Saturday, 24 June 2006

Basil doesn't care all that much about Nicole Kidman's wedding

The lightbulb in the lamp in my study blew and all I had to replace it with was a hundred-watt mushroom reflector globe which wastes a lot of energy in the form of heat.

Basil has taken to sleeping under it with his head on the radio. Here he is listening to Counterpoint. The thing he's lying on is the padded sleeve for my laptop

I re-arranged the furniture in here this afternoon and managed to shove in a couple more little bookcases ($15 and $20 each, from the reject shop) so things are much tidier and more orderly. My table also now faces the window so Baz and I can look out at the back yard and see when that bastard Bobster puts his ugly face over the fence.

On Thursday night I went to the movies. I saw Click, which is about a man who gets a magic universal remote control that allows him to do DVD-style remote control functions on his life - skip back and forth, mute, fast-forward and so on. He is given it, with a warning to use it carefully, by a mysterious person in a strange workshop. At the beginning the hero is a stressed-out young man working too hard, for a perverse and wanton employer, to spare time to do things with his wife and children and elderly parents, and while he thinks he can use the controller to regain control over his life, of course the controller begins to control him and he finds himself skipping forward through his life, years and decades at each step, each time discovering his career has advanced and some new disaster has happened in the part of his life he skipped over - marriage breakdown, fatness, father's death and so forth. He manages to be present at his son's wedding but he suffers a heart attack and is put in hospital, where the son announces that he's postponed his honeymoon in order to take care of the family business. The hero, recognising that his son is about to follow in his own footsteps, uses up his last strength telling his son to take the trip. Just then the mysterious man, who's been popping up every now and then, reappears and announces himself as the angel of death, and the hero dies.

But then he wakes up! It was all a dream! He goes home and is right back where he started except now he knows he's been given a second chance to live his life properly. Which, being Adam Sandler, we know absolutely he will do.

Adam Sandler, and the Adam Sandler Vehicle, are a bit like Jerry Lewis, as described by Gilbert Adair: (but not quite as much like Jerry Lewis as I suspect Sandler wishes) in that the whole thing is a sort of litmus test for how well you understand the Movies. You don't have to like him yourself, but you do have to understand what he is about and what he is for and recognise that what he does can very plausibly indeed be understood as Art. The vulgarity, grossness, anti-intellectualism, aggression, snideness, social conservatism, and assembly-line formularity of his films is easy enough to despise but unless you can see how the reiteration of these things over and over in the cinematic setting can transfigure them, completely, you don't fully grasp what movies are all about.

Click is ripped off from It's a Wonderful Life, but it is difficult (though tempting) to imagine the dignified depressive James Stewart using his extratemporal powers to fart into Lionel Barrymore's face, as Sandler does to David Hasselhoff. Sandler is all about poorly repressed infantile rage and the costs exacted on the "average" white American male by the difficult transition to manhood . Sandler movies tend to be much, much better in the first half, where he's wailing and ranting and throwing hockey sticks or pissing in the street, than in the second, where he is domesticated and civilised by a sexy, motherly woman and/or a small, cute child. Click follows this scheme and additionally is split in half generically: the first part is comic and the second is a sentimental melodrama.

The movie looks to me like the fruit of this powerful player's ambition to consolidate his position as king of the fratboy movie and move into a bigger arena, bringing his maturing audience with him. (See also Spanglish.) The other stars of the movie are Hasselhoff, Henry Winkler and Christopher Walken. (Kate Beckinsale is the wife/mother, but she has no presence when she can't give full play to her natural bitchiness, so I don't count her.) This is a very interesting collection of actors: they are all hams, mugs, novelty performers, but star hams, first-class novelty acts, with big reputations and resumes. It's a different generation and order to the people you usually see in a Sandler comedy - Steve Buscemi, Brendan Fraser et al - those guys are like the Sandler troupe but the cast of this movie is an attempt to make a statement about a particular Hollywood tradition and Adam Sandler's position as its inheritor and consolidator.

Hovering over the whole film is a strange, invasive puritanism which I think is also a new strain in the Sandler repertoire. Its gimmick is a remote control which manipulates the temporality of a person's life like a DVD player. Wouldn't you think that he'd use it to rob a bank? Or play the stock market? Or shaft some scumbag enemy? Or bring someone back from the dead, or revisit some powerful memory? Or do some kind of perverse and forbidden sex thing, instead of just slow-motioning a jogger lady's bouncing boobs or speeding up boring marital foreplay? Not a hint of any of this. It is all about skipping forward over hard or boring or complicated tasks and duties - family dinner, fighting with the wife, working all night for a job deadline. In other words, the remote control is evil, it saps your moral strength and shortens your life because it makes you lazy. Alongside this frowning upon shortcomings in the work ethic and failure to maintain bodily fitness by working out is a bizarre little line in dissing junk food. The worst thing you can do in this movie is let yourself get fat. "Somebody smells like stale old French Fries" says Walken the death angel when Sandler first walks into his workshop. "Junk food shortens your life." Seconds earlier Sandler was shown cramming fries into his mouth while driving round the streets at night. Other foods eaten in the movie and called out as wicked are Twinkies, Yodels (I only have a very faint idea of what these are - some kind of American cake in a bag), big bags of potato chips, bottles of fizzy drink, and a cup of ice cream with sprinkly things on top, which is being eaten, while three adults look on disapprovingly, by a five year old boy who has just participated in a swimming carnival.

