20150831: YA Review--Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Name: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)
IMDb: City of Bones

Genres: Fantasy, YA female,  coming of age, romance, comedy

Cast:  Lily Collins as Clary, Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace Wayland, Kevin Zegers as Alec Lightwood, Jemima West as Isabelle Lightwood, Robert Sheehan as Simon Lewis, Lena Heady as Jocelyn Fray, Jared Harris as Hodge Starkweather, Aiden Turner as Luke Garroway, Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane, CCH Pounder as Dorothea, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Valentine, Kevin Durand as Pangborn, Robert Maillet as Blackwell.

Directed by: Harald Zwart.  Written by: Cassandra Clare (book), Marlene King and Jessica Postigo (screenplay).

The Three Acts

The initial tableau: In New York City, young Clary starts having problems.  She sees people and things that others cannot.  She obsessively draws strange symbols in her room.  She gets in trouble with strangers at a club and sees impossible actions.  Her friend who is a young man is interested in her in a way that she is not interested in him.  To top it all off, unknown forces kidnap her mother and ransack the apartment where the two of them lived.

The delineation of conflicts:  Clary discovers that she is a Shadowhunter, a dying breed who have fantastic magical powers, but are fully mortal.  That is, they age normally and they die fairly easily. Shadowhunters fight and kill demons as best they can.  They get their magic from inheritance (parents were Shadowhunters) or transformation (drinking from the Cup of Raziel). Drinking from the Cup also confers the ability to write runes on one's body; these often yield magical assistance.

Their recruiting has been weak of late since two of the most powerful of their members  (Valentine and Jocelyn) have gone off the rails.  Valentine consorted with demons to gain their powers.  Jocelyn hid the Cup to keep it away from Valentine.  Valentine wants the Cup back, and goes to all sorts of foul actions to get it.  Clary needs to go from her 'mundane' (ordinary human) state to being the most powerful and inventive of all the Shadowhunters in order to stop Valentine.  She's shorted on time, since Valentine and his henchmen move things forward quickly.

Simon is in love with Clary, Clary is in love with Jace, Jace is in love with Clary, but Valentine convinces Jace that he is Clary's sister.  Oi.  Magnus and Alec might be attracted to one another, but there is so much going on.

The resolution:  Well, watch the movie.  Many things get resolved, but not all.

One line summary: Reasonable coming of age #fantasy.


  a. Cinematography:  8/10 Good looking film.  There are plenty of SFX, but not the massive destruction type.  Rather, the up close and personal type of SFX, showing the unexpected.

  b. Sound:  7/10 Not a hindrance, but not much of a help, either.

  c. Acting:  7/10 I liked most of the performances, both from the young crew (particularly Collins, Bower, and West) and the older crew (especially Heady, Harris, Turner, Gao, and Pounder).  The triumvirate of villains (Valentine, Pangborn, and Blackwell) was a very effective block of trouble for the young heroes to overcome.

  d. Screenplay:  4/10 There seemed to me to be just too much going on.  I do not fault the actors, but rather the script/book.  For this film, we inherit structure from werewolf, vampire, and warlock lore.  We inherit structure from biblical warrior angel lore.  But wait!  There's more!  On top of all the rules and logic already involved, we have the invented Shadowhunters.  Much of their baggage is not all that well explained.  Where did the portal come from?  How did they get all that real estate?  How do they keep the real estate when there are so few of them, and none of them work, apparently.  Where did the underground group dealing with the dead come from?  How are they connected?  Anyway, much as I liked the film, I thought it was dreadfully short of reaching sufficiency on exposition.  Since there is likely no second film matching the books, explanations will likely remain lacking.

  e. Final Rating: Six of ten

Concluding remarks: This is the film version of a six book series written by Cassandra Clare; City of Bones is the first book of The Mortal Instruments series.  In 2014, Constantin Films, which owns the film rights to the series, decided not to make a film from the second book.  Rather, they are opting for a Mortal Instruments TV series  in 2015.

20150831: YA review--Beautiful Creatures

Name: Beautiful Creatures (2013)
IMDb: Beautiful Creatures main page

Genres: Fantasy, YA female, coming of age, romance, comedy

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate, Alice Englert as Lena Duchannes, Jeremy Irons as Macon Ravenwood, Viola Davis as Amma, Emma Thompson as Seraphine, Emmy Rossum as Ridley Duchannes, Thomas Mann as Link.

Directed by: Richard LaGravenese.  Written by: Richard LaGravenese (screenplay),  Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (book).

