All posts by Fae Ravenscore

I like to read and write, so I mostly blog about books and stories, and if my artistic skills do not disappoint me, some artwork.

Fantastic Beasts and Its Not-so-fantastic Characters: MACUSA

(Plot details for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them will be discussed in depth, so spoilers alert. You’ve been warned.)

There may be hardcore fans who love the latest installment in the Harry Potter franchise, but to me, this movie is rather underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a terrible movie by any standards, but it certainly felt rather disappointing.

For me, the major problem of this movie is what I’d call the ‘likability factor’ of the good guys. Generally, people watch a good-versus-evil movie to root for the good guys. There might be some notable exception where the villain gets a lot of sympathy and fans (e.g. Loki, from Marvel’s Thor movie), but for most purposes, you’d want the audience to cheer the protagonist on. Look, I am not saying that the good guys need to be perfect. I am just saying that the audience needs to at least not hate the good guys, especially in relation to the bad guys. I feel that this is the major problem in this movie.

This is going to be a very long post, because I feel that there are plenty of problems with the good guys. Here, I will focus on Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA). One could argue that they are not very important characters, but I beg to disagree; MACUSA’s intervention and decisions drove a lot of the plot developments.

On a very surface level, the good guys are Newt Scarmander (Eddie Redmayne) and his friends, Tina and Queenie Goldstein and Jacob Kowalski. On the opposing side of this film are Gindelwald (Johnny Depp), Mr. Graves (Colin Farrell), and the Second Salemers headed by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). ‘What about the MACUSA?’ you may ask. Good question; that brings me to the main point.

On the whole, MACUSA seemed to be the good guys mostly because they fight against Grindelwald, who we knew from the Harry Potter series to be a major villain. Also, they were supposed to uphold justice and protect the wizarding world from the No-Majs (Muggles, if you insist). Yet, for some reason, they behave like the villain in the whole movie.

Now, I watched this movie twice, and I can’t tell you how angry MACUSA made me feel. One of the first scenes we get of MACUSA was when Tina dragged Newt to the headquarters, interrupting an important discussion in the process. Here, we learnt that Tina was actually grounded and assigned to menial tasks. This by itself wasn’t terrible, but it was what happened next that gave me an intense dislike of MACUSA.

The next time we see MACUSA was after Senator Shaw was murdered, when Tina turned in the suitcase containing Newt and Jacob. Tina told everyone in attendance that Newt had let some creatures loose, which may or may not account for the attacks on the city. The following is roughly the exchange between Tina and Piquery, the scumbag President of MACUSA (summarised to focus on the important point).

Tina:Yesterday, a wizard entered New York with a case. A case full of magical creatures. And unfortunately, some have escaped.

Piquery: You’ve known for twenty-four hours that an unregistered wizard set magical beasts loose in New York. (Piquery then ordered the good guys to be arrested.)

Look, this is ridiculous on so many levels. For fuck’s sake, Tina tried to tell you guys about Newt the day before, and you remember how that went? She was dismissed! By you, Piquery! And now, Tina was punished for doing the right thing and turning Newt in. Come on, if anything, that woman deserves a pat on her shoulder; regardless of her motivations and her status, she was at least attempting to fix the problem. In contrast, what was MACUSA’s reaction to the attacks? Talk. Lots of talking. We have seen them twice now, and they were just endlessly talking about the problem.

Moments later, we were treated to an interrogation scene that ended with Graves sentencing Newt and Tina to death. Yes, to death, even for Tina, whose ‘crime’ was uh, collaborating with Newt? Did no one wonder why she turned Newt in if she was working with him? At this point, is anyone already horrified by MACUSA? One guy, just one guy… can hand out a death sentence, effective immediately. There was no fair trial, no jury system or a panel, or the need for anyone else’s approval, or a plea bargain or an appeal; it was just ‘oh, you caused this problem… now, die’.

I get that Graves is the bad guy, and he has every motivation to have Newt and Tina executed, but the fact that no one questioned his orders meant that this sort of things happened all. the. bloody. time. Worse, we found out that Graves was actually Grindelwald, so who knows how many good witches and wizards have been wrongfully sentenced to death?

