TWILIGHT * * *
Cert 12A 122 mins
Having been killed off as Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Robert Pattinson finds himself resurrected for what’s being touted as the Hollywood franchise most likely to succeed JK Rowling’s. And this time, he’s already dead.
The story of a romance between a teenage human girl and an immortal vampire, Stephanie Meyer’s quartet has set the publishing world alight, selling over 20 million copies in the three years since the first novel. Now the phenomenon’s set to continue on the big screen.
Adapted from and faithful to the book, it’s directed by Catherine Hardwicke who, having made Thirteen (not to mention The Nativity Story), knows something about the hormonal turmoils of teenage girls. And they’re the target audience, soaking up the cocktail of dangerous romance, mild horror and Pattinson’s guylinered brooding looks.
The skimpy plot’s straightforward. To give mum time with her new husband, 17-year-old Bella Swan (a maturely impressive Kristen Stewart) moves to rainy smalltown Forks, Washington to live with her father Charlie (Billy Burke), the local sheriff. Here, she quickly settles into her new school and makes new friends, a couple of the lads clearly eager to get to know her better.
Bella, though, is instantly smitten when she claps eyes on Edward Cullen (Pattinson), a moody looking hunk who, like his four adopted (and incestuously paired) brothers and sisters, keeps aloof from everyone else. Sporting pallid faces, intense stares, and upswept hairstyles, they look like a private chapter of The Mission fan club.
Assigned as biology class partner, to begin with Cullen is standoffish to the point of rudeness but, after cutting school for a few days, reappears in friendlier mode. Bella reckons he’s not like other boys. A fact readily apparent when he saves her by pushing a truck out of the way, with one hand.
Refusing to be persuaded she imagined things and with native American chum (and future romantic rival) Jacob recounting legends about werewolves and other night creatures ringing in her ears, Bella susses that, like siblings and foster parents (Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser), Edward’s a vampire.
He has the hots for her too, but is scared that, if things start up, he’ll want to go too far. Fortunately, the family being veggie type vamps, he manages to exercise sufficient restraint to stroke her neck rather than bite it. Unfortunately, there are those with more feral tastes, three of whom stroll into the middle of the Cullen’s thunderstorm baseball game, leader James (Cam Gigandet) deciding he wants Bella for lunch.
Rewriting the vampire rulebook to dispense with fangs, lack of reflections and aversion to daylight (it just reveals their spangly flesh, as if they’ve applied too much body glitter) might not sit well with the horror hardcore, but this is less about bloodlust than a fable about abstinence.
That Meyer’s a devout Mormon (she had Hardwicke tone down the steamier moments) adds extra resonance to scenes of not giving in to tremulous desire, even if the star-crossed lovers do surrender to their feelings. The only time sex rears its metaphorical head, is in a dripping blood dream sequence from which Bella awakes with a shiver.
More Austen and Byron than Bram Stoker or Anne Rice, the emphasis is firmly on the swoony but celibate girlie romance, the couple smouldering into each other’s eyes, Ed taking Bella for piggyback jaunts through the treetops or sinking back into the moss. Which means there’s little action for the boys, and when things finally do spark up as Ed battles with James for Bella’s soul (read virginity) in a mirror-lined ballet studio, it’s all rather clumsy and confused, setting up the sequel rather than affording a conclusion.
It’s easy to mock the ripe dialogue (“You’re like my own personal brand of heroin!”, declares Ed), slo-mo blowing hair, dodgy special effects and obvious wire work, but for adolescent girls struggling with awakening sexuality and first love conflicts, it may well be the greatest film ever made.
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX * * *
Cert U 93 mins
With storylines and characters borrowed from everything from Dumbo to Ratatouille, it would be easy to dismiss this animated adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s kids bestseller.
However, with a visual aesthetic evoking the Flemish Masters and a plot unafraid to let darkness off the leash in its tale of nonconformity, forgiveness and redemption, it’s much better than its patchwork nature suggests.
The titular figure is a young and abnormally tiny mouse (Matthew Broderick) with huge ears and a fearless heart, who, developing a love of heroic literature when sent to eat the castle’s books, comes upon a grief-stricken princess (Emma Watson) and dares to speak to her.
It’s a transgression of mousedom rules that sees him banished to the deep dank dungeons where he crosses paths with Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman), an introspective rat whose love of soup inadvertently caused the queen’s death, causing the heartbroken king to ban soup and rats and turn Dor into a joyless, arid and sunless land.
Suffice to say, having learned of the Princess’ sadness from Despereaux, when his attempt to apologise doesn’t go well, Roscuro’s guilt leads to a twisted revenge involving equally embittered scullery maid Miggery Sow (Tracey Ullman). With the princess in mortal danger from evil rat king Botticelli (Ciaran Hinds), Despereaux’s hero rises to the occasion.
Narrated by Sigourney Weaver with a stellar cast including Robbie Coltrane, Kevin Kline, Frank Langella and William H. Macy, the multiple parallel threads don’t always weave together seamlessly, but in terms of emotional and moral complexity as well as impeccably rendered backdrops this is certainly the equal of Wall-E.
Naturally, there’s a happy ending as soup and sunshine return, but be warned, with abandoned daughters, parents who consign children to almost certain death, and an underground gladiatorial arena where rats send their victims out to face a murderous moggy, this is a cruel world and getting to the other side might prove upsetting for youngsters expecting another encounter with cute cuddly rodents.