Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part I (2011)

The Lady is a Vamp

We’re down to the business end of the Twilight series now and there’s no greater indication of this than Breaking Dawn’s poster. As posters go, the transformation is heavily perceptible, startling. Whereas Bella (Kristen Stewart) has been the shrinking violet before, now she sports sensuality and curves as she leans into beau Edward (Robert Pattinson). Interestingly, the other tangible in this otherworldly threesome, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), is now posed alongside the couple, his animalistic appeal evident even though fully clothed.

If last year’s Eclipse broadened the reality of the sexual tension among the three then this new film deals perpetually—and a bit too stupendously—with its dire consequences. Jacob has resigned himself to the fact that Bella has chosen Edward to be her mate and husband. She however starts to feel jitters as the wedding day arrives. The not-so subtle panic spreads yet it seems no one realizes how deep it is. Thus, the wedding is not the fairytale Bella hoped for but she goes through with it, her face showing the emotional range it lacked before now. Stewart has the requisite nervy-angst mix pat but the writers of Breaking Dawn continue the trend of reinforcing her importance to the plot while limiting her reality greatly.

What it eerily achieves though is capturing a young woman balancing love and lust amid a precarious situation. For all the static that perforates Breaking Dawn, it’s the simple moments that resonate clearest: the glorious long-shot of the camera lens as Edward and Bella stand together or the close-up of their intimacy. This extends to when Jacob finally emerges to wish her well. The moment is softened by Edward’s acceptance of the part he plays in Bella’s life. Whereas the truce is uneasy, it is also necessary. Bella’s face comes alive around Jacob whereas it creases with her husband because in that bond, she is carrying both of them. Their honeymoon to Brazil, where they ‘do it’ for the first time, proves her utter femininity too…the silliness of bidding for time to brush her teeth and shave her legs. This is clearly nerves but, more deeply, is also stubbornness that Bill Condon cannot navigate through or connect a deeper meaning with. This is no surprise as he isn’t known for emotional depth but more a technical gift for portraiture (Dreamgirls, Chicago).

And so Bella toils with her inner struggles over mortality and her real feelings about Jacob in a self-suffering way that drags the film into what feels like a dirge, from half-way throughout. Sadly, it is the latter half that gets most affected, most imbued with ridiculous instances. After their love-making, Bella ends up with bruises and the fastest pregnancy ever on film. The former proves to be interesting fodder but the latter is too absurd to ignore. Or simply too huge because it ends up overshadowing the point where Bella’s maternal instincts begin to empower her, beyond the point of reason.

Breaking Dawn, split into two parts to match trends of other famous film series, thus is caught between stalling for the inevitable outcome and some fad to cling to. The problem is that it meets failure at every turn: Edward’s attempt to kill only sleazy criminals at his initial vampirism comes across clumsy. Bella’s pro-life stance proves a point for exactly the opposite because, like everything here, it lacks real conviction or scope beyond the personal. Even the CGI-wolves talking among themselves at one point prove utterly irritating.

Which, surprisingly, leaves us with the only worthy cause hammered home: family. Bella may not readily see the love surrounding her through real and extended relatives but Jacob does. Breaking Dawn is really his epiphany about the true nature of love and the messiness it can create. Here he becomes willing to take on his own clan just to have Bella’s life spared before her baby can be born. It’s much more too but only now can he articulate it to others, not just to himself, her or Edward. Their world and circumstances are changing and baby (Renesmee) makes four, an unusual number in such an equation. When, in the very last scene, Bella’s bloodshot eyes fly open, he knows things have changed yet again. So too Edward and everyone other supernatural being that populate the town. She’s the new thing around yet, at least for now, she still has time to merely wake up and be just fine.

RATING: 5/10

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Brave New World

Last year, AMC unveiled a six-episode drama about a zombie-attack world that, on the surface, was to achieve one thing only: lure conspiracy theorists and post-apocalyptic world geeks into one big fan-base. Given the plethora of gore-fest films that horror fans have been exposed to of late, the task was more than feasible. Indeed, we’re experiencing such an overload of senseless, dull zombie films at theatres that it achieves the opposite of the intended shock: numbness. Ironically, the best of the current crop hasn’t even hit local theatres or DVD stores much (REC, REC 2, Don’t Let the Right One In) but rather—and there is rancor on my breath to say this—they’ve been adapted instead. Apparently the likes of Spain and Sweden do horror better than North America and with more intricate layers, i.e. more plot, less blood.

Americans though need to see the carcasses on screen being ripped to shreds by the mindless hoard and when death comes then it must be spectacularly in the head. So while the best parts of foreign zombie films get lost in cinematic translation, the guarded skepticism that met this project-- developed by Frank Darabont—was justified. Yet, when the series premiered in October 2010, it was sheer poetry because it easily found a palatable middle-ground. Season I of The Walking Dead has been rightfully lauded as the best thing television had to offer last year, with its no-holds barred look at how surviving humans deal with incomprehensible loss and their own mortality. It was justly rewarded with the Emmy for Best Television Series Drama in January. Like LOST before it, the fascination lies not with the obvious cat and mouse game with death, but with the examination of the survivors themselves. Darabont is no stranger to directing tense psychological thrillers: he did bring adaptations of Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption & The Green Mile to theatres and critical acclaim. Here he worked seamlessly with material originated by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, which itself was inspired by George A Romero zombie films.

The series revolves around former deputy sheriff Ricky Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) as he guides a small band of survivors, which include his wife and son, towards any hope of life across the zombie-filled landscape. Each new episode brings some new pulsating twist that tests the group’s sense of loyalty to each other. Season II opens with Grimes reflecting with his walkie-talkie on what CDC scientist Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) whispered in his ear before the entire compound was obliterated. The group heads to Fort Benning but get stalled by a barricade of cars on a highway. In a terrific sequence, they hide under vehicles while the zombies swarm past them, not without incident. Both surviving children have been most affected so far: Sophia (Madison Lintz) gets lost in the woods and Carl (Chandler Riggs) gets accidentally shot.

The season so far has built upon its impressive beginning, while embracing newer elements. When Grimes and Daryl (Norman Reedus) dissect a ‘walker’ (name used by the survivors for the zombies) it echoes the forensics on CSI, albeit crudely. There is even a little black humor; the group breaks into a Church only to find four walkers apparently worshipping. Not only do they slaughter them but then turn around and pray to God in the same building. As we’re progressing, the walkers become less of an obvious menace and the personal tumult among the group is taking over. It’s a risky move and one that clearly highlights AMC’s own tumult after firing Darabont. With new writers come newer directions. While the quality of the show has not dipped, there are some stretches that need closing quickly. The disappearance of Sophia is one and the inevitable clash between Ricky and Shane (Jon Bernthal) for alpha-male supremacy and, alas, the woman caught between them, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) is another. We’ve only skimmed the surface of this uneasy love triangle but slowly it is building to a bitter end. Lori remains the most fascinating character and Callies plays her with deft touches of sadness, rage and subdued emotion. Indeed, the female characters all seem to be fighting mysterious, tragic pasts. Whereas the men stereotypically now assume a heightened sense of awareness. Here, Darabont’s vision is missed most because we’re in divisional territory of making the storyline utterly original. The character development is multifaceted yet copious…even the walkers are slightly nuanced.

How it will unfurl is anyone’s guess but as The Walking Dead continues to push more moral issues, the characters become more of a collective shell, especially the women. They are indeed, mother, wife, fantasy and target all rolled up into one. Before now they only had the walkers and their children to worry about. Now, however, with rapt tension building, their faces eye the men more wearily and themselves too. RATING: 8/10