Category Archives: Genre: Romance

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)

Twilight hype continues to rage around the world with the release of the third film in the “Saga” — Eclipse.  I just went to see it with my sister who is visiting from out of town.  She’s not a Twilight “fan” per se, but she was excited.  I on the other hand, having read the book at the beginning of the year, was a little more ambivalent about the whole thing, but still wanted to see it.

Well, the third instalment of Twilight fever was a bit of a “meh” affair.  It picks up where the second film left off, with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) in blissful love with her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and neglecting her werewolf best friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who has a hopeless crush on her.  But all is not well because people are dying under mysterious circumstances in Seattle and it appears Bella is the ultimate target.  Who could it be?  Trust me, it’s bleedingly obvious.

Director David Slade (who directed the impressive 30 Days of Night and the excellent Hard Candy) probably did all he could with this one.  While it contained the most climatic dramatic and action sequences of the series thus far, Eclipse had me yawning and laughing (at the unintentional humour) more regularly than I should have.

The novel version of Eclipse is referred to by many Twilight fans as the best of the Saga, though I personally thought it was very long and not much happened until the very end.  Plus that Bella is really annoying!  So to be honest I thought the movie was better than the book because it only took up 2 hours as opposed to a couple of weeks and still managed to essentially cover all the main points of the novel.

By now we’re all familiar with the core characters and their traits, so we don’t find out anything new about them.  What we have is more of the same old from the last two films (sexual tension and corny dialogue), but even more dramatic and intense.

Bella continues to be torn between two “men” who love her and can’t decide what she wants to do with her life.  I’ve been a fan of Kristen Stewart since Into the Wild, but there’s no denying that she was irritating in this one.  Her acting was better (she showed more range than that singular “I’ve got something stuck in my throat” expression) but it didn’t make Bella a more sympathetic character.  There were many whispers of “slut” throughout the cinema during a couple of scenes!

Rob Patz’s Edward Cullen takes a bit of a back seat in this one, even though he has more screen time than in New Moon.  He is still disgustingly sweet and overprotective, but he felt strangely hollow.  It may have something to do with the constant strain on his face and in his voice.  Give the poor guy some metamucil.

Again, it’s up to Taylor Lautner’s Jacob Black and his ripped bod to save the show.  Lautner has some horribly melodramatic lines, but to his credit, he manages to pull most them off without generating laughter.  He’s the only central character out of the three to develop any sort of connection with me.

The returning cast (such as Billy Burke, Anna Kendrick, Dakota Fanning, Ashley Greene and Kellan Lutz etc) do a solid job with their smaller roles, and it was good to find out the back stories of some of the vampires and werewolves through flashbacks.  However, the casting of Bryce Dallas Howard as the villain Victoria was a terrible choice to replace Rachelle Lefevre.  She has the same long red curls but has zero menace.  A real disappointment considering what a fantastic actress she is.

To sum it all up, Eclipse is a passable effort for the third film of a blockbuster franchise.  Nothing about it is great, but I can’t exactly point to anything that was done too badly.  It gives fans what they want — which is more mushy stuff between the three leads, plus more vampire/werewolf action — but it’s unlikely to turn non-fans into new fans of the Saga.

3 stars out of 5

PS: It was interesting to see several characters sporting Justin Bieber haircuts.

DVD Review: 500 Days of Summer (2009)

[I was supposed to put this into my second DVD Blitz, but the film was too good for me to not give it its own review]

For months I’ve been hearing and reading about the praises raining down on 500 Days of Summer, the romantic drama-comedy directed by first-time feature director Marc Webb and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber.  Naturally, this made me a sceptic.  How good could a seemingly light-hearted romantic comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel be?

Well, I finally found out on DVD over the weekend.  And I fell in love with it.

500 Days of Summer tells the story of Tom (Gordon-Levitt), a young man working for a greeting card company who meets Summer (Deschanel), the girl of his dreams.  There’s just one problem: Summer doesn’t believe in love.  Director Marc Webb describes it as more of a coming-of-age story than a romantic comedy, though I’d like to think of it as both.

