Reviews

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures and when some of them escape he has to find them before they get hurt. Unbeknownst to Newt, he’s chosen the worst time to come to New York as there’s strange things happening in the city and trouble is brewing as a group of No-Majs (non-magical people) stir up fear and hatred in the city.

This was the first time I rewatched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them since I saw it in the cinema two years ago and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it more than I remembered.

It’s interesting to be reintroduced to the magical world of Harry Potter but it’s different to what you know from the books and the film series. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set in 1920’s New York, it follows adult characters and is about witches and wizards in America and how their rules, ideas, and terminology is different to what we’ve seen British witches and wizards know.

Newt is a wonderful character. He’s sweet and awkward and loves his creatures so much. He forms a friendship with No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who gets pulled along for the ride and their friendship is quite lovely. Seeing the magical world through Jacob’s eyes reaffirms that awe-inspiring feeling magic and everything associated with it can bring. The other two main characters are sisters Porpentina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), both are witches and work in the magical law enforcement agency. These four all fit together nicely and their scenes together are sweet though they sometimes can wander into the realms of cheesiness – Queenie especially is a character that appears sugary sweet.

The titular fantastic beasts are indeed fantastic. They are all interesting and different and some of them are truly stunning. These creatures all have their own personalities and Newt’s relationship with them all is delightful.

A lot of the film shows off the magical creatures and the world. In fact it’s more like a sequence of animal rescues than a film with an overarching plot. There’s little hints and murmurings of things sprinkled throughout, Colin Farrell’s Auror Graves being a part of that. He is a great character and Farrell shines whenever he’s on screen, but it does mean the finale is rather sudden and rushed. That’s probably where Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them suffers, the pacing is inconsistent. There’s definitely some slower scenes that could’ve been tightened up and have more of a balance between the creatures and the mystery, however having such a likable main character in Newt makes some of the films faults easier to ignore.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has the beginnings of a great new franchise. It has interesting characters, a cool world and some fantastic creatures. 4/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Thailand: The Sad Part Was by Prabda Yoon

A collection of twelve short stories that are all very different. Translated by Mui Poopoksakul.

All of the short stories are set in modern Thailand and they are all witty and often are a little weird too. They mix together genres like sci-fi with romance or mystery, some of them really shouldn’t work but they do. Pop culture references abound in these stories about characters of all ages and backgrounds. Having a collection feature stories about such different people shows little snapshots of what life is like in modern Thailand for different people. The setting was interesting as it often felt like a blend of the new and the traditional.

My favourite short stories happen to be two that feature vampires – “The Disappearance of a She-Vampire in Pattaya” and “Pen in Parentheses”. “The Disappearance of a She-Vampire in Pattaya” does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a mystery and the way different characters talk about the apparent She-Vampire makes you wonder if she is a vampire or not. “Pen in Parentheses” on the other hand was about a man reminiscing about his childhood living with his grandparents and how his grandfather would screen old films, including Dracula, on a bedsheet with accompanying classical music.

As is the case with short story collections, there were some stories I liked a lot and there were some I was indifferent to, but they were all pretty interesting in their own ways. Some of the stories were quite meta, with characters seeming to know they are characters and they’re just waiting to find out what the author is going to make them do. A lot of the stories have twists and turns and don’t go where you expect them to at all. This makes this collection a mostly enjoyable and unique experience.

REVIEW: Hardcore Henry (2016)

Henry wakes up with no memories as his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) is putting his body back together with the help of advanced technology. When Estelle is kidnapped, Henry must find and save her from a warlord (Danila Kozlovsky) who has his own special abilities.

Hardcore Henry is a unique film. It’s a shot entirely from the first person perspective so it’s as if you, the viewer are Henry. This makes the viewing experience interesting as you can only see as much as Henry sees, so sudden gunfire and attacks are often surprising. When there’s a lot happening and a lot of people attacking Henry at once, it can be a bit disorientating as the camera/Henry’s vision is moving so rapidly trying to follow everything that’s happening.

Hardcore Henry is a film that’s all about the action, rather than being character-driven. Henry as a character gets little to no personality, which is probably because he’s a stand in for the audience, and Estelle and the villain are cardboard cut-out characters. The character you get to know the most is Jimmy (played by a brilliant Sharlto Copley), he’s a guy who appears to have multiple personalities and is the only one who is trying to help Henry figure out what’s going on and how to find his wife. While the majority of the characters aren’t that compelling, the world of Hardcore Henry is intriguing. It appears to be set in the near future and with all the technology and evil corporations, it has the makings of a very interesting setting to explore if there is ever a sequel.

Henry is played by multiple stuntmen and it really is impressive how the filmmakers made this film. The stunts are on the whole brilliant and thrilling, and the action and violence gets bigger and more insane with every confrontation Henry has.

Hardcore Henry is completely bonkers but it’s also strangely enjoyable. It’s a film that knows it’s doing something different, and asking a lot from the audience because of that, so it makes sure it has humour and gracious violence to make it a fun experience. 3/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione’s (Emma Waston) search for the remaining Horcruxes brings the back to Hogwarts, where the final battle for the fate of the wizarding world rages on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is near enough all action. It’s thrilling and spectacular action too. The battle of Hogwarts is thrilling and brutal. School kids get hurt, teachers fight and there’s so many loved characters in peril. With so many people on either side of the battle field, it has all the scope of an epic war movie, and it feels like one too. Especially as it packs an emotional punch when there’s naturally casualties of war.

