The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

November 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Directed by: Bill Condon (“Breaking Dawn – Part 1,” “Dreamgirls”)
Written by: Melissa Rosenberg (“Breaking Dawn – Part 1”)

We made it, everyone! The end of “The Twilight Saga” is here! Husbands and boyfriends across the nation can rest easy knowing that, at least for now, the ham-handed, crushingly-romantic gothic nightmare adaptations are finally drawing to a close. The final chapter, “Breaking Dawn — Part 2” picks up where it’s terrible, interminable predecessor left off: with Bella Cullen’s (Kristen Stewart) awakening as a vampire. After her marriage to sparkly bloodsucker Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) results in a dangerously destructive pregnancy, Edward “turns” Bella while in labor in order to save her life. When the half-human/half-vampire baby is born, shape-shifting wolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) “imprints” on her, meaning the newborn is destined to become Jacob’s soulmate. Um…

Anyway, when the dust settles, wolf-Jacob, Bella, and her rapidly-aging daughter Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) are spotted by distant Cullen cousin Irina (Maggie Grace), who mistakes the girl for an “immortal child,” an uncontrollable vampire turned too young. Such a thing has been forbidden, and Irina reports this broken law to the Volturi, the old-school velvet-caped, scroll-reading vampire clan led by Aro (an hilariously crazy Michael Sheen) and Jane (Dakota Fanning, wasted again). The Volturi set out to destroy Renesmee in order to protect the future vampires everywhere while the Cullens and their associates prepare to defend the young girl with both testimony and battle.

As with the first film, “Part 2” visibly strains under the pressure that came with splitting the final book of the series into two separate movies. After a game-changing introduction following newborn vampire Bella hunting both cougars and oblivious mountain climbers, the film settles in for a bloated, muddy middle act featuring the cast sitting around and waiting for the ultimate battle to come. Various half-cooked vampire allies trickle in along the way, each sporting shoddy make-up and a store-brand superpower seemingly stolen from lesser members of the X-Men. The series has never fully realized its potential when it comes to mythologizing its vampires, and this blown opportunity to expand its ranks with some cool, non-mopey badasses isn’t surprising, but it’s still disappointing.

Familiar problems still haunt the series, even with four massive blockbusters under its belt. The special effects remain frustratingly shoddy at times, such as the vampires’ super speed or the nightmare-inducing CGI baby Renesmee head stuck on a real child’s body.  The giant Quileute wolves don’t look great either, but the trade-off for that is less screen time for Lautner and the other terribly wooden actors that play human characters.

All is nearly forgiven, though, when the truly batshit climax unspools. I won’t spoil it here, but howls of laughter and gasps of horror give way to an amazingly inventive twist that, frankly, I didn’t think I’d ever see the likes of in a “Twilight” movie. Credit returning director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg since, tellingly, it’s here that the film deviates sharply from the source novel. If only that had been tried 4⅔’s movies ago.

Breaking Dawn – Part 1

November 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Directed by: Bill Condon (“Kinsey,”)
Written by:  Melissa Rosenberg (“The Twilight Saga: New Moon”)

If you’re like me, a male in his early thirties, your introduction to the “Twilight” series of books  came by way of a wife or girlfriend who became utterly obsessed with them, swooning over the overlong tales of Bella Swan, the unremarkable teenage girl everyone loves for some reason, and her romance with Edward Cullen, the handsome, eternally-teenaged vampire who falls madly in love with her, again for reasons unknown, and the love triangle it creates when Native American werewolf Jacob Black also falls in love with Bella because, hey, why not?

If your significant other was anything like my ex-girlfriend, she was so taken with these crappy novels written for teenage girls that she started to buy into the idea of epic romance and glared at you with disgust because yeah, maybe you did practical stuff for her like scrape the ice off her windshield on cold mornings, but you weren’t punching werewolves in the face to save her life like Edward was. Never mind the fact that she was damn near 30 years old, she wanted some chiseled, dangerous, sparkly-skinned creature of fantasy to profess his undying love for her, not some regular guy with oily skin.

