New Releases for the Week of September 28, 2018


NIGHT SCHOOL

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Keith David, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Al Madrigal, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ben Schwartz, Anne Winters. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

Hart stars as one of several misfits taking night classes in an attempt to pass their GED exams. Haddish is the no-nonsense teacher assigned to help them get there.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug references and violence)

Cruise

(Vertical) Emily Ratajkowski, Noah Robbins, Kathrine Narducci, Spencer Boldman. An Italian-American boy from the mean streets of Brooklyn falls for a beautiful Jewish girl from Long Island. It’s 1987 and anything is possible.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: NR

Hell Fest

(CBS) Bex Taylor-Klaus, Tony Todd, Reign Edwards, Amy Forsyth. A masked serial killer finds a happy hunting ground in a horror-themed amusement park where the guests think that his gruesome murders are all part of the show.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for horror violence, and language including some sexual references)

Little Women

(Pure Flix) Lea Thompson, Ian Bohen, Lucas Grabeel, Melanie Stone. A modern update of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel follows the March sisters as they traverse the often treacherous path from girlhood to womanhood.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and teen drinking)

Science Fair

(National Geographic) Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster. For high school science nerds, their super bowl is the International Science and Engineering Fair. This documentary follows nine students from around the world as they compete for the “Best in Fair,” an award that only one of them can win.

See the trailer and a video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements and brief language)

Smallfoot

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common. A bright young yeti discovers the existence of what was thought to be a mythological beast – a human. The news of his discovery turns the world upside down for his people who wonder what else might be out there.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements)

Sui Dhaaga: Made in India

(Yash Raj) Anushka Sharma, Varan Dhawan, Raghuvir Yadav, Govind Pandey. A husband and wife in India discover the need of entrepreneurship while trying to revive the artisan traditions of their homeland.

See the trailer and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

At First Light
The Bookshop
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
The Healer
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Apparition
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
Museo
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab
Pataakha
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Blaze
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Natakam
Nawab
The Padre
Pick of the Litter
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hell Fest
Night School

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

South Asia Film Festival (Maitland, FL)

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New Releases for the Week of March 23, 2018


PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING

(Universal/Legendary) John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Burn Gorman, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Tian Jing, Max Zhang, Adria Arjona, Rinko Kikuchi. Directed by Steven S. DeKnight

The son of heroic Stacker Pentecost from the first film unites with survivors of the original Kaiju attack to take on a new peril from the gigantic enigmatic creatures. This time they are bigger and badder than ever and they mean to wipe out everything that isn’t Kaiju. Only a few good men (and women) can stop the threat.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX-3D, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX-3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language)

The Death of Stalin

(IFC) Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor. In 1953, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin died suddenly, leaving a power vacuum at the top. Commissars and politicians scrambled amidst the chaos to avoid being shot and to grab what power they could in the brave new world. Armando Iannucci, mastermind behind such powerful satires as Veep and In the Loop takes an irreverent look at this pivotal moment in Russian history based on the graphic novel of the same name.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy/Satire
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language throughout, violence and some sexual references)

Getting Grace

(Hannover House) Daniel Roebuck, Madelyn Dundon, Dana Ashbrook, Duane Whitaker. A teenage girl who is dying of cancer is curious as to what will happen to her body once she’s passed on. To find out more about it, she befriends the local funeral home director, a shy and retiring man who has spent his life with the dead to the point where he’s forgotten how to live. These two wildly different personalities may just be what they each needed in this film co-written and directed by Roebuck.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and some suggestive material)

Midnight Sun

(Open Road) Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard. A young teenage girl, stricken by a disease that makes her violently allergic to sunlight, lives in a world of perpetual darkness until she meets a sweet young teen boy who falls in love with her – and she with him. This is apparent teenage girl with a serious illness week at the movies.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Teen Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some teen partying and sensuality)

Paul, Apostle of Christ

(Columbia) James Faulkner, Jim Caviezel, Olivier Martinez, Joanne Whalley. Paul, the apostle of Christ, awaits his death sentence in a dank Roman prison. As he recalls the events of his life – the years of persecuting those who followed Jesus, his conversion to the cause, the letters that unbeknownst to him would inspire billions over more than two millennia – he wonders if his life has been a worthwhile one. I’m guessing the answer will be “yes.”