It’s not easy to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes 500 Days of Summer so endearing.  Is it the non-linear progression?  No, that actually got me a little confused and annoyed at times.  Could it be the creative visual style and the innovative storytelling techniques?  I liked it, but I don’t think so.  Maybe it was the characters, the way the conventional male-female relationship stereotypes were flipped on their head.  But surely this isn’t the first time this has been done.  Could it be the main leads?  Well, Zooey Deschanel is very cute and I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives the performance of his career, but no, I don’t think so.  And while it is a funny film, it’s not constantly or outrageously hilarious.  The laughs come from very random and quirky comments and moments, which are brilliantly conceived, but I’ve seen funnier films in the last couple of years.

So what is it that made the film so enjoyable and delightful?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s all of the above.  Or none.  Love isn’t rational anyway.

The film just has this incredibly sweet sensation to it.  It captures that feeling of falling hopelessly in love, the passion, the despair, the heartbreak, and the bitter-sweet aftermath.  I can’t think of another film that has done it this well, this real, with so much creativity, and so much heart. And with a cracker of a soundtrack too.

5 out of 5 stars!

[PS: Maybe I will have another opinion of it upon a second viewing.  I did, after all, watch this on the eve of my two-year wedding anniversary.]

Movie Review: New Moon (2009)

 

New Moon, the second film of the Twilight Saga, is a solid sequel to a popular franchise.  It will no doubt please its hardcore fan base, but there’s also enough satisfy the casual film-goer (who (1) isn’t out to savage the film for the sake of it and (2) judges it in its appropriate context).  3.5/5 stars!

I have caught Twilight fever. 

Well, not really.  I am more intrigued by why the Twilight Saga has captivated so many people as opposed to the story itself.

And after watching the second movie in the Saga, New Moon, I must admit I still don’t really get it.  Is it the seemingly perfect love between a teenage girl and a vampire?  Or is it the fact that their relationship is dangerous and forbidden?  Or is it just because the vampire is (according to most sources) an incredibly hot dude?  Or is it all of the above?

I don’t know the answer, but what I do know is that New Moon is actually a pretty decent movie.  An average film overall, but in context, a fairly strong sequel.  In my humble opinion, it’s certainly not worthy of the 1-star status it has been receiving from some critics.  In any event, hardcore fans will undoubtedly lap it up and box office numbers should be strong simply from multiple repeat viewings from young girls (and from what I hear oldies too).

New Moon picks up from where Twilight left off, with teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her dreamy, ‘perfect’ vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, aka ‘Rob Patz’) rolling in the bliss of love.  Those who have read the book will know what happens next, but I was quite annoyed with how the previews effectively show you the essence of the first half-hour of the movie and then reveals the major twists and secrets of the entire film!  If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid the previews then I’m sure you will find New Moon a more pleasurable experience.

There's lots of love in New Moon

Anyway, I will start with the bad.  New Moon is a film that first and foremost tries to satisfy the desires of its fans, and that means romance comes before everything else.  While this may be great for its target audience, the problem with this is that if you’re not into the romance then the film falls apart very quickly.  Or alternatively, the movie may start to feel boring and tedious.  There’s a mushiness to Bella and Edward’s relationship that only a limited section of the public can truly appreciate, and I can totally understand why viewers might be turned off by some of the painful dialogue (especially at the start) – but bear in mind that most of it is apparently reproduced verbatim from the novel.  Besides, dialogue is always less excrutiating on the page than it sounds on the screen.

New Moon also assumes that you know the story (or at least the first film) quite well.  There are several references to characters, abilities, relationships and specific incidents from its predecessor, and your recollection and knowledge of these things are somewhat taken for granted.  With my shocking memory, it did take a while for me to remember what the heck was going on.

There are also some things that weren’t explained very well by the movie which may or may not turn out to be gaping plot holes.  I’ll have to reserve judgment on that until I seek clarification from a genuine Twilight fan.  And there’s of course a few unintentionally funny bits simply because the film takes the whole vampire hierarchy thing so seriously.

