks” in Next Friday. Tickets are $45 to $65. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 26, recording artist and television star Tony Orlando will be performing. I had a chance to interview Orlando last year, and it was a pleasurable experience. Growing up, I remember seeing him on many television shows, and hearing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” which received heavy airplay on the radio. Tickets are $25 to $45. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has a January event with a limited number of tickets still available as of our press deadline. At 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 5, comedian Sinbad will bring the funny. Sinbad seemingly disappeared for a while … until he had financial problems. However, he seems to be finding his groove and is getting good reviews for his “family friendly comedy.” Tickets are $29. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has a ton of events in January, featuring acts both national and local, so be sure to check the full schedule. Here are a few highlights. At 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 19, punk/rockabilly band The Flesh Eaters will take the stage. The Flesh Eaters have some dark themes in their music and were a hit in the Los Angeles punk scene. Also on the bill are Sean Wheeler and the Reluctant Messengers. Tickets are $25. At 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 21, Monkees guitarist/vocalist Michael Nesmith will be performing with his band, The First National Band. Fun fact: During the ’70s, Nesmith wrote and performed country music. Just a heads up: Nesmith usually avoids performing Monkees songs. Tickets are $30 to $40. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 27, country and rock singer/songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield (below) will be performing. Mayfield has shared the stage with rock contemporaries such as Ryan Adams, and has collaborated with The Black Keys. Given she’s from Northeast Ohio like me, I’m rooting for her. Tickets are $15. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Purple Room Palm Springs is always a popular place during season. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 6, jazz singer Jonathan Karrant will perform. The Arkansas native has been on stages since he was a young child and says that he cherishes the storytelling aspect of performing. Tickets are $25 to $35. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12, Tony Award-winner Levi Kreis will be performing. The Broadway singer and pianist from Tennessee is quite popular, and overcame personal beliefs and issues to embrace the fact that he’s gay. Tickets are $30 to $35. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 26, Barbra Streisand impersonator Steven Brinberg will be doing his show Simply Barbra. Considering Streisand is unlikely to be performing locally anytime soon, these types of shows are a great way to celebrate Bab’s music and style. Tickets are $25 to $30. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

The Copa has one event in January worth noting: At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 20, get ready for Lee Squared: An Evening With Liberace and Miss Peggy Lee. This show will be performed by David Maiocco and Chuck Sweeney, who are both dazzling and acclaimed performers. Tickets are $25 to $40. Copa Palm Springs, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs; 760-866-0021; www.copapalmsprings.com.

Published in Previews

Writer-director Noah Baumbach delivers his best movie yet with The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), his latest story of family dysfunction—which serves as yet another reminder that Adam Sandler can be a knockout actor when he puts his mind to it.

Sandler plays Danny, older brother to Matthew (Ben Stiller), father to Eliza (Grace Van Patten) and son of Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Danny is going through hard times, separating from his wife as Eliza prepares for college. His only option is to live with his dad and stepmom (Emma Thompson), a move that drudges up a lot of past difficulties.

When Matthew comes to town—looking to sell his parents’ house, much to the chagrin of Danny—tensions grow. Yet despite the tension, there’s a hilarious way in which this family communicates. Even when things get bad, their warmth and desire for better times with each other shine through.

While Sandler gets some good laughs (especially when he’s allowed to rage, Sandler-style), quieter moments put him in legitimate contention for an Oscar. As for frequent Baumbach collaborator Stiller, this happens to be his best dramatic performance as well. (A public speaking meltdown by Matthew constitutes the most impressive moment in the film.) Hoffman, who has played the father of both Sandler and Stiller before (Sandler in The Cobbler, and Stiller in the Focker movies), hasn’t had a chance to shine like this in a long while. Like Gene Hackman as the unreliable patriarch in The Royal Tenenbaums, he owns his every scene.

This is one of the year’s funniest—and best acted—movies, and a fabulous reunion for Stiller and Sandler, more than 20 years after they shared the screen in Happy Gilmore.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Adam Sandler’s third movie with Netflix is the very definition of overindulgence. There’s a decent movie in here from director Steven Brill, who worked with Sandler previously on Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds and The Do-Over—but Sandy Wexler is a mess obscured by too many subplots.

Sandler stars as the title character, a talent manager trying to find new clients in the 1990s. After working with low-level comedians and daredevils, Sandy finds Courtney Clarke (Jennifer Hudson), an amusement-park performer with a stunning voice. Sandy takes charge of her career, and sends her on a superstar trajectory. Of course, Sandler creates one of his weirdo characterizations, with a goofy voice and strange mannerisms.

While some of the 1990s jokes involving Fruitopia, Arsenio Hall and the Atkins Diet are funny, Sandler and Brill take the movie off into a strange, unlikely romance realm that destroys all of the fun.

The movie is supremely overstuffed at 130 minutes, with one subplot too many involving Terry Crews as a flamboyant wrestler. His entire arc could’ve been left on the cutting-room floor.

