The Twilight Saga: Eclipse review

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)So many summer blockbusters pander to their audience in the most excessive way that it is quite a relief to note that THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE is something of a formal experiment – a sort of Anti-Summer Movie. While films like JONAH HEX and PRINCE OF PERSIA work overtime to give the audience what it wants (layer upon layer of more action, more stunts, more special effects, etc.), the makers of the latest TWILIGHT flick rest serene and calm –  confident that their audience will take what it wants from the film, whether or not there is anything much up on the screen. Consequently, the filmmakers evince a deliberate, delicious joy in not delivering anything that is expected; they truly push the envelope to an almost unprecedented extreme in terms of filling up two hours of screen time with almost nothing of substance – and do it without alienating the fans. The lesson seems to be that, once viewers are invested in a franchise, they will remain faithful, regardless of weak performances, simple story telling, and bad dialogue. The only job for the cast and crew is to stay out of the way and keep as quiet as possible, for fear that any hint of creativity or cinematic imagination might break the spell that blinds viewers to the filmic flaws.

As a result, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE turns out to be a sort of cinematic non-event, one that feels like a deliberate attempt to drain, vampire-like, every ounce of life out of the events unreeling on screen. The story contains hints of horror, romance, and passion, but actual horror might scare away the target audience, and actual romance or passion might rile the parents who let their kids watch this stuff.

Instead, director David Slade, working from a script by Melissa Rosenberg, adapted from Stephenie Meyer’s book, adopts a sort of dead neutral tone that seems to say, “I don’t really need to be here, but somebody had to shoot this thing.” I can’t say for certain whether Slade harbors contempt for THE TWILIGHT SAGA’s wishy-washy teen-romance approach to vampirism (this is, after all the director of the R-rated 30 DAYS OF NIGHT), but I vaguely suspect he is playing with us in a subtle sort of way. Whereas, in years past, a director like Ken Russell would have taken a campy approach to the material (which is truly rife to be sent up in just such a way), Slade presents it with a sort of bored indifference: “Here it is: take it or leave” – knowing full well that avid readers will take it and like it, no matter what.

03Thus, we get a film that treads water almost from beginning to end, rather like old-fashioned soap operas that sought to extend story lines as much as possible instead of resolving them with satisfying dramatic developments. As the opening title fades, we have vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) wanting to marry Bella (Kristen Stewart), who loves him but is ambivalent about her feelings for Jacob, the werewolf-rival for her affections (played by Taylor Lautner). And guess what? After much talking, posturing, hair pulling, and teen angst, that is pretty much where we end up when the final credits role.

So what happens in the meantime?

The vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) is still mad over the death of her lame loser boyfriend, a predatory vampire who was dispatched by the Cullen clan back in the first film. In case the Cullens have forgotten that she is targeting Bella (she wants Edward to feel the pain of loss that she feels), Victoria runs through the woods on the borderline between the vampire and werewolf territory, catching the attention of both sides. Then she disappears for a long time, leaving room for Bella and Edward to do their kissy-face stuff that passes for eternal love.

At least Pattinson avoids the “I’m going to hurl” expression from the first movie, and Stewart is less slack-jawed here. Though prettified to look like  runner-up for a role in a makeup commercial, there is still nothing particularly noteworthy about Bella that would account for the flames of desire she ignites in Edward and Jacob. But that’s probably part of the narrative strategy: any hint of individuality would make it harder for teen girls in the audience to easily identify with her; better to keep Bella a blank slate.

_12763124109709In case all of this high school romance stuff has you nodding off, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE occasionally cuts to Seattle, Washington, where a group of “Newborns” – i.e., young vampires – are going on a killing spree and recruiting new members. We see just enough of this to know it’s happening but not enough to care. Which seems to be the reaction of the on screen characters. Although we see newscasts about the events, it’s not as if we see the police doing anything. And the immortal vampire overlords the Volturi show up just long enough to sniff in indifference, looking like a handful of kids trying to imitate their older siblings who happen to be in a Goth band.

Aware of what’s happening in nearby Seattle, the Cullens go full-retard (and everyone knows you don’t go full-retard), wondering out loud about who could be orchestrating the Newborns – but somehow never quite settle on the obvious suspect, who does indeed turn out to be the culprit for the obvious reason that anyone in the audience could have guessed (even one like me who is not steeped in the story and could barely remember the details of the first film).

_12726542773339Thankfully, the Newborn army finally shows up, and the Cullen clan teams up with their werewolf rivals to defeat the intruders – which I guess is some kind of metaphor for cooperation in the face of a common enemy. Kind of like LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Except instead of Orcs, we get computer-generated wolves, the size of grizzly bears. They are not at all convincing, but they are kind of cute, and I would certainly get one as a pet if I could.

