Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

A fantastical dive back into J.K. Rowling’s universe of witchcraft and wizardry

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of ComicBookMovie.com

Courtesy of ComicBookMovie.com

I would consider myself to be a Harry Potter fan, albeit less intense then some of the other fans I know. Still, when granted an opportunity to attend an early screening of this film I jumped on it; however knowing I would have to review it I tried to watch it as a film student rather than through rose colored glasses.

Overall I’d say Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a whole lot of fun. The visual effects dazzle and impress, the score is wonderful and engaging. Also I actually like the main protagonist more than Harry Potter himself. I know, sheer blasphemy. Fans of the series, I’m sure you’re going to see this film and even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter and you’re getting dragged into a screening by someone, so long as you like the fantasy genre I don’t think you’re going to have a bad time at all. If it was the nature of the main story being set in a school that was your main turn off or perhaps you were just too old for it when it came out, this story might still be for you.

The film is set in 1920’s New York City shortly after World War One. Eddie Redmayne delivers a great performance as Newt Scamander, a Magizoologist or one who studies magical creatures- you see where this is going. Scamander carries an enchanted case with magical creatures and circumstances lead to the case having an accidental switcheroo with ordinary man, Jacob Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler) who lets some of the beasts escape.

Courtesy of Warner Bros

Courtesy of Warner Bros

What sounds like your typical Saturday morning cartoon plot where they’ve got to go out and “catch them all” (obviously I’m referencing Pokemon here) turns into a much larger story where alliances are formed. However there is a grey line when it comes to morality that leads to it being more complicated than simply having a team of good guys versus a team of bad guys.

Yes, there is an overall big baddie, but this film touches some pretty dark subject matter when it comes to the subject of morality which we’ll talk about more in the spoiler section down below. Though while we’re at it, don’t take the little kids to see this one. Even though it is only rated PG-13, they’re not going to get some of the stuff in it and some of the other stuff might be considered disturbing.

The other notable actors are Katherine Waterson and Alison Sudol who play the magical Goldstein sisters. Sudol delivers a charming performance, reminiscent of the character of Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.

Courtesy of Warner Bros

Courtesy of Warner Bros

Waterson on the other hand, I’m not totally sold on. It could be because this film is just the set up for her character and she’s dealing with a lot of stuff, maybe upon a second viewing or with further sequels she’ll grow on me but overall her performance just felt the most underwhelming. Either that or maybe we’re just so used to seeing such confident, strong characters in the series such as Hermione and Professor McGonagall that she feels like a letdown. It’s also hard to tell if from the performance if the character is supposed to be fragile or a go-getter and like I said maybe she’s supposed to be that way, but the performance is just weird for lack of a better word.

I’ll wait to discuss other performances as well as specific plot points in the spoiler section since a lot of what I have to say about them will give away key elements from the film and I want those who are looking to avoid the spoilers to be able to do so.

For those who are concerned that this film and its projected sequel are just here to milk the franchise for more money- well you’re not wrong but in this case I’m willing to let it pass. Since the opening of Pottermore we’ve found out that Rowling wrote backstories for essentially every named character in the book. I’ve always been for using film to breathe life into that extended content, also I love fantasy visuals so I mean it’s one thing to read about a Hippogriff but then to see one rendered on a big screen is kinda awesome; they truly come to life as Fantastic Beasts, tee hee. We’ve come a long way since the Claymation effects in Clash of the Titans and the animatronic T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

Courtesy of slashfilm.com

Courtesy of slashfilm.com

Overall I give this film a high recommendation, though I’m pretty sure if you like Harry Potter you’re going to see it no matter what I say. I expect there to be mixed reception just like there is among the core film versus book series. Personally I’m holding off reading these books until the movies are out as I found I enjoyed the last four films more when I did that because I didn’t feel like things were missing. But I know some people like to do the opposite. To each their own. One thing I think people are really going to enjoy is the chemistry between the four main actors, especially Redmayne and Fogler.

I look forward to the future of this franchise. It has shown that it’s for adults with a good balance between comedic, serious, and the occasional melodrama because this film features adults and we get to see sexual tension more than we did in the Hogwarts storyline- though some fanfiction writers will tell you otherwise, good god the way some of them wield language like a sword, but if the sword was actually a phallus and their username is Sigmund Freud.

I really enjoyed Fogler’s everyman thrown into an extraordinary situation and the chemistry he has with Redmayne as I had said before, really is the heart of the film. They also flesh out their characters a whole lot with subtle gestures and a few lines here and there so I gotta give it up for the screenwriters who did a good job of “show don’t tell.” Fantastic Beasts excels where many fantasy films fail because it just goes with it, it doesn’t weigh the plot down with information, and it establishes the way magic works in a couple simple lines which is really refreshing.

