28 October 2012

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania



Hotel Transylvania 
2012, 91mins, U
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky 
Writer (s): Peter Baynham, Robert Smigel
Cast includes: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Cee Lo Green
UK Release date: 12th October 2012

“Hotel Transylvania” marks a bizarre merging of talents; celebrated Russian animator Genndy Tartakovsky with Hollywood’s most prevalent reprobate, Adam Sandler. Tartakovsky has cut his teeth on numerous televisual works over the last number of years, his contributions to cult favourites “Samurai Jack” and “Star Wars: Clone Wars” well known in geek circles, but “Hotel Transylvania” marks his first feature effort. On an aesthetic level the film upholds its potential, Tartakovsky’s visual talents stamped across most every sequence in the hyperactive picture, but unfortunately the script is an inconsistent disappointment. There are moments in which it manipulates the jazzy premise and wonderful voice cast gamely, but too often it plumps for an easy joke or dud gag. The rampant energy and vibrant look of “Hotel Transylvania” keep it fun, but the movie is at least one re-draft and another session in the editorial suite away from certifiable greatness.

Dracula (Adam Sandler) lost his wife at the hands of intolerant humans, and is adamant that his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) should not have to endure such a terrible fate. In order to protect his youthful spawn (she’s 118, which is positively juvenile for a vampire) Dracula has created a holiday resort for monsters named Hotel Transylvania. It is here that ghouls and goblins come to unwind, enjoying each other’s company with the threat of humanity removed. However when a wayward backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles into the hotel, he sets off Dracula’s alarm bells, not least because Mavis becomes enamoured with him.

The voice cast are exceptional. Sandler goes broad as Dracula and enjoys some success but around him others hit home run after home run. Selena Gomez is surprisingly sprightly and vulnerable as Mavis, suggesting that if her leading lady career refuses to take off there’s plenty of hope for her in the animation realm. Andy Samberg steals every scene he gets as enthusiastic moron Jonathan, rekindling some of the awkward chemistry he enjoyed earlier in the year alongside Sandler with “That’s My Boy”. Steve Buscemi as an exhausted werewolf leading around a pack of rabid kids was always going to work, but more shocking is how amusing the likes of Kevin James and Cee Lo Green are in modest supporting parts. Everybody gives it 100% here, which only makes the scripting deficiencies more frustrating.

The screenplay suffers more misses than hits, although admittedly even the bad jokes have an inoffensive naivety to them. The level of humour tends to be pretty pedestrian, bar a few nice visual gags there’s not a lot of comedic sophistication on show. The amped up vocal turns and recurrent slapstick interludes keep “Hotel Transylvania” lively, and nobody could accuse it of being heartless, but the storytelling feels languid and the punch lines often blunt. We’ve seen this sort of father/daughter dynamic explored many times before, and whilst the gothic setting applies a certain level of variety, the outcome and pratfalls amount to pure formula.

The animation style Tartakovsky deploys is distinctive and detailed. The character designs are striking and memorable, the filmmaker finding a nice habit of unearthing genuinely enjoyable material from the appearance of his Transylvanian landscape and its wacky inhabitants. Of course even his supremely gifted eye can’t overcome the mediocre screenplay, but it means the film is at least pleasant to stare at during its weaker segments. If you’re going to set through a stifled joke or ponderous portion of plotting it might as well be beautiful to gaze upon, which is an attribute “Hotel Transylvania” confidently boasts.

The animation game has opened up quite a bit recently. DreamWorks have upped their game very publically, and with 2011’s dreadful “Cars 2” and this year’s average “Brave” Pixar have notably dropped theirs. Sony Animation remains very secondary to either of those studios, and “Hotel Transylvania” is unlikely to change their stock much. It’s a fitfully funny farce, but plagued by enough problems to keep it only one baby step above tedium.   

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

26 October 2012

This week in Movies - 26/10/12

Another quick look at some efforts that have I've neglected to mention recently.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012) - B+

Joss Whedon (also known as the newly appointed king of the world following “The Avengers”) and debuting director Drew Goddard attempt to do what Wes Craven did with the horror genre with “Scream”, and largely come up successful with “The Cabin In the Woods”. It would be reckless to spoil the film’s many secrets, but suffice to say the picture involves a group of not so stereotypical teens heading away for a weekend of partying. Things don’t exactly go to plan.

Pitched more as a comedy with intermittent scares than an outright frightener, “The Cabin in the Woods” showcases Whedon’s intelligence and dexterity as a writer rather sumptuously, the geek overlord working familiar horror tropes with fresh creative zest, allowing laughs, shrieks and gasps to emanate frequently during the movie’s tightly wound running. Goddard also deserves some recognition, his direction is competent and the group of actors he’s assembled are a nice mix of the old vanguard and promising fresh blood. Maybe like the “Scream” franchise there are times when “The Cabin in the Woods” is a little too knowing for its own good, not every gag lands for instance, but it’s hard not to appreciate a picture which treats its audience with so much respect.

One Day (2011) - B

Released last year to a surprising amount of critical derision, “One Day” marks a pleasant surprise on DVD. Adapted from David Nicholl’s bestseller of the same name, the film follows Dex (Jim Sturgess) and Emm (Anne Hathaway, horrible accent but otherwise a very attractive performance) on the anniversary of the day they first met, unfolding over a twenty year span. It’s a fundamentally soppy set-up, and the resolution is painfully obvious, but the picture is detailed with sincerity, solid acting and genuine directorial craft from Lone Scherfig (2009’s “An Education”).

