“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART II” (2015) Review

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“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART II” (2015) Review

Some five or six years ago, Warner Brothers Studios began a new tradition when its executives made a decision to split its adaptation of the last “HARRY POTTER” film into two novels. A year later, Summit Entertainment continued this tradition by splitting its adaptation of the last “TWILIGHT” novel into two films. And now Lionsgate has done the same by adapting Suzanne Collins’ last novel in her “The Hunger Games”trilogy with two movies. The studio ended the movie franchise with the release of “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II”.

This last film, which is based upon the second half of Collins’ 2010 novel, picked up where the 2014 movie left off – with Katniss Everdeen aka “The Girl on Fire” recovering from being attacked by her close friend, Peeta Mallark, after he had been brainwashed by the Capitol into regarding her as an enemy. After being attacked by a supporter of Panem’s President Snow during a propaganda campaign in District 2, Katniss is frustrated by rebel leader Alma Coin’s insistence that she stay away from the battlefields. Fellow tribute from the 75th Quater Quell Games, Johanna Mason, quietly suggests that she sneak aboard a supply ship leaving for the Capitol, where Commander Paylor is planning an invasion, during the wedding of former tributes Finnick Odair and Annie Cresta. Unable to control Katniss, Coin decides to assigned her to the “Star Squad”; along with childhood friend Gale Hawthorne, Finnick, and documentary director Cressida and her team. Led by Katniss’ former bodyguard, Boggs, the squad is order to remain in safety behind the actual invasion of the Capitol and provide video clips of their incursion for propaganda purposes. But Katniss and her fellow combatants encounter a great deal of danger from Capitol soldiers, explosive pods and mutated animals. Coin also assigns Peeta to the squad, despite the fact that he has not completely recovered from his conditioning. What starts out as a propaganda campaign for the squad, eventually becomes a dangerous and bloody mission that ends in tragedy and a great surprise.

This last “HUNGER GAMES” movie received a great deal of praise. But at the same time, these same critics expressed dismay that the last novel in the franchise had been split into two films. Surprisingly, I had no problems with how the adaptation of “Mockingjay” resulted in two films. Unlike the last “HARRY POTTER”and “TWILIGHT” adaptations, the two-part adaptation for this particular movie seemed to break at the right moment – namely the rescued Peeta Mellark’s attack on protagonist Katniss Everdeen. However, I did have a few problems with “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II”. I wish the screenwriters and director Francis Lawrence had featured a few scenes of Panem citizens rebelling against the Capitol . . . just as they had done in “PART I”. In fact, I wish they could have featured a few scenes of the rebels inching towards the Presidential mansion, before Katniss and close friend Gale Hawthorne had reached it. The movie seemed so fixed upon Katniss’ point-of-view (POV) that the entire sequence featuring the massacre of the Capitol citizens, Peacekeepers and rebel medics from bombs seemed slightly disjointed and confusing. I also wish that the screenplay had included a scene from the novel in which Katniss and her mother, Mrs. Everdeen, said good-bye to each other over the telephone. I never understood why they did not include that scene in the film. It would have been a great moment for both Jennifer Lawrence and Paula Malcomson.

Quibbles aside, I must admit that I really enjoyed “MOCKINGJAY, PART II”. I thought director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Danny Strong and Peter Craig did a very good job of adapting the second half of Collins’ novel. I had worried that Lion’s Gate Studios would insist that the screenwriters and Lawrence drastically change the story by giving it a less bittersweet ending. Lo and behold, no such thing happened.“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” – especially its ending – literally wallowed in moral ambiguity. More importantly, story allowed its heroine, in the end, to succumb to her worst instincts in a way that made sense to the saga that began in the first chapter. I believe it took balls for Suzanne Collins to end Katniss Everdeen’s struggles against the Capitol on that note. And I can say the same for Lawrence, Strong, Craig and the film’s producers.

I was also impressed by the movie’s portrayal of Peeta Mallark in this chapter of the saga. As many know, Peeta had spent most of “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART I” as a captive of the Capitol. He had been tortured and brainwashed via a tracker jacker venom into making an attempt on Katniss’ life. The filmmakers could have easily ignored Collins’ story and allowed Peeta’s recovery to be a quick job before he joined Katniss’ squad in the Capitol’s streets. Instead, they decided to follow Collins’ story and allowed Peeta’s recovery to be slow. By doing this, they allowed Peeta’s presence in the squad to not only endanger everyone, but have an impact on Katniss’ relationship with the Rebellion’s leadership.

More importantly, “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” continued the saga’s theme of the impact war has human beings. After all, this theme has been present since Katniss and Peeta found themselves in 74th Hunger Games arena in the first movie. But in these last two movies, audiences see how war impacts everyone and not just a group of tributes coerced into playing out a lethal war game for the sake of television ratings. The war eventually has an impact upon Katniss’ various relationships – especially with Peeta, her best friend Gale Hawthorne, her family and the Rebellion’s leadership . . . and also upon her psyche. What I found interesting in the combat featured in this film is that Katniss and her fellow combatants not only have to deal with the traditional weapons of war, but also the muttations and other technical wonders usually reserved for the Hunger Games. The most harrowing examples of the Capitol’s use of muttations were the flood of black tar on the Capitol’s streets and the lizard mutts’ attack upon the squad inside the Capitol’s sewer system. I found this sequence rather difficult to watch, due to the scary images, the level of violence and the devastating impact upon the squad. But I must say . . . I thought it was one of the most frightening scenes in the entire saga. And due to Lawrence’ direction, the cast’s performances, the editing team of Alan Edward Bell and Mark Yoshikawa, cinematographer Jo Willems, and the special effects team; I also found it very effective.

