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Adam Sandler turns in a pleasantly understated performance as Max Simkin, a Lower East Side shoe repairman who discovers that an heirloom stitching machine has magical properties in Tom McCarthy’s film The Cobbler. Put on any customer’s two shoes and Max takes on that person’s appearance, allowing him to indulge such entertaining caprices as sneaking into a black thug’s gun-and-bling-filled apartment or walking into a beautiful stranger’s bathroom. Max eventually takes his place as a “guardian of souls” in addition to his work as a mender of soles.

While funny, The Cobbler is a film which, like Punch Drunk Love (2002), allows Sandler to show off his non-idiot side and is welcome as a change of pace. Steve Buscemi and Dustin Hoffman appear in supporting roles as, respectively, Max’s barber neighbor and mysteriously absent father. Viewers may see the surprise ending coming, but so much of The Cobbler is entertainingly unexpected that any conformity to audience expectations is handily offset.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Cobbler is:

6. Obesity-tolerant. “I’m not fat. I’m big-boned.”

5. Pro-gay and pro-miscegenation. Simkin’s eventual love interest is peppery Carmen (Melonie Diaz). An Asian woman (Greta Lee) flirts with Simkin in a bar after he has unwittingly taken on the form of a bisexual man (Dan Stevens). “I think it’s hot,” she reassures him. Sandler also dons high heels to occasionally assume the appearance of a gauche Latin transvestite (Yul Vazquez).

4. Family-ambivalent. Simkin is deeply devoted to his mother (Lynn Cohen), who was abandoned by his father (Dustin Hoffman). The latter turns out to have responded to a higher calling. Asked if she ever wanted to be somebody else, Mrs. Simkin replies, “I’m your mother. That’s all I ever wanted to be.” Carmen seemingly discounts the necessity of fathers, however, when she says, “My dad split when I was 12. Life goes on.”

3. Localist and populist. Carmen works for the Lower East Side Action Committee, committed to halting the area’s gentrification, and attempts to get Simkin to support the cause. “I’m glad that you’re supporting a local business,” she tells him when she sees him with a box of pickles.

2. Racist! The Cobbler’s only important black character is a career criminal, a murderer and abuser of women, played by rapper Cliff “Method Man” Smith. “You Jewish?” this black bigot interrogates Simkin. “Lucky you.” He then insensitively asks if his recently deceased mother left him any money. In another scene, the fiend creates a Michael Brown-style ruckus in a convenience store.

1. Borderline anti-Semitic. Surprisingly, The Cobbler offers an unsavory portrait of a Hebraic slumlord and gangster in tough-as-nails “Jew from Queens” Elaine Greenawalt (Ellen Barkin). The film compensates for this cinematic blood libel by providing typical wailing violin movie portrayals of weak, long-suffering Jews like Simkin, who gives submissive shoeshines to arrogant blacks. Ratcheting up The Cobbler’s Jewish victimhood factor is Fritz Weaver from the 1978 Holocaust miniseries, who appears as Mr. Solomon, the helpless old man Greenawalt hopes to evict by any dastardly means necessary.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Part II of

The Filthy Films of Adam Sandler in Ideological Content Analysis:

A Cranko-Politico-Critical Retrospective

of the Institute for Advanced Sandler Studies

AdamSandler

1995’s Billy Madison finds Sandler expanding his retard schtick from Saturday Night Live into the feature-length characterization of a bizarre, hyperactive American Oblomov, an irresponsible man-child of means who lives off the family fortune and spends his days in epic slacking: partying, drinking, hallucinating, and generally wasting his life.  Unfortunately, his lifetime of pampering means that spoiled Billy never learned to do anything for himself; and only the influence of his Fortune 500 hotel tycoon father (Darren McGavin) prevented him from flunking out of school and allowed him to undeservedly graduate.

Learning this for the first time, Billy is distraught; and to prove to the skeptical Mr. Madison that he, Billy, and not the scheming and evil Eric (Bradley Whitford) should take over direction of the family hotel chain, Billy hits upon the idea of demonstrating his ability to achieve on his own by tearing through all the public school grades again, from kindergarten to high school, in just a matter of wild and wacky weeks.  Along the way he makes a number of friends in grade school and falls in love with one of his teachers, the cute but tough Miss Vaughn (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) – but will it be enough to counter Eric’s unscrupulous effort to undermine the project and sabotage Billy’s righteous birthright?