Sinfulness in modern America.

PS. Study after furniture moving:

I didn't have the heart to disturb the sunbed arrangement.


Zoe said...

Triffic post, Laura. I'm glad someone's watching the Adam Sandler movies for us.

Nicholson Barker's "The Fermata" has some similarities - do you know it?

Zoe said...

Oh, and pretty view. How do you stop yourself staring out the window all day?

Lucy Tartan said...

Thanks, Zoe. It's no burden to me to watch adam Sandler movies.

I dimly remeber reading The Fermata in high school and being rather shocked by it, I was quite the prude in those days. This movie is a bit like it except without the sex....heh

The view is like a Monet - big old mess close up. In spring it's nice because of the fresh leaves on the japanese maple.

Zoe, do you know why Krystal has a bandage on her chin? She looks like she's had a painful accident of some kind.

Ampersand Duck said...

I can't imagine that room with more furniture in it, but it looks like you've done a great thing in reclaiming the view.

Basil looks nonchalant, but I bet he'll be scanning the dailies for news of her dress designer in the morning.

cristy said...

Great review Laura. Your desk arrangement looks good too - I wish that I could face a window, but the closest I can manage is to be able to see my glass doors when I turn to the left...

cristy said...

I was also wondering about the chin bandage... and the new people. I clearly have not been keeping up very well with BB.

Jellyfish said...

I'm glad there's one other female out there who quite likes his films.

Although this one seems suspiciously similar to the 'Round the Twist' episode 'Spaghetti Pig Out.' Weird.

Chuck said...

Enjoyed the Click review. I'm planning to see it soon as it pertains to my book project (with the time machines and all). Of course one of the reasons Sandler doesn't do anything sexually weird or whatever is that the film has to get a PG3 rating in the US to allow the widest possible audience to see it. That being said, it sounds deeply moralistic. Word on the street (and maybe IMBD) is that the writers for the similarly moralistic Bruce Almighty wrote the screenplay.

elsewhere said...

Ok, will try and catch this film at Darwin cinema tonight.

In my opinion, Basil needs therapy. Not interested in the stars??? (There are behavioural consultations available at our local vet for $225 a pop.)

FXH said...

I'd rather pay to see basil than Sandler.

I hope this doesn't reflect too badly on me but somehow I found myself thinking that if I could crawl up under the window level when that wind-out window was open a bit, then I could squeeze my hand in the opening and get away quietly with what looks to be a fairy new Apple Laptop.

otoh - I'd need to know if Baz is an attack guard cat or not. Or I could just wait until Michael Duffy puts him into a deep fluffy sleep.

So where will you be next Monday at 4 pm or is it 5?

Anonymous said...

The chin bandage covers the stitches she had to have because she fell and cut herself during a competition-thingy they had to participate in. Or so my daughter tells me. My daughter who also likes Adam Sandler, much as I liked Jerry Lewis way back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
Cheers, Fran

Pavlov's Cat said...

Good to have it confirmed that other people out there are thinking my way about Michael Duffy.

Whenever I have a reading lamp shining on an A4 page, both Madam and Poppet think they are in Cat Heaven -- lying down on an A4 page with Her giving you her whole attention AND the warm light on you ALL AT THE SAME TIME!

Zoe said...

Laura, I have trawled the "Behind Big Brother" forums and can report that Krystal has 8 or 9 stitches in her chin following a prang in one of the Friday night games (the one with the big fan). I wish I'd seen Fran's comment first, though.

Excitingly, for the BBB folk, she was out of the house being seen to for a few hours for a possible "airbag rupture".

You watch the Adam Sandler movies, and I'll read the BBB forum ...

Kate said...

And I'll mark another 40-odd essays all about Big brother! Goodness me if uni students these days aren't a bunch of boring whiners. They're all complaining about how Big brother (and reality TV at large) are destroying society and out ability to empathise with others. Oh the mythological past when we were all so sensitive and caring -- never mind say, what used to go on at the colleseum, or public capital punishment like hangings in Victorian england, or public lynchings of black people in the deep south. No, before reality TV people were all caring and lovely and nice to each other, and it's all BB's fault we dehumanise others so we don't have to perceive their suffering.

[/ends off topic rant] The only Adam Sandler movie I really like is 'The Wedding Singer'.

Lucy Tartan said...

Thanks, Fran. The blogosphere is so helpful! Thanks also for the stimulus to get a bit frightened about law and order issues, FXH. I have enrolled the cat in a martial arts school and switched over to recorded music rather than talk radio.