There are a few stray moments of accidental entertainment that seep in, including speech by the class valedictorian, who cleverly (though unintentionally) comments on Bella’s situation, vis-a-vis making immediate, binding decisions that last a lifetime versus giving oneself time to live, learn, and make mistakes now that high school is over.

Even better is a brief moment that only sharp-eyed Goth-rock fans will notice. As a sort of hint that he has a vestigial sense of what’s hip, director Slade gives a cameo to former Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy (he of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”) – here portraying the Cold One, a European vampire, seen in flashback, who is the first to encounter Native American werewolves in the New World, igniting the lupine-vampire culture clash that underlies the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle. In a film teeming with young actors posing like vampires, and looking only like bad runners-up at a high school costume contest, it’s nice to see one Creature of the Night who strikes a note of authenticity. (And it really does leave you wondering why nobody put Murphy in an Anne Rice-based movie.)

Other than that, there is not much worth saying about THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE. Not that critics haven’t tried. In an amusingly strained attempt, NPR’s Bob Mondello tries to wrangle a geo-politcal metaphor out of Bella’s statement that “I’m Switzerland” (in reference to her refusal to take sides in the Edward-Jacob face-off). In Mondello’s reading, prissy vampire Edward is the decadent European, unable to fend off the approaching invader without the aid of the robust American Jacob.

Mondello offers his interpretation as an alternate to more standard reading of the TWILIGHT saga, which sees the vampires and werewolves as rival high school gangs. It’s a fun take, but Mondello doesn’t take it the next logical step: THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE is not either-or; it’s both. It’s about taking high school emotions on subjects like love and rivalry – which feel as big and as powerful as WWII – and presenting them unfiltered, without any parental finger-wagging, in a way that teen viewers identify with, because these emotions resonate with the frustrations in their own lives.

It’s life and death, love and honor, reduced to terms that are easy to access and so simple that they could fit into a Bush-era War on Terror speech. And like good ol’ George W., the makers of THE TWILIGHT SAGE: ECLIPSE are smart enough not to confuse their audience with anything subtle that might challenge their acceptance of the simple formula.

Therein, I suspect, lies the true secret of this franchise’s success.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (June 30, 2010). Directed by David Slade. Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Petr Facinelli, Bryce Dallas Howard


The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) – Film Review

New Moon (2009)THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON has to be the most anticipated film of the year, at least by high-school girls. I’ve read the Stephanie Meyer books on which this film and its predecessor, TWILIGHT, were based, and thought they told a great story. The first film, however, left me disappointed:TWILIGHT was not gritty enough, and the actors were not capable of expressing the deep emotions of the characters. The result was nice and charming but could have been much more. As a mother of a teenage daughter, there was no way NEW MOON was going to pass me by, and in any case, I hoped it’d be an improvement. Sadly it lacks even the charm of TWILIGHT, but that’s not to say it’s all bad.
I should start by saying that Pattinson is the most bizarre choice to play Edward! This is supposed to be the most gorgeous man imaginable – too beautiful to be human – and yet Pattinson, who looks fine from the front, has a profile that is stomach-churningly weird! (I have a feeling I’ll be getting hate mail for this!)
As a horror fan, I would prefer these films with a real element of danger in them; they could have – and should have – been at least a little bit scary. Instead, the filmmakers choose to focus almost entirely on the relationship between Bella and Edward, with the ‘vampire thing’ being the modern day version of dating a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. So what we have in New Moon is the second in a series of romances.
Edward is scared for Bella’s safety, knowing that so much as a paper cut has a certain member of his family licking his/her lips. So, with his usual pained expression, he tells Bella ‘This is the last time you’ll ever see me.’ Whilst we know this promise can’t possibly be true, there is a long period of screentime when I almost began to miss that weird looking vampire!
Initially distraught, Bella spends months crying in her room (this kind of obsession is unhealthy – and teenage girls need to know this!). Her father is worried, and threatens to send her home to her mother; Bella wants to stay in Forks, should Edward have a change of heart (although why Edward is so attracted to this clumsy, awkward girl, with no personality, remains a mystery!).
To appease her father Bella makes an effort to hang out with her mates, in particular Jacob. Realising that when she puts herself in danger, she sees crystal clear images of Edward acting like her guardian angel, Bella begins to put herself at risk, pulling increasingly dangerous stunts. Edward, believing one of these stunts has led to the demise of his beautiful Bella, goes insane with sorrow and rushes off on a suicide mission to Italy to reveal himself. The Volturi – the Godfathers of the vampire world – will kill him if he reveals himself for what he is. Bella and Alice are hot on his heels, but can they reach him in time?
Bella’s life has been further complicated by Jacob: he clearly adores Bella, and she definitely has feelings for him. While Edward is absent, Bella is tempted by Jacob; though I found their relationship unconvincing, I’m not surprised she would be interested: he’s beautiful, honest and reliable. Of course Jacob is no ordinary teenager, and it’s not just that he has a body hot enough to make the entire audience gasp the minute they see him – no, he’s a werewolf! Sworn to protect his turf from vampires, but torn because of his love for Bella and her love for Edward!
Man, this is complicated stuff; unfortunately, it is written for the teenage audience and therefore is simplified beyond belief. The film moves so abruptly through time that I am grateful I had read the book; otherwise, I’m sure I would have enjoyed New Moon even less.
Of course, there is no question that New Moon does exactly what was intended: it has teenage girls everywhere arguing about whether they are on Team Edward or Team Jacob! So what is it that makes Twilight so appealing in spite of the fact that it’s poorly acted and nothing near as good as it could be? Well, who doesn’t love the idea of invincible, beautiful vampires living amongst us? What could be sweeter than the thought that one of these divine creatures could fall for us, and maybe even take us with them into their world? What about werewolves who would die to protect us? It’s a nice idea, and certainly for girls, this idea coupled with the eye-candy is enough to keep us on tenterhooks for the next in the series – and once you’ve accepted that the Twilight series is not going to be the dark and sinister gritty tale it could have been, but rather a sweet, teenage romance with a twist, you might actually find yourself enjoying it!
TWILIGHT: NEW MOON (2009). Directed by Chris Weitz. Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Anna Kendrick, Michael Welch, Justin Chon.

