Reviews


3
Mar 14

Phantoms of the OSCARS

I only saw part of the Academy Awards and lost interest, but I liked Ellen Degeneres’s comic hosting, especially her line about Liza Minnelli who was in the audience. ‘”I have to say that is one of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” she said, pointing out Minnelli sitting in the audience. “Good job, sir.”‘ Good drag queen joke. Not sure Liza got it, judging from her expression. But if you missed the show, it was a kind of combination of self-adulation, and self-loathing –the latter in the comedy, as if to make up for the narcissism. Here’s a translation of what most people besides Ellen Degeneres said, if they were introducing people or accepting: “I gratefully KISS YOUR ASS. I kiss YOUR ass, Warner Brothers, and I kiss YOUR ass, Paramount, and I kiss YOUR ass, producer, and I kiss YOUR ass, director, and I kiss YOUR ass everybody else.” So just imagine that over and over again and you have the show, except for that hideous backdrop during the “Happiness” song where they actually had a giant non-ironic happy face. Speaking of movies, during that bit I kept thinking, “The horror…the horror…”

Kim Novak is probable getting acidic tweets about her appearance on the Oscars. The poor thing–she’s 81, trying to look 18. Girl, that surgery and that botox is not working. You’re a poster child for “the older you get the less cosmetic surgery works” or possibly “the more cosmetic surgery you get, the less it works.” A little neck tuck, that I can see. But apart from that most of these people look worse with the surgery than if they just let themselves age. It’s as if they have no respect for old people, which is ironic. But also it’s about the fact that they can’t really see themselves as they are *even in a mirror*. They get this extreme and grotesque unworkable surgery and then they *see* something else in the mirror. They mentally edit it. So long as there are no wrinkles they can seemingly see what they want. It’s living satire. Poor kid. i felt bad for her. She was so good in Vertigo. Her cosmetic surgery is now nauseatingly vertiginous. One feels, looking at it, one is falling into another and terrible world, to paraphrase PG Wodehouse.

The last time I remember seeing cosmetic surgery that hideous was on the Academy Awards was when Liberace accepted a special Oscar…That surgery was hideous, looked very new…and he looked terrified. I felt for him too.

I am saying that women in Hollywood should NOT HAVE TO have that kind of surgery–they shouldn’t be bullied into that kind of delusional extreme self modification. I’m saying it does not work and it only opens the poor thing up to ridicule. I feel my post was entirely sympathetic. This is not an ordinary situation. This is not “her dress is awful” or “she’s overweight.” I don’t care about that. this is not about minor cosmetic surgery. This is about self disfiguring due to delusion.

Basically I felt the 2014 Academy Awards lived up to its standard dismalness.


15
Jan 10

** THE LOVELY BONES**

Movie review by John Shirley
The Lovely Bones
The man who managed to film Lord Of The Rings has chosen to adapt the introspective afterlife novel The Lovely Bones, and once again he’s taken some liberties. But the result is a surprisingly seamless fusion of Hitchcock and Salvador Dali.

As with LOTR, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s Bones is the sum of its aesthetic choices, times the auteur’s vision. Jackson brings a vibrant surrealism and suspense to the adaptation, and it says a lot that he chose Brian Eno to do the music for it. Spoilers below.

The Lovely Bones is the story of young Susie Salmon, who’s murdered by a serial killer, and who then observes the aftermath as a ghost. A girl in her early teens, Susie is compellingly played by the luminous Saoirse Ronan. She observes the grief of her family, and their floundering responses as the police consider every possible suspect but the right one; she experiences an afterlife that seems a strangely logical mix of its own rules and her internal world. (In places it’s a little like a subtler version of What Dreams May Come, without the philosophy-and without a Cuba Gooding, Jr). She resists complete absorption into the next world, drawn back to psychically finger the residue of her own uncompleted life.

The novel’s story is told by the murdered girl. In the book, Susie says: “My murderer was a man from our neighborhood. My mother liked his border flowers, and my dad talked to him once about fertilizer.” This voice, as voice-over, usually simple, sometimes penetrating, neatly interlaces and tightens the film’s narration. The use of voiceover is famously a cinematic bugaboo, a chain holding many films back – it mars Kubrick’s otherwise brilliant film noir, The Killing – but occasionally it can work, and here’s the occasion. Saoirse Ronan’s voiceover brings the first-person voice of the novel into the film, so that we feel haunted by her as we watch events unfold. Jackson uses the voiceover just enough, and in just the right places.

