Movie Review: The Lovely Bones (2009)

Before i start this review, I feel the need to say that this film covers some very disturbing subject matter. This is a warning for those who cannot handle such subjects.

 

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Saiorse Ronan, Rachel Weisz

Based on the novel by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones is not just another story about a murder. It explores how such a tragedy has a profound effect on all involved, not just the victim, but the friends, family, and yes, the murderer themselves.

Yes, this film is first and foremost about Susie Salmon, a fourteen year old who is brutally raped and murdered, but we also see the way her murder changes the lives of those who care about her most. We also get to see how it changes her. We see a father’s torment and obsession as he searches for his daughter’s killer, we see the marriage that was already on tremulous ground crumble before our eyes, and we see every stage of grief of all who were involved.

That, in my opinion, is what makes this story so unique.

We don’t follow the police in search for Susie’s murderer, We follow her father, her sister, and her friends. So, in my review, I’m going to cover the perspectives of each of these characters, starting with the father, and concluding with Susie herself.

Jack Salmon (Wahlberg), becomes obsessed with finding the man who killed his daughter. In the process, he harrasses the police with possible suspects, alienates his wife, and falls into a downward spiral that is frankly hard to watch. His devotion is both touching and worrisome. You can see the depth of love he had for his daughter with every scene, and how it strangely seems to be a detriment to his personal life and to his investigation. Wahlberg gives an excellent performance, you can see the seeds of his obsessive personality in early scenes, and, as a result, it feels like a natural progression instead of a slap in the face. And when we see him start to piece together who killed Susie after he’s made steps to move on, he’s thrown back into his obsession.

Susie’s sister, Lindsey (played by Rose McIver), also feels compelled to find out who murdered Susie. She, however, is much more subdued in her interest than her father, at least at first. We see her seemingly move on and even find a little bit of happiness, but she is suspicious of the real killer long before her father is.However, it’s only when her father shows signs of suspicion that she acts on her own feelings. She also finds herself obsessed with the killer, to the point where she risks her life to bring him to justice.

George Harvey (Tucci), is Susie’s killer. He lures her into a “clubhouse” where he rapes and murders her. (The rape is omitted from the film, but is presented in startling detail in the novel, so I’m leaving it in). In the events after the murder, he calmly resumes his regular routine, but is discouraged when he discovers that Lindsey is suspicious of him. Stanley Tucci adds depth and humanity to a role that could have easily been horrifically miscast. We see him unravel and make mistakes that could easily implicate him. And the subtle edge Tucci gives to the character is one that makes him almost sympathetic. That being said, due to his actions, I couldn’t wait to see him get what was coming to him.

Susie (Ronan), starts out in the film as a typical teenage girl. She is heavily invested in her own problems and somewhat dismissive of her parents. After the events leading to her death, however, we see that she s very reliant on her instincts. She recognizes Mr. Harvey as a killer too late for it to make a real difference, but early enough the we see her change from optimistic and friendly to horrified within seconds. That’s what makes her death in the following scene even more heartbreaking than it is. Her realization that following Mr. Harvey into his undergond clubhouse was the worst decision she could have made, and she couldn’t do anything to stop what was coming was what turned Susie into an incredibly realistic character. As we see her watch her loved ones from “the inbetween”, we see her grow and change along with them. 

Overall, I’d say that The Lovely Bones is an excellent film. Peter Jackson’s direction, along with the stunning visuals and phenomenal cast, make it incredibly memorable. But what set’s it apart for me is Alice Sebold’s story. While this changes quite a bit from the source material, mostly the order of some events and omission of certain elements, the overall plot is the same, and you get the sense that Jackson respected the novel. I can see why the changes were made (especially leaving out the rape scene), and those changes do not undermine the story. This is how all novels should be adapted.

I’d definitely recommend this film to almost anyone. It is criminally underrated, and, in my opinion, one of Peter Jackson’s best.

When Did Supernatural Become a Four Letter Word?

I’ve noticed a trend in horror films in the last few years, and that trend is science. By this I mean they use science to talk to ghosts and/or demons, to summon ghosts and/or demons, or both.

