[Happy 5th Birthday!] The Lovely Bones (2009)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, Saoirse Ronan

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Bowen, Peter Jackson

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Stanley Tucci)

 

Certain directors get going and when they do, they just can’t stop. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, King Kong) is one of those directors. The last film he made that truly disappointed me was the splatter-fest Dead Alive, a gore-lovers delight from some twenty years ago. Then came cult classics like The Frighteners and major wins like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and King Kong. And like I said before, he just couldn’t stop. In 2009, he gave filmgoers something that they hadn’t seen from Jackson yet. His adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was much awaited and polarized many who saw it, but it’s Jackson’s most personal work in years. It dives to the core of human emotion and digs until it hurts.

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Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement, The Grand Budapest Hotel) is a pretty smart young girl living in the 1970s with parents Jack (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy, Oz the Great and Powerful). She has a bright and shining future ahead as her most important growth period of her life looms ahead, but sadly, her light is cut short all too soon when an encounter with the strange George Harvey (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) leads her to an early grave. As her family struggles to grieve, Susie enters an ethereal plane of existence and must overcome her need for revenge before it tears her family to pieces.

This movie is equal parts visual candy and horrifying family tragedy. I love that its struggle in tone is much like that of its lead characters. The film goes to extremes treating little pieces of genre with the intensity of a mood swing. I find this, whether intentional or not, to be so jarring that it works. Jackson’s visual style is here and it looks gorgeous.

Now let’s talk performances. Wahlberg’s is terrible, this is easily one of the most disappointing areas of this film. He can’t handle the tragedy that Jack Salmon is supposed to experience. Rachel Weisz’s is passable but he really isn’t a fully-realized character. Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise, Tammy) is Susie’s Grandma Lynn, who jumps in as prime caretaker when Susie’s parents fail to care for the siblings. Michael Imperioli (TV’s The Sopranos, Oldboy) also does passable work as Len Fenerman, the detective charged with finding Susie’s killer.

And then you get George Harvey, played perfectly by Stanley Tucci. Tucci’s performance is so painful and disgusting to watch that every scene with him becomes a living car wreck, one that is so terrifying that you can’t look away. George Harvey is perhaps Tucci’s best work to date and remains a truly chilling piece of work.

The script-work by Fran Walsh, Philippa Bowen, and Jackson, the same writing team Jackson has used on much of his previous work, does a great job here with the source material. They helped to piss me off as the film’s events meandered through life in the 70s. That’s what this movie does best, it pushes one through the stages of grief while equally pissing me off. I hated this movie, and that’s what I loved so much about it.

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When I look back on Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, I remember my anger. I also remember the film’s beauty and the search for a passable moment of happiness in a sea of sadness. If you have yet to see this strange odyssey of death, please do so, and let it anger you, but also, let it take hold of you and show you something you haven’t seen before.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

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Director: Brett Ratner

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.

 

After X2: X-Men United, the superhero series was invigorated and raring to go again. Bryan Singer left to direct Superman Returns, so Brett Ratner took over the chair and creative control of the franchise. This has often been seen as a bad idea. Brett Ratner, not to be blunt, is terrible.

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It’s the story of the mutants dealing with the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, GoldenEye, Taken 3) in the previous film. Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Prisoners) appears on the surface to have gotten over her death and has taken on a more important role within the school alongside Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry, TV’s Extant, Cloud Atlas). Meanwhile, Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Golden Compass) has been recruiting new mutants to join The Brotherhood in the fight against the government, which has created a new treatment or “cure” for mutants. Rogue (Anna Paquin, TV’s True Blood, The Piano) is interested in the cure, but her boyfriend Bobby (Shawn Ashmore, TV’s The Following, Frozen).

There a lot of moving plot points in this movie, but the script is far too weak to fully explore them all. There are multiple times when dialogue is unreal, too much exposition is given (or sometimes, not enough), and characters are doing things that betray their character traits.

