By Michael Calleri
Buffalo Alternative Press Movie Editor
Some of you may have been bemoaning the fact that there will be no more Harry Potter books, but bookstores around the country have found their pot-of-gold replacement. The latest juggernaut is the series of vampire novels written by Stephenie Meyer, whose life story, if you believe the publicity, seems remarkably ordinary.
Meyer, who will be 35 this coming Christmas Eve, was born in Connecticut during, as she puts, “a brief blip in my family‘s otherwise western U.S. existence.” Her parents settled in Phoenix, Arizona where Stephenie lived a normal childhood, one of six kids (three girls, three boys) in a happy clan. Her first named is spelled that way because her father simply added an “ie” to his own first name. She went to high school in Scottsdale and was awarded a National Merit Scholarship. She then majored in English at Brigham Young University in Utah, where she received her Bachelors degree. She‘s known her husband, “Pancho” by nickname, since they were children attending church services. The couple live in the Phoenix area and have three sons, Gabe who is 8, Seth who is 5, and Eli who is three. Somewhere along the line, she began writing.
“Twilight” is her first novel. “New Moon” is the second book in the series, “Eclipse” is the third. The fourth book, “Breaking Dawn,” was released this past August. Make what you will of Meyer’s being born on Christmas Eve and living in Phoenix.
Meyer settled on vampires as her key protagonists and has been rolling in clover ever since. If you’re unfamiliar with the Meyer phenomena, be aware that her appeal is primarily to young females. The first vampire book in the hugely popular series is now a major motion picture, and you will discover, if you attend a showing of the film at which there are an awful lot of teenage girls in the audience, that these kids take Stephenie Meyer very seriously. You will hear applause, gentle giggling, and sense actual swooning. Why the swooning? Because Meyer has blended the hoariest cliches of romance fiction with some new ideas about vampires. And also because the main character is hot, hot, hot. In a sizzling sexual way. Handsome beyond all expectations, he’s totally dreamy. Come on, let’s face it, who can resist a handsome dreamy vampire?
Truth be told, I can.
Here’s what you need to know. Edward Cullen is a very polite vampire. He’s the main male character in “Twilight,” the laughable new movie made from Meyer’s book, a film so against the spirit of everything we know about vampire lore, that you wonder if, as a child, Meyer had a bad experience watching Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” on television late one night and decided to steal the concept but make everyone who’s a vampire really good-looking and immune to garlic, silver bullets, and whatever else vampires loathe.
I’ve got to tell you, you’ve never seen such attractive or handsome vampires in your life. And they are incredibly pale. Really, truly, blindingly white. So white, in fact, that when we meet Edward’s mother, father and siblings, you marvel at the staggering amount of pancake makeup on their faces. It’s as if a powder puff exploded right in front of them.
Here’s the gist of this hooter. Because she doesn’t like her stepfather, Bella Swan moves from arid Arizona to misty, foggy Washington state to live with her actual father. At her new high school, she’s taken with the fair Edward because he’s drop dead gorgeous. She’s rather attractive herself, so he notices her as well. For his part, he’s taken by her delightful scent. He’s hostile to her at first, but soon they become friends and almost lovers. I write “almost” because Edward has to be careful. He must be cautious even during foreplay. He fears that if he makes serious love to her, he will kill her. Of course, this really doesn’t make much sense due to the fact that, and I think I understood what was going on, Edward and his family aren’t really into biting people. They prefer the blood of animals. So, I wondered, why can’t he have his way with her? Sorry, just a desire for some common sense. But, you don’t expect logic with a third-rate effort like “Twilight.”
It turns out that there are also bad vampires - I gather the Cullens are the good kind - and these baddies are called “Trackers.” One of the high school “Trackers” sets his sights on Bella, which allows for some dramatic tension and some action scenes. Edward will rescue her from a car bearing down on her, stopping the vehicle with his bare hands. Can he leap tall buildings in a single bound? You betcha. He’s like Superman, but without the tights and cape. And when he runs, he dashes like a puppet; the result of basic special effects that were new decades ago when Ray Harryhausen was crafting his features.
And that’s the movie. A touch more than two dreary hours of it. There are far too many scenes of the swooning Edward and the kind-hearted Bella talking, and so much unintentionally hilarious dialogue, by Melissa Rosenberg (no, she’s not Joan Rivers daughter), that only your laughter might keep you from being totally bored. Additionally, there’s not a line of dialogue worth remembering. “Romeo And Juliet” this is not. Time spent with the kooky Cullen family is comic Nirvana. As poorly directed by Catherine Hardwicke, the film creaks along not quite toothless, but definitely fangless. Neither Hardwicke nor Rosenberg provide much subtext. There’s virtually no depth on screen. No meaning applied to the pretty images. There are actors and actresses uttering the silly lines, but none of them is remarkable.
If “Twilight” is about anything, it seems to be a movie about teen abstinence, even though one of the high school students is, I think, 114 years old. Please, when teenagers this horny are achingly beautiful heartthrobs, and clearly in love with each other, you want them to get it on, if only to break the tedium. Here, it’s a case of: Look, but don’t touch. And in a picture about vampires, that’s pathetic.
“The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” by Irish writer John Boyne is another novel for young readers. For its United States release, the new movie drawn from its pages has Americanized the spelling of the sleepwear. So, we‘ve got “The Boy In The Striped Pajamas,” a wrongheaded film whose main goal is to provide a message to children about German concentration camps. It’s told from the perspective of an 8-year old boy (Asa Butterfield) named Bruno, a privileged child, living an idyllic life in Berlin. His mother (Vera Farmiga) is an elegant German woman and his father (David Thewlis) is a Nazi soldier on the rise who is awarded the position of commandant of a concentration camp, a working farm where Jews toil in striped pajamas. The young boy also has an older sister. The family moves to a large house outside the camp.
Having had to leave behind his friends and lucky life, Bruno becomes lonely, until he sees another boy his age (Shmuel, played by Jack Scanlon) behind the barb-wire fence on the farm. Bruno, who is curious about why the other kid wears pajamas while playing outside, has no clue as to what’s going on, but neither does his mother, which is difficult to believe. So Bruno befriends Shmuel, and we’re supposed to derive something heartwarming from their relationship, not to mention learning something about understanding people and their differences. It’s almost as if novelist Boyne and the film’s writer-director Mark Herman want the result to be a case of “out of the mouths of babes“ or “a little child shall lead them.” Additionally, you’re expected to believe that Bruno can spirit himself in and out of the camp with ease, right under the eyes of the guards, his clueless father, his doubly clueless mother, and his annoying older sister.
Over time, Bruno will actually begin to challenge is father about the events on the “farm.” And his mother will slowly awaken from her know-nothing stupor. But none of the realizations and lecturing stops Bruno from visiting his new friend, witnessing brutalities, and becoming a pipsqueak philosopher. What happens next? Well, all I’ll write is that one of the buildings is a gas chamber, but that shouldn’t surprise you. Farming was not the main purpose of a Nazi concentration camp.
“The Boy In The Striped Pajamas” asks the audience to suspend disbelief far too many times. I was also annoyed by the British accents almost everyone had. Farmiga is an American actress, but her accent was New York theater mixed with something she must have picked up at the market, especially when she gets angry. Why no German accents?
And, I don’t care how well-intentioned a movie is, when a subject is as serious as wartime atrocities against civilians, and you want to send a message to young readers (or young moviegoers), dump the metaphors and paint a real picture. Kids appreciate honesty. Not distilled pap. Not playtime amidst the bones of a generation of innocent people.