Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - The Answer is "in a Suitcase"

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.

Maintaining David Yates as director lends a consistency to the project, and yet, it could have been refreshing to get a completely new take on J.K. Rowling's world with this series. In this new instalment, Jacob is clearly meant as our way into this magical new world. Dan Fogler as Kowalski, this normal no-maj' or muggle who gets caught up in all this, is the audience character and comic relief of the movie. 

He is all of us, he is the guy who is constantly like "Hey what's going on?!" and they explain things to him but they are actually explaining them to us. Dan Fogler is so good, he never gets annoying and he never feels like  a side-kick either, for that I was very happy he was in this film. Moreover, by the end of the movie, he also becomes one of the most important emotional core of the movie as his romantic relationship subplot with Queenie is by far the film's most charming detail. 

Unsurprisingly, Fantastic Beasts amplify both the strength and weaknesses of Rowling's storytelling approach - a cliffhanger-oriented tactic that works well in novels but feels less elegant on screen. Nonetheless, David Yates is a director that understands this world. He is building great set action sequences as well as several slower paced scenes and are not overly relying on our knowledge or love of the Harry Potter universe. The major problem with this movie is that the visual panache comes with a whole lot of plots. In fact, the film has some structural problems and really feels like two movies. On the one hand, you have the beasts plot and on the other hand, the chasing going on with the Obscuro and Grindelwald plot. Finally, this film has Harry Potter-esque magic but the world itself is the muggle world. I'm addressing this point because I believe that the magic in this film is the most awe-inspiring where it shouldn't have been the most magical. Magic is in the details.

Overall, I did enjoy this film but it feels too much like a setup movie for future instalments of the franchise.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Another Close Encounter

A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications. 

Arrival scored big at the weekend box-office and is muscling its way into the awards race. It has been almost 40 years since Steven Spielberg made Close Encounter to the Third Kind. That is not a Spielberg film that people tend to revisit the way they do Jaws, Raiders or E.T. In its time, though, Close Encounter cast a spell of majestic awe that still reverberates through pop culture today. This film with its obsessiveness and mystery, its spaceship of light that seemed as big as a city; made the prospect of an extraterrestrial visit look as wondrous, eccentric and spectacular as we imagined it might be. 

Amy Adams is the film's quiet and luminous heart. Jeremy Renner's role is rather modest but he also seems to understand that, while Amy Adams draw on her gift for making each and every moment quiver with discovery. The actress is alive to what is around her, even if it is just ordinary, and when it is extraordinary the inner fervour she communicates is quite transporting. She is more respected as an actress than bankable. The film isn't a sequel nor is it a superhero film, it is not an Alien invasion film like Independence Day Resurgence that basically exists as an excuse to blow up stuff. Sci-fi isn't just for boys. Amy Adams is front and centre in this film, a performance that surely owned her all this Oscar buzz. The film also gives her character a personal tragedy to live with and a one that grounds the fantastical story in human emotion. As a woman, I really do believe that there is a genuine emotional storyline that can speak to women, either mothers or daughters. 

This film has been made by the godly gifted director: Denis Villeneuve, who crafted Sicario and Prisoners. He manages once again, to ground this story in a hyper-realistic way. By hooking us with the news of spaceships hovering over Earth in the most random and unsensational way possible. Denis Villeneuve builds our anticipation with great flair. Discovering what the Aliens look like, sound like and how they communicate is the dramatic heart and soul of the picture. That kind of suspense is pretty rare these days. Plus, this film has an obvious poetic grandeur. The images are stately and vast, with an almost super-earthly clarity. 

Indeed, there is a pleasing circularity to the structure of this movie and also a circular logic to it. True to its title, Arrival makes an absorbing spectacle of the initial Alien set-up. Though the Aliens don't quite have personalities, there is still something tender and touching about them. There are also, frankly, elements of familiarity. The sounds they make, and the way they look. The point being that even if Denis Villeneuve is a bold and brilliant filmmaker, when it comes to this subject, Spielberg's vision is hard to get away; it still somehow infuses everything. Finally, this notion that if you learn a new language it can rewire the way you think and that the Alien language is their big gift to Humanity is beautiful. Add to it that when learning this  language, then you are able to rewire your brain and it actually alters the nature of time: it is mesmerising. The film ties it in with *SPOILER ALERT* a back story that forms the action about Louise and the daughter (in a prologue) who she watched grow up and die. 