Speaking of the performances, there is not enough I can say about them. I could not find a misstep made by any member of the cast. “MOCKINGJAY, PART II” featured some really solid performances from the likes of Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Evan Ross, Stef Dawson, Sarita Choudhury, and Meta Golding. Natalie Dormer continued her excellent portrayal of television director Cressida. Patina Miller gave a more subtle performance as District 8’s Commander Paylor, who ends up playing a major role at the end of the rebellion. Although her screen time was somewhat limited in the movie, Jena Malone continued to give a colorful performance as former tribute Johanna Mason. Actually, she was not the only one whose screen time was limited. I could also say the same about Woody Harrelson, who portrayed Katniss and Peeta’s mentor Haymitch Abernathy; Jeffrey Wright as former tribute and the Rebellion’s tech man Beetee Latier; Elizabeth Banks as Katniss and Peeta’s escort Effie Trinket; Paula Malcomson as Katniss’ delicate mother Mrs. Everdeen; Willow Shields as Katniss’ quiet and highly determined sister Primrose; and Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman. Thankfully, they were all top-notch, as usual.

There were cast members who given opportunities to strut their stuff in one or two scenes. There was an excellent moment for Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, who as Rebellion commander Bogg, tries to warn Katniss about President Alma Coin’s true goals in a heartbreaking scene. Sam Claflin continued his excellent performance as former tribute Finnick Odair – especially in two scenes. One of them featured his character’s wedding to another former tribute Annie Cresta. And other featured his attempts to placate the still hijacked Peeta. One scene that featured an intense performance by Michelle Forbes, who portrayed Boggs’ second-in-command, Lieutenant Jackson. However, Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore received a good number of opportunities to showcase their talent. As President Coriolanus Snow of Panem and President Alma Coin of the Rebellion, the two performers gave interesting, yet contrasting takes on presidential villainy. Sutherland’s performance struck me as verbose, but with a slight edge of desperation, as his character struggle to deal with the possibility of defeat. On the other hand, Moore’s performance seemed a good deal more subtle . . . cool. I got the impression of observing a personality that proved to be a lot more manipulative than Snow’s and just as murderous in the occasional flash in her eyes.

The movie also featured superb performances from the three leads. Liam Hemsworth gave an interesting performance as rebel Gale Hawthorne. Very interesting. Hemsworth skillfully expressed Gale’s fervent aggression against Snow’s administration, but also a disturbing willingness to resort to any means necessary to end the war in the rebels’ favor. But for me, his best scene featured that moment when his character was unable to verify whether one of his weapon designs was used in an attack in front of the Presidential mansion. Hemsworth barely said a word, but his stark emotion is perfectly clear on his face. I think Josh Hutcherson had the most difficult role in this movie. He had to take the Peeta Mellark character on a journey from the murderous and brainwashed young man to someone who managed to find some semblance of peace in the wake of two Hunger Games and a violent war. Thanks to the screenwriters and Hutcherson’s performance, Peeta’s journey was not rushed into some futile effort to resume his old relationship with Katniss as quickly as possible. And this journey resulted in a beautiful scene in which Peeta finally told Katniss how she was needed to end this war against Snow – a scene that Hutcherson not only acted his ass off, but also brought tears to my eyes. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen seemed a bit more subtle than usual in this movie. I found this surprising, considering her role as the movie’s lead. I suspect that Katniss’ unusual subtlety came from having the brainwashed Peeta in her midst. I also suspect that Katniss’ unease toward Gale’s “by any means necessary” attitude toward the use of violence may have contributed to that unease. Lawrence really kept her performance under control in this film. But there was one scene in which Lawrence’s performance blew me away, when she openly expressed Katniss’ rage and grief against the tragedies she had experienced during the war.

I understand that “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” made less money than the previous three movies. Personally, I do not see this as a reflection of the movie’s quality. Sure, it had a few bumps in the narrative and the production. But so did the other three films. Frankly, I thought it was an outstanding conclusion to one of the best movie franchises I had the good fortune to see. And one can thank not only Suzanne Collins’ imagination and talent, but also Francis Lawrence’s first-rate direction, a well-written script by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, and a talented cast led by the always superb Jennifer Lawrence that brought Collins’ story to life.

 

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“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I” (2014) Review

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“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I” (2014) Review

The producers of “THE HUNGER GAMES” movie franchise decided to follow the examples of the “HARRY POTTER”and “TWILIGHT” franchises and divide its adaptation of the last novel in Suzanne Collins’ literary series into two movies. The first of these two films is the recent “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I”.

Based upon the first half of Collins’ 2010 novel, “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I” picks up a few days or so after the end of the second film, “THE HUNGER GAMES – CATCHING FIRE”. After being rescued by her mentor Haymitch Abernathy and Head Gamemaker of the 75th Hunger Games Plutarch Heavensbee, Katniss Everdeen finds herself as a resident at the underground rebel facility hidden underneath the ruins of District 13. Fortunately, her sister Primrose Everdeen and mother Mrs. Everdeen had been rescued by her close friend Gale Hawthorne before President Coriolanus Snow had ordered the bombardment of their home, District 12. Unfortunately, Katniss learns that her other close friend and fellow District 12 tribute/victor Peeta Mallark, District 7 tribute/victor Johanna Mason and the wife of District 4 tribute Finnick Odair have all been captured by the Capitol and are now prisoners being tortured.

