Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Posted on November 17, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril and violence, some disturbing images and scary creatures
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 18, 2016
Date Released to DVD: March 27, 2017 ASIN: B01LTHOAGM
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers

It is so good to be back in the Potterverse again.

This first of an expected five film series is true to the spirit of the world of Harry Potter; indeed, it is the first film with a screenplay from J.K. Rowling herself. But it departs from the Potter films in significant ways: it is the first story to be set in the past and the first to be set outside the UK. It takes place in 1920’s New York City.

It is also the first to center on adult characters, though a teenager and a child have featured roles. It has the best of both the familiar and the new, thanks to the experienced eye of director David Yates, who also directed the last four Potter films) and the score from James Newton Howard, echoing the Potter film’s theme.

Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything” and “The Danish Girl”) plays Newt Scamander, a shy wizard who arrives on Ellis Island with a briefcase that has some thrilling magical attributes. There’s a handy switch to make its contents muggle-worthy (though, as he will learn, in the US muggles are referred to as “no-majs,” pronounced no-maszh). It can contain many different kinds of fantastic beasts. And it is a portal to a sort of animal sanctuary Newt maintains for his beloved creatures, all of which will escape at least once to create chaos or save the day, sometimes both at once.

He arrives just as a group called Second Salem vows to eliminate anyone performing magic. The leader is a fervently fanatic woman named Mary Lou (Samantha Morton), who abuses her adopted children, especially her teenage son Credence (Ezra Miller, soon to be DC’s Flash on the big screen).

So MCUSA (pronounced mc-kusa), the Magical Congress of the United States of America, led by Seraphina Pickery (Carmen Ejogo) is especially concerned about doing anything that would bring them to the attention of the no-majs in any way, much less make them think that the wizards and witches are dangerous. And a rogue wizard named Grindelwald has been creating mayhem in both the wizard and muggle worlds.

Newt meets a no-maj, an amiable would-be baker named Jake Kowalski (a warm-hearted performance from Tony winner Dan Fogler) carrying a very similar-looking briefcase just as one of the fantastic beasts escapes from his own. The creature, who looks a bit like a duck-billed platypus, has an inconvenient habit of grabbing anything shiny or sparkly. By the time Newt has retrieved him, Jake has seen too much and is about to have his memory wiped when a variety of other mix-ups and adventures take him deeper into the world of magic. Soon, Jake and Newt team up, aided by a disgraced MCUSA investigator named Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston of “Inherent Vice”) and her mind-reading sister, Queenie (charmingly magnetic Alison Sudol, channeling Carole Lombard).

Newt is an utterly engaging character, a bit shy and tentative, but somehow we are not surprised to learn that he was expelled from Hogwarts — or that it was over the objection of a young faculty member named Dumbledore. As with all of the Potterverse films, the production design is enchanting, even the no-mag areas. The old-time New York settings, including a variation on a speakeasy, are gorgeously realized, with a depth of imaginative detail that makes us want to hit a pause button. The creatures range from grotesque to magnificent, and Newt’s constant affection for them all (like Hagrid) is endearing. The big confrontation has some real emotional heft, and Rowling keeps one of her best surprises to the end.

When is the next chapter coming? I’m ready! At least, after I watch this one a few more times.

Parents should know that this film includes extended fantasy peril, action, and violence, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images and scary creatures, and brief bodily function humor.

Family discussion: Which is your favorite creature? Why does Newt think that people find him annoying?

