Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Posted on July 12, 2018 at 5:40 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic, cartoon-style peril and violence, weapons, fire, attempted murder
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 13, 2018
Date Released to DVD: October 8, 2018
Copyright 2018 Sony Pictures Animation

“You have to be carefully taught,” according to the Rodgers and Hammerstein song in “South Pacific.” Lt. Cable and Nelly Forbush sing ruefully about the prejudices drummed into them as children: “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late/Before you are six or seven or eight/To hate all the people your relatives hate/You’ve got to be carefully taught.” That same sober theme is gently raised in the midst of the silliness and fun scares of this third in the animated “Hotel Transylvania” series about Drac, the doting-to-a-fault vampire dad voiced by Adam Sandler, his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), and her very mellow human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg).

In just about every other respect, it’s pretty much the same movie as the first two, with slightly less clever monster jokes than the first one and a slightly more appealing storyline than the second one. Basically, Adam Sandler gets to do his two favorite things: speak in a “funny” accent voice and be lazy, preferably in an exotic location (IRS, check to see if he deducted a cruise as a business expense in developing this one).

Drac is still over-involved in his daughter’s life, worrying way too much when you consider that it is very difficult to harm a vampire. In case we were not clear on that, it is spelled out for us in the movie’s opening flashback, set in 1897, where vampire killer Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) is trying to destroy Drac. But he is no match for a vampire with nimbleness, courage, and imperviousness to any threat but garlic or a stake through the heart. The original story’s third weapon against vampires, a crucifix, is omitted in favor of cartoon secularism, as is the ickiness of subsisting on blood, the inconvenience of sleeping in sunlight, or the problem of marriage between someone with a human life span and someone who never ages. Any concerns about those issues are for Twihards.

These are cute and cuddly monsters, including the Invisible Man (David Spade), Frankenstein and his bride (Kevin James and Fran Drescher), Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), and Mr. and Mrs. Wolfman (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), with their dozens of wolf-babies. There’s nothing at all scary about them and they seem to spend all of their time hanging out with each other, first at the resort that gives the series its title and then at Mavis’ surprise vacation — a cruise ship with all the amenities. As Drac points out, that means it’s just his hotel except on a boat. There’s one other big difference, though. He’s not in charge, which is both worrying and a little bit relaxing as well. “You need a vacation from managing everyone else’s vacation,” Mavis tells him. And this will be a chance for them to have some quality time together as a family.

Drac insists that the cruise, headed for the Bermuda Triangle and the lost continent of Atlantis “is not the Love Boat.” But he is beginning to think he might be interesting in finding romance (the vampire term is “zing” for love at first sight), many years since the death of Mavis’ mother. He even tries to find someone he’d like to swipe right on on the monster version of Tinder, called Zinger. And then, he takes a look at the beautiful — and human — ship’s captain, Erika (Kathryn Hahn), and ZING.

There’s some “monsters gotta be monsters” stuff — “We’re here, we’re hairy, and it’s our right to be scary!” Though of course they’re not scary after all and as in the other films it is the humans and their unwillingness to look beyond the tentacles and fur to see that just like us, monsters love their families and don’t want to hurt anyone. There’s a lot of silly stuff, a cute dance number, some appealing if uninspired pop song selections (Bruno Mars, the Beach Boys, the ubiquitous Mr. Blue Sky), plus the one song no one can resist dancing to (I won’t spoil it, but the audience groans suggested no one was surprised). It turns out music does have charms to sooth the savage beast after all. And this movie has enough charm to soothe little savages on summer vacation for 90 minutes or so.

Parents should know that this movie has some schoolyard language, potty humor, peril and violence (including attempted murder of monsters and a character who is badly injured and ultimately almost entirely prosthetic).

Family discussion: Why did Van Helsing hate monsters? Which monster would you like to be and why?