As far as the “Twilight” movies go, the filmmakers have so far done little to attract people who weren’t already pre-disposed to liking the books (read: men).  Stocked with attractive-yet-terrible “actors” and peppered with crummy special effects, the films deviated little from the novels, content with just puking the prose onto the screen with little regard for how stupid much of it looked and sounded when performed by real human beings. Sure, the fans of the book series ate them up, making them huge hits at the box office, but none of the films have actually been any good. But at least they weren’t as skull-crushingly terrible as “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1” is.

The movie opens with the cast preparing for the wedding of human teenager Bella (Kristen Stewart) to dashing vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson). Of course this angers Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who hilariously rips his shirt off in a rage during a rainstorm after hurling the wedding invitation to the ground. After he phases into a werewolf and runs away 15 seconds into the movie, everything grinds to a halt. In what is clearly an effort to make people pay to see another whole film next year, the decision was made to divide the final book of the series into two movies. The result is a movie that moves so slowly it threatens to go back in time.

Director Bill Condon (“Kinsey,” “Dreamgirls”) fills the first hour of the movie with narrative molasses like an interminable wedding scene that feels like it takes place in real time and a honeymoon scene that features our main characters playing chess, whereas the second hour ramps up the insanity while still moving at a snail’s pace. It’s tough to accomplish, but “Breaking Dawn Part 1” manages to make truly crazy things like life-sucking demon fetuses, arguing wolves (!),  and vampire C-sections completely and totally boring.

The title of the movie is a threat. Consider the phrase “Part 1” to be a dire warning that “Part 2” is coming.

Eclipse

July 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Rob Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Directed by: David Slade (“30 Days of Night”)
Written by: Melissa Rosenberg (“New Moon”)

“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” has a few factors working in its favor that the two prior installments were sorely lacking. With more humor, feasible action scenes, and less-tacky romantic interludes, the teenage vampire-werewolf pairing manages to give the series a bit more entertainment value than before right at its midway point. It’s just too bad the actors still have to open their mouths and actually say things.

In “Eclipse,” jealousy hits an all-time high as vampire hunk Edward Cullen (Rob Pattinson) and wolf boy Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) continue to vie for the love of human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart).

This time, however, the monster men must put their detestation for one another on hold and team up so they can protect Bella from killer vampiress (Bryce Dallas Howard who takes the role over from Rachelle Lefevre) and a brand new threat she has formed. An army of vampires led by Riley (Xavier Samuel), a missing college student from Seattle, has been transformed by Victoria and sent out to recruit “newborn” bloodsuckers.

“Twilight” fanatics will be pleased to know that while the cast doubles in size in the newest film, the love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob still takes precedence over any additional plots that keep the saga moving forward. Along with the tweeny melodrama, Bella continues where she left off in “New Moon” and still longs for Edward to make her immortal.

Directed by David Slade (“Hard Candy,” “30 Days of Night”), “Eclipse” is the best of the franchise. That, however, doesn’t say much since “Twilight” and “New Moon” – despite raking in hundreds of millions of dollars and being adored by a committed fan base that actually think Stephanie Meyer’s books are well written – are nothing more than the equivalent of a supernatural Disney Channel-type show.

While darker and a bit less ridiculous that the first two movies, “Eclipse” is still adapted from sappy source material into a tired script by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. “Eclipse” – along with its next two installments – won’t have any trouble reeling in the alliance of screaming teenage girls and creepy moms that are already hooked, but no amount of Robert Frost poetry (“Fire and Ice” is recited in the opening scene) or ripped abdominals has made this sexless, angst-driven fad a memorable franchise thus far.

Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”)

Doing a shameless impersonation of director/writer Richard Curtis’ 2003 witty and warm romantic comedy “Love Actually,” the Hollywood-star-laden “Valentine’s Day” is a movie that’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Flashing an attractive cast of audience favorites including Julia Roberts (“Duplicity”), Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and Taylor Lautner (“New Moon”) – among a laundry list of others – director Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”) takes a poorly-written multi-narrative penned by Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”) and hauls it through the same cliché and predictable plot points usually reserved for this type of cinematic fluff. It’s no wonder sensitive women everywhere have to drag their significant others to the movies for date night. When a feature is as contrived as “Valentine’s Day,” not even a pajama party with Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Biel is reason enough for anyone to endure over two hours (and yes, it feels like it) of unbearable schmaltz.

