Film Review: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

Why yes, I did go see a Twilight Lexicon early screening of Breaking Dawn – Part 2. What about it?

So, much like with the books, I have a love-hate relationship with the movies. I honestly think I watch them with a different part of my brain than the part I use for all other movie viewing. Do I see the bad acting, low-budget effects, terrible hair and makeup, and giant oozing portions of cheese? Yes. Does it bother me? Weirdly, no.

Kind of like with the books. I see the poor writing and the absurd relationships and the infuriating characters, and they somehow don’t really bother me. It’s weird and I don’t understand it. Once again, I feel the need to compare Twilight to Twinkies. Nothing really good or substantial about it, and yet it’s tasty.

And also, I think they will both survive the zombie apocalypse.

So if you, like me, also enjoy the books and the movies while remaining totally cognizant of the fact that they are far from literary or cinematic gold, this review is for you.

As I did not marathon the other movies before watching this one, I can’t objectively say how I thought it stacked up to the others. I’m always left with the impression that each one improves on the last, but that may be just because it’s the one I saw most recently. All the typical Twilight movie complaints were still there. Robert Pattinson still makes a weirdly constipated Edward (which is something I still don’t understand, because I’ve seen him in other movies and he can act. It’s just like he has decided that Edward should be constipated. Maybe it’s something about the whole hard-as-granite thing). Kristen Stewart is still an almost painfully awkward Bella. And the combo of constipated+awkward still makes me kind of uncomfortable when they’re getting all hot-and-heavy with each other (which definitely happens at least once in the movie).

The effects were still meh (although the wolves have gotten better), and the hair and makeup people have still not figured out what to do with all the dark brunettes masquerading as blondes (ain’t no way Peter FacinelliJackson Rathbone, and Nikki Reed are believable as blondes. It takes away from buying them as the prettiest people ever when their hair is all dark-rooty and awkward. Sorry.) Also, it’s unfortunate that although the movie is pretty much entirely about pale-skinned vampires, they still weren’t able to make the pale skin attractive. Still just looks like caked-on white pancake makeup. Oh, and CGI-Renesmee was creepy. I know she was supposed to be cute, but no. Creepy.

But again, these are things I expect with Twilight movies. I noticed they were there, shrugged, and moved on.

So now on to what I liked.

I actually liked Taylor Lautner as Jacob a lot more in this movie than in others, probably because he wasn’t nearly so angsty (this is the beauty of splitting Breaking Dawn into two movies — all the angsty Jacob parts are in the first half). Billy Burke as Charlie has been a highlight of every movie to me, and this one is no exception. And while I still think most of the Cullens were miscast, I liked them anyway. It helped that my theater was very enthusiastic and cheered any time a Cullen was on screen. It’s hard to be cynical when everyone around you is beside themselves with glee.

I haven’t read the book in several years, but from what I remember, the movie followed the book pretty closely. Yes, some secondary characters were shoved to the background (although I think they all at least made an appearance). Yes, some very looooong sequences are shortened to just a couple scenes. But overall, it worked. Most of the best lines went to Charlie (as always) and Jacob (not as always — it was nice to see Jacob actually be funny and not all broody).

There is one major, major change…but there’s also not. You may have heard there was a big stink that the ending was changed from the book, and Stephenie Meyer was okay with it. Well, I’m guessing the reason she was okay with it is because it’s actually not changed from the book. Except that it is. Totally. But it’s not.

For the record, I loved the change-that-really-wasn’t-a-change. Best part of the movie, by far. It was exciting and awesome. It’s actually what I would like to talk about the most right now, but I’m not going to, because if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you’ll want to punch me for spoiling it. So I’m not gonna.

In a nutshell, it still had (many) flaws, but I still enjoyed it. Even though I still really don’t like Bella. Even though I’ve never, ever understood the appeal of Edward. Even though, basically, the moral of the Twilight universe is “massive age gaps in romantic relationships don’t actually matter so long as you look good together.” Even though when I compare it to other movies I did and didn’t like, I’m not actually sure why I liked it. Objectively, I shouldn’t like them. I really shouldn’t. And yet I do.

