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

Shadow of the Vampire


Dinner is served.

Dinner is served.

(2000) Horror (Lionsgate) John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack, Eddie Izzard, Aden Gillett, Nicholas Elliott, Ronan Vibert, Sophie Langevin, Myriam Muller, Milos Hlavak, Marja-Leener Junker, Derek Kueter, Norman Golightly, Patrick Hastert, Sacha Ley, Ingeborga Dapkunaite. Directed by E. Elias Merhige

 

Since we cringed in caves at the dawn of time, we have been scared of the dark. The dark hides the things we can’t see; our imagination makes those things hideous. The noise of wind rustling through the trees becomes a stranger, with a knife, creeping through the grass. Fear has always been more a product of our imagination more than anything else.

That fear was never better crystallized than in the masterwork novel of Bram Stoker, Dracula. It captured the imagination of millions from the time it was published even up to this 21st century and most likely beyond. Stoker made the monsters of our imagination real, demons in the dark made flesh. That’s a dangerous thing in and of its own self.

Filmmaker F.W. Murnau (Malkovich) was fascinated by the novel, and yearned to film it. He was denied permission by the Stoker estate, but was determined to make the ultimate horror movie anyway.  Murnau recognized that realism would make his horror all the more effective. To that end, he hired an unusual actor by the name of Max Schreck (which, translated from German, means “shriek”) to play his Count Orlock, the Dracula of his film. Schreck (Dafoe) is a strange sort who demands that he be addressed as Orlock, and is in character (and the accompanying creepy-looking costume) at all times. Most of the cast and crew assign this as the quirks of an actor and think nothing of it.

It appears that Murnau’s vision is being realized. The film, Nosferatu, is turning out to be everything he hoped – one of the classic horror films of all time. Still, things are not quite right. His cinematographer (Gillett) has taken mysteriously ill and is near death. Murnau must shut down the production to procure a new one. While he is gone, mysterious deaths haunt the production.

When Murnau returns with his drug-addled replacement (Elwes), it soon becomes apparent that the terrifying Schreck is much more than he seems. And he has an unhealthy obsession with the movies leading lady (McCormick, Mel Gibson’s wife in Braveheart). You see, Schreck is not some Stanislavsky disciple taking the method to extremes; he actually IS undead.

What a fascinating and terrific idea for a movie this is. Nosferatu remains one of the most brilliant and terrifying movies ever made, and the mystery surrounding the real Max Schreck makes for some interesting speculation. “Max Schreck” was almost certainly a stage name; nobody knows for sure who he really was. Heck, for all we know he could have been a vampire.

Screenwriter Steven Katz was inspired by the original film, and includes many little touches that ring true; the decadence of jazz age Berlin; the solitude and creepiness of the castle exteriors. He even adds the little factoid that Murnau’s crew shot their movies while wearing lab coats and goggles, giving the proceedings a pseudo-scientific air.

Director Elias Merhige (Begotten) has assembled an impressive cast, including one-time Warhol associate Udo Kier as a producer. Dafoe gives an Oscar-worthy performance (and in fact he was nominated) as the sinister Schreck, an ancient creature who has grown too old, watching a century he does not understand encroach into the only world he has ever known. It is strangely affecting.

The problem here is that Merhige often sacrifices his story for the sake of atmosphere and art. He is successful at creating a genuinely creepy vibe, using old-time film effects and title cards to enhance the mood and set the period. As a result, the look of the film holds up next to the original, a not-inconsiderable task in itself.

But an overly long opening credits sequence put my jaw on edge from the beginning, not the way you want your audience to go into a movie like this. I found the pacing overall to be a bit slow. The film’s climax is also a bit off-putting.

That said, this is a genuine creep-out that will stand your hair on end in various places. Dafoe’s performance by itself is commendable. It’s funny, sad and terrifying all at once. Shadow of the Vampire wisely uses the best monster of all – our imaginations and our fear of the dark – to its advantage.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing performance by Dafoe. Brilliant concept. Creepily atmospheric.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Style over substance. Overly long opening titles sequence.

FAMILY MATTERS: Lots of horrific images, some drug use and sexuality, a bit of violence and bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The producers of Spider-Man hired Dafoe to be their Green Goblin based on his performance here.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a make-up montage that shows the process of actor Willem Dafoe going from human to Nosferatu in a matter of minutes.

BOX OFFICE PERFORANCE: $11.2M on an $8M production budget; the film was shy of recouping its production costs during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scream 3

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Internship