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The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002)

I’m very late to the party on this one, but a coworker’s enthusiasm pushed the book to the front of my To Be Read pile. If you want a hint of the plot, watch the trailer.

or read the New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani. I happen to agree with much of what it says. Ruth never sat well with me. I attributed her obsession with Susie to a crush that never ended due to Susie’s death. When Susie enters Ruth’s body, I was jolted. Now we were entering fantasy land, though her actions, once human again, were understandable.

The allure for me was the nature in which Sebold tackled Susie’s killer (though his demise was a little hard to believe, especially after all the build up via Hal, the police and Harvey’s brazen return to the Salmon residence). Some of it was tedious reading (some of the Salmon family past was excessive), but overall, a decent read.

I’m sure to make my way to the theater to see Jackson’s vision, though I have mixed feelings about the absence of a rape/murder scene. Early reviews applaud this absence (Good. Too many filmmakers revel in horror. The Sun) and others balk (The screen version, by contrast, is so infuriatingly coy, and so desperate to preserve the modesty of its soulful victim that it amounts to an ongoing clean-up operation. The Guardian).

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The Great, the Good and the Ugly

Lots goin’ over the holiday break. Here’s a run down:

The Great:

Valkyrie Screenshot

  • Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise – I believe Cruise is a nutter but he plays Stauffenberg brilliantly. Of course Kenneth Branagh is gold in everything he does. This movie is the reason I continue to see a movie every Christmas day.
  • Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli – From the oh-so-talented Spinelli comes a simple story about a boy who slowly realizes he is in love. I don’t know how he did it, the story could be my own… but Spinelli just delighted me. It was a perfect read for my beach vacation. A step up from Eggs.

The Good:

  • Peak by Roland Smith is the fictional account of fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello. From skyscrapper antics to his climb up Mount Everst in an attempt to become the youngest to reach the summit, Peak is a delightful narrator. I admit I know nothing about climbing but, after reading this, I wouldn’t mind learning more. This is a character driven novel and I enjoyed it greatly.
  • Tropic Thunder – I went in with expectations set too high. This one entertained just enough.

The Ugly:

  • The Tale of Despereaux – The movie looks like it will be great, it looks like a faithful adaptation… from the previews. LOOK OUT. It is a ruse!While I approved most of the voice narration (Brodrick as Despereaux,  as Pea, Ullman as Miggory, and Ciaran Hinds as Botticelli), there were some major duds (Hoffman as Roscuro, Conroy as Antoinette – my god, she should be FRENCH!).The entire first half-hour deviated from the book and it was an abomination. Kevin Kline voiced a soup chef with a ridiculous fruit man muse (who thought that up) who destroyed not only the opening minutes but also the denoumont! What a ridiculous … thing … to add to such a beautifully crafted book.And what’s all this nonsense about Roscuro matriculating from the sea?! I don’t mind when changes are made from book to script (I thought Jackson made brilliant changes to The Lord of the Rings) but if you change for the sake of changing… not to improve… be gone with you!

Big Ears!

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Movie Review: Cloverfield

This is a **SPOILER** filled follow-up to my earlier post on Cloverfield.

I really enjoyed the flow of this movie. The action begins when Jason Hawkins picks up his brother’s camera to record his lovely girlfriend, Lily. We learn they are hosting a surprise “going away” party for Jason’s brother, Rob. Before too long, Jason has conned his good-guy friend Hud, to take the camera and film testimonials (“just like at weddings”). Hud has the camera for most of the film. We go from Rob’s going away party, where characters are quickly but smoothly developed, to the streets of NYC, to the subway (specifically the Spring Street station), and finally back to the streets.

The action flows naturally. The perspective is authentic. The terror real. We see the monster. Our crew (consisting of Jason, Lily, Rob, Hud, and Hud’s romantic interest, Marlena) has the misfortune of consistantly crossing paths with the big bad nasty (an aquatic cross between the mother alien from Aliens and King Kong) and its flea-like creepy crawlies (like a cross between the Alien face suckers and a lobster).

