Friday, July 2, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Vampires & Vigilantes

I feel way too old to have spent six hours in the past year or so viewing The Twilight Saga. While it is easy to understand the super-successful supernatural book and movie series' appeal for romance-hungry teenage girls, their shared plot is pretty insipid stuff for anyone over the age of 17.

Obviously, I'm no "Twi-hard." However, my allegiance in the heated teenybopper debate between "Team Edward" (those devoted to the sullen vampire played by Robert Pattinson) and "Team Jacob" (fans of hunky, frequently shirtless werewolf Taylor Lautner) is to the latter. Lautner has charisma that Pattinson sorely lacks, although The Twilight Saga: Eclipse gives Pattinson the opportunity to play a wider range of emotions than in the first two movies. He even gets to smile and laugh! I hope he charged the producers extra.


Kristen Stewart continues to be hamstrung in the central role of Bella. Her expression is most often one of eyes-downcast blankness, but when she becomes concerned or afraid she appears constipated. I'm also increasingly frustrated by Bella's powerlessness at doing anything to help her situation. This isn't Stewart's fault, of course. The character is written as a pawn in the jealous-romantic (and sort of homoerotic, especially during a scene set in a frigid camping tent) rivalry between Edward and Jacob and, by extension, vampires and werewolves.

Edward and Bella get engaged by the end of Eclipse, but not much else happens in the movie. There's a lot of talk about how "a war is coming" to the characters' town of Forks, Oregon thanks to a bloodthirsty band of powerful "newborn" vampires created by Edward's arch nemesis, Victoria (a good but too-brief turn by Bryce Dallas Howard). Every time the film develops momentum toward this showdown, though, it is interrupted by a father-daughter chat, a marriage proposal, or one of Jacob's temper tantrums. And when Victoria's "army" finally arrives, it's maybe a dozen-strong and hardly an imposing force. The "war" is over in five minutes. With all the money the Twilight movies are raking in, couldn't they have afforded to hire some more actors or at least add a hundred or so vampires digitally?


Eclipse isn't awful but, like its two predecessors, it is a largely listless, apathetic affair. The last film, New Moon, perked up in its final half hour thanks to the intervention of some accomplished actors — notably Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning — as evil but humorous members of the vampire ruling class, the Volturi. Fanning reappears in Eclipse but all too sparingly.

There is reason to hope, though, that the upcoming adaptation of the series' final book, Breaking Dawn, will be an improvement over what has come before. Oscar-winning gay screenwriter-director Bill Condon (Gods & Monsters, Chicago, Dreamgirls) has been hired to helm the two-part finale. Maybe he'll give Bella a song or two and finally allow Jacob and Edward to acknowledge their latent attraction to each other!


I'm also happy to announce that another film adaptation from what is currently a truly literate literary phenomenon (no, not Harry Potter) is now hitting movie screens. The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second work — following The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — in the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson's bestselling Millennium trilogy. The film version is opening next Friday, July 9, in a number of US cities.

It depicts the continuing adventures of crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (once again played by the very good Michael Nykvist) and the brilliant, abused and vengeful computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (the still-excellent Noomi Rapace). Separated for two years, they set out together via cyberspace to take down a ruthless sex trafficker and his cronies. Salander remains fiercely bisexual, and the new film features a steamy tryst between her and her best friend, Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi).


Director Daniel Alfredson took the reins from Dragon Tattoo's Niels Arden Oplev for the sequel. Oplev had a better handle on the technological dimensions of the story and making them exciting for viewers. The first film also had a slightly more engrossing plot, with a decades-old unsolved mystery as its driving force. The Girl Who Played With Fire is essentially two hours of waiting for a "will they or won't they" physical reunion between Salander and Blomkvist. The movie ends in something of a cliffhanger that will presumably be resolved in the third and final film, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which is scheduled for US release this October.

Still, The Girl Who Played With Fire is an effective cinematic take on a book series that has challenging things to say about women and men, sexuality, abuse and power. The Twilight Saga, which purports to cover some of the same territory, are simplistic children's storybooks in comparison.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: C
The Girl Who Played With Fire: B

UPDATE: The Girl Who Played With Fire is now available on DVD and Blu-ray and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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