REVIEW: The Lovely Bones

24 05 2010

I generally agree with the consensus opinion on popular books, movies, and other works, despite how you might interpret my Rotten Tomatoes average of agreement with other groups that lingers around 75%.  But every once in a while, there is that one which I just can’t seem to embrace like everyone else;  Alice Sebold’s novel “The Lovely Bones” was one that fell into that category.  I found it overly melodramatic and an unrewarding experience after enduring three hundred pages of wrenching gloominess.

Nevertheless, I went into Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of “The Lovely Bones” with an open mind.  Maybe I would be able to tap into that love that everyone felt for the book.  In a nutshell, I didn’t feel much other than apathy, a pretty pathetic feeling for a movie that involves the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl.  That’s the kind of the thing that should rattle some cages, right?  Jackson can’t get the emotions in focus, and the whole movie in turn suffers from a pervading chilly feeling.

It’s hard to capture heaven on film because no one actually knows what it looks like.  But Jackson’s vision doesn’t really align with any sort of popular conception of heaven, and it gives off all sorts of weird vibes.  At times, it gets so crazy that it almost becomes laughable, particularly when flowers bloom underneath shelves of ice.

These vibes infect and contaminate the real world, which Jackson isn’t terrible at capturing.  However, anyone who has read the book can clearly see that Jackson wanted us to sympathize more with Susie Salmon’s family as they grieve her disappearance and assumed death.  I wanted to kill Susie’s mother (played by Rachel Weisz) in the book, yet here she gets a pardon.  Her most hideous actions are simply omitted.  The role of the police investigator (Michael Imperioli) and the grandmother (Susan Sarandon) are reduced to basically cameos.

The only part of this movie that was really good was Stanley Tucci, who plays the creepy neighbor that murders Susie.  He is startling, delivering a performance that is deep and truly haunting.  As the hairs on your spine stick straight up, you will most definitely be wondering what happened to the sweet little man who made us laugh in “Julie & Julia” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”  Other than Tucci, the only other cast member who’s any good is Susan Sarandon, but she has no screen time and looks 20 years too young to be a grandmother.  Rachel Weisz can’t make us feel anything towards her character, Mark Wahlberg is too intense for his own good, and Saoirse Ronan is just awful.  She screams and cries, and I didn’t buy any of it.

The only reasons I could give for watching this movie would be to get depressed or to watch Stanley Tucci’s transformation.  The latter is the only legitimate excuse; there are much better movies to get you in a melancholy mood.  C /

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Oscar Moment: “The Lovely Bones”

15 12 2009

In honor of its release in New York and Los Angeles, I figured “The Lovely Bones” would make good material for an Oscar Moment.

I have read Alice Sebold’s novel, the source material for the movie, and I have gone on the record expressing my distaste.  However, I am the member of a vast minority who feels that way.  A lot of people love the story of Susie Salmon, the 14-year-old that is murdered by your friendly neighborhood pedophile.  The story progresses with Susie watching from some sort of “heaven” as her family struggles to deal with her absence while hanging on to the slim hope that she might be alive somewhere.  I don’t mind depressing stories (in fact, “Revolutionary Road” is one of my favorite books and movies), but Sebold gives us such melodramatic plot and characters that there is no way to conclude with any sense of satisfaction.

As I read the book, I kept thinking to myself how it would not transfer well to the screen, especially Susie’s very vaguely written heaven.  One of the things I did admire about the book was how Sebold allowed the reader to make of this mystical place what they wanted.  She probably had her ideas about what it would look like, and I had mine.

Yet almost instantly after I finished the book, I heard that Peter Jackson was adapting “The Lovely Bones” into a film.  Although I had a hard time following the plot of “The Lord of the Rings” throughout the trilogy, I did admire Jackson’s ability to create such a fantastic universe for the series.  My initial reaction to the announcement was curiosity, and then followed by a bit of reassurance.  Spawning Susie’s heaven would be a daunting task, but I had a feeling that Jackson was one of very few who could do a good job of creating it.

The initial critical reaction seems to suggest that Jackson did not quite get it.  The film currently holds a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (a 28% from top critics) and a 44 on Metacritic.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that critics don’t decide a movie’s awards success, but not even a fool can deny that they have an impact.  In the past five years, there has not been a movie with a Metacritic rating lower than 69 or a 68% Rotten Tomatoes rating nominated for Best Picture in the past 5 years.  I don’t think we can rule out Best Picture entirely, but Paramount’s blundering of the release schedule may have put the nail in the coffin.  In order for a movie that received this poor of a critical reception to score at the Oscars, it needs to be well-received by audiences.  And with “The Lovely Bones” not hitting most theaters until Martin Luther King weekend (only a week before nomination ballots are due), it would probably be too late to sway the tides in its favor.  “Gran Torino” learned this lesson the hard way last year.

Other than a Critic’s Choice nomination for Saiorse Ronan, the only blip that “The Lovely Bones” has made on the awards circuit radar so far has been for Stanley Tucci’s performance as Susie’s murderer George Harvey.  Tucci is a very likable actor who has always brightened movies with his presence, but now he has given a haunting performance that critics seem to agree is one of the few redeeming features of the movie.  He also has the success of “Julie & Julia” going for him, and the Academy loves to give nominations for a great year of work (for example, Kate Winslet ostensibly for “The Reader” but also for “Revolutionary Road”).  On a sadder note, there may be some sympathy for Tucci after losing his wife of nearly 15 years to cancer this May.

