Arts & Events

Movie Review: A Couple of Summer Movies and Life in a Sleepy Town

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday July 20, 2010 - 06:52:00 AM

I flew back home on frequent flyer miles last week to visit my elderly mom in a small town fifty miles southwest of Pittsburgh from which there is no public transportation. It’s a sleepy, idyllic little place to retire if you have a nice big house with a shady porch, a guaranteed income, and don’t mind 10 degree weather and a foot of snow for about a quarter of the year and ninety degree heat for another couple of months. My nonagenarian mama still cleans the entire enormous house every week and forsakes the dryer to hang her laundry out on the line. She doesn’t get out much, so when I go back, we make the most of the entertainment available.


The movies that played at the local mall cinema were limited to Twilight/Eclipse, Toy Story 3, and a couple of other cartoons. I have a penchant for the vampire thing since I wrote my thesis on subliminal underpinnings and psychoanalytical literature of the Dracula play, so I watch “True Blood” and other popular versions to keep up with the refashioning of the myth and its implications. 


And I don’t remember a movie ever getting a 99% rating in the Rotten Tomatoes reviewing website that Toy Story 3--by our own Emeryville Pixar—has earned.  


So we went to see those two.


To catch you up, vampires can now come out in the sunlight and are attempting to mainstream. Many are attempting to break the human habit, while others continue with the old voracious ways. They are deadly enemies of werewolves.  Twilight is shot in the gorgeous outback of the Pacific Northwest with some of the grandest vistas in the land. At the center of our story is a 17 year old Bella—whose face devours the screen and transfixes you—who has fallen in love with mainstreaming vampire Edward, who is even more beautiful than she. However, she also has feelings for Jacob, a Native American teenager with lupine eyes. Jacob seldom appears with a shirt and belongs to a tribe whose members transform into wolves when the need arises. The two warring factions have to team up to protect Bella from a red-haired vampiress who seeks revenge on her.  


The role reversal is that our impulsive, alienated, teenage heroine wants to be “made” into a vampire so that she can live her life eternally with Edward, and she wants to have sex with him. (Seems vampires can do that too in the modern retelling. Sort of transgresses the whole vampire thing wherein the bloodsucking was more ecstatic than regular ol’ sex with a more metaphorical fluid transfer, but we’ll go with the flow.) Edward however is from a different time and has maintained the mores of a more modest era; he wants to marry her before deflowering her. He is also reluctant to visit his frozen state of existence on her, but she is dogged in her insistence, while Jacob desperately tries to dissuade her and woo her to his side.


That’s the premise. It’s a back and forth of “I love Edward” / “You love me too you just don’t know it” / “Sure I love you but not like that” / “Are you sure you want to be with me?”/ “Until the end of time, my love” in endless repetition—not unlike the loop of many love triangles. 


The movie is meant for teenagers, but it is sumptuously beautiful. Each frame of these fabulous faces, the special effects, and the Great Northwest forest and seacoast shot from the treetops is worth the price of admission. It can transport you to your teens if you let it. If I were 17 years old and in love, I would have seen it three times by now. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the first two installments, just, well, go with the flow. Pure summer escapism.


 It occurred to me in my over-intellectualizing that this might actually be a dilemma we may soon face. With genetic research searching for a way to turn off the aging gene, and the bio-medical world seeking to fix anything that ails or befalls us, we might have the option to live to biblical longevity. “Methusaleh lived 900 years, but who calls that livin’ when no gal will give in to any guy that is 900 years?” sings Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess.  It is age and pain and decrepitude we fear.   But if you can maintain your beauty as it is, it would be a monumental existential dilemma and decision much like the one presented to Bella.   With the One Looming Inevitability removed, with the Joke of the Gods suspended, what are the implications? Time to re-read Anne Rice with a different eye.


Toy Story is nearly flawless. I laughed out loud; I seldom laugh out loud in a movie. In the last 15 minutes, I wept for my lost toys. If you want to get your memories touched and your heart opened, go see this with someone you love. In 3-D. Truly doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the preceding installments.


We also drove the 50 miles to Pittsburgh in a blinding rainstorm to see the Civic Light Opera’s production of The Producers. My mom and pop took me to the CLO 50 years ago where I saw Gwen Verdon dance Lola in Damn Yankees  which fostered my love for musicals. Then they played in a tent, and now they are in the Benedum Center which “out-opulents” the Orpheum. Not Broadway, but a very polished production. Hard not to compare to the movie version, but solid by comparison; actually, maybe knowing the dialogue so well helped me enjoyed it more.


But a trip back home makes me glad I live in temperate Oakland with culture galore, an earthquake or riot every twenty years notwithstanding.






John A McMullen II, who regularly reviews theatre for the BDP, grew up in SW PA in the only overwhelming Democratic county in PA in which Obama did not receive a majority vote. In the 70’s the mines closed and steel-making moved to Mexico, and the non-diversified economy went to hell. Still it’s home and beautiful.




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