Filmgoer’s Flamethrower #16 – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Posted: April 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Some movies sneak up on you and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is exactly that kind of movie. I’ve seen it now a couple times since stripping off the shrink wrap on the disk that I’d let sit on my table for several months doing other things. This latest entry in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World franchise gets better with each viewing.

Scene. Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) blows up other wizards presumably in Europe. Events that are reported with the typical bloodthirsty scaremongering headlines of The New York Daily Ghost or perhaps the real life New York Post. The viewer must pay attention to the moving newspaper as it lays the foundations of the story. Grindelwald has the wizards everywhere in an uproar. American wizards don’t really like the magical beasts with whom they share the planet. Certain muggles or No-Maj Americans organize against the wizards despite few believing them. You might enjoy some giggle water…Oh, yeah, mustn’t forget the unknown force rampaging the city.

Into this turmoil lurking under the surface, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) walks down a steamship gangplank bringing his special suitcase that needs a Muggle button to hide the wondrous things inside. He intends to release a Thunderbird back into the wilds of Arizona. All of which goes awry walking past a bank in Lower Manhattan.

Despite being the sort of odd duck that has trouble looking people in the eye, Newt catches the attention of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), an anti-witchcraft activist. The distraction allows a niffler to peel its way out of Newt’s TARDIS-like suitcase. Newt follows the kleptomaniac platypus into the bank where he chances to meet Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), baker in need of a loan to open his bakery. Newt and Jacob each bring similar suitcases into the bank.

Meanwhile, Tina Goldstein (Kate Waterston), a former Auror (magic cop) with MACUSA follows Newt into the bank suspicious of the odd duck in New York. Between the niffler picking up all manner of shiny objects for the pouch and the inevitable switcheroo of the similar suitcases, Ms. Goldstein has her hands full helping Newt and Jacob retrieve the magical creatures that have escaped. Launching us on a path that leads to the inevitable discovery of the creature terrorizing New York such that even No-Maj people feel the threat.

In many ways, Jacob Kowalski steals large sections of the movie as the No-Maj sidekick. Mister Fogler’s performance as an everyman attempting to bootstrap himself in the bakery of his dreams helps ground the movie. His eyes bug out seeing what magic does for the wizarding community and then he shrugs digging in to experience the next assault on regular reality. And of the two male leads paired off with the Goldstein sisters, he gets the better scenes with Tina’s baby sister, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol). He also takes getting steamrolled by a magical rhinoceros very well.

Given that the movie is set in 1926, I still found it odd that Tina comes off as the type of no-nonsense woman typically played by Kate Hepburn and Queenie comes off as the sort of high-pitched flapper later consolidated into the cartoon character Betty Boop. I kept wondering how these two completely different women actually resulted from the same orphan upbringing. But, then the filmmakers made sure that Jacob entered scene soon enough to keep us from asking this question more than once.

As for the developing relationship between Newt and Tina, both characters start with great reserve. Newt’s general inability to look people in the eye would seem to get in the way of engendering trust, but Tina finds whatever there is to find in this odd British duck. Frankly, Mr. Redmayne’s choices for the character are primarily why it has taken me several viewings to decide I liked the movie instead of merely tolerating the story. Even when they mean well, real world people that don’t make eye contact are sometimes hard to take.

But, then you dive deeper and realize that the odd duck is the plan. He admits to Tina early on that he “tends to annoy people.” And as you’d hope for the wizarding equivalent of Dr. Doolittle, the character lights up with wonder every time one of his fantastic beasts shares the screen.

I will highlight Colin Farrell as the chief American Auror, Percival Graves, providing a harsh look at wizard justice, especially violations of the International Secrecy Act. He holds his cards to his chest presenting what seems to be the care and concern for wizards and witches. He keeps an eye on Mary Lou Barebone’s New Salem Protective Society turning the woman’s adoptive son Credence (Ezra Miller) into an asset trying to find the Obscurus (a parasite that grows from repressed magic) that stalks New York despite official protestations to the contrary. Creepy personified.

Rounding out the experience of this fun movie, we get to look at CGI artists going all out for the creatures in Newt’s suitcase. Most of them closely reference real world animals or legendary creatures and provide most of the color in the neutral hues used for a New York imagined diagonally from the photographs of the era. Good times had by all.

In short for a fun movie that grows on you each time your kids make you see it, see this movie.

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