One Day


One Day

Jim Sturgess finds that when he closes his eyes he really can't find Anne Hathaway's mouth.

(2011) Romance (Focus) Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott, Romola Garai, Rafe Spall, Jodie Whittaker, Tom Mison, Heida Reed, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Georgia King, Emelia Jones. Directed by Lone Scherfig

Our lives are a series of 24 hour periods, stretching from birth to death. Taken as a whole, they form our life. Individually they may not have the same meaning, but it only takes a single day to change our lives forever.

Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess) meet on July 15, 1988 – the date of their college graduation in Edinburgh. They hit it off and almost have sex but it doesn’t quite work out so they decide to stay friends. Their friendship takes them through diverging paths in life; Dexter becomes a TV presenter whose mother (Clarkson) is ill and whose father (Stott) can’t stand him. Emma’s bright-eyed idealism gives way to world-weary cynicism as she gets stuck in a job she can’t stand. Emma and Dexter drift further apart as she struggles to find herself and he becomes lost in stardom.

They seem to be moving on into different relationships; Emma with Ian (Spall), a failed stand-up comic and Dexter with Sylvie (Garai), with whom he has a daughter Jasmine (Jones). Emma’s career begins to take off as a teacher; Dexter’s declines after a series of woeful teen countdown programs in which his growing addiction to alcohol and drugs begins to affect his work, while his age begins to slam doors in his face.

Soon it becomes evident to both of them that they are far better together than they are separately – the sum greater than the parts. Has too much water flown beneath the bridge for them ever to get together?

This is based on a book by David Nicholls (who also wrote the screenplay) and is directed by Scherfig, the Swedish director who in 2009 won acclaim for his movie An Education. This is a disappointment of a movie; one which has two of the most appealing actors in Hollywood and squanders them. It’s quite a shame too; if this had been executed better it might have been a solid movie.

The problem with the movie is the problem that comes from the novel it’s based on – the two main characters spend nearly the entire movie apart. The whole conceit of the movie is that we are encountering the two main characters on July 15th every year (or in some cases every second year) from the day they first meet. Because we don’t see the characters together as much, there is no time for them to develop chemistry together.

One gets the feeling that Hathaway has moved on from roles like this. She has Oscar-caliber talent, evidenced in movies like Love and Other Drugs. Emma is not a role really suited for her. For one thing it forces her to adopt both a Scottish and a Yorkshire accent, which drifts during the course of the movie. It never sounds convincing to my ear; quite frankly I think the movie would have been better served to have cast a British actress in the role (and there are a lot of good ones).

Sturgess has to play an absolute rotter at times and he pulls it off; his disarming grin and boyish good looks aiding him in his portrayal. I hope he continues to get romantic leads because he is uncommonly good at them. Clarkson, like Hathaway, is a very fine actress who again is saddled with an unconvincing British accent. She’s a fine actress but couldn’t she and Hathaway just have been re-written to be Americans? Or have British actresses cast in those roles?

A bit of a spoiler follows here although to any sensible moviegoer it won’t come as much of a surprise. One of the central moments of the movie is the moment when Emma decides that her feelings for Dexter are stronger than she admitted they were and that she truly loves him and needs him. It’s a moment that comes off abrupt and schmaltzy, going from “We’re friends and I don’t have any interest in you romantically in the least” to “You’re the love of my life” in a matter of moments. It’s like a car with bad brakes trying to stop on a dime.

Curiously, the movie gets better in a lot of ways from there, even if it descends into general romantic grab a box of Kleenex territory. Once Hathaway and Sturgess get more time together, the movie really elevates. It’s too bad for most of the first hour or so they’re too busy denying their feelings and saying to all and sundry that they’re just friends. Too much time hitting us over the head with the idea that they’re better together than apart – and then they don’t have enough time together to seal the deal. You never fully get the sense that there’s chemistry between the two.

