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Breaking Dawn Part I (2011)

by Steve Habrat

I knew that the announcement to spilt Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films would be a disastrous idea, mostly because every final film in a series is going to follow suit. Here we have the first copycat, Breaking Dawn Part I, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the most boring film exercises I have sat through. You’d think that Summit placing Dreamgirls director Bill Condon behind the camera would give birth to a hit (get it?) but instead he makes a film that is on the level of New Moon. Obviously just trying to milk more money from fans, Breaking Dawn Part I is the pettiest entry of the Twilight Saga, moving the story along an inch when it should have been a mile. It should be clear that I use the word “story” loosely. Mostly to blame is the returning writer Melissa Rosenberg, who is too focused on the honeymoon aspect of the film to even care about what else is going on. This entry will forever be the known as the film where Edward and Bella have sex, and the action stops right there. Nothing else happens in Breaking Dawn Part I and I mean absolutely nothing.

Breaking Dawn Part I picks up with Bella (Played once again by Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Played once again by Robert Pattinson) sending out invitations to their wedding, one going to the temper-tantrum prone Jacob (Played once again by Taylor Lautner, who only takes his shirt off once through the entire film). After klutzy Bella’s dream wedding, Edward whisks her off to a beachfront villa in Brazil, where they partake in the actions of a recently married couple. Trust me, it’s not all as exciting as it sounds, as they sit on the beach and play chess, stare at each other, swim around and embrace each other, etc. This goes on for about forty-five minutes and it’s just as boring as you’d expect. Hey, it gives the girls something to hang on. After the seemingly endless montage of exotic exploration, Bella suddenly gets ill one morning. She notices she is two weeks late and after a strange twitch in her stomach and barely noticeable baby bump (It looks like Stewart is trying to give herself a beer belly), Edward makes a mad dash for Forks and seeking the help of Carlisle (Played by Peter Facinelli), Bella slowly spirals into the pregnancy from hell. She is deathly pallid, bony, weak, and frail. The pregnancy resembles moments of Rosemary’s Baby (A nifty little nod, but Condon does little with it. He also put a cool nod to Bride of Frankenstein in there, which is perhaps the best moment of the entire movie), and lip-biting Bella makes calls to her still clueless father Sheriff Charlie (Played once again by Billy Burke) and lies about her condition. Soon, Jacob and his ravenous band of wolves begin hollering about treaties, Bella’s safety, and more, but as Bella gets worse, Edward may have no one else to turn to for help except Jacob.

Finally, a Twilight film draws a little blood and it is, well, disgusting and severely disappointing. The birth sequence, which is shown in blurry flashes and complimented with Bella’s groans and shrieks, is almost impenetrable. Condon and Stewart claimed that the scene was long and filled with very little dialogue. We must have seen a different movie. It’s the only point of the movie where anything substantial occurs and almost saves the entire thing from just being known as that honeymoon movie. Everyone still stands around and acts sullen, dejected, and explain why they can’t do this or that. Bella is still one-dimensional and boy crazy, even though she is married. Jacob has a creepy pedophile moment, a scene I’m surprised that no one pointed out to Condon himself and suggested a restructuring of the entire scene. I couldn’t help but feel like Breaking Dawn Part I is just killing time and for all the wrong reasons.

What is also troubling about Breaking Dawn Part I is its sinister view of childbirth, presented here as a curse rather than blessing. Edward tries to see the optimistic side of things but a majority is grim, serious, and acting as some weird public service announcement to tweens. It should be noted I’m still not entirely sure the point of this PSA except that pregnancy is bad. Bella is shown shuffling through the Cullen home, taking swigs of a blood concoction that gives her strength, and being doted over by the annoying Jacob. You know, if they converted this to black and white, maybe it could have acted like social guidance films from years past in the same style as 1936’s Reefer Madness and 1961’s Boys Beware. Don’t have sex or you will be pregnant with a monster!!! But who is the cautionary tale for anyway? Is it for girls who happen to meet men that stepped out of a Universal Studios horror movie?

