Fantastic!

Hey everybody,
I thought it would be nice to end this week’s birthday celebrations with a look at how the future of the Harry Potter series is shaping up – even if that future is currently set firmly in the past. I’m talking, of course, about the Fantastic Beasts series of movies!

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Released back in 2016, the initial movie follows Newt Scamander as he travels to America as he attempts to release one of his fantastical beasts back into the wild. He runs into a problem when his case gets mistaken for one belonging to a Muggle (or No-Maj, as the Americans call them) and pandemonium ensues across 1920s New York, as Newt attempts to recover his lost magical creatures.

Along the way, we have a side story of the Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves, and his investigations into a powerful magical force within the city. The twist at the end of the movie is that this is none other than Gellert Grindelwald, the infamous Dark Wizard who believes in the superiority of wizardkind. Oh yeah, spoiler alert.

The first movie is a fun adventure, and without that little postscript at the end, would have been entirely fine as a standalone movie set within the wider Harry Potter universe. However, it turns out the movie is the first in a series – originally a trilogy, then projected to five films, which deals with the history of Grindelwald and culminating in the mythical duel with Dumbledore.

The second movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald, was released in 2018, and is perhaps a more focused movie than the first, in that the big baddie takes a more central role. The action has been relocated to Paris, with Grindelwald taking up residence with his disciples there as he attempts to track the powerful Obscurial, Credence. Newt is dispatched by none other than Dumbledore to try and get to Credence first. We get some inkling of the history of Dumbledore and Grindelwald, though a lot of it is implied from the stuff we know from Deathly Hallows.

This film has come under a lot of fire, from what I’ve seen – from the continued casting of Johnny Depp following accusations of spousal abuse, to the racial implications of Nagini as a Maledictus. Sometimes, I get the feeling that people are determined to not enjoy something on principal…

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

At any rate, both my wife and I really enjoy these films for what they are, a continuation of the exploration of the wizarding world, which began back with the first Harry Potter novel in 1997. The fact that the world has been blown right open here, so that we’ve seen New York, Paris, and we’re promised next to travel to Rio de Janeiro, is just simply delightful, and while there are always goofy parts to these stories, let’s not forget how goofy the books could be. I mean, some of the descriptions of Dudley Dursley leap to mind at once as defying all sense.

I do feel that people sometimes are just not happy unless they’re casting shade over popular things – and I realise there’s an irony about that, coming from me writing on a blog where I often criticise stuff quite negatively! But where these films are concerned, a big part of me thinks there may be something more at play here.

The Harry Potter novels have a sense of wonder to them, as we learn about the wizarding world through the eyes of the title character, and share in that sense of wonder that he himself exhibits for the most part. There’s also something quite innocently charming as we do this through the eyes of a child. For the adults among us, there’s a wonderful air of nostalgia as we read these books, as we remember our own childhoods and school days, irrespective of when we came to the series.

With Fantastic Beasts, however, that’s not the point. The world is presented to us from the adult perspective from the get-go, so it doesn’t have that sense of childhood nostalgia and charm. The main characters are all fairly accomplished witches and wizards and so, rightly or wrongly, the films expect us to have some understanding of the world that they inhabit before we begin. Some exposition is given through the fact Newt befriends the No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, the man who took Newt’s briefcase, and therefore gives some background to what is going on. This film series expects more from us, but has so much more to offer in return. We shouldn’t go into this series expecting the same level of charm and enchantment as we get from the main seven-book series, else we’re sure to be a bit disappointed.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

As I said, though, the films aren’t without their flaws. I’m not a huge fan of Eddie Redmayne’s hunched, almost twitchy performance – I suppose it has something to do with him being an introvert? That’s nothing, however, to Ezra Miller as Credence, who seems to be trying to out-hunch Eddie, though added to that is a curiously wooden performance. Is he supposed to be trying to shrink out of the spotlight? Is it meant to convey (spoiler alert) the internalisation of his magical power as an Obscurial? Don’t know. He does get a bit better in the second movie, but still, I’m not a fan.

I’m also not big on the fact that (a) Dumbledore is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts (when he was said to be the Transfiguration professor prior to gaining the role of Headmaster) and (b) he uses almost exactly the same Boggart lesson during the flashback scenes that Lupin teaches in 1993. I’d got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that Lupin was quite an inventive teacher, and his methods were quietly unique; turns out, everybody gets a go with a Boggart as part of their magical education. I mean, that could be entirely possible, but it just irritated me a little bit!

