Sarah Knight Adamson is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and a voting member for the Critics Choice Awards for Movies.

Sarah Knight Adamson and Jessica Aymond are both Members of the Chicago Film Critics Association

Film Rating Code:

★★★★ Outstanding Film- Run, don’t walk to the nearest movie theater.

★★★½ Excellent Film- Highly recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★★ Very Good Film- Recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★½ Good Film- Wait for the DVD, the film is still worth viewing.

★★ Wait for the DVD and proceed with caution.

★½ Wait for the DVD the film has major problems in most areas.

★ Can’t recommend the film.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (PG) ★½

A Few Tender Moments and Catchy Songs Can’t Save this Sinking Ship

As a relentless advocate for quality children’s films, the Hotel Transylvania animated series (2012, 2015) has never been high on my list—especially now that the bar’s finally been raised—sadly the third 2018 installment is a step backward. Given today’s atmosphere of excellent scripts for children’s’ films, it’s mystifying as to why this dreadful film came to fruition. One would assume the children’s film genre ‘success formula’ would at least be studied closer—gone are the days of using mindless inappropriate cinema as babysitters. 

Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation starts with the same point of contention I had with the first film—parents’ lying to their children. Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) blatantly lies several times to his teen daughter (a half human/ half vampire) Mavis (Selena Gomez) in the first film, and the thread continued in the third. He actually says at the beginning of the new film, “I’ve got to stop lying to my daughter.” Here’s my question, “What exactly are children learning from this plot point?” And, what is the point of the lying—is it to garner cheap laughs? Probably.

Summer Vacation begins at Count Dracula’s (Drac) ‘monsters only’ hotel that he built to shelter his daughter from humans. Here’s the story progression; Drac shields Mavis from humans as her mother was killed by a village torch mob similar to the one in the classic Dracula tales, a free-spirited backpacking teen human Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles upon the hotel, Mavis instantly falls for him or “zings” (an invented term in the Hotel Transylvania series to mean love-at-first-sight)—against her father’s wishes, they marry and have a son. 

The third film starts a few months after the second as Mavis presents the idea to her father of ‘getting away’ and going on a much-needed vacation and before you can say Bermuda Triangle, all are flying on ‘Gremlin Air’ complete with green sharp-toothed gremlins sporting bad behavior as gags. Yep, they throw luggage out the windows, spill hot coffee in passengers’ laps, and the worst offense the captain announces, “We have begun our descent, you can unbuckle your seat belts and feel free to move about the cabin.” All of these jokes fell flat in my screening, no kids or parents were laughing—I was cringing.

The whole Drac pack is back for a monster vacation as Griffin the invisible man (David Spade), Wanda (Molly Shannon) & Wayne (Steve Buscemi) the werewolves, Murray the mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), Dracula (Adam Sandler), Mavis (Selena Gomez) & Johnny (Andy Samberg), Frank (Kevin James) & Eunice (Fran Drescher), and Blobby get ready for a family voyage on a luxury monster cruise ship.

Genndy Tartakovsky directs as he did the first two unbearable Hotel Transylvania films, here he has writing credit with Michael McCullers. Aside from the ending narrative that provides compassion for monsters by emphasizing the point that all creatures have different parts, but we are all the same as a whole, and the line, “Gotta be greater than haters,” the majority of the script is bland, incongruous and senseless. Note to parents and grandparents—a few solid lines at the end of an overly problematic film are not enough to save it—especially since we’ve been drowning in mediocrity from the start.

The plot centers on a luxury ‘monster’s only’ cruise ship, a human ship’s captain Ericka Van Helsing—hmm does that name ring a bell—she’s the great-granddaughter of Professor Abraham Van Helsing MD, the vampire hunter, and archenemy of Drac from the 1897 horror novel Dracula. Ericka’s sheltered life is comparable to Mavis; she lives aboard the ship with her great-grandfather who taught her to hate monsters and to hunt and kill Drac.

From the get-go Ericka is sugary sweet to Drac, thus “zinging” occurs on Drac’s end leaving Ericka with conflicted feelings. Her main action is to kill Drac; we are subjected to flare guns, knives, and a cadre of methods—again, inappropriate in a children’s film. After Ericka’s failed attempts, the main villain of the film takes over—a technology stitched-together Abraham Van Helsing. He enlists the help of a giant, frightening sea monster who is controlled by music. 