I really wanted to like this movie because it has not only two of my favorite actors in it but also a director who has an exciting future ahead of him and a high-concept way of looking at a 20-year-romance. It should have come together but unfortunately for a variety of reasons it didn’t. All the beautiful Scottish scenery and longing wistful looks from a pair of attractive actors can’t save a movie from its own shortcomings.

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful scenery of Edinburgh and the north of England looks beautiful onscreen.

REASONS TO STAY: Never get a sense that the couple is actually good for each other. Relationship moves abruptly, a very jarring feeling for the audience.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and a bit of nudity. There’s also a bit of violence, and a smattering of bad language. There is also some depiction of substance abuse, drugs and alcohol.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to set the mood for the skinny dipping scene, Hathaway mooned Sturgess, unaware that there was an apartment complex behind her with many of the residents filming the shoot with mobile phone cams. To date, the footage hasn’t surfaced on the Internet which Hathaway has expressed gratitude to the complex residents whom she expressed had “class”.

HOME OR THEATER: A definite cuddling on the couch movie.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Takers

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The Help


The Help

Viola Davis is tired of Emma Stone asking what it's like to be nominated for an Oscar.

(2011) Period Drama (DreamWorks/Disney) Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mike Vogel, Anna Camp, Brian Kerwin, Mary Steenburgen, David Oyelowo, Aunjanue Ellis, Nelsan Ellis. Directed by Tate Taylor

Often those who work as domestic servants are relegated to being background characters, even in real life. They clean the houses of their employers, cook their food and even raise their children, but their stories are rarely told. That’s especially true of the African-American domestics of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s as America stood on the cusp of the civil rights movement.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Stone) has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss with her head stuffed with the dreams of being a writer. Her mother Charlotte (Janney) has different dreams for her daughter; mainly of getting married, something Skeeter isn’t eager to do. Her friends mostly already have and can’t figure out why on earth a good looking girl like Skeeter remains unhitched.

Skeeter is surprised that her longtime nanny and maid Constantine (Tyson) is gone. According to her parents, Constantine has gone to Chicago to be with her family there but Skeeter senses that there is something she’s not being told. She holds her tongue however, considering her mother is battling cancer. Skeeter is also far too busy starting a new job as the columnist for the (fictional) Jackson Journal dispensing housecleaning tips.

Her friend Hilly Holbrook (Howard) has become something of a community leader, head of the local Junior League and writer and proponent of a bill that specifies that the hired help in Jackson homes must have separate toilet facilities. This doesn’t sit well with her maid Millie (Spencer), who doesn’t appreciate being sent out in a hurricane to use an outdoor commode. When she pretends to use the family restroom, she is shown the door much to the chagrin of Hilly’s mom (Spacek) who was Millie’s actual employer.

Millie is the best cook in Jackson so it won’t take her long to get another position, this time with Celia Foote (Chastain), a wrong-side-of-the-tracks blonde who is married to an ex-boyfriend of Hilly’s and has thus earned social shunning. Celia knows nothing of cleaning house or cooking, and she desperately needs someone who can train her in both, or at least convince her husband Johnny (Vogel) that she knows something.

Also in Skeeter’s circle is Elizabeth Leefolt (O’Reilly) whose young daughter Mae is being raised by Aibileen (Davis), who has raised seventeen white babies while her own son died recently. She keeps her grief to herself, pouring herself into taking care of the family she works for. She notices that Elizabeth doesn’t really interact with her daughter much, rarely picking her up and Mae has become as a result way more attached to Aibileen.

Skeeter is aware of Aibileen’s reputation as a housekeeper and asks Elizabeth permission to talk to Aibileen so she can get help writing her column. Elizabeth is reluctant and puts a stop to the conversations after a single session but Skeeter becomes fascinated by Aibileen and has the brilliant idea to write the stories of the domestics of Jackson and make a book out of them. Her publishing contact in New York (Steenburgen) agrees but is skeptical that given the climate in Jackson that Skeeter will see much co-operation.

