Review: Hotel Transylvania

hotel_transylvaniaHotel Transylvania is a deviation from our normal Halloween reviews in that it is not a horror movie, but a comedy using horror tropes. However, I expect it to become a Halloween movie staple in the years to come.

The basic premise of Hotel Transylvania is a bit silly; after losing his wife to an angry mob, Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) is left to raise their daughter alone. He builds a five star hotel to serve as both a refuge for the world’s monsters from the human world and a safe haven in which to raise his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez).

On Mavis’ 118th birthday Dracula holds a huge party with all the monsters coming to celebrate. These include Dracula’s best friends Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his wife Eunice (Fan Drescher), Wayne Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), His wife Wanda (Molly Shannon), and their horde of children, Murray the mummy (CeeLo Green), and Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade).

Two things complicate Dracula’s plans for the event. One is that Mavis is tired of being confined to the hotel and wants to explore the world. The other is that a human, Johnny (Andy Samberg), has stumbled upon the hotel. Dracula needs to keep the monsters from finding out Johnny is human or they will flee the hotel in terror. Adding additional stress is that Mavis is attracted to Johnny. Disguising Johnny as a monster, Dracula tries to find a way to safely get him out of the hotel, deal with Mavis’ wish to spread her wings, and keep his hotel a safe home for the monsters.

On the surface, Hotel Transylvania is a concept that should not work. It is an animated horror comedy starring Adam Sandler. But it does work. A lot of the credit goes to the script writers (Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel) but the most credit goes to the director (Genndy Tartakovsky, who worked on Powerpuff Girls and created Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack).

Hotel Transylvania is a very fast paced and kinetic movie, but does slow down for some well-done emotional scenes. There is never a scene that drags. The character designs are expressive and inviting, even when they are monstrous. Many of the character designs bear a resemblance to the voice actors playing them.

On the voice acting front there is not a single dud amongst them. Having a cast of comedy veterans and SNL alumni was an excellent decision. Sandler stands out in this group, not only as the main character, but doing some of the best work of his career, even if there is an occasional accent slippage.

Music also plays an important role in the film, even with it not being a musical. There are several occasions where characters, especially Johnny, are performing as part of Mavis’ birthday. The music in the film is done by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo) and works well in the film, even if it is not particularly memorable.

Hotel Transylvania is a charming movie that can easily be enjoyed by both children and adults. I give Hotel Transylvania a grade of B. Genre fans should enjoy it, and even non-fans should be ok with watching it with their kids.

Side note: This year my five year old god daughter has decided to be Mavis for Halloween, and so the whole family is going as characters from the film. She decided I would be Frankenstein, and who am I to argue with a determined five year old on Halloween.

 

Fanboy News Network Episode 18

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Fanboy News Network Episode 18

Creepypasta

Jeff is joined by Michael Montoure from Don’t Read the Latin to talk about creepypastas, including their history, what counts as a creepypasta and what their favorites of the genre are.

Horror Review: You’re Next

Youre-Next-posterIt’s time, once again, for our annual Halloween celebration, where everything on the site relates to Halloween or horror for the month of October.

And let’s kick things off with one of the hidden gems of horror films, You’re Next.

You’re Next is from the team of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, and is part of the mumblegore subgenre, which strives for naturalism in both performance and dialogue.

The plot set up plays like a lot of standard home invasion films; the main characters are in their isolated home when masked intruders suddenly attack and start killing them off. But unlike most of the films in this genre, there is a significant twist (which I am loathe to spoil) that makes this film stand out from other home invasion films.

This film did not do as well in the box office as it deserved. Once again we have a film let down by its marketing campaign (or as I like to call it, the John Carter Syndrome) it was marketed as a standard home invasion film, with no hint of the twist. And while that makes a certain amount of sense, it is the twist that makes the film worthwhile. I will say this much about it, by the half-way point of the film the invaders are every bit as terrified as the remaining victims.

There is also a very significant focus on the family dynamic at play. The set-up has Paul and Aubrey Davidson hosting a family reunion, in honor of Paul’s birthday, at their vacation house with their adult children. The four children bring their significant others. During dinner on the first night, the bickering and passive-aggressive attacks on each other get so bad that when the first murder happens it comes as a relief.

Wingard sets a great mood by having the family feel trapped, long before the attacks, and giving an increasing sense of claustrophobia as events spiral on.

Sharni Vinson gives a stand-out performance as Erin, the girlfriend of the oldest son Crispian (A.J. Bowen). Erin has a childhood trauma she is trying to get past that informs how she deals with the attack. Her performance forms the through-line of the movie. Another pair of performances that are noteworthy are Nicholas Tucci and Wendy Glenn as middle son Felix and his girlfriend Zee. They are the source of much of the family discord, and this comes into play as the attack commences. One other performance worth pointing out is Barbara Crampton as Aubrey. Crampton is a former Scream Queen, best known as the female lead in Re-Animator. Aubrey’s goal is to have a happy family gathering, and her pain from this not happening is clear even before the attacks begin.

One particularly nice touch is that the entire sound track is variations of the song “Looking for the Magic” by the Dwight Twilley Band.

