A year after Twilight scorched the cineplex with its tale of forbidden teenage human/vampire love the second chapter of author Stephenie Meyer's harlequin saga has arrived to once again stir the loins of enraptured tweens (and their mothers and their mothers' mothers) everywhere. Having already sold out its first 2 000 showings several days before its release The Twilight Saga: New Moon is arguably the most critic-proof movie of the decade. And yet here goes ...
From a filmmaking standpoint New Moon represents an immediate upgrade over its predecessor which all too often felt slipshod and amateurish. Under the more assured hand of director Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass About a Boy) who took over the reigns from Twilight helmer Catherine Hardwicke the film can at least boast the gloss and shine of a real Hollywood movie and not some straight-to-video hack job. Better visual effects more accomplished camerawork improved production design and a more seasoned cast all add up to a vast improvement in production values in New Moon. It could very well be the awesomest issue of Tiger Beat ever.
Where the film falters — fatally in my opinion — is in its porous plotting and sluggish pacing. Meyer's source material mandated that its teenage heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) be separated from her vampire paramour Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) at the outset with the bulk of the narrative devoted to Bella coping with the loss of her goth James Dean. But producers of the adaptation loath to reduce their most valuable asset to a mere cameo expanded Pattinson’s presence — and the film suffers for it. Edward lingers throughout New Moon's prolonged first act strutting around in slow motion and uttering lines like “Bella you give me everything just by breathing” before finally ditching the old lady and disappearing to Italy on official vampire business.
The inciting action — Edward’s departure — is followed by a decided lack of action specifically in regards to the futile efforts of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) a musclebound shape-shifting werewolf who emerges as a potential rebound candidate for Bella. The two friends engage in a painful protracted flirtation: She ogles his (typically shirtless) chest stares deeply into his eyes and tells him he’s beautiful but when he makes a move she shuts him down citing her continuing devotion to Edward who appears repeatedly to her in the form of a distractingly cheesy Obi-Wan Kenobi-like apparition. In the end poor Jacob is left holding nothing but an aching pair of werewolf blue balls.
New Moon is all about longing: Bella longing for Edward; Jacob longing for Bella; me longing for something anything to happen. The film teases us with ominous talk of a looming war between vampires and werewolves but it’s just that: talk. The real action I’m told is saved for the next two Twilight installments Eclipse and Breaking Dawn which judging from the current trend will no doubt be stretched into six equally critic-proof films. Until then we're forced to subsist on New Moon's meager melange of pointless adolescent melodrama — sprinkled liberally with gratuitous shots of toned shirtless boys.
Left wide open to interpretation and maddening deadening effect INLAND EMPIRE (purposely in all caps) is an organic work of art that sparks thought and debate. It’s not a story of anyone or anything in particular—and the movie experience is as frustrating as that sounds. But we’ll attempt to explain anyway: Four or five unconnected plotlines revolve around Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) a troubled actress in love. Nikki is shooting a film costarring Devon (Justin Theroux) and directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons). Nikki’s schizophrenic tortured reality seems to blur her personal identity with that of her movie character Susan Blue. Dern screams she’s in love with her Billy the character Devon is playing in the movie while those around her seem confused. We too in the audience are left unaware of what world Dern is in. A psychedelic series of interludes focuses on a family of brown rabbits with upright ears (one voiced by Naomi Watts) framed coldly in a living room with a 1950’s-style TV laugh-track. Another recurrent series of images is a Polish subtitled film aborted when its stars are killed. With INLAND EMPIRE we’re left to guess what Lynch is thinking. Is it Nikki’s internal self--or could it be ourselves? Whatever it is it’s big and mysterious. INLAND EMPIRE is essentially a Dern marathon one-woman showing her ability to play grizzled upset crazy frightening smiling and folksy all with a tarnished luster. She’s a Lynch three-time collaborator after Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet. If INLAND EMPIRE were a better more logical movie Dern may have been touted for an Oscar or Golden Globe nomination. But alas the performance is too parsed and incomplete to register an emotional resonance with most audiences. Dern has several powerful scenes in which she’s vulnerable wounded and pathologically driven for violence – and one of those all-important crying scenes. But under Lynch’s directing Nikki/Susan is like a photographic scrapbook of vignettes not a complete character. Numerous recognizable cameos (William H. Macy Mary Steenburgen Watts) add to Lynch’s credibility while Harry Dean Stanton (in his fourth Lynch film) has a funny befuddled turn as a director’s assistant. Irons is strong--if under-used--as director Kingsley. He chomps his scenes playing the Hollywood conventions of a larger-than-life helmer to delicious effect. INLAND EMPIRE is a baffling statement of artistic entitlement. Its Lynch’s first film since Mulholland Dr. which garnered the pop provocateur an Oscar nomination for Best Director but its a fussy follow-up a long-winded Terry Gilliam-like descent into dementia. At three hours confusion is the collective effect as though the film has been conceived on some kind of altered drug-induced state. The intention seems to evoke an emotional response instead of an intellectual one but it’s mostly one of distress. The audience’s only option is to follow along through black-and-brown-lighted visions of nothing. Lynch described in INLAND EMPIRE press materials as “Eagle Scout Missoula Montana ” financed this avant-garde film himself and plans to promote it in person with a live cow. If that makes sense to you buy a ticket.
