Movie review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Movie reviews

Hello Hello Hello!

Welcome to the review of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. If my triple greeting wasn’t enough of a hint – I’m super excited to review this film! A few weeks ago, I’ve done a preview post for this picture, where I talked about my personal relations to this universe as well as the original textbook novella that inspired the movie, so, without further ado, let’s travel back to the beloved magical universe!

IMDb summary: The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD (gonna give another spoiler warning when I talk about the big reveal)

Writing and Story

The author of the original HP series and all the extra material – J.K.Rowling – is credited as the sole screenwriter for this movie. If that’s the truth (that she wrote the whole script by herself), I have to applaud her. I was a bit worried that she wouldn’t be able to transition from the novel writing to screenwriting (she did collaborate with a few playwrights when writing The Cursed Child play), but she proved me wrong ten times over. I loved how imaginative the story was, how it expanded the already known magical world and how it was just purely entertaining and enjoyable.

Moreover, I loved the fact that this movie and the narrative can and did stood on their own – although Fantastic Beasts is technically an HP prequel, it didn’t rely too heavily on the previous knowledge of and love for this franchise. Also, with all the speculation about the sequels to this film, even before it came out, and the upcoming Grindelwald/Dumbledore arc, I was worried that this movie would get hijacked by the future set-up but it wasn’t! Fantastic Beasts was first and foremost Newt Scamander’s and his beasts’ story, while the teases came in second. An important reveal happened at the end when Newt’s main plot was already over and it wasn’t obvious at all – there was only one spoiler-y visual cue for it in the film. Honestly, if I hadn’t read the rumors online and if I wasn’t actively looking for their evidence in the picture, I would have been super surprised by the reveal.

On top of expanding the magical world, Fantastic Beasts and Rowling did a good job of incorporating the said world into real history. I loved the fact that Newt arrived in NY by boat – that scene reminded me of a similar scene in last year’s Brooklyn. I liked how the New Salem anti-wizard movement had verbal and visual relations to the actual Salem Witch Trials. That jazz club and the whole setting of the 1920s was well realized too – it’s one of my favorite historical eras, so I loved seeing its magical version on screen.  Lastly, the decision to portray the U.S. magical world as more strict and the wizard/muggle relationship as intolerable seemed kinda appropriate for the contemporary world. I wonder if that was Rowling’s way of critiquing the modern and real-life discrimination that we have yet to get rid off.

Another interesting thematical idea were the Obscurials, who are created when a child tries to suppress his/her magical abilities. This was a perfect and a very on-theme/appropriate for the magical world way to encourage the movie’s viewers to be themselves. Furthermore, I applaud J.K.Rowling (just keep clapping) for touching upon quite a dark topic of abuse in a family film.

Lastly, the character development was really nice. I loved the writing for the character of Newt – his backstory was intriguing but I also liked that they remarked that people change and they do leave their pasts behind. I also loved Newt’s life motto – that worrying makes one suffer twice. All the other character, wizards and no-majs alike, were cool and interesting as well. Their inner relationships were cute and natural – they didn’t seem forced or pushed. In general, I’m intrigued enough to want to spend more time with these characters.

Directing and Visuals 

David Yates, who did the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th HP films as well as this year’s live-action Tarzan, directed Fantastic Beasts and did an amazing job. I’m really happy that he was the one directing because he already has such a great knowledge and understanding of this world. I absolutely loved the visuals, starting with the newspaper opening and ending with the epic 3rd act fight. I loved the fact that visuals (like the story) were sorta familiar but not repetitive – fresh and exciting. The design of the actual beasts and of the Obscurials was cool too: scary, inventive but sort of tied to reality.

Yates also did a wonderful job at finding a balance between epic action and slower character moments – the pacing was top-notch. In addition, the cinematographer Philippe Rousselot also deserves the praise for helping bring this world and its action to the big screen in such a spectacular way. Lastly, all the production and set design teams should be honored for their work on the movie, but I want to give a special appreciation shout out to Colleen Atwood, who did the costumes – I absolutely loved all the coats and classy formal costumes. The coats especially reminded me of BBC’s Sherlock which I just finished watching and I’m currently obsessed with.

The score by James Newton Howard was great too, although, I was most excited to hear the familiar theme music, which was originally composed by John Williams. 

Acting

  • Eddie Redmayne was so good as Newt Scamander. I absolutely loved the character because I could relate to him so much (introverts, unite!). Redmayne’s performance was super fitting for the character: awkward, shy, vulnerable but confident and skilled in his field. He was adorable and super likeable too. I have been a fan of Redmayne since 2012’s Les Miserables and although I did enjoy his indie films, like The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl, I’m quite happy to see him in a more mainstream (and succseful) film (let’s pretend that Jupiter Ascending didn’t happen).
  • Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein – I loved her character –  she was an Auror – as well as Waterson’s performance. I wasn’t familair with her as an actres before (although, I did see her in Steve Jobs), but she did impress me. Her next movie is the 2017’s Allien prequel.
  • Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski was amazing too. His character was the funniest and the most likebale and relatable out of the whole cast. I wasn’t familair with Fogler’s work either, but I do hope that he returns as the character of Kowalski in the future films.
  • Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein was great too. I liked the fact that we got to explore a sorta new (mentioned in HP 5) skill of magic – Legilimency – through her character. Sudol is an alternative singer-songwriter, but I was fascinated by her acting abilites too – she portrayed Queenie as a very loveable and free-spirited character, in a realistic and natural way.

