Monday, December 10, 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

David Yates’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” written by J. K. Rowling is the second of five planned Harry Potter prequels. When I saw the first one two years ago, I wasn’t particularly impressed as the HP universe had been extremely Americanized, which wasn’t becoming at all. I had expected the movie to be in the same tone and spirit as the Harry Potter movies, which it wasn’t as it seemed catered to an American audience, but this time I knew that in advance, and watching FB2 with that in mind, I liked it much better than its predecessor.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” lasts 2 hours and 14 minutes and has a 12A PG rating and within these limitations it tells the story of the magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who in 1927 is sent to Paris to locate Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) whom the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) believes to be Corvus Lestrange, the last of a long line of pure-blood wizards, and the only person who can kill Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law).
    Newt’s American friends are looking for Credence too, so they all end up in Paris, where they encounter a wizarding freak show, the French Ministry of Magic, the immortal alchemist Nicolas Flamel (Brotis Jodorowsky) and the evil Grindelwald himself. Although Paris in the movie seems like a Hollywood set of the city rather than a real city, it fits well with the Americanization of the FB universe and it reminded me of old Hollywood musicals from the forties and fifties.

The story has many twists and turns and many surprises, but what is carrying the movie is first and foremost the stunning special effects. Especially Newt’s London home with its Undetectable Extension Charm that makes it possible to house several of his magical creatures, is quite fantastic.
Furthermore, Eddie Redmayne as Newt and Johnny Depp as Grindelwald are equally amazing in the movie. I know that these days Depp’s image has been tainted, but luckily his unique talent as an actor is undeniable. As soon as you hear his voice in the magnificent opening & escape scene, you know that you are in good hands and that the movie is going to be good.
   As for Eddie Redmayne, he really grows on you. He makes Newt vulnerable and shy in such an endearing way that goes straight to the heart. I don’t think anyone but Redmayne would be able to portrait the socially awkward magizoologist.
   It is great seeing Nagini in her human form too in the freak show, gracefully played by Claudia Kim, and together with ZoĆ« Kravitz as the rebellious Leta Lestrange, Newt’s first love and sister-in-law to be, the two of them outshine the two leading ladies from the first film, the sisters Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Tina (Katherine Waterston) Goldstein.

On the negative side, I have to mention that where in the first Fantastic Beast movie, I really liked Newt’s American friend Jacob Kowalski played by Dan Fogler, Fogler isn’t able to hold his ground in the new movie. Being cast alongside Depp, only Redmayne is able to step up his game and come across as interesting and strong as him.
   Also, I couldn’t help wondering how the lanky, pretty Grindelwald from the HP movies (played by Jamie Campbell Bower) grew up to be the short thickset Grindelwald of Fantastic Beasts, but I was okay with it due to Johnny Depp’s superb acting skills. I had a much harder time imagining that Dumbledore of HP, no matter if he’s portrayed by Richard Harris or Michael Gambon, should have resembled a lean, sly Jude Law in his younger days. I’m sorry, but Law just doesn’t have the strange whimsical authority that is characteristic for Dumbledore and I for one was not able to believe in him. The same goes for Fiona Glascott as Minerva McGonagall, whereas Joshua Shea as teenage-Newt was amazing.
   Finally, we never really learn that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were lovers when they were young, as this has been boiled down to a teenage blood pact in the movie in order to avoid saying out loud that Dumbledore is gay and once was on the side of what would become the Hitler of the wizarding world.

Other than that, I don’t have any objections as I was greatly entertained, and I look forward to the next Fantastic Beast movie that is set to open in theatres in 2020.

Three and a half out of four stars (it’s an improvement, isn’t it?): ***½

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Burn the Stage – the series and the movie

When “Burn the Stage: the Movie” - a documentary about the seven-member South Korean group BTS and their Wings tour in 2017 - opened in cinemas around the world on November 15th, 2018, it reached the number 10 box office spot in the USA making it the country’s highest-grossing event-cinema music production ever. It reached number 6 in England and number 4 in Korea and even in my tiny country, Denmark, where BTS are hardly ever mentioned in the press, it gained more than $14,000 screen average.

Furthermore, the movie was only meant to be screened a single time in capitols in a few chosen countries, but currently the movie has been in theatres for over two weeks with several shows a day in a large number of cinemas in cities big and small in countries all over the world and more shows are still being added.

Before the theatrical release, another documentary about BTS and their Wings tour, where they gave forty concerts to a total of 550,000 people in three continents, has been made as an eight-episode series on YouTube Red (now Premium) with the first episode airing on March 28th, 2018. This is called “Burn the Stage” too, but apart from the title, the two have very little in common as form, contents and even message are different for the two releases.

Nitty-gritty series and calling-card movie
When you compare the two, they both have pros and cons. In the very first episode of the series, BTS’ explicitly tell the documentarists that they wish to show their fans (who go by the name of A.R.M.Y.) their true selves without concealing anything. Because of this, the series is a nitty-gritty documentary where the audience is the proverbial fly on the wall, witnessing all the ups and downs of BTS, their friendships and work relationships, what they do when they are not on stage and how it is to be a hardworking, but very tight-bonded band on the road, trying to break though internationally.

