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Breaking Dawn Part 2

When Twilight hit screens back in 2008, nobody was prepared for how successful it would be, the least of all its detractors who saw a silly pre-teen romantic triangle with ideas about love that would be equivalent to what a 12 year old girl would write in her journal. After four bad (arguably terrible) movies, including last year’s Breaking Dawn Part 1, which ended up at number three on my worst of the year list, saying expectations were low for its successor, Breaking Dawn Part 2, would be an understatement. As I watched it, though, something magical was happening. I was actually kind of liking it.

The other films in the franchise were full of annoying, overdramatic teenage angst, originating from a central character that spent too much time staring aimlessly out a window and moping around. Its ideas about love were childish, seemingly coming from people who thought they knew what love was, but had never truly experienced it. But Breaking Dawn Part 2 was different. Gone were the endless brooding and unbearable whininess. The film was still about love, but it wasn’t about a fantasy romantic love. It was about family love, parental love and the type of love that gives you the courage to fight and maybe even lay down your life for those you care about. With an everlasting marital bond between Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) finally coming to fruition and a child in the mix, the movie had substance and proved itself to be a thematically mature film, something that most certainly can’t be said for its predecessors.

At long last, the Twilight franchise had found its place. Its tone even managed to get it right. Despite some hit and miss dramatic moments, it took itself decidedly less serious, playing up certain scenes as goofy, fun and humorous. It was finally embracing its own absurdity. Even better, things were actually happening. It wasn’t stuck in this will-she-or-won’t-she stalemate its franchise brethren succumbed to. Bella had a clear goal, finally something on her mind other than cuddling with Edward, and she was going to do everything she could to stop the evil Volturi vampires from killing her baby. This meant gathering up any vampire that would be willing to fight alongside her and Edward. Locations changed, characters were introduced and meaning was created. By the time the big climactic battle rolled around, I was hooked and the fight itself, though bogged down by some bad CGI, was exciting and tense. With only 10 or 15 minutes left to go, Breaking Dawn Part 2 was looking to be a legitimately good, wholly recommendable movie.

And then that twist happens, that twist that fans have been speculating over ever since Jacob himself, Taylor Lautner, spilled the beans on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno a few weeks ago. The twist, which I obviously won’t spoil, falls into one of the most hated narrative tricks in all of cinema. It’s a twist that takes everything that had previously happened in the movie and makes it moot, the film’s entire reason for being flies out the window. Here was a movie that had managed to take a franchise that had been practically dead in the water since the beginning and reinvigorate it. It was giving it an unexpectedly worthy send-off that it, after four poor installments in a row, didn’t even necessarily deserve, but then it tacks on one of the worst, most pandering endings to cap off a major franchise I’ve ever seen.

All of a sudden, that legitimately good, wholly recommendable movie transitioned to borderline terrible. I could have done without the embarrassing final scene, which is essentially the equivalent of a music video montage of the previous movies, but such thankful fan service wouldn’t have been enough to derail it. Instead, it all goes back to that twist. Despite some narrative blunders and some unintentional laughs, Breaking Dawn Part 2 was working. For the first time ever, this franchise was earning its fanbase. It was so close to being good, so close to recovering, even if only slightly, from its past failures, but it let that possibility slip through its fingers. Thinking back on it, it was a disappointment, to be sure, but I suppose such a moronic misstep shouldn’t have been a big surprise. It was a Twilight movie, after all.

Breaking Dawn Part 2 receives 1.5/5


Snow White and the Huntsman

It may only be a minor consolation, but it’s worth noting that Snow White and the Huntsman has very little to do with the Twilight series beyond its lead star. Pre-release comparisons purporting their similarities are nothing more than cynical assumptions. Those people who scoffed at its existence will most likely find themselves pleasantly surprised after viewing. Coming hot on the heels of March’s Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman once again tells the oft told story of Snow White as she conquers the evil witch and claims her rightful place as queen, but the story is tonally more aligned with the original Brothers Grimm story than the cutesy versions we show our children. The movie is dark, violent, sinister and frightening. Other movies glossed over the evil underpinnings of the story, including the eventual murder of the title character, but not this one. This is a mature telling that is worthy of admiration.

