• Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

    From David N. Butterworth@21:1/5 to All on Sun May 21 08:05:12 2017
    A film review by David N. Butterworth
    Copyright 2017 David N. Butterworth

    ***1/2 (out of ****)

    "Where d'you get your ideas from, Mr. Kowalski?" asks a curious bakery customer, admiring a creative display of delicately-crafted pastries. "I
    don't know. I don't know. They just come." Truth is, the former canning
    factory worker turned pastry chef models his fantastic creations on the
    magical creatures he encountered after bumping into one Newt Scamander
    while seeking a loan at the bank--nifflers and erumpents and murtlaps, oh
    The same question--where d'you get your ideas from?--might well be
    asked of J. K. Rowling.
    In 2001, about halfway through writing her Harry Potter saga-thon,
    Rowling published "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," a fictitious textbook said to have been written by Scamander. It's also on the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's required reading list--Harry first
    refers to the book in "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," when he
    and Hagrid are en route to Diagon Alley for some back-to-school shopping.
    After the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter franchise, Rowling has now written an original screenplay based on the characters and the fantastic
    beasts in Newt's illustrated tome, which also includes bowtruckles,
    mooncalves, demiguises, occamies, billywigs, and graphorns.
    I don't know. Maybe she needed a coupla extra mill. to pay the lawn service that month....
    While "Fantastic Beasts" inhabits the same vibrant world as Harry
    Potter, it's its own animal, fantastically so. There are witches and
    wizards, goblins and house elves, squibs and no-majs (the American
    equivalent of muggles; the film takes place in 1926 New York), as well as references to Hogwarts and Dumbledore and all manner of Potter-mores. It's fantastic looking, fully realized, and thoroughly absorbing.
    Plot-wise, Brit wizard and researcher Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, effectively affected) arrives at Ellis Island with a suitcase fit to
    bursting with illegal imports, the fantastic beasts of the title. They're
    being destroyed back home in Old Blimey and he plans to set a large one, a thunderbird, free in Arizona. Sooner than you can say "What's Up, Doc?,"
    his case gets accidentally switched with Jacob Kowalski's similar valise
    filled with flakey patisseries and the chase is on! Jacob is played by Dan Fogler and both are wonderful. Rounding out our protagonists are an over-invested investigator, Tina (Kathleen Waterston), and her lovely
    bohemian sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), giving us a charming quartet to
    root for.
    Rowling concocts such a complete and vibrant world, with family trees
    that go back decades, that she'll never be at a loss for material
    ("Fantastic Beasts" already has two sequels in the pipeline). Potter
    regular David Yates directs, conjuring up a magical blend of action and
    humor supported by impressive fantasy sequences. In its darker, more
    malevolent passages, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and "We Need to Talk
    About Kevin"'s Ezra Miller are all stellar.
    With "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," it's as if one
    franchise has morphed into another without skipping a beat. My expectations were exponentially surpassed by this first installment, a real bolt from
    the blue. Here's hoping 2018's follow-up is even more fantastic.

    David N. Butterworth

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