There is something to be said for ambition. The sort of unabashed, no holds barred, balls to the wall energy that makes anything seem like a good idea. Though you'll cock your head at the results of this kind of caution-to-the-wind bravado, the all-inclusive "sure, why not?" attitude, you can't help but crack a smile for the purveyors of this spirit: the first grader who stuffs his class diorama with every figurine and pipe cleaner machination he can muster, the bird who lines its nest with candy wrappers and Fedex receipts, or the people who made the Mortal Instruments movie. They, quite possibly, are the mightiest knights of them all.
You don't have to wait too long for the crazy to kick up in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. We open on the most spacious apartment in the history of Brooklyn, where young Lily Collins is beginning to see mysterious symbols popping up everywhere, only the first sign of the fantastical journey set to take form. Mother Lena Headey, aided by her platonic friend Aidan Turner, plays the Dursley card and takes effort to deter any exploration of the ominous elements to befall her daughter. But as with every spunky mystic around her age, Collins cannot be restrained. She follows her heart and embarks on a quest, aided by her platonic friend Robert Sheehan, through every single conceivable element of modern fantasy.
The Harry Potter similarities continue when Collins is ushered into a demonic otherworld via New York City's equivalent of a murky train platform (an ecstasy-laden dance club), guided by New York City's equivalent of a haggard woodland giant (a perpetually shirtless goth ghost, played by Jamie Campbell Bower). Working her way up from glowing-eyed club druggers and pieces of living jewelry to demons, werewolves, witches, vampires, and interdimensional portals — tossed in one by one as we gradually abandon all devotion to any margins of logic — Collins engages in an adventure that seems entirely open to all possibilities. Or at least all possibilities that have proven vigilant at the box office in the past four years.
And as she engages, so do we. Not exactly in the way you engage with Harry Potter... more in the way you engage with the Harry Potter ride at Islands of Adventure. You'll embrace the likable and talented Collins just enough to forge the sort of relationship you want with a fantasy heroine. You'll find yourself rooting one way or the other in the love triangle between her, the Shirtless Shadowhunter (Campbell Bower), and her lovestruck pal Simon (Sheehan). You won't have to work too hard to understand most of the mystical facets tossed your way: you know the rules of vampires (no sunlight), of werewolves (they're dudes sometimes), of demons (they're bad). And when it does get confusing, like when teleportation bubbles and portal beams from the afterlife and curses and tarot cards and dreadlocks are tossed into the equation, you have the luxury of abandoning the puzzle. You're not asked to understand anything, just to accept it all.
Accept that all this madness can, does, and should occur within the malleable reality occupied by Collins and her ghastly friends. When it is revealed that classical musicians had a hand in these supernatural forays, accept it. When you're taken from wizards' palaces to Willy Wonkian wonderlands to the destitute streets of a haunted Manhattan post 3 AM, accept it. When genealogical revelations tie everything together in a bow so strange as to put the peculiarity of bat invasions, corpse armies, glowing hieroglyph tattoos, and memory erasing club promoters, accept it. If you can do all that, you'll find a comical thrill ride in this two hours of steadily accelerating madness, this Mulligan Stew of YA fiction. But if you're too hung up on logic, rules, world building, or any semblance of pacing, stick with Potter — Mortal Instruments is for the most adamant "sure, why not?"-ers only.
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More:Lily Collins Talks 'Mortal Instruments'Jared Harris Talks 'Mortal Instruments'Hollywood.com's YA Summer Book Club
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While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.