Snow White (Kristen Stewart) used to be a happy girl. Her father and mother, the countryside’s king and queen, loved her and each other dearly. Unfortunately, her mother quickly fell ill and passed away. Her father was overcome with grief until he met a beautiful woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who he immediately married. However, right as they were about to consummate their marriage, Ravenna murdered him and began a takeover of his city, locking Snow White in a tower. Years later, right as Ravenna is about to take Snow White’s life, she escapes. Ravenna, determined to get her back, employs a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down, but he soon learns of Ravenna’s wicked ways and instead helps Snow White in her quest to bring justice to her land.

Snow White and the Huntsman does for the classic story what Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban did for that popular series—it progresses it with true passion, meaning and thematic growth. It’s not just an attempt to cash in on the Snow White name or the star power of Kristen Stewart. It is instead a visionary approach to the story, full of beautiful imagery and wondrous imagination. Throughout the movie, the characters travel to different places, all with their own distinct feelings and visual styles. Some are bright and lovely like an animated movie come to life, a place you’d love to spend time in. Others are morbid and unsettling, like the Dark Forest Snow White escapes to, which gains its strength through its visitors’ weaknesses. It’s the place nightmares are made of. Other landscapes include beautiful snow covered gardens, war torn battlefields and more.

If nothing else, Show White and the Huntsman is visually arresting, a surprisingly gorgeous bit of eye candy coming from first time director, Rupert Sanders. He puts a deft touch to the tiniest of details, almost as if he had been doing this for many years, and he makes his vision come to grandiose life. Still, being a first time director poses many challenges and he is unable to overcome all of them. Action clichés abound, including an excessive use of slow motion, and though he pulls some decent performances from Hemsworth and Stewart (the former who finally gets to play someone other than the bland and emotionless Thor and the latter who gets to do something other than bite her lip), he fails to contain Charlize Theron. She goes all out in the movie, chewing the scenery like it’s bubble gum. She is so over-the-top, her supposed menace turns to amusement. She’s not bad per se, but she doesn’t fit in what is otherwise a tonally balanced movie.

The film occasionally suffers from cinematic ADD, like when a gruesome troll shows up for a fight and then walks away before anything actually happens, but its biggest detractor is its fluctuation in believability. Kristen Stewart, though more impressive in this role than many others, is not a convincing warrior, making her late movie transformation tough to swallow. Even more difficult to believe is her ability to outrun, outmaneuver and outwit a team of guards (thanks partially to a randomly placed horse resting on a nearby beach) once she escapes from the confined tower she’s been locked in for so many years. Yet the movie still pulls you in, your suspension of disbelief never wavering for too long. Snow White and the Huntsman doesn’t eclipse every adaptation of the story that has come before it, but among the more adult oriented versions, including 1997’s acclaimed Snow White: A Tale of Terror starring Sigourney Weaver as the witch, it stands alone.

Snow White and the Huntsman receives 4/5


Breaking Dawn Part 1

The Twilight series is as perplexing a series that has ever come out, not thematically or narratively, but in its popularity. Grown adults, people who should have had the life experience to realize how ridiculous the franchise’s portrayals of love are, flock to the theater with each outing and debate over whether Bella (Kristen Stewart) should end up with Edward (Robert Pattinson) or Jacob (Taylor Lautner). To eavesdrop on one of those debates is simultaneously amusing and sad. One can’t help but laugh at such a trivial conversation, but great romances with true-to-life takes on love are released every year and most are ignored by the general public, yet this tripe rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars. In a society where love is commercialized, I suppose it’s not surprising. We’ve bastardized it, packaged it up and sold it not to the highest bidder, but the youngest, and it has gotten to the point where children are beginning to feel insignificant without the perfect mate by their side; a dangerous notion. It’s fitting then that a movie that begins with talk of putting away childish things would have such a childish outlook on love.

Bella has agreed to marry Edward. As the movie begins, the wedding is approaching. Jacob is none too happy, but he is trying to cope with the news regardless. Though seemingly hesitant, the two follow through on their commitment and while on their honeymoon on a remote island off the shore of Rio de Janeiro, Edward impregnates Bella. Because it’s not a normal human child, she immediately begins showing signs of pregnancy, but she can’t nourish it or herself. It begins to kill her. Back home, they are stuck in Edward’s house with his family. The alpha male in Jacob’s group has learned of Bella’s pregnancy and plans on killing her and the vampire baby, but Jacob refuses to let Bella die and reluctantly joins forces with Edward to protect her.