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biblical Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and disturbing images)

Sherlock Gnomes

(MGM/Paramount) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor. When their fellow garden ornaments start disappearing mysteriously, Gnomeo and Juliet recruit renowned detective Sherlock Gnomes to investigate the mystery and return the missing to their home. This isn’t going to be easy but with music by Elton John you can’t really go wrong now can you.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some rude and suggestive humor)

Unsane

(Bleecker Street) Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Amy Irving, Jay Pharoah. A young woman goes to a mental health clinic to talk about the stalking incident that haunts her. When she is tricked into signing papers that result in her being committed to the hospital against her will, she discovers to her horror that her stalker is working there as a nurse – or is he just a part of her delusion?

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for disturbing behavior, violence, language and sex references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

MLA
My Perfect You
Rajaratham
Shifting Gears

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Claire’s Camera
Followers
Foxtrot
Hichki
I Kill Giants
Itzhak
The Last Suit
Loveless
MLA
Needhi Naadhi Oke Katha
On the Beach at Night Alone
Rajaratham
Souvenir

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hichki
Isle of Dogs
Itzhak
Poomaram
Rajaratham
Shifting Gears

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

None

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Death of Stalin
Isle of Dogs
Pacific Rim: Uprising
Sherlock Gnomes
Unsane

12 Strong


Chris Hemsworth to the rescue!

(2018) True Life War (Warner Brothers) Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Austin Hébert, Austin Stowell, Ben O’Toole, Kenneth Miller, Kenny Sheard, Jack Kesy, Rob Riggle, William Fichtner, Arshia Mandavi, Elsa Pataky, Marie Wagenman, Allison King, Samuel Kamphuis, Lauren Myers. Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig

 

After the attacks of 9-11, the military was caught a bit disorganized and flat-footed. Who do we attack? There was no geo-political entity that one could say “There! If we fight them, we can keep from having more terrorist attacks on the United States.” It wasn’t like Pearl Harbor; we knew who did it and we knew who had to pay.

It is true that a group of Marines – 12 of ‘em – went into Afghanistan early in 2012 to link up with the Afghan Northern Alliance and take down some Taliban baddies. While the ads for the film hysterically said that if we didn’t win this battle that there would be MORE terrorist attacks (there’s no evidence to suggest that was true) there’s no doubt that the men who went into Afghanistan only to find out that the terrain required horses rather than trucks and jeeps – and only one of them knew how to ride – were heroic, credits to the military and to their country.

Hemsworth has become a dependable star from the Thor films to other appearances. Here he shows off that he can be a badass without a magic hammer and his charisma and charm still stand him in good stead even when the film is dead serious. It helps that he has a fine support cast behind him, including Shannon who gets a rare non-villainous role.

While the movie felt more like a recruitment poster than entertainment at times, it still accomplishes the latter goal for the most part at least. While I thought it was a little long and may have been guilty of doing an inappropriate victory dance when we’re still fighting the same bloody war sixteen years (as of this writing) and counting afterwards, it at least will get American hearts beating and American chests pounded by American fists. Military lovers, have at this one.

