Category Archives: Movies

The World’s End: The Cornetto Trilogy’s End

Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of the great comedies of the new millennium and the loose “Cornetto trilogy” that comprises them has finally been completed with The World’s End, a tale of the disappointments of aging, pub-crawling, and extraterrestrial robots. The World’s End is directed by Edgar Wright, and stars Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, and seemingly half of the working actors in the United Kingdom in bit parts.

Gary “The King” King (Simon Pegg) was something of a hot commodity as a teenager in Newton Haven, the small town where he grew up. Over the years, King, so cool and popular in his youth, has degenerated into a pitiable husk of a man desperately trying to cling to the glory days of his youth that occurred almost two decades prior. He decides that the only way to salvage the pathetic state his life is currently in is to get back together with his childhood friends and finally accomplish something they failed at as teenagers: the Golden Mile, an epic pub-crawl comprising twelve pubs and twelve pints.

This is a very accurate poster.

This is a very accurate poster.

His four friends have all moved on with their lives. They have jobs, they wear ties, and they have not spent twenty years dreaming about passing out inside of The World’s End, the last pub of the Golden Mile, after spending a night drinking. Nick Frost plays Andy, Gary’s former best friend who he wronged years prior. Martin Freeman plays Oliver, whose unfortunate birthmark christened him O-Man for much of his youth. Paddy Considine plays Steven, who loved Oliver’s sister and resents Gary for drunkenly sleeping with her once when they were teenagers. Eddie Marsan plays Peter, a family man long removed from the days of being bullied at school. All of them have moved on, but all of them are drawn back by Gary’s promises of booze and belonging.

The quintet finds themselves back home and attempts the twelve pub crawl, but is sidetracked when they discover that Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), is back in town as well, and, oh yeah, just about everyone in newton Haven has been replaced by robots from space that are filled with blue, ink-like blood (probably should have gotten to that one first). Naturally, our five do the only thing that makes sense: complete the Golden Mile before the robots realize what they know. Note: they are all half in the bag by this point. So as their night goes from disappointing to terrifying, the five friends must fight for their lives and ask the age-old question: why did I listen to Gary f*cking King.

The boys are back and more skeptical than ever.

The boys are back and more skeptical than ever.

Simon Pegg, fresh off of Star Trek: Into Darkness, is back in another science-fiction effort, though one with fewer lens-flares and more drinking. Pegg is very much at the center of this film, and he is up to the challenge of being both charming and utterly pathetic. Gary King is one of those guys that never realized wanting to have fun forever means you probably will never have very much at all. He also calls his car “The Beast” and himself “The King” without a trace of irony, which is rather unacceptable for a grown man, even one who still wears the same coat he did as a seventeen year old.

Nick Frost, Pegg’s longtime comedic wing-man, plays someone who was tired of cleaning up his best friend’s messes and dealing with the inevitable betrayals and actually managed to leave him behind, only to be coerced back years later. He does well with material a little darker than he is typically associated with while still being very funny. Martin Freeman, Bilbo Baggins himself, is strong as well, if a bit underused in his role. Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan are also reliably funny and consistent throughout the film. Rosamund Pike seems underused as well, her character seems like a prize for one member of our group, an object of lust for another, and a sister for yet another and not much else, which is a shame, because I like the actress.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost seem to be carving out a niche for themselves in comedies with a science-fiction bent. Starting with Spaced, then Shaun of the Dead and Paul, and now The World’s End, the duo seems to know what they like. The aliens present here are actually legitimately interesting and rather unique in their motivations when compared to so many other cinematic aliens before them. They also seem like something out of a crappy video game, and I legitimately mean that in the best way possible. The fight scenes, while funny initially, seem to drag after a while, particularly as they become increasingly drawn out and complicated towards the end of the film.

No Gary, you're out of order!

No Gary, you’re out of order!

This is the darkest film yet in the Cornetto Trilogy, and probably the most mature Pegg and Frost have done together. Whereas Shaun of the Dead  was about a guy realizing he needs to start maturing before it is too late, The World’s End is about a guy who realizes after it is already way too late. Gary is a character, while good for making audiences laugh, is nothing short of depressing to think about. His friends, while successful, are also feeling the pressures of aging, albeit in ways that won’t send them towards the bottom of a beer stein. The symbolism of the town you grew up in looking the same but being totally different is a bit on the nose, though it works for The World’s End.

I’m a fan of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright, together and separately, so I was admittedly a bit pumped to see The World’s End. The film managed to meet my expectations, and while it did not exceed them, meeting high expectations is certainly nothing to scoff at. The story and acting are strong, the humor is biting, and the ending is surprising, so go see The World’s End, and watch some grown men get inebriated and brawl with robots.

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In a World…: In This World, I Liked It

The movie-trailer voice-over business is one of the most quietly iconic facets of the entertainment industry, so it is unsurprising that it took this long to get a film made about that rather eccentric corner of Hollywood. Lake Bell writes, directs, and stars in In a World…, a comedy about a woman who wants to break into the male-dominated world of voice-overs, a world in which her father reigns supreme. Fred Melamed, Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, and Nick Offerman star alongside Bell in the Sundance favorite.

Carol Solomon is the daughter of Sam Soto, a legendary voice-over artist on the tail-end of his career. Carol works as a vocal coach, specializing in accents, but dreams of the glorious day when her voice will echo throughout movie theaters around the globe while theatergoers get their popcorn and go to the restroom “just in case.” Carol has the goods, but she has the wrong pair of chromosomes. Sam Soto (Fred Melamed) has it all: a girlfriend younger than his (youngest) daughter, rather impressive facial hair, and a voice that could shake the heavens. He is also a petty jackass.

Dani Solomon (Michaela Watkins) is married to the affable Moe (Rob Corddry), but the spark is gone. Her missing wedding ring is an annoyance rather than an emergency and her job appears to bore her. Two events flip Dani’s life on its head: Carol moves in, and a handsome Irishman sets his sights on her. Meanwhile, the attractive young woman next door (Talulah Riley) with a delightful accent of her own has befriended Moe.

