Hotel Transylvania 2


Drac is back.

Drac is back.

(2012) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Mel Brooks, Asher Blinkoff, Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Dana Carvey, Rob Riggle, Jonny Solomon, Chris Kattan, Jon Lovitz, Nick Swardson, Rose Abdoo. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

People and monsters may look different, but inside they really aren’t. The things that don’t conform are usually the things we fear; if we can’t keep everything in its proper compartment, the world becomes a much scarier place.

Dracula (Sandler) is in a happy place. His daughter Mavis (Gomez) is happily married to human Johnny (Samberg) and the two have had a baby named Dennis (Blinkoff). Proud grandpa is sure that the baby is going to be a monster but Mavis isn’t so sure that Dennis won’t turn out to be human and therefore be raised among humans. This terrifies Drac who doesn’t want Mavis to leave for the human world of Santa Cruz (where Johnny’s parents live) and lose both his daughter and grandson, so he concocts a plan to force Johnny to “get his fangs” which must happen before his fifth birthday.

So as Mavis is checking out California, Drac and his friends are trying to find ways to force little Dennis to find his inner monster before the dreaded fifth birthday. Drac is desperate as Mavis seems to lean more to going human – so desperate he’s even willing to enlist the help of his own father Vlad (Brooks) who doesn’t approve of human-monster intermarriages. And when all these monsters and humans get together, all hell is going to break loose.

Director Tartakovsky is proving himself to be one of the ablest directors of animation in the business currently. I can only imagine what he would do with the resources of a Pixar, but nonetheless he generates some of the best stuff out there. This really isn’t up to par with the best of his work but it’s still better than most of the animated features out there.

Sandler’s live action output in the last few years has been mostly lackluster but he seems more at home here. Many of his pals from his live action films are here, including James, Spade, Riggle and Samberg are here mainly reprising roles from the first film. Having Smigel in as a writer helps a lot; the plot is actually a little bit more sophisticated than the first film

The animation is pretty solid, although there is a bit of a cartoon-y feel to it which is just fine. The level of sophistication skews younger here but again, that’s five. There’s nothing here ostensibly offensive and parents won’t be bored watching this with their kiddies. Certainly the writing is better than most, as the movie explores themes of tolerance and acceptance and will give the kids something to think about – maybe their parents too.

Still, this isn’t anything that’s going to make the animated fan sit up and take notice. It’s pleasant and charming and of course anything with Mel Brooks in it is worth investigation, even if the comedy legend is barely in the movie at all. It’s a diversion for the older crowd and a video babysitter for the younger. I won’t recommend it highly but it’s still a recommendation.

WHY RENT THIS: Kids will undoubtedly love this.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not terribly memorable.
FAMILY VALUES: Some mildly scary images and rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jonathan’s parents are played by real-life married couple Offerman and Mullally.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Lots here as with most kid movies. There’s a music video from 5th Harmony as well as a look at the development of the drawings from sketch to finished product. The Blu-Ray edition also includes a karaoke track, instructions on how to throw a Hotel Transylvania-themed party, a how-to guide on drawing the various characters and a feature on how the sound effects were made.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $468.2M on a $80M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, M-Go
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mad Monster Party
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Jane Got a Gun

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The Ridiculous 6


The Old West was never this wild.

The Old West was never this wild.

(2015) Western Comedy (Netflix) Adam Sandler, Luke Wilson, Rob Schneider, Nick Nolte, Jorge Garcia, Terry Crews, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Harvey Keitel, Jon Lovitz, Whitney Cummings, David Spade, Danny Trejo, Nick Swardson, Blake Shelton, Vanilla Ice, Julia Jones, Saginaw Grant, Lavell Crawford, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Chris Kattan, Norm McDonald, Jackie Sandler. Directed by Frank Coraci

With Westerns making a bit of a comeback lately, it’s inevitable that there would be movies that poke fun at the genre. With Adam Sandler involved, that means there are a segment of people who will tune in no matter what. Others will stay away in droves.

White Knife (Sandler) is an orphan, taken in by the Apache when his mother was murdered. The Apache chief Screaming Eagle (Grant) teaches the young white boy how to fight, and the ways of the Apache warrior, which turn out to be somewhat more Zen than Caucasian culture gave them credit for. He is engaged to Smoking Fox (Jones), the most beautiful woman in the tribe. When a would-be outlaw (Zahn) tries to make trouble with her, White Knife makes short work of him.