If you are someone who needs answers, forget it. You are dragged along with our uninformed crew, picking up only glimpses of the full story: a quick shot of a captured creepy crawlie in ET-like captivity – obviously about to get an autopsy, a military triage where we see someone with a “BITE! Oh, my god we got a BITE, here!” burst like a human-size blood pustule. You will leave the theatre wondering, “What will bring the big bad down?” “What were those little creepy crawlies?” “How was the tape recovered?” “Where did it come from?!” “What happened next?” With all those questions, the final moments were still satifying.

And you have to just accept it. It’s the ride that matters. It’s being caught in the center and scrambling to survive. I loved filling in the blanks myself. It left me wanting more, the way a good book does.

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Movie Review: Cloverfield

** This is a spoiler free review of an advance screening I attended in New York City last night at a Lowe’s Theatre (thank you Comic Con). I will post a more detailed review on Friday, once the movie is released.

I went into this movie warily. I knew it was shot using a hand held camera. The last movie I saw shot in this fashion was the Blair Witch Project. Now, I might have enjoyed Blair Witch if I hadn’t left the movie with a splitting headache. So, I was nervous about Cloverfield. Would this be torture?

It wasn’t. Phew! The camera, while shaky at times, was steady and the plot was so engaging that I didn’t notice when it did get rough. The perspective drew me in.

This movie was equal parts thrill and humor. For me, a movie is all about script. If the dialogue is bad, my good opinion is lost, no matter how perfect the rest of the film might be. And this film had a great script — not complicated, not profound, but spot on clever yet simple with excellent timing. I found myself in the grips of terror and anticipation while laughing. What a rare thing! A wonderful balance.

My guest and I walked away from this film on our toes. We talked about it all night. Seeing it in New York (the setting of the film) was fantastic. We left the theatre at night as it was lightly raining. Perfect ambiance. The film was a delight and I recommend it to all.

There are few “scary” movies that I consider worth watching. Alien, Aliens, and Predator are among the few I can stomach and enjoy. Cloverfield is also one I would watch again and again.

My favorite exchange:

“What is that thing?!”
“It’s a terrible thing.”

Cloverfield

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Movie Review: The Golden Compass

I was fortunate to see a sneak peak of The Golden Compass last night. Having read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (the first of which this movie is based upon), I came into the film with high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed (The Chronicles of Narnia). But I wasn’t blown away either (i.e. The Lord of the Rings).

The Golden Compass Movie Poster

What worked? The graphics. Expertly woven into every shot (unlike Narnia). Iorek was mighty. He upstaged some of the live actors, even Nicole Kidman ^o^.

Lyra was perfect. Just enough sweetness and plenty of ferocity. Dakota Blue Richards got her character spot on! The method used to show her reading and understanding the Alethiometer is well done, with the presence of dust prominent.

Serafina Pekkala (uk! I didn’t like the name as I read the book either) was a gem. Strong presence in a short amount of screen time. She arrived with panache and left you gawping in her wake. The guys in the theatre felt the same way.

What could have been improved? The gyptians were stereotyped. There was very little time to build their characters and Lyra’s relationship to them, so they popped in when needed and were out of my mind when gone. This, in addition to the overall choppiness of the movie running from about 5 to 25 minutes in, left me thinking they could have spent an extra 10 minutes easing into the college surroundings and another 10 on the gyptians, their concerns and power.

But, all in all. A solid film. I’ll see it again next week :) and hope it does well enough to warrant two sequels.

Also, it was super sweet to see the trailer for Inkheart!!

