Out on Friday 18 November
The long-awaited return to the Potterverse. A giddy, body-swapping, time-travelling anime from Japan. Jim Jarmusch shoots The Stooges. James Schamus and Logan Lerman take on Philip Roth.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Your Name, Gimme Danger, Indignation, Dog Eat Dog, We Are the Flesh, Panic, In the Heat of the Night, United States of Flesh, The Music of Strangers, and The New Man.
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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
It’s been almost five-and-a-half years since the eight-film Harry Potter franchise handed in its wand. So the sight of the Warner Bros logo cloaked in familiar blue-grey light while a sampling of John Williams’ iconic score induces tingles with its tinkles is, well, magical.
As Potter-heads already know, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first of a planned five-film prequel series, with this instalment set in 1926 New York – a bewitching locale that looks like the widescreen cityscapes of Once Upon a Time in America have been sprinkled in fairy dust. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, overdoing the nervous tics), the author of the titular textbook that Harry studies in first movie The Philosopher’s Stone, arrives in New York on the home leg of a global excursion dedicated to cataloguing exotic creatures.
Such beasts are banned in New York, where the magical community is presently keeping a low profile, and for good reason: dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has disappeared after wreaking havoc in Europe; a mysterious force is attacking New York; and No-Maj (American-English for Muggle) bigotry is being zealously stoked by the fanatical Second Salemers, led by Mary Lou (Samantha Morton).
Unfortunately for Newt, some funny business involving likeable Muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, pretty much stealing the movie) and a suitcase switcheroo leads to some of Newt’s creatures springing the clasps on their Tardis-like home and hightailing it into a city already on red alert. This great escape draws the attention of Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a former ‘Auror’ (Dark-wizard catcher) who is now out of favour at the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), and she in turn reports it to Director of Magical Security Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) to curry favour.
What follows is a succession of chases, slapstick set-pieces and reveals, be it the shapes and sizes of the various beasts on show or plot turns instigated by characters’ hidden motives and desires – many a heart here turns out to be a chamber of secrets.
A couple of the curtain-pulls are predictable, and the creatures, certainly, frequently disappointment, sounding better on paper – an eagle-dragon! Bird-snakes! A tiger with a neck like a blowfish! – than they look in pixels. Only a mischievous penguin-hedgehog and Newt’s best-bud Pickett, who might be Baby Groot’s cousin, prove truly spellbinding. But there’s nothing here to quite saucer the eyes like giant spider Aragog or Buckbeak the Hippogriff in the Potter movies.
Still, what Fantastic Beasts lacks in wonderment it almost makes up for in scares and subtext. Scripted by J.K. Rowling herself and directed by David Yates, the man behind the later, darker Potters, this is squarely aimed at the kids who grew up reading and watching Harry Potter – which is to say, adults.
Duly freighted with ideas and images to make the Dementors seem chirpy, its potent themes include prejudice, intolerance and repression, presented here with enough force to hit viewers straight between the eyes and leave a (zigzag) scar in these dark days of Brexit and Trump.
The Second Salemers, meanwhile, are as unnerving as anything you’ll find in cult movies like Martha Marcy May Marlene or The Sacrament. Come the closing credits, it’s Mary Lou’s burning eyes and the cowering, whipped body of her tormented acolyte, Credence (We Need to Talk About Kevin’s Ezra Miller), that are the takeaways, not a destruction-porn finale that comes with even fewer consequences than Man of Steel’s skyscraper-slamming denouement.
Overall, what has emerged from Rowling’s sorting hat of ideas isn’t quite as fantastic as we all hoped. But it is an exceedingly solid franchise-opener that builds a new world with enough bridges to the established Potterverse to keep the devoted happy. The second instalment, we’re promised, will travel to the UK and Paris, with Grindelwald coming to the fore and a young Dumbledore (Newt’s only ally when he was expelled from Hogwarts) stepping into play. We can also expect, at some point, to visit America’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Ilvermorny, while the spectre of World War 2 looms large.
And to think, people initially pondered how Harry’s slim textbook, which Rowling actually published in 2001 under the pseudonym of Newt Scamander, could be stretched into one feature, let alone five. Turns out it’s like Newt’s suitcase – bewitched with an Extension Charm, and promising extraordinary sights. This first instalment showcases just enough of them to make you sign up for the full expedition.
THE VERDICT: Doesn’t quite enchant like the best Potter movies but there are enough thrills and genuine chills to satisfy.
Director: David Yates; Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
Is Makoto Shinkai ‘the new Miyazaki’? Comparisons to Studio Ghibli’s animation master accompanied Shinkai’s previous films: lustrous visions such as Voices of a Distant Star (2003) and The Garden of Words (2013), but Shinkai emerges as his own man with this deeply affecting, richly imagined and lushly gorgeous fantasy.
A time-travelling, body-swapping, gender-twisting, disaster-based teen romance, Your Name resembles little else around.
A hit in Japan, Shinkai’s genre-bender begins with a twist on meet-cute clichés between provincial teen-girl Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Tokyo teen-boy Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) – after a teasing opening montage involving comets falling, the pair awake to find themselves inhabiting each other’s bodies.
Once he’s got us on our toes, Shinkai keeps us there. The outer-body premise is well-milked for gentle humour to start – Taki becomes fixated on his newfound breasts – but the playful pitch doesn’t swamp feeling. Raised in an environment of tradition, Mitsuha pines for city life; Taki, meanwhile, wrestles with the tragicomic inarticulacy of adolescent masculinity.
Smartphones are cleverly used to co-ordinate the plot-lines, a co-ordination given a metaphorical parallel in the cords Mitsuha is tasked with meticulously braiding.
