“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.

“FRANCHISE RANKING: The STAR TREK Movies”

Below is my ranking of the twelve “STAR TREK” movies from my favorite to my least favorite. The movies featured characters from “STAR TREK” (19666-1969) series and “STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION” (1987-1994):

FRANCHISE RANKING: THE “STAR TREK” MOVIES

1. “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986) – Even after so many years, I am still in love with this time travel tale in which the senior officers of the U.S.S. Enterprise go back in time to find a humpback whale, bring it back to 23rd century San Francisco and save the Alpha Quadrant. Leonard Nimoy directed and he co-starred with William Shatner and Catherine Hicks.

2. “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996) – Here is another time travel story that is a major favorite of mine. Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E go back to mid-21st Earth to prevent the Borg from conquering it. Director Jonathan Frakes also co-starred with Patrick Stewart, Alfrie Woodward, Alice Kriege and James Cromwell.

3. “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984) – Following Spock’s death in “The Wrath of Khan”, Kirk and his fellow senior officers steal the U.S.S. Enterprise and return to the planet Genesis in order to find Spock’s body and bond it with the half-Vulcan’s essence, which is inside Leonard McCoy’s body. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, the movie starred William Shatner, DeForest Kelley and Christopher Lloyd.

4. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) – James Kirk and his crew are reunited with an old foe from twenty years earlier, the genetically engineered Khan Noonien Singh. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, the movie starred William Shatner, Leonard McCoy, Ricardo Montalban, Kirstie Alley and Paul Winfield.

5. “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991) – Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise must stop a plot to prevent a peace treaty between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, the movie starred William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Kim Cattrall and Brock Peters.

6. “Star Trek: Generations” (1994) – In this first movie to feature the “NEXT GENERATION” crew; Picard, with the help of supposedly dead James T. Kirk, must stop a madman willing to murder on a planetary scale in order to enter a space matrix. David Carson directed Patrick Stewart, Malcolm McDowell and William Shatner.

7. “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998) – When Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E learn of a Federation plot against the inhabitants of a unique planet, they begin an open rebellion. Director Jonathan Frakes co-starred with Patrick Stewart, Donna Murphy and F. Murray Abraham.

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8. “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013) – Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are charged with tracking down a renegade responsible for the murder of several Starfleet officers, including Admiral Christopher Pike and end up dealing with a conspiracy within Starfleet and an enhanced Human known as Khan. Sequel to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film.

9. “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002) – After the Enterprise-E is diverted to the Romulan planet of Romulus, supposedly because they want to negotiate a truce, the Federation soon find out the Romulans are planning an attack on Earth. Directed by Stuart Baird, the movie starred Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spinner, Tom Hardy and Ron Perlman.

10. “Star Trek” (2009) – Directed by J.J. Abrams, this reboot follows a young James T. Kirk and Spock, before they unite aboard the USS Enterprise to combat a Romulan from their future who threatens the United Federation of Planets. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Zoë Saldaña and Bruce Greenwood. The quality of the “TREK” films begin to waver around this point.

11. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979) – In this lackluster tale, a mysterious and immensely powerful alien cloud called V’ger approaches Earth, destroying everything in its path and Admiral James T. Kirk assumes command of his old starship—the U.S.S. Enterprise to lead it on a mission to save the planet and determine V’ger’s origins. Directed by Robert Wise, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Persis Khambatta and Stephen Collins co-starred.

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12. “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (1989) – In what I consider to be the worst “TREK” movie ever, Kirk and his crew must deal with Mr. Spock’s half-brother, who hijacks the Enterprise-A for an obsessive search for God. Director William Shatner co-starred with Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, David Warner and Laurence Luckinbill.