The Three Acts:

Initial tableau: Ethan lives in Gatlin, South Carolina and visits high school there.  He bemoans the fact that he has little prospect of leaving, and has applied to a number of colleges.  The town seems stuck in the past, particularly the Civil War.  His mother is dead; his father is next to catatonic. His welfare is looked after by himself (somewhat) and Amma (mostly).  One day a new girl arrives in his class, Lena Duchannes.  Her family founded the town some centuries ago, and still owns everything of importance in it.

The delineation of conflicts: Ethan wants to get to know Lena, which immediately creates separation between him and almost all of his former friends in town.  Ethan visits Lena at home, which creates immediate tension between him and her uncle, Macon Ravenwood.  The Ravenwood/Duchannes clan are gathering at the family compound to witness the coming of age birthday of Lena.

So far, this all seems rather ordinary.  The fantasy element is that all members of the Ravenwood family are casters; that is, beings who cast magical spells, often with considerable power.  At the sixteenth birthday, Ravenwood teenagers reach their full power as casters, and choose between the dark and the light sides of casting.  Lena would rather not be a dark caster like her mother Seraphina, but fate seems to have marked her to be such.  Ethan would like to be Lena's husband, but has the full opposition of everyone in Lena's family.  Amma would like to help Lena and Ethan to their best possible outcome.

Resolution:  Well, watch the film.  The resolution was brilliant in my opinion, but what do you think?

One line summary: Well done coming of age fantasy.


  a. Cinematography: 8/10 I thought the lighting and camera work were fine, and the limited use of CGI was good.  It was not world destruction style CGI; rather, just enough to support the story.

  b. Sound: 8/10

  c. Acting: 9/10 The veteran actors were excellent and the younger ones did well enough.

  d. Screenplay: 8/10 I've seen this film compared to Twilight, which is odd.  This film has good acting and a witty script.  I do not remember laughing while plowing through Twilight, but this one is much better.  I anticipated some of the outcome, but not all, and the route to get there was a fun ride.

  e. Final rating: eight of ten


20150830: Commentary on media ownership

A reply to 'disks are old hat, sorry.'  MOVIES and BOOKS WORLD, 20150830.

I would strongly agree with this, but as part of a larger question of ownership.

1. Kindle/Amazon.  When one pays for a book, one gets the virtual copy immediately, and one can start reading.  Cool?  Sure.  However, if Amazon gets in a huff with a title's author, the book can disappear from your Kindle just as quickly as it showed up.  If someone hacks your Amazon account, and does bad things posing as you, your Kindle inventory might just all disappear.

Do you own purchased Kindle content?  No, not at all.

2. MMO video games.  These days, one
  a. buys into the game for a certain one-time price
  b. pays a monthly charge to keep playing.

Your game client is refreshed at every logon.  If anything goes south on your account (hacking, false complaints, game server belch), then your client will not longer work.  Your privileges and database records are sealed off from you.  Only direct telephone contact plus authentication plus straightening things out will restore this.

Do you own such a game?  No, you do not. The days when one bought a disk, installed from the disk, and repaired/recovered from the disk are gone.

3. Upscale software tools for individual users.

Professional tools have long been sold on a subscription basis.  A corporation (individuals or small companies could not afford this) would pay a fixed purchase fee plus a monthly fee for technical support, documentation, training, and upgrades.  For example, at one corporation where I worked, the build/version control tool we used cost 100,000 USD per seat plus monthly fees.  It was a dynamite tool, though.

At the other end, one had consumer tools like Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Access, etc) and Adobe image tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, etc) that could be purchased on disk.  One owned these.  They could not be taken away. One could bite the bullet and actually own these.  Tech support and training might be extra, but were available at prices much less than the giant corporation tools.

In the years 2014/2015/2016, the private ownership by individuals of such products is being phased out.  Even individuals have to buy a subscription (monthly fee) to continue using the latest tools from MS and Adobe.  If one stops paying the fees, one is locked out.  There are no disks, there will be no functionality that you own.

So, ownership of such products will completely end in a few years.  The earlier versions that one owns on optical disks will eventually not work with current operating systems.

4. Movies.

Wow.  This is one of the last, if not the last, frontier of consumer ownership in media.  There are hundreds of millions of optical disks out there for movies and music.  So there is more inertia to keep it that way.  However, stuff changes.  Do we still use 8-tracks?  No.  Laserdiscs for movies?  Probably not.  Cassette tapes for music?  Not too likely.  Try buying a cassette player!  VHS tapes for movies?  Cringe!!  DVDs?  Passe, and they have such low resolution.  Blu-ray?  Hm, I would have to buy a 1080p monitor, a blu-ray player, and, well, all those damned disks, again.

