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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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***½

I met one in Sudan three months ago. There used to be more of them, but they still exist. Before wizards went underground when we were still being hunted by Muggles, young wizards and witches sometimes tried to suppress their magic to avoid persecution. Instead of learning to harness or control their powers, they developed what was called an Obscurus.

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I enjoyed all of the Harry Potter movies, but accepted with resignation that their story was over, much as I had for my whole conscious life known that there would be no Star Wars sequels or prequels. I, and many others, were amazingly psyched for the (Star Wars) prequels. Whereas the brief wait, and thus corresponding lack of excitement, over the adaptation of this picture book was underwhelming. What did excite me was that David Yates would be directing this and he did a very good job with Harry Potters 5 through 7B. J.K. Rowling doing the script sounded like a good idea too, in lieu of having substantive source material from her to adapt.

The look of the film was top notch. Hitherto the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ has been extremely British, so getting to see New York was a nice change, although this was New York of the past, so the transition was less jarring than had it been 2016 New York City. The invisible Obscurus character was interesting, as a villain, even if it was just a distraction of sorts. The one performance that really struck me was tied to that character, Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone. His interaction was Colin Farrell’s Graves was the most interesting, and the darkest.

Indeed it was the not the darkness, but the light in this film that bothered me. I came to like and root for Jacob Kowalski–Dan Fogler–but found him childish as first. The same is true for Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander and Alison Sudol’s Queenie. In the end they both won me over, though. This film took a Ghostbusters-esque premise and turned it into the launching point for a series of films. A series I now plan to watch. Let’s just hope The Crimes of Grindelwald is no Ghostbusters 2.

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Daily Film Beauty: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Thinking of changing the name to Semi-Weekly Film Beauty. Thoughts?

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — Michael Seresin (cinematographer) & Alfonso Cuarón (director).

Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) first casting his patronus charm, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) first casting his patronus charm, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Daily Film Beauty: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: Eduardo Serra (cinematographer)/David Yates (director).

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, © 2010 Warner Bros.

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, © 2010 Warner Bros.

Divergent

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***

You’re supposed to be smart. If I wanted to hurt you, I would’ve.

Tris' poor ear. Divergent © 2014 Summit Ent.

Tris’ poor ear. Divergent © 2014 Summit Ent.

This film works as a standalone product. Certainly it is designed to be the first film of a trilogy, but as it was wrapping up—the end was exciting and the best part*—I wondered how anything would be left once our heroes took care of business. That said, it still seemed like a big book that got condensed down to something smaller than its readers would have liked, while also being longer than newcomers would feel was necessary. If you want to know what happens, that information is probably already in your head or is easily available elsewhere. Instead I will compare and contrast this with the more successful films of this genre: Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games.

*According to Megan, who just read the book, this is also the most accurate portion of the film.

Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) with the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, © 2001 WB.

Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) with the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, © 2001 WB.

Harry Potter: Instead of being eleven and having a magic hat choose your (school) house, there is a test that determines which of the five factions a young adult shall choose to spend the rest of its life in. In Harry Potter there is an anti-cunning sentiment, whereas here that sentiment is very anti-intellectual.

Twilight: The main character, Tris (Shailene Woodley) tells her love interest, Four (Theo James), that she wants to take it slow. My understanding is that in Twilight the characters waited for marriage before sex almost killed its protagonist. Herein Tris has a fear of Four sexually assaulting her which has sparked much debate, but is actually pretty much a non-statement in the actual context of this film.

A composite of Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

A composite of Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

The Hunger Games/Mockingjay or whatever: This seemed to be the closest parallel with a teenage girl as its protagonist and her un-requested role as revolutionary—which is non-existent for the first 5/6ths of the movies—who only wants to not die while living in a society where things have gone terribly wrong for most of the planet. Here there was no love triangle and the relationship between Four and Tris seemed more natural and exciting than anything involving Katniss. However, Woodley lacks the subtlety that Jennifer Lawrence has.

THEO JAMES and SHAILENE WOODLEY star in DIVERGENT, © 2014 Summit Entertainment.

THEO JAMES and SHAILENE WOODLEY star in DIVERGENT, © 2014 Summit Entertainment.

 

If the true test of this film was would I want to watch a sequel of it, then it definitely passed. A parallel film that I would connect it to was Hellboy. A good director (Neil Burger—The Illusionist before Divergent & Guillermo del Toro — Pan’s Labyrinth between Hellboys 1 & 2) with interesting characters and the promise of something greater that produced something that should have been better. It may be worth noting that Hellboy: The Golden Army was not actually better than the original, but it did change up the flaws. And neither story came close to the magic of the source material. Hopefully Burger can do something with these books that del Toro could not.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

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****

Hermione! When have any of our plans ever actually worked? We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose! 

This film was a battle between the forces of traditional good versus the shifting faces of evil, and it was a battle between fulfillment and frustration.  While the director David Yates has proven himself to be a far more capable director than I expected when he was announced to direct The Order of the Phoenix, he was still limited by the boringness of good.  Earlier films relied on great British actors to make good interesting–Richard Harris/Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, & David Thewlis to name a few.  The bad has also featured an amazing assortment of talented British actors.  Still, one limitation was the lack of time that Lord Voldemort got.  He was the baddest of the bad, but never had that much screen time–always speaking as quickly as possible.  In this film though, Ralph Fiennes made Lord Voldemort seem almost vulnerable, without sacrificing his venom.

Excluding the epilogue and the scene on the bridge, every story wrapped up nicely–even if some of those stories ended sadly with popular characters’ deaths.  It was odd to watch something where I both knew what would happen and wondered if what I knew to be coming would in fact come to pass.  The montage for Severus Snape was very well done and Alan Rickman should get credit for doing whatever the films needed–from condescension as the complicated major antagonist in Sorcerer’s Stone to just being in the background in other films.  I wish that he had played a role in the battle, but that half of the film held up impressively.  I loved how the tension stayed high, while we saw both sides fears and determination.  I am glad that things ended well, but also wish that certain things had been explained better, since I want the films to hold up for people who have not read the books as well.  In the end, splitting up the final chapter worked out very well, although I would have sat through a four hour Harry Potter finale last year–my guess is that younger kids might not though.  It’s hard to fault Warner Bros for being greedy and forgetting that this film is the 8th in 10 years so even the original 8 year-olds who saw the film would be 18 by now.  Oh wait, no, it’s not.  Boo for making me wait.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

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****

We wouldn’t last two days without her.  Don’t tell her I said that.

Let’s just get this out of the way…the dancing scene sucked.  David Yates’ attempt to add something original to the film failed.  It made me look at my friend and wonder, what the hell was going on.  I’ve heard an interesting argument that at least harry showed that he cared and didn’t act like a jerk.  While that’s true, a hug would have sufficed for me.  When the source material is so voluminous that the director/screenwriter is stuck making hard choices, then anything extraneous to the central story should serve an important purpose.  More than that, the means to achieve the purpose should waste the least amount of time possible.

Other than that, this movie benefits from getting twice the time to tell its story than the previous ones got.  While that’s said, I agree with Ann Hornaday in that this is a very good half of a movie, but is doomed to be unsatisfying.  All of the young stars can act and show their emotions, while the supporting cast is filled by England’s finest–Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Bill Nighy etc…  So I’m glad that I finally have a Yates directed Potter film that I haven’t instantly forgotten.