Uni students have always been boring whiners to exactly the same degree as they are now. I know I was.

Kent said...


PS: Nice post :)

Rob said...

Basil shows exquisite taste! (In not caring about that other wedding :-) )

TimT said...

Great review. I'll probably go and see this film, and you have an interesting POV on it.

I do wonder though ... why exactly it is easy to despise the 'social conservatism' of Sandler's films. I don't really see what's wrong with social conservatism myself, as long as it's not enforced, either as unwritten social rules or as laws.

Sure, it's good that some people can lead the lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll if they like that - but why should people who want to lead a socially conservative lifestyle be denied the freedom?

I'm picking up on a small part of your post, I know, but it puzzles me. I've seen this sort of criticism of the 'conservative' life a few times, and it's usually by people who are probably fairly conservative themselves. And shouldn't we be conservative about the things we truly value (family, children, culture, friends, law, etc?)

Not looking for an argument: just curious.

And Jelly, lol! I remember reading the Paul Jenning's story for that Round the Twist episode too - one of the funniest things I'd ever read in my life (and at that point, it probably wasn't that much) ...

Lucy Tartan said...

TimT, Chuck's remark about how movies like this are designed for maximum commercial exposure has something to do with it. I am faintly creeped out by the kind of calculation involved in infusing a movie with nuclear family values and gender stereotypes because that's what's easiest to sell tickets to, not because that's what the people making the movie honestly believe.

In Sandler movies the protagonist gets to cut loose and be anti-social in the first half of the film but sooner or later he's reined in and settles down. You could view that as hypocritical - having it both ways. The point I was trying to make is that disliking Sandler for representing that sort of hypocrisy is a bit too easy, actually, and overlooks the way he's developed an expressive repertoire out of the poses associated with conservatism, snideness and those other things i mentioned.

Particularly when it's a genuinely held belief, I don't have a problem with conservative politics, taking that to mean reluctance to change stuff just for the sake of change (not taking it to mean most contemporary right-wing political philosophies, which are mostly very keen on radical change.)
Jane Austen was a conservative.

TimT said...

It's certainly true that some American films aim at the 'family' demographic simply because of the commercial potential in it. That's a good point.

It's probably also worth remembering that a lot of comedy is socially conservative, anyway: in the case of Sandler's comedy, I guess, it's about exposing a type of social hypocrisy. Such was certainly the case for Jane Austen.

Anyway, thanks for the response. As I said, I've encountered weird criticism of conservative values before, and I thought it was a point worth raising.

Jason Soon said...

Huh? You're kidding right. I sorta enjoyed this movie in a mild way but far from being conservative I thought this was the sort of thing the new fuzzy left would like. It could've been written by a Clive Hamilton with a penchant for humour -I thought it was and saw it as a *condemnation* of the work ethic and careerism.

Caz said...


Punch Drunk Love?

Sandler doesn't always pick conservative projects. The above would be my (only) favorite Sandler films.

Lucy Tartan said...

Caz, you're right of course - and P-DL is a totally brilliant movie, one of the best. They're in a slightly different movie category, though, because they were both marketed and reviewed equally as movies by particular directors, as much as Adam Sandler vehicles. To me both of those films are secondary franchises in the Sandler empire, and they both owe a lot to the persona he's developed in his more typical movies.

jason, Click is completely in favour of the work ethic. The problem with the remote control is it allows him to enjoy the rewards of work without actually putting in the hours and the sweat. The problem is not his professional success but how he got it. The message is that you have to suffer to get anywhere, not just because that's how things are but because it would be immoral any other way.

The cliche symbol of the remote control as the tool of the couch potato is just one of many things in the film that are utterly censorious about laziness. And it shows laziness as leading to fatness which is depicted as almost as wicked as eating babies.

There is also the small matter of what the lady wife does all day other than run the house and stand around looking hot / starved. I don't think the fuzzy left would like the movie, whoever they are.

But again, my point is not that the movie is good or bad because of the attitudes it displays but that those attitudes are part of the medium of film, like everything else that happens in the world in front of the camera, and a good artist makes use of them.

tigtog said...

I have no strong opinions on Adam Sandler, as I find my response to him is utterly dependent on external factors affecting my mood.

Basil, however, is utterly gorgeous and showing excellent taste in his areas of non-interest.

TimT said...

I saw it. It wasn't in favour of the work ethic, IMO. The key lines in the film were: 'Every time you had a choice between work and family, you chose work', and 'Put family first'; the main theme was how Sandler's character repeatedly ignored his family in favour of work. (Although it wasn't really anti work ethic, either).

Then again, it probably wasn't against the work ethic, either.

Oh, and why didn't anybody mention the bit parts? Henry Winkler, James Earl Jones, Julie Kavner, David Hasselhoff ... the list goes on!

TimT said...

Oh, sorry ... you DID mention the bit parts.

Hasselhoff was oddly hilarious, Beckinsale had no presence at all.

I'm going now.