Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Beautiful Creatures (Part 1)

Slap my ass and call me Sally!” - EMMA FREAKING THOMPSON.

Beautiful Creatures is yet another movie based off a Young Adult book series, and yet another one that bombed despite the books having a rather large fanbase just like previous movies I've already looked at such as The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones or Vampire Academy.
So how is it movies like these consistently bomb whereas ones like The Hunger Games or The Fault In Our Stars make ALL the money? People often like to point out it's due to how loyal the movies are to the books, the more they change it the more it's going to drive fans away which is true to a point BUT the aforementioned titles haven't made nearly two billion dollars JUST BECAUSE of the book fans. Others like to say that they didn't advertise the movies enough, because a huge marketing campaign can make ANY movie a blockbuster. Yeah, no. After Earth disproved that theory, as it had $100 million spent on advertising, which is more than they SPENT making the first Hunger Games movie.

In my opinion it comes down to one simple thing: quality. It's not ALWAYS an indicator of success, but it sure as hell doesn't hurt. People aren't as stupid as Hollywood likes to paint them, they see a trailer for these films and can often tell they're just a cash grab to capitalize off The Twilight Saga's falling star. Does Beautiful Creatures fall into the same category, or was this a labour of love that couldn't find its audience? Let's find out with A Ghoul Versus Beautiful Creatures!

The film opens with NARRATION. MOTHER OF GOD, is there NO other device to open a movie anymore? Seriously, narration is the ONLY option we have available now? Oh, but it gets even better as our narrator has a GODAWFUL Southern accent. Holy shit, what else can this movie do to turn me against it in less than a minute?

Open up with a dream the main character is having? GENIUS! If they can't find a way to throw in some jump scares and lens flares, I'm calling this whole movie a disaster. Our yokel of a narrator is trying to reach an unknown woman in his dream but he dies before he can get to her, getting shot by a ghost in a Civil War outfit. He's been having this nightmare for months now, and it is ruining his sleep schedule.

The yokel, Ethan Wate, wakes up from his dream as I begin praying fervently he's not the star of this thing because I WILL tear my ears off if I have to keep hearing his accent. We see he's surrounded by books such as Kurt Vonnegut's “Slaughterhouse Five” and Henry Miller's “Tropic Of Cancer” to show us he's REALLY smart and intellectual even though he sounds like a redneck that cooks meth in his garage. He's an artist too, just so they can REALLY hammer in that he's “deep”. Character's passion for a book a substitute for ACTUAL characterization cliché, check and check!

As Ethan goes for a midnight run, he narrates about his life growing up in Gatlin, South Carolina as the horrifying realization he IS our hero begins to sink in and I turn on the subtitles and mute this abomination of the English language. Unfortunately it seems young Ethan has a love affair with his unfortunate voice as he will NOT shut up. He hates his small town life and wants to move far away to somewhere exciting, which is in NO WAY the most cliched plot in history. We are just off to a BANG UP start with this thing! His run takes him through an old Civil War field called Greenbrier, where he finds a locket lying on the ground.

Ethan lives in a house with his father, a recluse who has never gotten over the death of his wife. Really? We're going there too? Ethan has a son/mother relationship with their housekeeper Amma... who is black... sigh. At least she's not FULL OF SASS, so they had SOME restraint here. I wonder what the odds are Amma turns out to be a magical guardian placed here to watch Ethan until his powers start manifesting themselves or whatever is going to happen?

We next meet Ethan's best friend Link, who lives with his HYPER religious mother because it's the South and if there wasn't a character like that we'd feel cheated. Link drives Ethan to school as they discuss a new girl that's starting school because this is a small town and that kind of stuff is front page news. I am EXHAUSTED from all these cliches already and barely five minutes have passed.

The new girl is the niece of “Old Man Ravenwood”, which is a REALLY BIG DEAL because he's a rich recluse who basically owns the entire town. Woof, the cliches are FLYING up in here! At school, Ethan talks to a girl named Emily- hmm. Hold on a second... where do I know that face from? 

Oh fucking WONDERFUL. Zoey Deutch of Vampire Academy fame is here to entertain us not only with her lousy acting, but her lousing acting with an AWFUL SOUTHERN ACCENT! What have I do to deserve this?! Emily is Ethan's clingy ex-girlfriend that won't let him go, but he doesn't exactly seem to be discouraging her much either as he agrees to go see a movie with her. Did I mention her accent is really bad? This movie already feels like it's been going for an hour so my memory is starting to fog over already.  In case you have any doubt about what kind of character Emily is, she chastises Ethan for reading “Slaughterhouse Five” because those kind of books are “bad for his mind”. That is everything you need to know about her character right there.

The new girl enters the classroom and SHOCKINGLY she doesn't enter in slow motion while Ethan stares at her and falls in love instantly. But, not so shockingly, she just happens to look identical to the girl he's been dreaming about for months. The teacher asks what her name is and she replies Duchannes, which Emily says is a lie because she knows she's a Ravenwood. The girl snaps back at her with some kind of burn I really didn't get, the whole class oohing and aahing like something profound was just said. Savannah, Emily's best friend, outright says New Girl is a devil worshiper who never goes outside, because fresh air makes her kind choke.

