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Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
½

http://postavant.com/2009/11/review-the-twilight-saga-new-moon-chris-weitz-2009/

Before I begin writing any sort of review for The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Chris Weitz, 2009), I would have to give my history with the franchise. I was peer pressured to read the entire series just when it started to become popular, and as I finished the first novel, I was floored by how soul-crushingly awful it was. I think Stephenie Meyer and the way she glorifies her insanely warped views on relationships, sex and most of all just general human decency are disturbing, especially because of how her words and beliefs as defined by what she was written in these overlong messes of novels have become accepted by literally millions of females young and old. When I read New Moon, it seemed like it became even worse; the big bag of psychological disorders (Edward Cullen) who constantly wants to kill you and eat you, the abusive angry jerk (Jacob Black) who constantly wants to smash your face in, and the bothersomely vapid girl who everyone thinks is perfect and amazing (Bella Swan), loving the idea of either treating her like some sort of secondhand citizen and most of all, a rapedoll. You could read lots of essays and analyses about how the Twilight novels pretty much spells the end of feminism as we know it, so I?ll save you the time.

The first Twilight film earned a 2/100 from me. Catherine Hardwicke, who has directed some pretty effective work in the past, most notably Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, had created a teen film that was so uneffective in every way that it was embarrassing to see that while it would make more money in a day than the rest of her films ever made, it might as well have been the end of her career. Every problem present in Meyer?s literary abortion was just amplified by the film being an absolute mess. The production values, from the special effects to the score (we know this isn?t your fault, Carter Burwell) to even the simple stuff like a sound effect were abysmal. Fans attributed this to the film being ?low-budget?, but considering what the film required and the $37 million they had to spend, there were better production values when Danny Glover was in that very laughable car chase in James Wan?s first ?Saw? film. The film was an unwatchable mess that benefitted so much from the midnight showing that I attended, it was a step away from witnessing The Room, except instead of throwing spoons we had a bunch of overweight insecure teenage girls wetting their pants at the times that fans of the Tommy Wiseau film would have screamed ?BECAUSE SHE?S A WOMAN!?

This transitions us into Chris Weitz? New Moon, which starts out in this really awkward void. A large moon takes up the screen, and slowly fades away to reveal the title, which happens so slowly, it was evoking a bit of a 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe. Bella is running through a sea of red robed men and has a really vivid dream of Edward approaching her in a field where she turns into an old woman. This shot, and many more to come, are actually rather beautiful. But as far as I knew at this point of the film, it was still as awful as ever, and of course I was cracking up (only one to be doing so, naturally) every time Eddie sparkled all over his nearly naked body. It?s funny, it will always be funny, but it?s not like it is a hole that any filmmaker can dig out of at this point.

Then once the initial fifteen minutes of Bella whining to Edward and the Cullen?s of how she is growing up and wants to be a vampire so badly, the film does something that I never would have expected in a Twilight film. It takes every single complaint and joke made in a thread like the New Moon and Twilight threads in General Discussion at Rotten Tomatoes and makes it well aware that they know what is up. Edward is a 109 year old man who lurks high school for tail; this was on the mind of nearly everyone of my ilk, and now it?s been addressed. It was far more sugarcoated in the novel, and from that point on, the film manages to take it?s full stride.

Bold hyperbolic statement time: The film works very well for what it is and is still godawful if you view it the way Stephenie Meyer would want you to. But watching it for what it is, it is a lesser, more ambitious take on Hal Hartley?s Trust. A love story (or in this case, triangle) of some very screwed up people, and on top of that, these ?perfect? characters are now nothing more than very immature, very angsty teenagers, and the film goes out of its way to show that. It?s safe to say that Chris Weitz has singlehandedly reinvented Twilight. That itself makes it clear that New Moon is nothing less than extraordinary. It takes an abymsal series and alchemises it into a cinematic silver medal. The film goes into business for itself, and when Weitz claims that this is supposed to be his signature piece after the studio-mangled bomb The Golden Compass, I believe him. He used this as an outlet for the film he wanted to make, and I feel confident in saying that Eclipse and Breaking Dawn won?t have this level of auteurism. And yes, I did call a Weitz brother an auteur. Shoot me.

When Edward finally breaks up with Bella because of Jasper?s little CAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE moment and the fact that she?s just a dumb loonie (but let?s face it, so is he), the film goes almost completely into self mockery, and through that self mockery it becomes a double edged sword. As the camera goes into 360 while Bella stares out the window, the months progressing, the sheer ridiculousness of her behavior is nothing short of hilarious, yet the cinematic effectiveness of it all makes even its most funny moments more emotionally effective and provocative than anything in the Twilight novels or the first film. It flat out criticizes all the behavior that is considered angelic by the fans of the series, yet does it in such a way to where fans can pull a completely different message from it. It is just as emotional as the most die hard fans think it is.

