Beastly


Beastly

Alex Pettyfer is in need of a career makeover after this one.

(2011) Fantasy (CBS) Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris, Mary-Kate Olsen, Peter Krause, Dakota Johnson, Eric Knudsen, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Roc LaFortune, Gio Perez, David Francis, Miguel Mendoza, Steve Godin, Julie Dretzin. Directed by Daniel Barnz

People can be incredibly shallow; we make value judgments based on what we see alone. The way a person looks really does influence how they are treated in life which is often inversely true to how they deserve to be treated. Beauty is often skin deep, although not always.

Kyle (Pettyfer) seems to have it all. The son of a well-known local news anchor (Krause), he attends an exclusive Manhattan private school – an academy, don’t you know. He is running for the Green Committee chairman on a platform that beautiful is better. He doesn’t really care a whit about the environment – he just wants the position for his transcripts so that colleges will think better of him.

He wins but not by as great a margin as he would like to; that’s because the local Goth, Kendra (Olsen) has defaced his posters and badmouthed him. He concocts a plan to humiliate her at a party but that’s a bad idea; you never know when a Goth is a real, live witch who can afflict you with a curse. In Kyle’s case, the curse is to be ugly for a year; if he can find someone to say “I love you” by the year’s end, he’ll revert back to his handsome self. If not, he will be doomed to live that way forever.

So Kyle becomes afflicted with tattoos that seem irremovable; gashes with metallic staples in them, as well as boils and bubbly flesh as well as a bald head; all his sexy hair falls away. His dad is horrified; he takes him to doctors who basically tell him nothing can be done. Rather than take his son home, he banishes him to a townhouse on the Hudson where he claims he will visit from time to time, but never does. Apparently, the rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the blighted tree.

Kyle, now going by the name of Hunter, is not alone in his exile; his housekeeper Zola (Hamilton) is sent along to see to his needs and a private tutor, the blind Will (Harris) is hired to take care of his schooling. None of this helps Kyle, who is brooding and angst-ridden. You can tell this because of the many montages set to moody emo songs.

However, there is hope; the lovely Lindy (Hudgens), a scholarship student who is not wealthy (although she is beautiful) who is forced to stay with Hunter and his crew when her drug-addicted dad (LaFortune) falls afoul of a drug dealer (Perez) – it’s a long story. As she begins to see the inner Hunter (who builds her a greenhouse on the roof of the brownstone to give her an idea of how sensitive he’s become), she begins to fall for the young man but the year is running out and before long, Kyle may remain Hunter…forever.

I have always had a problem with the whole Beauty and the Beast story, upon which this is based (it’s actually based on a young adult novel that was based in turn on the story). It doesn’t have the courage of its own convictions. We all know that the point of it is supposed to be that beauty is only skin deep, but how does that compute when the happily ever after has the beast returning to his handsome outer self?

The movie plays to all the teenage arrogances that piss off most adults. There is a hipper-than-thou vibe which is mildly irritating that comes from having characters who are mostly too rich and too pretty to give a crap about anything else other than their own selves and that never really changes much in the movie.

Pettyfer has a good deal of charisma, although his acting abilities haven’t yet caught up to it quite yet. Then again, that may be due to how the part is written. I really liked him in I Am Number Four; but not so much here. He has the looks and the screen presence to go far, but he frankly needs better performances than this one to get there.

Hudgens, a veteran of the Disney channel’s High School Musical movies, is dreadfully miscast here. She has a certain amount of charm, but has zero chemistry with Pettyfer. Her character is also badly underwritten; you never really get much look at the inside of Lindy who works with the homeless to show us how sensitive and caring she is, but otherwise is just like all the other students who are getting dissed for their insensitivity here. She certainly has a good deal of baggage in the film – a dead mom, an addicted dad – but we only get glimpses of the anger and pain this must be costing her.

The supporting cast is all right. Harris is always delightful, whether in his television show or his movie appearances. The trouble was we don’t get to see enough of him here. Olsen, yes of the Olsen twins fame, is actually revelatory here, making her character at least a little bit three-dimensional despite the white powder and Stevie Nicks wardrobe. She might be however *sob* a bit old for the role.

