Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hotel Transylvania 2

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  Unlike the Hotel California, you can check out anytime you like and actually get to leave.




Hotel Transylvania 2 – 3 out of 5

I saw the first film on a whim while spending Halloween with my niece and nephew when it came out in the theaters in 2012 and found it to be surprisingly fun.  I didn’t think it would end up getting a sequel but, like all animated features, it got its second film last year.  I watched the trailer and thought that it looked like it could be enjoyable.  So, did I enjoy Hotel Transylvania 2 as much as the first one?  Well, if you checked the link to the first one and compared the scores I gave that one to this one, you already know your answer…but you can read on anyway.

Darn it, that kid is cute.
 

It's a little weird that they chose this way to tell
Dracula they were pregnant.
Okay, so Mavis (Selena Gomez) and Jonathan (Andy Samberg), after having their ordeal in the first film and falling in love, have gotten married and announced to Mavis’ father, Dracula (Adam Sandler), that they are going to have a baby.  After their child—Dennis (voiced by Asher Blinkoff)—is born, Dracula becomes preoccupied with whether or not he’s going to be a monster or a human.  However, Mavis is too much of an overprotective parent for Drac to test him so, when he and Jonathan come up with a plan to get her to visit with her in-laws, he takes his grandson on a journey with his friends: Frankenstein (Kevin James), Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Griffin the invisible man (David Spade), Murray the mummy (Keegan-Michael Key—who replaced CeeLo Green in the role) and Blobby the blob (Jonny Solomon).  Dracula hopes this trip will get Dennis to “pop his fangs”—which actually sounds like slang for doing dope but whatevs—but his plan could backfire if Mavis finds out or, even worse, Dracula’s father; Vlad (Mel Brooks), learns that his granddaughter married a human and his great grandson might be a human.

Okay, I really like the fact that Jonathan's best man is his backpack.

For the most part, Hotel Transylvania 2 is a mildly entertaining animated film and a serviceable sequel to a feature that I really enjoy.  Like the previous film, there’s a large cast all doing their characters very well, there’s some decent gags here and there, and the animation still looks really good.  Even better is the talented Genndy Tartakovsky returning to direct.  Is it better than the first one?  No, not at all.  In fact, in many ways, the film is noticeably weaker and has the feel of a Direct-to-DVD movie—in the sense that the writing felt a lot lazier than the first one and it is a major reason why the film has some flaws.

One of those flaws wasn't Griffin the invisible man.  He was great.

The only returning writer from the previous film is Robert Smigel and, for this one, he is joined by Adam Sandler.  It might be unfair to put all the blame on Sandler but one of the biggest problems I had with this film was that a lot of the jokes are terrible unfunny.  Too often gags are thrown into the film that feel very out-of-place and are more non sequitur in nature than directly related to the story or characters.  Characters will do random things that have no real context to the events unfolding and these jokes give off a vibe of cheap throwaway gags.  This type of formula is seen often in Adam Sandler’s live-action comedies where the jokes come not from the scene itself or the character’s interaction or what is happening to them but, rather, are completely random nonsense that makes the whole thing feel like the jokes were done as an afterthought and not as something intentional for the final product.  This happens a lot in Hotel Transylvania 2 and it makes me wonder if these jokes were created by Sandler and the stronger areas and gags of the film—the parts where the humor is pulled from the circumstances and the character’s defining attributes and mythology—were created by Robert Smigel.  Still, at the end of the day, the bad jokes in this film aren’t nearly as bad as what you’d see in something like Grown Ups 2…except maybe the part where Dracula is told to use Bluetooth and literally calls out for a walking tooth that is blue—that joke was physically painful to endure.

Words can't express how bad this joke was.

