Tag Archives: Robert Pattinson

Movie Review: Maps to the Stars (2014)

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David Cronenberg is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.

Of his last five films, the only one I’ve yet to see is A Dangerous Method (2011). A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007) were fabulous, but I found Cosmopolis (2012) to be dull and pretentious. His latest effort, Maps to the Stars, is actually similar stylistically to Cosmopolis, though this time — perhaps due to the subject matter and the performances — I found the satire funny, biting and creepy, and the overall experience positively uncomfortable.

Maps to the Stars is a really strange film that defies categorisation. It’s a drama and black comedy, but also has elements of a psychological thriller and supernatural horror.  What it definitely is, however, is a scathing take on Hollywood, an acidic satire on all the excess, the pretentiousness, the opportunity-seeking, the backstabbing, the heartlessness, and above all the destructive lifestyles of America’s rich and famous. Far from the glamour we typically associate with stardom and wealth, Maps to the Stars not just brings celebrities down to our level — it pushes them below acceptable levels of decency and humanity. 

Without giving too much away, the plot revolves around two women — Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), a scarred young woman (literally, she has burn scars on her face and neck) who just made her way to Hollywood, and Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an aging actress hoping to land a major role as her legendary late mother. Key characters in their world include Jerome (Robert Pattinson), an aspiring actor making a living as a limo driver for the stars; rising teen actor Benjie (Evan Bird), his manager mother (Olivia Williams) and his New Age guru father (John Cusack). They are all linked in one way or another, though part of the allure of the film comes from finding out what the connections are.

The script by Bruce Wagner explores the depravity and debauchery head on, tackling taboo themes, gross-out subjects and uncomfortable scenes that will either make you squirm or prompt nervous laughter.

Like Cosmopolis, there is a surreal feel to the film. The exposition is kept to a minimum so you have to really pay attention to the dialogue or you won’t know what’s going on. Even then I still had no idea where it was heading, though it didn’t matter because I couldn’t turn away. It was at times hilarious, sometimes frightening and occasionally sickening — but always fascinating.

The performances are another reason why the film is more enjoyable than it probably should have been. Julianne Moore may have just won an Oscar for Still Alice, but I actually think she is even better here. While Havana might not be a likeable character, she definitely is authentic and comes across as painfully real, and it accentuates what a remarkable actress Moore is when you contrast this role — which reminds of what Lindsay Lohan will probably be like in 20-30 years — with her character in Still Alice.

Mia Wasikowska is also brilliant as the quirky Agatha, and Robert Pattinson does a solid job of helping us forget that he was ever Edward Cullen. The other standout for me has to be Evan Bird, who despite his weird look and body (it’s hard to tell how old he is) manages a convincing portrayal of a bratty, disrespectful, almost Bieber-like teen star. He’s hilarious.

On the whole, Maps to the Stars is a wild ride full of gasp-worthy moments. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope people who appreciate this type of dark humour and satire will get a kick out of it like I did.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Rover (2014)

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The Rover is David Michod’s highly-anticipated follow-up to one of the best Australian movies of all-time, 2010’s Animal Kingdom. Set in a world 10 years after a global economic collapse, the film stars Guy Pearce as a quiet and relentless anti-hero who sets out to retrieve his car from a band of robbers on the run, and during his journey forms a strange and uneasy bond with the abandoned brother of one of the robbers, played by Robert Pattinson.

I had very high expectations for The Rover because Animal Kingdom (review here) is THE film that restored my faith in Aussie movies. And like Animal KingdomThe Rover is a confident piece of filmmaking that is bleak, tense and uncompromising. But at the end of the day, I still have to consider The Rover somewhat of a disappointment even though it was probably exactly the way Michod wanted it to be.

The film is set entirely in Australia and has been marketed as a modern Western of sorts, taking advantage of Australia’s hot, dry air and sandy, desolate landscapes. It’s a visually impressive film, but it’s also one that doesn’t explain anything to its audience. There’s no voice-over or extensive opening crawl that explains to us how or why the economic collapse happened or what the world has become. All we know is that we’re in Australia, and it’s been 10 years since the collapse. Consequently, much of the intrigue of the film comes from discovering what the world is like (I won’t spoil too much), though you have to keep your eyes and ears open because all of it comes in little bits and pieces.

What it creates is an unsettling experience where you don’t really know what is happening and what will happen next. You are forced to put the pieces together to understand how this new world works and what the characters’ motivations are and why they’ve become the people they are. That’s what makes the film, despite it’s deliberately slow and considered pace, so compelling and compulsive to watch. It’s a fairly typical hook, but Michod’s direction and the screenplay by Michod and Joel Edgerton are so confident and understated that you never feel manipulated.

