Tag Archive for trilogy

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 Hunger Games (3/24/12)

Movie Poster: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Directed by Gary Ross
Screenplay by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins

Starring:
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

How long is The Hunger Games? 142 minutes.
What is The Hunger Games rated? PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens.

CLR Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Movie Still: The Hunger Games

Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.
Photo: Murray Close/©Lionsgate

It’s everything you’ve been waiting for.

One thing’s for certain: you don’t want to live in the world of The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins’s trilogy presents a future America that’s as bleak as it is plausible. A world in which the government’s efforts to contain an unruly populace include sacrificing 23 children a year. A place where those who dare to speak their minds have their treasonous tongues cut out of their heads. This is an America in which the very rich and extremely powerful enjoy an unsteady reign over a poverty-stricken population that struggles to stay alive. This is the world of The Hunger Games, and like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, or Brave New World, it is absolutely terrifying in its familiarity.

Gary Ross’s film is based on the first of three young adult novels that are fast, well written, and smart. Fans have towering expectations for the movie, and luckily it hits all the notes we’ve been waiting for. The books and movie follow sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a resident of coal mining District 12, in the country of Panem. Katniss is effectively mother to her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields), and spends her free time hunting illegally in the woods with her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Katniss, unlike simpering Bella Swan, is a certified badass. Watching her hunt is hypnotic – and it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that they fashioned beauty from her coaxing a deer out of hiding.

Once a year, explains a title sequence at the beginning of the film, a kind of gladiatorial pageant takes place in Panem. To quell a potential uprising, the government takes two children between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district and forces them into an arena where they fight to the death. Every citizen of Panem is forced to watch this death game. As mandated, Katniss and the rest of District 12 gather in their Sunday best for the Reaping, the ceremony in which the names are drawn (the concept is like something out of a Shirley Jackson novel). Whose is the first name to be drawn? Even though she’s only in the running once, it’s Prim, of course. Katniss volunteers in her sister’s place – which is the first step in her unexpected, clumsy journey to leading a revolution.

The government, headed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), frames the Hunger Games as something to which people should look forward; according to the powerful it is an honor for children to die for their district. Thus the propaganda film (which sounds oddly, frighteningly biblical) calls the sacrificial lambs Tributes. The second Tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son who once threw Katniss a loaf of burned bread to keep her from starving. The two of them board a bullet train to the Capitol, a glimmering oasis of wealth and decadence, to be treated like superstars while they prepare to brutally murder their peers.

In the Capitol, they meet their mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former winner of the Games and a drunken louse. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is a kind of liaison between the Capitol and District 12, an eccentric and bizarre creature hidden beneath layers of makeup and brightly colored clothing favored by the citizens of the Capitol. Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, decked out in a Who-from-Whoville pompadour of blue hair) is the announcer and host, the face of the Games; Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) is the man behind the scenes, the great designer. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) is the District 12 Tributes’ stylist/strategist, a guardian angel who helps them make an impression.

Katniss narrates the books, and making a film from a novel written in the first person is a daunting task. The filmmakers do a brilliant job of conveying the vast difference between poverty-stricken District 12 and the wealthy, decadent Capitol. Katniss is stunned by the abundance of food and space, the gleaming metallic surfaces of the Capitol; it is unlike anything she’s ever seen before. What we see is akin to an episode of “Cribs” – we value and encourage this kind of decadence in our celebrities. The film portrays this well, in lingering shots of both the Districts and the Capitol. Lawrence, likewise, expresses subtle emotions while remaining outwardly stone-faced.

The actual Hunger Games don’t start until well into the film. There’s a lot of storytelling to get out of the way, a lot of buildup, but never does it feel slow or forced. The suspense builds to bursting as Katniss and Peeta mold themselves to give ‘em a show, and just when you’re ready to explode the film enters the arena. The Games themselves are as brutal as you’d expect. They are, after all, teenagers stabbing, slicing, crushing, and shooting each other. There are a few kinds of Tributes: the cunning and ingenuous, like Fox Face (Jacqueline Emerson) and Rue (Amandla Stenberg); the strategic and talented, like Peeta and Katniss; and the Careers. Careers train daily until they’re 18, just biding their time until they’re given the chance to “honor their districts.” Careers Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman), Cato (Alexander Ludwig), Marvel (Jack Quaid), and Glimmer (Leven Rambin) form a deadly alliance and it’s left to the rest of the Tributes to avoid them.

Katniss and Peeta pretend to fall in love because that’s what the audience wants, and what the audience wants is integral to survival, because the rich can pay to send gifts to those in the Games – medicine, food, ointments. The arena itself is a computer-controlled nature preserve where the gamemakers can employ lethal tactics to murder the children or force them to murder each other. All of these things are artfully explained by cutting away from the arena and onto Caesar Flickerman, our master of ceremonies. Tucci’s toothy grin is both engaging and disingenuous – his casting is perfect.

The movie doesn’t feature voice-over narration from Katniss; we’re outside of her head, and that leaves more creative legroom to keep up with the rest of the characters. It may feel jarring to some fans to leave the arena so often. Frankly it releases some of the tension, though, to cut to Seneca and President Snow, or Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith. All of the performances are spot-on. At 20, Jennifer Lawrence has an earnest maternal quality; she was rightfully nominated for an Oscar for Winter’s Bone, another movie in which she played surrogate mother to her siblings. Stanley Tucci is always fantastic. Harrelson plays Haymitch with just the right amount of bitterness and a splash of deliberate funny. Elizabeth Banks, nearly unrecognizable in Effie Trinket’s uniform, is entertainingly strident and out of touch. The makeup, costuming, and special effects are also pitch perfect. Ross and the rest of the crew treat the book with reverence and respect, and the end result is exactly what fans will want.

We’ve seen movies like this before – in 2000, Japan’s Battle Royale took the world by storm with its horrifying portrayal of an entire high school class fighting to the death. The two bear similarities, certainly; however, Battle Royale is a jarring and gory satire of the inherent, petty malevolence of teenagers, while The Hunger Games is a dystopian nightmare that happens to feature a teenage protagonist. (It’s also worth noting that Battle Royale was banned from wide release by the US and UK until just this year, while The Hunger Games is only rated PG-13.) Comparisons are unavoidable, but the two are separate entities.

On opening night, the theater was filled with preteen girls carrying bows and wearing shirts that declare TEAM PEETA or TEAM GALE; you could mistake this fandom for something along the lines of Twilight – there’s giggling at every kiss, every meaningful glance. Bella Swan, though, wouldn’t last two seconds in the Hunger Games without her shimmering savior. Katniss Everdeen is a strong, smart, fast, and cunning protagonist – and this movie is one I’d encourage my hypothetical daughter to see and love for herself. In short, it’s everything you’ve been waiting for, and may well be the best movie of 2012 so far.