Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

After stuffing myself on Thanksgiving, I went with a group of friends and my brother to go see the newest from J.K. Rowling’s magical world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

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As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation for the well-crafted world that J.K. Rowling dreamed up has grown and matured. What the canonical material lacked in depth and insight, I found in Tumblr’s fantastic Harry Potter community.

So what did I think of the newest prequel to the Harry Potter film franchise, which is the first of five films?

In general, I liked it! It was a fun movie to see, and it was nice to revisit the wizarding world in a new film. Sometimes, the last HP movie seems like it came out just yesterday and then I remember that it was released 5 years ago…

I have to say that having the film take place in the United States… was a fun choice, but not an obvious one. And when I say that, I mean that I frequently forgot that the events in Fantastic Beasts takes place in New York City. It still felt very British to me, except for the actors who forgot to do British accents!

Let’s talk about some of the actors and characters, shall we?

  • Eddie Redmayne is a darling. Here’s a great piece by Bustle about the roles he has chosen and how they challenge toxic masculinity. I have to agree that Newt Scamander is not a traditional Male Movie Hero. He seemed to struggle socially, but he cared so deeply for his beasts that he was smuggling in his suitcase. (There is a theory I like that Newt has adapted his body language to be non-threatening based on his experiences with his fantastic beasts.) You do root for him, and I think we needed a male hero like Newt.
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  • I can’t say that I particularly liked Katherine Waterson’s Tina Goldstein. She seemed to struggle a lot at work (at the American Ministry of Magic, MACUSA) but her struggles seemed so easy to avoid. It was just another case of strange social interactions. Her earnesty and unwillingness to be swayed from the right path was admirable, as was her compassion that is revealed throughout the film.
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  • Apparently people have been talking about Alison Sudol’s Queenie a lot, because she’s a very Marilyn Monroe-esque character who is ultra feminine in contrast to her sister Tina, who is no-nonsense. She even says herself that her sister is the career woman and she… isn’t. But I really liked that she is comfortable with acknowledging that she doesn’t have the same career ambitions her sister has; not everyone does, and women who don’t are not less feminist than women who do! I also loved that her thing is her prowess with Legilimency (mind-reading). It added a beautiful layer of compassion and empathy to her character, and I found her really hard to dislike.
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  • A fan-favorite character out of this film is Jacob, played by Dan Fogler, who is a muggle. Sorry, “no-maj”, ugh. He encounters the magical world the way we, the movie-goer, do: with awe and wonderment and wide eyes. Seeing this amazing, fantastical things for the first time is amazing, and while we had Harry acting as our eyes and ears in the original movies, Jacob is a funny and endearing way to experience magic as someone who did not grow up with magic. And yes, he is very funny.
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  • I think Colin Farrell is finally being recognized for having more depth as an actor, given his earlier work, but these past few years he’s really stepped up his game. He plays Percival Graves with this dark solemnity that you’ll recognize immediately, that guy who doesn’t want you to succeed, that guy whose motivations you can’t quite pin down (until the end of the movie, of course!). I love Colin Farrell and I’m glad to see him play an antagonist like this.
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  • Let’s also say that Ezra Miller’s portrayal of Credence was… chilling. I am not super familiar with his work, but I felt very thoroughly on edge whenever he was on screen. Interested to see how his portrayal of Barry Allen will be!
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I had a few little issues with plot and story, and even with some of the world-building in this movie. (Why use Accio instead of Expelliarmus? Not sure.) I think the world-building in this movie was weaker than in the Harry Potter movies, but that could also be partly due to how high my expectations are after having additional world-building done by the HP fandom. Still, there were many times where I felt I had to really suspend belief.

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One thing to consider when watching is how easy the magic comes to the wizards and witches we see in this movie. We are not watching teenagers learn magic, with a few exceptions in-between. We are watching adults practice magic, as they have been doing for years, many of them who do so professionally. It’s very different and it’s something to get used to – people performing magic with little to no difficulty at all.

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The movie was a lot of fun though. Lots of action, lots of creativity and imagination. All the fantastic beasts were great. It’s a much darker movie than the Harry Potter films, and I want you to be ready for that. There is abuse. There are gruesome deaths. More serious family drama occurs. This is not a children’s movie, the way the Harry Potter movies were. It’s a movie for the young adults who watched Harry Potter when they were kids.

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Also, full disclosure, I cried a few times watching this. Okay.

How about some spoilers? After the trailer:

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The Lobster (2015)

I first saw a trailer for The Lobster around this time last year, but I was unable to figure out where or when it was being shown in theaters near me. I searched and searched, but figured that I had either missed its showings at smaller theaters or that it simply was on too-limited release and I’d have to wait for it to show up on a streaming service or something. The premise seemed interesting: A sad Colin Farrell and other singles have a limited amount of time to find true love. If they fail, they will be turned into the animal of their choice. (Farrell’s character, David, chooses the film’s eponymous lobster because it lives for over a hundred years, is blue-blooded like an aristocrat, is fertile throughout its entire life, and lives in the sea, as he has always loved waterskiing and swimming.)

Let me first say that I was cracking up for nearly the whole movie. It’s not stupid, crass look-at-how-funny-I-am kind of comedy. In the universe of this movie, the people clearly have no social skills. This results in some really hilarious conversations and exchanges. The awkward, stilted dialogue makes you feel so uncomfortable and you’re cringing so much and you just have no other response but laughter.

This was, hands-down, one of the greatest scenes in the movie, because 1) her dance moves are ON POINT and 2) she is me

We dance alone. That’s why we only play electronic music.

