Breaking Dawn (The Film, Part 2)

Breaking DawnI went to the midnight opening of the ultimate Twilight film adaptation, Breaking Dawn Part 2 (herein referred to simply as Breaking Dawn), by myself. It’s something I don’t actually mind doing, with the midnight sessions making for fascinating people watching.

This time around it may have been a little too fascinating, with the guy behind me commandeering some of my seat with his skeevy feet (see photo). But nothing—not even a raging foot phobia—could dissuade me from watching this film.

Skeevy FeetWe were subjected to some 30 minutes’ worth of previews before Breaking Dawn began, something that’s a little testing of patience when, by embarking on seeing a session that technically starts tomorrow, you’re already up way past your bedtime.

The previews were a carefully planned marketing ploy designed to smoothly carry us grieving, now-filmless Twilight fans straight into the waiting arms of the next big-budget, Meyer-related, teen angst-inspired films.

The Host film version, as with the sank-almost-without-a-trace book that preceded it (I mean, how many of us have read it? How many of us even remember that Meyer’s written anything other than Twilight?), looks entirely rubbish.

Though a surprise inclusion in the mix, and though with Ang Lee at the directing helm and a ginormous budget at his disposal, Life of Pi, looked well done. I will, for reasons previously documented, never see this film, and the previews had me snorting inappropriately and attracting what’s-wrong-with-her? glances in my seat.

The standout preview, though, was Pitch Perfect (you can watch the trailer here), which stars Anna Kendrick (best known for her role as Twilight’s Angela, and hence the not-so-subtle you-should-totes-see-this link), Rebel Wilson (who was a standout in surprise hit Bridesmaids), and Anna Camp (for whom I developed a weird respect for after seeing her play vampire-hating Christian fundamentalist pastor’s wife Sarah Newlin in True Blood).

Kendrick’s ‘rebel’ character goes to uni and is ‘encouraged’ to (read: ambushed into) join a Glee-like club. I was part way through dismissing the film entirely, except that the preview was brilliant and brilliantly funny—think Glee without the stomach-turning twee. Call me a sucker, but it looks like Step Up meets Glee meets 10 Things I Hate About You with a bit more sass in between.

But all of that is background to what this blog’s really all about: the epic, series-wrapping Twilight Saga finale. Breaking Dawn picks up where the last film left us so cliff-hangingly (I mean, who didn’t gasp when Bella suddenly opening her newly red vampire eyes?). That is: two days after Renesme’s birth and Bella’s transition to vampiredom.

TwilightThe film opens with its characteristically beautiful-come-haunting theme song, with landscapes and nature writ large—as in macro—on screen. It’s a show-don’t-tell way of demonstrating Bella’s now-acute senses of sight, sound, and smell, and the first time we gain insight into what Edward has been experiencing all along.

From thereon in Breaking Dawn is like donning the movie equivalent of a comfortable onesie—daggy, not something you really want others to know you enjoy, but oh so comfortingly fantastic.

Breaking Dawn’s an assured adaptation of the hefty doorstop of a book, which many of us simultaneously loved and despised. Having signed on for the Twilight Saga saga, we had to complete its final installation. But Breaking Dawn read as though Meyer had both lost the plot and that she’d become too famous to be edited.

Thankfully, the film whittles the too-long book down to its key elements, reigns in some of the crazy plots (and stupid names) and, as a result, most of the characters and the tale come off looking reasonably believable. Or as believable as a bunch of humans playing vampires and werewolves in a chaste teen romance can.

Even the imprinting, which I had expected to come off paedo-creepy was well handled (and surprisingly entertaining, with Bella practically beating Jacob up and Edward watching on and refusing to intervene with unabashed glee). The romance in the love nest is tastefully done and not too awkward and corny, with Emmett allowed a ‘Did you break a lot of stuff?’ nod to the more adult elements.

Writing of breaking things, Bella’s new-found strength and speed lend themselves to some solidly funny moments, not least when she’s trying to practice walking to and sitting on a chair or when Emmett challenges her to an arm wrestle. And Kirsten Stewart made me laugh at her lip-curling and occasionally constipated stance as she tried to summon Bella’s added-in-post-production force field. I’ve missed that poor acting and frowny pout.

