Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016): Fun Supporting Cast but Narrative Doesn’t Quite Work


    “Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them,” could have been a really good film. It wasn’t a bad film, not by a long shot…but there were so many narrative issues and plot holes that took away some great chances for drama and character as well as world development that just hurt the overall story. These are my non-spoiler thoughts going in, also I kind of hate that they are turning this into a Franchise as the film’s story feels done after this film, but I guess post-Marvel everybody wants to be a Franchise.

      The film was directed by David Yates, written by J. K. Rowling who was one of the producers along with David Heyman, Steve Cloves and Lionel Wigram.

     The story involves Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrival in NYC in order to release of the animals he’s been studying when he’s pulled into a wider plot as the evil wizard Grindelwald has gone missing in Europe and mysterious attacks are happening all over NYC making Scamander a suspect.


The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic, though not fully fleshed out. One thing in the Potter Books is that real life events in our world are tied to events in the Wizarding World. In this that is dropped completely as we have anti-wizard organizations in the muggle world and much more moments of the two worlds knowing one another. Not to mention Newt being made to be a bigger deal than he ever was in the Harry Potter World. This is still a fun world though and I enjoyed visiting it again.

The Soundtrack – James Newton Howard hits all the ques. This is the Harry Potter Universe and the magic and music working together to illustrates scenes is on display here.

The Support Characters – The support characters are the best part of this film, and really should have been the focus. There was no reason to pull in Scamander and Hogwarts beyond references. Hell, Grindelwald didn’t even have to be the baddie, America could have it’s own Nazi Wizard. Still, if they have to Grindelwald the support characters were more than enough to carry off the mystery and fight.

Gnarlack – This guy is a goblin who owns a jazz club. He was a cool looking character and I wanted to learn more about him…He was clearly doing well even with wizards looking down on all those who weren’t wizards.

Tina – Tina is the disgraced auror who is seeking to redeem herself through the film. The reason she’s disgraced is because she protected Credence from his abusive anti-witch mother. In the end she nearly saves him again before the aurors kill him when he is coming back down from turning into a Obscurus. She also has a thing for Newt but we never fully get why as Newt never listens to her and just does his own thing.

Queenie – Queenie is so much fun! she is a Witch who can read minds and is one of the liberal witches as she likes the muggle Jacob and doesn’t get the prejudice going on around her. She was one of my favorite characters and she shows how smart she is when she sneaks all of them out of the Ministry before they are executed. It is also implied she gets her happy ending with Jacob. Alison Sudol is fantastic.

Jacob – Dan Fogler is really wonderful in the role as the muggle in over his head but who deals with the unknowns and magic with respect after the shock goes away. He is an all around good guy and vet from the war. I’m really glad that even though his mind got wiped it is assumed he kept the memories from before as the Eagle Monster only wiped away the sad memories from the city.

Okay: Credence – This guy is the plot device of the film as it is his extreme power that turns him into an Obscuro and has him reek havoc through NYC. Grindelwald and Tina are the ones fighting for his soul but no one really wins as the Ministry kills him…and it’s never brought up again. He’s abused by his adoptive Mom and could have been so much more in the plot. He’s a plot device that works but fails to elevate the plot.

Newt Scamander – Newt is a mystery and Redmayne does a fine job with that but a character needs to be more. We never know why he went into protecting creatures, we don’t know why he’s cut off from people or even why he knows so much. He’s enough of a person though that I won’t call him a “Knock-off” Doctor from “Doctor Who,” though I get why some people would think this. He has enough there to be his own person but not enough to draw me in like the supporting cast.

Graves/Grindelwald – Grindelwald has Newt’s problem but at least his motivation is there as he hates the wizarding laws that hide them from humans as he sees it as protecting humans when wizards should revel in their power. For much of the film he is Agent Graves, an Auror who works for the Wizarding Government in the U.S. Why he was acting alone this entire time was stupid though, if you are Wizard Hitler, you should have followers. So of course he gets caught at the end, even Voldemort didn’t act alone…he at least had Quirrel in Book 1.

The Cons: Creating a Franchise – Rowling should write books first so there is a justification for all of this. There is no reason for Franchising a series that only has Pottermore to go on. It feels like a blatant cash grab and super cynical and dirties the waters of what could be a great Franchise if it happened naturally. This film shows the studio just wants some of the “Game of Thrones” and “Marvel” action.

Plot Holes – Why is Grindelwald alone if he has a movement at his back? What brought Newt into studying creatures? How do relations between the Wizarding Governments work? (we see a council but no follow up). What is Grindelwald doing beyond terror attacks? There were more as well but these are some right off the bat that I noticed while watching the film. Rowling had this problem in her books too.

