Skip to main content

I am a werewolf, not a Golden Retriever.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
(2013)

(SPOILERS) This might be the least glorious of the endless line of Young Adult fiction adaptations of late. Which is saying something, given their at best modest merits. Adapted from the first of Cassandra Clare’s fantasy series (of six), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones sports a mish-mash of familiar destiny-based and more-than-human tropes, without ever once crossing into anything distinctive and individual in its own right. The at once over-portentous and underwhelming title says it all.


Tangentially, the subtitle also evokes memories of one of the Marvel Star Wars comics. Death in the City of Bone found the post-Empire Strikes Back rebels on the trail of Han Solo and encountering Mandalorian warriors (a much more interesting backstory for Boba Fett than the prequel trilogy came up with) and assorted bounty hunters (Dengar, Bossk). I digress, but I don’t think I can really be blamed.


Lily Collins, she of Phil’s loins and the enormous eyebrows, is Clary, who discovers the world she assumed to exist holds so much else besides when she begins seeing a strange symbol and feels the urge to draw it everywhere (this rune-obsession is about as memorable as the picture gets) Before long, she and dweeby best friend Simon (Misfits’ Robert Sheehan) are introduced to demon-slaying half-angel Shadowhunters (or Nephilim; let’s put it this way, neither Clare and screenwriter Jessica Postigo Paquette nor David Aronofsky make the most of mythic possibilities of the Biblical moniker) and an ex- of their kind who is after a special cup. Along the way, we meet witches, werewolves, vampires and… not an ounce of the wit or verve that Joss Whedon brought to Buffy (which is where the current form of the supernatural teen genre really begins) or even a sliver of the mopey introspection that fuelled the Twilight series.


This is basically a mixture of Buffy elements (nerdy best friend who secretly loves the oblivious/disinterested heroine, enough creatures for a whole season of that show, an English professor/mentor, a blonde haired British bad boy), Twilight (love triangle) and, weirdly, Star Wars (the is-it-or-isn’t-it incest between possible brother and sister – given that this seems intentional rather than the result of a rethink, it’s remarkably tepid stuff – and the long lost parent as uber-villain). There’s also a werewolf (played by the vampire from Being Human, Aiden Turner). The teen angst bullshit is by way of Lost Boys leathers; in fact everything looks wholly generic and appropriated. It should be little surprise that Harald Zwart, the guy behind Pink Panther 2 and The Karate Kid remake called the shots. I say called, but this bears all the signs of a movie (what there is of it) accumulated in the editing suite. Zwart seems to have little idea how to work in the widescreen format; there’s an absence of clear framing and staging, and when he’s in doubt he decides to place an emotional power ballad high in the mix, in the hope that uplift will carry him through.


His casting abilities are mostly bereft. Collins is no more of the next big thing than she was in Mirror Mirror. He’s picked two of the most preening and pouty English actors around, who just happen to be significantly short on real charisma, in Jamie Campbell Bower (really struggling with the rebel bravado) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (he gets a lot of villain parts, so he really should have learnt how to play them by now). Some of the supporting players might have lent a bit of gravitas if the whole production wasn’t so choppy and shapeless. Jared Harris is always great, and threatens to bring a tortured soul to the proceedings (there’s an interesting idea that his curse of agoraphobia may be a product of his imagination but either it isn’t followed through or I’d lost interest by the time it was paid off). C. C. H. Pounder effortlessly dares anyone sharing a scene with her to rise to the challenge (no one can). Kevin Durand enjoys himself as a blockhead minion of Meyers. There’s also Lena Headey as Clary’s mum; one suddenly remembers she can play sympathetic characters.


Obviously the producers wanted sequels, and even with my faltering level of interest I could tell numerous threads are left unexplored. This seems more glaring than in some of the other doomed franchise-starters from last year (The Host, Beautiful Creatures) and the yen of the makers to get going on another caused them to get a little ahead of themselves, announcing a sequel (featuring Sigourney Weaver) before the receipts have even been counted on a movie few went to see and even fewer held in any regard. If the sums somehow make sense at some point (it’s difficult to see how, unless it sold a lot of rentals and made a bundle from TV rights) their best shot is to ditch Zwart and half the cast. Actually, scratch that. It’s yet another series that probably should have found a home on TV but, while there’s a chance that the next property might be a Hunger Games, they’ll keep on opting for big screen first.


*1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Barbarians? You call us barbarians?

The Omega Man (1971)
(SPOILERS) Chuck Heston battles albino mutants in 1970s LA. Sure-fire, top-notch B-hokum, right? Can’t miss? Unfortunately, The Omega Man is determinedly pedestrian, despite gestures towards contemporaneity with its blaxploitation nods and media commentary so faint as to be hardly there. Although more tonally subdued and simultaneously overtly “silly” in translating the vampire lore from Richard Matheson’s I am Legend, the earlier The Last Man on Earth is probably the superior adaptation.

They say if we go with them, we'll live forever. And that's good.

Cocoon (1985)
Anyone coming across Cocoon cold might reasonably assume the involvement of Steven Spielberg in some capacity. This is a sugary, well-meaning tale of age triumphing over adversity. All thanks to the power of aliens. Substitute the elderly for children and you pretty much have the manner and Spielberg for Ron Howard and you pretty much have the approach taken to Cocoon. Howard is so damn nice, he ends up pulling his punches even on the few occasions where he attempts to introduce conflict to up the stakes. Pauline Kael began her review by expressing the view that consciously life-affirming movies are to be consciously avoided. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but you’re definitely wise to steel yourself for the worst (which, more often than not, transpires).

Cocoon is as dramatically inert as the not wholly dissimilar (but much more disagreeable, which is saying something) segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie directed by Spielberg (Kick the Can). There, OAPs rediscover their in…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

I think it’s gratuitous, but whatever.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best
This is an update of a ranking previously published in 2018. I’d intended to post it months ago but these things get side-tracked. You can find the additions of Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home and a revised assessment of Ant-Man and the Wasp. There are also a few tweaks here and there.

Actually, I look like a can of smashed assholes.

The Arrival (1996)
(SPOILERS) I’m mostly an advocate of David Twohy’s oeuvre, from his screenplay for Warlock (Richard E Grant as an action hero!) onwards. In particular, like a number of writers turned aspiring directors (David Koepp, Scott Frank, the Gilroys) he has also shown himself to be proficient behind the camera. His Riddick movies (albeit only the first half of the third) are enjoyably B-ridden, while A Perfect Getaway is giddily delirious confection. I’d managed to mostly forget The Arrival, however, so with another similarly titled science fiction picture incoming, it seemed like a good time for a 20th anniversary revisit. The most surprising aspect is that, while Twohy’s direction is competent and script serviceable, this is Charlie Sheen’s movie through-and-through. In a good way.

That’s Charlie Sheen pre-tiger’s blood (here his character, the ludicrously named Zane Zaminsky even states “I don’t like blood”), also a few years shy of finding a more profitable home on televis…