Twilight Review

Rather like the HARRY POTTER movies, TWILIGHT is not really designed to be great cinema; it is designed to appeal to a pre-sold target audience emotionally invested in seeing their favorite literary characters rendered on the big screen in a way that conforms to their fantasies. In fact, the adaptation tries so hard to please the fan base of the Young Adult novel on which it is based, that the film feels not only as if it were written for teenagers but also as if it were written by teenagers. With that in mind, we handed over critical chores to our teenage corresponded Jimmy. Jimmy is the imaginary older brother of Timmy, the imaginary five-year-old who reviewed UNDERDOG for us last year. Read on to hear Jimmy’s opinion of the movie…

Man this movie sucked. It was like supposed to be a horror movie but instead it was like all this girly-girl stuff about this girl who comes to a new school and hooks up with the coolest guy there, except he doesn’t look really cool, he looks kinda sick and pale which I guess is supposed to make him seem sad or something which the girls in the audience like my girlfriend seemed to like because they were all like screaming and cheering for him all the time and going like “Ooo” and “Aaahhhh” over him like he was really something but he wasn’t really.
The girl who moves to the new school is kinda hot but she walks around with her mouth open all the time like she’s going to say, “Duh!” but she never does. I don’t know why she did that but when I looked around the theatre a lot of the girls in the audience (it was mostly girls in the audience which was like the only cool thing about seeing this movie) were looking like that too, especially when that guy was on screen who was supposed to be really cool but wasn’t really.
It turns out the cool guy (who isn’t really) is really a vampire, but he doesn’t want to bite the girl with the open mouth for some reason. He says he’s a killer but they never show that, which made me mad because that’s what I want to see in a vampire film, not some other stuff about high school and proms and stuff. Instead, he walks around looking sad a lot, which my girlfriend liked but I didn’t, but I did like the one time where he first sees the girl with the open mouth in class and he looks like he’s gonna barf. I don’t know why she made him wanna barf but it would have been sweet if he did. Too bad he didn’t though.
 There’s a lot of things that could have been good but they aren’t. Like there’s a scene where these guys are all like surrounding the girl with the open mouth and she’s all scared and then the guy she likes (who is supposed to be cool but isn’t) drives up in a car and you think he’s gonna kick their ass but he doesn’t for some reason; he just takes her and drives away.
And later there’s another scene where these other vampires come in and we know they’re bad because they kill people. (Not like the vampire who’s supposed to be cool – his family are vegetarian vampires because they only kill animals). Anyway, this one wants to kill the girl with the open mouth and he’s supposed to be really scary but he just looks like a jerk and I knew I could have kicked his ass even if he was supposed to be a vampire so I couldn’t understand why everyone was so like “Oh, he so scary, I hope the girl with the open mouth doesn’t get killed by him.”
This leads to the best part of the movie where the vampires get in a fight and throw each around and break stuff in a ballet class – which is really sweet because ballet is gay anyway, so it was good they break all the mirros and windows and other stuff while they beat each other up. After sitting through the whole movie I finally thought I was gonna get what I came for because they talked about how they have to kill vampires by cutting them up into pieces and burning them, but then they didn’t show it, they just catch the jerk-vampire-guy and one of the good vampires grabs his head like she’s gonna rip it off but just when you’re going “All right” the movie goes back to the girl with the open mouth and the good vampire guy who has to suck the poison out from where the bad vampire guy bit her but he has to do it without sucking out all her blood and killing her and making her a vampire but I could never understand why he didn’t want her to be a vampire so they could likve together forever and anyway then she wouldn’t have to worry anymore about other vampires trying to kill her because she would be as strong as them. So it didn’t make any sense.
And then they go to the prom and dance and the movie ends but it’s like not really over because there is a bad vampire lady who liked the jerk-vampire-guy and you know she’s gonna come back in the next movie and mess things up for the girl with the open mouth. But no one in the theatre seemed to care, they were all like my girlfriend, just clapping and applauding and saying how good it was, and I guess they had all read the books but I never did so I just didn’t care about any of that, I just wanted to see some vampires and blood but I didn’t and there wasn’t even any scene where the girl with the open mouth takes off her clothes, but maybe that will be in the unrated DVD when it comes out.