The tonal issues that Twilight had are fixed in a splendid way this time. All the times where Twilight was accidentally funny have been made to be hilarious to its own credit. The high school friends are now made into real people, while them and the rest of the high schoolers of the last film were nothing but grossly offensive carichatures. It gives talented actors like Anna Kendrick room to breathe and really put a nice edge to the film. The high school in the first film was one of the worst I?ve seen in a film; now it works better than it even needs to. That said, the Cullen family has been far reduced, and while they were by far the best thing about the first film, the entertaining and interesting nature of the film is reduced to one scene. It is mostly replaced with a greater focus on Jacob Black and his family, which I will get to later, but let?s get this out of the way, they?re awful. Edward is awful and all, but I would call myself ?Team Cullen? only because ?Team Black? is a bunch of annoying twits that deserve to be mauled by dogs?spoiler alert.

A long lull in the film that gives stuff a little time to breathe yet also pads the runtime too much for its own good comes from the development of Bella and Jacob as they bond and become this cutesy little almost-couple as Bella is constantly having nightmares and making hell for her father (Billy Burke), who in just about every scene has a big wide face that screams ?My daughter is such a derpderp.? As Jacob becomes an outlet for Bella to get over Edward, Jacob gets drawn in by the always shirtless, airbrushed ab-showing fatties of his indian community. He cuts his hair, gets a tattoo, and suddenly threatens to beat the crap out of everyone, including our dear friend Mike, in one of the truly hilarious scenes of the film. Another bold statement, but only for me: Face Punch is the funniest movie within a movie since The Flower That Drank The Moon.

A big flaw of the book still present in the movie is that sideplot that brings our pseudo-villains from Twilight back into the action, Victoria and Laurent (sp?), who are boring, not theatrening at all, and serve as nothing more than a boring distraction. This dragging subplot serves as nothing more than a distraction to move some things along, and give us more opportunities for some absolutely awesome shots and scenes that have very little to do with the film itself, and show more of the stamp of the filmmakers doing what they wanted with the material. It?s too pretty, it?s too witty, and too insightful on its own vapid subjects where as I?ve stated and will continue to, I?m shocked how this film actually worked.

That said, the film has some serious third act problems. The whole Volturi subject, which are supposed to be the ?villains? of the series, are both incredibly tacked on and are portrayed as some really nice, cool yet evil dudes. Michael Sheen and co. only really have one and a half scenes, but Sheen, who I?ve never seen not be great, seems to have so much fun with the role that with a some more screen time, he could absolutely steal future films from any director or actor. But, a line that comes towards the beginning of his performance, ?Such a waste.? that he says in passing is pretty reflective of his role. It?s a tacked on annoyance that makes all this screentime left to those annoying werewolf boys fall flat. Edward?s stupid little suicide move leads us to the film?s one token action scene, which is anticlimactic but is about 200x better than one of the worst action scenes I?ve ever seen, from Twilight. An underplayed shot of a tour group being lead in by a hot vampiress in Italy to the room of vampires, who devour them all, is something that borught a huge smile to my face. This family of royalty is incredibly sinister and evil, and Weitz plays that well, but these are supposed to be the villains of the series, and I?m pretty sure that Stephenie Meyer does not want virgin viewers of the films wanting the Volturi to kill the shit out of Bella and Edward. Because I sure did.

And then?it ends. Jacob tries to blackmail Edward and treats Bella like she owns him, Bella finally takes a stand for once in her life and tells Jacob to GTFO, and then Edward asks Bella to marry her before he turns her into a vampy. It is made soul crushingly obvious that ?being the one to turn her? is just a thinly veiled metaphor for losing your virginity, which in Meyer?s books, is treated like 1. something that someone like Bella desperately needs and 2. something that will cause you to suffer immeasurable pain the rest of your life. Spoiler alert for Breaking Dawn: holy shit is #2 true. I don?t need to spell it out, but this series is going to be really awesome when it gets to that point and if Lars Von Trier, David Cronenberg or Richard Kelly don?t get offered it, bring Weitz back. It is clear that he understands rapewolves and ?when she?s 7, she?ll look 17″ and ?he eats her because he?s hungry?, and that is why this film works. It eviscerates Twilight and while it probably will not be recognized by ANYONE as the game changer that it is, this may have saved the Twilight franchise from being a tremendously shitty fad a la Hannah Montana. I love the Harry Potter books, but New Moon is a better film than Half Blood Prince. Despite it being a tremendously flawed film, New Moon is probably the biggest surprise of the year. It took something I hate and floored me with it?s willingness to show just as much disdain for the characters as I have, some fantastic cinematography, and also a willingness to take itself seriously in a very mature way. The cliffhanger is almost as stupid as the one at the first Twilight, but instead of some flashy credit sequences with Radiohead?s 15 Step, it is Alexandre Desplat?s score set to some very shadowy yet classy text.

