Hotel Transylvania 2 Is Frightful, But Not In A Good Way

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Animation

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Animation

This past January Sony Pictures Animation released its family friendly flick Hotel Transylvania 2 on DVD and Blu-ray.  The movie, which is the follow-up to Adam Sandler’s hit 2012 movie Hotel Transylvania pales in comparison to that movie even no that it has been released on DVD and Blu-ray.  It isn’t a total loss.  However it is anything but a success, too.  The movie’s story is one of its few saving graces.  It is actually a natural progression from the story behind Hotel Transylvania.  At the same time it isn’t without its own glaring problem.  The movie’s pacing is just as much of a mixed bag.  That will be discussed later.  Last but not least of note within this movie is the work of the movie’s cast.  Sandler and cast mate Selena Gozmez impress once again as Dracula and his daughter Mavis.  Sadly Andy Samberg is not as impressive as he reprises the role of Jonathan.  Luckily his portrayal is the only one that stands out as being truly underwhelming.  Sandler and Gomez both shine in their respective roles.  Together with the work of the movie’s writers, their work serves to make Hotel Translyvania 2 a pale shadow of its predecessor that is fun, but yet another forgettable flick that did not need to be made.  It shows in the end to be more proof that not every movie nowadays needs a sequel (or a prequel or remake either).

Sony Pictures Animation’s Hotel Transylvania 2 is a fun new installment in this franchise.  However it isn’t entirely memorable even with its few saving graces.  One of those rare saving graces is the movie’s story.  Even that isn’t saying much.  The story centers once again on Mavis and Dracula’s relationship as father and daughter.  The pair’s relationship changes even more here from the series’ first installment as Mavis becomes a mother and Dracula becomes a grandfather.  The change happens because Dennis, Mavis and Jonathan’s son, doesn’t immediately show signs of being a vampire.  Dracula doesn’t like this so he takes Dennis on a road trip while Mavis and Jonathan go on vacation.  The catch is that only he and Jonathan know that the trip is really to try and scare Dennis’ inner vampire out.  At the heart of the story is not so much the road trip and the antics of Dracula and his friends but Dracula’s growing realization that times and people have changed.  This includes the realization that even his own daughter has changed.  She’s not a little girl anymore.  Using such a story line is a time honored tradition for filmmakers.  So it is anything but new in its use here.  And that is in itself a problem for the movie.  It leaves one asking did the movie even need to be made?  This is asked especially considering how well the series’ first installment was wrapped up.  The honest answer here is a decisive no.  It did not need to be made.  The previous movie could easily have been left by itself.  But someone decided that it should and that it should use such a familiar story line.  Even with that in mind it still manages to entertain audiences in its use here.  While the time honored story line does manage to keep audiences entertained in the case of this movie, the story’s pacing counters that entertainment and ends up bogging down the story.

The story at the center of Hotel Transylvania 2 is an entertaining work.  This is the case even though the story is anything but original.  Even as surprisingly entertaining as it proves to be the story does have one major con—its pacing.  The story’s pacing is all over the place throughout the course of the movie.  It starts off almost right where Hotel Transylvania left off. Mavis and Jonathan are getting married.  They then head off on their honeymoon.  From there, the movie jumps to the couple returning to the hotel with their announcement about Mavis’ pregnancy.  Things don’t get any better from there.  The story jumps from there to Dennis’ birth and then from one birthday to the next until finally it reaches the days leading up to his fifth birthday.  According to the story, that is when Dennis is supposed to show the first signs of being a vampire.  This is so problematic because there are no clear transitions from one point to the next throughout all of that time passage.  It forces audiences to have to really pay close attention throughout those early potions of the story.  Luckily things do finally settle into a stable rhythm from here.  The problem is that the pacing doesn’t stay solid from here.  Instead of speeding back up the pacing reaches a point at which it feels like it slows down.  It slows to the point that older audiences will find themselves checking their watches.  It doesn’t get any better from there either.  At least it doesn’t until the movie finally ends.  By the time it ends, audiences are left feeling like the movie’s roughly ninety-minute run time is about half an hour longer or more.  Even as problematic as the movie’s unstable pacing proves to be to the movie’s presentation, it is made at least somewhat bearable thanks to the work of the movie’s two main stars, Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez.

