Poll: Which Films ARE You Most Looking Forward To Seeing in January?

Last month, at this time, we asked you which four films you were most looking forward to seeing in the month of December.  The results are in and it appears that December is going to be all about The Adventures of TinTin, Shame, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Thank you to everyone who voted.

Here’s January’s poll.  As always, you can vote for up to four films and write-ins are accepted.  So, let us know — which films are you looking forward to seeing in January?

And finally…The Independent Spirit Award Nominations

In one final bit of Oscar Season news, the 2011 Independent Spirit Award nominations were announced on Tuesday.  Because of the sheer number of nominees and awards, I’m just going to post the nominees and refrain from offering up any commentary beyond noting that 1) it’s nice to see Drive, Take Shelter, and 50/50 recognized and 2) that the Independent Spirit Award nominations have a pretty iffy record when it comes to predicting and/or influencing the actual Oscar nominations. 

Best Feature
Take Shelter
The Artist
The Descendants

Best Director
Mike Mills, Beginners
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants

Best First Feature
Another Earth
In The Family
Margin Call
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Natural Selection

Best Male Lead
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Best Female Lead
Lauren Ambrose, Think of Me
Rachel Harris, Natural Selection
Adepero Oduye, Pariah
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Best Supporting Male
Albert Brooks, Drive
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
John C. Reilly, Cedar Rapids
Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

Best Supporting Female
Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Anjelica Huston, 50/50
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

John Cassavetes Award for films made under $500,000
Hello Lonesome
The Dynamiter

Best Documentary
An African Selection
Bill Cunningham New York
The Interrupters
The Redemption of General Butt Naked
We Were Here

Best Cinematography
Joel Hodge, Bellflower
Benjamin Kasulke, The Off Hours
Darius Khondji, Midnight in Paris
Guillaume Shiffman, The Artist
Jeffrey Waldron, The Dynamiter

Best First Screenplay
Mike Cahill & Brit Marling, Another Earth
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Patrick DeWitt, Terri
Phil Johnston, Cedar Rapids
Will Reiser, 50/50

Best Screenplay
Joseph Cedar, Footnote
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Tom McCarthy, Win Win
Mike Mills, Beginners
Alexander Payne, The Descendants

Best International Film
A Separation
The Kid With a Bike

Piaget Producer’s Award
Chad Burris, Mosquita y Mari
Sophia Lin, Take Shelter
Josh Mond, Martha Marcy May Marlene

Someone to Watch Award
Simon Arthur, Silver Tongues
Mark Jackson, Without
Nicholas Ozeki, Mamitas

Truer Than Fiction Award
Heather Courtney, Where Soldiers Come From
Danfung Dennis, Hell and Back Again
Alma Ha’rel, Bombay Beach

Robert Altman Award for ensemble
Margin Call (Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci)

SemtexSkittle vs. Bethesda: Why I Won’t Buy Skyrim

Yes, Skyrim! Universally heralded as a triumph of gaming. It has received perfect scores at numerous well-regarded review sites and from important critics up and down the world of game reviews. Well, I have an opinion about Skyrim, too. Or, probably a shade more accurately, I have an opinion about Bethesda Softworks, because they’re not getting one penny from me for their new “triumph”, and they’re not going to receive much in the way of praise in this review. So, if you’re an irredeemable fan of the studio, the comments section is open for you to yell at me below. Just understand that you’re coming from a different place than I am. I automatically mistrust any title that Bethesda puts out (and yes, I will be explaining in detail in this article) and I’m predisposed to dislike their games. I do not view them as having a history of putting out excellent games. I can’t name an excellent game they’ve developed. I’m more than happy to discuss within that framework; just let my point of view be understood.

I don’t think Bethesda makes good video games, and I never have.

That statement, by itself, startles people.

That statement, by itself, causes people to leap to Bethesda’s defense. No, I’m told, read this review! It will explain why their latest game is worth buying right away. No, I’m told, Bethesda’s latest title is a great game, you just aren’t giving it a chance.

Maybe. Maybe all of that is true. But in my mind, I have a laundry list of completely legitimate complaints, and they arose from trying pretty hard to appreciate the content that Bethesda was providing. For those who are interested in an alternate take on Bethesda, the sandbox “WRPG”, and their various “triumphs” in gaming… there may be some content of interest for you here.

My personal experience with Bethesda starts with their 2002 release of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I had absolutely innumerable problems with this game, ranging from the skill-raising / leveling system through the lack of a useful map feature. But in my personal experience, Morrowind was stable, it looked pretty, and it had good intentions. This was a modern-era “WRPG” (which for some reason has become synonymous for some people with “sandbox”. Let’s clear this up now: Bethesda makes “sandbox” games, but this is not a universal feature of the Western-developed RPG). It used modern technology to render its tiny group of facial models, and it told a suitably generic RPG story that was delightfully fleshed out by books, notes, and conversations all around the in-game world.