Kevin James has a fairly funny supporting role as a ventriloquist who carries on regular conversations through his dummies, and Nick Swardson scores some laughs as a daredevil reminiscent of Super Dave Osborne and Evil Knievel. Hudson is good in her role, even when the character inexplicably falls for Sandy.

At 90 minutes and without the love story, this one might’ve been decent. As it stands, it’s another miss for Sandler.

Sandy Wexler is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The second of four films in the Adam Sandler Netflix era after the horrible The Ridiculous 6 is still pretty bad moviemaking, but The Do-Over is a step in the right direction. 

Director Steven Brill made two of the better Sandler vehicles in Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds, and their third pairing has its moments. That’s thanks in large part to the pairing of Sandler and an effective David Spade, who is cast against type as Charlie, a nebbish nerd looking for new start on life. Sandler plays Max, who shows up at their high school reunion, takes pity on Charlie and fakes both of their deaths so they can smoke joints and drink for the rest of their lives.

The plot isn’t that simple; the two wind up being pursued by a killer in a fairly funny homage to Die Hard. The film is put together better than most of the later Sandler comedies, and it packs quite a few good laughs. Unfortunately, it also veers into overkill way too many times, and the gross stuff feels discordant and just wrong.

Still, I liked the characters, and the film classes up a bit at the halfway mark when Paula Patton enters the picture. She has a fight with Kathryn Hahn that is one of the better smack-downs you will see in a movie this summer.

The movie doesn’t work as a whole, but it does show that Sandler and Spade could be a good screen duo in the hands of a semi-capable director. Also, it has Natasha Leggero in it, and that’s always a good thing.

Had everybody just declined a few of the extreme sight gags, and perhaps edited a solid 15 minutes from the movie, I might’ve been able to recommend the film. As it stands, it’s a near-miss. Hey, a near-miss for Sandler these days is a major triumph! 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

It’s not a good thing when Vanilla Ice is the best thing in your movie.

His Ice-ness shows up in The Ridiculous 6 as a hip-hop Mark Twain in Adam Sandler’s latest blunder—and Vanilla Ice squeezes a few laughs out of the moment. This Western pile of shit manages a few other giggles, most notably Harvey Keitel’s headless body shooting its own decapitated head, and a rattlesnake nibbling on Will Forte’s ear. Other than that, it’s quite the slog.

Make that a two-hour slog.

Director Frank Coraci, responsible for other Sandler abominations such as Blended, should’ve streamlined this sucker. The four-or-five-laugher would’ve felt more potent with a solid 30 minutes lopped off. As is, the jokes go on way too long—and too much crap that would’ve been edited out of even the worst Sandler films makes it into the final cut.

Sandler plays Tommy, aka White Knife, an orphan boy raised by Native Americans. He finally meets his outlaw dad (Nick Nolte … I’m beginning to really hate this guy) when he’s all grown up. Mere moments after meeting him, daddy is kidnapped, and Tommy sets out on a mission to raise the funds to spring him loose.

Along the way, Tommy discovers dad was quite mischievous and sired five other brothers, played by Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson and, most regrettably, Taylor Lautner. They form the Ridiculous 6, the lamest gang to hit movie screens this year.

The film is at its best when dealing with Forte’s Will Patch and his outlaw gang. A sequence during which Steve Zahn has to scoop one of his eyeballs out with a spoon is good for a giggle, as is a moment when the gang is buried up to their necks and attacked by ants, lizards and snakes.

The film is at its worst when it allows Lautner, playing a simple boy, to speak. This film should mark the end of his career. Actually, it would be nice if this marked the end of Sandler’s career as well, but he has three more films on his Netflix deal, so we are in for more cinematic hell.

The Ridiculous 6 is an original film released on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A bunch of Chris Farley’s friends and family members sit down for introspective interviews regarding the John Belushi heir apparent who died at the very same age—and in a very similar way—to his hero.

David Spade, Adam Sandler, Bob Saget, Mike Myers and others share stories about their blessedly crazy friend in this serviceable documentary from Brent Hodge and Derik Murray. A film like this is only as good as its interviews and archival footage—and there’s plenty here for Farley fans.

Of the interview subjects, Myers is the best. From impersonating Farley backstage looking for a place in the Sprockets skit, to admitting that he sometimes feared for his physical well-being in Farley’s presence, Myers was amazing; I could’ve watched a whole film with him talking about Farley.

There’s plenty of time spent with Spade, Farley’s Bud Abbott to his Lou Costello, his Dan Aykroyd to his Belushi. Spade reveals that the loss of his friend hits him everyday, and his stories offer the best look into the man behind the mayhem.

The film covers Farley’s biggest achievement, Tommy Boy (Bo Derek shows up!) and the infamous Matt Foley sketch. (“I live in a van down by the river!” Scroll down to see it.) I still say Farley’s best work was in Almost Heroes, his last big role. The bit where he kept eating the eagle eggs killed me.

