Summer Adventures. Movies Reviewed: The Mortal Instruments City of Bones, Prince Avalanche

Posted in 1980s, Art, Bullying, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Uncategorized, Witches by CulturalMining.com on August 22, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Summer’s coming to an end, but there’s still time to get away. So how about some movies that take you on  journeys to strange places? This week, I’ve got two movies: one’s a supernatural drama about a girl in Manhattan who discovers a hidden world engaged in an epic fight between good and evil;  and a comedy/drama about two guys repairing roads for a summer job in the woods who discover their own hidden neuroses.

TheMortalInstrumentsCityOfBonesThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Dir: Harald Zwart

Clary (Lily Collins) is a typical teenaged girl in New York, who lives with her mom — an artist. No boyfriend, but Simon (Robert Sheehan) is her best friend who will follow her anywhere. (I think he likesher.) And she just happens to live above a tarot card fortune teller. But one day, something happens: she starts doodling a strange runic symbol, over and over. It’s a diamond shape with two horns coming out of the top. She sees it everywhere — what could it mean?

It’s actually a sign: something her mom should have told her City Of Bonesapart before mysteriously disappearing. You see, Clary has special powers – she can see a whole lot of people, monsters and heroes, invisible to us muggles. And one of them, a waifishly pale blond guy named Jace (played by the fortuitously named Jamie Campbell Bower), offers to show her around his world.

He shows her the City of Bones – a catacomb beneath the city – and takes her out to a weird, metal-goth swinger party. (Simon tags along, too.)

City of Bones 3Jace lives in an ancient secret academy filled with stone walls and stained glass. It’s run by a decrepit old guy, and a few of brash fighters. They take fencing lessons and cultivate their special powers. They’re an ancient group – sort of like Templar Knight vampires. Not many of them still around and they distrust Clary intruding in their sanctuary.

But they all want to fight an evil man named Valentine, and to keep his dark forces at bay. There’s a magical passage inside the building, where the bad guys might come in.

Well, Clary discovers she has the power to turn flat objects 3-D — without any special glasses. And she is somehow connected to a cup –  a cup that everybody wants — sort of a non-religious holy grail. Clary has so many questions: What is this cup? Who is Valentine? Where’s her mom? What’s her own role in all this? …and does that Jace-guy think she’s cute?

If you haven’t guessed, this is a very complicated, somewhat confusing movie, based on a City of Bones 2series of books. The genre: supernatural action/romance. Not for everyone, but I actually liked this movie. It’s kind of like the Twilight series, but much easier to take, without all those Jesus-y chastity vows, sparkly skin, and painfully awful music.

Less dreamy mooning, more action, drama, magic and plot, plot, plot. Lily Collins and is good as Clary. And Simon – real surprise. It’s the guy who does Nathan on the great UK TV show Misfits! Totally unrecognizable and low-key, he manages to keep his over-the-top persona under wraps, only rarely mugging pantomime for the camera.

Prince_Avalanche_poster_08Prince Avalanche

Dir: David Gordon Green

Alvin and Lance are semi-brothers-in-law working for the summer as the road crew on a remote highway. They paint stripes and nail posts. It’s the 1980s, so they communicate with the folks back home by writing letters. A phone call means a trip to the nearest town. They camp out at night and do repairs during the day. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is pompous, uptight and bossy.  He wants to learn German. He likes giving lectures (about whatever) to his girlfriend’s brother; he wants to bring some gravity to the tarmac.  Lance (Emile Hirsch) is long-haired and chubby, and talks Prince_Avalance_1like a childish dork. He wants to get laid, but is shy about meeting girls.

They two of them dress like the Super Mario brothers in baggy blue overalls and hardhats. Alvin even has a bad mustache to go with it. They look like cartoon characters, but their dialogue seems more like Pozzo and Lucky… if Lucky spoke, and was an obnoxious brother in law, not a slave.

As they work their way down the road they meet some people. There’s an old woman picking through the rubble of her former house, looking for a piece of paper. And a boisterous old man – maybe their boss? – who wants to share his rotgut alcohol with them.

Prince_Avalanche_6Prince Avalanche is a movie, but feels more like a minimalist play. The brothers gradually reveal their feelings, confess their fears, air their differences.

Here’s a dramatic moment… listen:

Prince Avalanche is one of those movies that waivers between the sublime and the ridiculous. I struggled at the beginning to take it seriously, but by the end I was thinking – hey! this is good, funny, clever, interesting. The movie looks and feels more like a European minimalist art film, than a goofy American comedy. (It turns out it was based on an Icelandic film, which somehow makes a lot of sense.)

I know Director David Gordon Green for his stooopid stoner comedies like Pineapple Express and The Babysitter, but after seeing this, I think I have to revisit his comedies – maybe there’s something more to them, too…

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones just opened and Prince Avalanche starts today: check your local listings. Also on now is the Art Gallery of Hamilton film festival – showing an amazing selection of great movies from other festivals. Go to aghfilmfest.com for more info.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website,culturalmining.com

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