Not all Young Adult Fiction adaptations are created equal.
Riding the Twilight wave has its advantages and disadvantages, the keystone of the Young Adult fiction genre working as a hook for enthusiastic readers, and a warning sign for those who caught the early exploits of Bella and Edward. Beautiful Creatures owes its cinematic existence to the uber-successful series, but the connective tissue ends there. Based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the movie is ripe with energy, drawing from its preserved, Southern gothic setting of South Carolina, two vivacious young romantics, and an ensemble of seasoned vets who chew up their scenes with twang. Beautiful Creatures doesn't wallow in relationships, it sparks them with frank sexuality and a dash of biting commentary. So long, Twilight.
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Alden Ehrenreich (Tetro) stars as Ethan, an ambitious resident of Gatlin, SC who dreams big and has a particular penchant for plowing through the town's banned book list (yes, even in modern times, there are people who don't see To Kill a Mockingbird as reading fit for teenagers). Waking him up from the doldrums of suburban life is new student Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert of Ginger & Rosa), niece of the towns' notorious Ravenwood family, who becomes the target of public shaming. Beautiful Creatures does not skirt around the strong Christian influence of Southern culture and, as someone the kids believe is a Devil worshipper, Lena is an instant outcast under violent, verbal attack. Quite literally, kids pray in the class room to protect themselves from Lena's bad vibes. If Ethan didn't find the girl attractive in her own right, her position at the bottom of the social ladder fuels his infatuation.
Because today's young romances demand a supernatural element, Lena eventually reveals to her courter that she's a "caster," the nice word for witch in the world of Beautiful Creatures. When Lena turns 16, she'll be subject to "The Claiming," a decision (made by the moon?) that will force her to either the light, nice and peachy side, or the dark, wicked and bloodthirsty side of casting. It's a countdown for Ethan, who realizes he has little time to connect with and possibly save his newfound love. Believing she has the ability to choose her fate, patriarch Macon Ravenwood guides Lena in the ways of the light — while disapproving of her relationship with Ethan.
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The magic logic is as ridiculous and overly complex as it sounds, but Beautiful Creatures writer/director Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, P.S I Love You) never loses track of his characters and their interesting quirks. Jeremy Irons is a master spinster of exposition — if his Macon is laying down a mythology-building speech or rattling off the "rules of the Ravenwood family curse," it all sounds like Shakespeare. Emma Thompson does double duty in this department, playing the disturbingly conservative Mrs. Lincoln with recognizable, motherly terror, and her alter ego, a version of Lincoln possessed by a banished witch looking for revenge on Lena. Thompson spars with Macon and cackles in all her thick Southern accent glory, jumping between personas without a misstep. It's glorious.
LaGravenese makes two inspired discoveries with Ehrenreich and Englert, who set the bar for performances in the genre. Ehrenreich is charming and warm, acting like an actual human being in the midst of a fantasy. He makes adorably awful small talk to woo Lena, he worries about her when she destroys the windows of a classroom with her mind, he becomes vicious when the Ravenwoods attempts to interfere with their relationship — all natural. Englert is like a young Kathleen Turner, her husky voice and sharp wit turning Alice into an unusually strong female lead. The young caster is vulnerable as her relationship blossoms, but fully capable of turning a family dinner into a merry-go-round from hell. The two are electric on screen, even at their campiest moments. Yes, they're destined lovers, descendants of a couple murdered during the Civil War, but even without the back story, Alice and Alden have a sweet, scary, and fiery romance.
At nearly two hours, Beautiful Creatures could stand to lose a few plot threads — Emmy Rossum arrives halfway through as Lena's Siren cousin, a painful attempt by the actress to steal the spotlight with exaggeration — but stands as proof that tween source material can be done right. As it does with the cast, the film is enhanced by its moody visuals and engaging soundtrack by alternative rock band Thenewno2, all setting the tone for Alden and Alice's fateful entanglement. The movie shows no fear depicting teens in love or the ramifications of America's belief system — touchy subjects that feel daring in a Hollywood production. That's the movie's real magic.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
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With the cool autumnal breezes rolling in, so too are Hollywood's biggest, award-hopeful films. Regardless of whether or not it is actually fall quite yet, the little kiddies are back at school, pumpkin spice is being added to everything, and there are only a few days left until staring wistfully at your sweater and scarf collection becomes a summer memory, and wearing becomes the reality. So to prepare us all for the glorious days of movie-watching ahead of us, we've broken it all down for you. So start saving your pennies, coordinate schedules with your film buff buddies and take a bite out of the tasty cinematic offerings that are ripe for the picking. It's like an apple orchard, but glitzier!
