“I want to be a Wizard” – Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them (Film Review)

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a multi-billion-pound enterprise the Harry Potter franchise returns to the big screen, sans Harry Potter. Following a five-year hiatus of magical misadventures Warner Brothers, like so many of us beforehand, have checked their bank account and had that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. Woah, is that how much I’ve spent this month? Looks like we need to reboot a franchise. I’m being facetious of course. Following a decade of phenomenally successful Harry Potter films it is natural for WB to want to make more films and the desire is definitely there on the behalf of the audience. Could I honestly say that I don’t want to be wowed and fall in love with new aspects of the magical universe to which I am a fan? No, I want to love this new series as much as the previous, but is it as good?

Newt Scamander (Played by Eddie Redmayne, doing an impression of Doctor Who) is a magical zoologist who has smuggled his case of magical creatures into New York on a conservation mission. During a mix-up with some muggles, or No-Maj as the yanks call them, the case winds up in the hands of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). The fantastic beasts then escape and it’s up to Newt, Jacob and disgraced former auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), to track them down and restore order to the city. This plot would probably be the singular drive of the film if it wasn’t in the interest of starting up a new film franchise. So on top of the magical creatures malarkey there is a separate plot thread in which a group of extremist No-Maj’s led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), and her put upon adopted son Credence (Ezra Miller), attempt to convince the wider world, including for some reason Jon Voight, of the existence and danger of witches and wizards. Additionally, Credence is in cahoots with auror Percival Graves (Colin Farell), a mysterious man whose motives are unclear.

These two contrasting plot threads struggle to intertwine at any point. They flirt with one another, smiling suggestively across a crowded bar, but come the end of the night the part of the film revolving around recapturing the creatures decides to call it in early and head home. The result is a messy narrative that puts a huge strain on the movie’s structure. Fortunately the cast bring an enthusiasm and energy that saves the film from enveloping into a CG fest of immeasurable nothingness. I was once again being a bit facetious when describing Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Newt a bit Doctor Who-esque (Though as a quirky Englishman with an item that is bigger on the inside than the out, armed with a sonic screw… I mean wand and a couple of colourful companions it’s hard to avoid pointing out the similarities). However, he captures the introverted nature of Newt with great authenticity and his developing bond with Jacob is given a greater legitimacy because of this. Speaking of which Dan Fogler steals every scene he is in as the incredibly loveable Jacob, a No-Maj whose journey of discovery within the magical world is Fantastic Beast’s greatest strength. Even the romantic subplot involving Tina’s sister Queenie (Allison Sudol) plays, despite not being given any time to develop convincingly, thanks to their wonderful chemistry. Katherine Waterston is hopelessly underutilised, but is great in the scenes in which she is given things to, you know, do. Hopefully these characters will be given more room to expand in the future.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them promised more than it could deliver but thanks to some wonderful SFX work, a hard-working cast and the endlessly enticing world that J.K Rowling created all those years ago it is difficult to dislike. Perhaps it is time for David Yates to step aside from the series, having directed every Harry Potter film since Order of the Phoenix, and allow a new director the chance to put their spin on the franchise. Though I doubt that’s going to happen and I can only hope David Yates can make me retract that previous sentence with the next film in the series, whenever we should see it.

3/5

Dir: David Yates

Scr: J.K Rowling

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Kate Waterston, Dan Fogler, Allison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman

Prd: Steve Kloves, J.K Rowling, David Heyman, Lionel Wigram

DOP: Phillipe Rousselot

Music: James Newton Howard

Country: United Kingdom

Year: 2016

Running Time: 133 mins

Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them is out now in UK cinemas.

Women in Cinema, or not as the case may be.

They say that a wise man knows what he knows and knows what he doesn’t know, and by “they” I mean Tywin Lannister whose quote I just paraphrased the shizz out of. Most of the time I consider it important to relegate my views if I am aware that my knowledge of a certain subject is limited. What do I think of the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee? I don’t know, I’m not a Native American and I know little of their culture or history (Though if I was a Native American I’m fairly-confident my tribal name would be Tickles with Badgers). I know I’m not a woman, therefore I try and avoid gender politics like the plague. Do I have an opinion about women’s rights to an abortion? Yes, but it’s about as integral as a koala’s opinions about scuba diving. It’s flattering you’ve taken an interest in my view, but how does the perspective of anyone who doesn’t have a uterus really factor into this? However, something has been bothering me for a few years now and if you read the title of the article then I imagine you are already ahead of me on this, so well played. Women’s role in cinema, or the lack of it. If art reflects life, then the underrepresentation of women in critical roles within the film industry is worrying, right? It’s not just me?

The majority of producers, screenwriters, cinematographers and composers who work within film are men. Whereas the most worrying lack of female representation may be in the director’s chair, something which isn’t acceptable. If there is a symbol of creative power within film it is with that of the director. Their vision and interpretation is usually the most important, well at least in principal photography. So, you can imagine how supremely puzzled I am by the frankly alarming minority of female filmmakers in cinema. It’s a well-known piece of film trivia that Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2009) is the only woman to ever win an Oscar for best director, but I’m frankly more worried that only four women have ever been nominated for the prize period. Forty years ago Lina Wertmuller became the first female to be nominated in the category, and since then we have seen an average of one woman nominated per decade. It’s not just the Oscars that fail to nominate women, the Palme D’or a symbol of filmmaking that considers itself a supporter of the artist, of being a purer representation of cinematic brilliance than the more politically motivated Academy Awards, is guilty of falling short in honouring female directors. Only Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993) has won the prize. To put it in perspective Ken Loach (the winner of the Palme D’or, 2016) has won the award twice. On the dippy French award ceremony scoreboard it currently reads Ken Loach 2 – Women 1, and it’s not Ken Loach’s fault (He’s a lovely guy). Should we dismiss the Academy Awards as a frivolous exercise of film politics? Well, yes. But this award ceremony represents the face of mainstream western cinema and the lack of female recognition (and African-American for that matter, but that’s another issue to get really angry about in another article) is a symptom of cinema as a whole. If there are no female directors, then how do you nominate them?

