Tag: robert pattinson

The Devil All the Time


The Devil All the Time (2020)
★★ / ★★★★

“Some people are born just so they can be buried.”

Religion is like medicine. For some, it is taken like vitamins: as maintenance, a way to keep impure thoughts and sins at bay. It is a guide, a way of living, perhaps even serving as inspiration to become a better person. For others, however, it becomes an addiction; like cancer, it takes over the whole being. It kills you from the inside, slowly but surely. You live and die by the rules of the Bible. The addiction becomes so overwhelming, it may seep out of you and take others along for the ride. In “The Devil All the Time,” the subjects are taken for a ride.

The work is based upon the novel by Donald Ray Pollock and we follow almost a dozen characters who have been touched by religion in some way. We watch how belief in God, the importance of prayer, and keeping faith get passed down, like DNA, from one generation to another… and as people move across states from Ohio to West Virginia—then back again. On paper, it is a fascinating story of people simply living their lives and dealing with the cards they’re dealt with. It is survive or perish out there. But as a film, it is dramatically inert. Notice that halfway through the picture it remains so busy in laying out foundations as why we should care for the individuals being paraded on screen that it forgets to answer the question, “So what?”

A boy named Arvin Russell (played by Michael Banks as a nine-year-old in 1957 and Tom Holland as a teenager in 1965) is the fulcrum of this ambitious tale. His father (Bill Skarsgård) is a U.S. Marine veteran who served in World War II. In Japan, Willard witnessed a bloodied marine hanging from a cross as thousands of flies eat him alive. Willard shoots the man dead as an act of mercy. But something inside Willard died along with that marine. We follow him as a single man, a husband (the wife played by Haley Bennett—a real presence) and later as a father who feels as though he is just hanging on by a thread. Skarsgård convincingly carries the man’s mental heaviness in the eyes, his body, his entire being.

There is a memorable sequence in which Willard teaches young Arvin how to stand up for himself (he is bullied in school)—and the ones he loves. Violence sometimes being the answer is a lesson that Arvin chooses to carry with him. I appreciated how in some scenes, whether it be through lighting, framing of a face, or movement of the camera, looking at the increasingly desperate young man is like laying eyes once again on the tormented father.

But the supporting characters are not given the amount of time and depth as they should have if the story were to be complete. We meet the likes of Sandy and Carl (Riley Keough, Jason Clarke) who murder hitchhikers (and take pictures for souvenirs), Preston the tyro preacher (Robert Pattinson) who is a walking hypocrite to a corrupt cop (Sebastian Stan) who values his reputation above all. But they remain just that: figures that Arvin the good guy must come across eventually.

But why must he come across them? Does each encounter unveil something new about Arvin? Does it awaken or solve past traumas? Will these experiences shape the man he will become? In addition, as corpses pile up, I found myself feeling apathetic. “Well, there she goes,” I caught myself thinking at some point, instead of feeling specific and powerful emotions due to the fact that a person’s journey has been cut short, the rest of her life un-lived.

Antonio Campos directs the film in an unhurried manner, conscious about providing event and character details that will prove to be crucial later on. He also has a grasp of how poor people live, how it is like to be inside their homes, the clothes they wear, their occupations, the kinds of food they serve. There is without question that the director (who co-wrote the screenplay with Paulo Campos) cares about telling a human story with all the complexities that come with it. But he is not successful in mining the drama once all the pieces are in place to deliver knockout blows. It fails to show why this specific story is worth telling.

“The Devil All the Time” might have been better off as a two- or three-part miniseries. It certainly would have allowed more time for details about the supporting characters to be fully ironed out. And so when the inevitable crossing of paths occur, we’d have a better appreciation of every single moving part. But at its current state, it is unrealized potential, a disappointment.

The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Psychological horror picture “The Lighthouse” is a step back for director Robert Eggers. In “The Witch,” he is able to take a period story, set in 1630s New England, and construct a deeply unsettling tale around that time and place. It peers unblinkingly into a dark folklore and we buy every second of it. It is told with clarity, relentless energy, and with a period dialogue so uncompromising at times that it risks frustrating most viewers. In his follow-up, however, co-writing with Max Eggers, although the story takes place on an island in 1890s New England, photography in black-and-white, it feels just like any other modern twisty tale of a man’s madness unspooling in an isolated, lonely location. I received little enjoyment from it.

It cannot be denied that Willem Dafoe’s performance is entertaining. As Wake, the ill-tempered supervisor of Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who is prone to believing superstitions of the sea, he is extremely watchable when the camera places him front and center, recalling experiences he claims to have had and how he manages to tie them—no matter how tenuous—to the current predicaments that he and Winslow find themselves in. Although Pattinson attempts to match the veteran’s effortless magnetism—and there are a few moments when Pattinson is effective—he pales by comparison.