It initially appears that the publisher is right when Aibileen refuses Skeeter but after a particularly impassioned sermon by the local pastor (Oyelowo) inspires Aibileen to change her mind. Aibileen also recruits her friend Millie and soon Skeeter is getting some pretty subversive stuff, things that are going to shake up Jackson to the core.

This is based by the 2009 bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett whose childhood friend Taylor adapted the work for the screen and directed. Taylor does a fair job with it, framing the story in the turbulent times; we see clips of Medgar Evers (and see the devastating effects of his murder on the community) as well as JFK and Martin Luther King. The archival footage dos help set the time and place.

It is the acting that is the real reason to see this movie. Davis in particular becomes the center of the movie and Stone, who is the erstwhile lead, seems to realize that and generously allows Davis to shine at her own expense. That turns out to be a good move for the film; Davis carries it. Her quiet dignity and expressive eyes are at the center of the movie. For my money, it’s an Oscar-caliber performance and I sure hope the Academy remembers her work come nomination time.

That isn’t to say that the rest of the cast isn’t impressive as well. Stone takes Skeeter and gives her sass and character. At times the character is written as kind of the “white person saving the black person” cliche, but Stone elevates it above stock character status. Speaking of sass, Spencer just about defines the term in her portrayal of Minnie who comes off as very spunky but there are moments when she reveals her inner pain, suffering in an abusive relationship and unsure of herself.

Howard has the juiciest role here, that of the hysterical racist Hilly. Howard has had some decent performances in a variety of movies, but this might be her finest. She captures the pettiness and vitriol of the part and her expression when Millie’s “terrible awful” is revealed is priceless.

Veterans Steenburgen, Janney and Spacek lend further credibility to the film which is well acted from top to bottom. There are moments of genuine comedy (the terrible awful) as well as some heartstring tuggers (when Aibileen reveals to Skeeter what happened to her son). Mostly, you get a sense of the attitudes towards African-Americans of the era. We’ve come a long way since then, but we still have a very long way to go (as evidenced in the treatment of our President and the continued use of racial profiling). The Help isn’t the best movie of the year but it is on a very, very short list.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performances and compelling source material. Drama, comedy, pathos; this movie has something for everybody.

REASONS TO STAY: Can be emotionally manipulative in places.

FAMILY VALUES: The thematic material is on the mature side; younger kids may not understand the historical context but for teens who might be learning about the civil rights movement this makes for some fine viewing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The book the movie is based on was rejected 60 times before finally being published, a testament to persistence by author Kathryn Stockett.

HOME OR THEATER: As studio films go this one’s pretty intimate but the shared experience factor tends to make me lean towards theater for this one.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: GasLand

Charlie St. Cloud


Charlie St. Cloud

Zac Efron responds when asked if there are any High School Musical alumni out there.

(Universal) Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, Donal Logue, Ray Liotta, Kim Basinger, Dave Franco, Jesse Wheeler, Matt Ward, Augustus Prew, Miles Chalmers, Desiree Zurowski, Adrian Hough, Jill Teed, Valerie Tian, Grace Sherman, Brenna O’Brien. Directed by Burr Steers

One of the most difficult events we can go through in life is to watch a loved one die before their time. This can only be made worse by having that loved one be a child and feeling responsible for that child’s demise.

Charlie St. Cloud (Efron) is a golden boy. He’s wicked good-looking and a fantastic sailor, so much so that Stanford has given him a scholarship to be on their sailing team. His mom (Basinger) pulls double shifts at the hospital so that he can achieve his dreams, although I have not a clue how a working class kid can afford a racing sloop; it’s probably best if you try not to think about such things.

Charlie has a very close relationship with his little brother Sam (Tahan) who is devastated that Charlie is going to leave, in a sense just like their dad did. “I’m not dad,” Charlie says a bit crossly when Sam voices that fear. I can imagine that the comparison occurred to Charlie too.

