Friday, July 9, 2010
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and The Last Airbender
(This is the last in a series of four posts that review five movies I saw over a period of six days last week.)
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse the latest chapter in the perils and dilemmas of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), is the best of the lot so far – a well-acted, expeditiously-directed love story full of suspense, and, oh, yeah, vampires and werewolves. There's some nifty cinematography as well, especially in the opening scene when a drifter gets slashed by a vampire (is it Victoria?) and ends up writhing in pain in a driving downpour.
David Slade employs bountiful close-ups to elicit an intimacy and a sincerity from the performers that has been somewhat lacking in the previous films – and this helps carry us through Bella’s silly dilemma between Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) – when we know all along that Edward is the one. Somehow, Bella’s big dark eyes are more expressive of her mopey indecision, Jacob’s passion for Bella comes off as quite powerful, and even Edward gets a chance to crack a smile.
In addition, there’s more of a story here. It’s not just Bella torn between – or being tugged between Jacob and Edward. We get the evil, vengeful Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) raising a pack of newborn vamps (who are especially blood-thirsty in the first months after being transformed) to destroy the Cullens and kill Bella. Ashley Greene, as Alice, is especially engaging, buttering up Bella’s dad with a little flirtation, and showing her awesome speed during a training session in preparation for the big battle.
Meanwhile, Rosalie (Nikki Reed) gets to tell her compelling backstory – an early 1900s set piece involving a fiancé who turns into a cad. In his backstory, Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) takes us back to Civil War era Texas where he has a run-in with vampire seductresses. Ya-hoo! Ride ‘em, Johnny Reb! I enjoyed the flashbacks as interesting contrasts to the rainy, snowy woods of the Forks area.
The action is fun; I love how vampires are so fast and so strong. But the werewolves are like CGI rejects from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and I wish they’d wear name tags because there’s no way to tell them apart when the buff, shirtless Native American guys shift into werewolf mode.
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, a plodding conglomeration of disconnected elements from science-fiction, fantasy, and Oriental martial-arts films, fails to develop engaging settings, interesting creatures, mesmerizing martial arts, or compelling conflicts, and the duration of the film provides too many dull gaps in which I wondered how anyone could have viewed cuts of this film with any sort of feelings of accomplishment, ignoring the weak story, poor pacing, ponderous editing, and stilted acting that constitute this silly movie about Aang the Avatar: the Last Airbender; the Fire Nation led by Lord Ozai who wants to destroy him; the Waterbenders of the Southern Water Tribe who want to help him; a spectral dragon who guides Aang; a flying creature that looks like a stuffed animal cross between a pug-faced puppy and a beaver; and two glowing koi that bring disaster if one of them is killed – indeed, a mishmash of odd elements that never coalesce into a cinematic little world that engages us to any worthwhile degree.