Archive for the ‘Twilight Saga’ category

Eclipse/Airbender/Whizzing Fit Bodies/Why?

July 5, 2010

Whizzing Fit Body (In Heels)

What does it mean that the two (by far) top selling movies this weekend are The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, taking in an anticipated $181 million in six days, and The Last Airbender, taking in a very unanticipated $70 million in five?

  1. That American moviegoers couldn’t give a rotten tomato for what professional critics say.
  2. That the male members of families, couples, households going to Eclipse had to see something, and (according to moviegoing statistics) only 20% could be coerced into spending 90 minutes with Tayler Lautner’s abs.
  3. That for all the hype about Team Edward and Team Jacob, the team people really belong to is Team Jasper as played by Jackson Rathbone ( in both movies).
  4. That a lot of households had air conditioners on the blink.
  5. That in times where solutions to problems seem truly intractable, not only beyond execution, but beyond knowledge, there is something beguiling about mayhem that results not from societal, political, economic or natural forces, but, primarily, from the vengeful character of a single good-looking, and possibly destructible, individual.
  6. Aren’t stories with tons of plotlines, subcharacters, flashbacks, unknown connections, secret powers—fantasies that almost need a diagram for anyone but the cognoscienti to follow—fun?  At least rich sources for argument? (Making all that time you thought was wasted reading the books and/or watching the cartoons finally worthwhile.)
  7. Who cares if the actual dialogue is execrable?
  8. Seemingly, moviegoers really do like seeing very fit people whizz around in semi-computer-generated martial art mode.   My concern is that there’s no real “control” to test this supposition, i.e. few alternatives.  Personally, I think at least 80% of the audience at my Eclipse viewing would have been perfectly happy with fewer fight scenes; the other 20% of the audience did not look very happy in any case.

Caveat – all comments on The Last Airbender are based on secondary sources, including those extremely uninfluential reviews.

Twilight Saga Eclipse – Embarrassing – Something To Learn From

July 1, 2010

Embarrassed Pattinson

I’m putting aside all this discussion of constitutional issues and the Second Amendment today and getting to something really important:  the new cinematic installment of the Twilight Saga – Eclipse.

And I’ll stop right here.  I can’t, with a straight face, call it really important.  With a straight face, all I can call it is really terrible.

The most fun part, in fact. was standing in line in the theater with two twenty-somethings who kept talking about how much they hoped that they would not run into anyone they knew, and which particular person they would least want to run into.

At the end of the movie, we all three walked away very very fast.

The problem, aside from idiotic dialogue, and visuals that, on individual shots, make the actors look incapacitated by angst or glum boredom, and group shots, as if they are on a fashion photo shoot, is that its makers disdain the basic material.  Yes, the books are goofy; yes, the writer is a Mormon; yes, a big feature in the plot is the maintenance of chastity before marriage; and yes, Edward is just too “good” to be true—yes, these factors are all pretty dumb and very uncool (as is a lot of the Twilight crowd),  but they are the givens; a big part of what made the books popular.

One can feel the director, David Slade, the script writer, Melissa Rosenberg, strain against these very uncool, unhip, givens; they seem embarrassed to be connected to a movie promoting them  (just as we, hip New Yorkers, were embarrassed to see it.)  (Although Slade and Rosenberg are, I’m sure, eager enough to make money from it.)

The exceptions here are perhaps Taylor Lautner who seems, sorry, clueless enough, not to mind the story, and still too thrilled by the fact that they kept him in to be disdainful of anything, and Billie Burke, who is just a good professional actor.  Okay, okay—I’m not going to blame Pattinson (who is given truly awful lines, and very little leeway to smile charmingly) or Stewart either.  It’s the Director and Screenwriter, who seem like the true teenagers here, mortified by their parent, i.e. their base storyline.

But a movie that doesn’t like itself is just not likeable.   To make a stupid, uncool, story work, you have to just go with the stupid, uncool flow, not try for a stupid cool flow.  (Otherwise, it just doesn’t make internal sense.)

Bringing this around to something that may be of more interest to followers of this blog:  it really is important, in pursuing any kind of artistic endeavor, to make a kind of peace with it, to let go of that edge of embarrassment that sometimes clouds one’s work and commitment.  If you find your work truly embarrassing (not because of modesty, but because of something deeper—because the work is it is too personal, too openly reflective of your goofy side, or the opposite, too blatantly commercial and not reflective of your goofy side), it will be very difficult for you to really push it to any kind of happy fruition.

