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.




photo by Jaap Buitendijk. © 2016 WARNER BROS ENTERTAINMENT INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
 

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 Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

True Grit: Homestead Mayor Betty Esper Just Won't Back Down

True Grit: Homestead Mayor Betty Esper Just Won't Back Down

Homestead’s first and only woman mayor has worked tirelessly for her hometown during her 35-plus years in public office. As she faces reelection unopposed next month, the 84-year-old contemplates her role as the symbol of a gritty town fighting its way back.
Photo Essay: Silence on the Cell Block

Photo Essay: Silence on the Cell Block

A look inside the now-empty penitentiary on the banks of the Ohio.
Made in Pittsburgh: 5 Great Ideas

Made in Pittsburgh: 5 Great Ideas

Modern-day creation in Pittsburgh doesn’t just involve physical products; we also have a knack for hatching new ideas that can solve problems in innovative, unexpected ways. These locally based thinkers are applying big thoughts to bigger problems.
Restaurant Review: Scratch Food + Beverage is King of the Hill

Restaurant Review: Scratch Food + Beverage is King of the Hill

The Troy Hill neighborhood spot matures into a casual destination restaurant.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Penguins Broadcaster Mike Lange Cutting Back This Season

Penguins Broadcaster Mike Lange Cutting Back This Season

Lange is entering his 43rd season of NHL broadcasting, all but one of which were spent with Pittsburgh

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Meet the Federal Galley Chefs

Meet the Federal Galley Chefs

We have the lowdown on who is cooking what in the new North Side food hall from the operators of Smallman Galley.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Who's Got the Cutest Pet in Pittsburgh?

Who's Got the Cutest Pet in Pittsburgh?

Announcing Pittsburgh Magazine's 2017 Cutest Pet Contest. First step –– send us a photo of your pet! We will pick 10 finalists and then you'll vote for the winner.

Comments


King Arthur's Sword Turns a Spot in Baldwin Into an Entertainment Destination

King Arthur's Sword Turns a Spot in Baldwin Into an Entertainment Destination

IQ Escape's new South Hills escape rooms elevate Crafthouse Stage & Grill and Legacy Lanes.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Encouraging Start Only a Start for The Steelers

Encouraging Start Only a Start for The Steelers

The season's first two victories were notched against mediocre competition. Eventually, the degree of difficulty is going to ratchet up considerably.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

Robert Hallett, Goldsmith, handcrafts the jewelry in his Oakmont shop.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Kingsman Sequel Leans Into the Crazy (And Turns Out Fun)

Kingsman Sequel Leans Into the Crazy (And Turns Out Fun)

Reviews of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," "Friend Request" and "Brad's Status," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Mad Libs Adds Laughs and Advice to Pittsburgh Wedding

Mad Libs Adds Laughs and Advice to Pittsburgh Wedding

Wedding guests were asked to bring their creativity to the couple’s big day.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Tour Chatham Village, Pittsburgh’s Own Secret Garden

Tour Chatham Village, Pittsburgh’s Own Secret Garden

The home and garden tour in the historic planned garden community in the heart of Mt. Washington takes place next week.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments