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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A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen in a nod to Aliens and Alien 3) is a billionaire industrialist whose satellites have picked up massive amounts of heat emanating from Antarctica. Global warming run amok? Sorry nothing quite that sinister. Turns out it's just an Alien chained up for centuries and feeling increasingly maternal. Armed with a computerized blueprint of a ginormous ancient underground temple a team of scientists headed by guide Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan from Out of Time) and anthropologist Sebastian De Rosa (Raoul Bova from Under the Tuscan Sun) are sent to explore as Predators watch over them menacingly from the mother ship above. The humans soon discover that they are the undercard on a millennia-old battle royale in which Predators return to Earth every 100 years to do battle with Aliens. These Aliens prove to be so obstinate in their ickiness however that a Predator and a human are forced to team up.
The filmmakers appear to have cast one speaking part from every single country in Europe. What else would we expect from a "German-Anglo-Canadian-Hungarian co-production"? The tradeoff for all
those tax incentives is an array of confusing accents that make the stilted dialogue rather amusing. Bova with his thick Italian accent and Calvin Klein model looks provokes plenty of snickers as the intuitive temple-digger warning of "la luna cacciatore zee hunter's moon." Ewen Bremner (Spud from Trainspotting) as a young geologist is even more difficult to understand and that's with English as his native tongue. Agathe De La Bouhaye provides some female eye candy that is of course until an Alien face-hugger ruins her looks and her figure by bursting from her chest cavity moments later. Lathan is fine in the lead but following the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Arnold Schwarzenegger is a thankless mission. The filmmakers should have just gone for broke and pumped her up into a complete badass. With the entire picture an exercise in goofy excess why back down and make the heroine even remotely normal? And although the much-debated alliance of humans and Predators isn't as far-fetched as it might seem there is still a very strange tender sexually charged moment between the two species that sent the room I was in into paroxysms of laughter. If AVP2 is on the back burner at Fox they might want to give Thomas Ian Griffith a ring.
Fans of the hardcore violence of these series are probably confused by the kiddie-friendly PG-13 rating. They shouldn't be. This is most definitely a hard PG-13 with all the violence and profanity the law
allows. We witness numerous impalings of all three species although the camera doesn't linger quite the way it did in the originals. It isn't very scary though and that's a disappointment. The main problem is that the humans have absolutely zero invested in the battle before them. They don't even act as if it's articularly odd that they have suddenly come upon two uber-races of slimed out killers battling towards Apocalypse in an ancient thunderdome 2000 feet below the South Pole. At one point Alexa reminds us "If these things get out it could mean the end of the human race." Oh yeah that. Director Paul W. S. Anderson has made quite a career by catering to the Comic Con crowd with Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat already on his resume. That he should need to include his middle initials to avoid confusion with the other Paul (Boogie Nights) Anderson is laughable. A six-year-old living on the banks of the Amazon could tell the difference.