Movies: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 

I am a huge Harry Potter Fan and so there was never any question that I would see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie although not as much as the actual Harry Potter films. This story takes place about 100 years before Harry and is set in NYC. Eddie Redmayne plays Englishman Newt Scamander, a curious soul who houses a lot of very bizarre magical creatures packed in a small suitcase he carries with him. Mr. Scamander is the author of one of Harry’s textbooks which is to no one’s surprise about magical beasts.  Newt travels to NYC in hopes of obtaining a new creature but his existing ones escape in a series of incidents and he spends most of the movie trying to round them up.

David Yates is the Director and he did several of the Potter films. Once again he proves a worthy steward of Rowling’s imagination and delivers very good special effects, terrific sets and rich cinematography. Eddie Redmayne as the shy tousled hair Newt is charming but his potential love interest, Katherine Waterston doesn’t seem to have any chemistry with him. Dan Fogler does a nice job as the muggle Newt picks up along the way. Colin Farrell is excellent as the evil Graves and Johnny Depp puts in a cameo at the end of the movie. Apparently he has a much more significant role in the next one.

You don’t have to have seen the other Harry Potter films to understand and enjoy what is going on in Magical Beasts but it does help. The villain is the evil wizard Grindelwald whose backstory was detailed in the “Deathly Hallows” and it helps to know something about him including his “sign” of the Deathly Hallows. The movie sheds light on the American Wizard legal and educational structure along with it’s governing body, which will be new to Potter audiences filling in gaps about the Wizarding world beyond British soil. The depths of Rowling’s intricate backstories never ceases to amaze me.

For adults who are into Harry Potter, I’d see the movie. For those adults who aren’t going to see the movie with children, I’d suggest you see the original Harry Potter films, which other than the Deathly Hollows Part 1 and the Chamber of Secrets are better than this film. This movie is perfectly enjoyable but in my opinion, it lacks the magic of the originals. This may in part be because while Jo Rowling is a brilliant writer, this, her first attempt at screen writing, is not as strong. I’m a bit worried about how we are going to get four more movies out of this series but if Jo has five movies about Newt in her head, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

 

 

 

Books: Station Eleven and Hogwarts – Wouldn’t it be Great if Harry Potter Survived a Post-Apocalyptic World?

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 

This 2014 novel won the Arthur C. Clarke Science Fiction Award as well as being a finalist for the National Book Award. The author doesn’t view the book as Sci-Fi and after reading it, I would have to agree. Just because it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by a flu pandemic  doesn’t mean it is science fiction. It is more like TV’s “Last Ship” only far better!

As the novel begins, a well-known actor, Arthur Leander, playing King Lear on stage in Toronto dies of a heart attack and that same night, people start dying of he flu. The author smartly avoids the first two decades after the disaster in order to focus on what happens after the initial chaos subsides. There is no government, no electric grid, no planes, cars, cell phones or computers and the survivors are in small clusters spread throughout North America. We are introduced to a band of musicians and actors that call themselves the Traveling Symphony and do Shakespearean plays as they roam from town to town. In the band, is Kristin who is now in her twenties but was with Arthur on stage when she was eight.

Several of the key characters are connected (through Arthur) and the book goes back and forth in time and between characters to fill the gaps in on life before the flu and how the characters evolved and connected. At the beginning of the book, I found some of the skipping around a bit confusing but it was probably more because the story wasn’t going where I expected it than the structure of the novel. Station Eleven refers to a couple of sets of comic books by that title that were hand drawn by Arthur’s first wife and one set was given to Kristin the night of his death. It keeps her going through the twenty years after the pandemic.

Station Eleven is a really great book and the story parallels the tragic story of King Lear while focusing on what is important in life and how the Arts should be saved at all costs even in a society that is primitive. There are also major themes of love, loss, memories and survival. Station Eleven may take place in a post-apocalyptic world but I agree with the author that the book is literary fiction.  It is well deserving of all its awards. 

