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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Dracula Untold


Enter the dragon.

Enter the dragon.

(2014) Horror (Universal/Legendary) Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance, Diarmaid Murtagh, Paul Kaye, William Houston, Noah Huntley, Ronan Vibert, Zach McGowan, Ferdinand Kingsley, Joseph Long, Thor Kristjansson, Jakub Gierszal, Joe Benjamin, Paul Bullion, Mish Boyko, Dilan Gwyn, Louise Parker. Directed by Gary Shore

You may think you know the story of Dracula but most of us only know his Victorian-age story as told by Bram Stoker. However, even by that point the infamous vampire was centuries old, the undead creature once known as Vlad the Impaler, a 15th century Transylvanian prince who was already a bit of a monster while he was still alive. Of course, history is often a different tale than what those who were there might have narrated.

Vlad who as a boy was sent to live with the Turks as a sort of tribute (and also to keep the numerically superior Turkish army from annihilating the Transylvanians) wants nothing more than to live in peace with his people and his family – his wife Mirena (Gadon) and son Ingeras (Parkinson).

But that is not to be. A Turkish delegation arrives, demanding that the Transylvanians supply them with a thousand boys to serve in the Sultan’s army – including Vlad’s own son. Vlad tries to reason with them, but the envoy won’t hear of it. When a small party of Turks comes to take Ingeras, Vlad kills all of them.

Knowing they can never defeat the massive Turkish army who are well-armed and well-trained, Vlad turns desperate to protect his family at all costs. He ascends a forbidding mountain and there meets the Master Vampire (Dance), a creature half of myth and legend but certainly real enough. He cautions Vlad that the price for power is staggeringly high. If Vlad drinks of the vampire’s blood, he will have most of the vampire’s powers for three days. If he can keep from drinking human blood in that three day period, he will return to his human form. Should Vlad drink any human blood during those three days, a vampire he’ll remain for eternity and the Master Vampire will be freed from his prison and be allowed to walk the world again after centuries of imprisonment.

At first it seems like Vlad made a great bargain; he defeats a Turkish battalion by himself, able to change into bats, control the creatures of the night and possessed of the strength of a hundred men. However, the thirst is proving to be more difficult to resist than he might have thought possible. He also discovers that this was just a diversionary tactic by the Turks and they are coming with an army of hundreds of thousands to wipe out the Transylvanians, led by the Sultan (Cooper) himself, once a boyhood friend of Vlad’s. Can he find a way to defeat the Turks and keep his humanity at the same time?

This is one of those movies that mixes in fact and fiction together to create a different kind of brew, although the “facts” are somewhat fast and loose. In fact, just about the only thing the writers got right was that Dracula which translates depending on who you ask as the Son of the Dragon, or the Son of the Devil, was a prince of Transylvania who would impale his enemies as a means of intimidation. There the distinctions stop. There were no Turks in the 15th century; back then it was known as the Ottoman Empire and the Turks were but one ethnic group in the Empire. Also, his wife’s name was Ilona, not Mirena. He had a daughter named Mircea and a son named Mihnea but no child named Ingeras. Nor was Vlad all that popular among his nobles who were angered by his usurping of what they thought were their rights. Vlad wanted autocratic authority.

All that could have been forgiven if we’d been given a dynamic Vlad but Evans doesn’t deliver one. We get a fairly bland portrayal of the legendary nobleman, one that lacks force or charisma. We never get much of a sense as to what Vlad is like other than that he’s a devoted family man. That’s all well and good but we get a sense of his cruelty only by reputation; Vlad the Impaler might as well have been nicknamed Vlad the Doting Dad. There are a couple of scenes of stakes with Vlad watching them in anguish but that seems pretty at odds with the kind of guy who had no problems letting his enemies die horribly painful deaths. Evans seems distracted, like his mind is on a different movie than the one he’s shooting.

Mirena’s role isn’t well-defined. One gets a sense she’s supposed to be fiercely devoted to her son and husband and that she was strong enough to stand up to her sometimes hot-tempered husband but then at other times she seems uncharacteristically meek and submissive. Thus we are unable to get a real handle on who the true Mirena is.

The special effects are nifty, particularly Dracula transforming into a flock of bats, or controlling the storm near the end of the film. By and large though this isn’t as effects-driven as you might think; mostly this is a costumed action-adventure film in horror sheep’s clothing. The sets are extravagant looking and the cinematography of Ireland (subbing for the Carpathian Mountains) is lovely.

It can be said that this is lovely packaging for essentially an empty box. The suspense element is by the boards because we all know that Vlad is destined to be an immortal vampire so we know that he is going to consume the blood within those three days; it’s just a matter of how and when. So we’re left with mindlessly entertaining,,merely a trifle that will be forgotten the moment you leave the theater.