To be vague here, we have a DJ duel, with Jonathon pitted against Van Helsing, with loud house music blaring as a prequel to the battle, amongst frenzied strobe and neon lights, devoid of any smart dialogue. In short, a mash-up scene that’s not kid friendly. To my knowledge, kids don’t seek out the genre of monotonous beats of wordless ‘house music.’ Although, to its credit, the DJ battle songs, “Good Vibrations,” “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and “Los del Rio Macarena” songs are great fun, but can’t carry the film.

The Bottom Line: Kids and parents deserve quality films—given this is the third strike—Hotel Transylvania is out.

Voice Cast: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Mel Brooks, Kathryn Hahn, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Kevin James, Chris Parnell, Molly Shannon, Asher Blinkoff, Jim Gaffigan

Director and Writer: Genny Tarakovsky, Writer: Michael McCullers 

Run Time:  1 hour 37  

Studio: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation

Sarah Knight Adamson© July 13, 2018

Posted in Film Review Podcast Archives, Hollywood 360, Movies 2018, Radio Podcasts, Reviews

Ant-Man and The Wasp (PG-13) ★★★½

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily star in “Ant-Man and The Wasp” Photo Credit: Disney Studios

New Female Superhero “The Wasp” has Equal Star Billing

Paul Rudd is back in all of his goofy glory as dad (Scott Lang) also known as Ant-Man in the follow-up to Ant-Man (2015). Here’s the good news, Evangeline Lily, (Hope van Dyne) The Wasp not only has equal movie title billing, but she also works right alongside Ant-Man in fending off evil. No, they’re not out to save the world from doom and gloom—here they work together to save a family member. The film’s core is family driven by comedy buzzing throughout; delightful when compared to the weighty themes of other Marvel films namely, The Avengers: Infinity War (2018). There’s no doubt this mostly PG film could have easily been slated as the perfect summer family-friendly popcorn munchin’ movie—although the PG-13 language that is scattered throughout is not appropriate for youngsters. All and all—an entertaining, refreshing change in the MCU (Marvel Comic Universe) as audiences were giggling and laughing out-loud from start to finish.

Paul Rudd and Abby Ryder Fortson in “Ant-Man and The Wasp” Photo Credit: Disney Studios

The film picks up two years after Ant-Man disobeyed Sokovia Accords while assisting Captain America or Cap as he’s known to his Superhero friends. Seems it wasn’t such a good idea to help out as he’s been under house arrest, spending his days creating extravagant games and adventures to play with his 10-year-old daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), all while he checks in on his security business run by the hysterical trio of Michael Peña (Luis), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris (Dave).

Returning Ant-Man director Peyton Reed, roles out the big-screen debut of “The Wasp,” for film audiences to appreciate Hope van Dyne as a fully formed Superhero. Her Mom, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been trapped for 30 years in the Quantum Realm (the minuscule space between molecules). Hope’s father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) set out to enlist the help of Scott to rescue Janet as she mind-melded with Scott and their quantum psychic connection remains. Together, the pair Ant-Man and The Wasp fight in thrilling action sequences with the backdrop of San Francisco steep hilled streets, (check out the famous zigzag Lombard Street as it makes an appearance) as well as shots of the beautiful city skyline.

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily star in “Ant-Man and The Wasp” Photo Credit: Disney Studios

Yes, it’s exhilarating to view Evangeline Lily as Hope, The Wasp, in her suit; flying and fighting her distinct way through the film. She not only becomes Ant-Man’s equal partner—we view her develop into her own central character. She keeps Scott out of trouble, by her sharp mind and take-no-prisoners attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a run on Wasp costumes for little girls around the globe—look out ‘Wonder Woman’ there’s a new role model in town. She and Rudd do play strikingly off of each other, with spot-on timing that makes for a more interesting dynamic.

Michael Peña in “Ant-Man and The Wasp” Photo Credit: Disney Studios

In recognizing great performances, another standout is Hannah John-Kamen as the shimmery Ghost, Ava Starr. Playing a villain, she’s a tormented, vengeful, angry woman whose incentives are intensely personal. She’s teamed up with Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), a disgruntled former colleague of Dr. Hank Pym. Together they create a push-pull effect of good and evil.

The real fun of Ant-man and The Wasp is due to the special effects team that showcases the ‘minimizing and maximizing’ effects that are continually creative. Image a gigantic ‘Hello Kitty’ Pez dispenser that’s as tall as a human, or choosing your car from a miniature “Hot Wheels” collection case. Before you can say, super-size, yep, the matchbox car Hyundai 2019 Veloster, complete with cool flames painted on the exterior is maximized!

