Author Archives: Heather Nichols

About Heather Nichols

Heather is an all-around entertainment buff (with the exception of male-dominated Westerns), though she has a special affinity and encyclopedic knowledge of all things Japanese: J-Horror, Anime, Manga, and above all Miyazaki films.

Review: Star Wars The Last Jedi 2017

Amid backlash and controversy Heather weighs in on Star Wars The Last Jedi

 By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of aramajapan.com

There are SPOILERS in this review…You’ve been warned

Wow it has been a while since I reviewed a film, not that I haven’t been seeing films (though I totally missed the American Ghost in the Shell). There’s been a lot of things in my personal life and it hasn’t left much time to write so apologies, I’ll try to do more in this year.

The reaction to this film was certainly unexpected. After reading a handful of articles and fan reactions I wanted to take a moment to try and make sense of why this latest installment in the Star Wars franchise has brought such fan dissonance. Without further ado I’m going to dive right in. Given the nature of the backlash there will be spoilers abound so if you want to see it, do so and read this later.

I must start off by saying Critical Dissonance is nothing new to fandom in general (looking at you Game of Thrones) and certainly not new the Star Wars franchise. The direct prequel, The Force Awakens, has generally positive reviews from both critics and fans. But if you went to a convention and asked people in the fandom how they felt you may find as many people who enjoy it as there are who thought it was terrible.

Because there was such a huge gap in time between the conception of The Force Awakens and Return of the Jedi, many fan works had been created and many in the fandom consider them to be canon and were left feeling disappointed when Disney announced that all of those spinoffs would be discounted which rendered them into essentially published fanfiction. Obviously this has set off a chain reaction in terms of expectation versus what is actually canon which is something I’ll delve more into a little later on.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Directed by George Lucas
Shown from left: Liam Neeson (as Qui-Gon Jinn), Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi), Jar Jar Binks (voice: Ahmed Best), Keira Knightley (as Sabé, a handmaiden disguised as Queen Amidala), unidentified handmaiden, Natalie Portman (as Queen Padmé Amidala, disguised as a handmaiden)
© Lucasfilm Ltd.

The best example of dissonance comes from the now infamous prequel trilogy, it’s important to point out was produced before Disney gained the rights, which was always rated higher by film critics then by the general fanbase. My personal take: producing them was always going to be a challenge because you only have so much film to show how things got to their inevitable end point. From Episode 1 to 3 there is a gradual improvement. Really.  Watch them in order and you see they learn but the unfortunate part is that by the time that they did they had more than a dozen plot threads that needed to be wrapped up in about a two hour time frame…

However there is one thing the prequels executed well and kept consistent which was how the Jedi’s belief in a prophecy became their undoing. Well okay that’s putting it a bit too simply; it’s really how the Jedi misinterpreted a prophecy which led to their undoing. I could write an entire article on this but I’ll give you the nutshell so we can get to The Last Jedi and why this is relevant. The Jedi believed there would be a person born who would bring balance to the force.

Well, here’s the thing, all the Jedi trained to that point were essentially on the Light Side with only a small handful of Sith’s representing the Dark Side so really to bring balance, an actual balance to all this Light Side, essentially meant the birth of Darth Vader. The Jedi really didn’t read the fine print on that one.

Courtesy of etonline.com

Okay so now we have Last Jedi and instead of an Aesop revolving around prophecies and the consequences therefore within this film takes an approach to Iconoclasm and oh boy is this going to be a fun to break down because it functions both within the film and it’s targeted at the audience. So let’s start within the film when we last left our heroine Rey she found the legendary Luke Skywalker who has become a hermit in the middle of the galaxy waiting for death.

Again, LEGENDARY HERO, Luke Skywalker, is a grumpy old man who is living in isolation and is drinking nasty ass blue milk and has given up on teaching the ways of the Jedi. I can’t remember the exact quote but at some point Luke asks Rey if she expected him to just run up to the Republic waving a giant light sword and that would bring peace to the galaxy. Hey fandom, you know why you’re so pissed off? It’s because the film is calling you out for your belief in Luke Skywalker being put up on a pedestal.

Yes, that scenario sounds cool but while no one likes a Mary Sue fic, essentially this is what Skywalker has come to represent in the extended universe and for him to essentially become the exact opposite in a way is like going up to Adam West at a convention center and extending your hand because you’ve been in awe of him since you were a child, only for him to turn you away and look past you as if you’re not even there… that wasn’t awfully specific now was it?

Courtesy of IndieWire

Oh but wait there’s more. People were put off by the humor in the film. Really? People are getting sliced in half with light swords and the Resistance has been mowed down to only a handful of people, not to mention our beloved General has died in real life- I’m sorry but I welcome these light hearted parts because when you go from laughing to the silence there was when Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo’s kamikaze of an imperial starship, it creates a wallop of an impact.

