by Brett Parker
Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight novel is a book with millions of devoted fans, mostly teen girls and their mothers, who’ve camped out in all night lines to attend midnight showings of the highly anticipated film adaptation. I am the furthest thing from one of those fans. Truth be told, I didn’t even know the novel existed until the film adaptation’s teaser trailer hit the net and stirred up a fan frenzy. I walked into this film knowing very little about it (the ideal way to see a movie) and was very curious to see what all the hype was about. If you want an outsider’s opinion about this phenomenon, I’m your man!
So you already know that teen girls are drooling over this flick. So what does a grown man like myself think? Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed. Twilight takes on two romantic genres that are usually rather difficult to pull off well: the angst-ridden teen kind and the vampire kind. The film comes up short on both accounts. We get the sense that the film cares more about creating durable pop that plunging to the dramatic depths of the film’s imaginative ideas.
As the film opens, we meet Bella (Kristen Stewart), a teenage girl who is leaving behind her mother and step father in Arizona to go live with her father in Washington. Bella’s father (Billy Burke) is the Chief of Police in the small town of Forks, a cloudy country town overflowing with kooky, unsettling characters. Bella goes through the normal motions of being the new girl at school and even develops a crush on the local pretty boy, Edward (Robert Pattinson).
Edward is a strange fellow. He acts like he physically can’t be around Bella. His skin is bright-white pale and he never eats anything. One day, he saves Bella from a car accident with Superman-like speed and strength. What’s this guy’s deal? Why, he’s a vampire, of course! Forks is a town that’s so cloudy, sunlight is easy to avoid. So Edward and his family of Vampires live comfortably in town, feeding on the blood of animals in an attempt to be civilized vampires. Edward is wildly attracted to Bella yet has powerful urges to suck her blood. Bella is attracted to the unique, outsider quality Edward obviously exudes and she seems turned on by the idea of being devoured by the one you love. Ah, young romance!
I remember when John Travolta was on Inside the Actor’s Studio and he explained how he turned down a vampire movie, stating “I care as much about vampires as I do about redoing this carpet.” I think I’m kind of with him on that. I’ve always found werewolves and ghosts more interesting, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely been some fascinating works revolved around bloodsuckers. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is, of course, a masterwork. Interview with the Vampire was a thoughtful study of the species. Twilight does nothing to alter my mixed feelings about these creatures. If anything, the vampires presented here discard traditional, more logical rules about Vampires and embrace more absurd and pointless ones. Sunlight doesn’t kill them, they can see themselves in mirrors, and garlic and stakes never get any mention. But hey, these vampires have heightened agility, mental telepathy, and a love for baseball! Does that make them more interesting? Hardly.
Twilight is a story that seems built on romantic steam yet you won’t find much of it here. Camera angles are suggestive and the actors labor hard at penetrating stares yet seething sensuality and lustful tensions are lacking in power here. Entertainment Weekly just named Out of Sight the sexiest movie ever made. Now that movie knew how to highlight sexiness between two opposite forces. Kristen Stewart is an attractive and wholesome gem as Bella, yet Robert Pattinson fails miserably in the role of Edward. To watch his performance is to watch a chorus line of heartthrob acting clichés. It feels like Pattinson tries unconvincingly to evoke that James Dean-Lost Boy style of youthful anguish, fumbling with it constantly. He acts more constipated than conflicted. His look for the role is a miscalculation, resembling that of an Abercrombie model. It would make more sense for a teenage vampire to exude a Johnny Depp-style ruggedness.
Director Catherine Hardwicke is a filmmaker with a vivid eye for stories about young people, treating them with a rare grace and dignity. She’s most famous for her gritty and honest Thirteen, yet it’s her work on Lords of Dogtown that’s resembled here. That film also looked at a grand troupe of offbeat teenage characters in an unconventional plot. The characters in Lords of Dogtown were cool and relatable while the characters in Twilight are enigmatic and preposterous. Hardwicke labors away to make the film good-looking and heartfelt, but the plot at hand is to too bizarre for her to master. It’s hard to bring youthful honesty to a situation so absurdly supernatural. Perhaps an experienced sci-fi or horror director could’ve made us care more.
Of course Hardwicke brings a bottom-line efficiency to the material that I’m sure will please most fans. She treats the material as seriously as one could treat a teen romance and the film is spared from resembling a TV Family Channel drama. I haven’t heard any complaints from devoted female fans yet. It’s certainly a watchable movie, it’s just too coy about some of its bigger ideas. Would Vampires really look at us as both food and romantic objects? Could a teen girl really feel true love for a boy who watches her in her sleep and ponders the thought of killing her? Would teenage Vampires really subject themselves to high school classes for hundreds of years, forever and ever? You won’t find full closure on these questions here.