The pacing of Hotel Transylvania 2’s story is a hugely problematic issue for the movie.  That is because of how inconsistent it is from beginning to end.  It doesn’t ruin the movie’s story.  But it does weigh it down quite noticeably, though.  Now as much of a problem as the story’s pacing proves to be for the movie in the bigger picture, it is countered by co-stars Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez.  This is especially the case at the points at which the pair directly interact with one another.  This includes not only the pair’s early interactions in the movie’s early minutes but also the pair’s interaction after Mavis discovers via YouTube what her father was really doing with her son.  Of course that moment is just as interesting.  Even though Gomez obviously isn’t a parent she successfully captures the fire that any mother would have when her child/children is/are in danger.  Her determination to get to Dennis will have audiences of all ages laughing and cheering her on, too.  The same can be said of her emotion in confronting her father about his lies.  It’s just too bad that Andy Samberg can’t be so openly applauded.  Given Samberg was just playing the part of Jonathan.  But his character is just as forgettable as is his portrayal of Jonathan.  Thankfully Sandler’s other cast mates pick up Samberg’s slack as they join Dracula on his road trip.  Steve Buscemi and Kevin James are a laugh riot as Wayne and Frankenstein respectively as a pair of supposedly scary monsters who are more mundane than monstrous.  David Spade is entertaining in his own right as Griffin the invisible man.  And Keegan –Michael Key is just as funny as Murray the mummy.  Audiences will love watching him try to be scary, only to throw out his back time and again.  It is a running gag.  But it never gets old at any point.  Key never overdoes it in these moments.  Because he doesn’t he remains just as funny the first time he pulls the bit as the last.  Whether through Key’s expert comic timing, Buscemi and James’ unassuming comic portrayals of their characters, or even for the work of Sandler and Gomez, the work of Hotel Transylvania 2’s voice cast by and large proves to be one more of this movie’s saving graces.  Together with the movie’s story the two elements combine to make Hotel Transylvania 2 a movie that while fun still proves to be a relatively forgettable story.

Sony Pictures Animation’s latest installment in the Hotel Transylvania franchise is not the series’ worst installment.  But considering its cons set against its far fewer pros, it is anything but a standout showing.  Rather it proves through its all too familiar story line and its problematic pacing to be more forgettable than fun.  Its only real saving grace is the work of its voice cast.  Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez shine again as Dracula and his daughter Mavis.  David Spade, Kevin James, and Steve Buscemi are entertaining in their own right as Dracula’s monster friends.  Andy Samberg is the only real disappointment among the movie’s voice cast.  Yes, Jonathan is supposed to be a somewhat airheaded California skater hippie type figure.  And yes, Samberg really plays up the part.   But he plays it up perhaps too much.  Thankfully the rest of his cast mates make up for that in their own portrayals, in turn serving collectively as the movie’s only real saving grace.  Keeping this in mind even with a story that is mildly entertaining at best and relatively enjoyable acting, Hotel Transylvania 2 proves in the end to be a pale shadow of its predecessor and a movie that is more forgettable than fun.  It is available now in stores and online on DVD and Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.

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Goosebumps Suffers From Scripting Issues But Is Still Spooky Fun

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Prequels, sequels, and remakes. It seems that there is no end in sight to Hollywood’s trend of churning out prequels, sequels, and remakes. Even the biopics and “based on actual events” flicks that were once so prevalent have largely taken a back seat to all of the prequels, sequels, and remakes out there and on the way. That is not to say that they are nonexistent. But they are not as prevalent right now as the aforementioned offerings from Hollywood’s major studios. So whenever a movie that is not a prequel, sequel, or remake hits theaters it is a reason to celebrate. However in the case of Columbia Pictures’ adaptation of author R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and FOX Kids TV series there was not as much reason to celebrate as one might hope. That remains the case now that the movie has been released on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital platforms. The movie is a fun turn-off-your brain flick that fans of Stine’s Goosebumps franchise will enjoy. It is also a nice escape from the endless stream of prequels, sequels, and remakes being churned out by Hollywood’s major studios. But it is anything but perfect. It has its flaws. They are mainly in the story’s writing. That will be discussed shortly. Its flaws aside, it still has enough positives to make it a breath of fresh air at a time when Hollywood is polluting theaters and store shelves with its endless ocean of prequels, sequels, and remakes if only a small breath.

Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s new take on author R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps franchise is a breath of fresh air in a seemingly endless ocean of prequels, sequels, and remakes that is drowning audiences and theaters figuratively speaking. That is thanks in large part to the movie’s writing. The writing team of Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski crafted a story that does something few if any other literary-based movies do.  It takes Stine’s beloved family friendly horror stories and their characters, and uses them for a story that really is a tribute to Stine and his legacy in the literary world. This is important to note first because so many other movies based on books just take said books and essentially re-imagines them. On another level it doesn’t go the comic book to screen route either. So many movies based on comic books just throw a bunch of different story arcs together from different issues to make one story. Lemke and his partners don’t go that route either. It just uses Stine’s characters and stories as the basis for a story that pays tribute to said characters and stories in its own original tale. It is a story that sees Stine (played here by Jack Black—Shallow Hal, School of Rock, Kung-Fu Panda Trilogy) having to work with his “daughter” (hint: she isn’t really his daughter. That is all that will be revealed here in terms of that) and two local boys in order to get his literary monsters back in their books. The thing is that the search for the escaped monsters is caused by one of the two boys—Zach (Dylan Minnette—R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, Scandal, Lost). This is where things with the writing become a little bit dicey.

The overall approach taken to Goosebumps by its trio of writers is in itself a major positive to this take on R.L. Stine’s beloved literary franchise. As positive as the trio’s approach proves to be for the movie’s presentation the script in whole suffers from having so many hands in the proverbial pot. Having so many hands in the pot led the script to develop some noticeable plot issues beginning with the story’s setup. If not for Zach and his friend Champ (who is randomly introduced only minutes ahead of the key scene) sneaking into Stine’s house in search of Stine’s “daughter” Hannah (Odeya Rush – The Odd Life of Timothy Green, The Giver, We Are What We Are) then the monsters might never have gotten free. That is because the whole chain of events was set off by Zach. And it wasn’t accidental either. If not for his impulsive behavior (brought on largely by teenage hormones) then the hunt for Stine’s monsters never would have happened. In other words Zach and company end up having to solve a problem that was caused by Zach in the first place. Sound familiar? Disney and Marvel studios used a similar plotline for its recent blockbuster sequel The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Avengers had to stop a megalo-maniacal robot created by one of their own in that movie. I.E. they had to clean up a mess ultimately created by one of their own. Many of the classic creature features that were so popular in the 1950s and 60s also ended up centering on the American military having to stop giant mutant monsters that they created through their nuclear testing. Of course the military never told the populace that they caused the problem along the way. The Avengers 2 was very similar in this fashion and so was Goosebumps. Stine and company never make it known that Zach essentially caused the problem. So it goes without saying that Goosebumps’ core plot is anything but original. What’s more, as with those older movies, there is a giant, gaping plot hole in that the only ones that know the cause of the conflict are the ones that caused the conflict in the first place. Why are they the only ones that know? This has always been a sorely overlooked issue with monster movies. And it needs to be addressed by writers, studio heads, critics, and audiences alike. It is just one of the problems that weighs down this monster movie, too. There is also an issue in character introduction/development that must be addressed within the movie’s script.

The major issue with Goosebumps’ story is its setup. It is a setup that presents an age-old plot hole which reaches all the way back to the creature features of the 1950s and 60s. It’s just one of the problems that weighs down this script. Another major problem with this movie’s script lies in the introduction of Zach’s friend Champ (Ryan Lee – Super 8, This Is 40, Trophy Wife). Zach is randomly introduced in a school assembly scene about a quarter of the way through the movie. This comes after Zach had told his mother Gale (played by Amy Ryan – Birdman, Gone Baby Gone, Escape Plan) that he didn’t want anyone knowing that he was the new kid at the school where Gale was the new vice principal. Now if he didn’t want anyone knowing he was the new kid, how did Champ know at the assembly that Zach was the new kid? There was no background offered on this within the context of the movie’s script or in any bonus material. That makes this very much a problematic plot hole especially being that the two just happen to get along and cause the very problem which sets up the movie’s central story line. Again, it is just one more of so many problems presented in the movie’s script. There is one more problem—a dual-part problem—that must be addressed. That problem lies in the relationship between Zach and Hannah.

The central story line behind Goosebumps’ and the random introduction of Champ into the story are in themselves a couple of very problematic issues with the movie’s script. They are not the only issues that the movie’s script presents either. The relationship between Zach and Hannah is one more problem that must be addressed. That is because it actually presents three major issues that cannot be overlooked. The first problem lies in the pair’s relationship. The high school, puppy-love scenario is anything but original in the horror movie genre. The boy next door falling for the girl next door, who is herself in grave danger is one of the most overly used story elements in the world of horror movies. In other words, it is yet another unoriginal aspect thrown into the movie. Moving forward in the script, the story’s final scene presents its own problem. The scene in question won’t be revealed for the sake of those that have yet to see the movie. But needless to say it plays back into a statement made by Hannah earlier in the movie in regards to her revelation about her identity. Considering the revelation and that final scene it essentially negates everything that had developed between the pair. This includes the related issue of Zach even searching for Hannah early on when he thought something had happened to her. Since she was obviously in the house when he and Champ went looking for her, how could she have not heard them in the basement in the first place? Why did it take Zach and Champ getting into Stine’s study for her to find them? One would think that this would have been addressed before script went to screen. If she had stopped them early on they might have never made it to Stine’s study and in turn caused the problem that led to the movie’s central story. It all comes full circle. And being all tied together, all of the noted issues with the movie’s scripting show why three heads are not better than two and for that matter that two heads are not better than one. Luckily for viewers, for all of the script’s problems those problems don’t make Goosebumps entirely unwatchable. The movie’s special effects department does its part to make the movie watchable as do some of the cast members.

