Saturday, November 29, 2008

more on real things tomorrow...

I never thought I'd be happy to see a schmaltzy Christmas movie kick a vampire movie out of the #1 spot, but it looks like Twilight was only on top for a week.

In the words of Elizabeth Bennett, "I am sorry to be harsh on any of my sex, but..." BUT MAYBE YOU SHOULD GROW A BRAIN AND STOP SIMPERING ABOUT WAITING FOR DASHING VAMPIRES TO SWEEP YOU OFF YOU FEET.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

but first, vampires

It started a couple months ago when Tim and I were on the phone, discussing the abysmally dull upcoming movie season. The film version of Twilight came up, and one or the other of us mentioned that we felt obligated to read the best-selling book before the movie came out- the other one agreed. And then I do believe it was me who suggested we both buy and read Twilight at the same time, so that we would have someone with whom to commiserate. The only thing I knew about the book at the time was that it was a best-seller for teens about vampires, and that Joey had hated it so much he had returned the book to the book store, claiming he didn't want to have it in his house. Nevertheless, we both went out and bought the book and hunkered down to read.

I read the first five chapters or so very quickly, admittedly intrigued by the book's premise. The writing was bad, and for the most part the day-to-day happenings were boring, but the concept was ok- girl moves to a new, small town and is suddenly admired by everyone at school, and eventually falls for the hot enigmatic guy in her biology class, who oh yeah, just happens to be a vampire. The teenaged girl in me recognized how romantic all that was, and so I, just like the scads of tweens and teens across the country, found myself sort of falling for Edward Cullen The Vampire. Nevermind that Bella, the main character, was a whiny little superior brat - I got the Edward thing, and why Bella was in love with him. Tim, on the other hand, mentioned that he could "actually feel the book sucking hormones out of him."

So things started out kinda meh but kinda ok, but then OH DEAR GOD the whole thing took a turn for the unbelievably sappy, with endless passages devoted to "oh, Edward is sooooooo pretty, I love him and his white skin and his topaz eys and oh my gosh, when he leaves I am SO SAD, I don't ever want to do anything in my whole life except moon about with Edward." I didn't try to count the number of times Bella claims she stopped breathing when Edward looked at her, but if I had, the result would be very pathetic indeed.

When I was a kid I read the Little House on the Prairie series with my dad, and in one of the later books there is an entire chapter about one brown poplin dress. I think the chapter may even be called "The Brown Poplin." It went into endless detail about this one damn dress, and was dreadfully dull. I couldn't have been more than 7 when we read that, but to this day brown poplin springs to mind whenever someone goes into unnecessary, overlong detail about any particular thing. I thought about the brown poplin a lot while I was reading Twilight. Not only are the chunks of drivel about how PRETTY and AWESOME and GORGEOUS Edward is very boring, they also combine to make the book just about the most anti-feminist text I have ever read. I didn't know that the book was written by a Mormon until AFTER I had read it, or I might have suspected the lack of feminisim, but as it was I was frankly appalled throughout the entire thing. It deeply saddens me that this is the sort of book young girls are embracing in this country. Can't someone get them a Babysitter's Club book and let them read about girls taking action?

What offended me perhaps even more than the giant step backwards the book takes is how, about 2/3 of the way through, it suddenly decided to have a plot. The last third of the book introduces a Bad Guy Vampire and suddenly there is a great deal of drama and running about and fighting and of course LOVING EDWARD EVER SO MUCH.

We agreed, wholeheartedly, that it would be really really hard for Twilight the movie to be as bad as Twilight the book... and we were right, although please don't take that to mean I'm saying the movie was good. When I first saw the trailer I was skeptical as to most of the casting choices, particularly the two leads, Kristin Stewart and Robert "Cedric Diggory" Pattinson. Turns out, I was right about one of them and not the other- Kristin Stewart is EXACTLY as annoying as she appears to be in the trailers, with little to no acting skills. Everything she says she says in the same sort of half-pained voice. Robert Pattinson, on the other hand, did a good job as Edward. He wasn't GREAT- indeed, the script was bad enough to make almost any actor bad- but I can't come up with a young, cute actor who would have been a better fit. There just aren't a whole lot of them out there- they can't cast singing, dancing Zac Efron, because he's not brooding enough, Jamie Bell is too twerpy looking no matter how cute he is, and Shia Labeouf- well, is Shia Labeouf. Who else is there? I'm legitimately asking! I would love to be able to ponder someone else in the role.

(EDIT: imdb tells me that Stephanie Meyers' first choice to play Edward was Henry Cavill, who is on The Tudors. I have never seen the show, but looking at the pictures, he sure would be cute enough. I guess they didn't go with him cause he's too old, which is valid, but kind of too bad. Still, I don't think Robert Pattinson was all that bad, and he had a great fake American accent to boot.)

The rest of the cast was fairly mediocre- Bella's dad, played by Billy Burke, was pretty good, but other than that, the movie seemed to be asking us to simply agree that the people they had cast LOOKED the part, rather than actually exuding the character. And with a couple exceptions (Peter Facinelli being chief among them), the cast DID look their parts, but that should never be enough. I feel like I could recast the entire movie right here and now and the resulting version would be scads better. I'd start with replacing Peter Facinelli with Michael Vartan and Kristen Stewart with Jenna Malone.

Oh lord, what else. I am aware that this "review" has little to no structure, and for that I apologize, but it is dificult to not rant about how bad this book/movie franchise is. One of the main things the movie does better than the book (and there are quite a few of them) is that it introduces the Bad Guy Vampire Clan way earlier than the book did, and thus lends the film some semblance of a plot. The main thing that the movie does WORSE than the book is that where the book lacked notable passion and chemistry between the two main characters, the movie is missing it entirely. You'd think that if you were handed this source novel and told "make this into a movie teenaged girls will swoon for," you'd try to instill at least a LITTLE bit of passion into the screenplay, wouldn't you? But no. The screenplay is, if possible, even more perplexingly boring than the original material, perhaps because a lot of the dialogue is lifted directly from the book. In my mind I could make it read with some sort of inflection, but on screen, the actors read it for me, and read it with zero emotion.

On a final note, the cinematography is simply boring. The DP, Elliot Davis, decided that everything should be very blue, so as to evoke the "cold" feeling of living in the Pacific Northwest and hanging out with vampires. Sure. Fine. Whatever. It sort of works in some ways. What DOESN'T work about it is that the BLUE BLUE BLUE is not offset by anything. Knowing the book as I do, the perfect scene in which to do this would be when Edward takes Bella into a mountain meadow to show her what happens to his skin when he is out in the sun (answer: he gets super sparkly! And Bella loves him MORE!). A scene showcasing sun when the rest of the movie takes place under a cover of clouds? What a great time to use warm, golden lighting to make a point of how special and romantic that moment is? But no. Not only is the scene re-set to be in the middle of a forest with mere shafts of light, the shafts of light themselves are pretty much still blue. How boring. That about sums up the cinematography in the film, if not the film itself.

The two best parts were a) the short scene when Edward drives Bella to school and is wearing sunglasses and puts his arm around her when everyone stares, and b) the massive frame full of graduation caps in the Cullen's house, accompanied by the line "We matriculate a lot." That was clever.

Other than that, you can probably skip both the book and the movie. What does it say about me, though, that I read the sequel to Twilight, New Moon? It says I am a sucker for serials in which I am already familiar with the characters and don't have to work at reading them at all. It's shameful, but true.

I have to copy Tim in his review and encourage everyone who wants to see a good quality vampire movie to go see Let The Right One In, which is everything a vampire movie should be and more.