Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016): Fun Supporting Cast but Narrative Doesn’t Quite Work

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    “Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them,” could have been a really good film. It wasn’t a bad film, not by a long shot…but there were so many narrative issues and plot holes that took away some great chances for drama and character as well as world development that just hurt the overall story. These are my non-spoiler thoughts going in, also I kind of hate that they are turning this into a Franchise as the film’s story feels done after this film, but I guess post-Marvel everybody wants to be a Franchise.

      The film was directed by David Yates, written by J. K. Rowling who was one of the producers along with David Heyman, Steve Cloves and Lionel Wigram.

     The story involves Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrival in NYC in order to release of the animals he’s been studying when he’s pulled into a wider plot as the evil wizard Grindelwald has gone missing in Europe and mysterious attacks are happening all over NYC making Scamander a suspect.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic, though not fully fleshed out. One thing in the Potter Books is that real life events in our world are tied to events in the Wizarding World. In this that is dropped completely as we have anti-wizard organizations in the muggle world and much more moments of the two worlds knowing one another. Not to mention Newt being made to be a bigger deal than he ever was in the Harry Potter World. This is still a fun world though and I enjoyed visiting it again.

The Soundtrack – James Newton Howard hits all the ques. This is the Harry Potter Universe and the magic and music working together to illustrates scenes is on display here.

The Support Characters – The support characters are the best part of this film, and really should have been the focus. There was no reason to pull in Scamander and Hogwarts beyond references. Hell, Grindelwald didn’t even have to be the baddie, America could have it’s own Nazi Wizard. Still, if they have to Grindelwald the support characters were more than enough to carry off the mystery and fight.

Gnarlack – This guy is a goblin who owns a jazz club. He was a cool looking character and I wanted to learn more about him…He was clearly doing well even with wizards looking down on all those who weren’t wizards.

Tina – Tina is the disgraced auror who is seeking to redeem herself through the film. The reason she’s disgraced is because she protected Credence from his abusive anti-witch mother. In the end she nearly saves him again before the aurors kill him when he is coming back down from turning into a Obscurus. She also has a thing for Newt but we never fully get why as Newt never listens to her and just does his own thing.

Queenie – Queenie is so much fun! she is a Witch who can read minds and is one of the liberal witches as she likes the muggle Jacob and doesn’t get the prejudice going on around her. She was one of my favorite characters and she shows how smart she is when she sneaks all of them out of the Ministry before they are executed. It is also implied she gets her happy ending with Jacob. Alison Sudol is fantastic.

Jacob – Dan Fogler is really wonderful in the role as the muggle in over his head but who deals with the unknowns and magic with respect after the shock goes away. He is an all around good guy and vet from the war. I’m really glad that even though his mind got wiped it is assumed he kept the memories from before as the Eagle Monster only wiped away the sad memories from the city.

Okay: Credence – This guy is the plot device of the film as it is his extreme power that turns him into an Obscuro and has him reek havoc through NYC. Grindelwald and Tina are the ones fighting for his soul but no one really wins as the Ministry kills him…and it’s never brought up again. He’s abused by his adoptive Mom and could have been so much more in the plot. He’s a plot device that works but fails to elevate the plot.

Newt Scamander – Newt is a mystery and Redmayne does a fine job with that but a character needs to be more. We never know why he went into protecting creatures, we don’t know why he’s cut off from people or even why he knows so much. He’s enough of a person though that I won’t call him a “Knock-off” Doctor from “Doctor Who,” though I get why some people would think this. He has enough there to be his own person but not enough to draw me in like the supporting cast.

Graves/Grindelwald – Grindelwald has Newt’s problem but at least his motivation is there as he hates the wizarding laws that hide them from humans as he sees it as protecting humans when wizards should revel in their power. For much of the film he is Agent Graves, an Auror who works for the Wizarding Government in the U.S. Why he was acting alone this entire time was stupid though, if you are Wizard Hitler, you should have followers. So of course he gets caught at the end, even Voldemort didn’t act alone…he at least had Quirrel in Book 1.

The Cons: Creating a Franchise – Rowling should write books first so there is a justification for all of this. There is no reason for Franchising a series that only has Pottermore to go on. It feels like a blatant cash grab and super cynical and dirties the waters of what could be a great Franchise if it happened naturally. This film shows the studio just wants some of the “Game of Thrones” and “Marvel” action.

Plot Holes – Why is Grindelwald alone if he has a movement at his back? What brought Newt into studying creatures? How do relations between the Wizarding Governments work? (we see a council but no follow up). What is Grindelwald doing beyond terror attacks? There were more as well but these are some right off the bat that I noticed while watching the film. Rowling had this problem in her books too.

The Right to Memory – This is a hole in Rowling’s universe too. Wizards wipe human minds so many times and that is never addressed. This is a huge moral issues, hell they wipe the memory of an entire city and things just return to the status quo. Wizards and humans eventually should interact with one another, groups remaining isolated leads to terms like muggles, etc. This is never addressed but this mentality is what creates Grindelwald’s and Voldemort’s in the Wizarding World.