Pottermore Presents: 3 Short Stories

J.K. Rowling and her Pottermore organization have released three new e-books, which are short stories with very little new material. Basically the Pottermore website was reorganized and readers found content difficult to find so the archives were gone through and these e-books published for $1.99 each. There are three of these short-story books: Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide;  Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies. The new material provides includes a chapter on Minerva McGonagall and another on Horace Slughorn that explores their history in a bit more depth.

The three books are short and easy to get through but again, not much new here. I guess one can’t go too wrong given the price but it would have been nice to have a little more original material. Nonetheless, in reading through the books, one can’t help but marvel at just how well developed the background story is for every character that Ms. Rowling created. Whether she included the information in her books or not, she had flushed out their entire history (and future) in her head. It truly is phenomenal and a testament to one of the most creative minds ever. My admiration is unbounded in how well though out this world and all the characters in it are.

Even if there isn’t a lot of original material in this collection of short stories, it is a great year for Potter fans with the screen play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, this new e-book collection of short stories and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them movie coming in a couple of months. All of these together make for a wonderful journey to J.K. Rowling’s world that was unexpected at the time the books concluded.

Books: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne 

I need to admit first and foremost that I am a rabid Harry Potter fan. I have read the entire series more times than I’ll ever admit to and find the universe of Harry Potter one of the most brilliant and imaginative worlds ever invented by a writer. So it was with trepidation that I read the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the new stage play that opened to rave reviews in London last month. It is difficult to pick up a script and read it without comparing it to the novels and their rich characters and locations. If I had been able to see the play, I certainly would have preferred that to reading the script but this was my only option because I wasn’t going to ignore this latest addition to the Potter world (Ok…I admit to getting up at 3 in the morning to try and get tickets to the play when they were released but I was thwarted in my quest).

Overall, I think the book is for devoted Potter fans. I wouldn’t bother with it if you aren’t. Go see the play, which is supposed to be wonderful – even if it takes longer to get tickets than it takes for Hamilton. I think that within the Potter fandom, there will be mixed reactions. On one hand, there are those who would rather the story of Harry Potter end with the epilogue to Deathly Hallows and this script will reinforce their opinion.  In the other camp, there are those who want any additional stories about this world that can be delivered to them regardless of the vehicle. For the former, it will be difficult to understand how Harry becomes the father that is portrayed in this play. It just doesn’t ring true with whom the boy/man is that we left after the Battle of Hogwarts or even in the Epilogue. These fans will want more character development then is found in a script and wonder why there isn’t more mention of Harry’s other children among other things.  It will seem like a superficial view into Potter’s universe which is the difference between a play not written by Ms. Rowling and one of her novels.

For the Potter fans that just want to revisit that world under any circumstances, it is wonderful to have Snape, Hagrid and other characters come alive again along with Harry, Hermione and Ron. There are humorous moments like the time travel episode that showed Ron married to Padma Patil.   Draco having a kind and generous son makes for a very satisfactory addition to the Malfoy family tree. The links to the Goblet of Fire are intriguing as is the visit back to Godric’s Hollow. There are many other well written connections to the books which provide the fans with their due.

I tend to fall in both camps. I am glad the play was written in order to continue Harry’s story but it left me wanting so much more – I missed the amazing world and characters that Ms. Rowling was able to describe magnificently on ever page of her 7 novels. For me, Cursed Child was a quick diversion from my normal fare but one that left me hanging. I will hope that someday, Ms. Rowlings continues the story with a new generation but I’m happy to leave Harry where he was at the end of Deathly Hallows.

My children were the perfect age when the Potter books came out and we’d all be at Barnes and Noble at Midnight as each book rolled out unless they were at camp and I ordered through Amazon to ensure delivery the day of publication. We’d then spend all night reading them. This summer, my almost 30-year-old daughter was on staff at her childhood camp and I sent a copy of Cursed Child to her. It was like old times and I wasn’t the only parent of a millennial to do that! Pottermore fans, enjoy and everyone else – wait for the play to eventually get to you – I’m sure it will!