The Lovely Bones

Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is an ordinary 14-year old girl. She has a younger sister Lindsey (Rose McIver), an even younger brother Buckley (Christian Ashdale), a perfectionist father obsessed with building model ships in bottles (Mark Wahlberg), a stressed out mother (Rachel Weiz) who knits terrible headwear, an alcoholic grandmother (Susan Sarandon) and is developing her first crush on fellow schoolmate Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie). One day, however, Susia doesn’t make it all the way home from school. Whilst crossing a field near her family home she is lured into an underground bunker by her creepy neighbour George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), Harvey kills Susie, and the ramifications of this will throw her family into turmoil.
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Top 10… Active Directors

I recently appeared on episode #164 of the Lambcast, along with Nick from the Cinematic Katzenjammer, Pat from 100 Years of Movies and Kristen from Journeys in Classic Film. Our chosen topic of discussion was our top five active directors, and provoked some interesting thoughts including why none of us like Terrence Malick. I recommend listening to the episode, if only to hear us ruthlessly mock Nick for his first-time presenting skills, but the show also inspired me to expand upon my list for this week’s Top 10.

So today, here is my list of Top 10 Active Directors. My choices are generally based on two things: the director’s recent body of work, and their upcoming work or last film(s). This prevented me from putting, say, Steven Spielberg as no. 1 purely on the basis of Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan, because technically he is still working today, but in my opinion he peaked a good few years ago

Honourable mentions:

Fincher

This is a list for which there could potentially be dozens of honourable mentions, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to just a few. First up is David Fincher, who has yet to make a film I haven’t at least liked, if not really loved. The reason he hasn’t placed higher is that although I’m always eager to see his films, I’ve never actually made it into the cinemas to see them, and I’ve had the DVD of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo sat on my bookshelf for almost 6 months and still haven’t watched it. There’s no real reason for this other than finding the time to watch it with my girlfriend not around – there could be more rape scenes than she’d enjoy – but I feel my lack of excitement excludes him from the list. Next is Joss Whedon, whose Avengers Assemble was every bit as awesomely exhilarating as I’d hoped, and the trailer for Much Ado About Nothing looks decent too. Plus, the dude made Serenity, and has Avengers 2 on his slate. Other names I’d considered include Zack Snyder (who alas has had two unappealing flops for his most recent films, but Man of Steel looks promising), Martin Scorsese (I don’t deny he makes incredible films, but I don’t actually out-and-out love any of them as much as others seem to) and Sam Mendes (I loved Skyfall, Away We Go, American Beauty and Road to Perdition, but I don’t think he has any films in the works). The likes of Andrew Stanton, Danny Boyle, Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron, Adam McKay, James Gunn and Gore Verbinski can be considered as honourable mentions for the honourable mentions list. Continue reading

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Bear with me here, this may sound a little strange. There’s these things called hobbits, which are basically people, but they’re quite a bit shorter than humans, with big hairy feet, and they live in the ground in houses with big round doors, and they have a penchant for pipes. One of these hobbits, Bilbo Baggins, is paid a visit by a wizard – stay with me – called Gandalf, who arranges for said hobbit to go on a quest with thirteen dwarfs – kind of like hobbits, but a little taller, bulkier, hairier and grumpier – to travel a really long way in order to break into a locked mountain and kill the giant dragon that’s sleeping on a huge pile of gold that rightfully belongs to the dwarves. Oh, and one of the dwarfs, Thorin (their king), chopped off the hand of a giant pale orc (a kind of, um, ogre?) after the orc (called Asok the Defiler, of course) killed Thorin’s grandfather, and understandably Asok is out for revenge. Oh, and there’s a mass of caves full of goblins, some giant wolf-creatures called Wargs, great big problem-solving eagles and another wizard called Radagast the Brown who keeps birds under his hat, their faeces in his hair and rides a sleigh pulled by big rabbits. Actually, now I think about it, there’s nothing all that weird about any of this.
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Heavenly Creatures

Christchurch, New Zealand, the mid-1950s. Two girls, Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) run terrified through the dense forest, the air streaked with their screams and their faces streaked with blood. They burst through the bushes and emerge to the concerned face of a passer-by with the words “It’s Mummy! She’s terribly hurt!”So begins Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, the true story of two schoolgirls whose problematic home lives forge a bridge between them, a bridge that leads to a fantasy world of princes and princesses, giant butterflies, murder, topiary and unicorns. But when their parents strive to separate the two, the girls hatch a plan to remain together by taking drastic actions.

