Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

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The best fantasy stories take place in a world, or an alternate version of our world, that the reader or viewer will want to visit time and time again, to learn more about. Middle-Earth was populated by a host of memorable characters and had a detailed history, and people read about Wonderland to see which crazy adventure Alice would end up on next. The Harry Potter books and movies take place on Earth, but their secret “wizarding world” has been an interesting one. Reading or watching the Harry Potter series, one gets the sense there are more stories that can be told in this universe, and now we have Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a story set in the same world as Harry Potter, but without Harry Potter.

A British wizard named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) studies and takes care of magical creatures, giving some of them asylum in a magical room he keeps in his suitcase. While on a trip to New York City, Newt gets his suitcase mixed up with that of a No-maj(the American term for “Muggle”), an aspiring baker called Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Newt, along with Jacob, Magical Congress worker Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) have to recapture these magical creatures before they cause havoc, and deal with a threat that may expose the wizarding world.

If a movie is going to have “Fantastic Beasts” in its title, then it better deliver fantastic beasts, and the bestiary that we are introduced to here does boast some nice-looking designs and cute personalities. The magical animals Newt is hunting for do look like they belong in the world of the film, and there’s a good mixture of the familiar fantasy tropes (Newt went to America to return a hippogriff to its natural habitat) and newer creatures (one of the more prominent creatures is a mole/platypus who carries shiny things in its pouch).

People may say that the Harry Potter series gets darker and darker as it goes on, but Fantastic Beasts is a lot of fun to watch, with its aforementioned beasties and its sense of humour. Though it is set in the same world as Harry Potter, it never really feels like a rehash. Redmayne is enjoyable in his role as the main character, and Fogler’s character is amusing and even a little sympathetic.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is very entertaining, and a welcome return to the Wizarding World

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Nocturnal Animals Review

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What character is more attractive to authors than, well, the author? Write what you know after all. Many books and movies have authors, novelists, screenwriters as their main characters – just look at half of Stephen King’s bibliography. Authors don’t make authors their main characters just so they can write from personal experience; writing is a rewarding job, but also a frustrating one, and creativity cannot fully flourish without just a little bit of insanity. Thus it makes sense for someone like, say, Jack Torrance, to be an author. Nocturnal Animals features an author as a major, though not the main, character, and it works well.

One day Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receives something from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) – a novel manuscript he wrote. Nocturnal Animals, seemingly named for a nickname Edward had for Susan. Susan reads the story and it plays out in her mind – a man named Tony (also Gyllenhaal) has his wife and daughter murdered and he seeks justice. As she reads the manuscript, Susan remembers her relationship with Edward, and notices how it might have inspired the novel’s story.

Sometimes the most interesting part of a fictional story is the real story that led to the fictional story’s creation, and that in turn has inspired several fictional stories itself. What better way to get into the head of an author than through what he has written? Nocturnal Animals is about the relationship between Edward and Susan, and that relationship is told through the reading of the manuscript; it’s slightly akin to the “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife” episode of The Simpsons. The story the manuscript tells is well-acted and entertaining, and it’s only enhanced by its relationship to Susan’s story.

The film also does a good job with its tone. Throughout the movie, we get a true sense of the uneasiness Susan feels. Her art gallery carries ennui even with its pieces, and the visualisation of the manuscript and the cold blues of “the real world” gives a true sense of how troubled she is.

Nocturnal Animals is a well-told film and is authors and non-authors alike should give it a watch.

A Streetcat Named Bob Review

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A Streetcat Named Bob is based on the true story of James Bowen and the eponymous cat he meets, as told in the bestselling book of the same name. Bowen (played here by Luke Treadaway) is a homeless busker, making money by playing songs on his guitar and is on a methadone program. One night, he comes home and finds out that the cat of the title (played by himself) has invaded his home. Wherever Bowen goes, the cat goes too, so the two end up forming a friendship. Bob helps Bowen get more attention and money, but their friendship is not without complications.