The Bottom- Line: Unquestionably, the recognition of The Wasp (Evangeline Lily’s) superhero’s name in the film’s title is an intelligent choice—along with the decision to center on family. The two hours will fly by—pun intended, as the light-hearted banter is non-stop. Michael Peña’s comedic performance has earned him ‘rock star’ status as the kids in the audience were howling when he appeared on screen. Stay for the credits as you’ll see the set up for the next film.

Cast: Paul Rudd (Scott Lang / Ant-Man), Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne / Wasp), Michael Douglas (Dr. Hank Pym), Michelle Pfeiffer (Janet van Dyne), Michael Peña (Luis)

Credits: Directed by Peyton Reed. Written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Paul Rudd & Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

Run Time: 1 hour 58 mins

©Sarah Knight Adamson July 6, 2018

Posted in Film Review Podcast Archives, Hollywood 360, Movies 2018, Radio Podcasts, Reviews

Shana Feste (Director, Writer) and Lewis MacDougall (Actor) in the film “Boundaries”

Shana Feste (Writer/Director) and actor Lewis MacDougall “Boundaries” Photo Credit: Sony Classic Pictures

My interview with writer-director, Shana Feste and teen actor Lewis MacDougall was conducted via phone as I was ill with a bad cold, which was a shame as I prefer to meet talent face to face and in this case–the missed bonus of a meeting her sweet dog, Loretta. We chatted on June 14, 2018, about her semi-autobiographical film Boundaries and Lewis’s role as Henry the son and grandson.

Vera Farminga with Loretta–Shana Feste’s adorable dog. “Boundaries” Photo Credit: Sony Classic Pictures

The film stars Vera Farmiga (Laura) is a single mom living in Seattle, with her troubled teen son Henry, played by Lewis MacDougall; you see, she has an unremitting need to put others and animals before herself. Laura also has another problem—setting boundaries. Her estranged father, played by Christopher Plummer (an ex-con drug dealer) calls and asks if she and Henry will go on a road trip from Seattle to LA— as you can imagine Jack’s shenanigans are outlandish—as his alternative motive is to drop off marijuana during their journey to his old customers—while enlisting the help of Henry in the caper.

Christopher Plummer and Vera Farminga “Boundaries” Photo Credit: Sony Classic Pictures

Sarah Knight Adamson: First of all, it is so wonderful to be speaking with a female director. Congratulations on writing and directing Boundaries. I found your movie both funny and heartwarming. I know the script is semi-autobiographical. Can you tell us a little bit about your real father and the background of the script?

Christopher Plummer and Lewis MacDougall “Boundaries” Photo Credit: Sony Classic Pictures

Shana Feste: My real father, who Christopher Plummer definitely plays a version of him, was one of the most charismatic men I’ve ever met. He was hilarious and funny and wonderful and also a total lawbreaker, which is a very interesting combination. He was in and out of prison for non-violent crimes. Mostly selling marijuana, trafficking marijuana actually. He was married six times, has six kids. The movie was really my way of exploring my relationship with my father, understanding some of the kind of resentment I had, even though I was kind of ashamed that I even felt that because I loved my father so much. Read more…

Posted in Celebrity Interviews, Interview Archives, Interviews

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (R) ★★½

Benicio Del Toro Soars, Giving an Outstanding Performance in this Bleak and Dark Role

Violent anti-heroes (CIA operative) Josh Brolin and (ex-lawyer, prosecutor, hit-man) Benicio Del Toro minus the much-needed government moral compass of (FBI agent) Emily Blunt reprise their roles in the sequel to Sicario (2015). The film is problematic on several fronts; besides the omission of Blunt’s character: there’s been a director change, (Denis Villeneuve to Stefano Sollima) a cinematographer change, (Roger Deakins to Dariusz Wolski), and a composer change (the late Jóhann Johannsson to Hildur Guđnadóttir). To its credit, the screenplay writer remained—Taylor Sheridan, although here—the narrative slights developing key characters.

Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin star in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” Universal Pictures

Should you see Sicario, before viewing Sicario: Day of the Soldado? Yes, I highly recommend you do see that excellent film as you’ll have a real sense of the problem of the drug cartels that rule the human trafficking in Mexico, but more importantly the original movie creates empathy for the broken family system that is generated by the cartels and frankly, the overall system itself. Day of Soldado’s general tone is different than its predecessor, due to all of the new principal film positions, especially noticeable is the cinematography—no sweeping memorable or gorgeous landscape wide shots, however, you can sucker me in any time with those night-vision infra-red birds-eye shots as in Navy Seals (1990) or any of the related ‘operatives parachuting in at night’ scenes—I love them.