Oblivion continued the grand tradition established in Morrowind. I refused to pay for this game based on my experience with Morrowind, but I was willing to try it out. I borrowed the title from a friend a couple of years after the game had been released. I was alarmed to discover that the game still had unresolved bugs. I encountered graphical glitches and issues (most of them relatively minor, albeit annoying. Because of how modern playtesting works, it’s highly improbable that any game will ever be totally free of texture and graphics glitches), but also weird problems with the AI of both enemies and NPCs. I also encountered problems with enemies that I couldn’t see or locate by any means keeping me ‘in combat’, unable to fast travel or otherwise use the game’s features. None of these problems were, strictly speaking, game breakers. But this was years after launch, and these bugs reared their ugly heads much more often than I’d expect to see even at launch for any professional studio title. Arguments about the size and complexity of Oblivion don’t fly – if you can’t create a game that I can trust be stable and fun at Oblivion’s size, then the game needs to be smaller. You are, as always, entirely free to disagree on this point, but for me it’s no contest. My problems with Oblivion also included the absurd leveling system – I can’t imagine how that system was ever thought to be a good idea – a weak, lazy storyline, unbelievably long loading times, and strictly by-the-numbers gameplay. In short, everything in the game took a back seat to the size of the world. I just can’t imagine how anyone wanted to explore such a huge world limited by such a mediocre game.

All of that having been said, I didn’t hate Oblivion the way I hated Morrowind. It wasn’t until I played Fallout 3 that my opinion of Bethesda was cemented. Fallout 3 was essentially just a re-skin of Oblivion; it was meshed with reasonable effectiveness with basic elements of a first person shooter, but on the whole, the game did not break new ground in terms of the game engine. Gone was Oblivion’s crazy level up system in favour of a traditional character improvement system that was essential to recapture the essence of Fallout. So far, so good. Once again, we’re treated to a huge world, and Fallout 3 was visually impressive right from the start. But I played Fallout 3 on its day of launch, and I spent as much time resetting my XBox 360 console and retreading ground I’d already covered after frustrating crash bugs as I did doing anything else. It features all of the same bugs I remembered from Oblivion – occasional graphics glitches, occasionally melded with something more sinister where the game’s collision would allow the player to become inescapably trapped. Bizarre AI problems that cropped up occasionally and mostly fall under the category of ‘vexing, but not game-breaking’. Oh, and the crashes. It’s not a good thing when I have to spend time thinking about saving, and worrying when I can’t save, not because of the game’s difficulty curve or the possibility of screwing things up with a bad decision in the story, but because of bugs. Bugs which I can’t really avoid, because having the game freeze when you bring up the game’s inventory screen is… well, the game can’t be played without that feature. Not for any length of time.

Does Bethesda try and patch these bugs? Eventually, yes. But other game studios don’t have to release constant patches to address serious bugs. Other studios don’t launch games that have this many bugs. End users are always going to find glitches that the developer misses; modern playtesting relies heavily on automation, and simply can’t match the penchant for creative mischief that characterizes the gaming community. But the problems with every single one of Bethesda’s releases goes far beyond occasional glitches. As a gamer, I usually don’t spend much time trying to break games, or trying to figure out what weird things I can do with the environment of a game like Fallout 3. The fact that, despite my style, I can’t stop running into bugs, speaks to a deeper issue. Bethesda deserves their reputation for releasing buggy games. And let’s not even get into Fallout: New Vegas, which Bethesda published – doing themselves no credit in the process.

So, enough is enough. New releases on the XBox 360 are going to cost about $60 U.S. And I’m not going to pay to support a product that always feels like it was pushed out the door without attention to quality control. And that’s why I won’t be paying one red cent for Skyrim. Frankly, I don’t care how good the game is. I’ve heard almost universally positive things (clouded by the fact that a friend of mine ran into a crash bug in his first hour playing the game), I’ve heard the new engine is wonderful, and that it improves dramatically on the gameplay of Oblivion, that the leveling system is fun and intuitive, and that the game is a visual masterpiece set in an amazingly huge 3-D game world. In fact, I’m almost certain that I would enjoy Skyrim. But enjoying Skyrim would be giving tacit approval to a studio who I have lost all respect for, and who I feel is unworthy of the support of the gaming community. I, personally, feel that Bethesda makes mediocre games which enjoy the benefit of an insane amount of positive press. I’ve always felt that way, as you can see from the brief history I outlined above. But it’s not inconceivable that Bethesda could make a great game. I just can’t vote for them with my dollars. Not anymore.

