Wednesday, June 30, 2010

#30-The Lovely Bones (2009)

The Lovely Bones

It is interesting to go from one of Peter Jackson’s more enjoyable films, Dead Alive, to what is possibly his worst, with The Lovely Bones (Mike called it on his comment below Dead Alive) . Once again he is in the business of adapting a novel to the big screen, this time one about a murder instead of a ring, a girl instead of a hobbit, and the 70’s instead of middle earth. And while I think that The Lovely Bones is a hard project to do, simply because you have both strong dealings with fantasy and reality, and must communicate both to the audience in a sense that makes them accessible, I just can’t help but feel like Jackson dropped the ball a little on this one.

Our story follows a young girl by the name of Susie Salmon (
Saoirse Ronan) who is living a typical teenage life in the seventies with her Mother (Rachel Weisz), Father (Mark Wahlberg), Brother and Sister. Susie is a typical young girl, loves taking pictures, is in film club, has a crush on the boy, and goes to school. Unfortunately while walking home from club one day she finds out that her neighbor (Stanley Tucci) is building a club house next to the school, ’Just a little something for the kids’ with only one rule: ’no adults allowed’. He invites Susie to be the first one inside the club house, but she never does make it out.

Stanley Tucci received an Oscar nomination for his work on the film, and I got to say, he deserves it. He plays a really creepy man thoroughly and mercilessly. He is simply terrifying to watch onscreen, as with Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds (not quite there, but close) The rest of the cast does a decent job, virtual new-comer Saoirse Ronan does an okay job of playing our lead girl, and Wahlberg and Weisz perform middle ground as well, but unfortunately, their characters get pushed to the wayside by Stanley Tucci, who simply steals the spotlight whenever he appears. Rachel Weisz’s character could have been left out altogether, as could so many others, who seem to be put there for just more dialogue.

Now, what The Lovely Bones does differently from other murder mystery’s, is it puts Susie in ’the in-between’ which is a world of completely fantasy, untouched by reality, as she is able to look down and see her family, and she must remain here until her killer is caught. This is where Jackson excels, he is a great fantasy director, and he can capture leaves on a tree turning into birds and flying off well enough, but where he struggles is with the real world, which is half of the film as well. Part of the film is the family falling apart after the murder of their daughter, but I didn’t care about the family falling apart because I didn’t care about the family. They are not given enough time to tell us their story, nor are we given enough reason to care about them. All we want, or really need to see is the Tucci character interacting with them and the police. I could care less about the grandmother moving in with them, and I could care less about their marital issues, and the screenplay was not written to make you care, which unfortunately is a major flaw of the movie because it is a good chuck of its running time.

"My name is Salmon, like the fish."

Another problem that comes with the movie is the way the Tucci character is created. He is set up as the nicest guy in the world before we meet him, so we have a little tiny spec of sympathy for him, even though we know he is going to be the killer. He then proceeds to what killers do, and progressively get more and more creepy by the end of the film. What is wrong with this, is we never actually see the murder. We see a little bit of struggle and that’s it, the camera cuts away before she is actually killed, and in fact, because of the whole ‘in-between’ business, we think that she’s escaped for some time, which is a fatal mistake. Though we already dislike the Tucci character, and hate him as it is, had we actually seen the murder, had the tones been darker, had the camera been rougher, we could have really, really hated this man. I think, by the way a few of the scenes go, this movie was originally intended to be an R rated film. To be a hard-hitting make you cry kinda movie, and was later changed into a PG-13 teeny-bopper thing, which was not a good move for the film itself.

Another gigantic problem I had with it was the ending. When it happen I just stared open-mouthed at the screen and went “Really?”. I mean I won’t spoil it here, but we knew that the real world could effect the ‘in-between’, but that just took it way to far. Not only that but the way the scene was shot, it happen all to quickly, without much context, and couldn’t really effect our opinion. It was one of those rousing scenes where everyone screams in joy because of it, it was just this tacked-on little ‘oh, by the way, this happens’ which nearly killed the movie for me. Because this part was happening in the real world. In reality this never would have happened. The film needed to separate the reality and in-between to make it effective, but they just don’t pull them far enough apart, and this scene is the perfect example of this.

