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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Pattinson’

As they say in Rome, ‘After a fat Pope, a thin Pope’ – another of those weeks where everyone in the film releasing business seems to be keeping their powder dry. Still, some intriguing prospects on the horizon, amongst them Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, which gets a surprisingly wide UK release this weekend (we shall return to this topic). This is one of those movies I’ve heard various positive things about, not least from Ex-Next Desk Colleague (all things must pass). ‘You’ll love it,’ was his confident assertion. Well, that’s possibly putting it a bit too strong, but I am certainly very impressed.

The film takes place almost entirely on a remote and barren island, somewhere off the New England coast, many years ago. Posted here to maintain and operate the lighthouse are two men: one of them (Robert Pattinson) is on his first tour of duty as a lighthouse keeper – he is intense, quiet, eager to prove himself. The other man (Willem Dafoe) is much older and more experienced; he is also garrulous, demanding, and often crude. There is friction between the duo almost at once, not least because the old man will not allow his younger colleague into the lamp room, although he refuses to reveal why.

The time passes slowly. The younger man finds a carving of a mermaid left by one of the previous keepers. He also begins to have odd visions, amongst them ones of the older man getting up to very strange things in the lamp room after dark. As the days add up and the weather gets worse and worse, isolation takes its toll. But is it all in his head or is there some grotesque inhuman force really at work on the island?

It’s honestly very difficult to give a proper impression of what The Lighthouse is really like to watch. The glib thing to say, which I’m not sure I didn’t read somewhere else, is that it is rather like how Steptoe and Son might have turned out, had the series been written by H. P. Lovecraft: it has two men of different generations trapped together in a toxic, co-dependent relationship, but also an insidiously creepy atmosphere and the suggestion of something fishy going on between people and, well, fish (or other forms of marine life). I mean this as a compliment, by the way, but when you take two such distinctive flavours and blend them together, you’re inevitably going to end up with something, um, distinctively distinctive.

Eggers, who wrote and directed the piece, doesn’t seem at all cowed by this, and doing something a bit different seems to have been part of his intention. The movie is as stark and austere as only black-and-white can be – on top of this, the director has opted to use a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, giving it even more the look of a film from the earliest years of cinema. All of this would normally scream art-house darling, and I am honestly surprised it has managed to land a significant release in mainstream cinemas – but then again, I am probably underestimating the box-office clout of Robert Pattinson.

As with Kristen Stewart, I would suggest that the statute of limitations has expired and we should accept that Pattinson is actually a very able actor and an impressive screen presence, regardless of how he started his career. Certainly he also seems happy to take on challenging projects – whatever else you think about it, the ickily pretentious sci-fi movie High Life from last year was hardly a commercial choice, and you could say the same about this one, too. Every genre movie that Pattinson signs on for seems to mutate into something unexpected and disturbing. Which inevitably leads one to wonder, now that Pattinson (or at least his chin) has signed up to play Batman: how on Earth is that going to work out?

This, of course, is a question for another day. Underneath the period trappings and strange stylistic quirks, The Lighthouse is at heart a horror movie, although saying much more about it is a little tricky. Certainly the most striking moments in it come from the suggestion that something genuinely unnatural and perhaps even mythic is going on: this is one of those movies where not a great deal is explained, but it does seem to be loaded with moments alluding to Greek myth and classic literature. Pattinson has visions of a mermaid, for one thing, while those looking to make the Lovecraft connection will find the appearance of tentacles in unlikely places to be of great significance.

On the other hand, it could just all be a symptom of creeping madness brought on by a combination of factors: isolation, stress, perhaps also guilt. I have to reiterate just how atmospheric The Lighthouse is: a foghorn bleats repetitively on the soundtrack, adding to the sounds of the elements, while you are left with no doubts as to just how bleak and unpleasant the island the keepers are on is. Apparently the cast and crew had a fairly wretched time just making the movie there – I suspect there was not a lot of acting required for many of the scenes.