Sam is a huge Red Sox fan and wants to play baseball; Charlie is only too happy to coach him every day. He’s just graduated (and the principal expects Great Things from this young man; to be sure, Charlie answers somewhat immodestly “So do I, sir”) from high school and has the entire summer in their coastal Washington town to teach Sam how to throw a slider.

Of course, being that it’s graduation time, Charlie wants to spend some time with his friends, particularly Sully (Franco) and Green (Wheeler) who have joined the military and are shipping out to the Middle East in a week. However, mom has landed another shift at the hospital, putting Charlie on Sam duty, which interferes with his plans. Thinking that Sam has fallen asleep, he tries to sneak out but Sam catches him and demands to be taken somewhere where he can watch the Red Sox game – apparently quite a few of them are broadcast in Washington.

Sam gives in and perhaps he shouldn’t have. On the way to wherever it is they are going, Sam is rear-ended by a drunk driver who pushes Charlie into oncoming traffic where they are T-boned by a rather big truck. A paramedic (Liotta) brings Charlie back from the dead, but Sam isn’t as lucky.

Charlie is devastated. At Sam’s funeral, he can’t bring himself to leave Sam’s mitt and ball in the casket, so instead, having glimpsed what he thought was Sam leaning against a tombstone, he runs into the woods, only to come up to Sam’s apparition, petulantly whining that Charlie and he had a deal. They do indeed; and at sunset when the town’s yacht club conveniently fires off a cannon to signal that they are fully capable of warding off pirates, they will meet in the woods and play catch.

Fast forward five years. Charlie has put his life on hold and works as a caretaker where his brother lies buried. He has but one friend, an obnoxious Englishman named Alistair (Prew) and yes, he has fulfilled his promise to his brother each and every day, rain or shine, come hell or high water. Mom has moved on to Portland, but Charlie remains in a stasis of his own grief.

That’s when Tess (Crew), an old high school classmate of Charlie’s returns to town, apparently having become a pretty fair sailor herself. She has entered herself in an around the world yacht race, and her coach Tink Weatherbee (Logue) thinks she’s got a good shot. She’s back in town, apparently to just take her boat on a trial run, but really she’s there to run into Charlie and fall in love with him. She does both admirably.

Charlie’s deepening relationship with Tess is putting a serious crimp in his meetings with his brother Sam. Sam is terrified of being deserted by his brother and that he will fade into nothingness if Charlie moves on; However, Charlie doesn’t want to exist in this half-life anymore. Will Charlie choose Tess over Charlie, or will he remain tied to his dead brother, doomed to remain a slave to his own grief?

This is based on a best-selling novel by Ben Sherwood and was originally set in Massachusetts. Quite frankly, the novel screams New England what with prep schools, Red Sox, yachting, old cemeteries and ghosts. Unfortunately, the production (in order to save money) chose to film in British Columbia instead and perhaps realizing that the Pacific Northwest doesn’t look anything like New England, set the action in a small town in Washington state. Unfortunately, many of the New England trappings remain and their presence makes the movie look a little bit ridiculous. For example, rather than having Sam be a Red Sox fan, couldn’t he be a Mariners fan instead?

Quite frankly, even though they were filming in BC I think the movie still should have been set in New England. I might have found the movie a bit more believable (as believable as a movie about a guy who sees his dead brother can be anyway) and more palatable.

The movie took was flayed by critics when it was released; quite frankly, I think most critics dislike any movie that makes you cry. After all, in order to weep you must have a heart that can be broken and most movie critics have cast iron hearts. I will admit that the movie is quite manipulative in that regard, but quite frankly it can be awfully cathartic to have a good cry at the movies.

Efron is pretty solid in the lead; he has to be because he’s in nearly every scene. He has improved by leaps and bounds since his High School Musical days and is quite likable; he might have a long career ahead of him if he doesn’t make bad choices. Tahan is actually quite likable in his role; there are few really good male juvenile actors out there (Josh Hutcherson comes to mind) compared to the female ones, so it’s nice to find one that doesn’t ACT like he’s in child actor 101. His relationship with Charlie seems very natural and close in the way that brothers are, and forms the heart of the movie.