I can't think of something "witty"

I can’t think of something “witty”

Carol frequently works at a recording studio staffed by Louis (Demetri Martin) a sound engineer crushing on Carol, Heners (Nick Offerman) who is filled with both good advice and ill-timed news, Cher (Tig Notaro), and a rather agressive new secretary who lusts after Sam Soto. This collection of odd-balls in united by their distaste for Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), the heir apparent to the voice-over throne.

The lives of these people intertwine and intersect and get increasingly complicated and convoluted as it becomes known that the phrase “In a World…” will be used in a trailer for the first time since the death of Don LaFontaine (the real life king of movie trailers). The choice for the recipient of the honor is limited down to three candidates: Sam Soto, Gustav Warner, and Carol Solomon.

That is a lot of awkward contact.

That is a lot of awkward contact.

This is a funny movie. The dramatic beats will occasionally fall a little short and some of the subplots are in need of refinement, but the laughs never stop coming from the opening sequence to the final scene. Lake Bell is a proven comedic actress, from the typical romantic-comedy fare to the more absurd (she is one of the leads on Children’s Hospital), but she has proven her ability to write witty, consistently funny dialogue here. Admittedly, having a stable of reliable comedic talents filling out the supporting cast definitely gives her something of a cushion to work with.

The romantic element in the film is probably the weakest aspect, and the dialogue present in the scenes between Bell and Martin tends to be a bit too “cute” for believability. This could be because the chemistry between Bell and Martin worked well in a friendly context, but felt lacking later in the film when it inevitably came time for there to be a slightly awkward romantic turn between the pair. While the romantic element is ever-present, In a World… is not a romantic comedy in the traditional sense where the leading lady finds her man and everything is all hunky-dory, Carol finds her own way in the world with some assistance, but does not have that way found for her.

The flamingos are symbolism.

The flamingos are symbolism.

The acting in the film is excellent, especially the work done by Bell, Corddry, Melamed, and Watkins. The convoluted family unit those four actors create, is a cavalcade of disfunction, from the father actively trying to thwart his daughter’s successes, to the husband and wife in danger of letting their little crushes get the better of them. Melamed does well as the antagonist you don’t fully realize is an antagonist until the movie’s nearly done and is able to provide his unpleasant characters with some layers.

The subplot regarding the marital strife between Dani and Moe is effective, sad, and touching but occupies the not-so-happy-medium where there was either too much of them onscreen, or not enough. The disappearance of the couple’s accented objects of lust halfway through the film is a little bit jarring and something that could have been easily remedied with an extra few minutes of screen-time.

In a World… is a very funny film, but like most comedies worth their salt, it is has something to say beneath the witticisms and banter about its subject matter. Lake Bell is making something of a statement regarding the state of an intensely male-dominated field and also about the pandemic of young women adopting voices that are infantilized to the point of being unintelligible. Bell’s Carol is feisty and willing to fight for what she wants, so if you are the type to go in for positive lessons in their entertainment, there is one here to go along with a rather damning critique of how an industry, and others, are run.

In a lot of ways, Lake Bell is to actresses as voice-overs are to Hollywood. She has hung out around the fringes of the mainstream for years now, and while she is a recognizable face, she does not come immediately to mind when thinking of actresses. This makes it fitting that her first outing as a writer-director would focus on this aspect of the movie business. In a World… is a funny movie with enough narrative heft and strong acting to make for a memorable and unique, if unexceptional movie-going experience for the first-time director, who should have a lot of success with future cinematic endeavors behind the camera.

Clear History: Curb Your Expectations

Larry David is one of the great comedic forces of our age. His fingerprints are instantly recognizable on any one of his projects (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm), and he has earned the right to be as caustic as he wants on any project that he wants, no matter how very underwhelming it is. Clear History is a film made for HBO, and stars David along with a veritable stable of quality talent in this comedy about a man who threw a fortune away over a minute detail. Greg Mottola directs a cast consisting of Jon Hamm, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Michael Keaton, Kate Hudson, Eva Mendes, Philip Baker Hall, J.B. Smoove, and Liev Schreiber alongside the inimitable Larry David.

Nathan Flomm (Larry David as a variation of Larry David) had it all: a job all but guaranteed to make him rich beyond his wildest dreams, an attractive girlfriend, and a glorious mane of hair. He also had a mouth and a stubborn streak. The latter two cost him the first three, and he became both a disgrace and a laughingstock. His decision to jump ship and give up ten percent of a surefire money-maker may have been idiotic, but, to be fair, naming an electric car “the Howard” is pretty stupid no matter what Ayn Rand novel his boss, Will Haney (Jon Hamm), had taken it from. Flomm’s towering mistake led to his public humiliation: he was laughed out of coffee shops and made fodder for late-night monologues. Faced with the relentlessness of the public’s scorn, he disappears.

I'm not sure whose hair is more impressive.

I’m not sure whose hair is more impressive.

Ten years later, Nathan lives in the idyllic Martha’s Vineyard, goes by Rolly, and has traded in high profile marketing gigs for being the caretaker of an old woman even more unpleasant than himself. His life lacks the glamour and the importance it did before, but he is happy. He plays poker with his friends, he is on good terms with his ex-girlfriend, and he seems content to wile away his remaining years in the comforting embrace of obscurity.

Then, Will Haney moved to town and everything changes. All the bad memories and resentment bubbling beneath the surface become Nathan’s primary motivators once more, and his mind becomes focused on one thing: revenge. He drafts the help of his best friend (Danny McBride) and a couple of crazed locals (Michael Keaton and Bill Hader) in his plot to destroy the grandiose new home Haney has built. Nathan also manages to befriend Haney’s wife (Kate Hudson) and seeks to woo her away from her chiseled husband.

Are denim jackets still a thing?

Are denim jackets still a thing?

Larry David shines while playing a(nother) modified version of himself, but his reassuring sort of unpleasantness can only do so much to elevate this movie beyond being a sterling example of a bloated cast. So many roles are filled by actors of various levels of star power, it becomes both distracting and detracting. Worst of all, there is not an actor here, aside from David, Hamm, and maybe Smoove, who doesn’t have their talents wasted by virtue of a lack of development and the inherent superfluity of so many of their roles.

