Entertainment

IN REVIEW: FANTASTIC BEASTS THE CRIMES OF GRINDEWALD

By Chelsea Pickens 

Disclaimer: This review is coming unashamedly from the Harry Potter fandom. I’m one of those people. I have horcruxes hanging from my window and an elderwand on proud display on my shelf, among the many character figurines dotted all around my house. I’ll sit in my Hufflepuff hoodie and dominate a Harry Potter movie marathon any day of the week, and I’ll cry every single time in that scene with Dobby – you know the one. So, to fully disclose my own bias, inevitably my evaluation of The Fantastic Beasts movies hangs at least somewhat on how well they fit into the whole Harry Potter series. And for me, they’re struggling to do that. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched the Harry Potter movies, yet I only saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them once when it first came out, and while I enjoyed it enough, I never really felt tempted to try it again. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwalddirected again by David Yates (who also directed the first Fantastic Beasts), however, promised a bit more to catch my eye, namely some sweet revamped shots of Hogwarts and a hot Dumbledore.

Well, yes, hot Dumbledore, let’s start there. Sure, Jude Law looked good in a little waistcoat – let’s not lie to ourselves. Did he channel what I imagined a young Dumbledore to be like? No, sorry Jude. The essence of Dumbledore is his wise, calm nature (excluding that unfortunate Goblet of Fire scene), and while younger Dumbledore I guess hypothetically might not have accrued his wise one-liners yet, the character seemed to lack the humility and thoughtful nature that is Dumbledore. He seemed cockier and more self-assured, and his accent wasn’t quite right. However, to be fair, the movie didn’t really give him a chance to develop as a character – his on-screen time and the depth of his scenes were both very limited.

Johnny Depp had more of a clear shot in his return as Grindelwald. As there was barely a mention of his character in the Harry Potter movies, we had nothing to compare him to. His performance was well done – he definitely created a believable and despicable villain, carrying almost all of the scarce emotional depth of the film. We also saw Eddie Redmayne back as Newt Scamander, our sweet, bumbling protagonist of the story who just wants to look after his magical creatures in peace, like an awkward Hagrid meets David Attenborough of the wizarding world. He really is quite likable and adorable as Newt. However, again, his character very much lacked depth or storylines which we as an audience could connect to. His relationship with ‘Tina’ (Katherine Waterston) is hinted at, but never really played out, and remained surface level, as do all the relationships in the film. The real break-out star of the film was Zoe Kravitz, as the captivating Leta Lastrange, who actually had some emotional backstory and inner anguish that connected well with the rest of the bigger storyline and she performed this convincingly. The rest of the characters were quite side-lined and relatively inconsequential.

And that was the main downfall of the film – it lacked strong relationships and emotional depth, and the type of character development that keeps Harry Potter fans reading and watching the original books and movies again and again. This felt more like an action movie trying to fit into the Harry Potter franchise through impressive special effects and references to Hogwarts, without any of the emotional labour. The storylines seemed shallow and convoluted; the average viewer really wasn’t given enough backstory to guide them through. I found myself confused quite often, though having not watched the first Fantastic Beasts movie since it first came out, that may have been partly my own fault. My friend who accompanied me had not seen the first movie and commented that she ‘understood literally about 10%’, so evidently not an ideal movie for people new to the franchise.

I did, however, very much enjoy the nods to the original Harry Potter series. I had feared Hogwarts scenes would be overdone, or recreated versions of scenes in the original movies, but the film did find a nice balance. The views over Hogwarts were beautiful and the class time and flashbacks were instrumental to the storyline. I particularly enjoyed the incorporation of Nicolas Flamel as a character and even a nerdy glimpse of the Philosopher’s Stone! So there certainly were a few scenes to keep the fandom excited and probably dragging our feet back to the next release in the series.

