Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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WARNING: Spoilers abound especially towards the end so if you haven’t seen this film and DON’T want to know…turn back now!!!

Well…of all the surprises I was expecting/hoping for this year, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was definitely the biggest! I say this because I originally had no plans to see this film at all. With all due respect to the legions of Harry Potter fans, this is one film franchise I just couldn’t get into. But then, due to a podcast commitment, I decided to give this film a chance and wow!!! I’m so glad I did!

The magical world in 1920s America is beautifully realized, with one of my favorite parts being the magical speakeasy (with a house elf singer no less, at least, I think she was a house elf, please correct me if I’m wrong). My only complaint is the insistence on calling non-magical people “no-maj’s”. I mean, seriously, that just sounds stupid. Can’t Muggle just be the universal term for people with no magic? But really, that was my only major complaint (well, there is one other minor issue, but I’ll come to that momentarily).

The Beasts are beautifully rendered, and their home inside the magical suitcase is one of the highlights of the film (James Newton Howard outdid himself with a beautiful score). For most of the film, my favorite Beast was the Niffler, a creature that somewhat resembles a mole, and has an insatiable desire for all things shiny and valuable (to put it bluntly, he’s a kleptomaniac who likes to swipe gold and jewelry). In fact, there’s a hilarious sequence where Newt Scamander (a brilliant Eddie Redmayne) attempts to get the Niffler out of a jewelry store with “bull in the china shop” consequences. But then Newt introduces us to the Thunderbird and I knew I’d found my favorite magical creature. The Thunderbird is a huge, gorgeous creature with gold and silver in its feathers (and according to Newt is a native of Arizona) that has the power to generate thunderstorms, hence its name. Seeing a bird like that made me wish (again) that this magical world really did exist. The other beasts are also well-done (one creature had to be tracked down in a zoo, leading to a funny moment where Newt has to imitate a mating ritual to lure the beast back into the suitcase).

And then there’s the American wizards and witches….Tina and Queenie are an interesting pair of sisters (I love Queenie, I really do), and it was cool to see how life went on in their apartment (with all the magical activity). The President of MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) is a reasonably good person who just wants to protect her fellow witches and wizards from a populace that would most likely lynch them all if the truth ever got out. And then there’s Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a high-ranking Auror with his own agenda. He’s initially presented as a stern, but reasonable man. If someone presents him with firm evidence of something, he’ll act on it. But there’s a lot more to Graves than meets the eye (more on that shortly).

And I can’t forget Jacob Kowalski, the “No-maj” of the story who becomes tangled up in this magical adventure (to his growing delight). He simply wants to open a bakery because that’s what he loves to do, but a chance encounter with Newt changes everything. He really steals the show at several points throughout the story, and I hope he turns up in the sequel, I really do.

Back to Percival Graves: it turns out he’s hunting through New York City for a certain child, one that contains incredible power that’s been repressed into what’s known as an “Obscurious.” Graves is desperate to find this individual and is using a young man named Credence to help him do it. It turns out that Credence had magical parents (at least his mother was magical) but his mother died giving birth to him and he was adopted by a cruel no-Maj woman who beats him every chance she gets. Graves has promised Credence that if he can find this child, Graves will take him away to the magical world and teach him magic. But once Credence believes the child in question is his foster sister Modesty, Graves abandons him, believing Credence to be a Squib (child of magical parents but with no talent for it themselves). Well…as it turns out, Credence had the repressed power all along (much to Graves’ surprise) and though Graves (and Newt) attempt to save Credence, other Aurors swoop in and kill him. Newt had been suspicious of Graves for a while and after binding the Auror with one of his creatures, he uses a revealing spell and…surprise surprise, Graves is actually the notorious wizard Grindelwald played by Johnny Depp!! I’m not sure how I feel about this casting choice to be honest, I mean it COULD be okay, but he’s onscreen for maybe five minutes maximum so you can’t really gauge how he’s going to play the character yet. I’m actually a little disappointed because I’d gotten used to Colin Farrell and I would’ve been intrigued to see him continue in the role.

Final verdict: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was an enjoyable ride that’s left me excited for the sequels that are sure to follow.

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And for more of my random thoughts on films…see here

Marco Beltrami talks World War Z (2013)

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Marco Beltrami talks World War Z (2013)

Wow, I haven’t done one of these in the longest time (would you believe I have about ten interviews in draft form that I’ve been sitting on for the last four months?), so hopefully I still remember how to do this🙂 Also, this is unbelievably my 500th post!!! Wow!!

This film (in brief), follows a retired UN investigator (Brad Pitt) as he seeks to keep his family safe from a global zombie outbreak. Along the way he works to find a cure (if any) and stop the zombie hordes from overwhelming the human survivors.

