Oscar Flicks and Rogue Blockbusters: December 2016 Movie Preview

M: Star Wars. Oscars. Assassins. December starts off slowly, but once it gets going it’s got it all.

E: If a film’s going to be eligible for Oscar, it has to play for at least a week before the year’s out.  So Christmas, particularly, is packed full of last minute contenders jostling for attention.

M: It’s been a few years since I voiced this complaint, so I’ll do it again now. I hate the system that allows movies to be released on literally two screens (one in NY, one in LA) in December, then get release wide right around when people are actually voting for the Oscars. My proposal is this: to qualify for Oscars, at the time of the voting deadline the total number of screens your film is being shown on must be equal or higher in the calendar year you are qualifying for. So, if you release on two screens in December, you can’t expand beyond two until after the voting is complete. If you want to be eligible in 2016, really be a 2016 movie.

E: Thanks, M; that was not predictable at all. You get that it’s strategy, right?  Studios want their movies to be fresh in voters’ minds when they vote. Almost never does a movie from the first half of the year get Oscar attention.  I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying, that’s the game.

M: That’s my point. The attention span of the Oscar nominators and voters is so insanely small that studios play to it, and movies that are really 2017 movies end up winning awards for 2016 because they play the game. I’d prefer to try to minimize the game playing, or at least punish people for the manipulation.

E: I’m not sure it really qualifies as manipulation.  That said, the real point is that there’s so much good stuff in December; it’s a heady mix of blockbusters and grown up dramas, and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.

Continue reading

Questions I Have After Watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

C: Since I saw this movie yesterday, my brain’s been aswirl with pressing questions, like a dark smoky cloud with random flashes in it. Short of twitterbombing J.K. Rowling, this post seemed like the best way to alleviate that pressure.

Advanced Warning: all I’ve got here are questions, not answers, so buckle up for some heavy mental turbulence. (No, I’m not bothering with a spoiler warning. If you wanted to avoid spoilers, why did you even click on a post with this title? That one’s on you.)

beasts.jpg

  1. Is this business about “physiological differences” between wizards and Muggles* (a) straight-up midichlorian bullcrap, or (b) faulty 1920s wizard science? I’d like B to be correct as I don’t see how it makes any sense, what with Muggleborns being a thing, and since the idea that wizards are a slightly different species sounds straight out of a Grindelwald or Voldemort propaganda poster. But, if I’ve learned anything from reading and watching a lot of historical fiction, it’s that all the good people in the past had Correct Modern Ideas and only bad guys held Outdated Notions. Newt’s the one who says this, so that’s unfortunately a point for Explanation A.
  2. Is being a Legilimens like being a Metamorphmagus? In other words, is it a special skill you can be born with, that other wizards can use spellwork to approximate? That’s the best explanation I could come up with for why Queenie could just read people’s minds — sometimes could not help reading minds — even though in the books, Legilimency was presented as a thing you do with a wand and an incantation.
  3. Why Newt Scamander so bad at catching (and keeping) fantastic beasts? I mean, I get that this is the driving plot of the movie, but seriously. He is the Beasts Guy. He literally wrote (or will write) the book on them. He should probably have a case with locks that work. He should probably not be climbing a chandelier to chase a niffler instead of using his dang wand.
  4. Speaking of fantastic beasts: at what point does their intelligence make them not so much beasts as people? I’m thinking particularly of bowtruckles here, since Newt has several conversations with the one who spends most of the movie in his pocket. In the original Fantastic Beasts textbook, Rowling mentions a few that talk, IIRC. How is intelligence measured in this world? At what point does a “beast” or “creature” qualify for status as a non-human people group e.g. centaurs, goblins, or mermaids? Or is there even a legal distinction there? This whole gray area is so rife with potential problems and abuses!
  5. Speaking of which, what is the deal with goblins in this movie? For starters, I’m not 100% sure who was a goblin and who wasn’t (the nightclub singer, for instance?). But I’m pretty sure the shady nightclub owner was a goblin, keeping up the pattern that all goblins Rowling’s characters have dealings with turn out to shady backstabbers. So they’re a race of gold-loving shady backstabbers? Problematic, Rowling.
  6. Was that elevator operator a free house elf? Because he was definitely wearing a snazzy little uniform — a.k.a. clothes. I sort of love the idea that maybe there is a free elf community in 1920s New York, but I also wonder if it was just a mistake (or he was another species). We only got a quick glimpse.
  7. Was Ariana Dumbledore an Obscurial? I went back and reread the relevant section of Deathly Hallows and it seems possible, though she only started repressing her powers after being attacked by Muggles. She was 14 when she accidentally killed her mother** which would make her older than the recorded Obscurials mentioned in Fantastic Beasts, but they kept her condition a secret so that doesn’t mean she wasn’t.
  8. Can adult wizards stop using their powers? Is the Obscurus only something that happens if you are a kid and prone to uncontrolled magical outbursts? The only case in point I can think of is Merope, and she died, but more of childbirth and being sad I think, so that doesn’t really prove anything.
  9. How is there only one wizarding school for all of North America? You think Hogwarts has staffing problems — just try hiring professors for a school with 10,000 teen wizards.
  10. Were they making a statement by having the two leads be so awkward? Whether it’s how the parts were written, or how Eddie Redmayne (Newt) and Katherine Waterston (Tina) acted and were directed, both came across as extremely socially awkward, timid, and just odd. Obviously this wasn’t by accident, but I’m wondering about the purpose behind this atypical choice. Was this a way of differentiating them from the original, confident and extroverted HP trio? Or going even further, a kind of “awkward people can be heroes too” message? (Like, “what if Neville and Luna were the stars of HP?” If so, props because that sounds great.)
  11. Why did the rain only affect Jacob when he stepped out in it, while seeming to work on people just looking out the window? If only people who touched the rainwater had their memories wiped, MACUSA would still have a pretty big problem on their hands at the end of the movie. (Also, what about government wizards who were out in the rain? Wizards aren’t immune to Obliviation!)
  12. Related: Why the heck did they let Jacob erase his memories? When you see injustice, you don’t just say “okay, I guess that’s how it’s got to be.” Newt has already established that he thinks the New Yorkers have a backwards attitude toward No-majs. The sisters clearly came around to this viewpoint. We know that in Britain, some Muggles are allowed to know about the wizarding world (family of Muggleborns, romantic partners, etc.). I always hate the fantasy trope of “now you must forget the magic thing, or your humdrum life will be ruined,” but here it literally feels like kowtowing to bigotry!

