Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

J.K. Rowling plays up the whimsy over the darkness in her first of five Harry Potter spinoffs.

fantasticbeastsposterYou may have forgotten how whimsical the original Harry Potter book and film once were. J.K. Rowling’s first novel was akin to a Roald Dahl classic, a magical story fit for children and only slowly developing the stakes and the real world connections across the entire series.

Now comes “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a Harry Potter spinoff in which the story is not based on a book but is an original screenplay developed by Rowling. It carries the weight and expectations of the darker, later films, all of them directed by this film’s director David Yates. But the story’s charms are far lighter in nature, only hinting at the many directions this blossoming franchise can go.

For instance, the movie opens with the portent of the rise of Gellert Grindelwald, the evil wizard who believed in magical purity before Voldemort came around. But that prelude soon gives way to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) chasing a fuzzy, teleporting platypus around Manhattan. Continue reading “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II” is a film of reunion, redemption and reconciliation. The fans that have grown up with the characters of what is now the largest franchise in movie history have not come for the end, but have come to say goodbye.

In a homecoming roll call of old friends and enemies, “Harry Potter” comes to a close in this eighth and final sequel. Yes, this is the conclusion to a story already split in two, but this is more of an opportunity for everyone to reflect on the life that started nearly 10 years ago today, and how we now realize how the magic will live on.

It’s for the legendary Maggie Smith to put on one last fiery show. It’s for Robbie Coltrane to charm us one last time, the big lug. It’s for Michael Gambon to take a long-awaited final bow. It’s for Helena Bonham Carter to literally explode on screen. It’s for Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman to finally revel in their own villainy.

And it’s for Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson to show they’ve at last grown up.

The kids proved to be the best of casting choices a decade ago, and here they show maturity, not teen angst, as the fate of the wizarding world rests upon their shoulders. Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry, Ron and Hermione are no longer kids. But throughout “The Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” we catch a glimmer of them trying to retain their lost childhood. It’s a touching moment of empathy that mirrors the emotion the audience is trying to recapture as they watch this penultimate installment to the most popular film franchise of all time.

I shared that reaction as I watched the latest Harry Potter movie. I surmised that people of my age go to see the Potter movies because firstly they provide that escapism back to reading the books as kids in how close the adaptations are. And in doing so, they secondly unite millions of Harry Potter fanatics that for one evening can share in a bit of a nerdgasm if you will.

You see, for all of “The Deathly Hallows’s” darker edges, more complex narratives and absence of another year at Hogwarts, this film feels very much like every Potter film that came before it, especially the previous two David Yates directed films, who also directs parts one and two. It still mixes in enough cheesy, goofy moments for everyone who’s been so invested in the franchise to now giggle at. And it likewise provides enough somber moments that fans can let out a collective gasp.

It made me realize that the Potter films are to be seen the way I saw it this past weekend, in the heat of the moment with an audience brimming with excitement. That palpable joy contained in the theater cannot be recreated when watching at home on DVD, HBO, ABC Family, wherever. Once you leave that simulated Potterverse, the material never holds up as well.

The same is true of “The Deathly Hallows,” which I enjoyed immensely, but suspect I may feel differently prior to the release of the next film.

It’s because there are moments as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are searching for the remaining horcruxes that the dark tone caves in on itself to provide a little comic whimsy. One mission will take them into the heart of the Ministry of Magic, and along the way they have some fun with the Polyjuice potion that allows them to morph into someone else, and not to mention some more fun with a toilet. The gang also meets up with an assortment of characters and creatures from the previous novels and films, and although the house elf Dobby provides a few smiles when he arrives, let’s say I was glad to see him leave again.

But I do think this is one of the better Harry Potter films, and most certainly Yates’s best. The juicy tidbits he provides to “The Deathly Hallows” do help the film stand out, and I look forward to revisiting these scenes when I’m not sitting in the second row of a multiplex.

I mentioned that the main characters, who have proven to be marvelous casting choices for so long now, can be caught reflecting on their lost childhood. Hermione is seen wiping her parents’ memories clean of her existence to keep them safe. Harry is forced to send away the Dursleys, and we see him lingering over the cupboard under the stairs.

Soon they’re swept away into the open, dangerous world, and emotions and sexual tension get the better of them. Yates leaves behind much of the teen romance angst that muddled the sixth film and puts all of the chemistry between Harry and Ron towards Hermione out in the open. And there’s a goofy moment when Harry begins to dance with Hermione that is allowed to linger into a touching little vignette. By themselves on this journey, the film very much belongs to Radcliffe, Grint and Watson, and they own it.

They convincingly lead us to their quest for The Deathly Hallows, three legendary and powerful objects derived from a fairy tale. The way in which we learn this wizarding folklore is through an elegantly done animated sequence unlike anything seen in the Potter films before. The shadowy figures that comprise it make a sequence strong enough to stand on its own as a beautifully done short film.

I was pleased to see how much I admired in between the dense layers of the plot and action scenes directed like they belonged in a psychological horror movie. So I’ll admit, I could’ve done without all the heavy chases and epic battles, but it’s all paced well and underscored by an eerie musical composition by the great Alexandre Desplat.

So for all my bitterness towards Potter’s excessively wide spread over pop culture and its forgettable qualities as it is endlessly paraded out, I offer a strong recommendation to see it now, while the magic is still there.

3 ½ stars