Beasts, Beasts, and More Beasts

by John Downey '23 on May 6, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Beasts, Beasts, and More Beasts

Film Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

By Abigail Levasseur ’24

It’s no secret that Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore has been ranked number one internationally for three consecutive weekends. The film is the third installment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald being the first and second films in the series, respectively.

The Fantastic Beasts trilogy is a spin-off of the Harry Potter franchise written by J.K. Rowling herself, so The Secrets of Dumbledore is sure to delight Potter fans. In fact, a handful of Harry Potter characters, such as Albus Dumbledore, Aberforth Dumbledore, Ariana Dumbledore, and Minerva McGonagall, all make appearances in the new movie. The film also includes shots of Hogwarts and The Great Hall, two important locations in the Potter franchise.

However, The Secrets of Dumbledore has been in the news for reasons other than its ties to the beloved tale of the boy wizard with a lightning scar: actor Johnny Depp, who has previously portrayed the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, did not return for this installment. 

Depp has come under scrutiny as of late for his court case Depp vs. News Group Newspapers, so Warner Bros. asked him to resign from the production. He apparently filmed one scene in London before being pressured to leave the film, and was reportedly paid $10-16 million for these unused scenes. Mads Mikkelson stepped in as Depp’s replacement. The actor reportedly decided not to emulate Depp’s previous performance, believing that doing so would be “creative suicide.” 

The plot of Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore centers around one fantastic beast in particular: the Qilin. Qilins are bambi-like deers with the special ability to detect pure hearts and honorability. The film’s opening scene sees two of these creatures meet very different fates: one is rescued by awkward protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), lover of magical creatures, and the other falls into Grindelwald’s hands. 

The main conflict point in the film is the 1932 election for the head of the International Confederation of Wizards. The candidates include Vicencia Santos, Liu Tao, and, most importantly, Grindelwald. Grindelwald aims to use the Qilin to show he has a pure heart so as to prove his political worth. However, since Grindelwald’s heart is corrupted, the Quilin will only bow to him in a resurrected form, so Grindelwald slaughters the creature and then revives it. Scamander, Dumbledore (Jude Law), and their friends work to discredit Grindelwald by revealing the living Qilin rescued by Newt, hoping to demonstrate that it will refuse to bow to the dark wizard.

Those keen on fantastic beasts more ferocious than the wholesome Qilin will enjoy another new creature that the movie introduces: the Giant Crab Manticore. In one memorable scene, Scamander and his brother must escape the Manticore’s snapping tentacles, acting like crabs to do so in one of the film’s most comical moments. Such comic relief is a welcome break from the movie’s intense plot. 

For those interested in watching Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, it is worth researching the film on Wikipedia before doing so, especially for those unfamiliar with the franchise or the wider Wizarding World.

Stellar The Batman Delivers the Batman of Comic Book Lore

by John Downey '23 on April 8, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Stellar The Batman Delivers the Batman of Comic Book Lore

Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson Give New Life to the Superhero

Aidan Lerner ’22 

Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the most accurate depiction of the character to appear in a live-action film with regard to the film’s adherence to the characteristics that have been foundational to Batman since his 1939 comic book inception. 

In March, The Batman became the first solo Batman film released since 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Zack Snyder’s attempted murder of the character in assorted, horrible Justice League movies from 2016-2021 does not count. In 10 years, this reporter has probably watched Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies upwards of 20 different times. That said, a fresh take on the character was much-needed, one that would leave behind some of the quirks Nolan and his Batman, Christian Bale, brought to the role—self-seriousness, bizarre combat edits, a raspy voice, etc. In that regard, The Batman is a slam-dunk.

The Batman follows a Bruce Wayne who is about two years into his crime-fighting journey. The film does a good job portraying a Batman at this early stage in his career without falling into the trappings of the origin story that viewers have seen so many times. For one, throughout the film, Batman’s tactics and gadgets lack polish. Batman struggles to execute his patented glide, and his Batcave is noticeably low-tech. A great sequence throughout the film captures Wayne’s many attempts to gain access to the Iceberg Lounge: he initially does so clumsily by force before figuring out a stealthier way in by the film’s climax.

