Bless the Beasts and Wizards (Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald, 2018)

Fantastic_Beasts_2_Crimes_Grindelwald_PosterThe first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them had Newt Scamander, witches Tina and Queenie and muggle Jacob trying to save a young but powerful man from being both destroyed by his power and that of being a pawn by a wicked wizard. In the end, it appeared the young man, Creedence, was dead and the villainous Grindelwald was revealed.

The sequel picks up with an action packed escape by Grindelwald before returning to Newt Scamander who is trying to get his right to leave the country reinstated. The Ministry of Magic reveals that Creedence is alive and well.  He is hiding in Paris trying to find out who he really is. He has fallen in love with a young woman. Tina and another Auror trying to catch Creedence (but with different goals).  Jacob has regained his memory and he and Queenie are an item, but after a fight, Queenie runs off to Paris to find Tina, but Grindelwald is in Paris looking for Creedence…confused yet?

I actually quite liked the first film. I enjoyed the introduction of a decent and prominent “muggle” character. I felt the four leads had a nice chemistry. I was sympathetic to Tina’s attempts do things all by the book, but also her sympathy for Creedence in the film.

And yet, this film has none of that. For one thing, there are about twenty separate storylines, separating almost all the characters for a large part of the movie. So, it is all really a mess. And by themselves, some of the characters start to become grating.

The film is full of scenes giving us back story and it becomes super clear from the earliest moments in the film that this is literally all a set up. The film  is more interested in its world building and fan service with origins to characters that never needed an origin. A lot of things feel like they will not pay off until a later film.

The last half hour or so just keeps hitting the audience with twists and reveals…and none of them feel consequential.

I mean, I basically liked Jude Law as a young Dumbledore. But can I say…the most controversial casting of the film was Johnny Depp. And I really do wish the filmmakers had listened to the outcry.  Because, honestly? This is one of the most uninspired and dreadfully dull Depp performances I have ever seen.  It is just lifeless.

This ends up being a lackluster sequel…and I am disappointed to say it did not keep me entertained.

Oh Oh It’s Magic PT 7 uh PT 2 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, 2011)

Harry_Potter_008_PosterTen years of film-making culminates with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.  After managing to destroy a couple of the Horacruxes and escaping the clutches of Bellatrix Lestrange, the trio realizes they need to return to Hogwarts.  But this is not so simple.  Snape is now Headmaster, Dementors patrol the grounds and Death Eaters are on the watch for Harry Potter.

They find themselves seeking the help of Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth. They were never aware of a brother, and he seems embittered towards his brother.  In the Trio’s absence, Neville Longbottom has rallied their fellow students to be ready for war against Voldemort.  Harry realizes what the final Horacruxes are.  He seeks one, while Hermione and Ron work on a plan to destroy the other. There is a large battle at the school, which Voldemort brings a halt to.  He promises to let everyone go if they only turn over Harry Potter.

But Harry realizes he must face Voldemort on his own.  This leads to a rather touching moment with our three heroes as it is clear, this may be the last time they ever see each other.

Part two, while a logical progression from the dark part one, is far more exciting and even fun.  The drama is more hopeful. The funny thing is, taken as a whole, both films work quite well. Part one feels less oppressive when directly followed up by part two (as opposed to the theatrical releases which were several months apart).

Part two brings the series to a close with a sense of hope and optimism.  There are many moments that are thoughtful next to the exciting battles. And yet, even split among two films, you feel like we don’t get enough of some of those favorite characters (such as Remus and Tonks). I enjoy the series and feel this film brings it all to a close quite nicely.

Oh Oh It’s Magic! PT7 um PT 1 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, 2010)

225278id1g_HP7_27x40_1Sheet.inddFinding the world becoming more and more dangerous, Harry and his friends leave behind the muggle world.  We see them saying their goodbyes, or in the case of Hermione, tragically causing her non-magical parents to forget she even exists. Several members of the Order of the Phoenix arrive at the now empty Dursley residence for Harry. To protect him, several of the members take the polyjuice potion to assume the likeness of Harry, creating multiple Harrys.

There is an attack by Voldemort and his Death Eaters, but with one exception, all arrive safely at the Weasleys.  There is a wedding for oldest Weasley Percy and Fleur.  The head of the Ministry of Magic arrives to deliver Dumbledore’s last will and testament.  He leaves a gift for Harry, one for Hermione and one for Ron. Harry receives the Golden Snitch he caught in the first film.  Ron receives Dumbledore’s De-lluminator (last seen in the first film)and Hermione is given a storybook.

