Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them- Review

27 11 2016

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Fantastic Spinoffs and How To Cash Them is J.K. Rowling’s latest addition to her magical world. It’s also Part 1 of a new movie series, the first Harry Potter-less work, AND her first screenplay, so you could say there’s a lot riding on this. Spoiler alert: it’s doing fine financially, and delivers an enjoyable ride, but neither categories quite rise to the original series’ heights.

Granted, I’m one of those people who grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, so you can say “bah!” to this review if you’re a young whippersnapper. It is fun to see the wizarding world outside the point of view of a student and his friends, and Newt and company are an interesting team, but time (and future installments) will have to show if Rowling has the same level of character arcs and story building that the original saga is known for.

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Ron and Hermione, wondering how Harry let himself go.

First the good- I liked all the new characters, particularly Jacob, the no-maj (muggle, he’s a muggle, darn it!). While not normally the biggest fan of Eddie Redmayne, he brought the right mix of awkwardness and likability to Newt, although he could maybe consider buying a better suitcase. Tina and Queenie completed the cast out well enough, but I would have liked a bit more of Tina’s backstory, and a reason why someone like Queenie is so automatically smitten with someone like Jacob. Is it because he’s a muggle, or clueless, or has really sweet thoughts?

The creatures themselves were mostly fantastic, but some were a little too cartoonish for me. Granted, some of the earlier Harry Potter films probably haven’t aged well with their CGI characters/effects. The platypus-like Niffler is unsurprisingly my favorite creature. He may have ruined countless lives during the movie by stealing valuable and savings, but gosh if he isn’t a cute lil’ bugger! There were plenty of creatures, and I can’t wait to buy the bread versions of them sometime in Harry Potter World.

I’m not sure very many people were particularly surprised by the villain “twist” “reveal.” I mean, when you start the film with a long shot of the back of the villain’s head, and then a main character shows up with the exact same distinct haircut style (but a different color), he probably isn’t the hero. Also, Grindelwald may be the future big bad of this new series, but it’s going to be difficult to separate him from the heavily recognizable actor who plays him.

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Colin Farrell is magically confused and definitely not bad.

My only other criticism of the film was that the ending fell a little flat, thanks to some convenient plot devices. Everyone just saw half the city destroyed, but luckily we just realized that one thing (that we didn’t know the use of earlier) only works with this specific magical beast for exactly this type of situation. And all these buildings fell over, but luckily they can be quickly fixed with easy-looking spells (why are there even construction workers in this world?). And…I guess nobody died during all the flying cars and collapsing walls? Sure. Hopefully these forgetful spells work better than Jacob’s, is all I’m saying. Also, when did we have to stop yelling out spells to cast them?

At the bottom of all this, I think I just missed the old characters we knew, and Hogwarts with its colorful professors. Of course, it’s only been one movie so far, and the greatness of some characters only comes to light after several installments (looking at you, Snape), but rumor is this series of tales will jump ahead quite a bit chronologically, and Newt may not even be the main character ¬†throughout. Instead of a focused story about a group of specific characters, we might get more of a scattered (but entertaining) history lesson about the world of magic, leading up to the time of Harry Potter. Time will tell if that’s enough for lightning to strike twice.

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Look, the Plot Device Beast!

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Doctor Strange- Review

27 11 2016

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Put on your 3D glasses and prepare for wand-less magic, ’cause it’s time for Doctor Strange! Roughly the 200th entry in the Marvel franchise, this time it’s British Cumberbatch starring as that superhero you never heard about. Surprisingly (and unfortunately), Benedict as Dr. Strange puts on a sometimes-strained American accent, vs. his beloved British one. Even more surprising (for me) is that Doctor Strange is a solidly entertaining movie that makes some bold creative moves- moves that pay off.

To get the obvious point out of the way, yes, hopefully the creators sent a nice thank-you note to Inception. If bending buildings and multiple realities didn’t trigger any memories, you probably never saw that Nolan film. However, Strange rides the crazy train a few more stops with the visual insanity. Taking a queue from¬†Ant Man‘s other dimension, Stephen Strange teleports and travels through multiple universes filled with randomness and tripiness. The hands. Oh, the hands! Sparking portals, dark dimensions, and weapons pulled out of thin air made this my favorite 3-D movie to come out in a long time.

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Besides Benedict, the highlight for me was Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One (which by the way, should not be a name you give to a woman). She brought a character who was unassuming but confident, and serious with an ever-present under layer of humor. It’s a nuanced performance that stands out in a movie of big, big villains and forgettable girlfriends. Speaking of villains, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), though played by a fine villain actor, is here simply an average bad guy, which makes him one of the top 3 villains in the Marvel movie universe. If we had maybe a few more minutes of screentime with him, and maybe a bit more clarification on his motives, this could have gone from a good movie to a great one.

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Like most of you, I had little to no previous knowledge about the comic series of Doctor Strange, but this thankfully was not a stumbling block. I felt like I was keeping up, and even when things got really weird, I could just watch the pretty things fly by in 3D. It also played out like a normal superhero origins movie at its core (complete with training montage), but was mixed with enough acting and writing talent to keep me entertained.

Altogether, for me Doctor Strange was one of the stronger standalone Marvel movies. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, it didn’t bend over backwards to advertise every other Marvel film, and it bucked a bit of their normal story formula, focusing instead on being its own movie. Heck, they even rebuild the city in the climactic fight instead of tearing it down. However, it maintains the humor, action, and world-building prowess of the Marvel film universe, and proves that there’s still magic up their sleeve (har! har!).