Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – A Review

Image result for fantastic beasts and where to find them movie posterDavid Yates directs Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol and Colin Farrell in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In an original story by J K Rowling taking us back to world of witchcraft and wizardry that she created when she introduced us to the boy who lived. The story of Newt Scamander was a mere footnote in the story of Harry Potter and his 7 years of education at Hogwarts. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was the title of one of the textbooks Harry, Ron and Hermione studied. With this movie Rowling takes the world of wizardry outside of the confines of Hogwarts, there have been tantalising glimpses in the 7 novels but with Pottermore and now this 5 movie franchise the possibilities are potentially endless. Was that a book called “Casandra and her Cat Gustavo” that Kowalski was reading? Wasn’t Casandra the name of the Divination teacher Trelawney’s great-great-grandmother? Surely nothing in Ms Rowling’s world is coincidence.

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The story starts with our hero Newt landing in New York in the 1920s with a suitcase full of magical creatures. The creatures are let lose in the city and with the help of No-Maj (muggle to us potterheads) baker Kowalski, ex-aurorer Tina and her leglimense sister Queenie, Newt tries to capture them before they get in harm’s way.  There are mentions of dark wizard Grindlewald terrorising Europe, growing tensions between the magical and non-magical folks of America and a mysterious dark force causing mayhem on the streets of New York. As with all her stories Rowling skilfully creates entire worlds in the most unusual of ways. There is a veritable forest filled with magical creatures inside Newt’s suitcase, a ministry of magic with a very Gatsby-esque aesthetic, every character is intricately layered.

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Eddie Redmayne is quite the chameleon actor; he is shy and retiring like Einar from The Danish Girl when talking to his fellow humans and comes alive and is intelligent and compassionate in equal measure like Stephen Hawking from Theory of Everything when it comes to talking to his Beasts. Katherine Waterston is her father’s daughter and brings a Sam Waterston familiarity to her character she is earnest and likeable yet a bit skittish and jumpy. Alison Sudol brings the 1920s-glamorous oomph. Dan Fogler is fantastic as the No-Maj wannabe baker who ends up in the enchanting magical world and instead of being freaked out like most adults would do, he is wide eyed and precocious like a child. Ezra Miller brings back the creepy, devil child freakishness that he first burst onto the screens with, in We need to talk about Kevin. Samantha Morton plays Mary Lou a Umbridge like character who hates magic and Witches and Wizards and recruits the orphans in her care to keep an eye out on the suspicious magical activities in New York. Collin Farrell is fantastic, however  I think he  is potentially miscast as Director of Magical Security. I don’t want to reveal more secrets but I wish Farrell was cast in the Big Reveal character instead given that the subsequent films are going to feature that character prominently and an actor of Farrell’s age, and physical disposition is more suited to that character than the direction Yates went in.

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Rowling and Yates use Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to setup the magical universe and in the process, take their time setting up things like giggle water, the blind pig speakeasy and the obscurius but by no means is the story any less impressive as a result. Like the very first time we hear Hagrid say “You’re a wizard Harry” the viewer, a Harry Potter devout (yours truly) or a newbie Redmayne enthusiast (the wife) walks away sufficiently mesmerized and entertained excited about the possibilities with the stories to be told. This however is not a children’s movie; this is decidedly dark and future stories will tell tales of malice the likes of which Dumbledore has locked away in his pensieve.

The camera work by Philippe Rousselot is lush with sepia toned Newyork of the 1920s. Coleen Atwood’s costumes and the Production design and Sets are rich and layered and the next best thing to actually reading Ms Rowling’s writing. James Newton Howard provides an excellent accompanying soundtrack but I find the lack of a distinctive signature sound, like he did with Harry Potter which sounded like the wings of the snitch unfolding, a bit of a bummer.

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Ms Rowling is often credited with reviving the publishing industry when she brought the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter to pages. With Fantastic Beasts, she may very well be responsible for saving Warner Bros studios that has gone in a terrible direction with Justice League with Snyder at the helm of that franchise. With her west-end play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and now with this spin-off, she proves that there is a lot more magic still left in her to share with the world. She is the queen of storytelling and long may she reign!

