[Harry Potter Day] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman, Colin Farrell

Screenplay: J.K. Rowling

133 mins. Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

Today, to honor the 19th Anniversary of The Battle of Hogwarts, we look back at the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film that exists in the Wizarding World Cinematic Universe (yep, that happened) but takes place decades before Harry Potter was even born.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything, Jupiter Ascending) has arrived in 1926 New York with a mysterious case full of amazing and exotic creatures, but when a tiny mix-up with aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, TV’s Secrets and Lies, Kung Fu Panda) causes several of his fantastic beasts to be released upon the No-Maj (America’s term for Muggles) society. Now, it is up to Newt, Kowalski, and ex-auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs) to retrieve the missing creatures before they are discovered by the non-magical citizens of New York City.

There are many things to love about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I have to start with the performances. Eddie Redmayne absolutely disappears within his role as Newt and becomes the magi-zoologist with apparent ease, and his foil in Kowalski is expertly lovable and comedic due to Fogler’s performance. I was also blown away by Ezra Miller’s (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Suicide Squad) work as Credence Barebone, the adopted son of a religious zealot being manipulated by the sinister Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Solace). There’s also some nice supporting work from Samantha Morton (TV’s Harlots, John Carter), Jon Voight (TV’s Ray Donovan, Mission: Impossible), and Ron Perlman (TV’s Hand of God, Hellboy).

The collaboration between screenwriter J.K. Rowling and director David Yates (The Legend of Tarzan, The Girl in the Café), who has now directed five films in this franchise, is electric to say the least. Yates has an understanding of how to treat the fans, and Rowling’s decision to use creatures hinted at in the books and previous films to further enhance the experience is something to dazzle at. For me, getting to see an actual Bowtruckle and Nifler, two creatures mentioned in novels but never put to film, was very exciting.

I also would like to point out the excellent score in the film, courtesy of James Newton Howard. Howard is one of my favorite working film composers, and his work here is some of his best. When you compare the score of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to, say, something like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it is clear to see where one score outdid the other. Howard’s music entices us with callbacks to the original music, and when it does, it’s pitch perfect, but at the same time, he creates a plethora of new music to further guide this franchise into the future.

As for issues, I felt like the New Salem Philanthropic Society felt a little rushed in their exposition. I would like to know more about them but they don’t get the full exposition needed to really consider them a threat. The same thing with Jon Voight’s character, Henry Shaw, and the secondary plot thread with him doesn’t really go anywhere. Finally, as for the twist (if you can call it that), it’s a little easy to spot, and I feel like there was a better way to do what was done at the end of the film. Thankfully, these problems only affect secondary characters and our main characters are more or less unaffected by them.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an exquisite and sophisticated return to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Thanks to some clever callbacks to creatures and major plot points of the franchise like the Deathly Hallows, the film feels new but also honors what came before. It’s a clever film that will have something for everyone, as long as they are a Harry Potter fan. I don’t think this new entry will win over any new fans, but anyone who has taken the ride this long shouldn’t have any trouble going around again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, click here.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

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Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Jaime King, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Juno Temple

Screenplay: Frank Miller

102 mins. Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use.

 

Sin City is back and at it again with four new tales of brutality and violence.

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In “Just Another Saturday Night”, Marv (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, Immortals) wakes up with little memory of last night’s events and tries to piece it all back together. In “The Long Bad Night”, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Inception, The Wind Rises), a gambler on a winning streak, attempts to win it all from Senator Roark (TV’s Nashville, The Avengers), at any cost. In “A Dame to Kill For”, Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin, W., Inherent Vice) gets involved with former flame Ava (Eva Green, TV’s Penny Dreadful, Casino Royale) who is in deep with the wrong people. Finally, in “Nancy’s Last Dance”, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four, Stretch) is still reeling from the loss of her beloved Hartigan (Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense, Vice) and wants revenge of the men who caused his death.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For isn’t as good as the original film. The story selection here is a lot of similar fare. Still, it is a gorgeous looking piece of noir cinema. “Just Another Saturday Night” is a great, albeit short, character piece that brings back fan favorite Marv, who appears a lot in this collection. “The Long Bad Night” is mostly entertaining even if it doesn’t really go anywhere, but I don’t agree with the decision to cut the story in two halves which appear separately in the film. “A Dame to Kill For” isn’t the least worthy piece in the film, but it doesn’t have the strength it should and doesn’t make the connection to the original film it should. Finally, “Nancy’s Last Dance” feels like it is missing something. All in all, these stories  are mostly entertaining, but they don’t weave like they should.