This is a good looking movie with plenty of sunsets, sun-dappled forests, and quaint town shots, as well as beautiful boats knifing through the sea. It doesn’t particularly add much insight to life – I think it’s fair to say that most of us are aware that there comes a time that we all must set aside our grief, no matter how intense and overwhelming it may be, to pick ourselves up and move on which is what the movie’s central theme seems to be. There’s a nice little twist I won’t spoil that elevates the movie past the realm of the mediocre. Had they not made the critical tactical error of setting this in the Northwest, I think I might have been even more charmed by the movie than I was. As it is I can give the movie a recommendation – a surprised one to be sure but a recommendation nonetheless.

REASONS TO GO: Efron is making satisfying progress as an actor and Tahan handles his role without reverting to typical kid-actor clichés. There’s some beautiful cinematography here.

REASONS TO STAY: There are quite a few logical lapses that had a lot to do with transplanting the story from New England to the Northwest. It’s also a little too over-the-top manipulative in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some mild language concerns and a fairly intense auto accident depicted; certainly should be okay for most teenagers and mature pre-teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the book was set in Marblehead, Massachusetts, unfortunately it was too cost-prohibitive to film it there so the action was relocated to the Pacific Northwest and filming took place in British Columbia.

HOME OR THEATER: In all honesty I thought this might be best served by seeing it at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Pride and Glory

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer


Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

The 18th century version of Dirty Dancing.

(DreamWorks) Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Hurd-Wood, John Hurt (voice), Sam Douglas, Karoline Herfurth. Directed by Tom Tykwer

Obsessions are destructive. They can lead us into temptation, directly into harm’s way, into the path of a freaking school bus. Obsession is the madness that whispers to us in the night, promising all manner of pleasures but in the end delivering only sackcloth and ashes.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born to a fishwife, a woman who paused only a moment to allow her birthing to slip out of her into the pile of fishguts and offal that lay below her stand at the fish market in 18th century Paris before resuming her chopping of cod.

Through a rather charmless set of circumstances the young Grenouille winds up an orphan, but he’s not just any kid. He has a marvelously developed sense of smell, able to distinguish the most subtle of fragrances from miles away. Somewhat ironically, he also has no scent of his own, which further creates the impressions among those who live with him that there’s something sinister about young Grenouille…and they’re right.

He goes to work for a tanner and finds himself luxuriating in the rich smells, the stink that is Paris. Grenouille yearns to have a scent of his own, one that will fill people with such longing and desire that they won’t be able to help themselves; they must love him. One evening while delivering some hides in the city, he encounters a young girl selling plums (Herfurth) and becomes intoxicated by her smell. He is so entranced that he can’t bear to be away from her. She, quite understandably, thinks he’s a lunatic stalker and is terrified of him. He tries to muffle her screams and winds up smothering the life from her. As she dies, her scent dissipates driving Grenouille nearly mad with frustration. However, he manages to slip away before being discovered.

Some nights later he delivers some hides to a perfumer named Baldini (Hoffman) who’s seen better days. To Hoffman’s astonishment, Grenouille turns out to have the best nose of any man he’s ever met; he merely lacks the education to become a great perfumer on his own. Hoffman arranges to buy Grenouille’s contract from the tanner and Grenouille becomes his apprentice.

Baldini teaches him most of what Grenouille needs to know to distill perfume on his own; in return, Grenouille gives Baldini enough perfume formulas to make Baldini rich for many years to come (although it doesn’t turn out that way). Grenouille then makes his way to Grasse, the center of the French perfume industry. There he becomes enamored of a young girl (Hurd-Wood) whose father (Rickman) suspects that there is a serial killer in their midst.

That’s because there is; Grenouille has embarked on a twisted, vicious plan to distill the essence of beauty and for that he will need beautiful young girls who unfortunately must die in order for their essence to be properly extracted. He needs 13 of them and the young girl will be his 13th; can he be stopped before he finishes his plan?

