The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

City-of-Bones

Dave’s 3-Word Review:
A cluttered mess.

Once, long ago, I attempted to review The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. You see, back in its day, the book everything is based upon was actually pretty popular, and apparently different than your typical young-adult franchise (others’ words, not mine). So I tried, but for whatever reason, I stoped the film because I couldn’t get into it for whatever reason. Recently, I decided instead to read the book (book review), and found some interesting concepts and direction…so I decided to give the film another go ahead. I found the same problems, but now I can actually talk in depth about them.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones stars Lily Collins in the lead as Clary, a young woman over head, as she comes face-to-face with the world of make-believe…or in more seriousness, the world of the paranormal. Witches, werewolves, vampires – you name it. You’ve heard the stories, and their all true. When her mother is kidnapped by one of the biggest, baddest villains of all time, Valentine, Clary and a number of other shadowhunters must work together to find and save her. All the while, they must protect the mortal cup, the very tool that created shadowhunters to begin with.

Alright, so I want to give them the benefit of the doubt first. Before I start bashing its brains in, it’s important to know what they did right. First and foremost, the casting was actually really well done. As I read the books, these were more or less the characters that I saw, the locations I imagined, and the overall feeling I felt while reading. Somehow, they got a lot of that surprisingly spot on, which leads me to believe the film had quite a bit of potential epicness here, but its major downfall comes down to pacing and transitions.

It’s technical and easily avoidable, but because it had such bad pacing, no one watching has any idea what’s going on. When I first saw the film, I stopped it because each scene was nothing but explanation after explanation, reveal after reveal, action scene after action scene…and it became quite overwhelming. This is because – if you have ever seen the actual physical book, it’s very thick. The same things happen in it, but it takes the reader on a really long journey just to get there – like Peter Jackson long. The book takes its time, the movie doesn’t. To make things even more complicated, the transitions were badly timed. You’ll be watching them at the institute one second, and all of a sudden, they’ll be in a cemetery the next and there is absolutely no lead-up. They might explain the scene in the first second of the next scene, but the jump is out of the blue and very – very confusing. The only way you know what’s actually going on and why is if you read the book.

Here’s the kicker. Because I read the book, I know when they take their time and savor the flavor…so to speak. The film actually took those same scenes that should have been slower, and insisted on making them action-packed like everything else – not allowing us to take a breather and digest everything that’s going on. I like creative freedom in film, but I stopped watching the movie on its own the first time I saw it because it was so absolutely complicated that its impossible not to think that even the filmmakers were confused during production. It’s that cluttered.

The Good:

The visionary behind what the film looked and felt like clearly had his mind at the right place. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones had the right casting, the right setting, and ultimately the same feel as the book.

The Bad:

The same trap that The Da Vinci Code fell for during the movie struck The Mortal Instruments as well. The books are full to the brim with really complicated details that only a book can properly present – when thrown into a film, it becomes really cluttered and honestly just a mess that doesn’t make much sense. These are projects that either need to stay in a book, or be made into a television series that allows for more details to naturally surface, rather than being forced.

What If (2013)

What-If

Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Chemistry-driven, but uncompelling.

Whether we admit it or not, we all live in a sea of what ifs. Not to say that’s because we regret any of our life choices, but rather to say just that – what if? What if this happened differently than it actually did…where would I be in life? Would I be in the same spot or would everything be different. Better? Worse? It’s a mind-boggling question and you could literally think about it for hours on end. We’ve all been struck with the question – but the movie What If? only hits one version of this question…which happens to be one of love and relationships. What if I stay and see what happens with this girl who is already in a relationship…will it make a difference? What if I agree to just be friends even though I want something more? Will it be my own struggle that won’t affect her…or is it a bad idea?

What If stars Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe and Zoe (Ruby Sparks) Kazan as our two star-crossed lovers of the day. Here’s what you should know – Wallace (Radcliffe) is wildly in love with Chantry (Kazan), but can’t make any moves because she’s dating a hotshot United Nations expert. Her boyfriend is never around though, so she also has a thing for Wallace – so they unknowingly have a bit of an emotional affair…which can only lead to one thing…

Hmm, well one this is for sure – Zoe Kazan has this amazing ability to bring chemistry to the screen. Whether it’s friendly, family, or romantic chemistry…she is a wizard at it because she has this very unique and innocent way about the way she plays her characters. Yeah, it may be getting a little tiresome seeing her do the same thing over and over, and yes, I’d like to see a more broader acting range from the gal, but she still has a great talent in chemistry. You wouldn’t think Daniel Radcliffe would do so well in a rom-com, but if it wasn’t for her presence, he probably would have been horrible.

So the film has great chemistry and generic social interaction, but what else does it have? In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t have anything else. This whole plot was utterly predictable and nothing we haven’t seen before. I’m glad these two actors took a stab at it, but when you think about the writing room – you have to acknowledge that somewhere someone said this idea was unique enough to make a movie out of, and it’s not. Because of that, the movie is uncompelling, and because of that, the movie feels really long. I mean, really really long.

