Wednesday, February 20, 2013
However, unlike the Twilight... Saga (rrrrrrr...), "Beautiful Creatures"' failure is not for lack of trying. This is definitely a better-made movie in every respect then every single one of the Twilight movies. And look at that cast! Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum, and last year's Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis! How did they rope all these people into this? More surprising to me, this actually is not a badly made movie. In terms of "Twilight"-ness, yeah, there are still some of the worst trends and tropes from those movies. Its got a needlessly complex and confusing supernatural plot that turns the main female into the center of the universe, there's plenty of awful voice over narration that seems to serve no purpose other than for "tell don't show", and the soundtrack is awful. But what they wisely did not copy off the Twilight formula was the weird sexual hang-ups of the protagonists, the emotionless lack of energy between the lead actors, and the awful musical video-style montages that served no purpose other than to slow the movies down.
"Beautiful Creatures" is a movie where you actually get the sense that our star-crossed teen lovers actually like each other. Interestingly its set using the boy's perspective, who is the Muggle this time, not the girl, and they have decent banter and flirting. And the side characters are interesting colorful people rather than set pieces that Stephenie Meyer created to make her vapid universe seem populated and complex. We have some very funny and campy moments where the supporting characters really ham it up, and its actually legitimately entertaining. I mean, this isn't ever going to be fine art, but I get the sense that the movie at least has some kind of sense of humor about itself. The romantic melodrama does overwhelm "Beautiful Creatures" in places, but there's enough motion and plot for the most part that the movie continues to be a solid experience. Shockingly, this is the best movie I've seen from 2013 so far.
Michael Sheen is easily the best part of the Twilight series, playing the campy, homosexual villain without any restrictions or shame. This is compared to the rest of the cast, who either are walking zombies or, in Robert Pattinson's case, are so ashamed of themselves they seem like they're going to break into tears at some point. Through this background of dull mediocrity, Michael Sheen's fantastic overacting comes across as a bright shining shooting star of hope breaking through the grey clouds of teenybopper fantasy nonsense. He's just there to put on a grand ol' show, and its wonderful. Hammy acting isn't believable, it isn't very sophisticated, its more likely to make you laugh than take the movie seriously, but its fun. I much prefer overacting to underacting. Movies are supposed to be spectacles, and if you're not willing to get out there and perform with all your heart and soul, and maybe shout to the heavens with gusto and pride, even knowing that what you're saying is the stupidest crap ever written, then you shouldn't be an actor. "Beautiful Creatures" is a movie filled with Michael Sheens, working really hard to entertain.
Now, I came in with no knowledge of the Beautiful Creatures book series, or even that such a thing existed, so I had no expectations for this movie. All I knew it that Jeremy Irons was in it, so it couldn't have been that terrible. Apparently though "Beautiful Creatures" is heavily edited from its original story, making lots of changes to the characters and events, probably all for the movie's benefit. I going to wager a guess that everything I liked about this movie was not in the book, and everything I disliked was. This again, was the major flaw of the Twilight franchise, where they obsessively followed the book's narratives, even when most of those movies do not even have a narrative structure organized well-enough to be considered "plots". The changes, from what I've seen, are wise. For example, in the book, the girl and the boy cannot have sex, because she's a witch and witches are so powerful they kill normal humans from the touch. So there we go, inserting a pathological theme of abstinence a la Stephenie Meyer. That disturbing crap is completely missing here, where the leads make-out often, and even have implied sex on the front hood of a car.
Anyway, the plot. Our main protagonist is Ethan Wate, played by Alden Ehrenreich of "Tetro" fame, who is a high school junior in a bumblefuck Southern town, who dreams of one day escaping to modern civilization. One day a mysterious girl named Lena joins the high school, who is a member of the Ravenwood family, a reclusive band of wealthy landowners who supposedly worship Satan. This being a stereotypical parody of a Southern town, its very very conservative and religious, to the point that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is banned** and that Civil War reenactments are the highlight of the autumn season. Obviously then, crazy middle-aged women like Emma Thompson and bitchy girls in class can accuse Lena of being a witch. Ethan comes to like Lena because she isn't a Bible-thumping conservative, and because they actually share a deep love of reading. Yes, they actually share things in common and care for things other than the concept of "having the most perfect romance ever", as in Twilight. They also can stand the sight of each other and are able to flirt warmly and charmingly, without seeming like they need to gag after kissing. So all in all, way better than Twilight. Both of these lead actors have their own kind of charm and acting ability, though they're hardly the real draw for this movie.
