HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA: A MONSTER VACATION *** (97 minutes) PG
For their third outing into the ever-lucrative land of the animation franchise – a quick reminder here that animation is the biggest movie genre going – hotel manager Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler), his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), her husband Johnny (Andy Samberg), their kids and the rest of the hotel’s staff follow the tried-and-true franchise tradition by going on holidays.
Thankfully, this colorful, enjoyable lark is not a case of diminishing returns for this energetic troupe, the shift of scenery offering plenty of opportunities for the brand’s signature style of animated slapstick. The characters all retain their wonderful elasticity, a quality of traditional animation often lost in digital cartooning.
This adventure takes Dracula and the team on an eventful cruise through the mysterious, vessel-swallowing Bermuda Triangle as Drac, ever the hard-working single dad, falls for the sexy, sweet-faced ship’s captain Erika (Kathryn Hahn). She happens to be the great grand daughter of Van Helsing (Jimmy Gaffigan), who has recruited her in his life-long mission to end Drac’s reign.
Music plays a bigger part than usual this time around and the nether-worldly locales offer up some wonderfully surreal visions. Especially delightful is the cruise ship itself, a giant sea monster, a Las Vegas-themed Atlantis and a stack of sunken battleships.
Direction by Genndy Tartakovsky, who did the first two (plus the TV series Star Wars: Clone Wars), is brisk and zippy, his focus very much on pleasing fans, who will love it.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP **** (118 minutes) PG
There’s a truly marvelous serving of quality action-comedy from Marvel on offer here as rogue scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) invents a machine that will allow travel back into the very tiny quantum realm where he lost his lovely wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) many years earlier.
With Paul Rudd donning a wonderfully glitchy Ant-man miniaturisation suit and accompanied now by the winged, visually pleasing Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), the stakes now involve the prospect that Janet is still alive as suggested by the strange messages from another dimension that begin coming via Ant-man.
Co-ordinating with Pym and Wasp (Pym’s daughter) he goes into action, but not without huge personal risk.
His participation in the super-charged melee in Captain America: Civil War has him under house arrest and wearing an ankle bracelet that will tell the police if he leaves home. Also, he is trying hard to be a good divorced father to his daughter, who only visits on weekends. So how can he go out for a mega-dose of expensive comic-book adventure if he can’t step beyond his front door?
The answer is a doozy, and underlies the unusual amount of comic imagination that went into this lark.
Word of the quantum shrinking machine and its obvious power quickly gets around, setting Pym’s old rival Laurence Fishburne (Matrix) and Walton Goggins (Django Unchained; Hateful Eight) into villainous action to try and forcibly acquire the gizmo.
Those who enjoyed the cheek of Thor: Ragnarok are going to love the Antman sequel which, unlike the drab Deadpool follow-up, is actually better than its predecessor, largely because of a gimmick foreshadowed in Civil War.
Thanks to the imperfections in his new suit, it turns out that “Ant-man” is a bit of a misnomer. A more accurate moniker would be Size-Shifting Man, as he can now both shrink down to insect size or suddenly swell up to giant height.
Lots of things suddenly change shape in this fabulously fun film, again directed by Peyton Reed, who produces a superb and truly unique chase sequence where the suddenly elastic laws of physics come into play.
It will certainly please those who have long complained that movie car chases all look the same and serves as the cherry on a hugely enjoyable action offering that happily comes as one of the better efforts from Marvel’s infamously erratic output.
ADRIFT *** (96 minutes) M
While crossing the Pacific on a luxury sailing yacht with her new-found partner, Tami (Shailene Woodley), an adventurous young woman, faces an especially nasty tempest that takes away her mast, her sense of direction and ultimately, it seems, much of her sanity.
It’s bad timing for her, the poor girl. Searching for faraway adventures and the exquisite thrill of random encounters with interesting strangers, she’s on one of those Shirley Valentine/Eat Pray Love-type voyages of self-discovery, only here there’s the added prospect of a horrible death, namely by being swallowed up by a swelling ocean.
Set in 1983 and based on a real story, this is a fine, tense survival adventure story, with Woodley (a producer on the film) again showing her range as Tami overcomes desperation with grit and resourcefulness.
Though not quite in the same league, the film does draw comparisons with with the brilliant Robert Redford film All Is Lost, particularly when dealing with the psychological toll weeks of isolation can bring. Remarkably, both films feature very similar scenes depicting vivid hallucinations involving the prospect of rescue.
Most of all, Adrift mounts a timely, quiet, stirring statement about our place in the environment, which is at once beautiful, terrifying and utterly indifferent to us, whether we are in the comfort of a population centre or alone amidst its vastness. As with All is Lost, the horizon-split cinematography really makes you feel what it is like to be alone against the elements.
SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO *** (122 minutes) MA
Things aren’t getting any easier down at the US-Mexican border in this fine, gritty, dead-serious sequel to 2015’s excellent Sicario. With Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro reprising their gruff roles as US black ops agent Matt Graver and Mexican professonal killer Alejandro Gillick respectively, the timely premise involves drug cartels smuggling Islamic terrorists into the US.
To Graver’s delight, this allows the US to consider drug cartels as terrorist groups, which legally unshackles the measures that can be taken against them.
With Matthew Modine’s Secretary of Defense giving voice to American mainstream anger at terrorist acts – the one depicted here is one of the most heart-stopping yet put on film – a plot is borne out of a cost-efficient metric: rather than go directly to war with the cartels, ignite a war between them by kidnapping a druglord’s daughter and making it look like it was the work of their rivals. Then just sit back and watch them kill each other.
Director Stefano Sollima has wisely kept the tone, pace and style set by Denis Villeneuve, with the main cast, including Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice), stepping back into their roles with ease. (Alas, there’s no Emily Blunt in this one, unfortunately, though that’s due to screenwriter Taylor Sheridan deciding the character did not have a place in a follow-up film.)
The atmosphere throughout is heavy and tense, and the action is staged with Bourne-like brutality and veracity, with one single-shot scene qualifying as a work of action-movie art.
Politically, the film is a hot potato. It draws parallels with Phillip Noyce’s 1994 film Clear and Present Danger in bluntly stating how playing dirty is sometimes necessary when fighting criminal organisations that observe no rules at all.
In terms of the current border mess, the film makes no case against policing the border with an iron fist, so anti-Trumpers be warned.
And yet the film is also at pains to demonstrate the high cost of such warfare, how even the best laid plans of diehard patriots with bulletproof dedication and conviction can go awry without warning, and from quarters never perceived as a threat.