Dearest Blog: With Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Oscar hopeful Bleed for This, the pre-Thanksgiving weekend provides a treat that's been all too rare in 2016: a genuinely exciting cinema double-bill. So, with high hopes, I set off once again for Marquee Cinemas.
Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers. First on my agenda, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Chaos ensues when a rogue English wizard arrives in New York City with a case full of magical creatures.
While Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is named after a very short Hogwarts textbook, it is not technically "based on" the publication that shares its title; rather, it is an original story written by Potter author J.K. Rowling about her characters, both new and old. Genre fans still smarting from Peter Jackson's ill-advised attempt to stretch a pretty short book into three pretty long movies needn't be concerned; this isn't that.
Admittedly, the film still runs a bit long, and the occasionally-awkward script--on which Rowling has the sole writing credit--might have done with a brush-up from Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, but the picture's only other real weakness is that the titular "fantastic" beasts are its least-interesting feature.
The good news is Rowling's trademark kind-heartedness and magical imagination are in full effect with Fantastic Beasts. Eddie Redmayne's skittish acting style can be annoying sometimes, but he's perfect as Newt Scamander.
Redmayne nails traits common in those of us who are more comfortable with four-legged beasts than with two-legged ones; he shuffles and looks at the ground when speaking with another human, but is entirely at ease with even the most intimidating other creatures. Redmayne also gets full marks for some extraordinary physical acting that had to be uncomfortable-to-downright-embarrassing to play off only a green screen.
The solid supporting cast includes Colin Farrell in a menacing turn, and scene-stealer Dan Fogler. Fantastic Beasts boasts glorious effects, good-natured humor, and a charming score by the masterful James Newton Howard.
It's been five years since Harry Potter's final big-screen foray, and if you'd forgotten just how magical it is when that giant "WB" logo appears to the twinkling accompaniment of Hedwig's Theme, Fantastic Beasts will bring it all right back to you. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them clocks in at 133 minutes and is rated PG13 for "some fantasy action violence."
Nostalgic yet standing firmly on its own merits, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is great fun and a perfectly-worthy addition to the Harry Potter film franchise.
Of a possible nine Weasleys, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gets seven and a half.
Next up: Bleed for This. A boxing champion faces a long road to recovery after a devastating automobile accident.
Well, dear reader(s), I was going to start by pondering how a sport I dislike as intensely as boxing could spawn movies I love so much, but then I remembered Talladega Nights and figured the question kinda answered itself.
At any rate, boxing movies always seem to be favorites of mine, and I'm pleased to report Bleed for This is no exception.
Miles Teller is simply amazing as boxer Vinny Pazienza. He's had good roles in good movies before, but this is a real star turn. The normally-dashing Aaron Eckhart underwent an astounding transformation to portray Pazienza's balding, paunchy, middle-aged trainer, the kind of physical effort that normally earns guys Oscars as long as they aren't named Johnny Depp or Gary Oldman.
Eckhart's earnest turn is the movie's backbone, but it's Ciaran Hinds who really steals the show with his emotional portrayal of Pazienza's father. For my money, any or all of the three are awards-worthy, and reason enough to see a movie that has plenty more going for it.
While the boxing scenes aren't quite as authentic as Southpaw or Creed, the matches will leave you holding your breath even when you think you know the outcome.
At a smart two hours, Bleed for This is wise enough not to wear out its welcome, and--between Pazienza's constant underdog status and his touch-and-go recovery--it's a pretty tense ride. Meticulous attention to the fighter's recovery and training might have bogged down in less capable hands, but here it is mesmerizing.
Some solid 80s arena rock combines with the soulful sounds of Willis Earl Beal to flesh out the picture's struggling-but-hopeful tone. Bleed for This runs 116 minutes and is rated R for "language, sexuality/nudity, and some accident images."
It's not quite the Best Picture contender it may have seemed, but Bleed for This is a solid drama bouyed by award-worthy performances.
Of a possible nine Weasleys, Bleed for This gets seven.
Until next time...