Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Y’all, I just went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them yesternight, and it delighted me so much that I have to tell you all about it.

This is far and away my favorite Potterverse movie.  I admit that’s chiefly due to the fact that the other 8 have the book-depiction-versus-movie-depiction conflict; the Tale of the Three Brothers might be the only part that I love without any qualms whatsoever because it’s done with such incredible artistry, and in such a fantastic storybook style.  So your mileage may vary.  Since I’d avoided the trailers and pre-film hype, it’s fair to say that I went in with no expectations whatsoever.

…okay, that is not quite true.  Anyone who has talked to me about Harry Potter at length knows that I find the similarities of Dementors and Lethifolds – thin black shroud creatures, one a soul-eater and one a body-swallower, both repelled by the Patronus charm – to be fascinating.  I also find the concept of the Nundu (breather of plague, destroyer of villages) to be utterly terrifying.  You could make feature-length movies about all three.

This movie had neither Lethifolds nor Nundu, which would be more disappointing if it hadn’t amused me so much.  I was probably That Obnoxious Person Who Laughs Too Loud to everyone else in the theater, which leaves me wondering if headcolds or Sudafed render the world more hilarious.  

It’s tricky to say why I laughed so much without spoiling it.  The hijinx of the animals themselves?  The differences between wizard and no-maj (ie, Muggle)?  The dance between the sexes?  All that, and more.

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The niffler deserves every bit of screentime he’s got.

First off, there are the characters.  Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is criminally adorable: so winsome and earnest about caring for magical creatures, so cool-headed in the face of dangerous Erumpents or wizards or Things That Should Not Be, so talented at cleanup in the aftermath.  Cedric Diggory has nothing on this Hufflepuff.   

(…Can I say that?  I know, I know, nil nisi bonum mortuis, but really.)eddie redmayne newt.jpg

Katherine Waterston as (Porpen)Tina Goldstein is the Hermione of this story, sort of; she also does the Harryish “oh hullo, Person in Position of Authority; I came to tell you something which really was important but you seem to be doing something at least….three times bigger…” thing and getting into trouble.  She has her own share of earnest care, especially for [spoiler redacted].

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Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein is a show-stealer, and at first I thought I’d hate her (a pretty, curly-haired Legilimens who flirts by putting clothes on?  Mary Sue alert, y’allll), but then she went and made cocoa, helped drive the metaphorical getaway car, and cunningly disguised said getaway car with “Oh, this?  It’s…ladies’ things, d’you want to see?” which made me guffaw.  My favorite sort of pretty girl is the one who keeps her composure and disguises her competence when necessary.

Dan Fogler, who plays no-maj Jacob Kowalski, is a brilliant foil to Newt Scamander’s understated “ah yes, recapturing magical creatures, how quotidian” bit.  He has all of the childlike wonder, the Muggle’s confusion, the fellow needing just a bit more exposition to grasp the unbelievable things he’s seeing, who then takes everything in stride with panache.

I’d say this movie is essentially lighthearted, though there’s the shadow of both wizard extremists (Grindelwald), Muggle fanatics (the New Salem Philanthropic Society and its witch-hunting goals), child abuse, and secrecy-obsessed Magical Congressmen all about it.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is kind of a misnomer.  Kind of, because the textbook is about where these creatures originate, rather than the hunt you have to go on if they escape from your magical suitcase.  But then, Fantastic Beasts and Where Not To Set Them Loose (Namely, New York, Because Of Course It Is) (btw, Magic Repression is the Literal Worst; Behold the Reasons Why) is just a tad unwieldy, so I can’t really blame them.

Further thoughts on magic repression, Undetectable Extension Charms, and magical America to come later, when they’re less likely to need a spoiler alert.  In the meantime: go see the movie!  It’s fantastic.