Heavenly Creatures

A true story told via the diary entries of the young Pauline (Melanie Lynskey), Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures is one part coming-of-age story, as the introverted outsider Pauline meets and bonds with Kate Winslet’s rich but sickly Juliet, and part exploration on the journey that ends with possible mental disorder. The two girls give great performances in their first film roles (though Winslet shows the greater potential to go on to win an Oscar rather than a regular role on Two and a Half Men), as the girls become closer whilst their parents become increasingly more worried. The film moved slowly, with a sense that the central relationship will not end well for anyone involved, and some scenes seem contrived – the fourteen-year old girls spontaneously stripping to their underwear as they run through the wood – but maybe that’s just a New Zealand thing. The brutal ending is shocking and abrupt, in stark contrast with the lands of make-believe and daydreams the girls have previously been living in, and the imagery sticks with you for a long time.
Choose film 6/10

King Kong (2005)

 A lot of people dislike Peter Jackson’s remake of 1933’s King Kong, made simply because the original is one of Jackson’s own favourite films, but once you get past the overlong New York-set character establishing and the woeful miscasting of Jack Black as movie producer Carl Denham, what’s left is an entertaining and well realised modern retelling of a well known story with a renowned ending known to all, whether they’ve seen the films or not. Aside from Black, it is this sense of inevitability that lets the film down. We all know going in that at some point a giant gorilla is going to capture, then fall for aspiring actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts, doing the best she can as essentially a scream on legs), before being captured himself, shipped to New York and thrown on stage as the latest attraction, ultimately forcing him to escape and take a fateful climb atop the Empire State Building, ultimately being killed not by machine gun-toting bi-planes, but by the bright, bloody blade of beauty. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the ending should have been changed, maybe with Kong swimming back to Skull Island with Ann perched on his head, or perhaps the NY locals gradually accepting Kong for who he is, eventually electing him mayor, paving the way for a comedy-heavy sequel, seeing Ann escorting Kong to various prestigious events, climaxing in an unveiling at the Smithsonian, where confronting a T-Rex skeleton brings back too many memories for the now refined ape, causing him to rip off his custom made tuxedo (with comically oversized and troublesome bowtie), break the skeletons jaw and finally settle down in an overgrown corner of Central Park, or in an enclosure at San Diego Zoo. No, the story was rightfully left intact, if a little extended in places, and mercifully the 1930s setting was also maintained, moving it all to the modern day could have ruined this movie.
As for Black, I’m not sure who could have replaced him as the egotistical, deceitful, driven moviemaker, but I think an older actor could have lent a little gravitas to the role, and since watching Midnight Run I’ve wanted to recast everyone with Charles Grodin, so I’m going to go with him.
The film doesn’t really get going until the approach to the island, with Jackson using some innovative effects and camerawork (the screaming rocks and the shot of Jamie Bell being flung around in the crow’s nest are particular highlights), but the best parts, in my opinion, involve the creatures of the island. Populated with dinosaurs, creepy-crawlies the size of caravans and creatures that are essentially giant penises with teeth and a penchant for human limbs, it’s not exactly an ideal holiday destination, but the respective battles and chases involving these beasties are the most entertaining and thrilling sequences in the film, the CGI is impeccable if a little soulless at times. Kong’s fight against three Tyrannosaurs over Ann is beautifully choreographed, and worth the three hour runtime alone.
There’s also some nice in-jokes (Denham can’t cast Fay Wray in his picture, as she’s shooting a rival film at RKO with Merian C. Cooper, that’ll be the original Kong then), and the interpretation of Kong is astounding, with Andy Serkis using his motion capture skills seen as Gollum to great effect, soon to be used again in Jackson and Spielberg’s Tintin, and the absurdly named Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Choose film 7/10

Lord of the Rings Trilogy

This 1001 book is starting to piss me off. Not only did it count a whole goddamn TV series as one film (slyly writing the length of one hour long episode instead of the full 10-hour marathon) but now it’s counted Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as one film. This is less annoying, as all three films appear on all of the other lists used, but think, two other films could have been removed to make up the numbers. Maybe two of the crap films I’ve already watched. Thanks book editors, thanks very much. I watched Olympia and the Spider’s Stratagem for nothing. Bastards.
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