So if you want a romantic, observant, sexy, and funny tale of mythic creatures dealing with teenage angst, skip Twilight and rent Teen Wolf. I’m serious. Sure, it’s a silly 80s comedy, but it honestly achieves what Twilight sets out to do a hell of a lot better! Is that cool or sad?
by Brett Parker
by Brett Parker
There’s a big problem I became all too aware of as I watched Quantum of Solace, the latest installment in the James Bond franchise: the film seems more interested in looking like a Bourne film than a Bond one. Of course, there’s plenty here you’d expect in a Bond film: action scenes, sexy women, Daniel Craig’s undeniable coolness. Yet it seems curiously devoid of the usual fun and excitement we feel towards the franchise. What we have here is a spy thriller built on darkness and realism when what we want is a Bond adventure built on exhilarating escapism.
The film picks up moments after the last installment, Casino Royale, ended, with Bond furious over the betrayal and death of his love, Vesper, and capturing the icy villain, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen). Bond and his agency interrogate Mr. White and discover the existence of a shadowy organization known as QUANTUM, a group with “people everywhere” bent on world domination. As he travels around the world to investigate this group, Bond uncovers a plot to control Bolivia’s water supply, led by the slithery Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). With help from a vengeful beauty named Camille (Olga Kurylenko) and old ally Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), Bond sets out to stop Greene and find some kind of closure with his feelings over Vesper.
Casino Royale was not only my choice for the best film of 2004 but was probably the greatest James Bond film I ever saw. Director Martin Campbell wonderfully crafted a film that not only honored and perfected the Bond conventions we’ve come to love, but also focused on human drama within the material we never truly sensed before. For the first time ever, Bond seemed like a real human being with feelings and demons. He wasn’t just an action figure, but a conflicted soul capable of deep rage and love. The presence of Daniel Craig as Bond proved to be electric. He embodied a sense of danger and sensuality not sensed in the role for years. He is the best Bond since Sean Connery and I think he comes within an inch of overthrowing the Scotsman to become the best Bond ever.
Marc Forster may have seemed like an unlikely choice to direct the latest Bond installment, but at the time it seemed like a promising decision. Forster has spent his career directing intimate character pieces (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner) that span different canvases and genres. Clearly, the producers wanted to expand on the dramatic complexities Royale presented and felt Foster could bring his intimate touch to 007 himself. So I’m in awe of what a misfire Quantum of Solace is, for it appears that Forster’s directing may be the source of the problem. Forster has stated in interviews that he was never really much of a Bond fan before taking on this project and it really shows. Most of the things we love about the Bond genre (the double entendres, the suavity, the colorful villains with buffoonish schemes, sexy time with suggestive Bond girls) have either been discarded or seriously dulled-down. Worse yet, the character depths of Bond have gone completely out the window.
Forster’s main concern seems to be merging Bond into a Jason Bourne picture. By that, I mean the film mainly focuses on the treacheries and complexities of a global organization as well as breakneck, high octane actions sequences. Forster stages these action scenes with the same herky-jerky visual style of the Bourne pictures yet they don’t feel as effective or as significant. Martin Campbell showed a stronger technical elegance with Royale, allowing the audience to observe the action from a considerable distance yet still being able to feel the intensity of it. I think it’s a mistake to smother a Bond film with relentless action. It’s considerably more fun to watch Bond seduce women and charm his way through exotic parlors than to crash cars and run from explosions.
What’s more disappointing is the fact that the wonderful Daniel Craig seems restrained by the banal script this time out. He is not allowed to explore the character or have fun with it the way he did last time. Craig can play Bond’s suavity and humor to absolute perfection, yet this time he’s forced to be an introverted action figure. There’s dramatic moments here and there, but nothing even touches the moment in Royale where Bond confronts himself in a bathroom mirror after killing two men. He does what he can with what he’s got and it’s a testament to his talents that he basically saves this film. Craig is too much of a high-wattage talent to numb down and he proves that he can stand strong in a mediocre and shaky Bond film. This man is a true movie star.
As for the rest of the cast, they’re effective yet pale in comparison to the memorable performances from Royale. Kurylenko is a true beauty, yet the mysterious sexiness and intelligence of Eva Green is sorely missed. Amalric reaches greatly to create a deliciously eccentric Bond villain, yet he lacks the compelling creepiness Mads Mikkelsen displayed so naturally as Le Chiffre. I realize it may seem a bit unfair to hold Quantum of Solace up to the greatness of Casino Royale, but Solace also feels less entertaining than the more disposable Bonds. Die Another Day, for example, may have been a shark-jumping video game, but at least Bond’s loveable charm and wit was in full volume.
