Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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The Thunderbird is one of the many gorgeous creatures Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has in his suitcase in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. (Source: New York Daily News)

The world was introduced to Harry Potter in 1997. A special boy with a special power who went to a special school of witchcraft and wizardry. Along with his friends, he must defeat the one who killed his parents when he was a baby. The phenomenon began to spread. Not to mention the films chronicling his seven-year journey as he tries to get rid of the evil Lord Voldemort. Now, J.K. Rowling has written her first screenplay taken place 70 years before our beloved hero goes to Hogwarts. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them brings back the magic while adding something fresh to the table.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a magizoologist who has finished his global quest to research the many creatures in the magical world. He arrives in New York City with a suitcase filled with magnificent creatures. Since this is 1926, the city is having a conflict between the witches, wizards and the No-Maj population (the American idiom for “muggle”). Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), the head of The Magical Congress for the United States of America (MACUSA), is doing everything he can for the community.

Thinking this might be a quick stop, Newt gets into some risky situations including getting his suitcase misplaced and accidently letting some creatures loose. He joins forces with No-Maj and aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), witch Tina Goldstein (Katherine Wasterston) and her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) to save these creatures before leaving for Arizona.

As a huge Harry Potter fan, I am pleased how Rowling brought the wizarding world to the United States. The ninth entry might have not been good if it relied too much on hinting factors to the other films, or just adapting the textbook written by Rowling (in disguise of Newt). The part of Rowling’s genius as a writer is she makes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in a world of its own. It’s okay to not see any of the Harry Potter films to get an idea on what’s going on.

Director David Yates feels right at home expanding the Harry Potter universe with James Newton Howard accompanying another fantastic score (with hints of John Williams’ theme sprinkled here and there). Shifting the magic with the history, the dark with the humorous. After being nominated for two Oscars (winning one for The Theory of Everything), Eddie Redmayne was born to be in the Harry Potter universe. In fact, he auditioned to play Tom Riddle in Chamber of Secrets before earning the part of Newt Scamander. Better late than never, I suppose.

Anyhow—Redmayne is certainly having a ball here as Scamander. He is compassionate about his studies. He never gets in the way with his past troubles. He has that professor charm. When he shows Jacob—Fogler, in a hysterical performance—the magical creatures for the first time before his very eyes, he is ecstatic. You know they are in for one wild ride.

Despite the first act being a little clunky, the introduction of the wizard culture to America is quite a treasure! Let’s see where the sequels will go from here.

3/4

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Top 20 Most Anticipated Movies for 2016

2015 is over. There have been a lot of surprises and disappointments than last year. Not to mention a lot of great films as well as some miraculous performances. It’s going to be so hard who and what will win in this year’s Academy Awards. But, this is not what I’m talking about.

I’m going to talk about the movies I’m looking forward to in the New Year. It looks like 2016 is going to be a fun year for movies as last year. I’m going to give you a list of my most anticipated movies for this year.

Before I begin, I just want to let you all know that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not going be on this list. I’m definitely going to see it when it comes out March 25th. However, I have a feeling it might turn out to be garbage. I mildly enjoyed Man of Steel, and Henry Cavill was a good choice for Superman (it’s great to have him back). I admit Ben Affleck looks cool in the Batsuit, but I can’t (and will never) picture him as Batman/Bruce Wayne. It looks like Jesse Eisenberg will steal the show as Lex Luthor. Zack Snyder is a unique visionary director, but his substance is rather lacking. Who knows? I might be wrong.

Without further ado, here’s my list of the top 20 most anticipated movies of 2016.

Honorable Mentions: The Accountant (October 7), The Bourne Sequel (July 29), The Finest Hours (January 29), The Free State of Jones (May 13), Gambit (October 7), The Huntsman: Winter’s War (April 22), The Legend of Tarzan (July 1), Moana (November 23), Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (December 25), Silence (TBA) Snowden (May 13), Suicide Squad (August 5), Sully (September 9)

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20. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (in theaters February 5; directed by Burr Steers; starring Lily James, Matt Smith, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, and Lena Heady) – To start off the bat, I have a feeling this will undoubtedly suck. However, this adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestselling parody looks like a fun guilty pleasure. Jane Austen meets The Walking Dead. How fun can it get? Also, Lily James is a freaking goddess!

