The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones


Stop! In the name of love...

Stop! In the name of love…

(2013) Supernatural Fantasy (Screen Gems) Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Robert Sheehan, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Aidan Turner, Jemima West, Godfrey Gao, CCH Pounder, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Harry van Gorkum, Stephen R. Hart, Chad Connell, Chris Ratz, Elyas M’Barek, Melantha Blackthorne, Lucy DeLaat. Directed by Harold Zwart

Even William Shakespeare knew enough to write “tis nothing new under the sun” and nearly 500 years later that’s even more true. We’ve seen it all and there is little out there that is going to be completely original. Of late there have been a spate of young adult fantasy books that have gone for film franchise-dom a la Harry Potter and Twilight with varying degrees of failure – most don’t get past the first installment. Is this another would-be phenomenon destined to crash and burn?

Clary (Collins) is a fairly normal Brooklyn teenager who has just had her 18th birthday (at least I think so – she’s apparently old enough to go to bars and drink) who has had enough of her overprotective mother Jocelyn (Headey). She’s not really seeing anybody, although her bookish buddy Simon (Sheehan) wouldn’t mind changing that which Clary is wholly oblivious to.

However Jocelyn has good reason to want Clary home early – she’s part of a half-human, half-angel group of warriors called the Shadowhunters, who battle demons in the ongoing war of good against evil. When Clary witnesses (apparently) a brutal murder in a nightclub, she’s pretty shaken up but more so when she comes home to find her apartment trashed and her mother missing. Oh, and there’s a demonic dog waiting to play fetch with her intestines.

She’s saved by a Shadowhunter named Jace (Bower), a blonde even prettier than Clary who’s a bit of a badass in his metal band leather pants and bad boy with a heart of gold attitude, certainly enough to have teenage girls hearts melt in ways that Buffy’s Angel and Twilight’s Edward could only dream of. He takes her to the Institute, home base for the few remaining Shadowhunters where they and housebound Hodge (Harris) discuss ancient runes and compare Goth tattoos.

Apparently Clary is being stalked by Valentine (Meyers), a renegade Shadowhunter who only wants to rule the world (doesn’t everybody?) and his thugs as well as vampires (bad) and werewolves (good). They discover that Valentine is after an artifact called the Mortal Cup, one of several powerful artifacts that Hodge is aware of. Clary and her friends will seek the help of a somewhat agoraphobic witch (Pounder) and a mackin’ wizard (Gao) but the only salvation for Clary and her mother will lie inside Clary. But when Clary finds out the truth about who she is, which side will she choose?

The source young adult novel by author Cassandra Clare was over 500 pages in length. There are a couple of ways to go about adapting it – one, cut extraneous plot points out and condense the novel into a 120 page script, or cram as much as you can in there. The filmmakers went the latter route and unfortunately that leads to the serious drawback of an often confusing and conflicting plot. While those who love the series (and there are 22 million copies of the book sold worldwide) will be happy that they didn’t skimp (although the book is far more detailed on the background of the Shadowhunters), those that are less familiar with the books may feel like they’re treading water.

We might be able to tolerate the overabundance of plot if it weren’t so darn familiar. Those who wait for the home video edition of the movie can have themselves a nifty little drinking game if they try to spot all the plot elements borrowed from other movies – I stopped keeping track after I saw things from Twilight, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Priest. Someone can get themselves smashed real good playing that game.

The mostly young cast are exceptionally attractive (even the semi-nerdy Simon is quite the hunk) so that will appeal to the teen audience to whom such aesthetics are important. In terms of their skills as actors, let’s just say they’re an attractive cast and leave it at that. Collins in particular doesn’t seem to have done much more than reprise her work from Mirror, Mirror.

While the movie looks good and the CGI isn’t bad, the movie’s final confrontation suffers from an excess of histrionics. I do think they were going for an epic scale on this one but really fell short of the mark. I also think that they are really trying to play to the Twilight crowd with a plucky heroine with hidden powers who has two gorgeous guys vying to be her protector and both deeply in love with her yet she merely bestows semi-chaste kisses on one and not even that on the other. Screen Gems confidently green-lit the sequel even before City of Bones opened but the anemic box office and terrible critical reception may cause them to reconsider. Unfortunately, this is just another in a long line of young adult fantasy adaptations that fails to make it as a cinematic franchise which begs the question – maybe if they tried doing some adult fantasy series (i.e. The Wheel of Time, The Codex Alera or Shannara) maybe they might attract a broader audience – but maybe people who read a lot of books don’t have time to go to the movies as much.

