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Josh Reviews Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Set more than a half a century before the events of the seven Harry Potter books (and the eight movie adaptations), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduces us to a young man named Newt Scamander.  Mr. Scamander was mentioned in the original Harry Potter series as the author of a textbook called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  This film of the same name introduces us to Mr. Scamander as a young man, traveling to New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures.  When several creatures are accidentally set loose, Mr. Scamander and several new friends — the magic-wielding sisters Tina and Queenie, as well as the No-Maj (non-magical) Jacob Kowalski — set off to recapture them.  All the while, though, a terrible threat haunts New York City…

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I can completely understand the desire to continue the Harry Potter saga beyond the adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter novels.  I can of course see the studios’ financial desire — the eight Harry Potter films were huge money-makers, so of course the studio would want to make more .  But as a fan, I can also understand the desire to tell more stories in this rich universe.  Although the seven books told the story of Harry Potter, and that story has been completed, the wizarding world created by Ms. Rowling — and brought to life on-screen by so many talented craftsmen and women — has such life in it that I can see there being plenty of room for further adventures.  Just as I believe there is room for more Star Wars adventures beyond the story of the Skywalker family (and I am excited to see the first on-screen attempt at this, Rogue One, in just a few weeks!), so too do I believe there is room for additional Harry Potter adventures that don’t involve Harry Potter.

So I have no automatic objection to the notion of a Harry Potter spin-off film.  And this film has been assembled with some key creative people in place to help make this feel like a legitimate expansion of the Harry Potter universe rather than a cheap cash-grab.  First and foremost, the script was written by J.K. Rowling herself.  What better way could there possibly be to ensure that this spin-off is legitimate??  It’s a clever move, and although Ms. Rowling did not write any of the screenplays for the previous Harry Potter films, her work here is strong.  But it’s the legitimacy that her involvement gives Fantastic Beasts that is the most important aspect of her participation, I think.  On the film-making side, Fantastic Beasts is directed by David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films.  … [continued]

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The Best Not Quite “To Be Continued” Endings of Franchise Films

One of my complaints about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was how much of the film was filled with shameless plugs for future DC Universe films.  I am all for connectivity between superhero films, thus establishing a shared universe of story-telling.  That is, in fact, one of the greatest triumphs of the Marvel cinematic universe!  The problem with Batman v Superman was how obvious and awkward and often confusing those connections-to-not-yet-made-future-films were.  The ending was a particular problem.  The film’s ending (which I won’t spoil) was clearly designed to be a cliffhanger that would make an audience excited for the next DCU adventure.  But I felt it landed with a thud.  Rather than being excited for the next film, I’m already dreading the time that will need to be wasted in Justice League to undo the events of the end of Batman v Superman.

This got me thinking about great endings to films in a series.  There’s something magical about a great ending to a film, particularly a film that is designed to be, not a stand-alone one-and-done entity, but rather an installment in a series.  There is a delicate art to being able to satisfactorily bring a film’s story to a close, while also teasing future adventures.  I adore that buzzy feeling of walking out of a movie absolutely desperate for the next installment, even if that next installment might be years away.

So what WERE some great endings to franchise films, endings that gave me that thrilled, excited feeling?  Well, I’m glad you asked, as I’ve decided to list some of my very favorites.

Now, before we begin, let me clarify that I’m not talking about a movie that ends on a out-and-out “to be continued” cliffhanger.  The best example of that would, of course, be:

Back to the Future Part II This film, gloriously, actually does end with the words “to be continued.”  (Well, actually the film ends with the words “to be concluded” which makes sense only when you know that the words “to be continued” were added on to the ending of the original Back to the Future for its home video release, so this ending of Part II now echoes/completes that ending of Part I.  Without that “to be continued” ending of Part I, you might expect the ending of Part II to read “to be continued” rather than “to be concluded.”  At least, I would!  Sadly, all DVD and blu-ray releases of the original Back to the Future restore the original ending and remove that “to be continued.”  But I dearly miss that “to be continued” ending, as that’s the ending I grew up with.  Why no branching option, Warner brothers, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

July 25th, 2011
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I’ve made this comment in my last several Harry Potter film reviews, but it bears repeating one final time: what an astounding achievement it is, that this eight-film series has made it all the way to the end with the same ensemble of actors all the way through (save for the late Richard Harris).  And, even more than that, what an amazing stroke of luck it is that every single one of the young child-actors who appeared in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has grown into such a marvelous actor in his or her own right.

Though perhaps it’s not luck at all.  Though Chris Columbus’ two installments (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) are by far my least favorite films of the series, the man clearly deserves ENORMOUS credit for his great skill at casting.  The strength of the ensemble he assembled for those first two films has enabled this series to blossom in ways I never could have predicted when walking out of the theatre after seeing that first movie.  It’s a pretty unprecedented achievement.

Somehow I have watched the entire story of Harry Potter on film without having read any of the books (save for the first one, which I read the day before seeing the first film).  Heresy, I know!  But nothing in the first three movies made me want to read the books, and when I really started digging the film series during movie four (which was the first Harry Potter film that I really liked) and movie five (which still stands as my very favorite of the films), I figured that, at that point, I preferred to continue discovering the story through the films.  (Now that I have made it through to the end, I’m sure I will some day soon read through all seven of the books.)  But, for now, as in the past, I will report my comments on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II as someone taking in the film, and the film alone (rather than drawing a comparison to the novel).

I have written before, on this blog, when contemplating the end of long-running television shows, just how difficult it is to craft a satisfactory ending to a long-form story.  From everyone I know who has read the books, it seems that J.K. Rowling accomplished this feat when writing the seventh and final book, and I am pleased to report that the makers of this eight and final film have done the same.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is an exciting, emotional ride from start to finish, and I felt it provided a wonderful … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One!

December 1st, 2010
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It is very rare for a film or TV franchise to have an opportunity to craft a finale for its characters and storylines on its own terms.  So often these long-form tales are interrupted by cancellation or poor box office, or they just peter out as subsequent sequels drain a once-vibrant franchise of originality and interest.

On TV, show-runners are occasionally able to craft a series-ending finale, but more often than not shows find themselves cancelled before they have a chance to do so.  In film series, the opportunity for a true finale is even more rare.  How many can you think of?  George Lucas brought his Star Wars series to a close with Return of the Jedi – a film that, while not eliminating the possibility of sequels, certainly wrapped up most of the story-lines and character arcs from the original trilogy.  (Of course, as we all know, Lucas did eventually continue making Star Wars films – to my eternal dismay.)  The original Star Trek cast had an opportunity to have a triumphant swan song in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a film that, as it happens, I’ll be waxing poetic about on this site next week!).  There’s Back to the Future Part III.  Can you think of many others?

Did Die Hard with a Vengeance really serve as a true finale, in any sense, to that series?  Did Lethal Weapon 4? Did Jurassic Park 3? Will the Bond series ever have an ending?  I mentioned Star Trek above, and that’s a double-edged sword.  As great as it is that the original cast got a fine film finale, their Next Gen successors were denied that privilege as their series met its untimely end following the dismal box office of Star Trek: Nemesis.

Obviously, the Harry Potter films are a horse of a slightly different color, as the films aren’t charting their own course – rather they are adapting J.K. Rowling’s seven-novel story.  Still, that the film series has made it so far, so successfully – that every single novel has been adapted to film featuring almost entirely the same ensemble of actors and actresses – that most of the films have actually been pretty darn good — and that the film series is now preparing to take its final bow, not with a whimper but with an enormous bang – is really downright astounding.

I was luke-warm on the Harry Potter films at first, but I thought things started to turn around with film four: The Goblet of Fire.  Film five: The Order of the Phoenix remains my favorite of the bunch, but I was also quite taken with The Half-Blood Prince (even if I still … [continued]

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Looking Ahead to the Deathly Hallows…

July 5th, 2010

Boy, has this been a dismal summer for movies, or what?

I thought Toy Story 3 was a masterpiece.  I thought Iron Man 2 was OK.  And that’s about it for movies I’ve enjoyed.  Now, admittedly, I’ve hardly been to the theatres for the past few months — just too much going on in my life right now.  But other than Get Him to the Greek, which I’m still hoping to catch at some point in the next few weeks, there really isn’t anything that I’m sorry to have missed!