At the wedding, there is an announcement from the Ministry that it has fallen into the hands of Voldemort.  Harry, Hermione, and Ron flee together. Rather than return to Hogwarts, the three dedicate themselves to tracking down and destroying the remaining Horacruxes. As the Half-Blood Prince explained, these are objects in which a wizard has put a portion of their soul. This involves murder, making it an especially heinous form of magic.  Only by destroying these objects can Voldemort be truly vulnerable.

The Deathly Hallows kicked off a trend in movies adapted from book series.  When it was announced that they were going to split the film into two parts, some felt it was merely a cash grab.  And while I won’t disagree that there was surely an element of that from the studio, I also feel it would have seriously hampered the series to try and force the story into a single film.

There are some notable moments, for instance, there is a terrific animated sequence that tells the story of the “Deathly Hallows”.  Radcliff and Watson are really quite good in this film.  And yet, Part one struggles a bit as an independent film.  It is rather slow at points, focusing on the bleak and hopeless tone.  It is, at times, incredibly oppressive. And while it ends with a somewhat exciting escape, it still is kind of hard to enjoy the film on its own.    But more on this in Part 2.

Oh Oh It’s Magic! PT 6 (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2009)

Harry_Potter_006_PosterNow that the magical world knows Harry and Dumbledore were, in fact, correct and the Voldemort is back, the Death Eaters are becoming bolder than ever, going as far as to attack the non-magical world.  Harry is hesitant about returning to Hogwarts, but Dumbledore convinces him and uses Harry to entice another professor back to Hogwarts.

Horace Slughorn is the new potions teacher, but this is not the true reason he is wanted back at Hogwarts.  You see, Horace is a bit obsessed with celebrity.  He is drawn to star pupils. One of those pupils was Tom Riddle, who came to Slughorn for information on very dark magic. But his memory is muddled, and Dumbledore hopes Harry can get the information from him.

In the meantime, Harry has found a potions book for his class that is marked as the property of the Half-Blood Prince. It features shortcuts to success and unique hand-written spells.  Harry, Hermione, and Ron try and figure out why Draco Malfoy seems to be behaving very mysteriously. Harry suspects that Malfoy is behind several incidents with cursed items.

The film also builds on the seeds of a budding relationship between Ron and Hermione and introduces an “unexpected” love interest in Jenny Weasley.  The films actually started seeding this awhile back, with Jenny clearly having a school girl crush on him, very visible anytime she was around. Thankfully, the film avoids the book’s annoying “Spider-Man Ending.”  In the book, Harry gets all, “I cannot have love, for that puts people in danger”.  The film tosses this aside.which is a wise move.

The visual look of the film is matching the darker tone of the book.  David Yates uses a darker and at times duller pallet, but to the benefit of the film’s atmosphere. The film ends on a grim note, but effective in it’s set up for the final arc of Harry Potter.

The cast is, as always, quite strong. This film features the best chemistry between Radcliff and Gambon.  As Horace Slughorn, Jim Broadbent is both likable and sad, in you realize his desire to be admired is overpowering to the point that it has brought great sadness to his life.  And Tom Felton is a real standout, with this film elevating Draco Malfoy from entitled snob to a very conflicted kid.  He really sells the notion that Draco is not as enamored with the life of a Death Eater as he portrays.

This is, in my opinion, one of the strongest of all the Harry Potter films.

Oh Oh It’s Magic! PT 5 (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2007)

Harry_Potter_005_PosterThe film opens with a rather heartbroken Harry Potter, haunted by the death of Cedric Diggory and the rise of Voldemort.  The Ministry of Magic has worked very hard to portray Harry and Dumbledore as crackpots. Confronted by cousin Dudley and his friends, Harry becomes angry with Dudley and pulls his wand on him.  This is a nicely acted scene, as the moment Dudley sees the wand, his expression goes from cocky to scared (while his friends all laugh, having no idea Harry is a wizard).

The skies go dark and Harry finds he and Dudley under an attack from Dementors. Harry fights off the Dementors, but this results in his being expelled from Hogwarts for being an underage wizard using spells off campus. Harry must face a brief hearing to address if he will be punished.  Dumbledore prevents this from being permanent.

Harry is also frustrated by the fact that nobody has been in contact with him.  He discovers that Dumbledore has brought together several people to form the Order of the Phoenix.  It includes Lupin, the Weasleys, Sirius Black, Mad-Eye Moody and shockingly to Harry, Professor Snape.