Strangely enough, I find myself recommending the film. It does have its strong points. Despite the annoying need to copy the Bourne style, some action scenes do prove thrilling, such as the opening car chase and a struggle with a henchman on construction ropes. Gemma Arterton conveys a surprising cuteness and innocence as Bond girl Strawberry Fields (love that name), making you wish she had more screen time. The opening animated titles are some of the best the series’ ever had and even though I had my reservations at first about Jack White and Alicia Keys’ opening tune, “Another Way to Die,” the song has truly begun to grow on me. It feels like any Bond movie with Daniel Craig in the role can’t ever really be bad. I guess a mediocre Bond film is better than, say, a really good Resident Evil movie, if you feel where I’m coming from.
So we can chalk this up as one of the lesser Bond pictures, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it one of the failures. I hope the next time Craig comes out the gate, the filmmakers allow Bond to be funnier, more suave, more willing to take girls to bed. There’s a reason moviegoers have cherished Bond for so long and the filmmakers shouldn’t shy away from the escapist flavoring the franchise was built on. As Martin Campbell demonstrated, the genre can have the best of both worlds. I found real hope with the film’s final shot though; perhaps the Bond we truly love will return to form soon enough.
Before I go, I want to bring attention to two things: (1) Quantum of Solace is NOT a bad title for a Bond film. Just because it’s not the easiest thing to roll off the tongue, we have to knock it? If it was good enough for Ian Fleming, it’s good enough for the Bond franchise. Deal with it. And (2) how come Bond doesn’t get to say his famous line, “Bond…James Bond?” It’s not uttered once, at all, throughout the film. How can you possibly make a James Bond picture without that line? What an outrage! Marc Foster should be fined for this!
by Brett Parker
To watch Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married is to actively participate in one of the most colorful and interesting weddings you’ve ever seen. Some movies are so gritty and realistic, they can be called slices of life. If it wasn’t for the silver screen standing between us, we could literally be sitting at a table at Rachel’s wedding: listening to the speeches, observing the family drama, helping around the house, and watching some wonderful musical performances. Demme has crafted a film that allows us to feel exactly what it would be like to be a guest at a specific wedding, and we’re very glad we were invited!
As the film opens, we meet Kym (Anne Hathaway), a recovering drug addict who sits eagerly on a bench in front of her rehabilitation center. She has been given a weekend pass to attend the wedding of her older sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). After being picked up by her father, Paul (Bill Irwin), Kym, as well as the audience, gets whisked away to one of the most unconventional, open-minded, loving, dramatic, creative, and wouldn’t you know it, musical of all weddings. The guest list contains family members of different races, the ceremony is basked in Indian culture, and musicians roam around playing wonderful music. Rachel’s fiancé, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) is a musician and the wedding is surrounded by his musician friends who play all sorts of enjoyable sets for the guests. Like Once, this is a film surrounded with talented musicians who see their craft as a supreme form of expression and a language that’s more expressive than English. The music helps to express the positive atmosphere of love and celebration.
Yet not everything is bright and cheery at the wedding. The frantic and self-centered Kym harbors overwhelming guilt and pain over a horrible tragedy that affected the entire family. Deep down, Kym wants some kind of closure on things, and this causes tension with Rachel, who just wants to enjoy her wedding, and Kym’s birth mother, Abby (Debra Winger), who turns out to be the most resentful and least forgiving towards Kym’s tragic mistake.
Fans of indie movies can probably guess the film’s true path right from the opening scenes. On paper, Rachel Getting Married would appear to be your typical wedding drama, with all the family bonds, ceremonial formalities, and emotional revelations. Yet Jonathan Demme and his gifted cinematographer Declan Quinn (Leaving Las Vegas, Pride and Glory) have elevated the script by exploring a most unconventional wedding with a remarkable vividness and bohemian spirit. This movie is filled with inventive and refreshing moments that would appear risky and absurd in a lesser movie with a lesser filmmaker, yet here we are astonished at how easily we buy it.