The film does realise something about its audience: none of them can resist a cute little cat. Throughout the film, people come up to Bowen and Bob so they can look at Bob and take selfies with Bob, and the film hopes its audience has the same reaction to Bob. Bob is the one who gets the lion’s share of the close-ups and reaction shots, and while watching, it’s hard to wonder what he’s thinking about as he assists Bowen on his journey. Treadaway does well showing Bowen’s struggle, especially when he tries to quit methadone for good, but Bob is really the best actor here, and the one most likely to hold the viewer’s attention.

The rest of the film is nothing really special. It does manage to charm at times, and there are well-done emotional moments, so you do get a good idea of what Bowen is going through and why he needs help. It is, however, mostly forgettable and in tone and execution, hardly distinguishable from most inspiring “based on a true story” movies. That does not mean the movie is a waste of time, however, and it is worth a watch, if only for the title character.

Doctor Strange Review

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A common argument about why Marvel’s movies are generally better than DC’s is that Marvel is less afraid to explore the more surreal side of comic books. Man of Steel was too moody and trying too hard to be realistic, but Marvel made a fun little movie where characters included a tree man and a talking raccoon. Now we have Marvel’s latest movie, Doctor Strange, where magic and warped Inception-esque cities abound, and it works pretty well.

The titular doctor, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is involved in a car accident that leaves him unable to use his hands. When he learns of an ancient order that apparently healed a paraplegic, Strange goes to find that order and learn magic under the tutelage of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Strange becomes skilled in the magical arts, and uses what he learns to battle the evil sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen),who wants to bring forth the demon Dormammu.

The best thing about Doctor Strange is definitely its visuals; it’s a film that deserves to be seen in IMAX. Just the scene where Strange first meets the ancient one, and is taken through a metaphysical journey where his hands grow hands is worth the price of admission alone. The Marvel universe is meant to be a weird and wonderful place and now that it has sorcery at its disposal, it has a lot of fun with it.

As for the story itself, it is the typical superhero fare: character gets powers, learns how to use them, and there’s the big evil portal to the big evil dimension that we’ve seen in this year’s Ninja Turtles and Suicide Squad. Thankfully, it is kept entertaining and engaging by Cumberbatch’s performance. True, it does seem similar to his Sherlock, but it’s an interesting setting for a Sherlock-esque character to be in. Though Strange’s co-workers find him arrogant, he’s still a character the viewer enjoys spending time with.

Mads Mikkelsen has done a brilliant job playing Hannibal Lecter in the Hannibal TV series, and he does a good job with the villain of this film, even if the character himself isn’t really anything special. Swinton’s performance and character are more interesting, and has some good interactions with Cumberbatch.

Doctor Strange is another enjoyable entry into the Marvel canon, and one especially worth seeing in 3D.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Review

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May include spoilers

With a lot of Batman-related media of recent years being dark and serious in tone with a dark and serious Batman – the Chris Nolan movies, the Arkham games, Batman v Superman – it’s easy to forget the Dark Knight has seen brighter adaptations. Let’s face it, the 1966 Batman TV series is campy, but it’s still hilarious and enjoyable to watch even today. Therefore, an animated movie based on the show, with Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprising their respective roles as Batman, Robin and Catwoman, is more than welcome in this day and age, something to give us a break from the brooding Batman.

Joker (Jeff Bergman), Penguin (William Salvers), Riddler (Wally Wingert, reprising the role from the aforementioned Arkham games) and Catwoman reunite to seize a ray gun capable of duplicating anything, and Batman and Robin, as usual, have to stop them. There’s just one thing complicating matters – Catwoman has given Batman a serum that turns him evil, and using the ray, the now-criminal Batman uses clones of himself to take over Gotham City. This leaves Robin no choice but to team up with Catwoman in hopes of curing his old partner.

All the hallmarks of the 60’s TV show are here; Batman lectures Robin on the dangers of jaywalking, they scale the wall of a building, deathtraps and battles with onomatopoeia galore. It pays homage to other Batman media as well; not only is the intro a slew of classic comic covers with the movie’s versions of the characters, but the brainwashed Batman is a cute poke at the darker renditions of the character, even quoting the 1989 Batman movie and The Dark Knight Returns. Catwoman also makes fun of the ending of The Dark Knight Rises, but these pokes never feel mean-spirited. This is not asking to replace the more serious Batman but rather to co-exist with him.