A common complaint about The Batman is that it does not portray the “traditional” Bruce Wayne, or the billionaire playboy. Robert Pattinson barely cracks a grin for the entire three-hour runtime, and his version of Wayne has none of the charisma that past iterations of the character have. In fact, this Batman movie, more than any other, predominantly features Wayne’s masked alter-ego, and viewers can count the number of “Bruce” scenes on two hands. It was a bold take on Reeves’ part, but it paid off. Bruce Wayne, the playboy, is window-dressing. It is more fitting that the character’s formative years see him ignore everything else in his life as he fights crime. The Batman’s Bruce Wayne is not pretending at any point in the movie; he is Batman 24/7.

The best part of Pattinson’s performance is that he truly imbues it with a clear character arc in mind. This is a movie about how Wayne learns to become the Batman audiences know and love. The voiceover that bookends the film was a little too on-the-nose at points, but it was worth it to show Wayne’s journey from agent of vengeance to genuine hero. Indeed, after all of the film’s violence, it is a perfect touch to have Batman’s final act in the movie be to guide Gotham citizens to safety. Paul Dano’s Riddler, predictably insane, truly believes that Batman is his partner in crime, and audiences can see why. For most of the film, Batman acts as little more than a thug, chasing clues and beating up bad guys.

Take the Batmobile chase sequence, for instance. This Batmobile forsakes sleekness and is instead a ferocious demon of vengeance unto itself. It is a rip-roaring new vision of the iconic vehicle, and it mercilessly succeeds in hunting down Colin Farrell’s Penguin—but Batman only does so because he believes Penguin to be the answer to a riddle.

Dano does a great job imbuing Riddler with both intimidation and desperation. Viewers fear him for being one step ahead of the film’s heroes, yet it is easy to sympathize with his mission, as they can see what the city’s corruption has done to him. At the end of his trail of bruised bodies, the Riddler is genuinely dismayed to discover that Batman is working against him, just as Wayne is dismayed to realize that he has been doing everything Riddler wanted.

This is why the resolution of The Batman works so well. There is a recognition on Wayne’s part that his cycle of vengeance can only get him so far. He realizes that Batman can be something more than he ever intended, more than just an expression of his childhood rage. In several Batman stories, it is said that when Bruce Wayne dreams that he is Batman, he considers the cape and cowl to be more a part of his identity than his daytime appearance. The Batman embraces this lore and uses it to give the character his most complete story to date.

A review of The Batman would not be complete without reference to Zoë Kravitz and Jeffrey Wright as Catwoman and Jim Gordon, respectively. Both are exceptional at playing off Pattinson and nail the tone of the film and the essence of their characters. Kravitz, in particular, harnesses a chemistry and energy that elevates the film every time she is on screen.

The Batman delivers on the anticipation surrounding it and proves that the Batman franchise is in the right hands with Reeves and Pattinson. The runtime, though daunting, is not overlong, and it is a real delight to spend time with Batman in a boldly realized red-black Gotham. More content set in this Gotham, including a sequel, is bound to come, and fans should be excited to watch Reeves build on the tone and cinematography of this installment. 

Ironically, the future is bright in Gotham.

Rating: 9/10 stars

Film Review: jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy

by John Downey '23 on March 26, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Film Review: jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy

An Intimate Look at Kanye West’s Life and Career

Talia Rueda ’23

Fans of Kanye West can now catch a glimpse into the saga of the artist’s battles and brilliance that have unfolded over the course of his 20-year career thanks to West’s longtime friend, filmmaker Coodie Simmons.

Although some fans of West may not know much about Simmons or may have never even heard of him, jeen-yuhs, the new docuseries from Simmons about West’s life, proves that the two have had quite a mutually impactful relationship. Their connection has ebbed and flowed over the years, but has shaped both into the creatives that they are today.

The first part of jeen-yuhs aired on Jan. 23 and took viewers right back to the early 2000s, the beginning of West’s career. It follows him making beats as he lives in various studio apartments, yearning for more in life. Witnessing the humble beginnings of one of today’s most well-known artists is not only dumbfounding, but also does exactly what a documentary strives to do: create a greater appreciation and admiration for such a person.

