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In Defense of ‘Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald’

I loved the first Fantastic Beast movie. A lot. Newt’s devotion to helping magical animals, his attachment to the individual beasts in his care, and his awkwardness with people are all things I strongly identify with. So naturally, I was very excited about the second movie coming out, and we went to see it opening weekend despite lots of articles tearing it apart.

Now with the DVD release, and I think J K Rowling must have done some sort of interview that upset folks, there seems to be a new round of ‘the problems with Fantastic Beasts’ articles showing up in my various online feeds. While some of the problems are probably valid, and I even agree with some of the criticism, I still really enjoyed it a lot, and wanted to throw out some positives from a big fan (me).

The second Fantastic Beasts movie is darker than the first. It might be darker than any previous Harry Potter movie at all. I’ve rewatched it a couple of times since my DVD arrived, and I think I can say with some confidence that there are nearly zero light moments in the whole thing. I wonder if this is the real problem a lot of the critics had with it. It is so different in mood from the first, and definitely from the Harry Potter movies.

In the first there were quite a few funny moments, mostly with Jacob. In the second, his and Queenie’s story line is not funny at all, it is intensely tragic. In fact, I don’t think we see Queenie at any point in the second film where she is not in severe emotional pain. That’s a pretty harsh contrast to the way we see her in the first film. Jacob is doing a better job of coping with the obstacles that are in the way of his and Queenie’s relationship, but his pain and helplessness are there too. There are a few attempts at jokes or levity, but since everything is so heavy, they aren’t very funny, and just don’t work well. I actually believe that Grindelwald is not just taking advantage of Queenie’s emotional distress but actively mind controlling her in some way as well, as it is implied he can do. Her and Jacob’s storyline is heartbreaking to me. I mean, it’s great drama, but heartbreaking.

Also in the first there were a lot of moments of just pure wonder. The second tries to do that some too, but they are also generally heavier and darker – like watching Nagini transform. Newt is still Newt, and I love his character enough to go along with whatever he is doing. I do wish there had been more actual beasts featured again. I assume ones like the Kelpie, who get’s a big scene near the beginning and then is never mentioned again will perhaps show up in future movies. It was cool to see the Niffler’s additional skills put to use, and the scenes with the new Zouwu cat/dragon thing were some of the most fun in the film.

So, generally, I think this movie was so different from the first that it could be jarring, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. I know I am looking forward to the next and finding out what happens next (to Jacob, Newt, Queenie and Tina anyway, honestly I’m less interested in what happens to Grindelwald and Credence and the rest of those.)

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Thoughts on Watership Down

I’m rereading Watership Down by Richard Adams in preparation to assigning it for my 9th grader. I waited until 9th grade to assign this particular book because I remembered it as being really good, but really, really creepy and frightening when I read it as a child. I don’t remember how old I was when I read it, but much younger than 9th grade. I also spotted Watership Down on several recommended reading lists for high schoolers. I think this just reinforced the idea I had that this was a scary book and not for young kids.

Now that I’m rereading it however, I’m increasingly of the opinion that the creepy memories I have are not of the actual book, but of the cartoon movie version from 1978 that I watched, and then had nightmares about, as a small child. Because the Watership Down movie was a cartoon, people liked to show it to kids despite the amount of death and gore they managed to put in. My husband remembers it airing on television ever Easter. How festive to see rabbits fighting to the death, but that’s how we rolled back then.

   

On my current reading, I’m enjoying the heck out of it. There’s a reason some things just hold up over time. Yes, there are a few creepy moments, and a fair amount of fighting and injuries, but the gore is minimal in the book compared to the cartoon. It’s just a group of rabbits who work together to find the things that make rabbits happy in life: a safe burrow, good grass, mates, and so on. There is teamwork and friendship and bravery.

In fact, I’m enjoying it enough that I think I’ll include the 5th grader, and we’ll all read it together. I think she’d enjoy it. Some of the vocabulary might be advanced for her, but not much. She reads several grade levels ahead on her own anyway. Mainly it’s the rabbit-specific language that is tricky, and that is new to all of us. I’ve debated with myself about showing the movie version to the kids when they finish reading. I’m afraid of scaring the memory of a great book with the memory of a horrific movie.

When I was trying to see if Netflix had the Watership Down movie, I found a ‘coming soon’ Netflix original miniseries. Apparently one intention is to make it significantly less gory and scaring for children, but the article still does say it won’t be for very young children. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/27/bbc-remake-watership-down-with-less-violence-to-avoid-scarring-c/
I’m excited about this.

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The Best Star Wars Episode I Movie Review Ever!

This review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is actually more entertaining than the actual movie was. I’ll warn you, it’s long – over an hour, but broken up into smaller segments in case you don’t want to watch all at once. But if you’re like me, then once you start watching, you won’t want to stop.

If you have ever wondered why Episode I was SO much worse than the original trilogy. If you couldn’t quite put your finger on what went so very wrong, you’ll enjoy this. The maker of these videos, Mike from Milwaukee, is very detailed, and very accurate in his amusing criticism.

As a writer, I enjoyed, and learned from his details about what was wrong with the characters, the pacing, and plot. His examples were excellent. I’d like to think I would never make such mistakes, but if George Lucas could do it, then little beginner me need to keep a close watch on myself. I know I’m going to look at the characters in my Work-In-Progress a little more closely now.

One last warning – these videos are not kid friendly. Not awful, but I’d say maybe PG-13 for the language and. . . well, I don’t want to ruin some of the other stuff. Just review it before letting your kids watch.

Here’s the first segment. You could search RedLetterMedia’s youtube channel to find each segment (there are 7 total), but /Film is where I first watched these. They have them all in order already for you, with a little written commentary introducing each.

Enjoy.