REASONS TO GO: Hemsworth continues to develop into a solid leading man.
REASONS TO STAY: Many times the film didn’t feel as authentic as others covering the war did.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s lots of war violence and plenty of profanity throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Riggle plays Colonel Max Bowers in the film; a Marine before he became a noted actor, Riggle actually served under the real Max Bowers at approximately the same time period the film is set in.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/13/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Winter Brothers

New Releases for the Week of January 19, 2018


12 STRONG

(Warner Brothers) Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataky, Michael Peña, Rob Riggle, Austin Stowell, Taylor Sheridan, Geoff Stults. Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig

Even as the smoke was still rising from the rubble of the World Trade Center, a special forces team was dispatched to Afghanistan to prepare the way for the conventional military. Led by a new captain and untested in battle, the team must work with a local warlord to take on the Taliban and find themselves vastly outnumbered and fighting in an unfamiliar style that may doom their mission before it even starts.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX, 4DX, DBox, XD, RPX
Genre: True War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for war violence and language throughout)

Chavela

(Music Box) Chavela Vargas, Pedro Almodóvar, Laura Garcia-Lorca, Miguel Bosé.  Largely unknown outside of the Latin community, Chavela Vargas was one of the most influential ranchero singers of her time, a powerhouse whose influence echoes throughout the Latin music world after her death. A lesbian in a culture that didn’t take too kindly to different forms of sexuality, she remains an icon in the Latin LGBTQ+ community to this day. This is the latest installment in the Enzian’s monthly Music Monday series.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)

Rating: NR  

Den of Thieves

(STX) Gerard Butler, O’Shea Jackson Jr, 50 Cent, Pablo Schreiber. The movie follows an elite unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a skilled crew of bank robbers as the two teams head on a collision course as the robbers plan the biggest heist ever – a robbery of the Federal Reserve Bank in Los Angeles.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos
Genre: Crime Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

Forever My Girl

(Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment) Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, John Benjamin Hickey, Tyler Riggs. After leaving his fiancé at the altar, a young man returns to his small home after achieving stardom in country music. He hopes to rebuild the relationships that his actions wiped out – and one in particular – which has a specific complication he never counted on.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, AMC New Smyrna, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including drinking, and for language)

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, Ewen Bremner. A teenage girl finds a strange plant with a beautiful flower growing in the wild and discovers that it grants her fantastic powers. She is whisked away to a magic school where witches are cultivated and trained. She finally has found a place where she fits in – but discovers there’s a dark side to the school.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Anime
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: NR

Phantom Thread

(Focus) Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Gina McKee. A renowned dress designer in London during the 1950s lives a very precise, ordered life – one might say fastidious. Into that life comes the strong-willed Alma who becomes his lover and his muse, turns his life upside down and leads him down paths he never would have imagined taking. Day-Lewis has said this is his final film performance so this is worth seeing on that basis alone.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Ormond Beach, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Port Orange, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: R (for language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Freak Show

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

A Better Tomorrow 2018
Felcite
The Final Year
Freak Show
Gintama
Happy End
Mom and Dad
The Wound

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Delirium
Mom and Dad

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Mom and Dad

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

12 Strong
Chavela
Den of Thieves
Forever My Girl
Mom and Dad
Phantom Thread

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Saint Augustine Film Festival

The True Memoirs of an International Assassin


Kevin James, badass!

Kevin James, badass!

(2016) Action Comedy (Netflix) Kevin James, Andy Garcia, Zulay Henao, Kim Coates, Ron Rifkin, Maurice Compte, Rob Riggle, Leonard Earl Howze, Yul Vazquez, Andrew Howard, P.J. Byrne, Kelen Coleman, Jeff Chase, Katie Couric, G-Rod, Daniel Zacapa, Al Hamacher, Jordi Caballero, Lauren Shaw, Emilie Ullerup. Directed by Jeff Wadlow

 

Some things in life are less likely than others; Donald Trump having an extramarital affair, for example – with Rosie O’Donnell. Or PETA opening up a barbecue restaurant.

Right up there with those is Kevin James morphing into an action hero, although he has done a few action films in his time. The portly sitcom star is actually fairly fit for a man his size, but he certainly doesn’t fit the mold of a classic action hero.