West came from nothing and strove to break barriers in the music industry. He did not simply want to release his first album, The College Dropout, but also wanted Chicago to be represented in the rap scene and for those in the music industry to acknowledge his production and rap skills as two separate talents, as labels initially only saw him as a producer. 

While this was not necessarily a bad thing, as his production was high-quality, it proved to be to his detriment because his production skills were so elevated that no one thought his rapping talents could be of that caliber as well. However, the release of his music video for his single “Through the Wire” changed everything. The praise he received for it led Rock-A-Fella Records to fund his first album. 

The documentary demonstrates how at this moment in his life, West receives what he had long hoped for: recognition, appreciation, and fame. Along with these exciting developments, however, comes a strain on his relationship with Coodie, as well as increasing controversy over his boldness as both an individual and as an artist. To add difficulty to an already conflict-laden time in West’s life, this period sees him excitedly win Grammy awards while also grappling with the death of his beloved mother, Donda.

Jeen-yuhs emphasizes that despite this tragic loss, West does not take a break from making music, rather working tirelessly and dedicating his artistry to his mother. Notably, at this point in the documentary, Coodie and Kanye have not seen one another for six years.

Their reunion comes at a music festival. In the documentary, Coodie expresses how he was nervous to see his old friend after so much time had passed. He recalls how odd he felt that though he knew West from the beginning of his career, he did not know “Yeezus,” or the persona West was embodying at the time.

At this point in his life, West is seemingly on top of the world. His career has reached new heights as he embarks on his The Life of Pablo tour, launches the Yeezy clothing line, and experiences the joys of marriage and fatherhood.

Coodie remains behind the scenes throughout this period, capturing West’s life from afar as his old friend’s battles begin to outweigh his brilliance. The documentary shows West’s infamous social media rants and the growing concerns of those around him before depicting the artist receiving the mental health care he needs. During this time in West’s life, he and Coodie ultimately reconnected, per the rapper’s request. 

The film next explores how West’s diagnosis with bipolar proves accurate as he continues to make erratic statements to the public. Coodie captures several spur-of-the-moment rants from the artist that make little to no sense.

The footage from the most recent years of West’s life and career is perhaps the most up close, personal, and insular to the artist. Coodie documents West’s recent prioritization of spirituality as well as his life in the Mercedes Benz stadium while creating DONDA. Coodie is there for West in the artist’s most vulnerable times, capturing not only the iconic moments of West’s career, but supporting him off-screen when the bad outweighs the good.

The documentary suggests that West and Coodie’s bond represents the ups and downs of the rapper’s career. During the period in which the two lost contact, the rising star was making a name for himself and figuring out who he wanted to be; now that he has grown into himself and become an influential artist, he seemingly yearns for deeper connections with those who knew his younger self. Although fans may not have expected this relationship to be such a focal point of the film, when considering West’s journey as an artist and person, it makes a great deal of sense.

jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy is now streaming on Netflix.

To Eat or Not to Eat? The Choice May Not Be Yours

by John Downey '23 on March 3, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

To Eat or Not to Eat? The Choice May Not Be Yours

Film Review of The Platform

By Nicole Patano ’22

Hay tres clases des personas: los de arriba, los de abajo, los que caen. Such is the way in “The Pit,” a vertical prison imagined by writers David Desola and Pedro Rivera and put onto screen by director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia in The Platform (originally, El Hoyo). The Pit consists of at least 333 levels, with two prisoners on each level. Every day, a platform filled with a decadent array of food lowers from level zero until it reaches the last level, at which point it returns to level zero, always with no food remaining—only bones and broken bottles. 

At each level, the prisoners have two minutes to eat whatever they can; all food or scraps must be returned to the platform when it lowers or else the prisoners on that level will be boiled or frozen alive. By the time the platform descends 50 levels, most of the food has already been consumed or defiled by the 98 people above. Those on the higher levels—los de arriba—gorge themselves without thinking of those on the lower levels—los de abajo. The only exception is when those at the top step, spit, urinate, and defecate on the food in an attempt to make it inedible for those below them. 

At first, these acts seem to be completely senseless. It should not affect anyone who has already eaten if the people below them get to eat, right? Unfortunately (though sometimes fortunately), levels are reassigned each month. It matters not your age, race, class, gender, or crime—you can move from level 132 to level eight overnight. Gaztelu-Urrutia smartly places all of the action of The Platform in The Pit to show that regardless of who you are outside in the real world, once you enter The Pit, everyone is the same. 