When the acting is required, however, both Pattinson and Defoe certainly do the business. I suppose we can say that both of them deliver bold, vanity-free performances. Pattinson is playing the point-of-identification character, to begin with at least, but as the film goes on introduces elements of mania into his character quite cleverly and subtly: he goes from being sympathetic to rather alarming almost seamlessly. It initially looks like Defoe has been given quite a ripe old character part, complete with beard and thick accent, but the actor manages to find depth and reality as well, while retaining the edge of ambiguity that the film really requires in order to work. And work it does.

Of course, the thing about The Lighthouse, being a film about madness (and often violent madness at that) is that it does end up being an unreliable narrative. The story comes unglued just as the characters do, and in the end it’s left up to the viewer to work out just what has really been going on in front of them. But the film is impressive and memorable enough for this to be a welcome challenge rather than a chore. This is a movie with some extreme moments, and it certainly won’t be to all tastes, but I found its ambition and focus to be highly laudable. A good omen for the year’s horror movies.

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It’s not unheard of for young actors to achieve a staggering level of success in what’s essentially their first prominent role – this usually happens in adaptations of books aimed at a young-ish audience, or at least with a young-ish protagonist, as these kinds of projects tend to come with a built-in audience and so the studio is a bit more prepared to take a chance on an unknown. The quandary, then, is what a serious-minded young actor, propelled into celebrity at a tender age, supposed to do next? Some of them take the cards they’ve been dealt, cheerfully gun the engine and head right on down Mainstream Highway, but others are clearly afflicted by the need to show they have taste and range and a desire to do artistically significant work. One of the ways you used to be able to do this was by appearing in a Woody Allen film, as Emma Stone and Kristen Stewart both did, but that option is basically off the table now. Stewart also went kind of art-housey in Personal Shopper a few years ago. It’s the kind of deal that works for both the performer and the makers of the film: the performer will hopefully get to show their range and seriousness about their art, while the big name star should help an otherwise uncommercial project attract attention and funding.

You can see the same kind of trade-off at work in Claire Denis’ High Life, which stars Stewart’s one-time co-star (amongst other things, hem-hem) Robert Pattinson. Denis revealed that every time she came to the UK to meet actors, Pattinson would turn up, whether he was invited or not, despite the fact she felt he was too young. Luckily, the march of entropy being what it is, Pattinson eventually stopped being too young, and now here he is, in a film which I can only describe as… you know, it doesn’t really lend itself to a brief description. What I will say is that this is a startlingly and often unpleasantly graphic film, and there may be turns of phrase on the way that will make you go ‘ugh’. Don’t blame me, blame Claire Denis.

The film occurs almost exclusively aboard a rather odd spaceship, which from the outside resembles a 1970s stereo cabinet. The film opens in the ship’s hydroponics section, which of course leads one to wonder about the extent to which this is a knowing homage to Silent Running; this line of thought is rapidly dispelled by the sounds of an infant, who appears to be being raised by computers. It turns out this is because her father (Pattinson) is outside fixing the spaceship. The two of them seem to be quite alone and lead a peaceful life of quiet routine; he seems to be an attentive and caring parent. Every day he has to make a progress report in order for the ship’s computer to keep the life support switched on for another twenty-four hours, which seems like an odd arrangement. Our first clue that even odder things have been going on here comes when Pattinson, wanting to economise on his electric bill, shuts down the ship’s cryogenics unit and dumps the corpses of the rest of the crew out of the airlock.

Needless to say, there are flashbacks to come, and slowly and incrementally the (rather unlikely, if you ask me) story of the ship comes into focus. This is a long-haul mission set to last many years, with a crew composed entirely of death-row convicts launched off into deep space to carry out experiments on using the rotational energy of black holes to solve Earth’s resource problems. Not that anyone on board seems to be thinking much about thermodynamics: everyone, with the possible exception of Pattinson’s character, Monte, seems to have become fixated on rather more basic issues.