2011 Gotham Awards Recap

In my previous post, I announced the start of “Oscar season” by offering up a recap of the films and performers honored by the New York Film Critics Circle earlier today.  However, the Oscar season was actually kicked off on Monday night with the Gotham Awards.  Much like the Independent Spirit awards, the Gothams are meant to honor the best in the year’s independent films.  Below is a recap of which films were honored at this year’s ceremony.

Best Feature

The Tree of Life(tie)

Best Ensemble Performance


Best Breakthrough Actor/Actress

Felicity JonesLike Crazy

Best Breakthrough Director

Dee ReesPariah

Best Documentary

Better This World

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You

Scenes of a Crime

The big news here has been that Beginners and Tree of Life tied for best picture.  (Actually, I’m not surprised as both films pretty much explored the same themes of memory, aging, and love.)  It’ll be interesting to see if either one of these films manage to maintain the momentum of their victory through the rest of the Oscar season. 

As for me, I have a new mission and that is to see Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same.

The New York Film Critics Circle Names “The Artist” Best Picture of 2011

This is my favorite time of year.  It’s Oscar season, the time when films and actors manuever to win nominations and awards.  This is the time of year when anything seems possible, when you think that maybe Exit Through The Gift Shop will get a best picture nomination or perhaps Christopher Nolan will be nominated for best director for Inception.  In short, this is the month and a half before bitter disillusionment sets in.

During Oscar season, several mysterious groups hand out awards of their own.  These groups are made up of critics desperately trying to convince themselves that they matter and the awards that they hand out are often seen as an indicator of what will eventually end up getting nominated.  Last year, just about every single critical group named The Social Network as best picture and David Fincher as best director and we all remember how little that actually meant once it came time for the actual Academy Awards to be handed out. 

Earlier today, the New York Film Critics Circle helped to start things off by announcing their picks for the best of 2011.  Reportedly, they held off a day on selecting their picks so that they could attend a special screening of David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  And how did that work out?  Well, check out what won:

Best picture: “The Artist”

Best director: Michael Havanavicius, “The Artist”

Best actor: Brad Pitt (“Moneyball,” “Tree of Life”)

Best actress: Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”)

Best supporting actor: Albert Brooks (“Drive”)

Best supporting actress: Jessica Chastain (“The Tree of Life,” “The Help” and “Take Shelter”)

Best screenplay: Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, “Moneyball”

Best cinematography: Emmanuel Lebezki, “Tree of Life”

Best non-fiction film (documentary): “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”

Best foreign language film: “A Separation”

Best first feature: “Margin Call”

Just a few comments on these awards: I have yet to see The Artist but I’m really looking forward to it.  I have a feeling I’m either going to love it or else I’m going to hate it with a passion.  It just appears to be one of those films.  I also haven’t seen Margin Call because its subject matter — Wall Street — makes me go “Bleh!”  But I may have to see it now because it appears to be becoming a bit of an awards dark horse.

I have a feeling that Brad Pitt’s going to win an Oscar for his performance in Moneyball but I really didn’t think it was anything that special.  I thought Pitt was likable but not much else.  Some of that could have had a bit to do with the fact that I couldn’t really follow the film as I’m about as interested in baseball as I am in Wall Street.  Hopefully, I won’t have to sit through another Aaron Sorkin acceptance speech at next year’s Oscar ceremony.  Seriously, there’s only so much time I can spend listening to a pompous millionaire talking about how he thinks the world works.

I haven’t seen The Iron Lady yet but its going to be boring and people are going to feel obligated to pretend like they got something out of it.

Finally, yay to the NYFCC for awarding both Albert Brooks and Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Deams


Review: The Walking Dead S2E7 “Pretty Much Dead Already”

“It ain’t like it was before!” – Shane Walsh

[spoilers within]

Tonight marks the mid-season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead. We won’t get a new episode until the show returns in February to continue with season 2’s second half. One could say that tonight’s episode is the reason why this show has gained such a vocal and loyal following despite it’s many flaws both large and small.

This new season has been trying to improve on some of the flaws of the truncated first season by working on rounding out some of the main characters on the show. Whether the writers succeeded in this aspect of the show’s writing has been a hit-or-miss proposition. Characters like Daryl Dixon, Shane Walsh and new ones like Maggie and Hershel Greene become more fully realized during the first six episode this season while others like Rick, Dale, Carol and T-Dog remain too one-dimensional too often through the first half of the season. Then there are plot threads which seem to either drag on too long (search for the missing Sophia) or get too little mention (what is up with the nearly invisible T-Dog through this first half). It’s these inconsistencies which has brought out the even more vocal minority of the show’s viewers who have come to either feel apathetic towards the series or hate it for one reason or another.

