Saturday, November 21, 2009

Film Reviews: 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon'

'New Moon' over bite

New York Post
Posted: 1:00 AM, November 19, 2009

Twilight,” which was about a girl and a vampire who don’t hook up, is totally different from “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” which is about a girl, a vampire and a werewolf who don’t hook up. And it’s not at all like the next sequel, in which a girl, a vampire, a werewolf and a mummy fail to find romance, nor the one after that, in which the girl gets unfriended by all of the above plus the Invisible Man and King Kong — yet finds her heart aflutter when she befriends the Bride of Frankenstein.

“New Moon” is supposed to be an exciting love story plus monster action. So where’s the excitement? Where’s the action? Bella (Kristen Stewart) and vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) stare longingly past each other (Pattinson, who keeps entering in hilarious slo-mo, is so intent on smoldering at the camera that he seems to forget there’s another person around) and swap excruciating love-chat: “You can’t (long pause) protect me (longer pause) from everything.”

Bad dialogue, like bad news, doesn’t get better with age. This movie moves like the line at the post office. “Twilight” — that culture phenomenon that resembles “Star Wars” much as the prime minister of Belgium resembles the president of the United States (respective box office ranks of these two films in their respective decades: 71, 1) pushes its leads apart with thin contrivances that set up predictable last-minute rescues.

This time, Edward walks out on Bella for half the film because one of his family members almost jumps her when she cuts her finger. So Edward can best protect her by . . . leaving? Even though he knows she is being stalked by a rival clan of vampires? Not to mention a rival guy, buff Jake (Taylor Lautner), who, when angry, turns into a werewolf. They don’t kiss because if he ever got angry in her presence, he might maul her. So she’s stuck in thwart mode with him, too.

Director Chris Weitz proves that “The Golden Compass” was no fluke: He really is a non-master of action. His CGI werewolves, who look like they were designed by the animatronics crew at Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree, go at it in about three semi-OK bouts. These are by far the best scenes in the movie, but they cut off suddenly after a minute or two (you can almost hear the producer yelling, “That’s it for our budget, sorry”), as does a vigorous but pointless chase involving Bella’s redheaded vampire nemesis, Victoria.

The supposed climax, in which Edward goes to Italy to duel with a trio of Louis XVI-style vampire dandies, leads merely to a desultory bit of flinging around. Nor does an attempt to get all goth-y with a mention of hell succeed. The only real shudder-inducing moment comes not from a monster but from Bella’s dad: “You’re going to Jacksonville.” Noooooo!

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

BY ROGER EBERT / November 18, 2009

The characters in this movie should be arrested for loitering with intent to moan. Never have teenagers been in greater need of a jump-start. Granted some of them are more than 100 years old, but still: their charisma is by Madame Tussaud.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" takes the tepid achievement of "Twilight" (2008), guts it, and leaves it for undead. You know you're in trouble with a sequel when the word of mouth advises you to see the first movie twice instead. Obviously the characters all have. Long opening stretches of this film make utterly no sense unless you walk in knowing the first film, and hopefully both Stephanie Meyer novels, by heart. Edward and Bella spend murky moments glowering at each other and thinking, So, here we are again.

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart: How white the skin, how red the lips.

Bella (Kristen Stewart) is still living at home with her divorced dad (Billy Burke), a cop whose disciplinary policy involves declaring her grounded for the rest of her life and then disappearing so she can jump from cliffs, haunt menacing forests, and fly to Italy so the movie can evoke the sad final death scene from--why, hold on, it's Romeo and Juliet! The very play Edward was reciting narcissistically and contemptuously in an opening scene.

Yes, Edward (Robert Pattinson) is back in school, repeating the 12th grade for the 84th time. Bella sees him in the school parking lot, walking toward her in slow-motion, wearing one of those Edwardian Beatles jackets with a velvet collar, pregnant with his beauty. How white his skin, how red his lips. The decay of middle age may transform him into the Joker.

Edward and the other members of the Cullen vampire clan stand around a lot with glowering skulks. Long pauses interrupt longer ones. Listen up, lads! You may be immortal, but we've got a train to catch.

Edward leaves, because Bella was not meant to be with him. Although he's a vegetarian vampire, when she gets a paper cut at her birthday party one of his pals leaps on her like a shark on a tuna fish.

In his absence she's befriended by Jake (Taylor Lautner), that nice American Indian boy. "You've gotten all buff!" she tells him. Yeah, real buff, and soon he's never wearing a shirt and standing outside in the winter rain as if he were--why, nothing more than a wild animal. They don't need coats like ours, remember, because God gave them theirs.

Those not among that five percent of the movie's target audience that doesn't already know this will (spoiler) be surprised that Jake is a werewolf.

Bella: So…you're a werewolf?
Jake: Last time I checked.
Bella: "Can't you find a way to...just stop?
Jake (patiently): "It's not a lifestyle choice, Bella."

Jake is influenced, or controlled, or something, by Sam, another member of the tribe. He's like the alpha wolf. Sam and his three friends are mostly seen in long shot, shirtless in the rain, hanging around the edges of the clearing as if hoping to dash in and pick off some fresh meat.

Bella writes long letters to her absent vampire friend Alice (Ashley Greene), in which she does nothing to explain why she is helplessly attracted to these sinister, humorless and vain men. It can't be the sex. As I've already explained in my review of the first film, The Twilight Saga is an extended metaphor for teen chastity, in which the punishment for being deflowered I will leave to your imagination.