Both Heavensbee and leader of the rebellion Alma Coin want to use Katniss as a symbol of their rebellion. It seemed Katniss’ actions in the 75th Games arena – helping District 3 tribute/victor Beetee Latier bring down the arena forcefield in the last movie – spark and riots against the Capitol. Katniss refuses to become the rebellion’s suggestion, because they had left Peeta behind in the arena. But after visiting the ruined District 12 and seeing Peeta being used by the Capitol state television to end the rebellion, Katniss reluctantly changes her mind. She agrees to become the rebels’ “Mockingjay” symbol on the condition that Peeta and the other captured victors will be rescued at the first opportunity and pardoned.

When I had first learned that the producers of “THE HUNGER GAMES” franchise had plans to divide the adaptation of Collins’ last novel into two movies, I groaned with dismay. The last thing I wanted to experience was watching divided film adaptations of one novel. I have mixed feelings about how Warner Brothers and Summit Entertainment divided the adaptations of the last “Harry Potter’ and “Twilight” novels respectively. And I feared that I would experience similar feelings with this divided adaptation of Collins’ last novel, “Mockingjay”. After all, I have been more than satisfied with the adaptations of the first two novels. I adored them.

I have no idea how I will feel about the franchise’s last movie. Must I must say that I liked “MOCKINGJAY – PART I”very much. Well . . . actually, I enjoyed it as much as I did the first two films. And I did not expect that to happen. Unlike“THE HUNGER GAMES” and “CATCHING FIRE”, “MOCKINGJAY – PART I” did not focus upon a Hunger Games competition in which tributes engage in a lethal survival struggle. Instead, “MOCKINGJAY” shifts into the very premise that was foreshadowed in “CATCHING FIRE” – a deadly civil war. This shift in premise was one of the reasons why I had doubts about this film in the first place. I see I had nothing to worry about. Collins’ novel and screenwriters Danny Strong and Peter Craig did excellent jobs in conveying how the events of the first two chapters impacted the characters and the narrative of this last story – especially the actual outbreak of the rebellion, Katniss’ role in that outbreak, her role as the rebellion’s public face, her relationships with both Peeta and Gale, and Peeta’s position as a prisoner of the Capitol.

But there were two aspects of this movie that I found very interesting. First, I found it interesting that the willingness of both sides of the rebellion – the District 13 inhabitants under Alma Coin and Panem (the Capitol) under Coriolanus Snow – to use Katniss and Peeta for their respective causes. Coin and the rebellion exploits Katniss and the Mockingjay symbol via prepared speeches and televised visits to other rebellious districts. And Snow exploits Peeta to convince the public not to join the rebellion via televised interviews with Hunger Games master of ceremonies Caesar Flickerman. It is interesting how different political beliefs can merely end up as two sides of one coin, so to speak. Another interesting aspect of the movie . . . at least for me . . . proved to be Katniss Everdeen. I noticed how Katniss is described as some kind of heroine in many articles on the Internet. This image was certainly solidified in the District 8 sequence. But while watching the film, I found myself wondering if Katniss was on some kind of slow journey toward a nervous breakdown. Superficially, she seemed tough . . . sure of herself. But there also seemed to be minor hints of a breakdown, especially in the film’s second half.

Director Francis Lawrence and cinematographer Jo Willems continued their visual expansion of the world of Panem in“MOCKINGJAY – PART I”. The movie featured scenes of both Districts 13 and 8, along with parts of the Capitol never seen in the first two films. I thought Willems did a solid job with his photography of the locations that stood for the two districts in rebellion. But if I must be honest, I do not recall any mind blowing scenes in the film – aside from the Capitol’s bombing of District 8. Philip Messina’s production designs did an excellent job in conveying the contrasting looks of the bombed out districts, the Capitol and Coin’s headquarters beneath District 13’s ruins. “MOCKINGJAY – PART I” proved to be the first film in the franchise that did not feature any over-the-top and memorable costumes designs, aside from the suit worn by Josh Hutcherson in his character’s interviews and Katniss’ Mockingjay battle outfit:

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Otherwise, Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller’s designs seemed more casual and utilitarian, especially for the costumes worn by the rebels led by Alma Coin. I suppose this was due to most of the story told from Katniss’ point-of-view. And for once, she never visited the Capitol.

The performances were top-notch. Once again, Jennifer Lawrence knocked it out of the ballpark in her portrayal of “the Girl on Fire” Katniss Everdeen. Only in this film, Lawrence’s Katniss seemed even more on edge, torn between her hatred of Coin and the Capitol, her wariness toward Alma Coin and her deep concern for Peeta’s fate. Many have commented upon the District 8 scene in which Katniss openly expressed her anger over the bombing. But my favorite scene featured the moment in which Lawrence reminded audiences that Katniss is still an adolescent. I refer to the scene in which Katniss, which adolescent discomfort gives Coin and Heavensbee ultimatums in exchange for agreeing to be their “Mockingjay”. Great Lawrence moment. Because his character spent most of the film as a prisoner, Josh Hutcherson had lesser screen time in this film. No matter. He still managed to give a great performance as the tortured and exploited Peeta, forced to act as the Capitol’s mouthpiece. There were two moments in the film that truly displayed Hutcherson’s talent. One featured Peeta’s last interview in which he seemed to be struggling between cooperating with the Capitol and longing to express a warning to Katniss and the rebels. Anyone could see the extension of the abuse Peeta had suffered. The other moment was . . . well, that would be spoiling the film. All one has to do is watch Hutcherson’s performance in the film’s last ten to fifteen minutes. Liam Hemsworth’s character, Gale Hawthorne, was expanded in this film. In fact, he had more scenes that Hutcherson. Which is good news, for the actor finally had a chance to display his skills as an actor. I was impressed by how Hemsworth conveyed Gale’s struggles and failure to contain his jealousy of Katniss’ relationship with Peeta. I thought he was more effective in displaying this aspect of Gale’s character in this film than in the last two flicks. I was also impressed by Hemsworth’s performance in a scene in which Gale recalls the destruction of District 12.

