The Great Gatsby (2013)
by Steve Habrat
It has been nearly five long years since we heard from the flamboyant Australian director Baz Luhrmann, the man behind such eye-popping spectacles like the contemporary kids-with-guns retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romero + Juliet, the gonzo jukebox musical Moulin Rogue!, and the historical romance Australia. Well, folks, Mr. Luhrmann has returned to a theater near you in grand fashion with the 3D epic The Great Gatsby, a heavily anticipated big budget sugar rush that is based on the classic 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hype around The Great Gatsby has been building since last fall, when the shimmering and sparkling trailers crashed into theaters and promised a Christmas release for the Leonardo DiCaprio period piece. At the last second, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on the Christmas release date and pushed the film back to summer 2013 and honestly, the summer movie season is a much better fit for this slick and hip adaptation. With absolutely nothing held back, Luhrmann gives The Great Gatsby a hip-hop makeover, showers it in confetti, fires off a seemingly never-ending amount of fireworks behind it, hands it a Four Loko, and then tosses it to an audience of teenagers raised on MTV, Jay-Z, and smartphones. The result is a gyrating eye-candy romance that will absolutely appall your English teacher and have your girlfriend swooning. It is style over substance every single step of the way, allowing it to feel right at home in a sea of fizzy summer blockbusters.
The Great Gatsby tells the story of Yale graduate Nick Carraway (played by Toby Maguire), an aspiring stockbroker and writer who rents a home in West Egg, Long Island, during the summer of 1922. After settling in to his new home, Nick reconnects with his wealthy and beautiful cousin Daisy (played by Carey Mulligan) and her cigar-chomping husband Tom (played by Joel Edgerton), who attended Yale with Nick. Daisy and Tom quickly begin trying to set Nick up with vampy party-girl golfer Jordan Baker (played by Elizabeth Debicki), who seems to only show minor interest in Nick. Life seems to be going great for the young and naïve Nick, but he finds himself strangely drawn to his wealthy next-door neighbor Jay Gatsby (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), an enigmatic recluse who throws massive parties for the New York City elite yet remains unseen by his drunken guests. One day, Nick receives a personal invitation to one of Gatsby’s wild blowouts, something that is highly unusual for Mr. Gatsby. While wandering through the party, Nick comes face to face with Gatsby and the two form a fast friendship. As the two men bond, Gatsby reveals to Nick that he is in love with Daisy, who he met five years earlier and shared a brief but intense romance. Nick agrees to aid Gatsby in reconnecting with Daisy but in the process, he begins to uncover all the mystery that surrounds Jay Gatsby.
For the first hour of The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann brings new meaning to the phrase “go big or go home.” He zooms between the East and West Egg like a ten-year-old boy who had way too many Snickers candy bars and Pepsi. When he gets bored doing this, he sends his camera flying into a rapidly growing New York City, dancing from skyscraper to skyscraper while Maguire looks up, down, and all around in astonishment. Then there are the party scenes, which are sure to get your heads bobbing and feet tapping. A non-stop stream of confetti is spit out at the audience while hundreds of extras shimmy, shake, and stumble to blaring hip-hop provided by Jay-Z and Kanye West. It is all shown to you in glorious 3D, which will have you fighting the urge to leap from your seat and join the fun. Somewhere in between the spraying champagne and fireworks, there are a few attempts to develop these characters that we are supposed to be invested in, but Luhrmann seems way too wrapped up in throwing the party of the year to pay much attention to them. When it finally winds down, he decides to get serious in extended montages of Gatsby, Nick, and Daisy loosing themselves in an endless summer of high price indulgence. It’s visually intoxicating and it certainly looks romantic, but it is also incredibly exhausting.
While the visuals will have you drooling, don’t forget to stop and admire the fine performances from the powerhouse cast. The style threatens to overshadow each and every one of them but they certainly hold their own when facing a mountain of CGI. DiCaprio owns the picture the second he emerges from the glittery shadows and early on, he hams it up in skinny pink suits that looks like they were provided by Gucci. His Gatsby is almost a caricature of the 1920s gentleman; grinning while referring to nearly every single person he meets as “old sport.” You could make a drinking game out of how many times he says “old sport,” although I doubt many people would be still standing by the end. As far as his burning passion is concerned, there certainly is fire in those eyes for Daisy. He attempts to impress her by dazzling her with wealth and promises of doing everything in the world together. When he needs to be tragic, he can certainly switch it on, especially in the last act of the movie. You never doubt that DiCaprio is thrilled to be reunited with his Romero + Juliet director and it is clear he is putting in 110%. A job well done, Mr. DiCaprio!
