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Movie Review: Priest (3D) (2011) September 1, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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In the space of a few months, Priest went from one of my most anticipated movies of the year to just another film at the cinema.  Happens when the film’s release is delayed by three and a half months in Australia and the reviews are ‘unkind’ at best.

Nonetheless, I tried to keep an open mind about this film loosely based on a Korean comic of the same name, about an alternate world where priests are kick-ass vampire killers in an eternal human-vampire holy war.  The initial teaser trailers I saw over a year ago looked extremely promising — pure horror action, a stylish visual feast and one of my favourite actors, Paul Bettany.

But unfortunately, the critics that saw the film before me were right.  Priest just didn’t have it.  Nice to look at, sure, but it’s the perfect example of a failed comic book adaptation.  A great premise bogged down by a contrived plot, boring characters, poor dialogue and an unnecessary seriousness.  At just 87 minutes, Priest felt overlong, but at the same time strangely incomplete.  The result is an aesthetically pleasing, slick, occasionally frightening/exciting film that is ultimately forgettable and never comes close to living up to its potential.

Bettany did the best he could here, and is clearly the bright spot in an otherwise weak line up.  Karl Urban, Maggie Q and Cam Gigandet were all merely serviceable co-stars and uninteresting characters.

If there is something the film did do right, it’s the freakish vampires, who looked more like the mutated beasts from Resident Evil than Edward Cullen.  Not surprising, considering director Scott Stewart started his career in visual effects and previously directed Bettany in another supernatural action/horror, Legion, which involved angels and demons and has a similar feel.  The creatures in that film were pretty scary too.  Sadly, neither film was particularly good.  On the whole, Priest is probably better than Legion, but I personally thought the best parts of Legion were far better than the best parts of Priest.

I’d say Priest deserves some consideration as a DVD rental, especially when put up against straight-to-DVD films on the shelves, but in all honesty it could have and should have been so much more.

2 stars out of 5

PS: Shockingly, Priest has been released exclusively on 3D over here (at least from what I can gather).  Needless to say, as a post-production conversion, it was no more than another pointless money grabbing exercise.

Book Review: ‘Eclipse’ by Stephenie Meyer January 29, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews.
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Eclipse is the third book in Stephenie Meyer’s mega bestselling Twilight Saga.

I had read the first book (Twilight), but to be honest it didn’t do much for me.  I could see the appeal of the story and characters, but it just didn’t appeal to me.  Nevertheless, being a ‘watch-anything’ movie buff, I watched the movie adaptation of Twilight, which was average, and then more recently watched its sequel, New Moon, which I thought was pretty good (review here).  Watching the movie, however, didn’t inspire me to read the book version.

I didn’t intend to read any more of Meyer’s books, but friends from work started telling me that Eclipse was the best book of the series, and eventually I ended up borrowing it off one of them.  The movie wasn’t going to be out until July, so I thought, why not?

Well, I have now finished the book, and I must say it was another pretty ‘meh’ affair.  Now, before you berate me, please remember I am a guy.

Eclipse has a good premise.  It picks up where New Moon left off, with Bella Swan torn between her love for her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen, and her werewolf best friend Jacob Black.  And the whole 600+ pages of the book just goes on and on about that.  There is an imminent threat brewing in the background the entire time, but it takes a back seat to the romantic tensions.

If you’re into teenage love triangles and star-crossed lovers, then I imagine Eclipse will be a pretty good read for you.  For me, however, I just felt as though not much happened.  There was a lot of talking and a few minor incidents, but for the most part the story just dragged on.  The biggest disappointment for me was the final climax, which was supposed to resolve that whole imminent threat issue I mentioned earlier.  Unfortunately, the action was predominantly emotional, as opposed to the physical action I had hoped for (I know, that’s such a guy thing).  I imagine, and hope, that the movie will do a much better job of handling it.

My main problem with Eclipse was with the main characters, especially Edward Cullen.  I know the dude is supposed to be the perfect man (vampire), but he didn’t feel real to me.  He was simply too ideal.  Everything he did or said felt like it was calculated by Meyer to make girls love him more.  Men like that don’t exist!  But I guess that’s the whole point of his appeal, isn’t it?  I used to complain that Robert Pattinson (who plays Edward in the films) was too wooden, especially with that pained expression permanently fixated on his face – but now I am starting to think that he captured the essence of the character perfectly!

And Bella Swan.  I don’t even know where to begin with Bella Swan.  All I will say is she really is, when you think about it, a total bitch!

The saving grace of Eclipse is Jacob Black.  Now Jacob might be a selfish, manipulative dick at times, but his emotions are much more real and capable of empathy.   His pain is what keeps the book afloat.  Consider me ‘Team Jacob’.

The way I read a book is usually quite indicative of what I thought of it.  I ended up reading Eclipse in about three weeks, primarily while travelling to and from work.  I never felt like I didn’t want to read the book on the train each day, but I never felt the urge to read it when I had spare time at home.  I suppose that means Eclipse is a 2.5 out of 5!

[PS: I have no desire to read the final book, Breaking Dawn, even though I was told today by someone else that it’s the best book of the series.  I think I need a break from Twilight.  I’ll just wait for the movies.]