While we’re here let’s talk a bit more about the female representation in the film because it seems that this is one of the other divisive aspects of the film. The women are as diverse in this film as they are fierce. On the side of the Resistance we have General Leia, Admiral Holdo, Rey, Rose and to a small extent Maz. On the opposite side we have Captain Phasma. All are strong and capable in their own ways bringing their own set of skills to the fray. In a time where all female reboots of popular films are being produced as quickly as hotcakes, some accuse the film of pandering to the millennial generation.

I’m not sure what exactly it is that makes this eligible for “pandering,” but I do know that pretty much any and all characters received some sort of fan backlash. Rey received backlash for being “too perfect of a character,” by virtue of she is a strong force wielder that came out of nowhere. Isn’t this true of most of the Jedi? And it’s not like she’s some magical prodigy or she would have wasted Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. I’ll say she’s not entirely developed yet and leave it at that.

Another point of contention revolves around Admiral Holdo. Many on the forums say and I quote, “she’s just a complete bitch.” Okay so she’s an authoritative female leader in a military organization, got it. Many arguing she should have just told Poe what the master plan was, okay now despite how ragtag the resistance is- they’re still a military organization and Holdo is Poe’s superior officer and thus doesn’t owe him any explanation. As for the other issues of her seemingly coming out of nowhere this actually ties into the next outcry in regards to a very different female leader.

Courtesy of NME.com

There’s no better way of saying Phasma has gotten the short end of the stick in both of these films. After appearing so menacing in the trailer it took audiences aback in both this and the previous film that she was defeated so abruptly reducing her appearance to essentially a cameo. I did some digging- in both the cases of Holdo and Phasma they are much bigger figures in the novelization and graphic novels that accompany the films. The film makers said in interviews that Phasma’s development while crucial was just too complex and rich of a character that would be worthy of her own film series entirely. And so they’ve actually created a graphic novel to enrich the backstory of Phasma and it sounds like something I’ll want to check out in the near future.

Fans also had many issues with the Finn and Rose storyline. Complaints including their love story felt forced, that one of them should have died and that their whole storyline was for nothing- except that was the entire point and many people seem to have missed it. The love story I personally could take it or leave it, but think about this, emotions are running high and everyone thinks they’re gonna die so it makes some sense.

As for offing a major character- we’ve already lost thousands in the resistance and Luke Skywalker, let the two kids live (for now). A common trope in the fantasy genre (which Star Wars totally is) is the heroes will have to go through a series of tasks that seem impossible to acquire the Macguffin that is the key that will assure their victory. Except this movie pushed the bleakness up to eleven by denying them a victory and in fact leaving them worse off than when they started. It’s completely defied the expected tropes and brought the story to a very dark place. This film isn’t pandering to anyone and its left us on a cliffhanger at the bleakest moment.

So we don’t have a story that is pandering by creating diversity, we have two opposing factions; we have a group led by women, prominently featuring a Latino man, an Asian woman and a black man against an evil organization led by two white men. This of course is over simplifying it but to simply call it a millennial thing is missing the point entirely. (Also see Rogue One, this is not the first time a diverse cast has been used in the Star Wars Universe.)

Two throw away lines in the film actually explain why the stage has been set this way and do so beautifully. The first is when Luke says, “This is not going to end the way you think.” The other is after Kylo Ren has slain Snoke and wants Rey to join him, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.” This ties into a previous point of contention, remember when I mentioned expectation versus what is actually canon? Here we go…

Courtesy of nerdist.com

Immediately following the release of The Force Awakens, internet message boards were absolutely flooded by fan theories, among them, where did Snoke come from and who are Rey’s parents? (My money was on Palpatine). The film answers this, by not answering either, which even I’ll admit I feel cheated in some ways but it’s understandable given the theme of the film again tying back into Iconoclasm.

Star Wars is such an important fandom to so many people and the film essentially has just said, “we don’t care about your theories or nostalgia- we’re here to tell you a story.” This is not the same as saying “we don’t care about the fandom,” but unfortunately a large portion of the fandom seems to be taking it this way. The Force Awakens was often called out for relying too much on nostalgia and meeting fan expectation by essentially rehashing the plot of A New Hope, the original film.

This film takes characters on an unexpected journey and I too am feeling the divide, in fact I only give the film a 3/5 because to me it doesn’t stand alone. Instead, it’s part of a bigger picture. I’ve already touched on expectation versus reality but the one point I didn’t really delve too far into was the hacker character. He points out in a scene that the people who are getting rich sell weapons to both sides of the conflict and at the end of the day they both profit.

Well obviously you can make the argument about gun manufacturers but what if we applied that to Disney. It funds good movies, it funds bad movies- at the end of the day they’re making money regardless, except by that logic The Last Jedi is the film equivalent of giving the fanbase the finger because they know they’ll make money regardless… well we won’t know until episode IX…

Courtesy of The New Yorker

The biggest thing to take away is that visually the film is stunning, the effects and animation departments have outdone themselves. The score is moving, invoking the classic themes and providing a great accompaniment to the film on the whole. The plot only takes place of the course of a few days and in that time we really delve more into the characters, learning more about their motivations and raising the stakes in who is or isn’t going to make it out.