There are a number of problems with Goosebumps in regards to its script, as noted. As a matter of fact there are even more problems than just the trio that are listed here. For all of the problems posed by the movie’s script, they are not enough to make the movie a total loss. There actually are some positives other than just the writers’ overall approach to the movie. Another of those positives is the work of the movie’s special effects department. The special effects department is to be applauded for its work in bringing to life Stine’s monsters. From Slappy the dummy to the abominable snowman to the giant praying mantis and the evil gnomes every one of the monsters resurrected for this movie look outstanding. It is obvious that they are computer generated. But even in being computer generated those behind their creation went to painstaking efforts to make them not look like just another bunch of computer generated creatures. To a certain point their design throws back to the monsters of the old creature features from the 1950s and 60s. This is especially the case with the blob and the mantis. It is obvious not just in their design but in how they move, too. Little elements like that make them all the more believable and enjoyable to watch as they wreak havoc on the town. Being so believable makes them all the more enjoyable to watch, yet again exhibiting why the work of the movie’s special effects department proves to be so important to Goosebumps’ presentation. It is not the last notable positive involved in this movie. The cast’s work in front of the camera is just as notable as that of the special effects department.

The approach taken to Goosebumps in regards to its overall story and the work of the movie’s special effects department are both key to the movie’s presentation. While both elements are important in their own right to the movie’s presentation they are not the only notable positives. The work of the cast is just as notable as the movie’s other positives. This is especially the case with Jack Black. Black is billed as the movie’s lead. But in watching the movie he is in reality more of a supporting character even playing the famed children’s horror author. The lead roles belong to his younger counterparts. Black shows throughout that he understands this and never tries to take over any of the scenes, opting instead to let his younger cohorts have their time in the spotlight. What’s more audiences will note that the buffoonery for which he is commonly known is nearly nonexistent in his portrayal of Stine. That is not to say that he doesn’t have a few moments in which that side of him comes out. But even when they do they are few and far between. Rather Black takes his experience and centers it in a way that gives his humor a drier, more focused presentation. For those that have ever seen the real life R.L. Stine interview, this means that Black’s portrayal of Stine is pretty close even with his occasional moments of goofiness. On a related note Ryan Scott Lee is just as entertaining as Champ. In all honesty it could be argued that he actually outshines Minnette with his portrayal of the high-strung and somewhat neurotic Champ. One can’t help but laugh as he pleads with Minnette about going into Stine’s basement versus being Zach’s lookout. He easily could have hammed it up in this moment. But instead he nailed the moment. And when he saves the girl from the werewolf later in the movie his momentary hesitance, while small, shows great character growth. For that he is to be applauded just as much. Of course Minnette is entertaining in his own right as he plays the hormonally challenged Zach. Audiences won’t be able to help but laugh at his portrayal at least somewhat because of the number of male leads that have been so much like Zach in other horror movies. Minnette never overdoes it in his portrayal. But he does just enough to make it clear that he is poking some fun at those male characters. His work is just one more way in which the work of Goosebumps’ cast proves to be just as important to the movie as that of the movie’s special effects department and its writers for their overall approach to the story. Even with the number of problems with the movie’s script the overall approach to the story still sits as a key element to the movie’s presentation. And together with the work of those both in front of and behind the camera the movie proves in whole to be good, spooky fun for the whole family.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Columbia Pictures’ new Goosebumps feature is an interesting new take of R.L. Stine’s literary franchise. That is because it presents an approach unlike most other movies based on literary works. Yes, it presents a number of problems in its scripting. But luckily those problems, while glaring, are not enough to make the movie completely unwatchable. That is because the work of the movie’s cast and its special effects makes up for the script’s various problems. In the end the movie proves that while it might have flopped at the box office (it hemorrhaged money right from the get go in terms of ticket sales, and only got worse from there) it is still a movie that anyone familiar with the Goosebumps franchise will agree is good, spooky fun that is worth at least one watch if no more. It is available now in stores and online on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