Once back at Hogwarts, the kids are introduced to the new professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Delores Umbridge is really there as an eye for the Ministry of Magic, which does not trust Dumbledore.  She does not teach the children spells. Instead, she focuses on books, arguing the children will never need to put such things into action.

Umbridge slowly takes over the school, enforcing ridiculous and endless rules.  She forces out Dumbledore, inspiring Harry to bring together like-minded students to prepare to fight Voldemort.

this is the heart of the film, as Harry and his friends strive to prepare for the coming battle.  But Harry also struggles with nightmarish visions, some of which turn out to be true. This causes him to believe Sirius is in great danger, causing Harry and a few members of his class to set out to save Sirius by breaking into the Ministry of Magic’s archives department.  This leads to an all-out battle royale.

Order of the Phoenix is notable as being the only Harry Potter Film without a Steve Kloves screenplay. And in some ways, this film feels the least connected.  It also suffers from issues like setups not being addressed.  It never explains the Dementor attack.

Certainly, we can assume it  was due to Voldemort or even the Ministry of Magic…but while the event is questioned, it is never answered.

Still, this is a generally good film within the franchise, even if we only get glimpses of characters like Sirius Black (blunting his overall impact). The introduction of Bellatrix LeStrange (played with gleeful delirium by Helena Bonham Carter) and Luna Lovegood (who, in some ways is a sweetly natured reflection of LeStrange) are welcome.  Imelda Staunton makes Delores Umbridge gloriously hateable.

The film also introduces one of my favorite characters from the books, Tonks.  She is kind of what I figure a young and modern witch or wizard would be like (for example, using magic change hair color and styles).

This film brings on David Yates as director and visionary for the rest of the series (under the watch of Rowling and Kloves). Primarily a television director, Yates acquits himself quite well in this big budget picture.

Suitcase Packed (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 2016)

fantastic-beasts-posterIt was not long after the Harry Potter series came to a close, we got the fairly expected announcement of a new movie that would be set in the magical universe of Harry Potter.  This was certainly enough to get fans excited.  It was then announced it would be a story set before Harry or Voldemort were walking the earth.

Earlier this year they said it would be a trilogy.  A few weeks back?  It became a …uh…Fivology.  And so, this new beginning for the wizarding world is meant to kick it all off.  Set in 1926, we find that the world of Wizards is not idyllic.  There are issues with the possibility of exposure.  The Dark Wizard Grindelwald has gone missing.  Disgraced wizard Newt Scamander has come to New York and finds a problem when his suitcase full of magical beasts gets switched with aspiring baker Kowalski’s suitcase of pastries.  This forces their lives to be intertwined, but things get even more complicated when former Auror Tina tries to take Newt in.

Instead of a coming of age tale focused on friendship, sacrifice and so on, Fantastic Beasts is more focus on political thriller territory.  This is not inherently bad, but it is all pretty light in how it is handled.  There are good ideas at play, but one big twist is absolutely no surprise at all.  While the film explores surface issues such as the rules of the Wizard world and the conflicts between the various Wizarding communities.  At this time, no muggles  (or No-Maj as they are called in America) were allowed to be aware of the Wizard world.  Wizards are not allowed to have friendships with muggles, even.

The film is a bit stuffed with characters who feel like they are important.  There is  the creepy anti-magic “family” led by Mary Lou.  Her use of children to disseminate her ideas is never deeply explored.   Then there is publisher  Henry Shaw and his sons Henry Jr and Langdon Shaw.  Langdon is intrigued by the claims of Mary Lou, but his father is more concerned with his brother’s political campaign.  And yet, these characters do little to the point of barely feeling necessary.

On the other hand?  I really liked Newt and Tina.  Both are simply trying to do the right thing, and both are thoughtfully compassionate and, a little clumsy.  I found Kowalski an enjoyable presence.  He is at first stunned, but then takes great joy in his discovery of the world of wizards.  Rather than be frightened of Tina’s psychic sister Queenie, he finds it exciting.  The four make a fun team.

It is fun to revisit the Wizard World of J.K. Rowling, really, it is.  I enjoyed the character moments (especially between our four heroes).  Remember how I said there were going to be five films?  Well, as the film built up, I was finding myself looking forward to the story of these four going forward.  Except, really?  The film ends in a way that makes it clear this was originally going to just be one film.  Everything gets neatly tied up and everything is fixed, making much of the film feel rather meaningless on its impact on the world of wizards.

This will be fun for those who simply miss getting to revisit the Harry Potter Universe.  I had a nice time watching it, it is just that it ends somewhat…anti-climatically.  It is passable entertainment, but it is not quite a triumphant return.

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