While the honeymoon scenes are painfully monotonous in their subject matter, Condon does photograph things with a whole lot of panache. He has sweeping shots of Rio de Janeiro, as Bella and Edward embrace in the midst of a street fair. He tries to give it some individuality even if the script hinders anything resembling individuality. The exotic shots are luminous and when they return to Forks, the film looses its visual punch. It slips back in to Days of our Vampires when the camera dollies around the Cullen residence. The shots of the lustrous wedding will also send anyone with an interest in cinematography into a tizzy. The wedding conjured up memories of the much better Eclipse and for a moment I thought that Slade may have bumped Condon out of the picture.

Breaking Dawn Part I is a real kick to the groin, partly because Eclipse showed some promise and hinted at an ample story emerging from all the vacant melodrama. This film backtracks and reverts right back to the same old conservative frame of mind. This makes me dread the coming of Part II, which we can only hope holds our attention longer than this crap does. For a film about nothing and as insulting as it is, I was shocked to see women on the edge of their seats about to face plant into the seat in front of them. Filled with B-movie performances, stilted dialogue, and a handful of flaccid action scenes, Breaking Dawn Part I sends a bizarre message to its female viewers, all who seem to be oblivious to what its saying to you. And trust me, it is not sending an abundance of compliments your way.

Grade: D-

Eclipse (2010)

by Steve Habrat

I’m going to cut right to it: Eclipse is the first Twilight film worthy of all the tear-stained hysterics bestowed up on it. Seriously, someone buy director David Slade a drink and give him a pat on the back. This man single handedly saved this entire franchise by giving the lunkheaded narrative some bearing and making things a bit more exciting. You go, Mr. Slade! Now, for all the praise I just showed Eclipse, I do have my gripes with Bella Swan’s third outing with Edward Cullen and Jacob Black. While Slade adds some teeth gnashing action scenes, writer Melissa Rosenberg still can’t resist the temptation to bog parts of the film down with countless scenes of the characters laying in fields and staring at each other and arguing about the future of relationships. Jacob still spends half the movie running around with out a shirt and Edward’s hair is still a mess. But at least Jacob takes out a few vamps this time, so I’ll forgive some of the constant removal of his shirt. It is truly amazing how this love triangle takes shape when there is actually a bit of a threat on the horizon and the film embraces a little danger. It also doesn’t shy away from a plot, much like the first two entries did.

Eclipse picks up with Bella (Played by Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Played by Robert Pattinson) discussing the future of their relationship. They throw around marriage and Bella’s wish to be turned into a vampire. Jacob Black (Played by Traylor Lautner) still stomps around and desperately tries to win Bella’s affection. While all the same old hooey drags on in Forks, a handful of mysterious murders send Seattle into a frenzy. Turns out that there is a growing army of vampires called “Newborns”, all who are standing by red headed siren Victoria (Played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and are slowly making their way to Forks to take Bella’s life. Bella’s father Sheriff Charlie (Played by Billy Burke) tries desperately to piece together what is going on, but Edward and his family are one step ahead of the dense Sheriff. They begin to devise a counterattack on the “Newborns” and they seek the help of Jacob and his wolf pack. With the uneasy alliance in line, they begin the fight to protect Bella.

Eclipse still ignores the same glaring issues that plague the series. How does Charlie Swan still not suspect anything strange about the pasty white Edward? How much longer is this pointless love triangle going to bring down the party? Why is Bella so damn boy crazy? How do Bella’s normal friends not suspect anything weird? By this point, I’ve given up hope they will address any of these questions. Instead, Eclipse gets its own set of problems, mostly stemming from the poor storytelling of Rosenberg and Stephanie Meyer, who have no idea how to build tension and keep that building tension in place. The film blows over like a house of cards when Edward and Bella stare at each other and profess their feelings. Yet Slade tries desperately and he pays us off with a spine-tingling showdown at the end of the film. The special effects rank as some of the best in the series so far and the make-up on the vampires isn’t as powdery and artificial as the first two films. There is also a fairly hair-raising introduction to the film featuring a nasty vampire attack…which includes a bite on the hand. Yeah, I know, it’s meek and well aware that a good majority of viewers fall into the female gender, so an artery-spurting assault is out of the question. But here, Slade knows vampires, as he directed the comic book chiller 30 Days of Night, so he has some experience with vamp action.

