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Behind the Scenes — Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

Posted on January 12, 2022 at 8:00 am

Copyright Sony 2021
The fourth “Hotel Transylvania” is my favorite of the series. There are some new voices, with Brian Hull taking over for Adam Sandler as Drac, Brad Abrell filling in for Kevin James as Frankenstein, and Keegan-Michael Key as The Mummy, replacing CeeLo Green.

The first three films were centered on the difficulty Drac, a vampire (Hull), had in accepting Johnny (Andy Samberg), the human who married his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez). In this movie, there’s a switch. Johnny wants to become a monster and gets Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) to turn a transforming ray on him. So, the human becomes a monster and, through a malfunction, the ray gets turned on the monsters — the Invisible Man (David Spade), Murray the Mummy (Key), Wayne the wolfman (Steve Buscemi), Frankenstein (Abrell) and his Bride, Eunice (Fran Drescher). They become human, so we get to see what the Invisible Man, the Wolfman, and the Mummy really look like and how they respond when they don’t have their special powers. But Mavis has to find a way to get Johnny back to his human self before it is too late.

In a virtual press event, the actors talked about becoming “monsterfricationized” (Samberg’s term) and the freedom of animation. “I loved the new design,” Samberg said, “Burning Man back-packer meets Godzilla, a dream come true for me.” Spade said his character is “a bit of a scene-stealer” and a “goofy ding-dong who hangs out with the monsters.” He said the animators originally wanted the surprise to be how handsome his character was, but he urged them to make him funny-looking. “It’s a cartoon! It should be funny.”

Key was surprised by what his always-wrapped character looked like under it all. “I expected him to be bigger, with one revolution of wraps.” His favorite thing was the way his character was “really working the jowls,” which gave him a different idea about the voice. He loved the concept of not having any limitations. The look of the characters is so exaggerated that you can do anything, like when you’re a kid and playing with other kids. You get to channel all that abandon and it’s only not frowned upon; it’s encouraged.”

Drescher and Gomez urged the audience not to worry about pressure to fit in. Gomez advised taking a break from social media and focusing on a small group of real friends. Drescher said “compassion should be your compass.”

“You pretty much know they want you to go huge and insane, and then they’re going to go further with the animation,” Samberg said, and the others agreed that they enjoyed never being asked to tone it down.

Gomez said “it’s been wonderful to grow with this character. She’s tough and she’s always worrying, and that matches my personality well. I know what it’s like to have differences between family members and it is nice that we’re touching on a real thing in such a crazy way.”

Drescher loves physical comedy and the way it is even bigger in animation. “You can so so much because it’s a make-believe world. You can contort the how far can we physically take these characters to do funny and surprising things.”

Samberg said he did not expect the first movie to inspire three sequels, but he is delighted. “They’re so infused with joy and positivity. Everyone grew up loving this classic monsters and it’s a new spin on it. That’s why it endured.”

Key appreciates the combination of imagination, humor, and character. “An adult can be laughing at a hard joke in this film, but the way all the relationships play out, it’s well-observed and very relatable.”

Coming Soon: El Deafo!

Posted on January 7, 2022 at 10:00 am

Coming to AppleTV+, based on the best-selling book and real-life story, the new animated series “El Deafo” is the story of a girl who is hearing-impaired and the inner superhero she channels.

Trailer: Moonfall

Posted on January 6, 2022 at 5:38 pm

Halle Berry (“Jocinda Fowler,” left) and Patrick Wilson (“Brian Harper,” right) as stranded astronauts in the sci-fi epic MOONFALL.

When the moon explodes, who can save the day? Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Eme Ikwuakor, Carolina Bartczak, and Donald Sutherland! The Lionsgate film will open in theaters on February 4, 2022.

The 355

Posted on January 6, 2022 at 5:24 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material
Profanity: Brief strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Non-explicit sexual situation
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drinking to relieve stress
Diversity Issues: Extended action-style peril and violence, torture, murder, chases, explosions, characters injured and killed
Date Released to Theaters: January 7, 2022

Copyright Universal 2021
It’s a little bit “Bourne,” a little bit “Avengers,” and a little bit “The A-Team” except that the main characters are women and unlike “The A-Team,” the plan never really comes together. And by “plan,” I mean the script.

This is a continent-hopping spy story that has such low expectations of its audience that an establishing shot of Paris clearly showing the Eiffel Tower is helpfully labeled “Paris, France” and one of Washington, D.C. showing the Capitol and Washington Monument is helpfully labeled “Washington, D.C., USA.” At least they did not add, “Planet Earth.”