One thing however that I did enjoy about the film, was it had some cool camera-work at times. Such as extreme rough close-ups of his hands, and a few nice Snorri-cam shots that made the whole thing feel a lot darker for a few moments, which you know I would have appreciated. But these hardly last long enough, or are enough in general to bring the film up from the slump it had already created for itself, and it pretty much just sits for a long time, doing nothing for the audience, just sitting.

Overall, The Lovely Bones just doesn’t work. I think that the project could have been done well as an adult Fairy Tale, a sort of Pan’s Labyrinth kind of thing, but it just doesn’t. The film is too easy on the eyes in the real world, has too many characters we just don’t care about, and just sits about trying to be something that its not. Peter Jackson can be good, but his great fantasy sequences can’t overpower what should be happening in reality, which is nothing. Stanley Tucci is the saving grace here, with an excellently dark performance as the killer that we don’t see enough of, and a few shots that seemed to be from the original cut of the film also make it a tad better. I almost want to give it in the 1-ish out of five zone, but damn if Tucci didn’t give me the creeps every time.

I Give The Lovely Bones A:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#29-Dead Alive (1992)

Dead Alive

Before he went all crazy, making those silly Academy Award Winning Lord Of The Rings movies, Australian director Peter Jackson had a fairly nice career making crowd-pleasing horror film. His most famous of which are Bad Taste and Dead Alive. While these two films didn’t make much of a splash stateside during their theatrical release, they did soon become cult classics, and made a killing on DVD.

Dead Alive is known to most by a different title. One that is a little more catchy, being Braindead. It was put out under Braindead in most regions of the world, nearly all in fact except America where it was changed to Dead Alive, which makes it sound more cheesy than it should. Even though this movie has enough cheese to make Kraft jealous.

The plot that the film follows can be easily claimed by almost any zombie flick. On a trip to a remote jungle, a zoologist uncovers a strange breed of monkey, which at that point attacks both him and his crew. Somehow the monkey catches a ride on a boat and makes it way to land, where it is promptly caught and placed in a zoo. Enter a young man with an over protective Mom, a crush on the girl next door, a heart full of gold, and a body full of clumsy. Lionel decides to take his girlfriend on a date, and go to the zoo of course, but his always knifing mother is there to put a stop to things, and subsequently gets bitten by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey. She gets ill, passes on, and then comes back, only to bite and infect more people with this strange disease from a distant land.

"I've got some Cure-All in the Jeep."

Obviously, Dead Alive isn’t one of the most original films to grace the screen. In fact, its plot has been done several times, near to death, but it just keeps coming (he-he). The screenplay, weak as it may be, is always fun. Now fun doesn’t mean good. It’s full of inconsistencies, impossibilities, voice-overs, terrible dialogue, and to many deux ex machinia’s to count. Our hero begins as a bumbling idiot, and somehow becomes a leading class strong-man in the course of about three days. He also has the keen ability to get the girl, end his mom, and save the day. Like I said, fun doesn’t mean good. But in the life of a film critic, sometimes its nice to just sit back and watch some stupid without a care in the world.

That being said, for what it is, Dead Alive is an excellent film. It obviously knows what it wants to do and does that perfectly. It has a certain vulnerability at its heart that entrances the audience into rooting for the characters, and hoping for the survival of their favorites. It may be one of the best zombie films made. It’s intentionally funny and self-referential, the humor doesn’t always hit, but when it does, it hits spot on. The film is also unrelentingly grueling, gory and violent. Peter Jackson knows how to direct violence, he puts things at the perfect angle, sets up just the right shot, gets the gore, and doesn’t let up. He isn’t afraid to cover the screen in gooey red, or green, or even white. (yes white, one of the more disgusting scenes in the film)

Not a whole lot else matters in a zombie film like this. The film sets it sites, and hits its mark. It knows what it does, does it perfectly and nothing else. You cannot hate a zombie movie for being a zombie movie, especially a good one. It is wholesome, mindless, brain-bashing, gut-munching, side-killing fun, that never lets up and never holds back. Peter Jackson can have his cake and eat it too, as he knows how to direct fun, entertaining horror films, and win some Academy Awards too.

