The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Posted on August 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action and some suggestive content
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Fantasy drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy-style peril, action, and violence, characters injured and killed, monsters
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 21, 2013
Date Released to DVD: December 2, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B009AMAKWM

The first volume of Cassandra Clare’s popular YA The Mortal Instruments series has been respectfully brought to screen in another attempt to tap into the Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Buffy audience.  The problem is that fans of those series may find that too much of this story is derivative of themes, characters, and quests they have already seen.The-Mortal-Instruments-City-of-Bones-2013-Movie-Character-Poster-2

Lily Collins (“Mirror Mirror”) plays Clary, the teenaged daughter of an artist single mother (Lena Headey).  We first hear her on the phone, telling a friend that she isn’t going to lie to her mother. ” I’m just not going to tell her.”  This sets the stage for a story that will have Clary discovering how much has not been told to her.

She wasn’t telling her mother that she planned to go clubbing.  She finds a goth-ish sort of place and gets past the doorman with her friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), who clearly wishes he was more than a friend.  Clary sees people and symbols that no one else does, including what looks like a murder. It turns out that she sees these things because she is not entirely human.  Her mother never told Clary that she was born into a race of Shadowhunters, who protect the world from demons.  Her mother is also a Shadowhunter, who disappears after the thugs who work for the evil Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) come after her to find a special cup that is one of the three “mortal instruments” that can grant special powers.  The rest of this first chapter (the second is already in production) will consist of her learning what her heritage means as she tries to find her mother. And, in what has now become a tradition in multi-volume stories for teenagers, navigating a love triangle.

The movie benefits from Clare’s sense of humor and broad humanism, both evident here.  There are not many stories in this genre that take pains to point out that people all religious beliefs are together in supporting the work of the Shadowhunters — or that acknowledge gay characters with such unquestioned support.  Production designer François Séguin and composer Atli Örvarsson create a nicely gothic atmosphere in the midst of New York City, as Clary discovers her ability to see the other world beyond the one where the “mundanes” (humans) live.  A leonine Shadowhunter named Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) takes her to a sort of Victorian mansion of a clubhouse, presided over by an Anthony Stewart Head-type named Hodge (Jared Harris), where she will be safe from demons, werewolves, vampires, and various other things that go bump in the night, due to a non-aggression pact.  And also zombies, because they don’t exist.

Clary learns that her memories have been hidden from her.  The symbol that she felt compelled to draw and redraw until her bedroom was covered with the image (as she points out, like Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), is one key. A spooky group of hooded guys with their mouths sewn shut give her a magical equivalent of sodium pentothal to help her remember.  But it is really in discovering her own power and in the intense connection she feels to Jace that begins to lead her to the answer.

As with most adaptations of beloved books, this film plays to the fans, including some scenes that could have been trimmed and assuming a knowledge of the characters that may leave audiences new to the story lacking the information they need to connect to the characters.  There are some intriguing ideas and settings.  But when it all comes together at the end in what seems like a mish-mash of “Star Wars,” “Batman,” and “Buffy,” much of the goodwill toward the story is dissipated.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of fantasy violence and action, though the worst of it is implied or off-screen.  There are monsters of many different kinds and some gruesome and disturbing images.  There are a few sensuous kisses and some sexual references, some crude, and characters who are powerfully attracted to one another discover they might be siblings.  Characters use strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Jace, Isabelle, and Alec respond differently to Clary?  How did Clary’s ideas about herself and her mother change as she was able to remember more?

If you like this, try: the books by Cassandra Clare and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

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Kick-Ass 2

Posted on August 15, 2013 at 6:00 pm

kick-ass-2-poster1The first Kick-Ass was entertaining as an over-the-top response to true-blue superhero movies.  The Dark Knight might think he’s angsty and tortured and tough, but he has nothing on the merry band of misfits who form a sort of Justice League on crack, featuring an 11-year-old known as Hit Girl who was raised to be the world’s greatest assassin.

It is less entertaining this time.  The lines have already been crossed, the 11-year-old is now 15, and all that’s left is to add a few new characters and a lot more violence.  There are some interesting ideas, but mostly it’s just a bloodbath.

The first movie ended with Dave (Aaron Tayl0r-Johnson), who has assumed the identity of a superhero (without any superpowers) named Kick-Ass, killing off the crime boss with a bazooka.  Now the crime boss’ son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), wants revenge.  He has unlimited resources and unlimited fury.  He dresses up in his late mother’s bondage gear, looking like a cross between Spinal Tap and Maleficent.  He gives himself an unprintable name, builds an evil lair with strippers and a shark, and hires an international assortment of mercenaries to set himself up as a super-villain.

Meanwhile, and this is the interesting part, it turns out that even knowing dozens of ways to kill a bad guy, with his own finger if necessary, Mindy/Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) cannot escape a little bit of an adolescent identity crisis.  Though she confidently assures Dave that Kick-Ass is his real identity and it is being Dave that is the mask, when her cop guardian (an underused Morris Chestnut) makes her promise to be a normal highschool freshman, she decides to give it a try.  A section of the movie is like Buffy crossed with “Mean Girls” as she is taken in by her high school’s Plastics and there is a funny scene where she tries out for Dance Squad by imaging herself in a ninja fight.  But, as we all know only too well, the evil in high school is worse than any super-villain, and Mindy, like Dave, will learn what her real identity is.

