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Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II (2012)

The world must really be coming to an end soon because — I can’t believe I am saying this– Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II is GOOD.

How the Hogwarts is this possible? I have followed the films from the very beginning and read 2 of the 4 books (the first and third), primarily out of curiosity, and all they have done is bewilder because, let’s face it, they’re crap.

But inexplicably, this final film somehow manages to be by far the best of the lot and is a rewarding conclusion to an otherwise lackluster series.

The love story between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire beau Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) picks up from the end of the last film, where Bella was finally turned into a bloodsucker after dying during childbirth. For the first part of the film, we get to see the world in her new red eyes as she learns to deal with her newfound powers and desires. Oh, and there’s of course also her freakish hybrid baby daughter, Renesme (what the hell?) who is growing up so quick she belongs at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

But things aren’t all roses in Bella’s world. There’s finding a way to tell her father (Billy Burke) without really telling him anything. And there’s the Volturi, led by Michael Sheen and Stewart’s bandmate from The Runaways, Dakota Fanning, the vampire’s version of the Vatican, who are also evil and abuse kids. The Volturi (I’m assuming its plural for the “Voltura”) say baby vampires can’t be controlled and must be destroyed, but they aren’t the best listeners. Blah blah blah; get ready for an epic battle.

It’s actually the same formula that the Twilight films have followed since the second film, where the majority of the running time is spent waiting and training for some all out vampire fight. The big difference this time is that the dreaded and embarrassing love triangle between the lovebirds and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is finally broken, so we no longer have to be subjected to that cruel and unusual punishment.

There is also a whole heap of new characters from all over the world.  They may be forgettable, horrible and unoriginal stereotypes — but at least they each have awesome powers that will make you feel like you’re watching an episode of Heroes (back when it was still a good show).

You’d think they would have figured it out by now, but unfortunately, the special effects did not improve. The werewolves still look kinda weird, though nothing could compare to whatever they did with the baby, who was the most terrifying thing I’ve seen since Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. Was it really that hard to find a real baby for the role?

Despite all its problems, for the first time ever, the storytelling in Twilight is efficient (it’s a “compact” 116 minutes when recent trends suggested it could have been 146), the performances even and the action exciting. Granted, the are still moments of cringe that will make even the strongest bellies prone to violent bouts of projectile vomiting, but having put up with it for the first 4 films already I had become surprisingly immune. I trust there are others in the same boat.

As a vampire, Kristen Stewart gets to do a little more than heavy breathing and looking anxious this time, at last displaying a little of the range she’s capable of. Taylor Lautner remains relatively strong, although Robert Pattinson still has that “this is all so stupid” look plastered across his face for most of the movie. Michael Sheen makes the most of a ridiculous role that would probably would have completely failed if it went to a lesser actor, and actresses like Dakota Fanning and Maggie Grace seemed happy to just be part of the fun.

If you’ve followed the saga from the beginning as I have, you might find Breaking Dawn Part II to be a grand finale that delivers. There are pretty vampires and buffed werewolves, very good guys and extremely bad guys, wry humour and decapitations; and there’s love — a whole lotta love. Unlike the previous films in the franchise, there is not a dull moment in this one, as director Bill Condon (who captained Breaking Dawn Part I) appears to have finally figured out how to make things work. Better late than never, I suppose.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: By the way, there is a really — and I mean REALLY — cheap shot in this film. I won’t spoil it by saying what and when, but it’s quite typical of author Stephenie Meyer and the entire series. Let’s just say there were a lot of audible groans, and none louder than mine.

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part I) (2011)

Why God, oh why do I keep watching the Twilight Saga?  Nevertheless, I do, and I just did.  I’m not a Twilight fan and I don’t really get the obsession with vampires and werewolves and the boys who play them, but I remain fascinated by this amazing global phenomenon.

Today I watched Breaking Dawn Part I, based on the first half of the final book in the saga.  Breaking Dawn follows the footsteps of Harry Potter and the Death Hallows in that the final book of the series is unnecessarily split into two films in order to maximise the big fat dollars.  Of course they would.  The first three films in the Twilight series have made $1.8 billion worldwide, and the decision was proven correct by the fact that Breaking Dawn Part I has reeled in over $300 million in a week.  (Hey, at least they didn’t make the movie 3D.)  But what does that mean for the average moviegoer?

Well, for starters, a slower pace and a feeling that stuff is happening when nothing is really happening.  Breaking Dawn Part I pretty much picks up where Eclipse concluded (as far as I can remember), with the long-awaited wedding between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire loverboy Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).  Bella’s best friend, werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is still in love with her, but he has basically accepted the fact that she will never be with him.  It’s hard to go much further than the honeymoon without divulging crucial plot points, but most people who go and watch Breaking Dawn Part I would have read the book.  Even if you haven’t (like me), it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where it’s heading.  Besides, the trailers and previews essentially show everything, as usual.

I didn’t expect much from Breaking Dawn Part I, especially after hearing about the early lukewarm reviews, so I must say it was better than I thought it would be.  Sure, it was slower than the other films in the series (which weren’t exactly blitzing to begin with), but I never found myself bored.  As with the earlier films, the film was strewn with atrocious, cringeworthy dialogue that made me literally squirm in my seat.  I doubt Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro could have pulled off those lines, so that didn’t leave much hope for the likes of R-Patz and Taylor “Abduction” Lautner (who only had a brief shirtless scene this time round).  Plus you know with Part II looming, things are going to remain unresolved by the end of Part I, so there’s definitely an empty feeling when you walk out of the cinema.

Let’s face it.  The real reason these Twilight movies are killing it at the box office is because readers fell in love with the books’ characters, and then the actors.  And Breaking Dawn Part I’s biggest selling point is well advertised — you finally get to see R-Patz and Stewart “get it on”, so to speak.  After all, the sexual tension is what has been driving the films all this time, so it was kind of a reward for the audiences who stuck with it until now.

Unfortunately, after sitting through basically six hours and three films worth of sexual tension, the pay off is disappointingly tame.  There were rumours of perhaps a nipple but for the most part the honeymoon scenes are strictly PG-13 (which is the film’s US rating).  Whatever.  People who love the books, the characters and the actors will lap it up nonetheless.  And they will unreservedly flock to Part II when it is released in November 2012.  At the end of the day, Breaking Dawn Part I was made for the fans and will be enjoyed by the fans.  For a non-fan with an interest in the series, the film was barely passable.

2.5 stars out of 5

PS: The scariest thing about Breaking Dawn Part I is that apparently it utilises two-thirds of the book, leaving only one-third for Part II.

Movie Review: Immortals (2D) (2011)

Immortals, the bloody, ultra-violent fantasy action film loosely based on Greek mythology, is widely mistaken as a Zack Snyder film (ie, the guy behind the epic 300).  I overheard no less than two couples make the erroneous connection when exiting the movie theatre.  It is easy to see why, given the similarities in content, styles, themes and incoherent shouting between the two films.  Besides, there is an overlap in producers (a fact they keep reminding us).  But unfortunately, Immortals is no 300.  Yes, it is also visually arresting and the action — when there is action — is blistering, but at the end of the day, Immortals impales itself on its laboured storytelling, rendering it plodding in comparison and ultimately forgettable.

In fact, Immortals is directed by Tarem Singh, an Indian director who was previously at the helm of The Fall and The Cell (yes, the infamous J-Lo clunker) and built his CV on music videos and commercials.  His visual style is slick, fast and brutal, with long, clear fight sequences and well-placed slow motion emphasis — rather Snyder-esque — but Immortals does not attempt to emulate 300‘s monochrome colour scheme or its comic book presentation.  I’d actually say that Immortals is closer to a mix of Clash of the Titans (for its Greek mythology and fantasy elements) and Centurion (for the excessive brutality last seen in this 2010 ultra-violent Michael Fassbender Roman conquest film).

The plot is straightforward — Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) declares war on Olympus, turning the world upside down to seek the mystical Epirus Bow in order to release these demi-god creatures called Titans to destroy the Gods.  Theseus (Henry Cavill) is an ordinary man chosen by the Gods to save humanity and gets caught up in the destruction.  He is assisted by a hot virgin oracle priestess (Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire) and a strangely-loyal-for-no-reason thief (Stephen Dorff).  Let the carnage begin.

