Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation


Don’t you want to take me on a sea cruise?

(2018) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Mel Brooks, Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, Keegan-Michael Key, Jim Gaffigan, Kathryn Hahn, Joe Jonas, Chrissy Teigen, Tara Strong, Chris Parnell, Asher Blinkoff, Genndy Tartakovsky, Aaron LaPlante, Michelle Murdocca. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

 

The Cartoon Network has done the world a disservice. Yes, some of the things that they have put out are actually pretty good, but the majority of their output is poorly animated and dumbed down, treating kids like easily distracted morons rather than actual people. Sadly, that tendency has begun to filter into major studio animated features as well as studios are looking for franchises that they can market and merchandise out the yin-yang.

Dracula (Sandler), proprietor of the monsters’ resort Hotel Transylvania is lonely and tired. His beloved daughter Mavis (Gomez) notices and decides to book a family vacation on a monster cruise ship. There Drac finds love with Ericka (Hahn), captain of the vessel but she is hiding a secret that might just destroy Dracula once and for all. Never mind that; at least the gang is all there with him for the fun.

The animation here is much improved over the first two films in the franchise; it is certainly the best of the series so far. Sadly, the script doesn’t keep pace; it is just as predictable and lowbrow as other kid flicks that have dominated the big screen of late. The sad fact is that Pixar and Illumination have shown that animated features can appeal to both adults and kids. Most adults will probably be better off finding something else to distract them while the kids are watching this.

There is an air of finality about this one; I think that it was initially intended to be the last in the series but Sony has scheduled a fourth installment for December 2021. I hope that the animation is as good or better as this one but that they put a little more effort into writing a script that has a bit more heart and a bit less fart jokes.

REASONS TO SEE: The animation is better-than-average.
REASONS TO AVOID: Kids will love this; parents, not so much.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some fairly rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some of the names of the ships in the Bermuda Triangle sequence are the names of ships that reportedly disappeared there in reality.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/31/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews: Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mad Monster Party
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Slender Man

Pick of the Litter – January 2020


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Dolittle

(Universal) Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent. From the beloved series of children’s books comes this new re-imagining. Most remember the bloated musical version starring Rex Harrison if they remember it at all, but this one stars Iron Man himself as the vet who can talk to the animals, and generally prefers animals to people. January 17

OTHER WIDE RELEASES TO WATCH FOR

Grudge, January 3
1917, January 10
The Informer, January 10
Just Mercy, January 10
Underwater, January 10
Bad Boys 4 Life, January 17
The Gentlemen, January 24
The Turning, January 24
Gretel and Hansel, January 31
The Rhythm Section, January 31

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Three Christs

(IFC) Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage, Bradley Whitford, Walton Goggins. The story of the groundbreaking psychological study by Dr. Alan Stone of three paranoid schizophrenics at the Ypsilanti State Hospital in 1959. All three of them believed they were Jesus Christ. January 3

Les misérables

(Amazon) Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga, Issa Penca. A cop from the provinces moves to Paris and becomes entwined in a disturbing world of crime and brutality. The film was recently nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film award at the upcoming Golden Globes. January 10

Troop Zero

(Amazon) Mckenna Grace, Viola Davis, Alison Janney, Jim Gaffigan. A little girl in rural Georgia in 1977 dreams of outer space. When a chance to be part of NASA’s golden record to be sent out on Voyager for Birdie Scouts at the upcoming jamboree materializes, she founds a troop of fellow misfits hoping to achieve her dream but ends up finding something more lasting. January 17

Color Out of Space

(RLJE) Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Tommy Chong, Madeleine Arthur. A meteorite lands near a small town and brings with it devastating horror. From the mind of author H.P Lovecraft and the legendary B-movie director Richard Stanley. January 24

Beanpole

(Kino-Lorber) Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov  Two young women, living in the tattered majesty of post-World War II Leningrad, desperately search for hope and meaning among the ruins. This is Russia’s official submission to this year’s Foreign Language Oscar category. January 29

Incitement

(Greenwich) Yehuda Nahari, Amitai Yaish, Anat Ravnitski, Yoav Levi The story of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as told through the eyes of the assassin. This was the most recent winner of the Israeli Academy Awards Best Picture and is also Israel’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year. January 31

Uncut Gems


New York is Adam Sandler’s town; you’re just living in it.