Intimate contact between the members of the crew is apparently prohibited, but the builders of the ship have thoughtfully provided a room in which frustrated crew members can masturbate away to their heart’s content (although duff plumbing means there are puddles of all sorts of bodily fluids in the corridor outside). One keen user of this facility is the ship’s doctor (Juliette Binoche); there is a frankly astonishing sequence recording one of her visits to the room, in much more detail than I really needed to see. Apart from this, her main interest is in trying to produce a child through artificial insemination, to which end she is cheerfully manipulating and drugging the other crew members. Tensions inevitably rise between the other crew members, which only Pattinson is partly immune to, mostly because he’s trying to stay abstinent (just for a change). But how long will it be before the mission itself is endangered…?

As you can perhaps see from the poster, High Life has earned itself some glowing reviews and enviable star ratings, many of them from sources not often impressed by SF films. I suspect this is one of those SF films which people who don’t like SF will like. SF films which people who don’t like SF will like tend to fall into two categories: there are the ones which basically use SF props to tell a story lifted wholesale from another genre and reskinned – a lot of mainstream studio SF falls into this category. Then there is the more arty kind of obscure movie, which uses SF themes and imagery to deal with subtle and abstract philosophical and artistic notions.

Critics tend to love this latter kind of film, and will happily overlook the fact that the story is ludicrous. This is a film set on a spaceship which looks like a stereo cabinet, crewed by death-row inmates, with puddles of semen all over the floor, and we’re supposed to believe it’s giving us some grand insight into the human condition and ‘what it means to be human’? The most profound insight on offer here is a suggestion of what would happen if someone launched the Big Brother house into deep space, because it’s basically about a bunch of unsympathetic and frankly weird characters who appear to have become totally fixated with sexual matters. I don’t recognise this as ‘what it means to be human’; I only recognise it as what happens when a misanthropic and pretentious film director hooks up with someone from Twilight and gets to work on a script with a suspicious large number of names on it.

I should say that the script starts off being quite weird and only gets worse as the story continues. One character ‘commits suicide by burying himself in the garden’ (that’s from High Life‘s Wikipedia entry). Late-on, there’s a very strange interlude where the spaceship encounters another stereo cabinet, but this one appears to be inhabited solely by stray dogs. What any of it is supposed to signify is very difficult to work out.

As I say, you can see the makers of High Life are not unfamiliar with SF films from years gone by – in addition to Silent Running, you can perhaps discern the influence of films like Moon, Sunshine, and Interstellar. But all of those films seemed to have something to say for themselves about human beings and their place in the universe. The problem with High Life isn’t just that it’s a bleak and dystopian vision of the future, it’s that it seems to have nothing original to say for itself. Yes, human beings can be horrible and repellent, but they’re not necessarily like that, and if you’re going to suggest that the antics of a bunch of people plucked from death row and launched into deep space can offer a real insight into how people in general will behave – well, I’m afraid you’ve lost me.  It may be that this genuinely is a profound and insightful film, but the general tone and atmosphere of it is so repulsive I find it very difficult to look at it objectively. Claire Denis has certainly succeeded in taking the SF movie somewhere new, it’s just not a place there seems much point in visiting.

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So, I got in the other night and was greeted, as usual, by my landlady:

‘Hello! Been to the movies?’ (She knows I practically live there and get 25% off on Tuesdays.)

‘…yes.’

‘What did you see?’

‘(sigh)… Breaking Dawn – Part 2.’

‘Oh. What was it like?’

‘…Jesus.’ Much shaking of the head and despairing followed, the details of which I will spare you.

‘Oh. You know, I’ve got the first one on DVD up in my studio if you want to watch it. I’ve never been able to get past the first twenty minutes.’

What, watch another one? The first one? The fountainhead of this terrible scourge upon global culture? What kind of masochist did she take me for?

twilight-movie-poster

Ahem. The first Twilight came out in 2008, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and watching it, effectively, as a prequel to the end of the series is a slightly odd experience. One can definitely make out the warning signs that will ultimately lead to complete disaster, but at the same time this is – as I was assured by the person who bought my Breaking Dawn ticket – not nearly as bad a movie.

