Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PG13 – 133 minutes)

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was first introduced as the 52nd edition of a textbook used by Harry Potter and his classmates at Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft and Wizardry mentioned in the Harry Potter books.  In the Harry Potter Universe, Newt Scamander’s Book was first published in 1927 and became a bestseller as well as an approved textbook.  Since that is all fictional, J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author, wrote the Fantastic Beasts book in 2001 and sales of the book benefitted the charity Comic Relief.  When she was approached about turning this offshoot book into a movie, she wrote the screenplay herself, and apparently with enough ideas that it has already been decided that this is the first of a five part series of movies.  Five parts.

This story is neither prequel nor sequel, just another story taking place in the same world as the Harry Potter stories.  The story begins with the audience witnessing what we can assume is a dark wizard killing what might be a group of aurors.  We only see him from behind, so I think the hope is that we remember his distinctive platinum blond hair in an unusual haircut.  What follows is then swiftly moving wizard newspapers with bits about who he was (Gellert Grindelwald – the second most dangerous wizard behind Voldemort). Since wizard newspapers move as well as tell the news, it’s a little difficult to follow all the information these papers want to give you, but suffice it to say that Grindelwald killed some folks, is really bad news, and has gone into hiding.

We encounter Newt Scamander as he is arriving in New York from England by boat (as to why a wizard would be taking a boat…who knows).  Very quickly we learn he’s got a suitcase with the aforementioned fantastic beasts in it and the latch seems to be a bit sketchy, which puzzles me, because why would you keep fantastic beats in a suitcase with a sketchy clasp? 

Anyway, once he arrives in New York, he encounters Mary Lou Barebone who is anti-witch preaching on the street, and being observed by a woman named Tina.  As he loses a ‘niffler’ from his case (nifflers like shiny objects and he’s outside a bank), regular New York non-magic guy (nomaj, the American word for Muggle) Kowalkski is heading into the bank to get a loan to open a bakery.  He’s got a case full of baked goods that happens to look like Scamander’s case. The niffler causes some trouble and inevitably Kowalski and Scamander’s cases get mixed up.  They figure this out, after the case gets opened and some creatures escape.  Tina takes Scamander to the magical president/police, and gets basically shooed away.

Scamander finds Kowalski and they both get taken in by Tina and her sister Queenie (who reads minds) for the evening. Scamander and Kowalski head into the case to take inventory and find out exactly who is missing from his menagerie.  Meanwhile – we also encounter Mary Lou’s family, and how anti-witch fundamentalist they are, and beaten they are. Her adopted son Credence is creepy as hell, and visited by Percival Graves, who works in the same place that Tina works – but was demoted. We also get to know Senator Henry Shaw, whose father runs the newspaper. His brother Langdon is trying to get his father to run a report about Mary Lou’s claims that witchcraft is running rampart through the city, but he’s not having it – and after kicking them out – Senator Shaw calls Credence a ‘freak’.  This is a lot of characters to barely introduce in a short amount of time. Later, while giving a speech, Senator Shaw is pretty violently killed by what seems to be a magical beast.  Scamander, Kowalski, Tina, and Queenie then have to track down his creatures to prove none of them attached the senator while being hunted themselves by the magical authorities.

This movie is directed by David Yates who did the last four Harry Potter movies, as well as the Legend of Tarzan from earlier this year. Being very familiar with the world, he has an ease with directing this movie, and it certainly does feel like it is a new story in a familiar universe.  The 1920s era New York setting looks great, plays well, and the effects are stunning. All the creatures are beautiful – especially the Thunderbird, which is really Newt’s reason for coming to America. He is attempting to return it to Arizona.  

Incidentally, the Thunderbird represents one of the four houses of the North American school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is called Ilvermorny, and is located in Adams, Massachusetts.  The other three schools there are Horned Serpent, Pukwudgie, and Wampus - in case you were curious.  The movie is very well-cast, everyone (almost everyone) feels at ease in the fantastic.