As bad as this film can get, it's still better than trying
to sit through the Western Sandler did for Netflix.
I tried twice and failed.
There’s also a ton of lazy development that comes with the characters and the plot that ends up making this film pale in comparison to the previous one.  For example, Dracula’s friends, at first, are all for helping him turn Dennis into a monster and seeing the kid embrace the “old ways” but then will quickly flip and realize that times have changed and they are not the monsters they once were.  Then there’s the problem with talking about the great grandfather of Vlad at the beginning of the movie and establishing a potential conflict he could create and then not bothering to bringing to bring him in until there's barely a half an hour left in the film.  His presence offers up some great conflict and a potential for Dracula to grow and learn his lesson as a character but Vlad is simply brought in too late and it makes for some very lazy conflict resolution.  In fact, the movie in general contains a lot of lazy conflict resolution as even Vlad learns his lesson in a flash and all the pieces fall into place very quickly and just in time to do the very predictable and horrible cliché trope of the animated film world (especially in non-Pixar films):  The pre-credits sequence where all the characters are dancing to a pop song.

I think it's just a legal requirement to end animated films this way now.

At this point, you are probably saying, “Rev., this is a kid’s movie and your talk about conflict resolution, character development and hating on a bad Bluetooth humor is pointless because this wasn’t made for you, it was made for kids and they don’t care if it makes sense or if it’s dumb.”  I won’t disagree with you there.  Kids don’t care if bad writing rears its ugly head but we live in a time where animated films aren’t just colorful distractions for kids anymore and they are allowed to have great writing that brings in well-crafted and deep stories that are filled with dynamic characters, so having something that is just farted out with bottom of the barrel jokes that are just thrown in and not grown organically through the action—especially when the first one had that and proved to be a lot of fun—it just kinda stinks.

You know, I won't even bother raising the question of how the undead
are creating children in the first place. 

I don’t want to sit here and make it sound like I hated Hotel Transylvania 2 because that’s not the case.  As you can see from my score, I thought the film was pretty average and overall decent in its entertainment.  It definitely felt a whole lot weaker than the first film but it still has some very solid moments—Griffin the invisible man, in my opinion, had some of the funniest parts.  The animation and the direction from the very talented Genndy Tartakovsky is also excellent but the film does falter due to some very sloppy storytelling.

Blobby also had some great moments in the film.  You can't forget to include Blobby.
 

The Last Horror Movie

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  Dammit, I didn't see The First Horror Movie.



The Last Horror Movie – 3 out of 5

So, apparently, in 2003 the very last horror film was produced and the world was not informed.  The audacity that some directors and producers showed the business and continued to make films within this genre is just sickening.  They have no respect—wait, I’m sorry, I’m being told that it was just the title of the film and not actually a mandate or declaration that no other horror films shall be produced or filmed.  Alright, I’m just going to lay it out on the table and admit that I panicked and couldn’t think of any other way to start this review.  The Last Horror Movie is actually a pretty unique film  my friend told me about and I literally had no idea for the best way to open this review.  So…with that embarrassment out of the way, let’s just pretend this didn’t happen and let’s move on to the synopsis.

*cough*

What starts as a cheap slasher film takes a turn for the strange for the viewer when they learn that the VHS tape they rented is edited over before the opening kill.  The viewer is suddenly looking at an ordinary looking man name named Max (Kevin Howarth) who starts to inform them that he is a killer.  Slowly, as the film progresses, he regales them with tales and videos of his attacks and even shows himself teaching an apprentice on his ways.  The question over whether what the viewer is seeing is a part of the original film, a joke, or something far more frightening starts to form but, by the time the horrifying answer is revealed, it’s already too late…

And this is the horror film the killer decided to record over and not something
like Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween?  There's no justice in the world.

Without a doubt, The Last Horror Movie might be the most unique “found footage” film I’ve ever seen.  Unlike films like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, this movie has the most solid foundation of logic for why the filming is being done and how it’s being found and distributed (for the most part, this element of The Blair Witch worked as well but not so much in Activity).  Sure, the idea that a serial killer would film his killings and then take the time to edit them into videos at a rental facility may seem very dated by today’s standard thanks to digital media and the extinction of nearly every video store in the country but, by 2003 standards, the logic holds up more than the idea that an annoying couple decided to film their haunting activities and the police that found the footage felt it was necessary to leave in the douche-y dude's attempts to film a sex tape and then said, "Yes, let's upload this to the internet for everyone to see."

