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Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (11/17/12)

Movie Poster: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

Directed by Bill Condon
Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg

Starring:
Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

How long is The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2? 115 minutes.
What is The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 rated? PG-13 for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity.

CLR Rating: 2/5 stars

Photo by Andrew Cooper – © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

Final sparklevamp flick packs a surprise end, deserves a salute.

I have to start a slow clap for the new (and final, commence exhausted brow-wiping) Twilight movie. It surprised me, partly by not being the worst thing to happen to cinema in ages, but also by completely tearing the book apart. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t a masterpiece. Meyer’s saga is problematic, poorly written (and addictive, damn her) drivel, and the movies have, on the whole, been really awful. In the interim between Breaking Dawn Part 1 and this new film, I managed to forget Bill Condon was directing. The veteran director, who confused film critics everywhere by taking the helm, infused a dying series with dignity by upending the book’s completely anticlimactic final “battle.”

In the final scene of Breaking Dawn Part 1, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) opens her newly crimson eyes to a future as a vampire. The new movie picks up exactly at that scene, and apparently being a vampire is a little like taking ecstasy. This transformation process, so grueling for most new vampires, is remarkably simple for Bella, and hey, she never even has to kill a human! Because her given superpower (in this series, most vampires have them) is super self-control. Oh right, and she has a baby. A baby named Renesmee (hurk), who is supposed to be the most gorgeous infant ever to grace the earth, but whose CGI features make her terribly creepy to behold (IMDb reveals there were no less than ten girls employed to play Renesmee). To further complicate the instinctive repulsion we feel toward a baby rendered entirely by computers (it’s notable that none of the teenage girls in the theater made a peep when the baby was revealed), teenage shapeshifter Jacob (Taylor Lautner) has imprinted on the kid. In a surprisingly entertaining scene, Bella, always a weakling, tosses super-strong Jacob around like a teddy bear, screaming about how he nicknamed her daughter after the Loch Ness Monster.

Renesmee’s “growth rate is unprecedented,” says Carlisle Cullen, who puzzles over notebooks and furrows his brow in true “perplexed doctor” fashion. Upon hearing the Cullens plan to leave Forks to protect Bella and “Nessie,” Jacob goes to see Bella’s dad Charlie, strips down in front of him (to the delight of every Twihard and Twimom in the theater), and turns into a wolf. Hey Charlie, the world isn’t quite what you thought it was. Also Bella’s a vampire. (I exaggerate.) Then all is suddenly well again (seriously?) until Irina, one of the Cullens’ enemies from Alaska, sees Renesmee catching snowflakes in a meadow. She’s no normal child, of course.

In the past, vampires created vampire children, who were uncontrollable and destroyed vast numbers of humans, villages, and cultures in the midst of terrible-twos tantrums. The Volturi, the vampire governing committee, were forced to intervene. When Irina sets eyes on Renesmee, she sees an Immortal Child. Rather than, you know, asking her friends what they’re doing, she goes straight to Italy to fetch the evilest evil vampires there are. Alice (Ashley Greene), the one who sees the future, discovers that the Volturi are coming…and everyone panics.

The Cullens gather as many “witnesses” as they can. There will be no battle here, the Cullens, the ultimate “vegetarian” vampires, insist. The new additions include Lee Pace, Joe Anderson, and Mia Maestro, and come from the Amazon, Ireland, Egypt, and Transylvania. Unfortunately the Volturi want Alice for themselves (everybody wants to see the future!), so they’ll use anything to get to her. Alice and mate Jasper head for the hills, but not before giving Bella a clue that leads her straight to Wendell Pierce, a.k.a. The Wire’s Bunk Moreland. The plot thickens, and then thickens some more. Montages happen. Bella learns that on top of her super self-control, she can project a shield to those around her, protecting them from ill. Joe Anderson, an American adopting a horrid British accent, doesn’t believe it and generally creeps around the edges, making everyone nervous. Lee Pace is charming and witty, relating war stories from most of the American battles of the last 200 years (oh you vampires). Taylor Lautner is cute and amiable. New vamps arrive with new powers to play with.