“Pretty Much Dead Already” is the title of tonight’s episode and what happens throughout this episode goes a long way to rewarding the show’s loyal viewers for their wait through the first six episodes of this season and all its many flaws. It’s en episode which doesn’t come off as subtle with how it explores new themes of whether one belongs in a world of the living dead and does one have to lose their humanity to survive long. The episode also brings to a head the conflict which has been brewing for the last couple episodes between Rick’s group and that of Hershel Greene’s.

We see a silent opening of Rick and his group of survivors enjoying a breakfast with the tension in the air thick with unspoken consequences from the previous episode’s deluge of secrets being revealed. While Glenn had revealed the secret of the walkers in the barn to Dale the rest of the group still were kept unawares. Despite look of pleading from Maggie for Glenn to not tell the group he gives in to his conscience and tells everyone the biggest secret and their reaction at this reveal ranged from shock, surprise, incredulity and, finally with Rick, a hint of anger. It how everyone moves forward with this final secret reveal that the episode focuses mostly on. There were still some moments of character development and conflict sprinkled throughout the episode (mainly involving Shane and his distancing from Rick, Lori and others of the group), but the episode’s narrative still moved towards a final confrontation between Hershel’s need to keep the zombies corralled with the hope a cure could be found for them or Shane voicing everyone’s concern that a barn full of zombies was a disaster waiting to happen. Either they took care of the problem while they were still kept relatively harmless or they continue on towards their original plan of reaching Fort Benning.

This question finally gets answered with Shane forcefully making the decision for everyone. Jon Bernthal’s performance in the final five minutes of this episode was pretty good and while he teetered on over-the-top level in his anger and frustration at having to make the hard decisions concerning the group’s safety (at least in his own mind) he never steps over the line. The scene where he shows Hershel (as both he and Rick attempt to bring back two more catch-poled zombies back to the barn) made for some very tense and illuminating moments for everyone in the scene. We see understanding from people like Andrea and Daryl who think what Shane is saying is true to the look of horror on the faces of Hershel and Maggie as their idyllic world begins to crash all-around them. Maggie has gradually begun to move away from her father’s viewpoints about the zombies and how they should be treated through the last couple episodes, but to finally see Shane show them the true horror of what the world has become really hits both her father and herself pretty brutal and hard.

It’s interesting to note that tonight’s episode actually made a conscious effort to try and humanize the zombies. The way the episode unfolded was almost like the writers were trying to add some credence to Hershel’s way of thinking. This focus was understandable since everyone in the episode either followed Hershel blindly, were beginning to doubt Hershel’s way of doing things or just outright hostile towards it. This made the massacre of the zombies coming out of the barn with Shane leading a veritable firing squad somewhat poignant and sad. Even Glenn joined in on the shooting spree (though not before silently asking for Maggie’s consent) with an earlier personal epiphany about how he had forgotten just how dangerous the zombies were.

In the end, even the massacre of the barn zombies wasn’t the biggest shock of tonight’s episode. As the sound of gunfire stopped and the echoes faded away we hear a final zombie come out of the barn’s darkened interior and into the daylight. This was the final secret that finally answered the biggest and most dividing question of the second season of The Walking Dead.

Where the hell was Sophia?

Her final moments on the show has her coming out last from the barn and everyone’s fears were confirmed and everyone’s hopes about her eventually being found safe and alive were dashed. Even Shane who had been so gung-ho in showing Hershel and Rick that he was the right man for this new world to make the decisions about people’s well-being was left dumbstruck and unable to do what was needed. It took Rick — lambasted by both fans and detractors of the show plus Shane on top of them as being weak and unable to make the hard choices and decisions — to do what was needed. The scene ending with him standing over the body of Sophia after he shot her in the head (with the same Python revolver he used to start the series with the shooting of the little girl zombie in the pilot) made for a sad, poignant and incredible ending to what had been a tumultous story-arc to cover the first half of this new season.

The show will return this February. It is safe to say that moving forward the second half will be all about how new showrunner Glen Mazzara sees the show as and how to keep it the momentum of tonight’s episode into the second half. Darabont’s contribution to the show has probably ended with tonight’s episode or, as some have surmised, maybe even a couple episodes earlier. If the latter is the case then his firing from the show, as controversial and polarizing a decision to genre fans who love his work, may work to the show’s benefit. With Darabont we had a creative mastermind who dealt with film, but never with long-form tv shows. Maybe in addition to AMC being penny-pinchers and creating a hostile working arrangement with Darabont was only part of the problem. Could be that Darabont not having any experience writing for TV finally showed and kept the show from fixing some of the writing problems from the previous season. It will be interesting how a veteran tv writer and showrunner like Glen Mazzara will handle a show that tries to explore the conflicts and drama of a zombie apocalypse.

