Friday, November 18, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [2016] (directed by David Yates, screenplay by J.K. Rowling [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] based on her book written under pseudonym [GR] [WCat] [Amzn]) is a generally fun Harry Potter prequel that also would seem to have borrowed visually / conceptually from the Men in Black movies, and thematically from Marvel Comics X-Men series.

Set in Prohibition Era New York of the 1920s, the "Wizarding community" States-side at the time is portrayed in the film as being decidedly _underground_ if also quite _thriving_.  Yes, there was a fairly prominent / loud "Anti-Wizarding" movement (which in many respects looked like any/all "anti-Vice" movements of the time).  Yet, as with Prohibition itself at the time, there was a "live and let live" attitude taken by the Authorities: so long as the Wizarding community "kept to itself" (didn't "cause trouble" / didn't "flaunt" its presence publicly) the civil Authorities left it alone, indeed, to the point that the "Wizarding community" was portrayed as having its own (underground) "parallel government."

The existence of this "parallel government" is actually / interestingly shown as causing its own problems ... those "at the top" of this "parallel social pyramid" / "government" actually seemed to _want_ to "keep things the way they were" with Magic "repressed" and the "Wizarding community" remaining "underground".  Why?  Because said repression actually kept _them_ "the Elites" in this community "in charge."  Fascinating ;-)

But this repression had its costs, especially on "the young" of the "wizarding community" as they had (unsurprisingly) difficulty "repressing" their "magical powers."

So into this just under the surface "pot boiler" enters an English "Magi-zoologist" named Newt Scamander (played quite wonderfully in a slightly "fish out of water" sense by Eddie Redmayne).  He comes to the States with a suitcase full of strange "Fantastic Beasts" knowing that, yes, they were _nominally_ "illegal" but really _not with a clue_ as to what kind of a chaos he's bringing to the States with his very peculiar "baggage."  A few of his magical beasts "get out" of his bag, and ... the rest of the story ensues ;-).

Among that which ensues is Newt's running into an America circa-1920s "every man" named Jacob Kowalski (played wonderfully, if honestly, why didn't the film-makers CAST AN ACTUAL POLISH AMERICAN ACTOR TO PLAY THE ROLE, by Dan Fogler) who enters the story with "a very little Dream" of opening up a small "Polish style Bakery" (in part in honor of his sainted, once baking, grandmother) and found to his dismay that it was _not_ going to be easy to get "a start-up loan" -- with the Quintessentially "Anglo" banker telling him in effect "to make money son, you're gonna have to have money to begin with."

AS A MILD SPOILER, Kowalski's running into the parallel Wizarding World does actually come to help him out.  But before he finds said help, he's plunged into an "Alice in Wonderland" world that before entering it, he honestly would have never ever imagined.  All he had wanted to do is to quit his job "at the cannery" and "sell PACZKIS (pronounced "poonchkis") for a living" in honor of his sainted grandmother.  (Dear Readers, if you haven't had pączki (basically a Polish style "Bismark" or "Danish") in your life, YOU HAVE MISSED OUT ;-).  And yet, before he could get to open his little Polish bakery, what Marvels he had to witness / endure ...  

Anyway, the film becomes an interesting social parable reminding us of the various parallel subcultures that exist around us and the ultimate value of "helping each other out" even if we don't necessarily understand all that is going on in the said subcultures around us.

So, set nominally in 1920s New York, and largely about "Wizarding" ... it's a story that's remains largely "about us" even today.

Good job folks, pretty good job ;-).

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