Immortals does have a lot going for it.  There are some highly entertaining action scenes, all of which involve bone crushing, blood splattering, head exploding (and according to some, excessive and unnecessary) violence and most of which involve an agile, sword/spear wielding Henry Cavill and his impressive 6% body fat.  Watching Cavill (the man whom Stephenie Meyer expressly envisioned as Edward Cullen in Twilight before he got too old for the role, and the guy who was almost James Bond) on the big screen, it’s hard to imagine why he isn’t a massive star already.  He looks fantastic, oozes charisma and has reasonable acting chops.  Immortals won’t make him that massive star, but the upcoming Superman reboot (again?) Man of Steel, in which Cavill plays the titular character, most probably will.

Freida Pinto and Stephen Dorff are underused as Cavill’s companions, but that’s more the fault of the script than their abilities.  Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans) is solid as Zeus, and Kellan Lutz (Twilight) and Isabel Lucas (Transformers 2) are semi-believable as Poseidon and Athena, respectively.

However, it is Mickey Rouke’s Hyperion that dominates.  Rouke is phenomenal and seems to relish playing these complex and unforgiving characters.  The film would not have been the same without him.  Big call, but I reckon it was his best performance since Wild Orchid (just kidding!).

So Immortals was exciting when people on screen were killing each other, but sadly, everything in between was kinda boring.  The storytelling really struggled after the opening third and never picked up any steam.  The characters remained stagnant and stopped developing, and when you think about it, the story doesn’t really go very far.  That would have been mildly acceptable had there been simply action, action and more action (like 300), but for for me it felt as though too much of the 110 minute running time was wasted on the boring stuff.

This makes Immortals an average and somewhat forgettable movie at best, but my bias for exciting battle scenes and visual flair probably boosts its rating a little higher than it should be.

3.25 out of 5!

PS: When I first saw the trailer for Immortals, I was very excited by the obvious allusions to 300.  I know that film polarised some viewers but I loved it — it was as close to a comic book or video game (I’m a big fan of both) as any film I had ever seen.

The Immortals trailer also reminded me, unexpectedly, of one of the best video game franchises of all-time, God of War, and in particular God of War III on the PS3.  If they’re ever going to make a God of War movie, I’d imagine it to be like this (at least visually).

Amazingly, I found the storytelling in God of War III, told through a series of cut scenes, to be superior to the storytelling in Immortals.  Now what does that tell you?

PPS: Forget about 3D.  It never even crossed my mind.

Movie Review: Priest (3D) (2011)

In the space of a few months, Priest went from one of my most anticipated movies of the year to just another film at the cinema.  Happens when the film’s release is delayed by three and a half months in Australia and the reviews are ‘unkind’ at best.

Nonetheless, I tried to keep an open mind about this film loosely based on a Korean comic of the same name, about an alternate world where priests are kick-ass vampire killers in an eternal human-vampire holy war.  The initial teaser trailers I saw over a year ago looked extremely promising — pure horror action, a stylish visual feast and one of my favourite actors, Paul Bettany.

But unfortunately, the critics that saw the film before me were right.  Priest just didn’t have it.  Nice to look at, sure, but it’s the perfect example of a failed comic book adaptation.  A great premise bogged down by a contrived plot, boring characters, poor dialogue and an unnecessary seriousness.  At just 87 minutes, Priest felt overlong, but at the same time strangely incomplete.  The result is an aesthetically pleasing, slick, occasionally frightening/exciting film that is ultimately forgettable and never comes close to living up to its potential.

Bettany did the best he could here, and is clearly the bright spot in an otherwise weak line up.  Karl Urban, Maggie Q and Cam Gigandet were all merely serviceable co-stars and uninteresting characters.

If there is something the film did do right, it’s the freakish vampires, who looked more like the mutated beasts from Resident Evil than Edward Cullen.  Not surprising, considering director Scott Stewart started his career in visual effects and previously directed Bettany in another supernatural action/horror, Legion, which involved angels and demons and has a similar feel.  The creatures in that film were pretty scary too.  Sadly, neither film was particularly good.  On the whole, Priest is probably better than Legion, but I personally thought the best parts of Legion were far better than the best parts of Priest.

I’d say Priest deserves some consideration as a DVD rental, especially when put up against straight-to-DVD films on the shelves, but in all honesty it could have and should have been so much more.

2 stars out of 5

PS: Shockingly, Priest has been released exclusively on 3D over here (at least from what I can gather).  Needless to say, as a post-production conversion, it was no more than another pointless money grabbing exercise.

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.]