The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a two hour love letter to Hot Topic. Everyone is goth-lite with just enough black leather in their wardrobe to suggest brooding intenseness without the ensuing criminal record. This film is a mess of the worst variety. It suggests an ADD attention span and banks on the oohs and ahhs of the visual effects to distract from the fact that it has no discernible plot whatsoever. It seems tragically misguided from the outset, opting to cater to everyone instead of telling a story. This is a focus group film without an audience.

From what I could gather, the plot centers on teenage Clary who has a gift that she doesn’t understand and a family history that she hasn’t been told. She can see things that others can’t and is becoming aware of a world hidden behind our own. She is permitted into an industrial dance club because she can see a symbol on the sign that normal people can’t. Why she would be let in is a mystery to everyone. While inside she witnesses a murder to the man who let her in. The only problem is that no one else sees it. Her reaction to the event catches the attention of Jace. Jace follows Clary around until he gives her the required exposition to continue the story. It seems that Clary’s mom has been kidnapped and never told her that she was a shadow hunter with a complicated past. Jace leads Clary into a world of vampires, demons, werewolves, and witches so that she can stop the big bad guy from acquiring a cup with unexplained powers and find her mother. There may or may not be love in the air between Clary and Jace. It’s hard to tell with the incoherent mess of a plot. Nothing is explained to satisfaction at any point and the audience is left dumbfounded at every turn.

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Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower play Clary and Jace with varying levels of effectiveness. It must be incredibly hard to evoke genuine emotions when those emotions are forced to jump through hoops and turn on dimes to accommodate plot necessities. The characters behave as the script requires with realism being a long lost afterthought. It’s tough to blame the actors for being unrealistic when the film isn’t grounded enough to even know where reality is. The only actor to bring anything to his role is Jonathon Rhys Meyers. Meyers seems to relish the scenery chewing he is allowed and is mesmerizing in the five minutes of screen time he has. The rest of the cast is fine in their roles and immediately forgettable.

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Harald Zwart is the man responsible for this mess. He has also directed the Karate Kid remake and Pink Panther 2. He seems to have found his niche of adaptions and remakes that will lead to a fruitful career of middling affairs. There is nothing in The Mortal Instruments that suggests that Zwart has the slightest capability to tell a compelling story. First time screen writer Jessica Postigo offers no help. This film is based on the novel by Cassandra Clare of which I have not read. I don’t know if the massive inconsistencies and plot holes are covered in greater detail in the novel. I certainly hope they are.

The Mortal Instruments is a complete waste of a film. It is a collection of scenes that bear almost no relation to each other. It fails at the very basic structure of film making in that one scene does not lead to the next. The reality of the film changes from scene to scene and plot points are dropped or changed at random. There is absolutely nothing that holds this movie together. It plays more as an anthology film rather than a single story and is infuriating to watch with its lack of any internal logic. It made me long for the days of Twilight when movies could just be bad and not insultingly bad.

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Jobs

It was about halfway though Jobs when I realized I was doing the work of the film for it. I have read the biography written by Walter Isaacson and was moderately familiar with the man prior to that. The life and legend of Steve Jobs is near mandatory knowledge for an Apple devotee. That being said, I was able to fill in the monstrous gaps the film glosses over without becoming lost in the endless montage stream of this movie. The filmmakers were clearly ambivalent towards the subject matter and the lack of focus ultimately drags the movie down.

Jobs tries to chronicle the life of Steve Jobs from his college days in the seventies all the way to his reintroduction to Apple in 1997 with a brief introductory scene that takes place in 2001. That is an immense timeframe for a film of this scope. Jobs led too chaotic of a life to sum it up in two hours. As a result, entire time periods are glossed over and vital information is left by the wayside. The film spends a few minutes on Jobs’ life before Apple, but it isn’t until Steve Wozniak is introduced that the film starts really moving. Jobs and Wozniak built Apple Computers from a start up in a garage to the massive tech giant it is today. The creation of the company would have made a perfectly acceptable two hour movie. Here it is given maybe twenty minutes and five minutes of that is probably montage. The montage is so overused in this film that it seems as if it’s telling a life in montages.