“Pretty Much Dead Already” doesn’t mean the show is now dead on arrival, but it does highlight that the premise which drives The Walking Dead could easily symbolize how this apocalyptic event has killed what humanity some might have had while also highlighting that every zombie killed was still someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, friend and family. In a world full of dead people the walking dead may not be the zombies but the survivors themselves.


  • Once again I like how the show has evolved the character of Glenn. Even when he’s being awkward as he tells everyone the secret of the barn gives a glimpse as to the sort of person Glenn is. Part of him wants to make Maggie happy, but knowing that keeping the secret of the barn will endanger his people and Maggie, he makes the hard decision to tell all even if it means Maggie hates him for it. Glenn shows that he can make the hard choices but do so with his conscience guiding him.
  • This is opposite with how the show has developed Shane this season and how this episode finally shows Shane tipping past his breaking point. Yes, he shows he can make the hard decisions but he does so not with his conscience as his guide but his base, survival instinct.
  • I found it darkly comical how Shane tried to one-up Rick in the eyes of Lori by pointing out how he was the one who has saved Lori and Carl to her. This scene with Lori really makes Shane less the badass zombie killer with people’s well-being in mind, but more of a selfish, sociopath who’s begun to believe all the lies he has been telling everyone and himself to justify his actions.
  • This in contrast to Daryl. While Daryl didn’t have as many scenes in tonight’s episode the ones he was in continued to explore his dual-nature. He will always be the true badass zombie killer in the show, but the show also continues to explore his growing humanity in his steadfast belief that they will find Sophia. It’ll be interesting how the dashing of his hopes on the Sophia subject will affect him moving forward.
  • I like how Daryl also hides behind aggressive reactions to hide his discomfort at others caring about his well-being and his safety. Will Daryl succumb to his inner-Merle and revert to how we first saw him in the beginning of the series as the violent, angry redneck? Or will he finally realize that the group does care and appreciate what he has done and continue on his journey into becoming a part of this post-apocalyptic family unit.
  • T-Dog has been pretty much useless and invisible this first-half of the season. I think I’ll echo what others have been saying about this character. Either give him something to do other than stand in the background or kill him off, but hopefully in spectacular and heroic fashion.
  • Even though Robert Kirkman gave an explanation about Sophia, the barn and Hershel during the after-show Talking Dead live segment I still think the second half needs to fully explain whether Hershel already knew that the girl the group had been searching for and putting themselves in danger during these searches.
  • There still some awkwardness in how child actor Chandler Riggs has been handling the role of Carl, but he’s getting better. I hope this improvement continues because Carl, whether the show follows the comic books or not, will become a major player in this show’s overall narrative sooner or later.
  • Once again, great make-up effects work by Greg Nicotero and his make-up effects wizards at KNB EFX. Their work tonight wasn’t as gruesome as the previous couple of episodes, but their work to give a semblance of humanity to these zombies helped make tonight’s episode one of the better ones, if not the best, of the show.
  • Finally, Andrew Lincoln does his best performance as Rick Grimes. Love how he lets his expression speak for themselves throughout most of the final 5 minutes of the episode. From the helpless look as he fails to stop Shane to finally showing everyone that only he can truly make the hard decision as he finally puts down Sophia while Shane watches helplessly this time around.

So, what did people think of tonight’s episode and the whole first-half of this second season. Did you like it? Does the show still have problems to work out with how these characters are written? Will Darabont’s removal and absence in these last few episodes and moving forward make the second half of season two something to look forward to?

All comments welcome and will be discussed in healthy, civilized, if heated discussions.

Film Review (plus a Twilight Primer): The Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn, Part I (dir. by Bill Condon)

“Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.” – Stephen King

I have a problem with the notion that says you have to have someone in your life in order for your life to be considered perfect or grand. I’m of the mind that you step into the world alone and leave it the same same way. Even if you are surrounded by your nearest and dearest friends when you pass, you’re still the only one making that trip. And while I love the notion of Romance, I don’t believe it needs to translate to “Omigod, if you’re not near me, I’m going to jump off this building, I swear it because I can’t talk about you without stammering.” or the other obsessive notions that Twilight seems to bring up. This doesn’t mean I outright hate everything that Twilight is, but I’m not totally fond of the overall message it conveys. Perhaps I’m just emotionally cold that way.

