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Frankly My Dear...

    Frankly My Dear...

    Movie Review: The Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn Part 1

    Posted: 16 Nov 2011 07:25 PM PST

    At long last, “The Twilight Saga” sinks utterly into camp with “Breaking Dawn: Part 1.”

    When you’re not giggling at the jokes — and this is the first film in this absurdly self-serious series to take itself lightly — you’ll be rolling your eyes at the dull melodramatics, or rolling on the floor at the big doggie debate amongst the digital wolves.

    Bill “Dreamgirls/Kinsey” Condon has a budget that original “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke would have wept for, but he treats it all as a big joke. And maybe he’s right. Boiled down to its essence and wending its way to a conclusion, Stephenie Meyer’s novels are all about the perils of sex and the evils of abortion — even to save the human momma’s life.

    One thing the movies have added is that wish fulfillment fantasy that the sheen of product placement gives “Breaking Dawn.” Bella is marrying well, because let’s face it — the Cullens are the one percent.

    “Breaking Dawn” begins with a white wisteria wedding and ends with blood. And in between there’s a lot of discussion of an unplanned pregnancy that all concerned seem to believe is the demon seed. All but Bella, that is.

    The tone is flippant through the nuptials — Anna Kendrick gets to toast the couple with how Bella was “totally mesmerized by Edward, or the hair” — and on into the island-off-Rio honeymoon. Kristen Stewart is sort of a bystander to the jokes, and gives Bella a serious case of wedding day terror, enough to make us wonder where the heat is that helps her overcome that fear of vampire sex and vampire conversion. But the heat left this teenaged romance after the first movie.

    Edward (Robert Pattinson) is as pretty and soft-spoken and passive as ever. But it’s interesting to see Taylor Lautner, as Jacob, the jilted werewolf who never really had a shot with her, mature into his own. He’s not buying anything Bella says under Edward’s influence.

    “You can spout that crap to your bloodsuckers,” he declares. He sees right through it.

    I could have gone along with the clowning, the one-liners, the goof on the whole saga that Condon seems to have aimed for. But the movie turns deadly dull after the wedding and never really perks back to life, whatever the “stay tuned for part two” finale promises.

    Unless Condon lays off the laughing gas for “Part Two,” even Twi-hards are going to have trouble keeping a straight face through all the snarling, biting, mating and imprinting to come.

    MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic elements

    Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene

    Credits: Directed by Bill Condon, script by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the Stephenie Meyer novel, a summit Entertainment release. Running time: 1: 48

    Alexander Payne on Hawaii, Omaha and the Geography of his movies

    Posted: 16 Nov 2011 10:25 AM PST

    Alexander Payne is an Omaha native whose went to film school in LA, but whose film career has had a lot more of America in it than the usual Hollywood-and-environs settings.

    He set “About Schmidt” and “Election” and “Citizen Ruth” in the Midwest, found a chunk of under-filmed California for “Sideways,” and has scouted the Hawaii beyond the postcards for his latest, “The Descendants,” which opens next Wednesday.

    How important is geography to his movies?

    “It's become pretty important to me. I now find myself auditioning the place as much as the story. 'Election,' the book, was set in New Jersey. Today, I might actually shoot it in New Jersey, but at the time, I was more interested in transplanting it to Omaha, where I'm from. Planting the flag there.

    “The skills I acquired in trying to capture Omaha I am now applying to other places. Santa Barbara County for 'Sideways,' my little short in Paris for 'Paris, J'taime,' which is very much about the arondisement where I shot it. Even the pilot I did for HBO for 'Hung' is pretty connected to Detroit.

    “And now this one I turned those skills to Hawaii, to try and find the place, away from the Hawaii tourists see.”

    As with “Sideways,” The Descendants,” about a father reconnecting with his daughters after a boating accident puts his wife in terminal coma, is earning Oscar buzz for its stars and for Payne. But no matter how that unfolds, the 50 year old Payne is already on the road, scouting that next corner of America to set a movie in.

