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Notes from the back row

Breaking "Bones"

I never thought I'd write these words - "The new Peter Jackson movie is a cold, lifeless pile of crap."

Which is too bad because The Lovely Bones, an adaptation of the popular Alice Seabold novel, starts off pretty well. Jackson sets up 1973 Pennsylvania nicely and gives us an interesting protagonist in 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan from Atonement) a girl with a crush on a boy, pining for her first kiss, who gets murdered (rape is only implied, this is PG-13) by her neighbour (creepy Stanley Tucci) and then kicks around the 'in between' - a kind of CGI purgatory - pining for her missed high school romance and watching her suffering family deal with her absence and search for answers.

It sounds interesting and the first half of the movie is tense with great camera work and some truly creepy scenes. For a while there you get fooled into thinking Peter Jackson is back, making a kick-ass psychological thriller with a magic-realism twist like he did with Heavenly Creatures. But then the musical montage of grandmother Susan Sarandon cleaning the house kicks in and things go down the toilet pretty quickly.

It's like someone flicked the "shit switch" at the 55 minute mark and astonishingly quickly The Lovely Bones becomes a big stinking log of stupid, contrived, improbable scenes we've either seen before (break into a stranger's house and, gasp, he comes home!) or can absolutely not believe (a three-minute family reunion scene where the girl who just fell out of a two story window stands around and watches, despite the fact that she has proof of who killed her sister in her hands and the bad guy is getting away), or just don't understand (what about those high school characters he just spent so long building up but just disappear for 50 minutes?).

It's pure sewage, and it pains me to say it. Peter Jackson is one of the greatest filmmakers of the last 15 years, from his splatter horror (Dead Alive) to the Lord of the Rings to even King Kong, which wasn't great but it wasn't bad either. Despite fine actors (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz are good; the golden retriever not so much) and tons of budget sunk into overly glitzy effects, The Lovely Bones watches as if Jackson started the film then abandoned it, letting his maid finish up with it while he went off to help on District 9. And then she forgot to flush.

Also opening this week, and almost as disappointing, is The Book Of Eli a post-apocalyptic western directed by the Hughes Brothers (Dead Presidents) in which Denzel Washington roams a war-ravaged America kicking ass while Mila Kunis follows along looking hot. Or at least that is what the trailers led us to believe. In truth the film is much slower and steeped in religious propaganda and faux thematic meaning. Washington is apparently an agent of God, heading west with the last Bible in existence until he can use it to start a better world. There is nowhere near as much ass-kicking as expected and although bad-guy Gary Oldman and his blind-oracle wife/slave Jennifer Beals are cool characters the flick takes too many logical leaps and gets pretty hokey-Jesus-stupid at times.

In an attempt to salvage the week go rent Flight 666, a Canadian-made flick about that recent Iron Maiden tour where they flew their own 757 jet around the world and blew the roof off everywhere, especially South America, where the fans are so rabid just catching a drumstick is much more of a profound religious experience than anything in Eli's good book or Jackson's Candyland afterlife.