Now we turn to the good and I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d find much good in these films. Eclipse puts its characters in harm’s way and allows a few of them to get hurt. It never gets as ballsy as New Moon did and kill someone off (Please do not interpret that as praise for that rubbish film), but some characters do get a bit of a beat down. This one is a notch more violent than the previous installments and it doesn’t always turn away like the previous two always did. Bryce Dallas Howard is a welcome addition as Victoria, throwing an actress in the mix that is capable of adding some layers to her character even if that character finds herself in a Twilight movie. Dakota Fanning’s Volturi hellraiser Jane shows up to do a little more than just show off red contact lenses and utter empty threats. She gets a few nasty torture sequences that are giddy fun. Jacob’s digital alter ego gets to bare his fangs and rip a few vampires to shreds, tearing ones head off. Once again, these vampires don’t bleed out or burst into flames, but rather crumble into marble.

Once criticism I have for Slade is his disinterest in pushing his young actors to grow in their characters. The most disappointing is Bella, who finds herself at the center of the conflict. She does absolutely nothing to help anyone out and stands around and sulks. Sure, she TALKS about helping but never really does or Edward talks her out of it. Pattinson still looks like he is trying to pass a kidney stone and Lautner is still unpersuasive as a supposed macho man. The only evolution that is made is that Bella turns out to be a bit of a closet hornball. Don’t think too much about it or attempt to analyze, it fades just a quickly as it shows up.

Perhaps the most liberal of the Twilight films, I have to say that Eclipse is a fairly decent film that if it was trimmed down and ignored some of the chattier moments, it would actually be respectable. Slade tries desperately to sidestep the repetitive nature of these films and he comes out of it with a good portion of his dignity in tact. There is a scene in a brightly lit field near the beginning of the film that is absolutely jaw dropping even if there is the constant annoying hum of tween romance babble. In fact, I would have loved to see what Slade did with the previous two entries and what kind of personality he would have installed into them. It really does boggle my mind as to why the producers of this film have allowed Rosenberg to continue to pen these films, as she the bane of the Twilight films existence. She needs to cut the intimate moments down significantly and understand that we are well aware that these characters are at odds with their emotions. She doesn’t continuously need to underline the point and put it in italics. Someone also needs to step in and instruct the actors on how to be less wooden and show a bit more life. So, Twilight fans, for the first time, you are worthy of your prestigious MTV Best Movie award.

Grade: C+

Eclipse is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

New Moon (2009)

by Steve Habrat

While watching and battling to stay awake through the trudging second chapter in the Twilight saga, I came to the realization that New Moon is responsible for all the laughable clichés that have burdened this franchise. Every other scene in this turkey of a film is filled with a shirtless male pouting and explaining to Bella that they can’t be together. I guess they had to have some sort of selling point for New Moon because it certainly wasn’t going to get far on its storyline, performances, or writing, all which fall substantially from the first film. If you’re looking for the culprit, look no further than this film right here. There is no action aside from a fairly entertaining chase sequence in the middle of the film, cheap special effects, and a plotline that can’t quite decide what it wants to be about. To think that there is an army of rabid fans out there for this film truly amazes me after sitting through it. My advice: Stay home and read the book again. What you can imagine in your mind while reading is infinitely more fun than what director Chris Weitz cooked up and severed.

New Moon picks up with lovebirds Bella (Played once again by the stiff Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Played once again by Robert Patinson) openly dating and fairly happy. The film picks up with Edward and his family throwing Bella an 18th birthday party. She is less than enthused, as she suffered a horrible nightmare about growing old a night earlier. At the downer of a party, Bella suffers a paper cut while opening one of her gifts, causing Edward’s brother Jasper (Played by Jackson Rathbone) to attempt to kill her. In response to this event, Edward decides that Bella is not fit for Edward’s world and he leaves Forks with the rest of his vampire clan. Bella slips in to a deep depression and after an empty threat to send her to live with her mother by her Sheriff father Charlie (Played by Billy Burke), Bella agrees to bounce back from the break-up. Bella soon discovers that if she thrill seeks, she will see the apparition of Edward warning her to be careful. She also strikes up a friendship with the perpetually shirtless Jacob Black (Played by Taylor Lautner) which blossoms into hinted romance. Jacob soon starts acting funny and Bella eventually figures out he is a werewolf who is aiming to protect her from a revenge-seeking vampire that aims to kill her.

