Author Stephanie Meyer unleashed a phenomenon with her Twilight novels a teen vampire romance that has spurned a teen cult following. The good news is the movie is surprisingly just as potent -- a spellbinding terribly romantic hypnotic and entertaining film. At its heart are the elements that make any teen drama work; in this case it’s forbidden love. It starts with 16 year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who relocates from her sunny Phoenix to the cold gray foreboding atmosphere of Forks Washington to live with her father. At her new high school she meets the incredibly attractive but mysterious Cullen clan including the allusive Edward (Robert Pattinson) who immediately intrigues her. What she doesn’t know yet is that Edward and his “family” are a group of vegetarian vampires who drink only animal blood and must live in the terminally cloudy region of Northwest. Edward tries to drive a determined Bella away by revealing his true identity but soon realizes she is the girl of his dreams. But as the two begin their complicated romance things get dicey when another group of um meat-lovin’ vampires target Bella. Teen Beat should clear their covers for a new group of stars sure to become huge with the female teen set -- and probably their mothers as well. Exuding a brooding reserve and air of mystery the follicley-endowed Robert Pattinson is reminiscent of James Dean and completely believable as a conflicted bloodsucker who becomes dangerously attracted to a mere mortal. His Edward’s unpredictable nature becomes irresistible for the attractive Kristen Stewart’s Bella as she grows closer to him despite his attempts to keep her at arm’s length. Not since Baby yearned for Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing has there been such an effective pairing for the acne-challenged set. Pattinson and Stewart simmer with teen angst and desire and could be the next big thing -- especially if there are more Twilight sequels to follow. The Cullen clan led by foster parents Peter Facinelli and Elizabeth Reaser is perfectly cast with a good looking bunch of vampiric thesps including newcomers Ashley Green Kellan Lutz Jackson Rathbone and Nikki Reed. Red-headed Rachelle LeFevre as bad vamp Victoria is ideal along with Cam Gigandet and Edi Gathegi as the guys in her group of nomadic vampires. Director Catherine Hardwicke has certainly shown she understands the ever-changing moods of youth with her previous efforts (Thirteen Lords of Dogtown). But those flicks were just warm-ups for what she taps into with Twilight. She creates a wonderful creepy kind of muted dark and cloudy society with imposing camera angles and aching teen lust from her bright red-lipped hormonally charged leads. And thankfully she leaves the fangs on the cutting room floor. These vampires are actually relatable and Hardwick takes what could have been an awful juvenile programmer and lifts it into a different league creating not only a movie that should cross over beyond it’s target demo but one that makes us genuinely excited for the inevitable sequels.
Wracked by guilt over what she believes is her responsibility for the tragic death of her mother -- and running away from a distant father (Paul Bettany) -- 14 year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) takes off with her caretaker Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) and heads to the South Carolina home of the Boatwright sisters a place that holds many memories of her own mother’s childhood. She is immediately taken under their wing and bonds with August (Queen Latifah) the family matriarch who runs the enterprising bee farm on the property and teaches Lily the ways of the honey. There’s also the spirited June (Alicia Keys) a music teacher resisting the marriage proposals of the well-intentioned Neil (Nate Parker) and fragile and childlike May (Sophie Okonedo). In forging new relationships with these women a whole new world of self-esteem is slowly opened for Lily. For Dakota Fanning her performance in Bees marks a turning point into a new phase of her already impressive career and in Lily proves she is able to move effortlessly into strong teenage roles and more sophisticated material. She’s quite touching as a young Southern girl who comes of age with the help of some wonderful African-American women at the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1964. Hudson also proves she can move comfortably beyond her Oscar-winning powerhouse debut in Dreamgirls. In Rosaleen she gives voice to a young black woman who is determined to exercise her right to vote for the first time but at a price. Latifah is warm and commanding and the Queen bee of this clan and her scenes with Fanning are nicely toned. In an unusual cast with lots of singers-turned-actresses such as Hudson and Latifah Keys also shows smart acting instincts even if her interpretation of June is a little on the flat side. Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) is simply wonderful and touchingly understated as the shy inward May. You wish there was more with her. Among the men Bettany takes a one-dimensional role as the demanding father and gives it some light while Parker (The Great Debaters) and Tristan Wilds as August’ godson and Lily’s new friend are spot on. Gina Prince-Bythewood who directs and smartly adapted the popular Sue Monk Kidd novel does go for the sentiment inherent in an old-fashioned story of this kind. But she also thankfully doesn’t pour it on. She creates a world in the deep South that doesn’t shy away from showing the harshness of life for African-Americans but whose lives at least politically are right at a major turning point. Most of all though she nurtures some lovely performances and brings an ensemble cast together with ease and heart. Prince-Bythewood whose breakthrough feature was the entertaining sleeper hit Love and Basketball clearly knows how to bring out the best in her actors. Secret Life of Bees elicits laughter and tears in equal doses proving to be the kind of not obviously commercial but uplifting movie-going experience rarely seen these days.