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This is the second Hollywood feature from director Joshua Michael Stern with the first being Swing Vote. This is not encouraging. There are serious script concerns from first time screenwriter Matt Whitely which do not help with the direction. All in all the filmmakers neglect to take a stand on Steve Jobs the man, which makes Steve Jobs the movie a study in hedging. Steve Jobs was a complicated man who was never well liked due to his behavior, opinions, social skills, and personal hygiene. He was also a technological visionary with a capacity to see what others were missing. This film doesn’t know how to treat its subject. Does it portray Jobs as a visionary that we should rally behind or should it show how mean and awful he could be to even those that were very close to him? In the end, the film chose neither. It shows some of his bad traits which undermine the lovable outsider it tries to play up in other instances. It fails to pick a direction of any kind and lets the subject off the hook for the bad stuff, but not quite enough to make the audience forget about it when showing the good stuff.

A further problem with the film is its tendency to use a grandiose score whenever Jobs talks about computers, the future, or Apple. The orchestra swells and the music really tries to hammer home how important what he’s saying is. I believe Steve Jobs was truly visionary when it came to computing, but I fall short of believing that every word he said on the subject was worthy of heart tugging string arrangements. This is lazy filmmaking.

This brings me to what I had believed was going to be the problem with the film the moment I heard the casting- Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher has never been a strong performer and is not one I think of when I want acting chops. In Jobs, Kutcher is a strong performer indeed. Kutcher nails many of Jobs’ mannerisms and vocal patterns as well as being a dead ringer in the looks category. Jobs had a distinct way of moving which Kutcher brings to the screen with ease. In addition, Kutcher brings a wealth of emotion in his eyes and showcases talent that has, to this point, remained unseen. This film has many flaws, but Ashton Kutcher is not one of them.

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Josh Gads plays Steve Wozniak and is a pleasure in every scene he’s in. He leads a solid supporting cast that is full of names that no one has heard of, with the possible exception of Dermot Mulroney. Gads expertly portrays Wozniak’s lovableness and desire to be one of the cool guys. Sadly, the film tosses the character to the side in favor of a not-quite redemptive tone for the title character. He is missed dearly when he’s not present.

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The acting of Kutcher, Gads, and the rest save this film from being a total embarrassment, but the script is where the true troubles lie. It tries to tackle far too broad of a time span without ever taking a stand on anything. Steve Jobs was many things all at once. The film tries to be all of them a little at a time and ends up being nothing much.

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Skyfall

I must preface this review by saying that I’ve never been a James Bond fan. I’ve tried over and over to watch the Sean Connery films and failed to finish even one. Die Another Day has the distinction of being the only film I’ve ever walked out of a theater during. I can sum up my feelings of the James Bond franchise by saying- chain link fences don’t stop bullets. I could get on board with the hokey gadgets and trinkets, but where the films failed for me was realistic moments. Casino Royale was the film that altered my perception of the franchise. I liked Daniel Craig and had heard that this was a more realistic take on the character. I was pleasantly surprised with that film. Skyfall, however, has surpassed any expectations I have ever had for a Bond film. This is an amazing movie.

Skyfall opens with a chase scene involving Bond and a female agent in pursuit of unnamed villains who have obtained a list of all of the undercover British agents. Savvy filmgoers will notice that Skyfall has lifted the plot almost completely from Mission: Impossible, however, the direction, performances, and especially the cinematography make it so that you hardly notice. Bond chases the bad guys by car, motorcycle, on foot, and on top of a train. The sequence is thrilling and very well executed. The culmination of the pre-credits scene is when M (Judi Dench reprising her role) tells the female agent to take a sniper shot while Bond and the bad guy are fist fighting on top of the train. Her shot is a direct hit on Bond who is thrown off the train into the water below. The mission has failed. The list is unsecured.

The film picks back up some time later where Bond is assumed dead, but has survived and is drowning his pain in alcohol. He only comes back to London when he sees a news report about the repercussions of that failed mission. Even though he is a mess when he shows up unannounced at M’s home he agrees to come back to active duty following some competency tests. The villain is revealed and the chase is on. Here is where the film takes off. It may be standard plot fare for an action/spy movie, but the filmmaking is beyond reproach. James Bond chases bad guys until final action scene.

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There is a sequence that takes place in Shanghai that is so beautiful and stunning an explanation in words would not do it justice. Long time cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has worked extensively with the Coen Brothers as well as on films such as The Shawshank Redemption and A Beautiful Mind, has shot a beautiful movie. This was shot entirely on digital, which was a surprise to me, and is gorgeous throughout. Both the Shanghai sequence and the climactic siege showdown are the best looking sequences I have seen in a long time. Deakins is always great and it is a crime that he doesn’t have an Academy Award.