BIG SPOILER WARNING

  • Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone. I didn’t predict the reveal concerning his character and I was led to believe that the Obscurial would turn out to be his siter. Nevertheless, his performance was great – I love the facts that Miller can play such weird and closed-off characters, but also be able to embody super likeable and extroverted characters like the Flash (based on the Justice League trailer). I also like the fact that he brings his indie acting skills and makes them work in a mainstream film.
  • Colin Farrell as Percival Graves. I loved Farrell in the role and, as I said, I would not have seen the big reveal if I wasn’t looking for it. I really hope that the filmmakers find a way to bring back Farrell as the real Percival Graves. If not, well then at least we can watch him in other pictures – I still need to check out the highly praised The Lobster.
  • AND The Big Reveal and The Biggest Spoiler …..as speculated online, Johnny Depp is playing Grindelwald and he did have a cameo appearance and a few lines to say in this movie. He looked a bit different than I imagined Grindelwald to be but I am open to Depp proving me wrong since I still believe that he is a great actor, despite the all the mishaps. Now, moving forward, the crucial decision to make for the filmmakers is who to cast as Dumbledore? Grindewald/Dumbledore relationship is super complicated and will obviously be imporatnt in the future films, so the actor that will take on this role not only has to do Dumbledore justice but also have to able to hold his own againt Depp.

SPOILERS END HERE

In short, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is an amazing return to the magical world that should please both the fans (it satisfied me) but should also interest the non-fans as well as people who are new to the franchise (if there are any left, though). The story is fantastic, the acting is great (the cast is full of both movie stars and smaller talent), and the visuals are superb. I’m very much looking forward to another decade of magic!

Rate: 4.9/5

Trailer: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them trailer

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Movie review: The Legend of Tarzan

Movie reviews

Hello!

The final live-action fairytale of the summer of 2016 – The Legend of Tarzan – has finally hit theaters, so let’s talk about it.

IMDb summary: Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment.

When I was younger, I would always mix up Tarzan and Mowgli (although they are quite different if you think about it – Mowgli is the weaker one that ultimately chooses to live with the humans, while Tarzan is very strong and, being the king of the jungle, he stays to live in the jungle). This year, both of these characters appeared on the silver screen in a live-action, though in very different forms. The Jungle Book was a very child-friendly film, while The Legend of Tarzan was significantly more adult. In general, Mowgli is usually portrayed as a child, while Tarzan normally appears as an adult, so I do think that the 2016’s cinematic interpretations of the characters were appropriate.

The animated Tarzan movie from 1999 was/is one of my favorites. The opening montage set to Phil Collins’s Two Worlds is magnificent. In general, the whole soundtrack of the film is superb. The sequence, where Jane and Tarzan first meet, is beautiful and emotional. The scene, in which the gorillas are improvising and singing, is super funny and my kind of comedic relief. Overall, this particular animated film (like many others) manages to portray a range of human values and vices realistically and believably.

In addition to loving the animated picture during my childhood, I also used to play a Tarzan video game, where I had to jump around and pick bananas or something, so the character of Tarzan is very near and dear to my heart, because of that childhood connection.

So, I have given you some context and my general thoughts on Tarzan, but now let’s see if Warner Bros have finally managed to launch a successful live-action fairytale after crashing and burning with Pan. The critics were really harsh on this film, which, to my mind, was highly unnecessary.

!SPOILER ALERT!

Writing

The Legend of Tarzan was written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer – two quite unknown screenwriters. I really hope that they get a career boost because of this film because I really liked what they did with the script. It was partially based on various stories by the original creator of the character Edgar Rice.

To begin with, the idea to tie in the story of Tarzan with real historical facts was brilliant. The 19th-century setting and all the ideas about colonialism, slavery, the diamond and ivory business and the wars between tribes (there are actually lots of people who live in the jungle) made the movie more topical and much more serious. I also appreciated the fact that the writers sincerely asked the question what would happen if a person grew up outside of civilization. They treated the story in a realistic and respectful way and, although the movie was a bit dark, it was dark for a reason. I complained about the dark tone of BvS because I felt that it was dark just to be dark, while a more solemn tone of Tarzan was actually justified.

