FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (UK/USA/12A/132mins)
Directed by David Yates. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell
THE PLOT: Seventy years before Harry Potter picks up Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) textbook on magical creatures at school, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows Scamander as he journeys to New York in the 1920s. The divide between the wizarding community and No-Majs – American wizard slang for Muggles – is strong and with the combined threat of evil wizard Grindelwald on the run, and a magical creature stalking New York City, Scamander probably could not have picked a worse time to visit the city.
THE VERDICT: ‘Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them’ is set within J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world, but those hoping for a Potter cameo or two will be disappointed; this film is not only set a long time before Harry’s adventures, but it is an entirely new story from Rowling; the first of her wizarding stories for the screen not to be based on a book, but written with cinema in mind.
Eddie Redmayne leads the cast as Newt Scamander, and makes the character gentle and kind, with an affable air and a bumbling English charm. Redmayne, unsurprisingly, carries the film ably, and easily introduces audiences to this new and unfamiliar magical world. Katherine Waterston plays Porpentina Goldstein, a disgraced Auror who knows that Scamander is up to something, even if no-one believes her, and Colin Farrell plays the menacing and mysterious Percival Graves in a beautifully understated and light performance. Elsewhere, Dan Fogler plays Jacob Kowlaski, a No-Maj who finds himself drawn into the magical world, Alison Sudol plays Porpentina’s sister Queenie, Samantha Morton plays a No-Maj named Mary Lou, Ezra Miller brings the creepy as Creedence and Carmen Ejogo plays Seraphina Picquery.
J.K. Rowling’s screenplay feels as though it is a fully realised world and, since most of the characters in the film are adults, the restrictions put upon Harry and his friends in the previous films do not apply, meaning magic abounds and to wonderful effect both for the look and the feel of the film. Since ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is not based on a novel – although it is inspired by a novella of the same name, which Rowling wrote for charity – the slavish attention to the source material that the Harry Potter films were often bogged down by is absent, meaning this film feels self-contained and fully realised, and can follow the rules of story-telling for cinema without having one eye on a novel. The dialogue in the film is lovely and only as expository as it needs to be, and the characters are well rounded and realised on screen. As well as this, this new world that J.K. Rowling has created feels fully realised and the film is well balanced between being a light hearted caper, and the more traditional world threatening tale that we would expect from Rowling.
As director, David Yates obviously has fun with the new characters, coaxing strong performances from his cast, and this new world, where the rules of the Harry Potter franchise do not always apply. There are times where the film feels slow and ponderous, but although the story may not really move for the first hour, it is still a pleasure to spend time in Rowling’s all new wizarding world.
In all, ‘Fantastic Beasts’ and Where to Find Them is an all-new magical delight. The cast are all on great form, breathing life into this magical caper with a dark ending. The addition of magical creatures brings comedy and light, with the darker elements of the story creeping through the entire film until they reach boiling point. This is the start of a whole new franchise for Rowling, and with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it is off to a flying start.
Review by Brogen Hayes
GIMME DANGER (USA/TBC/108mins)
Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Starring Iggy Pop, Mike Watt, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, James Williamson
THE PLOT: Filmmaker and self-confessed fan of The Stooges, Jim Jarmusch takes a look back over the career of the band that spawned three beloved albums, before they began to fall apart in 1973.
THE VERDICT: ‘Gimme Danger’ is titled after a song by The Stooges, and sums up the feeling that comes across throughout the film; The Stooges – in particular James Osterberg, better known by his stage name Iggy Pop – always felt as though they were searching for something more, something just out of their reach, something dangerous.
The film is made up if interviews with Iggy Pop and other members of The Stooges; Scott Asheton, Mike Watt and James Williamson, as well as music manager Danny Fields, Kathy Asheton; sister of Ron and Scott Asheton and Steve Mackay, as well as archive footage of The Stooges gigs both in the 1970s and more recently, some small bursts of animation, and clips that underline the controlled and prim era that The Stooges were so desperate to break out of; the 1950s and 1960s. All of this comes together to give a strong picture of what it was like to be in The Stooges, and what they were trying to do, but although Iggy Pop is an incredible raconteur, it is hard to imagine this film being for anyone but those who consider themselves fans of the band. ‘Gimme Danger’ would definitely have benefitted by casting a wider net than those directly involved with the band, and having other artists talk about how they were influenced by The Stooges would have lent the film depth and a feeling of true importance.