To grasp how truly one sided the spectrum is I set myself the task of naming as many male directors as I could in fifteen minutes without the aid of the internet, and then replicated the task with female directors. My memory with names if pretty good and I have what I would consider to be a better than average knowledge of filmmakers. The result was a staggering 200 – 13 landslide victory to the guys, and frankly I struggled for 13. To get to that I had to include Madonna and Leni Riefenstahl on the list, meaning 15% of my female directors consisted of Madonna and Nazis. If anyone out there can perform the same task and get a more equal result to prove me wrong then please do so. Seriously, if you can name 100 female directors, in fact even 50, without the aid of the internet in 15 minutes then have a pint on me, you’ve earned it.

So how do we solve this problem? I haven’t got a definitive answer, and all I can say is that we support our filmmakers with pride. For all the depressing as balls statistics I’ve been throwing down there is still a phenomenal talent pool of great and aspiring female directors (Who aren’t Madonna, or a Nazi) and with their every success the likelihood of more women being given the opportunity to express themselves through cinema increases. In Britain we have the likes of Sam Taylor-Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) and Amma Asante (Belle), across the Atlantic there are Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Ava DuVernay (Selma) and the Wachowski’s (The Matrix). Jennifer Kent scared me silly with her debut feature The Babadook, whilst in animation women like Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2 & 3) and Jennifer lee (Frozen) have been given the opportunity to make their mark on cinema history and have done so by making some damn good movies. Actors such as Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) and Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) have taken their experience from working in front of the camera and have started to experiment as film-makers, hopefully more will join them. These are just a handful of the names out there, there are more but not as many as there should be.

What I wanted to highlight with all this was the current blight on the state of film, without coming off condescending. These filmmakers I’ve listed above have achieved amazing things and I don’t want to patronise their accomplishments, they don’t need me to tell them how fantastic they are. But I can’t ignore this problem and I don’t want others to do so either. Cinema has too long been a male enforced medium, catering to a male audience, which is extra stupid if you live in a country that has more women than men (Like I do), and it’s time for that to end. There clearly needs to be more opportunities for women to get behind the camera and show us what they can do because I am more than certain that the talent and the will to use it is there, and we need to create an environment that can allow them the chance to thrive. In the age of Trump, May and Brexit (No matter what your political affiliations may be) we can still be more diverse than in the past, we can still make progress, we can still change for the better. Now I’m off to watch Kung Fu Panda 2, A. Because it’s topical and B. Because it’s a damn fun movie.

This Wasn’t written, it was scribbled with style by Alexander Halsall

“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?” – Arrival (Film Review)

Based on some novella, the title of which I can’t be bothered googling right now, Arrival is a sci-fi film that is less inclined with the blowing up of highly recognisable landmarks (Looking at you Independence Day: Resurgence) and is more concerned with blowing… your mind (Pause for effect). The latest film from acclaimed director Denis Villenueve (Famous for Sicario, Prisoners and for having a difficult to pronounce French-Canadian surname) is less about aliens and more about communication through language, images and time.

When twelve U.F.O’s land on Earth scattered across the globe the U.S army turns to Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist, to help them communicate with the visitors in an attempt to ascertain whether the aliens are here as allies or as a threat. Assisting her are astrophysicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker).

Perhaps it’s a little superficial of me to start off by discussing the film’s looks, but I suppose I’m just a shallow bastard. Arrival is a gorgeous looking movie, combining long atmospheric shots of the landscape with intimate conversational scenes in which Villenueve utilises the claustrophobic location in a mesmeric manner. Villenueve can make a scene in which Amy Adams attempts to explain to extra-terrestrials what walking is far more exciting and interesting than, say, watching Liam Hemsworth fly Jeff Goldblum around over a never-ending cascade of CG explosions. Not that I am one to sit on his high horse and despise anything vaguely mainstream for hipster-ish reasons (honest) but it’s a refreshing movie that approaches its subject matter from a unique perspective. Cinematographer Bradford Young fills the screen with evocative shades of grey that swirl over the countryside propelling a sense of wonder and mystery. The design of the aliens is highly original, whilst not being overly stylistic or batshit crazy, and Eric Heisserer’s storytelling keeps the audience invested despite the admittedly slow pace of the film.

That pacing issue may test the patience of some audience members. There is perhaps a little too much time to let the images breath between scenes of action, perhaps there is an awareness that the film’s subject matter is not as easy to comprehend as your regular big budget alien encounter film. It’s also not the most thought melting movie of Villenueve’s career with Enemy and the conflicted character piece Prisoners being more difficult to process, for differing reasons. Arrival’s an intelligent study of language and the complexities of communication and manages to make these not so interesting seeming themes damn interesting, but it’s also not as difficult to follow as it may seem to think it is. Whether this was a producer issue, or a directorial/screenwriter worry that the material might alienate the audience we can only speculate.

Arrival is a conceptual wonder, of both visual splendidness and damn fine storytelling, and despite some cosmetic issues surrounding its presentation of an admittedly complex narrative it remains a technical marvel with a game cast, led by the fantastic Amy Adams, and one of the most exciting directors working today at the helm. I’d recommend you adjust your expectations accordingly, get to a nearby cinema and check this one out.

4/5

Dir: Denis Villenueve

Scr: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma

Prd: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, David Linde

DOP: Bradford Young

Music: Johann Johannsson

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run time: 116 mins

Arrival is out now in UK cinemas