The performances are mostly awesome, with notable exceptions being Jamie Chung (Big Hero 6, 7500) taking over as Miho and Jeremy Piven (TV’s Entourage, The Pirates! Band of Misfits) as Bob. Both characters were previously played by Devon Aoki and Michael Madsen, and the originals were much better. Dennis Haysbert (TV’s 24, Dead Rising: Watchtower), on the other hand, takes over for deceased Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute and does well at giving the character something new while not forgetting the work put in by his predecessor.

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For looks great and feels good, and while not being as powerful as the original film, it is still a ton of fun.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, click here.

[Happy 10th Birthday!] Sin City (2005)

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Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood

Screenplay: Frank Miller

124 mins. Rated R for sustained strong stylized violence, nudity, and sexual content including dialogue.

 

It’s pretty insane that no one decided to completely adapt a graphic novel until 2005, when co-directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez released Sin City, an adaptation of the series of the same name.

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Sin City tells three main stories. In “The Hard Goodbye”, we meet Marv (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, Immortals), a beast of a man who has just enjoyed the best night of his life due to a beautiful blonde named Goldie. When he wakes up, she’s not breathing and he’s out for vengeance. In “The Big Fat Kill”, Dwight (Clive Owen, TV’s The Knick, Children of Men) is out to stop the dangerous drunk Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro, Snatch, Inherent Vice) and his friends who are on a bender in old town, where the women are in charge and the cops stay out of the way. In “That Yellow Bastard”, police officer John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense, Vice) has been paying for a crime he didn’t commit for far too long, but he has just one last mission: to protect Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four, Stretch) from the vicious hands of a murdering, raping psychopath.

The look of this film is one-of-a-kind (or was, it has since been reproduced in several other stylized films), filmed practically frame-for-frame from the source material. For a film mostly on green screen, the film just oozes noir. Rodriguez took some extreme risks to get the film he wanted, including creating a scene on his dime to prove that it could be done. He even brought Frank Miller in as a co-director along with colleague and frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino as a special guest director (he helped with the score to Kill Bill in exchange).

The performances are exactly where they need to be. They are gritty and goofy with a slight hint of madness, exactly what this film needed. The whole movie just works when it really shouldn’t, and it is that accidental (or genius) combination that makes this movie just perfect.

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Sin City is a film that is exactly what it needs to be, and it has survived and only looked better in the ten years since its release. The performances and visual beauty of the film could not have existed so flawlessly under a lesser director, but Robert Rodriguez had a vision, one that he shared with original creator Frank Miller, and it shines through here.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Inherent Vice (2014)

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short

Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson

148 mins. Rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, The Master) is known for making strange movies. That isn’t a bad thing. His films always feel like a director throwing paint on the wall and turning it into a work of art. Oftentimes, he dazzles with flair and style, which complements the acid trip well.

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Anderson’s newest film, Inherent Vice, follows Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator, Her) as he investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston, Michael Clayton, Being Flynn). This journey takes him through a series of strange encounters with people like Lieutenant Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin, W., Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris, No Escape), and Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short, Frankenweenie, The Wind Rises). Doc, an out of place hippie in the evolving 1970s, must make his way through the web of convolution and find out the truth involving several missing persons and a few Nazis to boot in this adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel.

Joaquin Phoenix dominates here as Doc Sportello, a role seemingly made for him. His chemistry or lack thereof, is pretty perfect with Brolin, Waterston, Short, and Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Wild), who portrays Sportello’s occasional squeeze Penny, a Deputy D.A.

