Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Moon fails to shine



Directed by Chris Weitz
Starring Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Anna Kendrick, Michael Welch, Justin Chon, Christian SerratosJackson Rathbone, Cam Gigandet, Peter Facinelli, Graham Greene, Dakota Fanning,

The stunning success of director Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation of author Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight onto the big screen in 2008, helped audiences buy into the kosher and wholesome tale on teen love, albeit one half being the mortal Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and the other the vampire hottie Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), in a big way.

Twilight was well scripted and the excellent Hardwicke managed to harness as much of the limited acting talent that the cast collectively possessed in a masterful way and gave us a movie that delighted everyone who saw it. Almost every scene in Twilight worked its vampiric charm on the viewer.

New Moon, the sequel to Twilight, is a sad story, on the other hand. Both literally and… well, actually, literally in every way.

The opening title sequence for New Moon is quite the bummer indeed. It shows a moon in the process of being eclipsed. And it’s downhill from there most of the way.

In part two of this film series, the love between teenagers Bella and Edward blossoms and the lass visits the Cullens household to celebrate her birthday. Lo and behold, what does Bella do when she opens a present? Get a paper cut. In the midst of vampires? Oh well, Meyers’ books were originally meant for teenagers. And such things could and do happen, we tell ourselves, living as we are in a world where suspension of disbelief is as easy as A-B-C.

Anyway, this causes Edward “I-don’t-want-you-to-turn-into-a-vampire” Cullen to rethink his relationship with Bella “Just-bite-me-dammit-and-turn-me-into-a-vampire-already” Swan, and the noble bloodsucker decides to break off with Bella rather than constantly risk having her as a possible chef’s special on the Cullens’ menu every time Bella meets his family.

As a result, the bulk of New Moon is about Bella pining and whining for Edward after the United Studs of Cullens and their lady companions leave town to “protect” Bella.

This is where the film bounces the idea of love on the rebound with He-Man Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) trying his darn best to convince his friend Bella that he is the right choice as her mate. Jacob, as you all already know is not only a dishy young man but also a ferocious wolf.

There is little resistance from the lonely Bella and she gets close to him. But it is clear to see who is numero uno in her heart. She pines hard for Edward and her unbelievably (and annoyingly) loud moans in the middle of the night attest to it. Why her poor father does not pack up his bags and leave the crazy howling daughter of his is anyone’s guess.

And all of this, as car-reviewer extraordinaire Jeremy Clarkson would say, of course, neatly brings us to the new director of New Moon.

His name is Chris Weitz and he is an unbelievably bad director. The cast already has limited acting talent going for them (except for Lautner and Dakota Fanning, who are the only ones with decent acting chops) and Weitz does absolutely nothing to help them along with his direction. His set-up of scenes are very, very unremarkable as are his framing of the actors in the shots.

It is a shame indeed, after the glorious work done by Hardwicke (which is the only reason why New Moon was rather highly anticipated compared to any other movie this year), that someone else with lesser talent was brought in to replace her and direct New Moon.

The final word, though, is that if you are an ardent Twilight fan, then you would catch New Moon if only to see what’s been happening to the characters after the first film, and before the next movie in the series comes along sometime next year. If you are not an ardent fan, then be warned that New Moon suffers from a severe case of middle-child syndrome as it is absolutely insipid as a cinematic piece of work.

A tale beautifully wrapped for Christmas




A Christmas Carol

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Starring the voice talents of Jim Carrey, Steve Valentine, Daryl Sabara, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins

Like a pretty Christmas present, A Christmas Carol -- the classic Charles Dickens tale of the awakening of a cold human heart -- is beautifully wrapped around striking computer-generated visuals.

The tale is still the same, set in the industrial age which Dickens was not fond of for what that intensely capitalistic age did to people and their values, and director Robert Zemeckis’ deft screenplay adaptation keeps the issues that were raised by Dickens’ novel relevant for the times we live in now.

A Christmas Carol is a tale about the importance of putting people and kindness above materialism and central to conveying the film’s message is Scrooge (Jim Carrey), a mean old man who is so utterly driven by profit that he drives people away from him with his unkind words.

The story is set seven years after Scrooge’s equally mean and nasty business partner, Marley (Gary Oldman), dies. The ghost of Marley visits Scrooge on Christmas eve to warn him to mend his selfish ways or suffer a miserable existence of bearing heavy chains for eternity after death. To open Scrooge’s eyes, Marley explains, three ghosts will appear: the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come.

Of course, prior to Marley’s creepy visit, audiences get to see ample display of Scrooge’s nasty side in his rude dealings with his employee Bob Cratchit (Oldman), his nephew Fred (Colin Firth), some fund raisers and Christmas carolers.

Besides Scrooge, Carrey, displaying a gluttony for roles, also voices the three Christmas ghosts as well as Scrooge when he was a young boy, teenager, and middle-aged.

The visits from the ghosts are self-explanatory by their very names. In the past, Scrooge is seen a little boy affected by a strict and almost-cruel father. Then, as a teenager, he displays sparks of interest in life and goodness. Later, as a young man, he works for a wonderful man, becomes very likeable and meets his lovely wife. However, by middle-age, Scrooge’s marriage falls apart when he starts obsessing about money and his path towards a hateful existence is well and truly on the way!

This being a Zemeckis film, the story packs quite a bit of wallop indeed, all the way from the stunning visuals (I hear Oscar bells ringing) to the delightfully punchy script.

Keeping to Zemeckis’s fascination with horror and dark things (he is, after all, the producer in films like The Frighteners, House on Haunted Hill, Thir13en Ghosts, Bordello of Blood and many television episodes of Tales from the Crypt), the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is depicted as a death spectre and the moody and dark visuals powerfully depict scenes of death and misery. This can be a tad scary for really young children watching this movie.

Thankfully, humour is used generously to balance the serious message of the film, albeit in a dark or grotesque manner. The opening scene where Scrooge is dealing with the undertaker, is wickedly funny as are his dealings with his housekeeper. His interactions with the ghosts of Christmas past and present are also infused with humour at times.

The movie showcases vintage Zemeckis filmmaking skills, from the way he tightly frames close-ups and in the way the camera is angled.

However, although the super-talented Zemeckis, who is famous for his cinematic masterpieces like Back to the Future trilogy (1985, ’89 & ’90); Death Becomes Her (1992); Forrest Gump (1994) and Cast Away (2000), has many fans, those tired of Carrey’s one-note performances will not be too impressed by the latter’s Scrooge or the first two ghosts (Christmasses past and present).

But, hey, it is the season to be jolly after all, and Disney’s A Christmas Carol is definitely worth catching. In 3D, too!

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