And yet, I may know more about Twilight than any other guy in the known universe. It’s an enigma, I know.

A little background on why I, a guy, am writing a review for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, which is pretty much geared for girls. Note that I’ll refer to the film just as Breaking Dawn, because I really don’t see Twilight as a Saga by any means.

In the early 90’s, I hit a “Vampire Phase”. Between playing games of Vampire: The Masquerade and reading every Vampire Chronicle novel that Anne Rice wrote up until Tale of the Body Thief, I was pretty involved. I grew up with Vampires that were monsters to be feared (and sometimes admired), and dodged the sun more or less. I even owned two vampire encyclopedias. Somewhere between Mark Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” (a book I still haven’t finished) and Andrew Davidson’s “The Gargoyle”, I picked up a hardcover copy of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” from Barnes & Noble. I didn’t think much of the books, save that they were quick reads. Meyer and her vampires were far from Rice and her universe lacked the erotic flair of Laurell K. Hamilton’s earlier books in the Anita Blake series. They were more or less books for teens, but they had vampires in them, so I pretty much inhaled all four books (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn) twice in Hardcover. I even went so far to read Meyer’s “The Host” and have seen all of the other Twilight films in the theatre. While they all seem to be really close to the source material, there’s something strange in the translation. What made sense on paper really didn’t on screen (Sparkling Vampires jump to mind), but I guess that’s for an Editorial.

So, when it came to reviewing Breaking Dawn, we at the Shattered Lens drew straws. While we hold to the tenet that any movie can be reviewed by anyone even if the movie was previously reviewed by anyone else (for alternate viewpoints), this was a film that was pretty much off our collective radars. I think we all secretly wanted Lisa or Erin to take it, but both Lisa and my cousin gave the argument that I could probably give a different perspective on the film than all of the girls who planned to see it, most of whom would sprout something like the following:

“I love Edward so much, and that he took his time with Bella was just so heartfelt that I wanted to cry. I felt so bad for Jacob that he could haven’t have her. He deserves better than that!! If anyone doesn’t like what I’m saying, then I will come to their houses and stab them with rusty blades in their beds because no one – I mean no one – gets in the way of my Twilight Love!! You haters could suck it! Team Edward/Jacob Forever!!!!”

So, here I am, writing this. Let’s see what becomes of it, shall we?

For those of you who managed to avoid the Twilight books and movies like they were Sutter Cane novels, here’s everything you’ll ever need to know.

Twilight is the story of Isabella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who moves from Arizona (where Meyer lives) to Forks, Washington to live with her Sheriff father, Charlie (Billy Burke). While in school, she meets an interesting but strange fellow in Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). After being saved from a near fatal car crash in an impossible fashion by Edward, Bella becomes intrigued with who and what he may be. A little big of Googling and book buying leads her to discover that Edward is in fact, a Vampire. He explains he’s dangerous. She doesn’t care. He states he’s a killing machine. She loves the danger. He steps into the sunlight to show he doesn’t burn, he just sparkles. She’s just mesmerized.

The original Twilight was Bella’s introduction to The Cullens (who are more or less Vegetarians in that they don’t go after humans, but animals instead):

Carlyle (Peter Facinelli) – Father figure and Doctor. He recruited the rest of the family.

Esmee (Elizabeth Reaser) – Carlyle’s Wife and Mother Figure.

Emmett (Kellan Lutz) – The Muscle of the Family and companion to Rosalie.

Rosalie (Nikki Reed) – Emmett’s Companion and is pretty much opposed to Bella up until Breaking Dawn, for reasons she explains in Eclipse.

Alice (Ashley Greene) – Companion to Jasper and has the ability to see the decisions that others make before they make them.

Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) -The newest vampire of the group and companion to Alice. Has the ability to manipulate the emotional tides of others.

In Twilight, Bella and the Family run into a trio of vampires, one of which decides he has to hunt down and kill Bella (because she’s food). The family is able to kill the vampire and get on with their undead lives, not before a final parting shot showing the vampire’s girlfriend and her desire to kill Bella in return. Bella decides it’s in her best interests to become a vampire and tries to persuade Edward to change her, but he refuses, citing she has many years ahead of her worth living.

