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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

Michael Jackson:
The Interviews
Vol. 2 (2009)

. "The Lovely Bones"

There are great visual directors working in films and Peter Jackson is certainly one of them. But, for all his legendary work, he lacks the gene for self-editing. He just falls in love with his creations of beauty and lingers for days. Okay, minutes. It's as though he knows he's got you trapped inside his dramatic framework and now wants you to absorb the greatness of his work so that you'll never forget it.

He did this throughout his wonderful "Lord of the Rings" series to the detriment of natural story power. Its ending, in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" becomes ludicrous in its extended romanticism until Jackson could finally let go and say bye, bye. One can easily picture him going into withdrawal after concluding the series and as the reality hit him that there would be no more daily call sheets.

So, it's no wonder that, for a delayed followup, he'd gravitate toward material that could give him the chance to use the technology that he has such command over. In order to do so, in the style to which he's accustomed us, though, he took an "almost coming-of-age story" that became a consumation-of-life story and made it surreal, which gave him the freedom to envelop us in unlimited dreamscapes, shifts of scene and segues a director dies for.

One wonders, though, if it was such a good idea to adapt a story with such a dark example of human depravity as a child murderer in order to create visual wizardry. Predictably, he spends time, detail and laborious creativity into something that would be better told with far greater economy. Wallowing in your own talent comes at a price.

Fourteen-year old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, ("Atonement") [pronounced sir'-sha] narrates in her essentially carefree, breezy manner, taking us through the settings of her life. We meet her beloved parents Jack and Abigail (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz), her younger sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) and pre-teen bro' Buckley (Christian Ashdale). A good family. Solid. But, when she refers to her "murderer" it comes like a bolt from the blue. Just as intended.

Yes, this girl is dead. Or, almost dead. But she's not speaking to us from the grave so much as from a limbo quarter that exists between life and death. And this gives way to a dimension only a CGI artist can love and tickets Jackson for another long ride with his CGI homies.

The pallette on which Jackson applies his abundant imagination stems from Alice Sebold's best-selling novel. While the convention of a dead girl's spirit talking to us from heaven may seem fit for the written word where the reader's imagination is in play, turn it into a movie and the pictures you see are not those in your mind's eye, they're in the filmmaker's.

The results are as spectacular and over-extended as a "Ring" fan might expect. Susie's romp through her lush but painful limbo is accompanied by a score of constantly morphing, changing images much like those of a very vivid dream. It's idyllic to morose, light to heavy, brilliant, then dark. As Susie recalls what she experienced, gloom descends. As her parents refuse to break their tie to her, her path reverses course. This back and forth is milked by writer-director Jackson until it's rancid.

When he deals with the murderer--George Harvey, a neighbor whom the Salmons hardly think about--the story becomes so grossly horrid we almost can't stand the concentration on more detail than we ever thought we could assimilate in terms of the horror it aims for. Parents take note: if you were thinking your teenager would love this story of a teenager, think again. You might not want to expose your kids to the fear and disgust over sociopathic madness so excruciatingly brought to life by Stanley Tucci.

What Jackson wants to impress us with is prolongued and comes in a repetitive pattern. A two-hour film that would have benefited by thirty minutes less. A second-half that diminishes the first.

Eventually, the strength that the cast shows in their roles as a family is worn away in a tide of stereotype--and just when I was going to admire Wahlberg for his paternal role modeling, and remark on how beautiful Weisz is in her domestic duties. Susan Sarandon, as a grand mom who can shake it and shake up the household at will, provides the comedy relief, which is hard to come by with subject matter of such horrendous proportions, and she throws caution out the window as though she thinks it's better than cleaning it.

Ronan claims the spirit needed for all this and runs with it for all she's worth. We take pleasure in her lively disposition and lack of artifice from the get go. She sells the cheeriness with which the girl describes the horrific without making it seem like an off note. When she wrestles with the curiosity the neighbor man creates, while being pulled toward home because she's late for dinner, she evokes great sympathy for others of her age who have succumbed to predatory adults. Her range is further on display as she goes through dutiful changes while trapped in her celestial surreality.

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Small wonder, then, that her performance here has created a buzz in terms of an Oscar nod. My take is that she's a worthy candidate for one, is likely to earn one, but won't win her category because of her age and the long, distinguished career she's laid for herself in these "Bones."

As for the excess of Jackson's creative predisposition, heaven help us.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Saoirse Ronan as almost dead Susie Salmon
Facing her final light, and if she wants it.

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