Link counters with “Well, we all know what makes YOU choke!” and I immediately like him despite the fact he sounds like he should be blowing into an empty jug in some hillbilly music band. The teacher finally steps in and shuts the yokels up as Ethan gazes at New Girl, noticing a tattoo on her hand of the number 104.

The teacher says the class is going to participate in the December reenactment of the South's “glorious victory” at the Battle of Honey Hill and I now know everything I need to about Gatlin, South Carolina. The Battle of Honey Hill was a decidedly one-sided battle during the Civil War where a Confederate army of around 1,400 turned back a Union brigade of 5,000 troops, the Confederates losing only eight men compared to the Union's 89 deaths. Truly a great day for the South's murderous campaign to vomit in the face of all human rights and decency so they could keep their precious slaves.

Ethan drives home from school in the pouring rain, singing along to Bob Dylan's “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in his twang so that song can forever be killed in our memories. He almost hits New Girl, who is standing in the middle of the road like the genius that her lousy Southern accent makes her sound like.  She somehow gets mad at Ethan for this and this is going to be a LONG FUCKING MOVIE. She's having car trouble, so Ethan valiantly volunteers to give her a ride. They engage in a RAPID FIRE series of witty one liners WAY too clever for high school kids their age as we pretty much figure out these characters will be hot and bothered for each other within the half hour.

Ethan notices New Girl's reading the book “You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense” by Charles Bukowski, a book even I'm not pretentious enough to have heard of, so naturally the next scene is Ethan reading the same book so he can understand New Girl better. I wonder how in the world he'd even FIND a copy of a book like that in a place like Gatlin?

One night Ethan is driving along when he sees a large group of the town's populace praying on the side of the road. Noticing Link there, he pulls over and asks what's going on. Link shows him a bolt of lightning striking an area next to a tree, saying it's been striking the same spot over and over again. Emily informs Ethan this has been happening since Lena Duchannes came to town- oh Lena, that's New Girl's first name! Good to know.

The next day in class Emily and Savannah take turns calling Lena a Satanist in class and the SADDEST part of all of this is that Emily is STILL a more likable character than Zoey Deutch's Rose Hathaway character in Vampire Academy. Emily and Savannah start praying out loud to be saved from Lena's evil as all the windows in the classroom EXPLODE. Ethan asks Lena is she's alright, but she just runs out of the room. Fun fact: these windows actually shattered because of Zoey Deutch's high pitched whiny accent, not Lena's magics.

After school he drives out to the decrepit Ravenwood Manor to see her, where the film doesn't miss a chance to do the “character about to knock on the door of the spooky old house when the door opens by itself” bit. In stark constant to the outside of the house, the inside is a highly post-modern design that looks meticulously cared for.

Finding no one home he leaves, the door slamming shut after him by itself. He notices Lena out in the yard, going up to talk to her. She yells at him to go away but he won't leave, so she calls him a jerk and then... smiles. Ah, it's one of THESE kind of movies. He sits across from her, seeing the tattoo on her hand now says “79”. That would be so awesome if this meant she was a clone and there were at least 104 Lenas running around this backwater hellhole.

Ethan starts reciting some of the writing he learned from the Bukowski book as he completely and utterly wins Lena over. Twenty minutes, not bad. That is actually REMARKABLE restraint for a Young Adult movie.  The movie is about to tease a kiss when they're interrupted by Lena's uncle Macon Ravenwood, who is played by... JEREMY IRONS?!? What the hell?! Why is one of the most acclaimed actors of the past thirty years slumming it up in some crappy Young Adult movie? You think he would have learned his lesson after Eragon... or Dungeon And Dragons... yikes. Jeremy Irons is one weird mofo. Moving on.

He invites Ethan and Lena in for tea, and at least HIS accent isn't a textured assault upon the ears. He asks Lena to play them a song on the nearby piano, his niece refusing because “we're not in a Jane Austen novel” which I have to admit made me laugh pretty hard.  Macon takes to the piano, discussing the close mindedness and idiocy of the citizens that run Gatlin. I fucking LOVE Macon Ravenwood. Macon asks Ethan what he has planned for his future as things get WEIRD. An ominous tone begins to play as Ethan describes the next fifty years of his life, never leaving Gatlin, marrying and divorcing Emily, and then killing himself. It's obvious Macon is forcing Ethan to say these things by magic, but it's still a very out there scene.

Ethan comes to his senses and excuses himself, Lena asking Macon what he did to her new friend. He angrily tells Lena that she is to never see Ethan again, Lena bursting into tears and running off to her room. Sigh, and she was almost THIS close to being likable too. She looks out her window and sees Ethan returning to the house, gesturing to her to meet him outside. He confesses to her that he's been dreaming about her for months and gives her the locket he found earlier in the film.

It has the initials ECW and GKD inscribed into it, with the date of December 21, 1863 at the bottom. Lena comments that's her birth date as Ethan presses it into her hand, and things get weird again. Civil War ghosts erupt everywhere, mirroring the opening of the film. Ethan suddenly wakes up back in his bedroom with the locket in his hand, thoroughly confused.