Histrionics, particularly toward the end when secrets have been spilled and blood has been spattered, are unconvincing and forced; I felt awkward during instances when the performer would go off-script because he is so into the moment. Particularly challenging when it comes to period films is that every second must feel and sound believable. I felt certain reactions to dire situations needed to be edited, cut short, or reshot altogether. Modern acting in period movies, unless this concept is meant to be the point, is most distracting. When it comes to Pattinson, who has been terrific in risk-taking roles prior to this (“The Rover,” “Good Time,” “High Life”), I felt I was watching an actor acting rather than being.

The relationship between the two men of vastly different ages and even bigger differences when it comes to how to approach the job they are tasked is meant to be rocky, a constant source of conflict. There are a handful of amusing moments when Wake would unfairly remind Winslow of his lower rank just because the old man can, but especially when Winslow broaches the subject of never getting to see the lamp of the lighthouse. Wake appears to be obsessed of being alone with that lamp. Why? Dafoe’s wicked performance suggests there might be a sexual component to it. One night, due to nagging curiosity, Winslow walks to the top of the lighthouse and sees his partner, lying naked, in the same room as giant, octopus-like tentacles. The movie gets more bizarre from there.

One of the Wake’s odd superstitions is it is bad luck to kill a seagull since each bird contains a soul of a sailor who had died. This idea ties nicely to the final shot of the film, but it commands little power or irony because the storytelling, for the most part, is muddled, composed solely of one peculiar happening after another: a mermaid encounter by the rocks, getting dead drunk and experiencing nightmares, hallucinations born out of guilt, and the like. The formula gets repetitive and exhausting after a while.

Although some thought is put behind these images, I was reminded too often of other generic psychological horror pictures in which an untrustworthy protagonist grows even more unhinged as the story moves forward. Remove the black-and-white photography in addition to the silent film aspect ratio of 1.9 to 1 and there is nothing special about “The Lighthouse.” Not once did I feel scared, or surprised, or thrilled by any of the plot developments. I found shots of ocean water crashing against the rocks during a storm to be far more hypnotic than the wild goings-on.

High Life


High Life (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

The obtuse but consistently fascinating “High Life” tells the story of a group of criminals, each one either sentenced to life in prison or on death row, who are given the chance to serve science by going to space, approaching the nearest black hole, and collecting its rotation energy. On the way there, most of them participate in an experiment involving artificial insemination led by Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a doctor who murdered her family. The work offers a tight and slow pacing but never boring, supported by numerous ideas like the value of a life within a microcosm, freedom in an enclosed space, and what it means to have purpose during what is essentially a suicide mission.

There is a strong possibility that most may sit through the film and find little to no value in it. The closing chapter, after all, is anticlimactic, tinged with sadness, and open-ended. One cannot be blamed for asking, “What’s the point?” But I believe the aim of the screenwriters, Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau, the former directing the picture, is not to tell a work with a defined shape through precise plotting. This is supported by a non-linear storytelling followed by some vague build-up surrounding fates of particular characters—some die in the hands of one another, others choose to kill themselves, one or two entirely by accident. It is a prime example of a story in which the value lies upon the journey more than the destination.

The work is shot with a keen eye. Never mind the neon lights. Beauty lies in actual details, like the many routines the criminals must partake in, especially when inside Dr. Dibs’ highly impersonal clinic. For example, because she rules over that space, and knowing her obsessive approach to create a life in space, bodies are treated like cattle. She does not ask questions unless answers may be relevant to her work. When she herself is asked questions, she is often dismissive. When a participant expresses distaste for her project, concerns are not addressed directly or elaborated upon. She values her samples over the people who provide the samples. A case can be made that the character symbolizes the oppressive system back on Earth. And yet Dr. Dibs is not portrayed as a villain.

Aside from Binoche’s single-minded “second chance” doctor, another standout character and performance is Monte, played by Robert Pattinson. In the opening sequence, we learn he is the only adult survivor aboard the ship. But he is not alone. There is an infant with him—a little girl that we assume to be the product of Dr. Dibs’ artificial insemination project. I found it strange but curious that although Monte and the baby is supposed to be the heart of the picture, given they are introduced prior to the rest of the characters, I did not find myself invested in their relationship or story. Or perhaps we are meant to feel this way, to prey on or capitalize upon our assumptions that a father figure and a helpless child must be the focal point not only within the vastness of space but also among criminals of varying degrees—from petty crimes, drug addicts, to rapists and murderers.

“High Life” offers an enveloping experience, filled to the brim with thick atmosphere and a sense of foreboding. In some ways, the core is a muted horror film surrounded by ideas closer to science-fiction. Like the Dr. Dibs character, it is, for the most part, impersonal. It is uninterested in making us like the characters. In fact, we are encouraged to dislike some of them. On the surface, viewers may sneer at all the artificiality—its use of light, the synth music. But I think that those who manage to see through the fog may find something worth examining.

Maps to the Stars


Maps to the Stars (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) makes a trip from Jupiter, Florida to Los Angeles, California because it has been seven years since she had seen her family—the very people she tried to set on fire. Her goal is to make amends but she is unsure whether enough time has passed for them to be able to forgive. In the meantime, she gets a job as a personal assistant to Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an actress with many connections and even more personal demons, including a history of drug abuse.

“Maps to the Stars,” based on the screenplay by Bruce Wagner, is not the sharpest biting satirical film about Hollywood culture but it does command highly watchable performances across the board. There are plenty of familiar faces, from Robert Pattison as a limousine driver to Carrie Fisher playing a version of herself, and just about each one, no matter how brief they appear on screen, intrigues. Looking at the material from a big picture point of view, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. The bad, erratic, and self-destructive behaviors are present but there is no soul. At one point one cannot help but wonder, “What’s the point?”

Not surprisingly, Moore is the standout performer. Although Havana is not the lead character, Moore plays Havana as larger-than-life but tragic. In one scene she is despicable, but the succeeding scene makes us wonder that maybe there is more to her than pills, guilt, and a past she is unable to run away from. The best scenes involve Havana wanting to get a part so badly—a role that her late mother played many years ago—that she comes across as on the brink of breaking down. So people around her tiptoe. She, too, is in self-denial; she thinks she’s a bright star but in actuality, maybe she needs to focus on getting into the right frame of mind to be able to handle holding down a job.

I did not expect to feel sympathy toward a child actor who is a complete jerk to everyone he encounters—even to young fans who just want a simple autograph. Thirteen-year-old Benjie (Evan Bird) already has a history of drug abuse and he is trying to keep clean—not because he wants to necessarily but in order to keep a role that his mother (Olivia Williams) thinks he should hold onto. I wondered at times about the kind of future Benjie might have given he continues traveling in the same self-destructive track.

Looking at their rather palatial home, one must wonder why the mother insists that he remain in show business. Is it for his future or is it a way for her to compensate on what she feels she is lacking, a missed opportunity when she was young? Of course, in a movie like this, which follows expected beats in terms of story arc, the answer is somewhat obvious.

Directed by David Cronenberg, “Maps to the Stars” shows the ugly side of being in the Hollywood machine: the vanity, the histrionics, the exploitation, the loneliness of living in spacious home but there is no joy or laughter in it. There is a sadness here that the picture seems almost afraid to touch, afraid of delivering more dimension to cynicism. I get the point that it aims to make but cynicism must be paired with something else—preferably contrasting elements—or else the film ends up being a one-note critique.

Damsel


Damsel (2018)
★ / ★★★★

I suppose a congratulations is in order for co-writer-directors David and Nathan Zellner because they have created one of the most torturously unfunny comedies I have come across in a long time. It offers such a miserable experience that I noticed my body, spirit, and comportment wilting in unison about a third of the way through. I have no idea what possessed these filmmakers to go in the direction that they did; it goes to show that just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should.

“Damsel” is a mishmash of comedies: a spoof of grand Western pictures that Hollywood used to make, a satire of the often romanticized American frontier, and a slapstick comedy that pokes fun of the roughness and lawlessness of the era. But none of them works, together or apart, because the screenplay has a certain attitude about it, a knowingness that fails to ground the material in such a way that viewers recognize the heart of the story despite hurricane happening all around. What results is an episodic boredom, a dirge so excruciatingly painful to sit through that one could feel IQ points dropping by the minute. It inspires the viewer not to look closer at the screen but to walk away.

The plot is seemingly straightforward. The passionate Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) hires a preacher (David Zellner) to officiate a wedding ceremony, the latter unaware that the former’s love interest, Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), must first be rescued from hooligans. Nothing is at seems initially, but the sudden left turns are not at all surprising. These so-called surprises have little impact, if any, because, without them, the audience would simply have to endure uninteresting characters engage in increasingly tedious conversations. Notice that although many words are used, they are not meaningful because the self-awareness in the script undermines what characters are expressing, especially moments that are supposed to come across even mildly heartfelt.

Pattinson has been great in other projects, particularly in the dystopian drama “The Rover.” Here, however, nearly every body language and distinct style of speaking comes across as a performance. Like the screenplay, the self-awareness is translated as fake at best and off-putting at worst. He has failed to create a character: what we see is merely a series of behavior that is supposed to be entertaining. And he has failed to create a convincing character because the screenplay is devoid of creativity or imagination. Wasikowska does not fare any better; it is like watching a mannequin take up space for fifty minutes.

Some viewers may label this film as “weird” because it is a comedy but the end result is not funny. I, on the other hand, refuse to use this wonderful word to describe this most appalling work. The more appropriate word is “lazy.” The reason is because the Zellner bothers thought they could get away with creating a hodgepodge of sub-genres and the end product would be given a pass because it could be considered unique, something that had never been done before.

But I ask: What’s the point of striving to create original material when the work is without sincerity, without soul? Comedies, you see, often have a point—even the darkest, bleakest comedies attempt to make a statement about, for example, the current state of our society or where it might be heading. Some comedies are more specific or more pointed in assaulting the viewers’ ethics or morality. And some simply try to entertain by casting a wide net—there’s nothing wrong with that.

Being different is not enough; I am not interested in handing out participation trophies.

Good Time


Good Time (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Directors Benny and Josh Safdie should give themselves a pat on the back for crafting a film that could have been ripped out of the ‘70s when gritty, unpredictable crime-thrillers roamed free. While there is not a shortage of films containing stories that unfold over the course of one night, few are memorable, effective, and capable of connecting with the audience without a typical or expected character arc. “Good Time” is pure style and energy. It dares to be seen without blinking because the filmmakers are uninterested in making compromises.

The plot involves a robbery attempt gone wrong by two brothers named Connie (Robert Pattinson) and Nick (Benny Safdie). Although the former is aware of his mentally challenged sibling’s limitations, he chooses to take Nick along for the ride anyway. I admired that the script does not provide a reason why Connie has taken this most unwise course of action. Throughout their interactions and from the way Connie looks at his brother, we can surmise that Connie is so desperate to connect with or share something he values with his brother, that anything at all will do—even if it involved crime. It assumes the viewers are observant. Although a crime-thriller, its dramatic core is defined and able to shine through despite genre conventions.

Pattinson’s interpretation of his character is fascinating because not for one second does he intend for us to like or root for Connie. He exhibits a complete understanding of the character because nearly every scene points to the fact that Connie is a loser, a liar, a user. He is not above throwing anybody under the bus so long as it gets him closer to his goal of freeing Nick from the police. Desperation reeks from every pore of the wanted man and Pattinson embodies the drowning character so well that I had forgotten I was watching a performance. His performance matches the level of intensity and intelligence of the script.

Tension-filled scenes are crafted with purpose and precision. For example, watch carefully in how the bank robbery is executed. It is not flashy, there is no music to guide us what to think or how to feel, the focus on the characters’ minute facial expressions, their hands, whether they are shaking or calm, how the bag of money is grabbed and handed from criminal to bank teller. Mainstream or Hollywood films would have involved a proclamation, “This is a robbery!” with accompanying shots of a gun or rifle. Screaming of patrons. Here, the directors mire the situation in silence. Their actions speak volumes. And because it is silent, we anticipate the possibility that something will go wrong very soon.

I found myself most drawn to the look of the film. Scenes shot in daylight and indoors appear to have a sort of filter between us and the New York City the picture presents. As a result, the colors appear rather muted as if to communicate that this is the way the main character sees and processes the world. Perhaps this is why he is so reckless because excitement paves the way for a brighter world. This observation connects to the idea of the brothers hoping to leave the city for greener pastures after the robbery. I think they are not only running from the police but also from the environment that shaped them.

The Lost City of Z


The Lost City of Z (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Lost City of Z,” written for the screen and directed by James Gray, would fit right in had it been released in the 1970s when movies of this type were still being made and seen by adventurous audiences or viewers who may temporarily crave for adventure. It is no surprise then that some, or many, modern audiences may be numb to its appeal. They are likely to cite pacing issues, a lack of a defined script, a standard dramatic parabola expected from more recent biographical works. I admired and enjoyed the film exactly for these reasons.

Here is a portrait of a man with an obsession that evolves over decades. Initially, his obsession is social mobility, his need to be regarded by other men wearing medals as an equal. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) wishes to be respected. But travel changes a person. We observe how this man is changed every time he returns home from the jungles of South America as his family and peers function as mirrors, reflecting the image of the man he once was. There as interesting discussion to be had whether Percy is more or less of a person each time an expedition ends. I argue he becomes more than what he thought he could ever be; I related to his thirst for knowledge and the need to illuminate those unable to look past themselves.