When my wife and I saw that DVDs were outmoded, we started our transition to streaming rather than blu-ray.  We bought a 1080p monitor and an AppleTV.  At first we were mighty disappointed at the small amount of content that actually justified the move.  After a while, though, we got hooked on 1080p, and are continually disappointed at DVDs, VHS, and at least half of cable television.

About two years after that decision, we moved house, this time a compression move (downsizing?), and we had to trim our belongings. The 8-tracks left, as did the VHS tapes, some of the cassette tapes, and some of the DVDs.  We owned that media, and we still had players, but...the results are so disappointing!

Going forward, we did not want to invest heavily in anything that takes up space.  Further, blu-ray 1080p will be replaced in ~5 years by blu-ray 4k.  Do I want to buy a whole galaxy of 4k blu-ray disks?  No, I have space constraints.

5. Movies and ownership.

As opposed to Kindle, video games, and software tool packages, it seems there will still be a path to continued ownership of movies.  That is, owning

   a. VHS, DVD, blu-ray 1080p disks, plus owning an appropriate player that likely cannot be replaced or serviced
   b. blu-ray 4k disks plus player--for the best there is.

However, I'm not sure these routes will do all that well.

Smartphones and tablets do not have optical drives.  Yet one still sees movies on them through streaming services.  Phones and tablets are used quite a bit in watching films, despite the small screens, and neither device uses optical media.  These devices naturally cut into the market penetration of disks.

When I look forward with trepidation to replacing my Mac laptop, I see that my next one will not have an optical drive.  Personal computers will not play movies from disks without the purchase of an external optical disk reader.

Why would Apple make a decision like that about their Macintoshes?  Well, they would like to sell you content that resides on their servers.  Even better, they would like you to rent movies that reside on their servers.  If you want to see a film multiple times, you will need to rent it multiple times.

It's not just Apple.  Microsoft (see above), Adobe (see above), Amazon (their instant video), and Google (see Barry Ward's post) are all into streaming rentals, not selling optical disks.  This is one of the biggest reasons that disks are old hat for movies.

Then there is Netflix, which offers only rentals.  One pays subscription fees and gets on demand properties...but only when Netflix offers them.  You do not own them since you do not have disks for the properties.

So, the big media corporations are clearly moving toward the 'we own it, you never will' model with movies.  Amazon and Apple have some options for 'buying' media content, but these are somewhat difficult to trust.  Your 'owned' content resides on their servers somewhere.  Whenever I switch devices or have some OS update event, I often have to download the property again from the servers, which is a pain for HD content.  I imagine UHD will be much worse.  Also, if the corporation hosting your movie gets hacked, one might just not be able to reclaim your content.

6. Summary

Disks represent a cut in profits for large companies.  So they are doing their best to move forward the phasing out of disks, and the ownership of copies of films.


20150827: Drama Review--The Babadook

The Babadook
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: The Babadook
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 6.9/10 (79,570 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      98% of critics liked it: 168 critical reviews liked it of 172.
      73% of viewers liked it based on 29,186 ratings
      Critics Consensus: The Babadook relies on real horror rather than cheap jump scares -- and boasts a heartfelt, genuinely moving story to boot.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2014-05-22
    6. Production Companies: South Australian Film Corporation, Screen Australia, Smoking Gun Productions, Causeway Films
    7. Tagline: If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook.

    8. Budget:  2,000,000 USD
    9. Revenue: 4,222,200 USD
    10. Runtime: 93 minutes.
    11. Genres: Drama, Thriller, Horror

    12. Written and directed by: Jennifer Kent.

    13. Starring: Essie Davis as Amelia, Noah Wiseman as Samuel, Daniel Henshall as Robbie, Tim Purcell as The Babadook, Hayley McElhinney as Claire, Cathy Adamek as Prue, Craig Behenna as Warren, Benjamin Winspear as Oskar, Chloe Hurn as Ruby, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight as Supermarket Mum

    14. TMDb overview: A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Amelia's husband dies while she is pregnant with Samuel. Losing the husband is a huge traumatic spike, and raising the now unwanted child as a single parent is strong ongoing stress.  She does not impose practical boundaries on the child, who responds by pushing her well past the limit.  That is, she is a terrible parent, and the child makes her and everyone around them pay for that fact.

