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.

BlacKkKlansman (R) ★★★★

Adam Driver stars as Flip Zimmerman and John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKLansman, a Focus Features release. Credit: David Lee / Focus Features

Spike Lee’s film is one of the years best; Ron Stallworth’s memoir is retold with passion and admiration—aptly Lee’s finale reminds us of our current gut-wrenching racial tensions. Be prepared for a history lesson of shock and awe—it’s about time the true story of bigotry is brought to the forefront. Yes, Spike Lee is angry, as we all should be. Through raw video footage, we learn of the atrocities of the ‘hate group’ the ‘Ku Klux Klan’ toward black Americans, Jews, and immigrants—this is not what most of us were taught in history class. Fortunately, Ron Stallworth a black undercover police detective in 1978 had the foresight and courage to save all of his memorabilia from his days as a member of the KKK—yes, he has his official Ku Klux Klan membership card as proof.

John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, a Focus Features release.Credit: David Lee / Focus Features

Stallworth, was also the first black police officer in Colorado Springs (1978), this intelligent, highly motivated young man assumed responsibility for his own advancement within the force. As a rookie, he asked his commanding officer for a transfer to detective work. Once a detective, in scanning the daily newspaper for potential illegal activities he spots a recruitment ad seeking members to join the Ku Klux Klan. He contacts the Klan by phone, all while pretending to be a white racist extremist, and shortly after that, he’s asked to become a member.

In the film, John David Washington, Denzel’s son plays a convincing Ron. A terrific Adam Driver plays his white colleague Zimmerman, who handles Ron’s in-person appearances. As outrageous as this sounds, Ron Stallworth’s book, “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime,” is based on his nine-month KKK investigation and his numerous calls with David Duke the Grand Wizard of the group.

Shortly after publication in 2014, Hollywood began calling with offers to bring Stallworth’s book to the screen. He patiently waited until his story was in the right hands. QC Entertainment acquired the rights to the book, and following a successful partnership on the film “Get Out,” Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw joined QC’s Sean McKittrick and Ray Mansfield to produce the film. They all agreed on one person to bring the personal story to the big screen—Spike Lee.

Myself, having read Stallworth’s incredible and historical book; can say it’s the cornerstone of the film as Lee follows it reasonably close. Although as with all Spike Lee films we are given his signature touch—a much broader and more profound (in your face) sense of the state of affairs. The real-life investigation took place in 1978, Lee and his trio of screenplay writers’ focus on the early 1970s, only two years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the then active Black Panther group.

The real Ron Stallworth at age twenty-two (1975). From the book “Black Klansman” by Stallworth. Photo Credit: Flatiron Books New York.

To say that the film is a masterpiece of the culmination of Lee’s life’s work, is not too far from the truth, here through his genius comedic skill he toggles harsh realities with humor. Moreover, via his keen directing skills, garners stellar performances from Washington, Driver, and Topher Grace as David Duke along with a tremendous Laura Harrier (Patrice Dumas), as a college advocate for Black Power. Lee presents the parallel uprise of the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Power movement. We are also privy to ‘groovy fashions’ and ‘far out’ dance moves.

John David Washington and Laura Harrier. Photo: David Lee/Focus Features

Opening with an aerial shot of Vivien Leigh (Scarlet O’Hara) surrounded by dead and wounded soldiers in a scene from “Gone with the Wind” (1939) near the end of the Civil War around 1865. Next, we view black and white news clips of segregation with Alec Baldwin a fictitious (Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard) narrating his disgust of mixing white Americans with black Americans. Lastly just before we meet Ron Stallworth, racist scenes from “Birth of a Nation” (1915) are shown. Lee’s simply, setting the tone for the abhorrent racial slurs that are forthcoming in the film—be prepared this is an uncomfortable film to view, although it’s importance can not be stressed enough in shedding light on racism and conceivably gaining empathy for the atrocities people have been forced to endure.

The casting of John David Washington as Ron is perfect; he’s quick-witted, charming and aggressive when he needs to be. Washington’s a former college American football running back, at the age of nine he appeared in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” (1992) as a student in a Harlem classroom, his father played the leading role, since 2015 he’s appeared in the HBO’s “Ballers” as Ricky Jerret. There’s something about his charismatic personality. Whether he’s rolling his eyes as he chats with David Duke, pressing Flip Zimmerman to become more committed to the cause or his boyish ways when pursuing his girlfriend president of the Black Student Union at Colorado College, and the host to Black Panther Party leader Stokely Carmichael (who had just adopted the name of Kwame Ture).