The example I’m thinking of is the ceremony scene in which Rachel and Sidney exchange their own vows with each other. I’ve always found it ridiculous when men serenade women with their singing voice. Unless you’re Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra, do these men honestly expect their voice alone to move a girl? Give me a break! So when Sidney begins singing a Neil Young song (of all damn things!) to express his love to Rachel in front of all the wedding guests, I began to get nervous. Yet as the singing went on, I truly felt the sincerity of it and it worked wonderfully within the musical context the film has established. Adebimpe is fully convincing in his efforts and the guests react the exact way we expect them to. In a more polished and shallow Hollywood effort, a moment like this could come across as manipulative and cringe-inducing. Not this time: Demme has let us into a world so intimate and real that we believe this character would really do sing at this exact moment and really mean it.
It’s rare to see a film where every member of the cast hits on all cylinders and are perfect in their performances. Rachel Getting Married is one of those films. I was going to use this space to single out the performances I thought we’re great, until I realized everyone in this movie is perfect and engaging. Demme and his Casting Directors, Tiffany Little Canfield and Bernard Telsey, have filled the screen with distinctive and engaging people who all embody their roles wonderfully and convince us that these are real people at a real wedding. Of course the performance everyone is talking about is Anne Hathaway’s performance as Kym. Playing a frantic, recovering addict can be risky for any actress, considering the grand opportunity to act over the top. Indeed, there are times when Kym isn’t necessarily likeable. Her vicious and selfish tendencies can be rather off-putting at times (especially during a speech she gives at the rehearsal dinner). Yet the radiant and beautiful Hathaway embodies Kym’s gritty spirit with the confidence and fearlessness of a great actress. It’s a testament to her that Kym goes from making us cringe to making us want to hug her. Does Hathaway deserve Oscar-worthy praise here? You bet!
In terms of content, it’s easy to recognize this as a Jonathan Demme picture. Demme has always been a director who focuses on the peculiarities of human behavior within recognizable Hollywood plotlines and we can easily spot how he puts his character finesse on a standard wedding plot. His attention to unlikely relationships, his affection for unique music, and his eye for unexpected human depths can easily be spotted here. Yet visually, the film bears little resemblance to the distinct visual style Demme has fashioned over his career. This time out, both Demme and Quinn favor that true indie style of using digital shaky cam techniques to give the audience the feeling of what it would be like to be standing and sitting right next to these characters. It has that quick and intimate low-budget indie feel, and it works. This is a style we’d expect from some young, art house director and not an Oscar winning Hollywood auteur. Indeed, Demme is a modern auteur whose garnered Hawksian praise for the unique visual style he brings to all of his films. Part of me wonders if this film would work just as well if Demme applied his usual slick and engaging Hollywood tactics as opposed to this quick, naturalistic style we’ve seen countless times before. I think it could and I’d be very interested to see that, but perhaps I’m wrong. Demme’s style works wonderfully, for he has appropriately and effectively found a way to shed the distancing that comes with specific Hollywood techniques and engage us on an intimate level, plucking us right into the middle of this wedding.
It was hard for me to watch this film without thinking of Margot at the Wedding, Noah Baumbach’s downer of an indie drama that also focused on a troubled woman attending the unique wedding of her sister. Both films had a naturalistic visual scheme and concerned themselves with the tensions and bonds of a dysfunctional family as they try and carry out an unconventional wedding. Both films favored a penetrating rawness in obtaining emotional truths not easily seen at a Friday-night multiplex. So here are two films that look extremely similar yet give the audience extremely different vibes. How come Margot at the Wedding felt like a complete waste of time while Rachel Getting Married is a true pleasure? It’s the fact that Demme does a better job of highlighting how families interact and treat each other during a wedding and he sets out to create a cinematic wedding that’s never been seen before. Baumbach’s film is cold and manic-depressive, something that, cinematically speaking, seems too easy to pull off in these times. I admire Demme for crafting a truly joyous and heart-warming wedding atmosphere, which is all the more admirable considering how he still brings all the appropriate weight to the more harrowing and tragic aspects of the story. Basically, Margot at the Wedding didn’t display a strong enough reason for its own existence while we can sense that Demme made Rachel Getting Married to express the fascinating ways a wedding can evoke creative forms of celebration and deep family revelations.
Of course Rachel Getting Married is only entertaining up to a point, since wedding moves in themselves are only entertaining up to a point. Dramatic and fascinating things can be expressed at a wedding, yet to me, the formalities of a wedding can limit stories in escalating towards great fiction. For being at a wedding isn’t exactly the most supreme form of entertainment, is it? Nonetheless, Rachel Getting Married has set a new standard for how pictures of this kind should be done. It plays traditional notes of the genre to absolute perfection while exuding fresh, creative flourishes we never really thought could work so convincingly. I never really got worked up over a wedding film before, yet if future films in the genre have even half the colorful touch of Demme’s film, I’ll be awaiting them in eager anticipation.