SPOILERS       SPOILERS           SPOILERS

 

Alright kids, its spoiler time. When things get dark in this film they really get dark. Holy crap. The execution scene might possibly be the darkest scene we’ve had on camera in this series. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of it, but wow talk about interrupting your “gotta catch em all” adventure for some ascended fridge horror. (Here’s a quick definition of what fridge horror is courtesy of tv tropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AscendedFridgeHorror).) So here we have the people governing over the magical world, the law, who are supposed to be the good guys- and their form of punishment is essentially being no different than the witch hunter group of Non-mag/muggles that are hunting after them. That’s messed up.

We also have some on screen child abuse. Ezra Miller’s Credence is played so well that he’s almost unrecognizable from the roles I’ve seen him in prior to this. He toes that line between broken bird and human grenade so well I really wish the Academy would give more acknowledgement to this genre and give him a nod for supporting actor. Another good performance comes from Colin Farrell, I really do like when he’s the bad guy- I’m not a huge fan of the twist that at least half the audience will see coming but I digress. He was good in this, and I’m going to miss him in the sequels.

I’m keeping the spoiler section short this time because I really want people to see the movie and enjoy it for themselves. Also since the story is being told through multiple films it’s still too soon to tell if certain payoffs are going to happen or if certain lines meant more than what they seemed to mean. Only time will tell. Fantastic Beasts is getting the Heather seal of approval.

Podcast: Alternative Oscars Episode 5 – 1953

The Tawfik Zone Alternative Oscars Podcast Logo

Hi everybody.

It’s been a long gap between episodes. My fault entirely. I’m thrilled to unleash our 5th episode of The Alternative Oscars Podcast. This episode, we discuss movies of 1953. We dish our thoughts on the five films nominated that year and then offer our nominees of films eligible in 1953 that we think are better.

What did you think about the Best Picture nominees? Or our nominees and winners? What would be your picks for 1953?

Review Short Film: Here Lies Joe (2016)

One of the most common complaints about Hollywood films is how predictable and formulaic they are. In the 90s, film festivals like Sundance were in their zenith when they provided a platform for writer/directors such as Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, and Jim Jarmusch, who delivered films that brazenly asserted an edgy, idiosyncratic style, often mixing the irreverent with the absurd.

Over the years, Sundance and indie films in general have lost their cachet as many of the films that come out of the festivals have arguably become as formulaic as blockbuster flicks, yet often without the slick efficiency. One of the stalest forms of American indie movies is the emo rom-com between suicidal depressives.

The new short film Here Lies Joe checks most of the boxes of the aforementioned genre: washed out color palette, slow mumbly alternative soundtrack, gratuitous long takes that are supposed to signify how bare the protagonist’s life is, and forced snarky-cutesy banter between a man and woman.

Writer-director-cinematographer-editor, etc. Mark Battle has some flair for morose comedic awkwardness as evidenced in the suicide anonymous group meeting scene (buoyed by an amusing performance by Mary Hronicek as an emotional wreck).

Joe loses momentum when it hinges on a meandering series of awkward scenes between the titular character (Dean Temple), a former professor? living in his car, and Z (Andi Morrow), an intellectual and brash, but self-destructive woman.

There are hints that Temple and Morrow, are sensitive performers, but they are constrained by the overly self-conscious archetypal nature of their characters.

Morrow is better at asserting the abrasive elements of her character than the more vulnerable side, which as written feels more obligatory than organic. If the character of Z is overly snarky, Joe is on the wrong side of understated; underdeveloped. While protagonists in many films overexplain themselves, we never conclusively know anything about Joe (the scraps of evidence of his past are never tied in to the story, alas), and therefore have very little connection with him.

What Joe lacks in originality, it makes up for in overall competency, which puts it way ahead of most low-budget small crew short films in the festival circuit.

Good Nightly to The Nightly Show

I was mindlessly checking Facebook one afternoon and was completely stunned and saddened to learn that one of the few new shows that I regularly watched, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore was cancelled by Comedy Central after two seasons.

Wuuuuuut?

Courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Actually, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as there have been continuous signs that the show hasn’t clicked with many people. Ratings were always low and very rarely got media attention, until the announcement of the untimely cancellation, where the consensus is that this is a huge injustice and will leave a vacuum for sharp political commentary.

