[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 Origins: Wolverine (2009)

My friends, X-Men: Days of Future Past is still pretty fresh in theaters and doing very well. I happened to see it last week and wow. Just wow. It got me thinking…a lot. About comic books. About time travel. About Jennifer Lawrence…

Anywho, I thought now would be a great time to revisit some X-Men films. Where better to start than an origin story?

 

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

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Director: Gavin Hood

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds

Screenplay: David Benioff, Skip Woods

107 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity.

After the initial X-Men trilogy came to a close, producers and execs at 20th Century Fox were really scratching their heads. How do they continue a franchise about a team when not all the players want to play? Simple enough. Focus on just one. Who better than Wolverine, right? WRONG. Wolverine is a terrible character to focus two hours on. Simply put, he is just too powerful a character. First of all, unable to die. Okay, so how do we fear for him? It is the same reason why it is so difficult to make a solid Superman film. Too strong. Secondly, we already know his backstory. We learn everything we need to know about Wolverine from X2: X-Men United. We learn about Weapon X, about Stryker, about the whole kit-and-caboodle. SO why? Why follow around Logan for an entire film. It would be easier if we knew or cared about the supporting players, but this whole film is a cadre of mutants who we in the audience a) don’t know, or b) don’t care about. What’s to love here?

I think I’m getting ahead here. The plot. Okay, so X-Men Origins: Wolverine is all about Wolverine (Hugh Jackman returns for his fourth appearance as the clawing mutant). Wolverine before he was Wolverine. It examines his relationship with his brother Victor Creed, also known as Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber, TV’s Ray Donovan, Salt). Now you may be asking yourself “Wait! The guy from the first X-Men is Logan’s brother?” And don’t worry, because it is barely brought up and bares little to no bringing up in the actual story. We get to see Logan get his claws. We get to see Logan kill a helicopter. Easily, the plot of this film is a bunch of set pieces stitched together and designed to get us to X-Men in the most meandering way possible. And it indeed meanders.

Hugh Jackman is the reason for this film. He currently holds a record for most times an actor has portrayed a superhero on the big screen. X-Men: Days of Future Past marks the seventh time he has donned the claws, and I hear that X-Men: Apocalypse as well as a third Wolverine-centric film are on the way. He is Wolverine, so much so that leaving the role is tantamount to killing the unkillable character. Jackman surrounds himself with solid actors that have nothing to do here. Schreiber here is a terrible casting choice, more so than just because he bares no resemblance to the Sabretooth we already know. Danny Huston (21 Grams, Hitchcock) is again a very capable performer, and under a more solid script could do Stryker well, but he just becomes a half-assed villain reduced to little motivation and lots of cheese. Dominic Monaghan (TV’s Lost, The Lord of the Rings trilogy)  joins as Chris Bradley, but he gets two scenes and then is tossed aside in favor of shoving more worthless characters in. And then we get to Ryan Reynolds. Hold up, Reynolds gets his own paragraph…

Okay, are you ready? Let’s begin.

Ryan Reynolds has always loved the character of Deadpool, and really, he is a likable character. The Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool is known for his quips and one-liners, as well as the characteristic of regularly breaking the 4th wall and talking to the reader. So when Reynolds heard that Deadpool would appear in the new X-Men film, he called and asked for the part. What does he get in return? Wade Wilson/Deadpool amounts to little more than a few cameo pop-ins as a character who, get this, are you ready: When he becomes Deadpool, he doesn’t even get to talk! The Merc with a Mouth has his mouth sewn shut! What the Fu-

 

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Sorry. Yeah, sorry about that. It is angersome though, that is for sure.

Let’s talk about some of the other points in this film, because something has to be good.

The cinematography looks like someone hired director Gavin Hood to shoot a cheap music video featuring Hugh Jackman and terrible music. Once you get past the opening credits, which are beautiful, the film just starts to drag. The problem about opening credits, is that when I saw them, I saw the film I wanted to see. Forrest Gump with claws. There is something depressing about being unable to die, yet this was not thought of until the second Wolverine adventure some four years later.

Gavin Hood’s direction is boring and clumsy. It feels like he would have shown up to the theater in the middle of the film to yell out at the audience, “See, this is where he gets the claws! Hey look, it is Stryker, remember him?!?” To be fair, Hood did want to examine Logan’s PTSD at one point, something unheard of in a summer comic book blockbuster until last year’s incredible Iron Man 3.

The CG. My God, the CG. Those claws look bad. Check out the bathroom scene if you get the chance and you’ll see what I mean.

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In closing, screenwriter Benioff of Game of Thrones fame sought out to make an R-Rated Wolverine film that really examined the character’s life. This wasn’t that film, thanks to the studio. This film only wishes to confuse the timeline, and in fact it did, so there’s that for you. I’ll just say this, if you’re a completest as I am, watch the film once and burn the copy after. If you can avoid seeing it, do so. Not having seen this movie will not ruin the movie-going experience of seeing any other X-Men film, trust me.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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