Having said that, The Rover can also be considered somewhat dull and nonsensical. Some of the slower scenes drag and don’t work as well as they should, and when you break the film down, it’s really quite a stupid story masquerading as something more profound. You can call much of the seemingly random stuff in it “realistic” and “unexpected”,  or you can call it “contradictory” and “pointless.”

The film offers more of an experience than a story in that you are just thrown into it and made to observe for about 100 minutes, and you come out of it knowing only what is shown to you on the screen. It intentionally under-utilizes its innovative setting, so much so that you might think it’s a waste, and anyone expecting to get a complete picture of a post-economic-collapse world will feel as though they’ve been cheated.

Despite what can be perceived as flaws, I found The Rover to be highly watchable thanks to the performances of two leads. We already know what we’re going to get from Guy Pearce, who honestly has to be one of the most under-appreciated A-listers ever (seriously, does anyone even remember that he was in Best Picture winners such as The King’s Speech and The Hurt Locker, and played the lead role in films like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Road, Memento, LA Confidential, The Time Machine  and Lockout, as well as the villain in Iron Man 3 and Prometheus?). But my goodness, did anyone think Robert Pattinson would be exceptional as well?  People said he was good outside the Twilight films (eg, Remember Me, Cosmopolis, Water for Elephants), but I thought he was just OK in those movies. Here, he is genuinely believable as a weak, slow-witted American redneck with stained teeth, and I’d be totally OK if he received some awards recognition for this performance (especially since he’s evidently trying so hard to break out of Edward Cullen mode).

Still, The Rover is nowhere near as exhilarating as Animal Kingdom, which may have set the bar too high. I applaud Michod for trying something different and a little daring for his sophomore feature rather than going down the commercial route (that’s probably coming next in his adaptation of the Afghan war book, The Operations, by the late Michael Hastings, and will reportedly start Brad Pitt), but I do wish The Rover could have been a more complete, satisfying story, rather than what ultimately feels like a short story stretched into a semi-experimental full-length feature.

3 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 12

Yes, there are still movies from 2012 that I have not yet finished reviewing or watching. But I am getting there. I swear. Here are four more film reviews.

Byzantium (2012)

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This was one I had been really forward to because it’s directed by Neil Jordan, and I really needed Saoirse Ronan to redeem herself in my mind after the disaster that was The Host. I’m still not 100% sure what to make of Byzantium, which is an interesting twist on the vampire genre and relies a lot on its brooding and melancholic atmosphere as opposed to cheap scares — though I wish I could have found it more engaging and frightening.

Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan are a mother and daughter vampire pair who have been around for a few hundred years by surviving on human blood. The story is dominated by a back story dating back to the Napoleonic Wars of how they became who they are, interspersed with their modern day exploits and typical (or not so typical) mother-daughter tensions. And of course, there are mysterious people hunting them down.

It’s a very dark (literally — the film is almost always poorly lit), bloody and violent film that provides a welcome escape from all the vampire lover fantasies we’ve had in recent years. I also loved the whole concept of how they are made into vampires and the way they transform when they feed. It’s different and haunting, driven by two very strong performances from Arterton and Ronan.

On the other hand, the dreariness got to me a little as the film progressed, and I yearned for less melodrama and more excitement. The back story, to be brutally honest, was somewhat predictable and stale, and I think that is what dragged the film down and prevented it from being an exceptional vampire flick. A minor disappointment because of high expectations, but not a bad film to catch on DVD on a rainy night.

3.25 stars out of 5

Cosmopolis (2012)

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So I keep hearing about what a great American writer Don DeLillo is, and Cosmopolis is based on one of his novels. And it’s directed by David Cronenberg (who gave us the magnificent A History of Violence and Eastern Promises in the last few years). Sure, it starred Shovelface, aka Robert Pattinson, but Cosmopolis was definitely high on my list of most anticipated movies of the year.

What’s it about? That’s hard to describe, but essentially it’s about a young billionaire (Shovelface) trying to head to his barber in a limo and gets sidetracked. He meets a bunch of people (from his wife to an assortment of mistresses) and things suddenly start to spiral out of control. Just 109 minutes of people saying and doing strange, random, confusing things.

The film has gotten mixed reviews and two minutes in I could see why. Cosmopolis seems like a great story on the paper, but adapted to the screen and it just feels all wrong. Every scene and conversation feels painfully contrived, like they are trying to sound mysterious and befuddling. No one on the history of the planet has ever spoken like the characters in this film, and yet everyone in it speaks in the same way.