Spike Lee and Adam Driver on the set of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, a Focus Features release.Credit: David Lee / Focus Features

Adam Driver’s performance as the white Ron in reality is the more dangerous role as he’s Jewish born (although nonpracticing) yet he’s subjected to constant suspicion by the Klan. In a tense scene, he’s locked in the basement with a lunatic Klan member who at gunpoint forces him to take a lie-detector test. On a side note: In Stallworth’s book Flip Zimmerman, is known as Chuck, with no last name. The detective wants complete anonymity—wanting no part of the book or the film. 

Lee keeps us on the edge of our seats when the Klan is present; you never know what one of them is going to say or worse yet, what they might do. Depicted as unorganized, unpredictable, and uneducated losers who ‘get off’ on the comradery of hate. During a viewing of the film “Birth of a Nation” which is often viewed by Klan members, they whop and holler whipping themselves into a frenzy—scary stuff. The KKK handshake is ‘outed’ as in the book, along with the stupidity of their leader David Duke, who brags to Ron that he can tell the difference between a black man and white one by the way a black man pronounces certain words.

There’s so much more to this film that will surprise you that’s best kept quiet for now. I urge you to see the film on the big screen with an audience, believe me; you’ll feel a range of emotions.

“BlacKkKlansman” is one of those films that I’ll be viewing again; it’s that excellent and that memorable. The ending live newsreel scenes of 2017 leave a powerful message, nothing can prepare you for the experience, sit back while you’re immersed in real-life videos of today, and perhaps you’ll be moved enough to support the change or better yet, be the change.

Cast: John David Washington (Ron Stallworth), Adam Driver (Flip Zimmerman), Laura Harrier (Patrice Dumas), Topher Grace (David Duke), Robert John Burke (Chief Bridges), Alec Baldwin(Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard)

Director: Spike Lee 

Writer: (based on the memoir by) Ron Stallworth,  “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime”

Screenwriters:Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott

Crew: Cinematographer Chayse Irvin, Editor
Barry Alexander Brown, Composer Terence Blanchard

Run Time: 2 Hours 15 Minutes

Sarah Knight Adamson© August 10, 2018


Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Christopher Robin (G) ★★★

Disney Studios (2018)

A Visit With Warm Fuzzy Friends in the Enchanting Forrest

Oh bother, as Winnie the Pooh would say; this is not the live action over-the-top film kids and adults may expect; however, it is true to the laid-back nature of the books.

If you’re looking for a ‘bear hug of a movie’ Winnie the Pooh and his enchanting forest friends will not disappoint. Full of heart—garnering a perfect family message—spend quality time together, by just being together. Forget those extravagant hour-by-hour family itineraries—take a walk in the countryside, have a picnic, throw sticks in a pond and call it a day. We can all learn from a lovable bear’s unassuming logic—be with the people you love, go on adventures and help each other along the way.

Bringing you up to speed, Christopher Robin a young British boy and his beloved stuffed bear, Winnie the Pooh first appeared in a collection of verses written by author A.A. Milne in a book entitled “When We Were Very Young” in 1924. The follow up were books and newspaper articles filled with stories of the imaginary adventures of a happy-go-lucky boy, Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, his honey-loving bear, along with the rest of his stuffed animal collection of Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, and Roo; Owl and Rabbit were written in as make-believe forest friends in later books. The setting for the books is the fictitious Hundred Acre Wood based on Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England where the Milne family lived. Embraced by readers of all ages around the world the beloved books along with their signature illustrations by E. H. Shepard are undeniably the most popular children’s books of all time.

The film begins with drawings of the beautiful artwork of the books continuing in sequence until a young Christopher Robin’s last days at home before he’s off to boarding school. We view Winnie the Pooh and the gang in a delightful, lively scene around a table in the woods drinking tea, and eating cake during the send-off party, each displaying their distinct personalities. Owl and Rabbit argue proclaiming their discernment, and Piglet’s the worrywart, Tigger’s a bouncy livewire, Eeyore’s gloomy and insecure, Kanga is motherly to her sweet son Roo, while Pooh’s dipping into the honey pot.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover and certainly in this case you shouldn’t judge a movie by its trailer. Seeing only a ‘glimpse’ of the live action magical stuffed animals does not do justice to their personalities. Each is impressively realistic in the film, their gestures, actions, and specifically, their speaking is literally jaw-dropping. Jim Cummings provides the familiar and comforting voice of Pooh we’ve seen in Disney videos, movies and promotions for the last 30 years. He’s a standout in the film as he also voices gloomy Eeyore.

