It’s entirely possible that I don’t really understand Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Upon seeing the movie in theatres a few short years ago, I felt indifference. Sure, there were beasts. Yes, they appeared fantastic. But I didn’t really understand why we were focusing on them so much, in a film where the plot didn’t seem to necessarily revolve around them. Knowing that this was the first in an ambitious series of movies set in the Harry Potter Wizarding World, I could chalk up my confusion to a few things:
“Heathers meets American Psycho” so, I guess it’s a good thing I’ve seen Psycho quite a few times over the years, and watched Heathers late last year during my project to consume the most popular films of the eighties. Honestly though, the tagline didn’t need to be said to push me there, as just a quick glimpse of the trailer, combined with the talent involved had me sold from the get go.
But when did I watch that initial trailer? Yeah, it’s practically an afterthought: apparently the film had been sitting in post-production and doing the festival circuit for a while before receiving a wide release in March of 2018. Here we are, practically a year later and I have an opportunity to watch this film.
As I work my way through a few different classic series, I stumble upon the third in a franchise and always forget one important trope from the '80s: the third movie MUST be in 3D.
Of course, I don't have the 3D version of Friday the 13th Part III, but the effect is obvious and quite frankly, distracting. Instead of panning across suburban street with kids playing baseball, the camera focuses on the child holding the baseball bat directly at the camera for a few seconds before moving on. We've got a yo-yo scene (which goes on for seconds too long), juggling, brooms and of course, lots of stabby weapons, including both ends of a pitchfork. This may seem like nipticking and it really is. I just can't help but think of all the scene setup and extra seconds here and there "wasted" on the 3D visuals, but on the other hand I would be really interested to see what these effects looked like in theatres back in the '80s, having only really experienced modern, Avatar-type 3D over the past few years myself.
Immediately upon starting this film you have no choice but to notice how damn fast the dialogue and ensuing scenes are. As we cut through from scene to scene, and through dozens of characters I find myself nearly exhausted, especially since I simply can't listen to the dialogue: I have to read everything. Later on I would see in the IMDb trivia that the movie could be described as a Aaron Sorkin written political with a healthy injection of monster for good measure. The end result is brilliant, and a refreshing take on the classic Japanese monster film that I've enjoyed through my life.
As I delve deeper into the world of horror movies of the 70s and 80s, I often skip across the surface of these famous Italian directors and producers. I was really impressed with Inferno and Pieces, and with that, I probably saw The New York Ripper on a list and managed to get my hands on it. I feel so dirty now. Gore is definitely a major factor in these films, but Ripper takes it a step further. The director, Lucio Fulci, takes New York and allows the city to breathe its dirty eighties breathe all over, not unlike what William Lustig's 1980 film Maniac. I thought it interesting that Maniac takes place, for the majority, in the dark, while Ripper embraces the daytime. They both showcase everyday places that you would find yourself and cranks the horror and gore to untold levels. This lit approach to the film leaves nothing to the imagination; it leaves nothing for you to hide yourself behind. You have no choice but to look away, as each murder escalates in intensity and terror.
Finally sitting down to take in Cape Fear was a bit of a cathartic experience; we had the VHS kicking around the basement when I was younger, and I had vague memories of the film itself, although truth be told, most of those memories were probably formed by the smartly done Simpson's parody episode. The chilling music is something that would pop into my head on an alarmingly regular basis, but actually watching the film somehow slipped my priority until recently, and I'm quite taken aback with the idea of having seeing this as I was younger: it was quite a bit more disturbing, in both content and style, than I was prepared for.
Tackling Hollywood’s latest video game adaptation was always going to be an interesting exercise. It’s a wonder that any of these become made; even in the face of an abysmal track record, producers will always make an attempt at adaptation when some semblance of a built-in audience is already around. Indeed, I got right into the video game when it first came out, and eagerly played the second (which was even better). I played the hell out of the third title, Brotherhood, and got burnt out on the fourth: Revelations. I believe there have been eight or nine main entries in the series to date.
With that many titles in the series, there’s a lot of story to pull from, and it’s easy to see the variety of ways that you could adapt these scenarios into compelling action and drama on the big screen. The base concept is interesting enough: it’s the story of two groups - the Templars and the Assassins - waging war for centuries in the hunt for pieces of eden, which apparently when combined, would allow for the control of the entire human race. Conveniently enough, the technology assists that allows an individual to relive the memories of their ancestors. In this case, Desmond is a modern-day man who comes from a long line of Assassin’s, which allows us - as gamers - to wreak havoc and see events unfold in a number of timelines.
You can see how the concept is well suited for a series of games: each game could take place in a different time, with one continuing story in the present to string it all together. THis is, of course, exactly what they do, as we start the series in the Third Crusade, then advance through history (and all over the world) with each iteration. It seems straightforward, then, to adapt the exact same premise into a movie franchise. It can’t be that simple though, right? Of course not.
Ah yes, it’s November, which means we’re due for our psychological science fiction film of the year. Now that the summer is over and the memory of those action movies masquerading as scifi is over (re: any movie with more special effects - especially robots and spaceships - than character) we can get onto the heavier stuff. A couple of Novembers ago, we were treated to Interstellar; now, we’re in the presence of Arrival, a slow moving yet highly anticipated movie about humanity’s first contact with alien life.
The initial trailers had me hooked right away, as it turns out I’m kind of into “first contact” movies. Is that even a thing? Yeah, I love my scifi and this is right up my alley, so we’ll roll with it for the time being. There wasn’t much revealed in those first teases, save for an introduction to our characters, the general structure of the film and perhaps most importantly: the atmosphere of the film. What I didn’t know beforehand is the films director, one Denis Villeneuve; having not disappointed yet, Denis’ filmography is setting him up to be a modern master of cinema, and perhaps being more aware of his duties on the film, my expectations could have been altered. Just a tad though. Not enough to make a difference here; I mean, you can’t go from Prisoners to Enemy and expect me to have the faintest idea where his next movie would go.