I read somewhere that the Effie Trinket character did not appear until near the end of Collins’ novel. Thankfully, Strong and Craig did not reduce her character in this film. And audiences got a chance to see Elizabeth Banks give another delightful and crowd pleasing performance as the publicist/chaperone. I especially enjoyed watching Banks convey Effie’s dismay at the lack of fashion sense among the District 13 rebels and contempt toward Coin and Heavensbee’s handling of Katniss. Woody Harrelson was equally entertaining as Katniss’ alcoholic mentor, Haymitch Abernathy. Harrelson seemed to have less screen time in this film, due to his character being forced to undergo detoxication and being on the outs with Katniss. But Harrelson was colorful as ever. And I especially enjoyed his interactions with Banks. Donald Sutherland was creepy as ever in his portrayal of Panem’s head-of-state, President Coriolanus Snow. One of the aspects of Sutherland’s performance that I enjoyed so much is how he manages to effectively convey such subtle menace in his portrayal. This was especially in one scene in which Katniss made a personal plea to Snow to spare the lives of Peeta and the other prisoners.

Jeffrey Wright returned as District 4 tribute/victor Beetee Latier. Although there was not much in his character development, Wright had one particularly interesting scene in which he skillfully conveyed Beetee’s concerns over his use of technology to support an important military mission within the Capitol. Sam Claflin reprised his role as District 4 tribute/victor Finnick Odair and did an excellent job in portraying the character’s emotional vulnerability regarding his concern for wife and fellow victor Annie Cresta. I was really by Claflin’s performance in one scene in which Odair revealed his past experience in being forced into prostitution for his fans in the Capitol. Philip Seymour Hoffman returned as former Head Gamekeeper and the rebellion’s publicist Plutarch Heavensbee. In some scenes, Hoffman seemed smooth as ever as the manipulative Heavensbee. But there were interesting moments in which the actor revealed Heavensbee’s occasional bouts of fear and doubt. Paula Malcomson, Stanley Tucci and Willow Shields all returned to reprise their roles as Mrs. Everdeen, Caesar Flickerman and Primrose Everdeen. All gave solid performances, but I was especially impressed by Shields, who conveyed in increased maturity in her role. Mahershalalhashbaz Ali and Natalie Dormer joined the cast as Alma Coin’s right hand man/Katniss’ bodyguard Boggs and Capitol film diretor-turned-rebel Cressida. Both gave solid performances. But I was especially impressed by no-nonsense attitude conveyed by Ali. Julianne Moore also made her debut in the film franchise as leader of the rebellion, Alma Coin. In many ways, Moore’s Coin seemed just as subtle and manipulative as Sutherland’s President Snow. Moore was also effective in conveying Coin’s somewhat cold-blooded pragmatism that strangely reminded me of Katniss.

Did I have any qualms about “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I”? Well . . . as much as I found Katniss’ angry speech during her visit to District 8 rather stirring, I was also a little put off by it. I got the feeling that the screenwriters and Lawrence wanted to include a “macho/heroic moment” for Katniss, considering the minimum number of action scenes for the character in compare to the previous two films. I do not know if this scene was included in the novel. But it seemed a bit over-the-top to me. And there was the scene in which a rebel demolition team manages to blow up the dam providing the Capitol with electricity. There seemed to be a certain lack of reality in the rebels’ attack upon the dam that did not seem right to me.

But as far as I am concerned, “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I” proved to be just as first-rate as the previous two films. It is already one of my favorite films of 2014. Francis Lawrence continued his marvelous job as the franchise’s director. And I believe he was also damn lucky to work with a superb cast led by Jennifer Lawrence and utilize an excellent screenplay written Danny Strong and Peter Craig. I hope . . . and pray that the last entry in the film franchise will prove to be just as superb as the first three films.

“BREAKING DAWN, PART II” (2012) Review

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“BREAKING DAWN, PART II” (2012) Review

Two years ago, Warner Brothers made the decision to split the movie adaptation of Stephanie Meyers’ last “Twilight Saga” novel – “Breaking Dawn” – into two films; following its example of the two adaptations for the last “Harry Potter” novel. The first film, “BREAKING DAWN, PART I”, was released a year ago. Instead of waiting six months, the studio decided to wait a year for the second half of the tale, “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”

“BREAKING DAWN, PART II” picked up where the latter film left off – with Bella Swann’s transformation into a vampire, following the difficult birth of her and Edward Cullen’s daughter. The movie’s first ten to fifteen minutes focused on Bella becoming acquainted with her new state and abilities. She eventually learns that her best friend and wolf shapeshifter, Jacob Black has “imprinted” on hers and Edward’s new daughter, Renesmee Carlie Cullen. In other words, Jacob has found his soulmate in Bella’s daughter – whether he proves to be her protector, a lover, or an older sibling. At the moment, Jacob seemed to be serving as Renesmee’s protector and much older friend. Bella first reacted with hostility at the idea of Jacob imprinting on her daughter, but she eventually resolved herself to the situation. But a more important situation has developed with Renesmee. The Cullen/Swan offspring has begun aging rapidly. Even worse, a fellow vampire named Irina Denali spots Renesmee playing in the woods with Bella and Jacob and comes to the conclusion that the young girl might be an immortal – a vampire sired from a child. She reports her assumptions to the Volturi, who become determined to destroy Renesmee. Creating child vampires goes against their law, due to the former’s unpredictable nature. Aro, leader of the Volturi, also longs to destroy the Cullens; due to their large size and the psychic abilities that many of them possess. Bella, Edward and the Cullens are forced to seek allies from other vampire covens around the world to help them protect Renesmee from the Volturi. And Jacob recruits his fellow wolf shapeshifters from the La Push pack to assist in the Cullens’ battle.

