Category Archives: Movies

Stuff about movies.

Fantastic Beasts and where to find them

“My philosophy is worrying means you suffer twice.”

Whoa, hey, he lives! Yes, in fact, I do – but I’ve been so caught up in work and life that I’ve had no chance to update this blog. But seeing how we’re on winter hiatus until after the holidays and I’m just gaming the day away, it’s high time for a little post.

It should be no secret I’m a Harry Potter fan. I read the books on a regular basis. I rewatch the movies every couple of years. And I actually bought a gargantuan box set a while ago and watched all of the extra bonus stuff (very interesting!).

So when I heard Fantastic Beats and where to find them was a thing that was going to happen in a cinema near me, I was wary almost immediately. Sure, this could be great, and I could get that giddy feeling I get when reading or watching Potter coupled with some fresh materials – but it could also be a disaster that, viewed pessimistically, could even destroy the original story. If you think I’m being overly dramatic: Star Wars did the exact same thing for me.

Thankfully, Fantastic Beasts is not a catastrophe. One could even say it’s a really good film, with brilliant and dynamic new characters, gorgeous locations and a nifty story almost worthy of the original seven books.  And the original story? Still intact, enhanced even, as Fantastic Beasts expands upon some parts of the original Potter lore with things like the Obscurus and Grindelwald.

But what Fantastic Beasts evoked most of all was that original sense of wonder the Harry Potter universe transports. The moment I saw the Niffler – a creature not quite like a platypus – I felt that uncanny “just out of reality’s reach” feeling these stories do so well. And one moment in particular, where we finally see Newt’s secret plan, is just breathtaking.

All in all, worth a watch! Even if it spends quite a lot of its time (and its most exciting story twists) setting up a new franchise in ways that feel like a poor storyteller’s bad photoshop, with bits and nuggets of a broader (but very obscure) framework tacked on the otherwise brilliant narrative. It’s small moments in this story that irk me and wonder how much of it was rewritten while shooting to allow the franchise to grow from three to five movies – and I guess only time will tell how well that gamble payed off.

(PS I cannot say how often I typed Fantastic Beats writing this post. I think that should be a thing)

The Boxtrolls

Anyone who’s halfway into stop-motion should have heard of Laika. The makers of Coraline and Paranorman are the Pixar studios of moving dolls around and taking a painstaking amount of pictures. Coraline (based off the Neil Gaiman novel) was brilliant, and Paranorman (which centers around a little kid who can see dead people) is one of my favorite movies to date. I think that’s the reason I shied away from watching the Boxtrolls – I was afraid of it being bad.

Thankfully, it’s not!

The Boxtrolls takes places in a victorian-era metropolis (that strangely enough centers around cheese), in which the current order (defined by the color of their hats) fight the terrible beings that live underneath the streets: The Boxtrolls. Boxtrolls are precisely what the name suggests: Trolls that live in boxes. They are peaceful creatures that are misunderstood and find themselves hunted by a group of red-hatters (two of which have a delightful back-and-forth existential crisis about what side they are really on). Laika wastes no effort in finding visual ways to incorporate these boxes into the story, with boxtrolls stacking on top of each other to climb fences or walls, or them sleeping on top of each other in a perfectly ordered cube. The first insights into their home are downright stunning, with dozens of little doodads moving around, and set the bar for stop-motion animation (which had previously been set by – you guessed it – Laika!).

But all of this is a given, really. You don’t go see a Laika flick and expect it to look like garbage. It’s the story where Laika often falters. Coraline had little issues in this regard: after all, it had a great novel as a backbone. Paranorman, however, sometimes faltered: Some of its scenes were kind of strange, with no clear beginning or end – and had it not been for its painful honesty, it would have been a disaster.

Thankfully, the Boxtrolls is confidently written, with a thematically sound story about human (and boxtroll) nature, and some great exchanges about family. Compared to Paranorman (and Coraline), the movie loses some of its honesty and feels more like a generic blockbuster, but it nails the emotional beats, and never feels like just another popcorn movie.

In all, there’s no doubt this is the weakest of Laika’s three feature films. But it’s still miles above most animated movies, which is saying a lot. And in a world of computer technology, there’s something to be said for a movie where you can feel the handiwork involved. Like all Laika features, Boxtrolls feels alive.

Stranger Things

Throughout the millions of words I have written on this page over the last ten years, it should come as no surprise to you guys that I love Stephen King. There’s something about his work that perfectly captures horror without losing track of his characters. And sure, there’s some books I haven’t finished which I should have (Needful Things, the first part of The Dark Tower), I finished some that I really shouldn’t have (The Tommyknockers, Cujo), and he almost never quite nails the ending (The Stand, 11/22/63) – but there’s something that causes me to come back time and again.

Now, I could write the same paragraph about Steven Spielberg, about E.T., Gremlins and Jurassic Park, an how these movies defined my childhood, about how Spielberg created a brilliant synergy between interesting characters and science-fiction through the use of wonder. About the Spielberg face, and so on. And I did write exactly that.

If you’ve read these two paragraphs and haven’t fallen asleep, Netflix’s Stranger Things might just be the thing for you. It’s the perfect brain child of King and Spielberg: A sci-fi horror show (light on the horror, thankfully) set in 1983, about three kids searching for their missing friend and discovering a whole lot of nasty stuff on the way. Both visually and storywise, it’s a treat, heavily paying homage to the eighties. You’ll recognize shots from old eighties classics, and some of the story beats feel like someone fired up the King playlist on an old grimy jukebox.

Let there be no doubt, though: Stranger Things is more than a wink and a nudge, or a weird inside joke for nerds like me. It’s a touching story about friendship, motherly love and growing up, and accessible to a broader audience than this review might imply. Give it a try – I was hooked within minutes.