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Olympus Has Fallen Falls And Falls Hard

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Dumb.  Dumb.  Dumb.  There is no other word that so aptly describes Sony Pictures’ new action thriller Olympus Has Fallen.  There is little to nothing redeeming about this roughly two-hour turn-off-your-brain action flick.  From the moment this forgettable travesty starts, it is so rife with problems that it’s nearly impossible to know where exactly to start.  Perhaps the best place to start would be from the beginning.  So let’s begin from the beginning.  Gerard Butler’s moody Mike Banning is the all too stereotypical anti-hero who is haunted by the past and trying to make amends for something for which he blames himself.  Of course, when everyone else is killed by a Korean paramilitary group in a surprise attack, Banning is the only one that can come in and save the day.  Of course.  On top of that, he is having relationship issues with his girlfriend, too.  Sound familiar yet?  It should.  This just sounds like an updated take of the one true action classic, Die Hard.  The only difference is that instead of being set in Los Angeles, this one is set inside the White House with a few other minor changes.

The general lack of originality isn’t the only problem from which this movie suffers.  As noted, there is also a major issue with the story’s plot holes, which begin from early on.  How exactly a foreign paramilitary group managed to get their hands on fully armed and equipped C-130 Hercules is never explained at any one point in the story.  That’s just the beginning of the problems.  Writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt never fully give any background on how the paramilitary group managed to infiltrate a group of South Korean diplomats, either.  The only background that’s given is on the group’s leader late in the story.  Here audiences get yet another massive plot hole.  It is at least revealed that he’s a South Korean who held a grudge against America for the death of his mother when he was a child.  But even that is a problem.  Yet again, audiences get another clichéd story element.  The leader of the bad guys is a madman out for revenge for something that happened when he was a child.  This has been done to death.  And now it’s been buried with its use here.  These are rather key issues that seriously hurt this story.  At least the pair took the time to explain the group’s motivations.  That’s about all that can be said in their defense, though.  That being the case, it only gets worse from there.  It gets worse thanks to the references to 9/11.

At the time that Olympus Has Fallen premiered, America was nearly twelve years removed from the tragedy of September 11th, 2001.  But for so many families across the country, that horrible day was still fresh in their minds.  That being the case, it could very easily be argued that having a giant, fully armed C-130 fly over the nation’s capital mowing down innocent civilians  was little more than a pair of writers capitalizing on a national tragedy.  And that is just abhorrent.  It’s one thing to have a group of bad guys taking on Americans and Americans winning.  But to touch on a nerve that is still so sensitive to this day is entirely thoughtless.  It’s not the end of the movie’s problems, either.

Olympus Has Fallen has so many problems that it drowns in them.  It only gets worse.  In their attempts to make up for all of the problems that plague this movie, Rothenberger and Benedikt have front loaded it with more than enough over the top explosions and blood shed to make any college frat boy scream with delight like a little schoolgirl.  It’s the finishing touch on a movie that hardly lives up to the standard set by much better action flicks that have come before.  All things considered, Olympus Has Fallen  has made itself one of the worst action flicks of 2013 and one of the worst movies of the year, too.

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Little White Lies A Powerful, Emotionally Charged Drama

Courtesy:  EuropaCorp Distribution/mpi Pictures/Films Caneo/M6/W9/Canal+/Cine Cinema

Courtesy: EuropaCorp Distribution/mpi Pictures/Films Caneo/M6/W9/Canal+/Cine Cinema

Little White Lies is a very emotionally powerful and moving story.  As powerful as it is, it is not a movie for anyone.  The reason for this is that it is a direct reflection of life.  Just because it is a French film doesn’t mean that the characters only reflect the French.  Rather, it reflects humans in general.  Whereas the BBC’s Keeping Up Appearances does this in a full on comical nature, this roughly two and a half-hour long allegory about the lies that we tell ourselves and others every day takes a far more dramatic turn on this subject.

Little White Lies was marketed as a dramedy of sorts.  And while there are some humorous moments, the humor of those moments is slight at best.  So it would be safer to consider this movie as leaning more in the direction of a drama than a dramedy.  The movie’s drama rises from the central theme that the group of friends have to put their annual vacation plans on hold when Ludo (Jean DuJardin—The Artist) is hit by a box truck while leaving a bar one day.  The drama starts right from the moment the group of friends leaves Ludo’s room at the hospital, their actions speak volumes.  They all agree to cut their annual vacation short by two weeks so as to be able to see Ludo, thinking that he will be okay.  The way that they act is almost that of people who feel inconvenienced by Ludo being in the hospital.  It is so subtle.  But it is there.  So it’s evident from early on just how much this story reflects real life.

The reflection of life doesn’t end with the moment the friends leave the hospital.  Throughout the time that the friends are together on their vacation, the lives that they live and that they use to impress one another are revealed.  From an unhappy couple to a gay man that is in the closet to lies about their own situation in life, each member of the group mirrors people in everyday life.  This ugly truth is eventually revealed in the story’s bittersweet ending.  The story’s end is its most powerful moment, too.  It leaves viewers to question what is really important in life.  Is it one’s own reputation or one’s own family and friends that are the most important?  Given, it is a foreign film.  But the message is one that will resonate among all audiences.  And because of that, it is worth at least one watch as emotionally charged as it is.

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Hope Springs A Funny, Heartfelt Rom-Com For Every Married Couple

Courtesy:  MGM/Escape Artists/Mandate Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: MGM/Escape Artists/Mandate Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Hope Springs is one of Meryl Streep’s most heartfelt, moving performances of her entire career.  Despite what many might want to believe, it isn’t just another chick flick.  It’s a movie that every married couple should see no matter how long they have been married.  Co-star Tommy Lee Jones has been typecast once again as another gruff personality in a power of authority.  Typically, he stars as a police officer or another similar authority figure in his movies.  This time, he stars as a high powered businessman.  Ironically enough, while he has been typecast yet again, his character Arnold is a fitting counterpoint to Streep’s Kay.  The couple has gotten far too comfortable in its marriage, and has completely grown apart.  It’s a simple story.  Yet it’s such a realistic story, unlike so many rom-coms that Hollywood has churned out over the years.

Many audiences seem to have had a belief that Hope Springs was aimed largely at older audiences.  But the reality of the story is that it mirrors life for younger married couples just as much as for those with years of experience.  The story is less about Kay and Arnold’s sex life or lack thereof than it is about simply how the pair has forgotten who the other is.  As a result Kay and Arnold are more strangers to each other than a married couple.  Again, this is something that is just as easy for younger couples to have happen as for those who have been marred for decades.  Maybe that is why the audiences and critics that panned it did so.  Perhaps, just perhaps, those that panned it didn’t like seeing the reality of their own lives playing out on screen.  This sort of denial and rejection is exemplified through Arnold’s own refusal and denial to talk to Doctor Feld (played here by Steve Carell in what is one of his most impressive roles yet, too).  No one likes to have to admit when things aren’t the way they are in life.  This is especially the case when it comes to relationships and marriages.  If viewers can get past their own pride—as Arnold was forced to do—they will see just how much value this story has, even if watched just once and that it is okay to admit that no one’s marriage is perfect.  It’s something that couples have to work at throughout their lives.  As John Lennon and his band mates in The Beatles sang, “All you need is love.”

The central story of Hope Springs is one to which any married couple can relate.  For all of its deep, heartfelt moments, audiences can’t possibly ignore the story’s funnier moments.  The way in which Doctor Feld candidly talks about Kay and Arnold’s sexual relationship and the couple’s reaction to his candid discussion.  This is just one more factor that makes Hope Springs so enjoyable for any married couple.  The very thought of discussing what goes on behind closed doors or in the deepest recesses of a person’s mind is still considered very taboo by most Americans.  Keeping this in mind in seeing the reaction of both Kay and Arnold will leave any viewer laughing.  It’s obvious how uncomfortable both Kay and Arnold felt in discussing their sex life…or in their case, the lack thereof.  For all of the comic elements of these moments, the deeper more emotional root of the couple’s lack of intimacy reminds audiences how serious this can be on a marriage.  It’s just one more aspect of the near two hour movie that makes it surprisingly enjoyable.

The acting and the writing of Hope Springs are both important to the movie’s success.  There is one more factor that should be given note here in the story’s success.  That factor is the work of the movie’s makeup department.  In so many of the movies in which Streep has starred, she has managed to look different from her previous role.  This movie is one more of those cases.  This movie’s makeup department is to be highly commended for making Meryl look so believable as an older woman.  From the makeup to the hair, there was something about her look that was completely different from her previous roles.  It was done so expertly that one can’t help but wonder, is this perhaps what she would look like off-screen without her makeup?  In other words, the hair and makeup looked natural.  And to look natural is a success.  It makes Kay that much more believable as a character.  And along with the acting of both Streep and Jones, and the story’s writing, Hope Springs turns out as a whole, to be a movie that any married couple should see at least once in their marriage.  It is available now in stores and online.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Top 10 Major Motion Pictures Of 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2012

