CinemaClown

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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The magical, enchanting & breathtaking mythology of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world was brought to cinematic life through the collective wizardry of an epic ensemble that dazzled the hearts & minds of muggles around the world for the first decade of the new millennium and became a worldwide phenomenon that saw an entire generation of viewers grow old with Harry, Ron & Hermione. The Harry Potter saga still remains one of the most beloved works of literature and its film adaptation is just as cherished, if not more.

Over the course of a decade, those seven remarkable novels were adapted into eight feature films, each one a critical & commercial success that left its imprint in the hearts of its audience. And once the saga had run its entire course and it was time to say goodbye, the series bid farewell to its fans with an epic finale that was just as nostalgic as it was fitting. But we are living in an age where no franchise is allowed to rest in peace, and so the magical world of J.K. Rowling is back again with a spin-off that doesn’t have an ounce of the original’s magic.

A wholly pointless, superfluous & unwarranted return to the wizarding world that also marks Rowling’s screenwriting debut, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a dull, needless & absolutely redundant spin-off that nobody ever asked for and is worse than even the weakest Harry Potter film. Lacking a well-defined set of characters, far too preoccupied with its beasts that aren’t even that fantastic, and devoid of all the elements that made its predecessor so delightful & captivating, this subsidiary of a much superior franchise isn’t worth a dime.

A spin-off of the Harry Potter film series that is inspired from J.K. Rowling’s book of the same name, the story of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place 70 years before the events of Harry Potter and follows the adventures of Newt Scamander, an eccentric & introverted magizoologist who arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures but soon finds himself being chased by American wizarding authorities after his suitcase mix-up with a muggle (or No-Maj) results in several creatures escaping into the city, thus threatening the exposure of the magical world.

Directed by David Yates, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens with the iconic “Hedwig’s Theme” and then, over the course of its runtime, goes on to show why it’s not even worthy of that notable track from John Williams. There is an actual attempt to create its organic world from scratch but it indulges in so many trivial moments that add nothing to the narrative plus it moves at such a tiresome pace that the interest fizzles out soon enough, thus allowing boredom to set in real quick. Yates’ direction is substandard, for he is really unable to keep the narrative compelling but the fault mainly lies with the script.

Written by J.K. Rowling in what’s her first attempt at penning a script, the film features an original storyline that only lifts characters from her book of the same name, since the source material doesn’t contain any story and is more a glossary than an actual novel. With the assistance of CGI, the magical creatures do come alive in splendid detail but the human figures inhabiting the story lack a sturdy arc, and have nothing at all to compel the viewers into investing in their journey. It’s a terribly written screenplay that fails to make a positive impression and this was unexpected from the revered author.

Production design team does well to recreate the 1920s New York setting, and its set pieces are sumptuously decorated. Cinematography utilises colour tones that provide a slightly vintage feel to its images. The film makes excessive use of CGI yet the segments they are applied to remain hollow from within. The creatures are brilliantly designed & rendered but they feel more like props than characters of any significance. Editing is poorly carried out, for its 133 minutes runtime is severely felt and fails to keep the interest alive, while James Newton Howard’s score is only mildly effective.

Coming to the performances, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them features a fine cast in Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller & others yet none of them leave a lasting impression, possibly because the characters they play aren’t refined enough in the script. Redmayne comes off as a tad too eccentric in the role of Newt Scamander, Fogler plays an oafish muggle, Waterston isn’t remotely interesting in her role, Sudol is an overdose of sugarcoated mediocrity, Farrell at least tries to make his character stand out, while Miller does well with what he’s given.

On an overall scale, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is arguably the worst thing to come out of J.K. Rowling’s imagination and is as lifeless in storytelling as it is bland in characterisation. Failing to bring anything new to the table, it is a tediously crafted, awfully written & shoddily narrated fantasy and is so lacking in originality & creativity that it qualifies more as a cash-grab than some genuine attempt at creating something new & exciting. And what’s worse is that there are already four more sequels lined up for production. Overlong, uninspiring & frustrating, the new era of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is off to an extremely disappointing & instantly forgettable start, and is anything but fantastic.

