“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” (2016) Review

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“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” (2016) Review

After the 2011 movie “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” hit the movie theaters, I had assumed that would be the last film set in J.K. Rowling’s “wizarding world of Harry Potter”. Her 2007 novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was her last one in a series of seven books. But . . . lo and behold, Warner Brothers Studios, who had released the films based upon her novel, found a way to continue the series. The end result was the release of the recent film, “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” is based upon a 2001 book written by Rowling. Somewhat. First of all, the book is not a novel, but a “scholarly” book about the magical creatures found in the Harry Potter universe. Second of all, the book was published under the fictional pen name of one Newt Scamander. What Rowlings, who served as the film’s screenwriter, did was used the Newt Scamander pen name and transformed him into the movie’s main character. In the film, British wizard and “magizoologist” Newt Scamander arrives by boat to New York City in the fall of 1926. Newt has arrived in the United States to release a magical creature called the Thunderbird in the Arizona desert. While listening to a sidewalk speech given by a non-magical (No-Maj) fanatic named Mary Lou Barebone, one of his charges – a creature called Nifler escapes from his magically expanded suitcase, which contains other magical creatures. Even worse, he meets No-Maj cannery worker and aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski, and they accidentally swap suitcases. As Newt struggles to regain possession of his suitcase, Nifler and other magical creatures that have managed to escape; he runs afoul of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), thanks to a demoted auror named Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, eager to regain her position. Between his search for his missing magical creatures, regaining his suitcase from Jacob Kowalski and the MACUSA; Newt has to deal with a creature called the Obscurus, which uses children as host bodies and is causing destruction around Manhattan and not attract the attention of Ms. Barebone and her abused adopted children – including the adolescent Credence Barebone.

When I first saw “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, I was surprised to discover that J.K. Rowling was the movie’s sole screenwriter. I found this especially surprising, considering that one of the movie’s producers happened to be Steve Kloves, who had served as screenwriter for seven of the eight “HARRY POTTER” movies. And I must say that I thought she did a pretty damn good job. At first, I thought Rowling had created a disjointed tale. The movie seemed to possess at least three separate plot lines:

*Newt’s search for the missing creatures in his possession

*The Obscurus’ destruction

*Mary Lou Barebone’s anti-magic campaign

But Tina Goldstein finally exposed Newt’s magical suitcase to MACUSA, Newt’s plot line became connected to the story arc regarding the Obscurus. And both story arcs became connected to Mrs. Barebone’s anti-magic campaign when audiences learned that MACUSA Director of Magical Security Percival Graves had recruited Credence to help him locate the child who might be the Obscurus. Seeing how these individual story arcs formed to become part of one main narrative reminded me of the 2008 World War II Spike Lee drama, “MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA”. Speaking of World War II, I was happily surprised to learn that a major plot twist near the end of “FANTASTIC BEASTS” promises to lead to the featured a major plot twist that will serve as part of this new series’ main narrative about the upcoming Global wizarding war that will play out during the rise of fascism and the war. How clever of Rowling.

What else did I like about the movie? Frankly, the production designs. I was very impressed by Stuart Craig and James Hambidge’s re-creation of 1926 Manhattan. For me, among their best work proved to be their creation of a 1920s magical speakeasy operated by a goblin gangster named Gnarlack. Nor am I surprised that the pair managed to earn an Oscar nomination for their work. I was also impressed by Colleen Atwood’s costume designs for the film. One, she did an excellent job in re-creating the fashion of the mid-1920s. More importantly, Atwood put an interesting fantasy twist for the costumes worn by the magical characters. For some reason, the clothes worn by the American wizarding community of the 1920s seemed to be more tasteful and elegant than those worn by the British wizarding community of the late 20th/early 21st century. And guess what? Ms. Atwood also earned an Oscar nomination for her work. The only problem I had with the movie’s technical effects was Philippe Rousselot’s photography. Mind you, I had no problems with the film’s epic sweep. But I did not particularly care for the photography’s brown tint – a color that I personally found unnecessary and rather disappointing. I realize that the story is set during the middle of autumn. But was it really necessary to photograph the movie with an unflattering brown tint to indicate the time of the year?

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Eddie Redmayne did a marvelous job in portraying the introverted wizard Newt Scamander, who seemed to have an easier job of interacting with the creatures in his care instead of his fellow humans. I also noticed that in one hilarious scene, which involved Newt’s attempt to recapture an African Erumpent at the city zoo, Redmayne displayed a talent for physical comedy by engaging with a “mating dance” with the animal. Katherine Waterston, whom I last saw in the 2015 drama “STEVE JOBS”, gave a very intense, yet engaging performance as the demoted auror, Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein. I was impressed by how Waterston combined two aspects of Tina’s personality – her driving ambition, which has come close to undermining her strong penchant for decency on a few occasions. Dan Fogler gave a very entertaining and funny performance as the No-Maj cannery worker and wannabe baker, Jacob Kowalski. Not only did I find his performance very funny, he also managed to create a strong screen chemistry with both Eddie Redmayne and Alison Sudol, who portrayed Tina’s sister Quennie Goldstein. Sudol was an absolute delight as the carefree witch, who is not only proficient in Legilimens, but who also falls in love with Jacob.