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Movie Review: Dan in Real Life

It’s three days later, and I’m still thinking about this movie. I completely enjoyed it. No, it’s not as funny as the 40 Year Old Virgin (though it definitely has some comedic moments). Steve Corell is not the goofy man he is done up to play in the outragous Office. He is a handsome, warm, widow… who has fallen head over heals for a great gal who happens to be his brother’s girlfriend. This movie is about parenting (the middle daughter was dramatically perfect), overwhelming emotions (did anyone catch the eldest daughter during Dan’s cover of “Let my Love Open the Door?” – my favorite scene), timing (ag! TIMING!), love (and the mad things it makes us do), family (their crazy traditions and unfailing love), and understanding (“Go. Now.”). Ah! A romantic comedy for adults. For people eager to devour a well scripted movie (with a plot that does no more than bring a large family together in a small town in the chilly northeast US) whose characters touch your heads and your hearts.

Dan playing “Let my Love Open the Door”

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Film Review: Stardust

I saw an advanced screening of Stardust last week in Philly. Overall, a good flick… but it was inconsistant; sometimes I was watching an interesting/ruthless adult fairy story and sometimes I was listening to a child’s tale complete with simplistic dialogue. Robert DeNiro was fantastically funny and the final 30 minutes made up for the lulls throughout.

Stardust

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Harry Potter and The Order of the Pheonix

There was so much in this movie that I adored! But let’s start with what I didn’t and end on a high note.

First, no St. Mungo’s. That means no reappearance of Lockhart and no Alice Longbottom. Now, the movie starts (in excellent form) with a dementor attack on Harry and Dudley. At the trial, it is suggested by Dumbledore that it could’ve been Voldy behind the attack… but those of us who read the book, know Umbridge reveals herself at the end on the book! Well, we never learn via the movie who was responsible for the attack. Hum… Also, no Mundungas. I guess he’s not a key player but I loved his style anyway! And finally, my only other complaint… that statues didn’t move. Come on, people. Dumbledore is imaginative and powerful. He dies in the next film. Let’s give him some time to shine!

That being said, I thought the “possession” scene was brilliantly done. I couldn’t have imagined it better. (I do slighly wish the quotes adhered to the books but, I’m over it!)

“… The production design (by Stuart Craig) and the cinematography (by Slawomir Idziak) are frequently astonishing in their aptness and sophistication. The interiors of the Ministry of Magic offer a witty, nightmarish vision of wizardly bureaucracy, while Harry’s angst and loneliness register in Mr. Idziak’s cold, washed-out shades of blue.

Harry at the End!

All the flashbacks were seamlessly woven into the new story to give perspective and depth. LOVED the Occlumency scenes!! I also agree with A.O. Scott of the New York Times:

 

The scariest color in his palette, however, turns out to be pink. That is the color favored by Dolores Umbridge (Ms. Staunton), whose cheery English-auntie demeanor masks a ruthlessly autocratic temperament. “

I was also extremely happy with Luna Lovegood. Perfection. Here is a picture of the fabulous Evanna Lynch in a very Wizarding World style dress (love the Pheonix colors – so elegant).

Luna in Pheonix Dress

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Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s LabyrinthPetar and I traveled to Elizabethport to see Pan’s Labyrinth Monday evening, and it did not disappoint!

A modern fairy tale for adults, the magical adventures of young Ofelia are set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia and her very pregnant mother arrive at a mill turned military outpost. “Immediately upon their arrival, Ofelia is led by a precocious grasshopper [later revealed as a fairy] to a nearby stone labyrinth where she meets [a faun], who tells her an elaborate story about how the god of the underworld is waiting for his long-lost daughter [Ofelia] to return… If she completes three tasks, she can shed her mortal existence and take her rightful place as princess of this mytho-universe.”

The International title of this film is The Labyrinth of the Faun (pictured below)… while the English title is Pan’s Labyrith. The reason remains a mystery to me. After all, there is nothing in the Faun’s behavior to suggest he is the Greek Pan of myth, god of pastures, flocks, and shepards (he appears to be subservient to the god of the underworld) … nor is he ever called by name in the film. It is this kind of baseless alterations to foreign films that frustrates me. Why? Why? Why?

 Well, I highly recommend it, all the same!

Pan’s Labyrinth - Faun