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American Ultra (2015) – Half baked…

American Ultra 1
“If ever there’s a movie that sinks its own ship while still tied to the dock, it’s American Ultra. For the promotion of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock stipulated that no-one should be admitted to the theatre after the movie had started, to prevent ruining the surprise.

If Hitchcock was alive today, and he’d seen American Ultra, he would no doubt recommend exactly the opposite – to preserve any sense of suspense, one should aim to join the movie about five minutes in.

One of the most baffling decisions director Nima Nourizadeh makes in his sophomore effort is to start at the end, then employ a flashback moment which literally flashes every key plot point on the screen before the story starts proper.

In doing so, every drop of suspense is eradicated before the movie even starts, and we’re left with an action comedy thriller without any thrills. To make matters worse, screenwriter Max Landis, following up from the interesting found footage superhero movie Chronicle, also forgets to write any jokes…” Read the rest of the review here (opens in new tab.)

Twilight (2008): Why Did The Vampire Cross the Road?

You think vampires are evil?  I had a girl like Twilight‘s Bella work with me once.  Her attitude stank so bad I gave her a special job to do.  I had a huge pile of old papers that needed shredding, and told her that the information was so sensitive, she needed to go through every page and black out every line with a marker first.  It took her four days.

I’ve been building up to actually watching Twilight for so long now, just so I could form my own opinion, and I end up starting with that non-movie related anecdote.  I guess I was just groping around to find a way to describe how much Kristen Stewart’s character irritated me.

The first act of Twilight plays like a less fun version of The Lost Boys, as morose teen Bella Swan moves from her hometown Phoenix to stay with her divorced dad in Forks, WA. a town so quiet, small and ordinary it looks like David Lynch’s worst nightmare.

The ungrateful sourpuss is quickly befriended by her new classmates, but her attention is grabbed by the mysterious Cullen clan, who swan around the school in a stately manner and keep themselves to their ultra-cool selves.

Bella is quick to spot hollow-cheeked hunk Edward (Robert Pattinson), although his reaction to her on first meeting in Biology class is unfortunate.  When he catches a waft of her scent, he looks like he’s about to lose his lunch.

Through a series of quavering, awkward conversations, the glum pair get the hots for each other. When Edward miraculously saves Bella from being flattened by an out of control van in the parking lot, she realizes he might not be quite what he seems…

Bella and Edward fall heavy for each other, but there is a problem – namely, Edward’s a vampire.  Bella’s not too fussed, though, even when he explains her scent  is like curry to a pisshead for a vampire.

Questions inevitably arise; Edward wants to give her a good old sucking, and Bella clears wants to be sucked.  What about sex?  Edward doesn’t eat regular food, or sleep, so does he get a boner?  Or does that only happen when two people are both vampires?

Or once they’re both blood-suckers, do they just waft around aesthetically together, gazing longingly at each other for eternity in a daze of deliciously fatalistic ennui?  Or do they just take turns ravishing each other, sucking one another dry?  I hope the rest of the Twilight Saga will answer these questions…

Other characters include Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a native American wolfboy (it’s only alluded to in this episode, but it’s hard to avoid the trailers).  The Native Americans wear durable materials, check shirts and jeans, and drive pickup trucks; the genteel Vampires nonchalantly flaunt the affluence of presumably Old World ancestors.  They also have lots of fast cars in the garage, although vampires need cars as much as Jaws needed a speedboat.

I enjoyed Twilight.  I deliberately disengaged the movie snob and let myself go with it.  I was disappointed to see what they’ve done with classic motifs of vampire lore – the vampires don’t live in the cloudiest, wettest part of the US by mistake.  But it’s not to prevent them bursting into flame, it’s to stop them twinkling like a Snoop Dogg tie pin.  What trauma!

They are also clearly visible in mirrors, which explains how they manage to keep perfectly groomed.

I resisted making any judgement about Twilight until seeing it, although based on the trailers, I did suggest it looked like a bit of a cheapo rush job.  The trailers mainly feature two sullen teens moping around in the woods, or else running away from bad CGI in the woods.  Of course, the woods, along with abandoned warehouses, are often a surefire location clue to a cheap production.

However, I thought the locations in Twilight were very atmospheric; plenty of moping in the woods, granted, but also stunning coastal scenery, lakes and glowering storm clouds.

Despite my initial desire to give Bella a sadistically large pile of mind-numbing paperwork to do, Stewart is relatively effective in the role, somehow suggesting a free spirit wanting to escape her awkward, morose exterior.

The real one to watch is Pattinson, of course.  I’d never seen the guy in anything other than a Twilight trailer, so I was eager to see what the fuss was about.  My initial reaction was he looked like an ultra-lifelike creation by Jim Henson’s Shop, with the bloodless line of an unsmiling mouth, a jutting nose and stern eyebrows.  But, when he smiles…yes, girls, OK I get it.

Some might say the Muppets are more expressive, but I get the feeling there’s a good actor in Pattinson waiting for better material.  Twilight is ultra-safe, sanitized and focus-grouped to appeal to the widest possible audience without offending anyone, and the script is hardly giving him the chance to cut loose.

There’s a couple of good lines – I enjoyed him talking about sucking on animals being like regular carnivores eating tofu.  Most of the dialogue is made up of ultra-sincere swooners aimed at lovelorn teenagers –

Edward: “That’s what you dream about?  Being a monster?”

Bella: “I dream about being with you forever.”


Edward: “I don’t have the strength to stay away from you anymore.”

Bella: “Then don’t”

There is a disappointing lack of vampire action in Twilight, however, and I think anyone who by some miracle doesn’t know anything about it would be best approaching it as a straightforward teen romance rather than a vampire film.

If I was a teenage boy looking for a few scares and a good old vampire monster mash, I’d come away very bored indeed.

Despite all my criticisms, I got pretty engrossed.  I found a stand off between the good vampires and bad vampires surprisingly tense, and I found the thing quite romantic.  Bring on New Moon!

PS: Punchlines to the title joke gratefully requested…


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