IN REVIEW: THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD

By Chelsea Pickens

Being real for a second, the draw of this documentary film for me was undeniably that ‘it was something by Peter Jackson, our very own Kiwi king of film. It’s not that I’m not interested in World War I, or war-related cinematography – I am, as much as the next vaguely aware but detached youngish person. I learnt about the war in high school. It sounded horrible and I tried to empathise as much as I could – as much as anyone can when they’re reacting to far-away stories of long ago. The details have faded in my mind since then; until now I have had only a basic awareness of what really went on. In fact, I had to google some facts to enhance my basic knowledge in preparation for this review, such as ‘why did WWI start’, which, while I felt stupid typing it, it actually turns out a lot of people don’t know. An assassination and a lot of complicated stuff? Well, enter the need for films like We Shall Not Grow OldBecause us youngish people do need to know. This is our history too and the history of those before us who bravely sacrificed for what they were told was right.

To commemorate 100 years since the end of the Great War, Peter Jackson uses real footage from Britain’s Imperial War Museum and the BBC to bring the story to us. Not the political story (which I’m sure not even he could straighten out), but the human story of the British soldiers, the men who eagerly enlisted and ended up being thrust into a world they could have never envisioned, and us, generations on, could never envision until now. So many movies have attempted to retell and glamorise the war through Hollywood fictions, but this film gives us the true story, using the real faces and voices of those who were really there on the front line in one of the most ghastly and notable times in recent history. This is not a story about war but a story about men, their day-to-day activities, what they ate, what they thought, when they were scared, when they could only act and not think, how they had to learn to cope and adapt when their friends died around them.

The story is told sequentially, starting with the original black and white, flickering footage of the English propaganda and recruitment, all the time being narrated by the voices of veterans (which are unfortunately at times difficult to make out). This mixture of voices tells us about the vast numbers of underage boys encouraged to lie by officials and slip into the system, of the social pressure on young men to enlist for their country, and the excitement of others to escape mundane everyday life for an adventure and purpose. The original grainy footage takes us through training camp, complete with gun and bayonet drills, meals of slop and school-boy pranks on commanding officers. Jackson allows for different narratives to weave through each scene, making it clear throughout the film that life in the army and war was neither only a torture nor a picnic. Some flourished and found their place, others suffered and struggled. Like so many things, the experience was different for each individual.

The newly trained soldiers sail to Calais and march through France. When they enter the trenches and battlefields, the world of war opens up to them and to us, the viewer, as Jackson begins his restoration of the footage. This is where the soldiers become real people, in bright colour and sharp focus, the screen comes alive and now we can really watch them and know them, looking into each individual face. We see the men laughing and joking around together, we see them drinking tea in the trenches, we see them trying to sleep in the mud and waking up confused to a camera in their face. We’re told about the hardship and the many physical discomforts, and the ease brought by automatic comradery and fast friendship, in finding a laugh in the simplest of things.

When the men are ordered to enter the German lines on foot, we’re there waiting with them in position. As the camera moves around, we can look into the eyes of these young men and teenage boys, waiting for a probable death, fear shining through the faces of some, others detached and focused. It’s hard to remember this was real – these men really were waiting, knowing they were likely to get blown apart or shot down by moving forward. Yet they move forward. Of course, Jackson is not shy with restoring the gore in all its glory and throughout the film we get a fair few shots of fallen and then decaying soldiers, and even some split-open horses. These are the realities of war after all and that’s what we’re here for.

What was surprising and especially moving for me was the way the men treated the German soldiers. Despite being the ‘enemy’, they were talked about as equals, no pleasure was taken in killing them and the men tried to alternatively take them as prisoners where possible. We can see images of them all talking and joking around, and swapping hats back behind British lines. The veteran narrators, even as boys recognised the Germans were in the exact same position as themselves, just regular people being told to fight for their country, with both sides unable to see the point in it anymore, or caring about who wins. When the war ends no one celebrates. They’re all exhausted and deflated, reclining in heaps on the sides of French roads. Some were relieved, yet some felt like they’d been ‘made redundant’. When the men arrive home, we arrive back at our original black and white footage, paired with descriptions of the struggle to fit back into society and a sense that civilians could never fully understand or comprehend what the soldiers had gone through. That world of war was only theirs, real only to them, illustrated cleverly by Jackson’s colourful reanimation of war life, and subsequent reversal to grainy original footage when the war ends, signalling their disconnectedness with civilian life after war.