The Twilight Zone – Lessons Obama Might Learn From Stephanie Meyer

February 10, 2010

I’m still reacting to the news that Stephenie Meyer has sold over 45 million Twilight Saga books.  To put this into a bit of perspective, Barack Obama only got about 69 million votes when he was elected President in 2008. 

Granted, 69 million is substantially more than 45 million, and, of course, that 69 million only consisted of U.S. citizens.  (I believe Stephanie’s tally is worldwide.)   But, on the other hand, Obama’s voters were not paying more than $10 per shot. 

These figures have led me to think that if Obama is looking to “up his numbers”, he might consider some lessons in popularity from Stephenie Meyer, and her prime male Twilight character, Edward Cullen.

 (Note: these are not my lessons.  But popularity is, unfortunately, not my strong point.)    

Here are some I’ve gleaned: 

1.  Make the trappings of wealth–big house, fast car, great clothes–seem easily attainable;  do not gloat after these trappings yourself, but do not poohpooh the pleasure they give others.  

2.  Abolish speed limits.

3.    Make it very clear (a la Edward)  that you are subject to murderous rages which you hold back through iron (but imperfect) self-control.

4.  Always tell the American voter (we’re your Bella) that we’re beautiful.   (Even if we’re fat.) 

5.   Make us feel (a la Stephanie here) that magical thinking really does work, i.e. that if we truly want something, we will get it.  Yes, there may be a bit of dramatic bustle along the way, but no significant trade-offs, sacrifices, or even analysis, will be required.   (Sarah Palin seems to have mastered this one.)

6.    Keep it sweet.  Simple.   No big words.  

7.  Think about change, sure.  But use paradigms that are familiar, instantly understood.  (Don’t worry about inconsistencies.)

8.  Don’t worry too much about those that can’t keep up or get caught in the cross-fire.  Think of them as the tourists who are the victims of the Voluturi while Edward saves  Bella.   Yes, it’s too bad.   But hey, Edward and Bella are back together again.  

9.  If all else fails, hire Robert Pattinson.

Bella and Sookie, Edward Cullen, Bill Compton- The Lines Are Drawn

February 9, 2010

Read yesterday about the upcoming first run publication of 350,000 copies of the new Twilight graphic novel.  “The characters and settings are very close to what I was imagining while writing the series,” Stephanie Meyers, the author of the original Twilight series has said of the graphic novel.  (Does this mean that Ms. Meyers always pictured the characters and settings as cartoonish?)

Okay. Stop.  Guilty confession time.  As followers of this blog know, I wallowed in the Twlight series.  I have also, more recently, wallowed in another vampire series—The Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris, also known as the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries.

(What can I say?  I get tired, manic, depressed.)

Which brings up another question.  Why is the Twilight Saga (whose collective sales have now reached 45 million) so much more popular than the Southern Vampire Sookie Stackhouse Series?

(Don’t get me wrong.   Charlene Harris is unlikely to live in a garret.  Still, 45 million!)

What makes the difference especially remarkable is that the two series have enough in common to make a vampiric copyright lawyer lick his blood-stained chops.  Both focus on a human-vampire love story; both share telepathy, characters whose minds cannot be permeated by telepathy, super-handsome, super-sexy vampires (well, Edward Cullen is sexy in principal at least), shape-shifters/werewolves, love triangles,  heroinic (as in both addictive and held by the heroine) special blood, attempted suicide through sun-stepping, a ruthless vampire hierarchy, controlling and hyper-jealous male lovers, and fast, fancy cars.   Most importantly, both series have spawned commercially-successful screen versions.

So what makes for the phenomenon? (Other than the casting of Robsten.)

First, there’s the teen factor.  Perhaps (believe or not) tweens and teens simply read more.  After all, they have parents who tell them to turn off the TV and the internet, and they usually don’t have full time jobs.

Then there’s the identification factor.  Bella Swan, the Twilight heroine, is herself a teenager. (Sookie’s in her early twenties.)

More importantly, Bella is presented as Every Girl—Every Girl who is cute enough but clumsy, and who also happens to have some nearly magical qualities (not even known to herself) which, in turn, attract a consummately handsome, devoted, rich, strong, elegant, vampire; a vampire, who, although insistently male (at least he insists he’s male), loves her for her essence, not her body; a body which he adores,  but which he heroically resists (sigh), both to protect her soul and safety.

Sookie is harder to identify with.  She is very much not Every Girl, but a cocktail waitress specifically based in Northern Louisiana.    She introduces herself in the first book Dead Until Dark as someone suffering from a deformity.   She’s also super-attractive.     (The way her mental abilities cause human suitors to lose interest in her well-built body is a bit like the pre-feminist tales of women who were told to hide their smarts if they wanted to hold onto a man.)