I like the feeling of not knowing what is going on as things are slowly revealed to me throughout the film, but this film tries way too hard to mess with the audience’s mind and challenges them to look for deeper meaning (the follies of capitalism and materialism, perhaps?) when there isn’t really anything to look for. At least it feels that way anyway.

Cronenberg’s direction is stylish and the film is atmospheric, and the performances are strong, though that doesn’t make up for all its faults. It’s disappointing because there was definitely potential here, but instead all Cosmopolis did for me was bore and frustrate.

1.5 stars out of 5

Killing Them Softly (2012)

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I was warned about Killing Them Softly, which received praise from critics but was panned by many regular people who watched it. In fact, I was warned by an aunt to avoid it at all costs because it might bore me to death. Being the sucker for punishment that I am, I braced myself and watched it anyway, and to be honest I just thought it was OK — not boring, not great. Just OK.

The premise is simple. Ray Liotta runs an underground gambling ring for mafia types and once held up his own den to steal money off his patrons. Armed with the knowledge if that it happened again that people would automatically point the finger at Ray, a couple of goons (Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy) are hired to rob the place. In the aftermath, a hitman played by Brad Pitt, who likes to “kill them softly” (ie, quick and relatively painless) is assigned to…sort things out.

This is one of those movies I probably would have fallen asleep in a few years ago, but nowadays I have come to appreciate the art of “slow storytelling” and have come to understand why certain films are paced in a certain way. Killing Me Softly is undeniably slow, with lots of well-crafted dialogue and pauses. But the dark and bleak noir atmosphere is definitely intriguing, and when the violence hits it is brutal and uncompromising.

Having said all that, there’s not a lot about the movie that makes it something I would want to recommend to others. It’s simply a well-made movie that is slow and gritty, with big name stars delivering the expected strong performances. I wouldn’t call it boring, though it’s not exactly entertaining either.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Expatriate (2012)

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Known as Erased in the US, The Expatriate is a bit of a “meh” film in the sense that it’s perfectly adequate but does little to suggest that it should be anything other than a straight-to-DVD film, which is is.

Aaron Eckhart is a former CIA agent (kinda like Liam Neeson in Taken) who is living with his daughter in Brussels while working as a security expert. One day he suddenly discovers that all traces of his existence have been “erased”, so to speak, forcing him on the run as his ex-colleagues all start dropping dead. So essentially the whole movie is about him trying to survive while figuring out what big conspiracy he has been dragged into.

It’s not the most original premise, but there are elements of the film that work effectively for this to be an above average thriller. But when you have movies like Taken and those from the Bourne franchise (which this film borrows from liberally), a movie like The Expatriate pales in comparison and feels almost redundant.

I’m a fan of Aaron Eckhart and I think he does a great job in it, but it’s hard to like a movie when you feel like you’ve pretty much seen everything before, except done better.

2.5 stars out of 5

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: Water for Elephants (2011)

Here’s a surprise.  I not only watched Water for Elephants, I actually enjoyed it a lot.  I remember last month when R-Patz and Reese Witherspoon were here for the Australian premiere and I just happened to be passing by, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elephant.  Unfortunately, the screams of teenage girls forced me to retreat before I saw anything.

But to make this film all about R-Patz is unfair.  Water For Elephants, based on the bestselling novel by Sara Gruen (who amazingly started it as a part of NaNoWriMo!), is a very good movie about an educated young man (Pattinson) who finds himself working for the Benzini Brothers Circus during the Great Depression and the Prohibition era.  The owner of the circus is August (Christoph Waltz), a charming but cruel man, and his wife and star performer is Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).  Oh, and of course there is an elephant.

It’s one of those classic coming-of-age stories, and if you have any interest in circuses or animals or R-Patz, then chances are you’ll find Water for Elephants a pretty enjoyable ride.  This was a shock to me, considering don’t particularly like Pattinson or Witherspoon, though I am a massive fan of Christoph Waltz (and have been since Inglourious Basterds).

Having interviewed circus performers last year, I do have a bit of a thing for the circus (despite my fear of clowns), but I think I would have enjoyed Water For Elephants in any case.  It’s a lovely film, beautifully shot and oozing a nostalgic old school feel.  The progression of the plot is painfully predictable but I still had a good time with it.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: After playing a character called Jacob in this film, it looks like R-Patz is now both Team Edward and Team Jacob!

Start of Year DVD Blitz: Part I

As promised, here is my first set of DVD reviews for the start of 2011!

