Fantastic Beasts and a new Harry Potter movie: Thanks, but no thanks.

fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-harry-potter-26796486-940-1370-jpgAlright, here we go. It’s really happening. A release date has been announced, and the new Harry Potter film is coming out on 18 November 2016. By that point I will have just turned 26, so what better way than to give money to a franchise that has been entertaining me/taking all my money since when I was about 8?

I wasn’t one of the people who made a scene when the last (at least for the time being) Harry Potter film came out, mainly because I had done my end-of-an-era desperation rites when the last book had been released. I was sixteen, what better age to start with book-related traumas?

Anyway. The Harry Potter world has become a nostalgia-ridden topic for almost everyone who has been deeply involved with it at any stage in their life. My Facebook wall becomes a cryfest every time the saga is mentioned and many of my friends, even the unsuspected ones, feel like they belong to a certain House et cetera.

Despite this, even the little group of über-faithful fans I always nerd with had quite a disappointing reaction to the announcement of the new Harry Potter universe movies, based on the life of everyone’s favourite magizoologist Newt Scamander. I mean, it’s not like we weren’t expecting it: this series is a money-making machine, so even if JK Rowling said that she wasn’t going to put any new material out (and then she did anyway, see Pottermore) it wasn’t too outrageous to think that Warner Bros would peruse their, uhm, right to the rights once more.

It’s not like the first eight films (!!!) were made just for the fun of it, but this feels as forced as a new Star Wars trilogy. Or The Hobbit, which for some reason (money, duh) is also a trilogy. It’s something that no one really wanted, but it’s happening and we will just have to roll with it.

It just doesn’t make sense to make a book out of an encyclopedia like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It would be a David Attenborough documentary with unicorns, and WB seems to be going with a narrative angle rather than a dragon Springwatch.

Our main guy Newt

Our main guy Newt, looking lively in his Hogwarts portrait.

The fact that JK Rowling herself would be penning the script – at least for the first film – is not making me feel better about it. My main concern is that it won’t actually have to do with Harry Potter that much. This won’t necessarily make it a piece of garbage, but it’s just not what I would look for in a new installment of the series. I would want something immediately recognizable and that I already care about.

I’ve done my fair share of role playing as a teenager and let me tell you, nobody likes Care of Magical Creatures that much. Fantastic creatures are one of the least inventive parts of the Harry Potter universe, since some of them have been around for millennia, so it will be very hard to produce something specific to the universe it is taken from, rather than just a generic “magical” world.

From what has been announced, the Fantastic Beast And Where To Find Them adaptation will have to do without highly recognizable elements like Hogwarts, as it will be set in 1920s New York. It won’t have any of the usual protagonists and/or side characters and/or the young version of the “adults” of the series, which would have been ace. Young Dumbledore/McGonagall? I would be all in. Or even better: something set in the ’70s, since what fans really want is something – anything – about the Marauders.

But no, we get Newt Scamander. I’m sure he was a cool wizard, but let’s be serious: the reason why he was of any relevance in the original series was because he had written a textbook. The greatest book about magical creatures to ever be written, sure, but still.

With so many interesting minor characters to develop, it’s a shame that they’re going to waste perfectly good millions of dollars on someone we never really cared that much about. And a Hufflepuff to boot.

I am ready to take this entire post back when the movie comes out and it’s bloody brilliant.


Frozen (Chris Buck, 2013)

frozenWhat a tragedy: Frozen is good. Not amazing, excellent, brillant. Just good.
I generally go through various phases of hysterical adoration for any Disney film. It takes me a while to see flaws and put them in perspective, so it was fairly worrying that I couldn’t really get excited about Frozen, not even while watching it.

There isn’t one main reason why I was so underwhelmed. Almost everything was good, but not brilliant; it’s like they started on the project and didn’t get the time to develop it properly, leaving some bits in a not quite ideal stage. The trolls are great, Kristoff and Sven are great. Olaf is a good concept, but it doesn’t come out as well; it reminded me of those animations that are put in commercials for children.

Anna looks like Rapunzel and both the male protagonists have something of Flynn Rider – yes! It does mean that they look quite a bit like each other. This might be taken as a uniformity in style on Disney’s side, but it just really looks like they were being a bit lazy.

