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

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LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Movies of 2016

1 01 2016

Well, guess it’s time to cast my gaze towards the horizon and start looking forward to a new year of moviegoing! I’ve slowly gotten better at making these lists, with more and more movies making it on my year-end top 10 list. 2015 was a bit of an anomaly as so many films got pushed back to 2016 – four out of the ten I picked last year will hopefully see release in the next twelve months.

In that period, some of my enthusiasm has dampened for “Everybody Wants Some” (then titled “That’s What I’m Talking About”), “Knight of Cups” and “Midnight Special.” But one title remains, and absence makes the heart grow fonder.

This year’s slate of most anticipated films feels rather odd, as there’s very little I’m crazily expecting. With relatively few of my favorite directors and series churning out work in 2016, I’m left grabbing at straws. Nonetheless, here are ten films that I’m very ready to see!

American Honey

#10
“American Honey” (TBD)
Written and directed by Andrea Arnold
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Arielle Holmes and Riley Keough

After “Fish Tank,” I’m on board to see whatever Andrea Arnold comes up with next. She’s one of the most vital voices working in film today, not only for females but also just in general. I really have no idea what the film is about, and I don’t want to know.

Brad Pitt:Marion Cotillard

#9
Untitled WWII Romantic Thriller (November 23)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Steven Knight
Starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard

This team speaks for itself. I could care less that the casting isn’t even complete.

Passengers

#8
“Passengers” (December 21)
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Written by Jon Spaihts
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Michael Sheen

If there was no Jennifer Lawrence movie for me to look forward to, would the year be worth undergoing?

Fantastic Beasts

#7
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (November 18)
Directed by David Yates
Written by J.K. Rowling
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller and Katherine Waterston

Ready to geek out over “Harry Potter” again, and it hasn’t even been five years since the last one. No shame.

The Girl on the Train

#6
“The Girl on the Train” (October 7)
Directed by Tate Taylor
Written by Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett

Admittedly, I thought the hype on last summer’s big book was a bit overblown. But I’m still excited to see how this team translates the story into cinema; my imagination often wandered towards I might realize this thriller on the big screen. Can’t wait to compare my ideas with their visions.

Julieta

#5
“Julieta” (TBD)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez

Even when playing in minor key, a new Almodóvar film is always interesting. Returning to his favored territory, stories about women, might provide his best since 2006’s “Volver.”

It's Only the End of the World

#4
“It’s Only the End of the World”
Written and directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, and Vincent Cassel

I am SO ready to see Xavier Dolan, the exciting emerging talent of the decade, tackle his first movie with global stars. That one such star is Marion Cotillard only amplifies my excitement.

Hail Ceasar

#3
“Hail, Caesar!” (February 5)
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum

I’m ready for any new Coen Brothers movie, but this one sounds like something special. “It’s about the movie business and life and religion and faith. Faith and the movie business,” Ethan said. Sounds like everything I could ever want from a movie and more.

La La Land

#2
“La La Land” (July 15)
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Finn Wittrock

Chazelle’s follow-up to “Whiplash” was going to be exciting enough. He sweetened the deal by making it a musical that reunites the magnetic on-screen duo of Gosling and Stone.

Silence

#1
“Silence” (TBD)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks
Starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver

Last year’s #2, this year’s #1. I truly cannot wait to see the film that might be Scorsese’s ultimate statement on the religious themes that have pervaded his work for decades.