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Eric German | Sunday, 11 January 2009

Vegetarian vampires

I had singled out Kristen Stewart in reviewing Into the Wild for although she only had a small role, she gave a heart-felt performance. In Twilight she has the leading role and she’s onscreen for much of the time but she’s a good actress in a bad film.
Bella Swan (Stewart) leaves her mother, step father and her life in Phoenix and goes to the small town of Falls to spend time with her father, Charlie (Billy Burke), who’s the chief of police.
Resuming her studies in the local high school she falls for Edward (Robert Pattinson). After a bad start, he reciprocates her love but turns out to be a vampire.
Very little happens during Twilight and the first hour is particularly uneventful. That makes this two-hour long film drag and drag and drag. The script and director Catherine Hardwicke try to tease us by playing it as if Edward’s real nature was a big mystery.
That may have worked in Stephenie Meyer’s “junior novel” which became hotter than fire among girls in their early teens but it makes the film downright boring.
Its targeted audience is unlikely to share my escalating impatience with the absence of plot and interesting characters. They’ll probably drool more than the camera does over the glossy, TV commercial-like close-ups of Robert Pattinson. He has the right looks for the role but he’s stiff and not much of an actor.
And they’re bound to be thrilled by his exchanging moody looks with Kristen Stewart. The wannabe profound declarations of love are as hilariously funny as: “I wanted to kill you. I never wanted a human’s blood so much.”
Meyer rewrote traditional vampire mythology keeping what suited her and ditching the rest. So we’re treated to several displays of Edward’s strength, speed and his leaping about with Bella on his back.
As in the vampire rulebook he’s ageless and when Bella asks him how long he’s been 17, he replies, “Since 1918.” But unlike vampires, he doesn’t die by going up in flames when exposed to sunlight.
He sort of sparkles in a photogenic way and, most ridiculously of all, he and his family are vegetarians. But Meyer added three old school vampires who “don’t play with (their) food.”
The only positive thing about the film is Kristen Stewart who plays it straight, giving a serious performance and even managing to endow Bella with angst and passion. Everything else is a bad joke and there will be sequels.

Carrey’s comeback movie

Yes Man is superficially similar to Jim Carrey’s much better Liar Liar (1997). Then he played a lawyer who became compelled to say “yes” to everything. Now he plays Carl Allen who says “no” to every offer he gets.
Three years after his wife divorced him, Carl hasn’t yet recovered. His life is limited to watching DVDs but a friend manages to get him to attend a seminar presided over by the new age help guru Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp).
Bundley claims that saying “yes” to every opportunity has a powerful and positive effect on one’s life and Carl enters into a covenant with him to do just that. This works out for Carl but in a round about way as saying yes gets him into trouble but there’s always a better compensation.
The premise is good for a start but it’s slight, so if it isn’t developed, the film doesn’t go much further than the starting line. For quite some time, the three screenwriters are content to just ride on that premise and the film gets stuck in a saying yes-consequences rut.
As a result, the writing gets desperate at an early stage and the script has to stoop to trying to raise a smile out of an antiquated and infantile bit of vulgarity involving Carl, his aged but sex-mad neighbour Tillie (Fionnula Flanagan), oral sex and a denture.
In another bad writing choice, the script tries to add some amusement in the form of Carl’s boss, Norman (Rhys Darby), but it’s a pathetic attempt and Norman, his dialogue and his behaviour add up to a silly write-off.
It’s at a late stage that the film improves thanks to some humorous situations. Carrey looks a bit aged but he’s in top form. Inevitably, he cannot resist doing his favourite party tricks, like making faces, regardless of whether it suits the film or not.
This is his comeback film and he gives it everything he’s got. It’s this sort of manic enthusiasm which sometimes makes the material look better than it is.
Zooey Deschanel makes an early entrance as Allison, an unconventional free spirit who goes to Carl’s rescue on her scooter which she drives furiously. In a move that’s typical of a screenplay which needed at least another rewrite, she disappears and she isn’t brought back until it’s very late in the day.
That’s when the film turns into a romantic comedy and Deschanel’s reappearance does the film a world of good. She gives an endearingly comical performance as a woman who’s at once very different and very similar to Carl. Romantically, she and Carrey make the couple click.
The film’s single inspiration is that of having Carl playing his guitar to try to prevent a man from jumping to his death. Uneven, Yes Man is intermittently amusing but it leaves one feeling that it should have been a better film than the one we get.


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