A part of me is astounded that the film franchise for the “Twilight” Saga has finally come to an end with this film. Another part of me is relieved. To be honest, I have never been a die hard fan of the series. And of the five movies, I have managed to like at least two of them – “ECLIPSE” and surprisingly, “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”. You heard it first. I actually liked “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”. I did not love it. And I was not initially thrilled by Bella’s initial transformation into a vampire. But for some reason, her transformation and the birth of her daughter attained a few achievements in the franchise. One, Bella’s character transformed from a passive and love-obsessed teenager to a self-assured and mature young woman (or vampire), who proved she could ruthless when protecting her daughter. For the first time in the series, the Bella/Edward romance actually became bearable. I believe this was due to the change in Edward’s nature, as well. He stopped being a brooding and controlling boyfriend and began treating Bella as an equal partner in their relationship. And the tiresome love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob finally came to an end, due to Renesmee’s birth. Jacob came to accept Bella and Edward’s romance and began focusing his attention upon their daughter. Thankfully, Jacob’s feelings for Renesmee did not produce any “ick factor” within me. I believe this is due to Jacob’s attitude toward her as some kind of goddaughter or younger sister. Renesmee seemed to regard him as some kind of loving big brother. And even more ironically, both Taylor Lautner and child actress Mackenzie Foy managed to click on-screen.

Before one accuses me of loving this film, I assure you that I do not. Yes, I liked it. But it had problems that prevented it from becoming a favorite of mine. Being part of the “Twilight” Saga did not help. I found the scene featuring Bella arm wrestling with Emmett Cullen rather childish and a waste of time. In Stephanie Meyers’ novel, Charlie Swan learned about Jacob’s status as a wolf shape shifter and suspected that Bella and the Cullens are not quite human, but he was never informed that she had transformed into a vampire. However, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg made matters slightly worse by not even conveying Charlie’s suspicions of the recent inhuman nature of his daughter. I found that rather sloppy. Also, there were moments when I found the Cullens and Jacob’s interactions with their vampire allies resembling a “happening” from the Age of Aquarius. I had this fear that sooner or later, they would form a circle by holding hands and sing “Kumbaya”. Those moments were most nauseating. Hell, I enjoyed the Bella/Edward sex scene more than those moments.

But despite these unpleasant moments in the film, I still enjoyed “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”. Dear God, I cannot believe I said that. But I liked it. Aside from the more positive portrayals of Bella and Edward’s characters and Jacob’s relationship with Renesmee, there were other aspects of the movie I liked. Michael Sheen was deliciously over-the-top as the Voltari’s leader, Aro. Billy Burke’s portrayal of Charlie Swan was entertaining as ever. Due to the improvement over Bella and Edward’s personalities, I was able to enjoy Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s performances a lot more than I did in the previous movies. Taylor Lautner was great, as always. Maggie Grace was very effective as Irina Denali, the embittered vampire who erroneously assumed that Renesmee was an under aged vampire. Both Lee Pace and Rami Malek provided a great deal of the movie’s humor as two of the vampires who become among the Cullens’ vampiric allies.

The movie’s pièce de résistance proved to be the final battle between the Cullens’ army of vampires and wolf shapeshifters and the Voltari’s army. I have to hand it to director Bill Condon. He really outdid himself in this sequence. I found it even more impressive than director David Slade’s handling of the protagonists’ battle with Victoria’s army of newborn vampires in 2010’s“ECLIPSE”. This sequence was enhanced by the plot twist that marked the end of the battle. It was a twist that struck me as well handled by both Condon and Rosenberg. In fact, I believe they did a better job of this sequence than Stephanie Meyer did in her novel.

Like I said . . . a part of me is happy that the “Twilight” film franchise has finally come to an end. I no longer have to face being coerced by my relatives in viewing any of these movies at the theater. However, another part of me is also relieved that franchise ended on a positive note. To my utter surprise, I found “BREAKING DAWN, PART II” to be rather entertaining, despite its flaws. More importantly, the movie featured an improvement on the characterizations of the two leading characters – Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. And the movie ended with a well written and well shot action sequence that provided a surprisingly effective plot twist. All I can say is . . . good job.

“BREAKING DAWN, PART I” (2011) Review

“BREAKING DAWN, PART I” (2011) Review

Recently, Warner Brothers Studios decided to split its adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s last HARRY POTTER novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” into two movie adaptations. The first was released in the fall of 2010 and the second half, last July. Apparently, they decided to do the same with Stephanie Meyer’s last TWILIGHT novel, “Breaking Dawn”

I discovered that Meyer wrote the novel in three sections. The first section dealt with Bella Swan’s marriage to vampire Edward Cullen and their honeymoon in Brazil. There, she discovers that she is pregnant and that her unborn child’s growth is accelerating at a rapid pace. The second section dealt with shape-shifter Jacob Black’s efforts to save Bella and her unborn child from the Quileute wolf pack, who believe that the child is a monster and poses a threat to the community. The child’s birth nearly kills Bella and leads Jacob to “imprint” (or sense his “soul mate”) upon her. And Edward saves Bella by turning her into a vampire. The final section deals with Bella’s transformation into a vampire, and the Cullens and Jacob’s efforts to save the new baby named Renesmee from the Volturi, who sees her as a threat. Melissa Rosenberg based the screenplay for “BREAKING DAWN, PART I” on the novel’s first two sections.

