Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond:  a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way:  there’s a father Bucket.  And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder.  Like, lots weirder.  Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons?  And the hair like Brian Jones.  Prim.  Proper.  Rocker.  Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity.  Purple velvet.  Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent.  Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here.  “Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names.  [there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point.  And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

Hudutların Kanunu [1966)

I could have sworn the titles said Hududların Kanunu, but there’s never any mistakes on Wikipedia, right? 

So we are going with Hudutların Kanunu.

The Law of the Border.

And it is such an honor to review another Turkish film.

I must say, this one really “spoke” to me.

Not only does Yılmaz Güney play the lead role of Hidir, but this same actor also wrote the screenplay.

As I watched Yılmaz Güney’s wonderful portrayal of the smuggler Hidir, I was reminded of Antonin Artaud’s acting in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

Güney’s penetrating eyes and stoic face are very similar to Artaud’s physical features.

But not only that.

It occurs to me that Güney bears a striking resemblance to a more contemporary figure:  Vladimir Putin.

This is all the more interesting when one considers that Güney was born Yılmaz Pütün.

Hmmm…

Güney was a Zaza Kurd who apparently got in trouble often with the Turkish government.

He died an early death at age 47 (in 1984).

Whether Hudutların Kanunu is propaganda is beside the point.

It certainly has traits of propaganda films, but it’s such a damn good movie that it doesn’t really matter.

Yes, there is a social justice angle to Güney’s story, but much credit should go to the wonderful directing job of Ömer Lütfi Akad.

Though Güney himself was a director as well, he did not direct this film.

Güney, by the way, had a fascinating life (including an escape from prison in 1981 and a subsequent Palme d’Or at Cannes for the film Yol).

[Sounds a bit like Timothy Leary’s prison-break and rendezvous in Switzerland with Ash Ra Tempel.]

If my numbers are correct, Güney acted in 14 films released in 1966 (!) [including this one] and also directed one as well.

Only one copy of Hudutların Kanunu survived Ahmet Kenan Evren’s 1980 coup in Turkey.

I would describe this wonderful film as being like a 1960s Turkish version of Sicario.

Though The Law of the Border is not a big-budget movie (a military officer comically says “let’s surround them” when he only has three soldiers [himself included]), the film is overall convincing.  It conveys a very powerful story.

As stated earlier, the principal activity at issue is smuggling.

What could be more timely to this day and age?

In the US it is drugs (from Mexico), and in Turkey it is perhaps other things (coming in and out of Syria).

And if the main character looks like Putin?!?

Well, it certainly confuses the meaning, but it still makes it like a Salvador Dalí dream.

It’s like a perfect storm of symbolism.

Furthermore, besides being a film set on a border, a main issue is education in Turkey.

This is, once again, a very timely issue.

As you might have heard last year, there were many protests by high school students in Turkey about the trend of religious schools replacing secular (or science) schools.

Incidentally, our director Ömer Lütfi Akad went to the oldest high school in Turkey:  Galatasaray Lisesi in Istanbul.  The school was started in 1481.

But let me tell you something important…

This film is very entertaining!!!

The gunfights!

Whizz!  Bing!  Pow!

It reminds me a bit of Howard Hawks’ Scarface from 1932.

Also at issue in this film is the concept of change.

Can a person change their beliefs?

Like me…

Can I change my beliefs?

I am 39.

Yılmaz Güney was 29 at the time of this film.

Can we change our beliefs?

And should we?

For Güney’s character Hidir, changing his beliefs is a Herculean effort.

And the moral of the somewhat-propagandistic story is that he’s a hero…JUST FOR TRYING.

He tried to change.

He makes a valiant effort.

A bit like Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.

This is the challenge for the world.

To look ourselves in our mirrors and make an effort.

Not physically (necessarily), but philosophically.

I’m not here to offer you propaganda.

But I am very concerned with the situation the real Vladimir Putin has been put in in Syria.

Why do we fight? [to echo the old series of American propaganda films from WWII]

We fight for the same reason anyone else does.

Or rather, Putin fights because he has drawn a line.

No more American aggression.

Syria is his line.

It’s not a game.

It’s real blood and real tears.

Proxy wars are not like AGMs (annual general meetings).

They are more like air-to-ground missiles (AGMs).

War is not a strictly academic affair.

It’s messy.  It’s sad.  It’s unnecessary (most of the time).

And the US and Russia have painted themselves into a corner.

That corner is Syria.

Perhaps Hudutların Kanunu is the Sholay of Turkey.

Perhaps it is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Anatolia.

