Beautiful Creatures

February 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You”)
Written by: Richard LaGravenese (“Water for Elephants”)

When the “Twilight” films were unleashed upon the world, with their tales of romance between brooding vampires and the mere mortals who fell madly in love with them, the table was set for more supernatural monster/normal teenager love stories to come pouring out of Hollywood. While this particular genre tree has taken a little while to bear fruit, 2013 appears to be the year for new takes on the format, what with “The Twilight Saga’s” 800-pound gorilla finally ending its run. This year has already brought audiences a zombie-centric romantic comedy in the delightfully sweet “Warm Bodies,” while Valentine’s Day heralds the arrival of  “Beautiful Creatures” and it’s mixture of ancient witchcraft and swoony teenage love.

“Beautiful Creatures” begins with high schooler Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) dreaming of a mysterious girl whose face he’s never able to catch a glimpse of. Ethan longs to get out of his boring southern town, applying to colleges as far away as possible. His attention is quickly diverted, however, upon the arrival of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a mysterious girl (hmm…) sent to live with her uncle, local recluse Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). Ethan falls immediately for Lena, and as their romance builds, Ethan learns Lena is a “caster” (read: witch) and that uncertainty clouds her future. For you see, upon her 16th birthday, she will undergo “the Claiming” which will forever paint her as either a dark or a light caster. All the while the town’s churchgoing elders, led by Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson) work to get Lena expelled from school and sent packing back to wherever it is she came from.

Unfortunately “Beautiful Creatures” doesn’t stop there. Director and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese commits the most commonly-occurring crime when it comes to adapting a young adult novel into a feature film: failing to actually “adapt” and instead merely “translating.” The film chugs along at decent pace until about halfway through when it dumps a washtub’s worth of mythological backstory all over everything. Emmy Rossum’s evil cousin Ridley storms in to do battle with Lena using shoddy special effects and spinning tables. Fine veteran actresses Eileen Atkins and Margo Martindale show up randomly to stand around in stupid witchy wigs to tell tales of prophecy and then promptly disappear again. And an otherwise well-done church showdown between old pros Irons and Thompson further complicates the plot by throwing in a villain of sorts who must be defeated.

It all reeks of table-setting for sequels that are hardly a guarantee and turns the film from a juicier, southern-fried “Twilight” into an overstuffed meal that, while not terrible, only leaves you with indigestion.

Alden Ehrenreich & Alice Englert – Beautiful Creatures

February 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the new film “Beautiful Creatures,” actors Alden Ehrenreich (“Tetro”) and Alice Englert (“Ginger & Rosa”) play Ethan and Lena, the main couple at the center of the supernatural love story where dark secrets are uncovered in a small Southern town. During an interview with me, Ehrenreich, 23, and Englert, 18, shared their thoughts about why they think the fantasy genre is so popular these days and whether or not the past is an important part of their lives.

Alden, what did you like about your character Ethan Wate?

Alden Ehrenreich: I like the strength of his convictions. He really sticks to what he believed in. He was a really aspiring character. He wanted things. He wanted to see things. He wanted more out of life. That’s what I appreciated and admired in him.

Alice, what resonated with you about your character Lena Duchannes? Are there any similarities between you and her?

Alice Englert: What I loved about Lena was actually the company she kept in this film. I related to her in a sense that she seems to have all the passion of youth and all the fears of it. What I found in her was wisdom – an ability to understand what was right and not just what was easy. I really loved that.

There are three more books scheduled to come out in this young-adult fantasy series. Can you see this franchise really taking off like “The Twilight Saga” and is that the ultimate goal?

Alden: I hope so. I really hope people like the movie and connect strongly to it. If the movie does well, we’ll make more.

What do you think it is about this fantasy genre that teenagers find so interesting today?

Alden: I think, especially for teenagers, the emotions you go through feel so big. Let’s say you live in a small, suburban town, they might even feel bigger than the town. That’s definitely what Ethan is going through. When we see these stories take place in these epic proportions, it sort of matches the size of the emotions we feel inside. That’s how I feel about all fantasy stories. We all have stories inside of us that are bigger than our environment. We need to see these stories blown out into epic proportions to feel like somebody gets it.

Alice: What else I really liked about this movie is that it doesn’t project that a getting a boyfriend is the most important thing in your life. I think what is so great about [Lena and Ethan’s] relationship is that they’re not this one entity. They are two very different people with very different strengths. Not being together doesn’t lessen the impression and experience of the love. First love is always going to be first love.

I think that is an interesting point because that is something I had a big problem with in “The Twilight Saga.” The character of Bella could barely function if she wasn’t with Edward.

Yeah, I don’t agree with that on a personal level. I think the most important relationship you can have with someone is yourself. That’s the person you’re going to be stuck with forever no matter what.

A lot of the story in “Beautiful Creatures” is about uncovering the dark pasts of certain characters. Are you the type of person that likes to dig deep into the past or would you rather just live in the moment?

Alden: I think a little bit of both. I don’t believe in regretting things that I’ve done, so I don’t worry about the past. But it’s good to have a sense of continuity about where you come from. I like to find out about my family history.