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Logan (2017)

Logan

X-Men made its transition to the silver screen at the turn of the new millennium and has been through a series of highs & lows ever since. In the last 17 years, the franchise came up with sequels, prequels, reboots & spin-offs and while not all its chapters were well-received, the character of Logan aka Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman, is one aspect that has consistently garnered praise from viewers n critics alike throughout the X-Men universe. Having played his signature role for all these years in nearly all instalments of the series, Jackman has made the eponymous character entirely his own. And now, he makes a final return to bid farewell to his most famous role that catapulted him into Hollywood stardom.

Blending the gritty, violent & bleak ruggedness of old-school westerns with the silent rumination of a hard-hitting, powerfully captivating & emotionally dense drama, Logan is unlike any other X-Men film to date, or any comic book film for that matter. Making full use of the opportunity & creative freedom provided by its R-rating, and subverting the existing superhero formula in the process, Hugh Jackman’s swan song to the character that made him a household name delivers a finale so memorable that fans couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion, for this final instalment in the Wolverine saga isn’t simply the finest X-Men film but is impressive enough to garner a spot amongst the greatest works of its genre.

The third & final Wolverine-centric film and tenth entry in the X-Men universe, the story of Logan unfolds in a dystopian future where mutants are on the verge of extinction, and follows its titular mutant who has surrendered to alcohol in an effort to distance himself from his past. Way past his prime, Logan now spends his days working as a chauffeur while caring for the ailing Charles Xavier along with another mutant in an abandoned location across the border. But a chain of events are set in motion when a mysterious young girl appears on his doorstep who is very much like him and is being chased by an evil corporation. Coerced by Xavier, Logan agrees to embark on one final adventure to take her to safety.

Directed by James Mangold, the final appearance of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in a feature film is approached from a different perspective as Mangold discards the formulaic narrative for a premise that carries a more human, more personal & more contemplative tone & feel. It does pack the attributes of a superhero film but those elements are firmly grounded in reality, as the aim here is to examine the strife, scars & struggles of a man, crumbling under the weight of a haunting past. Also commendable is the sweeping shift in tonality, pace & setting, for the film has more in common with a western than the genre its predecessors belong to, plus its funeral-like quality is further enhanced by its R-rated savagery.

The script packs a tightly structured plot, full-bodied characters & interesting arc trajectories that allow it to reverberate on a personal level with the audience and is refined enough to work as a standalone instalment in the X-Men universe. The main focus remains on Logan plus his cathartic journey is highly compelling but the core ingredient that forms the soul of this story is the relationship dynamics between him & Xavier and him & Laura, with the former carrying the combined weight of their time together while the latter moments are brought to life with patience. And it is the careful handling of all these elements that turns Logan into a deftly layered but ultimately rewarding meditation on life, death & family.

Production design team contribute to its post-apocalyptic setting by keeping the set pieces & sci-fi props to its bare minimum, while the sensibly chosen shooting locations provide more authenticity to its western iconography. Cinematography encapsulates the entire picture with a gritty ambience and methodically employs the camera as per the requirements of the scene, for its movements are dynamic & full of rage during moments of action while calm & controlled in the character interaction segments, plus it switches from one to another in a seamless & fluid fashion. Editing allows the narrative to unravel at its own pace & also gives each character their own space to breathe freely. And last but definitely not the least, Marco Beltrami’s evocative score simply fits.

Coming to the acting department, Logan finds Hugh Jackman & Patrick Stewart reprising their iconic roles of Logan/Wolverine & Charles Xavier/Professor X, respectively while Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant & others are fresh additions. Jackman, in his last appearance as the titular character, delivers his finest performance to date and it is by all means a perfect send-off to a role that has defined his entire career. Stewart is another highlight and chips in with a nuanced & well-measured portrait of the original X-Man in what’s possibly his final outing as well. Keen plays the young kid whose arrival puts this story into motion, and she renders her part with such ferocity & controlled aggression that she steals all her moments with remarkable ease.

On an overall scale, Logan is an absolute rarity in modern superhero filmmaking that subverts established tropes & defies genre conventions to deliver a cinema so fresh, unique & groundbreaking that it effortlessly transcends the comic book landscape. Add to that, its skin-slashing violence makes the audience feel every bit of its razor-sharp intensity when those adamantium claws lacerate a human body. Pitched at the very divide between art & entertainment, it is a thoughtful, melancholic, hardcore, merciless & artfully constructed cinema that delivers on all fronts. In a sentence, Logan is what a great comic book film looks like when it’s crafted by artists who, above all, are passionate about the project. You should take a moment. Feel it. Cherish it. Because this irrefutable masterpiece truly lives up to its hype & expectations, and then some more. Strongly recommended.