One thing is sure:  Yılmaz Güney, “the Ugly King” (Çirkin Kral), was a brilliant man.

 

-PD

#3 The Curse of Mr. Bean [1990)

Just who does Donald Trump think he is???

Answer:  Sam Walton.

It’s the big, goofy, mesh-backed baseball cap.  The ones with the plastic snaps and infinitesimally small corresponding holes.  And then the squishy, peaked frontispiece:  “Make America great again” –or– (alternately) “Wal-Mart”.

That is the Donald’s costume…out on the campaign trail.  It’s bold.  Comedic.  A bit like George H.W. Bush “shopping” for groceries out among the common folk and being dumbfounded by this whole newfangled barcode scanner.

Yes, Donald Trump:  man of the people.

And so who did Rowan Atkinson think he was with Mr. Bean?

Well, that one’s a whole lot harder to pinpoint.

We might know Chaplin.  And Sellers.

But then there’s all these other institutions which don’t quite translate outside of Britain…The Goon Show, Dudley Moore, The Goodies…

Just from whence was Atkinson pulling his stuff?

We want to think it’s all original.  And perhaps it is.

But influence is unavoidable.

And so with the third and final episode of 1990, Atkinson gave us The Curse of Mr. Bean.  [1991 would yield only one episode of the show.]

The curse…hmmm…certainly sounds like an allusion to Sellers’ Clouseau.

Whatever the case may be, Atkinson’s material is all tied together with a very cohesive theme this time:  fear.

Fear of the diving board (afraid of heights).

Fear of public nudity or embarrassment (lost his trunks in the pool).

And finally the orgiastic grand guignol of laughter:

fear of movies.

It sounds like a pretentious art school pop album.

For instance, the Talking Heads’ Eno-produced Fear of Music (1979).

But for Bean, the horror was more of the Freddy Krueger type.

Indeed, by December 30, 1990 (this show’s airdate), there had already been five (yes, 5ive) A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Churned out of the dream factory like diabolical cotton candy, they appeared in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989.  The series then would recommence in 1991.  Which begs the question, just what was Freddy Krueger up to in 1986?  Laying low?  Vacationing?  The Caribbean?

To wit, Bean is scared witless while on a date (yes, those things where aspiring romantics “go out”) with the absolutely adorable Matilda Ziegler.

For those of you (like me) who can’t live without pithy character names, Ziegler’s role (like my beloved Enid Coleslaw) is that of Irma Gobb.

And Bean, therefore, is the man-child…the everlasting Gobbstopper [sic].

[Which is to say, Ziegler’s character is a reoccurring one.]

Perhaps we need to look further back to find a precedent for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean…perhaps out of the world of comedy proper.  Perhaps to the Dadaists?  I can certainly imagine Mr. Bean dressed as a sort of human tampon à la Hugo Ball…with lobster claw hands.  Or maybe Bean with a lobster telephone courtesy of Dalí.  Certainly Bean would have a pet lobster to take for walks in the Bois de Boulogne with a ribbon for a leash like Gérard de Nerval.

But we perhaps perhaps perhaps need to look further.  To the wry humor of Marcel Duchamp.  To the childlike fancy and brilliance of a René Magritte or an Erik Satie.  Even, god forbid, the humor of a Mauricio Kagel.

Conductors don’t have heart attacks mid-concert?  Not according to Kagel’s Ludwig Van.

Yet Bean never crosses that line of pretension.

He’s never Anthony Braxton’s Quartet for Amplified Shovels.

No, Bean always remains funny.

And so, perhaps, nothing is more revolutionary than comedy.

This kind of comedy.

Absolutely scripted, miniaturist-perfect comedy worthy of Jacques Tati.

In that sense, we might say that Mr. Bean is like Peter Sellers having Charlie-Chaplin-like total control over a production.  At least that’s the way it seems.

Perhaps we would be criminally neglecting the director of these first three Bean episodes:  John Howard Davies.

But in such comedies, the thing really does speak for itself.

Rowan Atkinson fills every moment of screen time in these gems with his thoroughly inimitable charm.

 

-PD

El ángel exterminador [1962)

Dear friends…it has been awhile.  And I have been stuck inside a nightmare.

A party, but a nightmare all the same.

On this New Year’s Eve when so many rush to their engagements…I have thanks to give…yet it all seems so surreal.

For many of us we battle mental demons.  Usually, we don’t mean demons literally.  And I certainly don’t.

Yet, the world is so strange that we can’t help wondering whether there is something beyond science which is driving certain events.

These sentiments…these questions, are the stuff of El ángel exterminador.  This is not a relaxing film, but it is absolutely essential.