It’s also a giant social commentary. I sincerely hope the makers of the film aren’t making it simply to milk a cash cow and that by going against the grain they are really trying to forge a new story, a new legacy for the film saga that is 40 years in the making. Maybe at the end of the day Rey’s parents really don’t matter because the film makers don’t want us to root for her based on where she came from, but rather who she is.

A quote from the first Pokemon movie might best encompass this, “I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.” Rey is her own character and the hero of the story and honestly I am still excited to see where episode IX is going to take her. In life you don’t have to come from a great family in order to do great things. Think of it from the perspective of someone whose family name has been tainted by shame and disappointment. Recently I read an article written by someone who was raised within the Kl Klux Klan and for a while they too were an active member until one day they realized the people you come from do not define you, that only you can define you.

Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast: A modern adaptation of a Tale as Old as Time

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of Disney Movies UK

If your peer group is anything like mine, odds are you’ve heard some very mixed reviews about the latest Disney live action adaptation of Beauty and The Beast. I’ll preface by saying if you’re curious please go watch the film because I’m going to break the entire thing down which involves potentially spoiling it.

I have to say there are some things that the film did right and there were some choices made that derailed it. That’s why I’m going to break it all down and as you’ll see I’m really on the fence about this one. A good attempt, but maybe they would be better off if it wasn’t a musical? Anyway here we go…

We’ll start with the opening scene. The live action version has the same backstory as the 1991 animated version, but expands it further. We open with the Prince, who the studio still won’t tell us his name is Adam (seriously they never say it out loud). Anyway the Prince is being made up as fabulous as glam-era David Bowie for a big soiree.

Courtesy of trailers.apple.com

We start with an original opening number which really didn’t do it for me, I’d much rather it just be a grandiose Viennese waltz as the lyrics were distracting and overall just not very good. So we sit through a minute of that before the enchantress shows up and you already know how that goes down. Then the film does something I really liked. They explain the outlines of this curse because the one thing that always bothered me in the original no one knew who the Prince was even though the castle is clearly within walking distance. So there, mystery solved they’re all cursed.

We cut to the village and meet Belle. (I can forgive for the lightly auto tuned singing because I actually really enjoyed how she is portrayed). But the musical sequence for the song “Belle”, oh dear god how could they ruin that? The original cartoon version gives us so much of Belle’s character in this sequence- the fact that her house is just far enough away from the village and that she’s the only person wearing blue really establish her as an outsider – here, her home is stuck right up in there and practically 60% of the cast is wearing blue.

However a few things that worked well, Belle wearing boots to work in as opposed to flats give her a more practical look as she is working on a farm and the flats would get shredded. Also nice, they have added in a couple of scenes to show Belle’s inventiveness as well as a scene where she’s teaching a young girl to read. I think these scenes just solidify her as a good role model which is what made the women of the Disney Renaissance stand out from the early era princesses.

Courtesy of Cinema Thread

Little things about the village bothered me. The Bimbettes who fawn over Gaston look awful. I get it, it’s a kid’s movie but they just look like porcelain dolls and they have the worst costuming in the whole film. To me it just didn’t look good, but maybe it works for other people. As for Gaston, Luke Evans is clearly a tenor and Gaston was originally a baritone so he just didn’t… wait for it… hit the right note for me. Seriously I did not like his singing or Josh Gad’s as Lefou, and I like Josh Gad, but every time he sang it was like listening to the snowman from Frozen all over again.

I’m also on the fence with Maurice, Belle’s father. Nothing bad about Kevin Kline’s acting, it’s just Maurice was this slightly eccentric inventor and this characterization is not that. He’s a man still grieving over his wife so overall he has a somber tone. Nothing about him would make him less trustworthy to the villagers which is why the town siding with Gaston to lock him away doesn’t make sense to me in this version. But first, I have some things I actually really enjoyed about the film.

Courtesy of www.cinemag.gr

Visually stunning, the animation was great especially on Cogsworth and I personally think Ewan McGregor steals the show as Lumiere. They also made a nod to the original fairy tale where Maurice gets into trouble for trying to acquire a rose for Belle- something that didn’t make it into the animated version but is present in the silent French film. One thing I was sad to see missing was the song “Human Again” which was originally missing but made its way back into the animated film after its original release because they had run out of budget for it in 1991. Instead we get a song, “Days in the Sun,” which made me want to barf, it was that bad.

Another strength the film has is it really builds on the relationship between Belle and the Beast. It feels more like the two are connecting because of that added backstory and the added interaction. It also helps that the two actually end up having shared interests. The costuming was great; I like how the Beast’s wardrobe becomes less animalistic and torn as he begins to embrace his humanity. Belle’s gown is just amazing.