Now, the most important part of all: the epic final battle. On one side, we have the emotionally unstable Credence, who caused all the destruction. We have Graves trying to persuade him to join his cause, while Tina and Newt were trying to calm him down. MACUSA appeared when Tina had Credence listening to her. Note that at this point, Credence showed no indication of attacking. What did MACUSA do? They murdered him! They murdered the poor guy!

Seriously, of all the things they could have done, they killed him. What, have they not heard of negotiation? Arrest? Incapacitation? Killing him when he was no longer posing a threat is equivalent to shooting a surrendering criminal, and if that doesn’t make you the bad guy, I don’t know what else would. Graves was enraged, of course, but at that moment, he was the one I sided with. Sure, Graves has ulterior motives for keeping Credence alive, but hey, anyone remembered how Credence got to this state? (Psst, it was Mary Lou’s abuse, and Graves’ betrayal). In other words, he could not help becoming the monster that he became. I don’t know about anyone else but seems like he needed help instead of a dose of murder.

For most moviegoers, when we watch a movie like this, we want to see the good guys win, and the bad guys get their comeuppance. This is pretty much what we get in the movie, with Grindelwald/Mr. Graves getting captured and the Second Salemers (at least the spine of the group) destroyed. But MACUSA got away with everything, particularly Piquery. There was no humility or guilt in her tone, despite the fact that:

  1. She let Grindelwald into her organisation for possibly… months, if not years. After all, Graves had a lot of power in his hands and was of a very high standing in MACUSA.
  2. Tina and Newt were almost executed because of her bad judgement. The very least she could do was to admit that she was wrong. But nope, doesn’t seem like it.
  3. She did not remotely feel guilty for giving the order to kill Credence. If anything, she appeared a little… proud.
  4. If it wasn’t for Newt and his convenient deus ex machina potion and beast, the wizarding community would have been in serious danger. Where’s the ‘thank you’?

At this point, I am completely baffled. Why does any of the good guys still want to be linked to MACUSA? That pisses me off so much. Doesn’t anyone have the guts to tell Piquery off? I would have said, ‘Hey, woman, you have been wrong so many times, I wouldn’t even put you in charge of a water tank. You don’t get to call the shots when you fucked up so badly.’

We were later told that Tina got her old job back, and she seemed happy, but why? Tina went against Mary Lou because she abused Credence, but she is alright with MACUSA murdering him? Where is the outrage?

People compare MACUSA to real life government agencies, but there’s a reason why we sometimes think of the CIA and FBI and other enforcement agencies with disdain. They are not the good guys in a long shot, and we get horrified when they get away with doing unethical things. This is bad enough in real life, but it enrages the fuck out of me when it happens in a movie with magical beasts too.

And worse, none of the good guys seemed to care.

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Being possibly the only person who’s not into the Harry Potter hype, I suppose that my opinions here would come with a bit more objectivity than most people. Don’t get me wrong; I like the Harry Potter books, and a few of the movies were okay (Potterheads, please don’t lynch me), but I was generally ambivalent towards the Harry Potter franchise. Hence, I was slightly interested in this movie only because I happen to be working on a magic-themed story at the moment. I have to say that the result was… somewhat disappointing.

The story is based on J.K. Rowling’s book of the same title. I have not read the book (it’s more of an encyclopedia anyway), but the movie is about the adventures of Newt Scarmander (Eddie Redmayne), who accidentally let some dangerous beasts he carried in a briefcase loose in New York City. Along with a suspended American Auror by the name of Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a muggle who was dragged into the quest by accident, they had to find the culprit behind a series of attacks on the city.

I believe that while the premise of the story was interesting enough, the problem lies in a story cobbled together seemingly on the fly. There were plenty of plotholes and convenient deus ex machina (I will probably make another post about the problems I have with the story), and the nifty special effects can’t save the film. The movie works well as a mode of escapism, but once you start trying to apply logic to it, the plot crumbles.