We all know where the movie is heading and the shallowness that the movie is wagging its finger at self-righteously in the end is celebrated. The movie is all about appearances and that is what bugged me the most. If you’re going to make a morality tale, at least have the courage to stick to your principles. I expected better from the director of Phoebe in Wonderland, a promising indie director who I still believe has some great films in him. This sure ain’t one of them.

I get the feeling this would have made an episode of “Gossip Girl” or “Glee” better than a motion picture. I don’t have a problem aiming a movie for the CW network audience, but I would hope that even movies aimed at that demographic would at least have something in it for parents dragged along to watch. No such luck here.

REASONS TO GO: There are some charming moments. Pettyfer is a star on the rise. Neil Patrick Harris is always a pleasure to see.

REASONS TO STAY: The message the movie sends is disturbing. Almost no chemistry between Hudgens and Pettyfer. The movie is a little too full of itself.

FAMILY VALUES: A few choice bad words and some drug references and even a bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Robert Pattinson and Zac Effron were rumored to be casting choices before the producers settled on Pettyfer.

HOME OR THEATER: Probably better on a home screen.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Brooklyn’s Finest

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Jennifer’s Body


Jennifer's Body

Besties belly up to the bar before the barroom gets baked.

(Rogue) Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, Kyle Gallner, Aman Johal, Lance Henriksen. Directed by Karyn Kusama

Diablo Cody, a former exotic dancer, bagged Oscar gold with her screenplay for Juno and became something of a mini-celebrity in her own right, a status rarely accorded screenwriters. The problem with being a flavor of the week, unfortunately, is that sooner or later the week comes to an end and your cooking is judged on its own merits.

Jennifer Check (Fox) is the girl next door in sleepy Devil’s Kettle (so named for a waterfall that disappears down a glacial pothole) if you happen to live next door to the head cheerleader, homecoming queen and town hottie all rolled into one. Jennifer’s best friend is “Needy” Lesnicky (one presumes her parents didn’t put that first name on the birth certificate) who wears unattractive glasses, has a perpetually concerned expression on her face and actually does well in school. Needy (Seyfried) isn’t a goody two-shoes by any stretch of the imagination but there is something in her that Jennifer bonds with.

The two head to a local roadhouse to see an indie rock band called Low Shoulder play. During the show, the roadhouse catches fire and burns to the ground. The band, Jennifer and Needy are among the survivors, but the body count is pretty severe for a small town. All Needy wants to do is go home, crawl under the covers and stay there but Jennifer inexplicably decides to hook up with Low Shoulder frontman Nikolai Wolf (Brody) much to Needy’s concern.

When she doesn’t hear from Jennifer for hours, Needy starts getting frantic, even calling her boyfriend Chip Dove (Simmons) in a tizzy. Eventually Jennifer shows up, but there’s something strange about her. She has a hunger for raw meat – and she vomits up a respectable stream of black goo.

The next day at school, Jennifer acts as if nothing has happened but soon afterwards a local jock turns up horribly murdered, eviscerated and partially eaten. Police are thinking wild animal, but Needy knows better. She confronts Jennifer who tells her the horrible truth; Low Shoulder had driven her to the Devil’s Kettle where they sacrificed her to the devil in exchange for success (and sure enough they got it with a hit record released after the fire). However, the dimwitted musicians had messed up – they were supposed to sacrifice a virgin which Jennifer was most decidedly not, so she wound up possessed by a demon. When she feeds on the blood of a living human, she becomes super powered; strong, nearly invulnerable and able to fart a long stream of flame. Okay, so I was lying about the last one, but that would have been really cool.

Needy is torn. On the one hand, her friend is murdering local boys and eating them, but she’s still her BFF so she can’t betray her. All bets are off, however, when Jennifer turns her carnivorous attentions onto Chip at the prom.