But that’s no reason not to enjoy these movies. They take the magical framework that we’re used to from the Harry Potter books, and build upon it in new and interesting ways that are really pretty fascinating. There is a part of me that feels as though the final duel is going to be almost impossible to film satisfactorily, although we won’t have to worry about that for a while yet, given that production on the third movie has stalled due to the coronavirus lockdown. More than anything, though, I think it’s just really cool to travel the magical world, and see things that would never have been possible to see in a series set at Hogwarts.

Catching up with the world

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve caught up with the wider goings-on of the world, it seems, having been focused almost exclusively on the world of Warhammer for quite some time here on this blog, so I thought I’d take some time today to have a look at what else has been going on, and share some musings with you all here! You know you love it.

My mate Tony sent me the trailer for Dark Phoenix last week, which was a total shock as I hadn’t been aware that Fox were continuing their X-Men reboot past Apocalypse. I really like those movies, even if the third one fell a little flat, and the trailer here looks to be along similar lines as the existing trilogy, so I’m really looking forward to this one. Hopefully it’ll continue the theme and be a really classy film, overall. I suppose it can’t be any worse than the last time they tried to do the Dark Phoenix storyline, though…

Looking at some of the info online around the film, it seems like the cosmic elements of the original Dark Phoenix comic book are being introduced in this film, which is an interesting slant. Previous X-Men films have always tried to take a very grounded, real-world approach to things, so it’ll be interesting to see if that can be maintained while also including the Shi’ar. I guess we’ll see in February! While it seems the reception of this trailer hasn’t been particularly stellar, though, I am looking forward to seeing the movie.

I don’t get to read a great deal of comic books these days, though have always been more a DC boy when it comes to the original source material. I think I might try and get into that again once I’ve finished reading the current tome I’m enjoying, the fourth CJ Sansom historical novel Revelation. I’ve been reading those books since Christmas, and they’re really quite enjoyable! If a little weighty…

Anyway!

My wife is a huge Harry Potter fan (I do enjoy the franchise as well, though have always preferred the novels to any attempt at visual media), and has been excitedly talking about the upcoming second Fantastic Beasts film. I did enjoy the first one, I thought it was really interesting to explore the magical world in another locale from a British boarding school, and 1920s New York was a lot of fun. The surprise link to the Gellert Grindelwald storyline was nicely done, and I was somewhat excited at the idea of seeing a series of these films – while I wasn’t a fan of the Harry Potter films themselves, I think that was due to the fact I vastly preferred the books. We watched the trailer for the second film the other day, and it does look like it should be another exciting installment, at any rate!

Of course, there is the whole Nagini casting controversy, and I’m not about to get into that, but suffice it to say, I do feel sometimes that these things get blown too much out of proportion. If the actress cast in the role is happy with the ethnic choices made, then I think she’s better qualified than me to make that sort of judgment. So let’s see how the film turns out when it’s released in November…

The Wilds of Rhovanion

Let’s turn to games now – and I want to start with Lord of the Rings LCG. I’ve often mentioned this game on my blog here as my all-time favourite, and while that accolade hasn’t changed, I haven’t played this game for the longest time. Indeed, I haven’t even caught up with the latest deluxe/cycle yet, still having not properly played the game past The Lost Realm. I really, really love this game though, and the latest preview for the fourth adventure pack in the new cycle has gotten me really keen to get back into it.

I have previously played this game with the other half, and she didn’t mind it too much due to the co-op nature of things, so I’m wondering if I might try and re-introduce it at some point soon. Though it would be no big deal if it didn’t go down too well – I absolutely love the original Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, and am fairly chomping at the bit to try my hand at some of those quests once again! I do need to try and catch up with the releases though, and see what I have waiting for me to discover. I feel like the Ered Mithrin cycle may well be the game’s last, in light of how much the e-version of the game is being pushed, so I think it’s something of a priority to get everything before it’s too late!

Arkham Horror LCG

I also tried to introduce the Arkham Horror LCG a short while ago, but that one didn’t go down quite as well. I was also surprised at how much more difficult that game becomes with an additional player in the mix – I do enjoy the universe, for sure, but I think, all things considered, I might leave off with this game when the current cycle ends. I’ve not been good at playing this one, sadly, so while I’ve been buying the new packs as they’ve been released, I actually haven’t played anything beyond the core set. Definitely need to get my act together on that front!!

The Autumn is one of my favourite times of year, not only because the countryside looks great with all the leaf-changes going on, but because I have fond memories of gaming – both with regular tabletop games, and getting into Warhammer 40k. I don’t know if I’ll get to explore anything too intense like that old favourite, Runebound, but I think it’s definitely high-time I looked at something beyond the grim darkness of the 41st millennium.

