Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

2336 The universe of Harry Potter is one that keeps unfolding, graciously, as one of our generation’s seminal fantasy epics is lucky enough to have its author still very active in crafting its universe. So ripe with world-building creativity, J.K. Rowling had even supplemented the original series with a particular indexing of the magical creatures of the “Potterverse” (as it is more nerdily known): Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemFantastic Beasts, as it is in its literary form, is more of a prop: filled with a collection of anecdotes regarding the creatures, spackled about with bits of notes from Harry, Hermione, and Ron, is more of a way to further envelope the reader into the Potterverse, making the reader feel like a student themselves. While this is the kind of world-building that brought Harry Potter to the forefront of fiction for so many years, it has also inspired this year’s most bombastic fantasy production in director David Yates’ vision of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film that is ultimately an incredible visual adventure that is acted superbly, though it is dampened by a sometimes clunky script.

David Yates (the director behind the last four movies of the Harry Potter series) and J.K. Rowling (in her first outing as a screenwriter), really manages to make this movie stand out from the previous Potterverse films by providing uniquely dark characters in the very different setting of America around the 1920s (quite a few decades before Harry Potter’s story begins). The scenery is much darker than fans of the series will probably expect, however a great deal of the whimsical nature has been retained. When it comes to the plot, the audience is provided a uniquely modern take on the usual moral tales of Harry Potter, as American sorcerers face a distinctly antagonistic relationship with, as they call them, “no-majs”, one that has its roots in the uniquely American lore of witch-hunts.  As such, we have what comes across as a truly “adult” Potterverse film, one that allows fans to indulge in the whimsical magic that delighted them as children while being engaged in a unique and almost political look at the sociality of this new setting.

However, while the plot is unique in structure and design, its execution through writing leaves a bit to be desired. As J.K. Rowling’s first attempt at screenwriting (albeit with assistance from the director and producers) it is an admirable one, but quite a lofty attempt for something she has so little experience with, and it does show in cracks throughout the movie. For one, we have a completely different hero from Harry Potter in “Newt Scamander” in both temperament and role; however, very little characterization is given to him aside from Eddie Redmayne’s incredible ability to portray emotion physically (which is, quite frankly, necessary as the dialogue doesn’t parse out much emotion at all). Another setback to the enjoyment of this movie would be the clunkiness of the events as they lay out. Our intrepid heroes find themselves in one troublesome situation after another, leading them by a sort of deus ex machina to their goal, a journey that ultimately is not half as satisfying as any of the epic expeditions filled with growth and meaning that are each of the Harry Potter movies. In fact, this even contributes to the general sense that the viewer has been dropped unceremoniously into the middle of a story, with no reference as to who the characters are and a series of teases and mentions that seem only there to set up a sequel.

While a lack of enjoyment can be gleaned from these issues, they are ultimately covered up and saved by, as has been referenced, the utterly superb acting. Eddie Redmayne as “Newt Scamander” is an absolute treat: disheveled, knowledgeable, and in a way neurotic, he is a very different kind of hero who is very intriguing. Redmayne’s ability to portray all his unique vocal and physical quirks to such a degree really makes Newt come alive in the film. His female lead and perhaps-perhaps-not love interest is played by Katherine Wilson, who inhabits another character full of neuroses, though a bit different than Newt’s in her portrayal of “Tina Goldstein”, a former magical detective down on her confidence due to a demotion. Redmayne and Wilson have immediate nerdy kid chemistry, though something a bit more profound than Ron and Hermione’s burgeoning romance in the main series. This is a relationship quite a bit subtler, more adult even in its nature. While the cast is full of great players: Colin Farrell as “Percival Graves” has an incredible back and forth with a surprisingly ranged Ezra Miller as “Credence Barebone”. Samantha Morton really extends herself into a fantastically evil role as main antagonist “Mary Lou Barebone”. Where the cast really shined, besides its leads, was in the main supporting cast. Alison Sudol is absolutely charming as Tina’s sister “Queenie”, weaving her ability to read minds into an effective characterization of what could have easily been a pigeonholed character. Dan Fogler is equally as excellent in support of Redmayne in his portrayal of no-maj “Jacob Kowalski”, who serves as an audience surrogate in a way with his wonder at the new mysteries and magic around him, but is performance really blossoms into a love of his character, someone willing to help and accept help.