As one reviewer in the UK suggested, Breaking Dawn Part 1 delivers on the drama and emotional highs we’ve come to expect from the series. In a sense, he’s right, if by drama he means melodrama and the emotion he’s talking about is laughter. With a human/vampire/werewolf love triangle, a half human-half vampire baby and a plot turn that can only be described as bestiality mixed with pedophilia, this is nothing more than a freak show narrative and one can’t help but laugh it. The movie takes itself so seriously, but the soapy acting and stone cold delivery of overly simplistic dialogue is contradictory to its desired tone, managing to provide more laughs a minute than any comedy to be released this year.

In a way, it’s almost kind of enjoyable—laughing is always fun—and those laughs are heightened by downright terrible acting from everyone involved. Pattinson, through movies like Remember Me and Water for Elephants, has proven that he has acting chops, but a performance is only as good as its material and he has nothing to work with here. Lautner, on the other hand, has never proven himself and only strengthens the argument that he’s one of the worst actors working today. He has a pretty face, tight abs, a gorgeous smile and close to no talent. In September’s incompetent thriller, Abduction, he walked into scenes so awkwardly, it looked like he was in the middle of a battle with a particularly itchy hemorrhoid. The same can be said here.

Watching Breaking Dawn Part 1 is like a reminder of what it was like back in grade school. It only alludes to difficult subject matters (despite an explicit romance scene), treating sex the same way a 12 year old boy treats a dirty word, as if the utterance of the word would make the romantically immature characters snicker. It wants to be grown up, but it’s too embarrassed to even say “sex,” much less explore it in a thoughtful manner. This is a movie that literally has nothing going for it and its abrupt ending brought on by the story being split into two parts, similar to the way the last Harry Potter films were handled, only adds to the frustration. Just like Harry Potter, this doesn’t provide a climax, but the difference is that Harry Potter gave us something to care about and look forward to. The ending of Breaking Dawn Part 1 serves only as a depressing reminder that a Part 2 is on the way.

Breaking Dawn Part 1 receives 0/5



It’s safe to say that The Twilight Saga has become a cultural phenomenon. The film series has emerged as one of the most successful ever created, breaking box office records and garnering a massive amount of fans in the process. Too bad popularity doesn’t define quality. The third installment in the franchise, Eclipse, is easily the best. With that said, it’s still not good.

The movie begins where New Moon left off. The love triangle between human Bella (Kristen Stewart), vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) rages on. Bella and Edward are in love and she desires to be changed into a vampire, but Edward refuses unless one condition is met: she must marry him. Otherwise, he wants her to remain human and keep her soul intact. Jacob also loves her and has a feeling she loves him back, but won’t admit it. He and his kind are also in a feud with Edward and his family, each thinking the other one is dangerous, but when Bella’s life is put on the line, they bond together to protect her despite their conflicting emotions.

I’ll say this for Eclipse. It tries. Due to Edward and Bella being separated throughout the majority of the film, New Moon was too overcome with its annoying teenage angst and lustful brooding to say anything relevant. Here they are together and seemingly happy. She wants to be changed into a vampire, but is trying to cope with the idea of losing her family. She is weighing the value of love and what type of consequences she will face should she get her wish. The movie asks how important love is and how far you’ll go to be with someone else.

Or at least it would like to think so. Eclipse wants to be more adult, but it’s weighed down by a script with dialogue that feels like it was written by a high school girl who thinks she knows what love is, but really doesn’t. While New Moon felt like an overemotional soap opera, Eclipse is more like a teen drama that correlates love with cheesy idyllic descriptions that seem to be ripped from the diary of a newly broken hearted 14 year old.

