Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

On Monday I saw the Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them starring Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston.

Newt (Redmayne) is a magizoologist, who goes to great pains to protect the wondrous beasts of the magical world. Set in the 1920s, the Hogwarts graduate travels to New York City and quickly loses track of many of the creatures he's set out to protect.

Through a comedy of errors, he connects with a muggle baker (Dan Fogel) who accidentally sees too much and must be (at least temporarily) brought along for the ride. The two encounter magical sisters, Tina (Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), who are fond of the pair, though Tina's intention is to turn Newt in (she's an investigator in the magical congress).

Along the way they are confronted by evil in villains played by Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp, respectively. There's a lot of action, but not a whole lot of substance.

A few specific things bugged me:

  • At one point, Queenie flirts by saying that the baker "slays" her. Pretty sure the slang for that term has only been around for about a decade, if that.
  • The set design for the New York of the 1920s is gorgeous. We barely see it.
  • "Fantastic Beasts" is in the title, but they're only really the star in the very beginning and toward the end. I found the film overall to be creature-deficient.
Aside from that, the pace was way too slow, but that's probably because they're greedily squeezing five books out of one novella. 

The performances are great, and the supernatural elements are well done But overall the film lacks the special... dare I say... magic... of the Potter series.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Doctor Strange

On Saturday, I saw Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a gifted neurosurgeon with a knack for music trivia. He's sharp, sarcastic and more than a little bit arrogant. He has an on-again, off-again relationship with fellow doctor Christine (Rachel McAdams), who at the very least trusts his professional genius.

When Dr. Strange is in a terrible car accident (caused by distracted driving, of course), he suffers severe nerve damage to his hands—his most precious instruments—and grows desperate for a cure. A discussion with a physical therapist attending to him leads to a conversation with a "miracle" patient who was healed through alternative means. From this patient he learns of a healer in Kathmandu, so he catches the next flight to Nepal.

There, he meets Mordo (Ejiofor) and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who convince him to stop thinking scientifically about everything and embrace the powers of the mind.

Refusing to discard any chance of physical restoration, Strange dedicates himself to learning the spiritual arts of which they speak and finds himself in the midst of a supernatural fight between good and evil. He's a quick study, but he still doesn't seem to be learning the larger philosophical lessons that The Ancient One practically beats him over the head with each day.

The film does a great job of getting the audience invested in Strange. Even though he's not the nicest guy, it's hard not to admire his intelligence and perseverance in the face of a ruined career. Cumberbatch also expresses the pain, both mental and physical, so vividly that a part of you aches for a remedy right along with him.

Swinton is sufficiently creepy as the wise teacher, but considering the casting drama, it seems she was mostly chosen for her look. She works, don't get me wrong, but others could have pulled off the role too.

Ejiofor is a calming presence as the voice of reason, and every time we see him, a little sigh of relief escapes, and Mads Mikkelsen (has their ever been a better real name for a villain?) as Kaecilius does a sufficient job of bringing the anger.

My only issues with the film were the dizzying bendy scenes where mirrors cave in and cities crumble within themselves Inception-style. I was grateful to be at the back of the theater and to be at a non-3D showing, because I fear I could have gotten sick otherwise. It was too much, too often, once the action got going. Excessive and unnecessary.

Nonetheless, I very much enjoyed the film and the teaser for the sequel, which followed the credits.