Category Archives: Film reviews

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

My first thought when I got up from my seat was : “I haven’t had so much fun at the cinema in ages”, my second was: “I enjoyed this film so much more than any of the eight Harry Potter ones” and my third: “Can’t wait for the sequels”.

fantastic-beastsThe written-for-charity Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, which as every potterhead knows, was written by Newt Scamander towards the end of his long career, Quidditch Through The Ages and later, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, were all welcome tasty extras to the stories that make up the Harry Potter canon, beloved by so many, me included. The idea of one of these extras being transposed to 1920s New York, thus featuring a young Newt Scamander’s adventures abroad, was instantly attractive to me: J. K. Rowling was going to be firmly in the driving seat, as she had written the screen play. I’ve bought it of course but not read it yet. It was clear to me that the film had to be seen first, as it was a new take on an existing work, not a straight adaptation of an existing one.

Put simply, I felt safe right from the opening scene. Safe in the sense that I knew that the story would stack up, that I was going to see a blend of familiar and new, that it would be visually stunning and wonderfully acted.

I’m not going to go into any plot detail at all, but will just highlight the virtuoso performance of Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol ,the actors playing respectively Kowalski and Queenie, all the others being merely excellent, the heartwarming coziness and intimacy captured in the domestic scenes, the perfectly portrayed magical sites and institutions, American/New York style, the constant small references only intelligible to “true” HP fans (“Your grandfather kept pigeons? Mine bred owls.”), the beautiful rendering of a post 1929 New York, this last being a very finely drawn setting for some pretty dark magic.

And I also want to make a point of mentioning the particularly lovely and poetic transparent umbrella created at the tip of a wand, which adds a beautifully delicate touch to the poignancy of one of the final scenes.

I realise that I haven’t mentioned the fantastic beasts yet; they are a marvel of CGI, some are gross, some are cute, most have comic potential. The niffler is the clear star, which is logical as it is clearly the magical equivalent to the muggles’ mole, and moles belong to the group of animals that are sympathetically portrayed and used heavily in adverts and other media, alongside hedgehogs, penguins and a few other species. The landscape we see the beasts in was my least favourite part of the film. This overtly fantastical environment is not to my taste; luckily the motley collection of creatures frequently escape into no-maj (muggle for us Brits) territory.

Newt Scamander deserves a few words here too. I had an argument with one of my daughters about that; sorry, but Eddie Redmayne’s Scamander is clearly more scientist – a field-based, beast-loving one, but a scientist nonetheless- than he is  Hagrid, even though he was expelled from Hogwarts and he clearly cares for the objects of his study very devotedly. He is appropriately awkward with people but very clear on facts, causes and effects. A more recognisably human approach than Newt’s to getting out of the beast-induced scrapes can be found in the wonderful stooge character, Jacob Kowalski.

 

Just one word, people: “enjoy”.

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Malavita, the film

I read the book before I created a book review blog (kind of book review blog, I stray into other areas, occasionally) but I saw the film recently, and this is what prompted the long-after-publication book review and now reasonably topical film review. Well, as I had loved the book so much, and as the critics (in France, at least) had not been very kind to it, I was curious to see what Luc Besson had made of Malavita. A fine job, is what I think. Liberties were taken with the story line, but surprisingly few and the acting was great (Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer in lead roles, so no surprises there).

Favourite scenes include the cineclub session and the barbecue. Favourite part has to be de Niro’s. As usual, the power of the visual image has taken over for me. I read Malavita again after watching the film, to see what the differences were, and of course in my mind’s eye, Manzani bears Robert de Niro’s appearance, his wife Michelle Pfeiffer’s and so on. But they did a sufficiently good for that to feel natural.
Malavita_film
I did jib a bit at the portrayal of violence in a black humour vein. Does it glamorize violence and is it therefore a Bad Thing? Probably, but then I didn’t jib at this potential problem in the book, so I guess I shouldn’t here. I prefer the book to the film, but I was entertained and really, that’s all I want when I go to the cinema.

"Hair, flow it, show it, Long as God can grow, my hair"

I absolutely love Hair, the famous 1967 hippy themed musical, by Galt McDermot and Gerome Ragni. I think I must have heard the soundtrack in utero. The dates fit completely, because I was born in June 1969 and the Hair phenomenon hit the French scene a bit later than Broadway. My parents saw the stage show at Manchester Opera House round about then too (and yes, the Mancunians got the nude scene too).
I remember a cassette tape lying around in my Dad’s car for ages, which was something of an incongruity, because to say that he hasn’t generally embraced popular music would be an understatement. And I remember listening to it mostly on a vinyl LP (I remember the two heads design on the sleeve and that it was somewhat pompously called The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical), a version which was the original Broadway show soundtrack, rather than what must have been the film soundtrack on Dad’s cassette, which I subsequently nicked. By the time I had started earning money and stopped pinching a few books off my parents’ shelves and the odd LP or cassette, I was onto CDs, and mini CDs for a while (they provided a medium for essential home-made compilations, after CDs supplanted tapes), before everything gave way to mp3 files, which is what I currently listen to Hair on.
Yes, I still listen to it. When I was 17, my school year was basically a cramming course, preparing the students in the so-called “prépa” classes to take exams for business schools (part of the “grandes écoles” thing in France). I was doodling the words of Aquarius, and my neighbour completed the couple of blanks I had left. A year-long friendship ensued with Syvlain, who was envious I’d written them down from memory, whereas he had learnt them from the songbook. I in turn was envious of his ability to play some of the songs on the saxophone. Discovering our respective linguistic and musical skills happily occupied a whole maths lesson. The following year, we went our separate ways. Wonderful internet tells me that as well as his day job, Sylvain is currently the conductor for a long-established amateur orchestra; perhaps he’ll get them to play Three Five Zero Zero one day.
I’ve seen the stage show twice, once in Germany, once in Paris, and loved it both times. I also really like the 1979 Roman Polanski film. (The famous cassette must have been bought around that time, so that I got another dose of the music about ten years after I had heard it first. A bit like a vaccination booster really).
 ***Spoiler alert from here on in***
Astonishingly, I have on occasion found myself in the position of having to defend Hair. I can’t deny it’s a product of its time. I’m pretty sure that, hating gangs and cliques as I have always done,  I would have been on the sidelines of the hippy movement, if I’d been born in 1948 rather than in 1969 or 1968 more to the point: “What is about 1968 that makes you so damn superior?” is the starting lyric to I got life, which is when one of the show’s key characters, Berger, starts dancing on tables. But I could safely enjoy its freshness and fun when it was already firmly in the “historical” category.
OK, so even though I am not a musicologist by any stretch of the imagination, I can tell that the score is not particularly sophisticated. Shakespeare it ain’t either, although the Bard kindly provides some lines in What a piece of work is man. And, today, I’d jib at a songwriter describing black men’s attractiveness in terms of their “liqorice lips like candy”, and “chocolate flavored treats”. But how can you not melt, when listening to be Easy to be hard, how can you not find  Frank Mills oh so sweet, and how can you not join in Let the sunshine in a stirring and let’s-all-hug-together-round-his-grave groove.
The worst thing I know about Hair is that a French version of the stage is what launched Julien Clerc in his singing career (among his many sins is a particularly trite song called Hélène, argh). Ah well, it’s a bit like Bob Geldof being responsible for some truly dire 80s pop songs after Do they know it’s Christmas of Band Aid fame was copied around the world. Galt and Gerome, you’re forgiven, and then some.