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Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part I


"I have to put what where? No, no, this doesn't add up at all!"

It's 5:30 in the morning on Thanksgiving, and after four solid days of Twilight viewing, I have something to genuinely be thankful for. Let's recap here: Twilight, eh. New Moon, not too bad at all. Eclipse, pretty good. And now, with the first part of the Breaking Dawn conclusion, I have to say...


I'll step up and say most of this is due to the fact that director Bill Condon is one of the best alive, and he'll be the best thing to ever happen to love-lorn teenage vampire romances. He has a unique understanding of human sympathy that flows underneath his films, seemingly making it easier for the audience to connect to even the strangest stories. Consider Kinsey, if you will. And one thing that usually sets his films back from greatness, however, is that he knows he's that good. The cocksure sensibilities, while impressive to a tee, make his films as a whole just a half step back from where they should be. Here, though, knowing that he has a better handle on this than David Slade, Chris Weitz, or... catherine hardwicke. cough. He takes key moments from the first Twilight that might have stuck out like a sore thumb, and embeds them, recreating them in a way that makes the first film seem better than it actually is. He's gifted, that one. I tell ya'

The film begins, well... let me rephrase that. The first hour of the film involves a lesson in Pacing and Editing 101. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is about to marry Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and finally realize her shortly lived life's long wish - become just like him. Given that this is a series about holding onto your virginity until marriage, and... thinly veiled Mormonism, but never mind, you would think that the honeymoon would be something to see! We watch Bella get her make-up done, stress over her shoes, and be girly. We watch Edward be a nervous wreck and get ready for a bachelor party. There's the walk down the isle with the none-too-pleased pop Charlie (Billy Burke) toward all of Edward's 'relatives', including his 'dad' Carlisle (Peter Facinelli). There's the toasts, the cake, the dinner, and then we get to the honeymoon. And it feels like no time has gone by at all. And by the time the film actually gets underway and gives us the first major piece of plot, we're one hour into it and entranced by Condon's American gothic recreation of Rachel Getting Married.

We know from the previous films that the Vulturi (the oddly Romanian cast of vampire royalty) is closing in on the Cullen clan, hoping to get to them before Edward can turn Bella. And that Jacob's pack of Teen Wolves are still on the prowl. Things become far too tense for normalcy and sanity, however, when Bella discovers that she's pregnant. And it's Carlisle's. Kidding. Obviously it's Edward's. But the problem is that it shouldn't be happening. The Teen Wolves finally decide that enough is enough and they're going to end this feud once and for all - no more Cullens, no more problem. I'm sure even the Vulturi wouldn't mind that.

If we take the easy, languid, and ironically sharp pacing of the first hour, and match it with the last hour, it's a bit of emotional whiplash. There's a strong breeze in hour one during the wedding, and we're treated to a mandible-induced C-section during the final hour. Somehow, the whiplash is tolerable and makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. The actors have finally gotten into character and no one seems false, especially Kristen Stewart, whose physical transformation for the role was startling.

The only thing we don't get to see up close and personal is the deflowering of Bella that's been hanging over our heads since 2008. Of course, what with the live birth and all, the film probably wouldn't be suited for teenagers had they kept that in. Still, though - we see the aftermath. No, not the pregnancy (though I'm sure there's a moral in there somewhere, folks). I mean the bedroom, which is practically torn in half. Bed broken, curtains mussed, Charlie Sheen in the corner crying... For two teenage virgins, ... again, all I have to say is...


Wednesday, November 23, 2011



"Bald. No... landing strip." 

Laughter is the best medicine. Unless you have a rare and serious form of spinal cancer and your chances of survival could be either heads or tails, in which case, chemo is probably your best bet. Still, though, if you don't manage to have a sense of humor about it, you're in for a very tough ride. Cancer, by all means, is no joke. My grandmother was recently taken by breast cancer, and I've had others I know and love struggle with it in the past. Thankfully 50/50 knows all the right ways to make the ride as smooth as possible, managing to snuggle up right next to the viewer and tell them "it's all right to laugh. he is, you should, too."

By all definitions, it's an impressive film. 