I never thought I would see Colin Farrell in a “HARRY POTTER” film. To be honest, he never struck me as the type. But he seemed to fit quite well in his excellent portrayal of the ruthless and intense Auror and Director of Magical Security for MACUSA, Percival Graves. I was especially impressed with his performance in scenes that featured Graves’ interactions with Credence Barebone – scenes that seemed to hint some mild form of erotic manipulation. Speaking of Mr. Barebone, Ezra Miller was in fine form as the emotionally repressed Credence. The ironic thing about Miller’s performance is that at first, his character seemed slightly creepy. In fact, one could label his Credence a “young American Severus Snape with a bad haircut and no wit”. Thanks to Rowling’s screenplay and Miller’s performance, I came away with a portrait of a sad and abused young man, who hand channeled his anger at those who exploit him via magic.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” marked the first time in which I can recall a magical person of color as a major supporting role – namely the MACUSA’s elegant president Seraphina Picquery, portrayed by Carmen Ejogo. Unlike characters such as Dean Thomas or Kingsley Shacklebolt, President Picquery was not simply allowed to speak a few lines before being swept to the sidelines or off screen. Audiences received more than a glimpse of the glamorous Seraphina. I was also happy to discover that President Picquery was not portrayed as some one-dimensional character without any depth. Thanks to Ejogo’s skillful performance, she portrayed the MACUSA as a pragmatic and ruthless woman who could be quite ambiguous in her efforts to maintain order within the American wizarding community. I found myself equally impressed by Samantha Morton’s portrayal of the religious fanatic, Mary Lou Barebone. What really impressed me about Morton’s performance is that she did not resort to excessive dramatics to convey Mrs. Barebone’s fanatical . . . and abusive personality. Morton gave a subtle and intense performance that conveyed a portrait of a rather frightening woman – especially one who was not magical. The movie also featured solid performances from Jon Voight, Ronan Raftery, Josh Cowdery, Faith Wood-Blagrove and Ron Perlman’s voice. The movie also featured a surprise cameo appearance from Johnny Depp, whose character will play an important role in the sequel films that will follow this one.

I find it ironic that when I had first learned about the plans for “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, I was against it. I thought J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers Studio had taken the Harry Potter franchise as far as it could go after seven novels and eight films. And yet . . . after seeing this film, I immediately fell in love with it. The movie had a few flaws. But I ended up enjoying it, thanks to the complex plot written by Rowling, David Yates’ solid direction, the visual effects and the first-rate cast led by Eddie Redmayne. And now . . . I look forward to seeing more films about the different wizarding communities during the early 20th century.

“HORRIBLE BOSSES” (2011) Review

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“HORRIBLE BOSSES” (2011) Review

The summer of 2011 provided moviegoers with a slew of what I would call raunchy black comedies. May saw the release of “BRIDESMAIDS” and “THE HANGOVER, PART II”. “BAD TEACHER” premiered in late June of that year. And early July 2011 saw the release of the most successful of the bunch, “HORRIBLE BOSSES”.

Directed by Seth Gordon, “HORRIBLE BOSSES” starred Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. The trio co-starred as three best friends who decide to murder their respective overbearing, abusive bosses (portrayed by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell) who they believe are standing in the way of their happiness. Nick (Bateman) works at a financial firm for emotionally-abusive Dave Harken (Spacey), who dangles the possibility of a promotion to Nick, only to award it to himself. Dale (Day) endures sexual harassment from his boss, Dr. Julia Harris (Aniston), who threatens to falsely tell Dale’s fiancee that he had sex with her unless he actually has sex with her. And Kurt (Sudeikis) actually enjoys his job under his boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland). But after Jack dies from a heart attack, the company is taken over by Jack’s cocaine-addicted, amoral son Bobby (Farrell). One night at a bar, Kurt jokingly suggests that their lives would be happier if their bosses were no longer around. After a brief hesitation, the trio agree to the idea. In search of a hit-man, the friends travel to a bar and meet Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx), an ex-con who agrees to be their “murder consultant”. Jones suggests that Dale, Kurt and Nick kill each other’s bosses to hide their motive while making the deaths look like an accident.