Boasting the strong writing team of Alex Ross Perry “Listen Up Philip,” Tom McCarthy ‘Spotlight” and Allison Schroeder “Hidden Figures,” with acclaimed director Marc Forester of “Finding Neverland,” “The Kite Runner,” and “Quantum of Solace”— we’re the benefactors of a lovely,  ‘sweet as honey’ relatable and timeless cautionary tale. My point of contention is the two hour run time, much too long for children.

In rapid succession, we view Christopher Robin’s life advancing until settling on his current high-pressure business job in London. A fantastic Ewan McGregor stars as Christopher Robin, a disillusioned workaholic—his wife a very worried Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and his bright, yet neglected nine-year-old daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) all live in London. Yep, it appears that Mr. Robin has lost his smile, laughter, and sense of wonder. Evelyn and Madeline both view him as stressed out and distant.

Pooh, has lost his friends and by searching for them he ends up in a park in London, he has a cute-meet with Christopher Robin on a park bench. Let the constant questioning begin! It’s clear from the get-go that Pooh has a one-track mind, he has missed his friend and wants to help. He senses the discontent, and like a broken record continues his message until Christopher Robin loses his temper.

Considering the natural forest setting of the books, the simple stories of day-to-day play, the message of kindness and goodwill—the film shifts quickly to the forest, immersing us into that innocent, childlike world of furry friends.  Ultimately, the books are for children, yet their messages are for all. And that is precisely why Winnie the Pooh and his friends are so popular. Who doesn’t need a good old bear hug now and then? In one of the sweetest scenes in the film, Pooh and Christopher Robin are merely sitting on a log hugging each other. Yes, they got this one right.

Voices: Pooh and Eeyore (Jim Cummings), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Tigger (Cummings, again) and Owl (Toby Jones).

Studio: Disney

Run Time: 2 hours

* Author’s note: I visited Pooh Corner in East Sussex, England in September of 2017 by taking a train from London to Hartfield and then a taxi to Ashdown Forrest. There’s a delightful tearoom with an outside dining area and a shop filled with Winnie the Pooh memorabilia. Julie Ashby and her sister run the shop, and they gave me a map of the woods. I talked with them, and they did tell me that, as a child, Christopher Robin came into the shop with his nanny for sweets. Unfortunately, the woods were muddy that day, but I intend to go back in September to see Pooh Bridge and play “Pooh Sticks.” Stay tuned!

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

Mission Impossible: Fallout (PG-13) ★★★★

Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt in “Mission Impossible: Fallout” Photo Credit: Paramount Studios

Be Prepared For An Intense Adrenaline Filled Ride

The “Mission Impossible” film series launched in 1996 produced by and starring Tom Cruise at age 33 brought Cruise’s action skills to the forefront. In “Fallout,” 2018, the sixth film in the series, Cruise now age 56, continues to astound as an action hero. Age has its advantage here—as you can’t help but commend his perseverance in continuing to not only perform most of his own stunts, (at his age), but he continues to ‘raise the action bar’—regardless of your feelings toward Cruise as an individual his astonishing action skills can’t be ignored.

Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt in “Mission Impossible: Fallout” Photo Credit: Paramount Studios

Cruise has also made some smart choices in casting by continuing with screenwriter and director Christopher McQuarrie, of the prior film “Rogue Nation,” as well as expanding the female roles by adding more characters. Actress Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), a former MI6 agent who has her own agenda at times shares the lead with Cruise. Bringing back (Michelle Monaghan) Ethan Hunt’s wife and resolving that storyline; gives us Ethan’s soft side, while visually showing us he’s human.
Another brilliant move is the addition of Angela Bassett (Erika Sloane), as the tough as nails CIA Director as she brings a different type of attitude to the character; she is ultra strong in her position with no hesitation in questioning the MIF on their motives and actions. Both female characters Erika Sloane and Ilsa Faust are timely in leveling the action genre playing field by providing intelligent, powerful and strong women roles—I applaud this move.

To be frank, adding Jeremy Renner as a side-kick in the prior films was a good move in sharing Cruise’s spotlight, however; “Fallout’s” character changes are decisively a greater mix. Casting a bearded Henry Cavill a CIA Operative Assassin (August Walker) best known as (Superman/Clark Kent 2013, 2016, 2017) ultimately provides a deeper appreciation for Ethan Hunt also works well.