I have no real problem with this, there’s nothing wrong with an EVP recorder in a haunted house film, or a few. But these instruments have appeared in nearly every haunted house film in recent years. To name a few, there’s Insidious, The Conjuring, The Innkeepers, and The Apparition. That seems like too many to me, which brings me to my point.

what’s wrong with supernatural or paranormal explanations in films?

You could argue that ghosts and demons aren’t real (which I find debatable, but that’s not the point), but movies aren’t real life, that’s why we watch them. So what’s wrong with something that’s not real being in a movie that isn’t that realistic in the first place? Why can’t the ghost have been summoned by an overzealous teenager just getting into ritualistic magic? Why can’t vampires be there because of magic? Why do zombies need to be formed by a mutated rabies strain? It’s getting exhausting to see all this science where magic should be.

So I say embrace the magic. Hold a seance to contact your dead grandmother, kill that werewolf with a silver bullet, and banish that demon with white magic. Just make it believable, and make it scary. Because that’s the only thing Horror needs to be.

Review: Frozen

I’ve seen Frozen at least ten times. Not because it’s good, which is something I’ll get into in my review, but because my nieces cannot stop watching it. okay, onto the review.

Frozen is one of those movies that you desperately want to be great. You watch it and you tell yourself “This will get better, this will live up to the hype. Let it go isn’t that bad of a song.” Unfortunately, none of that is true.

As an animated film Frozen hits all the notes that make films like it successful. The songs are catchy, the acting is decent, and the animation is absolutely gorgeous. But, somehow, it still doesn’t register as good. And the reasons for that are simple.

The fact that the songs are catchy doesn’t disguise the fact that they’re also woefully generic. only two of the songs are memorable enough that they make me want to watch the film again, and neither of those are the Oscar nominated “Let it go”. “Let it go” is a song specifically made to be played on the radio. It’s reasonably good, it gets stuck in your head pretty easily, and it’s not hard to remember the words, but it’s not big, not in the way a song in a Disney film that’s garnered this much praise should be. And that’s a detriment to the film itself. It’s also a shame, because Idina Menzel has shown in previous roles that she can go big (“Defying Gravity”, anyone?). When your big song doesn’t even let your Broadway star belt it out, there’s something wrong with your big song. Before this starts to look like a rant against “Let it go”, I should talk about the songs I do like.

The first is “Fixer Upper”: this is my favorite song in the whole movie. It’s everything that a memorable Disney song should be, big, catchy, and actually good. “Fixer Upper” is sung by kristoff’s troll family, and it’s upbeat, joyous, and adorable. I really found myself unable to do anything but sing along to it. The fast lyrics are fitting for the characters dripping with personality, and it’s really a shame that this is the only ensemble song in the film, because with a few more, this film would be elevated from mediocre to great. This song is up there with “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” in my book.

The second is “In Summer”: sung by the sometimes insufferable snowman Olaf, “In Summer” is equal part uplifting and comedic. You really can’t help but laugh at the fact that a snowman is singing about frolicking in a meadow in full sunlight. And the fact that his dream is unattainable (and it is revealed later that he knows this) adds a surprising element of pathos to his character. the song makes his character a snowman, into one of the most genuine characters in the film. I think this song gets far less praise than it deserves.

Next up, the characters.