Clear History is just a case of a bunch of celebrities getting together to have a good time with each other by being politically-incorrect and engaging in a bit of improvisation (without the quality of, say, This Is the End). If this made for television film sounds a lot like an extended episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, you would not be even a little bit off base. The problem with Clear History, however, is that it just isn’t very good. It is overstuffed, indulgent, and in desperate need of someone to go through it and trim all the fat, and Clear History is mostly fat. This is a shorter review than normal because I just can’t think of aspects of this film legitimately warranting discussion, and that is a bad sign.

Anyways, I guess I will list some random observations to pad this out.

  • Larry David’s epic hair worked for me.
  • Liev Schreiber, Danny McBride, Larry David, and Jon Hamm are all leads on television series currently.
  • Apparently the band Chicago still exists.
  • Michael Keaton is still weird as hell.
  • What was the point of hiring Eva Mendes if you aren’t going to have her look like Eva Mendes?
  • I agree with Jon Hamm about seersucker jackets. This makes me happy.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home: Reviewed by James, Who Watched at Home

The Duplass brothers (Jay and Mark) are the original kings of mumblecore, and, after a period of flirtation, they have apparently decided to embrace the mainstream with Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Starring Jason Segel as the Jeff of the title and Ed Helms as his brother Pat, the comedy-drama focuses on a family as they struggle to determine what exactly it is that they want. Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, and Rae Dawn Chong also star in the 2012 film.

Jeff is thirty years old and still living in his mother’s basement. He doesn’t have a job and it does not appear that he is looking for one, he smokes too much pot, and has seen the movie Signs by M. Night Shymalan too many times for comfort. According to him, Signs eventually reigns in all the meandering and contains one perfect moment, and, while I doubt the veracity of that statement, it leads him to his personal philosophy: eventually life will contain one perfect moment that makes up for everything that occurs leading up to it. He looks for signs in everyday life, and his marijuana-infused state of mind leads to conclude that the name Kevin will lead him to his destiny. His logic is oddly sound.

The wood-paneling doesn't work for me.

The wood-paneling doesn’t work for me.

Pat is Jeff’s older brother and he does not live at home. Pat is married to Linda (Judy Greer), who seems to be on the verge of finally reacting to the passive-aggressive back and forth her marriage has devolved into. Pat is the kind of guy who is solidly middle-class, goes to Hooters on his lunch break, and can be talked into actually believing that they are basically giving a Porsche away for free if there is only a small down payment. Eventually Pat and Jeff cross paths and Pat must finally confront the state of his marriage.

Sharon (Susan Sarandon), the mother of Jeff and Pat, is in a bit of a funk. She resents her kids, she’s bored in her job, and she hasn’t had sex since her husband died. So, when she starts getting messages from a secret admirer, she is more than a little skeptical of their intentions. Following some urging from her friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong), she decides to give it a go, though the result is quite surprising to her (but not us). As these kinds of movies tend to do, the main cast ends up in the same place at the same time, and things find a way to resolve themselves, for the time being at least.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a film extremely reliant on the contrivances of the script, and no matter how sparingly the Duplass brothers filmed it, that kind of thing does not go unnoticed. This is a rather short film, clocking in at just over eighty minutes, so the need to keep the plot moving at a reasonable clip is rather high, the but the manner in which it was done could have been more subtle. Jeff, as a character, seems to have embraced fate and the interconnected nature of the universe as a means to motivating himself, so the usage of things seemingly occurring by fate makes a degree of sense considering this film isn’t damning its title character, but it all just rang so hollow. Also: the subplot regarding Susan Sarandon’s Sharon and the coworker who secretly admires her was sweet but not affecting.

This trip to Hooters was not a hoot. That was bad, even for me.

This trip to Hooters was not a hoot.

Issues regarding the plot aside, Jeff, Who Lives at Home was a very well-acted film by all four principles. Jason Segel has been a bastion of comedic solidity (I really need to get this flowery writing in check) for over a decade now, and, despite the comedic bent of the film, is finally beginning to test his dramatic chops. As far as I can tell, Segel is fully up to the task and demonstrates this by spending much of the film either by himself or with the camera zoomed closely on his face.

Ed Helms is an actor defined by how comedic his intensity can become before it just becomes sad (note: the later seasons of The Office). In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Helms embraced the inherently pitiable, if frustrating, manner his characters typically act, and gave what may be his strongest performance to date. Helms’ willingness to let his characters be legitimately unpleasant and unlikable makes him a natural fit for the Duplass brothers, who have made something of a career out of mining the aspects about people that tend to annoy other equally annoying people.

Judy Greer is in many ways the ultimate supporting player in Hollywood. Indie or mainstream, television or film, she seems to pop up a few times a year to elevate whatever material she is tasked with working with. Her Linda is a frustrated woman, her marriage is failing and her husband has depleted the funds they had been saving to buy a house in order to purchase an ill-advised Porsche. So, if Linda were to have an affair with some guy who is willing to actually put in some effort and listen to her complain, no one would really blame her.

I can't tell if it is ketchup or catsup.

I can’t tell if it is ketchup or catsup.

The thing in this film is that Pat and Linda deserve each other. Linda complains that none of her friends like Pat, but admits it was she who poisoned them against him. Pat wants a wife who loves him, but can’t manage to actually love his wife. These are deep problems, and while a day of catharsis may help, some wounds just don’t heal. As can be expected, Jeff’s search for meaning and following of signs doesn’t lead him inwards, it leads him straight into the middle of the cold war between his brother and sister-in-law.

I didn’t like the ending of this movie. Maybe it is the pessimist in me, or maybe it is as someone who thinks a deus ex machina should be reserved for a Greek drama or something more irony-laden, but the ending just didn’t sit right. What occurs is a cop-out used to ensure a happy(ish) ending, and while I can appreciate the desire to end on a more positive note, it didn’t work for this viewer. I am perfectly content for something to end happily if it makes, well, sense, but the final few scenes of Jeff, Who Lives at Home just didn’t make all that much sense to me.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is Jay and Mark Duplass’ first legitimately mainstream film, and it is competently done if a bit disappointing. This film is demonstrative of many of the frequent pitfalls of independent cinema: it confuses the intimate for the unambitious, is content to be reflective rather than attempt something revelatory, and thinks a shaky camera is a good idea. The cast, primarily Jason Segel and Ed Helms, does an exceptional job and manages to elevate the material somewhat, but unlike Signs (this is Jeff’s opinion, not mine), all the meandering doesn’t actually manage to culminate into the one perfect moment they were clearly intending to achieve.