And now the good.  At its heart, New Moon is a good story.  It might not be entirely original but there is a charm to it that makes it so appealing.  It’s almost entrancing.  For me, a big part of the film’s allure was the development of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who is effectively the male lead in this one.  Apart from his amazing physical transformation (which prompted him to remove his shirt at every opportunity), Jacob’s emotional growth is also well-developed.  With the two lead characters (Edward and especially Bella) exhibiting selfish and unimpressive personality traits, Jacob becomes the character that viewers can empathise with the most.

Hello!

I may have said earlier that New Moon is heavy on the romance, but there was still plenty of room for action.  There were a number of exciting sequences littered throughout the film, most of them involving ample amounts of CGI.  I wouldn’t quite call New Moon an action film, but from what I can recall it has a lot more action than Twilight.  And the final climatic scenes were done much better in the sequel than the original.

Another strength of the film was its minor characters.  Again, with Bella and Edward being so serious about everything (as demonstrated by the constant heavy breathing from Kristen Stewart and the permanently pained expression on Robert Pattinson’s face), comic relief came in just the right doses from an assortment of other characters.  From the members in Jacob’s clan (Chaske Spencer, Tyson Houseman, Alex Meraz, Kiowa Gordon and Bronson Pelletier) to Bella’s friends Jessica (Anna Kendrick) and Mike (in terrific performance by Michael Welch) to Bella’s dad Charlie (Billy Burke) to the rest of the Cullen gang (in particular Jackson Rathbone as Jasper), almost every one of these minor characters hit the spot in their brief moments on screen.  On the other hand, unfortunately, the talents of Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning were criminally underused in their respective roles, leading to weird, comical appearances that just didn’t feel right.

At the end of the day, New Moon succeeds in what it set out to do, and that is to please its fan base.  For non-hardcore fans, I think there is still enough for an enjoyable experience.  There’s romance, friendship, action, suspense and a dash of timely humour.  What more could you ask for in what is, essentially, a teen flick?

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: For the record, I have read the first book, Twilight, and watched the corresponding film.  Both were okay, but neither did much for me.  It just felt a little too much – too saccharine for my liking.  But I could definitely see the appeal, especially to teenage girls.  As a result, I skipped the remainder of the books (including New Moon), but continued to be fascinated by all the hype surrounding it.  And I am looking forward to Eclipse, the next film in the series, especially as it will be directed by David Slade, director of Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night.]

Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

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I had been wanting to watch the big screen adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s bestseller The Time Traveler’s Wife ever since I heard it was being made (it was actually optioned by Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt before the novel was even published).

It is such a beautiful book, taking a seemingly ridiculous, science-fictionesque premise to deliver a tragic love story that somehow works.  One of those rare stories that made the outrageous feel normal because the characters and what they felt for each other was so painfully real.

I’m glad to say that the film version, while not perfect by any means, is very good, capturing the essence of the relationship between Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana), a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to unintentionally and periodically time travel, and Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams), the girl he was destined to fall in love with.

Of course, the success of a movie like this depends largely on the performances of the leads.  When I first heard that Eric Bana was cast as Henry, I was sceptical because he didn’t appear to fit the novel’s description.  But as I watched him, it became clear to me that he was spot on for the role.  He captures Henry’s love, pain and fear so well in a wonderfully controlled performance.  On the other hand, it doesn’t matter who Rachel McAdams plays.  She is so sweet, beautiful and classy that it’s not hard to believe anyone will fall madly in love with her.

However, a person’s enjoyment of the movie may well depend on how much they can accept the time travelling premise.  If you find the idea stupid, then it’s unlikely you’ll give the film much of a chance.  I think it’s quite possible for someone, especially if they haven’t read the book, to get a bit confused with all the travelling back and forth through time.  It’s easy to put up your hands and say ‘this is all too silly’ and let it overshadow the central love story.  On the other hand, if you can overlook some of the unexplained holes in the logic and just accept the premise (a pre-requisite for sci-fi films), then you may find yourself absorbed in Henry and Claire’s complex relationship.  For me personally, it was the type of film where the flaws become easier to forgive because it knows how to tug the heart strings.

