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The Cobbler: Blu-ray + DVD Review

The Cobbler (2015) movie poster The Cobbler

Theatrical Release: March 13, 2015 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Tom McCarthy / Writers: Tom McCarthy, Paul Sado

Cast: Adam Sandler (Max Simkin), Cliff "Method Man" Smith (Leon Ludlow), Ellen Barkin (Elaine Greenawalt), Melonie Diaz (Carmen Herrara), Dan Stevens (Emiliano), Fritz Weaver (Mr. Leonard Solomon), Yul Vasquez (Max/Marsha), Steve Buscemi (Jimmy), Dustin Hoffman (Abraham Simkin), Lynn Cohen (Mrs. Simkin), Dascha Polanco (Macy), Craig Walker (Danny Donald), Joey Slotnick (Mr. Slick), Kevin Breznahan (Patrick), Greta Lee (Kara), Cliff Samara (Indian Man), Stephen Lin (Chinese Guy), Miles J. Harvey (Big Boned Kid), Glenn Fleshler (Jeffrey), Danny Mastrogiorgio (Brian), Albert Christmas (Detective Washington)

Buy The Cobbler from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD DVD Instant Video

Adam Sandler recently did what just about everyone who writes about him wanted to: broaden his horizons. Over the past twenty years, Sandler has had more commercial success than virtually every other movie star, but his bread and butter -- the widely appealing PG-13 comedy -- has lost its luster.
While most children of the '90s will vehemently defend Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore against any criticism, it's not clear if anyone is willing to do the same for newer movies like You Don't Mess with the Zohan and Jack and Jill. But, while to the casual moviegoer it may look like Sandler has remained completely consistent and predictable, a close study of his career shows there have been some promising, creative departures from the actor's comfort zone.

Forays into dramatic acting for writer-directors Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love), Mike Binder (Reign Over Me), and Judd Apatow (Funny People) have earned Sandler some of the critical validation that his signature vehicles almost never elicit. At the same time, all of those films performed modestly at the box office, from merely doing okay in limited release to Funny People outright flopping after a first-place opening as a wide summer release.

Those are some mixed signals being sent Sandler's way. People who watch movies for a living appreciate his willingness to try new things and get away from outright farce. And yet, the public at large -- which has made Sandler one of cinema's all-time biggest attractions -- doesn't seem to be all that interested in him flexing his dramatic muscles. Give them more Grown Ups and they're satisfied.

"The Cobbler" stars Adam Sandler as Max Simkin, a fourth generation New York shoe repairman.

Alas, the past few years have demonstrated just how narrow Sandler's comfort zone has gotten. Him being sarcastic with the old "Saturday Night Live" gang in a family-friendly PG-13 way: success. Him going broad in PG-rated drag or crude with R-rated fare: not so much. Even his most reliable of fallbacks -- another PG-13 romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore -- proved to be outside current moviegoers' tastes.
It's tough to say if the upcoming Pixels, Sandler's closest thing to a big action movie, will return him to favor, but I wouldn't bet on it. Even so, it appears to be his last big collaboration for the foreseeable future with Sony, whose employees' anonymous in-house complaints about the studio's partnership with the funnyman went embarrassingly public along with everything else in last year's big hack of the company's servers. Sandler's four-movie deal with Netflix anticipates a near-future where it's just as unlikely to find an Adam Sandler comedy at your local multiplex as an Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, or Chevy Chase one.

At the moment, Sandler's status seems to be all or nothing: dependable, popular comedy superstar or obscure independent actor. He might have too much baggage and celebrity for the industry to try to hire him anywhere in between those two extremes, like, say, a Coen Brothers caper. Sandler's extensive record of box office success did little for his two latest films, which each premiered at last September's Toronto International Film Festival to negative critical reaction, despite teaming the actor with highly respected writer-directors.

Men, Women & Children, from Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), cast Sandler in an ensemble as part of a cynical look at two generations' use of technology in one small town. Backed by Paramount, that $16 million film posted the fifth worst opening weekend on record for a wide release, which it narrowly qualified with a 608-theater count. It disappeared from theaters within two weeks of that ignominious expansion, destined to be soon forgotten despite a respectable IMDb rating.