This is based on the excellent Patrick Susskind novel “Parfum” which the novelist thought unfilmable; even though producer Bernd Eichenger is a personal friend of the author, he was reluctant to give the film rights to anybody, even his friend. However, German wunderkind director Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) is just the man to undertake such a venture.

What we get is something of a mixed bag. This is in many ways an unpleasant film to watch; Tykwer not only captures the squalor of 18th century Paris, he wallows in it as he does in the twisted desires of the protagonist. To a very real degree I felt grimy after watching this to the point where I felt an urge to take a shower.

However, that does not a bad film make. Whishaw, who is appealing in Bright Star, has a very unlovable character here, and yet he makes him compelling. He gets fine support from Rickman and Hoffman, whose crucial but relatively small role lights up the movie for the short time he’s in it.

Tykwer does a yeoman job in re-creating the 18th century France, both the rural Grasse and the urban Paris. He also carries out the near impossible – making a movie that is very largely about fragrance, a sense that cinema doesn’t utilize, and making it work. It can be hard to watch in places, particularly some of the later scenes, but for the most part this is a unique, compelling work that is different enough to be worth your checking out.

WHY RENT THIS: The film captures the squalor of 18th century France very nicely. It is certainly different than most of the thrillers you’ll see.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very, very twisted and difficult to watch in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, mayhem, gore, a whole lot of nudity and some truly shocking and revolting images. Parents, keep your kids away from this DVD!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in Paris, the movie was filmed in Barcelona which the producers felt looked much more like 18th century France.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Despicable Me

The Lovely Bones


The Lovely Bones

Don't go into THIS light.

(Paramount/DreamWorks) Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Saoirse Roman, Michael Imperioli, Rose McIver, Amanda Michalka, Reese Ritchie, Jake Abel, Nikki SooHoo, Carolyn Dando. Directed by Peter Jackson

Nobody really knows what happens after we die. What we do know is that the living must make peace with the dead; those of us who lose a loved one must learn to let go. What if the dead have to do the same for the living they leave behind?

Susie Salmon (Roman) has a lovely existence. 14 years old, beautiful, vibrant and surrounded by a family that adores her, she has all the self-doubts that a 14 year old girl has, and that terrible, crushing feeling that the handsome boy she has her eye on – Ray Singh (Ritchie) – doesn’t know she’s alive. She yearns for the first kiss, the one her Grandma Lynn (Sarandon) has said is special, and maybe the best kiss she’ll ever have. She has been given a camera for her birthday and in the way of 14 year olds, is obsessively taking pictures of everything.

That all comes to an end on December 6th, 1973 when she is lured by a neighbor she barely knows by the name of George Harvey (Tucci) into an underground clubhouse and chopped into pieces (we don’t actually see the deed; we only surmise the means of her demise through what occurs later).

For her parents, Jack (Wahlberg) and Abigail (Weisz), they only know she hasn’t come home. After a few days, the police led by sympathetic Detective Len Fenerman (Imperioli) discover the remains of the clubhouse, which Harvey has filled in. They also find a sizable amount of blood but no body. While it isn’t certain, it seems unlikely that their little girl is coming home.

As for Susie, she has ascended into a bright place of fields and forest, seashore and sunshine, moonlight and magic. It is, as she explains, her perfect world; not heaven exactly – as she is told by Holly (SooHoo), a young Asian girl who acts as a kind of a guide to Susie, meant to lead her from this place that Susie calls the “in-between” to heaven, which is apparently a tree. At least, that’s what we see; it’s possible Susie sees more.

However, she can’t bring herself to move forward into heaven. She is haunted by her murderer, who has gone undetected and is at large. She is suffused with a sense of outrage and just plain rage, wanting the man who robbed her of her life to pay with his own for the deed. From where she is, she cannot affect the living although she is detected from time to time by her little brother, a somewhat clairvoyant girl named Ruth (Dando) and her grieving father.

