Quick Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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A lot has changed since the first Harry Potter film was released in 2001. Heck, a lot has changed since the LAST Harry Potter film was released in 2011. The franchise helped change our modern interpretation of what a film series can be. And this prequel spin-off is proof of that. While this isn’t a Harry Potter movie, it’s part of the same world.

In the 15 years since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, blockbuster films have become consistently good. Critically acclaimed. It’s not just popcorn entertainment anymore–we have higher expectations. And as the blockbusters strive for the quality of the more highbrow indie offerings being nominated for Oscars, they begin resembling them in a way.

The Harry Potter films, especially the first few, had a sort of snappy storytelling to them. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them does not. It’s much slower like the later films in the previous series. Yet, the difference is, this is the setup to the next four films. By the time we got to the last few Harry Potter movies, we weren’t exactly looking for a brisk narrative. And I was hoping for this in Fantastic Beasts–albeit, probably unrealistically.

Set in 1926, an English wizard, Newt (Eddie Redmayne), comes to America for McGuffin-like reasons (and unclear, at that). He gets into some trouble as some of the fantastic beasts escape from the suitcase where he’s keeping them. As this is happening, he gets mixed in with a normal non-magical human, Jacob (Dan Fogler).

Other assorted things happen that are appealing to the audience. We get to go inside this magical suitcase and see dozens of unique creatures in this new expanded universe. It’s really cool and aesthetically pleasing.

The movie is long and not enough happens to truly justify it. Instead of using the time to thoroughly explain some of the overarching story lines, the filmmakers spend it drawing things out. Perhaps because they feel like they have to.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is great. It’s thoroughly enjoyable. It does most of the things a good film should do. While the storytelling isn’t quick, it’s still very even.

This is what director David Yates is good at, as evident in the last four Harry Potter films he directed. Though Fantastic Beasts is missing the magical world that is Hogwarts, Yates knows how to bring alive New York City in the ’20s and make it feel magical.

You will most likely enjoy Fantastic Beasts. If for no other reason than the fact that it’s the ingress back into the beloved world of Harry Potter.And Easter eggs are scattered all around. Just don’t go into it with the same expectations as its predecessors.

Twizard Rating: 93

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Quick Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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As hopeful as I was about Jupiter Ascending prior to its release, I was still prepared for a let down. However, I didn’t think it would be this catastrophic.

I love when movies have an opening scene that’s really big and draws the audience in right away. And this film did it right. Although I questioned why the unborn baby’s father would risk his and his family’s life over a telescope, I figured it would be of importance later.

I was wrong.

Before we go to the theater, we trust movies that feature actors that we’ve grown to rely on. We trust that they made a movie that’s worth our money. Actors put our butts in the seats. And being a pretty big fan of Channing Tatum, I stayed optimistic about this one–despite it being a sci-fi action movie being released in early February. I mean, I loved John Carter and I didn’t even see that one based on any acting merit.

But with Jupiter Ascending, the plot is so convoluted that we grow frustrated trying to grasp what’s really happening. We get story lines that begin, but don’t end–as if a 10 year old was giving the “and then…” approach to telling the story. Characters (and even entire subplots) come in and out with no conclusions to their story arc. The dialogue is painfully unnatural, and the acting isn’t even bad enough to laugh at. For a movie that’s about preserving life’s greatest asset–time–at 127 minutes, I’ve had plenty.

With all the movies based on books, it’s nice to finally have one that’s original. I just wish that it had been executed better. The unique concept is highly intriguing and the film presents some thought provoking themes, but hardly anyone will be able to lock down on them.

But ultimately we grow annoyed and antsy. We never find out who killed Jupiter’s dad and why, and what reason he had for trying to save his telescope while simultaneously jeopardizing his whole family. And did anyone else notice that every time Jupiter (Mila Kunis) gets into trouble and we think, “this is it for her,” Caine (Tatum) arrives perfectly on time and saves the day (this happens about 8 times). This eliminates any suspense from the audience as we become assured that this will happen each subsequent time, thus making us not nervous about the character’s fate. Not that we care a whole lot at this point anyway.

Just about the only things this movie has going for it are the attractive set pieces and deeply veiled virtues. I had no idea what was going on at any given time, but somehow I know what happened.

I can’t recommend this movie to anyone just based on the fact that it’s terrible. If you’re curious, just rent it when it comes out on DVD.

I’m pretty easily entertained and I really didn’t like this movie.

Twizard Rating: 44

Quick Movie Review: The Theory of Everything (2014)

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Biopics are tough. They’re tough to review and they’re tough to present in a proper fashion. You don’t want to blatantly glorify a human being and not show their flaws, and you also don’t want to just display a bunch of events. The events have to all tie together for a common purpose–to show growth or to make the audience think or to prove a point. While this movie definitely makes us think, I don’t think it fully utilizes its other desired purposes.

One of my main criticisms of this film is that we don’t see enough of Stephen’s personal transitions. We obviously see his adaptations to his increasing situation, but internally we don’t really see him grow. And it’s not that there isn’t growth of character, but it just isn’t pointed to. We see him just as human in the end as we do in the beginning. But what has he learned? This leads me to my next criticism, which is that the thematic conclusions were left open-ended and ambiguous. For instance, the religious theme is way too prominent throughout the film to just be left up to our imagination. If he is unsure in the end, then let us know–but sadly it doesn’t make it clear.

The acting is the most noticeable thing about this film. And Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking is going to go down as one of the great acting achievements in cinema. Besides its acting, the most impressive accomplishment of this film is its direction. No decision that director James Marsh leaves you scratching your head. This provides us with a distraction-less viewing of the film to appreciate it for what it is. While it’s a love story, it’s completely depressing. Marsh does a great job of putting us into Stephen Hawking’s shoes and making us really feel for him. It shows inside the mind of someone who you don’t expect to be able to relate. And through limited facial expressions, he displays such complex internal conflicts.

While the acting was phenomenal, I do wish for a more believable initial chemistry between Redmayne and Felicity Jones (Jane). It would have helped the audience relate to their relationship a bit more, since it’s already a rare circumstance.

Although it might not be a film that I would watch over again, there’s no denying that it’s really well done–especially on the technical front. It’s a strange effect to see the character that many people may find unlikeable in the beginning become the most likable character in the whole film.

Twizard Rating: 89