It is a work of art which is irreplaceable in the global canon of creative thought and philosophy.

Luis Buñuel had immense courage to make this film.  And yet, he was an old hand by this point.

His first film (made in collaboration with fellow-Spaniard Salvador Dalí) was 16 minutes which shook the world:  Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  The slicing of the donkey’s eyeball.  Before the stock market crash.  And verily, the cinematic parallel of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.

Outrageous surrealism.  Think of his collaborator’s La persistència de la memòria.  The same fount of Freudian cess.  From the pool of the taxed mind comes melting clocks…(and in the case of Un Chien Andalou those familiar ants).  We will always see Dalí as ants…as ants on James Joyce’s egg-yolk universe…Humpty Dumpty having represented the fall of man (“…sat on the wall/…had a great fall”).  [Or as Joyce so singularly put it:  bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!]

Luis Buñuel had the mad genius of Joyce.  In 1930, he followed upon his famous 16 minutes with 60 minutes in L’Âge d’Or.

I had the privilege of knowing Buñuel by way of his first two films and (in bookend fashion) two of his last three films:  Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972) and Cet obscur objet du désir (1977) [his final creation].

But none of this could have prepared me for the devastating, scathing critique of Western civilization that is El ángel exterminador.

The genre known as “comedy of manners” becomes a grotesque apocalypse the hands of Buñuel.  In that sense, El ángel exterminador is closest in spirit (or subject matter) to Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie.

But it is very important to note that El ángel exterminador is operating on multiple levels.

Is it a damnation of the rich?  Sure.

Is it a mockery of polite culture?  Of course.

But the lethargy and incapacitation we see in El ángel exterminador are the result of very mannerly people being reduced to complete inaction because routine convention has been circumvented.  We see the short-circuiting of well-meaning people who do not know how to cope with change.

And on that level, this film is universal.  It just so happens that the overly-precious manners of the bourgeoisie serve best the filmmaker’s purpose.

Not to disappoint the more visually-stimulated among you, but there is no swooping angel of death in this film.  There is, however, a tense, suffocating masterpiece which makes Hitchcock gems like Lifeboat and even Rope look like the products of lazy philosophy in comparison.

One last thought…  For those who think that the wonderfully-bizarre Alejandro Jodorowsky appeared out of nowhere, El ángel exterminador sets the record straight.  Buñuel was taking aim at the impotence of religion before Jodorowsky was in short pants.  In this film we see the kernel of imagery (lambs, a smashed cello, bits of debris…) which would make La montaña sagrada the beautifully freakish creation it is.  Both were, incidentally, shot in Mexico.

Though Buñuel (a Spaniard) and Jodorowsky (a Chilean) came from different corners of the Spanish-speaking world, their lives would both include important time spent in Mexico and France.  Jodorowsky is, in some ways, still the future.  But to know the future, we must first know the past.

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 13 [1976)

Peter Boyle had an unmistakable face.

The name might have been unfamiliar to most, but run that clip of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” from Young Frankenstein and you have a strange bit of film immortality.

Mr. Boyle was, of course, the tap-dancing Frankenstein monster who so gracefully delivered his one and only (repeated) singing line at sporadic intervals [“puttin’ on the riiiiiiiitttttzzzzzzz…”].

Irving Berlin, the song’s composer, published it barely more than a month after the stock market crash of 1929.  Aw hell…I don’t often do this, but it’s important you see this laugh-out-loud clip if you’re unfamiliar with the “super dooper” Mel Brooks moment:

Now then…

That’s Peter Boyle.  I suppose he had TWO lines in actuality.

Well, he’s here as the host of Saturday Night Live on Valentine’s Day 1976.

Ah, Valentine’s…or as the beautiful, genius Sophie Crumb (30 years later) called it “valentine-wanna-kill-myself-day!”  Yeah…

Sometimes it feels about like that.

So this episode of SNL has an occasionally sappy, lazy, wrist-slitting sentimentality to it.  Ok, I admit:  the Gary Weis film is cute.  But God…that Simon & Garfunkel music…  It’s such a tearjerker.

Really, it peeves me when SNL recycles footage.  I mean, hello!  We’re only 13 episodes into this thing.  First season!  Are they really out of material?  Hell, we’d seen ’em do it earlier with an Albert Brooks film.

At least the repeated faux commercials are usually funny.  And they’re tolerable because they’re 30 seconds long (I’m guessing) [give or take].

So, yeah…

This episode has some good parts.  Samurai Divorce Court is pretty good (mainly due to John Belushi and Jane Curtin).

