Sure, last year Adam Sandler was an Oscar contender for ‘Uncut Gems’ and shoulda been a Best Actor nominee. But ‘Hubie Halloween,’ the Netflix holiday comedy he produced, co-wrote and stars in, has nothing to do with that aspect of the one-time ‘SNL’ star’s remarkably consistent career. Sandler makes independent films as a contrast to his fan favorite comedies. His Netflix deal allows him to make Adam Sandler movies that are immediate smash hits, which allows him to maintain his standing as an A-list producer-writer and star. The 2019 Netflix ‘Murder Mystery’ with Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Luke Evans, was an ideal example of how easy he makes it all seem. This scenic cruise ship variation on Agatha Christie was a formulaic comedy with enough hints of personality to be well-paced and ultimately satisfying. Similarly, ‘Hubie Halloween’ is as enjoyable as it is because it’s so predictable, so silly. Yet somehow fresh.
Sandler employs a weird speech pattern as put-upon Hubie who sees his life purpose as the self-appointed protector of Salem, Mass. A job which means everyone in the town can pelt him with garbage or cans as he cycles merrily, blissfully thru town. Everyone, even school kids, bullies and insults him. Yet Hubie shrugs it off with grace and acceptance – by the end he’s practically a Christ-like figure of suffering and redemption as he saves Salem’s Halloween. Needless to say, though Sandler is 54, Hubie is a naif who still lives with his mom (Oscar nominee June Squibb, one of the original Burlesque strippers in the original cast of Broadway’s ‘Gypsy,’ the greatest showbiz musical ever made. I digress) and pines secretly – pines since his childhood! – for married mom Julie Bowen, Sandler’s ‘Happy Gilmore’ costar. As Halloween approaches there’s a (possible) werewolf on the loose, a wary town sheriff (Kevin James, another Sandler regular), a haunted house and a most mysterious new next-door neighbor (Steve Buscemi) who is boarding up all his windows.
As the soothing voice of the local radio station we have Shaquille O’Neal as DJ Aurora whose feminine voice is dubbed. Then there’s Maya Rudolph and Tim Meadows as a hideously mean and spiteful married couple. Rudolph gets my vote as this comedy’s stand-out performance: She chills. Also with Michael Chiklis as a priest, Ben Stiller, a ‘Happy Gilmore’ alumnus, as an asylum orderly and Rob Schneider an escaped convict. Netflix now reveals the week’s Top 10 and when ‘Hubie Halloween’ premiered, no surprise, it easily placed first.
YOU’LL NEVER GUESS Ingenious and beautifully directed by Peter Facinelli, ‘The Vanished’ (DVD + Digital, Paramount, R) rates as a genuine, first-rate surprise, a murder mystery/thriller with a compelling propulsion. It’s nearly Thanksgiving, a couple and their little girl arrive at a nearly deserted trailer camp by a scenic lake. The child disappears. What happened? Thomas Jane and Anne Heche are the couple who take, it’s clear, drastic measures as they search for their little girl as we try to decide what’s going on. That should clearly be the job of Jason Patric’s sheriff who has a few secrets of his own that just might impede his detective work. Patric, with padding and downtrodden gait, creates one troubled, haunted sheriff as Heche relentlessly, continually, ups the hysteria while Jane patiently seeks explanations or causes that are never quite forthcoming. A sly bonus: Facinelli in the featured role of sheriff’s assistant.
FLASHY REMAKE As the 10th film added to their Paramount Classics label, ‘The Haunting’ (Blu-ray, Paramount Classics, PG-13) has the popcorn pedigree of a prestige project. That’s because it’s based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House,’ often cited as one of the great ghost stories of the last century. There was first a 1963 film version, in black and white and directed by Robert Wise (‘West Side Story,’ ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’) and set in Great Britain. That is a true classic.
This 1999 version drops subtlety for outright supernatural horror and gore, albeit with a classy quartet: Liam Neeson is the doctor who brings susceptible patients to spend time and be studied in a ‘haunted’ house. The patients are Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor (who is so memorable in another horror outing, the 2013 ‘The Conjuring’). The Special Feature here is director Jan de Bont’s interview — a cinematographer turned director he’s known for the Keanu Reeves classic ‘Speed’ which introduced Sandra Bullock and ‘Twister.’ This Blu-ray was produced under de Bont’s supervision.
FROM STRIFE, A STAR IS BORN As the star of the 1965 ‘anti-James Bond’ thriller ‘The Ipcress File’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) Michael Caine vaulted to ‘overnight’ celebrity. Sean Connery’s 007 was the movies’ equivalent of The Beatles, a ground-shaking sensation that created a tsunami of imitations. ‘Ipcress’ was different. Here Her Majesty’s detective Harry Palmer wakes up not with a babe but alone. He wears glasses (as did Caine) and is an elaborate gourmet cook (as was Len Deighton, the best-selling author of the source novel). In the British Secret Service of ‘Ipcress’ there is nothing flashy, much less futuristic as in 007 fantasies. Harry inherits his promotion when an agent is murdered and a top British scientist kidnapped. The scientist is to be ransomed off to whichever country bids highest – and the UK is desperate to get him back whatever the price.