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works for public radio. In Seattle, no less. He's as unassuming as a likable protagonist can be - charming demeanor, easy going, beautiful girlfriend by the name of Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard). His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), ... not so unassuming. He's out to get girls, get drunk, and bring the noise. It's fascinating how the friendship works, but it does. What doesn't seem to work, once you get past the surface, is Adam's relationship with Rachel. It's one of those relationships that works merely because they are polite to each other. There's no sex life to speak of, and both seem to keep their distance. The film is based on the true events of the script's writer Will Reiser. Reiser was diagnosed with cancer; Rogen's friendship with him and their relationship during the diagnosis/treatment process is the basis for the story.

This could certainly fall into the category of "quirky indie comedy with loads of heart", much in the same way that Little Miss Sunshine and Juno do. But there's an air of honesty floating around the screenplay - probably because it actually happened to the writer - that sets it apart from those films. Despite the fact that Little Miss Sunshine and Juno are good films, expertly written, it's the mere fact that 50/50 is a true story that sets it apart. To me, there's indie, and then there's independent. This, dear readers, qualifies independent.

I think the most important thing you could say about a movie like this is that the characters follow their laws of economy. Everyone has something important to do. Even that one nurse whom I wasn't sure would have a line, even though she hovered around Adam in the OR for a minute. Every character is put to excellent use, and not one felt out of place. Adam forms a relationship truly special with his therapist, played expertly by Anna Kendrick, proving that her Oscar nomination was not a fluke. Their bond is tangible, which is important in 'illness dramas'. It's the perfect foil to every other relationship in the film. Adam's relationship with his girlfriend, and his mother (Angelica Huston) and his Alzheimer's stricken father. It seems that it's the people he meets after his illness who speak to him the most. Notice the strength of the friendship he forms with his other chemo-friends.

Of course, I'd be remiss to not mention Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance in more detail than "he plays Adam." The little kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun has grown into one of the best actors of his generation. He has more tonal control and more range in his soft-spoken demeanor than most people had back in the golden age of cinema back in the 70's. If he doesn't land an Oscar nomination for this (and I rarely rally like this), then something is being said about the Oscars. Seriously.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


Oh, just hit it already. 

As virginity parables go, The Twilight Saga is probably two steps below The Virgin Suicides and about three steps above your average PAX special, putting it smack in the middle of a smoldering "ehhh." To the series' credit, however, the films have steadily taken leaps forward in quality since the firing of Catherine Hardwicke after the near tragedy of the first film. For those of you who have seen Red Riding Hood or Thirteen, imagine what Eclipse would look like if directed by her. Now imagine what Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince would look like if directed by Chris Columbus. See my point?

David Slade isn't a household name. He's a name known among cinephiles, certainly. Perhaps, because of this film, he'll be a name known among teenage girls. Actually, no, I don't wish that kind of attention on him. Regardless of his notability, he appears to be a director with a lot of people to impress. There are moments in Eclipse where you can almost hear him thinking "yes. yesss. YESSSS." during the editing process. Most great movies have scenes that flow so easily, you can almost picture the director stepping back and letting the magic happen on its own, maybe reaching for a silent fist bump from the key grip next to him. David Slade strikes me as the kind of director who "woo hoo's" and high five the next few people he sees. He's talented, but a little boisterous at times. Yes, boisterous. In a film where 50% of the dialogue is mumbled and broken, and there are long stretches of scenes in fields, and because this film isn't Bright Star, there are actually boisterous attempts at directing. I enjoyed Eclipse quite a bit, though. I'll be the first to admit it.

And here's why.

Brutality. Where the first two films took their time and acquainted us with the love Mexican-standoff between Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson), and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and the will they or won't they motif that saddles the films to near dime-store paperback quality (which is a little ironic), this film genuinely sinks its teeth (!) into the brewing war. Victoria, now played by the brilliant Bryce Dallas Howard, has been assembling an army to avenge the murder of her mate Jake at the hands of the Cullen clan. But, to be fair, Jake had it coming. If it weren't for the fact that he tried to kill Edward's mate Bella, his pony-tail certainly called for some sort of violent backlash. In short, they whipped his hair back and forth.