Volturi leader Aro is, as ever, awesomely creepy, his eyes widening in glee when he discovers the Cullen’s might have committed a killable crime. I laughed out loud when he uttered—and it could be an inadvertent coincidence, but I’m taking it to be a wink and a nod to Fifty Shades, the bestseller that Twilight inspired—‘Oh my’.

That’s not to say that Breaking Dawn’s entirely free of clunkers. The running that Bella now does with Edward is akin to the much-mocked tree climbing of previous films: super, special effects-induced cheesy. And there’s nothing more to say about the meme-inspiring sparkling in the sunlight. Except that there’s no such thing as too many sparkly vampire memes. I will also go so far as to risk hate mail by saying I think they could have chosen a better-looking baby (that and it appeared they were doing some weird soft focus around her face, which didn’t help).

Fifty Shades of GreyBella says that she was ‘born to be a vampire’, and it feels that both she and this film have finally found their feet. Maybe it’s that they’ve worked out what works or rather what doesn’t (CGI wolves, anyone?) or everyone’s finally relaxed and grown a bit into their roles, but Breaking Dawn is confident and fun and breathtaking.

Without giving too much away, there are also some elements that left (me included) the audience I-can’t-believe-that-happened gasping and then clapping in a far-out-this-adaptation-is-good kind of way. And then there are some that left me in slightly emotional awe.

The film includes some subtle nods to the films that have gone before and come full circle to recall and farewell the series’ cast and characters. There mightn’t be any outtakes (as we’d seen with Part 1 and as I’d so desperately hoped for Part 2) but I still recommend staying until the final credits roll. Now to just hang out for the 6 December Australian release of Pitch Perfect.

Breaking Dawn and We Need To Talk About Kevin (Part 2)

KevinPart 2

Going from Breaking Dawn to We Need To Talk About Kevin (from here on in referred to as ‘Kevin’) was something I was a little worried about—the two don’t exactly go hand in hand.

Moreover, finishing with Kevin, a film that examines the maternal aftermath of a Columbine-style school massacre, was likely to put a bit of a dampener on the Breaking Dawn frivolity and fluff. After all, the controversial, award-winning book by Lionel Shriver, a woman whose name has her often confused for a man, had utterly destroyed me.

The book wrestles with myriad complex and taboo topics, not least whether killers are born or made and whether it’s a mother’s fault if her son turns out to be very, very bad. The narrative base is that accomplished business-woman and traveller Eva Khatchadourian never quite bonds with her son, Kevin. The book charts this difficult relationship.

It offers a subjective, guilt-ridden, hindsight-is-a-beautiful-thing analysis on the before and after: before, Kevin is a difficult child; after, he is a jailed killer of his fellow school students, whom he slayed in the school gymnasium. The tale is told through Khatchadourian’s diary-like letters to her husband, Kevin’s father, during which she says ‘We need to talk about Kevin’.

I still didn’t know what I thought about the book, which I read years ago, when I saw the film just last week. It was the kind of book that floored and haunted me simultaneously, with Shriver weaving a complex world not where one person is good and another evil, but one where there are shades of grey on top of shades of grey on top of shades of grey.

What I did know is that although she wouldn’t have come to mind as the person best cast as Khatchadourian, as soon as I heard Tilda Swinton was I was absolutely certain there was no one more perfect to play that role. And perfect she was.

Kevin was always going to be difficult to translate to screen because it’s wholly introspective, based on the protagonist’s penned letters about her thoughts and feelings. Swinton was simply magic as Khatchadourian, not overplaying it, but conveying loneliness, horror, and self- and socially-inflicted torture with such nuance I could watch her and her alone all day.

Unfortunately, while Swinton was flawless, the film as a whole struggled with the translation difficulties. The mentally tormenting coulda, would, shoulda of the book’s letters were hard to verbalise, in particular, as Khatchadourian spent much of the film on her own.