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

1.  The Artist:  While it originally made its debut overseas in 2011, it wasn’t until January 20th of this year that The Artist actually made its nationwide debut in theaters across the U.S.  Before then, only the lucky few at the big festivals got to see it.  That being the case, it should be considered a 2012 release.  So what makes it 2012’s best?  So much could be said.  At a time when so much of what Hollywood churns out is prequels, sequels, and remakes, this story—distributed by Sony Pictures—went the total opposite.  How simple and ingenious is it to make a silent film in a movie of major flash-bang-boom films?  Because the movie’s only sound is its music, viewers are forced to watch.  And the cast was force to really put on its best possible performance, rather than rely on everything else that most movies use to distract audiences from poor performances.  The music is quite enjoyable, too.  And of course, the general cinematography is just as impressive.  It all combines to make for a movie that any movie lover should see at least once.

Mirror Mirror BD2.  Mirror, Mirror:  Some of you might shake your heads at this pick.  But the reality is that this is really a fun and family friendly movie.  Both boys and girls will enjoy it as will parents.  While young Lily Collins (the daughter of superstar Phil Collins) is billed as the lead star here, it’s the dwarves who are really the story’s stars.  Their antics make for more than their share of laughs.  Though watching Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer—The Lone Ranger) put under the evil queen’s puppy love spell is pretty funny, too.  It’s obvious that this spoof of the classic fairy tale was aimed both at boys and girls.  With its mix of wit and charm, it will always be one of the best takes on the old Snow White story.

Courtesy:  Disney Studios

Courtesy: Disney Studios

3.  The Odd Life of Timothy Green:  This is another truly enjoyable family movie.  The general story is one to which any parent can relate and will enjoy because of that.  Though the concept of what happens with Timothy might be a little bit tough to discuss with younger viewers.  The beautiful backdrop adds even more warmth to the story.  And the cast’s acting makes suspension of disbelief so easy.  Sure it’s sappy, emotional, and all that jazz.  But that can be forgiven as it’s such an original and heartwarming story.       

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

4.  Skyfall:  This is where things begin to get a little bit touchy.  Skyfall is by far the best Bond flick to come along in a very long time.  That’s not to say that the previous two were bad.  But this one brought back memories of the old school James Bond that everybody knows.  It’s got the gadgets and the humor and none of the melodrama that weighed down the previous two Bond flicks.  The only downside to the movie is that it tends to drag in the final act.  Other than that, it is a nice return to form for the Bond franchise and gives hope for any future Bond films….that is at least if Christopher Nolan doesn’t get his hands on the franchise.

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

Courtesy: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

5.  The Avengers:  The Avengers was a very nice way to cap off the build-up created by Marvel Studios with the recent bevy of comic book based movies.  It had great special effects.  Its story was simple and solid.  And the shooting was equally impressive.  Considering all the action going on, audiences weren’t left feeling dizzy to the point of wanting to walk out (or in the case of home release, just turn it off).  But like so many ensemble cast movies, it suffered from a common problem.  That problem was the movie’s run time.  Most of the characters in The Avengers had already been introduced through their own separate movies.  So there was no reason to re-introduce them all over again this time.  A lot of that extra time could have been spared.  Hopefully those involved have learned from that and will present viewers with a shorter movie in the second of the Avengers movies.

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

6.  The Dark Knight Rises:  I am just as much a comic book fan as anyone else out there.  So it goes without saying that I was excited to see this movie.  It did a good job of wrapping up the trilogy.  The problem is that it did too much of a good job, as David Goyer and the Nolans tried too hard to cram everything into one movie.  Word is that this latest installment of the Batman franchise left many people checking their watches when it was in theaters.  It might have been better served to have been split up into at least one more movie because of everything added into the mix.  And having what seems to be a lack of commentary on the new home release, fans can only guess what the logic was in cramming so much into one story.  Much like The Avengers, the shooting and the special effects were great.  So it has that going for it.  But the writing was the story’s big problem.  Here’s to hoping that whoever takes over the Batman franchise next (whenever it’s re-launched) won’t make the same mistake as Christopher Nolan and company.

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

7.  Prometheus:  This semi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s hit Alien franchise was met with mixed reviews.  There seemed to be no gray area here.  Audiences either loved it or hated it.  Truth be told, it worked quite well as both a prequel and as its very own stand-alone movie.  Sure the special effects are different from those used in the original movies.  But times are different.  So viewers should take that into account.  And the shooting was just as impressive.  While it may not be as memorable as Scott’s previous works, at least audiences can agree that it’s better than the movies in the AvP franchise.