As I’ve found myself saying when asked about the movie, it’s not a film you would go to for a good time, but it’s an important and moving piece of work – especially important for those of us who, up until now have struggled to connect with or even remember anything about the Great War. We need to know what these people went through and how it’s shaped our world, and why it should never happen again. Lest we forget.

IN REVIEW: A SIMPLE FAVOR

By Chelsea Pickens

As I think is probably true with a lot people, I only really know Blake Lively as the ‘cool sexy girl’ from Gossip girl and poppy teen-targeted movies like Age of Adeline, and Anna Kendrick as the ‘awkward but adorable girl’ from other poppy teen-targeted movies like Pitch Perfect.

So I was pretty intrigued to see them both potentially develop from such typecasts in what looked to be a dark, styley thriller A Simple Favor, directed by Paul Feig. And while the preview did look engaging, my real interest in seeing the movie was definitely to see just how these two navigated the suspense/thriller roles.

Well what do you know – the film was based around the premise that Anna Kendrick was the awkward, adorable girl to Blake Lively’s cool, sexy girl, *sigh*. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised at how Blake Lively wove a definitive dark and edgy streak through her character Emily, who between constantly downing martinis and killing a lady power suit, offered the audience a convincing portrayal of a disillusioned, powerful yet trapped mother, wife, friend, and career woman, struggling to juggle each identity.

Enter Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), the bubbly ‘awkward but adorable’ solo mum who edges her way into Emily’s chaotic world, one alcohol fuelled play date at a time. And yes, Anna Kendrick gives us a likable, naïve contrast to worldly, secretive Emily, however it was hard to shake the feeling that her character could’ve been plucked straight out of Pitch Perfect and dumped into this thriller, her performance was just all too familiar.

The main attraction in this film lay in watching these crazily well-dressed women uncover (or cover up) juicy secrets. And I don’t say well-dressed lightly – even I, someone with no real interest in fashion, found the aesthetically pleasing styles each character inhabited a real treat for the eyes. But the movie didn’t hang on just fashion, it depended on those juicy secrets to lead us through the suspense of what really happened to Emily when she asks Stephanie ‘a simple favour’ of picking up her son from school one afternoon, to never return.

Up until now the movie was pretty engaging and enjoyable, and I was genuinely interested to see what happened next. But from here it becomes slightly incoherent with Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) entering the mix as a prime suspect, and potential new love interest for Stephanie. There must be more to this story than a simple husband kills wife for insurance money right.. And sure, with a movie of this scale there obviously is, but the convoluted story that followed felt a bit unclear, rushed, and convenient.

And while there were a few twists and turns, the movie came together a little too harmoniously for me, peppered with some forced ‘humorous’ one-liners in the most dramatic scenes that made me cringe. I definitely would have preferred a more gut-wrenching end, rather than a cookie cutter tying together, exposing the movie as conforming to a typical blockbuster formula – but I suppose there are those poppy teen fans to appease.

NZ INTERNATIONAL COMEDY FESTIVAL IN REVIEW: LANA WALTERS – FAKING IT

10/05/18

By Chelsea Pickens

To be honest I find comedians a bit hard to watch. It’s not that I don’t enjoy comedy, I really do, and in the comfort of my own home and the detached context of television, I’ll sit back and lap it up.

But live comedy I find difficult because it looks like the absolute most terrifying job in the world – standing on an illuminated stage, vulnerable as hell, while an audience in front of you stares and deems you funny or not.

I’m anxious just watching them, with my empathy gland swelling out of control ready for if it all to fall flat. And so I attend stocked with pity, ‘you’re doing great please don’t leave the stage and cry’ laughs ready to go, and a beer to ease me through the cringe.