    “I have two scripts lined up, since I plan to move quickly, having taken so long between ‘Sideways’ (2004) and ‘Descendants’ (he had projects fall through). The next one, I figure, is a father-son road trip from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, a road trip where they get waylaid in central Nebraska in the little town where the father grew up. It’s a place where he has some ghosts to deal with, a very nice little comedy written by a guy from Snohomish, Washington. Working title, “Nebraska.”

    “And then I’ll take my act on the road again to Oakland, California, where I’ll do the adaptation of this graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, who wrote ‘Ghost World.’ “Wilson’s’ about a guy my age (“middle aged loner”), so we should be right on the same page with that one. And in the same place, because I hope to discover an Oakland we haven’t seen before in a movie, either.”

    Movie Review: Happy Feet Two

    Posted: 16 Nov 2011 09:03 AM PST

    “Happy Feet Two” is to 2006’s “Happy Feet” what “Babe: Pig in the City” was to “Babe,” a clever and adorable original film remade with most of the charm wrung out of it.

    The conceit — that penguins each have their own special song which they use to woo members of the opposite sex, save for one penguin (voiced by Elijah Wood) who can’t sing a lick, but who can dance — is pretty much abandoned for a muddled sequel about trapped penguins and inter-species cooperation, all in the name of “adapt or die.”

    Yeah, global warming is still a subtext (over-fishing no longer is). But now responsibility passes to the critters if they want to survive.

    The songs are weaker — classic rock exchanged for generic pop, first generation hip hop (“Momma Said Knock You Out” freely adapted) and moldy oldies (“Papa Oom Mow Mow”). The laughs are fewer, most of those coming from the randy Adelie penguin, Ramon, voiced with a broad Latin accent by Robin Williams.   It plays like a cynical attempt to cash in by throwing a lot of half-baked ideas and far more characters at an elite animation team and expecting them to produce “Toy Story 2.”

    They didn’t.

    Mumbles (Elijah Wood) and Gloria (now voiced by Alecia “Pink” Moore instead of the late Brittany Murphy) are parents, but their little Erik (Ava Acres) doesn’t seem to be a chip off anybody’s old ice block. He can’t dance, can’t sing. So he scampers off with his pals and falls in with the Adelie penguins in Adelieland. They’re led by “the first penguin to learn to fly.” Swen (Hank Azaria, slinging a broad Norwegian accent) is a self-help guru and a fraud. He can fly, all right. He’s a Puffin passing himself off as a penguin.

    “If you want it, you must will it. If you will it, it will be yours,” he preaches. It’s prosperity gospel meets Tony Robbins. Of course penguins can learn to fly.

    That “adapt or die” mantra has been taken up by Will the Krill, voiced by Brad Pitt in a funny but almost utterly unrelated story. Will and his longtime companion Bill (Matt Damon) make scores of Krill and Will rhymes and puns — “I’m one in a krillian.” “Good-bye, krill world!”

    Will has lost the will to swarm and be whale food, which is what krill do. “I’m moving up the food chain,” he declares. “I’m gonna chew on something with a face!”

    Up on the ice, the Emperor Penguins are land-locked by an iceberg, and Mumbles must figure out a way to free them while Erik is expects his puffin false-prophet to save the day.

    The opening twenty minutes are a mad, random jumble of characters, situations, voices and song. The only thread that emerges from this confusion (which extends to the sound mix) is that Mumbles is making the same mistakes his dad made in encouraging his son. Humans show up (and look rotoscoped, or animated over live-action images) and may help. Or not. Real children’s voices are used for the many penguin chicks (and elephant seal pups) who appear, which is cute.

    The animation and color palette (Antarctica has patches of green, as the ice is melting) are a pretty big leap forward from “Happy Feet’s” images, though the penguin faces are as inexpressive as ever.