How did I feel about “BREAKING DAWN, PART I”? I might as well be frank. It sucked. There. I said it. All right. There were a few aspects of the movie that I found entertaining. Billy Burke was funny as ever as Bella’s sardonic father, Charlie Swan. However, not all of the humor came from him. I have to admit that the entire sequence featuring Bella and Edward’s wedding struck me as rather funny. Taylor Lautner, as usual, made some sequences of the movie rather bearable. I realize that I am going to be slapped down for this, but his screen presence has grown rather considerably since he first appeared in 2008’s “TWILIGHT”. Both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison gave decent performances. But I was really impressed by Lautner. The final action sequence in which the Cullens, Jacob, Leah Clearwater and Seth Clearwater fought to protect Bella and her child from the Quileute wolf pack struck me as pretty exciting. However, the birth of Bella and Edward’s child turned out to be one of the most tense and excruciating birth scenes I have ever seen on film. I never want to experience such a thing again. The only reason I had listed it as a virtue was that I thought it was well shot by director Bill Condon.

Despite the virtues I had listed in the previous paragraph, I still believe that “BREAKING DAWN, PART I” sucked. And I cannot decide whether it was the worst or second worst movie in the franchise. The movie had its share of overwrought dialogue and one-dimensional characterization that has marred the franchise since the beginning. Melissa Rosenberg has a lot to answer for. Since the adaptation of this last novel was divided into two films, moviegoers (who were not squeeing fangirls of the franchise) were forced to endure Edward and Bella’s excruciating honeymoon in Brazil. God, what a torment that turned out to be! I realize that the honeymoon sequence was important to the story, considering that it featured Renesmee’s conception and Bella’s discovery of her unusual pregnancy. But was it really necessary to inflict scene after scene of the newly married couple cavorting on a private Brazilian island?

There is another aspect of “BREAKING DAWN, PART I” that really disturbs me. Why on earth did Charlie Swan’s closest friend and Jacob’s father, Billy Black, never warned Charlie about Edward’s true identity? Now, I realize that such a revelation would have forced him to tell Charlie the truth about his family and tribe. But one would think that Bella’s safety was more important. He kept his mouth shut when Edward and Bella first dated. And continued to remain mum when the young couple finally married. I hate to say this, but Billy Black’s silence on the identity of the Cullen family continues to astound me to this day. One can only wonder how Charlie will react to Bella’s transformation into a vampire.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed “BREAKING DAWN, PART I”, but . . . who am I fooling? I could not care less. I disliked the film. Hell, I dislike the franchise. And no action sequence or tortuous childbirth scene could save this movie for me. But since other members of my family are fans of the franchise, I have one last TWILIGHT movie to endure, later this year. And then it will be all over. Thank God!

“ECLIPSE” (2010) Review

“ECLIPSE” (2010) Review

Three weeks ago, the third installment of the ”TWILIGHT” Saga was released in theaters. Based upon Stephanie Meyer’s 2007 novel and directed by David Slade, ”ECLIPSE” continued the story of Isabella “Bella” Swan, the Washington State teenager, her love for vampire Edward Cullen and her friendship with the werewolf shape shifter, Jacob Black. 

”ECLIPSE” began not long after the 2009 movie, ”NEW MOON” ended. In Seattle, a young college student named Riley Biers is attacked and turned by a vampire. He soon becomes the center of a plot hatched by the red-haired vampire Victoria, to turn and create more newborn vampires to be used as an army for further attacks against Bella, Edward and the Cullens. Meanwhile, Bella and Edward continue their plans for a future wedding and Bella’s eventual transformation into a vampire back in Forks. Their plans are complicated by Bella’s friendship with Jacob and the rest of a local werewolf pack – traditional enemies of the Cullen clan. Worse, Jacob still continues to harbor love for Bella and she discovers that she finds herself physically attracted to him – despite her love for Edward. The two plotlines eventually converge when Alice Cullen has a vision of the newborn army attacking Forks led by Riley Biers. Jacob, accompanied by two fellow werewolves Quil and Embry, overhear this, which leads to an alliance between the Cullens and the Wolf pack.

Before ”ECLIPSE” had been released in movie theaters, advertisements and fans of the TWILIGHT saga began claiming that this film was the best of the three movies released so far. Considering my low opinion of the first two movies, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with them. It was certainly better than the first two films in the franchise. What made it better? Quite frankly, Victoria’s plot to kill Bella and get her revenge for her lover James’ death in ”TWILIGHT” did the trick. This particular plotline was responsible for the Cullens and Jacob’s Wolf pack to finally form some kind of alliance. I found it quite interesting to watch the Cullens and the Wolf pack battle against Victoria, Riley and their minions. This plotline also allowed Edward and Jacob to somewhat cease their constantly annoying rivalry over Bella . . . finally. There were other aspects of the film that I liked. I found it interesting to learn about the origins of the Quileute tribe’s hostilities against vampires. I also found the back stories for both Rosalie Hale and Jasper Hale rather interesting. It turns out that Jasper’s background in training newborn vampires for his sire Maria allowed Bella to understand how Victoria was using Riley Biers.

Despite these positive aspects about ”ECLIPSE”, I still found it a trial to watch. Why? Simple. I still had to endure the incredibly dull and tortuous love story between Bella and Edward. Even worse was the incredibly dull and tortuous love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob. Mind you, it seemed a bit surprising to learn that Bella was also attracted to Jacob. But it really did not help matters. Especially when I had to endure the god-awful dialogue between Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, written by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. I fear that Ms. Rosenberg had to utilize a good deal of the dialogue from Stephanie Meyer’s novel. One scene that had me writhing in despair featured Bella’s attempt to “seduce” Edward into having sex, following a conversation she had with her father about her virginity. It went on too . . . damn . . . long. And the dialogue was simply awful. Another scene that tested my nerves and patience centered on Jacob’s attempt to convince Edward to give up Bella, in order to stop her from becoming a vampire. The only thing that made this scene remotely bearable was Lautner’s occasional witty dialogue.