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Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Four

The Book Meme Challenge: Favorite Book of Your Favorite Series

Having declaimed the word “favorite” and dithered about series (how does one discuss more than one series?  There should be a special plural for that.  Serieses?), I find that the unhappy task of focusing on one book at a time lies before me.  Supposing that there will be later opportunities to focus on the Narniad, I will turn my attention to one of the Harry Potter books I most love to revisit: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

As I love each series differently from the next, so I love the respective books differently.  While Goblet of Fire greatly expands Harry’s, and thus the reader’s, understanding of the wizarding world beyond Britain, and Half-Blood Prince contains several useful lessons in the nature of magic and the background of Lord Voldemort, the virtue of Chamber of Secrets is how encapsulated it is.  It’s so neatly packaged, all its loose ends apparently tied – which I find agreeable for two reasons: one, they aren’t really tied until the last or penultimate book, and two, there is some satisfaction to be found in a story which answers most all the questions the reader had thought to ask.

It seems to me that most readers are of two minds about this quality of encapsulation: it’s torture to be left hanging on a cliff at the end of a story (thus they enjoy the tying up of loose ends), but it feels somewhat false to smooth out every last wrinkle of the plot.  As my beloved professor Dr. Whalen put it, “The artistic flaw [of such endings] is inaccuracy, specifically a violation of the canons of reality.  Things don’t happen that neatly.  It’s an upward slope, finally plateauing into a straight line, which…when that happens on your heart monitor, it’s a bad thing.”  Therefore, readers react negatively when that neatness feels overly contrived.

Enter Opinion, whose appearance looks different to each person.  When does it go from just enough arrangement to overdone?  In my mind, Chamber of Secrets lies just far enough from the line to please me with its symmetry.  Rowling places her guns carefully, and (as instructed by Chekhov) does not fail to let them fire.  Consider Dobby’s flight from the Malfoys to keep Harry from Hogwarts, such that he and Ron take the Ford Anglia, which hits the Whomping Willow and subsequently goes wild, saving them from the Acromantula when they learn the details of Hagrid’s spider husbandry; the fight in Flourish and Blott’s that gives Lucius Malfoy an opportunity to plant the diary on Ginny, who goes home to fetch it so she can continue sharing all her hopes and fears with it, thus possessing her and forcing her to order the basilisk to attack people; Harry’s first meeting with Fawkes when he is sent to Dumbledore so that he can call for help later on, be saved from basilisk poison, and pulled up out of the Chamber; or the snake that Malfoy conjures in Dueling Club, such that Harry shouts at it, revealing his fluency in Parseltongue, which causes the entire school to suspect Harry of Dark magic, gives Ron the opportunity to pass on some historical tidbits, enables Hermione to put the pieces together, and prepares Harry to open the Chamber when they’ve sussed out where the entryway is.

It is this intricacy which I love, and how squarely the pieces have been assembled.  But the guns are not fired once and then thrown out; each piece remains part of a larger puzzle.  The Ministry’s reaction to Dobby’s magic at the Dursleys sets up the initial chapters of Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix; Lockhart’s reappearance in Order of the Phoenix also introduces Ron and Hermione to Neville’s parents and their condition; Moaning Myrtle and Polyjuice potion show up several times in later books; Dobby is integral not only to the plot of Goblet of Fire, but to the Trio’s safe exit of Malfoy Manor in Deathly Hallows; Fawkes appears repeatedly, saving Dumbledore in Order of the Phoenix and mourning him in Half-Blood Prince; both the basilisk fangs and sword of Gryffindor prove important and useful later on; and the diary was not merely a diary, or even a mere weapon against Muggle-Borns but a key to Voldemort’s eventual defeat.

And in the meantime, there is the descent into the Chamber itself, which thrills me every time I reread it.  The image of stabbing a book with a fang and it screaming before bleeding ink all over?  Delightful.  Simply delightful.

Contrived?  The only thing I find contrived about Chamber of Secrets is how “Tom Marvolo Riddle” was rearranged into “I am Lord Voldemort.”  There’s nothing more distressing than fighting against a super evil anagram nerd.