[Harry Potter Day] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman, Colin Farrell

Screenplay: J.K. Rowling

133 mins. Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

Today, to honor the 19th Anniversary of The Battle of Hogwarts, we look back at the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film that exists in the Wizarding World Cinematic Universe (yep, that happened) but takes place decades before Harry Potter was even born.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything, Jupiter Ascending) has arrived in 1926 New York with a mysterious case full of amazing and exotic creatures, but when a tiny mix-up with aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, TV’s Secrets and Lies, Kung Fu Panda) causes several of his fantastic beasts to be released upon the No-Maj (America’s term for Muggles) society. Now, it is up to Newt, Kowalski, and ex-auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs) to retrieve the missing creatures before they are discovered by the non-magical citizens of New York City.

There are many things to love about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I have to start with the performances. Eddie Redmayne absolutely disappears within his role as Newt and becomes the magi-zoologist with apparent ease, and his foil in Kowalski is expertly lovable and comedic due to Fogler’s performance. I was also blown away by Ezra Miller’s (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Suicide Squad) work as Credence Barebone, the adopted son of a religious zealot being manipulated by the sinister Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Solace). There’s also some nice supporting work from Samantha Morton (TV’s Harlots, John Carter), Jon Voight (TV’s Ray Donovan, Mission: Impossible), and Ron Perlman (TV’s Hand of God, Hellboy).

The collaboration between screenwriter J.K. Rowling and director David Yates (The Legend of Tarzan, The Girl in the Café), who has now directed five films in this franchise, is electric to say the least. Yates has an understanding of how to treat the fans, and Rowling’s decision to use creatures hinted at in the books and previous films to further enhance the experience is something to dazzle at. For me, getting to see an actual Bowtruckle and Nifler, two creatures mentioned in novels but never put to film, was very exciting.

I also would like to point out the excellent score in the film, courtesy of James Newton Howard. Howard is one of my favorite working film composers, and his work here is some of his best. When you compare the score of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to, say, something like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it is clear to see where one score outdid the other. Howard’s music entices us with callbacks to the original music, and when it does, it’s pitch perfect, but at the same time, he creates a plethora of new music to further guide this franchise into the future.

As for issues, I felt like the New Salem Philanthropic Society felt a little rushed in their exposition. I would like to know more about them but they don’t get the full exposition needed to really consider them a threat. The same thing with Jon Voight’s character, Henry Shaw, and the secondary plot thread with him doesn’t really go anywhere. Finally, as for the twist (if you can call it that), it’s a little easy to spot, and I feel like there was a better way to do what was done at the end of the film. Thankfully, these problems only affect secondary characters and our main characters are more or less unaffected by them.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an exquisite and sophisticated return to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Thanks to some clever callbacks to creatures and major plot points of the franchise like the Deathly Hallows, the film feels new but also honors what came before. It’s a clever film that will have something for everyone, as long as they are a Harry Potter fan. I don’t think this new entry will win over any new fans, but anyone who has taken the ride this long shouldn’t have any trouble going around again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, click here.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

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Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson

Cast: Jack Black, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Jackie Chan

Screenplay: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger

92 mins. Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

Pixar has pretty high standards. Viewers go into a Pixar film expecting something brilliant, a film with blinding visuals and a heartwarming tale that captures the human spirit.

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Dreamworks Animation…not so much. As big of an advocate as I am for films like Monsters vs. Aliens and the Shrek series, Dreamworks has difficulty hitting it out of the park. People continue to flock to the Kung Fu Panda franchise, though. Even though I didn’t care much for the original film when it came out eight years ago (I was on a date with my now fiancé and we mildly enjoyed ourselves, but the resounding feeling the film gave me was “meh”), I felt the need to return to this franchise after hearing such love from fans about the second and third installments. So here we are. How did I feel the second time around?

Po (Jack Black, King Kong, Goosebumps) is a panda who dreams of a life protecting others, a life of martial arts, a life he cannot have. Po’s father finds him to be most-well-suited in the family business: noodles. But, a dangerous evil, Tai Lung (Ian McShane, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Bilal: A New Breed of Hero), has escaped from his incarceration intent on revenge, and the legendary Oogway (Randall Duk Kim, The Matrix Reloaded, John Wick) must select a new Dragon Warrior. His selection? Po. Hijinks, get ready to ensue.

On my second viewing of Kung Fu Panda, I found some elements that I really loved. My favorite sequence was Tai Lung’s prison break scene. There’s also some really unique melding of 2D and 3D animation in homage to Japanese Anime. I even found myself loving the training sequences that Po goes through learning from Shifu (Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer, Chef) and the rest of the legendary warriors.

Some good should also be said of the voicework from those I’ve already mentioned and also Angelina Jolie Pitt (Maleficent, By the Sea), Seth Rogen (This is the End, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) and Jackie Chan (Rush Hour, Dragon Blade).

Now, the cons? It isn’t really funny throughout, and it isn’t really action-packed throughout. When this film hits it, it hits it very well, but it just doesn’t hit the mark enough.

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Kung Fu Panda is uneven, though it has a lot of potential as a franchise starter. After my revisiting of the original film, I see now that this movie had the ability to do well, and it deserved to get another installment.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Mark Osborne and Stephen Hillenburg’s The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, click here.

John Wick (2014)

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Director: Chad Stahelski

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alife Allen, Adrienne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe

Screenplay: Derek Kolstad

101 mins. Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use.

 

You have to give credit to Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, 47 Ronin). As soon as he has convinced you that he has nothing more to offer, along comes a film like John Wick, and he totally redeems himself.

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John Wick stars Reeves in the titular role, a man who has just lost his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan, TV’s Blue Bloods, I, Robot). When he makes an enemy of Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen, TV’s Game of Thrones, Atonement), son of the terrifying Russian mobster Viggo (Michael Nyqvist, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Europa Report), John decides that he must come out of retirement. John’s previous job: professional and international hitman, and he is very good at what he does.

Keanu Reeves owns this role and he has a lot of fun in it. Apparently, when you turn on John Wick’s violent switch, it isn’t so easy to turn it off. It does help that he has such a versatile group of supporting players from genre favorites like Ian McShane (Kung Fu Panda, Hercules), John Leguizamo (Ice Age, Chef), and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, The Fault in Our Stars), who all supply some deliciously cheesy hype for the man named John Wick (though, I should point out, be prepared to hear this name constantly throughout the picture; people cannot stop uttering it).

I enjoyed the plot of the film, the classic revenge tale with elements of secret societies and a code of honor involving a hotel sacred ground for hitmen. I wanted to have more elements of this world fleshed out further, but John continues on his mission. Did the film run on too long? You bet your ass it did. There was a clear-cut ending twenty minutes earlier that would have been perfect and set up the franchise well, but it just kept going.

Director Chad Stahelski, relative newcomer, offers up an interesting vision of his created world, and the cinematography adds elements of action from martial arts to Matrix-style gunplay, which Reeves knows all too well at this point. The film did spend a bit too much time on unimportant exposition as to playing to its strengths.

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All things considered, John Wick is a pretty fun flick that is a bit too long but has the makings of a new franchise. It is nice to see Keanu back in action and I hope this series continues providing stylistic action and exploring its world a bit more.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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