Please someone take the time to write some slash-fic where Max kills Micah
from Paranormal Activity.

Unlike most horror films that fill up the genre and the subgenre of “found footage,” this feature doesn’t feel as over-the-top as a lot of the other products feel.  There’s no supernatural monster prowling around and never seen clearly and even the more grounded element of featuring a serial killer doesn’t feel as fantastic as other films that feature this can get.  When you combine an excellent performance from the lead that is very charismatic, charming and spooky at the same time and add in a very controlled use of blood and gore, you have a film that feels very authentic and something that comes off pretty unsettling.  Matters are only assisted as the film isn’t making you a passive viewer like so many other films but rather puts you in the place of the viewer and makes you an active participant.   For all intents and purposes, you are the person who rented this film and watching Max kill and make thinly veiled threats that you, the viewer, might be next makes the film very uncomfortable to sit through.

If you're looking for gore, this isn't the movie for you.  The shock comes from
other factors in this one.

Awww, someone looks tired from all the killing he's
doing.
However, there were some flaws to The Last Horror Movie that held it back.  I can overlook that it is dated but there are some other issues that kept the film from being more impactful for me.  Kevin Howarth’s performance is extremely great and he makes the killer likable and detestable at the same time but other performances can’t match him.  Some of them are very weak and others are just passable.  Additionally, the film has a problem with “telling, not showing” as the feature is very dialogue heavy and much of the running time is the character of Max talking directly to you, the viewer.  While this makes sense for the overall premise and narrative of the story, it does end up hurting the flow and any momentum this film can build up.  This ends up taking away some of the film’s shock value.  Finally, speaking of shock, the realistic feel the film offers ends up being a double-edged sword because, on one hand, it is unsettling but, on the other, it lacks the immediate shock value.  There are no jump scares, no tone setting music and the fact that it is a slow burn rather than an immediate explosion of scare, spook and thrills can sometimes make the lead up to the killer ending moments feel a tad tedious.  However, ultimately, the tedium is worth it because I can't emphasize enough how amazing the ending is.

And to think, this lady would have been safe if she just rented Flubber or
Glitter...wait, on second thought, if I had a choice of those films or
a film edited by a serial killer--actually, I don't know which is more horrifying.

The Last Horror Movie is definitely unsettling and extremely unique but doesn’t quite feel like it lives up to the potential it has.  There’s a lot I like about the film and I was capable of overlooking the fact that it does feel very dated due to the story hinging on both the format of VHS and having video stores but the story moves a little too slowly and relies too heavy on exposition being outright spoken to the viewer by the lead and those are a little harder to ignore.  Still, even with these flaws, the film still made me feel uncomfortable and left me with a chill running down my spine when the credits hit.  In the end, however, this film really showcases and brings out the promise and potential of a subgenre that feels built on laziness…and this came out four years before Paranormal Activity was released unto mass audiences and pretty much paved the way for the formulaic and cliché way we see all “found footage” films nowadays.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Goosebumps

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  Emerged!  Goosebumps!




Goosebumps – 4 out of 5

I’ll confess that my knowledge of the Goosebumps book series is extremely limited.  If memory serves me correctly, I’ve only read one book.  The series came out at a time where I was too old to find them scary and wasn’t young enough to find them amusing.  This caused the series to sorta pass me by and I really only knew about them because of how popular they were and the lasting impact they’ve had on pop culture—Heck, the line I saw for R.L. Stine at C2E2 a few years back was flippin’ impressive!  Despite the fact that I’ve only read one book in my life (and can’t even remember which one it was), I really wanted to see Goosebumps in the theater because I love Jack Black and thought the trailer made the film look very entertaining and a whole hell of a lot of fun.  However, when the time came for my gf and I to see a movie on our anniversary (our anniversary is on Halloween--I know, that's awesome), see vetoed my idea of seeing this one and we ended up seeing Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.  Sure, SGttZA was a lot of fun and really cool but I was pretty glad when I finally got a chance to rent this one…and it was totally worth it!

