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.
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.
Twilight is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Fright Night 3D (2011)
by Steve Habrat
To all the horror fans out there, you can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. The remake of Fright Night restores honor to the vampire genre and shifts it from the teenybopper chick flicks back to a jugular ripping good time. Granted, some of the weightiness that is associated with the genre is stripped away but the film packs enough blood, guts, and thrills to make up for all three of the Twilight abominations (and that Priest movie). I’ll forgive you if you had some doubts about this film. The original 1985 Fright Night is not the most well known fright flick in the genre but it does have a minor level of notoriety. Made during the surge of special effects, the film is now showing its 80’s crow feet and the remake is well aware of it. The original Fright Night is steeped in 80s pop culture and it’s only fitting that the amped up remake is a product of these times. Yes, the protagonists listen to Kid Cudi and Foster the People, wear throwback high-tops and skinny jeans, Peter Vincent Vampire Hunter is a Vegas magician act that is eerily similar to Criss Angel, and Jerry, the famous vamp, looks like he stepped out of the latest Diesel Jeans ad. Perhaps the filmmakers want this film to act as a relic in twenty-five years just as the original does today.
This spunky, vamp-com ranks among the recent remake movement as one of the best that I have seen so far. It sits nicely with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes, and last year’s The Crazies and Let Me In. It pays a nice tribute to the original film while also setting itself a part for these ADD-plagued audiences. Charlie Brewster (Played by baby faced Charlie Bartlett himself, Anton Yelchin) has it all: popular friends, a smoking hot girlfriend Amy (Played by the smoking hot Imogen Poots), and a warm, loving mother (Played by the underused Toni Collette). His popularity is increasing at his local high school and he is leaving his nerdy past, along with his nerdy best friend Ed (Played by McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) eating his cocky dust. After one of Charlie and Ed’s best friends disappears, the two take it upon themselves to play detective and investigate. They make a shocking discovery that Charlie’s charming new neighbor Jerry (Played by a never better Colin Farrell) is really a vampire who is chomping through their town’s citizens.
If you haven’t been floored by the recent parade of sappy vampire books, tacky television shows, and subpar movies (except that chilling Swedish film Let the Right One In and the American companion Let Me In), Fright Night may be a bit of a tough sell. Yet the film breathes new life into the genre that Stephanie Myer drove a stake through with her creation of Edward Cullen. Sure, there is a romance here that will quench the thirst of the squealing teenage girls that will certainly flock to see this (the whole film is loaded with current pop culture nods), but this is actually an adult vampire vehicle with an effectively calm Farrell behind the wheel. I personally don’t think he’s had more fun playing a role in his entire career. He struts into scene and utters a breathy “Hey guy” which reduces Charlie to jelly. You chuckle every time he pops in but your chuckles are quickly silenced by the unpredictability that radiates out of him. Romanticized vampire he ain’t, especially when he rips a gas line out of Charlie’s back yard and sends a flame through it to blow up his house. He doesn’t even break a sweat when he walks to up to the burning house and coolly tells Charlie “I don’t need to be invited in if there is no house.” Let me tell you folks, it doesn’t get any better than that in a vampire romp. I wanted to let out a cheer.
Fright Night is a relentless fun house that is marred by a weak introduction. I found the awkward, cliché heavy chitchat at the beginning rather indolent. What smoothes these few waves over is the presence of such dedicated actors, all who appear to be confidently invested in their characters. I rooted for Charlie and I found myself hypnotized by the nerdy Ed. Amy is a character that could have been reduced to gratuitous sex appeal but Poots plays her with some assured, playful depth. I certainly can’t write this review without mention of David Tennant’s flamboyant Peter Vincent. He vamps it up quite nicely himself and almost gives Farrell a run for his money. The film certainly packs the gore, which will please the fans hungry for some wildly imaginative vampire slayings. Plus, it’s all in eyeball aching 3D. This was another downfall of the movie—the 3D does strain your peepers and I had to lift up my glasses to let my eyes readjust before putting them back on.
Fright Night is not an exceptionally scary movie going experience. You will not be left cowering in terror or enduring many sleepless nights. You will, however, have a blast watching this candy colored rollercoaster ride. If you are a diehard fan of the original, you should be left satisfied. Farrell deserves some recognition for his dedication to Jerry. I honestly would happily see it again just for his performance alone. Fright Night is not a great film but just a really good, really fun monster movie. You’ll overlook its flaws, especially if you are over the age of twenty and Edward Cullen is not your idea of a compelling bloodsucker. This film deserves three cheers for its savage gut punch to those pretty boys. Grade: B+