Check out the line-up below and get more picks tailored to your tastes in our Fall Movie Guide!
Finding Nemo 3D: A re-release of the popular Pixar film, this time in 3D!
Resident Evil: Retribution: The fighting against the Umbrella Corporation and all those pesky undead continues!
10 Years: A high school reunion with Channing Tatum and Friends.
Arbitrage: Hedge-funder in trouble: a ponzi scheme gone awry. Bernie Madoff-y, huh? The horror, the horror!
Bangkok Revenge: An emotionless war machine returns to the place where his parents were killed to exact ... (you guessed it!) revenge.
Brawler: Brothers! Betrayal! Fight clubs! New Orleans! A battle to the death!
Step Up to the Plate: A cooking documentary about father/son culinary duo the Bras.
Liberal Arts: Lost 30something, a girl named Zibby, and love. But in college.
The Master: The hotly-anticipated Scientology-but-not film from P.T. Anderson.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Stephen Chbosky's classic young adult novel comes to life.
Stolen: A Nicholas Cage film about a daughter locked in a taxi's trunk.
The Trouble with the Truth: A failed marriage reconsidered, now with Lea Thompson!
Radio Unnameable: Documentary about legendary New York City disc jockey Bob Fass who pioneered free expression on the airwaves with his long running program of the same name.
Tears of Gaza: A war documentary that follows three children through war and the period after ceasefire.
Dredd: An action/sci-fi/thriller about fighting a drug war in a big futuristic city. In 3D!
End of Watch: A routine traffic stop gone really, really bad.
House at the End of the Street: Katniss Jennifer Lawrence becomes a scream queen.
17 Girls: A Belgian teen pregnancy pact film!
About Cherry: James Franco is the boyfriend of a porn star, and Dev Patel probably loves her?
Backwards: Life for an Olympic hasbeen-turned-coach is tough.
The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best: Brooklyn boys form a band.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel: A documentary about the life and work of the influential fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar, Diana Vreeland.
The Other Son: A French film about two young men--an Israeli and Palestinian--who discover they were accidentally switched at birth.
Head Games: A sports documentary to uncover the truth about the consequences of head injuries.
How to Survive a Plague: AIDS documentary about the activism that stopped the disease from being a death sentence.
My Uncle Rafael: A comedy about a reality show!
The War of the Buttons: A French film about kid gangs and a Jewish girl in danger of being discovered by the Nazis in occupied France, comes to the states.
Trouble with the Curve: Clint Eastwood and Justin Timberlake make a baseball movie! Now get off my damn lawn.
Unconditional: Two childhood friends reconnect after many years and sad stories to exact revenge on the woman's husband's murderer.
You May Not Kiss the Bride: A pet photographer (seriously) has to marry Katharine McPhee's Croatian bride character. Warning: zany!
Hotel Transylvania: Adam Sandler is Dracula in an animated kids' film.
Looper: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis play one guy who has to kill himself, from the future. Mob stuff! Time travel!
The Barrens: The Jersey Devil of the state's Pine Barrens is hunting Stephen Moyer, you guys!
Bringing Up Bobby: Bill Pullman is in a family comedy written by Famke Janssen.
Won't Back Down: A serious drama about poor moms trying to do right by their kid's education.
The Other Dream Team: A documentary about the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team who got help from the Grateful Dead (seriously) to win at the Barcelona Olympics.
Starbuck: A sperm donor gets sued by the 142 kids he helped conceive. Yikes!
Butter: A comedy about a butter-carving prodigy. Do you need to know anything else?
Frankenweenie: A kid who just wants his dead dog to be...ALIIIIIIVE!
Sinister: Creepy horror flick with Ethan Hawke about a true-crime novelist who discovers footage revealing why a family was murdered in his new home. Sleep tight!
Taken 2: Liam Neeson will find you, and he will hunt you down, and he will kill you. Again!
Wuthering Heights: Another film version of the Emily Bronte novel.
Decoding Deepak: A documentary about Deepak Chopra by his son.
The Oranges: Hugh Laurie has an affair with his best friend's daughter in New Jersey. Woopsies!
The Paperboy: Yes, this is the movie where Zac Efron gets peed on by Nicole Kidman. It's also about a reporter and a death row inmate.
Pitch Perfect: A capella girls get funky thanks to singing 90s R&B tunes. But funny!
V/H/S: All they wanted to do was steal a video tape, and now they're living a horror film! Everyone's worst nightmare, right?
Wake in Fright: An Australian drama thriller about a man named John Grant and a rough outback town called Bundanyabba, and what happens when the two meet.
