BARE BONES: HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 and SLEEP TIGHT

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HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (2015)

 

Harmless sequel to the surprisingly fun Hotel Transylvania finds Mavis (Selena Gomez) and Johnny (Andy Samberg) married and expecting their first child. Drac (Adam Sandler) couldn’t be more excited to have a new little monster in the house till Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) is born appearing quite human. While Mavis and Johnny consider moving to L.A. so Dennis can be in more human surroundings, Dracula and his friends are determined to bring out the little monster in his young grandson.

Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky and written by star Sandler and Robert Smigel, sequel is an OK follow-up that is amusing enough at times, but doesn’t quite have the first flick’s sense of fun. A lot of the jokes and routines are replayed from last time around and it doesn’t seem as energetic. The vocal performances are all fun, including Mel Brooks as Dracula’s estranged father Vlad, but the script just isn’t quite as clever as the original flick. Kids will probably like it just fine, but it just feels like there is something missing this time amidst the messages about being accepted for who you are.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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SLEEP TIGHT (2011)

Sleep Tight is a unnerving flick from Jaume Balagueró from the REC series that should have been far more disturbing considering it’s premise. The story from Alberto Marini’s script has building concierge Cesar (Luis Tosar) secretly stalking pretty tenant Clara (Marta Etura) and doing things to create tension in her life. Cesar is a twisted and very unhappy man who wants to share his misery with others. Her targets poor Clara and sneaks into her room, hiding under her bed only to pop out and knock her out each night while she sleeps. He takes advantage of her physically and adds things to her make-up to give her a rash and even fills her apartment with cockroach eggs…all with the pretty girl unaware.

Another flick that just seems to be missing something. While Cesar’s activities are certainly disturbing, the film has a very laid-back approach that seems to keep it from being as terrifying as it should be. Cesar seems to get away with a lot and it gets a little far-fetched and the fact that we never really get a solid explanation as to why he picks Clara and chooses to torment a woman who is continually sweet to him, remains a mystery. It needed a bit more depth to really give it some intensity. The performances are good with Tosar being appropriately creepy and Etur being a very likable and sweet girl, so we do feel bad for her. The flick just needed a heavier atmosphere and a little more intensity to make it really click.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: OPEN WINDOWS (2014)

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OPEN WINDOWS (2014)

Open Windows is an interesting and sometimes, effective thriller written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo who also wrote and directed the clever 2007 Timecrimes. The film opens with nerdy Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) in his hotel room watching a convention event for the film Dark Sky: The Third Wave on his laptop. Nick runs a fan website for the film’s star, the beautiful Jill Goddard (ex-porn star Sasha Grey) and is there because he entered a contest and won a date with his obsession. Nick is suddenly contacted online by a person known only as Chord (Neil Maskell) who informs him that Miss Goddard has canceled the date and that he sympathizes with Nick and would like to let him have a little fun with the actress for his troubles. He begins to hack into all her personal feeds such as phone, e-mail, surveillance cameras, home computer and, at first, Nick is stunned but amused by this voyeuristic invasion of his dream girl’s privacy. Things take a malicious turn, though, and soon Nick finds himself in the middle of some twisted game that involves harassment, torment, kidnapping and possibly murder…and Chord has let all cyber trails lead to Nick as the one responsible.

The first half of this movie had me. It was disturbing and creepy and made me appropriately uncomfortable as we watch a woman’s privacy and life invaded unknowingly and then having her manipulated and tormented by some unseen individual, with an innocent set up to take the blame. Vigalondo cleverly tells his story of stalking, taken to a vicious level, through the various open windows on Nick’s laptop as Chord pulls him into his twisted game. Unfortunately, the writer/director gets a bit overindulgent and the story gets far too complicated for it’s own good with the last act just getting convoluted and silly. A simple plot of a man forced to watch his female fantasy stalked and tormented by some mysterious and malicious individual was working just fine but, then we get the inclusion of a trio of French hackers, who seem only to exist as a plot device, and a fourth master criminal/hacker named Nevada who only exists to set up some last act plot twists. The film was doing just fine as a intimate thriller and suddenly it becomes a cyber James Bond/Jason Bourne flick compete with car chases and explosions and multiple…and unnecessary…plot diversions. The last act is literally out of one of the lesser James Bond flicks with secret hideouts, damsels in distress and an overconfident, pontificating villain. It becomes a comic book spy movie all told from Nick’s laptop, of which the novelty has worn off. It’s just silly. Sometimes less is more and Vigalondo should have stuck with his simple premise and found a smaller and less overloaded way to play it out. Sometimes a director having his cake and eating it too is far too filling for his audience and it certainly is the case here as a good thriller is drowned in excess.

The somewhat small cast are pretty good, at least. Elijah Wood does good work establishing his nerdy, lovelorn Jill Goddard fan, Nick, who becomes terrified as to what he let himself get dragged into. Even when the plot starts to spin out of control, he presents an unlikely hero as he tries to outwit this mysterious Chord and come to Jill’s rescue. As Jill, Grey is fine. She ‘s a bit rough around the edges but, she gives us a starlet who is a bit of a bitch but, not enough that we don’t sympathize with her when she is becoming victimized. She’s a very pretty girl, does have some screen presence and she fits the part and with more experience could be a good actress. As Chord, Neil Maskell is creepy and threatening…especially since most of his performance is vocal…and, once we meet him, a bit pathetic. Though, I didn’t quite buy that such a clever creep was so easily fooled when some of the plot twists come. It’s an effective enough cast that keeps you far more invested in the goings on…especially after the story spirals into it’s overindulgent final act…than you should be.

In conclusion, I was entertained and the film didn’t completely loose me but, really neutered it’s effective first half by getting so overly complicated in it’s second. The use of computer windows and computer simulations to tell it’s story was very well done and clever but, it’s too bad Vigalondo got too giddy with adding complex twists, unnecessary characters, car chases, crashes and explosions. It becomes a completely different film in it’s second half and one not nearly as effective, even if it still is a little fun. Worth a look but, disappointing when it’s set-up and initial sequences were working so well.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 laptops.

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