Here are some quick notes on of some of this week’s new releases.
The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones
Apparently, slashfic authors are now cutting other slashfic authors off at the pass. There isn’t a single thing in this first installment of the still-unfinished teen lit series The Mortal Instruments that doesn’t all but announce its debt to other, more notably successful series, foremost among them the Twilight and Harry Potter sagas. Lily Collins plays Clary Fray, a somewhat sullen brunette girl in a single-parent home who finds herself suddenly thrust into a vibrant, exciting world of supernatural intrigue (sound familiar?), who eventually discovers that she’s not, as she previously took it for granted, a mere mortal but actually permeated with mystic powers (sound familiar?), who ends up in a romantic tug of war between two boys on opposing sides of a paranormal stand-off (you get the drill). At times, City of Bones delivers an almost hypnotic surfeit of exposition, almost all of which suggests the promise of more exciting things to come but nothing special in the here and now. The film does contain the added benefit of including gay characters not just peripheral to but actually existing within the Twilight-derived romantic entanglements. On a strictly daydreamy level, it basically works, and boasts a far more engaging cast of actors than the Twilight series ever allowed.
The World’s End
Gary King, a ne’er-do-well Newton Haven townie whose life peaked in 1990 right before graduation, tries to reunite his old hangover gang, all now over the hill and leading respectable lives in London while King is merely the king of his own, emotionally and socially stunted kingdom. He persuades the other four members of his old clique to come together to try and complete a feat they failed to finish 23 years earlier — to visit the 12 pubs and down 12 pints along their hometown’s Golden Mile. Never mind that the other four have left that all behind, or that one of them has been sober for well over a decade. King’s drive to recreate what was the best moment of his life is beyond manic, and can’t be deterred even when stranger and stranger events seem bent on sidelining the quintet’s quest. Directed by Edgar Wright, who co-wrote with Simon Pegg, The World’s End picks up the baton from the pair’s earlier efforts Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, meshing those films’ respective comedic takes on men’s reluctance to grow up and the insularity of provincial British folk and blowing them both out of the water. This is Wright-Pegg’s riotous Michael Bay Waterloo, with humorously escalating chaos counteracted by disorientingly precise wordplay and barmy choreography. A colleague of mine once said Wright may emerge as the foremost comedy auteur of the era, a Keaton/Tashlin/Tati in the here and now. A few more films on this level and the claim will be difficult to deny.
Stephen King surmised that haunted house movies in the ’70s reflected the nation’s anxiety over plummeting home values. Evidently, the brutal home invasion genre films coming out of the woodwork during the latest mortgage crisis reflect some sort of inversion of that theme, perhaps empty nesters worried their homeless kin will come back home to roost. If that’s the case, You’re Next may represent the apex of the trend, since it takes place during an extended family reunion on a comically oversized countryside villa. As a pair of parents get set to celebrate their anniversary with their four children and their significant others, they are unceremoniously picked off one-by-one by shadowy figures wearing pale, expressionless animal masks. (Note that the remainder of this capsule contains what might be considered spoilers.) Only one of the two obvious ways this movie turns the “last girl” cliche on its head is going to get all the attention. That’s understandable, given how much butt Sharni Vinson kicks as David Sumner’s spiritual niece, if only somewhat in comparison to the laughable efforts of everyone around her; inherited ineptitude seems to be the underlying theme here. But invoking the “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” clause in horror movies c. 2013 is hardly shredding any current editions of the rulebook, which Adam Wingard is well aware of, given how many classic women-in-peril thrillers get referenced throughout (e.g. Texas Chainsaw and, in the movie’s cleverest crib, Wait Until Dark). You’re Next gets more comedic mileage from how convincingly it removes all forms of agency (predominately economic, but also sexual) from its male characters, and not just the one wearing a lamb mask.