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Posts Tagged ‘Richard LaGravenese’

(No, not the one about the teenage lesbian murderers; that’s Heavenly Creatures. Or the farce about John Cleese running a zoo; that’s Fierce Creatures. Or the literary parody novel by Clive James; that’d be Brilliant Creatures. Okay?)

So, even I end up going to the cinema unexpectedly sometimes and seeing films I had no real plan to. There I was, sitting in the garret, contemplating finally writing that review of Power of the Daleks or possibly putting together a Blood Angels 8th Company Honour Guard squad, when the good and close friend who I previously introduced to the pleasures of Samsara, and who later retaliated by forcing me to watch Twilight – Breaking Dawn Part 2, got in touch and suggested we do another movie. I couldn’t face the prospect of Les Miserables again, she didn’t fancy A Good Day to Die Hard, and the only showing of Warm Bodies at the sweetshop had already started. So, rather against my better judgement, we ended up going to see Richard LaGravenese’s Beautiful Creatures.

beautiful-creatures-new-poster-cast

Why was I so dubious about this movie? Well, the trailer looked like a teen-oriented piece of bland fantasy built around a non-threatening romance, attempting to pass itself off as rather darker and edgier than it really was, with a lot of heftless CGI, pretty young things, and imported Serious Actors to give the thing some gravitas. In other words: something very much in the same vein as the Twilight movies. I think you see the reason for my concern.

Anyway, as the thing opens we are introduced to studly small-town boy Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich, obviously in his 20s) who has been troubled by dreams of a mysterious girl. I’m sure it will come as no surprise if I tell you that the start of Ethan’s new school year is marked by the arrival of a new classmate, who turns out to be (literally) the girl of his dreams: Lena (Alice Englert, who doesn’t look remotely like a 15-year-old). The frothing fundamentalist Christian mean girls at the school (no, seriously) are quick to spread all manner of rumours about Lena and her wealthy, reclusive uncle (Jeremy Irons), mainly that they are Devil worshippers and practitioners of black magic. And they are! Well, sort of.

Needless to say Ethan and Lena fall passionately in leurrrvvve, which would be great were it not for her looming sixteenth birthday, on which day she will either continue to be the sweet and thoughtful girl she currently is, or fall to the powers of darkness and become a demon in human form. Cripes!

I have to say, I enjoyed Beautiful Creatures more than I expected to (which is to say that I found it mildly enjoyable on some levels), which really counts as a striking achievement on the film’s part considering it is essentially every bit the Twilight knock-off I suspected it would be. The mysterious stranger at school, the protagonist with only a lone parent, the extended family with supernatural powers, the rapturous submission to an irresistible passion: they are all here, given only the most cursory swirl around by the screenwriter’s pen. It doesn’t even have the washed-out authenticity of the original Twilight – everything here is blandly conventional.

So why didn’t I want to run screaming from the cinema? Well, it certainly wasn’t because of the film’s sympathetic and original depiction of Christians, because most of the characters of that faith in this film are ludicrous caricatures – I would describe Beautiful Creatures as being militantly pagan, despite the fact that no real-world religions appear to have been included. Nor is it because this is a pacy and exciting film that never lets up – I’d say it is at least twenty minutes overlong.

However, it scores heavily over Twilight in being genuinely funny in places: there were two jokes good enough to make me laugh out loud in the first five minutes alone, and there continued to be good lines peppered across it throughout. This went a long way towards making me cut the film some slack. The performances aren’t entirely robotic and inert, either. My companion was moved to optimism due to the presence in the cast of both Jeremy Irons (she’s clearly never seen Eragon) and Emma Thompson (ditto Junior). However, they are actually both pretty good, in an unrestrained sort of way, and the big two-handed scene where they get to overact at each other is probably the highlight of the film.

The rest of the cast is okay. This is the kind of film where the ability to enunciate in such a way as to invest dialogue with Capital Letters is an important skill, as the plot revolves around big significant abstract nouns and concepts such as Light and Dark, the Claiming, the Curse, Casting, and so on, and everyone makes a pretty good fist of it.

However, this still indicates one of the problems with the film. Many years ago I interviewed a fairly successful horror and SF novelist and screenwriter who spoke of his dislike for the genre of pure fantasy, where the creator basically gets to write all his own rules – he described it as ‘cheating at cards to win paper money’. It’s very difficult to feel impressed at the bravery or ingenuity,  or the sacrifices made by characters to resolve a difficult situation, when that situation is as completely contrived by the author is the one here is. It isn’t even as if the story works particularly well in terms of subtext – all right, so there’s the outsider as beautiful freak (again), and some stuff about choosing your own destiny, but none of it is especially coherent.

And there’s a major issue with the structure: this movie is mainly pitching to teenage girls as its target audience, and so the logical thing would be to have Lena as the viewpoint character. This is not possible for various structural reasons, and also because it would raise the dread spectre of Bella Swan rather too obviously, and so the first part of the story is told from the viewpoint of the male lead instead. However, the nature of the story demands an inelegant shift to Lena about three-quarters of the way through, at which point one is thrown suddenly off-balance – it’s like a novel changing narrators unexpectedly and with no reason given.

But I have a horrible feeling I will see much worse films than Beautiful Creatures this year. It is too long, and the CGI is as uninvolving as I expected, and the plot does depend on good actors spouting grave nonsense to explain the contrived parameters of the story. But the young cast are not offensive to eye or ear and it does have some decent jokes in it. It could be a lot harder to sit through than it is. I have no desire to watch a sequel though.

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