Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I’ll admit to resisting this new expansion of “J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World” when it hit theaters back in the fall, for two reasons: 1) It seemed like such a desperate attempt to wring more money out of the Harry Potter property (a fear not unconfirmed by the pre-release announcement that they were spinning the 42-page book into five films, rather than the aforementioned, still-preemptive three), and 2) Eddie Redmayne is the worst. But I caught up with the 3D Blu-ray recently, and y’know what? I sorta dug it. The 70-years-earlier framework is a fairly clever way of spinning off without sputtering out; the story is of this world, but removed enough to let in some freshness and personality. Of particular note to that point is its sense of gagwork and physical comedy, owing more than a little to the cinema of its setting. It’s beautifully mounted (the period costumes and locations are exquisite), and this deep into the franchise, director David Yates – who helmed all the Potter films from Order of the Phoenix forward – can evoke this particular blend of whimsy and intrigue without breaking a sweat. Redmayne is dull as dishwater and it’s a good half-hour too long, with most of that excess spent on the kind of metropolitan-destruction climax that I’ve had, had, had it with. But Fantastic Beasts is a lot of fun, and that’s not always a given in today’s blockbuster-and-Intellecutal-Property-driven filmscape. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor
Laura Dern on Big Little Lies
Okay, everyone on Big Little Lies. And especially Nicole Kidman on Big Little Lies. Oh, yes, and Reese Witherspoon, and, for that matter, Alexander Skarsgard played an effectively terrifying monster. (So much so that the monster voice he’d do for his kids was actually wholly chilling.) But just personally, I was most excited to see Laura Dern back on an HBO show, after her masterful acting in Enlightened, in which she embodied the contradictions of contemporary, corporate, westernized mindfulness, stretched between the pull towards tranquil self improvement and an emotional supernova.
As Renata on Lies, Dern similarly got to play off the pairing of furious capitalism and serenity, as she clasped her fists and bit her lip while overlooking her massive pool that itself overlooked the ocean. Though her role was smaller than that of her co-stars, Renata has a huge arc, and every scene in which she appeared saw her multilayering stereotype, her character’s fear of and battle against stereotype, and underlying compassion. Renata’s concerns about how her CEO status leads her to be perceived as a mother, and her attempts to forcefully overcompensate for that very reason, are all piled atop the more gut-wrenching concern that her very young daughter is being violently harassed and that she has no idea how to fix it. What’s so wonderful about her character is that the people we get to know most closely on the show — Madeleine (Witherspoon), Celeste (Kidman), and Jane (Shailene Woodley) — do not like and even vilify her, and so it’d be very easy for the viewer to follow suit. But while at times we may see Renata’s more over the top impulses as jokes, Dern ensures that the character is never reduced by them. Large characters often have smaller or less intriguing interior lives; Renata is not one of them. — Moze Halperin, Senior Editor