Cody has a great ear for dialogue, particularly in the high school vernacular. In other words, she speaks the language of the teenager, with all the slang, jargon and craptacular turns of phrase popular among Generation RFNGDI. Unfortunately, like most teenaged slang, you get the sense that the characters, and through them the filmmakers, are talking down to the audience. “Hey, we’re hipper than you and more in the know. If you don’t speak our language, you don’t deserve to watch our movie.” It’s an elitist conceit and unfortunately it instantly dates the movie, which will lose its relevance within four or five years simply because teenaged dialogue changes almost yearly.

So as a touchpoint for teenaged culture it is, like all such touchpoints, very temporary. Will the rest of the movie stand on its own merits? To put it frankly, probably not; it’s essentially at its heart a pretty standard horror movie with a slightly elevated ambition. Kusama directs it well enough, but playing the movie as an extended flashback takes away a lot of the suspense at the end – you know that Needy is going to survive the prom. The only question is whether Chip and/or Jennifer are.

There is some gore, some of it pretty gooey, but the gore is really played off to the side. There is also sexuality, but no nudity, so the movie in some ways doesn’t even have the courage of its convictions from that standpoint. There is a make-out scene between Needy and Jennifer that’s plenty hot, but besides that the sexuality is pretty tame. I would have liked the movie to allow itself to go to extremes in both areas; if you’re going to be an R-rated horror movie, you might as well push the envelope.

Fox is surprisingly good in her role of Jennifer, or at least better than her work in the two Transformers movies. She’s not yet at the point where I look to see her movies for her performances rather than her looks, but this is a step in the right direction. Seyfried is even better as the plucky heroine Needy; yes, the character does some incredibly stupid horror heroine cliché things during the course of the movie that no sane, rational person would EVER do but Seyfried still imbues the character with personality. Ever since breaking out in Mamma Mia she has improved each time I’ve seen her onscreen; she is certainly on the road to being an actress that I go to a movie just because she’s in it.

Cody is a clever writer, perhaps too clever for her own good. I would like to see her apply her talents to a movie that isn’t trying to be hip in a specific time and place, but one that is timeless and will stand long beyond its shelf life. I don’t know where she stands on horror movies per se, but I get the sense that she has a fondness for them – even while she pokes fun at some of the conventions as she does here. There’s nothing wrong with that – Scream and it’s successors made bank doing just that – but if you’re going to relate to a single target audience, well, be well-assured that you are subject to the whims of that target audience and when it’s as fickle as the teen audience is, you’re already treading water before the movie makes it to the video store shelves. For the record, I really wanted to like the movie much more than I ended up doing. Still, it’s not a bad movie, it just could have – and should have – been way better. That’s just freaktarded.

WHY RENT THIS: Seyfried does a pretty good job as the plucky heroine. Some pretty neat shocks and terror sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is a bit too hip for its own good; it comes off as talking down to people, which is never a good thing. Essentially this is a standard horror movie with contemporary dialogue.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of gore, although not as much as other horror movies. There is also a lot of sexuality although no nudity. There’s a crapload of foul language and a couple of scenes of drug use; in short, it’s rated “R” for a reason.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie title derives from a song by Courtney Love’s band Hole.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a series of video diaries from the various stars and filmmakers; there is also a montage of Megan Fox being, well, Megan Fox. Diablo Cody gets the spotlight on a “Life After Film School” segment from the Fox Movie Channel.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Flipped

17 Again


17 Again

Zac Efron and Leslie Mann have a future as professional ballroom dancers.

(New Line) Matthew Perry, Zac Effron, Leslie Mann, Michele Trachtenberg, Thomas Lennon, Sterling Knight, Hunter Parrish, Melora Hardin, Brian Doyle-Murray, Jim Gaffigan. Directed by Burr Steers

None of us are born perfect. It is part of the human experience that we at some point regret some of our actions – or inactions – from our youth. There isn’t one of us who has survived high school who don’t at some point think that they would do things differently had they to do it over again. Unfortunately, life grants us few do-overs.

Mike O’Donnell (Perry) had it all going for him in 1989. A high school basketball standout with college scholarships coming in, one of the most popular guys in school, especially with Scarlett (Mann) an adoring and gorgeous girlfriend. it all comes crashing down when he is forced to make a decision – one that has ramifications that will affect his entire future.

