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.

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.

Review written by Steve Richards

The “buddy cop” movie can be a fickle beast in Hollywood. The combination of a rapport between two stars, a touch of light-hearted humor, and an intriguing story must mesh perfectly to stand out among the rest. Succeed, and you have a Lethal Weapon franchise on your hands. Fail, and you have White Chicks.

“The Nice Guys” — which is the latest buddy cop rendition from writer and director Shane Black — brings together chemistry, comedy, and crime to create a fun night out for the audience. 

Ryan Gosling, who plays a troubled private investigator in 1970s Los Angeles named Holland March, is the standout star. March is originally hired to find adult film star Misty Mountains, but later changes his pursuit to a runaway teenager named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) as the clues lead him in that direction. 

Gosling plays what is almost a slapstick comedy character, and he does it so well I had to check his credits to see if he played the role before. The Gos is full of physical comedy and one-liners, keeping the audience laughing throughout the film.

Although it is for a very different reason, also searching for Amelia is Jackson Healy (played by Russell Crowe). Healy is more of an intimidating investigator, solving the case with his head rather than his instinct.

Crowe proves to be an excellent complement to Gosling, as the New Zealander delivers his humor in a much dryer way. He also carries the action scenes in a way that Gosling is unable to.

Healy plays the tough guy, while March plays the pretty boy. Both men get the job done in their own way, making a team that is easy for the audience to root for. That formula works in movies like these, and Shane Black is more than familiar with it. The writer of Lethal Weapon, Black proves this isn’t his first rodeo with both the script and direction. It would be understandable to have some expectations heading into the theater; the way I see it “The Nice Guys” at least meets those and leaves any fan of the genre walking away satisfied.

There are a ton of one-liners in the film, and certainly not all of them land the way they were intended when written. You’ll find yourself hard-pressed to not get at least a chuckle every few scenes however, and a few scenes are laugh-out-loud funny the whole way through. The story could be tighter, but the movie has a much bigger comedy tone than crime tone, so the writing was good enough to keep my interest. The action isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it’s mixed in well to keep the audience captivated.

The movie is rated “R,” and you’ll understand why from the very first scene. That’s the best way to make a comedy in my opinion, and I appreciate the fact none of the content is watered down. Makes for a better laugh.

In all “The Nice Guys” isn’t the best date night movie, but if you’re looking for a movie with some star power that also has a solid mix of laughs and action, I would recommend it. The end was also left open, and I mean wide open, for a sequel. Hopefully it can get made.