The most recent entry in the Twilight franchise is the elegant yet understated adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set against the backdrop of the most famous feud of all times, the film stars Robert Pattinson and its director, Mark Romanek, as its leads. While the film itself is rather excellent, it did not escape notice that Romanek and Pattinson share a rather remarkable cinematic chemistry. Perhaps it is this dynamic that has allowed the film to transcend its source material and become a bit of a late-summer blockbuster.
The movie opens with a rather affecting monologue from Juliet (played by Kristen Stewart) about her conflicted feelings for Romeo (Pattinson). Much like the rest of the Twilight franchise, the script for this one is sharp as ice and filled with quotable one-liners. It often feels like a modern update of William Shakespeare’s classic, with a 21st century twist.
Stewart is a revelation as the conflicted heroine, and her portrayal of Juliet is exquisite. Even more impressive is the fact that she not only embodies the feisty spirit of the character but also brings to life Shakespeare’s most famous female protagonist. She also manages to capture something of her own personality in the character, creating a fascinating paradox: the character of Juliet is both a reflection of and a channel for Stewart’s own personality.
Pattinson, as one might expect, is also excellent in the film’s lead role, bringing an understated charm to the iconic Prince Romeo. He manages to be both charming and dashing as the eponymous character, an extremely difficult balance to pull off. Watching him portray Romeo is a real treat as he brings a depth and sensitivity to the role that is rather at odds with the character’s signature impertinence.
One of the things that makes the film so watchable is its romantic chemistry. The two leads are charmingly awkward as Romeo and Juliet, and it never feels like acting. It is the same with Stewart and Pattinson, who spark off each other on screen in a way that feels both organic and perfect. This is a rare thing for a feature film, particularly one as accomplished as this. For fans of the star-crossed lovers, it is well worth tracking down a copy of this film.
The movie also stars Donald Trump in a role that is highly unusual for him: that of the undertaker. The former reality television star portrays the wealthy Mercutio. In this part at least, he is the epitome of the word ‘oligarch.’ Mercutio is the quintessential brimming with life and vigor businessman, a true Renaissance man. While his behavior in the film is more than a little outrageous — he even gets into a fight with one of the film’s primary antagonists — it is also quite charming, and one cannot but help but root for him.
The Twilight series as a whole has been a financial success, both at the box office and in terms of its DVD sales. The films have amassed a combined total of over 500 million dollars in the U.S. alone, with worldwide profits above one billion dollars. It is fair to say that the films’ strong word-of-mouth marketing and passionate fan base have played a large role in their broad appeal. Most recently, the sixth film in the series, The Twilight Saga: Equestria, was the highest grossing non-English speaking film worldwide in 2018. It was also the biggest-selling Blu-ray in Canada in 2018.
The Twilight films were not just successful because of their romantic trappings or even their considerable box-office clout. They were also critically acclaimed, with The New York Times listing Twilight as one of the greatest films of all time. It is a staggering feat for a franchise that has grown steadily in popularity over the past decade-and-a-half, even managing to buck the trend of moviegoing fatigue that often plagues summer season blockbusters.
There is a lot to appreciate about the Twilight franchise as a whole. It is not just about the four big-budgeted movies that together form a coherent narrative, but about the larger cultural impact they have had. The franchise name became so inextricably linked to the vampire genre that it was adopted by other filmmakers, particularly in Scandinavia. It was a genre that had previously been dominated by American films, but following its explosion in popularity, a host of new vampire offerings hit the big-screen in the 1990s and 2000s. The success of Twilight and its three sequels helped to pave the way for today’s ubiquitous vampire trend, with numerous indie projects cropping up across the globe. It is difficult to overstate the cultural impact of these films, particularly in today’s world of on-demand entertainment. The series, and its two sequels, may not be for everyone, as it is rather graphic in places and does contain strong language, but it is an important piece of cinema history.
A Bittersweet Farewell
It should come as no great surprise that one of the decade’s most acclaimed films is also its most bittersweet. Like the Twilight saga as a whole, The Rider (co-directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven) is an understated yet poignant farewell to the twentieth century. It tells the story of a world that is in the process of transitioning to the twenty-first century, with people still using typewriters and visiting libraries to borrow books.
The film’s central premise is rather simple yet effective. Based on the life of legendary motorcyclist, George Mallory, the plot revolves around a group of friends who decide to get together and pay tribute to Mallory, who had died earlier that year. The film opens with a rather affecting prologue that details Mallory’s short but eventful life. Despite his untimely death at the age of 29, Mallory had already made an indelible impact on the world of motorcycling, being credited with the invention of the modern twisty ride. After his death, his former colleagues convene at the King’s Royal College in Cambridge to bid him farewell. They use the opportunity to reminiscence about his life and legacy, as well as to take a nostalgic look back at the golden era of motorcycling in the early part of the last century. What follows is a heartfelt tribute to the man some have called the father of motorcycling.
The film’s narrative jumps between the present and the early decades of the last century, with characters played by Michael Caine, Kate Hudson, and Gary Oldman reminiscing about their times in the motorcycling fraternity. The friends decide to hold a memorial tribute for Mallory, with the focus falling on the golden era of motorcycling. This is certainly a nostalgic look back at what was one of the most exciting periods in history, as the combination of new technology and raw youth energy created a motorcycle boom that lasted well into the next century. It is a period which Caine embodies and evokes with his performance, conveying the spirit of the bygone era with his dauntless energy and boundless optimism.
The film is filled with wonderful little details that bring it alive. One of the interesting things is how Ergüven and Director of Photography, Hoyte van Hoytema, use lighting and composition to capture the aesthetic of the pioneering era. They achieve this via the use of certain lenses. For example, a 50mm lens is used to great effect when the camera is placed slightly above and to the side of the motorcycle, showing the vast open spaces of the English countryside in all their dusty glory.
Riding a motorbike has always been associated with a certain freedom and masculinity. It was a way for young men to express themselves and be part of the action, without being weighed down by the societal conventions that often plagued their older counterparts. The film captures this spirit perfectly, as riders gallop across the British countryside, evoking images of an earlier era. It is a beautiful film that deserves to be seen by anyone who has ever been captivated by the romance of motorcycle riding.