The story is already full of humour and funny moments, so additions like the Duke shouting and waving his arms seem quite unnecessary. This is especially annoying considering that his screen time could have been Elsa’s — the one character that has been made perfectly in every way. From her storyline to her songs to her style — those tiny snowflakes in her hair! — she is just one notch over all the others.
While the main storyline deserved all the attention it could get, so much time was wasted with silly comedy moments from side characters, which could have been found another way, especially with Kristoff/Sven/Olaf in the scene.

What is great about Frozen is that once again (and surprisingly, considering Brave had been presented as a one-off) it goes against the princess taboo, with everyone giving hell to Anna about wanting to get married to a stranger. I have to admit I really hadn’t seen that coming, and I was really pleasantly surprised.

Here, have the clip of Let It Go and wish that the entire film was like this.

Things I’ve learnt watching The Mortal Instruments

1) All supernatural creatures are British. The good guys are public school-educated, the villains come straight from a bar brawl in East London. Who cares if the entire story takes place in New York? If you have any sort of magical ability / want to play a character that has one, you better get your ass to a vocal coach ASAP. I’m sure they have special rates for werewolves.

2) All supernatural places are Hogwarts or a castle that looks like Hogwarts. I doesn’t matter if you’re in Yorkshire or Manhattan, you’ll have to put up with stone walls and lancet windows. In fact, this appears to be the only way to convince humans that you’re not kidding when you say your day job is killing demons. Bonus points if said castle is invisible to humans / disappears / teleports.

3) Leather is trendy! Turns out that the late 90s fetishist/motorcycle gang look is making a comeback. In fact, if you don’t wear head-to-toe black and an accessory with chains, you cannot be accepted in a Shadowhunter gang. They also like thigh-high boots, minidresses, hoodies and elaborate blades.

4) If your mum is Lena Headey, RUN. As if we didn’t know this already.

5) Remember when all the juicy stuff happened in fanfictions? The Mortal Instruments has got it all, from incest to gay romance (maybe) to love triangles. The characters ship other characters. Everyone seems to want to get it on with everyone else. It’s like Cassandra Clare wrote this thinking of fanfiction writers… oh, wait.

6) Plot is an accessory when you’ve got sexual tension and lots of sleek fighting scenes. I watched the movie and enjoyed it quite a bit, but I still have no idea of what happened — why does Jonathan Rhys Meyers want the cup? Because he’s nuts? And why isn’t Jamie Campbell-Bower playing a snide, despicable character in a period drama?

7) The Nice Guy Syndrome is now being legitimised in a YA movie. More on this topic another time, but I cringed when Simon (Robert Sheehan) sat on Clary’s bed whining that HE HAD ALWAYS BEEN THERE FOR HER, YET SHE WAS MAKING OUT WITH JACE. Thou whore, Clary!

8) Kevin Zegers does not age. He is 29 and looks younger than me. Vampire? Uh-uh!

9) Your neighbour is a witch and yes, she will try to murder you.

10) Remember the Biker Mice From Mars? The Mortal Instruments has the Biker Werewolves From Brooklyn (but with a British accent, obviously)! That is one cool ’90s reference.

If I can’t watch films that scare me, can I still be a film critic?

As a rule, I am pretty strict with myself about what I can and can’t watch. The reason is simple: some topics make me really upset and I end up not being able to sleep or think about anything else for days.

Yesterday night I went to see Prisoners (directed by Denis Villeneuve, out this weekend) with two friends who are way less impressionable than I am. In short: the film is great. I love everyone in it – Paul Dano is one of my favourite actors, and can spell “Jake Gyllenhaal” properly without having to google it. Despite sensing from the trailer that Prisoners just wasn’t for me, I went in hoping that I could keep it together for two hours and maybe – just maybe – actually have a good time.

Obviously, a film about children being kidnapped is not meant to be enjoyable and/or relaxing, but for me it was different. About half an hour into the movie, I couldn’t stay still on my seat. I was behaving like a five-year-old because I was so scared I was in physical pain. I started turning towards my friend every five minutes and thinking “I want to go home”. The only reason why I didn’t get up and leave is because I hate when someone walks in front of me during a film, so I didn’t want to do that to the other people in the cinema.

I don’t know where to draw the line, precisely. I watched The Shining five times – scared the life out of me, but I went back every time and loved it. I can watch Saw – it grosses me out, but what happens is fairly outlandish. I can watch period horror films – the costumes and settings make it so that I can separate myself from what I’m watching. But stuff like Prisoners? It’s beyond me how the rest of the audience, including my friends, managed to get to the end of the film and think that it was good.