I really did not know how I would accept “HORRIBLE BOSSES”. Being a fan of the 2009 movie, “THE HANGOVER”, I had found myself slightly disappointed by its first sequel, “THE HANGOVER, PART II”.  To be honest, I did not really anticipate “HORRIBLE BOSSES”. But since I was in the mood to watch a new movie, I went ahead and saw it anyway. And I enjoyed it . . . very much.

Screenwriters Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein did a great job in finalizing a script that took several years to finalize. Superficially, the idea of three amateurs committing murder without attracting the attention of the police seems rather ridiculous. Two of the characters, Nick and Dale, certainly viewed the idea with amusement or disbelief. But further transgressions by their respective bosses finally pushed them to the idea with hilarious results. One of the funniest aspects of “HORRIBLE BOSSES” was the problem that the three friends endured to find a professional hit man to do the job. Their search led to a hilarious meeting at a motel with a man who does “wet work” (Ioan Gruffudd) – namely pissing on his clients. The three friends’ second search for a hit man leads them to a local bar, where Kurt manages to insult an African-American bartender in an effort to be “politically correct”. Their trip to the bar also leads them to “Motherfucker” Jones, an ex-convict who claims to be a hit man. As it turns out, Jones went to prison for video piracy and merely conned the three friends for money. But after agreeing to be their “murder consultant”, his advice for them to kill each other’s boss led to some hilarious scenes, including one that featured Dale’s encounter with the psychotic Dave Harken, when the latter nearly died from accidentally consuming some peanuts.

“HORRIBLE BOSSES” benefited from some funny performances by the supporting cast. Well, most of the supporting cast was funny. Only Donald Sutherland, who portrayed Kurt’s amiable boss, was never given a chance to display his talent for comedy. Thankfully, the likes of Ioan Gruffudd, Julie Bowen, P.J. Byrne and Bob Newhart received the chance to tickle the audiences’ funny bones. The three actors hired to portray the “horrible bosses” proved to be horrifying in a hilarious way. If I have to be honest, Dave Harken was not the first aggressive psycho he has portrayed in a comedy. His performances in “SWIMMING WITH SHARKS” and “THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS” come to mind. Despite his past experiences with such characters, Spacey still managed to make it all look fresh in his portrayal of Nick’s manipulative and aggressively controlling boss. Jennifer Aniston’s performance as Dr. Julia Harris was a revelation. Mind you, her Rachel Green character on the television series, “FRIENDS” was very complex. But I have never seen her portray such a scummy character before . . . and with such comedic skills. Colin Farrell’s appearance in the movie was not as long as Spacey and Aniston’s, but it was just as funny. In fact, I would cite Farrell’s performance as coke-addicted and self-delusional Bobby Pellitt as the funniest of the three performances. His rants against the employees he wanted fired struck me as one of the funniest scenes in the movie. And finally, it was good to see Jamie Foxx in a comedy again. Actually, he had a supporting role in the 2010 movie, “DUE DATE” and he was funny. But his role in that movie seemed mildly amusing in compare to his hilarious portrayal of “Motherfucker” Jones, the criminal wannabe, who seemed more adept at video pirating and posing than being a hardened criminal.

But the craziness of “HORRIBLE BOSSES” could have easily fallen apart without Seth Gordon’s direction and especially the performances of the three leads – Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. As funny as the movie was, it was bizarre enough to fall apart at the slightest misstep. One, the trio made a solid and charismatic comedy team. I would go as far to add that they could easily rival the comedic team from the “HANGOVER” movies. Jason Bateman is deliciously sardonic and witty as the ass-kissing Nick Hendricks, who spent most of his professional career toadying to guys like Dave Harken. I have never been aware of Jason Sudeikis before this movie. I am aware that he had co-starred with Aniston in the 2010 comedy, “THE BOUNTY HUNTER”, but I do not even remember him. He was certainly memorable as the trio’s verbose lady’s man, who first talked his two friends into committing murder. But the funniest performance came from Charlie Day, who portrayed the slightly nervous and “hopelessly romantic” Dale Arbus. It is quite apparent that most of the other characters – including his two buddies – have no real respect for him. Nick and Kurt did not take his complaints of sexual harassment by his boss seriously. One, I suspect they find it hard to believe that any female would find him attractive and two, society views the idea of a man complaining of sexual harassment by a woman seems ludicrous. But it was the hilarious and socially awkward Dale who found an effective way of dealing with the sexually aggressive Julia without any problems, whatsoever.

There have been some complaints about “HORRIBLE BOSSES”. Some critics have complained that the movie was racially or gender-wise offensive. Others have complained that it was silly. I agree that “HORRIBLE BOSSES” was silly . . . but in a positive way. Besides, most comedies of this manner tend to be rather silly. But thanks to a wacky script and a first-rate cast, the silliness in “HORRIBLE BOSSES” made it the most enjoyable comedy I have seen in quite a while. I really look forward to its DVD release.