In amongst all the explosions and magical firefights, there’s some lovely little character moments too. Neville (Matthew Lewis) gets his time to shine, being a natural hero and leader to those left behind at Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) standing up for her students and protecting her school is wonderful, as is any moment between any members of the Weasley family.

The performances are all brilliant. Supporting actors like Alan Rickman get the chance to show off a more nuanced performance as Snape. Likewise, Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort is not just the shouty villain we’ve seen previously; here he is scared, angry and powerful, an intimidating presence that seems to be on the edge of either victory.

Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have all matured in their roles, each giving a powerful performance as their characters arcs some to a close. This trio is the heart and soul of this film, and the franchise as a whole, and they all do their characters proud.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is an incredibly satisfying and exciting conclusion to the Harry Potter series. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Israel: The Nimrod Flip-Out by Etgar Keret

Translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston.

A collection of short stories about different characters, a lot of which are based in Israel.

The short stories in this collection are all very different in terms of plot and length. Some are only two pages long, while others are almost 30 pages long, meaning that for the most part, each story gets straight to the point. Having stories that are only a few pages long make them even more intense, the drama is heightened and the weirdness tends not to be explained.

So many of the characters in these stories face strange ironies and their lives are often not going that well. There’s humour, usually dark-humour, in a lot of them which balances out the stories that can be more sensitive and emotional. That’s the thing I really noticed with this collection, whoever decided what order to put the stories in really knew what they were doing. I say that because there could be a run of six or seven stories that are all surreal and funny but then the next one is more grounded. This tonal shift makes the more serious stories more affecting.

From my very limited knowledge of Israel and its society, some of the stories seemed satirical, with potential character stereotypes exaggerated for affect. There’s relationship drama, whether that’s romantic or familial, characters who are, or were, in the military, and there’s comparisons between Israel and the West and some commentary on how it’s developing as a society.

I really enjoyed The Nimrod Flip-Out. The stories are all so weird and wonderful and different which makes it a book that’s easy to deep in and out of. It’s fun to read a lot of the stories at once, but it’s also a nice collection to savour.

REVIEW: Beyond (2014)

Cole (Richard J. Danum) and Maya (Gillian MacGregor) struggle to keep their relationship going as they try to survive in a world where the human population has been decimated by an alien attack.

When Cole and Maya meet there’s news of an asteroid that’s heading towards Earth. People start to decide what to do with what could be their last few months or years alive as Cole and Maya fall in love.

Beyond has two stories running through it. There’s how Cole and Maya met, fell in love and how their relationship develops, and then there’s them in the present, alone in the wilderness, running from spaceships and trying to stay alive. Beyond is a film that’s made up of flashbacks and flashforwards, which makes it a choppy mess a lot of the time. Because it doesn’t spend that long in either time, you don’t get to know Cole and Maya that well, both as a couple and individually.

Cole and Maya spend more time arguing once they’re together than anything else, making you wonder how they are staying together. It seems like the apparent end of the world is the only thing that keeps them together.

The Scottish landscapes that Cole and Maya travel across are striking, and the way the present, dystopian part of the film is shot is beautiful in an eerie way. The music is suitably haunting too and all those elements make a bleak situation, however the story nor the character are never compelling enough to make this sci-fi drama/mystery enjoyable.

Really the sci-fi set up, an asteroid heading for Earth that could turn out to be an alien lifeform, is a backdrop for Cole and Maya’s relationship. The film never utilises its sci-fi roots to its full effect, nor gives you characters and a relationship you will to succeed.

Beyond is an intriguing low-budget British sci-fi film but it doesn’t quiet deliver what it promises. 2/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

As Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his followers gain more power, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) race against time to destroy the remaining Horcruxes and to learn more about the three most powerful objects in the wizarding world – the Deathly Hallows.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the penultimate film in the series and as the source material is packed full of new information and big reveals, it makes sense that this is the book they chose to split into two films. This does mean this film has a bit of a non-ending but besides from that it’s a great build up to the final showdown between good and evil we’ve been waiting so long for.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is more character-focussed than a lot of its predecessors, delving into the psyche of the main trio as they face a situation that feels truly hopeless. From the very beginning of the film, there’s threat in the air and characters that we’ve known for years get hurt or even die. It’s a film that starts with a bang and continues at a steady pace, blending the character drama with moments of tension and action.

There is more of the characters just walking and talking as Harry and his friends know they are meant to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes, but actually doing that is another matter entirely. The chemistry between the trio and the assured and mature performances, make these many scenes engaging. Still, when there is a more action-packed sequence, the tension is increased and they are always well-shot and exciting.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a great build up to the final battle. It’s a grim situation Harry and his friends are in, but there are moments of happiness and hope to be found here, which reiterates their belief that there’s something worth fighting for and good can win. 4/5.