However, there is trouble on the horizon. White Knife’s biological father, whom he never knew, shows up at the camp. His name is Frank Stockburn (Nolte) and he wants to make get to know the son he never knew. Just then, his old outlaw gang led by the notorious Cicero (Trejo) shows up and Stockburn hides his stash with the tribe, knowing Cicero will take it. Instead, Cicero takes Frank who tries to lead the gang away from the peaceful Native Americans by saying the stash is buried by an old windmill. White Knife knows that unless Cicero gets the $50,000 that Frank had taken, the old man would be killed.

Having just met his dad, White Knife isn’t willing to let him die. He heads out after them, vowing to obtain the money one way or another to rescue dear old dad. However, it turns out Dear Old Dad was very busy. White Knife discovers he has five half-brothers of other mothers – Ramon (Schneider) the Mexican bandito with the amazing diarrhea donkey, Lil’ Pete (Lautner) who’s the village idiot for more than one village but has a curiously strong neck, Chico (Crews) a saloon pianist who doesn’t use his fingers to tickle the ivories but something a little more genitalia-like, Herm (Garcia) the nearly unintelligible moonshiner and Danny (Wilson) who was Abe Lincoln’s bodyguard at Ford’s Theater who inadvertently showed John Wilkes Booth (Kattan) the road to infamy.

All six of these men have peculiar talents. All six are eager to rescue their father. And all six are incredibly, incredibly ridiculous. The Old West will never be the same once they’ve hit town.

Sandler as I alluded to earlier seems to affect people in extreme ways; either they are utterly devoted to him, or they hate him with a passion. He seems to inspire no middle ground. I try to be as objective as I can about him but I find that when he tends to be a little more serious I actually appreciate him more; his humor tends to be a little more scatological and quite frankly, a bit more juvenile-appealing than is my own personal taste.

He has assembled an impressive cast, several of whom (Crews, Schneider, MacDonald) are all veterans of SNL or of Sandler films, as well as folks like Nolte – who does a fine job here unsurprisingly – and Lautner, who does a really good job here, surprisingly. The latter hasn’t really exhibited much in the way of comedy chops previously, having done mostly action roles in movies that weren’t all that good. However, he proves to have some timing and comic presence, neither of which are easy tasks. I found myself liking him here, which isn’t my usual reaction to his performances.

Part of the problem here is that a lot of jokes fell flat for me, and it appears to a lot of other critics as well (see scores below). The whole thing about the amazing crapping donkey is humor at the level of five-year-olds and I know Sandler is better than that. Still, one can’t argue with success and most of the movies of his that reap box office gold have been the ones that have been, to me, the most childish. I think that says a lot more about the movie-going public than it does about Sandler.

Westerns tend to lend themselves to wonderful vistas and extraordinary cinematography and this movie was no different as veteran Dean Semler gives us some pretty pictures to look at. This is one of Sandler’s most cinematic films which makes it a bit ironic that it was released directly to Netflix as part of his four-picture deal with the streaming giant. However, it wasn’t for lack of trying; the film was in development at three different theatrical studios until Netflix finally came in and got it made.

There has been some controversy about the portrayal of Native American culture and I don’t intend to ignore it. While some outlets got nearly hysterical about it to the point of knee-jerkiness, the fact is that that several Native American extras had some concerns about the jokes made at the expense of their culture and eventually walked off the set when those concerns weren’t addressed. The initial reports made it sound like there was an uprising the size of Little Big Horn; in actuality the affair involved four extras, far less than the 150 Native American extras who were employed by the film. Watching the movie, I didn’t see anything that was more than culturally insensitive but the movie seemed to be that way to nearly everyone, in particular the white culture itself. Perhaps if the movie had been better written the insults would have seemed less egregious.