Scarmander himself was another problem. Compared to his companions, he seemed to have little personality. He seemed shy and quirky, and more at ease with the beasts under his care, but besides that, he was barely relatable to the audience compared to the more complex characters he surrounded himself with. For example, he did not seem very passionate about the beasts (no big smile on his face or an awe at the majesty of his creature). One could argue that all these beasts are already well known to him, so there was little for him to be excited about, but I beg to disagree. Kowalski was a good baker, but the look on his face when he was presented with a beautiful strudel told us the depth of his passion.

This leads me to an important point: Kowalski was the highlight of the movie for me. In the first few scenes with him, I was already rooting for this guy. He was an ordinary man (just like us), stuck in a soul-crushing job (utterly relatable) and he wanted to pursue his dream (ditto!) to set up a bakery. Unfortunately, his loan was denied because he had nothing to offer as collateral for the bank loan, so his application was promptly rejected (some of us would know how that feels). By the time all this was presented to us, Scarmander was still miles behind in terms of character development. And oh, he also has some of the best lines.

Tina and Queenie were interesting roles as well. Alison Sudol was captivating as Queenie, who turned out to be very competent, and kudos to her for using her seductive front to her advantage. Katherine Waterston did her job well enough to get us on the side of Tina, who was torn between duty and doing the right thing. *Spoiler alert* Is no one going to address the fact that she went on a one-to-one duel with Grindelwald and survived? Or that MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) ordered her to be executed without investigating how she got involved with Scarmander? *End of spoiler alert*

Of course, in the end you can have a decent film despite plot holes and a main character who is relatively bland compared to the side characters, but that movie will just remain that way: decent. But then again, the last few Harry Potter movies have been just that, and Fantastic Beasts may be content to just follow their footsteps.

 

Movie Review: Ola Bola

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This Malaysian production took its inspiration from the Olympic games qualification for the 1980 national football team. Helmed by Chiu Keng Guan, the acclaimed director of ‘The Journey’, one can expect a touching film with a lot of heart. That is pretty much what you’ll get: a movie that will make you root for the protagonists and cheer when it ends. However, it is far from perfect, and the shortcomings are hard to ignore.

The film is basically an underdog story, with the Malaysian football team trying their best to qualify for the 1980 Olympic games after narrowly missing out four years ago. In what was to be captain Chow Kwok Keong’s last chance at the Olympics, the stakes couldn’t be higher; the team must learn to work together and resolve their issues with the newly-appointed coach, Harry Mountain.

As a Malaysian and a football fan, I like this movie. There are a few heartwarming bits regarding unity, dedication and achieving your dreams. Those who are familiar with the Malaysian culture will find a few chuckles although I am not sure how well those content translate to non-Malaysians.

Unfortunately, the imperfections I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this post marred an otherwise great movie. For starters, the acting abilities leave a lot to be desired. Certain dramatic/emotional moments were ruined by woeful overacting. It was hard to take the characters’ struggles seriously when poignant moments were acted out with forced tears, screamed deliveries and chest thumpings.

Then there was the matter of characters. Some of the characters were well developed, and it was nice to see the chemistry between a few of them. My favourite characters were Mei Ling as Chow’s sister, and Rahman as the ever enthusiastic commentator; the former nailed it in a scene where she chastised her brother. However, Chow proved to be a weak link, as his constant sour expression got tedious halfway through the movie. His lady love, Siew Lee, was not much better; she was disposable and two dimensional as the ever-supportive girlfriend, and hardly got any lines.

Lastly, I question the decision to write the Koreans (the opponents) as villains. While I am not sure how historically accurate the match was (for sure the final score was changed from 2-1 to 3-2), painting the Koreans as sneaky villains gave the climax a ridiculous feel. It was as if the director was afraid that the audience would not root for the main characters if they weren’t shown in contrast to some mean footballers. We are not watching a James Bond film, we don’t need sneaky, cheating villains! We can support the main characters because we saw how hard they trained and followed their struggles. Have some faith in your characters, will ya? After all, we did spend an hour or so watching them mope, whine, argue and eventually learn to cooperate with each other (through a dramatic training montage too!) on screen.

Still, as far as Malaysian made films go, this definitely ranks as one of the better ones. The story is not bad, and there are quite a lot of endearing moments despite some of the weaker parts. Malaysians would love the sense of unity and the nostalgia evoked, and it certainly made me wish that our football team will return to its golden years.