The picture commands beauty through its use of calculated lighting. Never too bright nor dark, its grayish appearance gives the impression of looking into a memory. Images may be awash with dull colors but it is fascinating how emotions are consistently at the forefront, sharp, and confronting—whether it be a disagreement amongst fellow explorers on how to proceed with their travails or subtle expressions of deep regrets for having missed out on lost time with one’s wife and children. There is a point to every scene which may not always progress the plot but just about each one tells an interesting detail about the man whose body is never found after his journey in 1925.

Scenes that take place in the jungle reminded me of Werner Herzog’s excellent “Fitzcarraldo” and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” Although not as epic in scope as Herzog’s masterworks, this film captures the dangers and unpredictabilities of exploration. It takes its time to show us the river, how difficult it is to navigate through when everything is going right and how nearly impossible it is when every element is going wrong. Even humor can be found in the most dire and desperate situations. I enjoyed how we get a chance to meet different tribes, to infer what they value based on what can be found in their environment, the jewelries they wear, their treatment of strangers who dare set foot on their territories. Clearly, this is a picture for a patient audience. Those willing to look closely will be rewarded.

“The Lost City of Z” may not be for the general audience of today, but it is for me. Its elliptical storytelling technique communicates courage, its willingness to slow down so we have enough time to appreciate beauty and to dig inside ourselves suggests it values that we have a spiritual experience, its ability to present its subject as virtuous and flawed creates complexity worth a conversation. Here is a film that actively works to engage the viewer, possibly in ways that a viewer doesn’t expect from having decided to jump into a story about a man hoping to find proof of a mythical lost civilization.

The Rover


The Rover (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Stained with bleakness gray, desert-dry yellow, desaturated dirt and grime, “The Rover,” directed by David Michôd, is a picture that is clearly made with a vision. It is to be admired in parts for two reasons: its visual presentation of rural Australia after an economic collapse and the performances by its two lead actors. But the film is a disappointment in that it fails to engage in the long haul. We want to get to know it, but it does not let us in such a way that by the end of the experience, we feel as unwashed and emotionally drained as the characters look and feel.

The story begins with three men (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field) stealing another man’s car after they get into an accident. Eric (Guy Pearce), sitting in a bar while the trio break into his vehicle, would not have anybody stealing from him and so he uses the thieves’ transport—still functional after an unbelievable acrobatics—to go after them. The sequence that transpires on the road has an ironic sense of humor about it that discerning viewers will likely suspect that it is building up to something.

Robert Pattinson steals the film because he delivers an odd, magnetic, and at times sensitive performance. He plays one of the brothers of the car thieves and we meet Rey with a bullet in his midsection. Pattinson has a way of acting in a scene with dead blank eyes and yet it is not boring. It is because everything else is interesting: his posture, the awkward way he moves, the tension in his lips, the way he strings words together. The predictable thing to have done was to play the character tough and unstable. He takes the unstable part and twists it in such a way that we become interested in learning who he is despite the screenplay not giving much.

And therein lies the problem: The screenplay by Michôd is so inaccessible or deliberately opaque at times that the story ends up not having a defined shape. While it is a positive quality that we get the impression that just about anything can happen, especially with its tendency to erupt into quick bursts of violence, it is difficult to care about what might transpire. I caught myself being along for the ride, admiring a handful of its technical achievements, such as the score and choice of soundtrack, but I was disconnected from its core.

The picture is highlighted by several seconds of brilliance. Several examples include a vulture observing a man waking up from unconsciousness, a young girl bleeding from being shot through the chest, and a confession that takes place at an Army base. There is not enough connective tissue in the material to underscore these memorable seconds and unify them into a theme.

“The Rover” is not about entertainment but about texture. Notice the people we meet, how famished and desperate they appear. Look at the desolate environment. Just about every place Eric and Rey visit appear as though a riot or pillaging had taken place there at one time or another. We notice the dirt on their clothes, limbs, and faces. The hunger in their eyes or revenge. On the basis of style and mood, at least it delivers.

Water for Elephants


Water for Elephants (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jacob (Robert Pattinson) has a promising future despite the claws of The Great Depression running deep. But on the day of his final exam, critical to his certification as a veterinarian in Cornell University, his parents perish in a car accident. After finding out that his family’s house is to be taken by the bank, Jacob, an only child, hits the road and ends up aboard a train which houses Benzini Brothers performers. Camel (Jim Norton) decides to take Jacob under his wing and introduces him to the boss, August (Christoph Waltz), in hopes of getting him a job. August reluctantly hires Jacob as the circus vet but it is not long until the seventeen-year-old orphan notices August’s wife, blonde-haired Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the star attraction of the circus.