If you like this, try: the first two films, Monster House, “Igor

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3D Animation Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues Fantasy movie review Movies Series/Sequel

Skyscraper

Posted on July 12, 2018 at 3:39 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language
Profanity: A few bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence with some disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, children in peril, fire, explosions, chases, automatic weapons, guns, knives, fights
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 13, 2018
Date Released to DVD: October 8, 2018
Copyright Universal 2018

As generic as its title, “Skyscraper” has all the elements of a US/China production, unapologetically a lowest-common-denominator delivery system for stunts.

Dwayne Johnson, who at this writing has a movie premiering on cable (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), a movie just released on DVD/Blu-Ray (Rampage), and “Skyscraper” opening in theaters, has turned into something of an assembly line production facility for PG-13 action. This one is the weakest of the three, with strong visuals but a weak script. Johnson’s specialty, going back to his days as a professional wrestler, is his easy charm and sense of humor, but neither gets much display here as verbal, quippy comedy does not translate well. So we get a brisk five minutes of backstory, a brisk ten minutes of “aw, he loves his beautiful family, including the kid with asthma” to set the stakes, and then it’s one daunting shoot-out, escape both into and out of the burning building, someone hanging by one arm, someone hanging by one leg, and fight scene, after another, with several scenes of people watching the action on screens, including Byron Mann of “Altered Carbon” as the local police chief, and just one quip, even that one taken from a TV commercial. Oh, and there’s a hall of mirrors shoot-out to remind us that the original in The Lady from Shanghai, was so much better.

Following in the tradition of trapped in a building classics like Die Hard and Towering Inferno, “Skyscraper” has Will (Johnson), his Navy surgeon wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their twins visiting a new super-tall structure in Hong Kong called The Pearl because of the graceful but enormous tennis ball-shaped sphere on top.

Will, in the manner of “who could imagine a chef would be a special forces combat expert?” action movies, is a mild-mannered security expert who has been brought in for an independent review so that the building’s top half can be approved by the insurance company for residential occupation. Will is former military and law enforcement, but lost his leg in an explosion, and now, he tells the former colleague who recommended him for this job, he has not picked up a gun for ten years. “Laid it down and never picked it up.”

We know what that means. He’s about to pick up a gun. And we know when he tells the building’s owner that there’s just one more safety check to complete to declare it “Fort Knox in the sky,” that means that one last safety check is going to be a problem. After all, that’s why we’re here. Sarah and the kids are trapped by a fire in the building while Will (hmm, wonder what inspired that name) is away, so he has to break in to save them and then get them out. The bad guys who set the fire have their own plans. That’s basically it, and many of the best stunts are in the trailer.

Parents should know that this film has a few bad words and non-stop almost-R level peril and violence, some involving children, including fire, automatic weapons and guns, knives, and fistfights, many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Why was Will so nervous about the meeting? Why did Will and his friend have different reactions to their bad experience? What do you like to fix with duct tape? If your house was on fire, what would you save?

If you like this, try: “Rampage” and “Jumanji,” also starring Dwayne Johnson, and the action movie in a building classics “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno”

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Action/Adventure DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies

Eighth Grade

Posted on July 12, 2018 at 3:02 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual material
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Violence/ Scariness: Tense emotional situations, sexual predation
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 13, 2018
Date Released to DVD: October 8, 2018
Copyright A24 2018

Maybe “Eighth Grade” should come with a trigger warning. It is so viscerally authentic to the experience of being in middle school that for a moment I felt like I was standing in the lunchroom clutching my tray, desperately hoping that I would (a) be invited to sit with anyone and (b) become invisible, swallowed up by the ground, magically either five years older or younger, or all of those at once.

There’s a reason that even people well into their fifth and sixth and seventh decades still wake up at night after an anxiety nightmare about middle school. Those moments of hormonal, emotional, and cognitive upheavals that cruelly hit us just after we master childhood and make us certain that the adults around us are lame, that we are less lame but somehow lamer than we would like people to think of us as — for most of us, there is nothing as humiliating in any aspect of adult life that is as excruciatingly anxious as any given day in middle school.