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Jude Law. These are only some of the big names you can find in this movie. Really, is anyone not in this movie?

The story unraveled itself in the form of a story within a story within a story. No, that was not an error; there really are three levels of narrative. It sounds confusing, but thankfully, it was handled beautifully. At the core of the movie is the vain, egocentric, insecure concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy Zero Mustafa (Tony Levolori). The two were plunged into sticky but oh-so-hilarious situations as Gustave was framed for the murder of Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), with whom he had a relationship that went beyond professional context. Hence, Gustave, with the help of the ever faithful Zero, set off on a wacky adventure to clear his name.

This movie is a riot. I mean it in a good way. There are plenty to laugh about, with cleverly set sequences that are very charming and well thought out. The humour and the bizarre-yet-entertaining plot are helped along with effective use of music; credit goes to Alexander Desplat, who managed to convey so much with a note or two. (Okay, random digression: I went to Youtube to seek out the soundtrack for this film, and just listening to the music transported me back to the movie. It’s simply perfect, regardless of what Hans Zimmer fans say in the comment section.)

The characters are all interesting in their own ways. It was not hard to be endeared by Gustave, despite his self-centeredness and his pompousity. Zero as the steady, loyal sidekick was very human and likeable. However, my favourite character is Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), who was sensible and dependable. Dragged into their misadventures by her association with Zero, she was the character to root for even though her screen time was limited.

All in all, if you are one to enjoy quirky characters stuck in bizarre situations and dark humour, you will enjoy this movie. Wes Anderson’s style worked wonders here to give us a memorable comedy done right.

The Book of Life – Weak Plot Behind Great Visuals

[Major spoiler alert here, as I’ll discuss in detail some of the plot points]

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The critically acclaimed ‘The Book of Life’ movie taps into Mexican folklore, especially the Day of the Dead. The plot revolves around a wager between La Muerte and Xibalba, the rulers of the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten, respectively. The two gods bet on the outcome of a love triangle between two boys and a girl in the town of San Angel. Manolo and Joaquin are different in temperament – the former kind and musically inclined, the latter a paragon of strength and brawn – but they share a deep love for the feisty Maria. La Muerte (you can sort of tell that she’s supposed to be the ‘good’ god) favoured Manolo (definitely the guy who will win Maria’s heart, on the basis that he is the protagonist), while Xibalba was willing to pull out all the stops to make sure Joaquin gets the girl.

The Book of Life is visually captivating. One can gather that much from the trailer itself. The character designs and the design of the worlds (technically, there are three worlds here) featured in the movie are a feast for the eyes. The Land of the Remembered deserves a special mention; stunning is an understatement.

Unfortunately, it seemed that all the attention has gone into the visual aspect of the movie. The overall plot was not terrible, but it is pretty formulaic: Manolo faces obstacles, his identity gets challenged, and getting the girl was easier said than done, but you knew he will succeed in the end. I won’t even count telling you that as a spoiler. However, the details of how he overcomes the challenges were rather disappointing. Except for the bullfighting scene, all his problems were solved too easily to be engaging, thanks to various McGuffins and inexplicable bending of rules in his favour. Seriously, no explanation was given for the exception made for Manolo other than, ‘because we can’.

Manolo and Joaquin are alright as characters, but it was Maria’s character that attracted my attention. Feisty, free-spirited, there were traces of feminism in her, conveyed in a few instances in which she chastised the men around her for their sexist views. Unfortunately, the script did not allow her to remain that way for long because the moment Manolo dies (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that he dies.. sorry), she was persuaded to marry Joaquin. You see, San Angel was under the threat of an attack from bandits, and only Joaquin can defend them. However, Joaquin will only stay to defend the town if she agrees to marry him. After dallying for about 5 minutes, Maria agreed, for the good of the town.

Okay, firstly, can someone just slap Joaquin for his selfishness? Refusing to save a village just because a girl doesn’t want to marry you is a huge mark of assholery. It’s blackmail, and really, if you had to force someone to marry you, how likely is that going to result in a happy ending? Of all people, I expected Maria to give Joaquin a piece of her mind. Instead, Maria wallowed in her dilemma before deciding to sacrifice her own happiness for the good of the people. Whatever happened to her rational thinking?