REASONS TO GO: Some nifty effects sequences. Lush cinematography and nice sets and costumes.
REASONS TO STAY: Evans is a bit wooden. Bloated and stodgy in places. Some historical inaccuracies.
FAMILY VALUES: There is war violence, scenes of bloody vampire attacks, some disturbing images and a little sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sam Worthington was originally set to star until he had to drop out and was replaced by Evans.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/25/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 24% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Van Helsing
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness begins!

Hotel Transylvania


Hotel Transylvania

Count Dracula dispenses some fatherly advice.

(2012) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Fran Drescher, David Spade, Cee-Lo Green, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz, Brian James, Luenell, Rob Riggle. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

 

Being the father of a teenage daughter is  a special kind of hell. We, as dads, know what the world is capable of and it’s natural to be a bit overprotective of our baby girls. Still, it must be way harder to raise a daughter in a world where the majority wants to kill off your entire species.

Count Dracula (Sandler) has more reason than most to fear the humans. While vacationing in Hawaii he met a beautiful vampire named Martha whom he married and had a daughter with. However, angry locals discovered that they had two vampires in their midst and set fire to the house. Dracula was able to rescue his daughter but not his wife. Enraged over the loss of his wife, he swears to protect his daughter from the real monsters and builds a castle in Transylvania that will be forever hidden from human view, a place where his fellow monsters can relax, retreat and be themselves. It’s Hotel Transylvania and every boy and ghoul is just dying to get there (couldn’t help it).

Operating on a strictly humans forbidden basis, the hotel becomes a success. Drac’s daughter Mavis (Gomez) is now 118 and getting restless with her protected lifestyle. She wants to live (which is a bit problematic for the undead), travel, see the world and experience everything. Dracula seems to be all for it at first, but this turns out to be a bit of a ruse.

All of their friends are gathering, from the henpecked Frankenstein (James) and his shrewish wife Eunice (Drescher) to the exhausted werewolf dad Wayne (Buscemi), his also exhausted wife Wanda (Shannon) and their brood of…I don’t know, say 150? – werewolf pups. Then there’s the coolest mummy ever, Murray (Green). They’re all gathering for Mavis’ birthday, an annual event.

Into this chaos rolls (or rather walks) Johnny (Samberg), a hiker who could pass for a surfer or a stoner or both. Rather than being terrified (although at first he does have a bit of a panic attack), he becomes fascinated by the monsters and one in particular – Mavis with whom he is instantly smitten.

Dracula is in a quandary. Not only must he keep his daughter safe from this human, he must keep the guests from finding out about him or else their confidence in their safety at the hotel would be compromised. The problem is that Johnny really isn’t a bad guy once you get to know him. And Mavis has developed feelings for him as well. What’s a dad – and the king of the undead at that – to do?

Tartakovsky, best known for his Cartoon Network classics Star Wars: Clone Wars, Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls tackles his first animated feature with an all-star cast and a much more detailed animation than you usually get on the hideously bad CN. It doesn’t hurt that he has an all-star cast to work with.

Sandler usually has a tendency to be over-the-top but here he’s actually fairly restrained. We get all of the things that are endearing about him and none of the things that are irritating. It’s one of his better performances in the past five years. He gives the overprotective Dracula a touch of humanity that many other performances lack. Yes this is a comedy and meant to be about as scary as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World but that doesn’t mean it has to be depth-less. Sandler gives the character a whole lot of reasons for us to identify with him.

Most of the other characters are given less to work with, although Samberg actually acquits himself nicely as the heart-of-gold stoner dude and Lovitz gets to go a little bit over-the-top with his Quasimodo chef’s role. Sadly, that’s about the extent of it. While there are plenty of in-jokes that adults – particularly those who love classic horror films – are going to chuckle at, there really isn’t much in the way of story which we’ve all seen more than once before.

The universe inhabited here is familiar and fun and makes internal sense. While the ending scene with the rap concert at Mavis’ party is unnecessary and simply awful, almost Disney Channel-esque in it’s bad rappery (Cee-Lo baby – you’re better than this, dawg) most of the rest is merely predictable. There are some fun little gags – like Dracula making a demonic face every time he is annoyed.

This isn’t groundbreaking or head-turning in any real way. It’s merely pleasant entertainment that will keep the kids satisfied and the parents won’t necessarily be squirming in their chairs waiting for the show to end. It will probably end up being a Halloween perennial, showing up on cable and later on broadcast TV every October without fail. In that sense it will become a classic because of repeated viewings but it will be one that while inoffensive isn’t necessarily a classic because of exceptional merit.

REASONS TO GO: Nicely drawn universe. Plenty of in-jokes for classic horror fans.

REASONS TO STAY: Story is kind of ho-hum. Rap scene at the end gratuitous and stupid.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few scary images, some rude humor and a bit of cartoon action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was released on World Rabies Day.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/8/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The movie is getting seriously mixed reviews..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mad Monster Party

MONSTER LOVERS: Among the famous movie monsters that make an appearance here are Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Werewolf, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Blob, the Fly and Quasimodo.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Hunt for Red October