REVIEW: “The Ridiculous 6”

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Adam Sandler is an living, breathing enigma. He started as a young, fairly entertaining comedian on Saturday Night Live who eventually put out a couple of fairly entertaining movies. Since then has put out one painfully awful film after another. A quick gander at his embarrassingly bad filmography should leave you wondering how this guy is still making movies. Here is why he is an enigma – his movies make a lot of money. People go see his stuff and many find it funny. That is a mystery I may never be able to crack.

Sandler’s latest is the western spoof “The Ridiculous 6” and you have to give the guy this – he’s consistent. This has every bit of the stupidity, annoyances, and laziness identified with Sandler’s previous ‘comedies’. The Wild West offers a new setting but Sandler and company do nothing more than stain it with their brand of asininity. I only managed a few grins in this entire dopey and overly long slog.

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Sandler plays Tommy who has been raised by the Apache after the murder of his mother. Tommy is given the name “White Knife” and is set to marry Smoking Fox (Julia Jones). A man named Frank Stockburn (Nick Nolte) arrives at the village claiming to be Tommy’s father. He reveals he is terminally ill and that he has $50,000 buried nearby. He wants Tommy and his village to have the money but before they can dig it up bandits arrive and take Frank away because of an outstanding debt. Tommy can’t find the buried loot so he sets out t0 swipe $50,000 in order to save his father.

Along the way Tommy finds that his father has been….active. He meets five different men claiming that Frank Stockburn is the father they have never met. They each join Tommy in his absurd quest to find enough money to pay off his father’s captives. Of course each have their on goofy quirk. Rob Schneider plays a Mexican with a gassy burro (it’s just as offensive as it sounds). Taylor Lautner is a village idiot with a strong neck. Terry Crews is a piano player who hides that he is black. Jorge Garcia is a hairy mute wildman. Luke Wilson is a guilt-ridden boozer.

Then there is the laundry list of cameos and brief appearances which Sandler movies are known for. Harvey Keitel, Jon Lovitz, Blake Shelton, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Will Forte, Vanilla Ice, Chris Kattan, and John Turturro to name a few. Occasionally one of these will offer a mildly amusing moment, but most are just wedged in as a recognizable face. Why some of these guys signed on for such dumb roles and lame material is beyond me.

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“The Ridiculous 6” is supposedly a satire of the western genre and all of the formulas and stereotypes they often used. I tend to give movies a lot of leeway and feel some people are often too easily offended. But this film doesn’t have the smarts to sell itself as convincing satire and it’s no wonder some have viewed the characterizations as offensive. When material is this poor it’s hard to accept it as good satire.

Ultimately “The Ridiculous 6” is more of the same from a guy perfectly content with delivering cheap overused gags and the same boring, unfunny formulas. I suppose Sandler is happy cashing the big checks and as long as people still flock to these things I don’t see him challenging himself or changing directions. So we can expect more films like “The Ridiculous 6” – juvenile, aimless, and consistently idiotic wastes of time. Lucky us.

VERDICT – 1.5 STARS

1.5 stars

REVIEW: “Hateship, Loveship”

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It’s always interesting to watch actors or actresses who make their living in comedy tackle dramatic material. Many comedians have a natural impulse to draw attention to themselves. It’s the nature of their humor. That’s why certain dramatic roles are so difficult for them. I think that’s what makes Kristen Wiig’s performance in “Hateship, Loveship” so compelling. There’s nothing showy or attention-grabbing about it, and for a comedian that could be hard hurdle to clear.

I’ve always found Wiig to be funny, but here she has to dial it back and put away any hint of flash or swagger. She plays the quiet and withdrawn Johanna Parry. As the film opens we see her as the caretaker for an elderly woman. It’s something she has done since she was 15 years old. At first glance Johanna’s clothes give the illusion that we are watching a period piece. At one point in the film she is called “Little House on the Prairie”. But actually her world has revolved around her caretaking and she’s has had practically no social life whatsoever.