(2019) Crime Drama (A24Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian, LaKeith Stanfield, Judd Hirsch, Idina Menzel, Kevin Garnett, The Weekend, Jonathan Aranbayev, Jacob Igielski, Noa Fisher, Paloma Elesser, Keith Williams Richards, Tommy Kominik, Louis Anthony Arias, Sean Ringgold, Jeremy Sample, Benjy Kleiner, Josh Ostrovsky, Sahar Bibiyan, Lana Levitin. Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie

 

There are certain people who just live for the rush. That high that comes from risk that leads to reward. These are the people who have their bookies on speed dial, who haunt the sports book at casinos in Atlantic City and Vegas.

Howard Ratman (Sandler) is one of those guys. A jeweler in New York City, his picture is what you’ll see on Wikipedia when you look up the word “hustler.” He always has some scheme going, some bullshit story that explains away the absolute crap that he pulls. His long-suffering wife (Menzel) is close to having had it; his mistress (Fox) who also works as a clerk in his store seems to be the only one who sees anything worthwhile in him. His kids certainly don’t. Most of his employees think he’s a jerk and of course the people he owes money to are about ready to drop him out of a window – preferably from a floor in the double digits.

He has some high hopes in a raw opal mined in Ethiopia that he has been trying to import (illegally) that will fetch him over a million in auction. He also has a thing for celebrities, including basketball legend Kevin Garnett – the movie takes place in 2012 when KG was with the Boston Celtics fighting in the playoffs against Philly. Howard wants to sell him some bling; KG has taken a shine to the opal. He borrows it (using his championship rings as collateral) and has a monster game, which Howard bets heavily on. He is juggling chainsaws, trying to move money around to satisfy the bookies who are sending increasingly irritable muscle to collect. Howard, though, is making moves, knowing that every move he makes may be his last.

It is not surprising that Martin Scorsese is one of the producers for this movie; the film has a gritty Mean Streets-kind of feel. The Safdie Brothers, who are best known for Good Time, know how to create characters who are basically unlikable but casting them so perfectly that you end up rooting for them. There is little to commend in Howard but because it is Adam Sandler playing him, you can’t help but hope the guy makes it through even though the odds are against him.

Sandler, who emerged from Saturday Night Live as a movie star with plenty of charisma and charm, has been suffering through a series of truly bad movies over the last years but his performance here cements his reputation as a dramatic actor of depth and talent. He’s got a legitimate shot at the Best Actor Oscar this year and he simply owns the screen from the moment he steps on it – even when it’s his colon that is the subject (don’t ask).

The big issues that keep this from getting a perfect score start with the score; it’s bad. I mean, the kind of bad that would ruin a lesser movie. It’s like Vangelis and Raffi had a love child and the proud parents gave him a toy synthesizer. Also, the Safdies sometimes seem far more concerned with style over substance. They displayed that more in their previous films, but perhaps their association with Scorsese has tempered that tendency. It detracts from the movie when they get into “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” mode.

The last 20 minutes of this movie are incredible, edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff. The tension that the Safdie brothers have built really pays off and it’s almost impossible to look away from the screen as things come to a head. This is not a movie for the faint of heart; those sorts are liable to get palpitations watching Howard try to survive and win his last bet.

This isn’t an easy movie to love but you might just end up doing it. I find myself thinking more highly of it now than I did when I walked out of the theater. This is the kind of movie that is going to have some pull in the Oscar conversation this year and while it may be a bit of an underdog for some of the bigger awards, it is certainly one of the best movies of the year regardless.

REASONS TO SEE: Possibly Adam Sandler’s finest performance. The lasts 20 minutes are absolutely riveting. A totally unexpected ending.
REASONS TO AVOID: Most. Annoying. Soundtrack. Ever.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a plentiful of f-bombs, along with a fair amount of violence (some of it startling), some sexual content and brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house used for the exterior of Howard’s Long Island home is the same house used for the exterior of Freddie Mercury’s home in Bohemian Rhapsody.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews: Metacritic: 89/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Owning Mahowny
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

BlacKKKlansman


A different kind of hoodie.

