Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ticketstubBack to the wizarding world of Harry Potter, only this time, the story takes place in the 1930's (approximately) and features adults as the main characters, and I have to say, it works rather well. Basically, there are magical beasts and they're on the loose in New York City, only there's more going on under the surface. Politics and plots, it's a dangerous world. I found the core themes both more interesting and more timely. I haven't verified this, but my impression is that the magical beasts, that have been banned from entry into NYC, are a metaphor for foreign refugees. Our protagonist Newt makes it clear that these beasts aren't a danger to anyone, that in fact we can learn from them. But fear and ignorance causes the wizards of New York to demonize them. Instead, the real threat comes from within the government, reminding us that domestic threats are much worse and more nefarious that perceived foreign threats. Or, that's my take, anyway.

I thought the story worked well and featured a bit more nuance and timeliness than other Harry Potter stories. Script and acting were decent, though I'm still frustrated by Eddie Redmayne's frequent lack of enunciation. I expect the kids will like all the fantastic beasts and the grown-ups might find the adult characters more relatable, this could be an interesting new franchise in a familiar universe.



Arrival ticketstubThere was very little buzz about this movie approaching its release, and therefore, not a lot of talk about its themes and plot points. This is good. With that in mind, I won't be saying much about that here, for this is a movie that must be experienced to understand. No description I give here will do it justice. What I can talk about is the quality of the movie. Arrival is sumptuously deliberate and notably sparse. The way shots are framed, there is typically only one thing happening in each. Even when there is background activity, it's muted, either out of focus or the audio is tamped down so your attention is on the character(s) in this scene. This is not Independence Day despite the presence of alien spacecraft hovering over many parts of the planet simultaneously. This is a complex puzzle that slowly and deliberately unfolds in front of you with a sort of Zen simplicity that gives you space to roll it around in your mouth after every step. As the movie progresses, the ideas layer on top of each other and combine like the flavors of a perfectly seasoned meal. While there are dozens of nuanced flavors to experience, the dish is exquisite when taken as a whole. The sparse presentation tugs you through a journey of discovery both external and internal and you come out the other end both knowing exactly what just happened, and seeking out all the fascinating little bits that lead to this conclusion. It's basically a very complicated stew made up of very simple ingredients. Grab yourself a bowl and savor every morsel.


Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange ticketstubDoctor Strange is a brilliant and egotistical, pompous, know-it-all (literally) brain surgeon who, through his own carelessness, had his hands severely damaged in an accident. When modern medical science fails him, he searches for a more spiritual solution, and through this, gets introduced to the world of sorcerers. So yeah, another origin story. Are you excited? The main story is about a bad guy who wants to hand the earth over to some extra-dimensional god in exchange for eternal life, but the sorcerers, like Strange, are here to stop such mystical events. The movie is populated by entertaining fight sequences that feature (finally) more than just kicking and punching, there's the element of magic and spells to make it all a bit more interesting than what we've gotten used to seeing. I think it works well and I found the fights entertaining and one sequence involving time moving backwards to be particularly fresh and interesting. Beyond that, I thought the movie was a little on the shallow side, lacking meaningful relationships, and in the end, after all of Strange's learnings, he still ends up a bit of a pompous ass, but now he's saving the world!

I haven't read the comics, so I don't know how much has been altered from the source material and I can't comment on some concerns with the character whitewashing that happened. I didn't find it too distracting and there was still a fair bit of diversity in the cast, but those who know the comics might find the changes distracting (whatever they were).


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children ticketstubThis movie appears to make the case for celebrating each individual's skills and abilities. Seems like a noble endeavor and it should fit in with the Harry Potters and after-school specials we're all familiar with, so that's a wonderful thing, right? Well, it would be, if so little attention weren't paid to the children, some of which don't speak or have any notable abilities, and instead we spend much of the movie explaining and dealing with the situation created by the time loops the peculiar children live within. You see, in order to protect the children, caretaker adults (always female) create time loops which is a single day that loops over and over. Only peculiar people can enter the time loop. This keeps out the normal people who never know anything is happening, but ironically, the evil people hunting the children (for their eyes), are peculiar and can therefore enter the time loops. Then there's the extremely questionable mechanics of these loops and the several continuity issues they generate... it all amounts to a very complicated exercise in trying to track the many rules (many of which don't fit with rational time theory) and trying to puzzle out how and when the various parts of this story are taking place. What this equates to, for me, is a movie targeted toward children that is probably too complicated for children (and probably most adults) to follow. Throw in some well designed, but very creepy monsters and graphic scenes of eyes being ripped from people's heads and eaten and you have a movie that might not be the best choice for children. I'll admit, there are some delightful scenes of wonder and oddity that we might commonly associate with director Tim Burton, but much of that fizzles when most of the kids never get a chance to do anything until the final battle. The leads were all good, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Asa Butterfield, though Jackson and Green were playing way over-the-top. I assume that's how they are portrayed in the book? Seemed like a lot, though, no subtlety there. I was entertained, but certainly wasn't expecting to need a degree in time travel to figure out what's happening.


Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings ticketstubKubo is another stunningly animated film by Laika, the studio known for movies such as The Boxtrolls, Coraline, and ParaNorman. Kubo is a young boy with a mysterious family history who goes on a perilous quest accompanied by a monkey, a beetle samurai, and a small origami samurai. The writing is well done and should be easily understood by young children and won't be boring for the adults. It's not jokey and multi-leveled like a Pixar movie might be, just, a quality, well written script. The voice acting is quite good, though, the combination of a deadpan Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey being Matthew McConaughey seemed a little awkward to me, it worked well. The music had Japanese qualities, but felt clearly arranged to appeal to a western audience. Most impressive, as you might expect, would be the animation that featured complex scenes on water and amazing set pieces of all types. I've heard people comment that the animation is so good they forgot it was animated and I completely agree. I'm not sure that's a good thing, if you can't tell they're using stop motion animation, why not just make it full-on CG? I guess because they're animation style is pretty awesome and we should appreciate that. So basically, if you have kids, they'll probably love it. If you like fantastical adventures, you'll probably enjoy it. If you have a heart, you'll definitely enjoy it. Enjoy!


Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad ticketstubThe Suicide Squad is a ragtag team of super criminals and meta-humans who have been compelled by the government to undertake extremely dangerous missions. This takes place in the DC universe, so you have characters like Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, and so on. My expectations were low given the bad press this movie has been receiving. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The action was quite good, the writing wasn't bad, and the story, though predictable, worked quite well. I don't really know much about the Suicide Squad from comics, but I expect part of the allure is in seeing a more human side of the criminals, and that's what I thought this movie did well. They present these characters as people with families and hopes and hurts and it didn't feel all that cheesy. We also see minor appearances by The Joker and Batman that I think work out well. It's fan service, but again, not cheesy. In an unusual twist, the music you hear in the trailers actually appears in the final movie, I thought that was fun. And beyond that, I can't come up with any serious complaints. It was a genuinely entertaining movie that I would recommend to anyone looking for a bit of comic book action.


Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne ticketstubJason Bourne is roused from hiding when he's presented with evidence that he was manipulated into joining the Treadstone project all those years ago. This movie feels a bit different from the others, it's simpler, less entangled, fewer mysteries and less focused on Bourne. Yes, we do see Bourne traveling around, but he barely interacts with anyone and really doesn't have very much to say. The focus is, instead, on the CIA folks who are tracking Bourne or are afraid he's coming for them. I did enjoy parts of the movie, but because the viewer isn't connected to Bourne and the story isn't as focused on him, I felt less invested in what was happening in the characters. I miss the first movie when Bourne is protecting an innocent from the horrors of the spy world. This movie was also a way to wipe the board clean of some characters who have been around for several movies and set the board up for new characters. In that respect, I think there's promise, but I'm afraid I'm just going to miss the game we used to have going.


Lights Out

Lights Out ticketstubThis horror movie is based on the premise that there's a spirit that only appears in darkness, so get ready for scares that feed on the natural fear of the dark. The scares in this movie mostly work and the origin of the creepy ghost Diana are sufficiently creepy. I was bothered by some plot holes and how everyone so easily accepts that they are being haunted by this evil Diana (though I suppose seeing the ghost makes it easier for one to accept). For a low budget horror movie, I thought the acting was better than expected, particularly by the young Gabriel Bateman. While this movie is PG-13, I am a bit surprised by how there is very little graphic violence, swearing, or nudity. I guess the rating is just for scares?


Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond ticketstubThe Enterprise enters an uncharted nebula in search of a downed alien ship and is promptly destroyed, scattering the crew across the planet at the heart of the nebula. Why is the evil Krall attacking ships and what does he need from the Enterprise crew? Mysteries! Science! Bonding! Jokes! Star Trek Beyond has it all! Sort of. It is certainly an entertaining ride, but it somehow feels small... and that's not a bad thing, it's actually nice to get away from the ever increasing epic-ness required by every sequel over the one before, but in this case, the story and character development feel thin even for an episode of a TV show. A lot of time is spent on huge action sequences filled with quick cuts that make following the action difficult at times. Overall, a fun, and lighter movie than previous iterations; I have no idea what the "Beyond" in the title refers to.



Ghostbusters ticketstubIt seemed like there was a lot of confusion around whether this movie would pick up the Ghostbusters franchise or reboot it, and this is definitely a reboot. This is a New York City that has not seen previous large scale paranormal activity. The story in this movie isn't all that spectacular, a guy who's been bullied and picked on his whole life decides to bring about the apocalypse to get back at the world, but I would say that's a bit of a B plot next to the main plot that gives us these four ladies who come together to solve problems, kick-ass, and build friendships.

Here's the tough spot this movie has put itself in, it does pretty well standing on its own without any comparisons to the original movie, but, this movie is filled with fan-service call-backs to the original, so it's real tough to ignore the comparisons. If they had left those references out, people would accuse them of pretending the original didn't exist, and if they have the references, people will inevitably compare them. Maybe just enjoy it for what it is and have fun with the call-backs?

The joke writing is much more modern and of-the-times. Joke delivery is what we've come to expect from these actors, so nothing new there, but they are absolutely good at what they do. I laughed throughout and several times out loud, it felt good. Effects are what you would expect from a modern movie. Music contained about five variations on the Ghostbusters theme. I'm a little confused by some of the ghost characters that looked almost exactly like Jack Skellington and Mr. Boogey from The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie was, I would say, very family friendly. I don't think there are any swear words and any sexual references are adequately disguised. When you go, stay through the entire credits, there's fun scenes throughout and a teaser for the story to come at the very end.