POSTED ON JULY 7, 2010:
The Twilight Saga doesn't need three films for its story, and Stonewall Uprising has history saving its story
Who Writes This Stuff? In Twilight: Eclipse, Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) follow the same game plan from the previous two films: a mindless teen girl in love with a sparkly vampire battle other vamps.
Here there be spoilers.
Everything that has happened in the first three film adaptations of the Stephanie Meyer penned mega-successful, teen-lit, vampire series Twilight could have happened in one movie.
I started doing my due diligence last week by watching the first two films in the series and the most confounding part of what I saw was how little really happened in four hours. I've seen more eventful Tarkovsky flicks, and that's a guy who would burn 10 minutes on a continuous POV shot of someone driving around Russian inter-dispersal loops.
Bella (Kristen Stewart) is a character clearly born of a mind that comes from a patriarchal belief system (more on that later).
She is an empty vessel until she meets Edward (Robert Pattinson) and rekindles her friendship with Jacob (Taylor Lautner -- newsflash ladies: With Eclipse, I'm pretty sure they could be on the same "team"), and everything she does afterward is dictated by the men in her life and her inability to make up her mind.
It's this conceit that makes the lack of any solid plotting offensive, not only on a creative level but also a thematic one. Silly girl needs a man to make her decisions for her. That's why Edward can't read Bella's mind. There's nothing going on in there.
Not that he's a good judge of decision making. His mood swings, his need to be with Bella -- but not have sex until marriage -- and his insistence that he exists only to love and protect her makes Edward just as vacuous a character as Bella, or Jacob or just about any other you find in these films. That, combined with the lack of any real narrative momentum or focus, is maddening.
In the first film, Twilight, Bella Swan moves to Forks, Wash., to live with her divorced dad (Billy Burke) and meets the Cullen clan. She also makes some human friends who literally have no effect on any level of the story -- and she then quickly falls for Edward Cullen.
After some research (because watching people research stuff is compelling), she discovers the Cullen family is made up of benevolent, "vegetarian" vampires -- though how drinking only animal blood makes them vegetarian is beyond my meager deductive skills -- and she becomes a welcomed part of the family. She's also befriended by Jacob Black, a member of a werewolf tribe who gets along none-too-well with the vampire clan.
But some of the other vamps are also unhappy with Bella and Edward's relationship, and Edward winds up killing James (Cam Gigandet), a less benevolent vampire, in order to protect Bella from being turned. This pisses off Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard in the third edition), James' girlfriend. Don't worry, that won't really come up again throughout the entire second film.
That film, New Moon, basically sees Bella moping the entire time -- literally months -- when Edward is compelled to leave Bella and Forks, again in order to protect her, though this time from himself. (The Patt just oozes pinched danger, despite the fact he looks like he's on the verge of tears half of the time.) So, she gets more face time with Jacob who, unsurprisingly, fills in for Edward in the Spouting Syrupy Dialogue to Win Bella's Affections Department.
Bella decides to become an adrenaline junkie because Edward appears to her when she's in danger. Oh yeah, Victoria is running around in the woods the whole time, while Bella figures out Jacob is a werewolf.
Meanwhile, Edward thinks Bella is dead for several stupid reasons, so he decides to go to Italy and get the Volturi -- a kind of vampire governing body -- to kill him by revealing his sparkly self to the tourists. Did I mention these vamps can walk in daylight? It causes them to ... umm ... sparkle.
Bella saves Edward, and they go back to Forks. And literally nothing has changed. Nothing. In order to have some kind of narrative payoff, Edward asks for Bella's hand in marriage. Cliffhanger!
All of that could have easily been one film, and it would have been a better movie. Had there been a compression of the endless exposition (just about everything in these films is explained instead of shown or done), and if the overlong scenes of intense staring, brooding and wooing were cropped, then what threadbare action there was might have had more of an impact.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that Eclipse suffers from the same issues. And it's with a sense of actual fear that I learned Breaking Dawn, the last book in the series, has been split into two movies. They should be cutting these things in half, not doubling up.
In Eclipse's opening scene, Forks local Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel) is attacked in Seattle and turned into a vampire. Back in Forks, it's more of the same. Edward is still begging Bella to marry him. She's suspicious of marriage and won't accept until he agrees to turn her.
Bella's about to graduate high school and plans to go to college in Alaska, presumably for no other reason but to major in Edward, when the Cullen clan re-establishes themselves outside of Forks (that name itself, an ode to the endless choices these films rarely resolve).
Jacob is clueless to all of this and is convinced Bella loves him, though she just won't admit it to herself. Jake gets a little date-rapey in order to prove that point, and quickly finds that Bella might be able to think for herself after all.
Meanwhile, Biers is helping Victoria to build a "new born army" to take out Bella, since "new born" vamps are at their most bloodthirsty and powerful. It's picking up on Victoria's revenge sub-plot, but there's also something in there about how the Volturi are secretly behind the plan in order to get Edward to join them.
Of course, the mantra is "protect Bella," so the Cullen family and the werewolves -- who are also inexplicably fond of Bella -- decide to call a truce in order to defend her and kill the "bad" vampires.
If that, on paper at least, sounds like more of a plot, it's because Eclipse had the massive set up of two previous films to make it seem that way. But that's just another indicator of how bloated and listless the narrative has been up to this point, and nothing's changed here.
In reality, Eclipse is eaten up by the same predilection for telling its tale with massive chunks of exposition, whether it's the back and forth between Bella, Edward and Jacob, or the flash backs -- yes, after two and a half films we are just learning about Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie's (Nikki Reed) origin stories.
Directed, this time around, by David Slade (30 Days of Night), Eclipse manages to achieve levels of tedium and limpness that trump the previous two lackadaisical films. I blame the source material. Stephanie Meyer has crafted a tale of spinning wheels.
It's really quite a weird and nonsensical one. For a somebody who wanted to create a love story that's an allegory for abstinence -- the drinking of animal blood instead of human -- as well as a literal theme of chastity (subverting the innate sexuality of vampirism with a Judeo-Christian marital agenda that makes no sense considering vampires are damned), the logical through line would have Bella essentially engaging in either necrophilia or bestiality, were she to remain human. Not to mention the overtly Twink homoeroticism of the wolf pack.
Perhaps I'm selling Meyer short there, as homoeroticism has been toyed with throughout the history of vampires in cinema. Still, I somehow doubt these few things that amused me were intentional.
Meyer's narrative, her characters and their interactions feel like the product of fantasy but not the whimsical kind. More the limited imagination of a regressed romantic with very little grasp of -- or interest in -- how characters and story telling actually work. What these people do and say is dictated by the narrow scope of the morality construct Meyer has grafted onto these most overused of genre monsters.
All of these films have the emotional depth of a tepid puddle, the narrative tension of overcooked ramen, and characterizations that bleed into each other due to their crushing flatness. There's no solid foundation to any of the proceedings, and worse, there is rarely any closure. In short -- too late for that now -- Stephanie Meyers sucks as a writer and storyteller.
Performances here would be better described as posturing, and it's funny to watch Pattinson, Stewart and Lautner go through the motions since it's pretty well known that they hate being in these films. Not to mention that not one of them seems to have improved in the quality arena across three flicks. If they weren't rich, famous and good-looking I might even feel bad for them.
Oh, and the CG wolves in Eclipse haven't improved, either. At least give me some good FX! The limited scale, budget and the assembly line nature of the Twilight films production -- crank 'em out quick -- dooms any ambition toward visual ingenuity. They are, however, shot in color and in focus.
I really could go on for another 1,500 words. But Twilight is critic proof, clearly. I would say it's the worst thing I've seen all weekend, but there was that Black Eyed Peas concert on cable.
Yes, The Twilight Saga is worse than "My Humps."
Up in Arms
There are only two acceptable outlets for bigotry in this country today (as opposed to the unacceptable varieties that are still rampant); bigotry against gays and Latinos.
But it's easy to forget how untenable things used to be. In the late '60s, while blacks were finally making headway in the civil rights department, it was still illegal in 49 states to be a homosexual. Illinois was the sole exception.
It's the difference between race and lifestyle. While it wasn't advantageous to be overly brown back then, your existence -- as an American citizen -- was legal and grudgingly tolerated. No one was going to throw you in an institution and lobotomize or electroshock you in the hopes that you would become white.
But those were among the techniques society inflicted on gays, in the belief that homosexuality was an aberration at worst and, at best, a choice that could be changed.
Among others were your standard issue harassment, ostracizing and violence. Being outed in that era meant the end of any normal life. Jobs would be lost, families sundered and exile from society was the price to be paid.
But in late June 1969, the oppressed decided to take matters into their own hands in an example of what happens when the downtrodden have had enough. Thus the Stonewall riots, a series of altercations that led to the birth of the gay rights movement that still struggles forward to this day, were born.
Stonewall Uprising is a documentary that chronicles the events leading up to the riots as well as those fateful nights when the trampled realized they had the power to change their circumstances.
Told from the perspective of the people involved -- journalists, rioters and those who were forming nascent gay advocacy groups -- the film lays out the historical perspective of life for sexual minorities in the '50s and '60s, where institutionalized government discrimination dictated that they live in fear or denial, and likely both.
Gays would find enclaves in New York's Greenwich Village, among other metropolitan areas, where bars like the Stonewall Inn -- illegally run by the Mafia -- offered the only real places where they could co-exist without completely closeting themselves.
Of course, even there, they were still harassed by the NYPD, who regularly conducted the raids and entrapment busts that lead to those pivotal riots.
Stonewall Uprising itself is not particularly inventive or exciting, though. Told mainly from the perspective of the activists -- with some input from a seemingly unrepentant Ed Koch -- it's your standard talking head format, juxtaposed with re-enactments, some nice black-and-white photos, and the liberal use of a '60s documentary called The Homosexual (hosted by Mike Wallace).
Based on the book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner manage only to give an adequate platform to the voices of the time, that tell a story that is surely more compelling in written form. It feels like a survey class and lacks any notable style.
Still, for those that have no knowledge of that influential time, Stonewall Uprising is an important window. A means of contrasting how much, and how little, we've really changed as a country in 40 years.
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