Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"But what if I'm not the hero? What if I am the bad guy?"

After I saw the film several weeks ago, I started planning this huge, mildly coherent review of Twilight. I just read my review a few second ago and found it too wordy, which really shouldn't be a surprise from anything I ever type or put on paper. So I deleted it and started from scratch.

There wasn't much to say, really...

Girl moves in with her estranged father in cloudy Forks, Wa. Becomes fairly popular in school, despite the fact that she's totally awkward and don't really mesh with the other kids. Meets a gorgeous guy who may or may not hate her. Finds out his secret--gasp--he's a vampire! Hot vampire really, really wants to suck the girl's blood but tries to control himself. (How sweet.) Instead, this other vampire really, really, really wants to suck the girl's blood but only difference is that he doesn't bother to control himself. Hot vampire and family tries to save girl and they either fails miserably or succeeds. (Take your pick.)

The film has an extremely thin plot, as many may have noticed. The heart of the film lies in the relationship between the girl, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and the vampire, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). The relationship itself has a certain intrigue about it, but the execution feels empty and lacking. The romance does have its share of touching moments, but not enough for me to care. Frankly, the individual characters are just not interesting enough.

Bella is somewhat interesting when she transforms into a minor sleth for several scenes until she falls into the unfortunate depths of the typical damsel in distress. Even Stewart, who does have moments of acting greatness--especially in those scenes with Billy Burke, who plays Bella's father--becomes enraptured in the cheesy dialogue and unnecessary montages. But I don't blame Stewart. Bella needs more backbone if she insists on being the protagonist of the series. It would be fine if Bella were another Mary Jane Watson or Lois Lane, but this film isn't about a superhero. This is Bella's story. Is it too much to ask for Bella to carry her own story? I do not have a single friend who likes Bella as a character. It's all about Edward...

To my frustration, Edward, the greatest love of almost every single female fan of the popular series, comes through as rather flat and boring. Sure, he seems like a pretty nice guy with a fine set of morals, but he makes me wonder: If you're over a century years old, but physically resemble a seveteen years old, do you also have to mentally resemble a seventeen year old? But Pattinson, although not alluring or charming enough to be the kind of fascinating specimen that every teenage girl would fall for, should be given some credit for delivering some ridiculous lines of dialogue without bursting into laughter.

And the whole one-hundred-plus-years-old-guy-with-seventeen-year-old-girl part still kind of disturbs me. I can't get over it, romantic fantasy or not. I mean, if you've been around for at least one hundred years, would you be attracted to a teenage girl--even if you did physicaly resemble a seventeen year old? Or, going back to my previous question, is aging--both physically and mentally--completely ceased the second you're turned into a vampire?

So many questions...

On the bright side, there is a lovely supporting cast. Burke, whom I mentioned earlier, does a quietly effective job as Bella's father. Peter Facinelli, who plays the patriarch of the Cullen clan, also does a great job with his role, despite the fact his face looks submersed in an amazingly thick layer of make-up. Taylor Lautner is also a welcome presence in the film, playing Bella's friend, Jacob. Lautner actually makes me glad that we'll see more of Jacob in the sequels (as my friends tell me).

I understand that director Catherine Hardwicke made Thirteen (which I promise I'll watch before the year ends) with a $2 million dollar budget. That doesn't mean that Twilight has to look like it was made on a low budget too; Twilight had a modest budget of about $37 million. So, where did it all go? The "special effects" (if you can them that) are laughable. There are scenes where Edward carries Bella while flying through the air (or jumping around with super high speed) and the "flying" just looks like bad animation. There is also a scene where Edward reveals why he can't go into the sun (he, um, sparkles) and the shimmering glitter on his face left everyone in my row in hysterics.

Honestly, Twilight just looks ugly and cheap most of the time. Fantasies should have an epic feel--and I'm sure there were plenty of people out there who would've loved to finance a phenomenon. The understated atmosphere of Twilight makes the film more bland than ever.

I may have a bit of a bias towards vampires or dark romances since I've never cared for them. I've never cared for danger or anything that would potentially kill me. The existence of Twilight doesn't help the genres much either. The film is ultimately a disappointment, although I wasn't expecting anything, since I am one of the few teenage girls left on this planet who hasn't finished reading the book. But if the film has any grand, redeemable quality at all, it is simply this: It's not boring.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out."