In New Moon, Edward decides to celebrate Bella’s birthday at his place. After an accident occurs that leaves her bleeding, Jasper loses it and attacks her. The family is able to save her, but this convinces Edward that it just won’t work out and the entire family leaves town. Left on her own, Bella spends the next four months crying and screaming in her sleep over Edward until her father convinces her to hang out with her friends. She ends up spending more time with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a friend who lives on a nearby reservation that clued her into what the Cullens really were. They get closer as friends and eventually, she discovers that Jacob and his family are actually Werewolves. While cool, she also learns that the Werewolves don’t get along with Vampires and despise the Cullens. They haven’t killed the vampires because of a Treaty that was enacted long ago. Werewolves stay on their side, Cullens on the other and no humans get hurt. Victoria (the girlfriend of that dead vampire in Twilight) returns to town to kill Bella, but she’s protected by the Wolves. She ends up doing a little cliff diving, which catches Alice’s attention and she manages to reunite with the family, though learns that Edward plans to kill himself. Edward believes she died when she jumped off the cliff, volunteering himself to death by the Vampire Congress known as the Volturri.

Alice and Bella fly to Italy and intercede, rescuing Edward from his fate and meeting the Volturri. As Bella knows too much, the Volturri leader demands that within a year she has to becomes a vampire. This of course, excites Bella and annoys Edward, who throws in a “Let’s get Married First” clause into the works. The idea of this is to help give closure to all the humans in Bella’s life. She reluctantly agrees to it. Jacob catches wind of this and spends the next book & film, Eclipse, trying to convince Bella that she should live and that he’s the better choice of a love interest.

Okay, Eclipse. Victoria knows that she can’t get to Bella on her own without dealing with both the Werewolves and the Vampires. She finds a resident of Forks in Seattle named Riley Biers and changes him to a Vampire, convincing him that the Cullens are bad and killed her friend. He builds an army and they attack the Cullens en masse, but somewhere along the line, Victoria forgot to mention there may be giant dogs in the area. The Cullens and Werewolves join forces and defeat the newborns with ease. In the process, Bella learns more about the Wolves and their ability to “Imprint”, meaning they basically obsess over one person for the rest of their lives (much like whales, I suppose). Luckily, Jacob hasn’t Imprinted on Bella yet. Edward eventually dispatches Riley and Victoria, leaving the romance to continue. In Eclipse, the Cullens explain to Bella how they came to be, partially to help her what she has to look forward to, positive or negative.

And all that brings us to Breaking Dawn, Part I.

Of the Twilight movies, I still feel Eclipse was the strongest one. Breaking Dawn covers everything the 1st half of the book does and manages to do it without stepping past the PG-13 bounds it created. The film starts off with Edward and Bella’s Wedding, with different reactions from everyone. Jacob hates it, wolfs out and runs to Canada. The Cullens are ecstatic. Charlie manages to deal with it. The wedding ceremony is done well, and gives some screen time to all of the high school friends (who we won’t be seeing after the wedding). Stephenie Meyer herself even has a cameo here (and eerily looks like my mother). Even the honeymoon is done better than I thought it would. Anyone expecting Bella and Edward’s honeymoon to look like something out of a late night Cinemax series may be disappointed, but the romance is nice to see and there were some laughs in the audience. Again, it’s Twilight. I’m not expecting Jane Eyre or Sense & Sensibility romance levels. At least, that’s what the snoring mother sitting next to me who brought her kids felt, I think.

After the married couple’s wild honeymoon, Bella discovers she’s miraculously pregnant and even worse, the unborn child is sucking the very life from her. The wolves find out about this and feel that she needs to be eliminated, along with the rest of the Cullens, as it breaks the Treaty. Bella is rushed home while the Cullens try to find a way to save both the baby and the mother. Will Bella make it? Will the Wolves pounce on the vampires? Those are some of the questions brought to the table.

Jacob finds himself taking sides with the Cullens, which causes him to recall his Alpha Status in his wolf pack and stand alone (or nearly alone) against his family. In the book, this was done pretty well, but translated to the screen the scene with wolves telepathically yelling at one another seemed a little cartoonish. Just change back to people and talk it over. I guess it was done that way to show how animals have the whole Alpha / Omega relationship, and remains one embarrassing moment in a sea of scenes that were okay.

Visually, Eclipse was a serious step up from both Twilight and New Moon. Breaking Dawn seemingly returns to the look and feel of the original Twilight, right down to Carter Burwell’s score. With the exception of the Bella’s Lullaby theme (which worked incredibly well, especially at the last two minutes of the film), the music felt a little weak to me.  I actually preferred Howard Shore’s score to Eclipse. Don’t get me wrong, the movie goes where it’s supposed to, but you’d expect things to look a little better as it goes along. It would be nice if they improved on that.

One other thing I’ll give this (and that’s all of the Twilight mess) is the audience. I live for seeing audiences react to what they’re seeing on the screen, and I can’t remember a more reactive audience set since Captain America. Some of the girls who go to see this really go wild over it, and some of the guys grumble loudly. My theatre was packed, right down to the front seats where you have to crane your neck up to see everything. It’s the closest to a Midnight Movie experience you could have at a Matinee.