I Give Dead Alive A:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

#28-Surveillance (2008)


Surveillance is the second film from Jennifer Lynch. Daughter of David Lynch, her career was thought to be short-lived after her debut feature Boxing Helena was received extremely negatively by both from both movie-goers and critics alike. Now, fifteen years later she tries again to break into the business her father is constantly revolutionizing, and she does so with mixed results.

If her career speaks for Jennifer Lynch thoroughly, she is never going to be as talented as her father is. This is something that needs to be stated, and known. If you go in thinking that Jennifer Lynch is going to be there for us when David passes on, I’m afraid you’re going to be wrong. Boxing Helena was obviously a film with a number of flaws, all of them nearly unforgivable. Surveillance however brings her work up a notch, and almost lets you forget about her previous film, but that however is not something very hard to do.

For all it’s worth, Surveillance certainly doesn’t have as unique of a story as Boxing Helena, but that doesn’t really matter when the other film just ended up terrible. Surveillance is about two F.B.I. agents investigating a series of murders, and a missing woman. While at the town where these vicious acts have taken place, they interrogate three people: a cocaine addicted woman, a corrupt police officer, and a little girl whose family was killed by the murderer. All three of the stories are told slightly differently through the eyes of these people, and ultimately interlock.

The film wants to, and sometimes tries, to be about the different reactions of different people when they know they are being watched by authority or peers. While it desperately wants to be deep and tell us a little something about the human psyche, and ends up falling short, and reverting to a murder-mystery tale that has a trick that we’ve seen before (different people, different stories, overall story develops through different additions ), and even has some slasher film influences, with the killers wearing creepy masks, and lots of blood making it’s way onto the screen.

"Is that your statement?"

The story is interesting enough, but it has been done before. A lot before. This idea of telling the story over and over again through different perspectives has almost begun to be normal, and the classic murder-mystery style of having one person solve it the lesser used. The mental aspect they wanted to add doesn’t work, and the twist ending easy to see coming. There is nothing specifically good with the story, but nothing specifically bad about it either.

The two main parts in the film are played by Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman, playing the F.B.I agents, and they do decently, again something that I could go either way on, there was nothing that made their roles jump out, or hold back, but I do have to admit, Bill Pullman is always kind of creepy, so it did somewhat add to the performance. Ryan Simpkins places the young girl Stephanie, and does a fantastic job for her age and part, she is easily one of the best child actors I’ve seen in awhile, and can’t wait to see more from her, in fact she is the first child to win a Best Actress award at the New York City Horror Film Festival. The film also has some other not to shabby performances from Kent Harper and Pell James.
Jennifer Lynch’s direction in this film is actually rather nice. She keeps the film raw and unshakeable. Never do we see anyone in the background, keeping us with a feeling of desperation a solitude, as if we couldn’t escape. A good deal of the film is set in the middle of the desert, which only enhances that effect. The office building in which the police work is desolate and empty, which though unexplained is still creepy as well. The film rapidly switches through color tonality, which gives us different feelings based on which character we’re watching and that helps the film quite a bit.

Jennifer Lynch has certainly beaten her previous offering with Surveillance, but like I said, it just doesn’t matter because almost anything could be her previous offering. She showed that she does have some skill behind the camera and can create a certain amount of emotion, but were she lacks is in directing people. The plot is ordinary, overused, and has been outdone, but is never boring, if she does another film, I will go ahead and give it a shot, but won’t necessarily look forward to it. Surveillance is a film that won’t kill you to see, but you shouldn’t kill to see it. It rests right in the middle, and is worth a rental if you were looking for it.

I Give Surveillance A: