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Josh Reviews Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

I quite liked the first Fantastic Beasts film.  I enjoyed being back in the world of Harry Potter (what has now been dubbed “The Wizarding World”), and I thought the film was fun if a little slight.  (It was a gentler, more meandering tale than the last few Harry Potter films, which were darker and more intense.)  I wouldn’t say I LOVED the film, but I was eager for the story to continue in the next of five planned films.

The trailers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald were intriguing, but also raised some alarm bells for me.  This new film looked a lot more epic and a lot darker than the first Fantastic Beasts — this excited me.  The trailers played up this film’s connections to the broader Harry Potter mythology — Dumbledore, Hogwarts, the human form of Nagini, etc.  This also excited me.  But mostly absent from the trailers were the foursome who were the focus of the first Fantastic Beasts film: the sisters Tina and Queenie, the “No-Maj” Jacob Kowalski, and Newt Scamander himself.  This worried me.  Was this second film abandoning these characters?  I doubted it would, but then I worried that they would they be in the film but overshadowed by all of the more exciting mythology, the Dumbledore-versus-Grindelwald stuff.  Would Newt & co. be unnecessary and boring in their own film?  Would I wish that Dumbledore was the main character, rather than Newt?

Having now seen the film, I can say a few things:

First off, I quite enjoyed it.  I thought it was, overall, a stronger film than I’d been expecting based on the early reviews.

Second, the film feels very much of a piece with the first Fantastic Beasts film.  I’d worried this film was going to be a major course correction from the first film, but in fact it continues nicely from the first Fantastic Beasts in terms of tone and style.

Third, I had expected that the film would be structured with Newt & co. going on a series of adventures that I’d find somewhat entertaining but not as much fun as the “good stuff” of the mythology revelations and spectacle that I expected in the film’s climax.  In fact, I was very taken by the film’s first three-fourths, and all of that adventuring by Newt & co., while I found the film’s last thirty-or-so minutes to be head-spinningly confusing, overstuffed with exposition describing IMPORTANT REVELATIONS that I felt weren’t sufficiently explained nor were their repercussions sufficiently explored (the latter being a task, presumably, held for the next film).

OK, let’s dig in.

I was pleased that, contrary to how the film was being advertised, the big-four … [continued]

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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.  After … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

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!

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]