Really, this episode is pretty strong until the back half.

Al Jarreau is surprisingly good as the musical guest.  I wasn’t really familiar with his stuff (just his name), but he really is a musical freak!  The guy really nails it on both of his performances…going from a simmering Valentine’s romantic tone to savant bebop scatting.

Wikipedia has a very sparse sketch of the events in this episode.

Some, admittedly, aren’t really worth mentioning.

The wrestling skit with The Bees and The W.A.S.P.s (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) is pretty underwhelming.

Really, the most-improved (and continually improving) portion of the show was the Weekend Update with Chevy Chase.  The writing was pretty free and wild.  And think of all the great cultural references we get.

The description of Dorothy Hamill’s Olympic routine is frankly hilarious.  Also, by this time George H.W. Bush was director of the CIA.  One particularly funny question posed by the show’s writers was, “Is America a front for the CIA?”

Such humor evinces politically-aware writers.  We must remember that the Church Committee had just met the previous year (1975).  It was one of the few times (perhaps the only time) that the American intelligence community came under any sort of actual scrutiny by Congress (and, by extension, the American people).

CIA, NSA, FBI…no one was completely spared from this investigation occasioned by Watergate.

Which reminds me.  Perhaps the most classic bit in this episode is Dan Aykroyd doing a Nixon impersonation in a rubber monkey mask.  The surreal act of breathing (which causes the entire mask to be sucked in and, alternately, blown back out) perfectly sums up the bizarre nature of American politics at that time.

It was a time when Reagan was but a former “fascist” governor (and yet to be President).  Yes, Weekend Update uses the word “fascist”.  (!)  How far SNL has sunk now.

But, to be fair, SNL was projecting the humor of the American liberal movement.  At least that’s the impression I get.

One final note.  The trial of Patricia (Patty) Hearst was also big news about this time.  Obviously, her case captured national attention for quite a while.  [An earlier episode with Lily Tomlin involved a fictional sorority sister [Tomlin] writing a letter to the imprisoned Hearst while, in an aside, asking another sister to return her Carpenters records.  Ahh, the 70s…]

Perhaps the greatest coup of the episode under consideration is the montage of art photos which purport to be an “Artist Rendering” of the Hearst trial.  From Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights to  Dalí’s La persistencia de la memoria, the effect is both highbrow and ridiculous.

And it is for nuggets just such as these that we continue to be enthralled with America’s most storied variety show.

 

-PD

Umberto D. [1952)

Unglamorous stories.

That is what Italy brought us in the post-war years.

And every “new wave” which has followed owes a debt to the masters like De Sica.

Perhaps you know Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves).

Don’t stop there, dear friend.

Because here we have the precursor to Dante Remus Lazarescu.

Sure.  There is some humor in Umberto D.  A very, very dark humor.

As with Moartea domnului Lăzărescu.

But mostly there is beauty.

Sadness.

Reality.

Cinema.

There is the little dog Flike.  Not Flicka, but Flike (rhymes with psych).  Or bike.

Flike.  Like Céline’s cat Bebert.

And then there is the stunning (STUNNING) acting of Carlo Battisti as Umberto.

There are few performances which can equal it.

Ioan Fiscuteanu did it as Lazarescu.

And that’s about it.

Rarefied air…these two actors.

Let me put it another way.  Umberto D. was Ingmar Bergman’s favorite film.  Do you know what I mean?

The director of Smultronstället and Sommaren med Monika.

Picked one film.  And this was it.

Appropriately, this was Carlo Battisti’s only film role ever.

As the star of Umberto D.

He wasn’t an actor.  He was a linguist.

God damn…

It’s just unreal how good this film is!

But we must also give credit to the indispensable Maria-Pia Casilio.

It is through her eyes that we see the ants…formica in Italian.

In English, we think of a hard composite material.  Formica.  A table top.

But a sort of false cognate brings us back to the archetype which Dalí and Buñuel so evocatively exploited in Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  A film.  The famous eyeball which gets “edited”.  And then the ants were back in La persistència de la memòria.  A painting.  Soft clocks.  You know the one.  And the only differences between Spanish and Catalan in this case are the diacritical marks.

But she burns paper.  To chase the ants.  And the stray cat prowls the roof at night soft as a snowflake.  And the grated skylight is her canvas to dream stretched out in her bed.  And nothing is more morose than a contemplative face at the window looking out on a dingy world.

We sense it did not go easily for Italy.  After the war.  Because when you choose the wrong side you will be punished.