Without going into too much detail with the storylines – which all somehow connect in the most absurd ways – “Valentine’s Day” spends much of its runtime with Ashton Kutcher on screen as Reed Bennett, the owner of a popular flower shop in L.A. who has just proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Alba) and is ready to settle down and start a family. But like all these sad-sack characters, love is not in the air for Reed and he is left all alone with only his employee (George Lopez) to help mend his broken heart.

More lovesick vignettes follow that are just as sparse on romance and narrative appeal. Jamie Foxx plays a sportscaster who hates V-Day, but is assigned to produce a story by his boss (Kathy Bates); Biel plays a publicist whose client (Eric Dane) is contemplating retirement from pro-football; Patrick Dempsey flexes his acting range to play a cheating cardiologist having an affair with Garner; Cooper and Roberts play strangers who meet on an airplane and make small talk; Bryce Robinson plays a kid in love; Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins play teens in love; Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway play young adults in love; Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine play old people in love; and Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift dole out so much cuteness, you don’t know how the word “cute” even existed before this movie.

The “aww” moments are aplenty for moviegoers who don’t necessarily care about story, character or genuine heartfelt moments that don’t feel like they were mass produced like overstuffed Build-A-Bears. Like an open box of Walgreen’s chocolates in an office break room, gluttons for this type of cheap, faux-holiday filler will eat it up without much thought. For those who want their rom coms to have a bit more taste, it’s easy to pass on the flavorless eye candy.

New Moon

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner
Directed by: Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”)
Written by: Melissa Rosenberg (“Twilight”)

It would be easy enough to dismiss “New Moon,” the latest vampire romance of the newly dubbed “Twilight Saga,” as easily digestible hokum, but you have to at least give author Stephenie Meyer credit for finding a niche in the horror genre no one else imagined. Whether or not you’re a fan of skinny pale vampires with waxed hair, Meyer has created a brand name that has impacted pop culture tremendously over the last four years.

But as millions of twihards swarm into theaters donning their “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” tees, most if not all go in with terrible cases of tunnel vision. Find someone with an unhealthy obsession for the “Twilight Saga” and you’ll find a devoted fan no matter how deficient the movie actually is. For anyone with a more discerning eye, it’s much easier to pinpoint all the flaws that make “New Moon” an average gothic fairy tale aimed at girly-girls not old enough to watch “True Blood” yet.

In “New Moon,” Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is starting her senior year in high school and still dating Edward Cullen (Rob Pattinson), the hottest blood-sucker on campus. As their relationship continues to develop, Bella can’t stop thinking of the impending future that awaits them. Someday Bella will be an old woman while the immortal Edward will forever be the hunky vampire she fell in love with.

The only solution Bella has is for Edward to turn her into a vampire so they can be together for eternity (talk about commitment!). Edward, however, isn’t enthusiastic on the idea of turning his lady love into a monster. After an unfortunate paper cut incident at Bella’s birthday party (a subtle tribute to Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” most twihards won’t notice), the sullen Cullen decides that Bella would be much safer if he and his family left Forks, Washington never to return.

Waiting in the wings to comfort Bella during her montage of depression is the always shirtless Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a Native American tween who Bella turns to once Edward is gone. The love triangle becomes more complex when Bella finds out Jacob has been hiding a secret from her the entire time they’ve spent together – he’s a werewolf…and he hates vampires.

It all sounds kind of silly reading it as it probably did for Meyer when she wrote it and when screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg adapted it. The script is definitely not one of the finer features of “New Moon.” Like it predecessor, the stale dialogue spewed out by the leads can’t be ignored. When Edward tells Bella “you give me everything just by breathing,” you’ll wonder who else in the world other than Pattinson could get away with delivering such a tacky one-liner to a girl without getting laughed at.

Besides the questionable choices in romanticism, Rosenberg places entirely too much emphasis on things we already know. Edward and Bella are star-crossed lovers, so why reference “Romeo and Juliet” again and again? While it’s in Meyers’ original text, it’s a cliché choice to have included in a film already inundated with enough hamminess to fill the next two films in the series 10 times over.