Written by Steve Richards

The Harry Potter movie franchise is the best one we’ve ever seen, in my opinion. Die-hard Star Wars fans will tell you to forget about three movies within their own franchise. The Hunger Games flamed out. James Bond’s adventures exceed Potter’s in length, but the film quality throughout the series gives a nod to The Boy Who Lived.

With great success comes great expectation, however. Questions asking if the quality can continue are justified as we jump back into a secret community of wizards and witches. (Liquid) Luckily, we’re off to a good start.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a solid opening to phase two of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, giving old school Harry Potter fans something to get excited about and new fans something to dive into.

First of all, if you’re coming in already a Harry Potter fan, good luck not cheesing as hard as you can possibly cheese at the opening sequence. Credit to director David Yates for throwing us back into the wizarding world without missing a beat. And credit to Warner Bros. for hiring the guy who directed the final four Harry Potter movies. Fantastic Beasts is an extension of the Harry Potter series in many ways -- despite the fact it takes place before Lily and James Potter were born, let alone Harry. You’ll gets plenty of callbacks, showcasing a cross between the two worlds.

The most obvious crossover is the movie title itself. We follow Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who writes a book in the 1920s that Harry reads 70 years later called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In the film we essentially see how the book is written, as Scamander is visiting New York City with a case full of fantastic beasts and some of them maybe, might have escaped a little.

Poor Eddie Redmayne auditioned for the original Potter movies and was booted after reading just one line. All is well now, however. The Oscar winner and Newt Scamander are a perfect match. I’m not even sure how much Redmayne is acting and how much he’s just being himself if he were a wizard, which is an indicator of how good he is in Fantastic Beasts. The viewer is left rooting for an endearing, personable hero a movie franchise can be built behind.

It should also be mentioned these fantastic beasts are great characters on their own. The Niffler could have his own spin-off movie and millions would go see it. The Bowtruckle is as charming as Redmayne. The Nundu makes a quick appearance, but might have the best look. No, I’m not speaking gibberish. I’m giving you an inside look at Newt Scamander’s suitcase.

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This guy is a showstopper.
Obviously the key to all these magical creatures is the special effects. The entire Potter franchise has always been the best in this category, and Fantastic Beasts is no different.

Scamander is joined by a group of beast seekers along the way. Chief among them is a No-Maj (American for “Muggle”) he runs into named Jacob Kowalski. Kowalski (Dan Fogler) is the closest we’ll ever get to the wizarding world, as a person incapable of magic exposed to a community of spells, charms, and beasts. His reactions are funny, ambitious, and I assume exactly what mine would be in his situation.

The pursuit of capturing the beasts by Scamander is innocent enough, but at the same time a dark force is flying around and wreaking havoc on New York. This is where the brilliance of J.K. Rowling again shows itself. The two stories could get disjointed, but Rowling finds a way to tie it together in a way that makes sense.

Porpentia Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) has a much larger role in this storyline, as a demoted agent at the Magical Congress of the United States of America. She takes on the classic redemption role, sensing there is a much bigger threat for her to get to the bottom of.

Also in the middle of this mystery is Porpentia’s superior, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell). Graves is also an agent in the MCUSA, but goes about his business in a different manner.

Graves also develops an odd relationship with an orphaned boy named Credence (Ezra Miller). Redmayne is obviously the star of the film. And Fogler is good in his role. But Miller is scene-stealing excellent as an awkward teenager.

Who's Harry Potter? Why would I see Fantastic Beasts?

Not a fan of the original Harry Potter franchise? Here are some reasons why Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them makes a good night out for any moviegoer.

Looking for special effects? I already mentioned how impressive the visual effects are, and the sound effects are just as big. In fact, the theater I was in for Fantastic Beasts blew out a speaker thanks to the sound effects. Not ideal, but I was still able to enjoy the movie. Point is the FX come as a mix of Avatar visually and Jurassic World audibly.

Like a good plot twist? Fantastic Beasts twists and turns more than once. Some are bigger than others, but they will all keep you on your toes. Plus the biggest twist comes at the end, which is always good.

Admittedly, as a Harry Potter fan, I was nervous heading into Fantastic Beasts. I just wasn’t sure if it could live up to my (impossible) expectations. After seeing this rendition of cast, writing, directing, and effects come together I’m hopeful we have the next big movie franchise on our hands.

 
 

                                                                  Written by Steve Richards

NEWS FLASH: The United States is a crossroads. The elected president didn’t receive the most votes and our streets are filled with race-inspired protest on a monthly basis. We can’t even decide if the color of a dress on social media is blue or black anymore.

Divisiveness is at the root of violent conflict and flat-out hate this country hasn’t seen in a long time. Admittedly the media can be the cause of this, but every now and then it also has the ability to speak loudly and open our eyes.

Whether done intentionally or not, Arrival comes with a message that is targeted, important, and relevant to today’s society.   

The film follows expert linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), as she is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications. Twelve alien pods have landed on Earth in different locations, and militaries from across the world make an attempt to learn why they are here. As the film progresses, Banks slowly but surely learns the alien language in an attempt to answer that question.

Banks is clearly the focal point of the movie, and Adams does a fine job carrying it. There are a lot of suspenseful scenes between her and the aliens as they attempt to communicate, and Adams does a nice job holding that emotion. Mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) is brought in as Banks’ colleague, and serves as a quality complement. Adams and Renner work well with each other and have solid on-screen chemistry. Forest Whitaker, who serves as their superior Colonel Weber, talks with an odd Boston-type accent I was never really able to get over.

Acting performances aside, the star of this movie is the writing. Arrival is based on the book Story of Your Life, and this adaptation has me wanting to read the novel. All credit to Eric Heisserer, who wrote the screenplay. I mentioned the tense scenes above, and as the story comes together there’s a twist that gives the viewer a solid “ah ha” moment.

The underlying message of “communicate” is what makes Arrival worth seeing, however. The fact Dr. Banks is a linguist makes this obvious, but the film also features a quick-to-react General Shang (Tzi Ma).  The Chinese general clearly enters his alien communication sessions with a closed mind, looking for any reason to fight rather than listen. As a result the entire world is on the verge of its own demise.

Sound familiar?

Maybe the current state of our country makes this theme more obvious. Whatever the reason the message is necessary – Shang and Dr. Banks have an exchange near the end of the film that goes untranslated, but whatever is said should be broadcast across the country as a sign of hope.

Communication is more important now than it ever has been. Give Arrival a chance, let its message sink in, and give that a chance as well.