Skip to main content

Uncle loves Google.

Beautiful Creatures
(2013)

Another week, another failed Young Adult adaptation. This one floundered on its release about this time last year and it’s easy to see why. Possessed of the Southern flavour flaunted by True Blood, but without the libido, Beautiful Creatures is entirely mechanical in its construction of a supernatural world where teenagers both mortal and immortal (see Twilight) interact in a post-Whedon landscape of chosen ones and dark destinies. Richard La Gravenese, who made a splash early in his career with The Fisher King for Terry Gilliam, does his best on scripting and megaphone duties, but he’s unable to wring out anything very memorable.


The movie starts reasonably well though, and unlike many a YA picture, La Gravenese has managed to attract a supporting cast of colourful thesps who, when they’re occasionally granted a scene to themselves (as is more common during the first half) dispel the overpowering odour of the rather insipid love story. That’s not to diminish the leads. Both Aldren Ehrenreich (as mortal Ethan) and Alice Englert (as nearly-come-of-age caster – read witch – Lena) are much more skilled and vital than most of their corresponding YA protagonists.


The scenario is all-too familiar; boy wants to leave small town, meets strange and mysterious girl, they fall for each other but their love is forbidden and dangerous. As such, the mystery of the set up of is much more engaging before we’ve found out who is who and what is what. The intimations of possible past incarnations during the American Civil War is an intriguing one, but unfortunately is revealed to be (relatively) mundane. Indeed, the whole back-story of the Macons’ (Lean’s family) ownership of the town of Gatlin is under-explored. And, when the entire family are introduced, it’s something akin to The Addams Family meets Twilight. But not nearly as twisted as that sounds.


So thank heavens for Jeremy Irons, digging into a southern drawl as if there’s a serious ham shortage looming. As Lena’s Uncle Macon Ravenwood he gets all the best lines, dripping with sardonic superiority (“A voice of reason in a town of buttermilk minds” Macon says of Ethan’s mother). When he bewitches Ethan into reeling off a particularly depressing future life map, which ends with “And when I’m 64 I’ll hang myself”, Macon congratulates him; “You’ve got it all planned out. Good for you”. Indeed, early scenes such as this briefly fooled me into thinking Beautiful Creatures might be a genuinely sharp and witty tale throughout. Ehrenreich deftly shows off his comedic skills during a fractious dinner invitation to the Ravenwood residence; alas it descends into subpar CGI, but there’s a some vibrancy and fun there for a while. 


I had hopes for Emma Thompson’s dual duties as Bible-bashing Mavis and fearsome sister of Macon Sarafine (there’s a curse on the females in the family such that they turn to the dark side, you see), but La Gravenese doesn’t offer her nearly enough naughtiness (there was surely plenty of potential for Witches of Eastwick-esque antics with a pillar of the community possessed by infernal forces).


I should also single out Emmy Rossum, who not only looks delicious as Lena’s black-hearted cousin and former best chum Ridley but enters the scene with the energy and confidence that suggests she will steal the picture from the leads and her elder supporting co-stars. Unfortunately that’s not to be, as Ridley has to make room for Sarafine and is all but forgotten. I haven’t been watching the US version of Shameless, so I can’t speak for her performance there, but if nothing else Beautiful Creatures ought to be an effective calling card for bigger and better feature roles.


The Christianity versus the old religion subplot is so overused these days it’s not funny; I think we’re all aware by now how the ones purportedly teaching forgiveness are really the intolerant ones and those practicing the black arts are just misunderstood. That’s the chief problem here; co-authors (of the novel) Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl seem to have taken the teen fiction writers’ guide (mean kids at school, just the one who really understands the misfit, abundant obstacles to true love winning through), grafted on the South Carolina setting, and ensured every hoary old cliché of both is present and correct. 


There are tiresomely obvious speeches about how immortals admire humans for never giving up (this is the Spock/Gandalf school of bigging up the little people) and teenage admonishments of how everyone has to deal with shit; the special are nothing special in that regard. Viola Davis, possibly intended to take on the Giles role from Buffy, unfortunately ends up fulfilling just the latest in the dubious tradition of “Magical Negro” supporting characters. Such predictability doesn’t appear to have affected the series’ sales (four have been published so far), but it seems cinema audiences are less forgiving.


The biggest problem with Beautiful Creatures is that the middle section gets irretrievably bogged down in Lena’s search for a spell to break her curse. Which entails moping about a library (a nicely rendered library, but a library nonetheless) for what seems like an eternity. Once the momentum has gone from storytelling La Gravenese can’t reignite it, and even a rather decent twist I didn’t see coming can’t make-up for the descent into tedium the picture takes.


La Gravenese, aided by frequent Tim Burton cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, ensures the picture at least looks lush (the effects budget frequently can’t match the ambition, however), and the design is effective; the Ravenwood mansion evidently had a fair bit spent on it (nice stairs). As writer, he also sprinkles on an array of literary and pop culture references; not as fastidiously as Whedon is wont to, but I liked the addition of the “e” in Finale Destination 6.


Of course, everyone involved was hopefully this would be the next big thing so the picture ends with an eye towards the next instalment. I guess at one mighty argue that, however horrible Twilight mostly was, it did pull some genuine weirdness in its last episode(s). I doubt that anything unpredictable was in store for Beautiful Creatures. I keep wanting to call it Heavenly Creatures, which makes for highly unflattering comparisons. Full marks for imaginative casting then, but La Gravenese needed to throw half the novel out of the window if the was going to make it work on screen.


**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.