Overall, like all the best sci-fi it has something pertinent to say about today's world, particularly about the importance of communication and living in the moment. An ideal that shouldn't need any translation. It grips you with the strength of its ideas and the quality of its execution.

Friday, 11 November 2016


As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body counts starts to rise.

In 1998, Oscar-grabbing blockbuster Rain Man drew the blueprint for portraying autism in mainstream cinema, painting the condition as a kind of adorable super power thanks to Dustin Hoffman. I know Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are BFF in real life but I couldn't help myself to compare this film to a mix between Good Will Hunting and Jason Bourne.

Behold the hero only Ben Affleck could play: mortal, yes, but blessed with extraordinary abilities. Is the Bruce Wayne DNA spliced into The Accountant's  back story a wink or a coincidence? If Affleck's knows, he's not telling. This film takes its time to tell its story but in a good way this time around. It takes a certain amount of effort to flesh out those characters and not only Affleck's character but also Anna Kendrick's and J.K. Simmons'. 

With a character with so few lines, generally, you don't want the movie to gravitate around him; but here you really want to know what he's up to next. You're getting attached to his character and interested in how his condition fits into his life. Ben Affleck has consistently proven wrong to the Affleck-haters out there: the man is a great actor and an even greater director, he's legitimate. Affleck is amazing in this film as he's introverted and has a hard time communicating with people but at the same time, you can really tell that he wants to and it's really interesting to watch his character evolves and see how he's dealing with his condition. 

Though the movie gets lots of things wrong about autism, they got little details right such as he has trouble with eye contact, doesn't understand complex social cues, irony or gratitude and likes to separate all the different food on his dinner plate. As far as the story lines are concerned, nothing makes an awful lot of sense. Characters motivations are barely touched on, explanatory scenes are crushed over and the final relies on a bizarre combination of coincidence. However, the action is extremely well filmed, choreographed and edited. Finally, the narrative is very unconventional, it doesn't give you all the answers, which forces the audience to be attentive and to watch the film properly in order to find the answers. 

Overall, The Accountant is really fast paced and is technically an action film but with a drama aspect, which gives more legitimacy to the character.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Before the Flood Documentary Review

A look at how climate change affects our environment and what society can do to prevent the demise of endangered species, ecosystems, and native communities across the planet. 

Almost a decade ago, Leonardo DiCaprio narrated and produced The 11th Hour, which covered the same ground as this documentary. The United Nations designated DiCaprio a "UN Messenger of Peace" in 2014 and tasked him with getting the word out on Climate Change. That is just what he does. Here is a heartfelt, decent and educational documentary about the most important issue of our time: Climate Change. 

Filmmakers are intelligent in their use of the biggest asset they have: not only do they keep their movie star onscreen, they work hard to tie viewers concern for the environment up with his biography. Leonardo DiCaprio proves his own commitment to the cause; conceding that his own celebrity status draws attention to the topic, but allows the naysayers to say that he is a shallow movie star and therefore this whole issue must be a joke. Though, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that the movie lacks such personality. The film does have the unique access to a DiCaprio that is not on the set of a fictional project or in an awards ceremony tux, but he adds nothing aside from his name and face. 

Correctly identifying the most important issue of our time, DiCaprio uses his authority and charisma to travel the world and highlight men impact on our planet. Indeed, he travels the globe examining our fossil-fuel addiction. Where the film succeeds the most is by focusing on the ground-level victims of climate change, such as the polar bears of the Arctic for instance. Of course, the documentary is enforcing the 2015 Paris agreement, in order to develop the wind and solar power. 

So many climate documentaries have passed through cinemas and aired on TV, it's impossible to believe that lack of information is the obstacle to change in public policy. This documentary seems important to me as a shift in public opinion has to be achieved to change the political classes opinion. Finally, Before the Flood foes have one marvellous scene that its contemporaries won't have. Former Astronaut Dr. Piers Sellers sits down with DiCaprio in a dark room that is illuminated by a graphic of planet Earth and talks about how his experience in Space helped him understand the massiveness and beauty of the world. He highlights that if we can all see our presence in the world on a much larger scale than what is in front of us, we might be able to change our way of life before it is too late. 

Overall, Before the Flood is a serious, substantial and very important piece of work.