The rest of the film is largely the same as its predecessors, only slightly better. It’s a bit darker, most likely due to director David Slade’s experience with more disturbing material like 30 Days of Night and the terrific Hard Candy, yet he still introduces characters through ridiculous, laughable shots that feel more like fan service to show off the hunks in the picture than actual filmmaking. The action is better, again due to Slade’s past experiences, but its violence is toned down to fit its PG-13 rating and its CGI effects, particularly on the werewolves, look awful. The acting still stinks and, better still, the upper nudity of the male body is still exploited to gratuitous effect.

The only true enjoyment to be had in the Twilight films comes from listening to and watching the audience reaction to what happens onscreen. I find it hard to take this tripe seriously, but you’d think the oxygen was being sucked out of the room hearing the gasps from its adoring fans. When somebody got hurt, they shrieked in fear and when somebody gave a speech on love, regardless of how inane and manufactured it may have been, they cried. It almost makes me wonder what they would do if they actually saw a movie that was worthy of those emotions.

Now, I have no problem with the female population latching onto this series. The men have their Rambos and the women have their Twilights, but it’s time to step out from the clouds and look at these movies for what they truly are. If you liked the first two, I suspect you’ll enjoy this one, but liking something and arguing it as quality are two different things. Eclipse may be a step in the right direction for the franchise, but at this point, I fear “good” is an adjective that will never be used to describe it.

Eclipse receives 2/5


The Runaways

If you've ever seen a biopic about a musician, you know what to expect from The Runaways. Chronicling the rise and fall of the titular band, the film, like so many others, is a conventional biopic, down to the letter, but it's done well and the central performance from a rapidly growing Dakota Fanning keeps it fresh.

Many know of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the punk rock band responsible for classics like "Bad Reputation" and "I Love Rock 'N Roll," but few know of Jett's first band that shot her to stardom, The Runaways. Popular overseas, but lacking in appeal here in the states, her band fell into the pitfalls many rock bands do: sex, drugs and rock 'n roll (not necessarily in that order). Kristen Stewart plays Jett who dreams of forming an all girl rock band. One day she meets record producer Kim Fowley, played by Michael Shannon, who loves the idea and helps her. For her, it's all about the music, but to him, it's the sex appeal. He claims that men don't want to see women playing guitar. They want to see them work their assets, so on his quest to find a good frontman (woman?), he stumbles upon Cherie Currie, played by Fanning. After playing a few low key shows, they land a record deal, but their excessive personalities soon lead to their downfall.

I'm a huge fan of Joan Jett. I love her music. I love her look. I love her don't-give-a-crap attitude. I've even seen her in concert. She may be over 50, but she can still rock a nightclub out of its senses. I walked into The Runaways expecting to learn more about her, including her career with the Blackhearts, but much to my surprise, the film is centered largely around Cherie. If I had done my research prior to my viewing, I would have known it is based off of Cherie's memoirs titled "Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway," so it instead explores her life and while it may not necessarily be the Joan Jett biopic I was hoping for, Cherie's life intertwines with hers and the accompanying story is interesting, if not familiar.

But familiarity is not the movie's problem. It may be derivative of other musician biopics, but that's simply the life these people lead. What really prevents it from reaching the status of recent biopics like Ray or Walk the Line is its over-the-top feeling. At times, the whole movie feels a little excessive, but nothing matches Shannon's terrible performance as the eccentric record producer. His exaggerated personification of this man brings the film to a hault. Every scene he is in, every line of dialogue he utters, every movement of his body reeks of bad acting. While I suppose we are to assume he is hopped up on drugs in every scene, the film never shows him taking any and regardless of whether or not the actual person acted this way, dramatically the character doesn't work and needed to be toned down.

The other performances, however, are fantastic, including Kristen Stewart, who gets a lot of flack for looking like she doesn't care in those silly Twilight films. She still looks like that here, but the difference is she's not supposed to care. She's rebellious. A rock 'n roll punk. Anti-establishment. Stewart's poor acting abilities actually benefited her in this role and she ably supported Fanning's wonderful grown-up performance, which was the crutch of the movie.

If I had to sum up The Runaways in one sentence, I would call it this: an understandably cognate, somewhat over-the-top biopic with a great soundtrack and mostly good peformances. It's little more than that. As far as these films go, I've seen better, but it's a solid movie that finally gives punk rock its dues. And as far as this head banger is concerned, that's a good thing.

The Runaways receives 3.5/5