Then there is Mr. Maguire, who narrates through a raspy and fatigued tone that sounds like he was up all night chugging a bottle of whiskey with Gatsby (Someone grab him an Advil!). He is good with the role he is given but he never holds our attention like DiCaprio does. He simply sits on the sidelines, making observations about all the wild party animals around him. Mulligan is a breathy sunbeam as Daisy, who is caught between two warring millionaires pulling her in two separate directions. Mulligan is naturally talented, but her character never receives the development that it truly deserves which is an absolute waste. Edgerton gives DiCaprio a run for his money as the scowling Tom, who is constantly chomping down on a fat stogie and chasing every pretty girl he lays eyes on. He shares a war of words and wealth with DiCaprio in one of the film’s most intense sequences. Debicki is slinky and sexy as the gossiping golfer Jordan, who loves a big party because they are more intimate than a smaller gathering. Also keep an eye out for small but sharp appearances from Jason Clarke as gas station attendant George Wilson, who becomes a ball of fury in the last act of the film, and Ilsa Fisher as his unfaith sexpot wife, Myrtle, who jets off with Tom to seedy hotel rooms in New York City.
The real problem with Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is that it is all about panache. There is obsessive detail in the sets, the CGI is mindblowing, and the musical playlist will have audience members rushing home to purchase the soundtrack off iTunes, but this compromises substance. Sure, the idea of love lost and love found again is enticing but it just becomes a whiskey-fueled game of tug of war that conveniently ends with tragedy. To make it worse, it feels tacked on with a heavy sigh from the filmmakers, who clearly would rather be hanging out with scantily clad flappers lip-synching to Beyoncé. But, what else would you expect from someone like Luhrmann? Overall, it may be the nightmare of English teachers everywhere and it definitely rings hollow, but The Great Gatsby is a giddy parade of excess led by a cast and crew clearly having the time of their lives, all while Warner Bros. flits the bill. You’ll certainly get your money’s worth of visuals, but you won’t be moved in the slightest.
by Steve Habrat
As if Batman & Robin didn’t do enough damage to the Batman name, Warner Bros. and DC Comics then came up with 2004’s Catwoman, a film so bad it left the Batman legacy in ashes. Even though the Dark Knight isn’t anywhere to be found in Catwoman, the fact that this character stems from his universe does enough damage. Directed like a miniseries for MTV and set to music that sounds like it was lifted from a perfume commercial, Catwoman is under the impression that it is a sleek and sexy thrill ride that will drive the ladies wild on girls night out. No matter how many sexy actors and actresses director Pitof (yes, that is the name he goes by) throws into the mix, nothing about the film is sexy. Furthermore, Catwoman attempts to be a lioness roar of female empowerment, one that howls at the thought of aging but declares war on the evil cosmetic companies that promote everlasting youth. Confused yet? With a terrible story and some of the worst dialogue you are likely to hear in a movie, Catwoman tosses the comic book character’s origin story in a box of kitty litter and then proceeds to defecate all over it. It does all of this while wearing the most laughable superhero getup you can think of and battling what has to be the lamest villain ever thought up by Hollywood. Does it make sense why I was ashamed to admit I was a Batman fan for so long?
Catwoman introduces us to Seline Ky… Patience Phillips (Played by Halle Berry), a geeky graphic designer who works for a cosmetics company called Hedare Beauty, which is developing a new skin cream called Beau-Line. Beau-Line is supposed to help preserve youth but the side effects are extremely dangerous. One evening, Patience stumbles into the Hedare laboratory where she overhears her boss, George Hedare (Played by Lambert Wilson), and his wife, Laurel Hedare (Played by Sharon Stone), discussing the horrific side effects. Patience is quickly discovered and George orders his goons to kill her. She tries to escape through a conduit pipe but George’s goons have it sealed and flushed out. Patience’s body washes up on a nearby island where a mysterious cat named Midnight finds her and breathes new life into Patience. Armed with new cat-like abilities and crazy skills with a whip, Patience dons a silly leather outfit and takes to the city rooftops as Catwoman. After she commits a robbery, the persistent Detective Tom Lone (Played by Benjamin Bratt) is on Catwoman’s tail, but the two end up locked in a steamy romance. Catwoman also begins setting her sights on the people who were responsible for trying to kill her and exposing the dirty little secrets of Hedare Beauty while she is at it.
While the first half of Catwoman drones on and on about how much of a plain-Jane Patience is, the second half of the film spits out a unconvincing sex kitten that struts along the rooftops of a CGI city (Gotham City?) like she is working a catwalk. She throws her hips around in an unintentionally hilarious costume that is completely absurd, especially when she begins hoping around in a fight scene. Catwoman herself seems to lack a real motive or direction as she prowls the streets at night. She slinks around robbing jewelry stores and when she gets bored, she slips over to the Hedare laboratory to pick off one of George’s goons. Berry tries desperately to own the role while giving it plenty of sassy attitude that would make all the other actresses that have donned the cat-ears double over in laughter. She never once becomes a true threat to the bad guys here, but that may be because every time a fight breaks out, Berry is replaced with a CGI double that jumps around like Spider-Man. If she isn’t making you groan during a fight scene, her origin most certainly will. What makes it even worse is that Pitof tries to sell this outlandish rebirth angle with a straight face.
Then we have Sharon Stone as Laurel Hedare, an aging beauty queen who is addicted to Beau-Line. This addiction has made her skin as tough as concrete and allowed her to feel no pain (I wish I was making this up). She bitches and moans about how she was once the beautiful face of Hedare and now a younger, prettier model is replacing her. Laurel becomes truly evil due to her husband’s infidelity and she ends up murdering him, something that she frames Catwoman for. While the source of Laurel’s rage is clear, it just comes off as idiotic and evil for the sake of being evil. We then learn that Laurel plans to unleash Beau-Line on the public yet she is angry because younger girls are replacing her. Riiiight. Also in the mix is Benjamin Bratt as Detective Tom Lone, who suspects that Patience is Catwoman. Berry and Bratt have little to no chemistry and each meeting they have just screams scripted. Just wait for the scene when they play basketball together and Berry begins jumping around like, well, Catwoman. It never occurs to Bratt that something is up when she begins pulling off moves like she does! Come on! We also have Lambert Wilson’s smug and arrogant George, who is about as intimidating as a mouse. It is okay if you forget he was ever at this fashion show.
When Catwoman isn’t limping by on its poor excuse for a plot, the film is busy trying to wake us up with one overdone fight scene after another. Pitof was the visual effects supervisor of Alien Resurrection and he just can’t seem to resist piling on needless effects here, all of which look rubbery and done on a laptop. It is even worse when he insists on multiple overhead shots of this unknown metropolis, all of which boast absolutely awful CGI to match the fight scenes. Catwoman is anxious to send a message of female empowerment and assure its female viewers that you are beautiful just the way they are, yet the hero struts around in a bra and leather pants with tons of make-up caked on her face and not an ounce of body fat. I’m starting to think that the screenwriters did think that aspect though too well. No matter how low your expectations are going in to Catwoman, they just simply aren’t low enough. A tissue paper thin origin story mixed with forced girl talk, awful performances, sloppy romance, terrible music, and stuck up villains, Catwoman is perhaps one of the worst comic book movies ever conceived. It is a film with little respect for its source material and for the fans of the source. A real hairball!
Catwoman is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
by Steve Habrat
The first pairing between director Tim Burton and versatile actor Johnny Depp would become one of their most beloved collaborations in the years the duo have been working together. The 1990 gothic fairy tale Edward Scissorhands is a fragile and enchanting bedtime story that seems to come from a personal place within Burton himself. Over the years, Edward Scissorhands has climbed the classic film ranks as it seems to gain more and more popularity as the years pass and new generations are introduced to it. While a wide audience sticks by Burton’s tale, the film has really resonated with the Hot Topic goth crowd. It’s easy to see why they love the film, as it follows a soft-spoken misfit who is encouraged to mingle with conformist suburbia where he is at first viewed as an alluring oddity and then is quickly misunderstood. Edward Scissorhands also features a tender love story, one that ends in a cracked heart but also happens to be vaguely romantic in its longing. The film is also incredibly memorable for Depp’s performance as shy recluse who is inquisitive of the world around him, a world he has never ventured out to explore.
