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Movie Review: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Starring
Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton
Director
David Yates

J.K. Rowling dreamed up the entire Harry Potterverse, and there isn’t a person on the planet who understands these characters better than she does. She has probably written a back story for Mrs. Norris the cat. However, when it comes to the much-anticipated “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” she is making her screenwriting debut, and it is clear that she still has much to learn about writing a script versus writing a novel. What made the film adaptations of her Potter books so successful was that she packed her stories to the gills with details and allowed an experienced screenwriter (usually Steve Kloves, who is an executive producer here) to pare them down, making them leaner and better. Rowling does not appear to have written a novel of “Fantastic Beasts” that she could then dissect like Kloves did her books. In retrospect, that feels like a mistake.

Seventy years before Harry Potter’s story begins, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is wandering the streets of New York City with a suitcase full of trouble. (Think of it as a zoo inside a suitcase-shaped TARDIS.) When one of the suitcase’s inhabitants escapes in a bank, Newt inadvertently picks up someone else’s suitcase, causing aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to bring home, and subsequently release, several of Newt’s magical creatures. This comes at a time when the city is already dealing with a dark force that is scaring the muggle population (or ‘no-maj,’ as they’re known in America), which has given birth to a witch hunt movement by a group calling themselves the New Salemers. Newt needs help, and he gains some at-first reluctant assistance from Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a federal agent of magic, and her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol).

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Movie Review: “The Danish Girl”

Starring
Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Adrian Schiller
Director
Tom Hooper

Last year, he won an Academy Award for playing Stephen Hawking. This year, he’s playing a pioneer in the transgender community. You’ll understand why people who haven’t yet seen “The Danish Girl” (this writer included, until now) have been quick to predict that Eddie Redmayne might be the first person to win back-to-back Oscars for Best Actor since Tom Hanks did it in 1994 (“Philadelphia”) and 1995 (“Forrest Gump”). This talk will change once more people see the film. This is not to say Redmayne is awful. He’s not, at all, but he’s not convincing, either. It doesn’t help matters that his co-star, Alicia Vikander, blows him off the screen in nearly every scene. There is an Oscar-worthy performance in this film; it just isn’t Redmayne’s.

It is the year 1926, and Einar Wegener (Redmayne) is a successful painter. His wife Gerda (Vikander) is also a painter, but struggling to find an audience. Einar agrees to help Gerda finish an overdue painting by posing as a woman, wearing panty hose and holding the dress up over his body, and the experience awakens something long-dormant in him. He starts to dress as a woman around the house (going by the name Lili), and even poses for Gerda for paintings, and those paintings change Gerda’s fortunes in the art world. This cross-dressing thing is no joke for Einar, though; he is a woman trapped in a man’s body, and he is desperate to experience life as the woman he sees himself to be. The medical experts he visits want to have him committed, but luckily for him, Gerda has got his/her back.

There are several things to admire about “The Danish Girl.” First and foremost is the courage that it must have taken Einar to take the steps to bring Lili to life, as it were, especially considering the medical profession’s then-understandable but still-barbaric position on the idea of transgenderism. Immediately behind that is Gerda, for supporting her husband through an unthinkable ordeal, considering the time period and knowing that ultimately, it would end them. (When Gerda realizes that she’s never getting her husband back, Vikander cries what is quite possibly the saddest tear in movie history.) Third, back to Einar, for going out in public as Lili, and fooling men into thinking he was a woman. That’s career suicide if he’s outed. Who would risk that? Einar would, because it matters that much to him, and that is damned impressive.

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