Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Moonlight Movie Reviews - Hotel Transylvania, Dark Shadows and ParaNorman

Got a whole trio of movies to talk about today, folks, all great for the Halloween season! So, let's get to it! And we begin with...

As you might imagine, this is a touchy subject for us here at the ol' Moonlight Motel. Just for the record, while this site has recently been rebooted, I'd like everyone to know that the Moonlight Motel comic strip has been around since before 2007. We are not the "Antz" to this film's "A Bug's Life" (okay, I don't really know which of those two got started first, but I side with A Bug's Life, because it's awesome). Anywho, I admit that I was an Adam Sandler fan back in the day. You know what I mean, Billy Madison (one of my favorite films), Happy Gilmore, and so on. Great stuff! But, over the years, I don't know, I just don't think Sandler is as funny as he once was. Truth is, the further back you go, the funnier his movies are, Billy Madison, in my opinion, being the best. But, here we have an animated Adam Sandler feature (not the first) in 3D and focusing on monsters in a hotel. I SHOULD like this. 

So, how was it? Well, let me give you the plot summary first. Basically, Adam Sandler is Dracula, and it's modern day, and he has a HOT daughter. She's turning 118, so a big birthday party is being thrown, as is done every year, within the castle Dracula has built as a "monsters only" hotel sanctuary from the human race. See, Dracula's wife was killed some 118 years ago by humans, so Dracula is now very paranoid of them, and he's way overprotective of his daughter. Now, everything seems to be fine as all the monsters arrive for the big birthday party, but along with them comes an American tourist, a young man named Jonathan who falls instantly in love with Dracula's daughter, Mavis, and vice versa. This naturally causes big trouble for Drac, who has been keeping Jonathan disguised as a monster since his surprise arrival in the hopes of not upsetting the other guests. Now, that's the plot, and it's an okay one. It's basically a "let's enjoy watching monsters party in a hotel" kinda movie mixed with a romance vs. prejudice kinda movie, heavy on the slapstick. The story works fine, and the visuals are great. Where the movie has trouble is the humor. This is, no doubt, an Adam Sandler movie. And like with his later comedy albums, the jokes aren't all that great, and far too much of Sandler's humor is always lost in translation to animation. He seems to think it's a perfect format for his "funny voices", but really, I think those voices are only funny when you see them coming out of his goofy face. And the funny voice thing is a big issue with this movie. In fact, I'd say that's this movie's biggest problem. Sandler's Dracula voice is soooo annoying, yet he never shuts up through the duration of this entire film! Thank God for Selena Gomez in the role of Mavis, and, to a far less sexy extent, Andy Samberg as Jonathan. The truth is, this film doesn't start off too well to me in the laughs department, but it picks up a lot when Samberg's character shows up. The whole movie is suddenly a lot better, though, in truth, only in the way that most non-PIXAR animated features tend to be. I'd say that's how this movie is. For a CGI comedy, it's pretty standard. I would rather watch "Mad Monster Party" any day, but it's enjoyable enough to watch at least once, IF Adam Sandler doesn't drive you nuts, and especially if you are as big a fan of not-so-evil, classic monsters gathering together in cartoon form. If you feel like going to the movies this month, I recommend ParaNorman over this one, but this is an okay second choice. Of course, Frankenweenie will be out soon and is probably better as well (and I can't wait for Sinister; I hear Dredd is good too). 

Now, just yesterday, I picked up two new Blu-Rays. One, Cinderella, I have not had a chance to put on, but the other I watched thoroughly, and that was the Tim Burton feature film adaptation of the 60's/70's supernatural soup opera, Dark Shadows. 

The story is a simple one about a man, Barnabas Collins, who spurned a love who happened to be a witch. In her jealous anger, she curses him to be a vampire so that he will have an eternity to change his mind about her. He ends up being chained in his coffin for 200 years, woken up in the 1970's by construction workers. When awake, he finds his family's descendants are in drastic need of some guidance, and they also need a competitive hand against the main businesswoman in town, who also happens to be Barnabas's old, jilted lover.

