'That's My Boy': Sandler and Co. on Another Vacation

While the father-son story lopes along in the background, the movie offers up a lot of sex and bodily fluids jokes.

That's My Boy

Director: Sean Anders
Cast: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Vanilla Ice, James Caan, Milo Ventimiglia, Blake Clark, Meagan Fay, Tony Orlando, Will Forte, Rachel Dratch, Nick Swardson, Peggy Stewart, Susan Sarandon
Rated: R
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-06-15 (General release)
UK date: 2012-09-07 (General release)

By definition, Adam Sandler movies can't disappoint. Everyone knows they aim low, duplicating the Happy Madison Productions formula, providing vacations for Sandler and his friends, maybe inclined to make money. In all these aspects, That's My Boy offers no surprises. Well, maybe one: Rex Ryan wears a jacket and tie.

This wardrobe anomaly is occasioned by his role as Jim, low-rent attorney for Donny Berger, yet another iteration of Sandler's whiny manchild. Yes, you know that Ryan likes feet and coaches Sandler's favorite team. You probably also know that he's possessed of a decent sense of comic timing, not so effectively used here as he is, like everyone else in the film, the victim of some terrible scripting, where each character is loaded with a one-joke to be repeated -- again and again. Ryan benefits from the fact that he has another job and so his schedule was likely limited: he only appears for a couple of minutes. Still, his one-joke is a mightily obvious one: Jim's a Patriots fan, dismayed when Donny does damage to his Tom Brady poster and protective of his Bill Belichick bobblehead.

When you've recovered from this hilarity, Jim also sets in motion the film's plot, revealing that Donny's in dire straits because of unpaid taxes. He has a weekend to drum up $43,000.

The reason that the perennial loafer Donny owes such money is because he has made money owing to his long-rime-ago infamy as the 12-year-old lover of his teacher (Eva Amurri Martino). An introductory flashback-setup sequence has young Donny (Justin Weaver) not only lauded by all men and boys for living out their ultimate fantasy, but also making something of a tabloid-career out of it, his story the basis of a TV movie and his teen-star ascending around the same time as the Coreys (a montaged teen mag cover has him posing with the young versions of Feldman and the late Haim, their hairstyles alone reminding you, if you needed reminding, that the '80s remain an exceptionally dark period in pop history). The rapist teacher goes to prison for 30 years, leaving the baby to be raised by her "soul mate" Donny. He does a horrible job and his son disowns him.

Cut to now, and the son has renamed himself, from Han Solo Berger to Todd (Andy Samberg, and found a way to be really rich, that is, an apparent genius for calculations. Because of this gift, he's got a big fat job with a hedge fund mucky muck named Pete (Tony Orlando, looking very scarily "preserved") and an impending marriage to the beautiful Jamie (Leighton Meester). He's done all the right things, apparently, trying desperately not to be his dad, or even his dad's son. Woe unto him when dad arrives at the door of the Cape Cod estate where the wedding is set to take place (and where the Happy Madison cast-and-crew are vacationing this time), hoping to scheme the kid into visiting mom in prison, accompanied by tab-TV cameras -- and smarmy host-guy Randall Morgan (Dan Patrick, his appearance apparently underscoring how much Sandler loves sports media, as if you might care).

As much as Todd resists Donny's pleas for a reconnection, he's soon enough caught up in a pile of irrelevant lies: he's been claiming his parents were killed in an explosion, and so Donny poses as his "best friend," one whom everyone loves instantly. Jamie's hard-ass military brother (Milo Ventimiglia) loves his bawdy stories. Steve loves his beer and "Whassups?" Doddering grandma (Peggy Stewart) loves his giant schlong. They even love his friendship with Vanilla Ice (who plays himself, drinking with his buddy, forgiving him for sleeping with his mother back in the day, and peeing on walls and, well, on himself). (The most alarming image here may be that Vanilla Ice is actually well preserved: whatever hard road he's traveled has not affected him the ways that everyone else looks affected, Sandler chief among them.)

While the father-son story lopes along in the background, the movie offers up a lot of sex and bodily fluids jokes (puke, shit, jizz), each more emphatic than the one before (the punchline, having to do with the uber-bitchy Jamie's unworthiness for Donny's boy, may not be as wowza as the film suggests -- you're feeling awfully weary by the time this non-surprise emerges -- but it's yucky enough). Most of these gags have to do with cheesy guest star appearances, à la The Love Boat. So, on top of Tony Orlando and Vanilla Ice, Todd Bridges plays himself (with obligatory cocaine on his nose), Jimmy Caan shows up as a combative Irish priest, and Ian Zierling plays Donny in the TV movie.

This in-jokey business is familiar to anyone who's seen an Adam Sandler movie. The degree to which this one extends the R-rated sex and language material doesn’t make it funnier or sharper or more outrageous than Grown Ups or Jack and Jill. But it might tell you something about the imaginative limits of the Sandler machine's transgressions. No matter how loud or silly, vulgar or mean, they only reinforce the limits. It's not a new lesson: ask Rex Ryan.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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