    Which can also be said of filmmaker George Miller, who went from making “Mad Max” sequels to making children’s films — “Babe” and “Happy Feet” — and their sequels. Entertaining and teaching kids is a noble pursuit, but half-hearted sequels aren’t a happy consequence of that. They’re just an excuse to sell toys and Happy Meals.

    MPAA Rating: PG for some rude humor and mild peril

    Cast: The voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Alecia “Pink” Moore, Hank Azaria

    Credits: Directed by George Miller, written by Miller, Warren Coleman, Paul Livingston and Gary Eck.  A Warner Brothers release. Running time 1:30

    Michelle Williams on ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful,’ and understanding Mariyln Monroe

    Posted: 16 Nov 2011 07:25 AM PST

    My story on Michelle Williams and her take on Marilyn Monroe publishes this Sunday, with “My Week With Marilyn” opening one week from today.
    But here are some bits of the interview that didn’t make the print version of the piece. I wanted to know if this “Oz the Great and Powerful” which she’s currently shooting for Sam Raimi has sort of a “Wicked” take (in terms of prequel) on “The Wizard of Oz.” Of course, that would scare folks who don’t want to be sued by the “Wicked” people, but the tales do sound similar.
    “It's definitely not 'Wicked' inspired. It's a movie that would pre-figure the 'Wizard of Oz.' So I don't have to do a Billie Burke imitation. I'm playing a younger Glinda, so I'm not bound by Billie Burke's performance. I don’t get to say, ‘Toto, too!’ Thank goodness!”

    James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff also star in it.

    Regarding Marilyn Monroe — the film, “My Week With Marilyn,” which captures Monre as she was filming “The Prince and the Showgirl” in the UK in 1956, tends to go easier on the Brits (Vivien Leigh isn’t a crazed harpy, the actor-director Olivier isn’t depicted as a shrill, hypercritical jerk to Monroe, something that biographies of the two of them contradict).  Did Williams feel the need to stick up for the American girl stuck over there with all those Brits and their version of her story?

    “I feel an obligation to stick up for all my characters, to love them in their most unlovable moments. Isn't that what we all want, as human beings, to be loved for our worst and our best? When you really love someone, you have to take them as a whole. You can't pick and choose, shut your eyes to certain aspects of them.

    “I will say, after playing her, boy – she would have been tough to work with. She would show up late, keep people waiting for hours and sometimes wouldn't show up at all.

    “But after spending all those hours getting ready, in hair and makeup, trying to be what everybody wanted her to be, she must have been exhausted. By Thursday or Friday of our work week in this film, I didn't want to show up either. Because it would take a super-human to keep up that fa├žade, to be that beautiful and desirable on camera.

    “She wasn't that beautiful without the makeup and all. Colin Clark (The “My” in “My Week With Marilyn,” the young third assistant director on the set who “handled” her) talks about it in his journals, 'Saw MM today. What a wreck! Hard to believe that the girl in front of me is the screen goddess. Bad skin, puffy eyes, shock wig of hair.' She wasn't Marilyn Monroe all the time.

    “He sees her in vulnerable, unbecoming moments. He's like so many men. He wants to rescue her.”

    Did Williams, a beautiful woman in her own right, have any trepidation about playing the screen’s greatest sex symbol?

    “I didn't think ahead to the conversations I'd have to have with people in the press. ‘You think you can pass for Marilyn Monroe?' I didn't think about people's expectations. If I had, I never would have been able to make the movie.

    “Luckily, I make those sorts of decisions in the vacuum. It's just me and a script. I follow my heart, my tastes and my instincts.

    “Making the movie was an insulated experience, too. We shot it almost entirely at Pinewood Studios. We weren't trying to make it in the middle of a three ring circus, on A New York street, or wherever. For a while, you feel like you're just making the movie for yourselves, just working to see if you can do it, just for the fun.

    “But the time will come when this thing will be cut together and taken out into the world and THEN you have to think about what you tried to do and explaining it to others. And I never think about that part of the process until the very end.

    “That's what gives me the courage to try to play Marilyn Monroe.”