Aside from the character changes, the visual effects and stunt work is another reason the film is such a standout. I’ve learned a new acronym HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) referring to helicopter jumping— special military operatives have used it in order to go as secretly as possible into an area. In “Fallout” Tom Cruise completed over 100 HALO jumps to get the right sequence. The stunts are reminiscent of the “Fast and Furious” series at times particularly with the ‘Tokyo drifting’ car chases, and has the nonstop intense action feel of “Mad Max.” It distinctly retains its own identity with it’s star, (Cruise), Ethan Hunt’s hyper speed running, motorcycle stunts and HALO jumps.

Most have seen the trailer of the battling helicopters; I can honestly say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet, as the conclusion of that scene alone is worth the price of admission.” Another thrilling adrenaline scene is the rooftop building jumps as in a Mario Bros. video game. Similar in concept, except MIF team partner Benji Dunn (Simon Peg) controls Hunt’s moves via remote communication, as to the direction; right or left turns, leaping straight on from one building to another building or jumping down a few stories. The result creates hysterical banter between the pair all while the audience is clinching deeper into their armrests with intermittent sighs of relief as the moves land.

The plot centers on a group called the Apostles with the goal to create chaos employing suffering and death. It appears they’ve been scheming with an insider named John Lark to obtain plutonium to create three dirty bombs. Hunt’s boss Alan Hundley (Alec Baldwin) sends him to Paris to locate John Lark before he’s able to buy the plutonium. He’s also given an unwanted sidekick, August Walker. Here’s where the action starts to ante up, with motorcycle chases, Hunt running full speed, building leaps and plenty of martial arts hand to hand combat fighting.

After Paris, the film shifts to London, with the finale in Kashmir Valley in India at the base of the Himalayan Mountains. The ending has three different storylines running simultaneously with razor-sharp precision, all nail-biting till the end. The last 45 minutes contain some of the best action sequences to date. They are thrilling, intense and entertaining.

It also appears that filmmakers have a message they’d like you to take away from the film. Here’s a line from the narrative regarding Ethan Hunt, “We need people like you that care about the life of just one as they do millions.” I sense Hunt being called a hero without specifically saying the word; another character said to Hunt, “I sleep soundly at night knowing you’re here.” My take away—I appreciated the addition of the strong female roles, the exhilarating action scenes along with the film’s implication—that all lives matter.

Sarah Knight Adamson®July 27, 2018

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

Interview with Marc Turtletaub Director of Puzzle

Director Marc Turtletaub and Sarah Knight Adamson after the screening of “Puzzle” at the Music Box Theater’ during the Chicago Film Critics Festival, May 14, 2018.

MARC TURTLETAUB on PUZZLE, Kelly Macdonald and Women’s Roles — Sarah Knight Adamson interviews                                                        

As producer, Marc Turtletaub has been investing cash and cred in femme-centric feature films since 2004, standing behind award-winning films such as Little Miss Sunshine with Toni Collette and Abigail Breslin, and Loving with Ruth Negga among others. Sitting in the director’s chair for this year’s Puzzle, he’s brought to life a most memorable female character named Agnes, a doting albeit repressed housewife and mother who finds her sense of adventure, self-esteem and new meaning in life when she casually enters the realm of competitive jigsaw puzzling. As with Turtletaub’s other cinematic credits, a great measure of Puzzle’s success rests with the film’s leading lady, Kelly Macdonald, whose complex and nuanced performance as Agnes is funny and heartbreaking and entirely relatable. Here’s what he had to say in a chat with AWFJ’s Sarah Knight Adamson after the Chicago Film Critic’s Festival’s May 14 screening of the film at the Music Box Theater.

SARAH KNIGHT ADAMSON: The audience at tonight’s screening reacted very warmly to Puzzle. That must be very gratifying. What do you like best about attending screenings of your films?

MARC TURTLETAUB: You never know how an audience is going to respond. One of the wonderful things about showing a film in front of a live audience, is, just as we had tonight, you feel the dynamic of an audience laughing. You could just feel the response as people are in a room together. You just don’t get that in your living room. We had that same experience at our premier at Sundance, it was as great a night as tonight.

ADAMSON: You’re often associated with films that have strong female leads, as does Puzzle. Let’s talk about your star, Kelly Macdonald. She is one of my favorite actresses. She’s so multidimensional in her ability to do comedy and drama, which she blends so beautifully as Agnes. Can you speak a bit about working with her?

TURTLETAUB: Yes, she’s brilliant. She gets herself completely lost in a role. She’s wonderful in everything she does.

ADAMSON: Yes, exactly. She’s so unobtrusive about her acting career. When asked about her role in Puzzle she’s quoted as saying; “Just to get the script where I’m actually the star is quite something.” It’s refreshing that she has such modesty about her tremendous talent.