The ballroom scene though has a couple things I found less than agreeable. For one I love Emma Thompson’s acting, but I did not enjoy her singing at all. If James Earl Jones is coming back for the Lion King I don’t understand why Angela Lansbury couldn’t just dub the singing. The other thing was the camera work… oh yes I hadn’t mentioned it until now but there were times where someone needed to slap those cameramen. Issues with focusing, too much blur, too much motion- it was nauseating. Especially in the library, likely there are no actual books to focus on but making a giant blur of stuff with no object in focus just made it so much worse.

Courtesy of www.harpersbazaar.com

Now the big beef most people had was the Beast’s big solo number, “Evermore,” an original, but really clunky song that is in the scene where Belle rides off to save her father from the villagers who are all standing in line to give Gaston a hand- shake. Gaston’s evilness is more subtle in the animated feature. Here he is as subtle as your car alarm going off at 4am on a Saturday and your neighbor pounding your door to get your butt out of bed.

We’re near the climax. Gaston pulls out a flintlock pistol which is proper for the time period. The thing is he fires 3 rounds and it was too quick to be realistic because he’s in the dark and there’s just no way he could have done it that fast, unless he’s got extra guns in his belt but that wouldn’t make sense since he rushed to collect this one after it was dropped.

Then the Beast turns back into the Prince. I can’t help but feel he was more attractive as the beast which is weird because Dan Stevens isn’t an unattractive actor but the make up just makes him look so, eww. Kinda like he’s trying to cosplay Lestat from Interview with the Vampire and used too much baby powder. Fun trivia for you, the Beast is reading King Arthur in one scene and Dan Stevens plays Sir Lancelot in Night at the Museum 3, I thought that was pretty meta. (On a side note, Night is not a fantastic movie but it’s a lot of fun if you haven’t seen it yet and it was Robin William’s final role.)

This review wouldn’t be complete without discussing some of the alleged controversy. So odds are if you’ve seen the news or turned on a computer in the last 30 days you’ve heard that Disney was proud to have its first gay character coming to terms with their sexuality and even have a love scene featured in the major film… except the problem is they totally don’t and there totally isn’t.

Courtesy of Are You Screening?

The character in question is Lefou; I wasn’t totally on board with making him gay but I wasn’t opposed to it. I figure if you’re going to have representation it should be a more positive character or at least one who is more prevalent in the film. In the cartoon Lefou is just Gaston’s little lackey who does some of the dirty work. The way it was pitched was Lefou is supposed to realize that his admiration for Gaston is actually attraction and that he truly wants to be with him… yeah maybe in a different movie but certainly not in this one. I don’t sense any sexual or romantic desire.

During the raid on the castle there’s a scene where the wardrobe attacks and three men end up fully made up wearing dresses and one of them seems to like it as he offers the camera a wink. At the end of the film this man is seen dancing with Lefou at a ball. There’s no alleged love scene- no kissing, not even a gentle caressing, nothing! If that’s what we’re calling a ground breaking moment for LBGTQ community then I’m calling bologna. I’m honestly not sure which upsets me more- the fact the advertisements were pandering, the fact that these occurrences got the film banned in certain theaters, or the fact that this was a poor excuse for diversity in film.

In sum I guess the best way to describe 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is this… imagine a beautiful tiered cake, it’s got gorgeous frosting work and the cake is super delicious and moist but on top you have all this decorative crap that you can’t eat and inside they’ve filled the damn thing with potpourri which smells lovely but isn’t edible. They took a good source material and buggered it up with all this extra unnecessary stuff. I only hope that the fact that’ve made the executive decision to not make the live action Mulan a musical will only help them focus on telling a better and more cinematic story.

Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Everything is [still] awesome: The LEGO Batman Movie review

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Editor’s Note: The delayed release of this review was entirely my fault, not Heather’s. This film is still in theatres in some locations. From the sound of it, you might want to check it out.

Courtesy of Bricks To Life

Right from the get-go you know you’re in for a treat when you sit down to The Lego Batman Movie. “Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music. Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous. And logos. Really long and dramatic logos.” Literally, this is how the film opens with Will Arnett’s bass Bat-voice speaking over the opening sequence, which even he acknowledges seems to go on for a really long time.

Similar to last February’s Deadpool, the film establishes a tongue in cheek approach to the superhero genre, finding itself in a happy medium between campy 1960’s Batman and Nolan’s neo-noir approach to the brooding Dark Knight. And no matter what your level of interest in Batman- whether you’re a fan of the comics, the games, the animated cannon, the various film franchises or Adam West’s version- Lego Batman gives a shout to all of them and essentially deems all of it as canon. I’m surprised I’m saying this, but they’ve managed to pull off a film that has something for everyone- so long as you’re interested in Batman of course.

Now most of you know I’m a fan of the superhero genre so my surprise may come off as a little odd. Let me explain, or rather just bluntly put this out there, the whole superhero thing has grown into a massive cash cow. When The Lego Movie came out, Batman was the scene stealer so they immediately green lit this movie after opening weekend (by the way, you don’t have to watch The Lego Movie before this one to understand it, only know that they are set within the same universe).

Courtesy of Moviepilot

My concern was this would easily be another cash grab sequel, which is still my biggest concern for Spiderman Homecoming after his appearance in Captain America Civil War. Thankfully I can say as far as Batman goes that fear is put to rest, but I’m still worried for Spidey. Especially after the rush job they did on the Andrew Garfield films but I’ll try to remain optimistic for this new one… So getting back to Batman, let’s break it down and talk about what makes Lego Batman so super special awesome.

First of all the movie doesn’t weigh itself down by trying to pass itself off a reboot or slow down the plot by constantly referring to the backstory. In fact this may be the only theatrical Batman film that doesn’t show Thomas and Martha Wayne getting gunned down in the alleyway outside the theater. Rather it makes the most subtle reference via a family photo where they are outside of said theater with a street sign for “crime alley” in the background.

As the trailer shows, the film is centered on Batman’s greatest fear, to have a family again after the loss of his parents. This has never directly been tackled in any other Batman story yet it has always been his driving force, even shown recently in the DC animated canon’s The Killing Joke when Barbara’s greatest frustration is that he never lets anyone get close.

Courtesy of Game Informer

It’s a great setting for a kid’s movie because it has a positive message.  At the same time it gives the older audience the benefit of knowing the source material so it doesn’t constantly stop to explain things, a problem that is rampant in many children’s movies is they often stop the plot to explain something which just messes with the pacing, a giant pet peeve of mine. (Other animation studios need to step it up and stop treating kids like they’re stupid.) Like seriously, kudos to the screen writers; they clearly were fans and knew what they were doing and executed it darn near perfect.

Speaking of the screenwriters (there are 5), they have thrown in so many delightful Easter eggs for the fans. One of my personal favorites happens early in the film. Killer Croc, one of the lesser Batman villains makes the statement, “Hey look I’m actually doing something.” The movie is full of these little lines that are just shouting out to the fandom, including thoughts that many have had such as how Gotham city is the most dangerous place in the entire world, and yet a plane full of explosives flies over, with no resistance or panic.

Of course the big question a lot of people have been asking, how does Zach Galifianakis do as far as playing the Joker. This is the first time this iconic character has really been the focus since the late Heath Ledger’s performance and while I do know that Jared Leto played him in Suicide Squad, that was more of a cameo, an appetizer rather than an entrée so I hold off on judging him for now and at the same point in time that’s a really hard comparison to make because both studios have a different interpretation of the character.

Courtesy of MovieWeb

Since this is a kid’s movie the level they were aspiring to would be more of a mix of Cesar Romero and Mark Hamill’s performances and while the character is written this way, Galifianakis brings his own unique flavor to the character. This Joker comes off as a fanboy portrayal, with details like asking Batman about their “ship.” Casual fans will take this as slang for relationship the rest of us who have read Batman fanfiction know there’s a little more to this so it becomes a double entendre. For the record I do not ship Bruce/Jack, nor do I ship Madlove (the name for Harley/Joker) but at the same time Batman and the Joker have this thing going on between them, I just don’t see the lust that other fans seem to infer. But that’s a subject I could devote an entire article to. Bottom line, it’s a good interpretation of the character that is PG friendly while still remaining loyal to the source.

Courtesy of The Verge

As for the other thing I really loved in the film, it delves into spoiler territory so if you’re good at inferring things leave now and go watch the film and then come back. If not, carry on. The beauty of these Lego movies is they remind us of being kids and playing with our figurines in the back yard. (I can’t be the only person who had Goku and She-Rah team up to help the Power Rangers take on the WWE, true story.)

Lego has the rights to certain characters and Warner Brothers has the rights to certain characters and that whole concept comes into play and it’s handled in such a fun way. I had to explain to mom what the “British Robots” were and at the same time a character in the film someone asks the Joker what they are and he responds with “go ask one of your nerdy friends.” All in all this movie was so much fun and I look forward to Lego Ninjago the movie; they’ve proven that they’ve got a pretty good team on board.

My next review is going to be a bit of a doozy so expect it later than the release weekend of the film. I’ll be tackling America’s interpretation of the anime classic Ghost in the Shell. Now here’s the fun thing, it’s one of those films/series I’ve meant to watch for years and haven’t gotten around to, so I’ll be going into the American one with little to no knowledge of the plot and little to no bias. From there I will view the original films and then the Stand Alone Complex series, and then I’ll write my review.

