13 July 2018

Hotel Transylvania 3 and Skyscraper

July is a surprisingly lax month as far as movies go. Maybe Hollywood is learned from the bloat of a few years ago where solid films like Jason Bourne (2016) and Star Trek Beyond (2016) were totally ignored because they all ran into each other. Can you believe Star Trek Beyond was only two years ago? How did that happen? I was literally think it was 2014 or something before I looked it up. That's disturbing and probably needs its own post about how easily we can turn on a franchise and ignore good work they do. That movie did have a lot of problems, but...okay, I'm getting really distracted by an offhand remark.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018). Alright, so I'm going to be pretty bold here and make the claim that the Hotel Transylvania movies are totally underrated. It is a sincerely weird amalgamation of Adam Sandler and his buddies making childrens' monster films for some reason, but under the guidance of Genndy Tartakovsky, whose animation style guided my entire childhood through Dexter's Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: Clone Wars (not the lack of the definite article - The Clone Wars is the CGI show. Moving on...). All this mixes together for a really irreverent and fun animation style. It is a little obnoxious in that soulless Dreamworks pop-culture spouting kind of way instead of that sweet, timeless Pixar kind of way, but it's also SONY Animation, which is its own animal.

I actually really dig the SONY Computer animation films because they aren't afraid to actually be cartoons. Pixar tends to ground its films - they are exciting, funny, and certainly wondrous in ways that only animation can do, but they're hardly ever slapstick. There isn't much Looney Tunes heritage there. No piano drops or flexible reality. Even Dreamworks tend to sly away from this kind of tone. SONY for some reason does that really well, and everyone tends to ignore it. I suppose that's why more profitable studios steer away - either no one but me actually cares or no one else even enjoys it. Or notices.

This blog has been leaning pretty hard into some Adam Sandler love, too, and if you look at my latest movies watched...it's a lot of Sandler lately. And we all seem to constantly forget the fact that Sandler is capable of phenomenal voice work. This includes Sandler himself - he doesn't do nearly enough legitimate vocal work or songs. It's another reason why his personal interests always seem so selfish and frustrating. His Dracula, though is spot on and brilliant, and for some reason, Tartakovsky also animates him exactly as a young Adam Sandler-as-Count Dracula would look like.

Having said all that, I mean, yeah, the plots for all these films are ridiculously thin, the jokes are really easy and obvious, and there's not a tremendous amount of thematic depth anywhere. They are kids films but unlike Pixar, kids films that are tough for adults to get into. They're explicitly juvenile. On some level that should be fine - kids can enjoy them for their own merit, but I think the greater critical and Internet cultural community has ignored them. And to be fair, while I am a big fan of all their technical work - animation, direction, and vocals, literally everything else is awful, which makes them tough to slog through.

I mean, Summer Vacation looks really bad. On its face it's a total cash grab. And we're not even starved for kids animation hits - Incredibles 2 (2018) just passed the $500 million mark. It's amazing that that film, with 14 years in between installments has built up a fan base far surpassing anything Hotel Transylvania (2012) could hope to do. Amazing when you make a well-structured, four-quadrant film, with heart and hope, it can actually connect with people and build goodwill year after year. THAT'S when you drop the cash-grab sequel, SONY. Get it together.

So yeah, I don't see Summer Vacation making much of a splash commercially or culturally, and surely not critically. Still, it'll do okay, lest we forget that Hotel Transylvania was the highest grossing September release for five straight years until surpassed by IT (2017) last fall. This of course doesn't compare to Sweet Home Alabama (2002), which held the September record for ten years before that. That's right. Come to Norwegian Morning Wood to learn all about obscure Box Office Record history. Still, this is July, not September. Summer Vacation won't be nearly as notable.

Next we have Skyscraper (2018). Props to the Rock for trying to launch all these franchises, and between this, Rampage (2018), Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), and the upcoming Hobbs & Shaw (2019), his action hero status is pretty secure. As if it wasn't already. I am more concerned, however, about the opposite. Is Dwayne diluting his brand by appearing in a major original (or semi-original) action franchise every three months? I don't know a single soul excited about Skyscraper. In fact, I barely know what it's about.

It's basically like San Andreas (2015), right? Just the Rock like, fighting buildings falling down? I should go watch the trailer. Here, I'll post it because you haven't seen it, either:

It all feels kind of generic, right? "Courage has no limits" could be the tagline for literally every movie ever. Except maybe A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012). Cool that the building is really tall and on fire and Johnson's got a cripple leg - that actually brings the Rock down from god status quite a bit, although it doesn't seem to impair him like....at all.

My deeper impression of this film is that it doesn't quite know what it wants to be. The premise seems outrageous - a vertical city under attack by Terrorists, or maybe an inside job, or whatever. This could easily get into Snowpiercer (2013) territory where reality is thrown out the window in favor of exploring some wacky themes that still end with some potent bite. Skyscraper, though, also seems impeccably earnest. I talked about this a little bit when watching Blood Fest (2018) - the impossibility of telling a straight story these days. It should be possible, I think sincerity is slowly coming back and there does seem to be an increasing movement away from cynicism, irony, and sarcasm into more genuine moments, everywhere from comedy to major motion pictures, but that also seems to be playing out in different parts of the country.

See, I see this failing on the East Coast. We're still very much a jaded and eye-rolling bunch. I can, however, see this succeeded in more rural or Southern parts of the country that would like to just sit down and watch a movie where good guys fight bad guys in a big burning tower. It's an easy concept to wrap your head around. I think it's too simple and undeveloped for more experienced (some would say arrogant) movie-goers. Maybe this isn't the right judgment call, but that's the vibe I get. I'd be curious what ya'll think. Am I way off base?

Anyway, I can see this being as significant as we remember Rampage three months on. Do we? It should do fine - there's no real competition around it besides Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) and for the record, yeah - that's what I mean when I talk about movies that can't take their premises seriously. That isn't doing crushing numbers, though, so it ought to do fine, if it can bring in any seats at all.

What do you think? What are you watching? There's actually a lot to digest this week. Is it okay to have child-like fun with whimsical monster-based slapstick? Or to truly invest in a straight action film? These are genuine moments, movies for their own sake. One could say a momentous weekend, in fact. What say you?

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