I give You’re Next a grade of B on the Fanboy News Network Scale. Horror fans should really enjoy the twist on the clichéd Home Invasion story and non-fans should like it for how the twist is carried out.

Site Update

As you may have noticed there has not been an update for a while.

I have been dealing with some health issues that kept me from working on anything. I am fine now, but as a result I am behind on several things.

I’ve decided to take a short sabbatical from updating the site to get caught up. I will return in October with out annual Halloween/Horror month.

Fanboy News Network Episode 17

Fanboy News Network Episode 17

Crossover with Don’t Read the Latin

Jeff gets together with Michael Montoure and Jennifer Lovely of the Podcast Don’t Read the Latin to discuss the year in horror so far, when not being derailed by side tangents.

Jeff would also like to apologize to Josh Harnett from Penny Dreadful for calling him Ethan Hawke throughout the episode.

SDCC 2014: The Aftermath

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In years past when I have done my post San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) article, I usually latch onto an issue the show highlighted which I feel affects the entire convention scene. I even had a subject all lined up to cover, the effect of exclusives on the convention scene

And then news started coming out that has changed this from a look at exclusives, to a follow up on a previous column about the SDCC harassment policy. I guess I’ll look at exclusives another time.

You can go here to read my previous column. For quick review there was a petition to have SDCC adopt a more comprehensive anti-harassment policy. SDCC’s director of marketing (Daniel Glanzer) rejected the idea as he said it would suggest to the media that SDCC had a harassment problem.

So how did the event go?

Well there was a major incident that has been reported that suggests that Glanzer will need to rethink his position.

Adrianne Curry, a Model and Actress who is also a well-known cosplayer, was attending the event with friends. One of Curry’s friends was dressed as the Marvel character Tigra. A man approached the friend from behind and tried to put his hands in the bottom of her costume. When that failed he yanked the bottom of the costume down.

Curry, who was dressed as Catwoman complete with a bullwhip, immediately went after the man. Using the whip as a weapon she drove him off. One point to be made here: this incident happened in a crowded area, but not one person stepped forward to help Curry or her friend. In fact, the only thing most did were pull out phones to take pictures

This was, of course, not the only incident reported.

So what now?

It would be easy to say that this would have happened anyway, and maybe it would have, but then again maybe not.

San Diego Comic Con is not just an event, it has its own culture. To fight against harassment, it helps to make that fight part of the culture. We’ve seen other conventions adopt detailed policies that have led to the culture of those shows embracing anti-harassment and helping police themselves.

But step one is that the convention needs to make it clear what is and is not acceptable. The vague policy of SDCC is clearly not cutting it. My hope is the Glanzer and the rest of the governing body of SDCC will wake up to the fact that they need to address this.

Until then, it is our job to keep expressing the need for these changes and doing everything in our power to move the culture in the right direction.

 

Fanboy News Network Episode 16

Fanboy News Network Episode 16

Comic movie and TV News

This episode

What Andy Serkis is doing on the set of the Avenger: Age of Ultron

Pre-buzz on Guardians of the Galaxy

What Dave Bautista did to get ready to play Drax

The Batman v Superman trailer at SDCC

The picture of Gal Godot as Wonder Woman

Why Gotham may not be that good an idea.

Buzz for the coming seasons of Arrow and The Flash.

Review: Penny Dreadful

penny-dreadful-photo-533ab68c096e3Normally when I review a new series I like to watch five episodes, review it, and then do a follow-up review at the end of the season. With Penny Dreadful there was no point doing this as the first season only had eight episodes.

Penny Dreadful is a Showtime production that follows in the footsteps of Wold Newton, by way of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Anno Dracula. It is a cross-over universe set in Victorian London that brings together the novels Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, along with hints of other stories appropriate for the era.

The story follows Sir Malcolm Murray, as he assembles a group to search for his daughter Mina, who has been abducted by a mysterious force. This group includes Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) a childhood friend of Mina’s who is also a medium, Ethan Chandler (Josh Harnett) an American sharpshooter who clearly has a troubled past, Sembene (Danny Sapani) an African who acts as Sir Malcolm’s manservant, and Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) who Sir Malcolm brings in for his medical knowledge.

Along the way, these adventurers encounter other characters who further complicate matters: Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), who finds Miss Ives fascinating in a way he cannot explain; Brona Croft (Billie Piper) an Irish prostitute, dying of consumption, who Ethan falls in love with; and Frankenstein’s Creature (Rory Kinnear) whom the others are not aware of, but makes his presence felt none the less.

One of the strengths that Penny Dreadful has over The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Anno Dracula, is that not all of its characters are taken directly from the novels. In fact outside of Dorian, Victor, and the Creature, all the other main characters are original to the series. This gives the show much more freedom in how it wants to portray them.

The show has also benefited from the short season. There was no filler. Scenes either advanced the story, or advanced the characters. Next season will increase to 10 episodes, but that should not do any damage to the pace.

It is also clear that series creator John Logan is aware of the difference between gothic horror vs an action story using horror characters. The horror is on full display here, and the mood is pervasive. The monsters here are not portrayed as beautiful misunderstood outsiders, but as alien horrors to be rightfully feared. This is counterbalanced by watching the effect the events have on the main characters and how, in many ways, that is more horrible than the monsters themselves.