Billy Madison revels in the absurd, celebrates the obscene, and wallows in the scatalogical like the world is ending.  What might on paper sound like a total cinematic disaster is, however, turned into a surprisingly and defiantly funny character creation in the hands of Adam Sandler.  Viewers are challenged not to laugh when Billy, his crush on Miss Vaughn in full bloom, whimpers pitiably in an aside that he, “Want[s] to touch the hiney”.  The laughs thin out somewhat during the film’s obligatory inspirational third act, but Sandler’s inimitable mojo keeps the ball of snot rolling, and smile-sparking supporting turns from Chris Farley, Norm MacDonald, and Steve Buscemi certainly do no harm.

Viewed with an open heart, Billy Madison is, in all honesty, a stupid but also a pretty funny comedy of the gleefully gross, gutter-snorkeling variety and earns 3.5 of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Billy Madison is:

7. Anti-feminist.  Miss Vaughn, though she can be stern and in one scene bests Billy in a physical altercation, appears to become interested in him after she lets him get away with an “assault” in which he pretends to fall on a school bus and exploits the opportunity to grope her breasts.  How incorrigibly sexist!

6. State-skeptical.  Public schools’ employee screening practices are called into question by the revelation that Billy’s grade school principal, Mr. Anderson (Josh Mostel) is actually a former professional wrestler with no teaching degree.  One of the teachers (Dina Platias) is a slightly spacy hippie who engages in some kind of ritual freakout when the kids are out at recess.  A bus driver (Chris Farley) is clearly full of rage and a man who could snap at any moment.  He also steals the children’s lunches.  Public grade school education appears to consist of coloring exercises, crafts, and spelling bees.  See also no. 1.

5. Anti-family/anti-marriage.  Children can be brats.  A trivia host offers the category “My Wife the Tramp”.  The mother of one of Billy’s classmates indicates that she is sexually available while her husband is serving a prison sentence.

4. Pro-drug.  Billy drinks heavily, the only consequences being laziness and humorous, Harvey-style hallucinations of a giant penguin.  He eats paste with gusto and offers some to a classmate.  His slacker buddies joke about getting a donkey drunk.

3. Pro-miscegenation.  Billy’s fat black maid (Theresa Merritt) repeatedly flirts with him and offers to take her top off to cheer him up.  Bestiality receives an endorsement when the bus driver meets and finds ecstasy with the penguin of Billy’s hallucinations.  Madison, despite his all-American name and Anglo-Saxon father, is unmistakably a Jew and so cannot resist the blonde temptation of Teutonic “hiney”.

2. Pro-gay.  Among Billy’s dirty magazine subscriptions is one called She-Male Fiesta.  Mr. Anderson gives Billy an obscene Valentine’s Day card informing him that he is horny and later shamelessly grinds against him in public.  The bus driver, taking over from Miss Vaughn, does an educational striptease for Billy to induce him to learn his lessons.  Lesbians engage in a three-way kiss.

1. Capital-ambivalent.  Billy’s untamed lifestyle and various eccentricities suggest that a privileged upbringing results in a spoiled, abnormal personality, and the story of Billy’s first fraudulent experience in the public schools indicates that the rich simply disregard the pesky rules that everybody else has to follow in life.  That the wealthy Mr. Madison puts his son through the public schools at all may point to a humble adherence to his Main Street roots and everyman origins – or it might be that Mr. Madison sees deficient and academically undemanding public schools as offering the easiest path to graduation for his son. Meritocracy receives a nod in the acknowledgement that Mr. Madison is a self-made man, and his company eventually winds up in the hands of his most qualified and deserving subordinate (Larry Hankin).  However, had Billy chosen to accept the direction of the company, this impression would have been instantly dissipated by the picture of a barely functional simpleton jumping to first place in the corporate world just because of whose son he happens to be.  He instead opts to go the populist route and become a teacher himself.

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