Alice: I think the past is very interesting. It’s amazing how much it repeats itself. It’s really important to be aware of that so you know how not to repeat it.

What was it like sharing scenes with actors as highly regarded as Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis and Emma Thompson?

Alden: I am so fortunate because I have scenes one-on-one with all of them. Doing those scenes just brings you to another level. Alice and I would go watch them in scenes even when we weren’t in them. It was like getting free acting classes! Just seeing them do their thing was really enlightening. To see them not only perform, but also see their process was really an incredible experience.

Was the chemistry between you and Alice something that was natural or did it take some time to find as the film went on?

Alden: We got along pretty immediately because we had a similar viewpoint about what we wanted to the story to be. We wanted it to be something that felt very real. She, I, and [director] Richard [LaGravenese] had the same kind of mission statement about what we wanted. Because of that, we got along really well and had a mutual respect for one another that carried throughout the whole film.

Alice, you have someone to look up to when it comes to iconic love stories. Your mom is director Jane Campion (“The Piano,” “The Portrait of a Lady”). Did she give you any advice about how to confront this type of narrative and character?

Alice: Definitely. She’s my mom. She always wants to give advice. (Laughs) She is a huge influence in my life and I really do look up to her.

Thomas Mann & Zoey Deutch – Beautiful Creatures

February 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “Beautiful Creatures,” a teenager named Ethan (Alden Ehenreich) longs to escape his small, backward southern town. When a mysterious new girl named Lena (Alice Englert) arrives, she seems to have stepped right out of Alden’s dreams. As their relationship blossoms, they uncover dark secrets about both their families and their hometown.

As Alden’s love of Lena grows, he pulls away from both his trusty best friend Link (Thomas Mann) and Bible-thumping mean girl ex-girlfriend Emily (Zoey Deutch). I sat down with Mann and Deutch last month in Dallas after a screening of the film, where we discussed the challenge of taking on a character already established in the minds of readers, playing normal humans in a supernatural world, and why guys shouldn’t be afraid to see “Beautiful Creatures.”

The film is based on a young adult fantasy novel. Were either of you fans of the book before you were cast?

Thomas Mann: I had no prior knowledge of it, actually. When we got the audition the didn’t even let us read the script, so I just Googled what the books were [about].

Zoey Deutch: You’re smart. I should have done that.

TM: I just got a basic understanding of what it was.

ZD: I didn’t know. I didn’t know. And we weren’t even allowed to see the scenes to audition with or anything.

So it was that big of a secret?

ZD: Apparently they didn’t trust us.

TM: Yeah.

It’s strange that you wouldn’t be able to read the script even though the book is out there.

ZD: Yeah.

TM: Its good to build buzz and sometimes they use it to get actors in the room, too, that [they] wouldn’t normally. But I’m not sure why they do it, really.

Is it intimidating as an actor to take on a character from a novel that so many people are super passionate about?

TM: Yeah, I mean, its always in the back of your head. Like at some point someone is going to be judging and making sure that I’m living up to whatever their idea of this character is. You know, when you read a book you kind of direct your own movie in your head so you hope, at least in some ways, it kind of lines up with what they want to see.

Is is difficult to play the straight man and straight woman to all the fantastical, supernatural characters in the film?

TM: Well, that’s what I love about Link. While all this supernatural crazy stuff is happening he’s really just this very normal, simple guy. I just see Link as a really lovable guy. He’s a good, loyal friend to Ethan. They’ve been friends since they were little kids. I think it [brings] a light, comedic balance to all the crazy, dramatic stuff that’s happening.

Zoey, your character isn’t quite as lovable.

ZD: (Laughs) No.

Is it difficult playing the…what’s would be a nice word for it?

ZD: Am I allowed to curse?

You can do whatever you want.

ZD: Is it hard? Its really fun. I don’t know, I think its…no, its not hard. I don’t know. It was interesting to play her. And its my reaction to playing her that’s also really interesting to me. I’ve become wildly defensive of her because—although I’m very aware of her role in the movie, to show the audience that [Ethan’s] past is everything he doesn’t want and Lena is everything that he does want, so I understand that role, that’s what she represents. But at the same time I’m so defensive of her because I feel like bullies aren’t bullies without reason. People aren’t mean without cause. Most of the time people who are bullies have been bullied. And it was fun. I got to be like, “Oh, so those people that were mean to me…I finally have an excuse to say they were in my life for a reason!”

So this is potentially the first installment of a series. It’s a four-part novel series.

ZD: “The Caster Chronicles.”

Are the two of you on board should this continue?

TM: Well I think a three-picture deal is standard [now], just in case. So hopefully people respond to it and we get to come back an make another one.

ZD: Because we had fun! (Zoey and Thomas high five)

Do you know what’s in store for your characters? Have you read ahead in the novels?

ZD: I have.

TM: Yeah, it’s some good stuff.

Can you tell us anything?

ZD: We don’t wanna ruin it. People should read it for themselves. Keep the mystery alive!

TM: The Link and Ridley [played in the film by Emmy Rossum] relationship gets a lot more in depth and you sort of start to see that Ridley does have actual, human feelings for Link, which is kind of sweet.