Sandler's other uncharacteristic Toronto debut was The Cobbler, a film then looking for a distributor. It found one two days before its coolly-received screening in RLJ/Image Entertainment, a studio with a pitiful theatrical track record who makes most of their money off of home video. With that acquisition, it became clear that The Cobbler would not perform in line with one of Sandler's signature vehicles, nor even with a typical film written and directed by Tom McCarthy. There had been three of those prior to Cobbler: The Station Agent (2003), The Visitor (2008), and Win Win (2011). Each had been hailed by critics, recognized by awards organizations, and done a decent amount of business in a few hundred theaters.

The Cobbler would do none of the above. Its reported mid-March theatrical release was so miniscule it may not have even occurred. Critics were even more dismissive and disparaging of the film than Sandler's usual shtick. And the only award it conceivably could compete for -- a Razzie -- is certain not to happen, since that pay-to-play organization doles out nominations with their own publicity in mind.

Max (Adam Sandler) teams with Carmen Herrara (Melonie Diaz) to prevent their Manhattan neighborhood from being remade.

The Cobbler opens in 1903 with a group of Jewish men gathered in a basement on Manhattan's Lower East Side discussing things in Yiddish. Cut to the present day and the same location is still the site of a shoe repair business. Max Simkin (Sandler) is a fourth-generation cobbler. He has been manning the family business since his father abandoned Max's mother and him long ago.

You might wonder, "Who gets shoes repaired this day and age?" Well, in this film's version of New York, enough people do to have kept the establishment in operation for over 100 years. Taking the subway each day from Sheepshead Bay where he lives with his dementia-addled mother (Lynn Cohen), the bearded, perpetually single Max is a working class guy, just like other tradesmen with whom he shares the street, including Jimmy (Steve Buscemi), the friendly barber next door.

When his old resoling machinery breaks down, Max turns to an even older stitcher that has been rotting down in the basement. It still works and not only does it fix shoes, it also gives Max the ability to experience life as the shoes' owner. When wearing such shoes, he takes on the appearance and voice of their owners, but keeps his clothes (always wearing a red and black scarf so we know it's him), which somehow always fit.

Keeping this incredible power secret, Max gets to enjoy some vicarious thrills, becoming a handsome disc jockey with a gorgeous girlfriend and even Max's father (Dustin Hoffman, absent from the marketing) for a dinner with Mom that is conveniently only heartwarming. Walking in others' shoes only seems to work if the footwear is size 10, but fortunately, just about every male in this movie (even a cross-dressing one) wears that size. Another question you might ask is why Max has all these people's shoes for such an extended time. That too goes unanswered.

Instead, there is the old "save the neighborhood" plot. Greedy developers are trying to demolish the neighborhood's small businesses and old apartments to build up luxury housing and retail. The effort is led by an icy, ruthless businesswoman (Ellen Barkin). Meanwhile, the interests of the neighborhood, including an old man (Fritz Weaver) who adamantly resists eviction, are being protected by petition-distributing Carmen Herrara (Melonie Diaz), who you'll recognize as the latest in a long line of Sandler love interests who have remained fairly young even as he approaches 50.

Sandler friend and frequent co-star Steve Buscemi plays Jimmy, the barber next door who likes to share pickles. Ellen Barkin plays the ice cold real estate developer determined to gentrify New York's Lower East Side.

If Punch-Drunk Love is the Paul Thomas Anderson version of a signature Adam Sandler movie, than The Cobbler is Tom McCarthy's interpretation. Sandler remains mild-mannered throughout. There are no outbursts or goofy voices. Even sarcasm is kept to a minimum. You can tell this isn't a Happy Madison production; of Sandler's many friends/repeat co-stars, only one -- Buscemi -- turns up.
You can also tell this is a much lower-budgeted version of a Sandler vehicle, which have cost as much as $80 million (each Grown Ups movie), perhaps only to compensate him and friends generously and cover all the expenses of their paid vacation shoots. The Cobbler's budget was estimated at $10 million, so this wasn't exactly a shoestring production. Still, it achieves its magic tactfully with a minimum of visual effects.

