SHOOT: Looking forward to more.
The big issue was the scale of it.
The big issue was the scale of it.
“Avatar” is a thundering, adjective-defying, marvel of a film, so visually rich and acutely topical that you really have to see it twice. The 3D imagery is so natural and so seamlessly woven into the story, that you hardly notice it, which shows you just how well this special effect has been integrated into the narrative. The story is based on a shrewd and provocative inversion of a traditional science-fiction template - the “alien invasion”. It has been a staple of science-fiction movies for the last sixty years but in “Avatar”, Cameron turns that idea on its head.
That is not only an interesting inversion of a classic sci-fi format, it is also highly topical. It’s no accident that this film was released at the same time as the 2008 Copenhagen Climate Change conference was still in session. The themes of “Avatar” resonate powerfully and specifically with the goals and aspirations of those environmentalists, who are trying to set a new ecological time-table for planet Earth.
It is a beautiful film with Morgan Freeman (Mandela) and Matt Damon (François Pienaar). And it's a lesson in statesmanship. As Freeman says in the film to his angry black supporters who don't understand why he wants to keep the Springboks (and Mandela might have well said the same): "You elected me to lead you. Now let me lead you". Mandela withstood vested interests and built a new nation.
That's exactly what government leaders around the world now need to do as well in response to the challenge posed by global warming: withstand vested interests and build new clean energy economies. It is hard to expect the oil industry with all its related political interests to easily and happily join in the transformation of the economy.
However politicians representing the interests of the people at large should, like Mandela, point the way and make the shift to clean energy happen. Their "gamble" is hardly as risky as Mandela's was.
"Avatar": Like "Matrix," it opens doorways
Shrek must confront what life would be like in Far Far Away if he had never existed. That translates into Donkey being forced into cart-pulling duty, fat and lazy Puss in Boots trading his sword for a pink bow and the underhanded Rumpelstiltskin ruling the kingdom.
The problem, already evident in the first movie, is that a vampire who doesn’t ravish young virgins or at least scarily nuzzle their flesh isn’t much of a vampire or much of an interesting character, which initially makes Edward’s abrupt and extended disappearance from the second film seem like a good idea. “New Moon” opens with a seemingly content Bella turning 18, a happy occasion that takes a frightening turn during a party at Edward’s house.
Bee stung lips, Bare chests and Broken promises – by Nick van der Leek
And blood from paper cuts of course. Brace yourself because the next installment of the 'Twilight' Saga is the same animal as the first, just deeper, darker, fiercer, and more grown-up. The attention to detail and faithfulness to the spirit of Stephenie Meyer’s stories was preserved - you'll be happy to hear - through the entire production process. And it's because you really do sense Meyer's quintessential depth-of-detail that fans will love ‘New Moon’. Compared to ‘Twilight’ there’s more action – lots more – more anguished depression and, phew, more excitement in ‘New Moon’, if that makes sense.
If it doesn’t, not to worry, there are plenty of bare naked male torsos onscreen for the girls. For the guys, well, two words: Kirsten Stewart. Sean Penn, who directed her in ‘Into The Wild’ says, “She is a real force with terrific instincts.” The kicker is we know now exactly what he means. In ‘New Moon’ she’s as soulful as ever, and that innocent but not too innocent sensuality is there for the taking, or so it seems. Bella’s booty is behind, once again, what the vampiric fussing and fighting is all about.
Females with a crush on Edward [Robert Pattinson] get teased in the beginning, but will be disappointed to hear that for vast chunks of this flick they have to go without Mr. Pale-and-Sensitive. The ladies are in for a treat though, because while Pattinson is on leave, a pack of wolves is running around. Personally I found the amount of screen time devoted to abs, biceps and bare chests quite amusing. More on that in a moment.
The Saga is a success, and so is this episode, because everyone involved understands how powerful and important subtlety is when mixed with vapid melodrama. It’s in the delicate details, the nuanced acting, the colors and hues, that ‘Twilight’ transforms into something special beyond what would otherwise be an insipid and almost nonsensical plot. Think about it: ordinary high school girl falls in love with a sensitive vegetarian vampire. In ‘New Moon’ we visit the more advanced complications in Bella’s plight with the Cullen vampires.
Director Chris Weitz [‘The Golden Compass’] delivers on every level: his color palette is immaculate, his werewolves credibly incredible [I loved the close-up fairy-tale quality of Bella shining in the wolf’s eye.] Even the music is both haunting and soothing. Rolling Stone describes the music on ‘New Moon’ as “living up to the story because it captures the day-to-day bleakness, along with the sexual obsessions seething under the surface.”