    2. At age six, Samuel starts broadcasting his dislike of the way he is treated. His aberrant behaviours at school and around town invoke additional stressors to Amelia's already weakened mental state. When mother and son find a book with a pop-up character, they make the mistake of reading it together at night.  Their lives get worse by this simple foolish choice that could be revoked at any time.

    3. Will Amelia heal herself and flush all this ridiculously obvious nonsensical cluster of lies?

  3. Conclusions

    1. This is a psychological drama where the protagonist refuses to resolve her own self-generated difficulties.  There was no character to identify with in the film.  As the film progressed to the ten minute mark, my empathic response to the self-destructive protagonist had already evaporated.  So, who cares?

    2. Netflix classifies this hot mess as Thriller, Independent Thriller, Psychological Thriller.  At least they did not mark it as 'horror.'  Also, Thriller?  Really?  There is nothing thrilling (or even engaging) about this descent into the outer boundaries of stupidity.

    3. The Movie Database (TMDb) calls it Drama (yes), Thriller (no), and Horror (no).  The film had no body horror, no serial killers, no gorefest.  The madness aspect was all fake, so the supposed supernatural elements were each and every one fake.  What aspect of horror is this misstep supposed to represent?

    4. Rotten Tomatoes marked the genres as Drama, Horror, Mystery and Suspense.  There is no suspense here since there were no real threats involved.  The protagonist's pathology was set clearly during the first 45 seconds.  The mystery, I suppose, was whether she would decide to get well.  The other mystery is why RT rated this dog so highly.

    5. There are so many dull stretches in this film. At times I thought I was watching Paranormal Activity without the jump scares. Also, watching full-screen, low resolution badly taped ancient television is just boring, whether or not the protagonist thinks she sees something in the childish images. There is nothing there, just the wandering consciousness of a sleep-deprived weakling who has given up on life.

    6. One line summary: This film is 93 minutes of witnessing ongoing willful self-delusion.

    7. Zero stars of five.  This is one of the worst films I have ever seen. Why it received sacred cow status is a mystery.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 0/10 Oh my, dark and evocative?  Well, no.

    2. Sound: 0/10 Unfortunately, I could hear the dialog.

    3. Acting: 0/10 I suppose most of the actors accomplished the tasks the director set them.   In that way, this film resembles some of Wes Anderson's horrible early works.  The actors did what the director wished, but that was just the problem.  The director's flawed vision trumped any and all of the actors' efforts, rendering the net effect of acting as zero, nada, zilch.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 There are no real threats, no real suspense, no real anything.  This film is 93 minutes of witnessing ongoing self-delusion.  I did like the line where the child says to a potential suitor that she won't let him have a birthday party and won't let him have a dad.  Of course he hates her, deeply, strongly, and forever.  This all could have been done in much less time.  Apparently the auteur director had already done that: Babadook was an expansion of Monster (2005), which clocks in at 10 minutes.

    5. Babadook is an anagram for 'a bad book,' but 'a bad author' might have been better. As Amelia bragged to her friends in one passage, Amelia wrote the problematic book, and constructed it out of ordinary materials. Then she foisted it on her unsuspecting child.


20150802: Comedy Review--Three Night Stand

Three Night Stand
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: Three Night Stand
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 4.8/10 (477 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      60% of critics liked it of 10 critical reviews posted
      36% liked it from 280 viewers' ratings
      Critics Consensus: no consensus yet

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2013-12-06
    6. Production Companies: Vroom Productions, Banner House Productions
    7. Tagline: Meet Carl. His wife. & the Love of his Life.

    8. Budget:  1.2 million CAD
    9. Revenue: Revenue figures not available at review time.
    10. Runtime: 86 minutes.
    11. Genres: Comedy, Drama

    12. Written and directed by: Pat Kiely.

    13. Starring: Sam Huntington as Carl, Meaghan Rath as Sue, Emmanuelle Chriqui as Robyn, Reagan Pasternak as Stacey, Jonathan Cherry as Doug, Dan Beirne as Aaron Berg

    14. TMDb overview: A married couple's romantic weekend is turned upside down when the husband's ex-girlfriend, a woman he's secretly obsessed with, is running the ski lodge where they're staying.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Carl and Sue get ready for a weekend at a ski lodge.  Carl plans to get Sue a new ring, and for them to renew their vows.  When they arrive, they find that Carl's ex Robyn, who now calls herself Ryan, has bought the place and is running it.  Carl also hoped that during this weekend, he and Sue might iron out some turbulence in their relationship.  On top of that, Carl slips out now and then to telephone Stacey, his best friend and co-worker.  Stacey tries to help Carl as best she can, but has her husband Doug to contend with at the same time.