Overall, if you are a fan of the Potterverse or really any of the Harry Potter movies, this is a must see. Despite the somewhat clunky pace of its writing and its clear spot as the beginning of a franchise, if you have any affinity for this world you can forgive that easily. Even for those not wrapped up in the world of modern sorcery, this is a fantasy movie that is worth watching. Just for the maturation of the series, this film displays an interesting development in one of the modern era’s most significant pop culture icons. Regardless, if you are in the mood for magic with a hint of melancholy, fantasy with a bit more human factuality to it, this is the movie to see.

[easyreview title= "Review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" cat1title="Bart's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.0" overall= false]

Review: The Theory of Everything

TheoryOfEverything The lives of world famous physicist Stephen Hawkings and his wife, Jane Wilde, are ones of struggle, triumph, and astounding complexity. The Theory of Everything captures those aspects with incredible cinematic flair and grace. James Marsh directs Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as the dynamic couple as they weather the storms of disability while simultaneously reaching new heights. The film begins with a young Stephen Hawkings trying to decide the topic of his doctoral thesis while studying at Cambridge in the 1960s. He soon meets Jane, an English major,  and they are drawn to each other immediately. They hit it off and soon begin dating. Hawkings is invited to a presentation that jump starts his entire academic worldview; his thesis topic is soon chosen. The film's large message is about the relationship between Hawkings and Wilde, but no need to worry his science is still there. Playing as the backdrop for the entire film, the theoretical physics allows us to see his profound intellect at work.

Soon after a minor accident on campus, Stephen is unfortunately diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The disease causes an eventual and complete shut down of the usage of muscles and a considerably shorter life span. Upon hearing this diagnosis Stephen shuts down emotionally, both to his friends and to his new love, Jane. When she refuses to leave him, but instead fight the disease along side him, Jane becomes almost ethereal. Prior to this moment she was portrayed as a regular girl who liked this eccentric guy, but she clearly is much more.

As Stephen's body begins to slowly deteriorate his mind seems to get sharper and his career and notoriety grow ever so steadily. World famous for his theories as to how the universe began while losing the ability to walk is a powerful juxtaposition that director James Marsh plays with quite often. For every invite to lecture there is a physical hurdle that is put in front of this man. All the while Jane suffers in silence. She is his rock that he leans upon more than people could possibly know. Jane's ability to make Stephen and her life normal is harrowing. They have three children, who interact and know their father. Their lives almost seem totally mundane, but alas things are far more complex.

What is tremendous about this film in the end is that we see Stephen Hawkings fully realized. That sentence seems odd, and that can't be helped. In a way, Hawkings is that of an actual superhero of sorts. Accomplishing things that some can only hope to understand on the most basic of levels. I have never known him as the quirky guy standing in the corner, but rather the wheelchair bound genius of today. So to see him as I know him, in the form that is familiar to where my respect and admiration first began is something truly special to see on screen. Seeing the man goes through what he did to come out the other end as this hero is truly astonishing.

There are many things to say about The Theory of Everything, Stephen Hawkings, and Jane Wilde but the one thing that can not be ignored are the absolutely phenomenal performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Firstly, Redmayne's Hawkings was pitch perfect. While we know the man more for his inability to move, Redmayne uses his facial expressions as the key to letting us into his world. Subtle and suggestive he makes the character all his own. The small facial changes felt genuine instead that of mockery. Redmayne did the real heavy lifting in the first third of the film and with expert precision. Felicity Jones stepped up to the role of Jane Wilde and never backed down. While she is purposefully shown a just a normal girl in the first third of the film, she takes the latter two-thirds on her back. Carrying the emotional weight of a woman who is pushed to the brink of what love can sometimes demand, which truly is the crux of their story. Ultimately a tremendous film visually, stylistically, and a showed a clear respect for the real world subjects.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Theory of Everything" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]