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19. Inferno (in theaters October 14; directed by Ron Howard; starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, and Ben Foster) – Tom Hanks and Ron Howard are back to give us another adventure with Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon! This time, we are going to see him wake up in a hospital in Florence, Italy. With no memory of the recent events, he goes on the run looking for answers. I personally enjoyed The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. They both kept me on the edge of my seat with its fascinating history, mysteries, and, obviously, the excellent performance by Hanks. But, it’s hard to deny their flaws. It looks like I am in for another good ride with Inferno.

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18. The Jungle Book (in theaters April 15; directed by Jon Favreau; starring Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, and Neel Sethi) – When Disney started doing live-action remakes for the new generation, I became quite skeptical. Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland started off that trend. It became a ginormous box-office hit, but mostly everyone hated it. It was visually stunning but everything else was a bit of a disaster. Then, Maleficent was released four years later. Even though Angelina Jolie was born to play Disney’s most famous villainess, why make her a good person? Kenneth Branagh brought us, in my opinion, the best version of Cinderella (Walt Disney would have been proud of it, if he was alive today).

Even though I haven’t seen the original in years, I’m liking the looks of the new version of The Jungle Book. I appreciate Jon Favreau not only as an actor, but also as a filmmaker. With films like Iron Man and Elf, he brings a unique visual style and narrative. The voice cast is nothing short of excellent–Bill Murray as Baloo, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, and Christopher Walken as King Louie. It also has a little Life of Pi vibe to it (considering they are somewhat similar). As much as I’m looking forward to this, I’m still waiting for the remake of Beauty and the Beast.

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17. The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist (in theaters June 10; directed by James Wan; starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Simon McBurney, Sterling Jerins, and Frances O’Connor) – The Conjuring was a breath of fresh air. It did have plot devices everyone is familiar with (i.e. a family moving into a new house surrounded by an evil entity). What James Wan does with the true story of the Harrisville investigation by Ed and Lorraine Warren (played to perfection by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) is avoid any cheap scares and deliver an old-fashioned horror film relying on atmosphere.

Due to the success of that film, the disappointing spin-off Annabelle came out a year later. The beginning of The Conjuring talks about the Warren’s investigation of the Annabelle doll (the true story, in fact, consisted of a cursed Raggedy-Ann doll; the Annabelle in the film is a ventriloquist doll to make it more creepy). Now, the sequel reprises Wilson and Farmiga as the Warrens traveling to London to investigate a poltergeist consisting of two daughters. With James Wan returning to the director’s chair, I am ready for another scary good time.

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16. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (in theaters November 18; directed by David Yates; starring Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, and Jon Voight) – It’s fascinating to set a story 70 years before our beloved protagonist Harry Potter heads to Hogwarts. Eddie Redmayne is already becoming one of my favorite actors. After getting success for his roles in The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl, it looks like he’s going to have a ball playing the magizoologist Newt Scamander, who heads to New York City for a brief stop to publish his studies of the magical creatures in the Wizarding World. Then, a No-Maj (the American word for “Muggle”) releases the fantastic beasts out of Scamander’s suitcase. As a huge Harry Potter fan, I have nothing but a good feeling about this.

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15. Star Trek Beyond (in theaters July 22; directed by Justin Lin; starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, and Idris Elba) – I’m not the biggest Trekkie. When I saw J.J. Abram’s 2009 version of Star Trek, it introduced me into a futuristic universe “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. The origin story of human James T. Kirk and the Vulcan Spock gave a lot of emotional support. From the breathtaking special effects, witty dialogue, and the awesome characters, I enjoyed every second of it. The sequel Star Trek into Darkness did have its flaws, but it was as enjoyable as before. It was where Benedict Cumberbatch became one of my favorite actors. Now, Fast and Furious director Justin Lin is taking over for Abrams to direct the third entry of what is officially a trilogy. I’m looking forward to see the Enterprise crew actually discovering new worlds and civilizations. It looks like this will be the funniest in the new Star Trek film series.

Stars On The Set Of 'The Girl On The Train'

14. The Girl on the Train (in theaters October 7; directed by Tate Taylor; starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Luke Evans, Haley Bennett, and Édgar Ramírez – Based on the bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins, the film stars Emily Blunt as a woman witnessing a murder on the train. While trying to get the pieces of the puzzle together, she begins she might have been involved in the crime. From reading the plot summary, this sounds like an Agatha Christie story or another Gone Girl. Tate Taylor (The Help, Get on Up) directs this murder mystery. I always like a good murder mystery. Without hearing too much of the story, I can’t wait to go in with an open mind.