Over and over, characters tell us that what they are going through is real life, not a comic book.  That gets as tiresome as the over-the-top carnage and efforts to shock.  Writer-director Jeff Wadlow, taking over for Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, fumbles the eternal challenge of a sequel, keeping it enough like the first to deliver what the audience expects while taking it in new directions to make it surprising.  His biggest mistake is in overlooking the obvious — this movie belongs to Hit Girl.  Every time she is off the screen, it’s like the projector bulb fades.

Parents should know that this is borderline NC-17, an exceptionally violent film with very graphic and disturbing images and sounds, massive destruction, and many injuries and deaths.  It also includes exceptionally raw and crude language (a running joke has Mindy filling more than one swear jar), sexual references, and explicit sexual situations and nudity.

Family discussion:  Was Dave responsible for what happened to his father?  What is the difference between Dave and his friends and vigilantes?

If you like this, try: the original film and the comics by Mark Miller and John Romita, Jr.

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“Standing Up” — Exclusive Clip of a New Film Based on “The Goats”

Posted on August 8, 2013 at 8:00 am

“Standing Up” is a new movie based on Brock Cole’s popular YA novel, The Goats.  It is about an 11-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl (Chandler Canterbury and Annalise Basso) who are ostracized by their peers at summer camp are the victims of a vicious prank, left on an island with no clothes.  They decide not to return to camp to face more humiliation.  Instead, they run away.   Their three-day journey brings new experiences and despite a traumatic encounter, they help each other overcome adversity, forming a unique bond that helps them lead to a path of self-discovery. Val Kilmer and Rhada Mitchell co-star.

We are lucky to be able to share an exclusive clip.

It opens in theaters August 16, 2013, and will be available on DVD/Blu-ray (Exclusively at Wal-Mart) and on VOD on August 20, 2013.

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Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Posted on August 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images, and mild violence
Profanity: Some mild language ("screwed," etc.)
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy violence and peril with some moments that may be too intense for younger viewers including repeated apparent deaths
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, very strong and brave female characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 7, 2013
Date Released to DVD: December 16, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B008JFUNTG

The second in the series of films based on Rick Riorden’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians is even better than the first.  The young actors are more comfortable, their characters better established, and the special effects more, well, special.

Percy-Jackson-Sea-of-Monsters-Poster1We learned in the first film that Percy (Logan Lerman) is the son of Poseidon, one of the gods of Olympus and brother of Zeus and Hades. Because his mother was human, he is considered a demigod.  As this film begins, he is safely at Camp Half-Blood with the other children of gods and mortals, including Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom, Luke (Jake Abel), the son of Hermes, god of messages and deliveries, and Clarisse (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares, the god of war.

We see in flashback Percy’s friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a satyr, Annabeth, and Luke first arriving at Camp Half-Blood, pursued by murderous monsters.  Another young demigod named Thalia sacrificed herself to save them, and in death Zeus turned her into a tree that provided an impenetrable safety zone around the camp.  In the present day, as Percy is losing a competition to Clarisse and feeling dejected and alone.  His mother is gone, his father does not respond, and he does not feel that he has what it takes to live up to the expectations everyone seems to have for him.  Yes, he saved the world in “The Lightning Thief,” but was that really him?  He does not feel like a hero.  The support of centaur Chiron (Anthony Head), Annabeth, and Brandon does not reassure him.

A new arrival at Camp Half-Blood shocks Percy.  It turns out, he has a half-brother.  When a god and a human have a child, the result is a demigod.  But when a god and a nymph have a child, the result is…a cyclops.  (“The politically correct term is ocularly impaired.”)  As much as he longs for family, it is hard for Percy to accept this one-eyed person named Tyson (Douglas Smith) as family.

He does not have much time to think about it.  Camp Half-Blood is attacked by a bronze Colchis bull.  Thalia’s tree is poisoned and the protective shield is destroyed.  Clarisse is assigned the task of retrieving the golden fleece that can repair the tree, but Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson set off as well.  But the golden fleece is guarded by a scary giant cyclops who uses it to lure demigods so he can eat them.  And the people who want to destroy Camp Half-Blood are after it, too.  A series of CGI adventures lie ahead of them, including rides on and in various mythic creatures and a little help from Hermes (a terrific Nathan Fillion) and Poseidon.

Like the books, the films have a nice balance between the mythic scale of the adventures and the teenage problems that can feel every bit as grand and daunting, a nice balance between the classic and the modern, with a sprinkling of humor when it starts to get too intense.  Locations range from an amusement park to a UPS store to the inside of a sea monster and things move briskly along to a conclusion that is exciting and touching as well.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of fantasy peril and violence with some scary monsters.  There are several apparent deaths but (spoiler alert) just about everyone turns out to be all right.

Family discussion: How did Percy feel about his brother? Why did Percy doubt himself and what did he learn from this adventure?

If you like this, try: the books and the original film — and read books about Greek myths like Greek Mythology for Teens: Classic Myths in Today’s World and Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths

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This Week on the Disney Channel: Teen Beach Movie

Posted on July 14, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I have a lot of affection for the teen beach movies of the 1960’s starring the late Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, with guest stars including Buster Keaton and “Little” Stevie Wonder.  There was a nice update, “Back to the Beach,” and a knowing tribute to the genre in Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do.”  I am really looking forward to this week’s Disney Channel salute, “Teen Beach Movie,” premiering July 19.

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