This is not the movie that’s going to convince Twi-haters to become Twi-hards. And really, nothing will. There are a million legitimate reasons to hate Twilight, and even though they are way less prevalent in this movie and there are a lot more enjoyable elements, you will probably still not see the merits of the franchise. But if you, like me, see those reasons as legitimate, yet have decided to like it anyway, I think you’ll like Breaking Dawn – Part 2. Embrace the cheese. Love it. Cheer it. It’s fun that way.

Oh, also, the thing they do with the credits? Yes. YES. All movie series should end that way. I would like to retroactively add that kind of ending to Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Pretty please?

Grade: B+ (qualified with all of the above caveats)

Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity

Film Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

My husband and went to see Snow White and the Huntsman last night for our anniversary, which has been one of my husband’s most anticipated films this year, ever since he saw the extended trailer (which is at the bottom of this post, for your viewing pleasure). And although it has been receiving mixed reviews from critics and fans, for us, it delivered. (This review will contain minor spoilers, but only if you are also completely unfamiliar with the original Snow White tale).

What We Expected

I think a large portion of how much you enjoy a film depends on what you expected going in. For example, my brother and his wife saw Pan’s Labyrinth in Italy after just seeing the poster. They hadn’t seen any trailers and couldn’t read the poster, since it was in Italian, so they just went off the image. My sister-in-law was in the mood for a nice, sweet fairy tale for children.

If you have seen Pan’s Labyrinth, you know that while it could be considered a fairy tale, it is definitely not sweet and is most certainly not for children. So they were disappointed upon their first viewing experience. Now, after subsequent viewings, they would consider it a good film, but the first time was a let-down because of inaccurate expectations.

So here’s what we expected from Snow White and the Huntsman.

  • Stunning visuals.
  • A grittier and tougher interpretation of the fairy tale of Snow White.
  • Great action.
  • A scary villain.
  • A sympathetic look at the Huntsman
  • Maybe a touch of romance
  • Not too much from KStew.
  • To be entertained.

What We Did NOT Expect

  • Oscar-caliber writing or acting
  • An incredibly moving cinematic experience
  • A journey of self-discovery
  • Deep questions that made us question the nature of our existence
  • Blown minds
  • Deeply thoughtful and nuanced storytelling that explains everything
  • Lord of the Rings

What We Got

Stunning Visuals

CHECK. Seriously, this movie is gorgeous. Although if it bothers you that everyone except KStew is perpetually covered in filth, then prepare to be bothered. As we came out, G asked, “How is it possible that this movie was so pretty while everyone was so dirty?” And I don’t know. But it was.

Visual Effects and Art Direction are the two categories where I think this film could win an Oscar.

The only (extremely minor) visual complaint I have is that the CGI department could make extremely “realistic” looking fairies and trolls, but they couldn’t do a rabbit. The bunnies looked like they were animatronics at Disney World. What’s up with that?

A Grittier and Tougher Interpretation of the Fairy Tale of Snow White

CHECK. It definitely delivered on the grit (see above, re: dirt). And Snow White wields a sword (badly) and armor (awkwardly). Much cooler are the  Huntsman (who is never given a name) and the Prince (William – although in this, he’s actually a Duke’s son, not a prince) as far as the grit and toughness are concerned. No character in this film is above getting their hands dirty, and no character is completely one dimensional.

As far as the expanded backstory goes, the tale of how the Evil Queen (Ravenna) came to be Snow White’s stepmother and assume the throne is unique and interesting. There are some questions left unanswered (for example, the queen muses at one point that she should have killed Snow White as a child, but then never explains why she didn’t). If I wanted to poke holes in the plot, I could.

But I didn’t really care. The main points of the story were all there, some of the details were filled in, and if I used my imagination, I could fill in the rest.

Great Action

CHECK. The Huntsman and William both have some great fighting scenes. And while The Hemsworth — I mean Huntsman — is pretty awesome with his axe, I have always been a bit of a sucker for some great bow-and-arrow action, whether it’s Legolas in Lord of the Rings or Hawkeye in The Avengers or, in this case, William in Snow White and the Huntsman.

The downside of the action are the brief moments when Snow White has to fight, because she is supposed to have no idea what she’s doing, and therefore looks like she has no idea what she’s doing. So basically it serves the plot that her fighting is awkward, but not the part of me that wants all action scenes to be EPIC.

Also, now would be the time to point out that Kristin Stewart looks really weird attempting to ride a horse. I found it amusing that you could tell when her double was being used in long shots, because she wasn’t bouncing around like crazy on the horse.

A Scary Villain

CHECK. But not who you would expect. While Charlize Theron was definitely scary, she was also kind of caricatured, what with all the screaming she did (SPOILER: She screams a lot). But the villain that was über-creepy was Sam Spruell as her brother, Finn. Man. If I think too hard about him, I may have nightmares.

As a downside, the film attempted to give Ravenna and Finn some backstory, and it just didn’t work for me. They explained a tiny part of how they came to be their current creepy selves (and why Ravenna is so obsessed with being “fairest of them all”), but the limited explanation only made me ask a whole bunch of other questions that were not answered. I almost wish they had left the whole backstory a mystery.

A Sympathetic Look at the Huntsman

CHECK. Chris Hemsworth was roguishly endearing as a drunken town brawler mourning the loss of his wife. It was easy to understand why he made a deal with Ravenna, and then why he changed his mind. And I was definitely rooting for him as he slowly discovered a cause worth fighting for.

Maybe a Touch of Romance

It was there, but only in the tiniest doses. Actually, I would have liked there to be a bit more, and I think my emotions went against the intended trajectory. The title “Snow White and the Huntsman” leads me to believe I was supposed to be rooting for that pairing, but I’m a purist. I wanted her to be with William. So I wasn’t completely satisfied there. But only by the tiniest margin.

Not Too Much from KStew

Okay, I will say this for Kristen Stewart, and that is that this role is a vast improvement over Bella. I don’t know if it’s because of the writing or her acting, but I bought her as Snow White much more than I do as Bella Swan. Then again, most of her role in this movie was to look awed and innocent, or terrified. She did both pretty well. There’s one part where she has to give an impassioned speech, and I wasn’t sold, but G said he bought it. And I’ve already mentioned the awkward horse-riding and sword-wielding, but again, the character was supposed to have been locked in a tower alone for many years. It’s understandable that she wasn’t the best rider or fighter.


CHECK. I was never bored in this film. I got excited in some parts, I internally cheered in some parts, and I mentally fist-pumped several times. Of course, outwardly, I was calm and stoic.

Unlike the lady next to me, who was kind of FREAKING OUT for the entire movie, which also increased my entertainment value. She nearly fell out of her chair at one of the aforementioned bow-and-arrow sequences. It was pretty fun.

Other Stuff

The principal actors all delivered in their roles.

The only one I was slightly disappointed in that I haven’t mentioned yet was Bob Hoskins as the elderly blind prophetic dwarf. I understood that he was “seeing” and understanding the events with a sense of hope and wonder, but he kept delivering his lines like he was a little bit loopy. And considering I love Bob Hoskins (particularly his roles in Who Framed Roger Rabbit  and Hook), I think he could have done better. Maybe that was just a case of poor direction.

I loved the conflicted nature of The Huntsman and the devotion of William. I loved that the dwarfs were not cartoonish or silly. I loved the beautiful fantasy world they lived in, and I loved the deeper (but not too deep) look into the story of Snow White. Yes, there were some plot holes and some parts that just didn’t make much sense (where did that horse come from?), but it’s a fairy tale and I was okay with not everything being perfectly explained.

And as for the stuff we didn’t expect? It wasn’t there. But we didn’t expect it to be, so we weren’t disappointed that it wasn’t in there.

Overall, we both highly enjoyed this film for what it was: A beautiful, exciting, and entertaining new approach to a familiar tale.

Grade: B+

As a bonus, here’s some of the trailers that played in front of the movie. I’m only linking the ones for movies I actually want to see. (And no, sadly, they didn’t show the Breaking Dawn Part 2 trailer, teaser or otherwise. Sad.)

The Bourne Legacy. Okay, I think I’m just wired differently from the rest of humanity, because while I liked the other Bourne movies (and loved the first one), I was never all gaga over Matt Damon as an action hero. I know, I know, something is wrong with me.

Matt Damon as an actor, yes. I like him a lot. And he did a great job in the Bourne films. But he just never screamed ACTION SUPERSTAR to me, and therefore, I wasn’t at all upset when I heard they were continuing the Bourne franchise without him.

Of course, at the time, I didn’t really think of Jeremy Renner as an action superstar either (I had only seen him in The Town and that one episode of Angel), so when I saw his casting, I was like, “Oh, okay.”