Superman: Unbound: My Review is Also Unbound

Marvel may be dominating the world of live-action super-heroism, and probably will continue to do so barring some unforeseen dramatics, but DC Animation has been equally dominant in the (admittedly significantly less lucrative) realm of animated film-making. They continued their solid stretch of quality film-making with Superman: Unbound, based on the 2008 “Brainiac” story arc in Action Comics by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. The sixteenth DC Universe Animated Original Movie, Superman: Unbound is directed by James Tucker and has a voice cast lead by Matt Bomer (White Collar) as Clark Kent/Superman, Stana Katic (Castle) as Lois Lane, John Noble (Fringe) as Brainiac, and Molly Quinn (Castle) as Kara Zor-El/Supergirl.

It is just another day in Metropolis, Superman is off doing something or other for the betterment of humanity, the sun is shining, and Lois Lane has been taken hostage. Again. Since this occurs in the first two or three minutes of the film, it is a given that she is rescued from her predicament with all of her snark still intact. Her rescuer is Superman’s adolescent cousin Kara Zor-El, who has taken on the moniker of Supergirl. Kara has all of the power, with twice the midriff. Clark Kent may have the power of a god and be an unparalleled master of disguise (Glasses! So subtle, so genius!), but he lacks that specific tact needed to deal with a troubled teenager (who was actually familiar with the home planet that was obliterated) without pushing a few buttons.

You're not my real Dad!

You’re not my real Dad!

Superman: Unbound was shaping up to be an understated meditation on the importance of family and open communication in all sorts of relationships, but this is all derailed (damn you comic-book cliches! I’m kidding, hooray for explosions) when a robot from space engages in a lengthy brawl with the Man of Steel and it is revealed that the pair of Kryptonians may have to deal with an enemy Superman never knew he had, and Supergirl wishes she could forget: Brainiac. Brainiac is a being that is part organism and part machine who thirsts to know…everything. The impossibility of that mission has caused him to rig the game by eliminating the element with the greatest potential for chaos in the universe: life, and all the free-will that goes along with that. Brainiac travels from planet to planet miniaturizing and bottling cities from intelligent worlds for his collection before destroying those planets. One such conquest was Kandor, the former capital city of Krypton.

Superman, desperate to stop the inevitable destruction of his new home, decides to seek out Brainiac in the cosmos and leave the Earth in the care of Kara, who still remembers the fruitlessness of the defense Krypton mounted against Brainiac. Meanwhile, Lois wants to stop hiding her relationship with Clark Kent and has discovered the joys of wearing miniskirts to work (admittedly, this probably makes her interviews go more smoothly).

The character designs in Superman: Unbound were hit and miss for the most part, with Brainiac and Supergirl looking fantastic but Superman and Lois Lane looking slightly off, and not quite like themselves. Note: the characters don’t unnatural, it just never quite feels like Superman and Lois Lane, at least based on their appearances. The background animation and environmental scenes are all superbly rendered, even if the actual motion of what’s on screen can feel clunky (a minor quibble, but a quibble nonetheless).

Who said superhero movies couldn't be shocking?

Who said superhero movies couldn’t be shocking?

The character of Superman works better for me here than he has in a long time, certainly better than in Man of Steel, in that it adds shades to the character that do not detract from the character’s core qualities while adding a depth that is just not inherent to the character (sorry fans of the character, I’ve never quite gotten it). His upstanding nature has made him self-righteous, and his all-consuming protectiveness has added hints of timidity in all things non-violent. Superman: Unbound also conveys something refreshing in that it is usually not seen with character, at least not on screen: he’s out of his depth. Brainiac is Superman’s match and then some, and they both know it. Additionally, Lois Lane is at her least cloying in the film, which saying quite a lot considering my dislike of the character (I may be ambivalent towards Superman, but I genuinely dislike Lois Lane…I’m sorry, fans of the character).

Matt Bomer’s voice-work is certainly competent, and the actor looks the part (not needed in a voice-actor, but I thought I should point it out), however, it is generally bland and unmemorable. I did appreciate that Bomer made his voice sound slightly more nasally when voicing the definitely-not-Superman Clark Kent, as opposed to the definitely-not-Clark-Kent Superman. Stana Katic is equally competent and unmemorable in her role of the feisty reporter commonly known as Lois Lane.

Brainiac makes for a good villain, and is suitable as a foil for Superman who is not named Lex Luthor (also: good on Superman: Unbound for not inserting that character when he is unnecessary). Superman is essentially a god, but he wishes nothing more than to be able to be fallible without disastrous consequences ensuing. Brainiac seeks godhood, and the question regarding his apotheosis isn’t if he will become a god, the question is just when did he shed the last remnants of whatever humanity he had to start with? John Noble probably does the strongest voice-work in the film, though I feel it was a mistake for him to interject any emotion into Brainiac’s voice. Cold, calculated brutality is just so much more terrifying than some of the heated decision-making we saw.

I kind of like the decor.

I kind of like the decor.

The action is a good, though it sometimes it feels like the action sequences are from a stylistically different film from the quieter scenes with fewer explosions. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be jarring at times. The plot of Superman: Unbound moves along at a very quick pace, and the film could have definitely used an extra ten minutes or so to develop the characters and their relationships a bit better, though profit margins must be maintained and animation is expensive to produce relative to the revenue that they yield (not a judgment).

Superman: Unbound continues the increasingly impressive streak of DC for quality animated features, though it is not up there with some of the more exceptional works they have put out. The voice-acting is solid, and the focus on lesser-known characters (to the general public) such as Supergirl and Brainiac is refreshing when facing the overabundance of Lex Luthor (who I like) in Superman media. Superman: Unbound is a solid animated effort, and fans of the character, the genre, or non-mainstream-superhero-cinema (it being about the most mainstream of superheroes not withstanding) should enjoy it.