REASONS TO GO: Attractive cast. Decent effects.

REASONS TO STAY: Meandering plot. Overwrought climax. Borrows from other sources a bit too freely.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s violence of a fantasy nature, some fairly disturbing-looking demons and some sexually suggestive content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Collins, who was an ardent fan of the book series, active campaigned for the role of Clary when she discovered that there was to be a film made of it.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/18/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 12% positive reviews. Metacritic: 33/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Seeker: The Dark is Rising

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: American Reunion

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Frozen (2010)


Frozen

Making this movie sucks!!!

(2010) Horror (Anchor Bay) Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, Ed Ackerman, Rileah Vanderbilt, Kane Hodder, Adam Johnson, Chris York, Peder Mulhuse, Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Wil Barratt, Dee Snider, Cody Blue Snider. Directed by Adam Green

It’s a nightmare we’d all prefer not to have – the no-win situation, in which nearly every option ends up in a particularly brutal or gruesome demise. What do we do in a situation like that? Wait patiently for death to take us? Or go down fighting and perhaps putting ourselves out of our own misery?

Dan (Zegers) and Lynch (Ashmore) are two buddies who have gone on an annual ski trip as long as they could remember. The dynamic is a little different this time out; Dan’s new girlfriend Parker (Bell) is along for the ride.

There is some tension between Parker and Lynch. While the latter has known Dan much longer, the former might just be “the one.” They don’t speak each other’s language and both of them are miserable; Lynch wants to enjoy the more “A” personality types of slopes which they can’t do because of Parker’s inexperience on a snowboard; Parker simply doesn’t want to be there at all.

Browbeaten by Lynch into one last run, they bribe a chairlift operator to allow them on one last run. A series of small errors snowballs (‘scuse the pun) into a really nasty situation when the resort crew shut down the lift and turn off the lights on the resort, unaware that there are three people stranded on the chairlift four stories above the mountain. You see, the people working at the resort are eager to get home with a bad storm on its way in.

At first the three young people are understandably angry and pissy about the situation, but those emotions turn to fear when they realize that there is nobody to rescue them and as bad as the frostbite and exposure is, there is something much worse below and nobody will be coming for them for at least five days.

Director Adam Green previously helmed the mighty satisfying slasher flick Hatchet and he does a pretty fine job here. From the moment when the ski lift stops, you’re on the edge of your seat. You would think that a movie about three people stuck on a chair lift would be kind of talky and to an extent it is, but the conversation is realistic and interesting – the characters depicted here are as real as people that you encounter every day for the most part.

Unfortunately, the movie suffers from a “stupid people doing stupid things” mentality. The chain of coincidences that strands the three mostly stems from the resort crew not following what I would expect to be standard safety procedures at any ski resort (i.e. making sure the lift chairs are all clear before shutting down the system) and yes, the three people sitting in that chair are prone to being stupid as well.

That said, the chemistry between Ashmore and Zegers is genuine and covers all the bases from “A” to “Z.” They bicker like good friends do and speak in shorthand like good friends do. These are guys that you’ve had a drink with at the local bar from time to time; they’re also the guys who have marathon PlayStation sessions and watch zombie movies while stoned. You know the sorts – the bachelors living in the godawful-messy apartments in nice complexes.

There are some disturbing images, particularly of people getting injured by falls or frostbite, as well as some death scenes you might not want the kids to see. Filmed on location in Utah, the actors were left on an actual ski lift 50 feet above the ground in the dead of night with temperatures hovering right around single digits. The expressions of cold you see on their faces are genuine from that standpoint.

I can’t really say this is a game-changer in terms of horror movies, but it is nonetheless well-crafted, solidly acted and expertly executed. I liked the concept a lot and I like the way Green realized it, but there is an awful lot of chatter and not just from the cold.

WHY RENT THIS: The tension level is ratcheted up to 11. Some pretty gruesome death scenes. Genuine chemistry between the leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Stupid people acting stupidly syndrome. Necessarily talky, but talky nonetheless.

FAMILY VALUES: There are several disturbing images, plenty of foul language, and a little bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Every character in the film is named for a close friend of director Adam Green, who also cameos as a disgruntled patron on the chairlift.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the grueling conditions of making the movie on location; there’s also an Easter egg about a suicide on the same spot where the movie was eventually filmed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.2M on an unreported production budget; the movie might have broken even, but probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Swing Vote