Bo Burnham, who starting posting funny videos on YouTube when he was a teenager and became a very successful stand-up comic, is still in his 20’s, so his memories of the teen years are very accessible. Furthermore, he has been very frank about his struggles with anxiety including devastating stage fright. So he naturally turned to watching online videos of young teenagers, and realized that they may not be very sophisticated or articulate, but they are aspirational and brave.

And so we meet the movie’s main character, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she is recording a very aspirational and very brave video about “being yourself.” She is not exactly herself in this video, but she is both the person she would like to be and the person she would like to listen to for guidance.

It is the last week of eighth grade, and there is agony after agony. She tries to talk to the alpha girls. She tries to talk to the boy she likes. She sits through a hilariously painful video about puberty, with a woman who assures them that this experience “is going to be lit!” She is invited to a pool party the hostess does not want her at by the girl’s mother, and she goes to it. Her loving but hapless single dad impinges on her life just by existing and even worse, he wants to TALK to her! And LOOK at her! And tell her she’s cool!!

Kayla gets a glimpse of her past when the “time capsule” she created on the first day of middle school, addressed confidently “to the coolest girl in the world” contains a video she made with her hopes and predictions for where she’d be at graduation. And she gets a glimpse of her future when she “shadows” Olivia, a friendly high school girl (Emily Robinson). We can see that Olivia is not nearly as confident as she would like to appear, but she makes Kayla feel accepted and as though there is a path for her.

SPOILER ALERT: Normally I would not do this, because I try hard to avoid spoilers, but I feel in this case I can mention that while Kayla teeters on the edge of some very bad decisions, she comes out of this okay.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong and crude language and sexual references and a boy tries to pressure Kayla for sex.

Family discussion: If you made a video message to be opened in four years, what would you say? Has social media made middle school easier or harder?

If you like this, try: Rookie’s “Ask a Grown” series and my interview with Burnham, Robinson, and Fisher. There are actually a couple of real-life movies with kids interviewing their older selves, here and here.

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies School Stories about Teens

Uncle Drew

Posted on June 28, 2018 at 5:58 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, language and brief nudity
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Theme of aging, medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 29, 2018
Date Released to DVD: September 24, 2018
Copyright Lionsgate 2018

There are a lot of movies based on books and plays, and many movies based on songs and video games. And now, apparently, we’ve got a movie based on a television commercial. “Uncle Drew” is inspired by a 2012 series of Pepsi ads written and directed by and featuring real-life NBA player and science skeptic Kyrie Irving, disguised as an old man, astonishing some neighborhood hoopsters with his sweet moves. This version expands the story by adding more real-life players and upping the stakes to the $100,000 prize at the real-life Rucker Park competition in Harlem.

Basically, the serviceable script by Jay Longino and spirited direction from Charles Stone III (“Drumline”) follows the classic formula of all underdog sports movies, but it does so with three key assets. First, there’s an awesome dance-off scene, always a good thing, and here it is especially delightful because it turns out that people who are the best in the world at basketball have some sweet moves off the court as well.  Second, even for someone who is not a sports fan, the skills they show off here are not just impressive; they are truly aesthetically beautiful. Third is the fun these athletes are clearly having, so palpable it is genuinely infectious.  And for those who are sports fans, there are lots of inside jokes including one about too many time outs.

And they have the able support of “Get Short’s” Lil Rel Howery, “Girls Trip’s” Tiffany Haddish, and Nick Kroll, who must be getting a kick out of seeing someone else in old age makeup after wearing it every night in his “Oh, Hello” show on Broadway with John Mulaney.

So, no surprise here, Howery plays Dax, a coach who has put everything into his team in hopes of winning at Rucker Park. When his players and his gold-digging girlfriend (Haddish) are swiped by his rival (Kroll), the same guy whose block in a high school game shamed Dax into deciding never to play again.

