Talk Film Society Seal of Approval: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange, Finding Dory, The Jungle Book
Last week, the Talk Film Society Seal of Approval was awarded to all three new contenders; Arrival, Swiss Army Man, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. While it was easy for both Arrival and Hunt for the Wilderpeople to be securely favoured by voters (with 82% and 90% respectively), Swiss Army Man barely had enough gas to achieve the 70% necessary for the Seal, in a race that was decided by a handful of votes in the final hour.
Now that the year is beginning to come to a close, we're looking at some of the biggest blockbusters from the past couple of months, two which are still on the minds of many moviegoers, and two from earlier in the year that dominated their respective seasons.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
This new chapter in the Harry Potter franchise from director David Yates (who previously helmed the last four entries in the series) is a prequel spin-off, set in 1926 New York and following 'magizoologist' Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he attempts to track down a number of creatures which have escaped from the confines of his magic briefcase.
While some have derided Fantastic Beasts as being nothing but a cash grab, it does provide a way to expand upon writer J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World in a unique way - with a new set of characters, time period, and plot structure to explore. The fact that Rowling herself is credited with writing the screenplay gives the film a sense of canon authenticity to the rest of the Harry Potter films, and it will be interesting to see how these stories will bridge together, since Warner Bros has announced that Fantastic Beasts will be a franchise with five films.
Taking in $74 million in North America and $145 million in foreign territories on its first weekend, it would seem that audiences are totally invested in seeing more films in this magical universe, though it remains to be seen if that sense of enthusiasm will carry forward in the years to come.
It took several decades to happen, but Marvel's Doctor Strange finally hit the big screen earlier this month, and in a big way. The famed character, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the 1960s, represents a new mystical terrain for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to explore, unlike anything they've done to date, and brought to life with some resoundingly effective and trippy visuals.
The story of famed surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who after losing the ability to be proficient with his work after a deadly accident, is reborn through learning the mystic arts and taking on the mantle of the Sorcerer Supreme. Despite following the standard beats of the hero's journey, Doctor Strange appears to have connected with audiences in a big way, many calling it one of the freshest films that Marvel Studios has produced in years.
With a 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes and close to $600 million at the worldwide box office, it would appear that Doctor Strange satisfies both critics and audiences alike, though whether its deserving of the TFS Seal or not is another matter entirely...
Releasing thirteen years after the original family film which became a blockbuster sensation, Disney-Pixar's Finding Dory sees the titular blue tang fish off on a mission to become relocated with her family, that results in a trip to a marine life institute and a new cast of colourful characters to offer.
It goes without saying that Finding Dory was going to be a hit the moment it was announced several years ago, based on the immense pop culture impact of Pixar and the wide range appeal across many types of audiences. Not only did it surpass the original film's box office success, it's managed to wind up in the top ten highest grossing films of all-time list, and also the fifth highest grossing sequel of all time.
Only one other Pixar title has managed to receive the TFS Seal (Inside Out), though it would be amazing to see more from the widely-celebrated animation studio join the ranks of other highly regarded films.
The Jungle Book
Jon Favreau's live-action reimagining (well, one made entirely with computer generated backgrounds and characters and one human) of the classic Disney animation has been regarded as one of the more successful examples of Disney updating one of their fabled hand-drawn animated works for modern audiences.
The story remains much the same, the man cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) raised in a pack of wolves is cast away into the jungle by the predatory tiger Shere Khan, setting about to find new allies and a way to survive the dangers which exist all around him. While some creative liberties are taken in the handling of the plot, it remains just as compelling and entertaining as the 1967 film of which it takes its basis from.
Despite the level of artificiality in the production, the quality of the VFX in The Jungle Book received widespread praise for their photogenic nature. Just as well, the voice acting from the diverse cast including Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita N'yongo, Ben Kingsley, Giancarlo Esposito, and Christopher Walken was considered to be a robust assemblage of acting talent both paying tribute and being a new take on such iconic characters.