The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

Bum-bum-ba-dum.  Bum-bum-ba-dum.

Bella (Kristen Stewart) is finally marrying sparkly vamp Edward (Robert Pattinson).  They whisk away on their honeymoon to a private island getaway home where Bella has decided to hold off on her ‘undead’ transformation and enjoy a few more weeks as a human.  Does this make much sense?  Jacob (Taylor Lautner) seems to think not.  He believes Edward will be too powerful and could possibly kill her on accident.  The morning after their first night together, Bella and Edward start the day in a completely destroyed bedroom suite.  The bride sports a few bruises.

Soon enough, Bella starts to get sick, rubs her stomach, and believes she is pregnant.  Is this possible?  What would the child be?  Human? Vampire?  Both?  Questions abound and fear skyrockets as Bella’s health begins to deteriorate rapidly as the baby grows and drains the life from her.  Jacob and Edward believe she should give up the baby.  The wolves want both Edward and the ‘abomination’ child taken care of for violating the treaty.  Bella sticks to her guns and sees the baby as a gift, even if it kills her.

The Twilight Saga continues to please its fans.  What more can I ask of a soapy melodrama meant for oooohing and ahhhing teenage girls?  I’ve accepted the fact that Stephanie Meyer had little interest in exploring a world of werewolves and vampires.  Her series could have trekked through endless accounts of mythology and created a rich world that addressed the complexities of living as a fiery beast or as an immortal dead man.  Meyer never seems interested in the grander worldwide scope of vampires or werewolves—though the series ventured a little further with Eclipse, but never to the point where we understood her created universe outside of the moderate-living Cullen clan.  Okay, so her story is not about ‘vampires’ and ‘werewolves.’  It’s about a moapy teen romance.  With no sharp turns on the horizon for the final upcoming film, I’ve been forced to accept and move on.

However, this franchise boasts two solid leads in Pattinson and Stewart.  They bring some credibility to this eye-rolling junk-drawer romance which features a herd of terrible supporting actors, chief among them Lautner once again who continues to throw a wrench in the engine of this series.  There are several laughable lines and moments to be found in Breaking Dawn Part 1, but I still found it to be plenty entertaining for its intended audience and in line with the steps forward made by the more eventful Eclipse last year.

While this installment won’t win any new converts, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Bill Condon (Chicago, Dreamgirls) approaches the material by doing what he can with what he has to work with.  For as little amount of ‘events’ take place in this first half of a film—a wedding, honeymoon, prenancy, and birth—Condon continually leans the audience back into Bella’s life-or-death scenario, despite a lot of the film’s unintentionally laughable moments.  By the time the emaciated Bella births her child in a disturbing sequence if ever there was one, the audience will likely be enveloped by the madness of it all even if they don’t care for this franchise.  You could do far worse at the movies than witness the insanity of Bella and Edward’s marital odyssey.  Chew on that.

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The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

After the monotonous disaster of “New Moon,” David Slade (30 Days of Night) takes the reigns of The Twilight Saga and gives “Eclipse” something the last installment hadn’t: a pulse.  I’m sure that really has more to do with the source novel from Stephanie Meyer, and Slade merely delivered the series a kick in the pants.

I couldn’t believe that events and actions actually take place. Dialogue doesn’t make you gag…constantly. The special effects and action sequences were impressive.  Characters have depth, detail, and explanation.  Everything that was absent from Chris Weitz’s attempt on the first sequel ceases to be quite so problematic.  I have to go back again to the first film and remind readers that I actually gave a pass to Catherine Hardwicke’s work.  Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart had something to their performances that held the low-budget “Twilight” together, when the production values couldn’t match them.  Then “New Moon” was unleashed upon audiences a little over eight months ago.  Absolutely nothing happens for over two hours.  Sure, we got a lot of moping, whining, horrific dialogue, and poor performances–but that doesn’t exactly make for a story.

With “Eclipse,” the series is still bogged down by its teeny-bopper trappings regarding ‘Edward or Jacob,’ but it finally addresses a bigger picture and some other-world mythology.  In the previous entries, I kept wondering about other vampire clans, wolf packs, where these characters have come from, and how these movies fit in with vampire/werewolf history. Director  David Slade and Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg may have warring specialties (Slade wants to rev things up, Rosenberg wants to play it safe), but “Eclipse” satisfies as a more intense story of warring vampires and wolves.

