500 Words or Less: Four At A Time

Beautiful Creatures is a beautiful-looking movie that’s surprising in its goofy charm. Adapting a YA romance between a young witch and her human beau, the story is sold by the leads’ rich chemistry. The whole thing feels sweaty and over-the-top, with a sweeping, swampy score. There’s also some stuff involving plantation life and a character (Viola Davis) practicing voodoo. Davis sells it, so it only becomes questionable in retrospect. Less questionable is Jeremy Irons’ choice to dress like a Southern Robert Evans and Emma Thompson’s full-throated embrace of lines like “I made you brownies…from scratch!” If Pat Conroy and Flannery O’Connor had a teenage daughter, it might be this weird, dopey movie.

Fellow YA adaptation Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone remains charming, but even a decade where blockbusters got longer, the extreme runtime is punishing. Chris Columbus adapts his Goonies style of “all yelling, all the time” when it comes to directing the child actors and is workmanlike everywhere else. This time around, Alan Rickman evoked The Paper Chase in his delivery and the effects hold up better than expected — one giant troll aside, of course. The movie’s chief triumph remains its casting. It’s dead-on for the adult roles, but no one knew what Radcliffe, Watson, Grint, and Neville Longbottom were going to be asked to do seven films later. Whoever cast them all those years ago is a minor genius.

A movie that doesn’t feel like it’s as long as it is the stunning Zero Dark Thirty. It’s brilliant in its portrayal of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which combines a no-nonsense, journalistic script with striking visuals — lead Jessica Chastain emerging from a dark hallway, a tracking shot following phone lines and internet cables overlaid — that linger long after the film concludes. It’s troubling in that it doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of America after September 11th. The first hour of the film focuses on extracting information through torture. The last thirty minutes are dedicated to the raid itself — one that seems to compromise of shooting mostly unarmed men. In between, however, we see the real triumph — it wasn’t torture that eventually found bin Laden, it was persistence and ingenuity, two all-American values if there ever were such things. Chastain provides a compelling anchor for a revolving door of “that guys” like Coach Taylor, Stannis Baratheon, and Bert Macklin, FBI, who all make characters out of sketches. Like Zodiac, the picture is a masterpiece of true-crime filmmaking that solidifies Kathryn Bigelow as one of the greats.

The Descendants remains George Clooney’s finest work to date, introduces Shailene Woodley to those who don’t watch ABC Family in a sit-up-and-take note performance, reminds audiences that Matthew Lillard is a classically trained actor, and features a totally boss soundtrack. Like Clooney’s Out of Sight, this is bound to be a perennial cable favorite.

Beautiful Creatures. Dir./Wr. Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel of the same name by Kamie Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Perf. Alden Ehenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson. 124 minutes. Warner Bros., 2013

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Dir. Chris Columbus. Wr. Steve Kloves, based on the novel of the same name by J.K. Rowling. Perf. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Griffiths, Alan Rickman. 152 minutes. Warner Bros., 2001.

Zero Dark Thirty. Dir. Kathryn Bigelow. Wr. Mark Boal. Perf. Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Kyle Chandler. 157 minutes. Columbia Pictures, 2012.

The Descendants. Dir. Alexander Payne. Wr. Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash, based on the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Perf. George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster. Fox Searchlight, 2011.

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