Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hotel of Seven Crosses

     In this edition of DVD reviews, we cover a well-known comedic auteur's shot at action hero status, some of humankind's most well known communal fears in a kid-friendly romp & a film that teaches one the rules of being a psychopathic best friend.  Confused yet?  Keep reading...

  Alex Cross - Okay, so yes, the main attraction in checking out this movie was to see Tyler Perry directed by someone else in a role so far outside of his usual wheelhouse (and wardrobe).  I'm happy to say that in THAT respect, Alex Cross was a pretty satisfying flick.  Perry did a very respectable job, and I actually bought into his performance a lot more than I bought into the film as a whole.
     I can also give some degree of praise to his co-star Matthew Fox.  As a fan of the late, lamented Lost series, I had my doubts that I would be able to buy Fox in any role other than Jack.  However, his twitchy, insidious performance as Picasso (the film's villain) soon allayed those fears.  He undoubtedly took the role a little over the top (perhaps due to a lack of directorial reigning in), but it is always encouraging to see an actor bravely tackle a role so far outside of their comfort zone.
     These little bits of praise having been doled out to the cast, I am afraid that there is little else to recommend about Alex Cross.  It is a fairly standard, formulaic thriller from director Rob Cohen that shows little of the inspiration he demonstrated in The Fast and the Furious.  Directorial flourishes like the "rattling camera" effect meant to demonstrate Picasso's mental state prove more distracting and obvious than chilling and effective, and the whole production is lucky to have Perry's star power (and impressive star turn) to anchor it.  Otherwise, it might have been overlooked entirely...2 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Seven Psychopaths - So, writer/director Martin McDonagh came out of the box knocking homers (I don't know what is up with me and the sports metaphors lately).  His debut short Six Shooter won an Oscar.  He moved on to his feature debut In Bruges, a minor masterpiece that earned him an Oscar nod for Screenplay.  Poor Seven Psychopaths (his sophomore feature) had to live up to all of that, or else be damned by faint praise.  Which it was.  I myself found it to be a delightfully twisted little treat, taken on its own merit.  It may not quite be on a par with its predecessor, but it is highly original, full of witty dialogue and interesting characters, and rife with infectious dark humor.
     Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a cast loaded with talent.  The perpetually undervalued Colin Farrell is great as the most normal guy in the room (pretty much every room in the film).  Sam Rockwell gives his best performance since Moon.  Chrisptopher Walken is at his most smooth and intricately nuanced.  And Woody Harrelson is...utterly Woody Harrelson (which is a GREAT thing).  The film is also packed with notable cameos and small roles from such luminaries as Michael Stuhlbarg, Abby Cornish, Harry Dean Stanton, Gabourey Sidibe, Zeljko Ivanek and Tom Waits.
     Seven Psychopaths is a hard hitting, bitingly self-aware thriller which actually invites some serious thought into the line between sanity and insanity.  It aptly demonstrates how one bad day can change the direction of a person's life forever.  All this, and it actually made me laugh out loud. I highly recommend checking it out.  4 of 5 stars.

  Hotel Transylvania - I know, I also thought, "Do we REALLY need ANOTHER supernatural themed animated flick this year?"  I'm not sure that we NEEDED one (Frankenweenie and Paranorman already fitting the bill quite nicely), but I will say that Hotel Transylvania was a much better cartoon than I had feared it would be.  It had a lot of stereotypical monster jokes (the Frankenstein/fire bit got particularly tiresome in places), but it also had a lot of heart and entertainment value.
     The film's voice talent is like a Saturday Night Live reunion between Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Molly Shannon, David Spade and Jon Lovitz.  Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher and Ceelo Green are also featured, but my favorite performance is by Steve Buscemi as the harangued husband of a Wolf-Man, Wayne, burdened by far too large a litter of pups.
     The story centers around Dracula (Spade)'s daughter Mavis (Gomez) falling in love with a human, Jonathen (Samberg), and becomes Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with cobwebs from there. This is a more apt comparison than you might think as Mavis and Jonathen become easily identifiable to the inter-racial couples of years past or the gay couples of today.  In fact, what appeared to be a cute little lark of an animated flick actually evolves into a clever (if slightly heavy handed) statement about how people with superficial differences form presupposed ideas and fears about each other, easily exceeding my expectations. Freshman feature director Genndy Tartakovsky can be proud of the job that he has done here, and I might even be down for checking out Hotel Transylvania 2 (already in the works)...4 out of 5 stars.

Related Articles:  To Rome, Sugarweenie! (Frankenweenie reviews), The Perfect Para-Killer (Paranorman review)

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