Logan Screenshot

Doctor Strange (2016)

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The fourteenth instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the second entry in their Phase 3 plan, Doctor Strange brings yet another avenger into the already crowded Marvel family while introducing mystic arts & alternate dimensions to its ever-expanding universe. Overdosed with suffocating levels of CGI, following Marvel’s typical narrative formula beneath its visually complex exterior, and steered by a stellar performance from its charismatic lead, this origin story offers its viewers a kaleidoscopic journey through astral realms, infinite realities & spacetime contortions yet fails to set itself apart from the norm.

Doctor Strange tells the story of Stephen Strange, a highly revered but equally arrogant neurosurgeon whose bright medical career ends abruptly after he loses the use of his hands following a car accident. Spending all his resources on experimental surgeries in order to regain his abilities, he finally heads to the east for a last resort treatment and meets the Ancient One, a powerful sorcerer who acquaints him to multiverse and teaches him ways to harness energy & shape realities through the mystic arts. But when a former disciple of the Ancient One threatens the fabric of the known world, Strange is put to the ultimate test and must rely on his metaphysical powers to save the world.

Co-written & directed by Scott Derrickson (best known for The Exorcism of Emily Rose & Sinister), Doctor Strange marks his first stint with comic book filmmaking and although he succeeds to quite an extent in delivering a sufficiently entertaining extravaganza, his latest suffers from the same set of issues that has plagued nearly all his works to date. Derrickson is definitely gifted when it comes to paving a strong groundwork for his films and while he manages to keep the momentum going for the major portion of the narrative, he’s always struggled to conclude them on a satisfying note. And in that regard, Doctor Strange is no exception. Its first half is promising but the remaining half descends into another generic blockbuster.

The screenplay features a universe that’s full of imaginations & possibilities yet only scratches its surface. Beneath all that parallel universes, time manipulation & astral projections lies the same generic storyline following the same predictable route that we all have seen many times before. What’s interesting, however, is how it handles the arc of its titular character, for Stephen Strange remains an intriguing character at all times. Instead of diving into the complexities of mystic arts & alternate realities, it opts for shape-shifting, multi-faceted backgrounds that are eye-popping but carry no weight or meaning behind them. And as is the case with most Marvel Studios features, the film lacks an intimidating antagonist.

Coming to the technical aspects, Production Design team chips in with set pieces that brim with mystical qualities while props such as ancient artefacts & antiquated relics provide added details to the spiritual environment it was aiming for. Camera is used in a way so as to amplify the film’s prismatic backgrounds but its chosen angles, slightly muted colour tones & apt lighting don’t necessarily succeed at it. Editing gets slightly carried away by letting many events transpiring in astral planes & other dimensions overstay their welcome and although the pace is steady, the film still ends up running a little longer than it should have. Visual effects are jam-packed into nearly every scene and is overwhelming at times but it is also the film’s most striking highlight.

Coming to the performances, Doctor Strange features a talented ensemble in Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelson & Tilda Swinton, with both Cumberbatch & Swinton impressing the most. Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange is perfectly cast and does total justice to his role by illustrating the stubbornness, arrogance & ambition of the eponymous character with precision while his charming persona compels the audience to invest in his journey. Ejiofor does well with what he’s given. McAdams & Wong don’t have compelling roles, Mikkelson tries to imbue a sense of evilness into his character but there isn’t enough meat on his arc, while Swinton steals every one of her moments with effortless ease. And last but not the least, Michael Giacchino contributes with a score that’s fitting but not enthralling.

On an overall scale, Doctor Strange does serve its purpose by delivering an entertaining, amusing & serviceable origin story to fans of its faction and mainstream audience in general but it isn’t amazing enough to garner a spot amongst Marvel’s finest features. Travelling a safe, risk-free route and sugar-coated with trippy, hallucinatory visuals, it is much capable of standing on its own but also works as another stepping stone to the major crossover feature that’s due for release next year. Even though I expected much more from it, what it delivers in the end isn’t entirely a disaster and has its own share of positives but it’s also a shame because, given its premise, it was capable of so much more. A fine introduction, if not a memorable one, Doctor Strange is a typical fun-filled extravaganza that we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios and is another enjoyable addition to its repertoire. Definitely worth a shot.

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