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The Lovely Bones Ain’t Lovely

December 27, 2009 1 comment

I can at least call this film an interesting failure. Based on the novel “The Lovely Bones,” by Alice Sebold, the film is about the murder of a young teenage girl Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) and how her murder impacts those close to her. Set in the 1970’s Susie narrates the story from a heavenly purgatory. She witnesses her father (Mark Wahlberg) not being able to cope with her death and watches his ongoing obsession into finding her killer. Her father ends up neglecting his wife (Rachel Weisz) who can’t accept that Susie is gone. Susie also keeps watch over her killer, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who on the outside appears to be the Salmon’s harmless next door neighbor.

I read the book over a year ago and remember liking it a lot. I’m not a die-hard fan who demands that director Peter Jackson absolutely stay faithful to the novel. I was curious to see what he would do with the film, especially the heaven sequences. While Jackson creates some really intriguing visuals when the film shows us Susie in heaven, the film is empty emotionally. The book left me feeling very emotionally affected. The film has none of that. Jackson has a hard time balancing the visuals of Susie’s heaven with the drama occurring on earth.

I found the emotional drama between the Salmon family seriously lacking. The loss of the daughter and each member of the family’s reaction to it comes across as just barely hitting the surface. I wanted to see more of the family dynamic and see how it destroys their lives. Seeing the two parents just crying wasn’t satisfying enough to represent their pain. Rachel Weisz’s character gets shafted in the film. Her character in the novel has a much more absorbing character arc. Her actions in the film and it’s impact on the family is totally ignored in the film. Mark Whalberg almost borders on “The Happening” type acting here. The only two very good performances in the film are Saoirse Ronan and Stanley Tucci as the killer. Tucci is appropriately disturbing as the child killer.

The visuals that Jackson uses to represent heaven are the film’s most fascinating moments. I remember in the book the heaven was very vaguely described. Jackson gives us a heaven that is full of big colors and images that are metaphors for what her family is going through back home. Some of imagery in alluring, but at times it comes across as distracting and at time ridiculous. One sequence has Susie being the star of her own fashion show. This comes across as very silly. But I guess a dream of a young teenage girl is to be in a fashion show. Jackson does an interesting thing where he will intercut major scenes taking place on earth with Susie experiencing the same thing in heaven. He lets the visuals speak for themselves. This is an intriguing way to let important scenes play out but it’s not always successful in getting his point across.

Jackson and his screenwriters, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, needed to omit some of the novel’s storylines from film. Trying to cram in all these different plots robs them of any poignant impact they might have had. Characters, like Susie’s sisters, are not properly developed. I found Susie’s voice over in the film to be very annoying. The information that she tells the audience is redundant and at times unnecessary. Some of the film’s suspenseful moments are handled effectively well. I only wish the emotional scenes were handled with the same care. In the end, the film’s two narratives never come together in a satisfying way.

2 Stars

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An Incredible Cinematic Experience

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

James Cameron has crafted an epic film the kind which Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. “Avatar” is in the same vein of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I’m not saying “Avatar” is a classic like those two films, but what they all share in common is that each film is a great cinematic experience. You must watch these films on the big screen to really appreciate the grandeur of what is being put on the screen. Simply just experiencing these films only on a television screen would be criminal.

The story takes place on the planet of Pandora in the year 2154. A greedy corporation has set up shop hoping to mine the planet for a valuable mineral. In order to learn about the native species, ten feet tall, blue creatures known as the Na’vi, scientists, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) have developed an Avatar program. The program allows humans to mentally link up and physical control a genetically altered Na’vi. Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic marine who is recruited for the Avatar program and finds himself being taken in by the Na’vi. He is trained in their culture by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and soon Jake develops an affection for Neytiri and the Na’vi way of life. Jake’s love for Pandora can’t go on uninterrupted. The corporation’s head of military operations, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), is hell-bent on destroying the planet for his corporate masters.

The first twenty minutes or so, I was not really into the film. I was bogged down by Cameron’s bad one lines and the actor’s execution of the dialogue. Even when we first see Worthington enter his Avatar body and interact with humans, I was not blown away. Where things picked up for me was when we see Worthington interact with the world of Pandora. There is a great scene of him being chased by a giant creature. The use of the 3D fully threw me into that scene. It was a hell of a lot of fun.

It’s ironic that James Cameron has used today’s modern technology to create a truly beautiful, realistic world. The 3D technology is used to fully immerse the audience into the world of Pandora. There are no cheap 3D tricks here. We feel like we are on the planet. A shot of a waterfall, or grass looks gorgeous and tremendously realistic. You get use to wearing the 3D glasses and just fall into the wonder of the planet.

The motion capture technology Cameron uses is ground breaking because when we are watching the Na’vi, we forget we are watching a CGI character. A close up of the Na’vi has the same emotional impact as the close up of regular human face. The technology does not hinder the performances of the actors. This especially applies to Zoe Saldana, as Neytiri. She is really engaging in her role. Sam Worthington is also good, though it did take me a while to warm up to his performance. Weaver and Lang also deliver some solid work as well.

Much has been made about the screenplay and I agree it’s not the strongest part of the picture. The last half hour of the film does dive into large action sequences like a typical action film. But what action it is! There is riveting imagery in this part of the film. Cameron proves he knows how to shoot great action. I did find myself getting carried away in the story. I cared for the Na’vi and even the romantic subplot involving Worthington and Saldana. The picture has allegories ranging from wars past and present. The story of native people fighting an outside force to protect their land is not a new story angle. I even found imagery that I think invokes 9/11. You will know it when you see it. This image is at the same time strangely beautiful but frightening. The seats of the theatre literally shook when this event occurs.

I saw this film on a IMAX screen in 3D and I one hundred percent recommend you see it this way. It’s a great film going experience that will carry you away with the images and story. Many critics have compared seeing this film to seeing “Star Wars” for the first time. I agree with this. Seeing “Star Wars” on the big screen for the first time at age 10 drove me into the world of film. If I saw “Avatar” at the same age today, I think it would have the same effect. Cameron has returned amazement to the movies.

4 Stars