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The elderly lady dies which frees Johanna in a variety of ways. She immediately lands a job in small town Iowa as a housekeeper for Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) and his teenage granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld). Sabitha lives with her grandfather because her mom was killed in a car wreck and her dad Ken (Guy Pearce) is an unreliable come-and-go father with a drug problem. A resentful Sabitha and her best friend Edith (Sami Gayle) play a cruel joke on Johanna making her think that Ken is attracted to her through a series of fraudulent emails. This causes Johanna to make some spontaneous but earnest decisions which shifts the movie into an entirely new direction.

Many of the movie’s later plot turns may seem a bit implausible but writer Mark Poirier wisely keeps his focus on the characters and director Liza Johnson allows them the room to breathe and grow. This is important because “Hateship, Loveship” is all about relationships – fractured relationships, rekindled relationships, potential relationships. There is no magic formula to what makes this a good movie. It’s simply a collaboration between filmmakers and performers who know how to tell a smart and focused story.

Guy Pearce and Kristen Wiig in Hateship Loveship (2013).

The cast sparkles and everyone is given some level of character complexity. As mentioned, Wiig is fantastic. Her dowdy, naive, and socially awkward Johanna is the emotional centerpiece. It’s a beautifully reserved performance and it takes some time to truly appreciate what she’s doing. The always reliable Pearce has no problem revealing the multiple sides of Ken. In one scene you feel sympathy for him. The next scene he does something utterly shameless. And I do love Steinfeld. She’s a great young actress with a long career ahead of her. Veteran actor Nolte is absolutely perfect and Gayle is shockingly vile. And then there is the small but lovely performance from Christine Lahti.

“Hateship, Loveship” is a modest but compelling character study – a film that is most interested in people and the relationships they share both good and bad. There are a couple of twists that you just have to go along with, but I had no problem doing it. That’s because I cared about these characters. They aren’t paper-thin caricatures or boring, lifeless clichĂ©s. Johnson’s direction and Poirier’s script doesn’t allow them to be and because of that “Hateship, Loveship” is a pleasure to watch.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

Oscar – The morning after…

Well it has come and gone. The 2012 Oscars seemed to get here in a hurry and be done just as quick. As usual for the more recent Oscars, there were few surprises. Most of the “Big 6” went as I predicted and the only real surprises were with the technical awards. But overall it was a fun night. Here’s a few thoughts…

Billy Crystal hosted the 2012 show after the Eddie Murphy debacle (or should I say the Brett Ratner debacle) and he did a solid job. Unlike last year’s odd and sometimes uncomfortable hosting from James Franco and Anne Hathaway, this was more grounded but still quite funny. Crystal used several tried-and-true antics such as the song detailing the Best Picture Nominees and the “What they’re thinking” segment. I found them and several of Crystal’s adaptive one-liners to be very funny. Several of the presenters provided some good laughs including Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Chris Rock (I was surprised, too), and of course Robert Downey, Jr. Oh, and c’mon Academy! Am I the only one who thinks that Downey, Jr. would be the funniest Oscars host of all time? Sign him up.

“Hugo” ended the night with five Oscars. It was awarded for its technical achievements and it’s hard for me to argue with that. “A Seperation” won for Best Foreign Language film which was followed by a rather unusual acceptance speech from director Asghar Farhadi. “The Descendants” won Best Adapted Screenplay and I was thrilled that “Midnight in Paris” won for Best Original Screenplay. Of course Woody Allen wasn’t there but did we ever expect him to be?

The supporting categories went exactly as expected. Octavia Spencer (The Help) and Christopher Plummer (Beginners) had already been christened the winners well before the ceremony began and that’s exactly how things played out. Spencer gave one of the most genuine and emotional acceptance speeches of the night and Plummer became the oldest Oscar winner ever. It was good seeing Nick Nolte recognized with a nomination even though I’m not sure he knew where he was last night.

