A French language film with English subtitles, The Brand New Testament opens locally and may be talked about as a Best Foreign Language motion picture for awards season. This is an entertaining flick that confronts serious life issues, with a humorous bent. You will leave this screening with a smile on your face.
In the film, God is a curmudgeon who uses a computer to micromanage the affairs of humanity. Finding his behavior petty, God’s daughter talks to her brother J.C. (personified by a statue of Jesus), who encourages her to write The Brand New Testament for the 21st Century,
The sister recruits six apostles to spread the word of love. These people are not fishermen, lawyers, carpenters or doctors. Each apostle has a story to tell with French screen legend Catherine Deneuve having the wildest tale to tell. The Brand New Testament is a fresh, fun film for the holiday season.
With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it’s time to return to the fairy tale world that J.K. Rowling took us to with her seven Harry Potter books and eight movies. Would Thomas Wolfe’s famous quote about “not returning home again” factor into one’s perception of Rowling’s world of witchcraft & wizardry? The box office returns of Rowling’s new project have proved Thomas Wolfe wrong.
The film opens with the familiar strains of John Williams musical score (composed this time by John Newton Howard) and title credit. You feel as if you have returned to Harry Potter’s magical world. However, this time, we are introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an English immigrant who is visiting Manhattan during the Jazz Age of the 1920s.
Being a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry graduate, Newt has a magic briefcase that cages many fantastic beasts with mythical powers. When one creature jimmies the lock, chaos erupts and the wizard community is perplexed. The most disgruntled wizard is Graves (Colin Farrell), who masks a hidden agenda.
Fortunately for Newt, he makes friends with Tina (Katherine Waterston), a demoted bureaucrat who works for the Manhattan wizard community. Newt also gains street smarts from Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a man who would like to start his own business as a baker. Together, these three strangers form a unique partnership to protect the fantastic beasts in the United States of America.
Whereas the Harry Potter stories were about the rites of passage for an individual who goes from sixth grade to high school graduation, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the story about adults. Scamanger is a more traditional hero like Indiana Jones, Frank Buck and Marlin Perkins. With less emphasis upon growing maturity, Fantastic Beasts presents a series of adventures featuring mythical creatures in a familiar city like Manhattan.
With the exception of a plot reveal that ties into her last book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Fantastic Beasts is a fresh look into Rowling’s world. Seeing Manhattan in 1926 broadens the magical world, yet Fantastic Beasts shows us the darkness revealed in human nature, like child abuse and social bigotry.
With four more Fantastic Beasts movies planned for the not too-distant future, you can see a bright future for Rowling’s new project. It is the weakest of the Harry Potter franchise, but, hopefully, the Fantastic Beasts franchise will improve upon each film in the future.
When I cover the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, the first movie I try to see is the film with the best word of mouth. When I hosted the documentary, Conversations with Alan Ladd Jr., director Stanley Isaac expressed his admiration for Arrival, saying, “It’s always about the story.” The toughest critic I know is my big brother, who looked forward to seeing Arrival. The film lived up to his high expectation and we have been talking about this film throughout the Thanksgiving holiday.
Arrival is a classic science fiction about a problem on planet Earth. It uses the scientific method that used to be taught in middle-school science acknowledge the problem, study the problem, create a hypothesis and then proceed to apply a solution. Unlike Star Trek or Star Wars fantasy, Arrival is grounded by physical science fiction along the lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Contact. Fans of authors H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five will appreciate the Easter eggs related to the theory of time. Brush up on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also.
We are introduced to Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and her daughter. Within five minutes of screen time, we learn that the daughter dies of a rare form of Cancer and the mother grieves. Dr. Banks, a linguist expert, is then summoned by the military with the arrival of aliens from outer space. While the threat appears to be benign, the world reaction grows increasingly tense.
With the help of theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Dr. Banks overcomes the language barrier and communicates with heptapods – seven limbed star creatures that look like giant squids. As the aliens and humans become more intimate with each other, Dr. Banks subconscious becomes affected in which her dreams, nightmares and reality intersect.
Arrival is a thinking person’s motion picture. To director Denis Villeneuve’s credit, he clearly expresses Arrival’s simple narrative, despite multiple character details filled with dreamlike imagery. This film demands rapt attention and it is a film best seen in the afternoon to grasp all the film’s nuances.
It is Amy Adams’ performance that acts as a conduit between academic theory and human emotion. Her grief is real, as is her initial fear of the seven limbed heptapods, who they nickname Abbott & Costello. Her growth is real and one appreciates Louise Banks’ good days when she smiles later in the picture.
In the next couple of weeks, there will be plenty of science fiction movies that will be used to sell toys, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Star Wars Rogue One) Arrival is a special film that will appeal to one’s head as well as their heart.
Moana kicks off the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. Based on a Polynesian myth, Moana is an entertaining movie that the whole family can see together without any embarrassing moments for grandparents and grandchildren.
The legend of Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) is revealed early in the movie. Maui was tasked with bringing the heart of Te Fiti gem to Mother Earth. When Maui bumbles the job, the balance of nature is upset for one thousand years.
The ocean summons young Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) to rescue Maui and return the gem. Through a series of adventures and battles with coconut pirates and giant fire monsters, Moana finds Maui and learns important life lessons.
While the musical numbers lack the strength of Frozen and other Disney Classics, Moana features a good story with a satisfying climax. The verdant visuals make Moana a good flick for holiday viewing.
Inner Workings is a delightful six-minute short subject that screens before Moana. The film introduces a protagonist who goes to work in a mundane job. When he listens to his heart, the hero changes himself and changes his world.
With very little surprise, Doctor Strange dominated the weekend with $84 million in box-office gross. It is typical Marvel comic-book entertainment as we are introduced to neurosurgeon Stephen Strange, M.D. After losing his hands to paralysis in a car accident, Doctor Strange goes to Nepal for alternative medicine.
While healing, Strange learns about the invisible universe that was introduced briefly in last year’s Marvel epic, Ant-Man. With metaphysical carny tricks added to his medicine bag, he battles a villain (Mads Mikkelsen). While there is no rush to go see this Saturday matinee flick, visiting the astral plane with Doctor Strange provides alternative entertainment.
Next Valentine’s Day, the 50 Shades of Grey sequel opens, a popular film and DVD that no one in public admits to enjoying. After seeing the trailer for The Handmaiden, which opens tomorrow in select theaters, I thought I was going to see the Asian version of 50 Shades of Grey. Instead, I was surprised to watch a gothic romance along the lines of Wuthering Heights and Dangerous Liaisons.
With English subtitles, this Korean film is divided into 3 parts. The handmaiden dominates part one. Sook-Hee is the handmaiden who goes to work for Lady Hideko, who owns a large mansion with a big library. Working with the scoundrel, Count Fujiwawa, the Handmaiden seeks to rob Lady Hideko.
Part 2 presents another side of the relationship between Lady Hideko and Count Fujiwawa. We learn about some of the kinky secrets from the library, which both disgusts and inspires the protagonists and antagonists. Part 3 wraps up the plot threads with either a beautiful climax or a kinky climax, depending on one’s point of view.
The Handmaiden is likely to be nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language motion picture. The cinematography and texture is full of detail, which enhance the story. There are many ugly moments in The Handmaiden, but there are many beautiful, aquarian scenes. It is a full artistic experience.
With much disappointment from both the publishing and motion picture worlds, Dan Brown’s Inferno made less than 20 percent of the film’s production budget. Inferno features the same formula we’ve already seen in The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. The new film offers a new wrinkle in which our hero, Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), suffers from memory loss. With great location shots in Florence and Venice, Inferno is not a bad movie, just a tired one.