(2018) True Life Drama (Focus) John David Washington Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Alec Baldwin, Frederick Weller, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Ryan Eggold, Nicholas Turturro, Harry Belafonte, Gina Belafonte, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ashlie Atkinson, Ato Blankson-Wood, Robert John Burke, Arthur Nascarella, Ken Garito, Damaris Lewis. Directed by Spike Lee

 

Spike Lee is the kind of director who tends to be ahead of his time; he has the uncanny ability to read the writing on the wall, particularly when it comes to race relations in America. His treatise on American racism in 2018 is cleverly couched in a based-on-actual-events dramedy set in the early 70s (although the actual events occurred in 1978).

Spike Lee is also the kind of director who doesn’t really care much about subtlety. Consequently, his films tend to make their points with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Here, Ron Stallworth (Washington), the first black cop in the history of Colorado Springs, has been chafing at a desk job. He longs to get out into the field and make a difference. He is assigned to go undercover at a black student rally at nearby Colorado College. There, he falls for the fiery, passionate president of the chapter, Patrice (Harrier).

His assignment goes well so he joins the Intelligence Division of the CSPD. He decides to call the Ku Klux Klan and see if he can get a membership card – which to his bemusement, he does. But after repeated phone conversations with KKK head David Duke (Grace), he is given the opportunity to infiltrate the local KKK chapter. Knowing that his physical presence is impossible, he gets a surrogate; Jewish cop Flip Zimmerman (Driver).

Lee doesn’t miss an opportunity to draw parallels between the 1970s and now, as in having the KKK members shouting in unison “America First!” or a racist cop opining that a racist President will get into office by masking his racism in policies about immigration and taxation. And if you still don’t get the connection, Lee appended a coda showing the tragic events of Charlottesville that took place almost a year to the day of the film’s release but after the film was completed.

This is one of Lee’s best films ever. While I’m not so sure that making white extremists out to be ignorant buffoons is a wise choice – that’s how we ended up with our current President – there is plenty of humor to balance out the seriousness of the message. Lee also does an excellent job of capturing the era, from the outstanding score and soundtrack to the wonderfully awful fashions and massive Afros.

Lee also benefits from outstanding performances from Washington and Driver, as well as to a lesser extent Topher Grace as the clueless David Duke. The message is certainly one that bears repeating – that in nearly half a century we still haven’t made much headway. I don’t know that the people who need to get that message will necessarily be flocking to see BlacKKKlansman but even if the movie ends up preaching to the converted it is still well worth the effort to check it out.

REASONS TO SEE: Captures the era to near-perfection, thanks largely to a terrific score. Great performances by Washington and Driver.
REASONS TO AVOID: Heavy handed and lacks finesse.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity including racial epithets, a fair amount of violence (including sexual violence) and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film received six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and winning one for Best Adapted Screenplay.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews: Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mississippi Burning
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Uncut Gems

Dark Matter (2019 short)


What a rush!

(2019) Sports Documentary Short (1091Travis Rice, Elias Elhardt, Graham Tracey (narrator). Directed by Curt Morgan

 

Elite snowboarders Travis Rice and Elias Elhardt head up to the remote northern Alaska mountain range, most of which is only accessible by helicopter to shred down ridges that, some of them, seem to be only wide enough to walk single file along  Couple this with narration that talks about the insignificance of our place in the universe and you have maybe the most unusual snowboarding doc ever. Or maybe not. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t seen a whole lot of them

I guess it takes a special personality to want to get on a fiberglass plank and rocket down the side of a mountain at breakneck speeds. And, I suppose it takes a different but equally special personality to want to watch someone doing just that. The four different cameramen capturing the footage show us a pristine Alaska, beautiful mountains covered in snow. The helicopters that drop off the snowboarders capture some of the footage; some of the rest of it comes off of Go-Pros mounted on the athlete’s helmets.

The narration talks about carbon footprints and the effects of climate change on places like this, but the crew uses a helicopter to get where they’re going and to capture footage. That seems kind of at odds with the message of ecological responsibility, but maybe that’s just me.

I will be the first to admit that I’m not the target audience of these sorts of documentaries and I totally get that there are people who love these sorts of films. This is only 25 minutes long but there is a bit of repetitiveness to it; how many times can you see two snowboarders rocketing down the side of a mountain before it starts to blend together. The answer to that question is going to determine how much you’re going to be into this film.

