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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
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by alejandroariera

"J.K. Rowling’s Manual for Universe Building"
4 stars

Long have Harry Potter fans fretted about what was left out of their beloved saga when all seven books in the series made the transition to the big screen. Especially after directors and writers like Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, Michael Goldenberg, Steve Kloves and David Yates (who directed the final four, bleaker films) reminded readers and moviegoers that literary adaptations are not a catalog of “best of” moments in a book (yes, Chris Columbus, I’m looking at you!). Even though it’s a prequel of sorts to the Potter saga, with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” fans and moviegoers alike get something different: J.K. Rowling undiluted. While the film is inspired by Rowling’s fictional textbook of the same title written by magizoologist Newt Scamander (a great Bond villain name if I ever saw one), the movie is, if you excuse my clumsy wordplay, a beast of its own. For Rowling is using the canvass that both a blank page and the big screen provide to expand upon and even create a new magical world, one that is far more real because it takes place in a known time and place, a world full of whimsy and wonder and danger and dark, dark shadows. A world that gives director Yates a larger sandbox to play in.

Rowling sets the stage right off the bat with a visual twist on the old “newspaper headlines whirling at you” delivery of backstory. We find out, through those familiar magic interactive newspapers, that a dark mage by the name of Gellert Grindenwald has disappeared after wreaking havoc in post-WWI Europe. Meanwhile, in America, tension between the wizard community and the “No Majs” (“No Magics” or “muggles” in Great Britain) is at an all time high, fueled by zealots like Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), leader of the fringe Puritan outfit New Salem Preservation Society. The Magical Congress of the United States of America (MANCUSA, a sinister name on its own) has banned all public displays of magic as well as the import of magical creatures to protect the wizard community.

Unaware of what’s going on in the States, Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in 1926 New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures with the intent of returning one of them to its natural habitat in Arizona. As conceived by Rowling and portrayed by Redmayne, Scamander has a certain Doctor Who-ish vibe. Both characters are rather frumpish in appearance; they both talk a lot, their dialogue full of technical babble; and Scamander’s suitcase, much like the Doctor’s TARDIS, is larger on the inside, its contents a multitude of ecosystems and species. Except that the lock in Scamander’s suitcase is far less secure than the Doctor’s TARDIS; one of its flaps keeps flipping open, letting loose a Niffler, a platypus-like creature with a penchant for shiny things like diamonds and coins, who runs into a bank where it acts like a kid in the proverbial candy store. In the confusion caused by Scamander’s attempts to capture the Niffler, his suitcase gets switched with that of Jacob’s (Dan Folger), a No-Maj war veteran whose dreams of opening a bakery are dashed when the bank turns down his loan application. Jacob opens the suitcase in his apartment, setting loose some of its contents in the streets of New York. In true Doctor Who fashion, Scamander recruits him as a companion to help him recapture the escapees.

Having failed to draw the attention of MACUSA to these shenanigans, disgraced agent Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) brings the two to the apartment she shares with her telepathic sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who immediately falls for Jacob. Unbeknownst to them, an obscurial, a dark poltergeist that inhabits the bodies of children younger than ten, has left a path of destruction all across Manhattan and killed a prospective candidate for higher office who also happens to be the son of an influential William Randolph Hearst-type media tycoon (Jon Voight). Meanwhile, MACUSA operative Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) has recruited Credence (Ezra Miller), Mary Lou’s adopted son, to track down the child that may be hosting the obscurial with the promise of integrating him into the wizard world. Both stories will of course intersect in a slam-bang third act that is as destructive as Voldermort’s army attacks against Hogwarts.

Rowling and Yates pack in as many goodies as the film’s running time of two hours and 13 minutes will allow. And, oh, what goodies both beautiful and scary they are: a Jazz Age magical club full of swinging and singing African-American elves and a no-nonsense gangster voiced by Ron Perlman; all the creatures great and small that come tumbling out of that suitcase; a magical advisory clock no different than the National Terrorism Advisory System currently in use; MACUSA’s death penalty chamber; and a brand new way of preparing and baking a strudel. Yates spares no expense in portraying the dizzying, exciting, rambunctious and, at the same time, economically deprived New York of the 30s nor of the destruction wrecked upon. If the action choreography in the final Harry Potter films felt too busy at times, here it’s clean, muscular, thrilling, almost nail-biting.

Newt Scamander is a tailor-fit role for Redmayne’s geeky, shy, nerdy and modest persona. In her determination and sheer will, Waterstone, aided enormously by Colleen Atwood’s costume design, evokes the classic comediennes of the 30s and 40s. Yet, Fogler is the real revelation: as our human surrogate he is the beating heart of the film. He manages to convey amazement, delight and fear without ever going overboard. And his double act with Sudol evokes the best screwball comedies of yesteryear.

Bringing the magic world into the real one was one of Rowling’s wisest and riskiest decisions and it pays off. In her direct and indirect references to realpolitik earthly matters (discrimination, intolerance, child abuse, how demagogues tap into our worst fears), she lays the groundwork for what’s to come. She has dragged her fantastic story kicking and screaming to the present and made it relevant without betraying the spirit of the original Potter saga. But even though this is the first in a series of five films, “Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them” stands on its own as a self-contained story that leaves us wanting more. Rowling already hinted that the second entry may not necessarily be a follow-up. I cannot wait.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27569&reviewer=434
originally posted: 11/17/16 12:00:00
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User Comments

5/06/17 Wun Hung Lo Garbage 1 stars
3/05/17 Tracey Ibbetson Thought the film was brilliant 5 stars
12/02/16 James Remar Harry Potter was garbage and so is this rubbish ! ! !. 1 stars
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  18-Nov-2016 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Mar-2017


  DVD: 28-Mar-2017

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