But then I saw Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. And then I saw The Avengers. And now I am all, “YES, Jeremy Renner, I will watch you punch faces and shoot things (preferably arrows) all the live-long day.” So I am pretty pumped about this one.

Les Misérables. I have been waiting for them to adapt this musical into a movie for…hm, ever. I’ve loved the music since I was a little girl listening to the highlights soundtrack. I’ve seen the show live four or five times. And I cry every time I see this trailer, so I predict I will be crying for the majority of the movie. It looks stunning. I absolutely can’t wait.

Step Up Revolution. I haven’t seen any of the other Step Up movies, but I’m a So You Think You Can Dance addict, and Kathryn McCormick is my all-time favorite female alumnus. I’m not expecting this to be a “good movie,” but I’m expecting some awesome dancing. And seriously, does anyone really go to see a Step Up movie expecting to see groundbreaking cinema?

Brave. I’ll admit, I’m actually not blown away by this trailer. But before you tar and feather me, let me just say I haven’t been blown away by any Pixar trailer, ever (okay, maybe the Wall-E trailer is pretty awesome). I think trailer-making is the weak link in the Pixar arsenal. But the movies themselves are always amazingly good, and I’ve heard Brave is no exception.

Review: The Twilight Saga, by Stephenie Meyer

Based on a vast amount of research (which consists mainly of mentally cataloging the Facebook and Twitter updates of my friends), I’ve determined that there is a definite line in the sand when it comes to readers (especially readers of YA and fantasy books):

“Do you like Twilight?”

Those on one side of the line view those on the other with disdain and derision. The other side of the line is jaded, cynical, pretentious, snobby.

Or the other side is immature, pedestrian, unsophisticated, Philistine.

I promise this is not a cop-out, but I fall pretty solidly on the line. I kind of love Twilight while kind of hating it. And here’s why.

What is Twilight?

For those of you who have been living under a rock, Twilight is an enormously popular YA series by Stephenie Meyer. There are four books in the series: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.

It has also spawned an even more enormously successful move franchise starring KPattz (yes, I did just refer to them as KPattz. Whatcha gonna do about it?).

I’m going to talk about the series as a whole, because I highly doubt I’ll ever feel motivated to review each book on its own. Besides, odds are if you’re going to read one, you’re going to read them all. Obviously, spoilers ahead.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes summary of Twilight: It is the story of a teenage girl named Bella Swan. Bella meets a mysterious boy at school named Edward Cullen. Edward acts really weird around Bella — kind of like he can’t stand to be anywhere near her — which turns out to be because he is a vampire, she smells unspeakably delicious, and therefore he can’t stand to be anywhere near her.

Before too long, she gets him to spill the beans about his vampire-ness, and they fall in love despite her mouth-watering aroma.

Bella also gets chummy with Edward’s vampire “family,” some of whom have special powers.

Oh, and Edward is also telepathic.

Edward and Bella have a tumultuous courtship, made even more complicated by the fact that Bella’s good friend Jacob is also in love with Bella.

Oh, and Jacob is a werewolf. Werewolves hate vampires. And vice versa.

[Aside: Although Twilight has an irrefutable love triangle, am I the only one who never understood the Team Edward, Team Jacob nonsense? Wasn’t it 100% obvious and inevitable that Bella never even remotely considered choosing Jacob over Edward? Didn’t New Moon make that abundantly clear?]

Assorted and increasingly threatening scenarios play out as Edward and Jacob battle (mostly figuratively, sometimes literally) for Bella’s heart. Friendships are tested. Villains rise and fall.

It’s all very exciting, and they all live [er…more or less] happily ever after.

Why I Love Twilight

I’ll admit it. Twilight is a highly addictive series. I devoured all four books in as many days. I was completely swept up in it. I keep trying to put my finger on exactly what swept me up, and here’s the best way I can explain it.

Twilight is kind of like a Twinkie. On the one hand, there’s not a lot of substance to it, there’s no real benefits to consuming it, you really shouldn’t think too hard about what’s in it, and most people are kind of embarrassed to admit they like it. And yet, it’s inexplicably delicious. And after consuming one, you kind of feel like the damage has been done, so you may as well go ahead and have another.

I really enjoyed Twilight, and I have a hard time explaining why. It is inexplicably delicious. It keeps me coming back for more. And there is something in me — the intangible, subconscious, reflexive part — that can’t be shaken from this stance, no matter what the logical, intellectual part of me thinks. Which brings me to…..