Movie Review: New Moon (2009) November 23, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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New Moon, the second film of the Twilight Saga, is a solid sequel to a popular franchise.  It will no doubt please its hardcore fan base, but there’s also enough satisfy the casual film-goer (who (1) isn’t out to savage the film for the sake of it and (2) judges it in its appropriate context).  3.5/5 stars!

I have caught Twilight fever. 

Well, not really.  I am more intrigued by why the Twilight Saga has captivated so many people as opposed to the story itself.

And after watching the second movie in the Saga, New Moon, I must admit I still don’t really get it.  Is it the seemingly perfect love between a teenage girl and a vampire?  Or is it the fact that their relationship is dangerous and forbidden?  Or is it just because the vampire is (according to most sources) an incredibly hot dude?  Or is it all of the above?

I don’t know the answer, but what I do know is that New Moon is actually a pretty decent movie.  An average film overall, but in context, a fairly strong sequel.  In my humble opinion, it’s certainly not worthy of the 1-star status it has been receiving from some critics.  In any event, hardcore fans will undoubtedly lap it up and box office numbers should be strong simply from multiple repeat viewings from young girls (and from what I hear oldies too).

New Moon picks up from where Twilight left off, with teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her dreamy, ‘perfect’ vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, aka ‘Rob Patz’) rolling in the bliss of love.  Those who have read the book will know what happens next, but I was quite annoyed with how the previews effectively show you the essence of the first half-hour of the movie and then reveals the major twists and secrets of the entire film!  If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid the previews then I’m sure you will find New Moon a more pleasurable experience.

There's lots of love in New Moon

Anyway, I will start with the bad.  New Moon is a film that first and foremost tries to satisfy the desires of its fans, and that means romance comes before everything else.  While this may be great for its target audience, the problem with this is that if you’re not into the romance then the film falls apart very quickly.  Or alternatively, the movie may start to feel boring and tedious.  There’s a mushiness to Bella and Edward’s relationship that only a limited section of the public can truly appreciate, and I can totally understand why viewers might be turned off by some of the painful dialogue (especially at the start) – but bear in mind that most of it is apparently reproduced verbatim from the novel.  Besides, dialogue is always less excrutiating on the page than it sounds on the screen.

New Moon also assumes that you know the story (or at least the first film) quite well.  There are several references to characters, abilities, relationships and specific incidents from its predecessor, and your recollection and knowledge of these things are somewhat taken for granted.  With my shocking memory, it did take a while for me to remember what the heck was going on.

There are also some things that weren’t explained very well by the movie which may or may not turn out to be gaping plot holes.  I’ll have to reserve judgment on that until I seek clarification from a genuine Twilight fan.  And there’s of course a few unintentionally funny bits simply because the film takes the whole vampire hierarchy thing so seriously.

And now the good.  At its heart, New Moon is a good story.  It might not be entirely original but there is a charm to it that makes it so appealing.  It’s almost entrancing.  For me, a big part of the film’s allure was the development of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who is effectively the male lead in this one.  Apart from his amazing physical transformation (which prompted him to remove his shirt at every opportunity), Jacob’s emotional growth is also well-developed.  With the two lead characters (Edward and especially Bella) exhibiting selfish and unimpressive personality traits, Jacob becomes the character that viewers can empathise with the most.

Hello!

I may have said earlier that New Moon is heavy on the romance, but there was still plenty of room for action.  There were a number of exciting sequences littered throughout the film, most of them involving ample amounts of CGI.  I wouldn’t quite call New Moon an action film, but from what I can recall it has a lot more action than Twilight.  And the final climatic scenes were done much better in the sequel than the original.

Another strength of the film was its minor characters.  Again, with Bella and Edward being so serious about everything (as demonstrated by the constant heavy breathing from Kristen Stewart and the permanently pained expression on Robert Pattinson’s face), comic relief came in just the right doses from an assortment of other characters.  From the members in Jacob’s clan (Chaske Spencer, Tyson Houseman, Alex Meraz, Kiowa Gordon and Bronson Pelletier) to Bella’s friends Jessica (Anna Kendrick) and Mike (in terrific performance by Michael Welch) to Bella’s dad Charlie (Billy Burke) to the rest of the Cullen gang (in particular Jackson Rathbone as Jasper), almost every one of these minor characters hit the spot in their brief moments on screen.  On the other hand, unfortunately, the talents of Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning were criminally underused in their respective roles, leading to weird, comical appearances that just didn’t feel right.

At the end of the day, New Moon succeeds in what it set out to do, and that is to please its fan base.  For non-hardcore fans, I think there is still enough for an enjoyable experience.  There’s romance, friendship, action, suspense and a dash of timely humour.  What more could you ask for in what is, essentially, a teen flick?

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: For the record, I have read the first book, Twilight, and watched the corresponding film.  Both were okay, but neither did much for me.  It just felt a little too much – too saccharine for my liking.  But I could definitely see the appeal, especially to teenage girls.  As a result, I skipped the remainder of the books (including New Moon), but continued to be fascinated by all the hype surrounding it.  And I am looking forward to Eclipse, the next film in the series, especially as it will be directed by David Slade, director of Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night.]

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