THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN, PART 2

It’s with a hint of sadness that the Twilight franchise has come to an end. Sure, they’re terrible, terrible films (and books I assume), the popularity of which paints a sorry picture of  the tastes of today’s youth, but now that all is said and done, on reflection it was worth enduring the first three insufferable disasters (Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse) to get to the unbridled mayhem of Breaking Dawn (my thoughts on part one can be found here).

After seeing part one, it was difficult to see where the story had left to go. We had seen the  unending wedding of Edward and Bella, the banal South American honeymoon, the shocking and genuinely upsetting pregnancy/birth, and the werewolf falling in love with the baby. It seemed like an appropriate place to end it, but Summit and Stephenie Meyer obviously had other ideas, hence we have Breaking Dawn, part 2.

While perhaps not as off-the-leash nutty, Breaking Dawn, part 2 maintains a lot of the weirdness of the preceding chapter. Picking up exactly at the point where part one ended, Bella (Kristen Stewart) finds herself having to adjust to her ‘newborn’ vampire status, learning to control her superhuman strength and fighting the urge to hunt humans. Edward (Robert Pattinson) begins to assume a mentor role, but for whatever reason Bella learns so quickly that the learning plot is pretty much dropped.

Here’s the first and biggest of the many problems of Breaking Dawn, part 2. For at least the first two thirds of the film, plot threads and characters are introduced with enough fanfare to make one think they’re going to be important cogs in the larger machinery of the story, only to be forgotten or abandoned with zero explanation. Perhaps it’s fan service, and people familiar with the novels will be able to link things up, but for newcomers it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of who everyone is, why they’re involved, and what on earth is happening from one scene to the next.

The character of Alistair (Joe Anderson) is a good example. Following the development that the Volturi, the ruling council of vampires last seen in New Moon, are coming after Edward and Bella’s daughter Renesmee, the Cullen clan assemble a team of vampires from across the globe to defend the child, the last of which is the enigmatic Alistair. Yet after an introduction to suggest he will be a character of some importance he merely ends up lurking in the background, and popping into one random and pointless scene with Bella. He’s always there, but doesn’t actually do anything significant.

It’s this scattered and overloaded approach that really damages an already abysmal film. On top of the lack of charisma in the stars, the questionable storytelling is a real hindrance for anyone set on enjoying Breaking Dawn, part 2 at all, not to mention how simply ugly the thing is. There’s an over-reliance on terrible green-screen work, shoddy visual effects, and whatever lunatic decided that an almost completely CG Renesmee was a good idea needs to be removed from the business of movie making.

However, much like the last film, a part of me loved Breaking Dawn, part 2. As I said, it may not seem as insane as part one, but in some ways that’s a good thing. I loved part one because I was caught completely off guard by the madness, but was appalled by it because much of the content really shouldn’t be part of a film made for pre-teen girls. Part two dials back the more troubling aspects of the previous film and just revels in the stupidity of Meyer’s writing. It’s weird as hell, but really pretty harmless, aside from all the decapitation. Oh boy, there’s a lot of decapitation.

Director Bill Condon and his cast seem to be having a lot more fun here. The most ridiculous thing about the first three films in the series is how unwaveringly serious they are, but with both parts of Breaking Dawn, it feels like Condon and Pattinson in particular are winking at that portion of the audience who, like myself, are simply there to see how off the reservation this daft franchise can go. It manages to achieve a delicate and kind of wonderful balance of satisfying the true fans (the Twi-hards) with its creepy romantic melodrama, while clearly acknowledging the bizarre and quite frankly awful story Meyer has crafted. The awareness of this final chapter is perhaps its greatest asset, and if you’re willing to abandon all logic and actual critical appreciation, then Breaking Dawn, part 2 delivers a great time at the cinema.

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ROBOT AND FRANK

It seems like once a year or so an Alzheimer’s movie comes along and knocks me for a loop. I don’t know what it is; I’ve never had any personal, real-life experience with the condition or its unfortunate sufferers, but there’s ripe material for crafting warm and moving stories which invariably end with me in tears. In the last few years I have been devastated by films such as Away From Her and Barney’s Version, and while Robot and Frank is certainly comparable, it’s a lighter, less harrowing take on a tragic side of aging, and ultimately results in a much more enjoyable experience.

Frank Langella plays Frank, a divorced senior living a life of solitude in rural New York. Between visits and video calls from his children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) concerned about his seemingly deteriorating mental state, Frank fills his time with visits to the local library to flirt with librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), and by shoplifting decorative soaps from the store occupying the former site of his favourite restaurant. He is a man of the past, and his little moments of defiance in the face of change establish his character early, so when Hunter (Marsden) arrives with a new robot caregiver, Frank is understandably offended.

As much as Frank’s memory regarding the day to day seems to be fading, his former ‘profession’ as a cat burglar remains at the front of his mind, and the robot’s insistence on finding a project to keep him mentally engaged opens a window of opportunity for Frank to focus his mind and retreat back to the glory days of his youth. The planning and execution of heists sees a charming relationship forming between Frank and his robot companion, complemented by a sweet potential romance and stark moments of sadness.

There’s a clever subtext running through Robot and Frank as well, commenting on the loss of personality in the digital age, and the disposable nature of modern life. The more we come to rely on technology for everything, from our reading material to our aged care, the less we ourselves are practically capable of, giving rise to a generation of privileged, ironic, but purposeless people (‘yuppies’ as Frank calls them). What Robot and Frank highlights is not just the fragility, but also the value of a mind filled with life experience and skills. There’s no substitute for the complex intelligence of our brains, and even the most sophisticated technology has more to learn from us.

Robot and Frank feels like a film aimed at an older generation, but there is so much to enjoy for anyone who might be occasionally frustrated by our cynical modern world. There’s a great balance of laughs, romance and sadness with a fun sci-fi twist, right down to the subtle Star Wars reference.