  • Eddie Redmayne is wonderful as Newt Scamander. He does a great job of making it clear that he feels awkward around people, and is more comfortable around his creatures. I also love the not-so-subtle subtext of the conservation message and how important animal conservation and research is. He is desperate to protect these creatures before they go extinct and can no longer be found anywhere, and his main weapon to protect them is knowledge. He is kind, sweet, mild-mannered, and determined.

  • Colin Farrell plays Percival Graves, and is an interesting choice. I don’t know who else I would have used, but his American accent is questionable at best. He’s a great bad guy, and should do that more often, but because he’s such a great bad guy, at no point do you trust this creepy character.

  • Katherine Waterston plays Tina (short for Porpentina – who eventually becomes Newt’s wife).  She is charming and sweet, and really is just about the perfect match for Newt as they both struggle to fit in with their peers.

  • Alison Sudol plays Queenie and really steals most of the scenes she is in. The mind-reading is done subtly, and she plays it off as charming rather than invasive.

  • Dan Fogler has been really fun in a lot of random things (Balls of Fury and Fanboys come to mind), but he’s really charming as Kowalski. All he wants to do is become a baker, and use his grandmother’s recipes. His awe at the magical world and creatures once he goes in is really parallel to the audience reaction, and I found it to be really inviting.

  • Samantha Morton plays Mary Lou Barebone, and she’s creepy and weird.  While not magical, you just know she’s going to end up wrapped up in something sinister.

  • Ezra Miller plays one of her adopted children - Credence Barebone.  He’s as creepy in this as he is in anything else, and really, for me, this was an issue of being unable to separate the artist from the art. I dislike Ezra Miller so much that I really found myself unable to sympathize with the character.  Hopefully I will work on that prior to Justice League (no promises).

  • Ronan Raftery plays Langdon Shaw, and really has very little to do but introduce the Barebones to his father and brother. I wonder if he will have more to do going forward. Speaking of which, Jon Voight plays Shaw the Senior and newspaper guy.  It’s a small role, so you know he’ll show up more in future projects.

  • Carmen Ejogo plays Seraphina Picquery and I really wanted more information on what was happening with her, how she got that job, and why they were so serious about hiding everything. Maybe she’ll get more going forward too?

  • I love when goblins show up and I think, “that goblin really looks like Ron Perlman”, and then he speaks and sure enough – Ron Perlman is doing the performance capture for Gnarlack, a mob-style goblin with backwards fingers.  You heard me right.

There are some other fairly notable pop-ins here and there that amount to cameos this time around and feel a bit over-confident in setting up things for future movies. Honestly, finding out they plan four more movies seems a bit excessive to me.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, it’s charming and fun – but I did feel like the climax was almost bigger than the rest of the movie that lead up to it. I also felt the tone was a bit choppy here and there. Most of the movie is the crew looking for their creatures, but then at the end they have to battle a legitimate big bad.  I also thought that it moved almost a little too fast. It very much feels like a set-up movie, barely introducing some characters with the intention of coming back for them later. I almost never wish for more exposition, but in this movie, I really could have used some. Again, I’m sure all that will be covered with upcoming pieces, but it would have been really nice to have a clean, clear, stand-alone adventure.  I loved the creatures, the effects were beautiful and they were all entertaining!  You should probably see it in 3D.

7 out of 10; Gained points for none of the creatures getting hurt or killed. One gets a little sad for just a moment, and that was tough for me, but it turns out all right!  Lost points for Farrell and who he turns out to be.  Actor-wise, not story wise.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Movie Review: Arrival (PG13 – 116 minutes)

At this point, there are too many movies about aliens landing here on Earth to count.  Everyone has their favorites, I love the original Independence Day, because I don’t think anything else has done it better.  In that movie, and several others, humanity is shown to be somewhat united against the common enemy.  With Arrival, we finally have a movie that shows us as divided as we are now, and what that division could mean should we be invaded. 