Argo: Ben Affleck knows that the real way to free six Americans in Iran is by pretending to film a movie! Chris Messina's also in it, with Bryan Cranston, so it seems like a no-brainer here.
Here Comes the Boom: Kevin James is a high school biology teacher who wants to become mixed-martial arts fighter. You know, to save his school! Natch.
3, 2, 1... Frankie Go Boom: A comedy about drugs and humilation.
Atlas Shrugged: Part II: Atlas Shrugged...again!
Least Among Saints: A roughed-up soldier and a boy from a broken home strike up an unlikely friendship.
Middle of Nowhere: A movie about finding yourself while your husband's in jail.
Nobody Walks: Quick! Lena Dunham made something! It's about a young artist! Everybody dissect it!
Seven Psychopaths: Pretty much everybody good is in this movie about a struggling screenwriter whose friends kidnap a gangster's Shih Tzu.
Simon & The Oaks: A Swedish WWII coming-of-age film.
Smashed: A marriage built on booze struggles when the wife gets sober.
Stories We Tell: A Sarah Polley documentary about looking back at familial events.
Paranormal Activity 4: Some mean ghosts do some f**ked up scary s**t to a new family. This time it involves the neighbors!
Alex Cross: A detective vows to track down the killer of his family.
The First Time: A romcom about high school kids. And probably doing it.
Killing Them Softly: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta in a mob film. Is there anything else you need to know?
That's What She Said: New York City lady misadventures that are NOT about Michael Scott, apparently.
Yogawoman: A documentary about...yoga! The title's so misleading, isn't it?
The Big Wedding: Oh look! Katherine Heigl's in another movie about a wedding. This time with Diane Keaton and Robert DeNiro.
Fun Size: A big Halloween party! A baby who must be watched! Johnny Knoxville. Somebody call the shenanigans police!
Chasing Mavericks: A surfer movie with Gerard Butler. Hang ten, etc.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D: Gory alternate reality. In 3D!
Citadel: An agoraphobic dad and renegade priest team up to save his daughter from a gang of feral kids. So...not about a military school in South Carolina then.
Cloud Atlas: The three hour epic with every actor ever in the world telling intertwined stories across millennia.
The Loneliest Planet: A backpacking film with Gael Garcia Bernal in the wilds of Georgia (not the state).
Sleep Tight: A Spanish horror film about how safe you really are at home. Yep, sleep tight indeed.
The Sessions: The heartwarming story of a man on an iron lung who just wants to get laid ... with the help of his priest and a sex therapist.
On The Road: That Jack Kerouac novel-turned-movie with Kristen Stewart
Flight: Robert Zemeckis directs Denzel Washington, John Goodman and Don Cheadle in a film about a plane crash.
The Man with the Iron Firsts: Eli Roth and RZA make a really bloody movie about a blacksmith in China.
Wreck-It Ralph: A video arcade game baddie just wants to be good, you guys!
This Must Be the Place: Sean Penn does his best Robert Smith impression while trying to hunt down a Nazi.
High Ground: A documentary about the emotional journey of a team of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as they climb a mountain in the Himalayas.
Jack and Diane: A girl's awakened sexual desire for another girl makes her maybe become a werewolf. Seriously.
A Late Quartet: A famous string quartet gets too big for their britches to the point of potential self-destruction. Oh, and Christopher Walken's in it.
Lincoln: One of the many Abraham Lincoln movies being made, this time with Daniel Day-Lewis and no slaying of vampires.
Skyfall: The next installment of Daniel Craig's James Bond empire.
Nature Calls: A hijacked boy scout trip to remember? Sounds super-wacky!
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2: This needs no description. C'mon.
Anna Karenina: Because Keira Knightley cannot go three months without making an epic period piece. This time based on the Tolstoy novel.
Rust and Bone: A Belgian film with Marion Cotillard that involves a killer whale accident and a love story.
Rise of the Guardians: A children's animated film about Jack Frost and saving the kids of the world from an evil spirit named Pitch.
Red Dawn: A remake of the 1984 film about a group of teenagers saving their town from an invasion of North Korean soldiers.
Life of Pi: Based on the best-selling novel is the story of a boy named Pi and his shipwrecked companions. Mainly a hyena, zebra, orangutan, and a Bengal tiger.
Silver Linings Playbook: A feel-good holiday drama about two messed up people teaming up to make good.
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
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I hope that if alien cultures are monitoring our entertainment they take a pass on the film Planet 51. It may reverse the human/alien traditional roles by having the human astronaut be the fish out of water on an alien planet but xenophobia stopped being a funny or useful plot device by the mid-'80s. Any mildly cognizant alien intelligences would take one look at this movie and decide to check back on the human race in another hundred years.