World War Z was never on my list of “must see movies” because I can’t watch zombie films (they’re too real for me), but when I saw that Marco Beltrami had score the picture, I decided it was at least worth investigating to see what the composer had to say. This brief interview I found, while all too short, is enlightening nonetheless. The part that really jumped out at me is when Beltrami describes how he incorporated the tonal sounds of the Emergency Broadcast System (you know, that annoying buzzer/screech that comes on the TV every six months or so when they test the system) into the harmonies of the film score. I haven’t heard it for myself, but it sounds very clever, and would certainly be a great way to heighten the tension in a film like this.

Beltrami also discusses the need for the film to have a main theme, something to ground the story in. And let’s face it, a good theme (or the lack thereof) can make or break a film. If you watched (and liked) World War Z, then you will definitely find this brief video interesting. I only wish I could find a longer interview.

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If you’re interested in learning more about the film scores of Marco Beltrami, see here

Pocahontas “Listen With Your Heart” (1995)

Pocahontas has been having some interesting dreams as of late. Actually she’s been having the same dream over and over again: she’s running through the woods when she comes across an arrow lying across the path in front of her. As she watches, it begins spinning around and around, until suddenly, it stops! Pocahontas has no idea what it means, so she’s been eagerly waiting for her father to return home so she can share her dream with him (and hopefully he can interpret it for her).

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Meeko isn’t a fan of Kocuom either

Except, Pocahontas never gets the chance to share her dream with Powhatan, as he has news of his own: Kocuom has asked permission to marry Pocahontas (and Powhatan has said yes). The free spirited Pocahontas is not exactly thrilled with this idea: Kocuom, while handsome, is a very serious man, and wouldn’t mesh very well with Pocahontas, who loves to dream and follow her heart. Powhatan advises his daughter that Kocuom would make an excellent husband for her, and she should strive to be “steady” in her life, like the large river that runs next to their village.

Pocahontas “Listen With Your Heart” (1995)

Pocahontas knows her father means well, but she can’t shake the feeling that she’s meant to do something else, so she travels to visit Grandmother Willow, an ancient talking willow tree that has guided both her and her mother before her (having lived for several hundred years at least).

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What Pocahontas wants essentially boils down to the question: What is my path (in life)? How do I find it?

As it turns out, her mother asked Grandmother Willow the very same question years before. And the answer, was to listen! Listen to the spirits that dwell all around her. And Pocahontas does listen, and she begins to hear strange voices in the wind (I love the voices of the spirits), but she can’t understand what they’re saying. This is how Grandmother Willow’s song begins: if Pocahontas listens “with her heart” she’ll be able to understand anything the spirits tell her. And it turns out they have a pretty important message to share. Something is coming, something with “strange clouds”. To investigate, Pocahontas climbs to the top of Grandmother Willow, and she does indeed see “strange clouds”, those clouds being the sails of the English ship now approaching the shore.

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Strange clouds indeed!

I find myself wishing this song was longer. Linda Hunt’s voice is soothing and very rich, just the sort of voice you’d expect a centuries-old tree to possess. Thankfully, there is a reprise later on once Pocahontas and John Smith meet up (but that is a post for another time). Hope you enjoyed this peek at one of the shorter songs in this film, have a good Thursday, the weekend is almost here! -Becky

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See also:

Pocahontas “The Virginia Company” (1995)

Pocahontas “Steady as the Beating Drum” (1995)

Pocahontas “Mine, Mine, Mine!” (1995)

And if you’d like to read more about animated film music, check out the main page here: Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/etc. Soundtracks A-Z

The Fate of Kylo Ren: My theory

I know this doesn’t really have anything to do with film music, but this theory has been bouncing around my head for a while and I wanted to share it🙂

Ever since we saw that shocking twist in The Force Awakens, the Internet has been buzzing with the question: what is going to happen (ultimately) to Kylo Ren, aka Ben Solo? I was initially inclined to believe that Episodes VIII and IX would focus on redeeming Kylo back to the Light side of the Force where he belongs, but the more I thought about it, the less it made sense.

Consider this: Kylo has done what Luke Skywalker and Vader could not, he killed his own father in cold blood. Luke nearly did it at the climax of Return of the Jedi, but after taking Vader’s hand he pulled back from the edge. And in the film before that, Vader could have easily killed Luke, but ultimately he couldn’t do it. Two of the greatest characters in Star Wars history couldn’t commit patricide/filicide, but Kylo Ren did it. And so what I’m thinking is….after killing his own father, is Kylo even redeemable at this point?

The answer, in my opinion, is no. There are some things you just can’t come back from, Kylo has crossed a line and I now firmly believe things are going to end badly for him. And…I think I know how they’re going to do it.