The physical humor was great. The comedic timing was excellent. Usually, when I see movies that are labelled “dark comedies”, I find them kinda funny-ish sometimes I guess. But I was stifling laughter and trying not to annoy the couple sitting in front of me with my giggles. This movie is really funny.

Starting to see a comedy trope trending with the dad bod and the sagging tighty-whities

At the same time, it’s a “dark” comedy for a reason, and that is because, well, the assumptions and rules of this world are a bit morbid. People come to this hotel when they become single, and are given 45 days to find love or be turned into animals. (Which they choose at the beginning of the stay.) Those who try to escape this fate live in the woods and are hunted by the residents of the hotel. For every Loner that a resident captures (they use tranquilizer guns to hunt, don’t worry), their stay at the hotel is extended by one day. On David’s first day, his left hand is handcuffed to the back of his pants so that he can really appreciate how much easier life is when you are part of a pair and not alone. During an assembly, hotel staff show humorously straight-faced demonstrations of what happens when you are alone (you choke on your food and die, you get sexually assaulted while walking) and when you are part of a couple (your partner saves your life, your partner wards off would-be assailants). Masturbation is punished, as it is an example of self-pleasure, and we see that the punishment is having your hand placed in a hot toaster! (OUCH) Every day, the residents are brought to arousal, likely as a means of motivation to finding their partner. (This scene was one of the funniest in the entire movie, and you have to wonder how they do this for women. A scene later maybe sheds some light on this.) Residents are only permitted to do solo things, like play golf, and are not allowed to do group/team/pairs activities like tennis. The rules are harsh and strictly enforced, and it is all meant to make people want to be paired up more.

The three best bros that ever did live?

I was confused by these rules a little bit. For example, is it compulsory to check into the hotel after your relationship ends?  It seems like everyone is here after their spouses leave them some way or another. What about the two very young girls who are best friends and at the hotel at the same time? How did that work out, exactly? Were they originally in a romantic relationship with each other, maybe? Is it legally required to check in after your relationship ends, perhaps? There is a scene where David and our narrator, Rachel Weisz, are in the city and David is very nervous when a cop approaches him and asks about his partner. Are people not allowed to be single, by law? Or, are they so desperate to be in a relationship, either because of their own insecurities or because it affords them better opportunities in this world, that they voluntarily go all-in to find love in this hotel. Are there a lot more hotels like this? Is this one of many? Is it a chain, do these hotels compete? How are they even funded, do the people pay to stay there?

This movie, in all its ridiculousness, says so much about what we look for in relationships and how wrong we can be. Every resident of the hotel introduced themselves very matter-of-factly and mentioned a defining characteristic. The implication throughout the movie is that couples had one big thing in common, for example: both have a limp, both are short-sighted (near-sighted, but read into the double entendre there how you will), both get frequent nosebleeds. This was so telling because people were willing to fake what they had in common with a potential partner in order to find love and leave the hotel. It reminded me a lot of how online dating works today, and how we put these fairly superficial traits on our profiles and look for people who have the same ones. When your criteria for messaging someone is “Oh, her favorite band is Muse, too!”, you have to wonder if that’s really the best way to find love. At the same time, when you only have a limited amount of time – like, say, 45 days before being permanently turned into an animal – what else are you meant to go on to determine who out of the hundreds of thousands of millions of people out there is worth your time in trying to forge a relationship with? For the people in the hotel, did they have much time to learn more about each other without some entry point of “Hey! I speak German too!” to start the relationship off?

Another thing I noticed (before we head into spoiler territory) is the movie nails how intolerant our world can be of grey areas. David is frequently forced to choose absolutes when he wants to live in the in-betweens. When he checks into the hotel (as we see in the trailer), he is asked his sexual preference and indicates that he prefers women… but he did have one homosexual experience in school. “Is there a bisexual option?” “No, I’m afraid we no longer offer bisexual preference. I’m afraid you have to decide right now whether to register as a heterosexual or homosexual.” And he hesitates for a long time. It is one of the only times we see a very deliberate, er, deliberation in this hotel where you are choosing who you will spend your life with. If he chooses one over the other, he cannot ever experience the other ever again. “I think I should be registered as a heterosexual”, he finally decides. We see this again after he exchanges all of his belongings for the clothes provided by the hotel. (I kind of liked that the hotel made everyone conform in this way. You would not be influenced by someone’s style; just who they were. Or that one thing you have in common. At the same time, though, maybe someone’s style is a big part of who they are and you’ll never know until you leave the hotel with them.) When asked for his shoe size, David replies that he is a 44.5. “44 or 45? We do not have half-sizes.” Again, we see him hesitate for a brief moment before he resigns himself to wearing a size 45.

Oh man, I went into this movie expecting to roll my eyes at lot at some auteur piece with humor that I didn’t get and wasted stars (like some directors do to me) but I really loved The Lobster. If you are able to catch it in theaters, I highly HIGHLY recommend that you do. It’s a pretty beautiful movie as well, and I was engaged and enjoyed the movie throughout, until the end… which was when I felt really uncomfortable but not in a bad way.

More analysis and review in the spoilers after the trailer!

P.S. You can choose what animal you would be in the movie with this fun quiz. Here are the choices I was given and I think they are pretty great:

I am already a cat, but I mean a water bear and a deer are great backup choices.
I am already a cat, but I mean a water bear and a deer are great backup choices because a) space travel and b) telling undeserving trees to GET REKT

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