First, let me start by saying this should not be confused with The Arrival, a much creepier alien invasion movie from 1996 starring Charlie Sheen.

Arrival starts by introducing us to Dr. Louise Banks.  She’s giving a voice-over, stating that she thought she knew the beginning of ‘your’ story and the end, but now she isn’t sure.  Over some well-assembled flashbacks, we learn that the ‘your’ is a daughter she had who contracted a rare disease as a teen, and died fairly young.  Dr. Banks is a linguist who is teaching at a college and living in a beautiful home on a lake, a bit mopey because of (we assume) her daughter’s death.  Once day she arrives to teach and finds the majority of her class missing – the rest soon are all distracted by their mobile devices going off.  She turns on the TV to find that ships have arrived to earth from elsewhere, and have not really landed, but are hovering at various points all over the globe.  They are shaped like long oval eggs, but with a flat side.

Dr. Banks gets a visit from Colonel Weber, who wants her to attempt to translate a recording of the aliens.  Apparently she had done some translation for the government before so he knew where and how to find her.  She states she would need to be there, face to face, and at first he’s reluctant, but after checking in with what we assume is her main competitor – he comes to pick her up at home in a helicopter.

En route, she meets Ian Donnelly, a theoretical mathematician.  Together, they arrive at the military’s base camp around the object in Montana.  They swiftly learn scientists at all twelve sites have been sharing what they have learned in the hopes that they can all begin to communicate.  The ships have a ‘door’ at the bottom that opens every 18 hours allowing folks to walk in and interact with the aliens, which up to this point, has been going nowhere.

Dr. Banks and Donnelly get their first look at the aliens, which look a bit like the Scrabs from Abe’s Oddysee, if you remember that game, but with more legs, and less of a head.  They give the aliens the name heptapods (they have seven legs/arms).  They stay behind a screen, apparently the aliens breathe different air.  Banks starts using a white board to tell the aliens words and write them down, which apparently no one had thought to do before, because the aliens respond by ‘writing’ a word on the screen between them.  Their language is circular based – and over the course of time (we’re not really told how much), Banks and Donnelly are able to piece together their language and work out a way to communicate.

The government, of course, wants to know why they are here, and scientists hesitate to ask that, not wanting to scare or provoke the heptapods.  Unfortunately, not everyone is on the same page, as the government in China begins to get more aggressive about their visitors, suddenly there is a ticking clock on the project.  Communications between the landing sites shut down, so no one knows what the other groups are doing.  At that point, Banks has to make a decision about what they want, how they want it, and what to do – all hopefully fast enough to avoid intergalactic and global conflict.

The movie is quiet and slow, any yet somehow manages to not feel like it drags because it does a good job of intercutting Banks’s flashbacks with her current progress. And yes, there is a bit of a twist at the end, that some have found a little confusing, but I found to be an elegant conclusion to the story. The alien design was absolutely lovely, and they seemed to be a sort of space squid, since they communicate with ink.  I’m not familiar with French-Canadian Director Denis Villeneuve’s style, having not seen Sicario or Prisoners, but this one was beautifully done.  I did not care for the score, since at some points I couldn’t tell if the aliens were speaking, or if that was the score of the soundtrack.  They sounded a bit like whales when they were making noise, and the soundtrack had a lot of that type of sound on it as well.  The story was interesting, and actually fairly simple when you get down to it, but it was well-crafted and well performed.

  • Amy Adams is definitely the star of this movie, and she does a good job of carrying the majority of the plot.  Her giant eyes work well in looking up at the heptapods with awe.  The underlying sadness of the character was very interesting, especially once you get to the end.

  • Jeremy Renner’s character is a bit of an afterthought, Ian Donnelly gets virtually no character development, aside from being great at math. He’s just fine, but honestly, doesn’t have enough to do to leave a lasting impression.  My favorite thing for him was when Banks had him walk back and forth in front of the screen as she wrote “Ian walks” for the heptapods, as one of them walked with him. Charming.

