What’s up with the fuss surrounding Twilight?
Hundreds of multiplex sellouts for last night’s midnight opening? Fans camping out a day early to catch a glimpse of stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart as they arrive for the film’s Hollywood premiere? Hordes of screeching teenage girls going gaga over Pattinson during a recent promotional appearance at a mall in Pennsylvania? The soundtrack (which features everything from Muse to Iron & Wine) hits No. 1 the first week of its release? A Twilight display complete with jewelry, posters, T-shirts, calendars and more at Borders Books and Music locations across the country?
It seems the commotion has something to do with the rabid following of the film’s source material: 34-year-old novelist Stephanie Meyer’s series of best-selling books centers on a shy teenage girl (played by Stewart in the movie) who falls for a hunky, brooding vampire (Pattinson) whose so romantic and selfless that he fights the urge to bite her. (He apparently feeds on animal blood.)
Ah, now I get it: danger, young love and sexual longing.
Yet one big question remains unanswered (I missed the Twilight screening earlier this week): Is the movie any good? (See tt stern-enzi’s review below.)
Elsewhere, British master Mike Leigh is back with a surprisingly upbeat female protagonist in tow. (Read Steven Rosen’s full-length review here.) Disney offers up a pair of releases: an earnest-looking documentary about young sailors and yet another animated kids flick with talking animals.
Finally, another British director, Mark Herman, takes on the Holocaust in a film that’s yielding wildly divergent critical responses: Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum gives it a D-, calling it “an appalling, jaw-dropping movie that will cause serious nightmares,” while CityBeat’s tt stern-enzi praises it as a family film, “an experience that should be shared and openly discussed.”
My reaction was somewhere in the middle: I found it a well-crafted, surprisingly restrained, often staid drama that delves into sensitive subject matter without quite reaching the level of exploitation some have charged.
BOLT — Imagine The Truman Show with animals and you’ve got a handle on this animated feature about a super-powered canine TV hero named Bolt (John Travolta) who believes he’s the real deal. A slip in the illusory production web allows Bolt to escape and sends him on a cross-country journey into the real world, a place where he has to fend for himself as he attempts to reunite with his young owner (Hannah Montana’s Miley Cyrus) and protect her from the nefarious forces he battles weekly on their hit series. Of course, Bolt begins to realize that he’s not exactly the irresistible force he plays on TV. With the help of the irrepressible hamster Rhino (Mark Walton, who knocks every vocal pitch right out of the park) and the feline Mitten (Susie Essman), Bolt discovers his own inner power and becomes the hero of his dreams. It’s a great lesson, but I can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have been better to stop pandering to the kiddies and give them real drama with a healthy dose of humor from human characters rather than always channeling things through cartoon animals? Wouldn’t that be a real bolt out of the blue? -- tt stern-enzi (Rated PG.) Grade: B-
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS -- Based on the novel by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tackles the harsh realities of World War II from the perspective of a young German boy named Bruno (Asa Butterfield) whose father (David Thewlis) has just been placed in charge of a concentration camp. Frustrated that his lively existence in the city has been replaced by the wide-open and far more boring countryside, Bruno, after the move, begins to explore the outer boundaries of the estate where he encounters Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), another boy who lives inside the barbed wire of the camp. Bruno starts to question life on the other side for those who wear striped pajamas and develops a friendship with Shmuel. Director Mark Herman (Little Voice) weaves a quietly wrenching tale out of Boyne’s narrative, one that should come to define a true family film because The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is an experience that should be shared and openly discussed as a family. Rather than dumbing down stories with animation for the kiddies and upping the pop cultural references to keep parents awake, Herman’s film dares to present a dark and disturbing period of history without shying away from that harsh reality. We’ve been told that change is happening; maybe now some of that change really will take hold in Hollywood and we’ll begin to see more diverse family fare. -- tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: A
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY — British writer/director Mike Leigh, who can be pretty serious-minded and even dour in some of his movies about working-class British life, deserves praise for letting go and embracing Sally Hawkins’ spirited youthful vibe as much as he does in Happy-Go-Lucky. (Read full-length review here.) -- Steven Rosen (Rated R.) Grade: B
MORNING LIGHT -- Disney tries to piggyback off the reality TV craze with this documentary about a crew — all of whom are fresh-faced 18-23 years old — of sailors who take part in the biennial Transpac race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Think a sea-set Amazing Race with a bigger budget. -- JG (Rated PG.) Not screened for review.
TWILIGHT -- Some would say that critics of a certain age should excuse themselves from reviewing Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation of the best-selling teen vampire novel Twilight, written by relative fiction newbie Stephenie Meyer. What’s a thirtysomething (and to be honest, most of us aren’t even close to that anymore) male critic to do when he comes face to face with the twittering tweens in love with the modern classic love story of the oh-so-mortal Bella (Kristen Stewart) and the perfectly immortal Edward (Robert Pattisnon)? Just remember that Bella is a modern girl, although not exactly of the kick-ass variety — her strength remains passive and unfocused until she encounters the sullen loner of the Cullen brood, Edward. Thanks to her debut feature Thirteen, Hardwicke has a degree of credibility with the troubled and tortured teens set and her follow-ups from Lords of Dogtown to The Nativity Story have helped her to maintain a strong sense of the angst and passion in the young adult world. With Twilight, she’s aided and abetted by Stewart, an ideal presence able to capture the awkwardness of Bella, as well as her intelligence and beauty, and Pattinson who has the far easier job of batting his smoldering eyes and projecting his chiseled face through the screen onto the imaginations of the gaggle of eager young female admirers. As the kickoff of a franchise, nothing else matters beyond these two. Next time, and there most definitely will be more to come since there are three books waiting in the wings, Hardwicke will have use her considerable talents to infuse the moony longing with something nourishing and a little more lusty. -- tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B-