The Cobbler's brand of magical realism recalls many successful comedy films, including Groundhog Day, Midnight in Paris, Stranger Than Fiction, and Sandler's own enjoyable Click. Its save-the-neighborhood plot calls to mind movies like *batteries not included and Diaz's Be Kind Rewind. There's also a bit of Frank Capra in the premise, which is hardly the first time that the oft-derided Sandler has channeled the widely-heralded, award-winning yesteryear director (It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) who was sometimes marginalized as corny and sentimental in his day.

Will Sandler one day be celebrated as a genius ahead of his time? Perhaps. If he is, though, he'll have far better works to admire than this. The Cobbler is passable throughout, unworthy of the scorn that critics have sent its way. Their problem may have been approaching this as a Tom McCarthy movie rather than an Adam Sandler one. Yes, it is easily the weakest of McCarthy's four directorial efforts. Even within the Sandler canon, only the glaring misfires like Zohan and Jack and Jill strike you as obviously worse. It's tempting to assign some blame to McCarthy's co-writer Paul Sado, a man with little else of note to his name. But, apart from some lapses in logic, a narrative wrong turn, and an ending you'll see coming long in advance and probably not love, The Cobbler is an okay diversion that should be easier for many to swallow than a Grown Ups 3 would be.

Having supposedly already hit theaters all over the globe with a few more markets to come, The Cobbler hits North American stores today on DVD and in the Blu-ray + DVD set reviewed here.

The Cobbler: Blu-ray + DVD - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $34.97
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-25 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($27.97 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though it may hail from a smaller distributor and use a smaller budget, The Cobbler still boasts terrific picture and sound on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 video is sharp, vibrant, and without even minor imperfection, while the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack does a first-rate job of distributing dialogue and the lively score that is credited to both John Debney and Nick Urata.

Tom McCarthy wears headphones while directing The Cobbler. Adam Sandler IS The Cobbler.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Both Blu-ray and DVD include two bonus features, each of which the Blu-ray encodes in HD.

"The Making of The Cobbler" (15:03) provides the behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interview comments you expect it to.
The latter, which includes even minor supporting cast, are refreshingly thoughtful and candid.

The Cobbler's trailer (2:21), doubtfully seen in any US theaters, is also kindly included.

Though not accessible by menu, the discs open with trailers (HD on Blu-ray) for The Rewrite, Paradise, and Goats.

That menu offers a standard montage of clips. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks, but does make resuming unfinished playback of the film just as easy as a DVD.

Capitalizing on what might be their greatest display of star power to date, Image Entertainment tops the blue keepcase with a textured, embossed cardboard slipcover featuring the same appealing artwork below.

In "The Cobbler", Max Simkin (Adam Sandler) is magically able to walk in other people's shoes, assuming the appearance of those whose shoes he has resoled on an enchanted old stitcher.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Cobbler barely qualifies as a comedy and may seem to some a poor excuse for an Adam Sandler vehicle. This uncharacteristic Tom McCarthy indie may have its problems and feel like too much of a throwback for its own good. But if you haven't given up on Sandler and can appreciate him doing something even slightly different, you may find this Capra-esque tale a suitable diversion. The movie's Blu-ray + DVD edition is basic but satisfactory, sporting a high quality feature presentation and a good making-of featurette.

Buy The Cobbler from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Accidental Love The Last Five Years The Rewrite St. Vincent This Is Where I Leave You
Written and Directed by Tom McCarthy: Win Win The Station Agent | Written by Tom McCarthy: Million Dollar Arm Up
Adam Sandler: Men, Women & Children Bedtime Stories Blended Just Go With It That's My Boy Funny People
Adam Sandler (continued): Grown Ups Grown Ups 2 Jack and Jill Zookeeper Hotel Transylvania

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Reviewed May 12, 2015.



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