Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, rated PG-13
*** ½

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second installment of a planned five film Fantastic Beasts series. The new film is exciting, intense and darker than the first. It picks up in New York, shortly after the first film ended where the evil wizard Grindelwald, played by three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; Finding Neverland; Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) has been captured and is being transferred back to the British Ministry of Magic. The film is directed by Emmy nominee David Yates (The Girl in the Café, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and four Harry Potter films).  The film is written by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. The film had a production budget of $200 million. The story takes place with beautiful views of New York City, London, Paris and Austria.
The film begins with an exciting and explosive scene in which Grindelwald escapes from detention while being transferred from a New York prison. In London, Newt Scamander, the “magizoologist”, played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), is forbidden from leaving the country. His brother Theseus, played by Callum Turner tries to work things out for Newt, but Newt is not willing to do what is needed. Theseus is engaged to Leta Lestrange, played by Zoë Kravitz.
Newt is contacted by a young Dumbledore, played by two-time Oscar nominee Jude Law (Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr. Ripley), to help track down Credence Barebone, played by Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Credence is an Obscurial, a wizard who has repressed his magical abilities. Grindelwald is consolidating his power and has plans for wizards to take over the world. It is suspected that Credence will be recruited by Grindelwald to join his side. Newt is aided in the mission to find Credence by sidekicks returning from the first film, baker Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, and magical Goldstein sisters Queenie, played by Alison Sudo, and Porpentina, known as Tina, played by Katherine Waterston. The battle for Credence takes place in Paris, and forms the main plot of the film, with several other subplots, included. Another major plot is to find out the true identity of Credence.
The film is visually stunning; the CGI, beasts, costumes, set design. The soundtrack by eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard (Defiance, Michael Clayton, The Village) was outstanding.
The film introduces many new characters and revealed some of the backstory about some already known characters of the Harry Potter series. The film sets things up for the forthcoming films in the series. The movie also has a surprise ending.
The film has a strong cast, and there were several excellent acting performances, in particular Law, Depp, Kravitz and Redmayne, though the latter is not the main character as he was in the first film.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an entertaining film that lovers of the Harry Potter films will enjoy, particularly scenes that take place at Hogwarts. It is intense and darker than the first film, and will be too scary for children under 10 years of age.

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My Review of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’

fantastic-beastsFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, rated PG-13
*** ½

Five years after the final Harry Potter film (Deathly Hallows: Part 2), comes this film that is adapted by J.K. Rowling, in her first turn at writing the screenplay for a film, adapted from her 128 page 2001 book.  This is the first of five planned films to be based on Rowling’s short book, which is now available in a new screenplay edition.  Rowling has stated that the film is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was published in 1927, became a massive bestseller as well as an approved textbook at Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s school of witchcraft and wizardry.

The film is directed by David Yates, who directed the final four Harry Potter films, and has an estimated budget of $180 million. Oscar nominee Steve Kloves returns form the Potter films as producer.

The film takes place in New York in 1926. Shy and quirky British magizoologist Newt Scamander is played by two time Oscar nominee and Best Actor winner for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne, who had auditioned for the role of Tom Riddle in 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but was turned down after reading one line.  Newt travels the world collecting endangered magical creatures and arrives in the city looking for new additions. He has all kinds of these creatures in his worn brown leather suitcase.

There are witches and wizards in the city, but they mostly stay out of sight of the No-Majs, short for no magic, as humans are called in America (as opposed to Muggles in Britain).  There is a Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA), the American version of the British Ministry of Magic.  When Newt accidently exchanges his suitcase with a No-Maj baker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) the effect is that a number of the creatures in the suitcase are unleashed into the streets of the city, leading to a frantic search to find  them. When Newt is spotted by Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, (Katherine Waterston), an investigator who for some reason is on thin ice in her job with MACUSA, she hauls him in for questioning.

We see something evil and dangerous in the city. It has been occasionally destroying buildings, throwing vehicles, etc. It is referred to as Obscurus, a massive magical force that swirls around in a destructive black cloud.

The film also shows us magic-fearing protesters, led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) who takes children from the magic families she exposes. One of those, the bullied and abused Credence Barebone (Ezra Miler), has secret meetings with the powerful and power-hungry Percival Graves (Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell) who works for Madame President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo from Selma).

Tina and Newt will eventually become good friends, and with Jacob and Tina’s sister, the mind-reading Queenie (Alison Sudol), will work together to try to prevent Mary Lou and Percival from exposing the magical world to the No-Majs.

We are told of a powerful dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, who has gone missing. Readers of the Harry Potter books will recall Grindelwald (here played by Johnny Depp) as an older man. Grindelwald will play a major role in the future films in this series.

Parents who were concerned with the magic and wizards in the Harry Potter books and films will have the same concerns here. The film also contains some violence, primarily as a result of the mysterious Obscurus.

What did I like about the film? A lot! The cast was excellent, especially Redmayne as Newt Scamander and Fogler as Jacob Kowalski. They had great chemistry, and I enjoyed their partnership with Waterston’s Tina. The 1926 New York City sets and costumes were excellent and the beasts were, dare I say, fantastic? In addition, the magical effects were at times incredible.

What could have been better? Some of the dialogue could have been better. At times the film moved slowly. Although there is really a lot going on in this first film, perhaps the film could have been edited down from its 133 minutes. In addition, the destruction caused by Obscurus goes on too long, as it does in some Marvel films.

Note: Some critics have written of Rowling using the film as an anti-fascist political allegory (Fascism definition: a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government). Perhaps that is in here if you are looking for it. I saw it more as the wizarding world trying to stay out of sight from the No-Majs.