Although fans generally love the series, some (not me!) also find it a bit long with too many interviews with the BTS-members instead of footage of them goofing around. Others (still not me!) find it difficult to witness the hardships that BTS go through behind the scene like the youngest member Jungkook passing out backstage from fatigue after a concert and having to lie down on the floor and have an oxygen mask help him breathe, or the two members V and Jin argue backstage to such a degree that V ends up in tears. On the other hand, we also see the unique chemistry between the seven of them and the endless fun, love and respect they share with and have for each other.

In the movie, the focus has shifted to how professional BTS are and how they work together like a well-oiled machine. Up to 90% of the footage is new and instead of concentrating on the Wings tour, which lasted from February 18th to December 10th, 2017, the movie centers itself around the period from when BTS won their first Billboard Award in May 2017 to when they won their second in May 2018, where international fame was already theirs. As such, the movie is an international calling card for BTS aimed at fans and non-fans alike, where scenes of the highly efficient and hardworking BTS are highlighted and the funny, dorky sides toned down a bit.

Poetic narration replacing the fly-on-the-wall
Where BTS tell their own story in the series in personal one-on-one interviews scattered all over the episodes like an ongoing conversation with each member, the movie uses a narrator, who guides the audience along to make sure that we receive the right message. The narrator has the benefit of hindsight and is able to steer the audience to conclusions that weren’t even thought of during the tour, whereas in the series the band members talk directly to the camera while on tour, telling about their past, their hardships and friendship, and their wishes and hopes.

The main function of the narrator is to make BTS look less dorky (and human?) and enhance the view on them as the symbiotic work unit that they also are. Scenes that may seem to work against this view have been omitted, so Jungkook no longer passes out as only the clip with the icepack remains in the movie along with a brief mention of his indisposition. V and Jin no longer argue either, we only hear group leader RM’s consoling words to V before they go on stage, which without the context I found a bit confusing.

Instead the narrator lets the audience know that BTS don’t argue because they have learned to tone down their differences to become one and that injuries don’t matter to them because they have each other’s back. We even see this clearly in the movie, where V consoles member Jimin, when he cries in frustration over himself, whereas in the series, it is a staff member who comes to his aid.

The narrator furthermore goes on to say that BTS don’t need time apart because they treat each other with love and respect like friends and brothers, so scenes from the series where member Suga admits that he likes his alone-time and goes shopping for electronics on his own have been replaced with scenes of him and Jin going shopping in the movie. In the same way scenes in the series where BTS go to a restaurant without Suga and drink in the hotel without Jungkook have been replaced with the (equally entertaining) barbeque/pool scene where all seven are together.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t miss the pool scene for anything in the movie, but by omitting the more nitty-gritty scenes we don’t get to see just how strong the bond is between the BTS members and how they come together as one to solve their problems with grace and dignity in a very mature way like after the argument. Besides, the movie uses random footage from the tour as cutaway shots for the narration, regardless of what the shots originally signified, so scenes from, say, arguments can now be used as scenes of unity, which is rather confusing if you already know the series.

In any case, the narration is very poetic and emotive, referring to the dessert and sea lyrics from the hidden BTS track “The Sea” on their album “Love Yourself: Her”, and it often replaces the real sound of the band members talking so the audience is no longer a fly on the wall but is now looking at BTS through the filter of the narrator. Personally, I felt that some sort of glass wall had been put between BTS and me in the sense that the narrator made me very aware that I was sitting in a cinema and watching BTS on the big screen whereas in the series, I felt I was there, right in the middle of the tour along with the BTS members. In any case, many A.R.M.Y.s like the narration better than the original interviews with BTS because it is more poetic.

There are still interviews with BTS in the movie, though, as replacing the missing series-interviews, short new interviews with each member have been put at the end of the movie. Like the narrator, BTS now have the benefit of hindsight as well, so although the interviews seem fresh as they are much newer than the ones in the series, they lack a bit of the authenticity that the old ones had because they were conducted during the tour.

BTS members and cameos
Because BTS are now presented as a unit with no personality clashes, we don’t really get to see the different personalities of the group members in the movie like we did in the series. Here all seven of them stood out in their own way and we got to see them as the seven very talented, funny and individual persons who we as A.R.M.Y. know and love, but in the movie, only Suga and Jin stand out. Jin’s character is much brighter and funnier in the movie than in the series and Suga is outright hilarious! The five others BTS members are portraited much vaguer and almost one-dimensional in the movie.

On the other hand, V’s adorable Pomeranian puppy Yeontan and Big Hit Entertainment’s founder and CEO Bang Sihyuk (Hitman Bang) both cameo in the movie, something they don’t do in the series, and to be honest, they both got spontaneous applause much larger than BTS from the cinema audience, especially Yeontan.

