Recent Movie Reviews: Part VII

November 14, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

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I had heard some pretty nasty things about The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the latest adaptation of a successful young adult book series which instantly conjures up images of franchises like Twilight. For maybe the first half hour or so, I was ready to disagree with the critics because I felt it was fairly engaging, but somewhere along the line the film just got bogged down by the weight of its own unnecessarily complexity and desire to infuse contrived romances into the storyline, and from there it all fell apart. In other words, I ended up agreeing with the naysayers: City of Bones stunk.

Starring the eyebrows of Lily Collins (offspring of music legend Phil), City of Bones follows the adventures of New York teenager Clary Fray, who one night realises she is not “normal” and  can see things other people can’t.  OK, I’m just going to say it — this movie is about angel warriors who slay demons on Earth. Fray is indeed special and has special powers, including the ability to use runes.

Anyway, the whole film revolves around the search for the titular Mortal Instruments, and in particular a magical cup. It all got a little confusing for me, to be honest, and I really didn’t care about all the explanations which made little sense. But it does also have vampires and werewolves, and in a bit of a controversial twist for young adult fiction, gay characters!

I did enjoy the start of the film and its urban setting, and the tensions brought about by an endangered protagonist who doesn’t know what the hell is going on around her. But I knew there was going to be a romance as soon as the blonde locks of Jamie Campbell Bower (who plays an angel called Jayce Wayland) appeared on screen, and I hoped that it wouldn’t ruin the movie. Well, it did, and the moment when Eyebrows and Bower shared an awkward kiss in a greenhouse (just as it suddenly starts to rain, by the way) was when I lost faith in the film completely.

I’m not as critical of the film’s fantasy cliches as others, because I don’t have a problem with stealing elements as long as the execution is right. This is harder said than done, of course, and City of Bones failed to get over that hump, though they did have a good crack at it. In the end,  it’s the contrived romance and the unnecessarily convoluted back story that crushed the film for me. That said, I don’t think the series is beyond salvation, and the planned sequel, City of Ashes, could still possess some potential.

2 stars out of 5

The Internship (2013)

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These days you can be pretty certain of what you’re in for when you go to a Vince Vaughn comedy, especially if it also stars Owen Wilson. The Internship is what it is — affable characters you are familiar with, consistent, mildly amusing jokes and gags, and a cliched life message at the end. The only difference between this and other similar Vaughn movies in recent years is that The Internship is also a massive advertisement for Google.

Vaughn and Wilson are watch salesmen who someone get an opportunity to apply for an internship at Google. To get the sought-after job, they must compete against a bunch of young, cocky, highly qualified interns in a teams. And of course, the duo gets put in a team of misfits who are considered rejects by other teams, and they have to find a way to learn from each other and defy the odds. You know how it goes and you know how it ends, but it’s still a semi-enjoyable ride.

Directed by Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, Night at the Museum, Date Night) and co-written by Vaughn, The Internship is one of those “safe” and “comfortable” movies that tend to rated better by audiences than critics. There are some interesting insights into Google’s recruitment process (including a Quidditch match), but for the most part it is extremely formulaic and short on original jokes. And of course it is unnecessarily long at 2 hours.

Vaughn and Wilson are likable guys who seem to always play the same characters, so you know what to expect with them. The other interns on their team are stereotypes but the actors who play them do fairly good jobs. Rose Byrne plays Wilson’s love interest and feels like a superfluous character, and Max Minghella is awfully one-dimensional and over-the-top as the dicky villain who bullies them (though I blame it on the script). The standout supporting character is played by Rob Riggle, a hilarious electric cart salesman, and it’s a shame he doesn’t have more screen time.

On the whole, I found The Internship to be a “meh” experience that won’t affect your life whether you see it or not. Apart from a bizarre and strangely adult segment featuring to a strip club, this was about as predictable of a movie as you’re likely to see all year.

2.5 stars out of 5

The World’s End (2013)

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The World’s End is the third film in director Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost  (following Shaun of the Dead, which I liked a lot, and Hot Fuzz, which I haven’t seen). It would be an understatement to call this film a wild, outrageous and unpredictable ride, and I would recommend anyone who intends on seeing it to avoid all spoilers like I did.

The premise pretty much tells you the kind of experience you are in for. Pegg plays a middle-aged alcoholic trying to rekindle his glory days from two decades ago and gathers up his old gang to try and complete the “Golden Mile”, a pub crawl through 12 local pubs in a single night that ends at an establishment named The World’s End. The rowdy group start off the pub crawl as planned, but an unexpected twist throws them into the craziest night of their lives.

It’s hard to say more about the plot without giving key details away, so I’ll stop there, but what I will say is that it features Pegg and Frost at their stinging best. The wisecracks and one-liners come fast and furious, and the physical comedy is also surprisingly effective in a wacky kind of way. The supporting cast, which includes the likes of Rosamund Pike and Martin Freeman, are all excellent and contribute to a highly entertaining and surreal experience where nothing is taken seriously — in a good way.

And on top of it all, The World’s End is strangely heartfelt and pushes through its messages about alienation and letting go of the past extremely well. The film does lose a bit of steam towards the end as the silliness meter is dialled up to the max, but even then you get the feeling that the Wright was in full control of where he wanted to take his audience.

The World’s End is unapologetically crazy, bizarre, and above all, British. I thought it was hilarious.

4 stars out of 5

42 (2013)

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Sports biopics are all about inspiration, and inspirational figures don’t come much bigger than Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. 42 follows Robinson’s journey from talented negro league player to his controversial signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he would become the only black player in a league of all whites, thereby making him the most polarizing athlete in sport.

For those who don’t know much about Robinson and his incredible life, 42 provides a wonderful insight into just how difficult it was for him to be that breakthrough guy who paved the way for racial equality in not just baseball but all professional sports in the United States. It’s a pivotal and very important part of American history that should not and will not be forgotten.

That said, 42 is very much a family film in the sense that it tackles the obstacles and the racism Robinson faced head on but in a somewhat sanitised way that feels like it steered clear of the ugliest and darkest aspects of what he had to endure. This is not to say that the film makes light of what Robinson went through — it’s just that things could have been portrayed in a much more cynical, brutal and disturbing manner. That would have made it a very different kind of movie and that’s not what the filmmakers had in mind.

However, this decision also means that 42 loses some of its edge and comes across as a more stock-standard sports biopic that at times borders on made-for-TV territory. There are the good guys and there are the bad guys, and there are the guys who redeem themselves after initially falling prey to peer and societal pressures. It made things a little too black and white for my liking, but again, this was the path the filmmakers intended on taking.

I hadn’t heard of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who plays Robinson in the film, before, but it’s obvious why he was picked for the role — he looks A LOT like him! I wouldn’t say Boseman was oozing charisma, but he does a stellar job as the man who wears No. 42 on his back. The big name star is Harrison Ford, who plays Branch Rickey, the MLB executive who came up with the idea of signing Robinson — apparently not because he wanted racial equality but because he wanted to win. Other known names include John C McGinley, Christopher Meloni and Lucas Black.

Ultimately, 42 is a fairly unremarkable film that manages to sustain our interest because of a remarkable man. It is a safe production designed for families and younger audiences, and as such it gets the job done, but expecting anything more will likely lead to disappointment.

3.25 stars out of 5