Skyfall is directed by Sam Mendes who brings a different feel to the film than the series is used to. Mendes made his name in more serious dramatic films with an Academy Award win for Best Director of American Beauty. He also made the brilliant Road to Perdition which was sadly overlooked come awards season that year. His staging of the action set pieces is impeccable and he shows some cinematic stretching that I wasn’t aware he could do.

Daniel Craig brings to an exhausted stoicism to Bond. His performance reveals depth without words and is a wonderful portrayal of a wounded man. Judi Dench is also superb as Bond’s boss and almost parental figure. Bond and M share a connection that resonates throughout the film and is especially riveting given the villain of the piece. That villain is the aways electrifying Javier Bardem. Bardem’s introduction to the film is a single shot from afar with his character telling a captured Bond the story of rats in his hometown. There are few introductions ever that are that bold and riveting. These three actors play off of each other throughout the film with stunning ease. There are side characters, to be sure, but the focus is on these three. This is a very personal story for Bond. This isn’t world domination or giant lasers. This is emotional resilience and the lengths of loyalty. By reigning in the hyperbolic and ridiculous plots of old, Sam Mendes and crew have created a James Bond with relevancy. This is by far one of the best action movies I have seen.

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Elysium

Elysium is a good film that falls short of being great. The film looks wonderful, is anchored by a solid Matt Damon performance, and has lofty ambitions. On the flip side it is hampered by a lackluster script, illogical plot twists, and one truly horrible performance from Jodie Foster. Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp seems to want Elysium to address every social ill known to man, but ultimately it bites off more social commentary than it can chew.

The believability of the plot is determined by your level of cynicism. In the future the divide between the haves and have-nots has reached interstellar proportions. The wealthy and affluent have developed a space station utopia where life is all lounging by the pool and dinner parties. The station is called Elysium and is run by Delacourt (Jodie Foster) who is in charge of defense. Earth below has devolved into a slum planet with famine, poverty, and disease raging. On Elysium there is a medical bed that is capable of curing any and all illness or disease, but only citizens of Elysium have access to these beds.

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Matt Damon’s Max lives on Earth and has dreams of making it to Elysium someday. He has had brushes with the law in the past and has a history of incarceration. As the film begins Max is, of course, trying to stay on the straight path by working a job making robots that then police the citizens. An accident at the factory bestows radiation poisoning on Max giving him five days to live. One of those fancy medical beds could fix Max right up, but, wouldn’t you know, those darn Elysiums’ don’t allow illegal immigrants onto their turf. Max and an acquaintance named Spider hatch a plan to steal information of value that will allow Max to get on Elysium and get access to medical help. Max is obviously weak from the radiation so Spider sets him up with a metal exoskeleton which is surgically attached to his body. That happens to come in handy later. The later half of the movie is an extended chase scene between Max and a mercenary hired by Delacourt to alleviate the problem. This half is where the film falls apart and the social commentary is abandoned in favor of sci-fi shootouts and robotically enhanced fist fights.

Neill Blomkamp directed the immensely enjoyable District 9 and has built a fair amount of anticipation around his follow-up. While District 9 was a sci-fi parable about apartheid, Elysium seems to want to tackle wage inequality, social classes, illegal immigration, and access to healthcare all in the same plot. His sci-fi vision is intact, but his screenwriting duties could use some polish. District 9 had a documentary feel which allowed any plot or dialogue problems to be hidden. Elysium does not have that luxury and the dialogue feels forced. The majority of the film’s flaws rest in the script. The entire society on Elysium is not explained so the way the government is run doesn’t make sense. Characters are not given realistic dialogue to advance the plot and sometimes feel like exposition dumps. At least one character was completely contrived and actually hindered the story seeing as how she existed solely as a plot point. Finally, the second half of the film hinges on a character’s action that is so incomprehensible that I was completely taken out of the film in bafflement.

Matt Damon leads the film with an assurance that he is still an everyman’s action hero. He brings warmth to a role that is written cold and elevates those around him. Jodie Foster stands in direct contrast to Damon’s performance. She is awful in this film. Foster plays Delacourt with an accent from who knows where and there are times when it seems as if the accent is fumbling her acting. It’s as if she was concentrating so hard on getting that accent right that she forgot she was supposed to be emoting as well. There were also numerous times throughout the film that her lines didn’t match up with her lips. I’m not sure if that was a problem with my screening or not, but it didn’t happen with any of the other actors. In any case, that fault doesn’t lie with Foster. I’ve liked Jodie Foster for a long time and I was quite surprised at the atrociousness that is this performance.

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District 9’s Sharlto Copley also makes a supporting turn as the vile mercenary in charge of tracking Max down on Earth and bringing him to Elysium. Copley stands out in this film and wears his griminess with pride. He was fun to watch even when his character made no sense whatsoever.

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It seems as if I’m being unduly hard on this film. In actuality this film is really two films in one and I’m only being hard on one of them. The first half is quite good and I felt for Max and the hardships he was facing. The second half could have been scored to John Williams’ Superman theme. There is so much social commentary ripe for an excellent drama that it’s a shame the film ends up being an action movie instead.

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My Top 10: Comic Book Movies

My top 10: Comic Book Movies

I love lists for the discussion that can come from them. This is my top ten comic book movies. Feel free to disagree and let the discussion begin.

10. X-Men 2- This is the film where everything came together for Bryan Singer. The actors fell into their roles and any introductions were out of the way. Social commentary played out under the surface quite nicely and led to wonderful discussions about not only homosexuality, but privacy as well. The opening scene with Nightcrawler is still especially effective and stands as one of the best openings on this list.

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9. Spider-Man 2- A theme running throughout this list is that the sequels are almost always better than the first. This is true with Spider-Man. The original gave us the origin story and got much of the exposition out of the way. That paved the way to get straight into the story this time out. Tobey Maguire feels more comfortable as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man giving a solid performance and letting his supporting actors lift him up. Alfred Molina is brilliant as Doctor Octopus and blows away what Willem Dafoe gave us as the Green Goblin. Even James Franco seems a bit less annoying than he did the first time around. All around a great film for the blockbuster set.

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8. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army- Guillermo del Toro has crafted a wonderful superhero fantasy tale with a brilliant visual style. Ron Perlman is back as the big red goofball and nails the character once again. In fact, almost all of the original actors are back to reprise their roles, but as good as everyone is everything takes a backseat to del Toro’s visual storytelling. There is a world just behind our own and a battle rages there without us ever knowing. Del Toro does a wonderful job integrating the more fantastical elements into a world very much like ours that lets everything feel strange yet almost familiar and plausible. He directs with a deft hand that is unafraid to slow down and let the character moments breathe in between gigantic action set pieces. It may be a step down from the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth, but it is as close of the superhero field has ever gotten to art house fare.

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7. The Crow- This film hit at the right time in my life to have a lasting impact. As an avid goth/industrial music fan with a propensity for the dark my (surprisingly) outsider high school self was enamored with this film. I still am to this day. Brandon Lee gave a wonderful performance that hinted at the great things that could have been. There were solid character actors playing the supporting roles and the visual style was impressive. The director Alex Proyas, who later directed the stunning Dark City, did a solid job of tapping into mid-90’s sentiment of underground and gritty pseudo-reality. Of all the movies on this list I admit to having the most personal bias towards this film.

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6. Superman: The Movie- Audiences really did believe a man could fly. Christopher Reeve owned this role in a way that no one before or since has been able to do. He was the Superman we wanted. Richard Donner directed a solid character piece that just so happened to be about a superhero. He also was able to amazingly segue from the Smallville scenes to the Metropolis scenes without it feeling like a time waster. There was a campiness to it that would feel completely out of place today, but somehow it still holds up. Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty hammed it up to great heights and Margot Kidder was as flighty as ever, but Reeve dominated this film. He showed us what Superman could be.

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5. Ghost World- This has flown under most people’s radar and even those that saw it probably didn’t know that it was comic based. It stars Thora Birch and Scarlet Johannsen as outsider teens graduating from high school with nothing much in the way of plans or drive. Life passes uneventfully until they decide to pull a prank on a sad older man played by Steve Buscemi. Thora Birch is inexplicably drawn to him in a way that Johannsen can’t understand. Buscemi is lonely and gets his only thrill out of old blues 45’s that he collects. Birch and Buscemi combine their loneliness while each tries to figure out what they want out of life. This is a sad, but brilliant, coming of age tale depicting what it’s like when the only thing you know about yourself is that you don’t fit in.