Why I Hate Twilight

First of all, none of the main characters in Twilight are all that sympathetic. Bella is the worst — she’s co-dependent, self-destructive, whiny, self-loathing, clingy, selfish, and irresponsible. Considering that the books are all written from her perspective (with the brief exception of a few chapters in Breaking Dawn), this can be more than a little frustrating.

Edward and Jacob are slightly more tolerable, but I honestly couldn’t figure out what exactly Bella saw in Edward (other than his breathtaking beauty – more on that later). He seemed kind of stiff and dull, not to mention overbearing. And Jacob, while definitely more fun, still had moments where he was a weird blend of macho and emo, neither of which are qualities I find all that attractive.

All the supporting characters – the Cullens, Bella’s friends at school, Bella’s father – are much more likable. Or at least more entertaining.

Secondly, the writing is abysmal. I’m speaking solely in a technical sense right now, as obviously there’s something about the writing that is also amazing, since it’s kept millions of people riveted through four long-ish books. But technically, it’s appalling. The most glaring fault is Ms. Meyer’s tendency to use the same descriptors over…and over….and over.

I found myself physically throttling the book every time I read (again) that Edward’s skin “sparkled like diamonds.”

Speaking of which, Bella’s constant need to describe every facet of Edward’s gorgeousness got really old, really fast. We get it. He’s pretty. He’s super-pretty. Now let’s move on please. Surely there’s another reason you’re hopelessly in love with him beyond the fact that he’s pretty. Yes? No?

Lastly (and I realize this is probably not a turn-off for most of the reading audience), Twilight vampires are just too…nice. They don’t burst into flame in the sun — nope, they just get even prettier with their sparkly skin. They can even stroll around outside, perfectly unharmed and unsparkly, on a cloudy day! (Although I have to say, I think sparkly vampires are marginally better than vampires who avoid bursting into flame by wearing copious amounts of sunblock).

Once you let vampires go play in the sunlight, it kind of ruins a lot of what makes them spooky. They don’t have to hide out in underground crypts. No, they can live in fabulous mountaintop mansions. They can hold jobs, go to school, fall in love, get married. They don’t have to hunt at night. They might do it anyway because it is easier, but it’s not imperative.

And unless you think colored contacts are frightening, they don’t even look scary. Nope. They look like this [Disclaimer: I realize I’m referring to the film and not the actual book. But this is pretty much how they’re described in the actual book, so I think it’s valid]:

She’s one of the scariest ones!

Which is not as scary as this:

or this:

Ah, Spike. You’ll always be my favorite.

or even this:

Their posh-ness and refinement made them creepy. Plus, their activities and amusements were WAY more freaky than even the baddest baddies in Twilight.

The Verdict

I honestly don’t know if I can recommend Twilight to you. Can you overlook some writing faux pas, a good amount of cheese, and an infuriating main character, as long as the story’s entertaining? Are you a hopeless romantic? Do you like your monsters a little soft around the edges? Then you’d probably like (or even love) Twilight. [Full disclosure: If I had to answer the above questions about myself, my answers would be maybe, mostly, and no. And I still liked it.]

Do you consider yourself a literature snob? Does it frustrate you beyond words when an author uses the same adjective to describe the same thing multiple times? Do you tend to turn your nose up at things that would appeal to 14-year-old girls across the globe? Then Twilight is most likely not for you.

I apologize that I just wrote a fairly long review, only to come down on the side of “I can’t pick a side.” But that’s pretty much where I stand. Some days, I love Twilight. It makes me happy and giddy inside. Other days, I hate it. It drives me nuts. It makes me want to throw things (and mail Stephenie Meyer a thesaurus). But overall, I think I love it more than I hate it.

Ms. Meyer may not be a great writer (at least not in her first venture), but she is a great storyteller. She got me to care about characters I didn’t even like. She kept my attention through an entire book dedicated to moping. And she even managed to make me not too upset when I was promised an epic battle and was instead given an epic staring contest. I honestly can’t think of another author who got me so heavily invested in her storytelling that I could overlook all my (many) problems with the writing, the characters, and the essence of the story itself.

It’s kind of perplexing.

Content guide: contains some violence, mild sexual content, some dark themes concerning suicide and mortality, and some vampires who actually DO kill people.