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

8.  Les Miserables:  This latest reboot of Victor Hugo’s classic story of love and redemption in one of history’s darkest eras is not bad.  But it’s not great, either.  Audiences who know the stage play will thrill at how director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his staff of writers paid tribute to the stage play both in its writing and its shooting.  At the same time, Hooper tried so hard to pay tribute with his shooting style and the transitions that the whole movie felt dizzying to say the least.  The shooting and transitions felt like nothing more than a bunch of cuts from one shot to the next.  There was never a total sense of fluidity anywhere in the story.  It was almost as if despite staying true to the stage play, the script for this latest big screen adaptation was written by someone with ADHD.  Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway did a superior job with their performances.  But despite that, odds are that the movie will sadly be remembered more for its flawed shooting and transitions than for its award-worthy performances.  Nonetheless, it’s still a good movie for any fan of Les Miserables or for fans of musicals in general to see at least once.

Courtesy:  CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

9.  Salmon Fishing in the YemenSalmon Fishing in the Yemen is without a doubt an original story.  It’s next to impossible to find anything like it out there or present.  But it suffers greatly from an identity crisis.  It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a drama, a romance, or a little bit of both.  It’s nice to see the simple message of something as simple as fishing being able to bring the world’s people together peacefully.  But it really seemed to let the romance factor get too much involved.  As a result, it got bogged down in itself.  Had it not had the romance subplot, it might have been better.

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

10. Arbitrage:  It was once noted that three factors more than any other are the causes of crime.  Those factors are:  money, power, and sex.  Arbitrage has all three of these.  It’s an interesting movie.  And it definitely wastes no time noting the latter of the trio of factors, as it lets audiences know that Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is having an affair with another woman.  And also, Miller’s boss has a very firm talk with him early on letting him know that he knows about the financial inaccuracies that he’s causing.  It doesn’t take long to know where this story goes.  It’s something of a tried and true story.  Add in this critic’s pet peeve of movies, the “whisper scenes” and it makes for a movie that as good as it is it could have been better.  For those wondering, the “whisper scene” is exactly as it sounds (bad pun there).  The “whisper scene” is one in which actors essentially whisper throughout the scene against overpowering music to make the scene more emotional and powerful.  But put against the sudden transition to normal volume scenes (and above normal volume scenes), it becomes rather annoying as one has to constantly change the volume on one’s TV as a result of that.  It’ll be interesting to see if it gets the Golden Globe for which it was nominated.

There you have it folks.  That is my personalist of the year’s ten best major motion pictures.  You are more than welcome to share whether you agree or disagree and what your top 10 list would look like.  2013’s already shaping up to be an interesting year.  As the movies start to come out, I’ll have reviews of them, too.  To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Sony’s MIB Franchise Returns To Form In Its Latest Release

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony Pictures’ Men in Black franchise has finally returned to form with the release of the third movie in its franchise.  Whereas the franchise’s second movie dropped flat with audiences, this second sequel has brought the movie’s fun and action back.  Given, the whole time travel/alternate timeline bit has been done far too many times in both movies and television.  And there are far too many sequels, prequels, and remakes out there today.  But this is one of those rare sequels that can be forgiven.  It has brought the MIB franchise back to where it should be.

MIB 3’s bonus “Making of” featurette does a good job of explaining what exactly it is that made this movie at least somewhat successful.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld explains that the movie isn’t so much about the time travel, but about the secrets of the relationship between Agents “Jay” and “Kay.”  Having an understanding of this helps to be more accepting of the time travel/alternate timeline bit that is otherwise far too overdone in the science fiction genre.  Audiences will find the relationship especially heartwarming in the story’s final moments in understanding this, too.  It’s those final moments that really bring the entire trilogy full circle and hopefully will mark the end of this movie property.

The story of the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” makes up for the otherwise dull and done to death time travel plot.  It’s only part of what makes this movie bearable.  This movie gets everything right that the second movie in the trilogy got wrong.  Whereas the second of the MIB movies was simply not believable and focused far too much on melodrama, MIB 3 brings back all the aliens, gadgets, and action that made the first of the MIB franchise so fun.  Also, since it does everything that MIB did, it is also much easier to suspend disbelief.  That is the center of everything.  The gadgets, aliens, special effects and action were fun.  But it’s that believable storyline between “Jay” and “Kay” that makes MIB 3 what it is.  Instead of a standard romance subplot, this story evolves the partnership/relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” and this makes them as characters more believable.  By the story’s end, audiences who allow themselves to believe the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” will see that while it may not be the most memorable of movies, it is still one that’s fun and funny for everyone.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.