What also makes the movie a joy to watch is its visuals; the animation is smooth and vibrant and the characters look pretty close to how they looked on the show (though Commissioner Gordon looks more like he does in the comics than he did on the show). It’s bright and colourful and eye-catching with even some nice details in the background, like the outfit Batman wore in his very first comics appearance in the Batcave. The final battle atop a blimp boasts some exquisite lighting. The voice acting is also top-notch, with West being as hilariously over-serious as he was in the live-action show, and is an utter hoot to listen to while evil. Ward and Newmar are great and Bergman, Salvers and Wingert do good impressions of Romero, Meredith and Gorshin.

It isn’t on the level of say, The Dark Knight, but it isn’t meant to be. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a tonne of fun with plenty of laughs and should be extremely enjoyable for Batman fans young and old. Hopefully the upcoming sequel will be as entertaining, but how can it not, when it has William Shatner playing Two-Face?

The Infiltrator Review

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Spoilers may follow

The Infiltrator is based on the true story of special agent Robert Mazur, adapting Mazur’s autobiography of the same name. It features Mazur (Bryan Cranston) going undercover as a businessman called “Bob Musella”, infiltrating Pablo Escobar’s massive drug cartel and uncovering a money laundering scheme. This line of work, of course, is not without its risks.

The story The Infiltrator tells is an interesting one, but one of the biggest draws to the movie is definitely Bryan Cranston. He was fantastic as Walter White and Dalton Trumbo, and so too is he as the titular infiltrator. Mazur may be on the opposite side of the law from Walter White, but Cranston’s Mazur still carries the menace and passion of Walter. An especially memorable scene that shows Cranston still knows how to be scary involves, of all things, an anniversary cake. The film is worth seeing for that alone. He does show moments of vulnerability and regret and really sells them, showing how truly frightening this type of work is.

The other actors are mostly fine; John Leguizamo being a good example, playing off Cranston well as his partner Emir Ebreu. However, the only actor who is really that memorable is Cranston himself. Most of the other figures in this film are either forgettable or underutilised.

A slow pace can work for a film like this; it helps build up the tension and gives the audience more time to dwell in the sordid world of drugs and money laundering. The pacing of The Infiltrator does mean tension is built and we stay in the dark world Mazur invades longer, but it also means the film does drag sometimes, and its two hour runtime is felt.

The Infiltrator is an entertaining and enjoyable film, but it can be easy to get lost on the plot and the only thing you’ll likely come away remembering is the performance of the title character.

Hell or High Water Review

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May include spoilers

In order to save his mother’s ranch so his sons can own it one day, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) teams up with his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to pull off a series of bank robberies. As they commit these crimes, Texas ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), near retirement, seeks to find them and bring them to justice, along with his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

Hell or High Water is a fine film. It boasts good pacing, a wonderful atmosphere (an important conversation has no sound in the background aside from an oil drill), but the main reason it succeeds so well is through its characters and the actors who play them.

Bank robbers Toby and Tanner may be, but they were characters I wanted to watch. Pines and Foster play well off of each other, and I could listen to them chat to each other all day. Tanner gets more of a thrill from bank robberies than his brother, and you get a sense of that without the crime being glamorised. It is Toby, however, that is the focal point of the duo, and his story is developed well. He’s doing this for his ex-wife and sons, and while we only get one real scene with his ex-wife and one son, that scene is still well-acted and written.

Pine and Foster make a fine duo, and so too do Bridges and Birmingham, with the focal point of that twosome, Bridges, being an especially good standout. Hamilton refers to himself as a cowboy, and Bridges plays him as well as he did Rooster Cogburn. The interactions between Hamilton and Parker work as well as those between the Howard brothers, especially a humorous scene where they speak with a waitress. Eventually, these two duos must meet, and the two focal characters must have their own separate meeting, and the result is more than satisfying.

Indeed, Hell or High Water is very satisfying to watch, and I almost wish it had gone on a little longer so I could spend more time with the characters.