Tag Archives: David Yates

Coming to America

Eddie Redmayne brings Harry Potter legacy stateside 

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell & Dan Fogler
Directed by David Yates
PG-13
In theaters Nov. 18, 2016

The “boy wizard” Harry Potter exited the movies in 2011 after a $10 billion box-office run of eight hugely popular films. But he never really left.

But author J.K. Rowling kept the character alive and well in a London stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and in new tales on her Potterworld website. And the legacy certainly thrives in Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them, a spin-off “prequel” that takes place 70 years before the events depicted in the first Harry Potter movie.

Beasts—written and co-produced by Rowling and directed by David Yates, who also directed the final four Harry Potter flicks—is the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a young Hogwarts-trained “magiczoologist” who comes to New York City in 1926 on a mission to “rescue, nurture and protect” the world’s magical creatures.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMNewt is also documenting his travels, like a wizard-ing Charles Darwin, for a book that will be called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—which will also, decades later, become one of Harry Potter’s textbooks.

But the Big Apple isn’t a very hospitable place, at that particular time, particularly for wizards. As Nazi fascism spreads abroad, the dark specter of an evil wizard-warlord, Gellert Grindelwald, looms even larger, and the public views anyone with any twinkle of magical abilities with fear and suspicion. A sect of witch-hunting fanatics, the Second Salemers, rallies to ferret out wizards in New York City, putting America’s own benevolent Magical Congress on the defensive.

So when some Newt’s “beasts” get loose from his carry-on, it creates quite a stir—and sets off something like a 1920s version of the game Pokèmon Go as Newt scurries and scrambles trying to find them all.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMIn a movie called Fantastic Beasts, you’d expect some fantastic beasts, and you can indeed find them here. There are teeny green Bowtruckles, whimsical, shy, plant-like sprouts that can come in quite handy, say, if you’ve got a lock to pick. The regal Thunderbird, an enormous avian creature (the Hippogriff in later Potter lore), can sense danger and create storms. The primate-like Demiguise has shiny silver fur, when he’s not invisible. An Occomy, a plumed, dragon-like bird, hatches from pure silver eggs worth a fortune and can grow—or shrink—to any size, filling up a department store or diving into a teacup. The Erumpent, a love-stuck, rhino-like behemoth, has a gigantic glowing horn.

But everyone’s favorite will be the Niffler, a rascally, kleptomanic cross between a mole and a platypus that can’t keep his tiny paws off coins, watches or anything worth snatching.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Katherine Waterson

Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), the director of security for the Magical Congress, comes down hard on Newt for smuggling creatures into the states—but, as his last name suggests, Graves may also have other, hidden, more sinister motives. Katherine Waterson is Tina, a witch who becomes Newt’s ally. Alison Sudol, from TV’s Transparent, plays Tina’s free-spirited sister and roommate, Queenie. Ezra Miller is Credence Barebone, a troubled young man with a painful past. Tony Award-winning Broadway actor Dan Fogler steals his scenes (and the hearts of the audience) as Jacob Kowalski, a loveable-lug “No-Mag” (non-magical) factory worker, World War I veteran and aspiring baker exposed to the world of magic through his new friendship with Newt.

Fantastic Beasts will delight Harry Potter fans who’ve been pining for more big-screen magic for six years. It has moments of humor, whimsy and fun, and it creates a new world of fanciful characters and detail. But its overall tone is dark, casting its fantasy adventure against a very serious backdrop of dread, paranoia and oppression that recalls not only history’s long shadows but also many of today’s pitched, polarized emotions. And it seems like a Hollywood fizzle when a movie so rich in wizardly wonders and escapist marvel builds to a standard, blockbuster-y blowout, with 10 minutes of crashing, booming CGI destruction and noise. Yes, a major city gets demolished once again, and yet no one seems to get seriously injured or killed—just like in almost every modern superhero smash-fest.

Early in the film, Tina watches Newt catch one of his creatures, place it back in his grip and quickly snap it shut. “What else have you got in there?” she asks him.