As I hope is already clear to those who know me, I truly enjoyed this movie. But these questions need answers. And no, I will not just go look it up on Pottermore. It’s time for some old-fashioned close reading and theory-spinning, people!

*I’m going to keep calling them Muggles unless I need to refer to the U.S. wizards’ attitude towards non-magical people, because at this point I just can’t get used to “No-maj.”
**Dumbledore’s mom: one of the thousands of Victorian women named Kendra. Um, sure, Rowling.

November 2016 Movie Preview: Part Deux

E: Sorry for the delay, friends — after a fraught election week and all, we’re belatedly bringing you the rest of November’s movie offerings. Also, all three siblings have gone since last we wrote — and you know what?  Despite my dread, Trolls was pretty enjoyable.

M: And C and I separately saw Doctor Strange, which is not the best Marvel movie ever, but despite that is quite entertaining.

E: As with November’s first week, there are some pretty fine offerings to be had.  If you’re looking for a distraction, your multiplex can definitely accommodate you for a few hours.

C: There’s also a fair bit of random garbage, but yeah, some strong contenders too — one of which I already have tickets for. And if you all don’t know that’s Fantastic Beasts, you don’t know me.

Continue reading

Let the Holiday Season Begin: November 2016 Movie Preview (Part 1)

C: Oh, must we let it? I’ll admit, part of me longs for peppermint cocoa and Hallmark specials, but it still feels too early for holidays!

E: Definitely.  And yet, come the holidays will.  There’s a big entertainment upside, though, because many of the best reviewed movies of the year hit theaters in November and December.

M: We’re only going to let a little bit of it in, as we’re struggling to meet deadline, and will only have the first weekend up in this post.

C: But never fear, the second half of the post will be up soon! And there’s a lot to be excited about.

E: The remaining three quarters, you mean – but yes.  Lots to like and maybe even love.

M: Yeah, in many months out of the year we bemoan the dearth of good movies opening. Well, not so in November. Oscar contenders and blockbuster abound in this month’s slate!

C: It’s true — I expect I’ll be going out to the theaters twice to three times this month!

Continue reading

Movies: With Subtitles: The October 2016 Movie Preview

E: In addition to the usual slate of horror flicks, October usually sees the first salvos of the Oscar season, movies like last year’s Bridge of Spies and The Martian.