Here’s where the movie diverges from the book. In Meyer’s version, there is no battle. There are “warring” factions of vampires standing in a snowy field giving each other the side-eye, and then it’s over. What kind of end to your “saga” is that? Condon and writer Melissa Rosenberg devised a brilliant scheme; a gruesome vampire/wolf melee has most of the series’ important characters dying horrible deaths. Without truly spoiling anything, it really does deserve that slow clap.

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock probably caught that Stewart and Robert Pattinson, our very own Bella and Edward, started dating during the filming of the first movie. It was your typical Hollywood love story, first thinly veiled in a publicity ploy, then reveled in by Summit. It seems that when Stewart saw the end of the films in sight, she jumped into (non-penetrative?) bed with her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders. She then issued an embarrassing plea begging Pattinson to forgive her (but not, it’s notable, mentioning Sanders’s wife and child). Pattinson, who was busy making Cosmopolis with David Cronenberg, has recently started appearing with her again. Woe is me, young love, etcetera, etcetera. I was curious how the media, who immediately dubbed Stewart a “trampire,” and the Team Edward Twihards, who cruelly took her to task on Twitter, would affect the reception of the final film. Well, on Friday evening, the theater wasn’t full of screaming girls or Team Jacob t-shirts. Aside from a little extra security, a few mild squeals at Lautner’s washboard abs, and a packed parking lot, it was a relatively staid affair. The crowd at Pitch Perfect was rowdier.

The Harry Potter kids, brought up in the relative calm of the British acting world by Dame Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, and Michael Gambon, exited the series gracefully and continued their careers graciously. Not so for Twilight’s leading lady. Stewart has appeared at two of the film’s premieres in transparent lace getups and heels. “Here I am, this is it, and you can damn well deal with it,” she seems to be telling us. “Also, thank God this thing is over with.” For someone who obviously wants to seem like she couldn’t care less, Stewart certainly gives off a “look at me” vibe these days. And to be fair, I wish her the best. She was brilliant as Joan Jett in The Runaways, and passable opposite Melissa Leo in Welcome to the Rileys. The girl has talent, and it’s been sorely underused. (Pattinson and Lautner, I’m not so sure about.)

The series is over now. For now, we are done with sparkly vampires and weak, whining leading ladies. The trailers that played before the movie betray its audience: World War Z, Carrie, Beautiful Creatures, and Stephenie Meyer’s next project The Host (starring Saoirse Ronan, who is fantastic). The Twilight series filled the void left behind by Harry Potter. One has to wonder, once The Hunger Games is over, whatever will we do with ourselves?

This is Julia Rhodes, your official California Literary Review Twilight critic, signing off. I bid thee adieu. Fare thee well, Twilight stars. Best of luck. I’m with Stewart: Hallelujah! Let’s go get a beer and celebrate.

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (11/19/11)

Movie Poster: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1

Directed by Bill Condon
Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg

Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black
Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan
Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen

How long is The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1? 117 minutes.
What is The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 rated? PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic elements.

CLR Rating: 2.5/5 stars

A fairy tale saga gets a dab of sophistication from Bill Condon, remains perfectly overwrought.

 

What do you think of when you think of Twilight? You think of screaming teenage girls; you envision the crazies sitting outside in the rain for 2 days before the L.A. premiere, the 40-something women who gasp at the site of a teenage boy’s bare chest. You think of Mormons, tabloids, and truly terrible writing. What you probably don’t think about is that, while Stephenie Meyer is no genius, she sure did strike a collective nerve with her overwrought saga. We live in a world where marriage rates are declining and people are choosing not to start families. One in which the economy is in the toilet, Occupy Wall Street protests are creeping ever closer, and women’s healthcare is under a constant barrage of malicious darts from conservatives. So really, what better way to engage your mind than a fairy tale? The Twilight saga is a fairy tale romance, complete with shape-shifters, vampires, raging hormones, and an entirely unassuming protagonist. (I prefer the Harry Potter series, myself, but someone had to fill that void following the culmination.)

Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the fourth film in the series, based on the fourth book. It’s also the series’ fourth director; Summit ousted Catherine Hardwicke after the first movie, replaced her with The Golden Compass’s Chris Weitz for New Moon, and then got 30 Days of Night’s David Slade to helm last year’s Eclipse. When Summit somehow enticed Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn, heads turned all about Hollywood. Condon is an Oscar winner who consistently churns out critically acclaimed work. So what on earth is he doing directing a YA supernatural romance series? Well, though he can’t redeem the series, he does his best.

When last we left off, that ethereal angel Edward (Robert Pattinson) had proposed marriage to his one true love, the clumsy and “completely average” Bella (Kristen Stewart). This entails Bella’s one true desire: that she be turned into a vampire too, and before she gets too old, thanks. Poor Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the shape-shifter (werewolf with no need of that pesky full moon) who’s also head over heels for Bella, ran off to Canada to be alone for awhile. Breaking Dawn zips straight through the traditional wedding and into the honeymoon. Logistics of vampire sex aside (inquiring minds want to know, if you have no heartbeat, how does blood get to the places necessary for the act itself?), Edward fears he’ll hurt Bella with his rock-hard muscles if they have sex before she becomes a vampire. However, unable to help themselves, they indulge in hazy, peach-colored lovemaking on Isle Esme, a private island off the coast of Brazil. It isn’t until a few days later that Bella realizes she’s pregnant…and already beginning to show.

What’s growing inside her is a monster, a thing capable of shattering her bones and reducing her to a corpse. And yet she won’t consider letting anyone touch it. So when the thing decides it’s coming, ready or not, it actually eats Bella from the inside out. And – get this – Edward has to bite her body all over to turn her into a vampire before she dies of massive hemorrhaging. What is actually a really brutal birth scene in the book translates quite well to a PG-13 format with some smart editing and fuzzy filters.

Meanwhile, Jacob’s tribe of shifters, the Quileute, experiences a massive upheaval when Jacob flip-flops on the subject of Bella. He finally decides to splinter from the main pack, bringing with him totally adorable fifteen-year-old Seth Clearwater (Booboo Stewart) and his shrewish sister Leah (Julia Jones). When the pack thinks Bella has died, breaking the long-standing peace treaty between sworn enemies vampires and shifters, alpha dog Sam stages an attack on the Cullens. Fortunately, though, Jacob has imprinted on Bella and Edward’s newborn baby girl, Renesmee. Yes, a seventeen-year-old boy has fallen deeply, irrevocably in love with a newborn. All of this is pretty twisted, but Condon and writer Melissa Rosenberg focus on Jacob’s visions of “future Renesmee” to make the whole situation a little less uncomfortable.

In case the abstinence-before-marriage and anti-abortion stances weren’t clearly sketched for you, here they are: kids, sex can be a lovely and wonderful thing – but don’t do it until you’re married, remember you might get pregnant, and that if you do you better plan on keeping that thing forever, even if it’s a danger to you and the world at large. And then when your best friend falls in love with it, you better just incorporate him into your family, too. Phew. Did I lose you yet?

Frankly, as much as I jest, the story is one that’s so ridiculous it’s hard not to keep reading/watching. Meyer’s fantasy is a too-perfect fairy tale with a too-neat culmination, but between the covers of books one and four, the events that come to pass are seriously twisted and totally engrossing (so long as you can ignore the 25% of the books that is Bella’s describing Edward as an archangel).