The only thing certain about the Oscar season is that nothing is certain.  So as much as I would like to say that “The Lovely Bones” is dead on arrival, I simply cannot.  Who knows what factors will come into play in the 2 1/2 months before the ceremony?  Maybe the movie will gain a huge surge of popularity that becomes too big to deny for Academy voters.  But only time will tell what happens.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (Stanley Tucci)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Saiorse Ronan), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects





What To Look Forward To in … January 2010

2 12 2009

January is always an interesting month at the movies.  It is usually filled with trash, so it is usually best spent making sure you see everything that came out in December.  With this post, I hope to steer you away from what I perceive to be the month’s garbage and towards what could be a surprise hit.

January 8

Is it just me or does the trailer do all the explanation and then some for “Leap Year?”  Amy Adams will be welcome face in barren January, and if there is a breakout hit in this month, my bet is on this.

Wait – Michael Cera and teen angst?  Never seen this before!  So excited for “Youth in Revolt” that I can barely see straight!

And just in case the latest vampire movie has left your local theater by January, Hollywood has “Daybreakers” for you. This seems to have a lot less shirtlessness and a lot more blood and gore, so that might limit its appeal a tad.

January 15

“The Book of Eli” will provide the answer to a question that has me curious: how much apocalypse can moviegoers take?  2009 saw “2012,” “Knowing,” and “Zombieland,” just to name a few.  This looks like a more mainstream, BA-version of “The Road.”  Denzel Washington is a star that all respect, but “The Taking of Pelham 123” in June 2009 showed that he can’t always draw in a large audience.  Will this be the movie to get him back on track?

The Lovely Bones” plans to open wide this weekend.  Oh, and don’t get me started on how awful “The Spy Next Door” looks.

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What To Look Forward To In … December 2009

14 11 2009

What is in my mind the finest month for the movies is almost here!  Let Marshall guide you through the best and steer you away from the worst, but most of all enjoy!  The studios have been holding back their best movies all year to dump them all here, where they can get serious awards consideration.

December 4

A major Oscars wild-card is “Brothers.”  No one really knows what to make of it.  If the movie hits big, it could completely change the game.  But it could just fly under the radar like most expect it to now.  However, the trailer makes it look as if it the movie could be absolutely mind-blowing.  Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has received six Academy Award nominations, “Brothers” follows Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman) as she and her daughters deal with the loss of her husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), in war.  Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to live with Grace to lend a helping hand.  But romantic sparks fly between the two at precisely the wrong time: the discovery that Sam is alive and coming home.  With the two brothers both tugging Grace’s heart for their share, a different type of sparks fly.

You have heard me say plenty about “Up in the Air.”  If you haven’t read my Oscar Moment on the movie or heard my bliss at the release of the trailer, let me give you one more chance to hope on the bandwagon.

But the movies don’t stop there.  “Armored,” an action-drama that is tooting its own moral horn, starring Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne.  “Everybody’s Fine” appears to be a holiday movie, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in the spirit.  The movie, a remake of a 1990 Italian film by the same name, stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who reconnects with his estrange children.  And “Transylmania” looks to cash in on the vampire craze sweeping the nation by satirizing it, but I doubt it will be financially viable because it is being released by a no-name studio and without any big names.

December 11

The highlight of the weekend for many will be “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to the traditional animation by hand musical.  The movie looks to capitalize on what we know and love Disney musicals for, adding some catchy tunes to a fairy tale we have known since childhood.  Anika Noni Rose, best known for her role as Lorrell in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” lends her talented voice to the princess Tiana.  As a huge fan of “Dreamgirls” during the winter of 2006, I couldn’t think of someone better equipped to handle the sweet, soft Disney music (which isn’t designed for belters like Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson).  That being said, the music won’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard from a Disney fairy tale.  It is being scored by Randy Newman, not Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), and will have a jazzy feel much like its setting, New Orleans.

This week also boasts the opening of three major Oscar players. Two have been featured in Oscar Moments, “Invictus” and “A Single Man.” The former opens nationwide this Friday, the latter only in limited release. I’ll repost the trailers below because they are worth watching. But read the Oscar Moment if you want to know more about the movies.

According to the people that matter, “The Lovely Bones” has all the pieces to make a great movie. But for summer reading two years ago, I read the source material, Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel. I found it dreadfully melodramatic and very depressing without any sort of emotional payoff to reward the reader for making it through. But maybe Hollywood will mess up the novel in a good way. If any movie could, it would be this one. With a director like Peter Jackson and a cast including Saiorse Ronan (“Atonement”), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, it could very well happen.  It opens in limited release on this date and slowly expands until its nationwide release on Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2010.

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Random Factoid #82

18 10 2009

In the now rare occasion that I read a book that isn’t about to be released as a movie, I can’t help but cast the movie in my head.  Not only that, but I also imagine how the cinematography would look and how the score behind it would sound.  For example, when I read “Fahrenheit 451,” I cast Edward Norton as Guy Montag.

In this case, I also imagined the books that would be burned.  I’d throw in some of the banned books like “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Harry Potter,” but of course, I’d have to cut to a few of my least favorite books.  I’d burn every copy of “The Lovely Bones.”