Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fantastic Find

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) is not a Harry Potter film, but it is a "prequel". It mostly had a different feel - goofier - and we liked that.

It's set in America, 1920s. Wizard Eddie Redmayne arrives on these shores with a suitcase full of fantastic beasts, with a wonky latch. He soon meets up with Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury), a regular guy who is looking for a loan to start a bakery. He has a suitcase full of pastry samples. These suitcases don't get mixed up - yet. But I did get a yearning for a kolache.

When they are watching a group of anti-witchcraft fanatics, they attract the attention of Katherine Waterston, a spunky agent for the Magical Congress (FBI for magic) - in disgrace, we learn later. After some fun with beasts, magic, and a bank vault, they all hide out at Waterston's place where we meet her telepathic sister, Samantha Morton. Morton plays the sister with a Marilyn Monroe whisper, and is a great magical cook. Soon, her and Fogler are making eyes. But Redmayne is on a mission, and Waterston doesn't trust him.

This, in my mind, is the fun part of the movie. The sweet love affair between a chubby no-maj (American for muggle) and gorgeous telepath, the prickly screwball attraction between Redmayne and Waterston, the goofy monsters in the suitcase (which holds a whole menagerie - bigger on the inside).

But there is also the "real" story: Magical politician Colin Farrell (who is in everything, it seems) is trying to weaponize an invisible beast created by the frustrated magic of the fundamentalist anti-witchcraft folk. This gives us a set of villains, which I guess is important. When this crew scapegoats Redmayne and friends, they all get the death penalty, so, stakes. But I just didn't care much about all this. I wanted to get back to the fun part, with Redmayne trying to re-capture a floopasaurus by doing a silly mating dance, or Fogler getting involved in another heist.

Of course, the "dark" part is the most Harry-Potter feeling - and also carries the "message" of acceptance. But it doesn't really fit with the sillier tone of the Redmayne/Waterston/Fogler/Morton sections.

I should also say that Redmayne looks great in the part but wildly overplays the shy deference - he keeps his eyes averted to an excessive degree. Fogler, on the other hand, was spot on, right out of a 30s screwball - like Billy Gilbert without the sneeze gag.  I said some mean things about him (second-rate Jack Black, more or less) and I take them all back. Samantha Morton is something else too.

So, yeah, we'll be watching all the sequels.

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