The braiding becomes more intricate as the duo wonder why fate linked them and, in a twist on the will they/won’t they cliché, whether a meeting is in the stars. Time loops, tumbling comets, lost towns and themes of eco-disaster mix in the ensuing action, a mash-up of melancholy raptures, mind-warping metaphysics and cosmic cataclysms.
It all sounds like too much to take onboard. But Shinkai holds his material steady. Between style and substance, he knows just what’s needed to keep the plot focused, viewers rapt and emotions engaged.
Working with Ghibli-schooled animation director Masashi Ando (whose credits also include 2015’s senses-stoking Miss Hokusai), Shinkai makes glowing work of his digi-mation vistas: the limpid images glisten as if radiated with emotion. But don’t think about pausing to admire the scenery. Races against time and musical montages usher us breathlessly towards the climax, chivvied along by vibrant songs from Japanese band Radwimps.
Adding more flavours, the end stretch recalls Wong Kar-wai’s rainy-day romanticism in its mix of sliding doors and deferred liaisons. A satisfying conclusion seems like too much to expect from so rich a weave, but Shinkai’s careful weaving of poignancy, plot threads and metaphor delivers one. For Mitsuha and Taki, the outcome is best experienced, not explained. For animation fanciers new to Shinkai, it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
THE VERDICT: Prepare to be spirited away. A brain-scrambler to make hearts swell, Shinkai’s giddy romance brims with emotion and invention.
Director: Makoto Shinkai; Voices: Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
“Bizarre”, “sub-literate” and “tasteless”, the critics called Iggy Pop and his sonic trailblazers when they first pitched up amid the sort of ’60s hippie acts that could have been “created in meetings”. Yet decades later, The Stooges are revered as one of the greatest, most influential rock ’n’ roll bands ever.
A conventional music doc about an extremely unconventional group, Jim Jarmusch’s portrait explores the rise, fall and legacy of the fearless proto-punk outfit, whose juvenile delinquent guitarist James Williamson, rather hilariously, jacked it all in to become a Silicon Valley company man.
Director: Jim Jarmusch; Starring: Iggy Pop, The Stooges; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
This month’s second Philip Roth adaptation (after American Pastoral) is writer-producer James Schamus’ elegant directorial debut. Set in 1951, it stars Logan Lerman as Marcus Messner, a Jewish-born atheist at odds with fellow students at his Ohio college
Schamus keeps us engaged, and Sarah Gadon gives good support as the student responsible for Marcus’ abrupt sexual awakening.
Director: James Schamus; Starring: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
Dog Eat Dog
But there’s pleasure to be found watching Wild at Heart co-stars Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe let rip as hapless crooks trying to stick it to the man. Schrader has fun, wallowing in the lurid detail and bloody violence.
Director: Paul Schrader; Starring: Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
We Are the Flesh
Challenging Baskin as 2016’s most nightmarish genre movie, this disturbing hallucination from Mexico sees homeless siblings (Diego Gamaliel, María Evoli) wander into a building where Noé Hernández offers succour and terror.
Under his spell the pair engage in cannibalism, incest and more as an affront to (and reflection of) Church and State. Think Luis Buñuel spliced with Hieronymus Bosch.
Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter; Starring: Noé Hernández, María Evoli, Diego Gamaliel; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
“We all want to own something put together with a bit of care and artistry,” says night-owl music journo Andrew (David Gyasi) to friend-with-benefits Amy (Pippa Nixon) in this lonely, London-set thriller. In which case: bingo.
Writer/director Sean Spencer’s debut is atmospheric and crisply shot, following the damaged Andrew’s attempts to save a trafficked Chinese woman he glimpses in the flat opposite. Between Spencer’s controlled direction and Gyasi’s diffident performance, the restraint that represents the film’s strongest suit also makes for disconnected viewing.
Director: Sean Spencer; Starring: David Gyasi, Pippa Nixon, Jason Wong, Yennis Cheung; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
In the Heat of the Night
Director Norman Jewison nailed the interracial cop dynamic with his 1967 thriller, whose murder mystery plays second fiddle to the relationship between Sidney Poitier’s city detective and Rod Steiger’s Deep South sheriff.
Poitier is majestic as Virgil Tibbs; Steiger won the Oscar, though – a testament, perhaps, to the film’s faintly self-congratulatory tone.
Director: Norman Jewison; Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
United States of Love
Washed-out pastels match a cold, dispassionate exploration of love and anguish in this Polish drama from Tomasz Wasilewski. Interweaving four stories, Wasilewski navigates obsession and rejection to the backdrop of a ’90s Soviet Union on the brink of collapse.
What could have been a bold relationship study with a feminist slant is too detached to make much impact.
Director: Tomasz Wasilewski; Starring: Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
The Music of Strangers
Though spotlighting world-class cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the musicians he curates, this doc isn’t really about music. The focus is on the individuals, emphasising the unifying power of song – as well as Ma’s humanitarianism.
As one group member says: “I think he sees himself as someone who wants to change the world, and he happens to have a cello with him half the time.”
Director: Morgan Neville; Starring: Yo-Yo Ma, Kinan Azmeh, Kayhan Kalhor; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016
The New Man
When director Josh Appignanesi (The Infidel) and his wife, Devorah Baum, learn she’s pregnant, they’re so overjoyed they decide to make a documentary about it. But Dev feels her mind’s being eroded, while Josh worries he’ll be a hopeless dad – and then there’s devastating news.
How much of this is reportage, how much re-stagings, is anyone’s guess. Much of the time, Josh is clearly sending himself up.
Director: John Appignanesi; Starring: John Appignanesi, Devorah Baum, John Berger, Sophie Fiennes; Theatrical release: November 18, 2016