NEW THIS WEEK
-- A JUST-OK ANIMATED COMEDY WITH ADAM-SANDLERIAN HUMOR:
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA PG -- Kids 8 and older will no doubt giggle their way through this animated monster comedy, offered both in 3-D and regular 2-D format, with Adam Sandler as the lead voice. But in keeping with Sandlers humor (hes also an executive producer of the film), the jokes are pretty lowbrow and obvious, and the story wins no awards for originality or depth. Still, the film has lots of funny moments. Dracula (Sandler), we learn in a prologue, built a fabulous castle/hotel on a mountaintop in Transylvania to cater only to monsters -- no humans allowed. His daughter Mavis is a teen (voice of Selena Gomez), about to turn 118 (sic). Hes throwing her a party and inviting all his monster pals. She begs her overprotective dad for some freedom, so he lets her go to explore the nearest human village. She doesnt realize that its little more than a movie set, populated by zombies that her father, still afraid to let her see the world, has hired. Then a nice human backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) knocks on the hotel door. Dracula cant kill him, as hes sworn off human blood and violence, but hes worried. He disguises Jonathan as a cousin of the Frankenstein monster. Then, of course, Jonathan and Mavis hit it off. Whats a vampire dad to do?
THE BOTTOM LINE: Kids under 8 may flinch at seeing Dracula and his daughter Mavis turn into bats, and to see the likes of Frankensteins monster, the Mummy, and the Fly, as well as blobs, skeletons, shrunken heads and more, all partying. Some of the monsters lose heads or limbs while roughhousing and then reattach them. There are jokes about drinking blood. Though hes sworn off violence, Dracula does have a temper, and his face goes scarily red while he seethes. His tantrums are always quick.
-- THIS HEARTFELT DRAMA TACKLES FAILING INNER-CITY SCHOOLS, WITH UNEVEN RESULTS:
WONT BACK DOWN PG -- A teacher and a mom, both at their wits end, join forces to take over a failing Pittsburgh elementary school in this sermonizing saga. There are too many speeches, but thanks to a terrific cast, the story packs enough emotional power to move thoughtful teens. Another caveat: The film purports to offer a balanced point of view, but paints the teachers union as villains while never criticizing the far-from-perfect charter school movement. Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) works two jobs to support herself and her little girl Malia (Emily Alyn Lind). Malia is dyslexic and has a terrible time in second grade at her failing elementary school, where the incompetent teacher ignores her. Nona (Viola Davis), a gifted teacher, has the other second-grade class in the same school, but is so sad about her failing marriage and learning-disabled son (Dante Brown) that she feels paralyzed. Jamie corners Nona one day and urges her to get together and file an application with the Pittsburgh school board to take over their troubled elementary school, recruit the best teachers, win over parents, and shake off the union. It proves a huge and controversial undertaking. Jamie also starts a romance with a music teacher (Oscar Isaac) who feels conflicted about fighting the union.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Adult characters drink. Jamie and her new romance have some steamy kisses. SPOILER ALERT: We hear Nona tell her son Cody a story about how she drank too much wine when he was little and got into a car accident with him.
-- AN EMOTIONALLY COMPLEX, WONDERFULLY ACTED COMING-OF-AGE STORY:
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER PG-13 -- Drama and romance-loving high-schoolers, whether theyve already become fans of Stephen Chboskys novel or not, will love the movie hes made out of his book. Perfectly cast and able to explore its ideas at never-boring length, the film delves into the beauties, tragedies and dangers of youth. Key facts of the story dont come out in a linear way -- they are revealed gradually. And they involve sensitive issues, such as child molestation by a relative, suicide attempts, mental illness and homophobia, so most middle-schoolers may not be ready for the film. In his voice-over narration, taken from his journal, Charlie (Logan Lerman) tells us that he expects to be a total outcast in high school. He spent some time in a psychiatric hospital, we gather. But its not all bad. A nice English teacher (Paul Rudd) sees that Charlie has writing talent, and then Sam (Emma Watson, who played Hermione in all the Harry Potter films) and her half-brother Patrick (Ezra Miller) see something in the shy freshman and pull him into their little crowd of oddball brainiac seniors. Charlie not only has painful memories of a beloved aunt (Melanie Lynskey) who died, but he feels other peoples pain acutely. Sam has serious self-esteem issues, and Patrick is a gay teen in the early 1990s. There are no pat answers in this lovely film, and it feels seminal, like a new generations Catcher in the Rye or The Breakfast Club (R, 1985).
THE BOTTOM LINE: Several scenes show teens drinking and using pot and LSD. A quick flashback strongly implies that a small child was molested by an older relative. Other scenes flash back to a violent car accident, and someone with wrists scarred by a suicide attempt. There are hospital scenes that portray mental illness. The dialogue includes homophobic slurs, crude sexual slang and sexual innuendo.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.