I entered the film armed by enough tissues to cater for me and three friends—one of whom who’d read the book and been similarly affected; two who knew not what they were about to encounter. It’s telling, then, that not one of us needed a tissue. Nor did we spend hours, post-movie, dissecting its angles (instead we talked non-stop about the aforementioned Breaking Dawn).

But I will say that the film was exquisitely shot. One friend replied ‘Uhoh’ when I told her that. ‘If you’re commenting on the cinematography,’ she said, ‘you weren’t really taken on the journey.’ No, I sadly wasn’t, but I did feel that I was watching beautiful, otherwise impressive art for the most part.

The recurring use of red, for instance, was well executed. As was the composition of the shots. The handwashing had hallmarks Lady Macbeth’s ‘out damn spot’. The moments that highlighted and compounded Khatchadourian’s isolation, such as the vandalism of her house and the smashing of her carton of eggs, were perfectly chosen.

The appearance of the bow and arrow set and father-son bonding as Kevin learnt to use it was made all the more eery and sinister by the seemingly fun sequence within which it was set. The lecherous co-worker who turns nasty when politely rebuffed as well as the moment Khatchadourian realises her son was not the victim but the perpetrator, courtesy of spotting some distinctive bike locks he’d used to barricade his victims in, were outstanding.

Unfortunately, those moments weren’t enough to convey the subtleties of the book and its issues—a kind of ‘the book’s better than the movie’ scenario. So, while I’d definitely recommend seeing Kevin, I’d recommend even more strongly reading the book.

Book To Film To Book

EclipseDebates rage about whether film adaptations of books ever cut the mustard (most people argue no), but perhaps the less-acknowledged, less-celebrated upside to any silver-screen translation is that it sends us rushing back to the book.

I’m going to fess up upfront that I was one of those dedicated fans who turned out for the midnight release of the film version of Eclipse, the third book in Stephenie Meyer’s runaway bestselling quadrilogy. And I’m going to admit that I was more than a little excited about it. Had I had time in the preceding days, I would have both re-watched the first two films and—and here’s the most important bit—re-read the first three books. Sadly, my clients and their deadlines weren’t quite so understanding, so instead I turned up to the cinema cold.

It’s been a while since I’ve read the books (I read them twice—but even the second time was a while ago now), and my memory was a little hazy. I knew that Eclipse was my favourite of the three, that it involved Victoria creating an army of newborns to chop suey Bella, and that within its pages the Edward-Bella-Jacob love-triangle really hit its straps. But could I recall specific lines of dialogue or guffaw-worthy paragraphs of clunky prose that somehow didn’t put me off reading it? No.

The joy I felt effectively rediscovering the book through the film on Wednesday night was nothing short of immense. Yes, I spent half the film admiring Taylor Lautner’s upper body (although, for the record, I think he’s less buff in this latest instalment than he was in New Moon). Yes, I laughed out loud at the girly run he does when picks up Bella to carry her across the field in a test to mask her scent with his own wolf one. I laughed even louder at the tongue-in-cheek ‘Doesn’t he own a shirt’ and ‘We both know I’m hotter’ lines that we know the actors would have had trouble delivering with a straight face.

But I also spent half the film comparing and marvelling and making mental notes to—yep—go back and check how the condensed film handled the story arcs and key scenes compared with the lengthier book. And I was unashamedly euphoric as I left the cinema at 2am and was determined to go home and stay up reading Eclipse again—that would invariably have led me to re-read Breaking Dawn too because you can’t leave yourself hanging.

The Twilight quadrilogy might not be your series of choice, but the example extends to all other books. A film adaptation either reminds us of, and reignites, our love for previously read books and sends us back to rediscover the minutiae, the scenes, and the excitement that a necessarily-condensed film cannot deliver but may complement. Personally, I’m ok with any film adaptation, because the book to film journey leads us back to the book. If we’re lucky, it might include some spectacular eye candy visuals that we can recall while envisaging the characters during re-reading, such as Lautner’s impeccable abs.