  • Michael Stuhlbarg plays Agent Halpern; the CIA scientist who was running the communication project prior to Banks showing up.  He’s predictably shady.

  • Forest Whitaker plays Colonel Weber, and he is basically the stereotypical military-dude in these types of movies.  “I want to know why they’re here and I want to know now!”  To be fair, he’s pretty patient with the scientists and helps them get what they need to communicate with the heptapods.

  • Tzi Ma plays the Chinese General Shang.  He’s key because he both provides the ticking clock on Banks figuring out why the aliens are here, and, ironically, he’s responsible for helping stop that clock. 

Honestly, that’s about it, there are not a lot of people in this movie.  It’s a movie that manages to simultaneously feel huge and intimately small.  Overall, it was a bit of a surprise for me.  I was expecting it to be pretentious and boring, and while it was definitely a bit pretentious here and there, I was at no point bored – even though it does move slowly.  I loved the reveal at the end, even if I didn’t understand it completely, I thought it was a fantastic end to this story.

7 out of 10 – Bonus points for the hopefulness at the very end, but lost points for humanity being divided and stubborn up to that point.

Cast Interviews:

Bonus -  In case you forgot Abe's Oddysee:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange (PG13 – 115 minutes)

Doctor Strange is a Marvel comic hero created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, and he debuted in Strange Tales #110 in 1963. He was a former neurosurgeon who becomes the Sorcerer Supreme – which is basically a fancy name for a dude who protects earth against magical and mystical threats. 

Over the course of the late 60s and early 70s, Strange became popular with college students, and many people thought the creators were high on mushrooms, LSD, or other hallucinogens, since the mystic realms in the books looked very psychedelic (the creators all deny this).  He also connected with the youth counter-culture of the time, and their fascination not only with psychedelia but also with Eastern mysticism.

Doctor Strange has been mentioned here and there in the MCU a few times, most notably when Jasper Sitwell namechecks him in Captain America, Winter Soldier – as a person that Hydra considers ‘a threat’.  He's also been on several of the Marvel Animated series.

This movie is his origin story and a strong stand-alone piece - prepping us before adding the good doctor into other MCU movies so that he can help the Avengers when necessary.

The story starts by introducing us very briefly to Kaecillius and his followers as they break into the fanciest library ever, which is located in Kamar-Taj. They steal a few pages from a book containing a ritual.  The Ancient One attempts to stop them, but Kaecillius escapes.  When then jump to New York to meet Stephen Strange, acclaimed neurosurgeon.  He’s repairing all kinds of high-profile brain injuries and feeling pretty god-like and powerful about it.  His ego is completely out of control, and so is his fancy watch collection.  He’s got more money than he knows what to do with, and that’s not making him any nicer of a guy.  He’s snarky with Christine Palmer, his ex – who is an E.R. doctor in the same hospital. 

Once night, on his way to a speaking engagement, he runs his Lamborghini off the road and ends up nearly destroying his hands.  Devastated by the inability to do his work, he spends almost his complete fortune trying to fix his hands. When that doesn’t work, he happens across the story of a man who had near complete paralysis, but regained the ability to walk after visiting Kamar-Taj in Nepal.

Strange heads to Nepal, and is eventually taken in by the Ancient One, after first getting all high and mighty about how he doesn’t believe anything she is telling him.  Once he starts to believe, he throws himself into his studies of both martial and mystical arts, swiftly becoming one of the best sorcerers in Kamar-Taj.  Working with Mordo – and after stealing some spells from the librarian, Wong, he accidentally discovers what they are really doing.  Wong and Mordo tell Strange that they are protecting the world from extra-dimensional threats and that Kaecillius is attempting to bring Dormammu from the Dark Dimension to earth – in a misguided attempt to save it.  The three connected mystical sanctums on earth, one in London, one in New York, and one in Hong Kong, have to fall for Dormammu to arrive.  After London falls, Strange has an interesting conversation with Kaecillius while attempting to defend the New York Sanctum, where he accidentally is claimed by the cloak of Levitation.  Then, he, Mordo, and Wong attempt to make a final stand against Kaecillius at the Hong Kong Sanctum.