New Moon has absolutely no focal point whatsoever. It can’t quite decide what it wants its plotline to be causing the film to bounce around with no discipline to speak of. This falls on the shoulders of screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who botches yet another adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s already rocky novel. One second the film is about the blossoming relationship between Bella and Edward. The next second it’s about Bella and Jacob developing a relationship just so Jacob can pull the same bullshit that Edward did. Then Edward is brooding about something and then so is Jacob. Director Weitz puts no cap on the film at all, never once cutting something out and making a more straightforward film. It actually begins to be unclear on who is upset with whom and who has feelings and treaties with whom. It’s daft! It’s drama for the sake of drama and the furthest thing from art. This lack of narrative structure and flow, for that matter, causes New Moon to collapse on itself.

Further driving New Moon into the ground is the performances from the actors themselves, which actually end up being worse than the first time. Bella is even more pathetic and boy crazy. She’s superficial, feeble, and the furthest thing from a feminist hero. She falls to pieces over every guy she meets and constantly longs for a male crutch. The best bit from Stewart’s performance comes when Bella takes a tumble off of a crotch rocket that she builds with Jacob. She rolls into a giant rock, smashes her noggin, and nearly knocks herself out cold. Jacob rushes over, takes his shirt off (naturally), and wipes the gushing blood from her head. “Are you trying to kill yourself!?”, he asks. She just stares at him and says, “Sorry”. Oh, come on!! She just suffered a serious injury to her head! When Jacob points this out she says, “Oh”. Reconsider you day job, Miss. Rosenberg. Edward is largely absent from the entire project, only showing up in asinine hallucinations. Pattinson must have been instructed to leave his sense of humor in his trailer, as he just stands around and looks like he is in desperate need of a toilet. Lautner is supposed to be playing a real rough and tough killer but the only way Weitz and Rosenberg know how to convey that is by having him consistently taking off his shirt. Billy Burke’s Charlie Swan is a clueless moron, someone who is frustratingly ignorant to everything going on around him. How he hasn’t figured out that werewolves and vampires are running rampant in his town, I will never know. You’re best friends with a pack of them, you imbecile! Michael Sheen pops up at the end of the film as Aro, the leader of the vampire council called the Volturi. He appears amused by all of the nonsense around him and plays Aro with a flamboyant bounce to his step. Everyone else in the film is forgettable, yes, even Dakota Fanning, who is hidden behind red contact lenses.

Where Twilight had some fairly ordinary camerawork, at least it had the good sense to be somewhat eye grabbing. Director Weitz can’t even make the picture he has framed a joy to look at. He stages a nifty chase sequence through the woods set to Thom Yorke’s stuttering single Hearing Damage. This killer sequence boasts the best CGI of the movie, puts some of its characters in harm’s way, and it even kills off a character. How bold of you, New Moon! The rest of the action is a retread of the battle at the end of Twilight only set in Italy. The effects on the werewolves look like they belong in a made-for-T.V. movie on the SyFy channel. The film never visually pops off the screen and instead retreats in to an amber glow that engulfs everything Weitz points his camera at. Maybe he is trying to imply that this entry is much more “rustic”. Your guess is as good as mine.

The crime you will be quick to accuse New Moon of is monotony, but it is also guilty of inanity. It never once asks the viewer to think about anything, never hinting at deeper meanings or motives. The film throws around implied romance every chance it gets but it never gives us anything. There are, once again, a few pecks here and there, but nothing definitive ever comes to a head. This is just filler in between entries, simply introducing us to a new character for women to swoon over. It feels like there is a real story that is ready to be cracked, but it’s not in this film. This is just leftovers from the first entry and ones that have gone moldy. New Moon is also entirely too long and could have helped itself by scaling back. They just cram more and more crap into it, and by crap, I mean Bella, Jacob, and Edward just staring at each other. I guess all I can say is kudos to the author, screenwriter, and director who have made millions of dollars from blind teenagers. Open your eyes and see that New Moon is nothing more than a diversion from the fact that this film is about nothing. Except, well, Lautner’s abs.

Grade: D-

New Moon is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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