REASONS TO SEE: Some spectacular footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: Somewhat pretentious narration.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s nothing the entire family would enjoy (assuming the entire family is into extreme sports).
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marks the fifth project that Rice and Morgan have worked on together.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Depth Perception
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
BlacKKKlansman

The Equalizer 2


You never know what might be peering around the corner.

(2018) Action (ColumbiaDenzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Orson Bean, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Jonathan Scarfe, Sakina Jeffrey, Kazy Tauginas, Garrett A. Golden, Adam Karst, Alican Barias, Rhys Cote, Tamara Hickey, Ken Baltin, Colin Allen, Antoine de Lartigue, Abigail Marlowe, Jim Loutzenheiser, Rex Banning, Lance Williams, Caroline Day. Directed by Antoine Fuqua

 

Washington returns as Robert McCall, the retired CIA black ops assassin turned do-gooder in the movie franchise based on a popular 80s TV series. Here his- vengeance takes a more personal note; his former CIA handler (Leo) is brutally murdered in Brussels while investigating the deaths of informants and assets there. Naturally, Denzel doesn’t take kindly to this; she’s one of his only friends. So, it’s up to McCall to go medieval on a bunch of asses before finding the man behind it all – whose identity should surprise no-one.

Fuqua is a skilled action director and Washington one of the most charismatic actors to ever appear onscreen. Even their considerable talents though can’t quite make you forget that the script is heavy with predictable plot points and leaden dialogue. There is also a subplot involving Bean as a nonagenarian Holocaust survivor trying to reunite with his sister which while sweet adds absolutely nothing to the story; we get plenty of other instances of McCall’s charitable nature to get the point.

This isn’t a bad movie by any means but with talents like Fuqua and Washington involved it should be a better movie. Action fans will love the sequence when a knife-wielding assassin tries to take out McCall in a moving car while Denzel fans will love the fact that the Oscar-winning actor is as good as ever in the movie. I still wish that some of the writers from the old TV show might have taken a crack at the script here. With a little bit more care and imagination this could be essential viewing. As it is, it makes for a mindless way to spend a couple of hours.

REASONS TO SEE: Denzel is, as usual, a force of nature.
REASONS TO AVOID: The plot is a tad too predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some occasional drug content and a lot of violence, some of it brutal
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first sequel for both Fuqua and Denzel.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Sling TV, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 52% positive reviews: Metacritic:50/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Punisher
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Dark Matter 2019 short

New Releases for the Week of December 27, 2019


LITTLE WOMEN

(Columbia) Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Meryl Streep. Directed by Greta Gerwig

This re-imagining of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel introduces the four March sisters as they struggle to live life independently on their own terms. This could be your Best Picture at the Oscars in a couple of months, folks.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief smoking)

Good Newwz

(Zee) Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Diljit Dosanjh, Kiara Advani. Two couples – one a blue-collar husband and wife from Mumbai and a posh wealthy couple from Paripat, are both trying to have a child at the same time and despite their personal antipathy towards each other, find themselves tied together in their quest for a baby.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG-13 (for traumatic material including violent images)

Spies in Disguise

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn. A suave superspy is forced to team up with a nerdy scientist when the spy is transformed into a pigeon. With the fate of the world on the line, the two opposites must learn to work together.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action, violence and rude humor)

Uncut Gems

(A24) Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian, LaKeith Stanfield. A New York City jeweler with a penchant for gambling looks to make that score that gamblers only dream about, but must balance his family, his business and his adversaries who are closing in like sharks from all sides if he is to get the ultimate win.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, AMC New Smyrna, Cinemark Orlando, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Cobb Daytona, Cobb Plaza Cinema, Enzian Theater, Epic Clermont, Epic Mount Dora, Epic West Volusia, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Satellite Ocean Walk, Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Driving License
The Mall, The Merrier
Synonyms

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Ip Man 4: The Finale
The Mall, The Merrier
Midnight Family

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

The Kingmaker
Mathu Vadalara

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

A Christmas Tale

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Little Women
Midnight Family
Spies in Disguise
Synonyms
Uncut Gems