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Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them • Moonlight

November 17, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

(** ½) PG-13    

If it’s fantastic looking beasts you seek and you want to know where to find them, there’s no better place to look than the ballyhooed addition to the Harry Potter series of films, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. There are tons of wondrous creatures to behold throughout the film, a marvel of CGI wizardry, even if at times they do begin to lose their luster after one sees them for the umpteenth time. Still you have to hand it to the FX team in this film for conjuring up so many shapes and sizes of creatures found in the film therein. If nothing else, they deserve to be remembered when awards season comes a calling in a couple of months.   

However, if it’s solid cinematic storytelling you’re looking for this is, sadly, not the place to find it. Fantastic Beasts spends approximately three fourths of its first hour illuminating magician Newt Scamander’s (Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, with tics and upper lip quivering a plenty) attempts to coral the beasts of the film’s title after they’ve gotten loose in New York City, circa 1920s. Of course, we expect some of the screen time to be devoted to these creature creations but the darn things eventually wear out their welcome and, finally, become just simply boring. Watching Newt and his partner in crime, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) endlessly chase these beasts on a seemingly endless loop is enough to tax the most patient viewer after a while.  

The film does finally settle into a story of sorts during its second hour after Newt is noticed and pursued by witch hunter, Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston).

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts

Goldstein catches on to what Newt’s up to and eventually aids him on his quest to rid the big apple of the wily beasts. There’s also a villain named Grindelwald (Johnny Depp, in a cameo that presumably will be expanded in later films) who’s obviously set up to be the equivalent of Voldermont in the Harry Potter film series.  

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series of novels makes her screenwriting debut here but there’s ample evidence that she’s much better off utilizing her sizeable talents as a novelist as opposed to a screenwriter. Pieces of the film’s story simply don’t come together and feel at odds with one another. For instance, the whimsical feel of the early scenes of the film seem totally out of synch with the darker tone of the latter half of the film.  

It’s obvious that Warner Brothers is hoping for another Harry Potter size franchise on their hands with this one but unless the storytelling improves there’s not a chance that anyone is going to be comparing this series to the Potter films any time soon. On that I’ll rest my case.

Moonlight (***) R

Director Barry Jenkins’ second feature as a director, Moonlight, is likely to cement his growing reputation as a filmmaker to watch. Based on a play by MacArthur-winner Tarell Alvin McCraney entitled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Jenkins’ film is a contemplative piece exploring the subjects of race, homosexuality and poverty, though not necessarily in that order. It has moments of sheer power that stay with the viewer and, though it’s somewhat undone by its leisurely pacing in spots, Moonlight is an experience that’s more than worthy of attention.

Moonlight is divided even into three separate sections, providing three unconnected glimpses into the life of Chiron, a disadvantaged black youth coming of age in a poor section of Miami. Since he’s shown at different ages in the film, three different actors portray Chiron in the film and each does an exemplary job portraying the character.

It’s worth noting that it isn’t only Chiron’s character that makes the film tick. The people that come and go throughout Chiron’s life are as equally interesting as the main character of the film.

Ashton Sanders & Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

These include his crack addicted single mom (Naomie Harris, a regular in the recent James Bond films, turning in award worthy work here) and the neighborhood drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali). 

In the earliest section of the film, Juan feels responsible for the toll that his business has wreaked upon the community where he earns his keep as a drug dealer. As a result, he decides to take Chiron under his wing. This section is filled with a sense of tenderness, as the audience is privy to Juan’s loving attention to the boy who really has been left to his own devices. Juan serves as a father figure of sorts and without Juan in the boy’s life it’s hard to imagine how Chiron’s life may have turned out. In the later sections of the film we get to see how Juan’s influence reverberates through Chiron’s formative years.

The middle section of the film is the most powerful as it depicts a section from Chiron’s school years as he becomes of aware of his sexuality. Chiron and a fellow classmate of the same sex physically connect. Unfortunately, life doesn’t turn out as Chiron would expect and this leads to a powerful scene illuminating the terrors of school bullying. In the final section, the two men as adults reconnect and contemplate the meaning of it all.

Moonlight isn’t perfect. It really has no concrete ending and it is a bit too slowly paced at times but there’s enough emotion gristle to chew on to make it ultimately worth the journey.

‘Beasts’ is playing in Hickory and all around this area. Moonlight is playing in Charlotte.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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