I am generally the one who has opinions about everything she watches/reads, but not this time. If you ask me about the general plot of the film, I could probably make sense of it; when it comes to the details, it’s all a jumble of fear and clenching and not wanting to be there. I don’t have an opinion because despite having watched the film beginning to end, I was so upset that I didn’t register anything critically. When the film finished, my friends were exchanging thoughts about the performances of the actors. I was staring at the floor of the cinema. I felt as helpless as the woman sitting next to us, who cried through the entire film and today probably has the worst headache of her life.

I couldn’t tell which one is the last film that put me in this state; my avoidance of upsetting movies is systematic and almost unconscious. It’s not the crying – I’m the one who cries desperately and shamelessly at press screenings. It’s the sense of complete terror that doesn’t let me get up from my seat, that makes me unable to go home by myself. It’s waking up in the middle of the night thinking that the children I don’t have have been kidnapped.

I have been writing about film for quite a while now, and this has not been an issue so far. But I’d bang my head against a brick wall repeatedly rather than having to review Prisoners. If it came down to it, I don’t even think I could find anything to say: I was too busy trying not to lose my shit to actually pay attention to anything that could be of interest.

In these years, I have never heard of a film writer who refuses to watch certain things. Surely senior critics can pick and choose what they review, but if they had to, they could write about anything. They could sit there, watch the movie and get the job done. Not me – not in twenty years, not ever. I can’t watch certain films because I can’t let fiction ruin my life, however temporarily.

I can watch the shittiest of romcoms, I have trained myself to get through anything from superheroes to warfare to fairies and have something to say about each of them. But I can’t deal with thrillers that bank on getting the viewer to the brink of a nervous breakdown. I can’t do some things because I won’t sleep for weeks even after watching a trailer. In my position I can’t allow myself to be fussy, but what if I really can’t deal with some stuff? Will this make me less credible as a film journalist? If I can’t watch films that scare me, can I still be a film critic?

The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber

tmpFrom now on, The Marlowe Papers will be what I think of when someone mentions “a challenging read”. This is a novel written in iambic pentametre written just a couple of years ago, as opposed to four hundred years ago when its protagonist, Kit Marlowe, lived. Reading it was intense, but also just thinking of the effort it must have taken to write was quite overwhelming.

The story is another revisit of the idea that Marlowe didn’t really die in a brawl, but he went into hiding and kept writing under the pseudonym of William Shakespeare. While I’m not a big fan of theories that say that Shakespeare’s works were written by someone else, I was fascinated by the complex, clever work that Ros Barber did.

It takes a while to get used to the writing for an eye that’s not used to the poetic structure, but after the initial trauma it becomes easier (not easy, but not impossibly hard either) to skip from line to line and follow the story while appreciating the form. Not that understanding everything is an easy task: every event on Marlowe’s timeline, every connection is justified by documents and evidence she collected while writing her PhD thesis, which this book is a part of.

While I had a recollection of who most of the noblemen and the most famous poets were, I was clueless about the rest of the characters (but also many events). The trick that made it easier for me to go through the book was to read Barber’s notes first, and then follow up with the chapter. It can be annoying to flip back and forth, but having an idea of who the people that get mentioned makes it so much easier to get into the story and focus on fighting with the pentametre rather than with the content. The rule to follow here is “choose your enemies”.

Being an expert in the field would have certainly helped, but I’m happy I wasn’t: having no idea if any of Barber’s connections were a bit of a stretch allowed me to be completely captured by her elaborate novel in verse. I loved every moment of my struggle with the pentametre, every flip of the pages to read an explanation. The Marlowe Papers could make as little historical sense as movie Anonymous does (although I doubt it) but I don’t know it and I don’t want to know.

After reading The Marlowe Papers I was completely enamoured of a figure that I had never really liked or cared for before. He told me his story in first person and, for once, I chose to believe this version of the facts until the end of the book.

These are obviously conjectures about Marlowe’s life — but do we care? Just building the plot of this book seems a serious academic adventure. The iambic pentametre is not perfect and Barber took some liberties with the language — again, do we care? The overall result is just so intriguing and surprising that the historical accuracy and formal imprecisions (which might be relevant for a PhD committee, but not as much for ordinary readers) can be overlooked.

Found via: For once, just browsing in the bookshop (Waterstones in Hampstead).
Suggested to: Patient, Elizabethan-era-loving readers.
Y/N? Y