Movie Night: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Year: 2018
Genre: Fantasy
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler

The  second installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” series featuring the adventures of Magizoologist New Scamander.

I was curious at the critical dislike for this movie, considering how successful “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was back in 2016. In fairness, I didn’t go to see this movie in theaters when it was released, although I do regret that – if nothing else, the Wizarding World films have proved to be some of the most visually spectacular in recent cinema history.

After a while, I began to assume the hate was directed at poor casting choices, or controversial thematic material (e.g. Dumbledore’s alluded-to romance with Grindelwald), but I never really paid much attention until I finally watched the film the other night.

I thought it was great.

No, really – I actually very much enjoyed it. I do think I understand some of the criticism levied at it – in particular the plethora of characters, the inexplicable rewriting of wizarding history, and the bizarre, one-line reference to homosexuality (I mean, either dive in and embrace it, or just forget about it) – but for me, it was a worthwhile installment in what I hope will become an excellent series.

I was afraid that Johnny Depp would bring his characteristically outrageous performance to Gellert Grindelwald and ruin the character; I was also disappointed at the casting of an American in a distinctly European role. I was also afraid that Jude Law, who in my eyes can really only play a villain, would ruin Dumbledore for me.

I’m glad to say I was wrong. Depp was surprisingly understated and reserved – just what was called for. Law was able to be both charismatic, charming and dangerous – exactly what I wanted Dumbledore to be. And the supporting cast all performed admirably, as well.

The movie isn’t without imperfections; as a sequel to “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, Newt Scamander’s role is becoming somewhat relegated to the sidelines of another story. In fact, it really seems like the first film should have stood on its own, and this one been called something else entirely. I agree with the criticism of having a large number of characters, but not with the idea that there are too many to care about; I’m used to plentiful characters from Rowling’s novels, and it fit the feel of what she’s created in the past.

In the end, I’m glad I watched it, and although it’s no “Deathly Hallows”, it holds a dear place in my heart as a continuation of Rowling’s admirable magical world.

8/10 would watch again.

Cognitive Dissonance & Fighting the Mind

One of the difficulties for me as an author is the deep-seated belief that I cannot be successful. As odd as it sounds, I find myself unable to comprehend the success of authors such as J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. There’s a disconnect in my mind between sitting down day after day, week after week, typing word after word, and the multi-million dollar revenue of someone whose words are devoured lovingly by millions of people across the world. (Not that money necessarily equals success, but you get the point.)

Cognitive dissonance is a strange phenomenon, and one I’m all-too familiar with. In essence, the concept is that an individual person can hold two contradictory beliefs, and can’t come to terms with the conflict. An example would be that one believes sea levels are rising, but also believes climate change is a hoax.

A more practical example in my life is my medication. Sometimes I run low, and I don’t have time to get it refilled. In my mind I know it’s bad to run out of medication, so I stop taking it … so I don’t run out.

People have a lot of cognitive dissonances in their lives, and often are unaware of them until forced into a position where they have to consider both sides of the argument. With writing, for me, I used to simply not believe that people like King and Rowling were real. Despite reading (and enjoying) their words, I simply couldn’t attach the words to an individual, to a person like me or you.

When I started writing myself – seriously writing, writing tens of thousands of words and ordering them into something called a novel – it helped my cognitive dissonance a little. When I wrote the final words to The Redemption of Erâth: Consolation (“And so it was that, unknown to him, Darkness followed behind and laughed.”), I realized that it was actually possible for a single person to write over 100,000 sequential words. And when I published it – not the disastrous 2014 publication through iUniverse, but rather when I republished it myself in early 2016 – and people started to read it, it connected the dots just a little more.

But I still find myself in a place of dissonance nonetheless, be it less than before. I liken my fantasy work to Tolkien, in terms of scope and style, and it is a pipe dream for me that my books might one day be adapted for the big screen. I would absolutely love to see my fierundé rendered in high-quality CGI, blood sunsets descending behind dark storm clouds, the sweeping devastation of a world on fire on a fifty-foot screen. I wonder if it will happen in my lifetime, or if, like Tolkien, the fame of my works might come after my death.

Or perhaps what I write is doomed to obscurity for all eternity, like so many others. Perhaps I will never get more than a handful of reviews, and my readers will dwindle as interest slowly wanes.

I believe that I can write just as much as just as well (at my best, perhaps) as the literary giants of the world. I also believe that I will never be recognized for my writing. I believe such a thing is, quite literary, impossible. That it has in fact never happened (to anyone), and therefore cannot happen to me. Stephen King and J.K. Rowling and Tolkien, for all I know, don’t actually exist.

This dissonance is something I have to fight daily, in my writing, in my mental health, and in my everyday life. It’s a strange phenomenon, and it’s frustrating as hell.

What dissonances do you have? What exists, that you can’t quite believe? Let me know below!

J.K. Rowling once again creates more than fantastic beasts.

I realize I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I just came back from watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Oddly enough, Little Satis didn’t particularly want to see it, though I’m not certain why; he’s loved everything related to Harry Potter for years.

In any case, I went in with deliberately low expectations, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a spin-off. Spin-offs are rarely any good (in my experience). Second, it’s not a book. And whilst the Harry Potter series is certainly not without its flaws, J.K. Rowling clearly proved herself as a fantastic author of books. The films that followed were better or worse, depending on the movie, but they couldn’t compare to the books, simply because they aren’t books. Adaptations, by necessity, are abbreviated.

In my estimation, she’s outdone herself.

And I have to say, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Granted, Rowling had some practice with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in terms of writing for the stage, but this is, to my understanding, her first attempt at developing a fully-fledged screenplay, dedicated to being seen on film.

And in my estimation, she’s outdone herself. I just finished writing an article about character development for the review blog Girl Who Reads (look for it on Friday!), and I rather wish I had had this movie to talk about in terms of what that looks like as a success. Despite introducing us to an almost entirely new set of characters (even Gellert Grindlewald is only referenced in the Harry Potter books), Rowling has managed to create fully living, breathing characters for whom we feel empathy, concern, and—dare I say it—love. Newt Scamander (portrayed admirably by Eddie Redmayne) is hardly a great wizard, but holds a whimsical charm that I can only compare to Bilbo Baggins—a character of values, morals and oddities. Every other character is equally well fleshed-out, with hints of backstory that are never overdone, nor ham-fisted down our throats.

The pacing is equally excellent, perhaps even better than that of her novels: whilst there is plenty of action to entertain, there are also serenely calm and beautifully charming moments that allow us to breathe, take in the surroundings, and experience once more the wizarding world that Rowling has so deftly created.

If this is Rowling’s first attempt at a screenplay, I’m excited to see what else she has in store for us. Unlike the Star Wars universe (which I also talk about on Friday), this feels like a natural expansion of the universe that we’ve come to love so dearly. There are, of course, references for the fans, but again they are not overt or in your face, and fit in well with the overall plot and pacing of the story.

Little Satis was ultimately glad to have seen the movie, and my wife, who’s hardly the biggest Potter fan in the world, enjoyed it as well. It’s one I would gladly watch again, and will proudly sit alongside the previous eight films as part of what I hope will become an ever-growing world of wizards and witches.