   This was a film that really excelled when it was doing the Grindelwald plot, but fell apart when Scamander had to “Catch em’ all.” The creatures are all very cool and I get that it is his job but that is even never fully explored but it takes up so much of the plot that the much more interesting mystery of why Grindelwald is in America get’s sidelined until the very end. This was a tragic waste of what could have been a wizard noir! A lot of these cons are cons the books and films have too. Rowling is a great idea writer and she is really good at characters when she focuses on them but in the process her world and stories end up being full of plot holes, even if they are a fun ride. I’d still recommend this film, just know it is flawed going in.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

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The Lobster (2016): A Great Concept Film on Relationships That Never Delivers

The Lobster

       “The Lobster” is a film that could have been a favorite film had it been more succinct, knew more clearly what it was trying to say and had cut some of it’s scenes down. It isn’t a bad film but the longer the film went on the less I liked it. It started out great and by the end was merely good. The whole idea of critiquing courtship, love and relationships is really cool, and there was so many ways this film could have worked. Non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth checking out, it just isn’t great, it is only good.

    The film was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos who also was one of the writers and producers. The other co-writer was Ethymis Filippou and the other producers were Ed Guiney, Ceci Dempsey and Lee Magiday.

       The film takes places in a dystopian future in which all people must be in a marriage or else they are transformed into animals. They also hunt the loners a rebel group who lives outside the hotel. The story follows David (Colin Farrell) who finds himself single when his wife leaves him for another man forcing him to find a partner in 45 days or else he’ll be transformed into the animal he chose, a lobster.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is cool and left me with questions…what lead the world to become only run so that marriage is what matters over all else? The idea that people could be transformed into animals is really cool as well and the film does a good job showing that presentation (and leaving the question open if the transformations ever really happened). So there is a lot to like about the world.

The Premise – A person having 45 days to find a partner is a fascist dsystopian world is an interesting one. There is so much you can do with it.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is a beautiful and does a great job giving the film a modern feel but also an older feel too, which is the nature of dystopia. This is the future but has reverted to a twisted version of the past.

The Characters – The characters are interesting and most of them manage to be 3 Dimensional even though their names present them as concepts.

Lisping Man – John C. Reilly is good at non-comedic roles! In this he plays the Lisping Man who is insecure because of his lisp and wants to fit in to the group. He is punished for masturbating at one point and has to put his hand in the toaster when it is turned on. It is implied he is changed into an animal as he would have been punished after David steals his stuff when he hunting David after David has become a loner.

Hotel Manager – Olivia Coleman makes a wonderful villain. She is empathetic and harsh and in the end meets her own tragic end when her husband claims to love her but shows he will shoot her if it means his survival, destroying their relationship which was the plot of the Loner’s Leader.

Heartless Woman – The Heartless Woman is a great antagonist as she kills David’s dog that belonged his brother and we see her cruel to all those around her. She is transformed at the end so is given a just end.

Loner Leader – The Loner Leader is driven to destroy all relationships (except her parents). I never got her motivation as it seems her and the Maid are together at one point, but then she kills her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman…I liked her as a character but her lack of motivation was a con.

the Maid – I liked the Maid. She saves David from the Hotel and works with the Loners, even though their leader has the Short Sighted Woman kill her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman. I got her motivation though, she was in an abusive relationship that society kept her in, the Loners were her out.

Short Sighted Woman – Rachel Weisz is a good actress and is pretty intense in this where she communicates in commands at first but grows to have communication through eyes and hand signals with David when they are getting around the Loner rules about no relationships. She is blinded by the Loner Leader at one point which leads David to rescuing. I hated that she had her agency taken away and never had a name as she was the one telling the story and is set up to be David’s equal.

David – Colin Farrell is a pretty fantastic actor. In this he is a bigger awkward guy who doesn’t get people but shows he will do anything to have connection and to survive…to a point. At the end we never know if he stabs his eyes with the butcher’s knife to stab his own eyes out so he and the Short Sighted Woman can be blind together.

When Commonality Leaves in Relationship – All the relationships are based on past commonality or false commonality (one person creates bloody noses on himself so he can be with a girl who actually has that problem). I think that is the need for connection and how commonality is that first step. This plays it to it’s absurdest conclusion.

The Awkwardness of Courtship – The awkward courtships show how people will work in any social environment no matter how unhealthy (the loners and the hotel) to find and be with someone and how it is awkward within the confines of communication allowed and on the dependence of commonality in order to communicate.

The Cons: The Pacing – The pacing was all over the place. Some scenes lingered way too long, at one point after the Hotel it feels like it should be over and other scenes are short like when the Short Sighted Woman and David get together. This film needed a better editor.

The Ending – Does he cut out his eyes or not? If they want to leave it ambiguous, why not when he escapes the Hotel since the Short Sighted Woman serves no purpose within her own agency.