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4. The Avengers- The Avengers is a movie that I thought would never happen. At the very least, if it did happen it would be awful. I was wrong. Joss Whedon managed to bring together the biggest heroes in the Marvel universe to create an epic superhero picture that laid to waste what we thought was possible with the genre. Spider-Man 3 was an example of the result of when a movie tries to have too many characters. Everything went haywire and Sam Raimi wasn’t able to make anything interesting happen to any of them. Apparently Joss Whedon > Sam Raimi. Whedon brings together Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Hawkeye to fight off Loki and not once does it ever feel crowded. A crowd pleasing blockbuster that changed the way comic book movies are made and perceived.

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3. V for Vendetta- James McTegue crafted the only movie based on Alan Moore’s comic work that Moore should have kept his name on. Moore has famously denied all involvements with adaptations of his work, but V for Vendetta was brilliant nonetheless. Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman lead this film that is about…vengeance? freedom? terrorism? anarchy? It is everything all at once and somehow manages to be coherent. The tone and style of the film, while dark, remain steady and serve the story well. It celebrates art and doesn’t talk down or disrespect the audience. For that I am forever grateful. V makes a most interesting lead character as he is seen as a mask that doesn’t emote, yet Weaving breathes life into the performance that allows us to understand the character in ways that other actors would not be able to accomplish. Portman is pitch perfect in her transformation from solid citizen to freedom fighter. In all, everyone involved did a magnificent job creating a thought provoking film that doesn’t shy away from its intent.

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2. Road to Perdition- Tom Hanks and Paul Newman headline a wonderful cast in an engaging drama directed by a top notch director in Sam Mendes. This is the story of a hitman who is forced to take his son on the road with him and must choose between that son and the boss that he’s always looked at as a father. This is a brilliant film made all the more enjoyable by the performances by Hanks and Newman. Supporting turns were made by Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Ciaran Hinds, Stanley Tucci, and Dylan Baker. All were well cast. While this doesn’t fit the common perception of a comic book movie it is magnificent and deserves all the accolades it can get.

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1. The Dark Knight- The Dark Knight transcends the genre. It is so much more than a comic book movie. The themes of terrorism, spying, and anarchy reign throughout the film and it is all tied together with a mesmerizing performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker. Christopher Nolan created the superhero movie that changed the game. The Academy’s decision to enlarge the best picture nominee field from five to ten was almost directly as a result of this film’s failure to be considered. Every piece had to work just right to accomplish this masterpiece and they did. Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Aaron Eckhart, and Maggie Gyllenhaal all turn in splendid performances, but Heath Ledger is a wonder. I was among those who scoffed at his casting and was proven very wrong. This was a 2 and a half hour movie that never felt long and I was disappointed when it was over, just because I wanted more. Comic book movies will forever be trying to duplicate both the critical and commercial success of The Dark Knight.

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Stoker

I found myself oddly detached and entranced while watching Stoker. There is a beauty in it’s coldness as if to say that taking a step back will reveal the dirty secrets that are hiding just under emotion. This film teases and sways, never really letting the audience get comfortable. It evokes many themes and doesn’t smash the references into our consciousness. They are there if you want to see them, but you can comprehend the movie without. It is not quite horror, but not quite a thriller. It sits on the edge of categorization without committing to any.

The plot of Stoker is ridiculously simple. Charles Stoker (Matthew Goode) arrives at the home of his brother Richard’s family on the day of that brother’s funeral. Surviving Richard are his wife Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and his daughter India (Mia Wasikowski). Evelyn and India welcome Charles into their home although Evelyn knows very little about him and India did not know he even existed. Evelyn has taken to wine to try and ease the pain and allows herself to become involved with Charles. Meanwhile, India can see something is wrong with her uncle and becomes infatuated with him anyway. Family dynamics are severely tested as this unorthodox love triangle struggles to find out the truth of each other.

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Stoker is directed by Chan-wook Park of Oldboy fame. Oldboy was a fantastic revenge thriller out of South Korea that blew my mind in 2003 when it came out. Here he takes a very different style, letting things move at a much slower pace with glistening visuals. He seems to be channeling Hitchcock and, indeed, there are many shots that are reminiscent of Hitchcock’s more famous pieces. There is a shot of Matthew Goode peering at someone through a window that felt like it would have been in place in Psycho. This film borders on noir, but has bright and luscious colors. Every shot looks beautiful and plays into the visual storytelling. I believe the film is at its best when there is no dialogue. This could survive as a silent film and still be brilliantly effective. Perhaps, even, a museum piece that changes as you look at it. A moving canvas with the ability to surprise at any moment.

Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode are both superb in their roles. Kidman is stellar as a grieving widow that has a tenuous grasp on her surroundings. She has outbursts and seems jealous of India and the relationship she had with her father. It is hinted at that much of what we see in Kidman’s performance is seen through the eyes of India. She acts the way India sees it, which may or may not be the truth. This holds true with Matthew Goode’s Charlie as well. Certain scenes make the audience hold some disbelief in the relationship, such as the piano scene. Matthew Goode brings a refined creepiness to his presence and exudes that unsettling behavior throughout the film. He is charm and charisma filtered through an unbalanced mind. The performances are astounding and match the visuals in impact.

The only drawback for me was Mia Wasikowski and it comes with a caveat. I have often thought of Wasikowski’s performances as bland and lacking any emotional weight. She always seems to be holding something back and never lets that calm demeanor falter. I did not think that her style suited her role in Alice in Wonderland, but it does actual suit the style here. She does not detract from this film in any way, yet, she doesn’t show any more depth than she normally does. While it is fitting for this role it does not give me any more hope for her future roles.

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Stoker worked for me all around. I enjoyed the style and the performances. Park’s direction was deliberate and beautiful. He captured wonderful images and stylized the performances of his actors to fit his vision. This film won’t work for everyone due to the tone and content, but for those with the heart to watch I recommend it.

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The Smurfs 2

The Smurfs 2 is a special kind of awful. Generic, bland, soulless, mind-crushing, awfulness. There has been an incredible amount of family friendly fare recently and I would recommend going to see any one of them again over Smurfs 2. This borders on offensively bad. They say that puns are the lowest form of comedy. The Smurfs 2 is two hours of puns.

Everyone is back from the first film. Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, and Hank Azaria all reprise their roles and welcome in newcomer Brendan Gleeson. I truly hope the filmmakers paid Azaria handsomely for his dignity. He can be quite good given the right material, but here he is forced to mug it up so badly that there is nothing he can do. He spends a significant portion of the movie arguing with a cat. No one can make that look good. No one.

There are new Smurfs as well. Vanity Smurf is a 10 second joke stretched into a running gag. It is not funny. Ever. There are also two “naughties” which are Smurf like creatures that Gargamel (Azaria) created. Smurfette was also a Gargamel creation until Papa Smurf worked his magic on her. The naughties are Vexy and Hackus. Vexy is basically the exact same character as Smurfette and Hackus is the Smurf version of the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons. Neither is a welcome addition.

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The plot is as follows: Smurfette is kidnapped by the naughties and brought to Gargamel who has been making a name for himself in our world as a magician. Smurfette feels like she doesn’t belong with the Smurfs because she was made by Gargamel and therefore is not a real Smurf. Gargamel wants Smurfette to give him the secret formula that Papa Smurf used to turn Smurfette from a naughty into the blue Smurf we know and tolerate. Papa Smurf brings Clumsy, Grouchy, and Vanity Smurf with him to enlist the help of their friends Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays who now have what appears to be a six year old child. Also in attendance is Brendan Gleeson playing Harris’ step-dad. Papa Smurf and company must get to Smurfette before she gives Gargamel the formula that would threaten all of smurf-kind.

I hope you had more fun reading that paragraph than I had writing it.

I will point out a few good things with this film. There are a couple and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them. Neil Patrick Harris is very good in this. He seems adept at acting opposite nothing and somehow gets how he needs to move in order to incorporate the CGI Smurfs that will be added later. Brendan Gleeson is also extremely good as Harris’ step-dad. He takes this caricature of a role and owns it in a way that makes it feel somewhere in the vicinity of genuine. I must also mention that throughout the film I had a recurring thought. The CGI work on Papa Smurf’s beard is exquisite. I don’t know why it looks so much better than all of the other hair on the Smurfs but it does. That should give you a fairly good grasp of how engaging the story is. I was wildly aware of the work done on Papa Smurf’s beard.

It is possible that kids will enjoy this movie. Maybe even some adults. There was a woman at my screening that laughed at almost every line of the movie. I wonder if this is the first movie she’s seen. I don’t know how to describe the awfulness of this. It’s upsetting to me that a good children’s movie can be transcendent and will stay with a child forever, and yet we continue to get dreck like Smurfs 2. I don’t care much that there’s a positive message about family and overcoming your past. Good films can have messages too. And in those films they rarely tell us what the message is in the dialogue. I did not smile during this movie. Not once. Kids deserve better than this.

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