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Whether a Potterhead or not this is a fantastic movie only a precursor of things to come. There is loads to like here and with his present lucky streak Eddie Redmayne can do no wrong. Do not miss Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

So it all ends. And boy does it end spectacularly!! David Yates presents his fourth of the series and the final chapter in the story of the boy who lived. A journey that began 10 years ago with a nationwide search in Great Britain for those three special kids who would essay the roles of Harry Ron and Hermione. When they found their starring cast it was magic from then on and onwards. We’ve seen Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grow from adorable awkward kids to gritty and mature adults. Rarely has there ever been a series that has so captivated the psyche of young and old alike all over the world be it on the pages in the words of J K Rowling or on the screen with such luminaries as Chris Columbus, Alonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, and finally David Yates

The series has benefited greatly by the one condition Rowling put when trusting her material in the hands of the producers David Heyman and David Baron – The cast be all british. And such magnificent talents as Richard Harris , Michael Gambon, David Thewlis , Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter , Ralph Fiennes Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman , Fiona Shaw, Brendon Gleeson , Robbie Coltrane, Imelda Stauton amongst many many more have graced the halls of Hogwarts castle at some point or the other and made the world of Harry potter that much more magical for the cine-goers.

This last movie is essentially the second half of ONE good final movie. The first movie which a lot of people somehow didn’t like as much was arguably one of the best of the series a closer adaptation to the book in terms of the story characters and the mood than any other. The second is the epic and grand sendoff that the series deserved.

So the story starts of where the first one had left of – Dobby’s dead and Harry has just learnt about the deathly hallows while already on his quest to find and destroy the horcruxes. There are some spectacular scenes including the one at the Gringotts. A special mention here to the marvelously talented Helena Bonham Carter who walks into gringotts as Hermione who is polyjuice-potioned as Bellatrix and the transformation is brilliant. Gone is the usual swagger and strut of Bellatrix and the brilliantly awkward and scared demeanor of Hermione. Watch the scene and you will know what I am talking about.

The fight sequences at Hogwarts give the audiences a lot to cheer for and some of the favorites get to kick some major ass! Professor McGonagall is feisty as she unleashes some badass magic and it is truly a moment to holler out loud! Also that one line delivered by Molly Wesley towards the very end is worth the cost of the ticket.

Ralph Fiennes reinstates the old actor’s adage ” its better to play the villain than the hero” and as Voldemort he is Spine chillingly brilliant. The madness and the danger in his eyes is exactly how I’d imagined Voldemort’s to be from the first time I read Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone all those years ago. Like Harry Ron and Hermione he has stuck through the series doing full justice to the series. Voldemort’s exaggerated gliding movements and fluid gestures would’ve been ridiculous on a lesser actor but not on Ralph Fiennes – he is Lord Voldemort’s incarnate and he is Evil!

A special mention also to the genius that is Alan Rickman – he has a very big part to play in the final chapter but is on the screen for a precious few minutes only. The way he eschews his words and makes the audience hang on for the next one shows off his consummate craft. It would be hard to find a replacement for any of the case members that have appeared on screen for the 8 harry potter movies but it would be impossible to find anyone to replace Alan Rickman as Severus Snape.

In my previous review I’d complained about the score by Alexandre Desplat – I take it all back. The opening Score when you get a bird’s eye view of Hogwarts swooping in through the skies past the dementors evokes a sense of grand epic tragedy about to unfold. It is no wonder that I am reminded of the haunting collaboration of Howard Shore and Enya for LOTR (the first time I was just crazy hyped up on adrenaline).

I’d also complained of the 3D rendering and how instead of adding to the experience it took so much away from it because the projection of the movie when I saw it in the preview screening was so dark that a lot of the details were lost. That was NOT the case when I went it for the IMAX screening of the movie. The 3D was brilliant there were a couple of gimmicky coming-at-you scenes but then there are scenes like the scene towards the end where the Snitch opens up – this is what 3 should be used for this adds that extra dimension to the traditional 2d screening. Also there is something about the IMAX dimensions which brings out the details more clearly than the regular screen.

There has been a lot of speculation whether the final conclusion of the harry potter saga will garner the same critical acclaim that “the return of the king” did I hardly believe the academy will be moved to honor this brilliant series with any Oscar nods but this is the series adored by billions and when that translates to box office numbers it is hardly going to matter.

I cannot wait for when some Theatre Chain would do a marathon screening of all 8 movies back-to-back-to-back, I’ll be there first in the line waiting to be transported to the magical world that can be accessed through platform 9 and three quarters.