When you think about entertainment level, the movie is almost…almost at a point where you can watch if you’re bored and have nothing else to do. I say almost because the chances are, any other movie would probably be a little more unique and interesting than this one. However, if you’re one of those strange people that only watch movies based on character chemistry, then hey, enjoy it.

The Good:

What If has a lot of great chemistry going for it. As far as romance goes, the film does a great job at presenting two people on the same wave lengths – which can be very hard to find in real life. If nothing else, that’s commendable.

The Bad:

There is absolutely nothing special about this movie. It’s a very basic romantic comedy that never surprises you and never really tries to be anything unique – and because of that, it’ll feel like the thing is at least 2 hours when it’s really 90 minutes.

Gangster Squad (2013)

Gangster-Squad

Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Sufficient, but boring.

Hello, world. You know, I’m not the biggest fan of gangster movies. I typically try to avoid them because I know very well that I’m biased against them and it wouldn’t really be fair to my readers if I gave them a bad review. Then again, since the world seems to share my distaste for this one particular movie – I thought I’d go ahead and talk about Gangster Squad. After all, it’s not really about gangsters now, is it? It’s about the Gangster Squad of 1949 – totally different thing. I guess?

The plot of this film is relatively simple, thank god. It’s about Josh Brolin, who plays Sergeant John O’Mara – a police officer who lives life a bit on the edge. When his boss hires him to take down crime syndicate Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), John O’Mara must go into deep cover, with a group of other, willing officers – to infiltrate and take down the gang leader that had his hands around L.A. – and controlled basically everything. He was the Godfather of Los Angeles, basically.

I’ll tell you the main reason I didn’t like the movie, and this is probably different for everyone else – it’s noire – and it feels heavily drowned in thick, syrupy, noire tones. I’ve never personally cared for that type of movie because it simply doesn’t feel natural. Then again, there are things about how this movie feels in general that also bothers other critics. They would tell you it simply has a way about itself that feels inconsistent – as if the writers weren’t quite sure what they were going for in the writer’s room. For me, it was simply the fact that we have a noire, and that fact alone offers me little else than an overwhelming feeling of boredom.

I realize, however, that my personal opinion is a little rash and unfair, so I try to accommodate that with giving this film the respect it deserves. First and foremost, the cast in this film is quite impressive – then again, an impressive cast doesn’t make a good movie…but it does help. Second of all, the simple plot of good guys versus bad guys is great. It doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not, and even introduces some moral dilemmas that were in all honesty, smart. And then…it had some humor.

Now I personally enjoyed the comedic relief – but other critics are right – it’s not the kind of humor you’d expect from a noire film. While everything else has that noire “feel”, the comedy was really light, not dark. They threw in little jokes here and there to lighten the mood, but to me…it felt off. It wasn’t so much to tip the overall balance that the movie had for itself, but it was enough to question if it was the right thing to do from a filmmakers perspective. I think the comedy alone has made critics question what type of movie this even is, and I understand that.

The Good:

As far as gangster movies goes, this isn’t horribly bad. It’s got a clear goal with clear protagonists and antagonists. The casting in the film is quite impressive, and it does what it needed to do to work.

The Bad:

I have to say, though, I’ve never enjoyed a movie that sports a noire “feel”. That alone creates boredom, in my opinion – but it was their mixture of dark, violent noire and light, sporadic humor that felt conflicting. In order for it to be consistent, the humor they needed was dark humor – which would flow with everything else quite nicely.

Coherence (2013)

Coherence

Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Interesting, but boring.

We all have those movies that never really looked appealing enough to check out, but we do anyways because of one of the starring roles. It may not always be the smartest idea, but I’m sure there are movies out there that are surprisingly good. Coherence wasn’t a movie I was looking forward to…I wasn’t exactly dreading it, but it looked very bleh to me based solely on the trailer. The reason why I saw it was Nicholas Brendan, one of the main actors in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and who has since had very few actual roles in modern media. Seriously, all he usually does is show up at conventions…so I was ready to see him act again. How was this venture? In a word? Weird.

The story at its heart is your basic dinner thriller. A bunch of friends gather together for a friendly dinner to talk about whatever’s on their minds. Currently, a rare comet is flying overhead, which is causing strange effects on this group. It’s hard to really explain, but basically there are multiple universes and realities collapsing on themselves. There are multiple copies of everyone and each scenario is a little different than the last, and it’s freaking everyone out.