Please continue reading at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists website:

Posted in Celebrity Interviews, Film Festivals, Interview Archives, Interviews

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (PG-13) ★★★½

Sun-Kissed, Light And Breezy Mamma Mia, How Could We Ever Forget You?

Opening the musical Mamma Mia 2 in the middle of an unseasonably sweltering, summer, is brilliant marketing—especially if your vacation plans are late August as you’ll be transported to a gorgeous fresh sea-breeze, sun-kissed, blue-hued vacation paradise— Kalokairi in the Greek Isles. In Mamma Mia (2008) Meryl Streep plays the older version of Donna, whose daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is grown up and married—sadly in the sequel, Donna has passed away. Although no worries here, Streep does make an appearance near the end of the movie for a poignant musical number with Seyfried that may bring a tear or two; she’s also in the finale. Effectively, this light and airy film is both a prequel and a sequel.

(L to R) Young Tanya (JESSICA KEENAN WYNN), Young Donna (LILY JAMES) and Young Rosie (ALEXA DAVIES) in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” Ten years after “Mamma Mia! The Movie,” you are invited to return to the magical Greek island of Kalokairi in an all-new original musical based on the songs of ABBA.

Offering mega ABBA themed songs and dance production numbers with the addition of new catchy tunes, the highlight is the dynamic new lead—Lily James, the talented Cinderella (2015) star has exchanged her glass slippers for platform knee-high boots while brightening the screen with her infectious carefree energy. James plays Donna as she’s graduating from Oxford College in 1979 at the beginning of the film; with her girlfriends, Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies) who in the future are the singing trio “Donna and the Dynamos.” Also, we view her short-lived romances with Sophie’s three fathers, Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan), and Sam (Jeremy Irvine).

Lily James (Sophie) “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” Universal Pictures.

English director Oliver “Ol” Parker whom shares screenwriting credit had one objective—to create a sequel grander than the original, in a brilliant move he wrote the part of Donna’s grandmother (Ruby Sheridan) with Cher in mind—And truthfully, if anyone can ‘raise the bar’ in a musical—it’s the one and only showstopper—the legendary Cher. Her entrance is thrilling, the singing of the ballad “Fernando” alongside Andy Garcia (Señor Cienfuegos) who shares a past romance with Ruby, is spine-tingling.

Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper and Cher star in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

The message is clear; focusing on family bonds brings joyfulness all while following your heart—with strong undercurrents of feminine strength, passion, and love. Tugging at all the heartstrings, the film delicately balances emotions while belting out entertaining songs and toe-tapping choreography.

In showcasing the wardrobe, costume designer Michele Clapton, known best for Game of Thrones and The Crown provides a glittery banquet feast to behold; she has worked her magic with the costumes. Check out the details of the accessories from suede fringed 70s purses to colorful silk sashes and the shiny gold platform heeled knee-boots. All of Cher’s costuming was a collaborative effort with the icon herself—stunning is the word that comes to mind in describing her wardrobe. As in Oceans 8, (2018) the clothes indeed are worth the price of admission—each costume is unique to each character capturing their individual personas to a tee.

Swaying back and forth between the late 70s and current times the film flows beautifully, the transitions are natural—developing the story with just the right amount of time devoted to each period yielding a gradual approach. The “Waterloo” song and dance French restaurant scene and costuming are spectacular as that scene is with young Harry and Sophie. Fast forward to Harry (Pierce Bronson) as dad singing “SOS” in the future—yet I found the song choice odd as he needed major SOS help in the last film as his singing was off-key, many critics brutally moaned. His singing here is confident, and on-key—a deliberate move as Bronson clearly redeems himself.

Undoubtedly the most challenging scene was the “Dancing Queen” choreography in which over 150, mostly fishers in boats came sailing in dancing and singing to the grand re-opening of the Hotel Bella Donna. It’s reminiscent of the ambitious LA freeway song and dance car scene in La La Land (2016) to the tune “Another Day of Sun.” The celebration of pure joy and the capacity to display grief with the juxtaposition between them creates bonding with not only the audience but between characters. No wonder my audience clapped, sang and shed a few tears.

* Film Notes

*  It’s been ten years since the sequel, the film takes place only five years later.

*  The name Kalokairi is a fictitious name in the Mamma Mia series.

*  Cast members from prior play productions were asked to take part in the “Dancing Queen” scene.

Sarah Knight Adamson©July 20, 2018


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

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

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