Centurion (2010)

Here’s another one that when I first saw the trailer thought was going to be a hit — but strangely, it either never screened or screened for such a short time that nobody noticed, then went straight to DVD.

Centurion is based on the Roman conquest of the Picts, told from the perspective of the ill-fated Ninth Legion.  It’s dark, moody, gritty, extremely violent and gory, and a surprisingly enjoyable ride.  Even though we get the story from the side of the Romans, there are really no good guys or villains in this one.  

Excellent performances from a great cast, including Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko and Dominic West, even though the script and characters probably don’t do the performances justice.

Centurion certainly doesn’t have the depth or wide appeal of Gladiator, but hardcore battle fans (like myself) might get a kick out of it because it does have some wonderful battle and fight scenes.

3.5 stars out of 5

Cop Out (2010)

This buddy cop comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan (from 30 Rock) and directed by Kevin Smith has been on many of the ‘Worst Film of the Year’ lists, so I decided to check it out for myself.

And well…I didn’t personally hate the film, but it was pretty awful, especially when you factor in the director (Smith has been a favourite of mine, even though this is the first time he didn’t direct his own material) and the all-star cast (which also includes Rashida Jones, Jason Lee, Sean William Scott, Adam Brody and Kevin Pollack).

My problem with Cop Out was that it wasn’t as funny or clever as it thought it was.  I haven’t seen much of 30 Rock, but Tracy Morgan was extremely annoying.  He just wouldn’t stop shouting and screaming all the time.  It was exhausting to watch and listen to him go on like a lunatic for the overlong 107-minute running time.

There were a couple of amusing scenes but most of it was pretty stock standard stuff that you’d see in any B-grade comedy.

1.75 stars out of 5

Remember Me (2010)

Enter the non-Twilight star vehicle for Rob Patz to showcase his acting chops as Tyler Hawkins, an American college student who has a dead brother, a neglected younger sister and a father (Pierce Brosnan) who is too absorbed in his work to care.  He meets and befriends Ally Craig (Emilie de Ravin), a girl with a dead mother and an overprotective cop father.  Sad, tragic, melodramatic love story.

Remember Me is depressing and tries too hard to tug at the heart strings through numerous ‘please feel sorry for me’ sequences.  At its core it’s not a horrible film, but there’s not a whole lot going for it.  It had a strong introductory sequence but went downhill from there, and even though I expected things to pick up and the various plot threads to be tied together, it never really happened.

The ending, which I’m sure gets discussed a lot, came out of nowhere, and I believe some might even find it offensive to pull a stunt like that.

Watchable for Rob Patz fans, but everyone else won’t be missing much by skipping this one.

2 stars out of 5

Knight and Day (2010)

Knight and Day is acomedy action film about an ordinary girl caught up in the world of CIA operatives and dangerous/revolutionary inventions.  It’s fast paced, outrageous, over-the-top, and quite fun if you don’t take it seriously.

However, I didn’t really like it much.  To be honest, it’s probably because the film stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.  I used to really like Cruise, but ever since he lost the plot there’s just something off about him, even on screen.  Maybe he’s getting too old, but the suave routine he got used to pulling on Top Gun and Mission: Impossible doesn’t work for me anymore.  As for Diaz, sorry if this offends anyone, but I really dislike her face.  I know she’s considered one of the most attractive women in the world, but I simply don’t get it.  It became a distraction to the detriment of the viewing experience.

Knight and Day is a film that runs on the charm and chemistry of the two main characters, so fans of Cruise/Diaz might enjoy it a lot more than I did.  But unfortunately for me, I let my prejudices get the better of my objective judgment.

2.5 stars out of 5

Me and Orson Welles (2009)

A coming-of-age/character study film by Richard Linklater about a 17-year-old kid (Zac Efron) who got to spend a few months with Orson Welles (Christian McKay), the man credited with making Citizen Kane, a film widely regarded as the best of all time.  However, this film takes place in 1937 (4 years before Citizen Kane), and it was about a stage production of Julius Caesar.

It’s pretty light-hearted, harmless stuff, but to me, it was more like ‘Meh’ and Orson Welles.  Perhaps lovers of period pieces and those who appreciate meticulously designed sets and the threatre might enjoy it more than I did.  I don’t deny that the film is well-made, though I can’t help it if it didn’t get my juices flowing.

Efron is adequate and McKay is actually brilliant as Welles, the egotistical, narcissistic genius, but neither the technical attributes nor the performances made me enjoy this film as much as I wanted to.

3 stars out of 5

I still have a few more left — Part II should be coming soon.

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.

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.]