Tag Archives: David Yates

Dead Horses and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

by Hope Madden

After much delay, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore comes to big screens this weekend. The film is the needless third installment in a 5-part series based on a single 2001 guidebook that walked readers through the various magical animals of the Harry Potter universe. The guidebook’s “author” is Newt Scamander, and Harry Potter has jotted notes throughout it.

That’s it. No narrative, no characters, really. It’s like a little, pretend textbook from Hogwarts.

The book was a semi-adorable cash grab — one additional little scrap to throw the hungry Harry-heads at the height of Pottermania — meant to raise money for charity. And now it’s a planned 5-part series, each installment thus far clocking in at well over two hours.


The new adventure catches up with Newt (Eddie Redmayne) assembling a ragtag band of witches, wizards and muggles to help mentor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) fight the dark magic of Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen).

Grindelwald hates muggles (non-magical losers like us) and wants a war. He’ll deceive, bully, appeal to baser instincts, and when it comes down to it, cheat the election to take over the wizarding world.

It’s a good guys v bad guys tale with loads of Trumpian nods (keep an eye on that newspaper), but that feels hollow given creator/co-writer J.K. Rowling’s history of bullying vulnerable populations. A main role for the recently shameful Ezra Miller (who plays forlorn baddie Credence Barebone) doesn’t help those optics, either.

As superficial spin goes, though, it is nice to have Mikkelsen on board. He replaces Johnny Depp (easily the best thing about the previous installment) as the film’s villain. Where Depp embraced the magical elements and leaned into camp, Mikkelsen is all elegant, understated menace.

The cast boasts a lot of solid, wasted talent. Law continues to charm as the unflappable Dumbledore, Redmayne’s quirk tests patience, Dan Fogler’s a bright spot.

Director David Yates — who directed four HP movies as well as the previous two installments in this franchise — struggles this go-round to even conjure much visual panache to distract from the bloated, overpopulated and underdeveloped script.

Rowling co-writes for the screen again with Steve Kloves, her scripting partner for every Potter and Fantastic Beasts installment. The Potter films often suffered from unimaginative adaptation, which could be chalked up to the writers’ tough time pruning the source material.

No idea what’s to blame here, but these movies are not getting any better.

Magical Menagerie

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

by Hope Madden

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) protects that which is unusual and therefore feared and persecuted. Funny that it took so long for a series about witchcraft to finally embrace this theme, but JK Rowling’s latest, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, digs in.

Part of the Harry Potter universe, though set decades earlier and continents apart, Beasts sees Newt land in NYC circa 1929 with a suitcase full of incorrigible creatures. He’s writing a book (it will eventually become a standard text at Hogwarts), but for now he has a spectacular winged creature to return.

If only the rest of the menagerie would stay put – and the American council of witches is none too pleased to find that his critters have escaped to run amuck in Manhattan.

The witches don’t like Newt’s beasties, so he hides them. The New Salem sect does not like witches, so they hide. The New York elite doesn’t like the freaks of New Salem. All this revulsion of the unknown leads to very bad things – things that could be avoided if we could see beyond our own fears.

Not that Rowling, adapting her own novel for the screen, or Beasts director David Yates (who helmed the final 4 Potter films), beats you about the head with the message. You’ll be plenty distracted by the wings, coils, teeth, horns and antics of Newt’s whimsical pals, and Yates’s giddy FX.

The film looks great – appropriately grim and glorious, in turns – and strong casting helps buoy a somewhat thin plot.

Redmayne (who may need to play a normal guy at some point) charms as the impish lead. As the quietly malevolent leader of the witch hunters, Samantha Morton delivers the most commanding performance among supporting players with characters as peculiar as Newt’s creatures.

Mercifully free of the adolescent angst that plagued the Potter series, Beasts contents itself with lovable losers in search of wild beasties and basic harmony between magic and nomag (the US term for muggles).

Though uneven at times – as if introducing too much and too little simultaneously – the first in a series of 5 films offers enough magic to make it worthwhile.


Gorilla Tactics

The Legend of Tarzan

by George Wolf

Me Tarzan. You Jane?

No, this apeman has a slightly larger vocabulary.

You’ll hear that famous phrase in The Legend of Tarzan, but only for ironic purposes. This new reboot takes its cue from recent superhero films that have embraced the darker side of their legend.

We drop in on Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) in the late 1880s, years after his return to Greystoke Manor and the name John Clayton, as he’s living the aristocratic life with wife Jane (Margot Robbie) in a London mansion full of servants. Flashback segments do fill us in on the couple’s jungle past, but credit screenwriters Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad with a welcome pivot from the usual origin story formula.

Clayton is called back to the wilds of the Congo thanks to a devious plan from Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), special envoy to Belgian King Leopold. Rom can deliver a fortune in diamonds to his King, but only if he can deliver Tarzan to a Congolese chieftain (Djimon Hounsou) looking to settle an old score.

So John and Jane head back “home,” with U.S. envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) in tow, but when Rom puts his kidnapping plan in motion, Tarzan’s particular set of skills come out to play.

Director David Yates, who guided the Harry Potter film series to an epic conclusion, keeps his camera fluid, his landscapes beautifully panoramic and the action frequently thrilling.  Yes, it gets a bit silly and a bit more anachronistic, but Yates brings an ambitious scope to this modern Tarzan, with a respectable side of social conscience even when it panders.

Skarsgard’s chiseled physique certainly looks the part, and his somewhat robotic lack of range serves him well here. Robbie provides plenty of spunk, but her Victorian-era Jane could have just as easily beamed down from last Halloween. As for their chemistry…hey, those CGI jungle animals look fantastic!

Waltz and Jackson are well, Waltz and Jackson.

It probably won’t set the stage for a string of blockbuster sequels – and to its credit, isn’t trying to – but for most of its nearly two hours, this new Tarzan really swings.