The Narrator – The narrator interjections from the Short Sighted Woman were annoying at times. I kept looking for the character but she doesn’t actually appear for a long time.

The Short Sighted Woman’s Story  and Dis-empowerment of a Lead – This character is made blind and everything she does is for David. At times it looks like she wants to escape because she has a desire to do so but that stops after she is blinded. She is someone who has been out in the wilderness a lot longer, she deserved to have more of an identity that didn’t revolve around David.

   This was a good film but the cons eventually overwhelmed everything else. A more powerful concept film could have achieved the same purpose in a lot less time. A perfect ending would have been him escaping the hotel and leaving the rest up to mystery as even the Short Sighted Woman is never given name, even though she is the narrator and seems to be set up as a main character when we see that she is a loner and can give that perspective…that never happens though because she is more concerned telling David’s story, and as great of job as Colin Farrell does, detached characters can only give so much before they become boring. His character eventually suffers from this due to pacing. I would still recommend this film though, for what it is, it is worth checking out.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

In Bruges (2008): A Tragic Quest for Redemption

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“In Bruges” was a film that was recommended to me by a friend, and I got to say it didn’t disappoint. I’ll get into what I liked and disliked about in the assessment, but for now this is one of the most beautiful films in regards to cinematography.

“In Bruges” was directed and written by Martin McDonagh and produced by Graham Broadbent and Peter Czernin.

The story is that of hitmen. Two hitmen named Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent to Bruges by their boss Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) after Ray accidentally kills a kid during a hit job. From here the story unfolds as Ray wrestles with his guilt and the world around him unfolds.

Here as my assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – Visually, this is a stunning movie. The use of fog and light are used to capture how grey the characters are morally and emotionally through the film, and even ties to the end with the mystery of what finally happened.

The Music – The music is also reflective it shows us the dilemmas Ray faces as he considers taking his own life, and Ken has when Harry orders the hit. It is a stunning soundtrack and one I plan to use for writing in the future. Carter Burwell’s use of the piano made this soundtrack a masterpiece.

Chloe – Chloe is Ray’s love interest and the one showing him a reason to live as she’s been in deep with gangs and drugs herself and they help give each other direction and higher purpose beyond themselves. As her ex-boyfriend is a thief. She’s a very beautiful, kind and complex character. Poesy is fantastic in the role.

Jimmy – Is a drug addict Dwarf from the United States, who is in Bruges as part of a film. He has racist tendencies and thinks there will be a race war between whites and everyone else. When he is called on it by Ken who had a black wife who was murdered by a white man he changes his tune. He blames his racism later on the cocaine, but he seems to have learned from Ken. Ken really is the moral center of the film. Jordan Prentice is a great actor and I want to see him in more films.

Ken – Ken is the moral core of the film. While Ray reacts and tries to escape from his actions, Ken is always facing them. We see this in his love of history as he is the one taking in the sights and history of Bruges and really appreciating the place. He owes a lot to Harry the mob boss as Harry avenged his wife (in a deleted Harry played by Matt Smith does it) so you get the life debt he owes and why he doesn’t hold Harry killing him against him and uses the last of his will to give Ray a gun and warn him that Harry is in town. At one point he is about to kill Ray when Ray is about to kill himself so he changes his mind, saves Ray and gets him out of town. It is here that he chooses to make the right choice rather than stay a killer, which leads to why Harry tries to kill him later. Brendon Gleeson is wonderful in this role.

Harry Waters – This guy is the clear set moral mob boss. “You don’t kill kids.” Is his philosophy in regards to when he does hits, it doesn’t matter if it’s accidental or not, the person who does it will pay, even if it is him. We see the reasons why since he has a family and children of his own and this sets the stage of him killing himself after he accidentally kills a kid into perspective. He’s a character true to his word. Ralph Feinnes shows is acting depth and range again with this character.

Ray – Colin Farrell shows why he won an award for this film…from his hate of Bruges, love of Chloe, nihilistic escapism and confronting his guilt when he almost takes his life in the park while watching kids play. We never know if he dies at the end, we just know he doesn’t want to die in Bruges. He fucking hates Bruges and describes it as being in Hell for an eternity if he dies here. We’re left wondering if he’ll ever find redemption as so far he’s either been running or lost in guilt. This theme pervades the film. 

Cons: The First Third – The first third of the movie is really slow, it’s before we meet Jimmy and Chloe and the backstories of our characters haven’t been fully revealed yet. It goes on way too long and could have been cut since when it picks up it keeps going. This is the only thing keeping it from being a perfect film. Action should have been faster initially, or at least more drama in the first third of reflection.

I loved this film, the cast, music and cinematography are spectacular and it gives us very human characters facing their choices. All the choices have consequences too and there are no easy outs and asks the question of redemption being even possible. For these reasons I would recommend this film, just know the first third is a bit long before the action really picks up.

My final score for this film is 9.4 / 10.