Based on a novel by Sara Gruen, “Water for Elephants,” directed by Francis Lawrence, is most engaging when Jacob and August play tug o’ war over Marlena. Even though they are husband and wife, August treats Marlena as his plaything, as something that he can brag about indirectly, shamelessly as they sit next to each other in front of company.

August is a smart but cruel man, especially to animals because he sees them as less than, simply a way of making money. When consumed with rage, he does not think twice about picking up a sharp object and stabbing the animals with it until the anger has been drained out of him and blood has been drained out of the animals. His cruelty to them causes a rift between he and his wife, who genuinely loves animals and appreciates their innate beauty and intelligence.

This is where Jacob comes in. Marlena sees a kindness in him and thinks it is refreshing. Over time, though reluctantly at first, their feelings for each other reach a peak and they realize that they need to get out of the circus before one or both of them ends up dead.

The dark romance, or ownership, between husband and wife and the dreamy romance between wife and younger man is handled with clarity and respect without sacrificing necessary implications for complexity. It is important that we do not see Jacob as someone who is out to destroy someone’s marriage. This is why it is necessary that the exposition be given ample time to be presented and unfold elegantly. We learn to see him as a man–not necessarily a physically strong man but a man with strong convictions–who might hold the key to Marlene’s cage. Pattinson holds his own against Waltz and Witherspoon.

The weakness of the film is not spending more time on Rosie the elephant. Aside from the important scene near the end, what exactly is the elephant’s relationship toward Marlena and Jacob? There is something about the animal, capable of understanding language, that is purposefully magical, almost human-like in its ability to understand emotions and intentions. More scenes are required to strengthen the connection between the elephant and the lovers.

“Water for Elephants,” based on the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, is beautifully made. I liked the techniques it employs during the circus performances like muffling the sounds just a little bit to emphasize the images and how they are accomplished without CGI. It does not forget that magic is found in what is real.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Three days after Edward (Robert Pattinson) turned Bella (Kristen Stewart) into a vampire in order to save her life moments after giving birth, it appears that it is literally happily ever after for the couple and their half-human, half-vampire child named Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy). But when Irina (Maggie Grace), sees the little girl from afar, she is convinced that the Cullens have committed a most egregious crime. In the vampire community, it is illegal to create an Immortal Child because they cannot be controlled. She proceeds to report what she had witnessed to the head of the Volturi, Aro (Michael Sheen), vampire royalty who maintains the secrecy of vampires’ existence from humans. Treating the matter with utmost urgency, it is decided that the Cullens are to be forced to meet true deaths.

There is no point in hiding the fact that a part of me groans a little every time I watch a trailer of an upcoming “Twilight” picture ever since the first installment disappointed my already low expectations. And yet I continued to watch the series because although it is most often a letdown (it does have some good moments), for me, it always had potential to become an above average action-fantasy and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer and screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, proves that my suspicion is right.

The first part drags as if we have forever to spare. There is a contrivance involving the Cullens, now including Bella, attempting to keep a secret from Bella’s father (Billy Burke). That is, he cannot know that his own daughter has been turned into a vampire. As usual, the screenplay provides very little depth to the circumstances so the Cullens end up very unlikeable. The most effective fantasies come hand-in-hand with being well-written. It is paramount that it establishes a world that we can immerse ourselves into so when an outrageous thing like preventing a father from knowing that his child has died (essentially), we understand and sympathize with the moral and ethical conundrums.

There is a little bit of everything from the past films, from Jacob (Taylor Lautner) taking off his clothes before he transforms into a werewolf to Bella and Edward looking longingly at each other (key word: long) before they start to grab each other’s bodies and the filmmakers bathe whatever is going on in warm colors. Small dosages go a long way because it gives more time to explore new territories. The film begins to pick up momentum when the Cullens recruit vampires from all over the globe to support them just in case a battle erupts between them and the Volturi.

The action scenes toward the end are thrilling. A few characters we have grown to like (and hate) meet the most gruesome deaths, limbs are chopped off, and bodies are burnt. I liked that the war is not between army of thousands but only a couple of handful. And since the good guys are outnumbered around three to one, there is enough threat to wonder how many of the good guys will survive. In the middle of the pandemonium, I could not help but wonder how much I would have enjoyed the series more if the writer and filmmakers’ creative license had been exercised more often. I admit that the twist at the end had me going. It should not work but it does here.