The movie includes beauteous fields filled with potted flowers apparently buried hours before by the grounds crew, and nobody not clued in on the plot. Since they know it all and we know all, sitting through this experience is like driving a tractor in low gear though a sullen sea of Brylcreem.

Just Bite Her Already

Tired of dashingly handsome vampires? Then skip The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

By Thomas S. Hibbs
20 November 2009

If Elvis and Christopher Walken had a son, he would look like Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the dreamy-eyed vampire in Chris Weitz’s film The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The much-anticipated film is a sequel to the hugely popular Twilight, based on the best-selling series of books by Stephenie Meyer, who has found a teeny-bopper formula for repackaging the classic Wagnerian theme of love-death. If the screeches from the audience during the screening I attended are any indication, then this film will, like its predecessor, satisfy the romantic longings of its target audience: twelve-year-old girls. For that group, the endless focus on star-crossed lovers hurts so good; for the rest us, it just hurts.

As you may know, at the center of the plot is Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a high-school student who has moved from Phoenix, where she lived with her mother, to a small town in the Pacific Northwest, to live with her father, a cop who devotes some of his time to tracking the mysterious source of brutal slayings. Bella, a withdrawn, brooding teen, draws the attention of the aloof Edward, who has previously shown no interest in any girl. Eventually, he reveals that he is a vampire, but not in a bad way. With his vampire family, he feeds only on animal blood, which he compares to tofu: It provides nourishment but never really satisfies. Danger thus lurks in every meeting between Bella and Edward. He might be tempted to feed on her, as might other members of his family; even if those temptations can be suppressed, there is the risk of Bella’s being caught up in the battle between the Cullen family and a group of much less principled vampires.

Twilight is the ultimate female teen romantic fantasy, about the awkward female outsider who finds a complex, deep, dark male outsider, the one all the other girls wish they had. In this case, standard teen romance becomes a kind of teen gnosticism, since here the brooding James Dean happens to have preternatural powers and is clued in to the secrets of the universe.

The filmmakers are clever enough to know that the real draw here is the seeming impossibility of the love between the two characters. In New Moon, Bella and Edward just happen to be studying Romeo and Juliet in class. The story is all about longing unrealized, never about what Shelley called “love’s sad satiety.” It is also about being addicted to the danger itself. As Edward says in one of many instances of clichéd dialogue: “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin.”

The dreadful dialogue is matched by poor filmmaking technique. The Pacific Northwest setting, with its gloomy weather and its heavily wooded landscapes, suits the plot perfectly. But the rest of the filmmaking is utterly uncreative. The film tediously repeats slow-motion shots, zoom shots, and encircling shots. There is also that cheesy glitter vampires sport when they are seen in the sun. Large werewolves appear on the scene via the crudest CGI in recent memory, and Edward communicates with Bella in a hologram reminiscent of Princess Leia’s appearance to Obi-Wan. Then there are the profound silences, as Bella and Edward, with eyes averted, bear the excruciating pain of a love that cannot be.

In New Moon, Edward decides to end the relationship permanently after a paper cut on Bella’s finger during her birthday party at the Cullen home has nearly tragic consequences. Unable to rid the world of the threat of paper, the Cullen family leaves town. Without Edward, Bella becomes despondent and self-destructive. Seeking risky pursuits — both because, whenever she is in danger, Edward makes one of his holographic appearances to admonish her, and because the girl simply loves danger — she begins motorbike riding with her Native American childhood friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Whereas Edward was cold to the touch, Jacob is unusually hot. Edward is pale; Jacob, dark-skinned. But both are gorgeous and both harbor secrets. Repeating Edward’s pick-up line, Jacob tells Bella, “Go away. . . . I’m not good.” The girl has a thing for attracting handsome monsters, and she loves every minute of the pain.

In Edward’s absence, Bella actively cultivates pain because it is a “reminder.” One of her friends worries that she is suicidal, but she is not so much in love with easeful death as she is in love with the thrill of the constant risk of death — especially of a dramatic death. As she puts it in her opening voiceover in the first film, “I never really thought about death. . . . Dying for someone else would not be a bad way to go.”

One of the attractions of romanticism is that it counters the reductionist tendencies of the modern world. Romanticism reacts against the elimination of mystery from human life and the reduction of human sexuality to a mere appetite and of love to a contractual arrangement. As Roger Scruton argues (Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde), romanticism is a remedy for what ails the modern world — a “morbidly unheroic world,” dominated by “cost-benefit calculation,” which tempts us to regard our own existence as a “cosmic mistake.” The remedy is to “live as if a heroic love were possible, and as if we could renounce life for the sake of it.” Bella is in the grip of precisely such a vision. But we have serious reason to wonder how admirable her vision (or Scruton’s, for that matter) is. Her love-death passion is an escape from the banality of ordinary life: boring high-school classes with dull kids and a humdrum family life. The best thing about her father, Bella says, is that “he doesn’t hover.”

There is an attempt in New Moon to invest Bella’s dilemmas with some sort of moral, perhaps even metaphysical, significance, but the discussion of the soul she would lose in joining the undead is specious and vacuous. The film made me nostalgic for the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a TV series that extracted much greater humor from high-school existence and treated the loss of one’s soul with moral gravity and dramatic sensitivity. By contrast, Bella worries that if she doesn’t join the undead, she will grow old and become unattractive to the eternally dashing Edward. One shudders at the prospect of an eternity spent pondering self-indulgent romance masquerading as heroic self-sacrifice. Halfway through New Moon some viewers will likely have had enough. Those of us in this non-target audience have an urgent piece of advice for Edward: Just bite her already.

— Thomas S. Hibbs, an NRO contributor, is the author of Shows about Nothing.

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