The best of FANTASTIC BEASTS and WHERE TO FIND THEM occurs in ACT THREE—the last 1/3 of the movie. It’s engaging, exciting and a fine example of the kind of storytelling one would expect from author J.K. Rowling and team. Unfortunately, the first two acts don’t build the appropriate suspense primarily because the characters and elements that should contribute to the climatic conflict have not been presented well. They are ambiguous and hint at possibilities rather than clearly foreshadow them. For my part, one important clue was particularly obscure. Too bad because the characters are interesting and they are wonderfully portrayed by a fine cast and the movie embraces important themes. And, yes, there is one more problem: the supporting characters are more intriguing than the leading character, Newt, played coyly and with charm by Eddie Redmayne but poorly written. And some of the “Fantastic Beasts” he tries to preserve and protect take a bit getting used to. Too many look like they stepped out of STAR WARS CANTINA BAND. I found them off-putting even though they embody an essential moral: we must not judge by appearances. Furthermore, we spend a lot of time in Act One with one of the cuter critters named Greedy who does provide humor and exasperation but who doesn’t factor much into the balance of the script. In the end, I enjoyed the film. But, oh, it could have been so much better.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION lost a lot of momentum since its debut in theaters and you may be hard pressed to find it – although it may get a re-release if OSCAR dubs it worthy. I DO dub it worth your time and consideration. It’s a well-made in the very best old-fashioned sense of movie-making as it tells the story of Nat Turner, the infamous anti-hero who staged a revolt against the horrors of slavery. The movie takes a romanticized view of his heroics very much akin to BRAVEHEART. Because we see slavery’s cruelty first hand, one feels compelled to root for Nat and companions with all the emotional empathy of an unquestioning adolescent: YES! Kill all those cruel slave owners AND THEIR wives and children. The music swells triumphantly and “Why Not?” American and European characters who dealt similarly with their adversaries have been hailed and honored for centuries. GET those Indians! Wipe out the evil doers! Who cares about collateral damage? AND MAN, can my “INNER CHILD” HATE all those people who still have the audacity to want to raise the Confederate Flag! (How easy it is watching movies like this to indulge my emotions and put my priestly identity aside!) At the film’s conclusion, there is genuine catharsis and sadness. For no matter the situation, violence breeds violence and more violence and prefigures more violence to come. WHY MUST THE WORLD BE THIS WAY? Is violence the only way to address injustice, cruelty, racism, sadism? The fact that BIRTH OF A NATION leaves you with that question makes it a valuable piece of film-making, wondering what kind of true nobility Nat Turner could have nurtured if he were born into a different era, a different economy (and YES, our current economy still embraces forms of slavery), a different United States?