In short, the plot starts at the Texas border; we learn that ruthless drug cartel gangs control the border and that drugs are no longer the most lucrative commodity— human trafficking has replaced them. To illegaly leave Mexico, one must pay a $1000 upfront for each member of the family. For the cartels, it’s an efficient way of making more money with less risk. We also see it’s easy money on the USA side, as a dual passport carrying 14-year-old Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez, Book of Life voice 2014) is cajoled into the cartel as he’s told, “You can make what your dad makes in one year by working only one job.” Later, we see a blonde mom pulling up in an SUV with an infant in the backseat, (she’s Miguel’s ride after his job) she says to Miguel, “Where else can you make three times as much driving.”  Read more…

Posted in Film Review Podcast Archives, Hollywood 360, Movies 2018, Radio Podcasts, Reviews

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (R) ★★½ by Jessica DeLong

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” stars Benicio Del Torro and Josh Brolin. Photo Credit: Lionsgate

Sicario: Day of the Soldado – Too Soon

When Sicario came out in the fall of 2015, it was a critical and commercial success with outstanding performances and a visual flair from the filmmakers. The film, which had numerous amoral characters fighting the long and violent war on drugs along the border, had a murky finale that left the audience without closure. Although the film left unanswered questions, that choice felt intentional and it came as a surprise when a sequel was announced. Sicario: Day of the Soldado, written again by Taylor Sheridan, returns to this violent world, but this time without the moral compass that Emily Blunt’s character represented. Perhaps even more notable, is the loss of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer, Roger Deakins, whose collaborations garner Oscar attention on a regular basis. Without the heart and soul of the first film, the sequel, which still holds strong performances and action sequences, lacks the artistry and narrative that makes the violent material worth the investment.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado, begins with a familiar setting from the previous film –migrants at the U.S. / Mexico border, scrambling to cross into America in the middle of the night. As cars and helicopters from border patrol close in on the group, one person sprints from the pack only to detonate a bomb and kill himself instead of being captured. The action then cuts to a crowded department store in Kansas City, where four men, clad in all-black, walk in and each detonate bombs killing themselves and many innocent lives. In response to these vicious attacks, the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine, 47 Meters Down, 2017) declares that the U.S. Government is going to hunt these terrorists down with the full might of the U.S. armed forces.  Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (PG-13) ★★★

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Photo Credit: Universal Studios

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The Dinosaurs Have Left the Island…They Could Now Be in Your Homes

If you’re expecting to hear the word “run” and view people with horrified (panic-stricken) expressions on their faces while desperately fleeing hungry meat-eating dinosaurs, then Fallen Kingdom won’t disappoint. If you’re also hoping for some nostalgic nods to the past films, you’ll be pleased. And—if you’re looking for a playful romance between Owen (Chris Pratt), the raptor wrangler and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the protector of dinosaurs, then—you got it. Fallen Kingdom offers all of this with the addition of a new ten-foot tall, twenty-three-foot long hybrid predator dinosaur named Indoraptor.

It’s the fifth installment of the Jurassic film series, beginning in 1993 with Jurassic Park, the sci-fi tale of attempts to create a theme park based on cloned dinosaurs. It all started in 1990 when Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment bought the rights of the book Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton before it was even published. I actually remember one of my former fifth-grade gifted students reading the adult book in a few days, as I did—and plenty more of Crichton’s sci-fi novels. The original film was groundbreaking in that it was the first time that dinosaurs were technically created to appear real on screen. A thrilling moment for movie-making and cinema fans as well. I’ll never forget that moment. So how does a franchise continue the “awe and wonder” of that lovely Brachiosaurus chewing tree-top leaves and the dread of being chased by a T-Rex while driving a cool Jeep?

One strategy in continuing the franchise is to jog memories of the first film, when Claire says to Owen, “Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur? First time you see them, it’s like… a miracle. You read about them in books, you see the bones in museums, but you don’t really… believe it. They’re like myths. And then you see… the first one alive.” Yup, that scene places memories of the first film in your head—it’s a brilliant tactic to relive that exact personal memory as fans melt in nostalgia. Read more…

Posted in Film Review Podcast Archives, Hollywood 360, Movies 2018, Radio Podcasts, Reviews

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