The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Most of us survived The Twilight Saga, but the tween market is being inundated with ever more ridiculous otherworldly dramas of vampires, demons and saving the world from evil. The Percy Jackson franchise has made it into its second installment already, and now we are threatened with The Mortal Instruments, which clearly has franchise ambitions as well. Percy Jackson is replaced with a female counterpart, Clary Fray (Lily Collins), who learns that she is descended from a line of warriors who protect the world from demons. She joins forces with others like her and embarks on a journey of self-discovery and effects-laden combat with all kinds of CGI-creations. The young cast may for some viewers make up in good looks what they lack in dramatic skill, but there is precious little onscreen chemistry as the actors struggle with the clunky expository dialogue.
We’re the Millers
Comedy about a pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) who cobbles together a fake family to help him get a huge consignment of marijuana into the US from Mexico. Jennifer Aniston continues to challenge our ability to suspend disbelief by playing a stripper masquerading as his wife. Will Poulter and Emma Roberts complete the set of mum, dad and two kids in a mobile home stacked with drugs. It goes without saying that the trip goes horribly wrong, but the scenario is not without its potential and there is the occasional good laugh, though don’t expect to be going home with aching sides. The problem with We’re the Millers is that it is just not funny enough, or dramatic enough, or oddball enough. It actually is not much more than a sitcom hoisted onto a big screen trying to look like a real film.
Dwayne (formerly “the Rock”) Johnson has moved from second-tier fantasy (The Scorpion King) to second-tier action dramas (Fast and Furious five and six), and is broadening out on more ambitious projects like the soon-to-be-released Pain and Grain with Mark Wahlberg. Empire State falls somewhere in between, calling on Johnson’s basic, but more than adequate, acting skills. On this occasion, he actually helps hold together his complex mish-mash of a heist drama starring Liam Hemsworth. The film, which tries to look into the socioeconomic and ethnic divides of New York’s less salubrious neighborhoods, has plenty of ambition but ultimately falls victim to genre cliches. Hemsworth, who played a peripheral romantic interest in The Hunger Games and also featured in The Expendables 2, has his shot at a starring role, but he fails to make himself a real force in the film, overshadowed by his sidekick played by Michael Angarano, and even by Johnson.
A film dealing with the fallout of the Bosnian war that fails to convince, Killing Season has the added disadvantage of John Travolta pretending he is a Serbian assassin with some particularly unconvincing facial hair and an accent that sounds like something out of a variety show sketch. Robert De Niro is an American soldier who experienced the conflict on the front lines, and has subsequently retreated into the picturesque Appalachian Mountains. Travolta’s character arrives to settle all scores and the two engage in a deadly cat-and-mouse game during which secrets on both sides are revealed. The casting is so profoundly unconvincing that not much else matters, but director Mark Steven Johnson tries to shock audiences with some vicious scenes of torture and close combat. This is not enough to give the movie the punch it strives for.
Tiny Times 2.0 (小時代2)
It seems only weeks since the first installment of Tiny Times was released, but already the second installment, billed as even more dramatic, is unleashed onto the big screen. The film continues to follow the four female and four male characters. The casting, calculated to appeal to a wide fan base in the Chinese-speaking world, is Yang Mi (楊冪), Amber Kuo (郭采潔), Hsieh Haden Kuo (郭碧婷) and Hsieh Yi-lin (謝依霖) as the female leads, and Kai Ko (柯震東), Rhydian Vaughan (鳳小岳), Li Yue-ming (李悅銘) and Cheney Chen (陳學冬) as the male. Love, betrayal, easy lies and hard truths get the characters into quite a lather, but in the end, this is little more than a high-end soap.