We open, cheerfully, with a young woman contemplating the circumstances of her own death, the exact circumstances of which do not become clear for quite a bit. She turns out to be Bella Swan (possibly so-named because she is a white bird with a long neck), played by Kristen Stewart. Stewart is perhaps a bit too pretty to convincingly play a somewhat-insecure teenage girl, but she is effectively gawky at least. Bella is moving from sunny Arizona to gloomy Washington state to be with her father.

Almost straight away she meets native American dude Jacob, played by Taylor Lautner. At this point, if Jacob is a werewolf, he’s not telling anyone, and he also has long hair and dresses quite differently. More startlingly, Lautner is not nearly as wooden as he will later become. Possibly discovering your werewolf heritage destroys your ability to act (or it may just be the haircut).

Anyway, we get a lot of new-girl-at-school stuff, which is fair enough, as Bella settles in to her new life. But there is a mystery at school! One which entrances and preoccupies Bella! And it concerns the aloof and enigmatic Cullen family, a family of pale students who keep to themselves and never show up while the sun is out. The mystery is, of course, why the Cullens are turning up to high school in the first place, given they are all obviously in their 20s.

Oh well. Amongst the Cullen clan is Edward, played by Robert Pattinson. Edward is very thin and pale, appears to be wearing lipstick, and there’s something weird going on on top of his head. All he needs is some green hairdye and he could play the lead in I Was A Teenage Joker. Edward is initially very off with Bella – but then his mood abruptly changes when he saves her life in mysterious circumstances. Further strange events lead Bella to make a startling discovery as to what Edward Cullen really is – yes, he’s a slightly effeminate non-threatening romantic fantasy figure for teenage girls to safely get fixated on!

And he’s a vampire too. This is basically the plot of the first half of Twilight, which I thought was by far the most interesting part of the film and arguably the strongest too (although I couldn’t figure out why the so-called vampires were so keen to keeping going to school, over and over again, especially since they made no effort to fit in there). One of my issues with Breaking Dawn – Part 2 was that it largely took place in a rootless, unidentifiable fantasy world where practically every character was a so-called vampire or werewolf. To start with, at least, Twilight is set in something resembling the real world, with recognisable human characters and situations, and this helps the story.

One wonders how much of this emphasis is down to director Catherine Hardwicke, who clearly has some kind of vision for the film – she seems to be going for something distinctively naturalistic, with slightly washed-out colours. Even here, though, I sensed a certain tension between this approach and the smoothed-over romance and superbland fantasy which is what the film is really about. Hardwicke was not retained for the next film, supposedly because she couldn’t undertake to deliver it within the required timeframe, but I wonder whether creative differences weren’t also partly involved – there’s a reality and a visual style to this film utterly lacking from the final instalment, and the former at least are at odds with the general tenor of the story.

Anyway, the second half of the film is much more concerned with the budding romance between Edward and Bella and the various doings of the Cullen so-called vampire clan. The Cullens themselves are colourless and creepy even on their debut appearance – not creepy because they’re dangerous undead predators, but creepy because they’re blandly attractive and weirdly wholesome one-dimensional cut-outs, more like a religious cult than actual vampires. The central romance simply doesn’t ignite, but it’s hard to tell whether this is the fault of script or actors. It is certainly written in a breathlessly earnest way – a teenager’s ideal of what first love should be like rather than the real thing.

Even here, though, you can sort of see why this series has picked up some criticism for supposedly glamorising an abusive relationship – not only is Bella an almost entirely passive figure, but at one point she gets a voiceover going (I paraphrase, but not much) ‘Edward is a bloodthirsty monster. Part of him wants to kill me. Ooohhh, I’m so totally in love with him!’ I guess girls love a bad boy – even when he’s prettier than they are and have weird stuff going on with their hair.

I did complain about the so-called vampires in Breaking Dawn – Part 2 being tedious superheroes stripped of any symbolic or metaphorical meaning, but in Twilight I can sort of discern what Stephenie Meyer was thinking of – the vampire has frequently been used as a symbol for immoral or deviant sexual practices – all those exchanges of bodily fluids, same-sex couplings, extra-marital goings-on, incestuous relationships and so on. In this film, at least, the vampire (as represented by Edward) just represents any kind of active sexuality, which is shown as dangerous and best avoided in favour of introspective romance. Bella and Edward’s relationship at this point is entirely non-penetrative: he refuses to bite her, even when she asks him to. I’m not sure how convincing this is as a moral message for the kids to take away, but it’s certainly a non-threatening one parents will approve of.