Keeping in mind that the novel is 546 pages and spans a lifetime, the film adaptation is surprisingly short, clocking in at only 108 minutes.  This naturally means that the film lacks the full emotional depth of the novel (few films can match the novel in that regard anyway).  In condensing the book to fit the screen, characters were cut, roles were reduced and subplots were canned.  Nevertheless, I believe this actually worked in the film’s favour rather than against it.  It kept the focus solely on Claire and Henry’s relationship, and prevented the story from dragging on too long, which it did start to feel towards the final quarter.  It would have been very easy to make this a 2 hour 45 minute-plus movie, but I applaud the restraint from director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) in keeping the running time manageable.  Trying to be truthful to the source material while keeping the film from being overlong can be a tough balance, but for the most part I think Schwentke and screenwriters Jeremy Leven (The Notebook) and Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) did a decent job in the circumstances.

Perhaps I am a little biased because I’m a big fan of the two leads, but I believe  The Time Traveler’s Wife is a solid adaptation of a novel that was extremely difficult to adapt.  Those who are fans of the novel will likely either love it or hate it.  As for newcomers to this story, I’m not sure, but judging from the number of red, watery eyes I witnessed stepping out of the cinema (including my wife’s), my guess is that more people than not will be moved by it.

4 out of 5 stars!

[PS: I was surprised that the film relied mostly on make-up and not technology to show the aging process (which, after Benjamin Button, we know can do an extraordinary job).  Unfortunately this means the physical transformations of the characters are not as pronounced as they could have been.]

Movie Review: The Ugly Truth (2009)

ugly_truth_ver2

Expectation can be a funny thing.  When I first saw the poster for ‘The Ugly Truth’ directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde and 21), I had zero interest.  None whatsoever.  Sure, it had King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and the pretty girl who starred in and then trashed Knocked Up, the film that made her a star (Katherine Heigl), but I couldn’t even care to find out what it was about.

But then a friend told me his wife watched it and thought it was pretty good.  My brother-in-law then recommended it.  A third person (who I can’t recall) suggested I should watch it.  And so I found myself watching ‘The Ugly Truth’, all of a sudden expecting it to actually be a great film!

Well, I came out of the cinema perplexed.  The film wasn’t as terrible as I had expected when I saw the poster for the first time, but it was miles off the superior romantic comedy I had anticipated when I stepped into the theatre.

I don’t like giving away the plot of any film, so I’ll keep it brief.  ‘The Ugly Truth’ (about male-female relationships) is what Gerard Butler’s character spews out unashamedly on his TV show, and Katherine Heigl is a TV producer who tries to prove that his theories are untrue.  Think He’s Just Not That Into You but with only 2 characters (yes, I watched that too…).

The film’s biggest problem is predictability.  Anyone who has seen more than a couple of rom-coms will be able to guess exactly what happens in ‘The Ugly Truth’ several scenes in advance.  Think of the most cliched situations possible and chances are you will see them in this film.  There were definitely a few ‘this better not happen next’ moments, followed by ‘I can’t believe it really happened!’ moments.

It does, of course, attempt to separate itself from other rom-coms with the vulgarity and political-incorrectness of the conversations and jokes.  More sensitive viewers may be turned off, but the younger generation that grew up on American Pie, Superbad and The 40 Year Old Virgin may find the jokes more down their alley.  However, most of the jokes didn’t elicit more than a subdued chuckle from me.  It was no more or less funny than your typical rom-com starring Katherine Heigl (eg Knocked Up, 27 Dresses).

Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins
Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins

So in the end, a bit of a disappointment.  I do like the leads and I am a  fan of John Michael Higgins (everybody’s second favourite lawyer on Arrested Development, Wayne Jarvis).  Some of the ‘wisdoms’ espoused by Butler’s character also ring true to me, as I am sure they will to many other male viewers (and I believe this is probably where the film’s charm lies).  But at the end of the day, ‘The Ugly Truth’ is an average, somewhat forgettable film with just a passable laugh quotient.

2.5 stars out of 5

[PS: I kept waiting for the moment where Butler would scream ‘THIS – IS – THE UGLY TRUTH!!’ and then kick Heigl down an endless black pit.  Then flex his abs.  That alone would have been worthy of 2.5 stars.]