The storyline, which hardly rises to the level of a plot, is similarly simple. There’s a McGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for whatever it is that everyone in the movie is trying to get). There’s a hard drive with a program that could disrupt anything, from financial records to cell phones to airplane navigation systems. Spies from different countries are trying to keep it from the bad guys. At first, they are each on their own. But, hang on for the big surprise, they have to learn to trust each other and work together. There’s another “surprise” I won’t spoil except to say it’s clear what’s happening in the first 15 minutes and most of the movie is getting it, losing it, and getting it back again.

The spies are: American Mace (Jessica Chastain), a CIA field agent gone rogue since the death of her partner, British former MI6 computer whiz who is determined to stay away from spying Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), German Marie (Diane Kruger), fighting the suspicion that she may be a double agent, and Colombian Graciela (Penelope Cruz), who is a therapist, not a spy, insisting she will never use a gun, and just wants to get home to her husband and children. Other members of the cast whose roles I won’t spoil are Sebastian Stan (Bucky in the MCU) and Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing.

The title refers to a real-life female spy of the Revolutionary War era whose identity is still unknown to this day. You’d be much better off watching that story in the television series “Turn: Washington’s Spies.”Even by the very, very low standards of early January movies (Liam Neeson, where are you?), always a dumping ground for films the studios want to get off their books, and even with an all-star cast (two Oscar-winners in this mess!) “The 355” fails in its most basic tasks, telegraphing every development with a cinematic bullhorn (you think Graciela is not going to end up shooting a gun?). Only Bingbing is at all credible in the fight scenes and she arrives too late to make it worthwhile. There are a couple of brighter moments when the ladies are just hanging out, but the action scenes are poorly staged and the non-action scenes are repetitive and dull. The scariest part of the movie is the conclusion promising a sequel.

Parents should know that this movie has extended action violence with chases, explosions, shooting, torture, poison, and fight scenes.

Family discussion: Why did the spies decide to trust each other? When did they trust the wrong people?

If you like this, try: “The Transporter” and “Hobbs & Shaw,” and better films from these performers

Happy 2022! Here are Some Movies to Look Forward To

Posted on January 2, 2022 at 6:17 pm

Copyright Paramount 2021

Tom Cruise is back! 2022 will include not one but two hotly anticipated Tom Cruise sequels. “Top Gun: Maverick” takes us back to the training facility in San Diego where the “need for speed” pilot with both impulse control and attitude problems got his strart. The film, delayed due to the pandemic, is reported to feature new cinematography techniques that will make us feel like we’re in the cockpit.

And then we have another “Mission Impossible” movie. We don’t know much about it yet, but it is fair to expect that at some point someone will not be the person whose face we thought we were seeing. We’ll also be seeing a sequel to “Avatar” (with three more coming after that) and a third “Creed” movie starring Michael B. Jordan.

More action:

The 355: Women spies from different countries unite to save the world.

Moonfall: A dramatic version of “Don’t Look Up,” with the moon exploding and only Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson to save the day.

Uncharted: Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland star in this action/adventure based on the popular game.

The Lost City: Romance, comedy, and adventure when Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum go on a “Romancing the Stone”-style adventure.

Everything Everywhere All at Once: Another meta-verse movie! But this one looks AMAZING and Michelle Yeoh is just the beginning.

John Wick 4: The Wick-iest!

Comic book movies:

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: The sequel to the Oscar-winning animated film that introduced us to Miles Morales and the Spidey meta-verse.

The Batman: Robert Pattinson takes on the role of Gotham’s favorite superhero.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Yet another multiverse saga, perhaps following on last year’s Spiderman: No Way Home.

DC League of Superpets: When Superman needs to be saved, his faithful dog will have to rescue him.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: The devastating loss of Chadwick Boseman is reflected in this sequel, with the Wakandans trying to find a way forward.

Thor: Love and Thunder: Director/rock guy Taika Watiti and star Chris Hemsworth return for a fourth movie about the Norse God.

Black Adam: Dwayne Johnson stars as the DC supervillain, opposite Aldis Hodge as Hawkman, Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate, Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher, and Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone.

For the family:

Hotel Transylvania 4: It’s a big switch as the human Johnny becomes a monster and the monsters become human.

Turning Red: Pixar’s latest take on the perils of adolescence has a girl who turns into a red panda when she gets mad.

Minions: The Rise of Gru: How did Gru become a “despicable” evil mastermind? We’re going to find out!

Some romance:

Bros: A romantic comedy about a gay couple, starring Billy Eichnerr.

Marry Me: A pop star (Jennifer Lopez) impulsively marries a teacher she’s never met (Owen Wilson). I wonder if they’ll end up together?

Ticket to Paradise: George Clooney and Julia Roberts, who played spouses in the Oceans 11 movies, play ex-spouses in this film.