The Platform is an anti-capitalism film. There is the obvious distinction between the people who run The Pit and the people who live in it; however, there is the added distinction between those at the top and those at the bottom of The Pit. The interesting dynamic in The Platform is the fact that the people within these categories change every month. Yet, you can clearly see how people adjust to their level, either acting with increased greed or desperation, always selfishly. Though one thing remains constant: they feel a sense of superiority over those below them and a sense of resentment towards those above them, even if they were in the same spot just one day ago. 

Empathy does not exist in The Pit. It really is every person for themself, which is why most people bring weapons as their one allowed item into The Pit. Even when some prisoners attempt to get others to ration what they eat in order to get more food to the people on the lower levels, violence and threats are the only effective means of persuasion. Those at the top refuse because they feel as though they deserve to eat better after being at the bottom or to prepare themselves for being at the bottom. Those at the bottom refuse because they need to eat all that they can to survive. 

Beyond its commentary on capitalism and power, The Platform is a fascinating look into individual responsibility and morality. What role can the individual play in destroying or reforming an unjust system? The film suggests that while individuals can only do so much, cooperation between individuals is necessary to make life in an unjust system survivable. Though, paradoxically, people must die in order to make the system survivable. Is it possible to ensure everyone in The Pit (or in society) can survive? The Platform suggests that the answer is “no.” In an unjust society, some must die so that others can live—hence, los que caen, those who fall. 

In addition to the primary message of The Platform, there is a secondary plot that viewers are introduced to early into the film: a mother who rides down the platform each month, desperate not for food but her child, whom she believes to be somewhere in The Pit. No children are supposed to be in The Pit; such a policy is meant to make The Pit a humane place. What would it mean if a child were discovered by those who prepare the food every day but who are not fully aware of how what happens to the food once it leaves level zero? You will have to watch The Platform to find out—though the ending may not leave you satisfied. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

Film Review: House of Gucci

by The Cowl Editor on December 11, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

Film Review: House of Gucci

Lady Gaga Brings Infamous Saga to Life

Kate Picone ’22

After months of anticipation, the thrilling film House of Gucci was released in theaters on Nov. 24. The movie stars Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, the ex-wife of Maurizio Gucci, played by Adam Driver. Based on the 2001 book, The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, the film follows Reggiani and Gucci’s marriage from a promising beginning to a horrific end as they and other members of their family build the Gucci empire. While this description suggests that the movie is a documentary, it is much more of a mysterious thriller drama, featuring betrayal, greed, revenge, and even murder.

However, some critics and moviegoers have criticized the message that Gaga seems to send with her portrayal of the scorned ex-wife. She said in an interview with NPR that she wanted to tell a story about women and survival, rather than focusing on the violence of Reggiani’s actions. However, the actress did admit that Reggiani ultimately did turn into a monster. Indeed, in real life, Reggiani was convicted of having her husband killed after he had many affairs and treated her poorly when all she had done was support him. She came from humble beginnings, and once she married into the Gucci family, her ambition began to grow. Reggiani had a good head for business, but the Gucci family did not take her seriously because of their own sexism. Although she came up with many ideas to grow the brand and shape it into what it is today, time and time again, she was not credited for her efforts. This lack of recognition, combined with how Reggiani’s husband treated her, informed Gaga’s performance.  

Another critique of the film is the actors’ accents, especially Gaga’s, with many noting how it changes throughout the film. However, Gaga spent nine months with a vocal coach in order to perfect her Italian accent and has expressed in multiple interviews that she altered her accent throughout the movie on purpose. She wanted to make it specific to Reggiani’s progression in life, beginning the movie with a higher pitch in her voice, and as the film goes on, making her voice lower and stronger, to reflect how Reggiani was innocent when she first entered the Gucci family and how the brand and her marriage changed her.

Despite these critiques, the film has become an immediate hit, with people rushing to theaters when it came out and continuing to do so. It has grossed 21.4 million dollars at the box office, scored a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes, and received a 7/10 rating on IMDb. For those who have not seen House of Gucci yet, it’s definitely worth checking out over the winter break.