Director Weitz soars most of all by tapping into that most subtle of virtues, the essence of these sagas, which the balancing of that melodrama. There’s just enough melodrama to almost satisfy deep-seated teenage angst, just too little to keep bloodthirsty teenagers hungry for more. And if you’re older, prepare to have forgotten memories surface. If you’re one of those people who has seen the first installment over and over again, you’ll be pleased to hear that ‘New Moon’ also has those simple but exquisite touches mixed into deeply layered and darkly impenetrable plots. What are they thinking? Why do they make the decisions they make? Why must they resist? But then what could be simpler than a girl turning eighteen and saying this to her boyfriend:
Bella Swan: It's my birthday, can I ask for something? Kiss me.
‘New Moon’ is riveting because the cast are skilled and watchable. For the guys, besides Kirsten, there’s Edward’s sister Alice [the darkly delicious Ashley Greene] while ladies get to salivate over Jacob [hunky Taylor Lautner] who spends most of the film in a state of undress. Lautner has described the amount of passion surrounding Twilight as “not normal.” Of course, ‘New Moon’ offers plenty of new characters to feast hungry eyes upon.
While the vampires have gifts ranging from mind reading to reading the future, in ‘New Moon’ the focus falls on an entirely different place: a pack of hounds with a different set of gifts. They excel at brute force, at speed, and loyalty, and savagery, but they falter in that they are less sophisticated, less capable of reigning in their own passions. Love can be blind when you’re not trying to hold back on your desires. Even so, there is something puppy-like and grounded about the wolf pack – they’re warmer and easier to affiliate with than their cold and prudish, but elegant counterparts.
While vampires are chosen by design [their own one would imagine], the werewolves are chosen by fate. The werewolves are more children of nature, children of the forest than the lunar-skinned vampires, who somehow seem more terrifying, more abominable, despite their civilized exterior. So where do the werewolves come into it?
A gene is activated by the presence of vampires straying onto the ancient territories of a tribe known as the Quileute. These ancient people evolved as protection against vampires. The gene manifests in a particular group of young men [all Native Americans] when vampires begin to stray onto their lands, in violation of a treaty.
The gene has the rather nasty side-effect of creating an insatiable desire to have long locks cut off, but this is offset by being unable to resist tearing shirts off. The wolves in ‘New Moon’ are a combination of Native American peoples, including Sioux and Cree. Their presence, it must be said, adds an authentic animus quality to the series, a dimension that both deepens and broadens the mythology in a meaningful way.
On Facebook, two opposing groups have started, a Team Edward group, and a Team Jacob group. Author Stephenie Meyer says, “The whole Team Jacob/Team Edward thing is based on the type of boy that an individual is interested in. If I were for a team,” Meyer enthuses, “I’d probably be for Team Jacob. That’s more my style. If you believe you can develop a deep friendship and then all of a sudden fall in love later on, then you should be in Team Jacob.” What about Team Edward? “If you believe in love at first sight and seeing the mysterious man in the corner, then all right, join Team Edward.”
The overcast weather, stormy seas and dark forest settings feel consistently damp… and something else. The outdoors feels very real. The sea is a rough, heaving backdrop, so is the bruised, unsettled sky. Then there is Bella’s red truck, school, snaking wet roads, modern timber and glass houses, inner sanctums [also known as bedrooms], even the soil always feels rich and moist, like wet cake. None of that unreal, commercialized, postcard sunnyness lives here.
I believe the power in this saga is wrapped up in the many metaphors, both visual and contextual, that remain sensibly coherent, and as such, ring true. It’s compelling because it’s these symbols that stir something up inside most of us. Memories and longing, but mostly longing.
Bella Swan: The absence of him is everywhere I look. It is like a big hole has been punched through my chest.
The longing remains sharp, painful and dangerous throughout, and it is this perhaps more than anything else that resonates. Because in ‘New Moon’ the longing is haunting and especially beautiful.
Beyond the ordinary
People who only catch glimpses of this flick might wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, isn’t the ‘Twilight Saga’ interchangeable with any other series out there? Isn’t it just Smallville-goes-ghoulish or the rural teenage version of Desperate Housewives? ‘Twilight’, like many other dramas out there, accentuates the ordinary. But let’s face it, teenagers lives, even when they’re ordinary, don’t feel that way.
Think of the experience of teenage love and infatuation, the secret keeping, the awkward alliances, the unspoken loyalties, the addictions [blood in this case rather than heroin] the sometimes deadly experiments, the silliness, the shifts in status quo that are sometimes impossible to fathom even though their realness is never in dispute. We can all identify with the potency of those first feelings, which is why ‘Twilight’ is such a triumph. Teenage angst trumps what we’ll feel for the remainder of our lives.
