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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Twilight review

“Twilight”

 

by Bob Garver

 

            Catherine Hardwicke’s “Twilight” is a film about a romance.  Like many great stories of its kind, the young lovers’ romance is forbidden.  Unlike most great stories of its kind, one of the young lovers is a vampire. 

            Vampires are usually more at home in horror movies than romances.  But “Twilight” depicts them as tragic figures.  For example, they never age, but they don’t want people to think they’re vampires.  This means constantly moving from town to town, never staying long enough to make any friends.  Not that they would want anyone getting too close to them anyway.

            For the vampires in “Twilight,” their biggest problem is their craving for blood.  They absolutely need it to survive, but they don’t want to be murderers.  Some are able to survive by drinking only animal blood, but they know that human blood is the most delicious and alluring. 

            Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) has the most alluring human blood of all.  She’s never encountered a vampire before, so she doesn’t know this about herself.  But that all changes when she moves to the small, rainy town of Forks, Washington.  Here she meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a vampire who falls in love with her – or maybe he’s only in love with her blood. 

            Not to worry.  Edward and his family are all friendly “vegetarian” vampires.  They welcome Bella into their home with open arms and controlled teeth.  There are some evil vampires that eventually make for official danger, but most of “Twilight” focuses on settling the viewer into the story’s little world. 

The film is based on the first of a best-selling series of books by Stephanie Meyer, so there are sure to be sequels with more adventure.  Still, director Hardwicke makes the film plenty exciting without often resorting to cheap vampire violence.  As with her 2003 film “Thirteen,” (rent it - it’s one of the best films of the decade) Hardwick does a fantastic job of making the audience care more about emotion than action. 

Of course, there will be some who don’t want emotion instead of action.  Some will complain about the characters constantly focusing on their inner pain.  They want to see characters in physical pain from vampire bites.  For these people, the film could prove to be a long two hours.  For these people, I recommend playing Popcorn Games:

-Eat a piece of popcorn every time the movie introduces a potential love interest for Bella.

-Vampires are expected to be pale.  But eat a piece of popcorn for every time Bella appears particularly pale even though she has supposedly grown up in sunny Phoenix.

-Eat a piece of popcorn for every time Robert Pattinson gives the camera a look designed to make teenage girls swoon.  No, wait, you’ll get stuffed doing that.  Eat a piece every tenth time he does this.  I’ve never seen a camera more in love with an actor. 

-A fun activity for the Cullen family is playing a baseball game right before a thunderstorm.  As vampires, they have super-speed, super-strength, and can jump super-high.  In this scene, eat a piece of popcorn for every ability on display which would be better suited for Superman than a vampire. 

-An action scene takes place in a dance studio.  This is so we can get several strange angles from the studio’s many mirrors.  Eat a piece of popcorn every time someone smashes one. 

Opinions are going to be split on “Twilight.”  It makes for a pleasant drive, but there isn’t much of a destination.  Hardwicke’s inspired direction should tip the balance into positive territory.  But don’t go into “Twilight” expecting a typical gruesome vampire movie.  Above all, it is a romance. 

 

“Twilight” is playing at the Hershey Cocoaplex (312-1300) and Cinema Center of Palmyra (838-4809).  Contact the theaters for info, tickets, and showtimes. 

 Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu. 
10:02 am est 

Quantum of Solace review

“Quantum of Solace”

 

by Bob Garver

 

            Like many franchises, the James Bond series has recently undergone a reinvention.  2005’s “Casino Royale” introduced us to a Bond with more depth and feeling.  Played by Daniel Craig, the new Bond was excitingly original.  He wasn’t just a warm body in a tuxedo.  

            “Quantum of Solace” takes Craig’s Bond out for a second spin.  Sadly, the new model is already growing stale.  It is too soon after the reboot for us to get a “filler” Bond movie.  Yet the villain is dull, the love interest is dull, the action sequences are dull, even the opening song is dull.  Craig still makes a good Bond, and Judi Dench plays his boss M to scene-stealing perfection.  But the rest of the movie is bland and unmemorable. 

The film takes place soon after “Casino Royale.”  Bond and the rest of MI6 have since focused their efforts on taking down the unnamed organization responsible for the betrayal and death of former girlfriend Vesper Lynd.  Their investigation leads them to a key figure (though by no means the head) named Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric).  Greene’s diabolical plan involves taking over Bolivia by hoarding its water supply and getting an evil dictator (in Greene’s pocket) into office.  How the former leads to the latter is never exactly clear.   

The love interest for the film is Greene’s “girlfriend” Camille (Olga Kurylenko).  She’s only using Greene so she can get close to the dictator, who she passionately wants to kill.  Bond convinces her that she’ll have a better chance of getting revenge by working with him instead of with Greene.  Surprisingly, Bond doesn’t try to pursue a romantic relationship with Camille.  He regards her as a friend with a thirst for revenge, much like himself.

None of the characters care much about stopping Greene (an uninteresting villain with an uninteresting henchman who wears slightly-oversized sunglasses), so a good chunk of the plot involves corruption in MI6 and the CIA.  They worry that Bond may have turned as well, but he convinces them otherwise by evading them and knocking most of them silly.  Again, it makes about as much sense when I explain it as it does in the movie. 

