Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

November 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler
Directed by: David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”)
Written by: J.K. Rowling (debut)

You didn’t really think Warner Bros. would let a multi-billion-dollar movie franchise vanish just because they were out of novels to adapt, did you? After magically stretching seven books about a boy wizard named Harry Potter into eight hit movies, multiple theme park attractions, and piles of merchandise taller than a stack of coins in a Gringott’s vault, the studio turned to author J.K. Rowling to reach back into the cauldron and conjure up a five-film prequel series based on a slim fictional textbook used in Hogwarts and published for us Muggles in 2001, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Set in 1926, the film focuses on the author of the fictional reference book, world traveler and magical creature wrangler Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he makes his way to New York City with a suitcase full of the titular fantastic beasts, including some snake-like dragons with egg shells of silver and a mischievous platypus-looking niffler that can’t help but swipe shiny things. The latter causes trouble when he escapes at a bank, causing Scamander to inadvertently expose a baker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), who is a No-Maj—the American word for the now-familiar Muggle—to the world of wizardry. This is dangerous, you see, as there are those out to destroy witches and wizards, namely the New Salem organization who wants to them see burned at the stake. Scamander attracts the attention of Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a disgraced Magical Congress of the United States of America (aka MACUSA) agent who attempts to detain Scamander—only for the pair to stumble upon a brewing wizarding war after some magical creature begins murdering No-Majs.

First-time screenwriter Rowling ably expands her “Harry Potter” universe admirably, albeit a tad shakily as the movie first unfurls. The film takes a while to get to know Redmayne’s shy, soft-spoken Scamanader and “Fantastic Beasts” feels a tad adrift until we finally get to see what’s inside of his case. When the hunt begins for Newt’s escaped creatures, “Fantastic Beasts” shimmers to life, juxtaposing the whimsical with the supernaturally dreadful in the way Yates’ later Potter films did so well (when they weren’t being split in two for maximum profits, that is). Prior knowledge of the Potterverse isn’t necessary, and at times the whole affair can feel a little bit like it’s setting the table for the next four films promised in the series—which, after a high-profile cameo at the end of this one, pledge to dive deep into magical warfare. Get your wands ready.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

July 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Directed by: David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”)
Written by: Steve Kloves (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”)

Whether Harry Potter’s increased maturity over the last decade is most evident in the fearlessness he summons within himself in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” or the amount of hair he displays beneath his arms, there is no denying that the famously spectacled boy-wizard audiences first met in 2001 has become a full-fledged man.

With his rite of passage comes the removal of all childish things from this final installment of the fantasy film series adapted from the ambitious mind of best-selling author J.K. Rowling. In “Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” there is no time to play a skillful game of Quidditch, or transform students into ferrets, or cast ridiculous spells on black widow spiders. Actually, there isn’t much time for any humor at all, and for good reason. When Harry Potter (Radcliffe) steps up to the edge of a looming forest in the third act of the film and declares that he is ready to die, it’s not just some melodramatic statement he makes before his inevitable face-off with Lord Voldemort (Fiennes). He actually sounds like he believes it. Depending on how emotionally invested you have become in these characters over the last decade will determine just how disheartening it would be to see Harry fall short of his calling.

Returning for his fourth consecutive Harry Potter film, director David Yates embraces the seriousness of the narrative and the consequences of Rowling’s uncompromising mythology. In “Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” Harry, Hermione (Watson), and Ron (Grint) continue their scavenger hunt for the remaining Horcruxes, which they have to destroy in order to defeat the Dark Lord. With Hogwarts under the prison-like rules of new headmaster Severus Snape (Rickman), the trio must infiltrate the school to seek out the last object and then defend the castle alongside their professors and fellow classmates as Voldemort flings the Elder Wand around without remorse.

While the catalog of Harry Potter films include both highs and lows (Alfonso Cuarón’s fascinating “Prisoner of Azkaban” is still unsurpassed), both halves of “Deathly Hallows” are easily two of the most satisfying entries in the entire epic. In “Part 2,” the danger is seething as both sides battle between extravagant set pieces and eye-catching special effects, unnecessary 3D notwithstanding. The final chapter will be a bittersweet farewell for the most devoted Potter fans, but the franchise will forever be remembered for its distinct creativity, imagination, and darkly enchanting vision.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

November 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Directed by: David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”)
Written by: Steve Kloves (“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”)
 
Don’t anticipate some sort of shocking cliffhanger at the end of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” the first half of the final chapter of the imaginative franchise that started back in 2001. It’s almost as if director David Yates (his third “Potter” film) and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who has adapted all but one of J.K. Rowling’s “Potter” books) found a reasonable stopping point, hit the pause button, and asked us to come back in eight months.

