I´ve been a fan of just about everything director Peter Jackson has done, from his early splatter movies Bad Taste and Dead Alive up through the Lord of the Rings trilogy and his King Kong remake. And given the pedigree behind and in front of the camera, The Lovely Bones is certainly an interesting film, well-made in most respects.
That said, The Lovely Bones is also an incredibly misguided film that feels icky and unpleasant and all sorts of wrong. I remember a vague feeling of nausea after I first watched Dead Alive, an over-the-top gorefest that stands as one of the most violent movies ever made. The Lovely Bones is a PG-13 film about a young girl who is raped and murdered by a pedophile and yet, somehow, discovers that everything is still OK in the world. It left me feeling much worse.
Part of that is due to the director´s style, wholly inappropriate for the material. The obvious comparison would be to Heavenly Creatures, Jackson´s 1994 previous film involving young girls and murder, but there´s little resemblance; the fantasy world in that film was an internal extension of the young girls´ fantasies, here it´s an external force applied to a recently deceased girl. Instead of Lord of the Rings´ CGI armies contrasted against a New Zealand backdrop, we have human grief and drama played out over a CGI mishmash of fantastic landscapes and bright colors. It´s Alice in Purgatory.
Bones was adapted by Jackson and longtime collaborators Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens from the novel by Alice Sebold, which I have not read but can imagine having some subtlety and an intimate power that has been lost on this overbearing feature.
If there´s one good thing about the film, it´s Saoirse Ronan as the dead girl, Susie Salmon. She´s not dead for the first twenty minutes or so, and the film feels promising: she´s a normal young girl with loving parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) and a schoolgirl crush, yearning for her first kiss.
But then she´s raped (?) and murdered (in “tasteful” offscreen fashion) by George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), the neighborhood pedophile who lives down the street. You know George is bad news from his ridiculous appearance: bad combover, square glasses, the classic mustache – he´s who parents think of when they tell their children not to take candy from strangers. Tucci, a great actor, somehow managed an Oscar nomination for his non-performance as a walking stereotype.
Susie narrates the rest of the story from beyond the grave, a magical wonderland of afterlife where she meets her killer´s previous victims. I use the term story loosely: there´s next to nothing going on throughout the rest of the film. No investigation into the murder (oh, we hear of an investigation by some detectives and Susie´s father, who becomes obsessed, but there´s no active investigation that we actually follow), no closure to the main storyline, no follow-up to the side plots.
Just a lot of human grief, mostly surrounding Susie´s parents, which Jackson tries to punch up to the best of his ability. And there´s your problem, he shouldn´t be trying at all; let the damn story speak for itself. Susan Sarandon shows up as the spunky, cigarette-smoking grandma in an incredibly poorly-handled role that serves as a metaphor for the film itself.
There´s one good, if entirely improbable, scene – Susie´s sister (Rose McIver) breaks into the pedophile´s house, and must get back out before he catches her – but apart from that the final 90 minutes of The Lovely Bones are an outright bore, likely to turn your opinion on the film around even if you aren´t offended on the same level I was.
While there´s plenty good here – Ronen´s performance, the 70s atmosphere (which feels accurate if never right for the material – Sofia Coppola better captured the feel Jackson should have been going for in The Virgin Suicides), Andrew Lesnie´s cinematography, Brian Eno´s music – it´s never enough to make up for the awful taste the film left in my mouth. Roger Ebert put it best in his review:
“The Lovely Bones is a deplorable film with this message: If you’re a 14-year-old girl who has been brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer, you have a lot to look forward to. You can get together in heaven with the other teenage victims of the same killer, and gaze down in benevolence upon your family members as they mourn you and realize what a wonderful person you were. Sure, you miss your friends, but your fellow fatalities come dancing to greet you in a meadow of wildflowers, and how cool is that?”
A watchable but impossibly silly timewaster, Scott Stewart´s Legion takes the old Night of the Living Dead/Assault on Precinct 13 (read: Rio Bravo) formula and adds a biblical twist. But it doesn´t work at all as horror, or religious thriller, or anything else really. It just sits there on the screen, fun in spots, lacking any kind of distinction.
This time around, the zombies are possessed humans who employ CGI to stretch out their jaws and limbs as they rage towards a group of disparate survivors holed in a Nevada highway diner. Invariably, they´re mowed down by machine gun fire from diner owner Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid), his son Jeep (Lucas Black) – both sporting awful Texas (?) accents – and the others.
Including Michael (Paul Bettany), an angel sent down to Earth by God to wipe out humanity. That´s the twist here: God is the bad guy, the angels are his merchants of death, and the zombies are plague-stricken humans spreading the apocalypse. There´s a biblical-level thriller here, but in Legion, we´re confined to a middle-of-nowhere diner for 90% of the running time, with little idea of what has happened or is happening throughout the rest of the world.
Why is God so angry? The movie is less than clear on this point, only offering up (twice, no less) the narration that “one day, God got tired of all the bullshit.” Indeed. So he wipes out the human race, apparently, except the small group in a desolate diner. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, they just happen hold the key to mankind´s survival in the form of pregnant Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), who will give birth to some kind of vague Christ-like figure at any moment. 90 minutes in to the movie, they´re just starting to dive into bible instructions and three wise men, or prophets, or some such bullshit, which comes long past the point of anyone caring.
Michael the angel was sent down to kill Charlie before her child is born, but he changes his mind and disobeys God´s orders somewhere along the way. He cuts off his wings, packs out an L.A. police cruiser with semi-automatic weapons, and drives out to the Nevada diner for a good ol´ fashioned zombie gunfight. We´re talking God and angels here, but I guess this is the level they operate at in a cheesy B-movie.
Saving grace: Kevin Durand, as angel Gabriel, who shows up to carry out Michael´s failed mission. Gabriel is clad in decadent Roman-era armor and giant wings, carries a mechanical metal mace, and is always lit from behind: he´s the only traditionally biblical figure in the film, completely out of place, and there´s a weird homosexual vibe between him and Michael. But his scenes are fully entertaining in that lovable bad-movie kind of way.
During much of Legion, I got the sense that they weren´t even trying to come up with something sensible. The tone is all off, stranded somewhere in half-seriousness despite the ridiculous nature of the plot; most audiences will laugh this one off the screen, as opposed to the similar Feast, which laughs at itself along with us.
The director was Scott Stewart, a visual effects whiz who has churned out a poorly lit, visually inconsistent mess here full of half-formed ideas that seem to pander to genre fans. It doesn´t make for a good movie, but it can be fun if you´re in the right frame of mind.
And: Ženy v pokušení (showtimes), a comedy from director Jiří Vejdělek starring Eliška Balzerová, Lenka Vlasáková, Veronika Kubařová, Jiří Macháček, and Roman Zach. Screening in Czech.