Friday, March 3, 2017

Wizarding Gangs of New York, or Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Alternate title: Wizard Boardwalk Empire, or Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I don’t consider myself a Harry Potter scholar, or even a fan.  I mean, I read the books and saw the movies and I even had a Gryffindor scarf at one point (a Christmas present) but the franchise never took a hold of me like it did with so many people.  I always felt outside of that fandom, and I suppose if this were a Star Wars vs. Star Trek scenario I’d count myself in the Peter Jackson camp with The Lord of the Rings (2001).  This perspective enabled me to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) with a critical yet unsentimental eye, and offer an opinion not based on the volumes of source material it was built from.
Fantastic Beasts is a pretty, genial presentation of the Harry Potter universe in America, with lovely CGi Art Deco dream landscapes of New York and quirky wizard steampunk elements with a decidedly Yankee twist.  Eddie Redmayne is Newt Scamander (because of course he is), a wizard-fish out of water in 1920’s Manhattan with a magical suitcase full of, well, fantastic beasts.  The cases get switched like in What’s Up Doc (1972) and then more magic CGI stuff happens.  I was continually reminded of other New York period films like The Godfather, Part II (1974), but with less Don Fanucci and more invisible monsters tearing up the town like they were in Ghostbusters (2016).
With Colin Farrell as Percy Graves, and Samantha Morton, the pre-cog Agatha from Minority Report (2002, arguably Tom Cruise’s last great movie before he became a parody of himself, and coincidentally, also starring Colin Farrell) as Mary Lou Barebone.  Dan Fogler from the underrated Balls of Fury (2007, it’s essentially Enter the Dragon but with ping pong) appears as Jacob Kowalski, a friendly muggle or I guess what we Yanks call a No-Maj.  Harry Potter director David Yates also found the time to direct The Legend of Tarzan (2016) in the same year.
Fantastic Beasts expands the universe, appeal to a more adult crowd, all those grown-up Harry Potter fans presumably yearning for more.  And since the movie made over ¾ of a billion dollars worldwide, we can safely assume that we’ll see at least two more of them.  But much like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) the movie is attempting to recapture a magical (no pun intended) collusion of writing, direction and above all, cast chemistry.  Fantastic Beasts stands in a big shadow, and while perfectly adequate and entertaining there will be inevitable comparisons to that boy with the glasses and the lightning bolt scar, and it will always come up short.  Filmmakers can’t compete with one of the audience’s happiest childhood memories, and audiences will never learn that they can’t go home again.





my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).