There’s some running around and shouting at the end of Twilight which is quite well-handled, but the more the central romance took centre stage the less engaging I found the entire film. The whole thing wraps up with the tacit promise of a sequel, which is fair enough: there isn’t a great deal of closure in the plot anyway. It’s well directed, especially in its earlier sections, and some of the acting is not too bad – but the creeping blandness of so many of the characters and relationships as the film progresses not only makes watching Twilight a distinctly so-so experience, but clearly indicates just what grim viewing future episodes are going to make.

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And so it came to pass:

‘Come to the cinema with me, you owe me a movie. I came to see Samsara with you, didn’t I?’ she said.

‘Yeah, but as I recall you really liked it -‘

‘And then you went and wrote about us going to see it on your blog and really misrepresented me. That conversation we supposedly had was completely fake. Please don’t do that again.’

‘As if,’ I said. ‘Anyway, it was sort of based on fact, you’ve got to funny it up so people keep reading… hang on, as I recall you didn’t have to pay to see Samsara.’

‘All right, so I’ll pay for you if you come to the pictures with me. It’s only fair you keep your side of the deal…’

‘I didn’t even know we had a deal.’

‘You keep saying you’ll go and watch anything, so prove it.’

‘Oh, all right. What is it you want to see so badly?’

This is how years of guilt-free avoidance of The Twilight Saga end, not with blissful ignorance but with a pester. Yes, I went along to see Breaking Dawn – Part 2, directed by Bill Condon – what can I say, it seemed like the honourable thing to do at the time. I was under orders to ‘keep an open mind’ as the film rolled, and for my own part had done my best to avoid doing any research into what had happened in the previous four movies. This promised to be an interesting experiment (the diaries of Frankenstein, Jekyll, and Oppenheimer probably contain similar sentiments). I would normally warn you that what follows may contain spoilers, but the word ‘spoil’ is sort of misleading in this context.

Anyway, the credits rolled, depicting rolling vistas of forests and mountains and the first thing to cross my open mind was ‘this is all a bit Lord of the Rings-y’. I was quickly introduced to Bella (Kristen Stewart, thin and pretty), a young woman who had apparently just been turned into a vampire by her husband Edward (Robert Pattinson, thinner and prettier) – funny, most men complain when their wives become life-draining parasites. I figured all this out eventually despite the fact that there is a long scene where the two of them are blatantly reflected in a mirror and they spend most of the film walking around in the sunshine. Hmmph.

Following a heftless CGI sequence which concludes with Bella chowing down on a defenceless cougar, I learned that her offspring was being looked after by a bunch of other so-called vampires, whose smug and bland wholesomeness put me in mind of a religious cult. They all live in very nice houses in the woods. Hanging around was a character called Jacob (Taylor Lautner, who comes across as a distinctively bad actor – no mean feat in this film) who turned out to be a werewolf. It seemed that Jacob had fallen in love with Bella and Edward’s baby, which was an eye-opening plot development to say the least.

Anyway, the creepy good-guy vampires gave Bella and Edward their own house, complete with bedroom, which was the cue for a brief bout of whoa-ho-ho for the new parents and quick game of Whose Leg Is That? for the audience. (Not bad for a series which I understand began as abstinence porn.) We were quite a way into the film by this point and the only properly scary thing in this vampire-and-werewolf movie had been Bella and Edward’s CGI baby, and even this was probably not intentional.

However, things perked up – briefly and mildly – as we had a bit featuring Michael Sheen and Maggie Grace, both of whom I normally like (for somewhat different reasons, admittedly). Sheen plays an evil Italian vampire – finally! Evil vampires! – whom Grace, apparently playing a conflicted vampire of some kind, tips off to the existence of Bella’s kid. The evil vampires think she is a vampire kid, which is apparently against the vampire rules. (She isn’t, being technically what’s known as a dhampir, but as the film seems to only have a nodding acquaintance even with the concept of a vampire, she’s never referred to as such.) And so Sheen musters his force of evil vampires (‘this is all a bit Harry Potter-esque’, I thought) with a view to creating all sorts of mischief for the two leads.