The film is inherently devoted to the notion of soul mates and eternal romance, positing a slightly naïve world outlook in the process, but the unforced sweetness and engaging central protagonists render it effective. Undeserving of the poor box-office run and critical mauling it endured last year.

Looper (2012) - B+

“Looper” opened the Toronto film festival last month to stunning word of mouth and has since cashed in respectably in both domestic and international markets. The film is a complex sci-fi hybrid in the style of “Inception” (obviously a reference point for filmmaker Rian Johnston), blending time travel, mob mentality and familial strife into an enjoyable if unevenly paced cocktail.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (furthering the “Inception” similarities) is a Looper, a form of specialised assassin that takes out targets for criminals in the future. It’s a universe where time travel is possible, allowing crooks to let killers in the presence get their hands dirty, for a hefty fee of course. Still, things are complicated when our anti-hero is instructed to kill an aged version of himself (Bruce Willis), leading him to become embroiled with a complex mother and son dynamic as a consequence.

The action beats are regular and engaging, but what really sets “Looper” apart is the strength of the turns offered by Willis and Levitt. The latter mimics the former beautifully, but in truth it’s the artist formally known as John McClane who steals the show with a disquieting performance of extreme anguish and regret. The middle section is a bit patchy, but “Looper” starts intriguingly and concludes on a fitting boom, allowing it to at least stand tall as one of 2012’s stronger genre entries. Points must also go to Johnston for concocting a premise that is driven totally by thoughtfulness and original thinking, a creative oasis in the current multiplex landscape. 

Daniel Kelly, 2012

7 October 2012

Movie Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower



The Perks of Being a Wallflower
2012, 103mins, 12
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writer: Stephen Chbosky
Cast includes: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Melanie Lynksey
UK Release Date: 3rd October 2012

Spawned from the same mould as J.D Salinger’s famed “Catch in the Rye”, Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is an engaging, tragic and deeply involving inspection of confused youth. Published over a decade ago, the text has become something of a touchstone within its genre, surprising then that a filmic version has taken so long to come about. Directed and penned by Chbosky himself, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a largely effective translation of the source, bolstered by two sublime performances from its young male leads. Certain characters who played prevalent and touching parts in the book feel the wrath of the editing suite floor, but on the whole Chbosky has captured the essence of his text successfully within the slightly more confining medium of cinema. Self-professed wallflowers who weren’t around for the book’s inception 13-years ago will likely be smitten by this contemporary adaptation.

Charlie (Logan Lerman in uncharacteristically grounded form) is about to start High-School, and through a series of letters addressed to the audience we find him predictably anxious concerning the experience. Having lost a close confidante to suicide less than a year ago, Charlie finds his lack of meaningful friendships stinging, leaving him relieved when he connects with oddball seniors Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). Adopted into their clique of “misfit toys”, Charlie begins to see the world in new ways, allowing him to become distanced from familial strife, particularly the painful memories of his deceased Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey). However high-school is an awkward time in any young person’s life, leaving the film to grapple with issues of mourning, sexual awakening and the highs and lows offered by any friendship of value.

Both Lerman and particularly Miller are fantastic in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, gifting the picture a sympathetically complex and warmly rendered pair to hang itself upon. Lerman does a lot of the heavy lifting and executes the task well, the actor usually either too wooden or overly buzzed finding a rare middle ground here, making a promising and much needed indication that he might be growing as a performer. Less surprising is Miller’s excellence, the “We Need to Talk about Kevin” star balancing comedic sass, profound wisdoms and romantic uncertainty quite wonderfully in his turn as theatrically minded Patrick.  Fascinating to watch and relentlessly enjoyable to behold, Miller is the picture’s ace card, juicing the screen with a viable sense of pathos and energy in every frame. As Sam, Charlie’s forbidden love interest and companion, Watson is less impressive, failing to generate as much depth within her character as the other principals. She’s superficially cute, and demonstrates a palatable manic pixie dreamgirl quality, but ultimately this is a script demanding of more advanced and ambitious contributions. The ex-“Harry Potter” thespian just isn’t quite yet up for such a task.

At 103 minutes the film tackles the key facets of the source, devoting ample exposure to Charlie’s uneven domestic life, relationship with encouraging teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd knocking it calmly out of the park over just a few short scenes) and ever mutating set of friendships. All of these components are treated respectably and with the same aura of truth that made their chunks of the book so memorable, the author turned filmmaker clearly aware of the hefty themes that have allowed his text to remain conscious within the teenage cultural stratosphere. However fans of the original work might be a little puzzled and underwhelmed by some editorial choices, and those with an appreciation of storytelling are liable to be left merely bamboozled. Aspects of Charlie’s relationships with his siblings are lightly glazed over here, occupying enough screen-time to distract without ever actually providing pay-off. In the novel Charlie’s sister undergoes a turbulent relationship which is hinted at in the movie, but the film never actually allows this portion of the runtime to amount toward anything substantial on a narrative level. It’s devoid of stakes, leaving it an emotionally hollow occupier of unnecessary footage. Similarly by simply taking place in such a visual format, this film version robs the finale of the little nuances that made the book so mysteriously profound. Aspects are unavoidably spelt out that were otherwise ambiguous, but heck, that’s all part of the cinematic game I guess.

There are laughs to be had and tears to be shed, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” harbouring an earnest and gentle tone likely to endear it toward multiple demographics. The performances from the young cast (Sans Watson) are hugely skilled, with the adult veterans adding poised and often vibrant touches of their own. It’s imperfect and for my money inferior to its page-based predecessor, but on the whole Chbosky has made a commendable crack of bringing his thoughtful coming of age tale to multiplexes.  

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012