Yes, yes, yes: I’m behind. I know! Still, look here and see a month completed! At least I think it is. Honestly, I’m surprised myself at how little media I’ve seemingly consumed, but then there are a couple of factors muddying the water. The first is that I am actually playing video games and reading at the moment, but one instance from each genre has dug in. I picked up Pokémon White midway through November and have been playing pretty solidly; I’ll leave a full review to next month (at the earliest) but I will say I’m pleasantly surprised at how much fun it is playing a Pokémon game where I have no idea what each of the creatures are. Every new encounter is a genuine surprise, even when the designs aren’t all that great.
Meanwhile, in the realm of the written word, I’ve just become the immensely proud owner of the entire first ‘season’ of Ctrl+Alt+Del, one of my all time favourite webcomics. Again, a full review will await another month but it has been utterly brilliant re-reading these strips which have impacted my life and social development so heavily. As good as gold!
On top of both of the above, TV is worming its way into daily life once more with on going seasons. Lucifer has just dropped Season 2, The Grand Tour has begun and, lacking a TV license, we’re getting our fill of Attenborough by rewatching the first series of Planet Earth. With all that future content out of the way, then, there has been little to actually comment on this month!
The Magnificent 7
Lets just point out what the Magnificent 7 is not. It is not a blow-for-blow remake of the original; in reality it only borrows the era, small town setting and total number of main characters. It is also not a thoughtful, meaningful, plot-heavy outing.
It is a bit of fun, with a great ensemble cast giving decent-to-noteworthy performances, well choreographed action sequences and just enough plot to keep you captivated and interested. Denzel is, well, himself, albeit himself clearly having a lot of fun and proving thoroughly suited to the Western genre. Chris Pratt is as funny and riveting as ever. Ethan Hawke is as weird and gritty as ever.
Basically, you get what you expect: guns, horses, cowboys and a clear delineation of morality. Sure, the “7” aren’t exactly the most angelic of individuals, but heroes in Westerns never are, whilst the villain of the piece so clearly evil he seems permanently one step away from cackling maniacally.
The elephant in the room is Django Unchained, the masterpiece that arguably reinvigorated the genre and likely lead to this remake being funded. Clearly, Django remains in an entirely different league to Magnificent 7, with far more interesting characters, settings, plotlines, action and dialogue. There are some clear (even if unintended) homages at work here too; indeed, with a black, lynch survivor collecting bounties as your main character this could easily be ret-conned into a sequel. Similarities aside, however, the reality is that Magnificent 7 was clearly never trying to be Django and does successfully manage to tread its own path.
Where Magnificent 7 actually elevates itself is in the diversity of the cast. Sure, it still isn’t amazing, but the core group of heroes contains four nationalities, five races and two genders, which is pretty good. Better yet, the diversity doesn’t feel forced or needlessly highlighted. For the era, the characters remain racist and sexist in their language, morality being reflected in their actions instead. They’re also a well picked group for the setting, playing with stereotypes that oftentimes feel far too relevant today. Each of the 7 is a social reject, whether due to their race, gender or political affiliation. The only one who doesn’t have a clear disadvantage is Pratt’s character, whose presence helps ground the rest and blur their boundaries whilst having the clearest redemption arc of the lot. I genuinely found this aspect of the film both clever and refreshingly simple and believe that the writers deserve much credit for that fact.
tl;dr: Diversity done, if not right, then certainly better than required in an entertaining, action packed retelling elevated by an excellent cast.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I never thought I would be hugely excited about a new series set in the Potterverse, but Fantastical Beasts has continuously impressed with its design, marketing and concept. Luckily the film genuinely stood up to all of those expectations. The beasts are fantastic, the action is impressive and the world building remains as magical as the main series. Honestly, I don’t really have many negative comments at all.
Getting to view a new part of the wizarding world was exciting and the clever use of a (wonderfully portrayed) “No-Mag” as the foil through whose eyes the wonder of the audience could be expressed worked seamlessly. I never really expected anything else, but it was great to see how different and diverse the American witches and wizards were compared to their more familiar British counterparts. The film also managed to create a nice balance between referencing the original series just enough to feel connected without ramming it down our throats (*cough*Hobbit*cough*).
Dan Fogler may have been the stand out performance, but the whole cast works wonderfully. I never doubted Eddie Redmayne, nor Colin Farrell, but both bring truly brilliant performances (Redmayne admittedly more so) to the table, and Ezra Miller and Katherine Waterstone only help round out an impressive cast.
The plot isn’t too imaginative, though it retains its twists and turns neatly and had far more depth to it than the trailers belied. Again, Fantastic Beasts finds itself in debt, really, to the continued expansion of its lore through Pottermore and similar side projects Rowling has worked on since the main series ended.
The one instance which felt like a true nostalgia trip, rather than an exciting exploration of regions unknown, were the beasts themselves. Here, once again, serious credit must go to the attention of detail present throughout the film. Each beast feels real, with truly exceptional CGI throughout, even those whose illustrations appeared too abstract to work. Indeed, this may have been the first instance of a film where the practical creature effects were noticeable in their lack of life in comparison to the CGI offerings (despite remaining exceptional themselves).
In reality, my only disappointment is that the beasts were not centre stage more often, though on the flipside getting the time to study some (such as the stage stealing Niffler) to greater detail was immensely rewarding. There is definitely a rich and expansive world here left to explore! Which is lucky, given four more films are on the horizon… a prospect that now fills me with excitement rather than trepidation!
tl;dr: Fantastic, brilliant beasts and an epic return to a wonderfully detailed, intriguing world.