Wednesday 13 December 2017

Fantastic Beasts - a full cinematic experience

Cert 12A: Now showing

Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne in a scene from Fantastic Beasts
Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne in a scene from Fantastic Beasts

Word of the day is "pentaptych", a work of art consisting of five sections. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first section in JK Rowling's post-Harry Potter pentaptych and her first shot at direct screenwriting.

It begins in 1926 and is laced with HP references, so although in ways a prequel, with director David Yates who did the last four instalments of Harry Potter, it feels much more like the darker end instalments.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamander, was a Hogwarts textbook and it is this Newt (Eddie Redmayne) who arrives in New York in 1926 with a suitcase portal to the menagerie full of the fantastic beasts.

These are strange times in New York. The magic folk keep their powers secret from No Majs ("Muggle" in American) under the control of MACUSA, the American Ministry of Magic, but street evangelist Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) is agitating for a Second Salem citing the dark force, an obscurial, which is causing random havoc in the city.

When Scamander's creatures escape, the pressure against the magic folk increases. Scamander hooks up with No Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and magic sisters Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) against MACUSA head of security Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).

The world of the film, in 3D especially, is immersive and appropriately fantastic. Plotwise, it is thin enough but clearly laying the ground for the series.

There's a timely, if somewhat clunky moral about fear and bigotry and it looks amazing. The performances are very good and it is a full cinematic experience though probably not suitable for very young children.

4 Stars

Aine O'Connor


Cert: Club. In selected cinemas

If you went into Indignation cold, knowing nothing about its 2008 source novel being a Philip Roth roman à clef, you'd still be able to spot the tell-tale signs; Marcus Metzner (Logan Lerman) is not only the Newark offspring of a smothering Jewish mother, he's also intellectually precocious and has a hang-up about girls and his fumbling inexperience with matters sensual.

With only 80 Jews in his new Ohio campus (all unwelcome at most fraternities), Marcus falls in with a small group of fellow tribesmen. He claps eyes on bookish blonde Olivia (Sarah Gadon) and finally plucks up the courage to acknowledge her receptiveness and ask her out.

This, however, is not her first rodeo, and mummy's-boy Marcus is taken aback by how much more advanced she is in the carnal battlefield.

During all this, he is starting to rail against the campus system and its creed-driven cliques, resulting in a protracted and entertaining argument with Tracy Letts's university dean. Underneath all this angst, however, he's glad to be finally shot of his mollycoddling parents.

On his directorial debut, big-league writer and producer James Schamus (Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) adapts Roth with much sensitivity to the literary icon's unique cadences. Indignation rolls along with its own momentum, which, given how well the protagonist is drawn by Schamus and Lerman, is a good thing.

4 Stars

Hilary A White

The Innocents

Club Cert; Now showing IFI

There was a strange vibe in town the morning that Trump was elected so the prospect of a film set in Poland in the immediate aftermath of World War II was not entirely soul-warming. But in The Innocents (Les Innocentes) French director Anne Fontaine, whose previous work includes Gemma Bovery and Coco Before Chanel, delivers a remarkable, effective and surprisingly soul-warming story from not very auspicious sounding seeds.

Never exactly portrayed as warm and cuddly, nuns have not had affectionate press in recent years.

This story goes behind the veil and traditional austere view to tell a very human story.

Trainee doctor Mathilde (Lou de Laage) is in Warsaw in the winter of 1945, part of the Red Cross team treating injured French troops. Called upon late at night by a panicking nun from a nearby convent (Agata Buzek) Mathilde finds herself delivering a baby by caesarean.

She is told that the girl has been thrown out by her family and that the nuns have taken her in; it is only by accident that she discovers a much bigger story and the atheist Mathilde becomes an indispensable part of the lives of these devout women. The story is slow but evenly paced, avoids melodrama and shock value to leave the facts, and remarkable performances, tell the story of what war means for so many women.

Heartbreaking and heart-warming, it examines faith, love, honour, shame and obedience versus free will.

4 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Gimme Danger

Club Cert; Now showing IFI

Jim Jarmusch's appreciation for Iggy Pop and the Stooges can be in no doubt from this documentary. And while it is at its best a work by a fan for fans, it is, even to the less fervent, still an interesting overview of a phenomenon that inspired many. 

Iggy Pop is still well enough known that he registers with today's teenagers, albeit vaguely, and interviews with him form the backbone of this almost two hour long doc. He's an engaging interviewee, good-humoured and interesting and his contribution almost acts as narration to the story which is illustrated with lots of photographs and footage from the band's genesis and heyday. There are also interviews with fellow band members Scott Asheton and Ron Asheton, timely contributions as both men have since died, and James Williamson.

It gives a sense of what the band was aiming at, what it achieved and what it didn't and to an extent, why.

It is a bit too detailed for non fans but as an art doc it works, and as an ode to Iggy and the Stooges it shines.

3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

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