And though Germany was divided and Berlin was the most surreal example of this (being wholly within East Germany…like a Teutonic Swaziland–a Lesotho leitmotiv), Italy still suffered.  We see it in Rossellini.  And we see it here.

Neorealism.  A update on the operas of Mascagni and Leoncavallo.  A continuation of Zola.  A nod to Dostoyevsky.

Verismo.

The star is an old man.  He is not really a hero.  He doesn’t save the world.  There aren’t explosions.

But (BUT)

he does something most extraordinary.  He survives…for a time.  What a miracle!

Ah!  The miracle of everyday life.  We have survived another year.  Another day!

Do you think there will be a war?

[Shame.  The shame of having to ask for help.  Begging for the first time.]

When your bed is a joke.  Newspapers and dust.  And there is a goddamned hole in your wall.  Perhaps.

A missile.  Or The Landlord’s Game (which became Monopoly).

When you are cold with a fever.  As an elderly person.  All your glamorous days have passed.

And you need your coat just to provide a little more warmth.  On top of the blanket.  To make it through the night.

As long.

As long as this film survives, humanity has a chance.

Really.

-PD

The Lovely Bones [2009)

Somehow, at some point…people forgot how to make films.  This would be considered cinema in today’s Hollywood (which is to say, a great film).  Sadly, this is barely a good film.

Once upon a time there were masters like Murnau and Lang and Dreyer. They worked in an age before sound.  They had less variables to ponder.  And yet, they managed to tell stories in elegant, sophisticated ways.  There was no CGI.

Cut to the present film.  Saoirse Ronan is truly lovely, yet not even she can salvage this schmaltz.  To be sure, this is not a happy story.  I would like to congratulate director Peter Jackson, but I cannot do so without a plethora of caveats.

Let me start by saying that Mark Wahlberg, at least, does an excellent acting job.  I can’t help thinking of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch every time I see his name.  That was the age I was raised in:  ridiculous, posturing hip-hop.  Don’t get me wrong…some of it was good.  I even remember having a fondness for Wahlberg’s group, but suffice it to say that their oeuvre has not aged particularly well.  I fear the same might be the case with this film.

Stanley Tucci is excellent and creepy as hell as the serial killer George Harvey.  Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, is a caricature of herself…completely ridiculous and superfluous to any of the aims which this film should have had.  Rose McIver is actually quite good as Susie’s younger sister (though the film seems to suggest she is the older sister in the beginning…just one loose end among many, many others).

There are moments when this film touches on the sublime, but they may not be the ones of which you’re thinking.  When director Jackson approaches the realm of Hitchcock, he does so quite capably.  One even gets the sense that a Silence of the Lambs might be developing on screen.  Sadly, we seem to slip into What Dreams May Come.  Much better to emulate Alfred than Vincent Ward.  Yikes!

About these dream sequences–this “In-Between”…it is as if Salvador Dalí’s superb imagination was being hijacked by a third-rate M.C. Escher reproductionist.  It is as if we were watching the music video to Seal’s “Crazy.”  It is horrible.

Nikki SooHoo’s acting is really, really bad.  Poor girl.  She is the Jar Jar Binks of this ill-fated venture.

After all this CGI tomfoolery we finally have another shard of cinema when McIver find’s the murderer’s sketchbook.  The close-ups of her fingernails trying to silently lower the loose floorboard back into place have a gripping suspense worthy of Hitch.  Jackson at least does a good job of making fingernails (you heard me) a significant motif throughout the picture.  Tucci’s neatly manicured nails are pictured in close-up as he disgustingly fondles the dead Susie’s house charm which he ripped off her bracelet.

The story is not bad, but Jackson has not inspired me to read the book any time soon.  The motif of the kiss is a sweet sentiment and it is just one of many touching moments in this train-wreck of a film.  Susie is supposed to be the amateur photographer.  Jackson directs like a 14-year-old.  The film would doubtless have been better had he 1/100th the budget.

The overall narrative (with voiceover by Ronan) is a formulaic, staid, pale imitation of American Beauty.

One last thought:  I can’t believe Brian Eno did the music.  Sadly, the only musical moments which are transcendent come at the hands of Dave Edmunds and The Hollies (though the latter’s is ruined by a Sarandon montage).  Nay, I shan’t be running out to see any Lord of the Rings movies anytime soon.  This is a stinker which won’t soon enough evaporate from my memory.  Jackson could really use a good night in with TCM for starters (and then, perhaps, God forbid…an Ingmar Bergman movie).  Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy obliterates The Lovely Bones in every aspect.  Google Dogme 95, Mr. Jackson.  Learning is fun.

 

-PD