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.

Film Review: Red Riding Hood (dir. by Catherine Hardwicke)

My problems with Red Riding Hood are more of a personal nature than anything else. I’m from a family that clashed old world values of women being blindly subserviant to the Man of the House vs. women being fiercely independent and only having a male in their lives to complement things. These elements were my luggage already brought to the table on seeing the film, but it shouldn’t damper one’s opinion on the film. If this review does this, it’s on me personally and not a reflection of the entire Shattered Lens.

Like Alice in Wonderland before it, Red Riding Hood takes the classic fairy tale and expands on it. While it does so, it doesn’t do it by much. What it has going for it is a nice visual style. Colors are vibrant and director Catherine Hardwicke really has an eye when it comes to forest landscapes (just as she did with Twilight). Mists cover the trees and capes billow in the wind, when it’s not concentrating on the town itself (which does look like a soundstage at times). In the end, however, it suffers from the same quasi teenage issues that Twilight had. I yawned a number of times. Granted, I understand that the movie may be targeted to a younger audience (and for them it may very well work), but even my audience groaned a little and they were target individuals.

Red Riding Hood is the story of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who lives in a small village that lives in fear of The Wolf, who has been known to sneak in and attack or kill citizens. To appease the wolf, the townspeople keep animals tied outside. As a child, she forms a bond with a young boy named Peter. Time passes, and we find young Valerie bethrothed to Henry (Max Irons) by way of her mother’s plans (played by Virginia Madsen). Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) still has feelings for Valerie, and this all quickly becomes another Bella / Jacob / Edward triangle. It’s not at the start a story of Valerie choosing her own road, but having to hear from everyone around her that this guy should be the one she marries or that one is the right guy for her. To me, personally, the film in the beginning pushes as much of a pro-“I need a man to survive” stance as Battle:LA does a Pro-Marine one. Is this a terrible thing? Not if that’s where your mindset is, no. Every time I saw them mention anything along the lines of hand and feet worship some guy just because “that’s how it is”, I had to remind myself that it’s just the time period the story takes place in (though I’m sure the audience heard me groan at least once). Again, that’s just me.

In the midst of all this, on being asked to run away with Peter, Valerie is alerted to her sister’s death from the wolf. The townfolk make a point of going after the wolf, and decide to head out the cave where they believe the beast lives. They return with proof of a victory and plan to host a party for the deed. The town priest (Lukas Haas, who somehow seems to less here than he did in Inception) reaches out for help in form of Solomon (Gary Oldman). Solomon, arriving with armed guards warns the townsfolk of the evil of werewolves and that he will hunt it down. The next few nights will be Blood Moon nights, meaning that if the wolf bites anyone during that time, they’ll become werewolves as well. The townsfolk, not buying into this, decide to have a wild party with sexy dancing. This results in a visit from the Wolf, who confronts Valerie and telepathically asks her to come away with it, or the town will be razed. It all kind of escalates from there.

Oldman, for his credit, was fun here and slightly over to the top.  Oldman delivers his lines with flair, being far less subdued here than he was in The Book of Eli. For who better to hunt a wolf than Sirius Black himself, right?

And that’s part of the problem I found with Red Riding Hood. With the exception of Seyfried, the supporting cast is actually stronger than the main group of actors the story focuses on. Julie Christie plays Valerie’s grandmother, in a great turn, and as always Billy Burke (Drive Angry, Twilight) is supportive as Valerie’s father. He’s really one of the highlights of the film. As for Henry and Peter’s characters,  the most I could think of with them were the Winchester brothers in Supernatural. They’re eye candy for the girls, though I should note that none of the girls in my audience were excited as they were when I saw The Twilight Saga: New Moon. There were lots of screaming for that one.

What does work is that the movie is reminiscient of The Beast Must Die. It is a mystery of who the wolf actually is, and both Valerie and the audience are given clues. That I actually enjoyed, and the third act of the film wasn’t too bad. The action is quick and to the point, but again, it all kind of feels like I could have seen this as a series on the CW. There wasn’t as much of a worry about who would fall at the hands of the wolf or what dangers would face Valerie so much as they actually looked cool when it occurred. Easily a Netflix pick.

Review: Drive Angry 3D (dir. by Patrick Lussier)

Every year there’s always a handful of films which gets little to no love from both critics and audiences. These are titles that for one reason or another get left by the wayside. Some say these films are awful. Some say they’re weren’t in the theaters long enough for people (or even critics) to notice. Yet, these films will get it’s vocal and ardent supporters and fans who sees through all the flaws and warts and find a rough gem that really entertains. One such film for 2011 is the supernatural-action film from filmmaker Patrick Lussier simply titled, Drive Angry 3D. Yes, it’s a 3D film and not one of those post-conversion deals but shot from start to finish in 3D.