Sure we’ve seen underdog-themed sports comedies ad nauseam. But when was the last time you saw it with mix-ins of toilet and marijuana humor? Aha! Touché Who's Your Caddy? touché. Our token er tokin’ underdog here is C-Note (Antwan Patton aka Big Boi from Outkast) a multi-platinum Atlanta-based rapper who just wants to get his golf on. But here’s the catch: He wants to do so at an ultra-exclusive ultra-conservative seemingly all-white country club and the club’s president Cummings (Jeffrey Jones) isn’t having any of it. So what’s a golf-lorn hip-hopper to do? Why plunk down millions on the course’s chicest estate and invite his posse (Faizon Love Finesse Mitchell and others) to move in and hassle the prez to grant C-Note club membership. So begins the cat-and-mouse hijinks between C-Note and Cummings each of whom hopes force the other’s hand. And it only ends when—surprise surprise—a do-or-die golf match is agreed upon to settle the score. All of the cast members fit the bill for such crassness—except for oddly enough Patton (Boi?). And when a rapper-turned-actor is too good for a role it’s a solid indication of just how low the bar is. Producers aren’t exactly banging down Patton’s door with Oscar-worthy scripts but his offers must be better than Caddy which he probably viewed as a good first foray into the lucrative family-comedy genre. Oops. Patton is charismatic charming funny in spots—despite appearing to break character once or twice—and as seen in Idlewild and heard in his music highly talented. But Caddy is a misstep in an otherwise promising movie career. Luckily not too many people will venture to theaters to witness the degree to which it is. The brunt of the minimal comedy comes from Notorious B.I.G. doppelganger Love and former SNL-er Mitchell. The few funny scenes with the two in which Love injects his standup humor and Mitchell his stoner aloofness are scenes of (likely improvised) non-sequiturs. Ferris Bueller's Day Off villain Jones is as hateful and hateable as ever only to be topped by MTV star Andy Milonakis who plays Jones’ onscreen son. Milonakis initially plays it so straight that even his fans will squirm in embarrassment; it only gets worse when he rebels against his father and changes teams. Who's Your Caddy? writer-director Don Michael Paul’s only other movie you may have heard of (2002’s Half Past Dead) was a Steven Seagal movie—and his latest pales in comparison. Paul’s interests clearly lie in the lowest of lowbrow but whereas the Scary/Date/Epic Movie clan for example manages a few laughs—and millions of dollars—out of their comedies he can’t ever get Caddy going in any positive direction. At times in fact the movie borders on blatant racism as he tries to exploit black stereotypes and white stereotypes for cheap laughs. When that’s not the case the movie merely rips off bits of countless other better movies—despite the “originality” of fart and weed jokes being in a sports movie. Look closely if you dare and you may detect theft from Happy Gilmore Caddyshack How High Friday or maybe even Malibu's Most Wanted. Worse still than his plot devices is Paul’s implementation of directorial devices such as ever-changing cinematography depending upon the degree of giddiness he’s trying to attain or freeze-frame shots to introduce certain characters.
Supermom Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her geneticist husband Norman (Harrison Ford) are adapting to their only daughter's departure to college when Claire begins sensing an unearthly presence in the couple's lakeside Vermont dream home. Is she losing her marbles or is that the spirit of a beautiful young woman she keeps glimpsing? To say any more (as the too-explicit ad campaign does) would spoil some delicious twists.
The toplining Ford is his usual solid self in a role that plays cleverly on his familiar persona but the picture is Pfeiffer's from beginning to end. She delivers one of her most pleasing performances nicely disarming audience doubts about the story's supernatural elements with some judicious eye-rolling and embarrassed frowning -- her character is so painfully aware that what she's saying sounds crazy how can we possibly doubt her? Among the low-key supporting cast Joe Morton ("Terminator 2") stands out as an amiably down-to-earth psychiatrist.
Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") takes Clark Gregg's highly derivative haunted house script and pours on the Hitchcockian visual flourishes unapologetically pilfering from the Master's "Rear Window" and "Psycho " among others. His extended homage results in scene after scene of almost unbearable tension as the audience waits for the next shock. There's some clunky storytelling in the first section but the all-suspense second half more than makes up for it with some classic work including what seems destined to go down in movie history as "the bathtub scene."