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

A fantastical dive back into J.K. Rowling’s universe of witchcraft and wizardry

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of ComicBookMovie.com

Courtesy of ComicBookMovie.com

I would consider myself to be a Harry Potter fan, albeit less intense then some of the other fans I know. Still, when granted an opportunity to attend an early screening of this film I jumped on it; however knowing I would have to review it I tried to watch it as a film student rather than through rose colored glasses.

Overall I’d say Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a whole lot of fun. The visual effects dazzle and impress, the score is wonderful and engaging. Also I actually like the main protagonist more than Harry Potter himself. I know, sheer blasphemy. Fans of the series, I’m sure you’re going to see this film and even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter and you’re getting dragged into a screening by someone, so long as you like the fantasy genre I don’t think you’re going to have a bad time at all. If it was the nature of the main story being set in a school that was your main turn off or perhaps you were just too old for it when it came out, this story might still be for you.

The film is set in 1920’s New York City shortly after World War One. Eddie Redmayne delivers a great performance as Newt Scamander, a Magizoologist or one who studies magical creatures- you see where this is going. Scamander carries an enchanted case with magical creatures and circumstances lead to the case having an accidental switcheroo with ordinary man, Jacob Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler) who lets some of the beasts escape.

Courtesy of Warner Bros

Courtesy of Warner Bros

What sounds like your typical Saturday morning cartoon plot where they’ve got to go out and “catch them all” (obviously I’m referencing Pokemon here) turns into a much larger story where alliances are formed. However there is a grey line when it comes to morality that leads to it being more complicated than simply having a team of good guys versus a team of bad guys.

Yes, there is an overall big baddie, but this film touches some pretty dark subject matter when it comes to the subject of morality which we’ll talk about more in the spoiler section down below. Though while we’re at it, don’t take the little kids to see this one. Even though it is only rated PG-13, they’re not going to get some of the stuff in it and some of the other stuff might be considered disturbing.

The other notable actors are Katherine Waterson and Alison Sudol who play the magical Goldstein sisters. Sudol delivers a charming performance, reminiscent of the character of Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.

Courtesy of Warner Bros

Courtesy of Warner Bros

Waterson on the other hand, I’m not totally sold on. It could be because this film is just the set up for her character and she’s dealing with a lot of stuff, maybe upon a second viewing or with further sequels she’ll grow on me but overall her performance just felt the most underwhelming. Either that or maybe we’re just so used to seeing such confident, strong characters in the series such as Hermione and Professor McGonagall that she feels like a letdown. It’s also hard to tell if from the performance if the character is supposed to be fragile or a go-getter and like I said maybe she’s supposed to be that way, but the performance is just weird for lack of a better word.

I’ll wait to discuss other performances as well as specific plot points in the spoiler section since a lot of what I have to say about them will give away key elements from the film and I want those who are looking to avoid the spoilers to be able to do so.

For those who are concerned that this film and its projected sequel are just here to milk the franchise for more money- well you’re not wrong but in this case I’m willing to let it pass. Since the opening of Pottermore we’ve found out that Rowling wrote backstories for essentially every named character in the book. I’ve always been for using film to breathe life into that extended content, also I love fantasy visuals so I mean it’s one thing to read about a Hippogriff but then to see one rendered on a big screen is kinda awesome; they truly come to life as Fantastic Beasts, tee hee. We’ve come a long way since the Claymation effects in Clash of the Titans and the animatronic T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

Courtesy of slashfilm.com

Courtesy of slashfilm.com

Overall I give this film a high recommendation, though I’m pretty sure if you like Harry Potter you’re going to see it no matter what I say. I expect there to be mixed reception just like there is among the core film versus book series. Personally I’m holding off reading these books until the movies are out as I found I enjoyed the last four films more when I did that because I didn’t feel like things were missing. But I know some people like to do the opposite. To each their own. One thing I think people are really going to enjoy is the chemistry between the four main actors, especially Redmayne and Fogler.

I look forward to the future of this franchise. It has shown that it’s for adults with a good balance between comedic, serious, and the occasional melodrama because this film features adults and we get to see sexual tension more than we did in the Hogwarts storyline- though some fanfiction writers will tell you otherwise, good god the way some of them wield language like a sword, but if the sword was actually a phallus and their username is Sigmund Freud.

I really enjoyed Fogler’s everyman thrown into an extraordinary situation and the chemistry he has with Redmayne as I had said before, really is the heart of the film. They also flesh out their characters a whole lot with subtle gestures and a few lines here and there so I gotta give it up for the screenwriters who did a good job of “show don’t tell.” Fantastic Beasts excels where many fantasy films fail because it just goes with it, it doesn’t weigh the plot down with information, and it establishes the way magic works in a couple simple lines which is really refreshing.