Drive Angry 3D harkens back to the good, dirty era of grindhouse films. Films with simple storylines and even simpler dialogue. They were made on the cheap (though with a budget of 35-40million this film definitely not low-budget) and cramed full of everything that could be exploited to bring in the audience: sex, violence and lots of nudity. Lussier’s film definitely has all three in abundance. With Nicolas Cage headlining a cast of veteran genre actors and a spitfire of a female sidekick, Drive Angry 3D was a grindhouse film at its very core.

The story could’ve come from any number of revenge films of the 1970’s. Cage plays John Milton (I kid you not) who escapes Hell itself to seek vengeance on the Satanic cult and their leader Jonah King (Billy Burke sporting a slithery Southern accent that’s one step over excessive but oh so fun to hear) for killing his daughter and kidnapping his baby granddaughter. A baby to be sacrificed by Jonah King and his followers to usher in an era of Hell on Earth. Just going over that brief synopsis one could just imagine this film being made in the 1970’s with country rock playing in the background.

Along the way in his quest for vengeance and redemption, Milton comes across Piper (played with crackling gusto by the lovely Amber Heard in the shortest Daisy Dukes I’ve ever seen on film) who becomes his partner in his quest through some shared encounters which shows Piper not as a damsel-in-distress but a young woman who can kick ass as much as Milton does. The fact that she didn’t appear in any form of nakedness throughout the film was a sign that she wasn’t a woman to be messed with.

While it Milton and Piper going after King and his Satanic-cult inbreds wasn’t enough action for one film Lussier and screenwriter Todd Farmer (he also played the role of Piper’s philandering fiancee who gets knocked around a bit by almost everyone) decided to bring in the character of the Accountant (played with an almost childish glee by William Fichtner) who has followed Milton from Hell to bring him back and an item that was taken from Lucifer’s own stash of goodies. Watching the Accountant play someone not used to being human play-act as one definitely became some of the funnier scenes in the film. That’s also why this film was such a fun ride to sit through. Everyone in the cast seemed to be having a blast playing their characters to the hilt. Even David Morse in the role of a Webster as the aging sidekick of Milton’s before his trip to Hell looked to be into his role.

But enough of trying to explain the story and how the actors performed. Drive Angry 3D is all about action and action of every kind. This film oozed action from its very being. We had car chases with some of the most beautiful classic muscle cars in existence. We first get to witness Piper and her 1969 Dodge Charger 440 R/T then for the last third of the film twin 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454’s. This film is such a throwback to the car chase action films of the 70’s like Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. It wasn’t just car chase action to be had and experienced. This film didn’t shy away from some very violent and up-close gunfights. One particular gunfight may just go down in history as one of the best as Cage’s character (still fully dressed) shoots it out with some of King’s thugs while having sex with the local waitress, smoking a cigar and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in one hand. Milton was one multitasking badass.

This film was all about excess and it’s why it held such an appeal to those who have seen it and have raved about it. It didn’t pay homage to grindhouse, but ended up as being one of the very films it tried and succeeded to emulate. Forget the gloss veneer of the film. A film doesn’t have to be dated and cheap-looking to be grindhouse. Both Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer wanted to make a badass film about a badass character doing badass shit and they succeeded.

Even the 3D used for this film actually worked. It helped that the crew actually used real 3D cameras to film every scene instead of doing post-conversion work of regular camera filmed scenes. Yes, there were scenes where things were made to come straight at the audience but it wasn’t so distracting as to ruin the experience. In fact, I would say that 3D added to this film’s appeal and fun. One reviewer had said that 3D should be reserved for use in films such as Drive Angry 3D. I won’t disagree.

Will this film be for everyone? I don’t think it is. Not everyone is ready for extreme excess of badassery from Cage, Heard and Fichtner.

Drive Angry 3D will be seen as a failure by those not involved in its production or by those who saw it and enjoyed it. There’s some truth in that, but I do think that this film succeeded in doing everything that was promised by its filmmakers and producers. It’s not an Oscar-baiting film or even one to be seen in the yearly film festivals and circuits. What this film has become was one hell of a ride that was all about kicking ass, taking names (screwing the local waitress while waiting for the ambush to come) and driving beautiful, fast cars. I do think that Lussier’s film looks like a cult-classic in the making as time passes and those who saw it while it was in the theaters should be proud to say that they saw it and liked it when most people couldn’t be bothered.

Now, where’s my pistol, cigar and bottle of Jack Daniels.