Still, he has a very likable screen persona and plenty of charisma on both the big screen and small. He hasn’t always gotten great movies and good roles but he has always been a trooper and does his best even when the material is less than scintillating. Here he plays Sam Larson, a cubicle cowboy who dreams of being a bestselling author, but unlike most of us with such ambitions he’s actually doing something about it. He’s writing a James Bond-meets-Die Hard spy story in which the hero, Mason Carver a.k.a. The Ghost is his own alter ego. Sometimes when Sam gets stuck for inspiration, Mason Carver and the other characters in the scene stand around, twiddling their thumbs and waiting expectantly for direction – which may be a metaphor for what the actors in this film were doing.

His energetic and somewhat conniving E-Publisher (Coleman) thinks she’s got a winner on her hands when he submits the manuscript and promises not to change a word. In fact, she doesn’t – she adds one to the title though, changing The Memoirs of an International Assassin to The True Memoirs of an International Assassin and marketing it as biographical.

This infuriates not only Sam but his buddy Amos (Rifkin) who has been advising him on some of the finer points of international espionage and had urged him not to print certain aspects of Mason Carver’s exploits. During an interview with Katie Couric (herself) on Yahoo, Sam gets cold feet and runs out of the studio – and straight into the arms of kidnappers who turn out to be agents of El Toro (Garcia), a Venezuelan revolutionary. He wants the Venezuelan president (Coates) dead, and essentially tells Sam – who he believes is really The Ghost – that if the president isn’t murdered, Sam will be.

Of course, Sam gets arrested and brought before the President who also believes Sam is The Ghost – and urges him to kill drug kingpin Anton Masovich (Howard) who then kidnaps Sam and suggests he murders El Toro. Maybe Sam should just nuke Venezuela and be done with it, no? Well, that wouldn’t make for a very long movie so Sam, with the help of comely DEA agent Rosa Bolivar (Henao) he figures out a way to get out of this with his skin more or less intact but not everything here is on the up and up.

Incomprehensibly, this script ended up on the Black List of unproduced screenplays a couple of years ago, which leads me to believe that either this was extensively rewritten or the standards for quality of Black List screenplays has taken a serious hit. The plot is pretty pedestrian and has been done before and better in other films; in fact, this feels throughout like you’re watching a sitcom in which the Fonz plays an international spy. Or Ray Romano. Or Doug Heffernan (James’ character in King of Queens) for that matter.

The movie also suffers from really poor CGI throughout, from the explosion to the blood splatters. It all looks fake. To make matters worse, there are several running jokes – like various characters musing “Maybe he really is The Ghost” about Sam, or in the third act for some incomprehensible reason the filmmakers chose to pepper the soundtrack with Spanish language version of pop hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Once or twice is okay but it was a good five or six occasions. Brevity is the soul of wit; repetition doesn’t make a joke any funnier in general. Just sayin’.

Don’t get me wrong – there is some entertainment value here but it’s mainly due to James’ work. And let’s face it; compared to the Adam Sandler comedies that Netflix has released thus far, this is Mel Brooks-level work (and believe it or not, Sandler’s production company Happy Madison had nothing to do with this which was surprising to me considering how close Sandler and James are). Still, this is little more than a 90 minute time-killer that will have little more value than that to you. Me, I’d recommend that you wait for a movie that is more worthy of Mr. James’ talents.

REASONS TO GO: Kevin James is always engaging and likable.
REASONS TO STAY: There is a sitcom-like feel to this and some of the running jokes are pretty damn annoying.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of violence and some rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is a remake of the 1973 French action film Le Magnifique.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/8/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 38/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spy
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Passengers

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2


Hopa!

Hopa!

(2016) Comedy (Universal) Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Gia Carides, Joey Fatone, Elena Kampouris, Alex Wolff, Louis Mandylor, Bess Meisler, Bruce Gray, Fiona Reid, Ian Gomez, Jayne Eastwood, Rob Riggle, Mark Margolis, Rita Wilson, John Stamos, Jeanie Calleja. Directed by Kirk Jones

Woman Power

Like many others, I was a victim of the charm of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I won’t say that I fell in love with the movie, but it did blindside me a little bit and I regard it fondly, even though it was fairly flawed. Some movies will do that to you.