Although Jim Jarmusch is a fan of The Stooges, and is aware of the numerous bands that The Stooges influenced, it is clear that he is not trying to make a hagiography, and nor does Iggy Pop want him to. Pop is all too happy to talk about the bad days of the band as well as the good, and it is this honesty that makes the film so interesting. Archive footage is skilfully woven into the film to give a feel of the manic energy that Iggy and The Stooges had when performing live, but even though the film is well put together, and gives a feel of the anti-establishment movement that was happening in the world at the time, there are times when the pacing of the film struggles to mimic the energy of the band of whom it is telling the story, and at 108 minutes long, begins to feel its length.
In all, ‘Gimme Danger’ is unlikely to win any new fans over to the side of The Stooges, but it is an interesting look back at an influential band that fell apart too soon. Iggy Pop is a great storyteller, but Gimme Danger is a film made for the fans of The Stooges, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, there is a deeper story to be told about the band and the era that they came from, and ‘Gimme Danger’ misses out on this.
Review by Brogen Hayes
INDIGNATION (USA | China/TBC/110mins)
Directed by James Schamus. Starring Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Ben Rosenfield
THE PLOT: Marcus (Logan Lerman), a working class Jewish boy from New Jersey is awarded a scholarship at Winesburg college in Ohio in the 1950s. Beliving this to be a place of study, learning and free expression, Marcus throws himself into this new life, but it is not long before he has caught the Dean’s (Tracy Letts) ateention for not socialising, is questioning authority candidly and falling in love with the beautiful but troubled Olivia (Sarah Gadon).
THE VERDICT: Based on Philip Roth’s novel of the same name, ‘Indignation’ is the author’s 29th novel, and the second to come to the big screen this month after American Pastoral. The book is semi-autobiographical and based on Roth’s time in college, and is obviously a personal project for long time writer/producer but first time director James Schamus.
Logan Lerman leads the cast as Marcus, and this is the most grown up and assured role that the actor has played to date. Lerman handles arguing about Bertrand Russell’s essay “Why I Am Not a Christian”, religion and sex easily, and it is clear that this is a young actor who has developed range and a taste for interesting projects as he has got older. Sarah Gadon fares less well as the charming, beautiful but unruly Olivia Hutton; the subject of Marcus’ infatuation and cause of confusion for him. Gadon never truly gets the chance to explore her former alcoholic, suicidal character on screen, instead all of this is hidden underneath a veneer of composure that never seems to slip, other than the times when she is unexpectedly sexually open and promiscuous. Tracy Letts – perhaps better known for his work as screenwriter on ‘August: Osage County’ and ‘Killer Joe’ – mades Dean Caldwell imposing and strong, and a natural foil for Marcus’ more hopeful and revolutionary ways of thinking.
As screenwriter, James Schamus has stayed true to the feel of the novel, and allows the film to drift until the final 15 minutes of its 110 minute running time, when the threads of the story begin to come together. There are times when the film feels as though it is drifting from one scene to the next, rather than telling a cohesive story, but the performances of the actors go some way into bringing it all together on screen. As director, Schamus coaxes wonderful performances from his cast, but never gives the pacing a sense of urgency, meaning that the film never truly grabs or engages audiences until it is almost too late. That said, ‘Indignation’ has some wonderful scenes – such as Letts and Lerman’s first meeting – but there are not enough of these throughout the film to bring it together in the end.
In all,’ Indignation’ is a film populated with strong performances from Logan Lerman, Tarcy Letts and – to a lesser degree, since she is never really given a chance – Sarah Gadon. The story of the film feels loose and drifting, and although it all comes together in the end, this comes as too little too late.
Review by Brogen Hayes