REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

20 11 2016

It’s good to be back in the Potterverse. While I might resist some of the revisionist history and postscripts of my beloved characters, a tangential outing like “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” hits the sweet spot. It’s clear that J.K. Rowling, who serves here as both screenwriter and producer, has more to explore and say about the magical world she created. Even if the roadmap to the supposedly five-part series she plans has not yet emerged, this first film makes for a fun, thoughtful outing.

The sheer presence of gentle ginger Eddie Redmayne alone, vocal in his bashful disappointment over not being cast as a Weasley, provides two hours of joy. The role of magical zoologist Newt Scamander is finely calibrated to match his unique star power: slightly awkward, modestly fumbling, overwhelmingly good-hearted. He serves as both our guide to a host of creatures never introduced to us by Hagrid and an outsider observing the operations of the American wizarding community.

Scamander arrives at Ellis Island with a suitcase full of living organisms and a mission to return some of them to their natural habitats. However, a series of chance encounters with a No-Maj (American speak for “Muggle”) gets him caught up in the geopolitical realities of the United States. Scamander becomes the unwitting companion to the rogue auror Tina (Katherine Waterston), who dedicates herself to finding a magical disturbance among the No-Maj that threatens to disrupt the Americans’ carefully guarded segregation of the two communities. Quite often, Scamander’s beasts get loose and make a mess out of an already precarious situation, and therein lies the enjoyment. He can always, somehow, wrangle control.

It will be interesting to see how, as the series progresses, Rowling deals with the political undertones introduced here. “Fantastic Beasts” strays away from the obvious allegory of franchises like “X-Men,” perhaps at the expense of glossing over or trivializing the issues. In this introduction, she introduces a group of puritanical recluses called “Second-Salemers” who call for a new purge of the magical community and a dark perversion of wizardry in Europe that Americans deny will wash up on their shores. It appears she will have plenty to pull from, both in ’30s history and contemporary society, in making these themes relevant. B+3stars

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REVIEW: Cosmopolis

16 08 2012

Woah, woah, woah, slow down, there! What on earth did you just say? What could that possibly mean? Why should I care at all?

Such are the questions that will inevitably be invoked by anyone watching David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis.”  While a billionaire driving around the streets of New York in a limousine amidst massive social upheaval certainly packs a timely, relevant thematic punch, you can’t puzzle over the film’s deeper meaning because it’s so difficult to get past the first layer: the dialogue!  I’ve even read another book by Don DeLillo, author of the novel “Cosmopolis” from which the film was adapted, and I found the way the characters talked to be absolutely infuriating.

Everyone speaks in non-sequiturs, and no one ever seems to say exactly what they mean or have any sense of urgency.  At times, the dialogue even seems to delve into absurdism – where nothing relates to anything.  The film’s structure, in addition, jumps from conversation to conversation with very little explanation.  One second, Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer is discussing the intricacies of global currency with Shiner (Jay Baruchel) … and then a quick cut to the next scene where he’s having sex with his art dealer (Juliette Binoche) – all in the limousine!

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REVIEW: The Messenger

26 07 2010

The Messenger” – it’s just like “Up in the Air,” only with graver situations and implications. And that’s a very good thing!

The movie captures with a haunting realism the journeys of two enlisted men (Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson) assigned to notify the families of killed soldiers.  It’s a tough job, and they deal with some furious people (the most memorable of which is a livid father played by Steve Buscemi).  They eventually grow used to the reactions and train themselves to be callous to the anguish of the families, largely by sticking to a set script.  Yet they never allow themselves to be a broken record, always performing their duties with the intent of honoring the fallen soldier.

It gives them quite a shock whenever one wife, Olivia (Samantha Morton), anticipates their bad tidings and shows little emotion at receiving the news.  Her unusual calmness rattles them both, particularly Foster’s Ben Montgomery, who winds up forging a deep connection with her.  But when his job entails conveying only the emotion of deep respect, it causes some friction between the two soldiers.

While the movie did receive an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, this is definitely a movie to see for the actors.  It’s not exactly a breakout role for Foster, but the up-and-comer sure shows promise of great things to come.  He’s great on the road, but the mushier scenes with Olivia.  Previous Oscar nominee Morton is powerful as ever as she keeps her grief repressed inside.  At the heart and soul of the movie is Harrelson, who delivers a truly compelling performance truly worthy of the Academy Award nomination it received.

As great as everything is, I left the movie not knowing how the filmmakers wanted me to feel. The movie begins to drag as it comes to a close, mainly because of the muddled emotions.  “The Messenger” loses a lot of its ability to rivet us in the last thirty minutes, but there’s plenty of powerful scenes and moments beforehand to still leave us very satisfied.  B+ /