Edward (Robert Pattinson), the dusty vampire, and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the fiery wolf, continue to battle for Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) affections.  Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), the red-headed bloodsucker still running around to exact revenge on Bella and Edward for the death of her brother, James (from Part I), finally has conjured up a plan to eliminate the Cullen clan.  She will assemble a ‘newborn’ army of vampires to take them down.  Newborn vampires are driven purely by an uncontrolled thirst for blood, making them faster, stronger, and harder to kill.  The Cullens catch on to Victoria’s thoughts and manage to make temporary allies with the wolves, or spirit warriors, in an effort to defend themselves.  Meanwhile, the Volturi (led by Dakota Fanning) are watching the situation closely, and may potentially step in.  What they actually would do, I don’t know, but I would assume it has something to do with death.  In the middle of the warring effort, Edward tries to convince Bella to marry him.  She is conflicted as her feelings for Jacob continue fuel doubt towards her love for her vamp-candy.  Jacob wants her to stay human and grow old with him.  Bella would prefer to stay human as well.  But she wants to be with Edward more–even if that means becoming the living dead.  Hmmm… what to do… what to do?

Aside from the Bella-Edward-Jacob mumbo-jumbo, the series actually has time to look at other characters and their histories.  It also introduces a world outside of Edward, Bella, and Jacob.  Would you believe that other vampires actually exist?  There is a threat of bloodsuckers overtaking Seattle that the police are miscalculating as the work of a serial killer.  The wolves get a piece of the story pie too, as their hatred for vampires is illustrated through a back story.  I had no idea the vampires in Stephanie Meyer’s world were made of stone.  I also didn’t realize that the wolves are not werewolves.  They are more like hulks in dog form.  “Eclipse” has actual substance, and that was most refreshing, even though it still contains all that love triangle stuff–but even much of that aspect was handled better this time around.

Edward and Jacob actually have interactions.  There’s a good scene where Edward and Bella are in hiding shortly before the battle with the newborn army is to happen.  The temperature outside is freezing, and the characters take refuge inside a tent.  Bella is getting much too cold, and Edward has no body heat to help her, so Jacob has to come inside to keep her warm.  This doesn’t sit too well with Edward.  The two end up sharing a comical and interesting conversation that amounts to more than just a bunch of poorly delivered line readings.  The actors deliver more than they did in the last movie.  It helps that Pattinson and Stewart, the best actors in the movie, have more screen time together here.

Slade amps up the action too.  The battle between the wolves and vamps is a doozy, and is a large improvement in the special effects department.  The wolves look much better.  The vampires’ speed looks leagues better than it did in the first film.  Finally, “Twilight” is startling to look like the money it brings in.  I still think the final installment needs further increased intensity, and less soap opera, but there is a particular audience for the movie that can’t be competed with.  David Slade does his best to broaden that audience.  And the difference is more than noticeable, enough so that I was able to enjoy the movie and acknowledge its accomplishments despite it being a movie definitely meant for someone else entirely.

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Up in the Air

Jason Reitman is officially a brilliant filmmaker. After “Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno,” he delivers another surefire awards contender. His third film couldn’t be more timely, thought-provoking, darkly funny, challenging and heartbreaking. George Clooney has one of his best roles to date, and quite possibly delivers his best performance to date.  He plays Ryan Bingham, a service-for-hire executive rented out by companies big and small to essentially terminate employees and save employers from growing a backbone.  Bingham spends most of his time alone, flying all over the country and sleeping in hotels.  His greatest ambition is to earn a record of ten million flier miles and earn himself a special name-tag.  Life switches gears on him when his company hires a new gal (Anna Kendrick) to turn employee termination into a 5-minute private chatroom via the internet, saving the company all the travel expenses.  Bingham objects to the idea and has to take the young graduate under his wing and demonstrate why he is so good at his work.  Along the way he meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga–The Departed), another executive with a similar lifestyle of constant travel, and potential romance ensues.

I can’t stress enough how brilliant Clooney is in this film–able to evoke disdain and sympathy within a brisk 2 hours.  Jason Reitman has penned his screenplay adaptation so strategically and carefully, and it really pays off.  He has an ear for dialogue and an eye for his characters.  Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick also deliver strongly in a film praised for great reason.  “Up in the Air” is a brilliant, airy, intelligent, and tragic film well worth seeing.

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