The actors are trying to perform to a weak script, and most of them do as well as they can, but Brett Ratner focuses too much on trying to be a spectacle, often sacrificing character moments under piles of action. Now, the action is good, and leads to a solid climax which is handled nicely, but we have a conflict of style. On one hand, we have the previous film, which establishes a seriousness and a stake in what happens. On the other hand, we have a goofy style which pushes against and a more-comic-booky look to the film, something that was handled much better in the prequel X-Men: First Class.

While the climax is handled nicely, Ratner chooses to play down the denouement, which, considering this was supposed to be a closing of the trilogy, is what really kills this movie. We have so many plot threads untreated and ultimately unthreaded that it set the series up for several films of trying to fix the damage, before finally X-Men: Days of Future Past was able to do.

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This isn’t the worst X-Men movie of all time. That honor is currently held by X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t an epic letdown from X2, and served to topple the franchise for a couple years.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

X2: X-Men United (2003)

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Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin

Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language.

 

X-Men was a very popular comic book adaptation, especially for the time period, when those movies hadn’t really been doing well. I originally wasn’t a major fan of the original X-Men, but I honestly don’t think I got it. I didn’t really know the X-Men mythos, so when X2: X-Men United came into the fold, and I saw the trailer, featuring a creature I would come to know as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming, TV’s The Good Wife, The Smurfs 2) trying to assassinate the President, that I knew I had to see this movie.

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X2: X-Men United continues the story six months after the original film, and follows the mutants as they deal with a mutant attack on the President. Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Prisoners) is looking for his origins in Alaska. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return) has continued to teach at his school, and spends free time playing chess with imprisoned Magneto (Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Golden Compass). Meanwhile, William Stryker (Brian Cox, Troy, Her) has taken the attack in the White House personally, and chooses to round up the mutant children at Xavier’s school and keep them imprisoned, and Wolverine finds that he may have more connections to Stryker than he knows.

If X-Men woke up the superhero genre, X2 proved that superhero movies can actually be about something while also being great films in general. Without X2, we may not have had the Marvel Cinematic Universe or any of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series.

It also proved that people can perform as superheroes. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan carry this film and drive its story nicely as two friends with very different compasses who must unite against a common enemy in Brian Cox’s Stryker, who also lends his seasoned expertise to the film. Hugh Jackman has also honed his skills as a performer with Wolverine.

Singer’s directing and the film’s editing give us multiple branched out storylines that all come together very well for a powerful and shocking climax that creates ripples for the series for several films to come.

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X2: X-Men United was the best film in the series up until this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, and it has aged very well, becoming one of the most notable superhero films ever.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 23 – Horror Express (1972)

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Director: Eugenio Martin

Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas, Alberto de Mendoza, Helga Line, George Rigaud, Victor Israel

Screenplay: Arnaud d’Usseu, Julian Zimmet

88 mins. Rated R.

In the world of horror, few performers are so widely recognized together as Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and Peter Cushing (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Horror of Dracula). The two practically led the horror renaissance of the 1950s and 1960s with their sensualized and gory takes on classic universal monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster with Hammer Horror Films. I recently found the 1972 film Horror Express among my unwatched film pile (it’s a pretty big damn pile, mind you) and I felt like I had to take it on considering the kind of weight these two actors carried.

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The entirety of Horror Express takes place on a train from China to Moscow. The brilliant Professor Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) is taking a specimen found in Manchuria back to Europe when it, believed to be the Missing Link, awakens and terrorizes the passengers on board. Saxton alongside Dr. Wells (Cushing) will stop at nothing to catch the creature. Now, if only they can convince Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas, TV’s Kojak, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) that they are telling the truth.

This movie has more of a cult following than of an actual fanbase. It was not particularly popular during its initial theatrical release. I personally found it to be much more a bore than I had hoped for. As always, Lee’s performance captures the audience, but the years have not been kind to the film’s technical aspects. Perhaps it would be more likable if it hadn’t been so degraded by forty years of damage to the print. It certainly has some interesting moments and the tension of the enclosed cabins of the train, but I felt like very little plot progression actually took place.

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All in all, movies like Horror Express exist to entertain. They aren’t looking to take away a trophy. That being said, they still have to provide thrills, which this train was lacking.

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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