MOVIE BUFF-ET: Fantastic Beasts a surprisingly strong return to Rowlings’ wizarding world

Credit Warner Bros. Pictures

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling and director David Yates have not lost their magical touch in the five years since the conclusion of the cinematic Harry Potter saga.

The two have crafted another magical tale sure to delight fans of Rowling’s wizarding world with the motion picture Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The film which is the first of a planned five-part series is every bit as enchanting if not more so than any of the adaptations of Rowling’s’ original Potter novels.

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While the film lives in the same world populated by Harry, Hermione, Voldemort, Snape and Dumbledore, this film doesn’t carry the weight of needing to live up to the novels since Rowling wrote the screenplay from scratch.

Main character Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is referenced in the Potter novels as the author of the textbook that bares the same title as the movie. The film’s story is fresh but familiar as it introduces new characters and awesome wonders that live beyond the recognition of normal humans/

In 1926 the British Scamander, who is an expert on magical beasts, visits the United States on a mission of his own, but becomes embroiled in a political power struggle among apparent American wizards because one is attempting usurp power using a dangerously powerful parasite known as an Obscurial. Obscurials infect young wizards and feed on their submerged emotions and magic.

Scamander not only studies magical beasts, but he also collects them, magically storing them in a beat-up suitcase. When one of the beasts slips out of the case, Scamander becomes wanted because wizards have outlawed the magical creatures in the United States.

As his search for the creatures dovetails with the investigation of the Obscurial, Scamander meets a former Auror Tina (Katherine Waterston), her vivacious sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and no-mag/muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler). The quartet end up at odds with Tina’s former boss Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).

Redmayne delivers a subtle performance as one of the few wizards who understands and appreciates the magical beasts. Waterson gives solid support as the spunky and capable Tina, who is more skilled than her superiors care to notice. Fogler steals scene after scene as Jacob, a blue-collar worker whose dream is to open up a bakery. He has the time of his life on his adventure with Scamander and is smitten by the flapperesque allure of Queenie, who is likewise interested in him.

Farrell is appropriately wicked and threatening as the villain, and Ezra Miller is excellent as the shy young adult Creedence, who works as an informant to Farrell.

The film is quite funny with charming bits of business with Scamander’s magical menagerie. The cast delivers Rowling’s witty and polished script in committed fashion, matching the work of the cast in the previous Potter films. The special effects are strong and do a great job of detailing a magical world that the prior films only hinted at.

Perhaps the movie’s best attribute is that it show as much as it tells, unlike the other Potter movies that relied heavily on exposition.

Going into the movie, I wondered if it would fly without the benefit favorite characters from the Potter novels. I came away believing the latest film is the best featuring Rowling’s magical world.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 12 min.
Grade A-


Paramount Pictures

If you are looking for action, outlandish heroics, or fanciful adventure, then Arrival isn’t the alien invasion movie for you.

While life on Earth does seem imperiled when giant, black, contact lens-type objects float above the terrain near 12 key population centers, the arrival of these aliens is more akin to the plot of The Day the Earth Stood Still than Star Wars, Alien or Independence Day.

Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a more serious story concerning the theme of communication on a personal, global, and even universal scale. Amy Adams stars as a linguist working with a team taxed with finding away to communicate with the aliens whose spaceship hover menacingly over the Earth.

The film is fraught with suspense and tension as Adams’ team races against time to establish communication with the aliens before other nations can. Adams is compelling as a woman who is tops in her field but who must still struggle to establish a base point for communication with the aliens. The aliens communicate with gaseous patterns of information rather then speech or an alphabet.

The movie is engrossing as she and a physicist, played, by Jeremy Renner work to figure out the communication conundrum before United States’ allies and enemies do. Piece by piece, they but together a way to communicate with the aliens based on information patterns, while another nation works at the problem through game play and another through mathematics.

The film has a Twilight Zone-type revelation, and a conclusion that brings the Earth to the brink of destruction before saner actions eventually prevail.

Adams is the emotional core of the film, but Renner and Forest Whitaker as a U.S. colonel give solid support. It’s encouraging to see a movie where violence and war aren’t solutions, but movie fans seeking the thrills of a more traditional alien-invasion movie might be disappointed.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 56 min.
Grade: B

Classic Corner

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

There are scores of Christmas movies, and if you connect horror movies to Halloween like I do, then there literally thousands of them to pick from. But what about Thanksgiving?

That’s a tougher call. Thanksgiving has to be the most cinematically underserviced holiday of all.

However, director John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles is so funny and perfect and right that it almost makes up for the dearth of Turkey Day films.

The 1987 road comedy captures perfectly the hustle, bustle, and even the loneliness the holiday season can exacerbate in our modern society.

Everyone has felt the pain of Steve Martin’s Neal Page as circumstances conspire to blow up even his most carefully drawn up plans. And if we don’t recognize it in ourselves, then we at least know of someone who has at least a smidgeon of the loneliness that drives John Candy’s Del Griffith.

Those unavoidable truths lift Planes, Trains and Automobiles above other funny but lightweight comedies. However the movie is memorable for its hilarity. Candy’s let-it-all-hang-out, blowhard Del drives Martin’s fastidiously high-strung Del absolutely batty as the latter struggles to get home to his family Thanksgiving.

And, all these years later, the pillow scene remains as uncomfortable as it is funny.

If you’ve never seen Planes, Trains and Automobiles, you’re in for a treat. If you have seen it and elect to watch it again, it’s like catching up with an old, funny pal during the holidays.