I arrived with these laughs (and that beer) to the intimate venue to watch Lana Walters debut solo show “Faking It”at the Cellar at Q Theatre. Lana’s confident but down to earth, giggly demeanour was at once relaxing, she could hold her own, the laughs would come, my pity laughs could chill in the back pocket. That one guy in the audience who laughed really loud at everything (there’s always one) also took the burden off, so I found myself ready to enjoy. And I did enjoy.

Lana was immediately likable, your average girl with average girl problems, she was relatable and accessible. A lot of her set was based around being a single woman, a popular topic for women comedians, she striked me as an Amy Schumer/Mindy Kaling mix – both self-deprecating yet empowering in her confident retelling of tinder tales and ex boyfriends gone wrong. The highlight was absolutely when she paused for a sip of wine and downed the whole cup – a tidy kiwi party trick that not surprisingly pleased the audience ‘not just some of it, all of it’ styles.

And that was the beauty of Lana’s set, she undoubtedly appealed to kiwi sensibilities of poking fun at oneself and acting a bit rough around the edges. It was really her demeanour that made the comedy, and I found her casual, off the cuff, giggly remarks more humorous and enjoyable than the more worked on, laboured punchlines, which at times did fall a bit flat. But Lana took it in her stride and laughed at herself anyway which was really nice to see and made me less of a guilty audience member. She was having fun, so we could have fun – so fun was had by all. Certainly a show to be enjoyed by fellow single ladies and their besties, where we can all down our wine together.

IN REVIEW: SIMPLE PLAN @ THE POWERSTATION

19/4/2018

By Chelsea Pickens

I had seen Simple Plan before… It was 15 years ago and I was 15 when I fancied myself quite punk rock, in my over-sized skater shorts with nirvana and slipknot patches. I was slightly ‘too cool’ for Simple Plan but adored them regardless – Addicted to You spoke right to my sweet emotional teenage heart.

So when I was asked last week if I wanted to go to their reunion show in Auckland, their first on our shores in those 15 years, I had a little chuckle and agreed on a whim, it would be novel to see an old pop punk band again. But of course, as usually happens these days, the occasion rolled around and I wished I hadn’t agreed – it would be a lot easier to stay in with my dog and watch Shortland Street. But the call of commitment eventually mobilised me to put on some pants, and having stated that I would be an hour later than was preferable, I left the house robotically and unenthused.

But if there’s one way to excite a 30 year old, it’s to express suspicion on the door that they could actually be 17 and that their water bottle is in fact filled with vodka – and thus upon entry I was thrown back to my teenage years. With $7 coronas and Fall Out Boy tunes as foreplay, the atmosphere was starting to feel just like the old days and that old sense of excitement and belonging began to creep back. Actually Mum it wasn’t a phase, these are my peeps, deal with it.

So when Simple Plan took to the stage we were ready and united, and they brought just what teenage emo me would have hoped for. ‘I’d do anythinnnnggggg’ we belted out together, who would’ve known that hundreds of people in Auckland still knew the words to that song? And that they not only knew the words but owned them and loved them and felt them as we all sang together. Oh no, I got old and forgot. I forgot the euphoria that comes from seeing a favourite band live, with connecting with everyone around and all feeling the music together, singing and dancing, complete with fantasies about being the lead singer’s girlfriend.

Simple Plan brought it all back, as pristine and fresh as my 2002 CD single. Grow Up and I’m Just a Kid made us forget that we were the grown-ups now and the band probably has kids of their own.

They still looked super cute, and their sound was exactly the same. More so, they actually seemed excited to be there, talking to the crowd continually and jumping around in their skinny skinny jeans, only slowing it down for their ballad Perfect. As an audience member I really felt valued by the band which was really nice and not something I’ve felt for a while.

I sung and danced my heart out right along with the energetic band who never missed a beat and got me to remember songs I thought I had forgotten.

Overall the band just made me happy, I found myself smiling the whole time, which I guess is the entire goal of music. I even skipped washing my hands when I had to run to the loo in the middle of their set – good thing too, I would’ve missed the confetti cannons. I got more then I bargained for and got to remember my youthful excitement for seeing cheesy pop punk music live – a pretty good reason to put on pants, as it turns out.