Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Round-Up#4

Hi there. It's been a while since I last updated this blog. I have been busy working on several projects at once (one of which is my treat for you this coming Halloween!).

Needing a break, I decided to enrich your life with one more of these editions, in which I will focus on two very popular items; one a book, the other a film.

Book Review: Twilight By Stephenie Meyer: Twilight is the first in a very popular Young-Adult series focusing on the tragic love story between Bella, an outcast teenager who moves in with her aloof father after her mother re-marries, and Edward Cullen, an enigmatic, centuries-old vampire trapped in a teen boy's body. Yes, I swear that is the central plot. Really. From there the story takes one predictable turn after the other, with Bella falling deeper and deeper in love with the mysterious, eternally youthful Edward, and soon both of their lives are endangered by their unorthodox coupling.

Twilight is an O.K read at best. It is devoid of any truly original ideas or plot lines, its characters, although well-drawn, are not very interesting, and the denouement is anti-climactic and pat. So why has this cliché-ridden story (and its sequels) about young love in the face of adversity become one of the best-selling books of all time? Simple, it touches upon teen angst and sexuality in a way that is clever and disturbing at the same time. Bella's (infuriating) submissiveness to Edward and Edward's torturous control of his "urges," make their relationship dangerous and darkly romantic, and so it appeals to young teen girls everywhere and to the young at heart of both genders who still remember how it felt to be a teen with raging hormones and a lingering feeling of not belonging.

Nothing else merits the hype and popularity of this book and its sequels. Meyer's prose is flavorless, the plot is thin, and the sense of atmosphere comes and goes. But then again, most mega-bestsellers are not really determined by the quality of their writing or the originality of their plots (Harry Potter, anyone?) but by their readability and their ability to hook readers of a certain sensibility, who, in turn, become messengers of cross-over appeal through word-of-mouth. Twilight has that in spades.

And with the hyped film adaptation hitting screens this November, one thing is for sure, sales of this unoriginal book will soon soar. Again.

* The Twilight Saga consists of the following volumes (in order of publication): Twilight (Hard and Softcover), New Moon (Hard and Softcover), Eclipse (Hardcover only, Softcover on April 09) and Breaking Dawn (Hardcover only, Softcover TBA).

Film Review: Iron-Man (2008): Tony Stark, weapons development extraordinaire, gets captured by an Afghani terrorist group and is forced to develop weapons for them. While captured, he tricks the captors and instead of building a state-of-the-art rocket, he constructs an armored titanium suit and blasts his way out of the prison and returns to his home in the U.S. Upon his return, he announces that he’s had a crisis of conscience and that his company will no longer develop weapons. Instead, it will focus on renewable energy sources. But the world is a tough, violent place, and Stark realizes that his invention can be used to protect the helpless. And so he dons the armored suit and becomes, wait for it, Iron Man!

Well, folks, that’s the story, which is very simplistic and with close to nil characterization. But Iron Man is a comic-book character and the thinness of the story and the implausibility of the premise can be swallowed. After all it is based on a comic book and comic books by their very nature value imagination and prolonged storytelling over verisimilitude and deep characterization (although there are exceptions like this year's magnificent The Dark Knight). But the problem with this film adaptation is that the script is very, very silly.

Previous adaptations of Marvel comic books have shown that the source material can be turned into riveting entertainment that is not dumbed down (remember Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and its sequel, or Ang Lee’s The Hulk). Director Jon Favreau and his team of writers (all five of them) streamline the story and shove aside characterization (distilled here to shameful dialogue and clichés galore) and focus on the cool factor and taking Tony Stark from point A to B to C in ways that are not always convincing and at times almost insultingly dumb. All that could have been forgiven had the film at least been stylish. But Favreau gives the film a supposedly “hip” but flat feel with no visual flair or originality and phoned-in performances from most of the cast. So why am I even reviewing it? Well, basically, it is Robert Downey Jr. He saves this film. His quirky and endearing portrayal of Tony Stark is nothing less than a joy to watch; as he turns a poorly written stereotype of a character into an endearing and relatable person. Amazingly, he manages to achieve that with nothing but bad dialogue and tons of charm. Downey Jr. proves that even when he is slumming, he is good, and that’s a rarity these days. Also the Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) team does some marvelous work with a few wondrous effects sequences. That's basically it.

* Out now on Region 1 DVD. Region 2 out on October 27th.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.