Hate the film as you might, and probably should because the source material is so awful (if you haven?t read it, don?t), you can?t deny that this is both a massive step up and far different from the first film. Actually, you could deny the former, but the latter, nah.

TEAM TYLER?S VAN!

7/10

EDIT: Postavant reader Armin helped me put it together; this film works because Weitz pretty much played every card from the Buffy playbook. Have to add that as in.

Also, read my Tweets that I made before and during the film at http://www.twitter.com/postavant

Cloverfield
Cloverfield(2008)
½

Since I first saw the trailer on a camera phone in July, Cloverfield has been a film that has consumed me. I watched both trailers hundreds of times, 1-18-08.com was my homepage until October, I studied the trailers, I studied the websites, I was on all the blogs, I was on Youtube, I was literally obsessed with this movie. I am a sucker for viral marketing, as the Halo 2 I Love Bees proved before all of this exploded onto the internet. But now, after keeping myself completely spoiler free the last three days, all this Slusho and Tagruato business really meant nothing. Nothing can prepare you for what Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams have created in the most thought provoking, intense, scariest, saddest disaster films ever made, and by far, the best monster movie ever produced. My audience hated it, because they just didn't know what they were getting. We never really know what we are really seeing, which most monster movies go great lengths to explain to us everything, what the monster is, where it came from, why it's here, how they kill it, while Cloverfield does none of this, and for a really good reason.

People were incredibly skeptical of the Blair Witch "gimmick" used in the film, which in Blair Witch, it was a clever gimmick to make up for the incredibly low budget. But here, it is almost a necessity to the film's success, we go on a journey with these characters who continue to strive on, for different reasons. We don't get a big picture, we see what four people see with a video camera, and they see a lot. There's no cutting corners from seeing the monster or the destruction happening in New York City. We hardly see the monster at first, but as more buildings crumble and the skyline is only submerged in smoke, the monster comes in full view, but it's not like it matters, because it is almost indescribable. It's not a lion, it's not Cthulhu, it's better than that, it's something like an arachnid from the sea, it walks on four legs and is a lot like a spider/scorpion with sea creature eyes, and has little scorpion locust things that cause most of the grisly death in the film that you do see, as most arachnids do on a small scale. We don't know anything other than what's on the way from Point A to Point B, but we are taken on a journey that only gets worse for the people you're thrown into this apocalyptic New York City with, and the emotional trauma that is presented as things get put into place. Every character is pretty real, because it doesn't try to have characters in the traditional sense, just the people you'd meet at a party.

The film relies entirely on the journey and the imagery presented by it. The film only cost upwards of 20 million dollars to make, though it is more real and haunting in its imagery than I Am Legend or any other film with large amounts of special effects. The film starts with these characters absorbed in their own little problems, until things start to become life and death. Your best friends, your family die around you as you try to find a way for you and those you care about to survive. Friends and acquaintances helping each other survive something horrible and dying in the process, only with a whimper as everything around you is going on with a bang. The people are all scarred by what happens to them, and while it is never said, they all know that all hope is lost. What you see by the end of the film could never be portrayed traditionally with such sadness and power. Cinema can try, but can never capture the emotion of real life tragedy. But Cloverfield does. The last frames of the film are our two lovers, after falling apart, and reuniting through their self-sacrifice, letting it all go and spending their last moments in each others arms, ending off their video to let them know exactly what happened to them. Unless if 2008 is an amazing year, this is the defining moment of both the film, the year, and the monster movie genre. My little brother and the rest of the audience were complaining that there was no aftermath to the film, and they couldn't be any more wrong. This isn't about the monster, this is about the people who saw it, fought for each other, died for each other.