Aside from character names and the fact that the lead is a vampire who is being harassed by a witch named Angelique, this Tim Burton remake has little in common with the original TV series or the 1990's revival series that got me so into the show. No, it doesn't have much in common with its predecessors at all, especially with the comedic tone (the two TV show versions were quite serious). This, naturally, has greatly upset the cult fanbase, which includes myself. We all would have loved to see a serious feature film version of Dark Shadows. However, there is also something to be said for spoofs like this. The Brady Bunch movies were fantastic, after all. 

On the whole, Dark Shadows is a highly entertaining and occasionally sexy film. It has genuinely funny moments and a lot of quirky, fun concepts. The visuals are outstanding, as is usual with Tim Burton. The cast is great too, though at times you wish they'd played their characters differently, and the 70's music was naturally a highlight. The biggest problem with Dark Shadows, besides all the lack of similarity to the original, is that the grand finale is a bit of a mess (we get a particularly cringe-worthy line near the end from the otherwise delightful as usual Chloe Grace Moretz), and that they could have made this movie awesome (the Nights in White Satin scene near the beginning really proves this), but they decided to make it funny instead. Well, it still works for the most part, even though it could and should have been sooo much more than it was. I can definitely understand the fans who weren't happy at all, though I still like this film on some level. It's not a great Dark Shadows movie, but it is mostly a great movie. Also, I have to give them points by making one choice that was much better than what was done in the original Dark Shadows feature film, House of Dark Shadows, and that's making an original story pitting Barnabas against Angelique in modern day, Barnabas being the hero. That particular aspect of the plot in this new movie does seem to capture the spirit of Dark Shadows more than the TV show's original feature, which was more of a Dracula retread.

As for the blu-ray, if you like bonus features, be sure to get the combo pack that includes DVD and Ultraviolet, as I hear the "movie only" blu-ray does not have bonus features. This version includes deleted scenes and featurettes, as well as a version of the film which includes interview and behind the scenes footage popping up throughout. Watch it for the ladies or for Depp, or for your Dark Shadows fandom (if you are open minded). This one is still fun, even if it is disappointing to the true fan. On the bright side, I could stare into Bella Heathcote's eyes all day. Oh, she plays Barnabas's true love, Josette/Victoria/Maggie.

And finally, here is a movie I reviewed here previously. I've taken the old review down since most folks probably didn't get to read it anyway. The recent transfer of my domain name to a new host did complicate things, or I'd have been talking about it more.

"ParaNorman" is easily one among the better animated films I've seen in a while. It's a story about a kid who can see ghosts and is forced to keep it to himself, and to keep to himself in general, until he ends up having to save the world from a group of zombies brought to life by a witch's curse. The film is animated in a stop-motion puppet style similar to Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline (which was made by the same folks). The visuals are totally stunning. I think this is the best I've ever seen this kind of animation look in terms of overall quality. The movie's story is creepy and fun, the script is bold and unapologetic for an American animated film, and it's perfect for the Halloween season, with some of the qualities that made Monster House great and a sort of similar story now that I think about it, but I like how this one taps into a very real and disturbing part of our history (the old witch trial stuff) to tell its tragic story of how the bullied can easily become just like their tormentors if they allow themselves to. "ParaNorman" is particularly unique for today's animation in that it does not dumb itself down for the kid audience. Don't get me wrong, it is more mainstream than Coraline was, but it's still much better than the usual CGI comedy fair if you pay close attention. This movie should be entertaining for any age group, and you should get out there to see it before it's gone.


  1. Thank you for reviewing Hotel Transylvania, Dark Shadows and ParaNorman. I have yet to see Hotel Transylvania or ParaNorman, but I watched Dark Shadows this weekend. I went online and rented it on Friday afternoon shortly before leaving my office at DISH. It was downloaded and ready to watch from my Hopper DVR the moment I walked in my door. I wasn’t a huge fan of either Dark Shadows series, so a lack of a connection to those shows in the film wasn’t a serious issue. Unfortunately, there were problems with the script and direction that were issues for me. First, the story had lots of subplots that went unfulfilled and unexplored. Second, this film looks like everything done by Burton and Depp for the past decade. I think it may be time for them to part ways, at least until they can think of a new approach.

    1. My pleasure, Edgar. You're right about those unexplored, unfulfilled subplots. Though, I think the Burton style is something he'll probably stick with to the end, ha, though maybe he should try to do a movie without Johnny for a while, just to see if he can!