At the movies

Fantastic beasts and where to find them

I enjoyed Fantastic beasts. Visually, it’s stunning – beautiful shot after beautiful shot of weird, mysterious creatures. The kind of thing that makes you want to believe in magic again.

The story follows Newt Scamandar. Ostensibly, he’s in the United States to try and set free a mysterious, magical creature he’d found captured and trafficked. Ultimately, though, Newt’s real purpose is to be a walking plot trigger; everywhere he goes his suitcase spills out magical creatures, bringing together strange events and plot points. So that over the course of the movie, he:

  • Is arrested by a would-be auror,
  • Almost executed, and
  • Almost killed by an Obscurus.

Throughout, though, he isn’t really making choices; or, it’s hard to think of them. He just stumbles from one thing to the next. It would have felt a little more … convincing, I suppose, if he’d had some deep connection with the characters around him, some desire for them, or if he’d had some driving motivation.

For all that, though, it’s a fun piece. It’s an interesting example of how ‘media’ can be used as a chorus, to fill in the story. It opens with newspapers flickering past, telling us the back-story we need to know about an evil wizard, so that any subsequent appearances by him or his minions won’t be without context.

The original Harry Potter books and movies, from memory, had a strong focus on the spell-casting as an incantation; waving the wand and uttering the right words were the crucial aspects. In the movie, though, any kind of vocalisation is dispensed with; wands are like guns – you fire / wave them, and bolts of lightening / telekinesis / rays of light follow.

Bad Santa 

Bad Santa opens with two criminals in a bar, celebrating their successful heist. What are they going to do with the rewards? Well, Billy Bob Thornton wants to move to Florida and find … domestic tranquility – a home, a wife, a child.

Except it doesn’t work out that way. His move to Florida just leaves him a bum, kicked out of a bar and (successfully) stealing valet keys. So when his friend calls him for another heist, it’s the gift he needs.

On the way though, he stumbles on to what he actually needed all along. In taking advantage of a clueless boy, he becomes a father figure to him. He finds the relationship he always wanted with a woman who has a fetish for Santa, and together they live the idiot boy’s classy home, squatters while his father is in jail.

It’s a weird, parallel universe, and one that you imagine can’t survive. So it feels like a return to form when he goes in for the final heist with his accomplice, defrauding the mall he’s been a Santa in. But when his friend turns on him, it’s his new family (specifically, a confession letter he left with his idiot son that draws the cops) that saves him.

The film’s irreverent, and revels in a particular kind of humour. But if you squint hard enough, you can see something like a plot structure underneath it all, which probably contributes to how watchable it is. Worth if it if you think the trailer looks funny.



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