The Wolverine: Clawing Its Way To Mediocrity

As the years have ticked by, the landscape of cinematic super-heroics has changed remarkably. We have a new Spider-Man, Marvel has launched and maintained a fantastically successful movie universe, and DC looks to launch their own (presumably less) successful movie universe, but, thirteen years later, Hugh Jackman still plays Wolverine. The Wolverine marks the sixth time Jackman has portrayed the clawed Canadian, and the second time starring in a solo feature (arguably the fifth time). Based (very loosely) on the classic limited series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, this film sees Wolverine go to Japan and engage in some good old-fashioned violence and engage a fair amount of brooding over his immortality. The Wolverine is directed by Jamed Mangold and stars Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee, and Famke Janssen alongside Jackman.

Wolverine (aka Logan) is a man with one hell of a past, he just can’t remember most of it, and, unfortunately for him, the aspects he actually manages to remember plague him with nightmares (mostly featuring the deceased Jean Grey). Following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand (in which Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Professor X died, and that is all we will say about that film), Wolverine has taken to living alone in the wilderness and doing a somewhat decent impersonation of Grizzly Adams (he has one hell of a beard). He also befriends a grizzly bear.

Eventually, he is tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young Japanese martial artist who has sought the hairy mutant on behalf of her employer, Yashida, a man Wolverine saved from the atomic blast at Nagasaki. What Wolverine believes will be a brief foray to Tokyo to say goodbye to a man from his past turns into a fight for survival as he flees from Yashida’s enemies with Mariko, Yashida’s lovely granddaughter. Oh, and his healing factor is severely weakened for a while by a devious mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who is snakelike in more ways than one.

I like their hair.

I like their hair.

Let me get this out of the way first, Hugh Jackman does his typically competent work as Wolverine, despite being too good-looking to play the role (a damning indictment if there ever was one). Hugh Jackman portrays the deep longing, the brutality he barely holds beneath the surface, and the desperation for something other than violence that characterizes Wolverine extremely well, even if the movie doesn’t quite live up to the standard he sets (X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t either, so hooray for consistency!).

A pair of Japanese models make their feature film debuts in leading roles and they are both up to the task. Tao Okamoto does very well with her rather one-note role as Mariko Yashida, Wolverine’s love interest and a relative of just about everyone villainous in the film. Rila Fukushima is also solid as Yukio, even if the role isn’t particularly well written. Jackman has good romantic chemistry with Okamoto, and a believable friendly rapport with Fukushima.

In fact, most of the supporting cast actually manages to do good work with what the script gives them. Hiroyuki Sanada is suitably malicious as Shingen Yashida, a very ambitious and ruthless businessman and Mariko’s father. Will Yun Lee is decent as Kenuichio Harada, a former flame of Mariko’s, a sworn protector of the Yashida clan, and a flip-flopper of epic proportions. Svetlana Khodchenkova is attractive and villainous, and manages to hiss a lot (because she is playing Viper), and, well that’s about all that was required for that character (a very poorly written character, I might add). In addition, Famke Janssen returns to the role of Jean Grey in a series of superfluous dream sequences that do nothing for the film aside from inflating its run-time.

I'll never fully understand the intricacies of applying makeup.

I’ll never fully understand the intricacies of applying makeup.

The Wolverine starts off relatively promising, and is surprisingly willing to have a slower pace and a more meditative bent than the previous Wolverine solo effort, only to be derailed by an incompetent third act and a smattering of purportedly intelligent characters acting illogically and inconsistently. For example, from scene to scene I was unable to discern just whose side Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee) was on. In addition, a villainous turn late in the film makes little to no sense, in addition to the predictability of the magnanimous illogicality (I tend to be long-winded, sue me).

The surprisingly little amount of action in The Wolverine (Wolverine can barely go to the restroom without having to battle a group of martial artists) is decent for the most part, excepting a snowy scene late in the film that caused me to burst out laughing (more of a guffaw than a chuckle), and I wasn’t the only one. An extended sequence involving a bullet train is especially pulse-pounding and a clever variation on the typically snikt-and-slash nature of Wolverine going berserk (fun fact: snikt is the sound Wolverine’s claws make as they come out).

Spoiler: He gets out of that jam.

Spoiler: He gets out of that jam.

The effects are decent in the manner that most special effects are decent in this day and age, the only truly notable thing about them was the marked improvement on those found in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Admittedly the effects they used on the Silver Samurai tended towards the bad kind of cartoonish and Viper’s powers were not as convincing as you would expect a woman shedding her skin like a snake would be: shocking, I know.

The Wolverine is a missed opportunity, and a frustrating viewing experience to boot (at least for us comic book nerds). Despite the disappointments of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, director James Mangold was given a golden opportunity, and a relatively clean slate, to make a good Wolverine film.  However, despite strong work from Hugh Jackman and most of the cast, a script rife with problems and a rather thorough butchering of the source material (the film hardly resembles the work by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller) leaves us with yet another disappointing entry in the increasingly convoluted world of the movie X-Men.

Pacific Rim: Giant Monsters versus Giant Robots, Enjoy

After a five year absence from the big screen, director Guillermo del Toro is back with several bangs in Pacific Rim, a big budget Kaiju (big monsters) and Mecha (large mechanized vehicular constructs…um…big robots) romp. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Clifton Collins, Jr., Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, and Ron Perlman, Pacific Rim is the result of a whole lot of money and absolutely zero pretensions.

In the near future, a dimensional rift opens in the deeps of the Pacific from which great monsters (Kaiju) are unleashed and wreak havoc upon the Earth. After several devastating attacks, humanity bands together to create Jaegers, giant humanoid machines of war operated mentally by two pilots (one pilot is unable to handle the mental strain) who undergo a form of mental merging called drifting. The Jaegers are initially successful, but as the monsters emerging from the deep get larger and the attacks become more frequent, the war against the Kaiju looks increasingly dire and the Jaegers appear to be losing their effectiveness.