Twenty years later, life hasn’t gone exactly to plan for Mike. He and Scarlett (whom he married right out of high school) are in the process of an acrimonious divorce. His teenaged kids Alex (Knight) and Maggie (Trachtenberg) think he’s the world’s biggest loser, which is true for most teenaged kids when considering their dad, but after being passed over for a promotion he thought was in the bag, he wonders if they’re not right.

He is reduced to crashing at the pad of his only friend, Ned (Lennon), an uber-nerd in high school but a software billionaire now. After encountering a janitor (Doyle-Murray) who only Mike seems to see and who has the kind of knowing smile that indicates he has information privy only to him that would be very useful in solving your problems, Mike falls into a convenient vortex and emerges out the other end looking very much like Zac Efron.

In fact this is what Mike used to look like as a teenager in 1989 – Zac Efron, which seems quite a leap of faith for Matthew Perry but there you have it. However, this isn’t 1989 – it’s still 2009 and Mike still has the same problems. There’s no going back and fixing them, not in this body switch movie. Instead what he can do is make a difference in the life of his soon-to-be ex-wife and kids.

Of course, his kids aren’t living the lives he thought they were. Alex, who Mike thought was a basketball star like he was, is the very much picked-upon towel boy. Even though Alex is a talented player in his own right, he doesn’t have the self-confidence to try out. Maggie is dating an utter douchebag (Parrish) who is trying – without any success – to get into her pants, but she is slowly crumbling under the pressure.

In order to fit in, Mike prevails upon Ned to act as his legal guardian so that he might attend school. Ned becomes far more receptive to this idea when he falls head over heels for the comely but frosty principal (Hardin). Also, Mike’s wife has begun to notice this kid who looks exactly like the high school boy she fell in love with and develop feelings for him, feelings she believes to be inappropriate. For his part, Mike begins to see her as a person instead of as his wife; the revelation is a bit of an eye-opener for him.

But despite Mike’s good intentions, things begin to fall apart as they generally do in body switch movies and he becomes dangerously close to losing everything that matters the most to him. Can he make things right or is he destined to live his life over again, this time without the people he loves?

I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. After all, most of the body switch movies I’ve seen of late have been pretty much rehashes in one way or another of Big. Quite frankly, this one is too. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was how much I enjoyed this movie’s offbeat charm.

There are some genuine laughs here, mostly supplied by Lennon. I’ve seen him in a few movies and never really noticed him especially, but he nails this one and comes close to stealing the movie. However, Efron – whose High School Musical movies I’m not a big fan of – was surprisingly good. He has an effortless, winsome appeal that makes me think that he is going to have great longevity as a movie star instead of one of those cast-aside teen idols whose stock plummets the older he gets. I think Efron has the charisma to parlay his teen movie success into a great career. He may even have the acting chops as well.

Mann is, as always, a steady performer who can play bitchy and sweet equally well. She does both here, but it is her tender side that I remember more vividly. Trachtenberg, a refugee from the Buffyverse, is solid as the Goth daughter.

I found myself liking the movie and believing in the romances, which is a credit to the performers more than the script, which doesn’t really stray very far from the body switch formula. This isn’t a genre-definer by any stretch of the imagination, but it is entertaining enough to give it a mild recommendation. Check it out on cable if you haven’t seen it before, and if you have a teenaged daughter, prepare for a loud squeal when Efron takes off his shirt. If you are a teenaged daughter, warn your parents that they might hear one; it’s only polite.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly engaging, Efron, Perry, Mann and Lennon make this very watchable. A few actually funny moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You’ve probably seen this before and probably done better. Not very groundbreaking, not at all.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some swearing and teen sexuality but otherwise suitable for just about everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Zac Efron developed appendicitis during filming which began as a stomach ache. It grew painful enough that he had it checked out the day after filming wrapped and was rushed into surgery that very night. Therefore this marks the final filmed appearance of Zac Efron’s appendix.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Da Queen’s favorite, a way cool tell-all trivia track, can be selected to play during the film. Mostly useless factoids pop up every half a minute or so.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Love in the Time of Cholera