Brolin plays the hardass cop card so well that I love seeing him onscreen. He offers slight nuance as Bigfoot Bjornsen, a relatively unlikable but totally watchable antihero. Benicio del Toro (Snatch, Guardians of the Galaxy) also appears at Sauncho Smilax, Doc’s attorney, and he is underseen and wonderful. And can I just say how awesome it is to have Martin Short on the big screen as Blatnoyd?

While the acting performances are top notch, the flaws with this film come from a much-too-convoluted plotline anchored by a screenplay more adaptation than actual screenplay. This tactic can and has worked in the past, but here it comes off as a story that belongs on the page. Anderson’s screenplay is missing the stylistic touches that would make it great.

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A lot of this film looks and sounds great, but that screenplay proves that it can kill a movie, and it winds up doing just that here. This movie is somewhat unwatchable and feels more like a director throwing a lot of paint at the wall and creating property damage. Sadly, I had hopes.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Wild (2014)

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Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffman

Screenplay: Nick Hornby

115 min. Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use and language.

 

Who’s ready to get Wild? Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Inherent Vice) certainly is, as she portrays real life Cheryl Strayed, a woman about to take on the journey of a lifetime, and Witherspoon takes on the performance of a lifetime.

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Cheryl Strayed has had a rough time: drugs, alcohol, anonymous sex, cheating, lying, deceit. Now, after losing her husband (Thomas Sadoski, TV’s The Newsroom, Loser), Cheryl is ready to take on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), an 1,100 mile solo hike from one end of the US to the other. This is a staggering endeavor, and Cheryl takes us along for the ride as she documents the trek and gives us flashbacks to what brought her here.

This is a far different Reese Witherspoon than we have ever seen, and it might just be the best performance in her career. She plays a broken woman ready to stand back up and fight, and her tragic relationship with mother Bobbi (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park, When the Game Stands Tall), proves that both actresses here are at the top of their respective games. Everything in the film is seen through Cheryl’s perspective, and it causes a looseness to the tale that almost feels dreamlike in its portrayal of the trials on the trails.

The screenplay by Nick Hornby (An Education, Fever Pitch) gave me several avenues and relationships to delve into, but the film feels unfinished even though it finished. The ending is tied up so quick I almost wasn’t sure that I should get out of my chair. Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria) shows us a stunning vision of open America. The music, and sometimes lack thereof, gives us a more personal and intimate connection to Cheryl’s journey.

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Now, the film has a lot in common with films like Into the Wild and 127 Hours that I didn’t walk away as blown away as I had hoped, but Wild is still definitely worth a trip to your theater, as long as the theater is closer than a thousand miles.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

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Director: Shawn Levy

Cast: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Hank Azaria, Christopher Guest, Alain Chabat, Robin Williams

Screenplay: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon

105 mins. Rated PG for mild action and brief language.

I avoided the sequel to Night at the Museum like the plague. I enjoyed the original film but thought to myself that a sequel can only harm that. There couldn’t be any possible way for the sequel to be anything new. Literally, the title says it all. It’s just another night at the museum, right?

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Not exactly.

Sure, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is more of the same, but it takes the original premise and expands immensely on it, providing a little of the repetition, but a lot of new fun that makes it comparable to the original.

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller, Zoolander, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) has taken his inventing career to the next level, creating all manner of As Seen On TV that you see on the endcaps in stores across the nation. He has essentially put his past in the Museum of Natural History behind him, but that changes when he gets a call from Jedediah (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris, Inherent Vice) telling him that Dexter the Capuchin Monkey had stolen the Tablet that brings the exhibits to life at night and it has been moved to the Smithsonian Museum where all heck has run loose, and it’s now up to Larry and his cadre of walking talking exhibits including Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s Society) and Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams, Man of Steel, Big Eyes) to take on the evil and now alive again Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria, TV’s The Simpsons, The Smurfs 2) who thinks the Tablet belongs to him.