Shrek 4 held no interest for me — it looked like the final dregs of a failing franchise.  You couldn’t pay me enough to see The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.  (Though you can click here to read a terrific evisceration of that film.  I haven’t read any of the books or seen any of the movies, but that piece pinpoints exactly why the series could not interest me less.)  Knight and Day? Maybe if Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz had made that movie a decade ago I’d be interested, but for now, pass.  Grown Ups looks to me like the type of all-audience comedy that I hate to see talented comedians wasting their time making.  The Last Airbender? I think The Happening killed my last little bit of interest in the films of M. Night Shyamalan, and the early reviews certainly seem to support my sentiments.

So… can we start getting excited about some movies that lie a little further in our future?

The first big trailer for the two-part adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows looks dynamite, and I must say I am surprised by how eagerly I’m awaiting these final two installments in the series.  I though the first three Harry Potter films were pretty terrible, but film four was OK and I thought five and six were absolutely terrific, so I’m pumped for this one.  Check out the trailer:

This poster is pretty cool as well.

More tomorrow…!… [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Has the pain of the end of Lost faded yet?  (Click here for my thoughts on the finale.)  Wanna rub some salt in the wound?  Then be sure to check out this video compilation of all the questions Lost left unanswered.

Here’s another great video from collegehumor.com: a Star Wars google ad parody.  SO FUNNY!!  This is well worth two minutes of your time.

Movie adaptations of Philip K. Dick stories have a pretty terrible track record.  But I’m pretty excited about this one.  Click here for a trailer for The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt (who really should have been the Black Widow in Iron Man 2).

Has Rob Reiner finally made another good movie?  Check out this trailer:

I’m intrigued by that sweet trailer.  Rob Reiner had one of the great winning streaks of all time when he directed This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and A Few Good Men.  But with the exception of The American President, it’s been a long, loooong dry spell since then.  Here’s hoping that Flipped represents the master’s return to form!

Whee, still more great trailers to see!  Here’s the second peek at Scott Pilgrim vs The World (about which I must admit I know very little, but these trailers have hooked me), as well as our first glimpse at Part One of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

CHUD is running a fantastic list of the Worst CGI in History that is sad, funny, and well-worth your time.

See you all back here tomorrow!… [continued]

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Josh Reviews Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

July 20th, 2009
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Let’s establish right from the get-go that I have not read any of the Harry Potter books.

Well, actually, that’s not quite true.  The day before the first Harry Potter movie opened, the friends I was going to see the movie with found out that I hadn’t read the book, and insisted that I do so before seeing the movie.  So I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in a few hours, the night before seeing the flick.  To be honest, I didn’t much care for the book, nor did I much care from the movie.

Despite that less-than-auspicious beginning, I have seen all of the other Harry Potter films.  I found the second film to be as uninspired as the first, and while I enjoyed Alfonso Cuaron’s direction of the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, that movie’s story remains my least favorite of the entire series, mostly due to all of the time-travel silliness.  Things picked up with the fourth installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I found to be much more complex and interesting than the first three tales (many of my friends say the same of the novel).  But it was only with the fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, that I walked out of the movie theatre completely dazzled by what I had seen.  I truly loved that film, finding it to be dramatic, emotional, and completely engaging from the first scene to the last.  Having not read the rest of books, that movie left me quite desperate to see the sixth installment, so I could find out what happens next!

So, did Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince live up to my feelings about the Order of the Phoenix?

Well, not quite, but I did still find it to be a delightfully entertaining and compelling film, one that is very successful in its own right.

My greatest pleasure from watching the Half-Blood Prince (and, frankly, ALL of this series so far) has been seeing the terrific group of kids grow up from film to film.  I’m thinking of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, of course, but also of all the other kids in supporting roles who we have come to know and love while watching them in six movies.   The kids are all terrific, and the consistency of their presence (even those of them who only appear in small, background roles) really helps bring the story to life, and lends Hogwarts the feeling of a living, breathing community.  It’s quite an astounding thing to sit back and contemplate that not a single actor has had to be re-cast … [continued]