Kristen Bell has been one of my favorite actresses since Veronica Mars and I’m happy to see her in such a big role. She absolutely shines in Frozen. As Anna, Elsa’s sister, Bell gives an excellent performance. She perfectly voices Anna’s mixture of innocence and (sometimes) arrogance. And she manages to match Idina Menzel’s powerful vocals with her own, which was a complete shock to me. As a character, Anna honestly doesn’t bring much to the table, she’s kind of a mixture of previous Disney princesses, mostly Belle and Ariel. However, Kristen Bell adds a nuance to her character that I feel Anna doesn’t live up to. Of course, that could be my bias speaking.
Idina Menzel is excellent, as usual, as Elsa. Elsa is a strange example of a protagonist. She’s not featured that heavily in the film, so her big number falls a little flat. We don’t really learn much about Elsa at all. She’s the classic Tortured soul type, forced to ostracize her sister because of her power, and that really comes through in Menzel’s performance. You can tell how much her power has hurt her, and in her isolation, we also see how much it empowers her. it’s a shame that such an interesting character got so little screen time over all.   
Jonathan Groff actually surprised me in this film. I’m not a huge fan of his acting style, but I didn’t hate him as Kristoff. He’s got a great singing voice, as we know, and he brings a lot to the character. Kristoff is an orphan, raised by trolls, and heavily attached to his reindeer, Sven. Kristoff and Sven actually have a great amount of chemistry. And, although he speaks for Sven, you can actually see a friendship in their silent interactions. Kristoff is a very real character, and Jonathon Groff really helps to jump off a great base and add even more depth to him with his voice.
Now I want to talk about the animation.
The film is entirely computer generated, but it’s done Beautifully. It doesn’t have the feel of a Computer Generated film, and if you close your eyes, you can almost see the film as hand drawn in your mind. That’s not to say that I like it any less because of the form of animation they chose. Computer animation adds an element of depth to the film that just wouldn’t have been there of it was drawn by hand, in both the literal, and figurative sense. You can almost feel the snow as the characters make their way through it, and the colors, though exaggerated, ring true. Especially notable is the animated sequence that accompanies Elsa’s big number “Let it Go”. The way the character flows on screen, and the use of ice in her movements, is beautifully cohesive. Elsa almost seems like a real person.
Overall, I would recommend the film to a select few people. The musical aspect isn’t for everyone, I know, but I’m one who usually likes it, and it didn’t feel right for this film. The story was perfectly fine on its own, and most of the musical numbers felt tacked on. I stand by my opinion that “Let it go” is the worst thing about this film, and I might get a lot of grief for it, but so be it. 
Now, if you’ll excuse me, “Fixer Upper” is stuck in my head again, I’m gonna go give it another listen.
 

 

 

Why does the internet hate “Man of Steel”?

Man of Steel came out nearly a year ago. I’d like to remind everyone of that before you pile hate on me. Warning: Major spoilers ahead.

Now, to the point, I saw this film on opening day, in 3D, what’s my verdict?

I loved it.

In my opinion, Man of Steel was the best superman film since Superman II. Why? For the first time, I felt like he was a relatable character. He felt like someone who had been ostracized by his peers his entire life, like he couldn’t relate to to any of the people around him. And that’s exactly the way he should feel.

Superman is an alien (sorry for the spoilers), so he should feel alien. He shouldn’t be instantly accepted by society as a hero, because that just wouldn’t happen. If you saw a news story about a super-strong man with X-Ray vision, flying around your city in blue underwear and a red cape, you wouldn’t be excited about it. No one would be excited about it, especially not if someone demanded his head in exchange for the safety of your planet.

But I’m getting slightly off topic. I came out of Man of Steel being pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. imagine my surprise when the first review I read tore the film a new asshole (for lack of a better phrase).  Most of the complaints came from the different interpretation of a few main characters, like Superman and Jonathan Kent, but mostly Pa Kent.

Jonathan Kent, in the comics and many (many) adaptations. Served as a voice of reason for Clark. He fit this role in Man of Steel as well, but more as a father who wasn’t sure how to raise a son so radically different from himself. I liked this interpretation because he didn’t sound like a platitude spewing robot, like in many adaptions in the past. A perfect example is when Clark, as a child, saves his classmates fro drowning in a schoolbus using his super strength. Kent confronts his son, telling him its something he shouldn’t have done, but quickly backpedals when Clark asks him if the kids should have died. This is a major scene in the film, and one that is disliked by most critics. But, really, what is he supposed to say: “Good job on potentially blowing the cover you’ve maintained for your safety, Clark!”?

I don’t think so. Instead, he tells Clark that maybe it was the right decision to save his classmates, but he’s also exposed himself as different, more different than his classmates already thought he was. This makes his decision later in the film, at his death, well within his character. He knows the world isn’t ready for Superman, and he’s right. The first thing the military does to Clark is put him in handcuffs.

