Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

(I’m on holiday right now celebrating my 30th Birthday! To fill the void whilst I’m away I’m posting some old movie reviews that I wrote for the blog I had before I started Often Off Topic. I’ll be back in early September.)

fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-2016Does anyone else think perfume adverts are more than a little ridiculous? Perhaps now 4DX screens are becoming a thing they have a place in the world, but has anyone really ever paid much attention to these ads? You’re probably actually wondering what the hell perfume has to do with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Well, at the cinema the other night, right before the featured trailers aired, an advert of sorts was played for what looked like a period drama movie or TV show starring Domhnall Gleeson (AKA General Hux, AKA my favourite grumpy space ginger). I got so excited I did a little dance in my seat, until I realised it was an advert for Burberry perfume. What. The. Frick?! NOT COOL Burberry, not cool. Although I might buy your aftershave for my husband now…damnit. It works.

Anyway! Harry Potter fans will be aware of the book on every Hogwarts first year’s required reading list, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Who’d have thought all these years later it would be adapted into not one, but 5 movies?! I wish I could go back and tell 12 year old me. This movie is the story of the author of said book, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who travels to New York in 1926 to release one of his beasts back into the wild where he/she belongs. Whilst there, several creatures (including the ever adorable Niffler) escape from Newt’s magical suitcase.

Newt gets himself into trouble for involving a no-maj (American muggle) called Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and then not wiping his memory, so gets himself caught by disgraced Auror Tina (Katherine Waterson). Amidst all this, a dark wizard called Gellert Grindelwald is on the loose, an anti-magic cult is throwing their weight around, and a rather dapper Colin Farrell is hunting down a talented young witch. Got it? I sure all hell don’t, there’s so much going on!

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Let me first say though how wonderful it is to return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The sheer excitement at hearing that familiar music with the Warner Brothers logo was enough to make me cry (for the second or third time that night, after so many Christmas adverts), and there are plenty of references for the hardcore fans to spot. Eddie Redmayne is the perfect choice for Newt, confident in his abilities and passionate in his subject, but terribly awkward at the same time. It’s the first time I’ve ever really loved him on screen.

The beasts themselves are indeed fantastic. The Niffler is the real show-stealer, but all the creatures we are shown either bring laughs or a feeling of awe. It’s a lot of CGI to have thrown around, but it works. Almost the entire supporting cast were new to me, but their characters were played so well and even ones that have a high risk of being annoying (I’m looking at you, Queenie) were actually incredibly likable.

Where this movie falls down is largely the messy plot. Considering this franchise is going to be dragged out into 5 movies, there was too much packed into the first installment. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I would have been happy for the entire first movie to be an introduction to Newt and Co, chasing down the beasts across New York. Save the dark wizard stuff for movie number 2! Who is the target audience, anyway? This was far too dark for young children, but the plot was far too obvious for the older fans. It’s a shame.

I’ll always be happy for more Harry Potter movies, but I’d have liked them to go down the Star Wars route with a collection of one-offs instead. Let’s have Fantastic Beasts, then how about a movie for Hagrid and how he got kicked out of Hogwarts? A Marauder’s movie would be amazing too! There are so many stories that could be expanded, without the need of dragging them out.

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The Current War (2017)

the-current-war-2017-movie-reviewDirector: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Runtime: 107 Minutes

Main Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Tom Holland, Katherine Waterston, Tuppence Middleton, Matthew Macfadyen, Damien Molony

Plot: Set in the 1800s, The Current War is a retelling of the cutthroat race between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to determine whose electrical system will change the way the world works.

My Thoughts: So this is how my week has gone. Love Island has finished and I have no more distractions on an evening – huzzah! So let’s see what’s new at the cinema…oh wait. NOTHING. Did no one want to release anything at all whilst The Lion King is playing for its first week? The only thing new in my local was The Current War, a movie that was meant to be released in 2017 but got shelved because of the Weinstein scandal. I can’t say I was excited to see it but look at that cast! It was worth a go just for them.

