Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Winner, Hands Down

I've seen all three. I've liked all three. But the winner, hands down, is Australia.

I enjoyed every single second of this movie. It's long, and it's full of cliches and archetype characters, including the mustache-twirling villain straight out of central casting. There really aren't any surprising plot twists, and you can pretty much predict what's going to happen from one moment to the next. I cried on cue, smiled on cue, sighed on cue.

But I don't care. This movie is pure crack for anyone who loves sweeping, epic love stories. It's a romance novel brought to the big screen.

To anyone not in the know, the story is pretty straight forward. Lady Sarah Ashley travels from England to Australia, where her husband runs a cattle station named Faraway Downs. When she gets there, she finds her husband has been murdered and the cattle station is in financial ruin. Her first plan is to sell the station and get right back home. But the station's corrupt and morally reprehensible manager pushes Lady Sarah's buttons, and she determines that she will see through the last cattle drive that could push the station back into the black.

She's helped by a cowboy known as The Drover. Sidebar to say, never in the entire 165 minutes of running time do we discover that this man's name is anything but The Drover. Together, Sarah and the Drover and a handful of ragtag station hands drive the cattle to Darwin. We meet a young half-white, half-Aboriginal boy named Nullah. Not only does Lady Sarah fall in love with the Drover, she also falls in love with Nullah. As did I. Because, dang, Hugh Jackman? And the boy, played by Brandon Walters, is as cute as all-get-out.

But things aren't so easy down under. The Drover is a wandering spirit who chafes at the idea of domestic permanence. After all, he's called The Drover, not Mow the Lawn Guy. And the Australian government has some sort of sadistic practice of taking half-caste children (half white/half black) away from their parents and sending them to mission orphanages where "the black is bred out of them". So Nullah is in constant danger of being snatched by the authorities.

Add to all of this the Japanese's impending attacks that everyone expects after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and getting to the HEA is not always a sure thing.

Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman are perfectly cast as The Drover and Lady Sarah Ashley. They had amazing chemistry together. In fact, my biggest complaint is that we didn't get to see near enough of them being in love. The movie is actually pretty chaste by today's standards. But I challenge any red-blooded hetero woman to deny that she seriously considered calling Qantas over the prospect that Australia is populated by men like Hugh Jackson/the Drover.

If you are in the mood to be told a wonderful story, I can't recommend this movie highly enough. The critics are claiming that it is far from original, but who the hell cares?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Twilight, the Movie

Well, the reviews for Twilight are pretty much as I expected. Rotten Tomatoes brings in a 44% fresh, which is the positive way of saying 56% rotten. But given the hype surrounding the movie which sets up a nearly unreachable bar, the fact that the story/movie is aimed at teenage girls who by default are given second class status as far as anything they like and value, and the truth that movie critics in general are cultural snobs, I'm not at all surprised by this.

I saw it this afternoon. I waited until the weekend rush was over, horrified by the prospect of sitting in a theater packed with teenage girls raised in the age when apparently public viewing venues differ from one's home only in the number of stalls in the bathroom given how much talking, texting, and general disregard for fellow movie viewers goes on. My patience was rewarded since I had the theater to myself save for a dozen other hold-outs, all of whom maintained both a respectful distance and a polite silence throughout the entire two hour film.

Before I share my thoughts about the movie, my Twilight pedigree. I bought Twilight shortly after the book came out, after reading some positive internet buzz and thinking it sounded like my kind of story. But I didn't read it right away. In fact, New Moon had already been released by the time I picked up my copy of the first book.

I admit it, I'm a mom of a certain age who fell absolutely in love with Bella and Edward's story as told in Twilight. I was ecstatic that I could immediately pick up the sequel because when I closed the cover of Twilight, I didn't want to leave that world behind.

New Moon was okay. Decent except that Edward was gone for so much of it. Not as good as Twilight, but it didn't suck. I waited (im)patiently for Eclipse, bought it as soon as possible after it was released, and dove in with great expectation. Sadly, it was then that the wheels fell off the bus. The characters I'd fallen in love with in Twilight had been replaced by doppelgangers of the worst sort, the soul-mates love story of Edward and Bella had been defiled, and I was left devastated that Meyer had taken such a tragically wrong turn with something I had loved so much.

It was with great - great - ambivalence that I purchased Breaking Dawn. I feared that I would hate it, but I longed for Meyer to make things right again in this last chapter of the story. Maybe BD would be so great, I could forget the mess that was Eclipse and view the whole thing as a trilogy with an unfortunate side trip into fantasy land.

I didn't even get all the way through Breaking Dawn.

So, I'm a Twilight fan. Not a Twilight series fan, but a fan of the first book. So I was really looking forward to seeing how the story would translate to the big screen. I wanted to like the movie, I didn't hold anything against the actors, director or screenwriters for the downward slide I thought the series had taken, and with that attitude in mind, I've completely ignored the critics and detractors. After all, I can make up my own mind what I do and don't like. I don't need to be condescended to by people who find themselves superior to me simply because they didn't fall under the spell of some pop culture phenomenon they don't understand. My attitude towards those with the tendency to bash Twilight (both book and movie) and those who like it - too bad for them, more for me.

And I did like it. Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. It had its faults, to be sure. But I was very pleased with the end results. In detail:

The Good
1. The cast. I think Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson are very well cast as Bella and Edward. They look much like I imagined the characters to look when reading the book. And I thought they acted as Bella and Edward were presented. Pattinson, especially, really captured Edward's inner struggle, doing a decent job expressing it without benefit of us seeing his point of view.