Justin Long plays Lem just another awkward teenager a role Long is too long-in-the-tooth to play in person anymore but shortly he could (and very well may) make a career out of doing it in voice work. Lem wants to be an astronomer and is vying for a job at the local observatory. He wants to score with neighborhood hottie Neera (Jessica Biel) but he can never quite muster up the confidence to make his move. His friends obsessed with comics and science fiction movies of the googly-eyed alien invasion ilk aren’t helping either. The catch is that these are all green-skinned tentacle-haired no-genitaled aliens on a distant planet who without a hint of explanation are living their lives parallel to Earth’s 1950s.
Lem is finally starting to get his game on when his life is turned upside down by the inconvenient entry of Captain Charles “Chuck” Baker (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson). Chuck is a human being and an astronaut who has landed his ship on the titular planet expecting something more barren only to find himself on the run from a culture living in fear of invasion because of a popular series of alien invasion films. His only help to get back to his module and dock with his mother ship in orbit before his countdown runs out (?) is Lem and his group of nerdy friends. Adventure ostensibly ensues and lessons are eventually learned by all: The cowardly Lem learns self-confidence the arrogant Chuck learns humility and we’re all supposed to learn tolerance towards those different from us. Unfortunately the only lesson actually imparted here is to be more careful when choosing an animated sci-fi film on which to spend your money.
While the premise here -- turning a cliché on its head -- shows promise Planet 51 has only switched the players. Every dumb alien joke since E.T. flew in front of the moon (and of course that’s here too) is included in the unimaginative script penned by the presumably sleep-writing Joe Stillman (Shrek Beavis and Butt-Head Do America). There’s not even anything fun and fast-paced here to take advantage of the animated CG format and make up for the crushing boredom. Why even do this sort of thing without an eye-candy chase scene or two?
The cast members as talented as they may be fare no better with the nothing they’re given. Johnson sounds as if he was reading a children’s book out loud to kindergarteners and it’s exhausting listening to him pander. Long is going through the same ol’ motions that have made up the majority of his career thus far and Biel is ridiculously unnecessary since she is given practically nothing to say or do. You’d think appearances by John Cleese as an alien scientist or Gary Oldman as the general leading the search for Chuck would bring some creative juices or some (sadly lacking) clever humor to the affair but they never manage to get past the tedious nature of the material written for them.
If there was ever an animated film that needed a clever punch-up team it’s this one. Planet 51 lacks both style AND substance which is surprising given the wealth of opportunities you’d think would be presented here. Perhaps first-time Spanish director Jorge Blanco and new Madrid-based studio Ilion Animation were overconfident about making a children’s film. All I can think is that they must have assumed this was going straight to DVD anyway and no one would notice. Planet 51 deserves to be packed up in a dusty crate in a corner of the Area 51 warehouse never to be seen again.
The film examines the ugliness of politics and how in this case homophobia can affect an election. Jack Kray (Michael Lerner) is a conservative U.S. Senator from the Deep South with a dark secret in his family--his son Henry (Matt Newton) is gay. Meanwhile Henry is going about his business entering a new college and essentially coming out and accepting his sexuality. The senator's alcoholic/shopaholic wife Eunice (Karen Allen) is a comical all-knowing Southern belle who sends a young Republican to spy on her son but Skip (Ian Reed Kesler) takes his job a bit too seriously and goes too far undercover. As dad's political aspirations get higher Henry is becoming more comfortable with his sexuality. Of course when the parents come to visit the Civil War gets revived and relived. The actors fit nicely into their varied roles as ugly or sympathetic cruel or friendly deceitful or honest as they may be. Poster Boy is told in a rather disconcerting confessional style mostly through Henry and the talky narrative can often be distracting. But Newton is subtle sexy and low-key. Lerner as the evil Senator Kray is perhaps too mean-spirited and over the top but he's credible. Allen is also sort of one note but makes her tough-talking chain-smoking distant mother almost sympathetic. And as a side player Jack Noseworthy does well as a liberal campus activist stuck in a dilemma over whether to pursue a guy he's really attracted to or whether to blow the whistle and out the son of a homophobic politician. Director Zak Tucker has molded an astonishing cast for a decent film debut. Even in these supposedly enlightened times the lives of a politician's family does play into the voter's psyche (big surprise). There are some painfully unnecessary moments like when Skip who can't deal with his own self-loathing screams he hopes Henry catches AIDS and dies. But Poster Boy thankfully doesn’t hit you over the head with its message but rather lets it wash over you.