REASONS TO GO: A really good cast with Nolte and Lautner actually doing some good work. Lovely cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Unnecessarily dumb gags and situations. Attempts at parody miss the mark.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rude humor, mild profanity and sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A group of Native American extras walked off the set due to what they perceived as negative and inaccurate portrayals of their culture; while initially the number of extras involved was reported to be about a dozen, sources close to the film put the number at four actors.
BEYOND THE THEATER:  Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 18/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Million Ways to Die in the West
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Angels Crest

House on Haunted Hill (1999)


House on Haunted Hill

All sorts of photo ops in the House on Haunted Hill.

(1999) Supernatural Horror (Warner Brothers) Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Max Perlich, Jeffrey Combes, Dick Beebe, Lisa Loeb, James Marsters, Peter Graves. Directed by William Malone

 

When done correctly, the haunted-house movie can be nearly ideal entertainment; claustrophobic, scary and sometimes spectacular, depending on the visual bent of the director.

Unfortunately, it’s very rarely done well, despite many attempts; my favorite remains The Legend of Hell House, which scores regular appearances on late-night television and is readily available on home video.. The House on Haunted Hill is a remake of a William Castle B-movie classic, updated for the ’90s with a stellar cast and crackerjack effects.

It begins at an insane asylum as the demented inmates riot against a sadistic staff, leading to a tragedy that kills all but five. Flash forward to the present, when theme park maven Stephen Price (Rush) – a sly tribute to the original movie’s star Vincent Price – has just finished debuting his newest roller coaster (actually the Incredible Hulk coaster at Orlando’s very own Islands of Adventure theme park, an experience I highly recommend if you haven’t already been) and is preparing to throw a birthday party for his less-than-loving wife (Janssen). He plans an unforgettable shindig.

However, the guest list is mysteriously altered, leaving only five complete strangers to try Price’s challenge; he’s put up a million dollars per guest (that’s five million dollars total) to be awarded to anyone who spends an entire night without leaving the notorious property known as the most haunted place in Los Angeles. This is, if you haven’t already guessed, the former asylum. Of course, you have to survive in order to collect. Who will it be – the mild mannered physician (Gallagher), the heroic leading man (Diggs), the plucky comic relief (Kattan) or the beautiful, sexy and intrepid woman (Larter)?

As is the case with many haunted house flicks, the house itself proves to have its own lethal intelligence. What was a mean-spirited prank turns into a fight for survival among stereotypes…err, I mean, characters. The writers throw in a misleading and totally unnecessary subplot involving Price’s marital woes and attempts by both parties to frame the other for murder, but it doesn’t wash for a moment.

The cast is led by Rush as Price, a showman along the lines of P.T. Barnum — or even, gulp, William Castle, the B-movie impresario who once wired theaters playing one of his movies to deliver mild electric shocks to patrons during key moments of the film. Rush is always outstanding and he manages to rise above the material here.

Taye Diggs makes for an excellent hero; he has a future as a widescreen leading man. Kattan provides comic relief as a caretaker who knows all too well what the house is capable of and proves to be one of the bright spots of the movie, something I never thought I’d say about the guy.

The effects are dazzling at times; the appearances of various ghosts and ghouls are genuinely creepy. The specter of Dr. Vannecutt (Jeffrey Combs) is particularly disturbing; it still weirds me out whenever I’m reminded of his appearance on a surveillance camera. The climactic portion of the movie revealing the monster at the heart of the haunting is a computer-generated Lovecraftian nightmare, but takes up far too much screen time; it would have made for better scares to show us less of the thing and more of the actors reactions to it.

In fact, as good as the effects are, they occasionally overpower what could have been a better movie if the filmmakers had focused more on genuine suspense and atmosphere instead of overpowering the senses. This got some notoriety as being the first film to be released from Dark Castle, the production company headed by Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Gil Adler and Terry Castle, the daughter of the legendary producer. While they have since branched out from remakes of classic Castle films, they remain one of the finest regular producers of horror films in Hollywood.

“Less is More” is a truism that Hollywood moviemakers espouse onscreen but rarely follow behind the camera. House on Haunted Hill could have benefited from a budget slashed even more effectively than the designated female victim (see if you can guess who she’ll be at the beginning of the movie) who goes brainlessly and inevitably to her fate, wandering around in a dangerous house with a video camera – by herself. Kinda sums up the whole movie if you ask me.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice eye candy. Rush and Kattan give nice performances. Larter and Janssen are easy on the eyes.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overreliance on special effects. Would have done better creating more atmosphere and showing the monster less.

