2 hours, 4 minutes
Sometimes the fates work against you, but sometime they work with you, too. Last week my wife was out of town for a few days on a school trip and, as I’m wont to do on these weekends, I rented a stack of action movies that I knew she would hate. I did this partly because I generally like action movies, and partly to gear myself up for this week’s planned review, that of the new “Die Hard” movie, which had cleverly added the phrase, “A Good Day to...” in front of the familiar moniker. I was really looking forward to this movie, despite the fact that early buzz was negative, and despite the fact that the “Die Hard” franchise seems to have wandered in its later years. What can I say, I’m a sucker for quippy Bruce Willis movies.
And then I popped in the first DVD off the top of my “action stack,” and everything changed. The first movie I watched was “The Raid,” a, Indonesian subtitled film about a SWAT team that invades a fortress of an apartment building to get at the vicious drug dealer who lives on the top floor. In a word, “The Raid” was awesome. Well acted, well shot, amazingly choreographed; “The Raid” is the best straight action movie I’ve seen in a long time. How often do you watch a movie by yourself where you audibly comment to the screen as it goes along? “What?!??” “Holy Cow!” “No way!” That was me. If you like action movies, don’t be turned off by the subtitles, just get it.
If, however, you have a stack of other, lesser action movies to watch next, I’d suggest rearranging your order. Next I watched “The Man with the Iron Fists,” which I let run because I’d paid for it, and because it was mildly interesting. A bad movie, but diverting. But “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” and “The Expendables 2,” only lasted ten minutes or so apiece. I just couldn’t stand to watch something so silly, so shoddily created, so dumb, especially in the context of “The Raid.”
The more and more I thought about “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the more I wavered. Finally, “Die Hard’s” horrible word of mouth and the thundering fists of fury of “The Raid” reverberating in my head, I went against every fibre of my being and skipped a Bruce Willis action movie and went, instead, to the teeny-bopper Southern Gothic tale, “Beautiful Creatures,” a movie I knew next to nothing about and had next to no urge to see.
I think I definitely made the right choice. “Beautiful Creatures” mixes a cast of unknowns with a few seasoned acting legends to spin the tale of lost love, witches, and eternal optimism. It’s not great, but it’s fun and just different enough to set it apart from all the other members of Young Adult Supernatural Romance genre.
Relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich plays Ethan Wate, a young man eager to start life and shake off the dust of this one-horse-town. Unfortunately, he’s still got high school to finish. Alice Englert is Lena Duchannes, the mysterious new girl in town who everyone hates because they think she might be a witch. Kids can be so cruel, except, in this case, they’re absolutely right.
Neither Ehrenreich or Englert are particularly outstanding in this film, but both can boast a little Hollywood pedigree, with her being the daughter of acclaimed director Jane Campion and he looking like a young Jack Nicholson. Looks and parentage aside, these two, and their young co-stars, were not selling the movie for me, at least not in the first 20 minutes. Extremely mannered dialogue and almost comically thick southern accents were almost enough to drive me back to “Die Hard” — until Jeremy Irons shows up as Lena’s uncle Macon, the town’s local recluse and eccentric millionaire.
Irons, unlike these kids, is an expert at flowery, unnatural speech and bold, dramatic gestures. He can be creepy, but he’s perfect in this role, and finally provided an entry into the film for me. Add to that some great, fun performances by Emma Thompson and Viola Davis and before I knew it, I was completely into the story. Much of it doesn’t make sense, and the major issue, whether Lena will become a good witch or a bad witch on her sixteenth birthday, is needlessly convoluted, but the visuals are impressive and the setting is lush and inviting.
“Beautiful Creatures” is an earnest and eager attempt to combine the Southern Gothic with YA storytelling, and while it doesn’t always work, it does manage to capture that dark, secret, decaying elegance that defines the genre. Apparently, this is only the first in a series of books, and I’m sure the filmmakers are hoping to have a “Twilight-style” hit.
Unfortunately for them, I think that ship has sailed. “Creatures,” though better than “Twilight,” doesn’t have the crazy fanbase that those vampire books did before their film came out, and isn’t good enough to inspire that kind of passion after the fact. I can see the potential for a sequel here, but it’ll depend on whether the box office is good enough to demand it. I hope it does. After all, if we had to suffer through five episodes of Bella, Jake and Edward, I don’t see the harm in the further adventures of Ethan and Lena.
“Beautiful Creatures” is rated PG-13 for mild violence, mild language, and angsty teen witchery.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.