Movie Review ~ Beautiful Creatures

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.

Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson

Director: Richard LaGravenese

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  The worldwide success of the Twilight franchise inspired quite a lot of similarly themed young adult novels to emerge and it was only a matter of time before a studio snapped up the movie rights in hopes of creating their own money-making cash cow.  Warner Brothers had a very profitable run with the Harry Potter series but hasn’t found a true successor to the boy wizard.  With Beautiful Creatures, they may have a shot if audiences respond well to the film with its campy moments, solid acting, and decent narrative.

Instead of vampires (or zombies like Warm Bodies), Beautiful Creatures centers around an eccentric family of Casters (don’t call them witches) that make quite the impression on high school senior Ethan Wate (Ehrenreich who could be a cousin of Leonardo DiCaprio) as he befriends and then falls for burgeoning caster Lena Duchannes (Englert, daughter of director Jane Campion) .  Yearning to get out of his backwater bayou town, Wate is infatuated with the mysterious Lena and it isn’t long before the two are quite smitten with each other…though Lena is at first resistant.  You see, she’s right on the edge of coming of age in the world of Casters…and she just might end up on the dark side of things like her cousin Ridley (Rossum).  Only Lena’s uncle (Irons) and Ethan’s housekeeper (Davis) know what true dangers lay in store for Ethan and Lena should their love be allowed to develop naturally. 

There’s quite a bit of information that the movie has to cram in and though I haven’t read the books I’ve heard that director and screenwriter LaGravenese did good work in streamlining by combining characters and leaving some out entirely.  That’s always a risky move for the first film in a series (there are four books) because if you alienate the base fans you may lose them for the sequels.  Admittedly,  Beautiful Creatures does feel like an introductory film rather than one ready to tell its own story.  There are a few characters introduced that I can tell will come back in later books with more of a purpose but are only on screen as a placeholder face for future installments. 

Where the film really succeeds is in the casting.  Ehrenreich and Englert are both interesting actors that don’t push things too far.  Ehrenreich, in particular, is a winningly normal kid with charm to spare.  That the two don’t have fiery chemistry is a bit of a disappointment — because the end result feels like you’re watching the awkwardness of two life-long friends that only recently started dating.  Irons, Davis, and Rossum invest themselves just enough to add some spark to their scenes.  The film is really worth seeing for Thompson’s performance alone.  It’s pretty clear Thompson is having a grand old time and she lays the Southern drawl and mannerisms on thick.  She’s a refreshing hoot and owns every scene she’s a part of.

Whether you think of it as Twilight in the Garden of Good and Evil or Twilight on the Bayou, this is one you may wind up liking more than you thought you would.  Even with some head-scratching plot holes and a curious lack of serious chemistry between the two leads, the film provided a modest dose of southern comfort that goes down easy.

Down From the Shelf ~ Jagged Edge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When an heiress is brutally murdered in her remote beach house her husband soon finds himself accused of her murder. He hires lawyer Teddy Barnes to defend him, despite the fact she hasn’t handled a criminal case for many years.

Stars: Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges, Peter Coyote, Robert Loggia

Director: Richard Marquand

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review

This is a pulpy little thriller from the mid 80’s that probably was responsible for ushering in movies like Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Final Analysis, Guilty as Sin, and countless other films where a protagonist is blinded by their animal attraction to someone that may be out to do them harm.

Almost thirty years after it was originally released (yikes!), revisiting Jagged Edge has become something of a yearly trip for me and I still enjoy it.  Time has been kind to the film, owing in large part to a restrained script from Joe Eszterhas (before he went over the, um, edge with the aforementioned Basic Instinct and, later, Showgirls) and two strong lead performances in Close and Bridges.

Before Close became known for playing unhinged women in a string of films, she was a reliable guiding force in whatever project she was working on and that’s true here as well.  Though her seemingly intelligent lawyer winds up doing a lot of stupid things, Close brings a class to it that’s hard to deny. 

Bridges handles the role of the widower accused of killing his wife for her money well and he rolls nicely with the twists that the movie doles out without hinting either way whether he’s guilty or not.  Loggia turned his foul-mouthed, wise-cracking private investigator working with Close into a deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and Coyote is appropriately blustery as a shady District Attorney.

Set along the Bay Area of California and several of its outlying coastal towns, Jagged Edge is directed just fine by Marquand (Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi) but really benefits from an effectively dissonant score from John Barry and interesting cinematography courtesy of Matthew F. Leonetti.

The film chugs through many a red herring and courtroom drama mechanics in its journey to a decent but not wholly satisfying conclusion.  I’ve some thoughts about the wrap-up that I won’t go into here as it would spoil the ending for you and I don’t want to give it all away.  You see, even if the ending doesn’t totally work in hindsight the film succeeds because everything that leads up to it lands and lands well.  As far as movies of this ilk go, Jagged Edge easily rises to the top of the pile for me.