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REVIEW: Beastly

Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens in Beastly

There was also this part where he nearly became a masked vigilante who hunted in the night, yet alas...

That title should really say REVIEW, SORTA: Beastly, but we’ll leave that be for the moment. It’s apparently Friday the 13th, and I don’t know if it’s the first Frirf the Thirith I’ve written on, but a new year is a great excuse for new traditions. New tradition: every Friday the 13th, I see a movie I wouldn’t watch otherwise. For instance, 2010’s live action Disneyfied update of the Beauty and the Beast tale, Beastly, starring Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer as the title roles, respectively. But reversed. She’s the beauty. He’s the–you get what I’m saying. So we all know the gist–superficial golden boy is cursed by a hag of a witch until he convinces someone else that there is value in him beside his looks. But how is Beastly, the determinedly inoffensive reimagining, any different? How is it unique? What does it do that’s special?

Well, very little. There is pretty much … very, very little to recommend this movie. It’s sappy, it’s overwrought and underperformed, the makeup effects are treated in dialogue like they’re from John Carpenter’s The Thing but look more like something from one of the tamer Die Antwoord videos. So not “Evil Boy”, is what I’m saying. Like, from–from “Wat Pomp”. It looks like the mask from “Wat Pomp”. It’s about as scary as a wood mask on a normal person, but everybody keeps treating it as a reason to be banished. In the final scene where Kyle (Pettyfer) has triumphantly re-entered the school to declare his love for Lindy (Hudgens), girls are shocked and near puking. And all I could think was “please–half of those girls are so turned on by the well-defined bone structure of a dude with neck tattoos and face-metal all over the place”.

It was your standard teen fare version of a fairy tale all over again, and for everything bad I could say about it–inoffensive, cowardly, safe–it did enough right that I can’t fault it. Sure, the black woman with the thick stereotypical accent was magically full of knowledge, but so was Neil Patrick Harris as the blind tutor. A sadly wasted Neil Patrick Harris who may have been feeling a little constricted by the rating and studio breathing around his neck, who seems reluctant to use his trademark racy charms. Then again, maybe I’m just used to him in Harold & Kumar and How I Met Your Mother. It’s not like he does a bad job. No one in this movie does a bad job, with most of the cast being pleasantly surprising, if not shockingly good.

I think it says more about this movie than it should that the most exciting thing I experienced while watching it was finding out that Caleb Landry Jones (whom you may know as Banshee in X-Men: First Class or the magnificently intense brother from The Last Exorcism) is the lead in Brandon Cronenberg’s debut feature-length film Antiviral, set to release this year. He plays Syd, a young man who makes his living selling the diseases of celebrities for a living, while also dealing them on the black market for extra profit. But while transporting one of these black market diseases in his own body, the celebrity it belonged to–superstar Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon)–dies. Now Syd has to find out what the disease was and how it killed her before his body succumbs, fending off fans and black market dealers all the while.

Caleb Jones might be the most intense undiscovered actor I’ve seen in years, and I will watch any movie that has him cast in it from now until one of us dies, no matter my opinion on it from all other factors. If a director or casting agent or somebody behind the scenes has put him in their movie, you know that they know what they’re doing. And the screenplay has to be interesting and Jones must see something in the character he’s taken. Unless you have seen The Last Exorcism, you do not know the fear that young man struck in me within 10 seconds of being on-screen. The movie itself might be take it or leave for a lot of you out there, but just watch for his performance. It is a powerful supporting role that managed to outscare the rest of the movie.

Brandon Cronenberg is, of course, famed Canadian director David Cronenberg’s son. And I’ll say this much for Cronenberg–while I’ve never liked his movies, you can’t deny that he has cinematic balls the size of Everest. From the synopsis of his debut feature as writer/director, it sounds like that’s been passed down to his son, thankfully. Maybe he’ll be more gritty and not lose himself in himself. But those cojones of the Cronenberg clan–that’s just what Beastly needed after all. A movie with this concept and a cast this young shouldn’t be a teenybopper inoffensathon. It should be body horror and it should be as far out as can be. Nobody ever hit a home run bunting. Sure, you miss a lot of balls hitting for the wall every time, but when you hit it? You knock it out of the park.

Antiviral sounds like a knockout. Beastly was a bunt. Sure, it resulted in a run, but how impressive is it, really? TWO AND A HALF STARS

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