Friday, January 15, 2010

Lovely Bones etc.

A week ago, I went to the movies and saw the Tim Allen/Sigourney Weaver comedy Crazy on the Outside. It was a pretty lightweight movie, but it was good for a few laughs. Allen plays a jailbird who gets paroled and goes home to live with his sister (Weaver), a pathological liar with a heart of gold. The cast is full of cut-ups, from the frail grandma who thinks Allen has spent the last three years in France, to the brother-in-law (J.K. Simmons) who is always either batting his eyes at his wife or complaining about dinner being late because everyone is waiting for the ex-con to get home. Ray Liotta plays one of Allen's crooked friends who tries to tempt him back into a life of crime; Kelsey Grammer appears as the new fiance of Allen's ex (Julie Bowen), who really wants to have both men in her life; Jeanne Tripplehorn plays the parole officer who gradually allows herself (and her fatherless son) fall for Allen. The two ex-con doofuses (doofi?) who help Allen get his painting business restarted are played by the hilarious team of Malcolm Goodwin and Jon Gries.

It's really casting overkill. There are too many funny folks in this flick for all of them to get all the priceless moments they deserve. In a loose, relaxed way, the director (Tim Allen again) tries to give them all a fair share. In a fun way, the movie shows the risks and pitfalls that may come to a crooked guy who's trying to go straight. Tim Allen is pretty decent in the role. But the movie really belongs to Sigourney Weaver, whose tangled web of lies adds a sparkle of the unexpected to many scenes in the movie.

Tonight's big movie is on the other side of the coin. I went to see Peter Jackson's new film adapted from Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones. Saoirse Ronan, 13 years old when the movie was shot, is fast becoming one of the big names in the business. She's been nominated for an Oscar (Atonement) and has already starred in a terrific family movie (City of Ember). Now she narrates, and plays the lead role, in a film where her character is murdered in Act One. The serial killer who got her is played by nice-guy-type Stanley Tucci. Her heartbroken parents are played by heartthrobs Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz. Susan Sarandon plays the kind of grandmother who sniffs, "Thirty-five isn't old!" between glasses of booze and pulls on a cigarette. The movie has a nice 1973 look to it, complete with hip-hugging bell-bottoms, cameras with flash cubes, and Michael Imperioli as a detective - I mean, isn't he the guy who starred in that 1970s-themed cop show? He probably schooled everybody on this stuff, except maybe Marky "Boogie Nights" Mark.

The Lovely Bones is a very strange and thought-provoking story. It moves a lot of different emotions. It's nothing like what you would expect of a serial-killer thriller. The victim is never found. The bad guy doesn't exactly get away, but he isn't caught either. It seems to be more about what the family goes through, and about the dead girl's process of accepting her own death and letting go of her loved ones, than about the crime itself. There's a little bit of paranormal stuff in it. One or two characters catch a ghostly glimpse of the late Susie Salmon, or hear her voice, or dream about her. Several characters figure out whodunit without having any particular, tangible evidence to point to. There's a bit of suspense when you think the dead girl's kid sister may be the killer's next target. A scene from the movie Ghost that made some people say Eww! gets dusted off and re-run in a much sweeter and appealing way.

The movie has some beautiful visual effects in it, and a nice rhythm, complemented by some structural repetitions and foreshadowings. And it has some really original touches, like the break between two scenes achieved by morphing a close-up of an icicle into the front of a car. Or something like that. It's cooler than I can explain. In short, it's a movie that will catch your breath, and various other bodily emissions, in your throat.

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