This week I’m going to try something a little different. As it seems that the studios decided the last week of September would be the perfect time to drop a half-dozen major releases into cinemas in the area, I am going to do this week’s film reviews in one spot. Otherwise, the entire front page of New Raleigh would look like Ain’t It Cool News this weekend, and my editor would hang himself halfway through the process of posting them online.
Let’s start out with what is perhaps this week’s most mediocre release, in the truest sense of the word, Hotel Transylvania. This is Sony’s answer to DreamWorks’s crop of ready-made animated franchises, only this one stars Adam Sandler in the role of Count Dracula. After years of attempting to live an adversarial relationship with humans, Drac decides to build a luxury hotel for monsters deep in the Transylvania countryside, where their kind can be free to do whatever they want without feeling the prying eyes of humanity upon them. All is well until an American backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles onto the property, just days before Dracula’s daughter Mavis’ (Selena Gomez) 118th birthday. Could there be a love connection?!?
Hotel Transylvania is a cute movie. I walked in expecting it to be horrible, and it turned out to be pretty decent, and with these types of animated films that is high praise. The film is directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, the visionary behind such work as Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory. It has been said that this was a totally different film before Sandler and his cronies signed on and add their “personal touches” to the property; not hard to believe, as I have a hard time picturing Tartakovsky shoehorning three poop jokes into the first five minutes of his feature film debut. That being said, if you have kids, you can definitely do worse than this one.
Next up we have Won’t Back Down. Man oh man, this one is a stinker. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a film that actually made me angry while sitting in the audience, but this one did the trick. The story of a single mom (Maggie Gyllenhaal) attempting to give her dyslexic daughter the best education possible, what we are handed is a film which outright calls teachers unions evil and all schools (unless they are charter) substandard
Here is what you need to know about Won’t Back Down; it is the latest release from Walden Media, the media empire of right-wing billionaire Philip Anschutz. Of course the film is going to have a teacher openly mock a student with a diagnosed learning disability, all the while blaming that fact on the unions. Once Gyllenhaal’s character and Viola Davis’ frazzled teacher join forces to create a new school, one not associated with the union, of course said union will blanket the neighborhood with flyers detailing a personal tragedy from Davis’ past and what seems to be a hit-list of names featuring all of the teachers supporting the pair of educational crusaders. It’s a bitter film starring two well-meaning actresses who probably saw possible award nominations here, but in reality will only give those watching more ammunition in their arguments for home-schooling.
The final film this week also happens to be the biggest surprise. When I first heard of Pitch Perfect, to say I was underwhelmed in an understatement. The story of a college freshman (Anna Kendrick, the future Mrs. Weeks) who finds herself the unlikely participant of an academic a capella competition, it basically sounded like a studio had finally gotten around to ripping off Glee three years too late.
Instead, what Universal has brought to the screen is one of the most inventive comedies of the summer. Perhaps coming closest to replicating the formula that brought Bridesmaids so much success, the cast consists of many standout performances (Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Adam DeVine), but perhaps the breakout star of the piece will be Rebel Wilson in the now required funny-fat-lady role of Fat Amy. Where I once found her off-putting and a drag in Bridesmaids, here she is a constant scene-stealer as the voice of truth in the group. Also, the music selection is fantastic for the film, and doesn’t feel forced or too hamstrung by being concerned with what’s cool at the moment. Never has there been so much Ace of Base in one film…
So in summary:
• Buy tickets tonight for Pitch Perfect
• Catch Hotel Transylvania if you have kids
• Burn Won’t Back Down with fire