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.

 

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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.

The Kings of Summer (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2013)

tkosA few years ago I used to watch anything that had come out of Sundance, exclusively because it had come out of Sundance. After my awakening to all things quirky and the realization that indie films existed, Sundance was like a treasure chest full of insanely interesting documentaries and weird teenagers, in equal parts. While I still adore the documentaries, I guess that the “indie film about an outsider” category got a bit boring for me, not to mention the cinematography copycats that seem to reign in that world.

The Kings Of Summer is brilliant precisely because it took the best out of the genre and mixed it with something new. It isn’t trying really hard to be quirky; the characters are average teenagers, if a bit spoiled. They have actual conversations. There are shots of fields in the golden hour, but they are tied into the story, not just there to be pretty and make the viewer go “oooh”.

Joe and Patrick are in that wonderful age in which one fights with one’s parents for no sensible reason; add in the fact that their parents are actually impossible, and voilà! They decide to move out to the woods and build a house, where they will provide for themselves and become men. Obviously, putting a house together and learning to hunt and live as savages is not easy for middle class boys. What makes The Kings Of Summer amazing is how the narration is true to life, without peaks of drama and insane plot twists for the sake of the film. Even the most absurd events seem realistic.

The situations in which the protagonists put themselves are hilarious, but the nuance with which their relationship with each other, with their friends and their relatives is treated is just perfect. There is no need to overexplain and overanalyze: everything feels genuine, true to life, in particular the complicated ties between Joe and his father after his mother has passed away. While the entire cast is great, it is impossible not to have a particular love for Nick Offerman’s stubborn, wounded Frank; his performance as a dad who just can’t be conciliatory with his whiny teenage son is perfectly in balance between hilariousness and heartbreak.

Another remarkable performance — which I still can’t believe really happened — is Moises Arias playing Biaggio, a weird kid who joins Joe and Patrick in their adventure. Biaggio made me cry laughing, but also terrify me. I can’t imagine what dark, dark corner of writer Chris Galletta’s mind where such a creepy, bizarre character has come from.

I hate the sentence “coming of age story” with ferocious intensity and I find it particularly wrong in relation to The Kings Of Summer; Joe and Patrick still have a whole lot of growing up to do. What their experience in the woods brings out is the fact that they are in fact children, and even they realise that. This film tells the story of a great summer adventure and it is so entertaining and moving only heartless people will fail to appreciate it.

file under: Nick Offerman is a guarantee of quality.
final grade: 5/5
cryfest factor: 3/5 fairly likely.

Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013)

tranceThere is only one case in my history with Danny Boyle in which I didn’t start grumbling half an hour into the film. That case is not Trance (spoiler: it is masterpiece Sunshine). The premise of Boyle’s new endeavour had me drooling for months before its release, which is probably why now I am so disappointed with it now.

Art auctioner Simon has accepted to collaborate with some art thieves to pay for his gambling debts. He helps steal a painting from his own auction house, but when criminal Franck opens the case of the painting, Witches In The Air by Francisco Goya is missing from the frame. The worst part is that Simon, who has received a blow to the head during the theft, is suffering from amnesia and has no idea of where he put the masterpiece. This is when hypnotherapist Elisabeth Lamb is hired to help him remember.

While some films lack any narrative complexity, Trance is committed to surprising the viewer every three minutes. This turns out to be a bit too much. The line between reality and trance becomes gradually more blurry, which is great, but this is done through continuous twists and 180° turns in the plot. By continuous I really mean that as soon as the film seems to make sense, a new element comes in to erase everything that has been said until that moment. At the end of the first hour, I was on the verge of giving up on the entire thing and walking out — not because I am equipped with a small brain, although that could be a factoring element, but because the effort of revolutionizing the plot was taking the film in directions that made it incoherent and weirdly structured.

A proof of this is that one of the main players in solving the mystery in the final act of the film is Rosario Dawson’s pussy. While it’s clear from the beginning that Elisabeth Lamb has something to hide and her part in the events emerges a clever way, the film goes to exaggerated lengths to put her at the centre of the story. We had been taken so very far from where we had started, and the resolution was so outlandish and intricate, that by that point it was hard to still feel involved and not to “meh” at the final sequences.