It’s a hybrid

Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), was an ace Jaeger pilot until his brother and copilot was killed in action defending Anchorage (Raleigh managed to survive and get his crippled Jaeger to shore solo). He is called upon once more by Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba (LutherThe Wire) his former commanding officer, for the final, desperate push against the Kaiju. Becket, however, is in need of a copilot, which is where Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi (BabelNorwegian Wood), comes into play. Mako was orphaned when a Kaiju ravaged Tokyo, and seeks only revenge and to pilot a Jaeger. Mako is both lovely and is just Becket’s kind of damaged (you know exactly what I mean), so sparks fly pretty much instantly.

Charlie Day and Burn Gorman play a pair of scientists, Newton and Hermann, who may actually be able to provide the information necessary to save the world, if they can stop bickering with each other long enough to get any work done. Newt’s quest takes him all over Hong Kong and into the circle of a black-marketeer named Hannibal Chau played by Ron Perlman (Sons of AnarchyHellboy, general bad-assery). The cast is rounded out by a father-son Jaeger piloting duo played by Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky: the father is grizzled and likable and the son is a huge jackass.

Hunnam is used to anchoring a cast of excellent actors on FX’s Sons of Anarchy, and he (and his abs) performs admirably in the lead role here. Aside from the delivery of some clunky dialogue, Hunnam provides the requisite charisma required in a leading man, and has sizzling chemistry with Rinko Kikuchi. Kikuchi is up to the task as the film’s leading lady and is believable as Becket’s equal, and not someone he needs to rescue (a welcome change from typical summer fare). The film’s makes very good use of Becket and Mako’s romantic chemistry without devoting needed time to an out of place romantic subplot (the film’s main narrative takes place over the course of a few days, it would be out of place). Additionally, the two have a sparring session that is essentially a sex scene.

It’s called flirting

Idris Elba provides the requisite gravitas as Stacker Pentecost, the former Jaeger pilot now at the helm of the underfunded program. Elba does his usual solid work, and he bounces well off of both Hunnam and Kikuchi, but the role is just too cliched to make much of an impression other than his awe-inspiring ability to deliver increasingly grandiose speeches without hamming it up (too much).

I am left with the impression that Charlie Day and Burn Gorman were tasked with being scene-stealers, and they certainly tried their darnedest, but it never quite came together in the manner intended (at least from this slightly-arrogant observer’s perspective). Too much of the film was spent with the pair, and despite, thankfully, being very relevant to the plot, I struggled to find them as appealing as they clearly were intended to be (note: I like both actors quite a bit). Admittedly, I did like Charlie Day’s Kaiju tattoos. Charlie Day’s excursions with Ron Perlman’s Hannibal Chau were, however, very funny and provided much needed levity at certain points in the film.

The Kaiju and the Jaegers are both consistently visually spectacular, and the scenes in which they brawl (primarily hand-to-hand) do not fail to impress, despite the dark scenery on which they are transposed. These fight scenes also manage to maintain a logical continuity from frame to frame, which is surprisingly difficult to achieve judging by the hectic manner in which many big-budget movies are filmed. Oh, and those aforementioned fight scenes are just plain fun.

The main issue with Pacific Rim is the harsh manner in which it was edited. I am left with the impression that instead of editing the film with a scalpel, the good people at Legendary Pictures decided to use an ax. In certain scenes it feels as if chunks of conversation are missing, and this is apparent in the way certain sequences are acted (straight from point A to C, with no point B, if you understand my meaning). The music by Ramin Djawadi is both exciting and fitting and, while the music on the whole is nothing exceptional, the obvious influence of traditional anime scoring provides a nice effect during many of the fight scenes.

Guillermo del Toro is undeniably a director with a unique vision, even if he isn’t your particular cup of tea, and that shines through brightly throughout the entirety of Pacific Rim. He channels his passion for the work of his predecessors and that same passion helps to compensate for some of Pacific Rim‘s inadequacies. I would be shocked if del Toro hadn’t been envisioning some of the scenes present on the big screen since his childhood, and many of you probably imagined some of the same things. Pacific Rim is a spectacle meant to be enjoyed, so enjoy it.

Battleship: They Never Said the Catchphrase

Well, this exists. I still can’t believe they made a movie about Battleship, but they did, and, against my better judgement, I watched the thing. It is not very good, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy myself while watching it. Battleship is a big, dumb (oh so very very dumb) fun alien-invasion movie based off of what was originally a pen-and-paper guessing game. This is the second of the two box office disasters for Taylor Kitsch in 2012 and the acting debut no one ever wanted Rihanna to have. There is also a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model (Brooklyn Decker) and the increasingly stern-faced and action-based Liam Neeson. Oh, and there is CGI. One mustn’t forget the CGI.

Alex Hopper is a Navy man like so many seen onscreen before. He’s undisciplined. He’s a bit of a cad. He’s constantly getting disapproving glares from a father-figure-to-be. He is also never not the smartest person in the room. Not once in this movie is there a more gifted Navy man than Hopper onscreen. If you were to guess that at one point he would be threatened with a discharge for his untamed ways, you would be correct. If you were to guess that he would have a surprisingly heartwarming bromance with someone he originally clashed with – well you probably wouldn’t guess that, but it ties in nicely with the comparison I am about to make. Alex Hopper is Captain James T. Kirk from the Star Trek reboot. To say that Kirk’s emotional arc in Star Trek was original or unique would be farcical, but the comparison works on essentially a scene by scene basis. To be fair to Peter Berg and the people that actually had the hubris to think making Battleship would be a good idea, Captain Kirk didn’t get to make out with Brooklyn Decker. That part of the character arc is new, and I’m sure many a thirteen-year-old boy thanks them.

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Liam Neeson is an actor of poise, skill, and class. He also knows how to take a paycheck: he takes a paycheck in Battleship. He plays the kind of role here that is so often portrayed in film by just about every actor above the age of, say, fifty: the disapproving, slightly frightening, father of the hero’s girlfriend. If there is one thing Liam Neeson, or at least the Liam Neeson of the last five years, is good at, it is intimidating, well, everybody. He plays the protective father, who is also conveniently an admiral, and not much else. He does it well, but he was definitely only being paid to have his name put on the poster and his voice in the trailer. But what a name it is.