I am certainly disappointed by this news, even though it wasn’t a perfect show. In fact Nightly had lots of rough patches. Quite a number of the sketches from the earlier run such as the amateur theater reenactments of headline news were embarrassingly lame. There were far too many editions of “Nightly, Nightly” a misfire parody of the celebrity driven Entertainment Tonight-style of news stories, made totally unbearable by Grace Parra’s annoying overacting.

The most problematic element of the show, the panel discussions, were usually mediocre at best, hampered in part by the brevity of each episode and partly by the guests, entertainers who didn’t always have the best grasp of politics. Wilmore wasn’t always a forceful moderator, often kowtowing to guests, even when they’re obviously babbling idiocy, like ignorant loudmouth Anthony Anderson ranting about a New Zealand basketball player’s use of the word “monkey,” oblivious to the cultural differences of the word.

But out of that messiness came its greatest strength, originality. As network late-night is more about a set-in-stone brand, Wilmore’s flexible formula gave him a chance to create his own vibe of a no-nonsense truth teller who was also highly personable and compassionate.

Wilmore was better than anyone (yes, including John Oliver whose jokey asides often feel intrusive and pale to his sharp journalistic analysis) at seamlessly blending sardonic quips in the midst of commenting on tragic stories.

Social media went wild for Jon Stewart’s somber, no joke take on the Charleston church shooting, but while Stewart and others threw their hands up in the air, Wilmore immediately contextualized the tragedy and making mincemeat out of the ever-tacky Fox News who wasted no time spinning the shooting as a war against Christians rather than the race issue that it clearly was.

When everybody else dodged with sending their “thoughts” to the Paris terror victims for days after the massacre, Wilmore again was a first comedy responder. He humorously reminded his audience about France’s role in forming America, as well as some of America’s stupid foreign policies under Bush, all in the spirit of a genuine sense of grief.

I’m just as sad for the core team of correspondents as I am for Wilmore, most of whom I suspect will struggle to find another gig for a while. I greatly respect Wilmore for sharing the spotlight with strong scene-stealing comedians, especially MVP Mike Yard. Out of all the staff, Yard is consistently the sharpest and most subversive voice on the program and has a special knack at starting with an unexpected angle and taking it to an even more surprising direction; his report on the plantation weddings highlights his ability at uncomfortable hilarity. Even in the panel discussions where most people mince their words to act as a mutual agreement society, Yard is one of the only ones willing to say the hard truths, even when they weren’t met with wild applause.

My second fave is Holly Walker who brought an invigorating audacity to her slightly unhinged characters, best of which was the “incognegro” truther. I even kind of warmed to people who really put me off at first like Franchesca Ramsey and Robin Thede.

What galls me most about this cancellation was how little time they gave the fans. I’m not asking for a year’s notice a la Oprah, but certainly Comedy Central could have given us more than a week to process the news, most businesses at least give two weeks’ notice. Even Wilmore was blindsided, causing him to rightly quip, “…keeping it 100, I guess I hadn’t counted on ‘The Unblackening’ happening to my time slot as well.”

While Nightly may not have had the viewership that Comedy Central wanted, they have made a huge mistake of ending the only show on its network to substantially skewer our thoroughly demented and fraught socio-political climate and call out the entertainment media for its lopsided coverage and extreme intellectual dishonesty. Meanwhile, the craziness continues and late-night remains the same old, same old.

Alternative Oscars In-Depth: Neville Brand, Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef

The Tawfik Zone Alternative Oscars Podcast Logo

Hi everybody,

Right before the Tawfik Zone was out of commission for quite a while, due to a series of minor technical difficulties and my own hectic schedule, my dymanic duo Tia Nikolopulas and Tawfik Zone contributor Candace Wiggins recorded a couple of Alternative Oscars podcasts. (You can check out 1950, 1951, and 1952).

The opening jingle was composed by Incompitech genius Kevin McLeod.

This one is the first of what we hope will be a regular part of the podcast, an in-depth look at people or things related to the Alternative Oscars. In this episode we discuss character actors, all of whom got their start in the 1950s; the iconic Lee Van Cleef, the beloved Jack Elam, and the now-underrated Neville Brand.

If you find our other podcasts too long, you’ll be happy to know that this and future in-depth episodes is about 45 minutes. If you like our longer, stream-of-conscious Alternative Oscars episodes, don’t worry, we’re still going to do them. Alternating between these two types of episodes, we hope to provide content on a regular, monthly basis.

We hope you enjoy our In-Depth episode. If you have any questions or constructive feedback gives us a shout out. We’d like to hear from you.