Harry Potter penner J. K. Rowling has created a second franchise based on the adventures of writer and magic devotee Newt Scamander beginning in 1926 in New York. Eddie Redmayne is Newt in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (David Yates) the first of five films coming our way from now till kingdom come. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Zoë Kravitz and a host of high octane actors star in this distant prequel – by seven decades – to the Harry Potter series. Scamander arrives in New York on a mission to document fantastic magical beasts – and they really are – suddenly under threat when a Non-Maj disrupts the balance, and beasts escape. The local witch and warlock community provides the background for this eye popping fantasy. Yates who directed the Harrys is in charge and he has a big job – to lay out the entire mythos of this new franchise and use a barrage of state-of-the-art special affects so staggering that no one can say they missed them. They are massive, in-yer-face distractions from every bit of plot and sense in the tale. The result is bloated, dense, shrill, and ultimately dull. Redmayne’s characterisation of the hero struck me as peculiar because of a refusal to hold eye contact and a cowering twitchiness.
Isabelle Huppert stars in the very good, very tough Elle (Director – Paul Verhoeven) a searing, cold portrait of a rape survivor and the unexpected aftermath. Elle owns a successful gaming video company with a large young staff. She lives a life of luxury and privilege none of which helps her when she is viciously attacked by a masked assailant. Elle won’t report to the police because she mistrusts them, but casually drops it to her friends over dinner and acts as is if nothing is wrong. But inside she’s committed to getting her revenge, playing for keeps. She stalks the unknown rapist and steels herself for confrontation, while reducing men along the way to rubble. She shows us that there are many kinds of vengeance, big and small. Huppert captivates and demands our sympathy as she becomes monstrous; we’re with her all the way. There is much to digest, the reason she doesn’t trust police, what she does when the quarry is in sight and the strange twist her journey takes. This is painfully brilliant. And the clothes! The clothes!
At the opposite end of the female protagonist spectrum is a smart but smarting young heroine navigating the rough waters of life on The Edge of Seventeen (Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig). Hailee Steinfeld sees herself as an outsider, unlike the other kids at school, with only one girlfriend, a teacher (Woody Harrelson) and brother as her buoys. When brother and friend begin a romance, she’s thrown into a whirlpool of anger and betrayal and as much as we are reminded of all the horrible things about being a teen, the script offers much more. It’s a jewel, witty funny, sometimes teen-style morose, sarcastic, funny, ironic and teeming with life. Steinfeld never comes off as precious or obnoxious and nails the angst with her authenticity and natural warmth. Edge of Seventeen is one of the best coming-of-ages films in a long while. The supporting cast is a Greek chorus to her ch-ch-changing tides.
The phenomenally talented Amy Adams opened last week in Arrival and this week, she’s completely the opposite in Nocturnal Animals (Screenplay writer and director Tom Ford), designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford’s psychological thriller that’s as much top end eye candy as it is a terrific, spine tingling ride. Adams is a Los Angeles gallery owner receives a disturbing book in the mail, dedicated to her and written by her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she hasn’t seen in almost 20 years. It’s the story of a husband and his wife and teenaged daughter driving across the Texas desert at night when thugs force them off the road. The wife and daughter are kidnapped while the husband hides and just plain misses a number of opportunities he could have taken to save them. He’s crippled by guilt and realises he’s a weak man. Adams’ character reads the book and becomes convinced it is his revenge on her. The film is half desert low life noir, half Adams’ glitzy and empty LA life and the things that bring them crashing together. Ford who directed the exquisite A Single Man does beautiful work again, raising the bar on genre thrillers and making the most of Ford’s sophistication.
The Carer (Director János Edelényi) is a delightful British domestic comedy about a revered classical actor played by Brian Cox about to be feted at a lifetime achievement gala. He is in the early stages of dementia and has lost control of his body, a situation he finds intolerable. His daughter can no longer care for him, or doesn’t want to, so she hires a Hungarian actress (Coco König) with experience caring for her father, to take on the burden. It is no burden for the spirited young girl. Her warmth and positive intelligence reignite his will and seem to give him back physical strength. They are soon bonded and he takes interest in her and offers acting lessons. Meanwhile the gala looms and he hopes he can hold it together. The Carer is a quiet, pleasant story, certainly aimed at a niche audience and counter programming to kid stuff.