Secondly, I hate this kind of love triangle where one of the competing parties turn out to be a douchebag. We see this all. the. time. This sort of situation is hardly interesting because what the coveted person faces is an artificial dilemma and the illusion of having an option. Really, between an asshole and the (often wonderful) main character, is there really a choice? Why does one party always have to be evil or mean or generally unlikable? Are the writers worried that the audience wouldn’t know who to root for? The main character (in this case, Manolo) wins just by being a decent human being.

Like I have mentioned the movie is visually very captivating. The action scenes are well thought-out and some parts are just breathtaking. However, there are problems with the storyline that superb animation and creative designs cannot hide: the plot is predictable and there is the lack of convincing explanations for some of the things that happen in the movie. It’s not a boring movie by all means, but it could have been ‘amazing’ instead of ‘alright’.

The Secret Life of Pets

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The title of this movie is pretty self-explanatory. What do pets do when their owners are away? A lot, apparently.

Max, an adorable little dog, had a great life with his mistress Katie. One day, Katie returned with another dog by the name of Duke. Max was expected to share his home with Duke, a situation that did not sit well with Max. Unfortunately, the hostility between the two dogs resulted in them getting caught in an adventure and as one can expect from a feel good, formulaic movie, must work together to overcome obstacles and find their way home.

Watching this movie in the cinema made me feel totally alone because everyone seemed to be laughing and enjoying themselves. Sure, there were a few genuinely funny moments, but for most parts the movie trudges along predictably.

Okay, there were good things in this movie. The voice acting is great. Louis C.K. as Max, Kevin Hart as Snowball, and Lake Bell as Chloe are among the few that did their parts well. There were creative ‘fight’ scenes, and the climax (reminiscent of a scene from the 2006 Casino Royale movie) was gripping. Still, it left me feeling rather unimpressed.

Perhaps, the movie just does not appeal to my sense of humour. Judging from the amount of laughter at a scene of a prim and proper-looking poodle listening to heavy metal music, I gathered that it was my humour that was off. If you enjoy seeing a cute rabbit being psychopathic, you will probably enjoy this movie. Unfortunately, I don’t, which meant that once you look through the animations and the jokes, there really isn’t much of a story to savour. There was no grand message, no heart-tugging scenes, or character development. The movie even ended with a saccharine montage of owners cuddling their beloved pets, and yet I found myself feeling like I couldn’t care less about the animals on screen.

But then again, I suppose I have been harsh. As far as lighthearted animated movies go, Secret Life of Pets was not terrible, especially for kids (although quite a few adults sing praises of it). It was too much for me to hope that this would be another Zootopia, wasn’t it?

Well, at least I should be thankful that it wasn’t another Ice Age sequel.

Game Review: The Room 2

Following the formula laid out by The Room, its sequel The Room 2 continues with the unraveling of the mystery introduced in the first game. While the puzzles are thematically the same, the scale of the game has evolved from focusing on a box to a room. In this room, you will be required to work on a few, thematically linked items.

I love The Room for its concept and the design of the box. In this sense, The Room 2 was a bit disappointing. The larger scale of the game meant that there are more things to work on, but it also meant that our attention was divided over the few items. I suppose the same thing happened to the developers/designers, because the items in this sequel were a little ordinary in design. Compared to the ornately designed box in the first game, I was disappointed.

This is not to say that the game is bad. It still has plenty of mind-boggling puzzles and intriguing parts that kept me going through chapter after chapter. However, it sure did lose a little of the novelty found in The Room. Part of it was due to the scaling up that I mentioned previously; while pretty much every part of the box in The Room played a part, I get the sense that there are a lot more to be discovered in each item here. Yet, it turns out that disappointingly, we will only use one or two parts of certain items.

The Room 3 is touted to be longer and at a bigger scale, but I am not entirely sure that ‘bigger’ means ‘better’. Still, there is only one way to find out, and I will definitely get my hands on it.