I spent much of last week sitting inside dark movie theaters, and tomorrow the grind stars all over again. I'll be seeing A Single Man, Nine, Avatar (finally!), Broken Embraces, Sherlock Holmes, Red Cliff and It's Complicated over the next two weeks, along with a top-secret screening of a 2010 movie I'm not allowed to talk about, plus there's a stack of screeners I need to make the time to watch (including The Messenger, The Class (which came out while I was out on sick leave) and Crazy Heart).
I'm hoping there will be some happy surprises in that bunch, since several of the big holiday films I've seen so far have turned out to be disappointments. Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lovely Bones doesn't open until Christmas Day, so it's too early to go into too much detail about the movie. But since everyone else on the Internet seems to be writing about the film, I'm going to go ahead and assume I have gotten the season's biggest letdown out of the way.
Aside from Stanley Tucci's exceptionally creepy turn as a serial killer of children, nothing in the movie works. As the parents of the murdered girl who narrates the story, Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz come off more like brother and sister. As the teenaged Susie Salmon, Saoirse Ronan gives a game but generic performance: The only thing memorable about the character is that she's dead. And Jackson's computer-generated visions of heaven are cliched beyond belief. Rainbows, clouds, waterfalls, butterflies - are you kidding me? I was seriously waiting for the unicorns to pop up.
To be fair, I didn't care for Alice Sebold's novel either, which I was never able to finish (I know, I know; the book is beloved). So maybe my problem rests with the source material. But all throughout The Lovely Bones, I kept flashing back to Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, where he melded a story of teenage murder with fantasy so effectively, and wondered if this story might have been better served by a filmmaker who didn't have quite as big of a budget at his disposal.
Cint Eastwood's Invictus is an earnest, respectful bore - the kind of thing that would have better suited for cable TV if it wasn't for the caliber of talent involved. Morgan Freeman's performance as Nelson Mandela is a commanding and uncanny embodiment of the real man, but he's stranded in a movie that succumbs to all the worst sports-movie cliches imaginable. It is no secret that I am a diehard Eastwood fan, but this picture conclusively proves what Flags of Our Fathers implied: His chief strength as a filmmaker rests with intimate character studies and not sweeping, broad-scale historical dramas. Invictus is plodding and obvious and has shockingly few moments of genuine emotion. It's a dry history lesson, and the last 20 minutes - the 2005 Rubgy World Cup Championship - felt interminable to me.
And as much as I wanted to like Disney's The Princess and the Frog - I love old-school 2D animation and think Treasure Planet is a hugely underrated gem - the movie felt way too schematic and formulaic, with all the requisite Disney staples - the quirky sidekicks, the catchy musical numbers, the central love story, the sinister villain - all notes the filmmakers were compelled to strike, because that is what audiences expect. There's a sense of roteness to the whole endeavor. I don't mean to suggest the film is a wash: The animation is wonderful, and kids will be entertained. But the movie falls far short of the admittedly high bar set by The Little Princess and Aladdin and The Lion King. Heck, it's not even as good as Treasure Planet.
Is it any wonrder I've been in such a cranky mood lately?