”ECLIPSE” also marked the return of members of the Volturi, the vampire coven that ensured the vampires’ existence as a secret from humans. Apparently, Victoria’s plans to use an army of newborns against the Cullens attracted their attention. I wish to God that it had not. I found them unbearable in ”NEW MOON”. And they were certainly a nuisance in”ECLIPSE” – especially Dakota Fanning’s Jane, who managed to stand around, while attempting to look menacing. I wish to God that Stephanie Meyer had not created them in the first. I tend to compare the Volturi to the game of Quidditch from the HARRY POTTER saga.

I found nothing remarkable about the performances in the movie. Well, Taylor Lautner managed to be occasionally witty, despite the addition of the dreadful dialogue he had to spout in this film. Jackson Rathbone also managed to be rather witty. Nikki Reed gave a surprisingly poignant performance as Rosalie Hale – especially in the sequence in which she recalled the sordid tragedy that led to her becoming a vampire. Bryce Dallas Howard did a solid job in replacing Rachelle Lefevre as the murderous vampire, Victoria. Billy Burke was entertaining, as always, as Bella’s sardonic, yet protective father. Kristen Stewart managed to be bearable in scenes that only featured Bella and Jacob. As for the rest of the cast . . . you can keep them. Including the very popular Robert Pattinson.

I understand that there will be an adaptation of the fourth novel in the TWILIGHT saga – ”Breaking Dawn”. However, the studio had decided to break this particular story into two films. I see that they were inspired to follow the example of Warner Brothers’ decision to do the same with the last HARRY POTTER novel. And considering how popular theTWILIGHT movies are with my family, it looks as if I have more suffering to endure in my future.

“NEW MOON” (2009) Review

 

”NEW MOON” (2009) Review

The sequel to last year’s box office hit, ”TWILIGHT” was released in theaters, last weekend. Based upon Stephanie Meyer’s 2006 novel and directed by Chris Weitz (2007’s ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”), ”NEW MOON” continued the story of Isabella “Bella” Swan, the Washington State teenager and her love for vampire Edward Cullen.

”NEW MOON” began several months after the 2008 film, with Bella celebrating her birthday. However, her life underwent a drastic change when she cut her finger during a birthday party held for her by her vampire boyfriend Edward and his family, the Cullens. Her blood attracted the attention of Edward’s brother, Jasper Hale, and he attacked Bella. Not long after Jasper’s attack, Edward informed Bella that he and the rest of the Cullen clan plan to leave Forks. Following his departure, Bella succumbed to depression for several months, until she renewed her friendship with Jacob Black, the son of her father’s Quileute friend. Unfortunately, Bella’s relationship with Jacob threatened to fall apart, when he fell in love with her despite her feelings for Edward and when he began to manifest into a werewolf – a natural enemy of vampires.

I had not been particularly kind in my review of “TWILIGHT”.  And in ”NEW MOON”, I noticed that some of the aspects I had disliked in the 2008 film were also apparent in this latest film. The dialogue – especially between Bella and Edward – seemed as atrocious as ever. I found the movie’s 130 minute running time to be unnecessarily long. Bella and Edward’s relationship not only brought back bad memories of the romance between Buffy Summers and the vampire Angel during the first three seasons of Joss Whedon’s ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”, it also made me realize that William Shakespeare’s play, ”ROMEO AND JULIET” might be overrated.

But what can one expect from adolescent love in fiction? If it caused young individuals to behave in the most ridiculous manner, then I can deal without it on my television screen or on a movie screen. And just to show how ridiculous adolescent angst was portrayed in this film, all I have to do is point out Edward and especially Bella’s behavior in ”NEW MOON”. For example, Bella sank into a depression for at least four to six months following Edward’s departure from Forks. Excessive much? She also risked her life with stupid acts that included accepting a ride a group of bikers that reminded her of the bunch that nearly accosted her in ”TWILIGHT”, rode a motorcycle before Jacob could teach her and engaged in bungee jumping without any elastic cord whatsoever. Why? Because Bella had discovered that thrill-seeking activities grant her visions of Edward. My God! What an infatuated moron! After Alice Cullen had a vision of Bella’s cliff jumping stunt, Edward assumed that his human ex-girlfriend had committed suicide and decided to kill himself by provoking the Volturi, a powerful coven of vampires, into killing him in Italy. What an idiot . . . and who wrote this crap?

And there were other aspects of the movie that bothered me. I never understood why Jacob and the rest of the werewolves in his pack found it necessary to walk around bare-chested, while in human form. If they were afraid of ruining their clothes, while transforming into werewolves, then they should have did without the shorts and tennis shoes as well. It would have made more sense. And I found the movie’s finale in Volterra, Italy to be a bore. Not only did I found Edward’s suicide attempt a waste of time, I also found his and Bella’s confrontation with the Voluturi vampire coven had seriously dragged the movie’s last half hour. Which also made me realize that using Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning in this sequence as a waste of their time.

