This Beautiful Fantastic

THIS BEAUTIFUL FANTASTIC

Director : Simon Aboud
Cast : Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Jeremy Irvine, Anna Chancellor
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 32min
Opens : 25 May 2017
Rating : PG

As Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey, Jessica Brown Findlay didn’t have to do much yard work. She’s making up for that in this comedy-drama, in which she plays Bella Brown. Bella is an aspiring children’s book author, who works in a library. She’s particular about keeping tidy, but not being an outdoorsy type, has never tended to the garden. Bella’s landlord gives her an ultimatum: get the garden in order, or get evicted. Bella’s cantankerous neighbour Alfie Stephenson (Wilkinson), who mistreats his housekeeper/cook Vernon (Scott), happens to be a gifted horticulturist. Alfie has great disdain for Bella because of Bella’s “crimes” against flora, but reluctantly agrees to help Bella clean up the garden, when Vernon quits because he’s tired of enduring Alfie’s abuse. Meanwhile, a young, absent-minded inventor named Billy (Irvine), who often visits the library to do research, catches Bella’s eye.

Writer-director Simon Aboud has pitched This Beautiful Fantastic as a contemporary fairy tale. Hardcore Anglophiles might be enamoured with this concentrated dose of twee – practically every review of this film will use the adjective ‘twee’. However, more cynical viewers will be painfully aware of how the movie is constantly tripping over itself in pursuit of charm and whimsy. It’s a pleasant film to look at and is ultimately a good-natured work, but the film cranks up the ‘adorkable’ factor to sometimes insufferable levels. The works of Roald Dahl appear to have had an influence on Aboud, specifically Matilda and Esio Trot. The “young person befriends grumpy old man” trope has been explored in the likes of Up and A Man Called Ove, with This Beautiful Fantastic delivering a largely typical take on that device.

Aboud does have a talented, likeable cast on hand, even if the characters hew too closely to recognisable archetypes. As the shy writer who would much rather get lost in a book than in the great outdoors, Findlay is fine. However, the character is defined more by her tics than by anything else. The prologue gives us Bella’s backstory, depicting her upbringing in an orphanage and establishing her Obsessive-Compulsive traits. It’s nothing to get worked up over, but the use of OCD to make a character seem peculiar but loveable is a tired device.

Wilkinson can play a curmudgeon in his sleep. He gets all the best lines, but it’s obvious that the crust which encases Alfie will gradually crumble away as the film progresses. The transformation he undergoes is all too abrupt, and while there’s meant to be tragedy behind why Alfie has ended up this way, these layers aren’t sufficiently fleshed out.

Scott seems miscast as Vernon, the awkward housekeeper and talented chef. Vernon is a beleaguered widower who has borne the brunt of Alfie’s invective so he can make a living and support his young twin daughters. Scott has made a name for himself playing supercilious, often sinister characters, and is unable to summon the unguarded sweetness that seems vital to a character like Vernon.

Then there’s Irvine, who seems to have stepped straight out of a sitcom. With unkempt hair, wire-rimmed glasses, a pencil tucked behind his ear, and barely balancing all his gear and books, all Billy is missing is a tattoo reading “nerd” inscribed upon his forehead. Irvine can be endearing, but is often annoying here – not obnoxiously so, but enough to be frustrated with. The love triangle between Bella, Vernon and Billy is not as big a part of the story as this reviewer feared, but still plays out as enough of a distraction from the gardening montages, which frankly aren’t all that interesting.

Instead of sweeping one up into a gently heightened world of wonder, This Beautiful Fantastic is at once too manufactured and too mundane to warrant complete surrender. It does not indulge in overt emotional manipulation and one can sense the earnestness behind it, but an excess of quirk and a lack of substance hampers the film from being the little gem it could’ve been.

Summary: This Beautiful Fantastic wants to be a delight and a curiosity, but even though it has its moments, the movie is too self-conscious and sometimes grating.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Fallen

For F*** Magazine

FALLEN 

Director : Scott Hicks
Cast : Addison Timlin, Jeremy Irvine, Harrison Gilbertson, Joely Richardson, Lola Kirke, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Daisy Head, Hermione Corfield, Malachi Kirby
Genre : Drama/Fantasy
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 10 November 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

fallen-posterBefore sexy vampires were as a big a thing as they became, sexy angels were all the rage. The likes of City of Angels, Meet Joe Black and A Life Less Ordinary played into the fascination with someone who could quite literally sweep a girl off her feet. Sexy angels haven’t completely flown away – look at Supernatural’s Castiel. And of course, there are romantic fantasy novels in which the protagonists have the hots for the heavenly host. The Young Adult book Fallen, by Lauren Kate, is one such novel.