History was my least favourite subject at school – I detested it. So the great thing about biopic movies for me is that I don’t actually know what’s going to happen! Which is terrible I suppose, but at least it made a not-so-interesting subject matter a little more exciting for me. I have to admit as well – it wasn’t until the day after that I realised the pun in the name of the movie, the ‘current’ war…no, neither me or my toddler are sleeping well this week!

I have to say though, I did enjoy the movie. It was quite fascinating the lengths that Edison went to during the race, and I had to laugh at the irony of the fact that Westinghouse years later was awarded “The Edison Award” for his work! It’s not a movie I’ll probably watch again, but it was much more interesting than I thought it would be. Solid performances all round, too!

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Best Bit: I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch playing an up-his-own-arse genius. I think he’s at risk of being typecast right now but when he does it so well it’s hard to criticise him for it.

Worst Bit: I did actually know about what happened to the first electric chair trial, but must have forgotten about it. I can’t imagine how it must have felt when it failed to work not once but twice!

Fun Trivia: Jake Gyllenhaal was originally cast alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, however, Gyllenhaal dropped out and Michael Shannon was brought as a replacement.

My Rating: 3 bright, shiny lightbulbs that might kill you, if you listen to Edison.

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P.S. Does anyone else think Michael Shannon looks like Ron Swanson in the poster?

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

fantastic-beasts-crimes-grindelwald-poster-2018Director: David Yates

Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy

Runtime: 134 Minutes

Main Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, Brontis Jodorowsky

Plot: Jack Sparrow Grindelwald has escaped imprisonment and had begun his mission of recruiting wizards to his cause. At least that’s what the likes of IMDB tell me. Mild spoilers ahead this time folks, because I need to rant.

My Thoughts: I’m not mad, I’m disappointed, and I don’t know where to start so excuse the word vomit that’s about to happen. How about we start with the fact that Grindelwald doesn’t really commit many crimes in this movie? He murders a few people (I don’t know who or why) and makes some funky blue flames, but is that really what the movie is about? How about we rename it to Fantastic Beasts: Who is Credence? What is Credence? Why is Credence?

Where is the magic here? The original Harry Potter movies were beautiful stories, perfect for watching with the family over the holidays. We got a really short segment of Newt and Leta during their time at Hogwarts and oh, how I didn’t want it to end. I miss that school hall, the Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons, the huge beautiful castle. That’s all I want. Not a stretched to breaking point thinly veiled plot with some magical creatures thrown in for good measure.

There are so many characters in this movie it’s impossible to keep track of them all, and throwing in romance arcs for the sake of it only made things worse. Jacob and Tina, even Queenie were great characters in the first movie but I felt like their personalities just disappeared in FB:CoG. I did enjoy Jude Law’s Dumbledore though, I wasn’t sure about that casting choice but he really made it work.

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As a normal movie sequel not part of the Wizarding World, it was a reasonably decent story that was simply half an hour too long and lacked emotion. As an addition to the Wizarding World, it was a huge disappointment for me. I’m always going to be extra critical though, I was practically raised on the Harry Potter books and movies! At the very least, it laid a lot of groundwork for the 3rd installment which I’m holding all my hopes for.

Best Bit: When we learned what Leta’s boggart turned into, it took me by complete surprise and absolutely broke me. It was a (pun not intended) fantastic bit of storytelling and it was so emotional. In fact she was my favourite character by far in the whole movie, she was so interesting! Slytherins always are though!

Worst Bit: So in the first 10 minutes we find out that the entire movie is really about finding out who Credence really is. 2 HOURS LATER we find out and honestly, was it a surprise to anyone? You can’t drag it out that long and expect your audience to not put two and two together.

Fun Trivia: Newt Scamander carries a wand, practices magic, and works for the Ministry of Magic even though he was expelled from Hogwarts, which puzzled several fans online especially since Hagrid wasn’t afforded those liberties. J.K. Rowling explained that the reason for this will be revealed throughout the series. (This made me lol. Is she going to explain all the other inaccuracies too?)

My Rating: 2 and a half Nifflers out of 5. Let’s face it, that cheeky little buggar was the real star of this movie.

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