A quibble I do have is that Stewart is almost too humorless as Bella. No doubt she'll be able to absolutely nail Bella's incapacitating despondency after Edward leaves her in New Moon. But there is such a lack of joy around her that you have to wonder what would ever make her smile. Too, I didn't quite buy it when she told Edward on more than one occasion that she wasn't afraid of him. She always seemed too held-back for me to believe her words, as if she herself was saying them out loud but didn't quite feel them in her heart.

Billy Burke was excellent as Charlie Swan, Bella's father. The Cullens were all well cast physically, but since they got very little screen time and even less dialog, I can't comment on their acting ability. The secondary characters did what I wanted them to do - moved the story along but didn't detract from the main couple - so as far as I'm concerned, they were smashing successes.

2. The adaptation of the book. When a book I like is made into a movie, I want as few changes as possible. To this end, I think the movie was spot on. Nothing was left out that I missed, and the few changes added were necessary to explain aspects of the story. I do wish the Big Reveal and the meadow scene were depicted a little bit closer to the events in the book, but in the end, the result was the same.

The Bad
1. Okay, the makeup artists on this film should be fired. The Cullens are supposed to be pale, but they aren't supposed to look like they are wearing white grease paint. And that's what the actors looked like. There is a difference between pale skin and chalk-white skin. The latter would never go unnoticed and unremarked upon in any normal town, especially if every member of an entire family looked that way, so presenting the characters this way in the movie pretty much makes the entire population of Forks look really stupid and unaware. Perhaps they can improve the concept of "paleness" in New Moon. After all, they managed to make Bella look very fair-skinned without a thick layer of mime face.

2. Only one scene really bothered me. At the end, when Bella is in the hospital and Edward tells her that she should move away from Forks for her own good, Bella's reaction is awful. Or rather, Kristin Stewart's depiction of Bella's reaction is awful. She stutters and can't manage to form a complete, coherent sentence. But rather than coming off as if Bella is so upset by the prospect of being separated from Edward that she can't even speak, it seems more as if Stewart forgot her lines and is stammering her way through the scene. The Bella in Twilight the book would have been yelling, in full, emphatic sentences, that she can't - won't - be separated from Edward. This scene was the chance to show those who hadn't read all of the inner dialog from the book to get a true taste of how much Bella loves Edward. The whole scene was a blown opportunity.

3. The special effects were a little cheesy. But I give the movie a big pass on this given their limited budget. Too, in this day and age of Star Wars, Pixar, and action hero blockbusters, we've all come to expect the impossible out of our special effects. Not every movie has that kind of money to invest. I think the movie makers got the point across the best way they could, so I can ignore this problem.

I left the theater with a smile on my face, thoroughly satisfied. And I'll buy the DVD when it comes out, and most like see New Moon in the theater if it manages to maintain the same cast and production team (with better effects and better makeup). I don't regret a single penny of the $6 it cost me.

In the end, I think this movie is simply of the type that if you are a fan of the books, you will most likely enjoy the movie, despite its faults. And if you aren't a fan of the books or if you are completely ignorant about Twilight either because the books aren't directed at your demographic or because you are far too superior to stoop that low, then you won't like the movie regardless of the quality. This will be just another chance to jump on the snark train.

And in that case, do us all a favor and just stay home. We don't need you to suffer for our sakes.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Christmas Comes Early

So, how cool are the next

three weeks

going to be?

Honestly, I don't know which movie I'm most excited about. I loved -LOVED - Casino Royale. It turned me into a James Bond fan. Well, it turned me into a James Bond as played by Daniel Craig fan. I was already a Daniel Craig fan. But I can take or leave the other Bond movies, so I know I'm a band-wagoner. Sue me.

As for Twilight, I admit I'm still a bit bitter, which is dimming my enthusiasm for this movie somewhat. I'm still excited to see how the first book translates to the screen. This is a case where I'm hoping for a near-exact transfer from page to screen.

And Australia looks amazing. I love these grand, sweeping romantic epics. This reminds me so much of one of my all time favorite books, A Town Like Alice (the movie/miniseries is awesome as well). Too, it has one of my all time favorite themes - two completely different types of people falling in love. With Hugh Jackman as the rough cowboy drover, how can you go wrong?

My biggest problem is finding time to see all of these movies. My kids are a few years short of being able to stay alone at night while the hubby and I make a date of it. My son would love to see QoS, but by the previews, I'm judging it too violent. My daughter hasn't read Twilight - too young - so I'm thinking this one is a pass for her as well. And I'm probably the only person in the house with any interest in seeing Australia. Add to this our vacation plans which keep us away from home from Thanksgiving through the beginning of December and I'm kind of freaking. I'm one of those geeks who sees movies on opening weekend because I simply can't wait.

I feel like it's Christmas Eve for grownups!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

So Very Proud

Today, for the first time in a very long time, I feel so very proud of my country.

For the first time, in a very long time, I don't feel the need to apologize to the rest of the world.

As a nation, we've declared with our votes that the way things have been the past few years are not okay. That we want change. That we believe things can and will be better. That we are not apathetic or lazy or ignorant. It felt so good - wonderful - to be voting for a solution instead of voting against the intolerable.

I took my son with me when I went to vote. I told him what an important day it was. I let him stay up late to watch the returns come in and to see Obama's speech that took place in a park only fifteen short miles from our very house. He was so excited to be a part of history.

I am so grateful that my son has gotten to live this experience. I am so proud of my country for giving it to him.

Thank you, Mr. Obama. And congratulations!