Lucinda “Luce” Price (Timlin) is enrolled in the Sword and Cross academy, a boarding school for troubled teenagers. Luce has been seeing disturbing, unexplainable visions, and is trying to escape a traumatic event in her recent past. While she’s treated with hostility by schoolmate Molly (Smit-McPhee), Luce befriends Pennyweather “Penn” Van-Syckle Lockwood (Kirke). Two of the boys in the school immediately catch Luce’s attention: there’s Daniel Grigori (Irvine), who keeps to himself and seems oddly familiar; and there’s Cameron “Cam” Briel (Gilbertson), the rebel without a cause. Sophia Bliss (Richardson), one of the teachers at Sword and Cross, seem to know more than she’s letting on. It’s not long before Luce discovers she’s entangled in an eons-old struggle between three otherworldly factions: the angels who sided with God, those who followed Lucifer into hell, and the undecided angels cursed to walk the earth, dubbed “the Fallen”.

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When it’s not being quite dull, Fallen is delightfully hilarious. This is a film that is one clever editing job and a character who makes metafictional jokes away from being a full-tilt parody of YA fantasy romance. It’s quite baffling that director Scott Hicks didn’t realise how unintentionally funny this all is – or maybe he did, and is hoping the teenage girl demographic just won’t notice. The love triangle in a prep school setting is cheesy enough, but on top of that, we have pseudo-theological gobbledygook slathered on thick. Not only does the film begin with a voiceover prologue explaining the three factions of angels, there’s an expository lecture that covers the same ground.

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The production values aren’t too shabby, with the 19th Century Schossberger Castle in Tura, Hungary playing the part of the Sword and Cross academy. Hungary provides not only the tax breaks, but also the old-world European sensibilities that make Fallen seem grander than it has any right to be. Alar Kivilo’s cinematography is often quite beautiful, though Fallen is guilty of believing that “blurry equals romantic”. Angels must have wings, and the CGI used to create said appendages is quite terrible. While the design team is obviously aiming for a different aesthetic than the traditional tactile, birdlike feathers, it just ends up looking like the production didn’t have the budget for proper wings.

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The acting in Fallen isn’t terrible, it’s just that the movie seems to be littered with clearly labelled boxes, with each character climbing into their allotted box and just never leaving it. The archetypes and the purpose they serve in the plot are so obvious that the turning gears of the narrative are made very noticeable. We have our chosen one protagonist who has a dark and troubled past ™, the slightly boring handsome guy, the dangerous bad boy, the garrulous, chipper geeky best friend, the edgy girl with the torn nylon stockings and dyed bob, and the shifty authority figure who’s hiding something. All present and accounted for. And yes, all the actors playing high school-aged kids look a smidgen too old, but that’s something we’re already used to.

We’ve gone this far without making this comparison, so here goes: Fallen is sub-Twilight, which is saying something. Luce is pretty much Bella Swan, but Timlin is considerably less annoying than Kristen Stewart was in the Twilight films. We’ve got two guys fighting over who’s better suited to protect the girl and stalker-ish tendencies from all three parties. Kirke is pretty tolerable as the designated muggle, and while most YA movies have at least three somewhat respectable actors as the adult supporting characters, we have to make do with one Joely Richardson. One can’t help but think of Richardson’s role in Vampire Academy, which for its tonal issues, had its tongue planted firmly in cheek.

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By the time the Hawkman and Hawkgirl-style millennia-spanning romance is laid out in full, it’s clear that Fallen’s reach exceeds its grasp, in the most laughable way possible. The on-the-nose symbolism – why yes, “Luce” is derived from “Lucifer” – is the cherry on top. This is deeply silly stuff that’s clearly well past its sell-by date. An adaptation of Torment (yes, it’s actually called that), the second book in the series, is apparently in development, which seems awfully optimistic.

Summary: If you roll your eyes when you hear the term “YA paranormal romance”, this is the very thing you’re thinking of.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong