‘Beasts’ a mixed bag of won­ders

Gum­mer, Brewer, McGraw join thriller ‘Sepa­ra­tion’

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL WORLD NEWS ROUNDUP -

LBy Jake Coyle

ike the bot­tom­less trunk tot­ted by “ma­g­i­zo­olol­o­gist” Newt Sca­man­der, “Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald” is a mixed bag of won­ders.

Newt (Ed­die Red­mayne) can reach into his suit­case and, like Mary Pop­pins be­fore him, pull out just about any­thing. And it some­times feels as though J.K. Rowl­ing – a screen­writer here for the sec­ond time – is sim­i­larly in­fat­u­ated by her un­end­ing pow­ers of con­jur­ing. In this over­stuffed sec­ond film in the five-part Harry Pot­ter prequel se­ries, every solved mystery un­locks an­other, every story begets still more. Nar­ra­tives mul­ti­ply like randy Nif­flers (one of the many species of crea­ture in Newt’s bag).

The usual prob­lem for spinoffs is their thin­ness or their un­ful­filled jus­ti­fi­ca­tion – es­pe­cially ones that stretch an al­ready much-stretched tale. (There were eight Pot­ter movies.) But nei­ther are is­sues in the two “Fan­tas­tic Beasts” films, each di­rected by for­mer “Pot­ter” hand David Yates. Both movies are rooted in pur­pose. “The Crimes of Grindel­wald”, es­pe­cially, is an im­pres­sively dark and ur­gent para­ble of su­prem­a­cist ide­ol­ogy aimed squarely at to­day’s dem­a­gogues of divi­sion. And nei­ther film lacks in den­sity of de­tail, char­ac­ter or story.

No, the only real crime of “Grindel­wald” is its sheer abun­dance. In zip­ping from New York to Lon­don to Paris (with min­istries of magic in each lo­cale), this lat­est chap­ter in Rowl­ing’s pre-Pot­ter saga feels so ea­ger to be out­side the walls of Hogwarts (which also get a cameo) that it re­sists ever set­tling any­where, or with any of its widely scat­tered char­ac­ters – among them Newt, the con­sci­en­tious dark magic in­ves­ti­ga­tor Tina (Kather­ine Water­ston), the New Yorker no-maj Ja­cob (Dan Fogler), Tina’s sis­ter and Ja­cob’s sweet­heart Quee­nie (Ali­son Su­dol) and the haunted for­mer school­mate of Newt’s, Leta Les­trange (Zoe Kravitz).

No one does the fore­bod­ing sense of a loom­ing bat­tle bet­ter than Rowl­ing. Now, it’s the rise of Gellert Grindel­wald (Johnny Depp), freshly es­caped from prison, who casts a length­en­ing shadow over the land. With a blond shock of hair and a ghostly white face, Grindel­wald is Rowl­ing’s mag­i­cal ver­sion of a white na­tion­al­ist, only he be­lieves in the el­e­va­tion of wiz­ards – “pure­bloods” – over those who lack mag­i­cal pow­ers, or “no-ma­jes”.

It’s 1927 and the dark clouds of fas­cism are swirling; World War II feels right around the cor­ner. In one the movie’s many tricks, Grindel­wald drapes Paris in black fab­ric, like a wannabe Christo.

Gather­ing

De­spite the gather­ing storm, the paci­fist Newt (Red­mayne, cloy­ingly shy), re­sists draw­ing bat­tle lines. When pushed by his brother Th­e­seus (Cal­lum Turner), who like Tina is an “Auror” who en­forces magic law, Newt re­sponds: “I don’t do sides.”

The events of “The Crimes of Grindel­wald” will test Newt, just as they will any­one try­ing to fol­low its many strands. The hunt is on for at least three char­ac­ters – the miss­ing Quee­nie, the on-the-lam Grindel­wald and Cre­dence Bare­bone (Ezra Miller), the pow­er­ful but volatile or­phan who spends much of the film seek­ing an­swers to his iden­tity. He’s the Anakin Sky­walker of “Fan­tas­tic Beasts”, whose soul is fought for by both sides.

