Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A brother and sister take on "Eclipse"...........

A Skeptical Writer And His Twi-Hard Sister Hit The Cinema

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I didn't trust myself to see "Eclipse" alone and be able to come back with a fair-minded assessment of what I'd witnessed.

Having yawned my way through the first two flicks in the vampire series, I know that when it comes to all things "Twilight," I just...don't get it. Luckily, my sister is a committed fan: she's read all the books, watched "Twilight" and "New Moon" multiple times, even rushed out to get "The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner," though it was available for free online, because she needed to add the volume to her collection.

I asked her to escort me to a Monday screening, and she was only too happy to accept the offer. My plan was simple: she would be my Twi-barometer, my finger on the pulse of Edward, my wolf pack interpreter.

And — whaddya know! — we were on the same page after an opening scene that follows the brutal conversion of Riley from an innocent kid into the eventual leader of Victoria's newborn vampire army. The soot-smoked back alleys of rainy Seattle set the sinister mood as Riley is hunted by the unseen Victoria, as he flees in terror, as he ultimately succumbs in agony to her bite. It is as gritty and, in its own way, realistic as anything we've ever seen from the big screen franchise, and it left me hoping director David Slade was going to do something with his source material that his predecessors had not, something magical and transporting: turning Stephenie Meyer's prose into a movie I could actually care about. My sister? The opener left her literally on the edge of her seat, palms sweaty, a satisfied smile on her face.

The screen faded to black...and then opened on a field of flowers upon which Edward and Bella sprawl. She reads aloud the Robert Frost poem, "Fire and Ice," which Meyer employs as her book's epigraph. No disrespect to Mr. Frost, but 90 years after those lines were written, his poem has become an undeniable cliché, the stuff of elementary school poetry units. To hear Bella intoning, "From what I've tasted of desire," was to know that Slade's sinister opening scene was an aberration, and I was in for two hours of straining teen angst, stilted dialogue and a romantic rapture I'd simply never be able to understand. Because it is Edward and Bella in the field with their Intro to Poetry seminar, rather than Riley and his cruel transformation, that sets the tone for what is to come.

What follows, then, is beautiful to look at — "Eclipse" is easily the most technically proficient and lovingly composed film in the series — but in the end only amounts to a whole lot of chattering. Bella talks about how she wants Edward to change her into a vampire. Edward talks about how he won't have sex with her until they're married. Jacob talks about how much he loves Bella. Bella talks about how she doesn't love Jacob. Bella's dad talks about how he doesn't trust Edward. And the Cullens talk about Victoria's nefarious plans to wipe them out.

Exposition is a necessary part of storytelling, but when I'm constantly told things without seeing them put into action, well, I strain to believe them. And that, I suppose, is one of my big "Twilight" problems. I'm a skeptic, whereas my sister is content to take all of this on faith. Of course Bella and Edward are soul mates; of course Bella and Jacob have a simmering romantic bond; of course Victoria and her army really have a chance of destroying the Cullens and the human girl about to join their clan.

As "Eclipse" pushed on, I kept glancing over at my sister. Her eyes were riveted to the screen when Edward finally asks Bella to marry him. She gasped as Bella hitched her leg around Edward during that much-discussed bedroom bump-and-grind. I even think I heard her tee-hee as the love triangle reached a steamy climax in the snowy tent scene. And there, so it seems, is your fire and your ice: Edward the cold-blooded vampire, Jacob the hot-blooded werewolf.

Yet I was left not caring how "the world will end," as the Frost poem goes. Perhaps it's not merely a result of the film's storytelling shortcomings. The actors must bear responsibility too. As Jacob, Taylor Lautner has no setting except to turn his emotional dial to 10: I'm angry! I'm hurt! I'm tough! There is nothing subtle about his acting style, and it left me all too aware I was watching fiction. Robert Pattinson is simply done a disservice here, as he really has nothing to do; his sole directive is to keep Bella safe, and it leaves him without a character arc of his own. You could say this is his finest performance of the series, except that only leaves you wondering how much he would have excelled had his character been given anything interesting to accomplish. Kristen Stewart, meanwhile, is saddled with easily the worst wig that the big screen has had to offer in the 21st century. I've watched Stewart at her finest — see my Sundance review of "Welcome to the Rileys" — but she has nothing to dig her teeth into in these "Twilight" movies.

The most genuine moment of the movie comes when Bella and her father are talking in the kitchen about Edward. Her dad tries to tell her to use protection, Bella gets embarrassed, her dad gets even more embarrassed and finally Bella exclaims, "I'm a virgin!" It's funny and, even more important, it's real. And it serves to highlight how artificially constructed so much in "Eclipse" really is.

And so it goes. As I became increasingly bored, my sister only became more sucked into the movie's romantic machinations. She readily acknowledges the franchise's shortcomings, its occasional cheesiness, its incongruities, and she loves it nonetheless. "Eclipse" took her on a love-filled journey, and she was delighted with the results. The first thing she said as we got out of our seats to leave was, "I can't wait to get the DVD."

For my part, I couldn't wait to get home. Yet as we parted ways at the subway, I had a feeling we both could be right. Goodness knows how she suffered her way through "Iron Man 2" with me, a film I loved but which similarly strains logic, presents paint-by-numbers caricatures and delivers an anticlimactic final battle. I'll side with Tony Stark and she'll be happy to have Edward Cullen all for herself. And we can both continue to go to the movies together.

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