Director Sidney J. Furie had just made a splashy debut with the largely improvised gay-accented, low-budget ‘The Leather Boys’ which won him this job. But there was a problem: ‘Ipcress’ producer Harry Saltzman, who with Cubby Broccoli, was riding high producing 007 movies, absolutely hated everything Furie was doing. Titanic battles ensued, Furie even exited one location in tears. It took celebrated James Bond editor (and often director, he helmed ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’) Peter Hunt to rescue Furie by assembling a rough cut of the first weeks’ filming and telling Saltzman Furie’s work was first-rate and this was far better than making some low-budget Bond imitation. Also onboard the ‘Ipcress’ express two other key Bond players: production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry who offers a career-best score. Beyond the engaging audio commentary of Furie and Hunt, there’s another commentary by two film historians as well as a lengthy years later Caine interview where he reflects on practically all of the film’s vitals.
CUTESY CANINE SCI-FI A sci-fi fantasy of talking pets on a global mission of protecting humans, ‘Cats & Dogs 3 Paws Unite’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, WB, PG) continues the blueprint established in 2001. In the original dogs and cats battled as human happiness hung in the balance. ‘3 Paws’ follows the Great Truce when cats and dogs no longer fought. There is, in fact, a giant joint species surveillance system meant to keep the peace as it monitors cats and dogs. Unfortunately, ‘3 Paws’ demonstrates how easily a system may be hacked — and the sabotage revives the war between the two. Can a new, inexperienced team save the day and restore peace? Special Features: Gag reel, a featurette ‘Animal Charades’ on the making of the movie and ‘Deep Animal Thoughts’ as the cast reveals all.
CULT DIRECTOR Three of Tod Browning’s Universal silents are newly released. They are revelations for fans of this celebrated cult director who made the original 1933 ‘Dracula’ with Bela Lugosi and a series of classics with Lon Chaney, the ‘Man of a Thousand Faces,’ like ‘The Unholy Three,’ ‘The Unknown’ and without Chaney ‘Freaks.’ Browning’s 1920 ‘Outside the Law’ (Blu-ray, Kino Classics, Not Rated) was a legendary success, Universal Pictures’ biggest box-office smash ever. It starred Priscilla Dean who may be virtually unknown today but was regarded as the studio’s great dramatic actress.
In this new 4K restoration ‘Outside the Law’ continued Browning’s interest in female-led melodramas, showcasing strong if not entirely sympathetic women who would escape the strictures men laid on them. Dean here is one tough cookie, a jewel thief whose father is framed for murder by Chaney’s Black Mike. ‘Outside the Law’ Special Features include historian Anthony Slide’s audio commentary, a new musical score and an alternate ending. Two Browning’s 1923 ‘Drifting’ (Blu-ray, Kino Classics, Not Rated) is paired with Browning’s other 1923 release, ‘White Tiger.’ Priscilla Dean stars in both. ‘Drifting’ is most notable today for co-starring Anna Mae Wong whose plight and restrictions as Hollywood’s first Asian-American star is highlighted in the recent Ryan Murphy Netflix series ‘Hollywood.’ ‘Drifting’ is set in a remote Chinese village with Dean one very tough opium smuggler. There’s a lively brothel scene and a spectacular revolutionary battle as the climax with tinted blue and red sequences. Dean’s other co-star is the great Wallace Beery (‘Dinner at Eight,’ ‘The Champ’ which won him the Best Actor Oscar). ‘Drifting’ has a Slide audio commentary as well. Where ‘Drifting’ has been lovingly restored, ‘Tiger’ – about a band of jewel thieves — is here in its only available form, a serviceable version copied from a battered TV copy. Beery is on hand again and so is an automaton that plays chess and is instrumental for the thieves’ success. Film historian Bret Wood offers an insightful audio commentary on Browning.
AN AUSSIE DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES From Down Under, ‘Bad Mothers’ (DVD, 8 episodes, 2 discs, Sundance Now, Not Rated) might serve as a kissing cousin of ‘Big Little Lies’ as a group of attractive housewives balance family, career, love, infidelity and, yes, homicide. Seems one wife, a doctor yet, finds that her best friend (Melissa George, the only ‘name’ among the cast) has brazenly trysted with her husband, a gym owner and fitness fanatic. That’s enough to trouble any marriage but when George is found dead at the bottom of her ultra mod staircase in her ultra mod house, suspicion naturally falls on — well, better to let the plot’s many discoveries unfold onscreen. Lively, with snappy repartee and a big emphasis on hitting the brew or cocktails for comfort, ‘Bad Mothers’ isn’t terribly focused on the kids.
NO PLACE TO HIDE? The whacked comical premise of ‘Save Yourselves!’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code. Universal-Bleecker Street, R) is nearly irresistible. A stressed-out Brooklyn couple (is there, I know, any other kind?) decides to getaway and just shut the world out in their upstate cabin in the woods. Guess if you can when aliens decide to invade planet Earth? Exactly. Writing-directing duo of Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson offer a feature commentary. Also deleted and extended scenes and the blooper reel.