Meryl Streep won Best Actress for her performance in “The Iron Lady”. That category had turned into a two person race and I really felt that Viola Davis had a good chance to win. But Streep was awarded for a performance that certainly outweighed the rather mundane and mixed reviewed movie. The Oscar media had tried their best to sell the whole Clooney (“The Descendants”) versus Pitt (“Moneyball”) Best Actor race. But as I expected (and hoped), Jean Dujardin won the Oscar for his wonderful performance in “The Artist”. Working with several more handicaps than the other nominees, Dujardin nailed his performance and deserved the award. His acceptance speech and subsequent dance showed his enthusiasm and I found myself applauding from my recliner.

The night only got better for “The Artist”. Michael Hazanavicius won the Best Director Oscar which is almost always a sign of which film will win Best Picture. Last night was no different. Hazanavicius’ gutsy project won Best Picture and I have no problem with it. While I was personally rooting for “The Tree of Life”, this was a case where the Academy got it right. “The Artist” was a nostalgic but touching film that felt plucked right out of the silent movie era. I loved seeing it win.

So while it was a fairly predictable night, it was a good night. The stars played dress-up and movie fans witnessed new films and new performances added to that Valhalla of motion picture history. I went 5 for 6 in the “Big 6” categories so that speaks to the shows lack of suspense. But there were some genuinely funny moments and some good movies received their due.

TOP 5 BEST MALE SUPPORTING PERFORMANCES of 2011

Top 5 Best Male Supporting Performances of 2011

As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t see 2011 as the best year for movies but we did end up with several fantastic films and some truly memorable and wonderful lead and supporting performances. I’ve presented my personal Top 10 Films of 2011 and now it’s time to look at the performers. Here are my top 5 supporting male performances. I’m sure there are some you will agree with and others you won’t. Take time to comment and share your own personal top 5.

#5 – Tom Hiddleston (Midnight in Paris)

One of the reasons “Midnight in Paris” works so well is because of the incredible supporting work from its marvelous cast. Hiddleston instantly catches your attention from his first moments on screen and although he has a small role, it’s nonetheless brilliant. His line delivery, mannerisms, and period charm nail the character he portrays and he helped make a pretty unbelievable concept believable.

#4 – Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class)

Fassbender has garnered a lot of attention for his performances in 2011 but one that seems to go unnoticed is his amazing work in “X-Men: First Class”. He owns and commands every scene he’s in and I couldn’t get enough of him. He truly sells the Magneto character by showing the hard and calloused side while maintaining a sad and emotional perspective as well. It’s a seasoned and polished performance that deserves to be recognized.

#3 – Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris)

Remember when I said that a key reason “Midnight in Paris” works is because of it’s fantastic supporting cast? Here’s another example. Stoll’s Hemmingway is brash and crude but he’s also suave and at times hilarious. Stoll’s performance is a perfect match for the material and he steals several scenes. In a movie that requires a belief in the spectacular, it’s performances like Stoll’s that made be buy into it.

#2 – Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life)

Some may consider Pitt’s performance as a lead role but I see him more as strong supporting backbone to an incredibly moving story. Pitt has been known for his more exaggerated performances but this is totally different. Here he plays a believable and relatable father let down by life and facing the pressure of raising his family. It’s a near perfect performance that’s measured and grounded. It was a good year for Pitt and his work in “Moneyball” is getting all the praise. But I found his work in “The Tree of Life” to be the best of his career.

#1 Nick Nolte (Warrior)

One the most pleasant surprises of the year was Nick Nolte’s performance in “Warrior”. Some of the most gripping scenes of 2011 featured Nolte’s portrayal of a broken father who is rebuilding his life but still facing the consequences of his failures. Nolte helps get to the core of what makes “Warrior” such a powerful picture. It’s much more than the MMA backdrop might suggest, and it’s Nolte who drives this moving drama.

Agree or disagree. Be sure to leave a comment and let me know.