Always bet on Black.

Yep, that was a terrible joke.

What a beautiful location.  It's doubtful this will ever
come into play again during the film.
Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mother (Amy Ryan) find themselves moving to a small town in the middle of Delaware.  While unpacking, Zach meets his neighbor; Hannah (Odeya Rush), and he seems intrigued with her but gets a foreboding warning from her father (Jack Black) to stay away.  After fearing that Hannah may be in some trouble, Zach and his new friend from school; Champ (Ryan Lee), sneak into the home to help her and discover that her father has all of the Goosebumps novels locked away.  Accidentally they open one and find that magic exists on the pages and the creature within comes to life.  Hannah’s father reveals himself to be the author R.L. Stine and that every story he ever wrote came to life and the only way to stop an escaping monster is to use the power of the pages to pull it back in but before they can do that, Stine’s worst creation, the ventriloquist dummy Slappy, has unleashed all the monsters from all the books and seeks to destroy the whole town and the author that created them.  Now Stine and the kids must work together to stop the monsters from unleashing all kinds of torment on the city and the world.

When are we going to learn that all ventriloquist dummies are evil?!?

A werewolf chasing a kid pushing a shopping cart
filled with an actor/musician...what a cliche.
Like I said, I was really excited to watch this film and it did not disappoint.  The story is incredibly fun and really fits in with the tone of Stine’s famous books.  The whole film feels like it belongs to one of his creations and the META element of having it center around the actual books, their creatures and Stine himself just added another fun element that made the film extremely entertaining.  The whole product really captured that perfect balance of being just dark enough to be spooky to the young adults that the series appeals to but light enough with its comedy to make it something that won’t make older audience members feel like they are watching an extremely watered-down horror film.  It really made for a great dark comedy that might not be as dark as other films in this genre get but was, without a doubt, extremely amusing to me.

Anyone else bothered by the fact the Yeti isn't wearing pants?
I get that he's a Yeti and doesn't have to wear them but it's still strange...

Some of the special effects on the creatures might not be photorealistic and have a tendency to come off a bit cartoony but, overall, really worked for the overall product.  This isn’t to say that the special effects were disappointing because it’s actually quite the contrary.  Elements like the gigantic praying mantis looked absolutely incredible and other elements like the Yeti and the wolf-man looked a little on the silly side but, in the end, really highlighted the tone the film was going for.  Goosebumps’ stories, like I stated, ride that line of being just spooky enough and just light enough for the young adult readers and the less-than-realistic look to many of the monsters in the story showcased that balance.

Dat mantis was on point though--as the kids say.
Right?  The kids say that?
 

Seriously, every scene with this kid was gold!
Finally, the film has some really great and incredibly fun performances from the entire cast.  Jack Black is absolutely hysterical as Stine and the kids are all doing fantastically in their roles.  Special mention has to be made to Ryan Lee because that kid killed me as he nailed each and every funny moment perfectly.  I was a little disappointed to see that Ken Marino was in the film and only had two or three scenes.  I’m a big fan of the guy and find him hilarious beyond words and seeing him not utilized in a fashion that is not complimentary to his skills hurts a little bit but the rest of the cast really hits all their funny notes excellently and this disappointment I felt was only passing.

I LOVE YOU, KEN!!!!  WHEN WILL YOU START RETURNING MY PHONE
CALLS?

The trailer to Goosebumps made the film look to be a fun ride full of nostalgia and hilarity and it delivered that extremely well.  Admittedly, some of the jokes early on in the film were kinda weak and it took some time for the film to find its footing and really take off but when it starts moving, it never stops.  Not long after the first monster is unleashed, the film hits its stride and ended up becoming a non-stop ride of laughs and fun.  This is definitely a feature I am going to purchase and, almost definitely, break out every Halloween for some fun.  As my girlfriend described the film when it was over, it was like Hocus Pocus for a new generation…and that’s not a bad way to put it.

Hey, it's the real R.L. Stine!  It's like a George R.R. Martin cameo only you know
Stine actually got some writing done at various points in his life.