Before the new Star Wars canon post-Return of the Jedi was established, there was a huge collection of books known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now referred to as the Legends universe). These books set out the general fates of our heroes and their children and they had many adventures (the Expanded Universe is responsible for such great characters as Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade (who should still be canon in my opinion), and all the characters introduced in the Jedi Academy trilogy). One of the more interesting stories followed Han and Leia’s children.

In the Expanded Universe, Han and Leia ultimately had three children: twins Jaina and Jacen, and a younger son Anakin. Jaina and Jacen began Jedi training under their uncle Luke and while Jaina went on to become a Jedi Knight, Jacen was tempted and fell to the Dark Side, becoming Darth Caedus. After a long series of events, Jaina ultimately had no choice but to confront and kill her own brother.

Just looking at this summary, it is clear that Kylo is the canon equivalent of Jacen, the son of Han and Leia who has fallen to the Dark Side (though he is not a Sith as yet). And while Kylo has no twin sister (that we know of), I believe that Rey is the canon equivalent of Jaina. Keep in mind, I am NOT saying that Rey is a Solo or a Skywalker, just that she would be fulfilling Jaina’s role. I think that by the end of Episode IX, Rey and Kylo will have one final confrontation that will end with Rey killing the fallen Jedi. I do think it is possible that Kylo will have a last-minute redemption as his grandfather did, but I believe he will die regardless. And wouldn’t it be fitting if it did happen that way? I mean, Kylo wishes to emulate his grandfather in every way, it would make sense if his death matched Vader’s death as well.

This is only a theory, and it could be dead wrong, but given Kylo’s striking similarities to Jacen Solo, I can’t help but wonder how much of his arc will ultimately parallel that character’s.

What do you think will happen to Kylo Ren? Is he redeemable or past the point of no return? Let me know! -Becky

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Why did Vader Lose in Return of the Jedi? Some thoughts…

So several months ago, I did a summary of Return of the Jedi, including my thoughts on why I believed Vader was overpowered by Luke at the climax of their duel. Some people criticize this moment because only a year or so before (in story time), Vader was completely dominating Luke, and yet here he is being chased back by the young Jedi.

I had several theories, one of which involved my belief that possibly Vader was “rusty” with the lightsaber, and only made it look easy in The Empire Strikes Back because Luke was in way over his head.

Now that Rogue One is close to coming out and especially now that I’ve seen two seasons of Rebels, I’ve realized that my thoughts on this subject were way off base. See, I initially thought that after the Jedi were all but annihilated in the first few years of the Empire, that Vader really didn’t need to use his lightsaber until the events of Episode IV and onward. But Rebels has established that Vader has spent all this time inbetween Episodes III and IV training the Inquisitors (which involves heavy lightsaber training), flushing out what few Jedi remain (also involving lightsaber combat), not to mention engaging in a heart-pounding duel with former apprentice Ahsoka Tano (and given this duel takes place less than five years before Episode IV, it’s clear Vader’s lightsaber skills are beyond exemplary). So clearly this theory on why Vader lost is incorrect.

I had two other theories though, which could still be valid. The most likely scenario is that Vader was hampered by his lack of connection to the living Force, which, according to canon established in the prequel trilogy, is dependent on the amount of midichlorians in one’s body. And as we know from Revenge of the Sith, Vader doesn’t really have much of a body left (he lost both arms, both legs, so the only human parts are his torso and head) and therefore much less of a connection to the Force than when he was fully human. Luke, by contrast, only has one artificial hand, and has also inherited Vader’s tremendous fighting abilities. Combine that with a surge of anger when his sister is threatened, and Vader doesn’t stand a chance.

The other theory is that, due to Vader’s inner conflict (which began after discovering he had a living child from his beloved Padme), his heart really isn’t into fighting and killing Luke anymore. He denies any conflict, but his actions immediately before the duel hint otherwise. And it’s because of this conflict that Luke is able to hold his own against Vader so well.

Either of these theories could be correct, or it might even be a combination of the two. It probably doesn’t matter in the long run, but I enjoy speculating on why certain things happen in a given film’s universe. Hope you enjoyed my thoughts on this duel!

I’ll be back with more Pocahontas tomorrow🙂 -Becky

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Talking Stars is seeking guest stars!

