Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dearest Review: Beasts of the Northern Isles


A giant tree man and a menagerie of magical critters make up the latest, literary-inspired British invasion. 

A Monster Calls:
With his mother (Felicity Jones) terminally ill, young Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is visited by the wooden behemoth of the title (voiced and mo-capped by Liam Neeson), who tells him three stories and expects a fourth from Connor himself. The monster’s morality tales, cleverly brought to life via stylized animation, are not-so-subtle life lessons for the boy to help him deal with his stern gran (Sigourney Weaver… yep, Sigourney Weaver is now playing grandmothers), the requisite school bully and, ultimately, the fate of his beloved mum.

Even with its unique fantasy elements A Monster Calls still feels overly-familiar and there is a befuddling disconnect along the way that leaves the film cold and distancing, this despite an emotion-stirring final act that makes one wish the rest of the film lived up to. (6/10)

Tree's Company

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:
As if eight Harry Potter movies weren’t enough, Warner Brothers is back to milk even more out their magical cash cow with this spin-off franchise, the first to be written directly for the screen by J.K. Rowling herself. Set long before Harry, the title refers to a Hogwarts textbook written by “magizoologist” Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who has traveled to New York City with a Mary Poppins-ish suitcase brimming with all manner of, well, fantastic beasts (that’s where you find them!). Naturally, some of the creatures escape and wreak havoc on the Big Apple, which catches the attention of the local wizard’s council, who are none too thrilled by the risk of being exposed to the world of “No-Majs” (the American version of “Muggles”, i.e.: non-magical people).

One would think that after, what, five zillion hours of the original series they would want to try something a little different, a little fresh for these original adventures. No such luck. Director David Yates, who helmed half of the Potter films, returns with the same muddy, turgid style that turned the latter Potters into such a chore to sit through. Redmayne doesn’t help much with his uninspired performance that consists mostly of one blank, mirthless expression through most of the film; the character is supposed to be odd, but it should be in a whimsical, Dr. Dolittle way, not in a creepy, Dr. Oz kind of way.

Fantastic Bore

Bloated with computer-generated effects (a practical effect here and there would have been nice), Fantastic Beasts is un-shockingly left open-ended to make way for the already announced four sequels, the only ray of hope of which is the addition of a young and (fingers crossed) openly gay Dumbledore, to be played by Jude Law. (4/10)

This Monster and these Beasts are only the latest examples of an increasing, frustrating trend plaguing today’s fantasy films. Modern filmmakers have every technological tool at their disposal to bring these fantastic tales to the screen, but they are forgetting the most important thing: a sense of wonder, the surprise of something wholly created by the imagination brought to living, breathing life right before your eyes.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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