I don’t know what to say about Rihanna. I really don’t. Her character was probably the closest thing to a lead after Taylor Kitsch, but her character was never anything other than superfluous. Her character does everything, she is part of combat missions, she is a navigator, she may or may not be a communications specialist. I understand consolidating the large support staff of a Navy destroyer into a few key players, but I do not understand the need to use the same character in multiple contradicting roles. Rihanna should not quit her day job, but she isn’t exactly what I would call terrible. But her character definitely is.

She's emoting as fast as she can.

She’s emoting as fast as she can.

There is a terribly predictable subplot involving Hopper’s bikini-model physical therapist girlfriend and a  crippled veteran who she is working with. The pair must confront the aliens or something in order to save the planet or something. It didn’t make a lot of sense, and it was mainly an exercise in superfluity. The acting in the story-line was actually some of the strongest in the movie. It wasn’t actually strong, but it was stronger than most of what we got in Battleship. Aside from the work of Kitsch and Neeson, who are both good in their roles, if unexceptional.

The biggest surprise of Battleship, for me at least, was the fact that they actually incorporated the board game in a legitimately clever way. Seriously. I was pleasantly surprised that the film had devised a way to incorporate the grid system of the game into the story, that actually made sense within the confines of both. Battleship is not any sort of accomplishment for any of the parties involved, but successfully adapting a board game to the screen (or at least successfully adapting the manner in which that board game is played) is something to be commended.

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Battleship was very close to being a legitimately decent sci-fi flick. The extraterrestrials were way too humanoid for it to not to be commented on by anybody in the film. The looked like they were only one evolutionary step away from us, sort of like the engineers in Prometheus. An aspect of the  science-fiction element that I really appreciated was how, well, not incompetent the aliens were. They had a clear, discernible, and logical plan. Their plan was to send a scouting party of a few ships, seal those ships off from outside influence via a gigantic sphere, and to signal home. The aliens were methodical and competent, they went for infrastructure and weapons, not parks and children. Their plan actually made sense (gasp!), so I would have liked it if one of them actually got a line of dialogue or if we had gotten a reason for either their hostility or ours aside from, “the aliens are bad, kill them.”

The special effects in Battleship are proficient in the same manner most big blockbusters these days have decent effects: they look good, but are oh so very boring as well. Battleship is, in a lot of ways, just Transformers with aliens and naval warfare instead of aliens and Michael Bay. Please note that Battleship is better than the Transformers movies, because, well, Battleship actually has something akin to an actual story. Battleship looks pretty, but explosions do not make up for amateurish dialogue and a computer-generated humanoid figure is a bit different from being an actual character.

What can I say about Battleship that has yet to be said by someone: it is a big, heaping pile of predictability, mediocrity, and unwarranted grandiosity. It has also has gotten an unnecessarily bad reputation. It may definitely be all of those somewhat negative things I just called it, but it is also passable popcorn fare and is enjoyable enough to be watched while only having to do so in a slightly ironic manner. They surprisingly did not sink this Battleship.

Wreck-It Ralph: 8-Bit Nostalgia and Product Placement

Over the past couple of decades, the primary location where video games are played has shifted from the arcade to the living room, and while the graphics may be improved, the nostalgia for those quarter-to-play games remains. Wreck-It Ralph taps into this nostalgia and focuses on the characters living inside the arcade-games, particularly Wreck-It Ralph, the bad guy of the game Fix-It Felix Jr.. The film is produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, and directed by Rich Moore. The voice cast includes John C. Reilly as the titular Ralph, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Ed O’Neill, and Dennis Haysbert.

Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is your typical arcade villain, he spends his days wrecking buildings that are destined to be fixed by Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), and he spends his nights alone living in the junkyard while all of the other residents of the game live in a cushy apartment building. After going to a Bad-Anon (Bad Guys Anonymous) meeting, Ralph’s frustration with his lot in life builds to the point where he barges in on a party for all the citizens of the game, except for him of course. He then heads off to the central hub where all of the game characters from the arcade can mingle in order to find a game where he can finally gain some respect, and a shiny medal. After a mishap in a shoot-em-up game, he winds up in a Candyland inspired racing game where he must team-up with a glitching little girl, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who just wants to race. But a malicious King Candy (Alan Tudyk) desperately wants to keep Vanellope away from the racetrack, and isn’t afraid to go through Ralph to do so.

Wreck-it_Ralph

The voice-acting of Wreck-It Ralph is top notch, particularly the work of John C. Reilly in the title role. Reilly is one of the most underrated actors working today, able to be incredibly subtle while doing some outlandish comedy. His voice is naturally downtrodden, in fact I can’t recall one of his characters that is not at least a little bit depressed, so his casting as the frustrated and (wait for it) depressed Ralph was ideal. Reilly’s work is strong throughout Wreck-It Ralph, and his work anchors a film whose plot could have easily ended up being a framing device for sight-gags.

Sarah Silverman, as the intriguingly named Vanellope, straddles the fine line of endearing and cloying when playing (voicing) spunky children. The character is surprisingly well-developed for a child in an animated film, but she is onscreen a little bit too much, and her antics get old rather quickly. Though, it must be said that she is an easy character to support. Jack McBrayer, of 30 Rock fame, is cast in yet another goody-goody role as the hero to Ralph’s villain. He is good-natured, but frustratingly naive about the ways of the world and the manner in which he treats Ralph.

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Jane Lynch provides most of the funny one-liners in the film as a hardened soldier programmed with the most tragic back-story ever (the only day she didn’t check the perimeter was her wedding day…). Her character is the stereotypical gruff, competent soldier type so common in just about every narrative medium, but it is very funny. Alan Tudyk plays the villainous King Candy and goes for broke with the over the top performance, but he is effective, and actually quite menacing, despite the pitch of his voice.

The animation is, as is the case with most 3D animated films these days, superb and detailed. The sequences of 8-Bit animation give the film a large modicum of charm that many of the computer-animated films released these days lack. Having all of the characters exist in different arcade games allows for a variation of designs of the characters that actually makes sense, from the exaggerated features of those in Fix-It Felix Jr., to the anatomically correct sort-of-realism of those from Hero’s Duty, and just about everything in between (Pac-ManStreetfighter!). And for once, the vast variations fit the story, and don’t distract from it. The settings are all detailed and visually resplendent, but none of them are all that interesting. It is either a town, or a battlefield, or “Candyland.” The central hub where all of the different characters is much more interesting, if less elaborate, but very little time is spent there.