SPOILERS       SPOILERS           SPOILERS

 

Alright kids, its spoiler time. When things get dark in this film they really get dark. Holy crap. The execution scene might possibly be the darkest scene we’ve had on camera in this series. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of it, but wow talk about interrupting your “gotta catch em all” adventure for some ascended fridge horror. (Here’s a quick definition of what fridge horror is courtesy of tv tropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AscendedFridgeHorror).) So here we have the people governing over the magical world, the law, who are supposed to be the good guys- and their form of punishment is essentially being no different than the witch hunter group of Non-mag/muggles that are hunting after them. That’s messed up.

We also have some on screen child abuse. Ezra Miller’s Credence is played so well that he’s almost unrecognizable from the roles I’ve seen him in prior to this. He toes that line between broken bird and human grenade so well I really wish the Academy would give more acknowledgement to this genre and give him a nod for supporting actor. Another good performance comes from Colin Farrell, I really do like when he’s the bad guy- I’m not a huge fan of the twist that at least half the audience will see coming but I digress. He was good in this, and I’m going to miss him in the sequels.

I’m keeping the spoiler section short this time because I really want people to see the movie and enjoy it for themselves. Also since the story is being told through multiple films it’s still too soon to tell if certain payoffs are going to happen or if certain lines meant more than what they seemed to mean. Only time will tell. Fantastic Beasts is getting the Heather seal of approval.

Review: Batman The Killing Joke (2016)

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of variety.com

Courtesy of variety.com

Let me start off by saying if you’re a hard core fan of Batman you’re going to want to see the newest entry, Batman: The Killing Joke. If you’re not a Batman expert, this is not the film to start off with. However, if you would like to jump into the Batman animated pantheon there is no shortage of material. I highly recommend you start with the 90s animated series, it’s very film noir, and possibly the best direction of a comic book series to date. Well, now I’m about to spoil this whole thing so if you want to go watch it and come back, please do so now.

The Killing Joke, adapted from the graphic novel of the same name which has influenced most of the newer Batman-related material, follows the basic outline of what is considered to be one of the darkest Batman stories ever told- In an attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon insane, the Joker tortures and subsequently paralyzes his daughter, Barbara aka Batgirl, in front of him. The plot point as well as the ambiguous ending has long been a source of controversy amongst the Batman fandom community. Of course, now that we’ve seen it play out on the big screen, the controversy continues.

The 1988 graphic novel only spans about 64 pages, which really doesn’t cut it for a feature length but it’s also not short enough to cram into one episode, so the creators decided to go ahead and write an almost half hour long prologue that focuses on Batgirl, setting her up as the central character. This is fine because in the events of the graphic novel she’s just there as a catalyst and really there’s nothing more to her involvement. In fact it’s something that to this day has angered Batgirl fans (of which I’m actually not), feeling that the comic disrespected her by disregarding her life and using her suffering as a motivator for the men in her life. The prologue sequence adds depth to the character, showing her as strong and capable and for that I like it.

Courtesy of movieweb.com

Courtesy of movieweb.com

I’m just going to start off by tackling the “big controversy” since the main issues are in the Batgirl prologue arc. The main reasons circulating around the internet by Social Justice Warriors who see this whole arc as a misogynistic portrayal of Batgirl include, the fact that she’s a librarian (which comes from the comics guys), she has a sassy gay friend (who doesn’t?), the fact that she isn’t as capable at fighting crime because she’s a woman (first of all that’s your reading into it, secondly even Batman states she’s still a rookie, a thrill seeker, so nope not letting you have that one) and of course there’s the whole thing where Batgirl has sex with Batman…

So let’s back it up here- the film opens with Batgirl and Batman in pursuit of a cocky little SOB- named Paris France, who is planning on robbing his mafia boss uncle and is obsessed with Batgirl. Not much to him. However the devil is in the details with this one, if you pay close attention to his dialogue he’s basically representative of a misogynistic fanboy. It is heavily implied he regularly uses date rape drugs, which he unsuccessfully tries this tactic on Batgirl. A subtle but notable moment that emphasizes how deep his fetishism of Batgirl goes is when he has a call girl wearing a bat mask. His lines are sexist, at one point saying that “it must be her time of the month,” when she delivers a word of hurt on him. However neither Batgirl nor Batman actually addresses his comments, rather they just ignore him and continue to kick ass.

Now as far as the Batgirl/Batman relationship goes this is where some fans might be turned off out of the sheer idea of Barbara being with anyone other than Dick Grayson, aka Robin who eventually becomes Nightwing. His character is noticeably absent. He was most likely omitted so we could really focus in on the central players, not to mention he’s not actually in the source material so keeping it simple is just the way to go sometimes.