Hes goes downstairs where Amma is, and she immediately starts freaking out when she sees the locket. She orders him to take it back to Greenbrier and bury it, which PERFECTLY sets up Ethan to say “I never said I was in Greenbrier, Amma”. BUSTED! Character revealing something they shouldn't have known cliché, check fucking CHECK!

Nothing comes of this though, as the next scene is Ethan returning to Ravenwood Manor. So what, he didn't have any follow up questions for Amma? Oh well, he's got a girl to go finally kiss! He starts walking down the path to the house, but finds himself right back at his car. He starts walking the other way, where he runs into HIMSELF walking down the path. Mindfucky! Instead of talking to himself like I SO would have done, he turns around and starts running away.

I'm not really sure what happens next thanks to the editing, but he ends up getting ensnared in tons of CGI vines that Lena saves him from. She takes him to her room where she explains her family are Casters, a really fancy word for magic users. He asks about the locket but she has no idea what that was all about. Lena gives us the whole “I've had to hide what I am my entire life, I just want to be normal” schtick as she kisses Ethan, who wholeheartedly kisses back. She reveals that she's ALSO been dreaming about Ethan as Macon returns home to ruin all their hormonal fun.

We catch up with Amma, who takes a boat through the swamp to a small cabin. She meets with Macon, saying Lena has brought darkness upon the town. Macon says it's not Lena which leads Amma to the conclusion it's a woman named Sarafine, which he all but confirms with his evasiveness. Their conversation is rather vague as it SHOULD be, because I hate in movies when characters flat out tell each other things they would know in a copout way to deliver exposition to the audience.

What I'm able to gather is the locket Ethan found is a Duchannes charm that Sarafine is somehow using to try to get to Lena for as yet unknown reasons. What I don't get is what the hell it was just doing there lying on the ground for anyone to find. They also show us Amma is a Seer who can speak to the dead, contacting her ancestors for guidance. The next day a red sports car being driven by an evil looking woman speeds into town, causing a cop trying to pull her over to drive off the road via magic. Either that, or we're finally getting that Thelma And Louise reboot you KNOW Hollywood has been trying to get rolling for the past ten years.

Across town Ethan and Lena are on their first date, Ethan taking her to his favourite spot in town which is the exit sign near the highway. Lena tells him what'll happen on her sixteenth birthday, that Casters face a ritual called the Claiming where their powers get claimed by either the Light or the Dark Side of the Force. You mean to tell me they've haven't tested her midichlorian count yet? You're supposed to do that when they're young kids!

We also learn Macon is a Dark Caster, but he's... choosing to be Light for Lena during her time of uncertainty. Ethan asks the exact same question I just did: if you can CHOOSE what side you want to be on what's the fucking point of the Claiming? Lena explains that's for men only, females don't get that luxury because their “true nature” chooses for them.  HOLY SHIT! Did Stephenie Meyer write this? She must have, right? Women are just volatile creatures who have no control over their lives, emotions, or desires... if I didn't know any better I'd say I just popped in a New Moon or Eclipse blu-ray by mistake.

She holds up her hand, saying she only has 75 days left until she finds out her true nature. Aww, so that's just her countdown to her Sweet Sixteen? Dammit, I really wanted Lena clones! We take a trip to the local church, where Link's mother is going off on a tirade about Lena and her “Satanic powers”. You know, Mrs. Lincoln looks REALLY freaking familiar. Is that... My God, it is. Emma Thompson, not you too?!?

At this point I can only assume she and Jeremy Irons saw the writer/director of this film, Richard LaGravenese (behind films such as The Bridges Of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer) was making a film called Beautiful Creatures and signed on with the assumption it was going to be another moving Academy Award bait-fest.  Macon strolls in and schools the fuck out of these ignorant Southerners, especially Mrs. Lincoln. God I love movies where you can tell an actor is having the time of his life hamming it up for the camera, it really makes them all the better. I'm not sure I can ever think of a better actor at doing that than Jeremy Irons.

However, this is Beautiful Creatures and things must get weird because the church turns dark and everyone vanishes except for Mrs. Lincoln. Only it's not Mrs. Lincoln, it's Sarafine possessing her. DUN DUN DUUUUN! Sarafine, who is revealed as Macon's little sister, taunts him over going to the Light Side of the Force. We see she is over the edge evil because of the Dark Side, which makes me wonder if Macon was also playing for that team why did he give a fuck if Lena turned evil too? Why would he try to save her?

She details her plan to have Ethan break Lena's heart, counting on the pain that'll cause to help steer Lena over to the Dark Side. She also makes mention of a curse on Lena that “no Caster may love a mortal” which is going to serve as Sarafine's back up plan in case the whole heartbreak thing doesn't pan out. I should also note Emma Thompson is playing this entire scene as “Fuck you Jeremy Irons, you think YOU can chew the scenery? Check THIS shit out! OM NOM NOM NOM!” and yes, it's every bit as wonderful as you can imagine. Seriously, this single scene alone elevates the movie to Must See.

Click here for Part 2!