[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.

Zoolander (2001)

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Director: Ben Stiller

Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, Jon Voight

Screenplay: Drake Sather, Ben Stiller, John Hamburg

90 mins. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and drug use.

 

Zoolander is one of those movies that probably shouldn’t have had a sequel. The film itself exists as a cult hit but it didn’t make any money worthy of setting up another. It also didn’t really need a sequel fifteen years later. But here we are, fifteen years later, and with Zoolander no. 2 on the way, I thought we should take a trip back to the original film.

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Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Tropic Thunder) is no longer the top fashion model after he loses the award to rising runway master Hansel (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris, Cars 2), and his bad run of luck continues when an article from Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, License to Wed) tarnishes his reputation even further. After a tragedy forces him to leave the fashion industry, only the request of fashion mogul Mugatu (Will Ferrell, Step Brothers, Daddy’s Home) is enough to bring him back. But Mugatu has a motive up his sleeve. He needs to use Derek as a weapon for his own fiendish plans, and its up to Matilda and Derek to stop him.

Zoolander does have a lot to love, and the film would have been more widely accepted today than it was back then. For one, the sheer amount of cameos is jarringly amazing. My personal favorite? David Bowie. My least favorite? A terrible human being who wishes to be president. But enough about Donald Trump. Enough forever.

Zoolander does a great job of building up the mythos of the male model. The entire film is strange and unusual and kind of lovable. Ben Stiller has great chemistry with Wilson and of course his wife Christine Taylor. The film even features Stiller’s mother and sister in cameos, but the big cheese of awesome that is Jerry Stiller (TV’s The King of Queens, Hairspray) steals every scene as Derek’s agent Maury Ballstein. In fact, the best characters of the film are the supporting roles with David Duchovny (TV’s The X-Files, Phantom) as J.P. Pruitt and Jon Voight (TV’s Ray Donovan, Mission: Impossible) as Derek’s father Larry.

But that is perhaps the issue of the film. Derek Zoolander isn’t all that likable nor is he accessible. The film would have more engaging if Matilda had been the focus character and Zoolander could’ve been seen through her eyes. Sadly, she makes a bad decision early on that makes her less likable and Zoolander is just kind of there.

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Zoolander is pretty enjoyable, and it does get better the more you see it. Is it worthy of a franchise revisiting fifteen years later? Probably not. Am I still going to watch it? Yeah, but it’s my thing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, click here.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

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Director: Brian DePalma

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave

Screenplay: David Koepp, Robert Towne

110 mins. Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence.

 

Adaptations of popular television series are really tough. How do you condense the best parts of a multi-season run into 90 minutes? How can it be done? Some successful versions, like 21 Jump Street, poke fun at the silliness of the source material. Others, like Mission: Impossible, drastically change the series direction while holding up its most important rules.

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Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) has run into a bit of trouble on his newest mission to recover the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) non-official cover, or NOC, list. His entire team has been attacked and Ethan has become framed for the attack. Without long-time team leader Jim Phelps (Jon Voight, TV’s Ray Donovan, Heat) to help protect him, Ethan is now the target of a manhunt set in motion by Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny, TV’s Revenge, The A-Team), and now, with the help of two disavowed IMF agents, Franz Krieger (Jean Reno, Leon: The Professional, Hector and the Search for Happiness) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction, Jamesy Boy), Ethan is out to discover who wants him dead and who has the NOC list.

Mission: Impossible has a somewhat confusing plotline. There is a lot happening all at once, mostly due to the fact that the film went into production without a finished screenplay. Screenwriters David Koepp and Robert Towne were disappointed in the finished product. The original cast of the TV show (of which the film is a sequel) chose not to reprise their roles because they felt that the film was a bastardizing of their beloved property.

I personally found the finished product to be one of the more enjoyable espionage films of the 1990s. Tom Cruise solidified himself as a bona fide action star in a role where he doesn’t fire a gun the entire film. Jon Voight is a great man to take over the role of Jim Phelps from original television actor Peter Graves, who disliked Phelps’ portrayal in the story. I also really liked Reno, Rhames (who would become a staple of the series much like Cruise himself) and Czerny.

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Mission: Impossible contains some truly iconic moments both for the franchise and the action genre in general. The only part of the film that truly irks me is the opening credits (to be fair, I love the opening credits, but the decision to montage important plot points throughout the now-iconic score and opening bothers the hell out of me, but it continues throughout the entire franchise). This is one Tom Cruise property that I can’t wait to see every time there is new installment (except for the second film, but we’ll get to that later).

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Transformers (2007)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson, Megan Fox, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro, Jon Voight

Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

I had a conversation once with a friend who told me something very profound and possibly the best description of director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pain & Gain). He said, “Michael Bay makes likable trash.” It’s true. None of his films are very well put together, so going into them with the thought process that you are reviewing a Best Picture nominee would be a mistake. You have to take it at face value.

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That being said, I think Transformers is one of his best works. It stars Shia LaBeouf (Lawless, Fury) as Sam Witwicky, a teenager who just wants a car. He wants something that is his, something that he thinks will make him unique. He quickly finds out how true that is when he comes across the realization that his newly acquired vehicle is actually a robot in disguise named Bumblebee. Bumblebee is an Autobot, a good guy, and he isn’t the only Transformer on Earth. In fact, Sam soon finds himself entangled in a battle between the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the Decepticons, led by an unknown force. Sam only has romantic interest Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, This is 40) to assist him as he is hunted by the mysterious government agency Sector 7 and its leader Agent Simmons (John Turturro, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Exodus: Gods and Kings). Meanwhile, a military base in Qatar is attacked by Decepticon forces, leading Captain William Lennox (Josh Duhamel, TV’s Las Vegas, Scenic Route) and USAF Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Black Nativity) across the desert in search of rescue and answers.

I walked into Transformers expecting crap, but what I got was a fun romp that didn’t take itself very seriously and worked for that very reason. It had a lighthearted screenplay from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and strong actors in the roles, with the exception of Megan Fox who essentially fills the role of Boobs and Ass very nicely, but is little more than a thing to look at when the robots aren’t fighting. Bay doesn’t take his source material very seriously either, and I think that is why it works so well. He was reported as almost turning down the film based on the fact that he didn’t know or like the Transformers line. The same can be said of J.J. Abrams when he took the role of director on the Star Trek films. He wasn’t a fan of them and therefore came at the material from an unclaimed perspective.

I think that is one of the reasons that the sequels to Transformers suffer from so many more flaws, but the original film is a good time. Most of the production’s technical aspects are nothing too exciting, but the post-production work with the visual effects is astounding and if you asked me, and of course you are, I think that it got robbed the Oscar in visual effects that year.

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Have fun with this movie. I did. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how much fun I had. It had some pretty likable trash indeed.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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