What cannot be taken away from Trance is that it is a terribly stylish film. Its loud, rowdy soundtrack fully expresses Simon’s state of mind, especially in the first parts; the contrast with the quieter tracks and how it all harmonizes with the development of the story is pure magic (as usual from Underworld’s Rick Smith).
The continuous use of reflections, mirrors, coloured glass once again mimics the intricate mind-play happening in the film. It might be a bit of an obvious choice, but it really does create a specific look and atmosphere that is consistent throughout the film, dominated by oranges and blues and sharp lines.

Some sequences are so imaginative, wonderfully written and shot that they lift up the entire film for me; one of them is the incredible scene with all the stolen and destroyed paintings, in which not only does James McAvoy outdo himself in terms of acting, but all the elements — scenography, lights, dialogue, music — come together so beautifully that only the appearance of yet another iPad can take away the poetry from the scene.

On the downside, I tend to be incredibly annoyed by Danny Boyle’s gimmicks with the camera, so I was quite disappointed when they suddenly appeared after a first half-hour of straightforward filming. Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for weird angles, but not to the point where I feel seasick watching a film that’s not set on a boat.

I have been struggling to summarize my thoughts about Trance in a grade. On one hand, two weeks after watching it I feel that overall I enjoyed it: the overall plot arc, the writing and the execution have many great elements to them. But to be completely honest, my first opinion wasn’t very far from “total rubbish”. Would I want to see Trance again? Ultimately yes, if only to try and follow the ridiculously complicated plot properly, at least the second time around.

file under: sometimes simplicity is key.
final grade: 3/5
cryfest factor: 0/5 unless you’re a Stendhal syndrome habitué.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

the divinersI read this because I had it lying around, so I didn’t have many expectations to begin with; the many great things about The Diviners hit me like a giant wave of awesomeness and gin. While as of late the combination of YA and supernatural has not given the best results, The Diviners has a completely different twist on the genre: this is a thriller with a sprinkle of supernatural. No romance, no bullshit. Plenty of weird cults and weirder murders.

Set in the 1920s New York, the story starts as party girl Evie O’Neill is shipped off to stay with her uncle Will in Manhattan, after causing too much trouble in her Ohio home town. Her misdemeanor was revealing that a guy in her social circle had knocked up and abandoned a poor girl; this was only made worse by the fact that she unmasked him by simply holding a ring of his.

Between assisting her uncle at the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, and hanging out in speakeasies with her new friends, Evie crosses paths with many curious individuals. She is definitely the protagonist, but the story is told by several voices: there is Mabel, daughter of renowned political activists; Theta, a trendy dancer who lives with her “brother” Henry; Memphis, a nice guy from the poorer side of town; Sam, a thief/smuggler/person you should avoid, despite his many charms; Jericho, uncle Will’s mysterious assistant. No character in The Diviners is bland: each of them has lots to say, a well-built background and, most of all, secrets. As the title says, several of them also have dreams, visions and premonitions.

The novel doesn’t quite pan out as one could expect: the fact that these teenagers have powers isn’t quite the centre of the narration, which makes the first half of the story a long, long wait for something that just doesn’t happen. It takes quite a while to give up on the idea the title gives – that the book is about diviners – but the wait is absolutely worth it. The main focus is solely on finding and bringing to justice the Pentacle Killer, who has been terrorizing in the city. Evie gets to follow the investigation closely when her uncle, an expert in the occult, is called by the police to consult on the case. It seems like 1800s serial killer Naughty John has come back from the dead – but is it a copycat, or is it really a ghost?

Very different characters allow to cover many different facets of the 20s; prohibition is a major player in the plot and so are WWI, eugenics and the immigrants swarming to the US at the beginning of the century. The Diviners has not been written lazily: the accuracy goes from big historical facts to language and costume. It doesn’t spare philosophy and religion: Jericho reads Nietzsche and quotes him all the time, while Memphis drifts apart from his extremely religious aunt. “Why should I pray to God? What has he done for me or my family?”, he asks himself.

The devious killer seems to have religious motifs behind his horrendous crimes; the protagonists have to uncover the secrets behind a strange Brethren and its beliefs, but they also have to wonder whether ghosts and demons really exist, if their powers are real, what evil is really about. This might be considered a very long build-up for the characters to really reach their full potential in the following books of the series. If the “diviners” plot takes off in the next instalment the style of the novels will change drastically, which might not be a good thing considering how good and unusual this one was.

2012, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Goodreads.
Found via: I had heard of Libba Bray before and the book looked cool.
Suggested to: Don’t go there if you’re a noir/thriller buff. Otherwise, please pick up this book.
Y/N? Y