The plot is a convoluted mess, but at least there should be some good action sequences that have little to do with it.  Alas, the film fails on this level as well.  The editing is so distractingly quick it’s hard to keep track of Bond, let alone individual bad guys.  There’s also a lot of bad CGI. 

There’s little to hold one’s interest in “Quantum of Solace.”  My recommendation is to pass the time playing Popcorn Games.  Popcorn Games are where you eat pieces of popcorn according to what happens on screen.  Here are some Popcorn Games you can play with “Quantum of Solace”:

-In the opening credits sequence (a staple of the franchise), eat a piece of popcorn for each time you get a good look at the characters’ faces, even though true Bond fans know the figures are supposed to be faceless silhouettes. 

-A minor character is killed in a way intentionally reminiscent of a classic Bond scene.  When this happens, eat a particularly golden piece of popcorn.  You’ll understand why when the time is right. 

-Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) shows up, but he may switching sides.  Rate the likelihood of this actually happening on a scale of one to ten and eat the corresponding number of pieces.  It should be one. 

-Roll your eyes and eat a piece of popcorn for every time someone sets Bond up for the trademark “shaken, not stirred” line, which he didn’t use in “Casino Royale” and doesn’t use here.  I guess they’re waiting for the next movie for him to finally say it. 

The title “Quantum of Solace” refers to the fact that revenge provides an extremely small amount (“Quantum”) of comfort (“Solace”).  The film doesn’t even allow Bond to be put in a position to really get revenge on anyone, which would actually be intriguing.  I hope they’re building to a much-better next installment, but this one could just as easily be called “Quantum of Entertainment.” 

 Robert Garver is a guest columnist who lives in Palmyra, PA.  He is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University.  He is the owner and operator of www.bobatthemovies.com.  He spends his weekends working at Cinema Center of Palmyra so he can be closer to the movies.  He can be contacted at rrg251@nyu.edu
10:01 am est 

Madagascar 2 review

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”

 

by Bob Garver

 

            There was once a time where animated movies were a rare treat.  There would maybe be one or two a year, but they would be great.  A lot of effort went into them because they were so hard to make.  But the hard work almost always paid off with a fun experience for the whole family.  Somewhere along the line, that changed.  Maybe the technology became easier, maybe the studios made more of an effort to cash in on earlier successes.  The point is that animated movies are now a dime a dozen and we’re stuck with junk like “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.” 

            The first “Madagascar” was about a group of New York zoo animals who got stuck in unfamiliar Africa.  This time they get stuck in… another part of Africa.  The difference this time is that they meet other animals like themselves, as opposed to the first one, where they mostly dealt with lemurs.  But even among their own kind, they’re still fish out of water. 

            There’s Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) whose father (the late Bernie Mac) is Alpha Male of the local pack.  He doesn’t know that Alex is a tame New York lion, and there’s a lot of miscommunication between the two.  Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) is glad to finally have some zebra friends, but worries that he’s losing his individuality as part of a group.  Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) is excited to finally have the chance to date male hippos.  Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) has crush on Gloria and is afraid he’ll lose her to a hippo. 

            There’s also a particularly stupid and annoying lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen), an incompetent evil lion (Alec Baldwin), a mean old lady (Elisa Gabrielli) who likes to hit animals with her handbag, and some smart-alecky penguins who get the movie’s best lines.  However, the penguins are voiced by the film’s creators, who clearly gave themselves all the good lines.

            Most of “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” consists of three types of gags:  family-friendly crude humor (lots of butt jokes), some light physical comedy (bonks on the head, often courtesy of the old lady), and pop culture references.  Pop culture references are what ruins a lot of recent animated comedies.  There’s a part where Alex – as a punchline – confesses to breaking Marty’s iPod.  The joke is that it’s silly for animals to have iPods, but the mere mention of an iPod is expected to get a laugh.

            Young kids may get a kick out of this type of humor.  I hope they don’t.  Adults will almost surely find sitting through the film to be a chore.  To pass the time, I recommend the following Popcorn Games:

            -The penguins act as pilots on a crude airplane.  Eat a piece of popcorn every thirty seconds until someone finally makes the inevitable “penguins can’t fly” joke.

            -Eat a piece of popcorn every time there’s a “subtle” race joke involving Marty. 

            -Eat a particularly big piece of popcorn every time someone compliments Gloria’s massive weight, even though what they say would be incredibly insulting to a real person.  Apparently, weight remarks work opposite with hippos.              

            -Eat a piece of popcorn for every time Alex’s father’s mood shifts inexplicably because the plot requires it to.

-Once again, Alec Baldwin thinks he’s being funny by playing far below his dignity.  Every time he does something way too goofy, eat a piece of ham, I mean, popcorn.  

 

One or two desperate cash grabs like this aren’t enough to ruin the “Childrens’ Animation” genre.  There are still plenty of entries with legitimate wit and imagination.  Just be aware that more and more animated comedies are being made lazily as “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”

 Robert Garver is a guest columnist who lives in Palmyra.  He is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University.  He is the owner and operator of www.bobatthemovies.com.  He spends his weekends working at Cinema Center of Palmyra so he can be closer to the movies.  He can be contacted at rrg251@nyu.edu
9:59 am est 


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