“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” directed by Bill Condon, may disappoint fans of the novels but, as a movie, it ends on a right note. I enjoyed the action. Also, I found that the thicker a vampire’s accent, the more I am inclined to want to know more about him or her. For instance, I wished Vladimir (Noel Fisher) and Stefan (Guri Weinberg) were in it more. However, I am reluctant to give the film an enthusiastic recommendation for sheer action. A lot of questions are unanswered, many motivations are unexplored, and the first third is lifeless. Having said that, it is the most fun of the bunch.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Invitations were sent to family and friends about Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward’s (Robert Pattinson) upcoming wedding. Jacob (Taylor Lautner) was far from happy after receiving the news so he headed outside, took off his shirt, transformed into a wolf, and ran to ameliorate his rage. During their honeymoon, Bella discovered that she was pregnant. The couple was surprised because it was believed that a human and a vampire could not conceive a viable being. The fetus was growing at a rapid rate and it threatened the life of its host. Despite sensible advice that she ought to terminate, Bella decided to keep the thing inside her. Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” was the weakest entry in the series. It was divided into three parts: the wedding, the honeymoon, and the horrific pregnancy. There was absolutely no reason for the film to be divided into two halves other than to make money. There was no pretentiousness, which I would have welcomed and possibly interpreted as ambition, or even an attempt of artistic integrity. The movie lacked interesting events, both big and small, designed to challenge who the characters were and what they really stood for. Since Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the screenplay, stretched about half the novel for almost two hours, the pacing felt unbearably slow. It got so bad to the point where the characters actually ended up watching television together because they had nothing better to do. At least it was unintentionally funny. The acting was never the series’ strong point, but I’ve always managed to stick with it. In this installment, I lost my patience within the first few minutes. It was supposed to be Bella’s wedding day. It’s a big day when everyone is supposed to be excited and happy. Or at least pretending to be. Walking down that aisle, Bella looked absolutely miserable, like she was being punished and in pain. Take off the wedding dress and she looked like she really needed to go to the restroom. I understood that maybe she was nervous about marrying a vampire. Maybe she was even having second thoughts about making a monumental commitment. If those were the emotions that the actress wanted to portray, the responsible thing to do was for the director, Bill Condon, to do a reshoot until the right emotions were conveyed through the screen. The director had no control over his material. It looked like the filmmakers did only about ten takes and were forced to pick the best one, which was below mediocre. I’ve seen Stewart’s work in other movies and I know that she can act well given the right script and direction. I wish Jessica (Anna Kendrick), Bella’s friend from high school with whom she never interacted with, had more lines during the scenes prior to the wedding. Kendrick brought a certain energy, a realism and effortless charisma, that the other actors either didn’t have or were unwilling to show. “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” could not afford its characters to look bored because the pacing, the script, and the plot were already on the verge of lethargy. For instance, instead of showing the Cullens, Bella, and Jacob just sitting on the couch and watching TV, why not explain the concept of imprinting? It was an important part of the movie, but I found myself having to look up exactly what it was after watching it. Like the parasitic creature in Bella’s womb, that’s not a good sign.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Before returning to Hogwarts for his fourth year, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) was haunted by nightmares involving Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) hiding and waiting for the perfect opportunity to finally gain his strength. Meanwhile, Hogwarts hosted the Triwizard Tournament in which a champion was chosen from from each wizarding school: Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) from Durmstrang Institute, and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But this year was a unique case because the Goblet of Fire had also chosen Harry, only a fourth year, to participate. I find “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” directed by Mike Newell, one of the most fast-paced installments in the series. I highly enjoy it every time I watch it because I love the way competitions unfold. I was happy that the filmmakers took a gamble and actually showed the competition as very dangerous and intimidating. Up until this film, we did not get to see much blood and dark magic. There was a breath of fresh air in the story because we finally had a chance to see negative tension between Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint), as well as Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson). Both involved jealousy–the former jealousy involving celebrity (or lack thereof) and the latter jealousy involving a budding romantic relationship. On the other hand, Cho Chang (Katie Leung) caught the attention of our protagonist. Much of the humor came from the awkward interactions between the teenagers, the things that went wrong when hormones took charge, and sarcastic remarks. Since the film painted the teenagers as always on edge, there was real tension as they struggled to find their identities. Furthermore, the addition of students from other wizarding schools made the magical universe that much bigger and the issue of camaraderie despite language and cultural barriers was a touching common theme. Given that “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is my second favorite book of the series, I had very high expectations from the film. I am aware that a lot of hardcore fans did not enjoy it as much as I did because it left out important details (or got it wrong altogether) and that the screenwriters failed to remain loyal to the book in terms of character development. While I do agree to some extent, if I had not read the book, I still would have enjoyed the movie because the adventures were so thrilling. There were some truly scary moments (the third task in the tournament), very curious mystery (the addition of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody played with great fun by Brendan Gleeson), and there were a plethora of laugh-out-loud comedy (pick any scene that had to do with the Yule Ball). My only minute criticism was that the male actors should have gotten much-needed haircuts.