If you like this, try: the Harry Potter books and movies and “Labyrinth”

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Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Series/Sequel

Interview: Eddie Redmayne, Star of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Posted on November 16, 2016 at 8:00 am

Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Eddie Redmayne stars in the first film from the Harry Potter universe to be set the the past, the first to be set in the United States, and the first with a screenplay by author J.K. Rowling, who has promised that this film will be followed by four sequels. In an interview, Redmayne talked about creating his character, Newt Scamander, a Magizoologist. “One of the things I love is Newt, perhaps at the beginning of this film is certainly more capable of interacting with creatures than he is with human beings. A lot of that is about observing and listening and there is an empathy that comes in life through really listening rather than just sort of cosmetically listening that is super important. But sometimes life is so noisy and there is so much distress, everyone is shouting to be heard. Those people that truly listen, of which Newt is one, it’s an amazing quality.” His wife is an expert on antiques, so I asked which of the century items in the film she would like to bring home. “There was kind of a wizarding antique in there, in the Magical Congress of America, as Newt and Tina walked in there, there is a wand shiner which is a kind of feather-boa-ed antique machine that polishes wands and she had her eye on that.” As for him, he said he “thought long and hard” about which of the magical creatures he would like to bring home and “I couldn’t possibly say anyone other than Pickett who is the bowtruckle stick insect that has attachment issues and Newt knows he shouldn’t have favorites but he sort of can’t help it.”

While the first film in a series is often an introduction with a lot of exposition, “whetting one’s appetite, but what I loved about this script is it always stood alone for me. I found it very moving and cathartic and a whole piece. I love the character of Newt and I would love to get to re-visit him again but I suppose that will only happen if people enjoy this film so hopefully we’ll get to make more.”

He was especially grateful for a chance to work with costume design legend Colleen Atwood, and consulted with her “massively. I loved all of my wardrobe. Colleen Atwood is extraordinary. I think it was Newt’s coat that is my favorite. It was an amazing color and also I thought it was amazing how the coat could look very kind of sort of eccentric and English but then also when he whipped up the collar, he could turn into a bit of an action man. So I found that kind of cool. It’s always something that I use as part of the process of discovering who a character is. Often when you go and meet a costume designer they will have whole pages of inspiration, of photos from the period, of people’s different items of clothing. Sometimes it can be one little thing that makes a difference. In fact, in this film Newt has a little pocket watch that sits in his waistcoat that you never even see in this film but on the chain hangs a tiny little thing that Colleen found which has a little bird on it and somehow that clock, that little watch became a key into who he was, I don’t quite know how, but it was really wonderful. So I love that process and I find it a massively important part of discovering who a character is. We spoke quite a lot about the character, how the clothes would frame Newt. What I love is he hides quite a lot and it is almost as if everything is a size or two too small for him and that really affected his physicality. So when I first put the clothes on fully, I was sort of playing with his physicality and the two things merged in a good way, so that was quite reassuring.”

He had just made two period films, “The Theory of Everything” and “The Danish Girl,” and loved going back in time again. “Because of ‘The Danish Girl,’ which is also set in the 1920’s, I was kind of familiar with that period. I listened to some jazz and I got some amazing books. David Heymann, the producer of the film, give us a book of New York over the years from the 19th century into the early 20th century, sort of as photographs arrived, and so that was source material that was really useful.”

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Actors Interview

MTV Movie Awards Tonight!

Posted on April 10, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Tune in to MTV tonight for the annual movie awards show, this year hosted by Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. The awards and speeches will be silly and there will be way too much promotion of teen-friendly upcoming films but some of it is fun and there will be some premieres and exclusives including:

Generation award presented to Will Smith
Comic Genius award presented to Melissa McCarthy.
Performances by Ariana Grande and Halsey

· Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Eddie Redmayne, who stars as Newt Scamander in the film, will present never-before-seen exclusive footage
· Suicide Squad: “Generation Award” recipient Will Smith, along with Jared Leto, Margot Robbie and Cara Delevingne, all stars of the film, will present the never-before-seen footage
· Captain America: Civil War: “Captain America” himself, Chris Evans, will be on-hand to present an exclusive scene from Marvel’s highly-anticipated action-adventure blockbuster

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Awards Television

Behind the Scenes: JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Posted on February 3, 2016 at 8:00 am

I’m so excited about “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” with the first-even screenplay from Harry Potter author JK Rowling. It’s her first story set in the past and her first set in the United States. Here’s a behind the scenes look.

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Behind the Scenes Fantasy Series/Sequel
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