Cloverfield is a short 75 minutes, but you really don't know that until you look at your clock. Other than the 15 minute setup, which provides more of a feeling of realism as the film, after all, is only supposed to be about a brother and a best friend giving Rob a going away present. But the rest of the film is straight up, balls to the wall intensity. It's something that I wish could be the majority of my review, but there's not much to say other than the frantic war between the military and the monster, and the monster's feast on the civilians, while the military also tries to keep the hurt alive. Along with the special effects, which are pulled off so perfectly, there is nothing like this, and won't be for a very long time. This is some of the best action ever put on film, I'm sorry for the hyperbole, but you don't know until you see it. You really don't know, and you won't be able to imagine it, at least I couldn't. This is material that will make your heart skip beats, and it could have only been pulled off in this perspective. Who cares if we don't see the news except for the initial newscasts when we don't know what's going on in any way, who cares if we don't see the President and the government planning a way to deal with this situation. Who cares if we don't know if the monster is contained (if you listen to the very end of the credits, it's not. It's still alive.), and if it spread or what happened. If they didn't know, neither should we. When Cloverfield 2 comes out, which it will, this film was sold out at the screening I went to with 800 seats, we will probably get to know all of this in the first minutes, since all of this information, in the context of the film and how it's presented (it's a U.S. Government tape, recovered from what was formerly Central Park), but even though I wanted to know everything, since I spent so much time in 2007 trying to figure out, I'm not supposed to know, and neither are you. Those who let this bother them and were all booing and saying a bunch of stupid shit (the same people who talked through the first ten minutes about god knows what), it's your loss because you are wanting your films wrapped in a shiny bow, all Michael Bay style, because that's how you are used to your films. My audience for No Country for Old Men was the same way. You don't care how far they would have to reach for something like that, just because after thought hurts your brain.

Cloverfield could have not been done any other way, nothing could have been changed or altered for any reason. The film does what no monster movie in the past has been able to do. Create pure fear. Trembling, haunting fear that will stick with me for a very long time to come.

The Brothers Bloom

"There's no such thing as an unwritten life, only a badly written one."

[img]http://i26.photobucket.com/albums/c123/lorenzobongo/BBWeiszHeartsm.jpg[/img]

The entirety of the film hinges upon the belief that both cons are artists, and that artists are cons. The film starts off with three, count 'em, three cameos by Brick cast members, playing relatively similar characters as their characters in Brick, but with the entirely different tone that The Brothers Bloom puts on. Noah Segan (Dode) is a much more clean cut version of his character, Nora Zehetner (Laura) still has that cold, frame-stealing presence that made Laura such a great femme fatale, and Joseph-Gordon Levitt (Brendan) just sits in the background, hardly moving a muscle, not even featured in the credits but made obvious that it's him, just idle, much like his character, while he was the main aspect and focus of Brick, to the perception of anyone other than himself, he was quiet and non-noticeable. The film throws these characters out there and throws them out that scene, a send-off from Brick giving us some pseudo-continuity, showing that the style and structure of Brick is thrown out the window and thus Bloom begins.

The excessively contrived nature of both Brick and now The Brothers Bloom, where every little moment seems to have impact in the future, no detail being insignificant, is finally made self-aware through Ruffalo's character, who serves as the manifestation of Johnson as the writer of both films. Stephen Bloom constantly has written their lives and all of their cons, living them all, removing any sort of actual identity. The fascination and knowledge with literature is constantly being expressed, and the initial conflict of the film rests with Bloom (Adrien Brody) wanting "an unwritten life", a thing Stephen mocks.

The way the plot is webbed together is as multifaceted and layered as these cons we witness the brothers pull off, and when the initial meeting of Bloom, the con man, and Penelope (Rachel Weisz), the "epileptic photographer", which the first real conversation they have after all of the awkwardness presented by Weisz, who pulls off this socially inept girl perfectly, centers around her fruit-made pinhole camera, and that the un-duplicatable nature of any artform is a secret within a secret. The con man's art is taking something away from someone without their knowledge, the artist's con is giving something to someone without their knowledge.

As the con upon Penelope unfolds, the con is too clever for it's own good in regards to how the audience is having to perceive it. The amounts of loopholes, tricks, and sheer wit being presented makes all of the Joker's excessive planning and trickery in The Dark Knight seem relatively simple, and it's very easy to believe that Stephen Bloom's web of lies is perfectly realistic, as is Rian Johnson's web of lies in his script. For example, the con of Penelope is that they wittingly reveal to her that they are indeed con men and that they already have conned her of a million dollars, and becomes a member of their crew along with their non-English speaking partner, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), who has very little dialogue but as she proved in Babel, can convey and have a dominating presence on screen with body language. The level of Stephen's con is incredible in the way that only he in the end understands it, as each con contradicts the other in his master plan where the levels of reality and plotting merge. With this confusion, the incredibly humorous and charming tone that the film takes on is thrown into a loop, bringing us back to the very dark, emotional angsty tone of Brick. As the stroke of the writer's hand in his life is being pulled away, it seems as if the story is being written anyway, and it is. The audience is sometimes in the know of the con while the characters aren't, and sometimes only the characters know while the audience is conned into thinking that the con has ended.