I loved all the ways that Battle of the Smithsonian expanded the universe created by the first film. From the talking bobbleheaded Einsteins in the gift shop to the paintings that Larry and Amelia get caught up in, this is a well-thought sequel with several new avenues for adventures. It does tread some of the same waters as the original, but does so with enough flair that it’s more forgivable. Director Shawn Levy (Real Steel, This is Where I Leave You) continues to stylishly supply action/comedy at full-tilt and it seems like the new characters like Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest, This is Spinal Tap, The Invention of Lying) have great chemistry with our returning players.

As always, the cinematography isn’t anything to sing to the mountaintops, and the film might run on a little too long for its own good, but Levy’s work behind the camera keep the film light-hearted and moving along.

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As far as sequels go, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian could have been better (I’m still a little curious about where Carla Gugino went) but it stands up as a lot of fun that adds some new fun and sends up its predecessor nicely.

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Night at the Museum, click here.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps on getting bigger. Each film just seems to open up the world a bit more, and with Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn just blew the lid off the whole thing. This movie is huge, epic in scale, absolutely opening doors to further adventures both for these heroes and a whole lot more.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, Jurassic World) aka Star Lord, an Earthling kidnapped from his home many years previously by aliens. Peter steals a mysterious orb from Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2). Ronan wants it back, badly. Peter joins up with several other degenerate thugs to protect it. Among them is daughter of Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Out of the Furnace), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, Riddick, The Man With the Iron Fists), a walking and talking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel, Fast & Furious 6, Babylon A.D.), and a talking genetic raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper). Together, they form the loosely fitting title of the “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

First of all, I just want to point out that Chris Pratt takes a commanding lead of this colorful cast of characters. He controls the film and doesn’t falter under any pressure carrying us along. I’ve been saying for a while that Pratt is going somewhere. This film proves it.

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Zoe Saldana is such a beauty; I will never understand why every damn movie has her suiting up in CG of makeup, but the performance here doesn’t suffer, mostly because Saldana requested to wear light makeup so as not to mess with her ability to act. Gamora is a tough character to knock down. Through her relationship with father Thanos (last seen in 2012’s The Avengers in a cameo appearance) and sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus), she probably has the most connections to tie us into the MCU.

I was actually fairly shocked by Dave Bautista as Drax. I see a former wrestler-turned-actor in a lineup and assume the worst, but that is because more often than not, I am right, but Bautista doesn’t hold us down. He serves the tough guy purpose nicely, and he has a heart in there; the glimpses are just enough to connect to the audience.

Vin Diesel’s Groot is the breakout performance of this film. With three words and seemingly endless permutations, Groot is the source for a lot of the heart and soul of the picture, and his relationship with Rocket is a beautiful thing.

The Collector (Benicio del Toro, Snatch, Inherent Vice) was introduced to us in the post-credits sequence for last year’s Thor: The Dark World, and he serves the purpose of really expanding the Marvel universe. Apart from having the subtle nuances to complete with the other major players, The Collector delivers a lot of big game info in his small role, like the Infinity Stones, certainly something to learn about for future features all over the verse (wait, was that the cube?), as well as giving us some nice cameos of perhaps some future Marvel players (not all, but dammit, enjoy the post-credits scene for what it is).

Now, I did have criticisms for the film. For example, Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser is a somewhat generic villain, very much alike to previous Marvel fare. We as the audience wanted more of Thanos that we didn’t really get. At least the film served a purpose of reminding us that he isn’t really an endgame. Not to mention the fact that the ending builds to a less-than-stellar face-off that could have been used earlier for better effect.

The nicest thing we could be given for this film is that we didn’t have a lot of it ruined by the trailer. More films should take a page from Guardians of the Galaxy and understand that a trailer can be made up of non-feature material.

Before I end this off, I want to point out how impressed I was by Gunn’s choice of soundtrack and how much it actually, surprisingly works. Give it a listen and let it pump you up.

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Guardians of the Galaxy was a Marvel Studios test, and it works. Producer Kevin Feige wanted to see it fans would turn out for some of the more cosmic, out-there characters that Marvel has to offer. And we did. And we loved it. I think you will too.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Guardians of the Galaxy? Did this ship take you places or crash land on a strange and disappointing planet? Tell me!

 

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