Monday, January 16, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

I've said it before, but I'm really not that much into the fantasy genre, especially when it comes in the form of a movie fitted out for sequels extending into the future beyond the looming Trump administration (which at the moment looks like eternity). J.K. Rowling is the creative force here, coproducing and writing the screenplay, somehow fitting it into her Harry Potter universe. I admired that series from a distance—that is, I read The Philosopher's Stone and recognized I would have loved it as a kid, a need fulfilled for me at the time by Edward Eager, Norton Juster, and science fiction. In the late '90s, I had no need to read further, and full disclosure, I have never seen a Harry Potter movie. And on top of everything I don't like Eddie Redmayne that much either—his choice of roles maybe. He's obviously competent. I checked out Fantastic Beasts during Christmas week at a matinee full of families, hoping that might work some magic. And it did, a little. The movie is cute and generally wholesome and immaculately done. It really wowed a girl sitting near me. In concept it reminded me of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, imagining a world where magic is heavily entwined with political intrigue and power. Not everything here is for kids—there's an X-Men mutants vibe working hard on the edges. Clarke's book, by the way, was published in 2004 but she started it in 1993, four years before the first Harry Potter novel, so all this British publishing magic appears to be a case of serendipity. What Fantastic Beasts reminded me of most was a DC Comics storyline from the '60s, "Dial H for Hero." In this ridiculous series (which has since been revived multiple times, as recently as 2012), our hero, a bicycle-riding tween named Robby Reed, finds a detached rotary dial (yes, that's right, a detached rotary dial), which, when dialed H - E - R - O, turned him into a random new superhero. He always had to take time to figure out what his new superpower was, which was never convenient when he was in a real jam. So this movie is pretty much as billed, focus on the "fantastic beasts," with all their many assorted names and powers. The "where to find them" is an extra dimension more or less inside the traveling case of Newt Scamander (Redmayne) as he visits New York City to collect a few that escaped. He has to keep the rest secured, a few of which are always trying to escape. You get the idea. This all takes place in the 1920s for no apparent reason, but the period detail is charming. Lots of political issues about magic and magic beasts and such. Oh it's going to be big. Wait until you see who shows up at the end. This is a pretty good time, especially with easily impressed and vocal youngsters. Maybe you know a few.

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