Desperate, Dax invites veteran player Uncle Drew (Irving) to put a team together to compete for the prize. This means a road trip to visit each of the former members of what was once the Harlem Buckets. There’s a preacher who holds a baby about to be baptized as though he was a basketball (Chris Webber), a legally blind assisted living resident (Reggie Miller), a silent grandfather in a wheelchair (Nate Robinson), and a martial arts instructor (Shaquille O’Neal).  The preacher also has a wife who does not want him to go.  She is very tall.  She is also played by former WNBA player Lisa Leslie, so don’t be surprised if she gets called in as a replacement at a crucial moment.

It’s very silly, but surprisingly sweet and its unpretentiousness makes this at least a two-pointer.

Parents should know that this film includes crude humor, sexual references, a brief image of a bare butt, and some medical/aging issues.

Family discussion: Why did one bad experience make Dax quit playing basketball?  Why was it so hard for Uncle Drew to apologize?

If you like this, try: “Like Mike”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies Sports

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Posted on June 28, 2018 at 5:54 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive and intense peril and violence involving children, teens, and adults, terrorism, guns, chases, explosions, grisly and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 29, 2018
Date Released to DVD: October 1, 2018

Copyright Columbia Pictures 2018
The first Sicario movie had stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins, a character with integrity and courage, in a performance of equal integrity and courage from Emily Blunt, to bring us into the complex, layered story of moral quagmires around drug smuggling.

This sequel, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” has none of that. While the first film thoughtfully explored issues of whether the ends justify the means and how to fight for the rules when the people on the other side do not abide by any, this one starts out with all the nuance of ultra-partisans screaming at each other on cable news and then, even worse, gets smug about it. The movie begins with stark claims about drugs and people crossing the border from Mexico, and then a couple of suicide bombers blow themselves up. Just to make sure we GET THE POINT, we see law enforcement discover Muslim prayer rugs out in the desert and we see a mother with a young child plead with a suicide bomber to let them leave before he blows them all up.

And so the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine, pretty much relegated these days to seedy bad guys who direct tougher types to do the bad stuff) declare drug smugglers terrorists, which literally triggers a new range of strategic responses. “No rules this time.” Blunt’s character is gone (understandable, considering where we left her), so our focus is on two other characters from the first film, lantern-jawed, whatever-it-takes Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and attorney turned revenge-seeker Alejandro Gillick (Benecio del Toro).

Part 2 is also written by Taylor Sheridan, but director Denis Villeneuve has been replaced by Stefano Sollima (television’s “Gomorrah”) and Deakins has been replaced by Dariusz Wolski. And subtlety has been replaced by a storyline just a notch above “The Expendables.” Graver (what a name) warns SecDef that “If you want to see this through, I’m going to have to get dirty.” “Dirty is exactly why you’re here,” the Secretary replies.

Actually, it’s deniability, as we will learn to no one’s surprise. Deniability with an unlimited budget. The plot is straight out of “Mission: Impossible” the 1960’s television series, the ones with the “As always, should you or any of your Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Lotta take-out, lotta staring at screens barking orders, lotta thousand yard stare-offs.

Graver goes off to hire a bunch of Erik Prince-style black ops mercenaries for $10 million a month. “Now you’ll be able to afford that hockey team,” Graver congratulates him. If they kidnap the 16-year-old daughter of the head of one of the biggest drug cartels, he will blame the rival cartels, and they can save us all a lot of bullets by wiping each other out. What could go wrong?

Yeah, pretty much everything, with a mountain-high body count along the way, and very little to show for it, not carnage about the numbing impact of fighting an implacable, amoral, insurmountable foe, just carnage for the numbing effect of being in a movie that has run out of ideas.

Parents should know that this film includes constant crime and law enforcement peril and violence involving adults and teens, terrorism, suicide bombers, chases, guns, explosions, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images, moral, legal, and political issues, and very strong language.

Family discussion: Is it possible to fight people who break the law without breaking it ourselves? What should voters know about these kinds of operations?

If you like this, try: the original “Sicario,” Traffic,” and “Sin Nombre”

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Crime Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies Series/Sequel
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