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13. Doctor Strange (in theaters November 4; directed by Scott Derrickson; starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Mads Mikkelson) – Like I mentioned before, Benedict Cumberbatch is becoming one of my favorite actors. From Sherlock to The Imitation Game, he sure does know how to bring the wisdom into those roles. Now, he’s about to tackle another ambitious yet fun role: Doctor Strange. Without knowing too much of the superhero, seeing the picture of Cumberbatch in costume makes it look like he was born to play the role. Even though we have yet to see a trailer for Doctor Strange, I’m hoping it will look good.

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12. Warcraft (in theaters June 10; directed by Duncan Jones; starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Daniel Wu, and Dominic Cooper) – I have never played any of the Warcraft video games. Everyone remembers World of Warcraft becoming the most popular online game ever. Duncan Jones transitions from his low-budget sci-fi status of Moon and the smart mainstream sci-fi hit Source Code to direct a big-budget fantasy adaptation of the first Warcraft video game from 1994 (Orcs and Humans). With a lot of horrible video game adaptations coming out over the years, this might break the streak to deliver a visually dazzling battle between the humans and orcs. This looks like it will be a new Lord of the Rings.

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11. Hail, Caesar! (in theaters February 5; directed by the Coen Brothers; starring George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, and Channing Tatum) – Joel and Ethan Coen have made some of the best films of all-time (The Big Lebowski, True Grit, to name a few). This satire of the film industry has one of the best casts this decade. George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Ralph Fiennes, among others. I’m sensing this might be the first great movie of 2016.

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10. The BFG (in theaters July 1; directed by Steven Spielberg; starring Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall, Penelope Wilton, Bill Hader, and Mark Rylance) – It has been over twenty years since Steven Spielberg has directed a straight-up family flick. He is back to direct an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel The BFG (Big Friendly Giant). Mark Rylance is perfect in every sense!

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9. Everybody Wants Some (in theaters April 15; directed by Richard Linklater; starring Tyler Hoechlin, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Blake Jenner, and Wyatt Russell) – Richard Linklater’s follow-up to Boyhood brings us back to the 1980s. It’s sort of a sequel to Dazed and Confused. It’s been getting some early praise for being funny and touching. Count me in!

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8. X-Men: Apocalypse (in theaters May 27; directed by Bryan Singer; starring Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Rose Byrne)– 2014’s Days of Future Past is one of the best films in the X-Men franchise. It brought the older versions of the characters we know and love collaborating with their younger selves. And it features the funniest and coolest action sequence of the decade. Bryan Singer is only bringing back the younger characters back to fight Apocalypse (played by the great Oscar Isaac).

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7. Captain America: Civil War (in theaters May 6; directed by the Russo brothers; starring Chris Evans; Robert Downey Jr., Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson, and Martin Freeman) – Captain America vs. Iron Man. What more needs to be said?

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6. The Nice Guys (in theaters May 20; directed by Shane Black; starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Kim Basinger, Ty Simpkins, and Matt Bomer) – Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are two wonderful actors. Seeing them working with each other is like a dream come true. Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) brings 1970s Los Angeles to life.

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5. La La Land (in theaters July 15; directed by Damien Chazelle; starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, and John Legend) – Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash takes a more whimsical side. A musical love-story starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a jazz pianist and actress falling in love in 1950s Los Angeles. And J.K. Simmons is going to have a small role as the boss. I’m hoping for a toe-tapping good time in the theater.

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4. The Witch (in theaters February 19; directed by Robert Eggers; starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Lucas Dawson, and Julian Richings) – Finally! A horror film (also a big hit at last year’s Sundance) that relies on nothing but pure atmosphere.

3. Star Wars: Rogue One (in theaters December 16; directed by Gareth Edwards; starring Felicity Jones, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn, and Mads Mikkelson) – Come on! It’s Star Wars! And it takes place before the events of the first Star Wars!

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2. Finding Dory (in theaters June 17; directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane; starring Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Eugene Levy, Diane Keaton, and Idris Elba)– 13 years ago, Finding Nemo was released in theaters. My 7-year-old self never seen anything like it before; going under the sea where different species of fish interact with each other. In 2016, we get a sequel centering on the beloved Blue Tang fish Dory with short-term memory loss. Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks reprise their roles as Dory and Marlin. Disney/PIXAR have a lot of sequels as well as some original films up their sleeves. I’m so exciting see them all! Okay, maybe except for Cars 3.

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1. Deadpool (in theaters February 12; directed by Tim Miller; starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, and Stefan Kapicic) – Seriously, who isn’t looking forward to this movie? It’s rare to see a superhero movie getting a hard-R. Ryan Reynolds is going to own Deadpool!

Here’s to a good 2016!