Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Potter Without Potter Works Just Fine in Fantastic Beasts

Reviews of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and "Bleed for This," plus local movie news and notes.


If we’re going to turn everything into an endless universe of interconnected films — and it certainly seems that we are — the “Harry Potter” universe is certainly fertile ground for expansion. The level of detail in J.K. Rowling’s creation reaches levels close to that of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and (while it may be blasphemy to some) probably has more broad appeal and certainly more accessibility than the “Lord of the Rings” series.

Look no further for evidence of this than “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the first proper Potter spinoff; it’s not quite the film that the best entries in the main series were, but it is an enjoyable and lovely adventure.

Rowling wrote the screenplay herself, her first. She also penned the faux-textbook the film is based on as a supplement to the Potter canon. In the fictional world, the text is attributed to a conservationist named Newt Scamander, who emerges as the protagonist of the film (here played by Eddie Redmayne). The film is set in 1920s New York; Scamander travels to America in order to free one of the magical creatures he carries around in an even-more-magical tote (an ordinary bag on the outside, the size of a small zoo inside). On arrival, however, some creatures get loose, threatening to add fuel to anti-wizard sentiment that’s brewing throughout the United States.

Some of the figures and plot points in “Fantastic Beasts” are clear commentary on matters of national and international politics; Rowling is to be credited for weighing in, though her relative inexperience as a screenwriter renders these attempts somewhat heavy-handed. Furthermore, while the world is wondrous as always, the tale at hand here leaves a bit to be desired. But the performances are lovely, the magic is captivating and the setting is breezily enchanting. It’s not a film that will convert many muggles into devotees, but it keeps the fire burning in the Potter universe well enough.

*    *    *

The Three Rivers Film Festival celebrates its 35th anniversary this year under new direction, as Film Pittsburgh takes over programming duties. The results are certainly compressed, in comparison to recent years; while the fest has traditionally lasted for several weeks, this year’s installment runs for just five days. Plenty of programming is packed into that timeframe, however, including a renewed focus on local filmmakers; the opening-night feature was “The Freedom to Marry,” a marriage-equality documentary from locally based filmmaker Eddie Rosenstein and concerning Pittsburgh-born activist Evan Wolfson, and CMU grad Johnny Patterson’s drama “Halfway” was screened last night.

Highlights of the fest’s programming through the weekend include “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” a biographical documentary on the iconic poet (5 p.m. Saturday at the Harris Theater), Malay prison drama “Apprentice,” a Best Foreign Language Oscar submission (9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Regent Square Theater) and the acclaimed drama “Hunter Gatherer,” with “The Wire” star Andre Royo (3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Harris). A conversation about local filmmaking, preceded by a pair of locally made short films (including the excellent “Echo Torch”), is set for 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Melwood Screening Room. For a full list of features and ticket info, click here.

*    *    *

Earlier this year, I gave a warm review to the boxing drama “Hands of Stone,” about the Panamanian fighter Roberto Durán; in an era where professional boxing enjoys less relevance than it has in decades (if not centuries), “Hands of Stone” is the kind of film that argues for the continued existence of the pugilistic picture as its own sub-genre. On the other hand, “Bleed for This” — which, oddly enough, features another portrayal of Durán, in a small role — is the kind of film that demonstrates why the sport itself, if not fictional portrayals of it, has fallen out of favor. The film details the comeback of fighter Vinny Pazienza, who suffered a broken neck in a car accident while reigning as the WBA World Light Middleweight Champion. Pazienza, played here by Miles Teller, was told he might not ever walk again and certainly could not fight; while I suppose I won’t spoil the ending here, you can fill in the blanks for yourself (they don’t make too many films about failed comeback attempts, after all). Teller is fine and Aaron Eckhart, as trainer Kevin Rooney, is quite good; the film, however, is an unremarkable slog without much of a story to tell. The fact that Pazienza didn’t get himself killed in his comeback attempt is remarkable, but not admirable; this is a film that holds disastrously poor life choices up as model behavior, and it isn’t nearly good enough for me to look the other way on that.

*    *    *

Speaking of risky athletic endeavors, the documentary “Ice Guardians” explores the history, role and risks of hockey players who take on the enforcer role — those whose main job is to fight in defense of the skill players, acting as a sort of silent threat to would-be offenders in times of peace and fist-first dispensers of justice in times of conflict. While the doc is a bit clunky in structure, its explorations of the role of fighting in the game and the mental strain on the players expected to play the part are fascinating. Interviews with a number of pro enforcers past and present make up most of “Ice Guardians,” including a great deal of input from former Pittsburgh Penguin Eric Godard. He’ll introduce the film and lead a post-screening Q&A session at 7 p.m. this Sunday at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont; click here for tickets. (While we’re talking about the Hollywood — the throwback thriller “The Love Witch,” which opens Friday, has caught my attention as well. I don’t think I can share the trailer here, but it’s a doozy.)


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Pittsburgh's Can't Miss Concerts in April

This month's lineup includes Rick Astley, Billy Price, Christopher Cross and Ronnie Milsap.

Pittsburgh Flicks and Nightlife in April

Tour local social clubs with the Roaming Social Club; expect changes at AMC Waterfront

April: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest stage plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

Undercover: What We're Reading in April

A look back at "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" as it turns 30, plus two literary events coming up in April.

Perspectives: ‘This Is Us’ Is a Story of Us

A former Pittsburgher finds more than a few similarities between his own life and that of the siblings on "This Is Us."

Spare Change: A New Way of Giving

A local group is using music and some spare change to help charities — and filming every step of the way.

Look How Mighty This Bellevue Garden Has Grown

Last season, the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden produced 4,862 pounds of food; the harvest was donated to three food pantries.

When and Where to Dump Your Junk (including old TVs)

A state environmental agency wants to help you recycle your hard-to-dispose-of household clutter.

Watch: Trailer of “Won't You Be My Neighbor”

The documentary about Mister Rogers' iconic show takes viewers beyond the cardigan collection and into “the heart of a creative genius.”

On a Lark: Pittsburgh Mom Creates Activewear for Babes

Unable to find cute, environmentally friendly gear for her newborn son, Lark Adventurewear founder Pallavi Golla launched her own line of moisture-wicking clothing for kids.

Pittsburgh MultiStories: The Beacon's Perch – The Grant Building

When it opened in 1929 as the city’s tallest structure, crowds of sightseers paid a quarter to visit the rooftop observation deck of the Grant Building — named for the street, which was named for the hill, which was named for the somewhat hapless general.

Rick Sebak Digs Up Distant Carnegie-Trump Connection

Research into Andrew Carnegie’s marriage reveals an unlikely, albeit tenuous, connection between the Pittsburgh icon and the 45th President.

JuJu Smith-Schuster Teams Up with Drake, Travis Scott and Ninja to Play Fortnite

Drake and Ninja broke Twitch viewing records, and Smith-Schuster and Scott joined in later.

Growing Up: mossArchitects Moving to Garfield

Principal Andrew Moss says his architecture firm will move to the heart of the Penn Avenue Arts District after outgrowing its current space in Lawrenceville.

Teaching Cyber Safety - The Things You Might Not Know

iQ:smartparent’s Cyber Safety segment offers advice on topics such as what to do with “sexted” images you find on your kids’ phones and more.