Bella [Kristen Stewart in fine form] epitomizes in ‘New Moon’ an idealized teenage existence, even the longing is idealized. The ever-distant and inward-looking Edward appears to her in ‘New Moon’ as a protective ghost. He’s there even when he is absent. Bella’s vampire-lover admits, helplessly, that his very existence is because of her.
Edward Cullen: [to Bella] You're my only reason to stay... alive. If that's what I am.
A gay reviewer sitting a few seats from me crossed and uncrossed his legs each time male flesh appeared, so much so that eventually his seat in the cinema might have become a bicycle he was pedaling. Put it this way: I think I understand what girls must feel like watching movies filled with mostly naked women, where breasts are the fulcrum of attention. In ‘New Moon’, there are no boobs in sight, but plenty of knuckled abs shining in the rain. Do I hear cheering?
In the real world these guys would be suffering from hypothermia, and Edward would be arrested for being too cheesy, or at a minimum, labeled a laughable stalker, a lovesick loser, a pathetic poepol, because when you grow up you realize that anyone who thinks you are their entire universe really does have some growing up to do. You know this because once upon a time your entire universe laughed at you for being so naive and lost in your emotions.
But then Edward isn’t your average teenager in the ‘Twilight’ mythos. He’s allowed to be cheesy because he’s not helpless or weak, or even juvenile, but quite the opposite. He’d very old, and dangerously strong. Bella loves the combination of his incredible vulnerability towards her coupled with his strength. Bella’s great hold over him, and all the other vampires, is her mystery. They can’t read her mind, but despite the threat posed by their uncertainty of her thoughts, her mortal love for them,and Edward in particular, is obvious.
Many adult reviewers may finger ‘New Moon’s’ narcissism, but then it’s not a movie directed at adults. In the same way ‘Harry Potter’ has a specific audience in mind, and ‘Star Wars’ is meant to be a fairy tale, so too is the mythos of ‘New Moon’ meant to inspire not real love but idealized love.
Loving the Shakespeare way
Why else do we see an opening scene of Bella with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet on her pillow? These idealizations remind us of the furious flame of passion and the intense icicles of hurt that are part and parcel of first experiences at intimacy. The vampire mythos does nothing to detract from the reality of those feelings. The more exotic settings, the forests, the wolves, the damsel, the castle, the kings on their thrones, the jousting; all these agents powerfully collaborate on a symbolic level to extract the very potions and poison that heat and chill our blood.
‘New Moon’ is perfectly paced, and wonderfully poised; it brushes large swathes of credible emotion interspersed with iris tickling fantasy scenes. Director Weitz’ inclusion of special effects is appropriately elegant; they seamlessly flow through the film tapestry like stars in moonbeams.
What I found strangely enjoyable was how, towards the final third of the flick, the audience, especially the ladies [who obviously appreciated the generous displays of abs] began to giggle and chortle. The sweeping promises begin to wear thin towards the end, as we must know they will. How can we promise to love someone forever when – as a teenager –tomorrow the world may be a completely different place?
I think it’s difficult not to appreciate that if you’re Bella, having entire clans warring over you, having search parties patrolling the forests at your service, well, all this has got to be quite flattering. It’s every little girls dream. And what’s wrong with retreating into your inner child once in a while? Well, mark these words, ‘New Moon’s’ ending is likely to remedy such childish notions.
Score: 8.5/10 [For teens and Twi-hards a solid 9]
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
We reported earlier this month that Natalie Portman [photos] appears nude in Wes Anderson's short film 'Hotel Chevalier'.
Well, the short film has finally been released to the public. It stars Jason Schartzman and Natalie Portman and was supposed to be shown as a prologue to 'The Darjeeling Limited' but Fox Searchlight didn't go ahead with the idea and it will likely only be shown at festival screenings, and be included on the DVD.
But in any case, the scene features Natalie Portman nude, with the actress baring her bottom in the much talked about scene, while strategically covering up the rest of her. It's been described as 'the sexiest thing that Wes Anderson has ever done' by UK publication 'Timeout London'.
The print advertisements qualify his words, describing this slight, charming and refreshingly candid little picture as “a story about love.” Which it is: a story about how love can be confusing, contingent and asymmetrical, and about how love can fail. Given all this, it’s somewhat remarkable that “(500) Days,” the feature directing debut of the music video auteur Marc Webb, is neither depressing nor French.
The governing commercial calculus these days seems to be that dudes want smut, ladies want weddings, and a picture (like “The Hangover,” say) that delivers both will make the audience happy and the studios rich.
So a winsome, accessible movie about more-or-less recognizable young people navigating the murky waters of post-sexual-revolutionary, midrecessionary heterosexual attraction has a novelty and a measure of bravery working in its favor, whatever its shortcomings.