The ending of the film is when any of this begins to matter in the grand scheme, much like how the sum of the parts of Brick would not matter nearly as much if not for the ending's importance. The brothers are eventually double crossed, but Stephen, constantly living the con, cons his brother into believing that this is all a part of the con. Stephen is able to get Penelope and Bloom away to go off in their life. It has to be said that problems do exist with this ending, as instead of the really satisfying reveals of Brick that are foreshadowed feel legitimately shocking and filled with weight, the foreshadowing here tends to be obvious. Lines of dialogue such as "The day I con you is the day I die." and the focus on how fake blood, a common trait of the brothers' act, how it does not turn brown with time as real blood does, and how they are usually stated right after another at least three times during the film, were really sloppily handled in comparison to the entirety of Brick and to the rest of the film. The entire film hinges upon the con of every art being "written", whether written or written badly, every little aspect of the world having to be calculated and consciously made with the intent to make things seem as normal and unwritten as possible. This climax sort of falls in the "written badly" department, as it's the only time when Stephen's con doesn't slip, but Rian's does. That said, the shot of Bloom looking at his brother's blood on his shirt as he and Penelope drive away and seeing it turn brown is really one of the more memorable shots of the year. It carries the emotional weight of Laura walking away down the football field at the end of Brick.

Speaking of cinematography, the two very strong aspects that also felt homegrown are still present in Bloom, being the cinematography and the score. The score is very similar to Brick's with the instruments and homemade sound, while the cinematography borrows some pointers from the Wes Anderson handbook, as the entire style of the film's look and humor is a mix of two Anderson's; Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson. It's a very fresh style that Johnson employs in this film, yet still feeling familiar. The humor is plentiful and there are many laugh out loud moments during the film; unlike Brick, it's incredibly fun. The location shooting is beautiful, though my bias exists even more than the rest of the film, given my understated love for Brick; I was in Prague four days before I saw the film in the exact location that about a half hour of the film takes place. Having pictures on my hard drive right now that nearly match identically some of the shots is quite exciting, walking along the same alleyways of the city square as the characters gave me this excitement that makes me really wish I saw the film before I went. Johnson does as much as he can with the scope of the plot, as a way to makeup for how limited the scope of Brick was. The budget of this film was around $20 million, while Brick was around $500,000, and it shows. The awkward editing that was sometimes a necessity in Brick due to the shoestring approach has now been turned into a style by Johnson, his sudden cuts halfway through an action and during action sequences now work to his advantage as opposed to being a deterrant. The film is absolutely beautiful to look at, as Johnson already made the suburbs of Santa Monica look gorgeous on the cheap, taking advantage of this worldwide scope was very much working to the advantage of the film. The imagery matches the whimsy of Penelope, seeing these places for the first time much like the audience, showing us so many areas of the world in such a short amount of time.

Early in the film, Stephen says to Bloom with the prediction in mind that he would fall in love with Penelope, and he as the grand puppetmaster, the symbolic Mary Sue of Rian Johnson, he was absolutely correct, and while Bloom will want to ride off into the sunset, all sunsets turn into dark, uncertain nights. This line can easily be forgotten by the end of the film, a lot happens in that timespan while not much happens before this point, and Penelope and Bloom drive off into the sunset, and the screen fades to black. The end of Brick ends with Brendan and Brain walking back to normalcy, getting some sleep after the events that sat in front of them through the duration of the film. Then in Bloom, Johnson casually says bye to Brick, as if we will never see it again. That story has ended. However, Bloom and Penelope are still driving after the runtime ends. This kind of Rian Johnson is here to stay, but with much uncertainty as to where he will go. But let it be known, he is no one trick pony, and critical division and terrible release patterns by both Focus on Brick (the PTAs that movie was getting still baffles my mind; they just don't make sense as the film had no major draw that early without WOM) and by Summit with this film. That said, Rian Johnson is one I can definitely call an auteur with a distinctive craft all his own, one that you can't duplicate, but it's all one big con anyway.