“Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” (PG-13): An unintentionally hilarious “Twilight”/“Lord of the Rings” wannabe, “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” may yet satisfy teen lovers of the books by Cassandra Clare. The film literally creaks under long, sometimes ludicrous explanations of the otherworldly powers at work, though the actors are uniformly fun to watch. Clary (Lily Collins) lives with her single mom Jocelyn (Lena Headey) in Brooklyn. Lately, she has been seeing strange things no one else does, not even her pal Simon (Robert Sheehan) who quietly adores her. At a dance club, Clary sees someone stabbed to death. In the alley she meets the dashing Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower, a veteran of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” films). He tells her he’s a “shadowhunter” who kills demons, and that it’s a secret sect dating back to the Crusades, and involving an angel and a sacred Cup. Jocelyn is also a shadowhunter, but before she can explain it to her daughter, she’s attacked at home by demons, takes poison and disappears. A tarot card-reading witch (CCH Pounder) helps Clary recognize her own shadowhunter traits. She and Simon follow Jace (who also loves Clary) to the Institute, a cathedral-like place where she meets Jace’s jealous friend Alec (Kevin Zegers) and their leader, Hodge (Jared Harris). All hell literally breaks loose when the rogue shadowhunter Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) appears.
The violence, while not bloody, gets intense for a PG-13. It involves flamethrowers, blades, and a vampire-killing gun. Clary’s mom slams an attacker’s head with her fridge door. An attack dog’s head splits open as it morphs into a reptilian demon, then regenerates after it’s blown up. Clary and Simon groan at sexual innuendo in a bad poem. Someone makes a dog’s humping motion and jokes about it. Cadaver-like beings, their mouths sewn shut, watch over the City of Bones. The protagonists are attacked by hordes of vampires in one scene, but rescued by werewolves. A not-very-credible brother-sister incest theme weaves the last act. Swarming ravens swoop into the Institute and turn into demons.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (PG-13): The transformational nature of the civil rights movement weaves throughout director Lee Daniels’ story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a butler at the White House from the Eisenhower through the Reagan administrations.
Based partly on a 2008 Washington Post profile by Wil Haygood of real-life White House butler Eugene Allen, the film fictionalizes the man and the story in order to link it more directly to the arc of the movement. Despite some instances of stunt casting (Robin Williams as Eisenhower does not work), stilted dialogue and an epilogue celebrating the election of President Obama that feels overdone while he’s still in office, the movie is deeply affecting.
The re-creation of lunch counter sit-ins and civil rights marches, with violent responses from police using nightsticks, fire hoses and snarling dogs, and from epithet-shouting, punch-throwing whites are stomach-churning. Characters use occasional midrange profanity, racial slurs, drink and smoke. Gloria has an implied dalliance with a neighbor (Terrence Howard). LBJ (Liev Schreiber) barks orders while sitting on the commode.