REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

20 11 2016

It’s good to be back in the Potterverse. While I might resist some of the revisionist history and postscripts of my beloved characters, a tangential outing like “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” hits the sweet spot. It’s clear that J.K. Rowling, who serves here as both screenwriter and producer, has more to explore and say about the magical world she created. Even if the roadmap to the supposedly five-part series she plans has not yet emerged, this first film makes for a fun, thoughtful outing.

The sheer presence of gentle ginger Eddie Redmayne alone, vocal in his bashful disappointment over not being cast as a Weasley, provides two hours of joy. The role of magical zoologist Newt Scamander is finely calibrated to match his unique star power: slightly awkward, modestly fumbling, overwhelmingly good-hearted. He serves as both our guide to a host of creatures never introduced to us by Hagrid and an outsider observing the operations of the American wizarding community.

Scamander arrives at Ellis Island with a suitcase full of living organisms and a mission to return some of them to their natural habitats. However, a series of chance encounters with a No-Maj (American speak for “Muggle”) gets him caught up in the geopolitical realities of the United States. Scamander becomes the unwitting companion to the rogue auror Tina (Katherine Waterston), who dedicates herself to finding a magical disturbance among the No-Maj that threatens to disrupt the Americans’ carefully guarded segregation of the two communities. Quite often, Scamander’s beasts get loose and make a mess out of an already precarious situation, and therein lies the enjoyment. He can always, somehow, wrangle control.

It will be interesting to see how, as the series progresses, Rowling deals with the political undertones introduced here. “Fantastic Beasts” strays away from the obvious allegory of franchises like “X-Men,” perhaps at the expense of glossing over or trivializing the issues. In this introduction, she introduces a group of puritanical recluses called “Second-Salemers” who call for a new purge of the magical community and a dark perversion of wizardry in Europe that Americans deny will wash up on their shores. It appears she will have plenty to pull from, both in ’30s history and contemporary society, in making these themes relevant. B+3stars





REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

12 07 2011

I was only nine years old when the “Harry Potter” films first cast their spell on me.  While I was old enough to realize that the series was, unfortunately, fictional, I wasn’t blind to the magic of J.K. Rowling’s series.  Only a fool couldn’t see that every aspect around Harry Potter and the universe of wizarding he inhabits doesn’t possess some fantastic sorcery.  How else can you explain the millions of children (and adults alike) who have rediscovered the power of reading thanks to the books?  How else can you explain the millions who come out in droves at midnight … to celebrate the release of a novel?

It’s only appropriate that the final film adaptation, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” should capture that magic with such perfect grace, making us at once entranced by the action on the screen, heartbroken that we no longer have another movie to look forward to in the series, and filled with joy that the series has, for the past 10 years, taught us all to believe in the magic of cinema.  The “Harry Potter” series has been such an integral part of my childhood and adolescence, and as it concludes as I head off for college, I can’t be more thankful to have such a fantastic film mark the end of a big chapter of my life.  I’m so grateful that my generation, along with countless other fans, has rallied eight times to celebrate the power that writing and filmmaking can possess when done so incredibly right.

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

17 11 2010

Gone is the familiar comfort and charm of the Hogwarts castle in the first installment of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and the movie has a distinctively different mood throughout.  At times, it feels like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road: Kids Edition” as the three undaunted friends Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger traverse through hazardous territory to find horcruxes, pieces of dark magic in which Lord Voldemort has stored his soul.  There are seven in existence – two have been destroyed in past movies, and over the course of 150 minutes, we get to watch them find and destroy not two, not three, but a single horcrux.

Take that in.  All the trouble to split the final book of J.K. Rowling’s series in two, and they squander an entire half on just one horcrux?  Standing alone, it feels like a whole lot of exposition amounting to little more than a section rising action that culminates in a pseudo-climax that just feels somewhat off.

The important thing to remember, especially for rabid “Harry Potter” fans like myself, is that this is the first half of a two-part saga.  Normally, the first half of any movie is its lesser component, and particularly so in this series. The first hours often struggle to remain totally exciting through the set-up, and they also have the daunting task of getting the rising action going, which can often be pretty slow.  If the first half of any movie had a full narrative arc, wouldn’t that essentially be defeating the purpose of the second half?

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

6 08 2009

I don’t even know why I’m bothering to write a review for the latest installment in the “Harry Potter” franchise this late in the game.  The movie opened 4 weeks ago, and by this point, you have either seen it or you haven’t.  If you love the books like me, you rush out and see it the first day or even at midnight.  If you don’t dig the books or the movies, you aren’t going to see it because the movies don’t allow time to stragglers to catch up.  What I will say about “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is that it is one of the best in the series.  The key element to its recovery from the horrifying previous film is an expertly crafted script.  Director David Yates returns and seems to find his stride this time.  His “Potter” is darker than we have ever seen it, and it works remarkably well.

Usually I give a plot summary in the second paragraph, but I think only a brief one is called for here.   The villainous Lord Voldemort is back, and tensions are high in the wizarding world.  But the tension is  higher with Harry and his pals are finding the pain and beauty of teenage crushes.

I love the books, but I am not one of those purists that is furious when they omit subplots.  I think that this is one of the best adaptations from book to movie.  However, I was intrigued by the shift in focus.  Rowling’s brilliant novel focuses more on Harry and Dumbledore trying to discover the dark secrets of how Tom Riddle came to be Voldemort by collecting memories from people who knew Tom.  The movie plays up the teen angst angle of the story, and I had no problem with that.  It gives a light, humorous side to balance out the bleak darkness of the rest of the story. Read the rest of this entry »