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.

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.

Tales of Despair: Paranorman

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Paranorman yet, read no further!

I know what you’re thinking: isn’t Paranorman that stop-motion kids’ movie that came out earlier this summer? You know, the one with funny-looking zombies and plenty of goofs?

Yes, it is…sort of.

I took Little Satis to see it the other day – a kind of day-before-school treat – assuming it would be a good bit of fun. Something like Corpse Bride, I thought, or The Nightmare Before Christmas (goulish animation seems to be the exclusive realm of Tim Burton). I wasn’t expecting to find a movie that was surprisingly dark, genuinely scary, and ultimately heartbreaking.

Norman talks to dead people, and unsurprisingly, most people – including his parents – think he’s a freak. The only person who listens to him is the fat kid, who shares his torment.

The town he lives in, Blithe, is renown for the trial and execution of an evil witch some three hundred years ago. Soon, strange goings-on begin, and Norman is confronted by a crazy man claiming to be his uncle, telling him he must read from a book at the witch’s grave before sundown, or the dead will rise. Needless to say, the old man dies, Norman doesn’t make it in time, and a host of zombies – the seven folk who had sentenced the witch to death – rise from their graves: cursed by her to wander forever, undead. Norman, the fat kid and his unwilling older sister are now faced with delivering the town now not only from the hordes of zombies, but from the evil of the witch herself.

The darkness in this movie, however, comes not from the ghostly story or ghoulish characters, but rather from Norman himself; the creators of Paranorman made the (brave) decision to create a main character – in a children’s movie, no less – who is drowned in misery and depression. Norman passes through his life numb, bearing the torment of those around him, and never considering that there could be any other way of life. The thought of tossing a stick for a dog to fetch – the concept of fun – is entirely lost on him.

And of course, it could be no other way, for the ending of the story was as emotional as it was surprising. Gradually, we learn that the seven undead executors, far from being evil, are merely seeking rest – relief from the torment of living dead for over three hundred years. And when Norman hunts desperately to discover where the witch’s grave could be, he discovered a terrible, tragic truth: the demonic witch, scourge of the town and held as evil for three hundred years, was only an eleven-year old girl. For nothing more than appearing to control fire, she was hunted, trialled, and executed.

I was blinking back tears by the end of a movie I had expected to be thoughtless entertainment (after all, it wasn’t Pixar). But the misery, the tragedy of so young a girl, ripped from her parents by ignorant, fearful men and put horribly to death…it was so unexpected, and so sad, that my heart went out to her. In my throat was caught my heart when the girl’s ghost, finally spent of her rage, collapses to her knees and utters…

I want my mommy.

This was no children’s movie, despite what its producers would have us believe. It was something special – something that speaks to the bullied, the tormented and the abused in all of us. I am glad I saw it – and glad Little Satis did to, despite it all. The world is a dark place sometimes, and our children need to learn this: it will make them appreciate the light all the more.