A lot! And in more ways than one—there are four more Beasts movies planned. Expect to see a lot more of Newt, Tina, Queenie and Jacob.

Redmayne, an Oscar-winning actor, is fine in his role—gangly, earnest, a bit bumbling, striking the right tones as a scientist devoted to his work and his precious supernatural subjects. But Newt’s valise: Man, that’s one crazy road case, and it deserves its own star billing. It holds his magical menagerie, all his clothes and toiletries, and it serves as the portable portal to his fabulous, other-dimensional workshop, lab and zoo. And somehow it’s a zip to get through customs.

So if you’re getting me anything for Christmas, please look into one of those nutty suitcases. That would be a totally fantastic present.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Jungle Swinger

New ‘Tarzan’ a rollicking tale of adventure, romance and eye candy

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The Legend of Tarzan

Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz & Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by David Yates

PG-13

You probably know Tarzan, one way or another. Edgar Rice Burroughs launched the “ape man” into popular culture in magazines and novels in the early 1900s. Several other actors had already portrayed him before former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller put on a loincloth and grunted his way though the 1930s and ’40s for a dozen films, which ran endlessly on TV in the following decades.

Ron Ely and others played him on television. Walt Disney turned him into a cartoon. And there were other Tarzans, too, in some 200 movies and TV shows between 1918 and today.

Now the original “Lord of the Apes” returns to the big screen in a sumptuous, sprawling epic that blends his backstory with a rollicking new tale of adventure, romance and enough eye candy to attract audiences of all sorts.

Christoph Waltz again makes a dandy villain.

Christoph Waltz again makes a dandy villain.

Swedish-born actor Alexander Skarsgård (from TV’s True Blood series) stars as British nobleman John Clayton, raised as a feral child by mighty apes of the African Congo after the deaths of his parents. Now an adult for years resettled in his ancestral home with his beautiful wife Jane (Margot Robbie), he’s lured back to the Dark Continent by a plot of deception involving slavery, revenge, railroads, diamond mines and a corrupt Belgian megalomaniac (Christoph Waltz).

Director David Yates, who made his bones with all four movies of the Harry Potter franchise, works with all the tools in his impressive kit—and what must have been every nickel of his mega-budget. The visuals are grand: mist-shrouded mountain passes, jungles with impenetrable foliage; armies of Congolese warriors; fearsome gorillas; a stampeding herd of hundreds of wildebeest. Even though most of the film was reportedly shot on soundstages and sets in England, you’d never know it: When the action shifts to Africa, you’re transported there, too.

Margo Robbie

Margo Robbie

Margot Robbie is terrific as Jane, who was raised in the jungle, as well, the daughter of a missionary teacher. A real spitfire of spunk and spirit, she’s so much more than a “damsel in distress.” Samuel L. Jackson plays George Washington Williams, an American envoy to Britain who accompanies Tarzan and Jane on their return trip to Africa. He’s got a backstory of his own, and though he may not be in prime shape to keep up with Tarzan step for step, he comes in pretty handy with a gun.

Waltz, as usual, makes a dandy villain, and Djimon Hounson (from Gladiator and Guardians of the Galaxy) has a necessary, if somewhat nasty, role as a tribal leader looking to stage a major grudge match.

LEGEND OF TARZAN

Ladies will swoon—as Jane does—when Skarsgård initially reveals his sexy, sculpted torso, in a flashback scene that recalls their first steamy jungle encounter. And moviegoers in general will thrill when Tarzan finally gets around to doing what he does best: working those jungle vines, baby!

Late in the movie, we get to hear the iconic Tarzan yell, rolling across the miles—he’s coming. “Tarzan,” says Waltz’s character, relishing the moment, knowing the man he’s been trying to catch is close. “It sounded different than I thought…better.”

Different, and better, like this movie. After years of musty, rusty so-so and too-many Tarzans, now there’s a new, sexy big-screen Lord of the Apes—and he’s swinging again.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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