“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.

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” (2007) Book Review

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” (2007) Book Review

I usually do not post book reviews, but a great deal has been made about this last installment of J.K. Rowling’s “HARRY POTTER” series that I thought I might as well say something. I have only been a die hard fan of the series since the release of the third movie, ”PRISONER OF AZKABAN” in 2004. I had also seen the first two movies in the theaters. I had enjoyed both, but it was the third film that had induced me to read the novels. Between ”AZKABAN” and the books, I became a die-hard fan. But this is not about the other stories. This is about the last . . . ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS”

I am going to make this short. As much as I have enjoyed the series, I have come to the realization that I like the last five novels – starting with ”AZKABAN” more than I do the first two. I guess I find it easier to relate the increasingly ambiguous nature of the story. And if there is one thing I can say about ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” is that it is one hell of an ambiguous novel. In it, Harry Potter and his two friends – Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger – truly start on their road to adulthood. And this, I believe, is the major strength of this novel.

By the time I came to the middle of the novel, I realized that for the first time in the series, most of its setting would take place away from Hogswarts. A part of me felt slightly disappointed that Harry, Ron and Hermoine did not reach the school until the last several chapters of the novel. On the other hand, I feel that this was the correct thing for Rowling to do. For me, ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” definitely seemed like a ”coming of age” story for our three protagonists. It was a maturity that they strongly needed in order to face the main villain, Lord Voldemort (aka Tom Riddle) and his Death Eaters. Looking back on the story, I do not think that Harry, Ron and Hermoine would have acquired their maturity and backbone if the story had mainly been set at Hogswarts. I think it was a very good move on Rowling’s part.

And our three heroes truly did grow. Hermoine learned to face her feelings for Ron and overcome that narrow-minded superiority that originally made her dismiss the legend of the Deathly Hallows. Ron learned to overcome his insecurity about his abilities as a wizard, his views on non-human magical creatures like house elves . . . and face his feelings for Hermoine. And Harry learned to overcome his tendency to play lone wolf and realize that people are not always what they seemed to be. The truths about Sirius’ treatment of Kreacher, Dumbledore’s past and his desires for powers, Snape’s feelings for Lily Potter and his true role in the war against Voldemort were powerful lessons for Harry. And I guess one could say they were powerful lessons for Ron and Hermoine, as well.

Of course, the deaths of Fred Weasley, Colin Creevy, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks and others were painful. But it were the deaths of Dobby and Severus Snape that really moved me to tears. And the trio’s painful adventures throughout the British Isles seemed like another version of Homer’s “ODYSSEY” that probably lifted this last installment almost to an epic quality. I only have three complaints about ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS”:

a) Aside from Horace Slughorn, none of the Slytherins had participated in the battle. It annoyed me that Rowling went through all of that trouble to allow Harry not to judge others for superficial reasons . . . and yet, she insisted upon maintaining the clichés about the Slytherins that they could not be trusted;

b) I wish that Harry had revealed to the others – especially the other Death Eaters that Voldemort was a half-blood;

c) The final battle at Hogswarts seemed like one chapter too long at times. But what can one expect when it was interrupted twice – first by Snape’s death and past memories and later by Harry’s ghostly encounter with Dumbledore?

But ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS” also had some great moments. Here are my favorites:

a) Bill and Fleur’s wedding was a hilarious family affair for the Weasleys, until Kingsley Shacklebolt’s patronus warned them of the encoming Death Eaters;

b) Harry, Ron and Hermoine’s adventures in London – including their break-in of the Ministry of Magic;

c) Ron’s return and Hermoine’s reaction;

d) The trio’s adventures at the Malfoy Manor and their reunion with Dobby, Ollivander, Dean Thomas and Luna Lovegood;

e) The trio’s escape from Gringotts on a blind dragon;

f) Harry and Hermoine’s creepy visit to Godric’s Hollow;

g) The trio’s visit to the Lovegood home;

h) The trio’s encounter with Albeforth Dumbledore;

i) The trio’s return to Hogswarts;

j) Ron and Hermoine’s first kiss;

k) Ginny’s birthday kiss to Harry;

l) The chapter on Snape’s memories of Lily Evans Potter and Albus Dumbledore – which in my opinion was my favorite in the entire novel.

I wonder if J.K. Rowling will write any other books, now that she has finished her opus on the boy wizard, Harry Potter. If she does, I hope that they will be as excellent as the seven novels that have entertained the public for the last decade. But if her next book or books are not as good, I will not hold it against her. After all, she did create Harry Potter for all of us to enjoy for years to come – in both the novels and the movies.