The film opens with a silently impressive attack scene, in which the army's assembly begins. Victoria, faster than all hell, 'kills' a loner by the name of Riley. She bites him, convinces him that he's her ain true love, and further convinces him to raise an army of vampires for her. A domino effect which has a disastrous effect. Actually, no, not that disastrous - as the Vulturi (the coven of vampires akin to royalty in the Cullen universe) know exactly what's going on and allow it to happen anyway, responding with only an "oops!" attitude when they're found out.

Preparing for the battle, we find out more about the Cullen clan and how most of them were turned. Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) was a civil war soldier in Texas who went through a similar ordeal to the one presented in the film. Thus, he's the go-to vamp to train everyone to defeat the newborns. Vampires, apparently, are never stronger than in their first months of transformation, while both vampire and human blood courses through their veins. Logically, you'd think that might slow them down, but we need a movie. So, never mind. Vampires and werewolves find a way to live in harmony during this oncoming slaughter, fighting side by side to protect Bella. And she's literally the only reason why. Vampires and werewolves are natural enemies and since Bella's the reason for all this, and has both a vampire and a werewolf fighting for her attention, ... I have a hard time typing most of this with a straight face.

The only reason that I've come to enjoy these films as much as I have, and I'm being honest here, is because of the performances. Kristen Stewart, outside of this series, has proven herself to be a credible actress. If you haven't seen Speak or The Cake Eaters, you're missing out. And even Robert Pattinson has genuine talent. Water for Elephants and Remember Me are proof enough of that. The two leads are gifted in their more strongly-scripted moments. Taylor Lautner... well... yeah. And thankfully, the screenplay had figured out its pacing early enough to keep even the sleepy boyfriends interested, breaking the love story up with an actual story, and some brilliantly staged choreography in the fight scenes.

If it weren't for the weird inclusion that vampires are apparently breakable like ceramic figurines, it might be easier to swallow. But, of course, as violent as this film is, if they were breakable like actual people, we'd have a serious R rating on our hands. And even then, most likely not, as it's not like there's anyone having sex. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Twilight Saga: New Moon


Clown Make-up by Calvin Klein

Yes, you read that right. Three stars. And no, that's not just because I don't know how to make a half star on my laptop. It's because it's a step up from the previous film, to which I gave two. In all honesty, as much hate as these films get, and they do get their fare share, they've been getting better and better. I have yet to see Breaking Dawn (that's on the docket for tomorrow), but if it's as good as Eclipse, than my theory stands.

Yes, I enjoyed Eclipse, too.

And no, I'm not a teenage girl.

bella's hot.

I'll go ahead and point out the main reason that New Moon stuck with me in the first place, and what has brought me back for multiple viewings - there's a montage after Edward leaves Bella (don't worry I'll explain the plot in a minute) where, in her deep depression, she sits at her bedroom window and watches the people outside. Months fly by, and seasons change, and Lykke Li's 'Possibility' plays heavily over the following few minutes. It's a scene of perfect direction and acting. Chris Weitz is a talented man.

Moving on. There's more to the movie than that one scene. Though, if that scene had just been the whole two hours of the film, there'd be a glowing four stars atop that picture. and, coincidentally, a different picture. But, never mind.

As for the basic run down of the plot, it's Bella's (Kristen Stewart) birthday. Of course, this means terrible things to her, because she's just getting older while Edward (Robert Pattinson) - eternally 17 - stays the same age. Even though he's 104. Damnation looks good on him, no? He brings her to the Cullen household to celebrate with his family, but an innocent paper cut sends his vampiric family into an uproar. In order to protect her from anything like this happening again, he leaves her. To not only be tended to by Jacob (Taylor Lautner, still searching for a tailor) and Veronica, whom you might remember is the ginger villain from the first film. We find out, through audience word of mouth and publicity strangleholds and trailers and Jacob himself, that he's a werewolf, and Bella has absolutely awful taste in men. Monsters, all of them.