Top Story: Aniston Carries a Torch for Olympics
Actresses Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie are among the many who will carry the Olympic torch on its journey around the world, The Associated Press reports. The flame was lit in Ancient Olympia on Mar. 25 and brought to Athens' marble stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. It will burn at the stadium until June 4, where it starts a 46,800-mile journey across six continents, 27 countries and 33 cities with some 11,000 runners and will return to Greece July 9 for the second half of its domestic relay. The Summer Olympics will take place in Athens Aug. 13-29.
Brown Stands Trial For Hitting Houston
Singer Bobby Brown has been ordered to stand trial on charges of domestic abuse against his wife, Whitney Houston, AP reports. The charges stem from an incident Dec. 7, when Houston called police to report that Brown threatened to beat her "and then struck the left side of her face with an open right hand," a police report said. Brown was ordered to turn himself in to authorities July 10 or 11 for fingerprinting when he would be released on a $2,000 bond. The judge also warned Brown again having "violent contact" with Houston. The couple left the courtroom walking arm-in-arm and made no comment to reporters and television cameras waiting outside, AP reports.
Supermodel Campbell Wins Privacy Case
Supermodel Naomi Campbell scored another legal victory Thursday against a tabloid newspaper, Reuters reports. Britain's Law Lords, the country's highest court, ruled against the Daily Mirror in the final round of a long legal battle which began when the paper ran a story three years ago saying, correctly, that Campbell, 33, had visited Narcotics Anonymous. Campbell originally sued the newspaper and won, citing invasion of privacy, but in 2002, an appeal court ruled in favor of the Mirror, thus stripping Campbell of the approx. $6,280 awarded to her. But on Thursday, the Lords allowed Campbell's appeal against that ruling, saying she had indeed endured an "invasion" of her privacy. "This is a very good day for lying, drug-abusing prima donnas who want to have their cake with the media, and the right to then shamelessly guzzle it with their Cristal champagne," Mirror editor Piers Morgan said in a statement. "If ever there was a less deserving case for creating what is effectively a back-door privacy law it would be Miss Campbell--but that's showbiz." The case has been closely watched by lawyers for the media, many of whom regard the development of privacy law in Britain as potentially more threatening than the tried and tested laws of defamation, Reuters reports.
In Other Supermodel News…
Supermodel Heidi Klum welcomed her first child, a daughter, Leni, Tuesday in New York, AP reports. The baby's father is Flavio Briatore, managing director of Renault's Formula One team.
Picasso Painting Sells For Pretty Penny
Pablo Picasso's "Boy With the Pipe" set a world record for the most expensive painting ever sold, when it was auctioned Wednesday at Sotheby's for $104.1 million, Reuters reports. The price, which included the auction house's commission, easily eclipsed the old mark of $82.5 million set by van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet," which sold in 1990. The Picasso painting was part of the collection of the late Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, who had bought the painting in 1950 for $30,000. Sotheby's would not release the name of the buyer.
WGA Postpones Talks With Studios
The Writer's Guild of America postponed contract talk Wednesday with film studios and TV networks after rejecting the industry's latest offer, Reuters reports. The Hollywood's screenwriters proposed a salary-enhanced one-year extension of their labor pact-an offer similar to the yearlong contract deal reached earlier this year between the industry and the Screen Actors Guild. Nick Counter, the industry's chief negotiator and the head of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), said the studios they would respond to the offer when talks with the union resume talks May 12. The WGA and the studios have been in contract negotiation for about a month now. The main stumbling block in the negotiations are DVD residuals, with the union seeking a bigger piece of budding $16 billion digital videodisc market pie.
A Fifth Porn Actor Tests HIV Positive
In what has become the largest outbreak of the AIDS virus in Southern California's porn industry in six years, a veteran porn actress yesterday became the fifth adult film performer in Los Angeles to test positive for HIV. An industry health care official told Reuters the actress was one of 14 performers who worked directly with longtime porn star Darren James, who is thought to be the source of the outbreak. The woman, whose name was not made public, was one of about 50 porn actors under an industry wide 60-day quarantine for having worked directly with James or with the women who had onscreen sex with him after his suspected exposure to the HIV virus in March.
Role Call: Bochco Develops Iraq Drama; Noyce, Neufeld Take on WWII
Veteran TV producer Steven Bochco, co-creator of Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, will develop an hour-long war drama set in Iraq for the FX cable network-his first series for a basic cable network. The project is described as a contemporary drama exploring the lives of men and women in uniform both on and off the battlefield … Helmer Phillip Noyce and producer Mace Neufeld, who worked together on the Jack Ryan films Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, will take on The Bielski Brothers for Warner Independent Pictures. The project revolves around three Jewish brothers who heroically hid 1,250 Jews from the Nazis in a forest outside Belarus during World War II.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.