The second thing that is most criticized about the film is Clark killing Zod. We’re talking about a man who held an entire planet hostage in the pursuit of one man. Zod was planning on turning earth into Krypton on top of the corpses of his human victims. This is a man who made it clear that if Earth wasn’t going, he was.  Clark actually actively avoided  killing Zod for most of the film. it wasn’t until he was faced with an ultimatum that he finally resorted to killing the only remainder of his entire species. Critics act like this is an out of character decision for Clark, claiming that Superman doesn’t kill. But he most certainly does. Superman killed Zod at least three times in the comics. But again, not the point.

Man of Steel introduces us to Superman essentially before he was Superman, and thus with none of the preexisting “rules” that Superman comes with. The action of killing Zod could be the catalyst for him swearing off the act of murder. It could be the formation of his no killing “rule”. Presenting us with a Superman this early in his superhero career will help to establish him as a more complete character. We could see him learn what it truly means to be a superhero, and see him become the “golden boy” that fans know him to be. It opens the door for growth and change in a previously dull as dishwater character.

To me, this is the film that finally made Superman interesting.

As for the level of destruction, it wasn’t Clark, not all of it anyway. Most of the destruction is a direct consequence of Zod’s actions, either from the terraforming machine, or him literally slamming Clark into buildings, it was all Zod. But that’s a whole different rant entirely.

I totally agree with the critics about the “Romance” though. As much as I love Amy Adams, it was too early for Lois to be romantically involved with Clark.

And by the way, Superman Returns wasn’t that bad either.

Dear “Nerds”

I get it, you saw a couple Harry Potter movies and liked them. You may have even read the books. But putting on a pair of glasses and posing for a twitpic does not make you “OMG such a nerd!”.

Call me when you know how many sickles make a galleon (17), or tell me your story about how people ostracized you for spending every lunch hour in the library reading comics and fantasy novels. Or tell me how many awkward silences you’ve faced after someone didn’t get your references.

Show me your leftover convention badges. Let me see the bad Dragonball Z fanart you drew in third grade. Send me your embarrassing fanfiction.

Do anything other than throwing on glasses and telling me that you’re a “geek”.

I know, I know, now it’s cool to be nerd. Doctor Who is one of the most popular shows on the planet, and comic book movies are turning into multi-million dollar franchises, but the nerds who created those things worked for that to happen. They’re the writers and the artists, they were told by hundreds of people throughout their lives that their work would never mean anything. They were the ones with intimate knowledge of their favorite worlds, they did the fanart, and their fanfiction turned into the real thing. They proved those hundreds of people wrong.

And all you did was put on a pair of glasses.

So Bad It’s Good

I have a confession to make:

love bad movies.

I’m not talking “you have to leave the theater” bad. I mean the movies that are so bad that they’re like a train wreck. The ones you can’t stop watching for reasons unknown to you, or anyone else who’s watching with you. The ones that leave you laughing for all the wrong reasons, that have midnight screenings with rituals attached.

I’m sure on the internet this is nothing new. It seems like every week there’s a new “Bad Movie” site, churning out reviews and recaps of movies that are “so bad, it’s good”. But that just furthers my point and raises questions. Mainly, why are bad movies so popular, and furthermore, why does anyone watch them?

I can’t speak for every fan of bad cinema, but I can for myself.

I love these movies because they bring people together. They can unite people of different backgrounds and cultures by making them discover that they have the same sense of humor. People flock to midnight screenings with plastic spoons in hand, screaming: “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART, LISA!”. The memorable nature of these films keeps people talking and laughing years after they’ve seen them.

I think that, beyond anything, is what movies are supposed to be. Nothing is as memorable or quotable as a film that fails, but somehow manages to hit the right note, especially if unintentional.

Another thing about these movies is that they never all fail for the same reasons. You could have actors and directors who took the film too seriously, or those who didn’t take it seriously enough; there’s also the films where everyone had so much fun they didn’t care about the final product. Usually, you can tell which is which. It’s rarely as simple as a bad script, bad acting, or bad direction, and sometimes it’s all three.

But all that hardly matters when you’re watching one of these films for the first time. You don’t know whether to watch them through your fingers or turn them off entirely. But you just can’t look away. Soon, you’re laughing at dialogue that doesn’t make sense. You’re  cringing at an earnest actor who’s not going to have a career after this film. By the end, you want to share it with the world.

Because it’s so bad it’s good.