Surprisingly, ”NEW MOON” was not a complete exercise in torture for me. It had its moments. I have to give kudos to director Chris Weitz for the original way he had depicted Bella’s depression by revolving a camera around actress Kristen Stewart, as she sat in front of window that revealed views of the passage of time over a four to six month period. Javier Aguirresarobe’s photography of the Pacific Northwest was just as impressive as Elliot Davis’ in the first film . . . and just as atmospheric. I can also say the same about his photography of Siena, Italy that served as the town of Volterra. Many of the interactions between Bella and Jacob seemed like a breath of fresh air, following the overwrought angst fest between her and Edward. With Jacob, she seemed so . . . normal. So relaxing. Until Jacob manifested into a werewolf and declared his love for her. Still . . . Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner had a relaxing screen chemistry that made me wish that Bella had chosen Jacob, instead of Edward.

I had been somewhat tolerant of Stewart’s screen chemistry with Robert Pattison in the first film. But after viewing ”NEW MOON”, my tolerance went by the way of the Dodo bird. I just found it so difficult to endure Bella and Edward’s moments together. Without Pattison around and during Bella’s saner moments, Kirsten Stewart seemed pretty solid. And she also did a good job in carrying the film on her shoulders. Graham Greene gave a subtle performance as Harry Clearwater, a Quileute tribal elder and friend of Bella’s father, Charlie. I also found Billy Burke’s portrayal of Bella’s father, Charlie Swan, a little more impressive in this film – especially in a scene in which Charlie pleaded for Bella to break out of her depression. And Michael Sheen gave an entertaining performance as Aro, the leader of the Volturi coven, even if I found his appearance in the film a waste of time. However, the performance that really impressed me came from Taylor Lautner, who portrayed Bella’s friend and newly manifested werewolf, Jacob Black. If I have to be honest, Lautner struck me as the movie’s true bright spot in an otherwise unimpressive film. He seemed like a natural and very relaxed actor. I also thought that he brought out the best in Stewart, allowing her to be more natural, relaxed and a lot less constipated.

Upon leaving the movie theater, my eyes spotted a poster for the ”TWILIGHT” saga third film, ”ECLIPSE”. Apparently, it is due in theaters next summer. And already, I am not looking forward to seeing it. Then again, perhaps I should. According to my sister (a fan of the movie, who is also familiar with Stephanie Meyer’s novels), the Jacob Black role is even bigger than in this one. I hope so. But a small part of me suspects that this third film might be a continuation of the mediocrity and annoying angst fest already found in ”TWILIGHT” and ”NEW MOON”.

“TWILIGHT” (2008) Review

 

”TWILIGHT” (2008) Review

When I first saw the previews for this adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s 2005 novel about teenage love and vampires, I had no idea that I had a glimpse of an adolescent literary phenomenon. About a week before the movie’s U.S. release, I finally realized what ”TWILIGHT” was all about when I read about the book series in several articles on the Internet .

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, ”TWILIGHT” is about seventeen-year-old Isabella “Bella” Swan, who moves to the small town of Forks, Washington in order to live with her divorced father, Charlie. There, she finds herself drawn to a mysterious classmate, Edward Cullen, who is revealed to be a 108-year-old vampire, but is physically seventeen. Although Edward discourages the romance at first, they eventually fall deeply in love. The arrival of three nomadic vampires, James, Laurent, and Victoria, puts Bella’s life in danger. Edward and his family – Alice, Carlisle, Esme, Jasper, Emmett and Rosalie – put their lives at stake to save her.

I am trying to fight off the inevitable – namely give my opinion of the movie – but I might as well get it over with. I wish I could say that I loved ”TWILIGHT”. After all, the premise reminded me of the first three seasons of a favorite television series of mine, ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” (1997-2003). But I barely liked ”TWILIGHT”. The movie not only moved at a ridiculously low pace, but I barely found it original. Who am I kidding? Aside from the portrayal of vampires as one-dimensionally good guys whose skin glistens in the sunlight, the story lacked any semblance of originality.

I found myself watching scenes that strongly resembled certain episodes from ”BUFFY”, including one that featured Edward feeding from Bella’s blood. Not only do Edward and Bella reminded me of Buffy and Angel, with less bite or complexity, but they also reminded me of the two leads from ”BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” (1987-1990) – Catherine and Vincent. By the way, I was never a fan of the Buffy and Angel relationship. I found it barely tolerable, which is why I preferred Buffy’s more complex and messier relationship with Spike, the series’ other vampire. As for ”BEAUTY AND THE BEAST”, I never became a fan. I found it a big yawn fest. But I was willing to give ”TWILIGHT” a chance. Unfortunately, Melissa Rosenberg’s script barely kept me awake. The dark and wet Pacific Northwest setting did not help.

The cast for ”TWILIGHT” seemed solid. Somewhat. Both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, as Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, managed to generate chemistry. Somewhat. Mind you, I found nothing electrifying about their screen chemistry or performances. I also feel that Pattinson managed to create a more memorable performance than the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, there were moments when he seemed in danger of overdoing it with the Byronic hero persona. Poor Stewart seemed to be stuck with a role that bordered on being dangerously passive for a female lead. As for the rest of the cast, I found nothing memorable about them – including Billy Burke, who portrayed Bella’s father or Cam Gigande (James), who came off as an early Spike wannabe. The teen roles in this movie annoyed me to no end. I realize that many years have passed since I was in high school, but I could have sworn that my fellow schoolmates had sounded more intelligent . . . and interesting than Bella and her school friends.

I wish I could say more about ”TWILIGHT”, but I cannot. I simply was not that impressed with the film. It was not a bad film. It had some good moments, which included a showdown between Edward and James at Bella’s old dance school in Phoenix. Between Hardwicke’s lethargic direction, Rosenberg’s script and the mildly interesting performances by the cast, I cannot see myself becoming a major fan of this movie. Perhaps I will learn to appreciate it more after watching it several times on DVD. Who knows?