Like Minds


Like Minds (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Gregory J. Read, “Like Minds” or “Murderous Intent” was about two boys in prep school who had a complex relationship. One ended up dead (Tom Sturridge) and the other was sent to jail (Eddie Redmayne) because evidence suggested murder. It was up to a forensic psychologist (Toni Collette) to figure out what really happened between the two and to try to gather evidence that could potentially allow the surviving boy to be released from jail. The film was something I had not expected. I’ve seen a number of movies about prep school and murder but I did not expect this one to be so involved in history and psychology. Since I had studied the latter subject, it was relatively easy for me to grasp what was happening on the surface. However, since my weakest subject was history, I found the discussion of the past somewhat confusing so I don’t think I fully saw the big picture. Having said that, the movie was full of tension and had a knack for delivering the unexpected. I thought it did a great job establishing the twisted relationship between Sturridge and Redmayne; they were interesting together but it was creepy at the same time trying to deal with a roommate from hell who had a penchant for dissecting dead animals. However, I wished that the picture had more scenes of Collette doing her own investigation instead of relying on the surviving boy’s stories. One of the best scenes was the climax in which she finally stumbled upon some evidence because she delivered subtleties on her body movements and facial expressions that went beyond the fact that she was scared and she wanted to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. What did not work for me was the detective (Richard Roxburgh) in charge of the strange deaths. I thought he served no purpose to the overall picture and he was the most one-dimensional character. Instead of helping out Collette’s character, he kept on wanting to get together with her and it was very distracting. “Like Minds” may be a small film and somewhat uneven at times but the mystery fascinated me and there was an intelligence behind the storytelling. The two boys did a great job playing predator and prey, especially Sturridge’s ability to shift from intense and piercing glares to blank but evil eyes. He reminded me of a more versatile and magnetic version of Robert Pattinson which amused me because I found out later that they were good friends. Fans of creepy, slow, sometimes disturbing psychological thrillers will most likely find “Like Minds” pretty enjoyable.

Remember Me


Remember Me (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Robert Pattinson stars as Tyler who had issues with dad (Pierce Brosnan) because Tyler still blamed him for his older brother’s suicide. Tyler also believed that dad did not spend enough time with his daughter (Ruby Jerins), a very gifted budding artist who was often bullied by other girls in her class. However, life started to get a little brighter when Tyler met Ally (Emilie de Ravin), the daughter of a cop (Chris Cooper) who unfairly arrested Tyler the night before. I would have liked this film more if it had stuck to being a typical romantic drama about finding, losing and regaining romance. Instead, it pulled a ridiculous “twist” in the end that was totally unnecessary which, I have to admit, made me feel angry and emotionally cheated. I’ve read other reviews and others seem to have been moved by the final act because they claimed it was “shocking” or “revelatory.” I thought it was pretentious and it was done for mere shock value. It was unfortunate because I actually enjoyed this picture in parts. I loved how Tyler was an active role model in his sister’s life. He always gave her support and I felt his pain for losing his older brother who he obviously looked up to. He was often histrionic whenever his father was around but I understood where the anger came from because the father was a workaholic and it seemed like he did not want to spend time with his children. Tyler was blind to the fact that the job was his father’s defense mechanism. The personal struggles of the characters interested me even though at times the story was somewhat unfocused. It had too many subplots which was comparable to a pretty good two-hour pilot of a television show. I know that the shocker of an ending aimed to comment on the consequences of reconnection happening too late in the game and that we should be willing to forgive others but it was too heavy-handed for my liking. The performances were fine: Pattinson, unsurprisingly, was good at brooding and was able to deliver intensity (accompanied by glares) when required, I felt Brosnan’s coldness and charm at the same time, and de Ravin was precocious. The only one I found to be truly annoying was Tate Ellington as Pattinson’s roommate. His voice was not the kind of voice I would like to wake up to in the morning. In the end, “Remember Me,” written by Will Fetters and directed by Allen Coulter, was crushed by its own ambition. It was not aware of the line between true emotional impact and exploitation. The former is earned while the latter is not.