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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.

Twilight (2008)

by Steve Habrat

I finally did the impossible. I pushed all my preconceived notions to the side, suspended all my incredulity, ignored my expectations for what a vampire movie should be and I sat through the entire first Twilight film. Sure, I seethed over the constant sensitivity and soft tones, the lack of any horror, and the cheese filled dialogue. I overlooked the plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon and came to the decision that the film is relentlessly average. Teeny director Catherine Hardwicke drenches the film in of-the-moment pop culture references and slang. It’s all tight jeans, indie pop music, mopey sleek, and speedy editing, all tailor made for those who get their eyeliner at Hot Topic. For a film I anticipated to loathe on all levels, I just found it to be like soda that’s gone flat. It needed a little fizz to liven the mood. The setting for the film is absolutely perfect—dreary and humdrum. The film is also grossly misguided in it’s aesthetic, under the impression that it is telling a gritty tale of forbidden love. It’s actually an elaborate soap opera stretched out for two hours and preaching a shallow message to its viewers: love is eternal. Making things worse is the fact that Hardwicke treats the material like child’s play, never aiming high and making anything more ample that would reach a wider audience. This is strictly for the pre-teens.

Everyone is familiar with the story of Twilight whether you like it or not. Clumsy Bella Swan (Played by Kristen Stewart) moves to Forks, Washington to shack up with her stiff sheriff father Charlie (Played by Billy Burke). She quickly makes friends but is mesmerized by a mysterious and brooding boy in her science class. His name is Edward Cullen (Played by Robert Pattinson. Ya know, the guy who makes every girl want to tear their hair out), and he doesn’t take kindly to Bella at first. The two finally strike up a conversation and end up falling for each other. Bella, however, has suspicions about Edward, mostly when he saves her from being seriously injured or killed when she is almost crushed by an out-of-control van. As Edward and Bella’s love affair blossoms, a trio of rabid vampires tears through the woods and kill anyone in their path. This trio consists of James (Played by Cam Gigandet), Victoria (Played by Rachelle Lefevre) and Laurent (Played by Edi Gathegi). Upon meeting Bella, James sets his sights on her and sees her as pure food. Edward and the rest of his eccentric vampire clan scramble to protect her as James closes in and threatens her entire family.

A good majority of Twilight is spent watching Bella and Edward lock eyes, Bella biting her lip, and the star crossed lovers arguing with each other about the fate of their relationship. Edward denies that they can ever be together and that Bella should leave him alone even though he is always the one that seeks her out. You’d think Bella would point this out to him but she inexplicably goes right along with it. Everyone suspects something is strange about Edward, a suspicion that could stem from the fact that he walks around with too much powder on his face. It’s cringe inducing when we first see him. It doesn’t help that Hardwicke has him sitting in front of a stuffed owl with a hulking white wings, making it seem like Edward himself is an angle sent to Bella. While watching it, it’s truly hard to figure out why this material drives girls crazy to the point of hysterics. I can understand the fantasy element here, about your dream man sweeping you off your feet. Seriously, Edward really does this at points, throwing the love drunk Bella on his back as he scampers up a tree like a giant, baby-powder covered monkey. It can only get better, right?

Further frustrating is the love-is-eternal implication that flows forth from the film. It’s chaste to the point of being sickening, all heavy breathes and light pecks between Bella and Edward. For a film that is meant to relish in contemporary portrayal, it’s clueless about teens today. It’s a little too clean and lacking in fun. The bit players are all mostly annoying clichés; the only one who really makes a stand in her character is Anna Kendrick’s Jessica, who has a few good one-liners. I suppose they are good not because they are well written snippets of dialogue, but because Kendrick herself is better than this garbage she finds herself in. This takes me to the dialogue itself, which seems like the screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg pulled dialogue straight from the book itself. I’m sorry but there are just some things that sound better on paper and Stephanie Myers’ dialogue is one of them. It should have stayed in the book and more thought should have gone in to what these kiddies have to say.

But I will be fair here and eat my words. I was quick to label Robert Pattinson overrated and lacking any skill when it came to acting. Throughout the duration of the film, he mostly resorts to staring longingly at Plain Jane Bella, but he is surprisingly self-aware in his character. When he cracks a joke, he flashes a genuine grin, obviously chuckling at the absurdity on display here. It could also mirror his sense of humor over the swarms of teens that go gaga over him. When he says, “Everyone’s looking” and follows it with an impressed grin, I believed his astonishment. Go figure! Who would have thought Pattinson would slap on a few complexities to this thing? The antagonist James is no more of a threat than a month old puppy. It is said that the Cullen clan needs to rip him apart and burn him, which sounds really cool until you realize that Hardwicke will hide the process through trick editing and blurry cinematography. Stewart’s Bella is about what you would expect, radiating a novice approach to acting. She’s not terrible, but there is definitely some room for improvement. It’s hard to blame her because she is still fairly young here.

Truth be told, what Twilight could really use is more of a sense of adventure and dropping the starry-eyed theatrics. Making the villains a bit more sinister and not like they are troupe of homeless hippies would help. Give Bella a bit more confidence and leave the two-left feet shtick on the cutting room floor. Give Edward more to do than just lurking around in the shadows and starring at Bella and no, I don’t mean give him more driving time. It should be noted that I think Edward also stepped out of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, as he can apparently drive like he earns money street racing. Dropping the out-of-place slow motion shots would make a difference and also a better make-up and special effects team would do wonders. Seriously, watching the vamps leap around like Red Bull addicted apes was absurd. There is a smidgeon of potential here, but the film is too vain to even explore it. It couldn’t care less about providing a story worth telling and instead concerns itself with beauty. The only reason for the film version to exist is to exploit Robert Pattinson’s looks. Way to aim high, Twilight. Worse, way to respect yourselves, fans.

Grade: C-

Twilight is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.