In Breaking Dawn, the Twilight cast is coming into its own. Pattinson and Stewart, who are no longer trying to hide the fact they’re dating in real life, have real chemistry in the film; though they have trouble with the awkward sex scenes and lengthy, deep kisses, it’s clear they actually enjoy one another’s presence. Lautner has genuine charisma as impetuous, lovable smartass Jacob. Up in the Air’s Anna Kendrick, who was the best part of the first movie, gets a few choice opportunities to run with her comedic charm. Billy Burke is, as always, thoroughly entertaining as protective, downtrodden dad Charlie (I wrote in my notes that his face does more acting all by itself than the rest of the cast put together, but that’s a little unfair).

The film’s pacing is extremely erratic – it dodders along when it should be sprinting, and it sprints when it should take its time. Each time it could end, there’s another segment still to come. Carter Burwell’s score is entirely wrong for the movie – more often than not it’s a distraction, an upbeat piano jangling in the background of a meaningful scene. In Breaking Dawn, the wolves look more realistic than in the previous films. Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography takes full advantage of the beautiful Washington forests and Brazilian beaches. All in all, the movie is better than the last by far…which maybe doesn’t say much.

Most sane people wouldn’t brave the theater on opening night of a Twilight movie. Luckily, that’s what I’m here for. I couldn’t go to a midnight show (and wouldn’t have even given the choice), and the crowds on opening night were more subdued at this film than the last two. Perhaps the Twilight phenomenon is dying out; perhaps people are growing weary of the studio’s blatant attempt to reach into your pocket by dividing one book into two films. One way or another, the theater was packed with young women in UGG boots and sweatpants, Converse and skinny jeans. It was chock full of mothers leading gaggles of preteens, bored-looking boyfriends who surely wish their girlfriends would turn their starry eyes away from Edward and Jacob and back to the real world. But why would they do that?

Meyer’s fable is convoluted and strange, as unsexy as True Blood is oversexed. But in a world devoid of Muggles and Death Eaters, in a country plagued by serious cultural and economic difficulties, it’s a damn good way to turn off your brain for a few hours. Bill Condon’s talented hand lends an air of elegance to the series, tamping down the camp and turning up the heat (for better or worse). With one more movie yet to come, the series isn’t quite done yet – and the highly anticipated movie versions of The Hunger Games series will then take its place. While Breaking Dawn Part 1 may leave fans eagerly awaiting Bella’s transformation into vampiric magnificence, the rest of us aren’t holding our breath.

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: New Moon (11/21/09)

Movie Poster: New Moon

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Directed by Chris Weitz 
Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg

Bella Swan – Kristen Stewart
Edward Cullen – Robert Pattinson
Jacob Black – Taylor Lautner
Alice Cullen – Ashley Greene
Victoria – Rachelle Lefevre
Charlie Swan – Billy Burke
Dr. Carlisle Cullen – Peter Facinelli
Rosalie Hale – Nikki Reed

CLR Rating: 2/5 stars

Movie Still: New Moon

A Catastrophic Romance Can’t Be Saved by Its Charming Young Cast

In line for the second movie in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight vampire romance saga, New Moon, a middle-aged woman clasps her hands in front of her mouth as if in prayer. “I’m so excited!” she murmurs to her daughter. In the theater, a girl two seats down curls up, removes her shoes, and avidly studies the copy of New Moon in her lap until the lights go down. A horde of ten- or eleven-year-olds doesn’t even bother getting seats, instead flopping on the floor in the front of the theater. When the projector rolls the film, hushed whispers and girlish cries reverberate through the theater. This is the Twilight phenomenon.

Anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the last two years has surely caught on to the Twilight madness. Stephenie Meyer’s fantasy romance novel Twilight jumped to the top of the New York Times bestseller lists immediately upon publication in 2006, and the author followed the original with three more books, causing a ruckus among teenage girls around the world. Her novels follow Bella, a normal teenage girl from a broken but loving family, through her romance with Edward, a 108-year-old vampire in the body of a gorgeous seventeen year old. The books, though terribly written, are a hypnotic and addictive phenomenon. Their appeal lies in the innocent, tantalizing relationship between Edward and Bella. In Meyer’s world, sex before marriage is forbidden, and every touch and kiss is perilous. Her ability to accurately ascribe both maturity and passion to teenagers drew an ardent fan base. Tweens and middle-aged women, calling themselves Twihards and TwilightMoms, latched on to the books with an insane fervor. When Summit Pictures released the first film adaptation in 2008, it caught like wildfire, throwing its reluctant cast into an international bout of lunacy.

The second film takes dreamy vampire love interest Edward (Robert Pattinson) out of the picture—he has to leave Bella (Kristen Stewart) because he figures he’s endangering her, since he can barely contain his bloodlust (emphasis on the lust). In his absence, Bella suffers the horrid agony of losing him, but then befriends Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who becomes her “own personal sunshine.” Jacob just happens to be a werewolf whose sole purpose is to kill vampires. When Edward hears Bella has committed suicide (this is untrue), he decides to off himself as well; the book and the movie shamelessly reference Romeo & Juliet. To do so, he has to anger the vampire royalty, the Volturi, so they’ll execute him. This is as easy as stepping into the sunlight, because Meyer’s vampires don’t melt or burst into flames when exposed to ultraviolet rays; they sparkle. Bella must race to save him from himself, and all ends happily ever after (almost). If it sounds utterly cheesy, that’s because it is.

The script is a disaster, though to be fair, the cast do their damndest to act through terrible lines and preposterous plot twists. Kristen Stewart, a slight brunette always clad in hoodies and Chuck Taylors, is subtle and touching. Bella is effectively a blank canvas upon which teenage girls can project their own insecurities and misgivings, and Stewart possesses a raw vulnerability that makes her character identifiable, though infuriating. Throughout the books and films, Bella is a weak, fainting damsel in distress, and eventually readers and viewers wonder why on earth she’s so important to everyone around her. Seventeen-year-old Taylor Lautner, the caramel-skinned heartthrob who plays Jacob, bulked up until he’s so muscular it’s hard not to gape—especially when the camera lovingly lingers on his physique (to the shrieking delight of women everywhere). Luckily, Lautner is both charming and innocently sweet, and the chemistry between him and Stewart is palpable. Michael Sheen, a Brit with a formidable acting resume, steals the final act as Aro, the Volturi’s powerful leader. Grinning, cheerful, and utterly eerie, Sheen adds a bit of stimulation to an otherwise dull encounter.

No expense was spared in the film’s effects budget, and it pays off. The werewolves take a distinct visual cue from The Neverending Story’s creepy G’mork, and though the fight scenes rely perhaps too much on slow motion, they’re executed masterfully. The soundtrack, featuring emo-pop artists like Muse, Thom Yorke, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Killers, is both catchy and monotonous. Alexandre Desplat’s score, heavy on piano, is melodic and pretty: the perfect background music for a doomed romance. The movie positively drags at two hours eleven minutes; when the kids at the front of the theater start chatting amongst themselves during the “tense” final scenes, something’s not right.

Summit publicly fired director Catherine Hardwicke (ThirteenLords of Dogtown) after the first film, replacing her with Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy). Hardwicke’s Twilight had a shaky, independent quality that gave it a realistic feel, but New Moon feels less authentic and more ridiculous. Though the Twilight books may be a guilty pleasure, the films are proving to be little more than industry cash cows. David Slade, whose last vampire movie 30 Days of Night didn’t fare well in box offices, is set to helm the third installment. Perhaps he can pick up the slack, but in the end, the film’s young and charming cast may be the series’ saving grace. Pattinson and Stewart’s are-they-aren’t-they, tabloid-fed offscreen relationship is perhaps the most interesting result of New Moon, and as they say, that ain’t much.