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Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.

Edge of Seventeen
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson, and Blake Jenner
Synopsis: Growing up is a strange and difficult time. "The Edge of Seventeen," a new dramedy from writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig and producer James L. Brooks, perfectly captures that. This is one of the funniest and most engaging films of the year, and that's a credit to Craig. She delivers a beautiful script and gets some pitch-perfect performances. Every year there's one or two movies that slide under the radar that I absolutely love. This year, "Edge of Seventeen" is one of those films. Steinfeld is great in the lead role. She has a perfect blend of comedic timing and dramatic chops, and she perfectly carries the film. But this is a great supporting cast, too. I liked Sedgwick as her overly emotional mother and Jenner as her brother. He has a couple great scenes that really flesh out a more complicated character than it at first appears. But the MVP of the film is Harrelson, as the long-suffering teacher. He's brilliant in his blend of humor and drama, getting some of the best lines in the film and offering some great comedic timing. I loved this film and thought it was two of the best hours I've spent at the theater in 2016.
Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drinking - all involving teens.
Verdict: Four stars out of four.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, and Carmen Ejogo
Synopsis: After eight films and a decade at the Box Office, the “Harry Potter” franchise drew to a close. In the five years since that time, interest in the wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling hasn’t diminished. So it makes sense that it would make its way back to theaters in some way. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” isn’t Harry Potter, but it’s definitely an entry point into the world that has created millions of fans around the world. Based on the original screenplay from Rowling and directed by “Potter” veteran David Yates, the film introduces a new group of characters, a new setting and kicks off a new set of adventures. This time the action moves from a wizarding academy in England to the magical congress in New York City in the 1920s. It follows the adventures of Newt Scamander as he collected the knowledge to write the textbook that served as course material for Harry Potter and his classmates. There was a great weight of expectation for this project. The Harry Potter universe is incredibly popular and iconic. Though this isn’t Harry Potter, it’s an expansion of the universe and the start of something new. And in addition to bearing the weight of an incredibly successful franchise, this film has to introduce a whole new set of characters and a new story arc. And the film is very successful in that sense. Yates, who directed the final four films in the Potter franchise, has a good feel for these types of movies. He does a nice job of building this new world and capturing a different time period and setting. This film has a good cast, too. Redmayne is an Academy Award winner, and sinks into this interesting part. One complaint I’ve read is that his character is so withdrawn socially it mutes some of Redmayne’s natural charisma, but I thought he did a nice job portraying the part. The supporting cast is good, too. I enjoyed Farrell in his role, and Waterston as Tina. Sudol has great personality as Queenie and Miller was sufficiently strange a creepy as Credence. But perhaps my favorite was Fogler, who is playing an interesting character that’s something you wouldn’t expect as Jacob. It’s an interesting role and his character was one of my favorite parts of the film. I also enjoyed the period setting here, too. And I think there’s plenty potential with these characters and these stories. But this is far from a perfect film. Because there is so much work that as to be done for world building, “Fantastic Beasts” is slow to get started and a bit dry at times. In addition, it feels a little too reliant on special effects and big action pieces. The best moments of the film are the personal interactions and light-hearted moments between the core characters. That’s something I hope they build on in future installments. This is a film franchise that will be with us for some time as it’s rumored there are four sequels to come. For those who are fans of the wizarding world, that’s good news. I enjoyed this introductory piece quite a bit and I can’t wait to see how Rowling builds on this world in a new era with these new heroes.
Rating: PG-13 for some fantasy action violence.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.

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