Better Bella

Bob can't quite force himself to admit that he likes the latest Twilight pic

The Stephenie Meyer teen-vampire saga gets notably twisted and bloodier with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part I, easily the most-demented—and most-watchable—chapter in the series.

That said, I still haven't met a Twilight movie that I've liked.

This is the first movie in the series to have something resembling a dramatic pulse. Some of the thanks can probably go to director Bill Condon, who has managed a few good films in his career, including Dreamgirls and Gods and Monsters. (Hey, did you know that Condon also directed Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh? You know now!)

Condon can't direct a compelling action scene to save his life, but he handles dramatic tension well. Hey, Taylor Lautner almost looks like he can act in this film, so that's a directorial accomplishment right there.

It all starts with the wedding of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), followed by a bed-breaking honeymoon during which Edward accidentally impregnates his still-human bride. Edward, even though he has been vampiring for many years, was unaware that impregnating Bella with a vampire baby was possible. He doesn't even make it out of the honeymoon without feeling like the worst husband ever.

The vampire baby, or whatever it is, wreaks havoc on Bella's insides due to an alarmingly fast birthing schedule. (Bella is showing within days of her deflowering.) This helps achieve what I thought was impossible: Bella actually appears more miserable than she did in the previous films.

Bella physically deteriorates, and is unable to keep food down. Her weight loss is shown through some rather effective makeup that makes her look like Maria Shriver on a bad day. It all leads up to a twisted moment in which Bella must drink some blood out of a foam cup. Her blood-coated teeth took me by surprise, and provided the series with its first appropriately sickening moment. I finally felt like I was watching a vampire movie!

I found Stewart's yearning, heaving, whining performances in the first three Twilight films too much to take. This time out, her insufferable suffering actually works pretty well. Maybe it's because she actually has her insides being torn to shreds, and is not just feeling lovesick. Her mopey attitude in this film fits her situation.

Pattinson and Lautner manage a cool, adversarial dynamic this time out. Again, I think this has to do with Condon knowing how to draw good performances from his actors. However, I will fault Condon for not showing nearly enough of Taylor Lautner's magnificent abs. The abs are relegated to little more than a cameo, when they deserve top-star status.

Another problem: When the vampires and wolves clash in this movie, it's an unintentionally hilarious mess. A scene in which Lautner's Jacob wolf confronts other wolves, with their human-form voices dubbed over bad CGI wolf footage, is awful.

Hopefully, Condon—who has the directorial reins for the series finale, due next year—will be a little more comfortable at the controls of special effects in the future. It feels like choppy editing and low lighting is being utilized to cover up the fact that Condon didn't know what to shoot during the action sequences.

This installment is definitely darker, with the Bella-pregnancy subplot offering the best moments in the series to date. I must admit: As much as I have hated Twilight (and I have really hated Twilight), the vampire-baby angle got me involved in the whole stupid thing.

So, by this film's final, admittedly effective shot, I found myself curious about what's going to happen next. I still didn't like the movie overall, but like Bella at this film's conclusion, I've started to turn.

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