Guest Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

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It’s going to be hard for me not to turn this into a fifty-page essay, because I am an enormous Harry Potter fan. I have been since I was ten years old. I’ve re-read all the books more times than I can remember, I wrote so much embarrassingly bad fan-fiction as a preteen, and I’ve attended multiple book and movie midnight releases in costume (more recently than I’d care to admit). Like every other Harry Potter fan in the world, I was psyched to hear about the Fantastic Beasts films, but, like many other fans, I was also nervous.

I’ve already been disappointed in new Harry Potter-related media released this year (damn you, Cursed Child), and a lot of the details J.K. Rowling has released about the Fantastic Beasts movie and the Wizarding culture in America has been even less promising (such as Muggles being called “No-Maj”). My expectation was that the writing would fall flat, but the visuals would be beautiful. My expectations were mostly met.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, named for the fictional textbook from the Harry Potter series, follows its author, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), on his adventure through 1926 New York City where, through a series of mishaps, he loses his case full of magical creatures. Several of the creatures get loose, and it’s up to Newt, ex-employee of the Magical Congress of the USA Tina (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to retrieve them before the Wizarding World is exposed.

I think J.K. Rowling is a much better novelist than a screenwriter. She’s not used to writing within the time constraints of a movie, which meant this one was messy, disorganized, and lacked exposition in areas where it was sorely needed. The biggest example of this comes toward the end, in the most infuriatingly stupid deus ex machina I have seen in a long time. I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers, but trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. It was exciting to see the Wizarding World in a different location and time period, but it was a shaky introduction. It was recently announced that the film series was expanded from a trilogy into a five-part series, so hopefully the next four movies will be paced better now that Rowling has more time to work with.

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Queenie and Tina
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Dan Fogler as Jacob

That said, there is still so much about this movie that I loved. The four main characters are incredibly well-written; they’re all likeable and have unique personalities that don’t just feel like movie stereotypes. The actors do an amazing job bringing the characters to life, especially lead Eddie Redmayne; his shy, awkward, quirky personality was delightful. My one critique is that his tendency to mumble his lines made it hard to understand what he was saying. Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, the sole No-Maj pulled into the magical adventure, is excellent as well. He could have easily fallen into the overused role of a slapstick comedic sidekick, but he brought so much heart to the character.


The most memorable part of this movie, though, was the design of titular fantastic beasts. The visuals in this movie are phenomenal. The creatures range from being so adorable it hurts my heart, to breathtakingly majestic. They’re also surprisingly faithful to the descriptions in the original book; the designers were clearly familiar with the source material, and as a die-hard fan, I appreciated the attention to detail.

While there were obvious flaws in this movie, I still really enjoyed it, both as a Harry Potter fan and as a moviegoer. I would absolutely watch it again, and I’m eager to see how the next four go.


laurasLaura Schaubschlager is a Winona State University graduate with a B.A. in English, which is seldom put to use in my health insurance career (outside of cringing at the grammatical errors my superiors make in their emails). I’m an avid horror fan (movies, novels, video games- anything that makes me hesitate when I go to turn off the light at night), and I’m always looking for writing opportunities, although my current portfolio is made up of partially-completed short stories and an occasionally-updated blog: schaublahblah.wordpress.com.


Have you seen ‘Fantastic Beasts’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

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I’m going to be honest: my expectations for this movie were not high. This mostly has to do with its predecessor, 2014’s Ouija (brought to you by Hasbro Studios: the same company responsible for next fall’s My Little Pony: The Movie – no, I’m not kidding). Not that Ouija was awful- it was just forgettable: another lukewarm “teenagers getting in over their heads with the supernatural” horror movie. I was also concerned that, because Ouija: Origin of Evil is a prequel to the 2014 film, I would know what to expect and therefore not find anything about it scary. However, after viewing it, I was pleasantly surprised (which I realize is a weird thing to say about a movie featuring the demonic possession of a child). It actually ended up being one my new favorite modern horror movies.

Ouija: Origin of Evil takes place fifty years before the first movie, in the house the original was set in, where recent widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) holds fake séances, insisting she is not scamming her customers, but rather helping them find peace after losing loved ones. She is assisted by her two daughters: teenaged Paulina (Annalise Basso) and nine-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson). Alice purchases a Ouija board to add to her act, and, while testing it out, unwittingly causes Doris to become susceptible to the house’s malevolent spirits and quickly possessed by one named Marcus (played by human chameleon and Guillermo del Toro darling Doug Jones). Alice and Paulina join forces with Father Tom (Henry Thomas), the head of the girls’ parochial school, to free Doris from the spirit’s clutches and rid the house of an evil that has resided there longer than the family has.

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One of the movie’s greatest strengths was that it featured a mother and her daughters rather than a handful of one-dimensional high schoolers. The family focus made the stakes feel higher and the consequences more heartbreaking, especially thanks to the chemistry between the actresses. The movie was also well-paced enough to establish a strong relationship between the characters and give them dimension early on. My one gripe on this subject is that Doris isn’t quite as well-developed as her mother and sister; perhaps it’s because she’s possessed during the majority of the movie and isn’t herself, but getting a better idea of what she was like as a normal little girl could have made the change we see in her after the possession more unsettling (think Reagan in The Exorcist). Overall, though, the family was well-written enough for the audience to actually care about their fate- not an easy feat for a movie genre that often skips character development in favor of jumping straight into the scares.

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And man, were there plenty of scares in this movie. As I mentioned earlier, the first movie was pretty forgettable; there might have been a couple moments that made me jump, but I couldn’t give you any specifics, and I only watched it less than two weeks ago. The prequel, however, had plenty of memorable moments- moments that had me whispering “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE” and clutching my armrests in terror. Doris’s CGI’d, gape-mouthed face featured in the promotional material is truly chilling, and, surprisingly, isn’t any less eerie the more you see it. Even the more predictable parts were unnerving, just because they were built up so well. The writer and director, Mike Flanagan, is hardly a horror movie novice, and his experience in creating suspense and atmosphere shines here.

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As of my writing this, Ouija: Origin of Evil has an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s an impressive score for a horror movie, especially for a follow-up to such an underwhelming one, and it’s well-earned. Who would have expected the studio responsible for bringing us the Jem and the Holograms movie was capable of producing something genuinely scary? I would highly recommend anyone who enjoys horror check this out.


laurasLaura Schaubschlager is a Winona State University graduate with a B.A. in English, which is seldom put to use in my health insurance career (outside of cringing at the grammatical errors my superiors make in their emails). I’m an avid horror fan (movies, novels, video games- anything that makes me hesitate when I go to turn off the light at night), and I’m always looking for writing opportunities, although my current portfolio is made up of partially-completed short stories and an occasionally-updated blog: schaublahblah.wordpress.com.


Have you seen ‘Ouija: Origin Of Evil’? Well, what did you think?