Why the changes were made
To answer the question why Big Hit has made changes from the YouTube series to the movie, using a narrator, different scenes and a displaced timeline, I think the main reason is exactly what the movie shows: the lives of BTS are different now than when they started filming “Burn the Stage” for YouTube. They have made it to the top of the music industry now and are no longer uncertain of what is going to happen after the Wings tour like they were in the series. Furthermore, having reached international fame, Big Hit must be much more careful what they share about BTS as in our present political and social climate, even the most innocent things can be distorted and made into controversial fake news.

As BTS always think of A.R.M.Y. before themselves, I guess the changes also have been made to avoid upsetting A.R.M.Y. further by showing how hard the life as BTS can be at times, as that upset many when the series came out. Maybe Big Hit reasoned too that A.R.M.Y. have already paid for the series, so to give them value for their money, the theatrical version of the documentary had to be something completely different.

Finally, another reason for the changes is surely, that when you cut down four hours of documentary from a series to the very short runtime of 84 minutes of the theatrical version, you must find a new format and a new story or plot if you will. The plot of the series was how BTS managed to conquer America while on tour, and although it was a bit repetitious at times when you reached episode 6, you keep going anyway, as BTS is always darn good company.

The plot of the movie is far from as clear, as it is basically about the acclaimed entertainment unit BTS, who upon winning the Billboard Awards the first time, has a desire to perform at the award show the year after. Personally, I would have liked a plot a bit more solid like the one touched upon by RM in some of the last scenes in the movie. RM, who is a genius with an IQ of 148, mentions that living the hectic life as a member of BTS, they each have to find a way to live happily as this is what they tell their fans to do. In his mind, it is neither right nor authentic to ask A.R.M.Y. to be happy, if BTS are not happy themselves. This struggle to find happiness in such a hectic and public life would have been really interesting, but it is only mentioned briefly.

Odd things, great things
Had the movie been longer, say two hours, it would have been more realistic to keep the old gritty storyline, but the short runtime is not enough to get under the skin of BTS. Despite Hitman Bang mentioning in the movie that people love BTS because of their rookie mentality, this mentality doesn’t quite come across. I found that out when speaking to non-A.R.M.Y.s who have watched the movie, because they don’t understand why we, A.R.M.Y., love BTS so much.

The non-A.R.M.Y. audience I met praised the hard work and great success of BTS, but they found that BTS came across as your typical teenage idol band on screen and not the particularly humble, kind and different artists, that we as A.R.M.Y. know, who bravely speak about subjects like mental health, social awareness, equal rights etc. I guess much of BTS’ amazing chemistry, talent, silliness, kindness and social and cultural bravery is lost in the transition from series to movie if you’re not a fan, who knows that these qualities are there.

Another thing lost in the transition is the spelling of BTS’ names. I found it really odd that they were spelled in a different way in the movie than what they usually are. RM’s real name is Namjoon and Suga’s is Yoongi, but the movie subs spell them Namjun and Yunki. It is not wrong, as both are Romanized versions of the Korean names, but as the movie is BTS’ calling card, why introduce the members with names spelled in a way that you won’t see anywhere else?

When that is said, it seems that the majority of A.R.M.Y.s prefers the movie to the series as it has a much more poetic, light and positive vibe to it. As a professional writer, I personally prefer the series, though, as I have always been told: “show, don’t tell”, and the movie with its narrator tells whereas the series with its fly-on-the-wall approach shows.

When it comes to viewing, though, the movie is way better as in the cinema I met a lot of lovely fellow A.R.M.Y.s who come from all walks of life and range from preteens to grandparents. Meeting A.R.M.Y. is rare, particularly here in Denmark that must be one of the only western countries where the press won’t take BTS seriously as they think they are the new One Direction and not what they really are; the Beatles of their generation who through their music, lyrics, messages and actions have a lot of cultural, social and, let’s just admit it, political influence and power worldwide.

Behind the stage and behind the scene
All in all, I think both the series and the movie are worth seeing, no matter if you are A.R.M.Y. or not. With their many differences, the two productions would benefit from having different titles, though, so that people won’t get them mixed up. Personally I find “Burn the Stage” a great title for the movie as it is mostly an introduction to BTS and their workload, but the series could successfully change name to “Behind the Scene” as this is more about what goes on in the private lives of the group members and it is where you’ll be able to get a closer and more detailed look into the BTS members and their world. Like a friend of my daughter put it, “The movie shows you BTS behind the stage, but the series shows them behind the scene”.

As I’m A.R.M.Y. I have already bought “Burn the Stage” the series and watched it several times with great pleasure and should the movie be available on DVD someday, I will definitely buy it too, as I’m already looking forward to seeing Yeontan again along with the pool scene and Suga with his red wine, not to mention the credits. You really have to watch all the credits. They are almost as hilarious as Suga!

N.B. Before you wonder why I haven’t mentioned BTS member J-Hope: J-Hope is my bias and as a J-Hope stan I was devastated to see all his great scenes from the series missing in the movie. Furthermore, as a Soapie I was equally devastated to see all the Sope (Suga and J-Hope)-moments from the series replaced by Suga and red wine / J-Hope and Yeontan – although it was funny!
I purple you

© Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2018
Proud A.R.M.Y. since spring 2016


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