It’s hard to really explain because the filmmakers themselves have a hard time explaining it. It’s confusing, and this is coming from someone who completely understands Inception. I think the filmmakers had this absolutely huge concept – just had no idea how to properly execute their vision. The main issue this film has, in my opinion, is it’s low budget. I don’t have a problem with low budget flicks, but when trying to balance it with a high-budget concept…you’re going to have lulls that just don’t translate the same way. Most of the film took place in the one house, which makes sense, but with such a concept, the audience is going to be demanding to see more – which for the most part, they just don’t. You can’t just explain what’s happening, it’s a movie, there needs to be more of a visual stimuli. You can also tell they had little material when they keep struggling to get good shots – with all of the close-ups of the dinner plates and candles.

Another thing that bugged me was the unnecessary side plots that I don’t think anyone will ultimately care about. Yeah yeah, alcoholism and adultery are two horrible words that start with the letter “A”, and they are both spoken about multiple times throughout the movie, but honestly…I don’t care. My mind is busy trying to wrap itself around your monumentally insane concept, and you take your sweet time to take a rest and talk about random drama…it just felt so out of place. I think they were trying to get you to like their characters a little more, but if you want good character development in a movie like this, you need to start with that…not just throw it in whenever you deem necessary. What this film did was ruin it’s own pacing…which was simply not a good idea.

Does the concept ultimately make sense? Well like I said, they relied more on explaining it than showing you what it is visually, so in a word, no. It’s still confusing and makes little sense. The ending was also interesting, but it left too many unanswered questions and loopholes that I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. It’s a semi-fun ride while it lasts, but it’s really not much more than that, and so I’m a little disappointed in that fact.

The Good:

Coherence dreams big. For such a low budget (a little over 50k), it had a massive vision of confusing an audience – and that it does indeed.

The Bad:

Unfortunately, it’s just too big of a vision for it’s own good. I’m sure it wanted to show the audience more than it was able to, and I’m sure if it did the movie would be 100 times better, but as it was…it fails at really translating the vision.

The Random:

Nicholas Brendan was pretty much just playing himself. Instead of Nicholas, his name was Mike, and instead of being an actor in every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he was an actor in every season of Roswell.

Locke (2013)

Locke

Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Truth and consequence.

Hey look, Tom Hardy! That was basically my reaction when I saw a poster for a new movie, called Locke. I didn’t look up what the movie was essentially about, but I did know it had a lot of driving in it, and that it is apparently a thriller. That doesn’t even begin to describe what this movie really is…so instead, I’ll give you a better idea – it’s a very relatable and believable story that doesn’t try to be anything else. So it’s definitely not what we’re used to in film, but the outcome is actually pretty interesting.

Locke introduces us to Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) – who is on his way to the birth of a child. His child, born from his mistress that he was with on one strange night months ago. Throughout his ninety-minute car trip to the hospital, Locke tries to get a list of things done through his car phone – things like confess to his wife and finish plans for his building at work. The whole movie, mind you, is real time. It’s just a guy driving down a road the entire time, talking on the phone.

The concept on its own is quite unique and surprisingly ordinary. This is something that I’m sure a lot of people have experienced first hand. It’s very relatable, because all it is…is a guy on a trip going the speed limit. That’s it. No funny business, no tricks up the sleeves…just a guy in a car. At the same time, there is a lot of opportunities to be disappointed in the film’s direction. Primarily speaking, you think the movie has a secret that it has been withholding from the audience…but in reality…it really doesn’t. It’s just a guy in a car going the speed limit for an hour and a half.

Now, the thing that’s done well in the movie is it’s boldness to go unique. It’s also the use of camerawork, the entire production process, and of course, the acting. Movies are a work of art and the phrase “Movies aren’t real life” is often spoken to remind ourselves how fake the world of film is. However, if movies were exactly like real life, you might actually have something like Locke…and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. As for the camerawork, you have to admit that an hour and a half on…essentially…the same place (a basic highway), that the setting would get old fast…but it doesn’t. The use of the camera is very effective in changing things up and making it look pretty nice and fresh the entire time.

The production process is actually interesting, because they only had to film a few things…the whole movie was pretty much filmed in a single take…that just means that there was a lot of professionalism from everyone. Tom Hardy was actually talking to people on the phone, because they were calling him on location. He was also actually taking that trip to the hospital…the realism of this film is staggering. Seriously. The acting by Hardy was ultimately impressive, but I wasn’t a fan of his voice…which didn’t seem to fit his expressions. Other than that…production-wise, this film is kind of a goldmine…but entertainment-wise…this film is kind of a bore. So much, in fact, that I’m not sure who would really actually like it, to be honest.

The Good:

Everything behind the camera was bold, unique, and done unlike anything you’ve actually really ever seen before. If you are a film buff, it’s hard not to give this movie credit, because it definitely deserves it.

The Bad:

Movies really aren’t meant to imitate real life. It’s cool to see in theory once in a while, but this isn’t what we want from film. Instead, we naturally have all of these expectations of how the movie is supposed to be, and are disappointed in the fact that it’s realistic. The concept is fine, but the story and execution is just boring.