Wrecking-It in multiple languages.

Wrecking-It in multiple languages.

The story of Wreck-It Ralph is surprisingly complicated for an animated family film, but the execution of some aspects of the story-line, particularly in the third act, leaves a lot to be desired. Wreck-It Ralph is yet another animated film to end with an extended chase sequence, which may look pretty but are almost never tonally consistent. The ending of the film also redefines what it means to have a happy ending. I am, in general, not anywhere near a fan of endings that wrap up everything in a neat little bow, and that definitely holds true here. I liked the film, I truly did, but that doesn’t change the fact that the ending was sweet enough to give me a headache (context: really sweet things tend to give me headaches).

Wreck-It Ralph is worth watching if only for the constant stream of references and homages to other arcade games. I couldn’t help but to get a kick out seeing Clyde, one of the ghosts from Pac-Man, running a support group for the antagonists of various games found in the arcade. Or seeing Ryu and Ken (from Streetfighter) going out for drinks after a long day of fighting on the streets (sorry for the wordplay). In this way, Wreck-It Ralph is not dissimilar from the Toy Story series which featured a plethora of various different toys both as characters and as cameos.

Wreck-It Ralph is a very fun, very well-made and well voice-acted animated feature from the people at Disney, the concept lends itself to visual splendor and Wreck-It Ralph delivered on that promise. This is not a great film, the story is too easily resolved and the plot is more than a little bit hectic, but it is definitely worth watching, for both children and adults, who will probably actually get more out of it than younger viewers.

Hotel Transylvania: A Monstrously “Meh” Romp

This is a year where quite a few of the animated films designed for consumption by children have taken cues from the horror genre, the films: ParaNormanFrankenweenie, and, of course, Hotel TransylvaniaHotel Transylvania transplants the monsters from the old Universal Horror series of films (DraculaFrankensteinThe Wolf Man, etc.) to the modern age, throws in a resort run by Count Dracula meant to be a haven from us vile humans, and an adolescent vamp ripe for her first love. The voice-cast is chock full of names including, but not limited to, Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Cee Lo Green, Jon Lovitz, and Fran Drescher. Genndy Tartakovsky directed and Sony Pictures Animation produced the inoffensive Hotel Transylvania

Count Dracula (Sandler) is your typical single dad, he hopes for his daughter to grow up happy and hopes that she never leaves the safe, secure home he has constructed for her. Mavis Dracula (Gomez), his adolescent daughter, is about to turn 118 and reach adulthood and she wants for nothing more than to be happy and leave the safe, secure home he has constructed for her. This home: Hotel Transylvania. The hotel is a resort destination for all sorts of ghouls and monstrosities, where they can seek refuge from the cruelty the humans will inflict upon them if their existence is discovered.

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The hotel is filled to the brim with monsters for Mavis’ annual birthday party, including Dracula’s close friends Frankenstein (James), Wayne, the Werewolf (Buscemi), Murray, the Mummy (Green), and Griffin, the Invisible Man (Spade). But all his party planning and helicopter parenting may be all for naught when Johnny, a twenty-one year old human (Gasp!), shows up at the door with a stuffed backpack and a free-spirit that resonates strongly with Mavis. As Dracula seeks to hide Johnny’s human nature from his guests, he may find himself opening up to the world that spurned him and to finally become willing to let his daughter grow up.

The animation looks fantastic in this film, and while the action onscreen is frequently busy, it is never confusing, which is a rather impressive feat considering that there are frequently dozens of different characters onscreen at once, most of whom are of a different species or subset of monster. The character designs in Hotel Transylvania tend towards the more exaggerated, but it works well enough, and what is transpiring onscreen is sure to please the younger audience members viewing this movie.

Hotel Transylvania - Gang

While this film is definitely technically proficient, it lacks in terms of story and characterization. As is the case with a good number of films, primarily those marketed at children, the story beats are all obvious from a mile away. That isn’t so much the problem, as is the execution of said story beats in Hotel Transylvania. The story in the film is cute, maybe even clever, but the script doesn’t mine any of the potential for anything other than the shallowest of interpretations of its premise.

There are only three real characters in this film, and a bunch of celebrity voices who comment on the goings on of the Hotel Transylvania. Count Dracula is the only character with a real arc, coming to accept humans as not just being the roving bands of people brandishing torches and pitchforks, through his interactions with Johnny. Johnny and Mavis’ development essentially consists of them being the same at the beginning as they are at the end, accept for being, you know, in love. Hotel Transylvania is another one of those films that espouses the idea that if love isn’t instantaneous, it isn’t valid. For any of you out there who doubt that twelve or so hours is enough for a young adult to know if they want to be with someone forever and ever (it should be most of you), you may groan at this predictable development. I most certainly did.

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Like so many animated films, the climax of Hotel Transylvania takes the form of an extended chase sequence. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this particular scene in which Dracula, Frankenstein, and friends run through a crowded village, has one of the most cringe-inducing, it is so sweet, plot developments I have ever seen. This is a film about what goes bump in the night, or what they do in their spare time, and it bothers me to see such dark material, or material that should be, turn into a “let’s all be friends” without any issues whatsoever affair. This type of dark material was handled more maturely, and better, in this year’s ParaNorman and Frankenweenie.

The voice cast is competent, but it is filled with so many celebrities it becomes distracting at times. The lead trio of voice actors do their jobs well, but the remainder of the cast can’t help but to seem like the stunt-casting that they so obviously are. For example, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Cee Lo Green, and David Spade seem like they are only voicing characters in the film to provide “hey, that’s _______” moments for the parents watching in the audience with their children.

Hotel Transylvania is a good movie for children. The animation is excellent and the monsters are vibrant and amusing, but the story is thin and devolves into an extended chase sequence near the ending. This film is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it’s probably even Adam Sandler’s best movie in years (that is kind of sad), and it managed to deliver on everything that it promises, but it promised so very little.