It wasn’t a bad decision to split “Deathly Hallows” into two parts other than the fact that “Potter” fans will be climbing the walls until next July when Part 2 hits theaters. Although “Deathly Hallows” is much less action-driven than its predecessors, it’s evident the material from the original book was much too extensive to try to squeeze into a single feature. To do the final book justice (and to wrap up the nine-year adventure the right way), “Deathly Hallows” needed extra time to manifest.

In “Deathly Hallows,” Yates and Kloves understand exactly where our heroes are at this point in their lives, not only based on Rowling’s narrative, but also on a deeper, more emotional level. It’s the most mature film of the series and also the best since Alfonso Cuarón’s “Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Playing like an epic version of hide-and-seek, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are far from the comfortable confines of Hogwarts, which has been taken over by the Death Eaters. Now, on a journey to find the last remaining Horcruxes (if you don’t know what those are by now hurry and catch up), the trio evades the even-more-terrifying Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and spends most of their time trying to understand clues left behind by the now-deceased Dumbledore. How else will Harry get revenge for the murder of his parents during his inevitable final battle with the dark lord? These clues include the “Deathly Hallows,” three powerful objects that Harry may need to defeat Voldemort, who is becoming more powerful by the second. The eerie animation built-in with the mythology of these objects is impressively artistic.

Knowing the franchise is almost complete makes “Deathly Hallows” all the more serious as we inch closer and closer to the finale. While there are less spells cast and typical Harry Potter moments from earlier films, fans can find satisfaction in the darker elements and conflict between our heroes. We’ve invested in Harry, Hermione, and Ron for nine years. Now it’s time to reap those benefits. Sure, it’s might be impossible to get the full effect of what this film will be until the story is complete, but “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is an impressive start to what we hope will lead to a memorable showdown.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

July 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Jim Broadbent, Emma Watson
Directed by: David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”)
Written by: Steve Kloves (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”)

The popular boy wizard continues down the mysterious road of sorcery and wonderment that has entertained fans for the last eight years in the sixth installment of the J.K. Rowling’s fantasy franchise, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Who would have guessed that Harry’s most formidable adversary in the new film would be puberty?

Yes, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has developed into a young man, and just in time. In “Half-Blood Prince,” there’s far more to fear than acne breakouts and raging hormones. The Dark Arts flourish as Harry and best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) continue on their quest to stop the evil Lord Voldemort (seen in this film only as a gothic-looking young student).

The story begins with Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) interfering into Harry’s life outside of Hogwarts as he flirts with a café waitress and sets up an impromptu date. Harry, who now knows he is “the chosen one,” doesn’t have time to enjoy the Muggle world as much as he would like. Dumbledore whisks him off to visit retired professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) so they can try to persuade him to return to Hogwarts. There’s something Slughorn is suppressing in his memory that can help Harry understand how to defeat Voldemort.

Along with Slughorn’s secrets, Harry must contend with a trio of smoky Death Eaters, who are terrorizing both the Muggle and Wizard worlds, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who is coming into his own and doing so by following orders of the Dark Lord himself, and, of course, the romantic high jinks that seems contagious throughout the entire school.

While romance continues to blossom occasionally between Harry and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), Ron and Hermione’s ambiguous relationship halts for a moment when another girl (Jessie Cave) begins to show interest in Ron. There’s no need for too many doses of love potion in the high school-like melodrama that plays out in the halls of Hogwarts. With all the heartbreak, jealousy, infatuation, and pitter-patter of youthful hearts, it’s really a treat to see there’s actual blood pumping through these characters as the story continues to unfold.

Directed by David Yates, who was also behind “Order of the Phoenix,” “Half-Blood Prince” is the most dialogue-heavy of the entire series. Yates and his screenwriting team slow down the pace considerably to uncover more of the emotional elements of everyone involved. However, there are still highly entertaining scenes comprised of impressive special effects and sprightly editing (you can’t have a “Harry Potter” movie without a weather-beaten game of Quidditch). “Half-Blood Prince” is also the funniest of the bunch.

While actual magic might be a secondary thought in Rowling’s text, “Half-Blood Prince” is a notable addition to the narrative as a whole. It all leads up nicely to the final installment, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows,” which will be released in two parts in 2010 and 2011 respectively.