Sunday, November 23, 2008

An often grumpy, clearly middle-aged man attempts to review "Twilight"

I tell you all that as a qualifier, so take this review with a big grain of salt but also know this from the outset: Despite its serious flaws as a vampire tale I really had a lot of fun watching Catherine Hardwicke's "Twilight."

I had almost decided to just act my age and skip it altogether, but instead opted to latch on to two friends who are fans of the series who were headed to a Saturday matinee (conveniently making me look like much less of a perv than I might have going to a movie intended for teen girls all by myself.) At my urging, we sat fairly close to the front and therefore away from the twittering masses, who as best as I could tell were very well behaved anyway.

Things didn't get off to the best of starts as the projector malfunctioned during a promising trailer for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," and we were subjected to a 10-minute delay. Theater manager Wes Clark, who knows me well by my frequent theater visits, said he was afraid he might soon have a riot of "Twilighters" on his hands.

But once it finally got going, I found a lot more to like than I expected going in. First and foremost, Hardwicke gives the town of Forks, Washington, (a real place, evidently) a genuine sense of time and place (even though it was for whatever reason actually filmed in Portland, Oregon.) And she does so without resorting to any forced quirks to induce laughs, instead just letting the scenery speak for itself.

Second, apart from the vampires (which we'll deal with later), all her characters have a natural feel to them, starting with young lead Kristen Stewart. She already gets a gold star in my book for her turn in last year's "Into the Wild, and she makes a genuinely engaging lead. And Billy Burke as her clearly in-over-his-head single father gives the movie most of its intentional laughs, especially when he finds a vampire (though he doesn't know that) has shown up to take his daughter to the prom.

Finally on the very good side, the high school our heroine Bella attends is filled (again, minus the vampires) with the kind of kids you'd expect to find in an American high school in a small town. The main quartet (Anna Kendrick, Michael Welch, Justin Chon and Christian Serratos) are refreshingly geeky and insecure, and were an entertaining bunch to watch.

OK, so far so good, but this is a vampire story of sorts, right? Of course, and that's where it starts to fall apart more than a bit because the vamps themselves are (by design, but still) just way too corny.

I mean, I know this is a story for teens and tweens rather than a horror movie, but vampires that play baseball (I'm not kidding) and scurry after woodland creatures rather than feast on the blood of humans? Give me a break (and let's not even get into whether this actually makes them any better on the morality scale.) And what in the world is Dr. Cullen supposed to be, some kind of Noah of the undead? It was just creepy, and not even slightly in the fun, horror movie kind of way.

By the time we get any real action involving any actually menacing vampires there's only about 20 minutes left in the flick, and we've been subjected to so much treacle at that point that it just drains most of the tension right out of it.

So, if it doesn't really work as a vampire movie, does it work as a love story? Well, for its intended audience, I'm fairly certain it was just about right, but for the rest of us it gets more than a little bit ridiculous. As my two fellow moviegoers and devoted "Twilight" fans (and anyone who's read 2,000 pages of anything is "devoted" in my book) pointed out, the book is much more about character and dialogue than plot, which wouldn't necessarily translate all that smoothly to the big screen.

OK, fair enough, but what that leaves us instead is a lot of vacant staring between Bella and her vampire hunk Edward, played by Robert Pattinson. I'm sure this was intended to convey longing, but more than once just made me laugh out loud (and once earned me a sharp elbow to the ribs.) I'm really not sure what else Hardwicke could have done with this, but it just really doesn't work too well in movie form. (And if you haven't seen Hardwicke's flick "Thirteen," which was co-written by "Twilight" vamp Nikki Reed, rent it now and thank me later.)

But all that said, I left the theater with a smile on my face thanks to a sweet ending that adroitly sets up the next chapter, and that's more than I can say for a lot of flicks out there this year. Peace out.


Ashok said...

True that I went to the screening much of hype than enthusiasm but this one plainly killed me right from the start the "vampire" family enters the school cafeteria. I found the acting really sloppy and nothing natural at all. Despite its audiences, it was a poor fair in my opinion. Check out my review and let me know :-). (By the way, I felt a little weird going to this film by myself crowded with teenage girls with their moms and poor men with their girl friends :-D).

Lorraine said...

Not bad for a grumpy middle-aged man. The movie worked for me but then, I've read the books and have a teenager who is completely obsessed with "Twilight". For anyone who isn't in that camp, it wouldn't be a bad Netflix rental but I'm not sure what would compel such a person to see it in the theater. Unless, of course, they are you and do this sort of thing.

I thought you were very fair.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks, Lorraine ... When I see movies like this I always try and consider the target audience, and I think Catherine Hardwicke clearly made a well-better-than-average flick for that set

The Bloody Munchkin said...

I haven't seen the movie, but I have read the first two books and my main beef with the movie right out of the gate was involving Peter Facinelli in any capacity... As Carlisle? Yikes. I'll wait til it comes out on cable....

Bob said...

Filmed in Portland, eh? It seems like usually when movies are set in Washington they shoot them in Canada (much to my chagrin). At least they stuck to the U.S. this time.
I have a review of "Slumdog Millionaire" if you're interested. For now I'll just say this. Danny Boyle has atoned for "Sunshine."

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm glad to hear that, Bob, because he sorely needed to ... My brother has insisted that it's worth my money to drive an hour to Atlanta to see it, and I'm beginning to soften to the idea now that gas prices are plummeting

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