The big problem Breaking Dawn Part II will have will be trying to be exciting, because there isn’t a lot that occurs in the second half of the story that’s worthy of stretching it out to nearly two hours. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with that.

Overall, Breaking Dawn doesn’t really break any new ground in Vampire myths or anything like that. For anyone unfamiliar with the Twilight movies or books, it may feel slow and even a little boring at times. For it’s target audience (readers of the book), it gives them just about everything they wanted.

Beginners Review (dir. Mike Mills)

I noticed that Lisa had posted a quick review about this, but I saw it recently and have been wanting to review it because it was something I connected with and really wanted to share my opinion.

I honestly cannot think of another film I have seen this year that I found as charming and heartfelt as ‘Beginners’ which stars Ewan McGregor as Oliver, a middle aged man who has just lost his father Hal to lung cancer. Oliver reveals to us, through narration, that after the death of his mother a few years back his father came out, having been gay throughout the 40 plus years of his marriage. Oliver’s life following his father’s passing is a lonely one that often leads to him talking to Arthur, his father’s dog. One night at a party he meets a beautiful actress named Anna. The two hit it off quickly and the rest of the film follows the development of their relationship, set among flashbacks of Oliver’s parents and his father’s new life as a gay man in the years before his death. Through these memories we get a better understanding, as to why Oliver has been alone, and why his time with Anna may be short lived; he has had 4 relationships in the past, but left them all. The result is a film about being open and honest, and finding love and happiness through from it.

This idea of being honest was difficult for Oliver because of his parents. Their hollow marriage cast a shadow on his view of love. Wanting to avoid what they had created, this constant uncertainty and sadness caused him to think love was doomed and so he would break relationships off in fear of what he thought was their inevitable conclusion.

Luckily Oliver is able to find inspiration in his father who was able to be open and honest in the final months of his life. Through the memories of Hal, Oliver is able to take those steps towards true joy. One reason being that when he found out his father was gay it finally dawned on him why his parents’ marriage seemed so empty. It wasn’t genuine and so not a good example of how things really are. Which brings up another important theme, that being change and starting over.

The title ‘Beginners’ refers to both Oliver and Hal being at the beginning of their new respective lives. Anna points out towards the end of the film, after reading a funny but sweet personal ad Hal had made, that Oliver’s father “Didn’t give up”. Even facing death, in his 70’s, Hal wanted to be happy and be himself by embracing his sexuality. It is in remembering these moments, seeing how happy his father was, that Oliver is able to look forward in a positive light, with a new perspective on love and an understanding of why his mother was always so sad. Oliver too has a new beginning and like Hal can now be open and embrace his love for Anna.

What held this whole story together for me were the characters, and more importantly the chemistry between them. I felt the dynamic between Anna and Oliver, the feelings and time they shared was incredibly sweet. Upon first seeing him Anna instantly recognized Oliver’s sadness. She too felt alone, having spent most of the past few years going from one hotel room to another. It is the sort of relationship in which the one thing that makes the love between them so poignant is that they can save each other, filling the voids in each other’s hearts. This makes it harder to watch as Oliver’s misconceptions on love cause a divide between them. At the beginner Oliver worries, like he did in his previous relationships, where this one is heading. He fears Anna will become his mother, unhappy and bitter. But when Oliver does change, and get her back, the result is an incredibly sweet ending.

All of this is done with a collection of small, genuine and heartfelt moments that build upon one another to form something much greater. On top of that were three wonderful performances. Christopher Plummer was so lovable as Hal, and clearly had a lot of fun with the character. Melanie Laurent was mesmerizing and sweet, she is so beautiful and easy to fall for. Ewan McGregor was also fantastic, and the real stand out here, carrying a great deal of pain adding depth to his performance in a way I’ve rarely seen him do. The structure and visual devices also worked incredibly well, helping to give it a unique feel. I really loved the use of photographs, montages to the 50’s and how it handled the history of the gay rights movement. The music was also lovely and fit the tone perfectly. It is a score that I’ve listened to a few times since watching the film.

Honestly, it had me smiling from start to finish. It just had this emotional resonance that clicked for me in a way that can hardly be explained. I ended up watching it two nights in a row just because I loved it so much the first time and I just wanted to watch the characters again soon after. It saddens me that so few people seemed to have seen it. I can easily say that ‘Beginners’ is a charming, smart, funny, sentimental and quirky film, one of my new favorites and I loved every single moment of it.