Courtesy of comicbook.com

Courtesy of comicbook.com

Barbara’s story fits into the classic, rookie cop makes amateur mistakes and gets bailed out by veteran cop. It’s not a sex issue. Several Robin stories also have this sort of mentor-who-has-to-correct-his-dumb -pupil storyline (see Son of Batman for another example). To further this point Batman even says, “You’re not like I am Barbara, it’s still a game for you, still a thrill.” And he’s right. In fact it’s pretty early on and she’s already starting to lose that thrill of being Batgirl. But there’s still a couple things driving her down this path; one giving her the chance to open a world of hurt on Paris France, the other her feelings towards Batman.

But of course Barbara is a layered character. To simply say she’s Batgirl just because she’s in love with Batman doesn’t do her feelings justice. In one of her exchanges with her sassy gay friend she says she’s in a relationship with her yoga instructor and wants the acknowledgement that she is his best pupil- this of course is code so as not to give away their identities. When he asks why the instructor, she says it’s the yoga, she likes the yoga.

So breaking that down, she’s attracted to the Batman but she’s also frustrated by him. Some people on the internet are using this as fuel for their misogyny argument.  To them I say imagine this scenario- you’ve had a crush on your favorite celebrity for years and now you’re finally working with them and you’re realizing they are a giant pain in the ass to work with, but you’re still attracted to that idea of them. I can totally believe in Barabara’s sexual frustration if you look at it from that angle.

Courtesy of www.techtimes.com

Courtesy of www.techtimes.com

Furthering my point is the fact that Barbara is the one who initiates the sex; she knocks him down, she takes off her own top before the camera pans up and away- if the film makers wanted to they could have shown the whole thing, the film was rated R. They didn’t because this was supposed to be a moment for Barbara to shine as a strong sexual independent woman and they didn’t want to spoil that image because if they showed everything that’s all anyone would talk about.

So we get to see Barbara in the aftermath of that and it’s not the prettiest of pictures but keep in mind this is Batman, a character with dozens of love interests both with and without the cowl (really, check out DC wikia. His love interests have their own separate page). Are we surprised he didn’t call? People have been critical of the scene after in which Barabara walks by an arguing couple and throws the guy in a bush, citing it as an example of “women’s rage.” You know for a fandom community so concerned with misogyny ya’ll make some pretty messed up comments.

I think this scene is just thrown in for comedic effect and I think she’s mad because her hopes and expectations are not being met- oh my god she’s acting like a real life human being. The first arc starts to wind down, and yes I’m still talking about the first 30 minutes of this film. They confront Paris France and she beats him nearly to death and then every piece of advice Batman was giving her just sort of clicks in her head. She doesn’t like the idea that she nearly beat a man to death and decides this isn’t the life she wants so she retires the Batgirl and goes on to live an otherwise normal life… and then you remember you’re watching The Killing Joke

Courtesy of moviepilot.com

Courtesy of moviepilot.com

The remainder of the story follows the original graphic novel almost note for note, with a few lines of dialogue updated since it is from a story written in 1988. There are two narratives interwoven, the current timeline where Batman is perusing the Joker and a series of flashback that gives the Joker an origin story, one where the audience can finally view him in a more sympathetic light. How Barbara plays into this, as mentioned before, the Joker shoots her and as a result she becomes permanently paralyzed. In a featurette they showed after the film they mentioned that even though they had the R rating, they wanted to tell the story in a way that didn’t make you want to jump off a cliff at the end.

Barbara is raped after being paralyzed by the Joker but it’s never explicitly shown, however we know it happened from four subtle beats. The first being the Joker undoing her top button before the camera cuts to the next scene. When Batman is visiting her in the hospital a detective says something to the effect that she was found naked and bleeding on the floor. While searching for Joker, Batman questions three escorts and one playfully says he usually pays them a visit first but didn’t this time so they assume that he’s found a new play thing.

The final piece solidifies this when Commissioner Gordon is forced to endure a hellish roller coaster ride, during which Joker sings a disturbing song and at the end television screens are covered in bloody naked pictures of Barbara. We don’t seeing anything explicitly detailed, but we know what’s going on. The reason I break this down is because of how much flack the sex scene earlier in the film had. I’d much rather know that Barbara was living life to the fullest then have my only image of her in the film be the victim of a horrific act of violence.

Courtesy of lockerdome.com

Courtesy of lockerdome.com

My criticism of the film is that the whole first part was supposed to be an introduction but really it feels like an episode lead in to a miniseries. Then you have two stories being told simultaneously that have very little to do with the introduction. However I think I understand why the directors did it because prior to the start of the Graphic novel DC was in the process of retiring the Batgirl character so she’s just a tool in a male driven storyline.

To show her in her prime, being Batgirl, kicking ass and showing that she’s just decided to live a normal life gives the audience more of an emotional attachment to the character and gives her more agency to the overall narrative rather than “oh well she was just there.” The biggest criticism the graphic novel received was that it crippled Barbara for no reason. But the film was already alluding to Barbara’s computer skills and in doing so her eventual dawning of the identity of Oracle, so it all comes full circle. The last image of the film is of her, so we know that although broken she is not defeated.