Sookie’s vampires, unlike Edward Cullen, have little high-minded hesitancy about sex (or about manipulation and violence.)   Moreover, Sookie’s vampires (i) don’t just lust after her blood but frequently bite her, and (ii) spend about half of every day actually dead.  (These qualities may well be confusing to a young adult reader.)

So maybe here’s the distinction:  Twilight characters are good.  Good.  GOOD.   Except when they are bad.  Bad.  BAD.

Hmm…  Is it possible that the qualities which  seem to make Twilight so popular are the same qualities that make it adaptable to graphic novel form?  (A world that can be drawn in black and white lines.)

Teenage girls, it seems, are idealists after all.  Idealists and Every Girl and lovers of the fantastical.

Escapism – One Could Do Worse Than Eric Northman

December 17, 2009

A  couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the lure of mind candy when escapism hits. At around the same time, I wrote a post about reading nine Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood vampire novels in one week.  (This, I should note, was not a week in which I was on vacation sitting reading on a beach.)    Comparing the Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels to the few other vampire novels I’ve read (the Twilight Saga), I said that the Stackhouse books weren’t really such great re-reads because they were mysteries rather than romances.

A couple of weeks, and several re-reads, later, have led me to revise that opinion.  The Sookie Stackhouse books actually are fairly romantic, at least fairly raunchy, and they score quite well on the escapist/obsessive-compulsive/manicD re-reading charts.  (The audible books read with a delightful Southern accent by Johanna Parker, are also pretty helpful for the highly-pressured who eschew medication.)

I also want to revise my previously posted opinion of the character of Eric Northman (noting again that I’ve never seen the True Blood TV series.)  I said in my post that  I thought Eric was too devious to be a romantic hero.  While I think it very unlikely that Sookie ultimately ends up with Eric (because of the whole non-aging, non-childbearing, vampire thing), she could definitely do worse.

Re-reading these books has also led me to wonder what exactly people, escapist people, like about vampire novels.

Of course, there’s the utter (fun) silliness.

Then too, there’s the attraction (for female escapists) of unpopular girls suddenly being swooped up into a world of super-handsome, super-devoted, rich, handsome, strong, protective, males.

But I think what escapists are particularly attracted to is the dominance of compulsion in these books.  The vampires are portrayed as beings who, despite being control freaks, are implacably driven by the rules of their deeper natures–their desire for certain scents of blood; their apathy towards other beings; their inescapable hierarchies.  Anyone in escapist mode finds both these battles with compulsion, and the many guiltless surrenders to it, pretty intriguing.

Secondly, there’s the inner logic.   Once you make the huge leap into the world of all these crazy magical beings, everything else is very rational, ordered, in the books.  Certainly, there is a lot of violence, but it’s never random.  (Books with seemingly random, yet very real violence, like, for example,  Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses¸ only make an escapist feel terrified; as if his or her lack of attention to the details of daily life could lead to some truly disastrous consequence.)

Finally, the dialogue-filled prose forms a comfortable groove in the stressed brain a whole lot faster than something like, let’s say, Heidigger.  This accessibility makes them particularly good for reading on a treadmill, of virtually any kind.

After the Ninth Southern Vampire Novel

December 7, 2009

Under pressure of pressure (that is, randomized, yet persistent, work and life demands), I read nine vampire books last week.  (The “Sookie stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries” by Charlaine Harris).  This is not something I am proud of.

I also managed (for the record) to get to work every day, to work while there, even to put in several hours on Sunday.  Cooking was done Laundry was not.  (I hereby send an open apology to all members of my gym.)

Sleep was intermittent.   Perhaps, as a result, I felt a bit dazed finishing the ninth novel this morning (“benighted” may be a better description.)

I’m not quite sure why one (“I”) turn to silly books under pressure. Of course, there’s the whole mind candy business.  (See my earlier post “When Escapism Hits Hard –  https://manicddaily.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/blocking-write…pism-hits-hard/ )

And yes, it’s embarrassing.  Still, there it is.  Some nights (and mornings, Saturday afternoons, and subway rides) will have their vampires (in print.)

Since I am new to this genre, I don’t know what is standard.  I did notice a considerable overlap between the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the Twilight Saga – cool, perfectly handsome, powerful, vamps in love triangles with warm, slightly less handsome and powerful, “were” figures (werewolves, shape shifters, were tigers) and a humble but cute gal who has an extra-special zing to her blood.  There are also characters who can read minds (Edward Cullen and Sookie Stackhouse), but who fall in love with those whose minds they cannot read.  Jokes about the ridiculousness of vampires and baseball.   Enforcers of  vampire “law”.  Many descriptions of clothes.