And now most of the original cast is back. Toula (Vardalos) has been married more than a decade to Ian (Corbett) who is now a principal at the local high school. Her travel agency went out of business and she is back working at the family restaurant and has proven herself an adept business woman. Her family is still around her like the albatross around the neck of the Ancient Mariner. She lives in a block of four houses on a quiet suburban Chicago street that all belong to members of her family.

That family includes patriarch Gus (Constantine) who believes himself to be descended from Alexander the Great and that everything useful or wonderful in the world came directly or otherwise from Greece, often with the flimsiest of evidence to back him up. His long-suffering wife Maria (Kazan) wants nothing more than to lead a semi-normal life, but with sisters like Voula (Martin) who never met a bodily condition too gross to discuss with anyone, that is quite the challenge.

Throw an angsty teenage daughter (Carides) into the mix and you get all the flavors of Greece in one soup. But even that is not enough when the discovery is made that due to a clerical error, Gus and Maria were never actually married. While Gus is eager just to rectify the error and go on with his life, Maria wants a big fat Greek wedding, the one she never got in the old country. It falls upon Toula to arrange everything and balance the family business, her husband’s frustration that the two of them have not been intimate for awhile, and her daughter’s collegiate choice that may take her away from Chicago and of course with her maniac relatives interfering in every way possible, this is a dance that even Zorba couldn’t manage.

All the elements of the first movie are here in the second, but as is usually the case, lightning doesn’t get captured in the bottle quite so easily. While Vardalos remains one of those rare actresses who simply is irresistible and cute onscreen, so much so that you want to take her home with you, for some reason this movie doesn’t work as well as the first. Perhaps it’s just a case of the first existing because it set a high bar for the second. But there are flaws here that can be explained.

For one thing, it feels sometimes that Vardalos who as in the first movie wrote the script was trying too hard to make her family eccentric. I think we got the point and a little more restraint would have been just as effective. I love Andrea Martin as a comedienne and she steals a lot of scenes here and Constantine who hasn’t made a full length feature film since the first big fat Greek wedding 14 years ago (yipes!) also dominates the screen whenever he’s on it.

The Nikki subplot really didn’t interface as well with the rest of the material. I can kinda see what Vardalos was trying to do – show that Toula was becoming exactly like her mother – and while that is an admirable and salient point, it wasn’t made as well as it could have been, particularly since the comedy is a little bit over-the-top. Again, restraint would have been welcome.

The movie is curiously flat when it comes to onscreen energy, which is normally the purview of the editor and the director. I’m not sure if that is the case here, but certainly the movie doesn’t have the same vibrant feel of the first. Perhaps there is the stigma of repetition, in that most sequels rarely capture the same magic as the original, but it could also have been that much too long has passed since we last visited this Greek comedy and that had its effect on our perception of the finished product as well.

I am a fan of Nia Vardalos and I was rooting for this movie to be better than it was. It will likely make it to cable earlier than intended and then fade away into obscurity but I am strangely glad that it got made anyway. I can’t really recommend it (hence the score) but I still have a soft spot for it anyway. If you were as charmed by the first movie as I was, you will likely be disappointed in the second, but you may very well find a soft spot for it as well. So please don’t mind if I get a second helping of spanikopita and enjoy a movie that should have been better.

REASONS TO GO: Occasionally shows the charm of the original. Vardalos remains sweet and charismatic in the lead role.
REASONS TO STAY: The film lacks energy. Occasionally the material becomes overbearing. The plot is wafer-thin.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of sexually suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmed in Toronto, substituting for the Chicago location of the original.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/4/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 28% positive reviews. Metacritic: 37/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Father of the Bride
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: The Boss

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