I Am Chris Farley is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Vintage video games come to the forefront in Pixels, a feature movie starring Adam Sandler that is based on a quirky little short film by Patrick Jean.

The fact that the short film is a lot cooler than the feature film reveals that perhaps the concept works better in a smaller dose—and that getting Adam Sandler involved was, and usually is, a terrible idea.

Sandler, in mopey-dog wiseass mode, plays Brenner, an installer of home-video equipment and the best friend to Cooper (Kevin James), the president of the United States. Brenner is a former video-game whiz kid who lost a world championship to Eddie (Peter Dinklage) when he failed to come through during a round of Donkey Kong. That loss sent him into some sort of spiral that ruined his life, while fellow gamer Cooper went on to be the leader of the free world.

While Brenner is out making the rounds and trying to score with Violet (Michelle Monaghan), a customer going through marital turmoil, Guam is attacked by the 1980s video game Galaga.

It turns out that aliens found a videotape of old games that was shot into space in the early ’80s—and they interpreted it as a declaration of war on their planet. So they are sending old-timey video games to wipe us out, and using dubbed footage of ’80s icons like Daryl Hall, Ronald Reagan and Madonna as messengers.

It’s fairly interesting at first, but this is an Adam Sandler project, after all, and he and his cohorts wind up wearing out their welcome after the first half. The film goes from mildly entertaining to total Stinksville as it wears on, thanks to the Sandler shtick and some tepid, shallow writing.

As for the special effects, we are talking about Pac-Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong here, so massive, awe-inspiring special effects are not in order. Should you choose to spring for the 3-D version, you will find yourself wholly disappointed.

Surprisingly, even though Sandler is nothing to get excited about, the worst performer in Pixels is the normally reliable Peter Dinklage. He mugs so much in this movie that you could drink a cup of coffee out of his head. Also making an ass of himself is Josh Gad as Ludlow, the strange conspiracy-theorist friend who is around because he’s overweight and kooky.

The film is directed by Chris Columbus, who directed the first, shitty Harry Potter movie (and the second much-better one) along with the awful Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone. Even though he’s responsible for some lousy movies, he did debut with Adventures in Babysitting, and that movie ruled. Thus, I can only partially hate him.

The once-mighty Sandler has hit so many cinematic potholes that his suspension is totally shot, and his tires are trashed. He’s got a deal with Netflix to produce and star in films, including the upcoming, already-controversial Western spoof The Ridiculous 6. Hollywood is finally losing faith in him.

It’s sad to see Monaghan, so good in films like Source Code and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, hitting a point in her career in which she has to play a Sandler love interest. In fact, it’s utterly heartbreaking. It’s perhaps the film’s greatest feat that Monaghan makes her character’s leanings toward Sandler semi-convincing. That’s some heavy-duty acting, for sure.

If you are looking for some summer movie fun, go see Ant-Man, Trainwreck or Inside Out. Pixels is a total letdown.

Pixels is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Adam Sandler’s latest film has a fairly interesting premise and gets off to an OK start—but it quickly becomes awkward (even gross) and eventually degenerates into a stupid, predictable thriller.

Sandler plays Max, a cobbler in a New York shop once owned by his dad. After his electric stitching machine goes kaput, he uses an old manual one in the basement to fix some shoes. He tries them on—and instantly becomes the person who owns the shoes (played by Method Man). He figures this out, and begins using shoes to become other people, including, most disgustingly, his long-lost father (Dustin Hoffman) for a date with his mother. (Ew!!!) The plot then goes crazy, as Method Man’s character proves to be a street thug, and Max schemes to steal his money so he can buy a tombstone for a family member.

Director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) is all over the map, attempting too many genres and subplots for a single movie. Sandler just can’t make a decent film these days.

The Cobbler is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Chris Rock writes, directs and stars in Top Five, a semi-autobiographical look at a stand-up comedian turned film star looking for industry respect.

After a string of movies about a bear cop and a bout with substance abuse, Andre Allen (Rock) is taking a break from stand-up and slapstick to do “serious” movies. On the day of a big premiere, a reporter (Rosario Dawson) tags along to interview him. Rock and Dawson are fun together, while a supporting cast that includes J.B. Smoove, Cedric the Entertainer, Gabrielle Union and—holy crap!—Ben Vereen score a bunch of solid laughs.

A sequence involving a cocaine-and-hooker party stands as one of the year’s funniest scenes, and Rock’s writing is solid throughout. As Chris Rock films go, this is his best starring vehicle by far. Also: Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld have hilarious walk-ons. Sandler hasn’t been this funny in years. Perhaps he should allow Rock to direct him all the time. Maybe Rock can turn that whole Grown Ups franchise around!

Top Five opens Thursday, Dec. 18, at the Cinemas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

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