But maybe not because in the one scene where she is in bed with the good vampire guy who is supposed to be cool (but isn’t) she acts like she wants to do it with him but he won’t for some reason. I thought maybe it was because vampires can’t do it but my girlfriend says it was because he was afraid he couldn’t control himself, like he would bite her and kill her or maybe make her into a vampire too, which doesn’t sound so bad to me so I couldn’t understand what he was afraid of. But anyway I didn’t like his hair, it all stood up and it was supposed to look cool but it didn’t, it just made him look like somebody you see in a commercial or in a magazine where it’s like an ad for jeans or something.
Oh, and one other thing I forgot to say, the scenes where the vampires were supposed to be like really fast and strong – they were like so sucky I couldn’t believe it. They would like kick someone and their legs would be like blurry but they wouldn’t be any faster than normal and it kind of reminded me of something I saw in some movie I never heard of that I rented once on DVD cause the cover art looked cool and it turned out to be really cheap and the special effects looked stupid just like in this movie, except this movie was in theatres like it was supposed to be good or something.
Oh, and like another thing I forgot was that the girl with the open mouth had a dad who was like really cool because he left her alone and I thought I wish my dad was like that, he wouldjust leave me alone when I needed to be by myself, and it was like in those scenes even though they were kind of boring you almost felt like you could believe the movie was really happening, but then they would go back to the “cool” vampire dude and it would be like a jeans commercial again and I would be thinking “Why do the girls like him so much – just because his hair stands up and he walks around like saying I’m all sad and I want to be with you but I don’t want to bite you so I don’t know what to do but you should get away from me but I want to be near you I guess I just don’t know what I want to do so lets go out in the wood and run around and I’ll show you how fast I am and your mouth will open even wider while you think I’m even more super-cool than before.”
I did kind of like the part where he took her to meet his family and they were like trying to cook from a video because they don’t eat real food so they didn’t have any practise. It was kind of like something you see on a comedy show on TV and I laughed, but then they got in an argument and went upstairs to his room where he has all these CDs he listens to – I guess because he’s so old he has a lot of time to listen to music. And then I thought, he’s not really a high-school kid who likes cool new stuff like I like. He’s really like some old guy who would say to you, “That garbage you listen to ain’t music; real music is this boring stuff I listen to.” And I really wondered if the girl with the open mouth was gonna have to listen to boring music with him the rest of her life or if she would get smart and pick some realy cool kid who was more like me and listened to music that’s really cool, not with like violins and stuff.
I told this part to my girlfriend about the violin music but she didn’t want to listen. I said what’s so great about hanging with some old guy who listens to boring old music just because you like the way his hair stand up because it makes him look like a high school kid but he’s really not. She wouldn’t answer me. We got in a fight and she went home and said she doesn’t want to see me again unless I read the books and admit she was right.
Stupid movie.

I just want to add that, despite Jimmy’s negative reaction, TWILIGHT is not without its entertainment value. Although the concept of vampirism is not handled in a particularly interesting way, the movie works on its own low-ambition level as mindless fun. Just keep in mind that you are watching a high school romance where the complication is that the attractive bad boy with the heart of gold is a vampire instead of merely being from the wrong side of the tracks or of the wrong religion or ethnic background to gain approval from the leading lady’s parents. I suspect that, within ten years or so, this film (and its inevitable sequels) will look as outdated and ridiculous as the old BEACH PARTY movies do now, but that shouldn’t stop us from sitting back and enjoying the camp with a quiet chuckle.

TWILIGHT (2008). Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stepenie Meyer. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Kellan Lutz, Peter Facinelli, Cam Gigandet, Taylor Lautner, Anna Kendrick, Michael Welch. Justin Chon.