The Right to Memory – This is a hole in Rowling’s universe too. Wizards wipe human minds so many times and that is never addressed. This is a huge moral issues, hell they wipe the memory of an entire city and things just return to the status quo. Wizards and humans eventually should interact with one another, groups remaining isolated leads to terms like muggles, etc. This is never addressed but this mentality is what creates Grindelwald’s and Voldemort’s in the Wizarding World.

   This was a film that really excelled when it was doing the Grindelwald plot, but fell apart when Scamander had to “Catch em’ all.” The creatures are all very cool and I get that it is his job but that is even never fully explored but it takes up so much of the plot that the much more interesting mystery of why Grindelwald is in America get’s sidelined until the very end. This was a tragic waste of what could have been a wizard noir! A lot of these cons are cons the books and films have too. Rowling is a great idea writer and she is really good at characters when she focuses on them but in the process her world and stories end up being full of plot holes, even if they are a fun ride. I’d still recommend this film, just know it is flawed going in.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10


Flirting with Disaster (1996): An Attempt to Explore How to Make Relationships Work

Flirting with Disaster

    “Flirting with Disaster” is not my kind of comedy. I liked a lot of the ideas it had, and the acting was good…but the execution of the plot and humor just didn’t do it for me. Knowing humor is a subjective thing I could see people loving this movie though. It reminded me of a another Ben Stiller Comedy “Meet the Parents” which for me was in a similar vein in humor and characters. Which was okay, but for me not a great comedy.

     “Flirting with Disaster” was directed and written by David O. Russell and produced by Dean Silvers.

     The premise is that Mel (Ben Stiller) and his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) are deciding what to name their newborn son but Mel won’t let them decide on a name until he meets his biological parents, since he was adopted. The adoption agent Tina (Tea Leoni) is there to help and ends up sending them all over the place as the initial information on birth parents was wrong as Nancy and Mel’s relationship falls apart. From here the story unfolds.

The Pros: Ben Stiller – I usually put the character name for the pro but the character didn’t full fully realized. Ben Stiller did great with what he was given, but his character fully embracing every person who he thought were his parents felt unrealistic to the point that it ruined what comedic moments it tried to create. Stiller did great with what he was given, which wasn’t much.

Alan Alda – Played Mel’s hippy biological father Richard and was one of the better performances too. You may know him from “M.A.S.H.” and he does a good job here, just isn’t given much to do. From his conflict with his biological son, to escaping to Mexico when his son accidentally gives LSD to a Federal Agent. He was a lot of fun and carried all the scenes he was in. He’s got a lot of charisma.

Patricia Arquette – Plays the wife Nancy who stands up for herself when Ted is trying to get together with Tina. She hooks up briefly with a bisexual Federal Agent who is having problems in his relationship with his husband the other Federal Agent and is the most open minded and closest to good we have in any of the characters as she is primarily focused on taking care of the kid and in the end standing up for how much of a jerk Mel is. Patricia played this perfectly with going between the very soft spoken person going along with anything Mel wants to standing up for herself. Her part in almost having an affair was very poorly written though.

Okay: The Supporting Cast – The rest of the actors I didn’t name cause their performances didn’t really stand out.  They were good as far as the script let them be good. Which is a shame as relationship drama is a fascinating subject to explore, especially in regards to marriage and divorce.

Okay/Con: Cinematography – At times this looks like a found footage film, which clashes with the times it doesn’t and actually looks good. Sadly most looks like it was filmed like a family movie which hurts as it doesn’t give us any shots that elevate tension or the script. It’s standard fair.

The Cons: The Writing – Is terrible. All the cliches are there (Tina is going through a divorce and is the temptresses, Mel is the neurotic husband orphan whose obsession drives away his wife, Nancy is the soft spoken wife who eventually stands up for herself, the FBI agents are the young man wanting an escape and his husband and partner who is obsessed with duty who needs drugs to relax, Mel’s biological parents are hippies and his other folks are other stereotypes…from the Dixie Republican, to the Anti-Semitic Trucker, etc.). These cliches don’t get beyond the cliches and that really hurts the script. This is a huge con for me as the writing is the thing I pay the most attention to in the movie and how it is expressed through the characters. Because the script failed on writing, it failed on the characters.

Direction – It was hard to for me to be invested in the characters in their struggles because of the writing (some of the jokes were pretty flat for me) and direction didn’t help. It felt like many of the side characters were phoning it in and nothing was done to elevate the poor script.

    This was a film that had an interesting idea that it could have done a lot more with. The problem was I think length (only 92 minutes long) and I’ll say it again, for me the script was terrible. I didn’t get why some of the characters did the things they did since no one was listening to anyone, which didn’t feel like it fit. Obliviousness on the characters part was the problem most of the time which lead to miscommunication. Would I recommend this film? If you like Ben Stiller comedies, you’ll probably like this one. But I’ve never been the biggest fan so it just didn’t do it for me.

Final Score: 6 / 10. Above average drama comedy with a poor script.