As many of you know, I am one of the co-hosts of the Talking Stars podcast (I recently returned after a month long hiatus due to my schoolwork) and after recording our most recent episode (discussing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) we discussed how we’d like to have more guest stars on the show. To that end, here is a list of the shows we are recording for the next several months. If you’d like to join the podcast for an episode, we talk about films related to the theme of the episode (sometimes it’s films connected to a specific director or actor or a specific film period) and we have a great time. If you see an episode you’d like to join in on, you can leave a comment here or DM me on Twitter (@filmusiccentral) and we’ll add you to the schedule🙂

Recording – Animation 2016
Date – 18th December 2016
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira and Becky
Guests – Jason
Upload Date – 26th December 2016
 
Recording – Talking Stars Film Club #1 Darren’s Choice Good Will Hunting
Date – 11th December 2016
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira, Becky
Guests
Upload Date – 2nd Jan 2017
 
Recording – Star Wars Rogue One
Date – 8th Jan 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Becky (Kira?)
Guests
Upload Date – 9th Jan 2017
 
Recording – 5 Anticipated Films for 2017
Date – 15th Jan 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira and Becky
Guests – Zoe
Upload Date – 16th Jan 2017
 
Recording – Passengers
Date – 22nd Jan 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Becky, Kira
Guests
Upload Date – 23rd Jan 2017
 
Recording – Talking Stars Awards
Date – 29th Jan 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira and Becky
Guests – None
Upload Date – 30th Jan 2017
 
Recording – Talking Stars Film Club #2 Kira’s Choice – Children of Men
Date – 22nd Jan 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira and Becky
Guests
Upload Date – 6th Feb 2017
 
Recording – Romantic Comedies
Date – 12th Feb 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira
Guests – Audrey
Upload Date – 13th Feb 2017
 
Recording – Oscar Predication
Date – 19th Feb 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira and Becky
Guests
Upload Date – 20th Feb 2017
 
Recording – Ron Howard
Date – 26th Feb 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira and Becky
Guests
Upload Date – 27th Feb 2017
 
Recording – Talking Stars Film Club #3 Becky’s Choice – Howl’s Moving Castle
Date – 5th March 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira and Becky
Guests
Upload Date – 6th March 2017
 
Recording – Resident Evil Franchise (1-6)
Date – 12th March 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira
Guests – Zoe
Upload Date – 13th March 2017
 
Recording – Kong Skull Island
Date – 19th March 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira and Becky
Guests
Upload Date – 20th March 2017
 
Recording – Summer Movie Preview
Date – 19th March 2017
Hosts – Darren, Damien, Kira and Becky
Guests
Upload Date – 27th March 2017
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You can check out all the Talking Stars episodes at www.talkingstarspodcast.com

Pocahontas “Steady as the Beating Drum” (1995)

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As the battered English ship continues on its way, the action zooms ahead to the tranquil shores of the New World, where life continues on, oblivious to the fact that it will soon change forever. We’re taken to a returning war party, led by Chief Powhatan, that is heading for home after engaging in a long fight with the Massawomecks.

Pocahontas “Steady as the Beating Drum” (1995)

One of the great things about Pocahontas is that it is one of the most realistic animated depictions of a Native American community ever created (as opposed to a more stereotypical representation like the one seen in Peter Pan). We’re given a sweeping overview of daily life: we see women picking corn, young boys playing lacrosse (I’m not sure what their name for the game was), people of all ages, from toddlers to the elderly all living in a fairly organized village.

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The song tells about the regulated order of daily life; all has been the same for generations. The streams are full of fish, there is plenty of game in the woods, and all life is grounded by a firm belief in the Great Spirit and its power in their lives. All of this is provided to show that these people, while different from the arriving settlers, are hardly “savages” (as Ratcliffe continuously refers to them throughout the film).

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In an earlier version of this song, Kocuom (a warrior who would like very much to marry Pocahontas) had a verse of his own ( where he sang about how he would build Pocahontas “a sturdy house with sturdy walls” (a line referenced later in “Just Around the Riverbend”). Actually, it may have been an entire song in its own right (“Dancing to the Wedding Drum”, but in a behind the scenes feature playing the song, it has nearly the same melody as this song, so I consider them one and the same). I believe this song/verse was cut because Kocuom has a very different personality (he smiles!!!) from what we see in the final film. This is a shame because Kocuom gets very little character development overall and it would have been nice to see this moment between them.

As word spreads that the war party is nearly home, everyone begins to gather at the shore to welcome them. Clearly this is a greatly anticipated homecoming. Chief Powhatan is very happy to be home, but there is one face missing from the crowd…his own daughter Pocahontas! (Go figure the titular character is missing, a similar thing happens in The Little Mermaid, only Pocahontas isn’t in trouble for not being present).

Next time I think I’ll introduce Grandmother Willow with “Listen With Your Heart” Until then! -Becky

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook🙂

And for more great animated film music, check out the main page here: Disney Films & Soundtracks A-Z

See also:

Pocahontas “The Virginia Company” (1995)

Pocahontas “Mine, Mine, Mine!” (1995)