We know early on – as in the novel – that Susie Salmon will be murdered, because she tells us so. But somehow Jackson makes us afraid for her anyway, though her doom is a kind of fait accompli from the first. Jackson stretches out the suspense about who does it for awhile, but by the end of the first act you know it’s “Mr. Harvey.” The psychopathic Mr Harvey, a predator who can be just charming enough to be well camouflaged, is played with creepy brilliance by Stanley Tucci – you absolutely know that this character is a guy from your neighborhood who’s very fussy about his flowers, very punctual, lives alone. You accept that he builds dollhouses – perhaps miniature houses is a better description – as a hobby. And somehow his little quirks quite logically dovetail with the fact that he likes to rape, murder, and dismember young girls. We infer we shouldn’t trust people who are too neat, wound too tight, and too charming. Good advice. The scenes where Mr. Harvey stalks Susie, and entraps her in the little pre-adolescent play-chamber he builds, like a dollhouse, under the cornfield – a resonantly symbolic setting – are quite frightening. One knows what will happen, and it doesn’t help. Jackson’s skills at suspense and the elucidation of fear – the bringing of background fear cracklingly into the foreground, at precisely the right moment – are powerfully in evidence.

The afterlife of The Lovely Bones has its various facets, like the Bible’s “many mansions”; there is a kind of dark afterlife bardo feel to part of it, but there’s also the freedom of living one’s dreams, in a light-hearted way, as a fourteen year old girl. Never forget, when Jackson shows you her afterlife, that it’s her afterlife. It’s the afterlife of a girl in her early teens. In one segment that might strike some as a bit airyfairy, there is a Little Prince style planet; there are butterflies and teen-fantasy outfits. She even sees herself fleetingly on the cover of a teen magazine. But this isn’t your afterlife. It’s the afterlife of a girl who had teen heartthrob photos on her bedroom wall. That sequence is not overlong, and it makes sense. And it’s just a portion of her life-after-death – other parts are almost Mordor-like; are certainly fraught with symbol and infused with a living presence, so that we’re never surprised when it responds to psychological impulses from Susie or the mortal world. The scenes in the Next World are often spectacular – and yet they meld potently with the drama of the mortal world.

Susie’s relationship with her father, likably played by Mark Wahlberg, is more powerful than her relationship with her mother – Rachel Weisz—whom we know largely from her grief. Her father is obsessed with finding her killer, and is thoroughly unsuited for it – eventually, spiritually guided by Susie in an understated way, he intuits the killer’s identity. When he tries to do something about it, his fury bears bitter fruit, in keeping with the film’s theme of acceptance over hatred.

It may be that the second act, at times, doesn’t quite cohere, doesn’t always lead immaculately into the third. Occasionally it seems episodic. But the film’s imagery and characters exert a pull that draws us relentlessly along, and the third act plays out compellingly.

Susie’s sister is the one who finds the evidence the blind, flailing adults overlook while Susan Sarandon, as the alcoholic, bohemian grandmother — holds the family together. Chainsmoking, endearingly incompetent , the character is wonderful, completely convincing, and sometimes quite funny. Sarandon may get a best-supporting-actress nomination for this – she simply becomes this woman.

Susie’s murder has been with us from the first, in a way, but chronologically it comes right after she meets a stunningly Byronic young immigrant from Britain (reminiscent of the young man the girls love from the Twilight pictures), who might have been her soul-mate… had she not been murdered; had her life, with all its drama and joy, its highs and troughs not been brutally, maddeningly, senselessly and oh-so-pointlessly interrupted. This is one of the film’s most poignant throughlines, and provides some of its emotional resolution, in time. Just in time – to rescue an ending that some might find a little unsatisfying.

The film strays in some places from Sebold’s narrative, but the end belongs to the novel, a resolution as much emotional as plot-driven. It’s a denouement written by an artist, not by a Hollywood screenwriter. There must have been some Suits feeling angst over that ending, when the studio distributors saw it. (I notice they aren’t spending a lot of money promoting The Lovely Bones.) Not that it’s a bad ending – it’s just deep. And they don’t like deep. Will they recognize the cunning symbolism of the faces in the dollhouse windows? The little ships suddenly taking shape in the bottles?

I found the ending to be just frustrating enough — about as frustrating as our world is. And it is another example of choices defining an adaptation. Some fans of the book may carp about certain freedoms Jackson took, but most will hopefully see that in this very creative, authoritative film Peter Jackson preserves the characters, the theme, the dread, the delight found in the novel – and has added just enough of his own.