Lena as it turns out, actually is a Witch. (And I applaud "Beautiful Creatures" for choosing to tell its story in a location that isn't completely stock like Salem, Massachusetts.) Or well, like the movie insists, she's a "Caster", and "Witch" is a racial slur. There's a whole alternate universe where the witches live in their own separate reality distinct from humanity, not unlike "Teen Witch", actually. Lena is also on the verge of Witch Puberty, where she will have to choose either the Light Side or the Dark Side of the Force, these being described purely through esoteric descriptions of simply "good" or "evil" without really explaining what they mean. But she can't choose her character alignment, her inner self is what chooses. Boys can choose to be good or evil, women can't in some weird misogynistic subtext. And Lena is the keystone to the universe or something, the Kwisatz Haderach, and if she chooses Evil she'll be so powerful that she can destroy humanity. Also, she's a teenage girl, so her emotions are pretty wild already and getting her into a relationship with a boy at this point is pretty dangerous. Because you know them women, can't keep their emotions in check. HA! Men are such a superior gender, huh? Anyway, this is all very complicated, and its made downright ridiculous when it turns out the Lena and Ethan are the heirs to some Civil War Witch curse, where all relationships between humans and Card Captors are bound to fail.
Luckily, however, when the witch stuff gets introduced, the movie loses all footing in reality and decides to go off the walls insane for awhile. Lena's cousin, Ridley, played the unbelievably sexy Emmy Rossum, rides into town in a red sports car, mind controls Ethan, and takes him to Friday Witch Dinner. Ridley is Evil, so she's not much liked by the good witches, also she sexually manipulates human men and well... she's the best character in this movie. Imagine Sarah Michelle Gellar from "Cruel Intentions" but with the magical powers from "The Craft", dressed like a Fifties pin-up starlet, dragging men along by the cock as her personal slave. Where can I sign up? Ethan's best friend for about half the movie becomes her slave, and I don't think he had anything to complain about. Anyway, during the dinner there's lots of family tension, ending with a full-on WITCH BATTLE! Ridley and Lena stand across the dining room, focusing their powers against each other, as the room spins. (This was accomplished with a practical effect, that room is really spinning and so is the table, which was an admirable decision.) This is awesome now!
Along the way we also meet Jeremy Irons, who is Lena's uncle, who generally hates all the Southern jackasses he has to share his town with. He's thought of as a reclusive Boo Radley, and the outside of his house looks like a good setting for the inevitable next "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake, but the inside is all white marble and refined. Jeremy Irons has got a lovely piano which he plays while speaking in a bizarre mixture of a Southern and German accent. "Beautiful Creatures" is worth the admission price alone just to hear Jeremy Irons attempt a Southern drawl. And he retains his dignity, he comes off as still a great character and a great presence even with that. Emma Thompson turns out to actually be possessed by Lena's evil mother, who uses Emma Thompson to chew the scenery and dance around in a southern belle costume.
Yeah, the lead romance is pretty dull actually. The charm of the main characters start to wear off by the third act as their relationship kinda loses track in order to hunt for a way out of the curse. Lena, by design, is very inconsistent character, often falling into bitchy cold moods because the mythology is screwing her, AKA, the plot demands it. I'm not much of a fan of stories where character motivation is defined by the plot, not where the plot is defined by character motivation. Oddly Ethan has nothing to do in the last half of the movie but generally be supportive and he more or less sleeps through the climax. But the oddly colorful costume designs, and how willing everybody seems to be to farce everything up keep this moving running. There are a few long tracks where the movie seems to fall into a Twilight rut, but then a supporting actor will save the film by manipulating a some random drunk college guy into standing on the tracks and getting killed, or Jeremy Irons will force Ethan to recite his entire tragic future. Emmy Rossum is really hot in this movie, and that does make a huge difference.
So in conclusion, "Beautiful Creatures" is clearly not a movie for me, its made for that preteen Twilight audience, but its generally well-made. The acting is solid, the pacing works, but it has a B-movie charm with outrageous set design and little silly moments that make the movie watchable and even legitimately entertaining. I spent most of this movie giggling, and that's really what I want when I go see films. However, it also has the single worst soundtrack of any movie ever made, so be warned for that. I don't know if I can recommend "Beautiful Creatures" as a straight movie, because it doesn't really work as a serious Witch-romance story, but its still a great show. I just wish it could have been even sillier. Maybe some song and dance routines, somebody transforming into a dragon at the end, and of course, Ethan needs a supernatural romantic rival in the form of a Creature From the Black Lagoon boy.
Seriously, when are one of these Twilight-esque movies going to give me a Creature From the Black Lagoon boy? I've been asking for one since "New Moon"!! Is it so hard?
* I have to point this out every time, but not the Korean giant monster movie, "The Host", which I'll have to review around the time that the crappy alien romance movie, "The Host" comes out later this year.
** "To Kill a Mockingbird" has been challenged again and again over the years by various morons, who object either to the use of rape as a plot point, the descriptions of Jim Crow era Southern racism, or simply the fact that the word "nigger" is used. I call all people who challenge "To Kill a Mockingbird" a "moron", because quite simply, you are. You are petty and pathetic and you underestimate your children and yourselves.