I also really enjoyed the writing for each of the characters. The attention to details and all the flashbacks really gave the characters some needed depth in a clear manner. We saw Tarzan’s parents dying in the jungle, we got glimpses of his life with the apes, we saw his first meeting with Jane and how he left the apes to live with the tribe. The detail about Tarzan’s hands whose bone structure has changed was also a nice touch. I also liked the fact that we saw Tarzan or John Clayton III in England. He was an educated and intelligent person – a complex character who was dealing with his human and animal sides like all of us – and not just someone who happened to grow up in a jungle. The backstory, involving the killed son and a lack of honor were also sophisticated and exceptional ideas. Jane’s backstory was also great – I liked the idea that she grew up near a tribe and didn’t just come to Africa as an adult. I also liked that they did not make her a damsel in distress. She did actually manage to escape from her captors but chose to come back so as to save the animals. Samuel L.Jackson’s character’s backstory with the civil war and the extension of the races were also interesting. Lastly, the writing for the villain played by Waltz was amazing (definitely better than writing for Waltz’s previous villain in Spectre). Rom’s weapon of choice – the cross necklace – was so unique. The little detail, like the shot where he was rearranging the knife and the fork, after Jane has finished eating, also showed his pendantic side in a perfect way.

Other little details of the narrative that I welcomed were the portrayal of the elephants as gentle, wise, and alsmost god-like creatures, like in many stories (e.g. The Jungle Book) and the usage of a different language to show the communication inside the tribe. The scenes were the members of the tribe were singing the traditional songs and dancing their folk dances were also excellent. It was also interesting to see more of the life in the jungle – how the different tribes interact and how some of them are hostile as well as how the people of the jungle are also killing animals like their western counterparts. Nevertheless, as per usual, the European colonialists (civilized savages) were the real bad guys of the film and deservedly so. Just look at history. If you don’t like to read history books, I suggest you check out a few novel about colonial Africa. Any book or novella by Joseph Conrad will give you a European perspective but if want to see how the natives felt about the invasion, read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Lastly, I loved the film’s ending. The birth of Tarzan’s and Jane’s baby was not only a nice callback to the beginning of the film, where they were mourning their dead child, but also a hopeful way to end the picture. I hope that WB will actually make a sequel, just maybe with a smaller budget – The Legend of Tarzan cost $180 million to make.

Directing

The Legend of Tarzan was directed by David Yates, who did the last 4 Harry Potter films and is also directing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, coming out later this year. I thought that he did an excellent job with Tarzan. Firstly, the wide shots of nature, including the opening shot of the mountains in the fog, were absolutely beautiful and magnificent. In addition, all of the close-ups of the character’s faces and eyes were framed really neatly. The CGI of the animals was also amazing – realistic and detailed. The only CGI effect that wasn’t that great was the shot with the young Tarzan and Jane. It looked a bit fake. Nevertheless, all of the action scenes were exciting: my favorite ones were Tarzan swinging on the branches and lianas and the train fight sequence, which kinda reminded me of a similar scene in Snowpiercer. The 3rd act’s action piece with the running animals was also reminiscent of Spanish Corrida or running with the bulls/bullfighting. The film’s soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams was good as well, especially the end credits song by Hozier.

Acting

  • Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan / John Clayton III was astounding in the role. He was great in the action scenes as well as in the slower shots with the close-ups. His sad brooding face was awesome too. Skarsgård is mostly known for his small screen work – the TV series True Blood. He has had a few supporting roles in indie and small-budget films but hasn’t had any big screen hits yet. I hope that Tarzan is his game-changing role.
  • Margot Robbie as Jane Porter Clayton was really good as well. She even kinda sounded like Minnie Drive (the actress who voiced Jane in the animated picture). Robbie’s career is on fire right now. Since starring in the Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie appeared in well-received movies like Z for Zachariah, Focus and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. She also had the Suicide Squad film coming up next month.
  • Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams was also good. His reaction face was priceless, especially in the scene where Tarzan was greeting the tigers. I have no idea how does Samuel L. Jackson has time to appear in at least 3 films per year. I reviewed 3 of his movies from last year: Kingsman, Age of Ultron and The Hateful Eight. Later this year, he will be in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Christoph Waltz as Captain Léon Rom was a good villain. Waltz will probably always play a villain, I just wish that sometimes, a writing for his character would be better. Since his character in Tarzan had good writing, Waltz actually could do something interesting with it. However, I don’t think that he will ever be able to top up his Inglourious Basterds performances. Next year, Waltz will appear in Tulip Fever. 
  • Djimon Hounsou as Chief Mbonga was okay as well. The close-up of his face during the fight and that single tear in his eye and on his cheek made for a beautiful picture. Hounsou has appeared in movies like GladiatorGuardians of the Galaxy and Furious 7. He will also star in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword next year. 

To conclude, The Legend of Tarzan was probably my favorite live-action fairytale of this summer. It had a great narrative, good effects and exciting action and great acting. Don’t really see why the critics are destroying this film in their reviews.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Legend of Tarzan trailer

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