    2. Worlds collide!

    3. The rest of the film is about the consequences of the collision.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Not worth the effort.

    2. Three of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Nothing to write home about.

    2. Sound: 5/10 I could hear the dialog.  Sound was not an enhancement.

    3. Acting: 4/10  I saw quite enough of Sam Huntington and Meaghan Rath in the television series Being Human (2011-2014).  The neural pathways are still thinking of their old relationship.  The action shows only lip service to any attraction between them.  This is OK, since there is no chemistry to speak of.  Although that fits into the setup of the script, it weakens engagement: why should I care about these two, the main characters, that is?

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 Looks like the broad ratings are not too far off.  There is enough plot for about 15 minutes, but this gets stretched to 86.  There are not many laughs in this film.  The main situation that generates conflict is handled with the blunt instrument called Sam Huntington, so the script is rather lost to his blundering ways.

      If you hate women, you might like this film.  If you hate men, you might like this film. Both men and women are portrayed as being beneath worthless.  If you despise romance, you might like this film.  If you hate laughing, you might like this film.  There was no romance, but only callousness and cynicism.  I did not laugh while watching this movie.

      Since I do not fit into any of those categories, the picture had little appeal to me.


20150801: Thriller Review--American Psycho 2

American Psycho 2: All American Girl
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: American Psycho 2: All American Girl
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 3.9/10 (11,673 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      Tomatometer: 11% based on 9 reviews
      18% of viewers liked it, based on 25,215ratings
      Critics Consensus:No consensus yet.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2002-04-22
    6. Production Companies: Lions Gate Films
    7. Tagline: Angrier. Deadlier. Sexier.

    8. Budget:  10,000,000 USD
    9. Revenue: Revenue figures not available at review time.
    10. Runtime: 88 minutes.
    11. Genres: Horror, Thriller

    12. Directed by: Morgan J. Freeman.  Written by: Alex Sanger, Karen Craig

    13. Starring: Mila Kunis as Rachael, William Shatner as Starkman, Geraint Wyn Davies as Daniels, Robin Dunne as Brian, Lindy Booth as Cassandra, Charles Officer as Keith Lawson, Jenna Perry as Young Rachael, Michael Kremko as Patrick Bateman, Kim Poirier as Barbara, Boyd Banks as Jim

    14. TMDb overview: Rachel is a criminology student hoping to land a position as a teacher's assistant for professor Robert Starkman. She's sure this position will pave the way to an FBI career, and she's willing to do anything to obtain it -- including killing her classmates. The school psychiatrist, Dr. Daniels, becomes aware that Rachel is insane, but Rachel is skilled at her dangerous game of death and identity theft.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. There is a lot of voiceover toward the front end of the film, and voiceover later on.  This is usually a sign of not enough attention being paid to developing the screenplay.

    2. Rachel has, for good reasons, more than a bit of a fixation on Patrick Bateman from the first American Psycho film.  When she reaches university, she wants to be the assistant of Robert Starkman, a former FBI profiler renowned for catching serial killers.  She wants to know everything he can possibly teach her.  The assistant position would also likely mean she would get a choice entry into training at Quantico.

    3. She has some competition for the position, though.  What is the movie about?  It's about whether or not anyone catches up to the extraordinary methods that she used to eliminate the competition.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Essentially a non-sequel despite the name.

    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 The visual quality of the version that Netflix screened was not all that good.  The usage of camera was all rather pedestrian as well.

    2. Sound: 6/10 I could hear the dialog.  The sound mixing strongly favoured the background music over the spoken voices, however.  The choice of background music was not the film's strong point.

    3. Acting: 6/10 American Psycho II, filmed just outside Toronto, made me appreciate the cast in American Psycho I just a bit more.  I like Canadian actors William Shatner (Star Trek), Robin Dunne (Sanctuary), Geraint Wyn Davies (Forever Knight), and Lindy Booth (The Librarians, Dawn of the Dead [2004]).  However, I like them in sci-fi television for the most part.  Their performances in a psychological thriller were a bit unexpected.  Davies and Shatner were fine, but the scenes with only Dunne and Kunis were not the best.  On the other hand, the scenes with only Davies and Kunis were engaging.

    4. Screenplay: 5/10 The large percentage of voiceover was not a plus. The badly written dialog featuring Kunis or Dunne was quite off-putting.  Still, the film had a beginning, a middle, and an end, with reasonable connections from scene to scene.