THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN -- PART ONE. As I sat in a theater super-heated by the hummingbird metabolisms of 150 tweens, watching end-credits roll, I considered this: I had just sat through my fourth *Twilight* movie in the space of a week. This last is the penultimate installment in the series, the producers having broken the final novel into two movies. Which means we've got another year of rabid anticipation before this franchise bites it (pun intended, with apologies).
So as I sat there staring blankly at the screen, I realized that in spite of my wealth of Twilight exposure, I was at a loss for words, which isn't (entirely) a condescending attempt at dismissing the whole series. I just don't know where to get a foothold to even start discussing these things critically.
It seems petty to pick Twilight apart for the performances of the leads, but that's what I keep coming back to. I don't entirely blame Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner for being so stone-faced and unconvincing. Some of that has to be attributed to their directors, who seem intent on creating the least believable teen love triangle I've ever seen. Add the fact that Stewart's Bella Swan is generally unlikeable and petulant, and I just can't quite bring myself to care.
That all being said, Part One is probably the strongest movie in the series so far, which is kind of like saying the McRib is the best thing on the McDonald's menu. The performances are a little more realistic, the action a little more vivid (although still way too tame for a movie about vampires fighting werewolves), and director Bill Condon at least attempts to handle the budding sexuality of Bella and Edward's relationship with some degree of maturity and nuance.
I've sat through plenty of worse movies in my life, the lion's share of them seemingly in the last year or so. And with billions and billions served, *Twilight* has to have something going for it, right? PG13. 118m.
--John J. Bennett
HAPPY FEET TWO. Director George Miller is back with Elijah Wood and Robin Williams in this sequel to the Oscar-winning Happy Feet. Once again, the effects astonish, with sweeping shots of synchronized penguins and vertigo-inspiring glaciers and ocean waves. These and the close-ups of crystalline snow are what CG was made for, and 3D gives them depth and pop.
The baby penguins have the same impossibly downy texture, and if they don't make you crack at least a tiny smile, then you are made of stone. The pleasingly slouchy signature tap of choreographer Savion Glover is back, too, but dancing is not as central to the story. Neither is singing, really, though Pink (taking over the part of Gloria for the late Brittany Murphy) puts her pipes to good use on songs like "Under Pressure," and even Mumble's son Eric (Ava Acres) has an operatic turn.
In the first film, Mumble (Wood) struggled to find his place as a dancer among singers, eventually saving his fellow penguins with his talent. In Happy Feet Two, Mumble is trying to save his colony again, as well as trying to be a hero to his son, another misfit.
There is a crisis, courtesy of global warming and a massive iceberg, but it's basically a logistical problem to be solved. The movie wanders between goofy subplots and heavy drama without a strong central character to hold it together. Not that kids will mind. There are a handful of new side characters to lighten the load, including Richard Carter as an alpha elephant seal and Hank Azaria as Sven, a puffin guru.
Sadly, the hilarious Sofia Vergara is wasted as a waddling siren pursued by Ramon (Williams). Some of the most fun animation comes at the expense of Bill and Will (Matt Damon and Brad Pitt), a pair of krill whose existential journey away from the swarm leads them to bromance and a tour of the food web. When Bill and Will take their lumps, eyes popping off their stems, the animators really cut loose.
Don't come late -- the Looney Toons short "I Tawt I Taw a Putty Tat" plays before the start of the film. It features the late, great Mel Blanc, and 3D effects (building ledges!) and CG (Sylvester's fur!) add new pleasures to the old-school gags. PG. 103m.
--Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
The Journal went to press early for the holiday weekend, so you'll have to call or go online to get exact show times. However we did find out what's starting Wednesday and, well, let's hope you have kids to entertain. (Kids-at-heart will suffice.)
THE MUPPETS. More than 20 years after the great Jim Henson died, his most beloved creations are back for an all-new, star-studded adventure. Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the gang reunite to save their old theater from a greedy oil tycoon. (Is there another kind?) With Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and Jason Segel, who also co-wrote the script. PG. 120m.
HUGO. Martin Scorsese (yes, the Martin Scorsese) directs this 3D family film about an orphan boy who lives a secret life inside the walls of a Paris train station. Set in the 1930s, the story follows Hugo into a mystery involving his late father, a broken automaton and a creepy toy shop proprietor (Ben Kingsley). PG. 126m.
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS. This 3D, computer-generated cartoon comes from Aardman Animation, the Oscar-winning studio behind Wallace & Gromit. Examining the age-old question of how Santa Claus delivers so many presents in one night, this film finds a super-high-tech factory at the North Pole, operated by another Christmas tradition: the dysfunctional family (Santa's, in this case). PG. 97m.
The Arcata Theatre Lounge again hosts Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza night, this Wednesday and next. First up, classic monster movies featuring Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Creeping Terror (1964). ATL describes the former as "superbly crafted" and the latter as "widely considered ... one of the worst films of all time." Good times. Wednesday Nov. 30 is a guilty pleasure from my own childhood, The Last Starfighter (1984), followed by the Roger Corman-produced Battle Beyond the Sun, which features monsters "suspiciously shaped like male and female genitalia." I've had that nightmare. Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Nights run from 6 to 10 p.m. Admission is free with a $5 food or beverage purchase.