She watches the grief of her parents begin to tear them apart, despite the best efforts of her Grandma Lynn, who has come to stay and help in her own besotted way. She sees her father trying to piece together the identity of her killer. She sees her mother unable to cope with the enormous loss. She sees her little sister Lindsey (MacIver) growing into the role she once held in her family. And she sees her killer, preparing to take another victim.

This is based on a best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, one which I admit I haven’t read yet (although I understand it is wonderfully written) so I cannot compare this movie accurately its source. I can only review it on its own merits, which are considerable. This is a dark tale, one in which happy endings are not a guarantee. This is a world where bad things happen to good people, and where bad people act badly with impunity.

And yet I found myself drawn into this movie. We are told early on who the killer is, but the movie isn’t about the capture of the killer. This isn’t George Harvey’s story, its Susie Salmon’s and in order for the movie to work, the actress who plays her has to be special and Roman is indeed that. An Oscar nominee for her performance in Atonement (which came after she was cast for this), she is innocent and beautiful and poetic all at once. Her sadness is palpable; she misses her family. Her rage is undeniable; her future was stolen from her. Her innocence is a joy to behold; everyone should have a daughter like her.

Wahlberg also gives a powerful performance as her dad. The bond between her and Susie has to be strong, and Wahlberg conveys it well. Even though he is grieving, the movie isn’t about his grief per se; it’s about moving on and his grief becomes a peripheral element of the movie, but it is central at certain points as well.

The movie’s best performance, however, belongs to Tucci. He will make your skin crawl in a way no actor has since perhaps Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. You, like Susie, want to see him struck down and caused pain. You don’t merely want to be brought to justice, you want him punished and punished hard. This is Oscar-caliber work and a good reason to see the movie all by itself. Sarandon does a fine job in a role which is largely comic relief; I would have liked to see it developed a bit more but in a two hour plus movie, that may not have been possible.

Jackson’s vision of the afterlife is very lyrical in places, with dancing leaves, flocks of colored birds and roses that bloom in the ice. Some of the effects are downright breathtaking. However, it also must be said that his depiction of the darker aspects of the movie are as well executed. The scenes of Susie with her eventual murderer in the place of her death are gut-twisting; you may find yourself turning away from the screen, unwilling to watch this bright life snuffed (which thankfully we’re not shown).

I must also give a shout out to Brian Eno, the movie’s composer. He is best-known these days as the producer of U2 and other great artists, but he has a long and distinguished career first as a member of Roxy Music and later as an originator of ambient music in his own solo works. This is perhaps the best score I’ve heard in a movie this year and it has been sadly ignored in most of the reviews I’ve seen, as well as in the awards that have been handed out. To my mind, no score has augmented a film as well as Eno’s. Jackson also did an amazing job of picking out period songs to supplement the score.

This isn’t an easy movie to watch, and it isn’t always a nice one. This is a movie not about life and death but about moving on. The events that surround it are tragic and sad, but there are also moments of joy to behold. This hasn’t gotten the kind of reviews I expected it to get and having seen it now, I can understand some of the criticism even if I don’t agree with all of it. At the end of the day, I can say this is a movie worth seeing because of the performances more than because of the subject matter, because of the style more than the substance. Still, I look forward to seeing some of the extras on the Blu-Ray because I’d certainly like to hear how the process worked in making this ultimately fascinating film.

REASONS TO GO: Tucci gives a creepy and stomach-turning performance as the serial killer and pedophile. Roman gives a remarkable performance of her own. Jackson’s images of the “in-between” are breathtaking. Brian Eno’s score, as well as the use of period music, is inspiring.

REASONS TO STAY: The murder of Susie Salmon, while never directly witnessed, is nonetheless a very difficult and wrenching sequence.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some very disturbing imagery and subject matter, some of which may be too much for the impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Peter Jackson makes a cameo as a customer in a camera store, looking through the lens of a Super 8 movie camera.

HOME OR THEATER: This is very much a big screen experience.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: 10 Items or Less