The acting in the series is excellent, which isn’t surprising given the experience of the cast. What is surprising is that the standouts tend to be the lesser known actors. Harry Treadaway and Rory Kinnear give poignant portrayals to Frankenstein and his creation. They are so good that the series could just focus on them and it would still be well worth watching. This is not to take away from the other actors. Eva Green gives one of the best performances of her career as Vanessa, who is conflicted by guilt over her role in Mina’s peril, and the cost that saving her friend is taking on her. Timothy Dalton portrays Sir Malcolm as a man obsessed with saving his daughter, but blind to how his efforts are tainted by that obsession. Josh Hartnett does a fine job with his role, which is often to be the voice of reason, meaning he is often at odds with Sir Malcolm.

Overall, the show does an excellent job of conveying a mood and style consistent with Victorian horror.

I give Penny Dreadful a final grade of B. Fans of the horror genre will enjoy it and non-fans should still find it entertaining.

Horror Review: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Behind the mask

When Jennifer Lovely (of Don’t Read The Latin) started our weekly Friday Horror Movie Night, one of the movies I requested we watch was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. I’d been hearing about this movie for years and was interested in how it was executed. Recently, we finally did watch it.

This movie works from the premise that all slasher movies are actually real events, but that the slashers themselves are just ordinary men who worked to give their actions the suggestion of the supernatural. Slashers are also shown as having their own subculture.

Behind the Mask is about Leslie Vernon’s efforts to become the next great slasher. Leslie reaches out to a documentary crew to film him as he prepares for his killing spree. At first going along to capture this strange underground culture, the film crew find themselves getting drawn into Leslie’s world for better or worse.

At its heart, Behind the Mask is a deconstruction of the slasher genre. Unlike the Scream movies, that are more about characters that are aware that they are in a slasher film, Behind the Mask takes a look at the genre from the slasher’s point of view.

Director Scott Glosserman, who also wrote the script with David J. Stieve, makes several key choices in how the film presents this world that keep it unique. The main one is in not letting his concept box him in. Most of the cinematography is done in a ‘found footage’ style, with the idea being this is what was shot by the documentary film crew; however, when there are scenes that make no logical sense for the film crew to be there, the cinematography switches to being a more in keeping with standard slasher movie styles. It’s a device that works well. In the documentary segments Leslie is talkative, explaining every step of the way what he is doing and why in great detail. When it is in straight-up slasher film style Leslie says nothing, becoming the typical silent slasher. Even the color saturation changes from natural, to the deeper colors you see in a typical horror movie. Also, the camera men are never seen during the documentary sections. In fact, they are barely characters until the third act when the documentary style is abandoned completely.

This film does a great job of laying out what is going to happen in the story, by following the predictable slasher movie expectations and then subverting them at the last moment. The script has some brilliant moments of subtle foreshadowing for those paying attention.

Of course, a film like this is going to live or die based on the performance of the title character. Fortunately, Nathan Baesel gives a great performance as Leslie Vernon. He makes the character very charming, even while conveying that there is something clearly off about him. Thanks to Baesel’s performance there are times in the movie when you really want Leslie’s reign of terror to go off according to plan.

The other lead in the film (Angela Geothals as Taylor Gentry, the interviewer for the documentary) also puts in a fine performance. Taylor rides a fine line, varying from being aloof about Leslie’s plans, to excited or horrified.

One name in the cast that I’m sure was there to help sell the film to the horror crowd is Robert Englund as Doctor Halloran, a man who knows about Leslie’s plans and is trying to stop him. Englund’s part is small and doesn’t require much from the actor, but does serve to add to the overall structure of the movie. Englund’s presence is fun, especially since Freddy Kruger is called out by name a few times as one of Leslie’s influences, and one character suggests that he knows him personally.

Speaking of the character that might know Freddy, the best performance in the film comes from veteran character actor Scott Wilson, who most people today know from The Walking Dead where he plays Hershel Greene. In Behind the Mask he plays Eugene, a retired slasher who lives with his wife in a quiet secluded home. Eugene acts as Leslie’s mentor, giving advice on key parts of his plan and giving the film crew insights into slasher culture. Eugene comes off as a friendly paternal figure, who still gives off the vibe that he could be very dangerous, given the right circumstances.

Behind the Mask is a hidden gem of horror that is underappreciated by horror movie fans, and certainly under seen.

I give Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon a final grade of B+. Horror fans should really enjoy it and non-fans should appreciate how it turns the normal slasher tropes on their head.

 

Fanboy News Network Episode 15

                                  Fanboy News Network Episode 15

A Fanboy News Network/Gothic Charm School Guide to Disneyland

Jeff gets together with his sister, Jillian Venters of Gothic Charm Schoo, to talk about Disneyland at a Fandom.

They Discuss:

How Disneyland fandom differs from just visiting.

Their personal Disneyland traditions.

Easter Eggs in the park.

ways to enhance the Disneyland experiences.

Batsday

Tales of pranks Jeff has pulled on Jillian at the park.