Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies playing in area theaters:
Where have all the Twihards gone? What will be the next romantic fantasy in their lives? Attempting to fill that void is writer/director Richard LaGravenese's supernatural Southern Gothic love story, based on his atmospheric adaption of the first novel in the best-selling series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
After problems erupted at her previous school, alienated 15-year-old Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) moves to the stifling, superstitious town of Gatlin, S.C., where she anxiously tries to keep a low profile while counting down the days until her 16th birthday, when a family curse predicts that she will undergo a "claiming" ritual to determine whether she's a Light (good) or Dark (evil) Caster, as in "spell caster." As a mysterious outsider, she immediately captures the heart of bookish, lovelorn Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who dreams about an ethereal, dark-haired stranger on a Civil War battlefield. Steeped in romanticized literary influences, like Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut and Henry Miller, he's the narrator as, despite their obvious differences, Lena and Ethan come to discover they may be following the same fateful footpath as two 19th-century lovers.
With the screen adaptations of "A Little Princess," "Like Water for Elephants," "The Fisher King" and "Bridges of Madison County" to his credit, LaGravenese adapts the maudlin cliches of adolescent angst, freely revising the source material in a creepy, complicated manner that will either inspire or infuriate avid fans of the young adult novels.
"Love is a spell created by mortals to give women something they can have besides power," explains the devilish Sarafine (Emma Thompson in a dual role), jousting with Lena's reclusive uncle, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), who fears for Lena's future if she, as a witch, loves a mortal.
Emmy Rossum's and Viola Davis' supporting characters pivot their own plans while Alice Englert (director Jane Campion's daughter) makes a beguiling cinematic splash, as she did opposite Elle Fanning in "Ginger & Rosa."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Beautiful Creatures" is a sudsy, spooky 6, aimed at lusty adolescents.
"A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD"
Bruce Willis is back for the fifth time as durable New York Detective John McClane, who travels to Moscow to help his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who disappeared a while ago after an argument and has been charged with the murder of a Russian mobster. To his amazement, John discovers that Jack is actually a CIA agent ... "the 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey."
Jack is working undercover, trying to protect a government whistleblower, Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a dissident nuclear scientist with an attractive daughter, Irina (Yuliya Snigir). That results in father and son teaming up to get Komarov and Irina to safety, thwart ambitious Defense Minister Chaganin (Sergei Kolesnikov) and derail the sinister scheme for a potentially disastrous crime in the ill-fated city of Chernobyl, where both Komarov and Chaganin worked at the time of the catastrophic reactor meltdown.
Working from a dreadful, dumbed-down script by Skip Woods ("Swordfish," "The A-Team"), heavy-handed director John Moore ("Max Payne" and "The Omen" remake) hasn't a chance. Lacking any semblance of coherence, the production focuses on a massive car chase, filmed on Moscow's Garden Ring and by a 190-person stunt unit in Budapest, and culminates in hijinks aboard the "Miss Belarus," a huge, 25-ton helicopter. Be thankful the 97-minute running time is mercifully short since everything's augmented by Marco Beltrami's deafening score.
The first quarter of 2013 has seen the cinematic return of macho action geezers Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and now Bruce Willis. While Willis is still going strong and supposedly game for a sixth John McClane incarnation, Australian actor Jai Courtney, who played the shooter in "Jack Reacher," defines bland.
There's no question that this is the worst segment in the "Die Hard" franchise, which began in 1988, but it's also a given that this kind of mindless mayhem makes big money in the overseas market.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "A Good Day to Die Hard" is a terrible 2. A good day -- it isn't. To quote John McClane: "Something stinks."
There are certain predictable elements to movies like "The Notebook," "Dear John" and "Message in a Bottle," based on Nicholas Sparks' novels: death, danger and disaster, ultimately leading to romance, and punctuated by idyllic, seaside interludes, rainstorms, Spanish moss and a seasonal celebration.
As this story begins, a distraught young woman (Julianne Hough) flees from a violent suburban crime scene, cuts her long, brunette hair and bleaches it blonde before surreptitiously boarding a bus going south. Impulsively, she gets off in Southport, a sleepy, small community on the picturesque North Carolina coastline. Seeking a chance to bury her past, she introduces herself as Katie and gets a job as a waitress. Almost as soon as wary Katie rents a cabin that's isolated in the woods, she's befriended by a neighbor, Jo (Cobie Smulders), and catches the eye of the proprietor of the general store, Alex (Josh Duhamel). He's a recent widower who is raising his sullen, sensitive, pre-teen son (Noah Lomax) and disarmingly spunky, 8-year-old daughter (Mimi Kirkland). Problem is: back in Boston, there's a crazed, vodka-swilling detective (David Lyons) who is determined to track Katie down.
Adapted by Dana Stevens and Gage Lansky, the Nicholas Sparks story combines elements from "Sleeping With the Enemy," in which Julia Roberts fled from an abusive husband and tried to make a new life for herself in a different place, and "The Sixth Sense," which delved into the supernatural. But director Lasse Hallstrom, who helmed "Dear John," along with "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," "My Life as a Dog," "The Cider House Rules" and "Chocolat," fails to elicit much suspense.
Perhaps the primary problem is the casting. Best known for her "Footloose" song-and-dance routines, perky Hough tries to evoke a young Meg Ryan, while Duhamel ("Transformers") oozes bland, even robotic sensitivity. And the supporting actors, except for enchanting Kirkland, are insipidly generic.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Safe Haven" is a sappy, tear-stained 6, filled with the sentimental schmaltz that characterizes the appeal of this kind of chick flick.