Review: Beautiful Creatures (2013): “For goodness’ sake, read a book!”

Beautiful Creatures 2SPOILERS

Let me first respond to some would-be frequently asked questions: Yes, I tend to enjoy film adaptations of young adult novels, including The Hunger Games and Warm Bodies. No, I don’t think Beautiful Creatures is the same as Twilight. Yes, I wish I had superpowers. And no, I have not yet read the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Beautiful Creatures is the heartwarming story of a Southern boy, Ethan, who falls for a socially marginalized new-to-town classmate, Lena Duchannes. As it turns out, Lena comes from a family of “Casters,” which includes Scar from The Lion King her rich, well-spoken uncle, Macon Ravenwood, played by Jeremy Irons. Ethan and Lena eventually date, but their romance is, of course, complicated. The Southern boy and his superpowered boo must overcome small-town prejudices, Civil War curses, and an overbearing, powerful, and previously-absent mother.

Beautiful Creatures MaconBut that plot, which is neither bad nor completely original, is almost secondary to the pro-intellectualism subtext that runs throughout the film. The movie opens with Ethan, a stereotypical bound-for-better-things sort of protagonist—”My momma says there’s two types of people that live in Gatlin: the people too stupid to leave and the ones too stuck to move”—who enjoys reading banned books. And Gatlin has banned a lot of books. The fictional town of Gatlin is portrayed as a conservative, hyper-religious, aggressively traditional small town that enjoys Civil War reenactments.

But Gatlin-ians are also stupid. Or ignorant. Either way, they’d rather ban books than read them, and they constantly butcher the titles of the few popular movies that happen to show at their one movie theater. Macon, Lena’s cultured uncle, once refers to the local high school as “the institution that Gatlin presumes to call educational.” And his snark seems justified.

Despite the fact that Macon’s ancestors were founders of Gatlin, Lena and her family are outcasts, social pariahs. Placing the Duchannes family on the margins of society emphasizes the difference between Castors and other mortals, of course, but it also highlights the difference between the intelligent and the reactionary, the well-read and the book banners, the cultured and the close-minded. Macon hates non-Castors, but he doesn’t dislike them because they tend to persecute his kind—he seems to dislike them because they’re unaware, uneducated, shallow.

Beautiful CreaturesThere is only one library in Galtin, and all of the good, likable characters are somehow connected to it. Amma, Ethan’s caretaker and Macon’s confidant, works at the library, and Lethan (Lena and Ethan) visits the library frequently. Contrarily, the film’s antagonists seem repulsed by literature. The stuck-up high school bullies, Emily and Savannah, chastise Ethan for reading banned books and throw a public-prayer-filled fit when they’re asked to read To Kill a Mockingbird for English class.

The film is nuanced enough that it doesn’t further dichotomize the silly intellectualism-versus-religion discussion; instead, it offers viewers the opportunity to watch various possible reactions to ignorance. These case studies come in the form of Castors. Some Castors are good, and others are evil. But all Castors seem to lament the narrow-mindedness of other mortals. The evil ones choose to fight back, to rule the morons. The good ones choose to love the mortals, despite their flaws. In the end, the film decides to abandon the polarization altogether: “There’s a new world mama. It ain’t all dark, and it ain’t all light, and it ain’t all ours.” Maybe that’s a decent goal: Neither mock the uneducated nor tolerate ignorance. Find the middle ground.

Richard LaGravenese: Director

Richard LaGravenese: Screenplay

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert: Stars

Ben Boruff is a co-founder of Big B and Mo’ Money, and he reviews indie comics for Some of his favorite directors are Whit Stillman, Seijun Suzuki, Noah Baumbach, Kathryn Bigelow, Stanley Kubrick, Antione Fuqua, Don Hertzfeldt, Adam McKay, and Tom Hooper.  Follow him on Twitter: @BenMagicAwesome.

The 85th Academy Awards: Big B’s Oscar Predictions

Oscar PosterBest Actress

Should win: Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”

Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”

Best Supporting Actor

Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”

Honorable Mention: Robert Di Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Best Picture

Should win: “Zero Dark Thirty”Zero Dark Thirty

Will win: “Argo”

Honorable Mention:Les Misérables”

Best Director

Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”

Best Animated Feature FilmWreck-It Ralph

Should win: “Wreck-It Ralph”

Will win: “Brave”

Best Production Design Continue reading

On the Censorship of Film

George Bernard ShawAuthors have long condemned most (often all) forms of censorship. Susan Sontag wrote, “I am against censorship. In all forms.” Salman Rushdie stated that the “creative act requires not only freedom but also this assumption of freedom. If the creative artist worries if he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today.” And playwright George Bernard Shaw discussed the relationship between censorship and stagnation:

“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”

But what of filmmakers? Since there have been movies, there has been censorship of film. John Waters’s 1972 Pink Flamingos was banned in several small towns in the US, and the 1932 film Scarface (presented by Howard Hughes, not Brian De Palma) was banned in a John Watersfew areas in the United States for violence. And in some other countries, the battle against censorship rages more intensely. Chinese director Xie Fei said that China’s system of censorship “has only become a corrupt black spot for controlling the prosperity of the cultural and entertainment industry, killing artistic exploration and wasting administrative resources.”

While film-banning and overbearing governments are relatively easy to notice, though, there are more covert forms of film censorship. Consider the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) film rating system in the United States. The MPAA’s rating scheme has its benefits, such as identifying which films are appropriate for young children, but the rating system can be a form of censorship. When paired with corporations that will only finance films that can make a profit, an NC-17, R, or even a PG-13 rating can mean the death of an original cut of a feature film (or, at the very least, significantly narrower distribution of the movie). For example, the MPAA initially gave Bully, a socially relevant documentary about the bullying crisis in schools, an R rating. Because of this, younger audiences (to whom the Bullyfilm was most relevant) found it difficult to see the movie. The MPAA then released it as “unrated,” which was hardly a step up (though AMC agreed to show the movie to kids with permission from parents). Finally, after great pressure from celebrities and community leaders, the MPAA lessened the rating to P-13. Still, this shows the impact that ratings can have on distribution.

Even if films weren’t banned, and even if the MPAA (and corporations) lessened their grip on distribution potential, could a film still be censored? Yes. Airplanes and FX. I watched Limitless on an international flight, and the airline deleted a mild love scene. Years later, I attempted to watch Armageddon on FX. It was hard to concentrate amid the barrage of poorly dubbed censor-edits. Since then, I’ve tried to endure similar butchering of The DepartedThe DepartedRentPineapple Express, Mr. Deeds, and Scarface on FX and other networks. Of course, you may be thinking, “Well, Big B, just watch Showtime, STARZ, or HBO if you hate censorship so much.” But my counter-proposal is this: FX and other networks shouldn’t show those movies if they’re going to ignore artistic integrity. There are plenty of PG and PG-13 films with less questionable content—show those. If, as a network, they believe that their audience is mature enough to handle the plot of Pineapple Express, they should assume that their audience is mature enough to handle some strong language.

If I watch a movie on an airplane and entire scenes have been edited out, can I really say that I have seen the movie? If, for whatever reason, I try to watch The Departed on FX in the afternoon, can I really say that I have seen the film that Martin Scorsese created? It’s probably best that we filter what we offer to children, but we needn’t censor so aggressively.