If all of this sounds like a lot, it most def­i­nitely is, and that’s not even men­tion­ing Jude Law join­ing in as a young Al­bus Dum­ble­dore, who turns out to be aw­fully rogu­ishly hand­some un­der that ZZ-top beard. But our time here with him is short, just as it is with so many char­ac­ters who – to the film’s credit – we yearn for more of (Fogler’s Ja­cob, es­pe­cially). There is a flicker of a flash­back that hints at a long-ago, maybe­sex­ual re­la­tion­ship be­tween Dum­ble­dore and Grindel­wald; it would be the film’s most in­trigu­ing rev­e­la­tion if it wasn’t merely baited for fu­ture in­stall­ments.

Si­b­lings are ev­ery­where in “The Crimes of Grindel­wald”. Just as in the houses of Hogwarts, Rowl­ing delights in du­al­ity and the in­ter­play of light and dark. Even within the Aurors there are com­pet­ing method­olo­gies of law en­force­ment to face the grow­ing threat. Newt is car­ried along like an avatar of sym­pa­thy: he be­lieves that every beast can be tamed, that every trauma can be healed.

Rowl­ing’s only source ma­te­rial go­ing into the “Fan­tas­tic Beasts” films was a slen­der 2001 book in the guise of a Hogwarts textbook. But she has, with her mighty wand, sum­moned an im­pres­sively vast if con­vo­luted world, one that’s never timid in ex­plor­ing the dark­ness be­neath its en­chant­ing ex­te­rior. And, with Yates again at the helm, “The Crimes of Grindel­wald” is of­ten daz­zling, oc­ca­sion­ally won­drous and al­ways at­mo­spheric. But is also a bit of a mess. Even magic bags can be over­weight.

“Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald”, a Warner Bros re­lease, is rated PG-13 for some fan­tasy ac­tion vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 134 min­utes. Two and a half stars out of four.

LOS AN­GE­LES:

Also:

Mamie Gum­mer, Made­line Brewer, Vi­o­let McGraw and Brian Cox have joined Rupert Friend in the cast of hor­ror-thriller “Sepa­ra­tion”, with pro­duc­tion un­der way in New York.

Wil­liam Brent Bell is di­rect­ing from a script by Nick Amadeus and Joshua Braun. Bell is also pro­duc­ing with Yale Pro­duc­tions’ Jor­dan Yale Levine, Jor­dan Beck­er­man, Russ Poster­nak and Jesse Kor­man, and RainMaker’s Clay Pecorin and Russell Geyser. Ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers are Seth Poster­nak and Den­nis Rice. Yale Pro­duc­tions’ Jon Keeyes serves as a co-pro­ducer.

“Sepa­ra­tion” ex­plores the hor­ri­fy­ing con­se­quences of di­vorce with Friend and Gum­mer, por­tray­ing a newly separated cou­ple, bat­tling for cus­tody of their 7-year-old daugh­ter Jenny (played by McGraw). Brewer por­trays the cou­ple’s long­time nanny with Cox play­ing the over­bear­ing fa­ther of Gum­mer’s char­ac­ter.

Gum­mer’ cred­its in­clude Steven Soder­bergh’s “Side Ef­fects”, Ang Lee’s “Taking Wood­stock” and Jonathan Demme’s “Ricki and The Flash”. Brewer stars in “The Hand­maid’s Tale” and “Orange Is the New Black”. She’s also ap­peared in “Black Mir­ror”.

McGraw cur­rently stars as Young Nell in Net­flix’s hor­ror se­ries “The Haunting of Hill House”. Cox is star­ring in “Suc­ces­sion”. Bell’s di­rect­ing cred­its in­clude “The Boy” and “The Devil In­side”. (Agen­cies)

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