If the theory holds true that women wind up marrying father figures, what on Earth does that say about her father? Who, in all honesty, seems as attentive as Edward himself. So, maybe that's the draw. Who knows? Certainly not the audience.

The most solid thing about New Moon is a bit abstract, so try and follow me. It isn't the scene I pointed out earlier, nor is it the fantastic supporting cast that the film has contracted (Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning are spectacular in their small roles). It's that it is leaps and bounds ahead in quality compared to the first. There's a prime measure of angst and the romance genuinely feels palpable. As opposed to the first one where most things are just implied and everyone looks as confused as the parents/boyfriends dragged to it.

I do have to point out again, however, that if you watch this film, and you're interested in the craft of filmmaking itself, pay particular attention to the Possibility montage. No matter your opinion of Twilight, or those who are connected with it, it's a masterful scene that probably deserves a better movie, despite how entertaining this one can be. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011



The stars of Twilight thwart Stephanie Meyers' attempt to
take her story back.
Cards on the table - I'm a fan of the Twilight series. The books, the movies, the mass shrieking hysteria, all of it. I have a friend who chooses to pretend this piece of my personality doesn't exist, lest it cause a rift between our wonderful intellectual persons. But, friendship be damned, I get it. 

I've heard this series referred to as several things. "The story of a girl's struggle to choose between bestiality and necrophilia", Interview with the Vampire: The D-Bag Chronicles, etc. I've also heard Edward Cullen referred to as Queen of the Damned. Which, I admit, is kind of funny. But, as far as the story goes, there's a deeper meaning. Shades of Mormonism are completely founded, and the entire saga can be boiled down to a message about keeping your virginity until marriage. No matter how hot Edward Cullen is. 

And he is.

It'd be hard to talk about this film, pretending it hasn't become a bit of a cultural punchline. The boys at Mystery Science Theater 3000 even took a swing at it, to hilarious effect. But, I'll attempt to discuss this as the film that it is, and as if it stood on its own. 

As adaptations go, it isn't the most deft book-to-film translation out there. It's no Kubrick v King, but to call it a fair handle would be a stretch. Some films take artistic license, and some films take it too far. This, sadly, falls in the latter category. I'll reiterate that I'm a fan, but I'll also mention that I'm a Kristen Stewart fan and hopefully you can see the connection. I'm on Team Bella.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, outside of the Team Edward and Team Jacob fluff, here's the rundown. Bella (Kristen Stewart) moves to Forks, WA to live with her dad Charlie (Billy Burke). She runs into old childhood friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and meets a few new friends at school. Including the Cullen family. Most importantly, Edward (Robert Pattinson). He's a vampire, and he's immediately attracted to her, her to him, except that he's a vampire. So, he'll probably kill her if he stays too close and...

actually, boiled down to basic plot points, the story really is quite plain. It's all about the metaphor for Mormonism and virginity, I think. That's what has kept me interested over the last few years. 

On a technical level, the film is fairly impressive. The atmosphere of Forks, WA - the overcast, perfect place for vampires to live as they can't go out into the sun, town - is handled quite well, with the film being shot in hazy blue and grey tones. Unfortunately, the screenplay and direction halt the entire production. Near clinically insane, Catherine Hardwicke admittedly didn't put much thought into the film as she didn't think it would become such a giant success. We can see why she got fired from the sequel, can't we?

The performances are something to behold. Whether that's a positive or a negative statement is up to you. I, however, stand completely divided on the subject. I love the way Pattinson and Stewart play Edward and Bella. But, the rest of the cast, immune to criticism is Billy Burke, hams it up beyond belief. Bella's high school friends, one of whom is played by now Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick, aren't believable in the slightest, and Taylor Lautner seems like he's on peyote for most of the production. 

I think the most unfortunate thing about this film, as much as I enjoy it as a relaxer from time to time, is that even though the fans recognized that the production quality as it relates to the book is pretty damn bad, it was still a huge success. I could equate that complaint and stick it to the audiences, but I'm blaming Catherine Hardwicke for it. Mostly because I'm still not over Red Riding Hood yet. And my hatred for that film seems to consume me when this woman comes up. Oops.