Directed by Scott Derrickson, this movie is fast and fun.  It’s absolutely an origin story, so you do go on the entire journey with Strange as he learns about his powers and the best way to use them, and most importantly, that not everything is all about him!  The effects are astounding, ILM really outdid themselves and you should definitely see it in 3D.  I loved the sentience of the Cloak of Levitation - it provides for some genuinely funny moments.  In fact, the movie in general is far more fun than I was expecting!  Like most Marvel movies, it’s exceptionally well-cast.

  • I was originally against the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch, as I felt (and still do) that Oded Fehr would have been a better Doctor Strange, however, I have to say – he did a wonderful job.  It’s tough to make that big a tool of a character seem fun and engaging (this is why only RDJ can play Tony Stark).  He is elegant, and determined, and his journey from narcissist to hopelessness back to confidence is really well done. Plus, he totally won me over when he went into a New York City comic book store and bought Doctor Strange comics when in full Doctor Strange costume.  Wonderful.

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor continues to be fantastic as Mordo – he hasn’t reached Baron yet in this movie.  He helps train Strange in the ways of sorcery, and is his strongest ally in the fight against Kaecillius.  However, if you’re familiar with Mordo at all from the comics/animated series, you know that won’t last.  There is a moment that breaks Mordo a bit, and be sure to stay all the way through the credits (all the way) so that you see what direction he will head once he is devastated.

  • Rachel McAdams plays Christine Palmer, and she felt the most relatable.  Her reaction to Strange once he comes back from his escapades in Tamar-Kaj is truly hilarious.  She’s still angry, but can’t help but be awed by his new powers.

  • British actor Benedict Wong – who is the reason you should be watching Marco Polo on Netflix (he steals that show) plays Wong, and is wonderfully powerful and charming.  Wong in the original comics was a fairly offensive Asian stereotype of the times, and here, he’s been elevated to a really interesting and powerful character. I can’t wait to see what he does in further adventures.

  • Mads Mikkelsen is a wonderful villain, mostly because there are moments when he is explaining his plan that you almost feel like he’s the good guy.  He’s certainly the good guy in his own version of the story, and Mikkelsen manages to give him more depth than your standard origin story baddie.

  • Tilda Swinton plays the Ancient One, and yes, while there was some backlash against casting a white woman in a role that was traditionally an old Asian man in the comics, she does a really great job.  She is so engaging, interesting, and fascinating.  The movie implies that she is not the first Ancient One, nor will she be the last, so the Ancient One is more of a title than an actual character.  She’s referred to as a Celtic, with no other information.  She’s hard and tough when necessary, and kind and nurturing when necessary; she really is instrumental in helping Strange realize that his world can be and needs to be widened beyond his own existence.

  • Benjamin Bratt plays Jonathan Pangborn, the man who was paralyzed and is now magically (literally) not.  He’s the one who sends Strange on his path to Kamar-Taj.  He’s so wonderful that I really wanted more of him in this movie.
  • And yes, you do get to see Dormammu for just a bit, and yes, that is Cumberbatch doing the voice and facial capture.

The movie is so much more fun than I expected, it moves really fast, the action is great, and the effects are even better.  Go see it in 3D, stay all the way through the credits, and get ready for GOTG 2 this coming May 5th!

9 out of 10  Bonus points for Strange continuing to try to make Wong laugh.  Lost points for not enough Benjamin Bratt.  Gained points for Strange and Wong seeming to move into the New York Sanctum at the end of the movie, so excited for what comes next!

Cast Interviews