Movie Guru: ‘Hotel Transylvania’ and ‘The 355’
‘Hotel Transylvania’ gets two and a half stars, ‘The 355’ gets two stars
‘Hotel Transylvania: Transformania’ (Amazon Prime)
It’s important to remember what you’re good at.
For the “Hotel Transylvania” series of films, that means goofy, well-animated fun with a big, family-focused heart. Though they forgot about that second part in the last movie, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” takes care of that. It’s just as silly as earlier installments of the series, with the same eye-catching animation, but it brings back a heavier emphasis on family relationships. The heart is back in this hotel full of monsters.
This time, the main focus is on growing the bond between the long-suffering Dracula and his tolerated but under-appreciated son-in-law Johnny. As is traditional for “Hotel Transylvania,” this happens through appropriately screwball circumstances, involving a ray gun, a mysterious crystal and a series of unintended transformations. The results are suitably ridiculous for the series, with Dracula playing up all the fragile human comedy and Johnny embracing his new monster features.
After a somewhat contrived beginning, it also becomes surprisingly sweet. Throughout the series, Dracula has remained somewhat resistant to Johnny’s zaniness. Here, though, the circumstances give him a new perspective on Johnny, and he actually uses the experience to grow. If you like the series at all, it’s surprisingly heartwarming.
‘The 355’ (in theaters)
Though it could have been better, “The 355” is still a lot more enjoyable than other critics are saying.
The movie, which stars Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o and a whole host of other big name talent, is a simple, straightforward spy thriller. Though that’s disappointing in some ways — there’s so much potential here that isn’t used — there’s a lot to be said for a good dose of violence and double-crosses.
The plot, which follows a group of international spies all battling it out over a particularly dangerous device, feels like it was written based on a checklist for B-level spy movies. Yes, women are doing the punching and shooting, but when you have a cast this impressive, you expect more. Rather than give any of them the chance to use the full range of their talents, the script shortcuts almost everything that might give the characters any wit or depth. You see glimpses of the possibilities sometimes when the women are all together but not often enough.
The movie also misses the chance to be a lot more fun. There was the chance here to lean even deeper into the old cliches, such as Sebastian Stan into a full-on Bond girl, but Simon Kinberg misses all of them. Still, it could be argued that spy movies aren’t supposed to be fun, and “The 355” does have that kind of gravitas.
I mourn the movie it could have been, but what’s here isn’t bad. If spy thrillers are your thing, “The 355” might be worth checking out.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.