The good guy so-called vampires rally round Bella and Edward, along with some faintly duff CGI werewolves (Count von Count from Sesame Street doesn’t show up, but two people with the same accent do). All the vampires have different special super-powers (‘this is all a bit X-Men-ish,’ I thought), such as being a bit sparky, seeing the future, causing massive earthquakes or being able to emit deadly toxic vapours (I have a similar ability after five pints of cider).

Eventually (finally!) the two sides face off in the snowy wastes. There is a great deal of chit-chat at this point. Will there be a big fight? Will the bad guys listen to reason? Ooh, ooh, they’re going to fight – oh, no they’re not. Hang on, it looks like they’re – oh, they’ve calmed down again. This goes on for quite a long time and is especially tedious as you know there’s inevitably going to be a big ruck. And so it proves. Much heftless CGI japery ensues, with many (I presume) much-loved and iconic characters meeting with spectacular ends. Crikey. But then – it turns out the whole fight never actually happened, and everyone is alive again, even the villains! (Well, someone who I quite like stayed dead, which annoyed me a bit.) And they all decide to settle their differences amicably and go home, which was a gobsmacking way of concluding an epic fantasy series.

(Stephenie Meyer, I am going to start a charity called Toffee For People Who Can Write. Here’s how it will work: it will find people who are writers and make sure that they receive toffee. If you can write, you will get toffee. But, Stephenie Meyer, no toffee for you! No toffee for Stephenie Meyer! Ahem.)

The End.

I was a bit worried about how I was going to discuss this film with my companion (who has seen the rest of the series)  without offending her. But luck was on my side.

‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry! That was terrible. I was afraid you were going to walk out.’

Hmm, well, to be honest that was never really on the cards – how often do you get a major studio release quite as astoundingly bad as this one? Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is very obviously aimed at the existing fanbase, for there are no concessions made to newcomers like myself, but this doesn’t excuse…

Well, the utter banality of most of the script, to be honest. This film makes being an immortal superhuman killing machine actually seem really boring. I find it difficult to put into words just how vapid most of these characters are. Meyer’s vampires are missing their fangs, but the absence of another pair of bodily items is more keenly felt.

The sole exception to this is Michael Sheen as the main villain. Now, I like Michael Sheen very much and have enjoyed his performances in many other films. Here, Sheen is given very little to work with, script-wise, and as a result clearly just thinks ‘Ah, sod it, may as well just have some fun.’ As a result his performance is so staggeringly camp and over-the-top it is probably best viewed via the Hubble space telescope. He is absolutely the best thing in this movie, but then again this is saying very little.

The fierce innocuousness of this movie means that, despite featuring more beheadings than Highlander and scenes of small children being hurled onto bonfires, it is still only a 12 certificate. Anyone much under 12 shouldn’t watch it, while I doubt anyone much over the age of 12 would really want to.

It’s just soul-crushingly pointless, utterly bereft of any kind of mythic or metaphorical power or texture. If you look at the vampire and werewolf movies of the 60s, as I was doing just the other night, the vampire is something alien and hostile: the menace, the threat to the established order. Apparently pretty much bereft of their need to drink human blood, and able to wander about cheerfully in the sunlight, what exactly are the Twilight vampires supposed to represent? Before seeing the film I was musing on how the vampire has gone from being a monstrous threat to a representation of the outsider, hence the rise of Goth culture and associated things. But the Cullens in this movie aren’t even that: they have nice hair, look like a bunch of models, drive Volvos and live in lovely countryside houses. All they represent is a kind of bland, affluent conformity for the young people watching this film to aspire to. For a fan of proper vampire, horror, and fantasy films, that’s possibly the most offensive thing about this dreadful, dreary film. But it’s up against some pretty stiff opposition.

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