FAMILY MATTERS: Graphic horror violence, gore, some sexual images and lots of bad language; not for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first person to get killed in the movie, a male nurse, is played by the writer of the screenplay Dick Beebe.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are trailers for both the 1999 and 1959 versions of the film, as well as a 20-minute feature comparing the two.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $40.9M (North American box office figures only) on a $37M production budget; factor in worldwide box office and chances are this made money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Tempest

Delgo


Delgo

A Lockni village on Jhamora...no I don't understand what it means either.

(2008) Animated Fantasy (Freestyle) Starring the voices of Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Val Kilmer, Chris Kattan, Kelly Ripa, Michael Clarke Duncan, Eric Idle, Malcolm McDowell, Burt Reynolds, Lou Gossett Jr., Anne Bancroft, Sally Kellerman, Armin Shimerman, John Vernon. Directed by Marc F. Adler and Jason Maurer

Delgo is one of those movies that was on the radar for a very long time (it took more than six years to complete), and when it finally came it was kind of an anti-climax. Not a fitting final credit for the legendary Anne Bancroft.

The movie takes place in the world called Jhamora, where the winged Nohrin rule the skies and the reptilian Lockni live on the ground, utilizing the magic of the earth.  The peaceful Lockni once took the Nohrin in when their home country had been rendered uninhabitable but the Nohrin had betrayed them and tried to take what wasn’t theirs by force. Sedessa (Bancroft), who spurred on the massacre, is exiled by the Nohrin by their King Zahn (Gossett) and an uneasy peace is reached, both sides hating the other.

Delgo (Prinze), a young Lockni is tired of trying to learn the discipline of the magic stones and yearns to be a leader for his people. His friend Filo (Kattan) accompanies him everywhere like a puppy dog, his clumsiness usually getting Delgo in trouble as when they encounter a feisty Nohrin princess named Kyla (Hewitt).

Now I can go on and on about evil plots, wise sages, bizarre magic and heroic lizards but it mostly will just confuse you and get you angry. It’s a mishmash of stuff borrowed from Tolkien, Star Wars and The Dark Crystal among many others. There is a very elaborate backstory here but quite frankly, it kind of gets lost in the pretty pictures. Worse yet, it’s awfully confusing, which is not how you want to start off your animated epic.

Delgo and his Lockni look a lot like a cross between the aliens of Enemy Mine and the lizards of Dinotopia. The Nohrin add a touch of Shrek‘s ogres to the mix. I will say that the world that the filmmakers created for both races is imaginative and wondrous. This is a very good looking movie in a lot of ways.

What disappoints is the story (as mentioned above) and the characters, which are mostly cookie-cutter characters taken from epic fantasies of all sorts. There are generals and wizards and heroic young men and comely princesses, but nobody stands out in a good way. They all kind of blend together, other than Bancroft’s Sedessa and to a lesser extent, Duncan’s High Priest. Kattan’s Filo is particularly insufferable, clueless beyond endurance. I don’t mind comedy relief, I don’t even mind simpletons providing it, but there has to be at least a porch light on somewhere on the premises, if you get my drift.

This is clearly meant for kids but is also clearly meant to appeal to adults and fanboys as well. In the end it tries to be all things to all people and ends up not really appealing to anybody. There were some interesting concepts here, but quite frankly the backstory and mythology was a little too overwhelming.

It’s a shame that this didn’t end up better than it did. Some of the concepts worked rather nicely and the animation is pretty decent. However, it turned out to be too many ideas, not enough story and definitely not enough memorable characters to really make this the movie the filmmakers hoped it would be.

WHY RENT THIS: Beautiful to look at. Bancroft makes a terrific villain in her last movie. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is kind of bland and doesn’t go anywhere this genre hasn’t been before. Kattan’s character is immensely annoying, sort of Jar Jar Binks without the intellect.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some fantasy cartoon violence, nothing too over-the-top for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anne Bancroft passed away during the six year production phase of the film and a voice double (Melissa Suzanne McBride) was hired to complete some of her dialogue.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an animated short from the same production studio called “Chroma Chameleon” which is quite fun to watch.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $694,782 on a $40M production budget; the movie was a major bomb financially.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Rite