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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Silent Hill: Revelation 3D has a lot of things working against it from the get go. It's based on a video game franchise that debuted in 1999 has been milked for sequels ever since (the current total of Silent Hill games is nine) and the movie itself is a sequel to the disappointingly dumb 2006 film directed by Christophe Gans. What's more the bitter aftertaste of Resident Evil: Retribution is still lingering in the mouths of survival horror movie/gamers and although they have entirely different plots and take place in totally different universes that's not necessarily enough to take the edge off for weary viewers.
It would take a dazzling director with a stellar cast and a first-rate script to overcome those sorts of obstacles and Silent Hill doesn't have any of those things. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett is obviously fond of both video games and horror (his previous movies include Solomon Kane and Deathwatch) the cast is decent with some exceptions and the script… well it's better than Resident Evil. If anything we can give Bassett credit for his enthusiasm. You really can't win when you try and make a video game movie no matter how many hours you spent playing Doom as a teen. Whether that's at the hands of the studios or the creative teams themselves isn't clear; it's simply a nut that hasn't been cracked yet.
The good news is that you don't really need a grasp on the video game or previous movie's narrative to follow the Revelation's plot. Harry (Sean Bean) has been lying to his daughter Heather (Adelaide Clemens) for a very long time. He's convinced her that her dreams about a terrible place called Silent Hill are the longstanding effects of a car crash that killed her mother and that they have to move around and take on new identities all the time because he killed a prowler in self-defense. Heather has other problems like the occasional hallucinations about a terrible alternate universe that's populated by monsters and industrial junk and flickering lights. One minute she'll be doing something normal and then suddenly the walls are burning down to the rafters and something with a butt for a face is shambling towards her. It's a raw deal.
Heather's first day at her new school is not that great; she meets a cute guy named Vincent (Kit Harington) who wants to be buddies but she makes it clear she's pretty bad ass and not one to pal around since she'll just be leaving town again anyway. When she comes home from school her dad has disappeared and the living room is a huge mess. If she wasn't clear on what to do next someone used his blood to write "COME TO SILENT HILL" on the wall with a funky sigil next to it which matches this weird object she's had since she was little. Luckily Vincent has a car and more than a few troubling secrets of his own underneath those glossy brown curls. He offers to drive her and off they go. Typical chitchat between them is about the nature of reality and dreams and Vincent's batty grandfather who's locked up in an insane asylum.
This is where things get really convoluted. Silent Hill is indeed a terrible place where ash falls from the sky during the day and horrible things come out to menace any townsperson dumb enough to be out at night. It's an eerie world that comes close to the truly terrifying Silent Hill games on occasion. After a while though it's mostly just Heather and occasionally Vincent running around in what seems like mazes of rusty bloody walls with the occasional gruesome monster popping out to halfheartedly menace them.
There's a dash of The Wicker Man here with the requisite creepy sacrificial cult and some Hellraiser-esque torture thrown in but it stops short of being a full-blown Clive Barker nightmare. There is some gore and disturbing images but the choice to use practical effects for almost all of the monsters is far more impressive in theory. Those monsters look okay from afar but rubbery up close whereas the only CGI monster is an impressive spidery thing made up of doll parts. The use of strobe lights and other effects is absolutely maddening especially in conjunction with the 3D which is mostly used for cheap gimmicks like splashing blood at the viewer.
There's something oddly satisfying about the way that the movie follows the trajectory of a video game; it's even laid out like a video game universe with different goals and bosses at each location. The problem is that what is believable or acceptable in a video game doesn't necessarily translate to a movie — in a game you're busy solving puzzles and killing monsters and it's easier to overlook kitchen-sink plots. Even though the movie doesn't completely hew to the game's story it's got the same mentality that more is better when it's really just more. And the more that's piled on the more ridiculous it gets. When everything is at a fever pitch that kind of weirdness becomes a baseline and nothing is shocking. Unlike in the games there's just one ending no matter how you play it.
Former cellmates Michael (Russell) and Murphy (Costner) are leaders of a posse that plans to pull off the heist of a lifetime: robbing the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas during International Elvis Week. This means of course adopting full-on spangled jumpsuits sunglasses and "thank yuh thank yuh vurry much"-es. But when Murphy turns against the crew to keep all the loot for himself Michael escapes with it instead and heads for the border to launder it. He's sidelined along the way by a dalliance with a grifter (Courteney Cox) and her young son. Meanwhile Murphy's hot on his trail.
Costner turned down the chance to play Russell's part to take on the villain instead - and he looks like he's having the time of his life. Less filled out but more amoral than his baddie in the underrated "A Perfect World " Costner bats well as a foil to Russell who shows a barely visible vulnerability under the necessary roughness. Cox to her credit does a complete 180 from her uptight role on "Friends" as the sexually aggressive con-chick Cybil. Christian Slater David Arquette and Bokeem Woodbine make small appearances as part of the Elvis crew Howie Long and Ice-T kick some tail and Kevin Pollak and the long-absent Thomas Haden Church ("Wings") provide comic relief as bumbling lawmen.
"3000 Miles to Graceland" may seem like a caper reminiscent of last month's "Snatch " except there's a lot of bloodshed particularly during the casino robbery where machine gun blasts fling people across the room to land on cha-ching!-ing slot machines. Novice director Demian Lichtenstein's music video background is evident in his Guy Ritchie-esque cuts zooms and a way-bizarre computerized scorpion fight that kicks off the movie (what was that about?). His style and the Vegas ambience give the film a kitschy edge that disappears once the guys shed their Elvis garb. Stay for the credits - you'll see a costumed Russell lip-synching in his own music video as Costner Cox and crew dance about.