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.

The Words

September 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldaña, Jeremy Irons
Directed by: Brian Klugman (debut) and Lee Sternthal (debut)
Written by: Brian Klugman (debut) and Lee Sternthal (debut)

What’s with a good-looking actor like Bradley Cooper playing a character as non-sexy as a writer? Why cast a charming, handsome sex symbol just to have him sit at a computer and type or silently read manuscripts for large chunks of the film? Is it a secret passion of Cooper’s? Or does he just want to keep his shirt on? As in 2011’s “Limitless,” Cooper once again plays a struggling author in the excruciatingly stupid drama “The Words” who can’t get his book off the ground until receiving a morally suspect leg up. In “Limitless” it was a brainpower-enhancing super drug. In “The Words,” it’s a found manuscript Cooper’s Rory Jensen passes off as his own on the way to fame and fortune.

First-time writers-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal steer “The Words” off the road and into a narrative ditch immediately by opening the film with a clumsy, nonsensical framing device featuring Dennis Quaid telling the fictional story of Rory’s plagiarism. Quaid’s bestselling author Clay Hammond is performing a reading of his smash-hit novel (also titled “The Words”) to a lecture hall full of adoring fans, including a beautiful admirer played by Olivia Wilde. As Hammond reads to the audience, the film confusingly shifts to the story of Rory and his wife Dora (Zoe Saldaña) and their days both before and after Rory became a successful author.

When Rory’s first book gets passed over by agent after agent, an eye-rolling-worthy convenient find in a satchel purchased in Paris turns up a forgotten novel set in postwar France. Though we aren’t treated to any insight as to what makes the book so transcendent, Rory feels moved enough by the discovery to, for some reason, re-type the entire thing on his laptop. One contrivance leads to another, and soon enough Rory is a best-selling author with a movie deal in the works. Life is great…until the day an old man (Jeremy Irons, convincing no one with his shoddy American accent and patchwork beard) shows up to let Rory know he’s onto him and that the story is actually his own. The movie grinds to a halt as the old man tells his story to a shame-frozen Rory. Let me clarify here: at this point the story of the movie is a story being told to a crowd in a lecture hall about an old man telling a story to another man on a park bench.

What does Irons’ old man actually want? What makes the story that Jensen stole so incredibly commercially successful? What is the point of Jensen’s story being the plot of Hammond’s novel? And why the hell is Olivia Wilde’s character in the movie at all? “The Words” offers no answers, alas, and will only end up leaving you with the most frustrating question of all: Why did I waste my time watching “The Words?”

The Lion King 3D

September 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones
Directed by: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Written by: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton

My 3-year-old godson Leo (yes, how very fitting) jumps around the movie theater and munches on a cookie as he awaits the start of “The Lion King 3D.” It’s only the second time he has ever been in front of a big screen, but he seems to know the drill. A cozy reserved nook between his mom and dad is warming up and his popcorn/drink combo is arranged perfectly for consumption. Mom holds a cardboard Pumba mask on her lap for safekeeping.

Squeals from eager pre-schoolers crescendo as parents and grandparents discuss how old they were in 1994 when the classic animated film first hit theaters. It’s exactly the environment Disney was hoping for when the studio decided to re-release “The Lion King” for a limited two-week theatrical run in anticipation of next month’s release of the Blu-ray/DVD Diamond Edition (in case you missed the Platinum Edition back in 2003).

In the theater, there is a hint of nostalgia mixed with the excitement of a new generation of kiddies who have yet to experience the humorous shenanigans of the goofy hyena villains or the catchy albeit now-slightly-annoying philosophy of “Hakuna Matata.”

As a purist, I hang onto my heavy-duty 3D glasses begrudgingly, but know I’ll probably get a migraine if I don’t conform to Disney’s movie-watching demands. The massive wildebeest stampede and Scar’s Third Reich-inspired musical number were already phenomenal 17 years ago without the additional dimension, so what’s really the point?

I scoff when the lights in the theater dim and the Disney logo becomes slightly blurred forcing me to toss on my specs. I turn to look at Leo, who has already wedged into his spot comfortably. His eyes are fixated on the screen as an animated sun rises and a mighty “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba” echoes from the speakers and sets off what I still consider four of the most spectacular minutes in Disney cinematic history.

A calming sensation washes over me and I think about the first time I saw a Disney cartoon at the theater with my family. I was three years old when they re-released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1983 and remember it vividly. Leo was about to create a memory he would hopefully keep for the rest of his life. Who cared what format he’d see it in?

Just then, I turn to Leo to see his reaction to the brilliant opening scene. He has removed his glasses and is watching “The Lion King” just as intently. “He doesn’t want to wear them,” Leo’s mom says. For the rest of the movie, I lower my glasses every so often to feel just as courageous.