M: Ahhh, The Martian. I should definitely re-watch that!

E: Yes you should.  It’s some serious good stuff. This year bring us a little wow right out of the gate, but mostly stutters on substance.  Decent looking stuff aimed at the tween set, and any horror-loving teens will be happy too.

C: So what will be the memorable films of this month?

M: For my money, Girl On the Train is the only real contender.

C: With that, let’s jump right in.

Continue reading

Fall 2016 Television Preview: Sunday

E: Welcome to the best night on TV, the night when cable pulls out all the stops.  Want prestige adaptations?  We’ve got ’em. Costume dramas?  You’re on.  Movie stars?  Check.

C: And I… don’t think I watch anything on Sundays. I’m the low-brow one on this gang, I guess.

M: Something tells me I’ll give you a run for your money there. In Thursday’s post we mentioned how that night has fallen off as the most competitive, best night on TV. Well, Sundays was always up there, now it’s the king of the hill (though, not Hank Hill). But it’s become a weird hill. NBC has football (which until about 5 years ago was on ESPN), CBS decided to go with a slate of similar-but-different, law enforcement-y procedurals, with acronym-happy NCIS:LA, Madam Secretary and Elementary. FOX, as it has for years, has gone all comedy on Sunday, and ABC is kind of schizophrenic, with the fantasty-ish Once Upon a Time, followed by the very heavy Secrets and Lies, and ends with the extremely soapy Quantico. What a weird night.

E: Two things you won’t get this fall? Game of Thrones (it’s such a long wait until April) and The Good Wife (sigh).

M: Poor E, her long-time favorite show has come to an end. Was it at least a satisfying end?

E: Confession time: I have still not actually watched the final two episodes.

M and C: WHAAAT!?  whaaatminion

E: I know.

C: Okay but seriously, that is shocking.

M: Like, “end of The Sixth Sense if you hadn’t heard there was a twist” shocking.

E: I know! I was really glad they were ending it (boy it got really dark and unsatisfying in later seasons, even though it still gave us the most brilliant, topical cases of the week and the most vivid characterizations on television), and I was glad it went out on the creators’ terms, but I don’t know.  It’s too emotionally fraught.  What if I don’t like it?  I heard mixed reviews, and I just could not — still cannot — bring myself to watch.

C: Well, I can’t say I don’t sympathize. I’ve given up on some of the shows I was the most emotionally invested in because I couldn’t handle the loss of the things I liked about it. But, you know, usually with a season or two left, not two episodes. Poor E😦 Continue reading

Fall 2016 Television Preview: Friday

M: Ahhh, Friday: once a TV graveyard, now an odd mix of the “pity-move” where shows get sent before they get cancelled, and steady medium ratings earners. In other words, shows that aren’t going to get great ratings but, without costing too much, keep enough eyeballs (and advertisers) that the networks are willing to keep renewing them, yet aren’t willing to move them to more popular nights.

E: Friday Nights: lower your expectations.

C: I think Fridays have been like that for a while now, actually.

M: Yes, didn’t mean to imply that was brand new, just newer. There was also a trend (started by Grimm a few years back) of spooky shows on Fridays that seems to have come to an end, at least on the broadcast nets. However, this year there are some interesting new offerings.

C: I’d say it started with The X-Files… but maybe that wasn’t a trend so much as a lone beacon of Spooky in the night.

M: X-Files spent most of it’s life on Sundays, though.

C: Now a waning Vampire Diaries is trying to be that beacon…

E: Huh — I hadn’t noticed the lack of spooky programming, but you’re quite right.  Is that just happening now?

M: Seems to be.

E: Friday night’s the night I catch up on the TV I watch with my kids, so I’m never watching live, personally.

M: In past years we had combined Friday and Saturday.  However, in a development this year, it appears that the nets have given up on Saturdays completely, so we’re just mentioning one BBC America show…

E: And one cartoon, because my family is all about it!

M: …but that’s it for Saturday. So we’re not giving it a whole post, as we didn’t feel the need to tell you that most of the nets are showing news magazines and college football (including the very narcissistic-ally titled “FOX Sports Saturday: FOX College Football“).

C: LOL. What channel is that on, I wonder?

E: I haven’t a clue – but I can tell you that our other previews are here: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Again, new shows are in blue, red asterisks (*) mean we’re watching. Continue reading