ZD: You get Emmy Rossum to fall in love with you? You’re so lucky.

That’s a pretty sweet deal, I’ve gotta say.

TM: Yeah, yeah. It’s all right.

ZD: Lucky!

The film opens opposite “A Good Day to Die Hard.”

ZD: The day after…

Oh.

TM: What?

It’s very, very close.

TM: It’s close enough.

What would you tell the boyfriends of America that are going to have to skip out on an action movie–

ZD: Its Valentine’s Day! What is wrong with you?!? That’s what I’d say.

Would you try and convince them this is appealing to them too?

Both: Yes.

ZD: Its Valentine’s Day.

TM: Appease your ladies.

ZD: Your multiple ones? Okay.

TM: I’m talking to an audience of people.

ZD: I’m gonna say it again: what is wrong with you?

TM: You’re ladies. All of you are ladies.

ZD: (Laughs)

Would you say this is a guy’s movie, too?

ZD: Yes.

TM: Its from a male’s perspective. He’s not like the brooding, typical leading guy. He’s a really likeable, funny—Alden’s so funny.

ZD: So charming it’s, like, bananas.

TD: He doesn’t try to be too cool, and I think that’s what’s so great about all these characters: they’re really very human with  real quirks. And no one’s perfect.

ZD: [Alden’s] brilliant, and I think people are going to appreciate—guys, girls, women, and men—are going to appreciate that it’s about the guy…not necessarily “chasing.” I’m using that word because it’s always [the case] in movies that the girl is chasing the guy. So that’s why I use that word, but its not like that. In this movie, he’s pursuing her, he knows he loves her and he knows that its worth it. And I appreciate that its about the guy doing that opposed to the girl.

You never see that perspective, right?

ZD: And it shows a vulnerability in men that movies don’t, for some reason.

So if you go see “Beautiful Creature” with your girlfriend, she’ll see you as a sensitive man?

TM: Exactly.

ZD: Exactly. Yes.

And then afterward that weekend you can do whatever you want. You’ve got a free pass.

ZD: You can go see “Die Hard!” (Both laugh)

Tiffany Boone – Beautiful Creatures

February 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “Beautiful Creatures,” actress Tiffany Boone (“Detention”) plays Savannah Snow, a less-than-amicable teenage high school student who, along with her best friend Emily (Zoey Deutch), don’t welcome the new girl with supernatural powers (Alice Englert) with open arms. During an interview with me, Boone talked about her own mean-girl experiences in high school and what she liked about Savannah when she first read the book her new film is adapted from.

You’re character in “Beautiful Creatures” isn’t very likeable. You play a high-school mean girl. Did you experience that type of cattiness in high school yourself?

Yeah, for sure. I think any girl in high school or middle school is going to experience that. Thankfully I haven’t experienced it in the way Savannah and Emily (Zoey Deutch’s character) pack it on. They’re pretty intense. But I think we’ve all experienced someone being a little mean to us. I obviously play off of those experiences being on the receiving end of those mean girls.

Are you worried this film is going to be compared too much to “The Twilight Saga” since it is a supernatural romance series based on a young-adult book?

I think it’s difficult to compare “Beautiful Creatures” to other films. There are no vampires or werewolves or crazy killings. It stands on its own. It really is more about the relationship between the two main characters. But, of course, I hope it’s very successful. I think whether or not you’ve read the books, the film will stand on its own. It has the potential to be a really great series.

So, was part of your homework when you got cast in this film to buy the book and read it cover to cover?

Yeah, as soon as I booked the role I went out and bought the book and read it really quickly. I think the book and the film are different but similar enough that if you read the book you will love the film and see the characters you love. I think the film takes the ideas of the book and makes them work on the screen beautifully. I think [director/writer] Richard LaGravenese really made a smooth transition between the book and the film.

What resonated with you about Savannah as you read the first book?

Well, Savannah’s best friend in the book and the film is Emily, who is played by Zoey Deutch. In the book and the film they are attached to each other. They’re relationship is very important to who Savannah is. Reading the book really helped me understand the importance of that friendship and why Savannah does some of the things she does. A lot of the times she is trying to protect her best friend.

As a black actress, what does it mean to you to work in the same set as someone like Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis?

I can’t even explain to you what that means to me. The night Viola won the SAG award for Best Actress for “The Help,” I made a goal for myself that I was going to be in a film with her. Honestly, in the three weeks that followed that I auditioned for “Beautiful Creatures.” It’s a dream come true for me. She is what grace and hard work are all about. Everything about working with her was a blessing to me. She really is an inspiration to me.

Who else do you look up in the industry?

Of course, Viola. Also, Jeffrey Wright (“Source Code”) is, to me, one of the greatest actors in Hollywood right now. What’s interesting to me is he doesn’t really have that star status where you say his name people automatically know who he is, but everything single thing I’ve seen him in he’s amazing. He’s a real artist. He’s true to the craft. To me, that’s the kind of work I want to do. A lot of people want to be famous, but for me I just want to do work that inspires me. I’ve also always been obsessed with Halle Berry. And Dorothy Dandridge has always been a great figure to me.