Heroes of Terrinoth

Speaking of Runebound and the Terrinoth universe, there has been a new preview up for the upcoming Heroes of Terrinoth co-op card game, which continues to excite me! It feels like this game is going to be something of an enjoyable fantasy game, and the fact that it’s co-op should mean it’ll be a lot of fun, so I’m cautiously hopeful it will live up to my expectations. It seems like it should be a nice return to those sorts of hero-driven Terrinoth games like Descent and Runebound, rather than the faction-driven Runewars and Rune Age. Not that those games aren’t a lot of fun, of course, but I do prefer the older style, personally!

When it was originally previewed, I thought it was going to be another LCG, which had initially excited me, but now I’m quite glad we’re not going to be getting that particular model for this one. I think the endless demand for more adventure packs could prove to wear quite thin with this sort of game, as the danger of getting bland, generic quests becomes too real. Lord of the Rings has surprised me in some respect by managing to sustain itself to become the juggernaut of an LCG that it is, though I think that is more due to the fact that it is working within an established lore, rather than anything else. Terrinoth is no Middle Earth, and burnout is a real possibility. I’d also be happy to see one small-box expansion per year for such a smaller-scale card game, depending on how interesting the core set turns out to be. FFG have previously expanded their games unto death, of course, but I do like to think that maybe we could get one game that isn’t expanded for the sake of it. In that respect, their Blood Bowl: Team Manager game was actually really well-implemented…

I’m not sure how much mileage this game will have, and part of me does worry it could tank like FFG’s Warhammer Quest game, but I do find myself hoping that in actual fact we get something that is enjoyable and fun, and it’s another of these games I find myself hoping that I can bring to the table with the other half. I’ve previously bemoaned the fact that boardgames have felt a little like they’re trying to appeal too much to the mass-market, following the board game renaissance and whatnot, but in this instance, I think it might actually be a good thing. I suppose we’ll see when it comes out!

The next expansion to Magic: the Gathering is going to be released on Friday, Guilds of Ravnica, and while I haven’t even had much of a chance to explore M19 yet, I am quite intrigued by some of the cards I’d seen during preview season for the upcoming set. While there isn’t any Rakdos in this set, it does have Dimir, another favourite of the Guilds for me, and I was interested by the fact that I found a lot of the Boros cards to look fun this time around. I’ll most likely be picking up some cards and seeing what can be done with them soon, of course, as I do like to stay somewhat current.

It’s a shame that Magic didn’t go down too well with the other half, as it’s a game that I do enjoy to a fairly large degree, but I think co-op games definitely hold more sway when it comes to gaming with the wife. Which is fine, really, as there are definitely more co-op games I enjoy than competitive ones!

Did you guys realise Spellslingers is back for season 5 already?! I sure didn’t expect to see that come round quite so soon! It’s funny, because I don’t know a lot of these people, but the show is so good that it really doesn’t matter all that much. Sure, it felt better in the early days when he played with people like Rob Simpson, but it’s still so much fun due to Sean being such a great person in general. It’ll be interesting to see how well this collection of guests knows the game, as I always feel those are the better episodes for me. Season 4 had some good content in that regard, so here’s hoping!

On the subject of MtG youtube content, I think I also need to catch up with Game Knights. Another show I sometimes find myself harkening back to “the good old days” when they had their friends on playing genuinely interesting decks rather than the more paid-promotion style things, it’s nevertheless a very entertaining show and I can definitely recommend it still!

But what is one of my blogs if I didn’t talk about Warhammer 40k at least a little bit?! You’ll be pleased to know that I’m progressing fairly well with my Van Saar gang for Necromunda, having been inspired to get going with it following my local GW announcing a specialist games night once more. For a while, none of the specialist games were allowed to be played in-store, for a very odd reason, so I’m glad to see that come back as it means I’ll be able to finally get round to trying the game out! I’ve been buying everything for this game so far, so I’m looking forward to seeing if my purchases have been worthwhile!

While I’ve not been painting a great deal of late, I have been slowly moving back towards my Tau army ideas, primarily following the Kill Team stuff. I’ll be picking up the Tau expansion soon after next weekend, I’m sure, as I’ve been excitedly putting together a Tau list that I want to try out soon. It does include a few Pathfinders, so I want to get round to painting up some of those so that I have the fully-painted team sorted and ready to go, of course!

I’ll probably come back here sometime soon for a proper painting progress catch-up though, so stay tuned for that!!