The Sookie Stackhouse books are much more diverse than Twilight, with (i) a soap-opera-sized number of characters, (ii) nearly non-stop corpses, (iii) an interesting social context (Northern Louisiana); (iv) an interesting political context (the vampires have “come out of the closet” with worldwide TV announcements), and, of course, (v) actual sex/frequent biting (as opposed to abstinence/last-resort biting ).  No wonder the books have successfully translated to a television series (True Blood, which I confess I’ve never seen.)

And yet, despite the fact that I read all the Sookie Stackhouse books straight through, I can also see why they do not have the devoted readership of Twilight.   First, the books are not written for tween/teenage girls, a viciously loyal  group.   Secondly, the books are basically crime mysteries,  inherently written for just one read.

Third, and most important,  where’s the Edward (i.e. Robert Pattinson)?    Bill Compton (and remember, I haven’t seen the TV series) is the closest to unconditionally devoted and droolworthy. (Eric is promising but sneaky, Alcide too hairy, and Quinn, the were-tiger, too unintelligent.)  But after the first book or so, poor Bill only briefly passes, longingly, through the dark of Sookie’s yard.

By the ninth (and last published) book, anyone with a romantic temperament  (read “me”) is getting really tired of Bill’s near-absence.  But, lo and behold, the series is not yet finished.  Ms. Harris has apparently realized that, in our high-pressure world, the appetite for mind candy, like the appetites of Sookie’s vamps, takes many many bites to satisfy.

UPDATE TO THIS POST FROM JANUARY 7, 2010–After much “review”, I’ve found that the Sookie Stackhouse novels are pretty good “re-reads” after all.  If you are in the mood for escapism, they definitely hold up for repeated reads.  I also want to revise my question: “Where’s the Edward?”  The male characters, especially Eric and Bill, do grow on one.  “Like a fungus,” as Sookie says in one of the books (to Eric).   Eric and Bill have certain advantages (for the reader) over Edward as well that almost make up for the fact that they are not embued with the image of Robert Pattinson.  They are quirky, definitely flawed, have senses of humor, and are very sensual.   Fun.

New Moon -The Missing Moments

November 23, 2009

Chris Weitz and Summit Entertainment have struck gold with Twilight Saga New Moon. Frankly, any regular ManicDDaily reader could have predicted this:  while Kristen Stewart manages to embody both the ordinary and heroic—a combination of qualities that many young girls envisage in themselves, Robert Pattinson embodies (literally) what many young girls envisage for themselves.   And then there’s the extra set of muscles, bright smile, and uncannily canine shagginess of Taylor Lautner.

Where the movie fails, though, is in targeting the needs of tweens, a core fan group, for quirky scenes, lines and gestures which can be repeatedly replayed  (i) in their heads, and (ii) on their downloaded versions of the movie,  (iii)  preferably, at a slumber party.

The first movie, Twilight, had an abundance of these quirky, (one might  say) goofy, moments.  They were camp, but could somehow bear the weight of repeated viewing:  (i) RPatz’s shaken/frozen face after he stops the careening car; (ii) “I’m a killer, Bella,” (iii) the whole “you shouldn’t have said that,” “spider monkey,” thing (iv)  the first kiss;  (v) the second kiss; (vi) the third kiss.

New Moon has remarkably few of these quirky moments —moments that one can imagine young girls watching again and again in giggles and pajamas.   In my pre-vcr/dvr youth, this need was filled by our actual re-enactment of scenes.  My personal favorite was Olivia Hussey’s death scene in Zeferelli’s Romeo and Juliet, which I performed with great gusto and convincing gasps on numerous all-girl occasions.   “Oh happy dagger, this is thy sheathe.  There rust and let me die.”   (Yes, I was a weird kid.)

But what would a weird kid re-enact in New Moon?  All I can come up with (and these are no match for Hussey) are (i)  Bella’s single-arched-browed “kiss me,”,  and (ii) Dakota Fanning’s smiling “this may hurt a little.”

So, will this lack of re-enactable scenes translate into a lack of repeated viewings?  A drastic downfall in ticket and DVD sales after the initial hot weekend?

I doubt it.  The film still has a lot of Rob Pattinson abs.   (Apparently, even 109 year-old  vampires have adopted modern low-rise fashions.  Who knew?)

And, then of, course, there are kisses 4, 5, 6, 7…. But who’s counting?