I am a proud frequenter of IMDb's Hit List. That tiny section on the bottom of the IMDb homepage makes my life a little bit easier and sunnier. I love my lists, commentaries, interviews, galleries, and random cinematic musings all in one accessible package. (For those exact same reasons, I adore film blogs as well.)

Recently, I found a link to's showcase of the full scans from "The 2008 Hollywood Portfolio: Hitchcock Classics." I understand the entry and the photoshoot are a bit old, but it's still a lovely set of photoshoots that deserves some mention at my neglected ol' blog.

The photoshoots are a collection of today's actors re-creating scenes from classic Hitchcock films. Some Hitchcock purists may find these pictures offensive and horrific, but I dig these kind of things--just as much as I enjoy remakes and Beatles covers.

The Vanity Fair website also features a gallery of the photoshoot, although the website does not show the full photos featured in the magazine itself. But the Vanity Fair website does include some background to the film's scene and the original still from the scene that the modern photoshoot recreated.

Personally, my favorite is Marion Cotillard in the recreation of that legendary shower scene in Psycho. The only two photographs that I don't totally dig are the ones with Emile Hirsch and James McAvoy in the Strangers on a Train photoshoot (awkward, much?) and Renee Zellweger (not looking much like Renee Zellweger or Kim Novak) in the Vertigo photoshoot.

I would love to hear what your opinions are of this lovely portfolio. But in this moment in time, I just feel like watching some Hitchcock. Who's with me? (I'm open to suggestions.)

And while we're on the subject, please check out Shawn of Deadpan's directors study of Hitchcock. It's definitely worth a read.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"Man has a choice and it's a choice that makes him a man."

I've been wanting to discuss East of Eden for a while, which I watched in English class as a companion piece to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. (And thank goodness I didn't have to watch Demi Moore play Hester Prynne.) If you happen to wonder what a Puritan society and a WWI-affed Salinas Valley setting have in common, it's all has to do with the inner conflicts of good versus evil and a guilt-ridden human being's natural urge to achieve ultimate redemption. Who knew that Cal Trask and Reverend Dimmesdale had so much in common? Not to mention the religious undertones in East of Eden (Cal and Aron = Cain and Abel!)... Of course, that's what English class is for.

Admittedly, I'm not a huge John Steinbeck fan. I've never cared for his morally ambiguous storytelling and minimalistic writing. I have read The Pearl and Of Mice and Men and I have no interest in ever touching those novels ever again. So obviously, Elia Kazan's 1955 adaptation of Steinbeck's East of Eden surprised me. I have never read East of Eden (the novel), although Oprah certainly made me aware of its existence.

Since I've never read Steinbeck's novel (and I will--someday), I can only judge Kazan's film. And it's a terrific film indeed.

On the surface, the film seems to be simply about the rivalry between twin brothers, Aron and Cal. Aron's good, Cal's bad. But the story is much more complex than that. I immediately sympathized with Cal and his efforts to impress his father. I rooted for Cal while the poor kid tries to earn back the money his father lost in the lettuce business by investing into the bean business. I even cheered for Cal when he won the heart of his brother's sweetheart.

Cal is likable because he's direct and honest. He may lack social grace, but he can't help himself. On the other hand, Aron's just a suck-up and a bore. No wonder Abra wants to leave her pragmatic side behind and take a chance on Cal.

All this is attributed to James Dean's magnetic presence on-screen. Dean's charisma never ceases: A good actor should never hide his greatest devices. East of Eden may feel a little dated, but Dean's performance was ahead of his time. Even when I intensely disliked Dean's character in Giant, I couldn't help but feel a little for Jett Rink in his final scene. Dean's performance in Giant may have been his greatest work on film, but East of Eden proved that he was a mature leading man, an improvement from his performance in Rebel Without A Cause.

East of Eden was deservingly nominated for four Academy Awards back in 1956 in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director (Kazan), Best Leading Actor (Dean, posthumously), and Best Supporting Actress (Jo Van Fleet). Van Fleet won Best Supporting Actress for her minor yet effective work as the estranged mother of Cal and Aron.

I am aware that there is a remake set for a 2009 release date. It's unfortunate that director Ron Howard is no longer attached to the film because he would have been a very appropriate choice.

On a sidenote, is no secret that I love well-done fan-made music videos of great films. I recently found this wonderful East of Eden music video, set to The Killers' song, "Read My Mind."