Edward Scissorhands ushers us into candy colored suburbia where we meet local Avon saleswoman Peg Boggs (Played by Dianne Wiest) who has a heart of gold. While going door to door, she makes her way up to a seemingly abandoned mansion where she stumbles upon a shy young man cowering in the shadows. It turns out that this shy young lad is Edward Scissorhands (Played by Johnny Depp), who Peg manages to coax out and interact with. She notices that his face is horribly scared and that his hands are made out of scissors. Noticing that he is alone in the dilapidated mansion, Peg encourages Edward to come home with her and to meet her family. Upon arriving, Edward meets Peg’s husband Bill (Played by Alan Arkin), her young son Kevin (Played by Robert Oliveri), and her beautiful teenage daughter Kim (Played by Winona Ryder), who Edward quickly falls in love with. Peg begins to introduce Edward to the rest of the curious neighborhood, who quickly discover his stunning artistic talents. It turns out that Edward is a master at hedge trimming and hair cutting, making him an instant hit of the neighborhood. Soon, Edward meets Kim’s boyfriend Jim (Played by Anthony Michael Hall), who refuses to warm up to Edward. Edward also finds himself being seduced by the sultry neighbor Joyce (Played by Kathy Baker), who after being rejected by the nervous Edward, accuses him of trying to rape her. The neighborhood soon grows suspicious of terrified Edward and they begin attempting to run him out of the neighborhood.
Edward Scissorhands is such a joy to watch because we get to see Edward exploring a world that he never knew existed. It’s a delight to see him interacting with a waterbed, a mirror, and whatever else he happens to come in contact with. A scene where he attempts to eat peas is a pure “awwwwe” moment. He warms your heart with his attempts to fit in with the neighborhood. He is unassuming and always has a sheepish smile for the eccentric housewives who flock around him. He is even more intriguing because he never has too much to say and he lets his twinkling eyes do most of the talking. Credit the talented Depp, who says so much with just his movement. When he cuts hair and trims hedges, his face contorts with extreme focus and confidence but when he wanders around the neighborhood, that confidence dries up and in its place is uncertainty and wonder. In my opinion, Depp makes this film the heartwarming tale that it is.
Director Burton, who is working with a script by Caroline Thompson, allows his interest in Vincent Price and classic horror films to find a place in Edward Scissorhands. Vincent Price has a cameo in the film as a lonely inventor who creates Edward but dies of a heart attack before he is able to finish Edward’s hands. When the film is wandering the halls of the mansion, Burton relentlessly tips his hat to films like 1931’s Frankenstein and the Hammer horror films that he loved as a kid. The film also happens to be about a misfit loner artist who is misunderstood by the conservative suburbia, who only seem to accept him when they are benefitting from his talent. Even the character of Edward seems to be a haven for both Burton and Depp, a misunderstood outcast who is tormented by Kim’s jock boyfriend. In many respects, the world that Edward comes from seems much more normal and disciplined unlike the circus that is suburbia. Burton twists this suburbia into a day-glo world of routine and ennui, a place where many take comfort in gossip and empty pampering, nothing that is ever truly fulfilling.
Edward Scissorhands also finds a strong supporting cast, especially Ryder as the sympathetic Kim. Kim begins to find herself hypnotized and attracted to this peculiar young man and rejecting the obnoxious jerk that mistreats her. Her performance is absolutely magnetic. Wiest shines as the kindhearted Peg who sticks by Edward until the very end, becoming a motherly figure to poor Edward. Her patience and grace are absolutely stunning. Arkin is comical in the role of a dry husband who does his very best to connect with Edward even if that connection is a weak one. A scene in which they share a drink is absolutely hilarious, especially Edward’s reaction to the alcohol. Baker as the dishonest housewife Joyce who accuses Edward of rape is a despicable individual as is Hall’s aggressive Jim, who is equally terrible to the naive Edward. The dark horse here is the briefly seen Price as the inventor that builds Edward. The few scenes in which we get to see his radiant love for Edward is the strongest part of Edward Scissorhands and the ones that hit the hardest.
Tragic and sweet, Edward Scissorhands does have a handful of dark and sinister moments that are a staple of Burton’s work. You can try to resist the film all you want but there are moments that will charm you whether you like it or not. Like any good fairy tale, Edward Scissorhands lures us back to its magical world again and again to make us feel all warm and fuzzy from it’s fish out of water story. The film proves that there was magic to be found when you pair up Burton with Depp, as it leaves us ravenous for another collaboration from the unconventional duo. Overall, Edward Scissorhands stands as one of Burton’s strongest efforts and one of Depp’s best performances to date. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to step into the wondrously gothic world and get to know Edward Scissorhands. A true marvel in every sense of the word.
Edward Scissorhands is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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.
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.
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.
New Moon is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.