Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

November 21, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

Brace yourself for this one. “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” was a charming, sometimes dazzling prequel entry into the Wizarding World Potterverse. It introduced us to a slew of new characters to latch onto, all of them being adults this time: Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). All of these characters were well defined and carried a nice little caper through to this sequel, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”.

Well, to say things have gotten a little more complicated is putting it mildly. Last time we saw them, Newt and Tina were trying to protect a poor orphaned child named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) who was being held at a boarding house where he was reviled and mistreated. His magic presence, known as an Obscurial, wreaked havoc in America and nearly exposed a wedge that was driving into the relations between magical and non-magical people (known as Muggles in England and…No-Maj in America. Which one sounds better to you?). Thought vanquished, Credence has popped up in Paris searching for his real mother. Meanwhile, the criminal Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), has escaped while being transferred from his American prison to England to face charges in Europe. Apparently the mages of MACUSA didn’t watch the “Halloween” franchise.

Once again, much like the first “Fantastic Beasts”, this is a crime caper. Grindelwald is loose, trying to lure wizards into his little cult to promote the superiority of wizards over humans (::coughMagnetocough::), and Jacob and Queenie are visiting Newt after he returns to London and is propositioned to work for the Ministry of Magic to work with them in finding Credence. Newt isn’t into taking sides, and even languishes over another proposition from Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) who has his own agenda. But Newt does eventually accept Dumbledore’s plea, and heads to Paris–mainly since he knows Tina is now there, also working for the Ministry. Newt also runs into his old friend (flame?) Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), who is engaged to his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner). Tina was led to believe Leta and Newt were engaged, which allows for a bit of a contrived love triangle, and adds a wrinkle to the main story.

Queenie and Jacob are initially just along for the ride, but Queenie finds herself drawn to Grindelwald’s idealism. He wants wizards to be free to do what they want: that includes, she thinks, partnership with the human of her choice. As it stands, wizards and humans shouldn’t mix. Mainly because there’s this silent peace (more like a Cold War) between them where they live harmoniously not acknowledging each others’ existence.

Credence is introduced to us as some kind of circus act along with a snake-woman (yeah, you know which one), Nagini (Claudia Kim). The two of them share a friendship, but Nagini’s future that we know puts a sour note on her character.

Then of course, we have the fantastic beasts: and they are still quite fantastic. The cutest would be the baby nifflers, and the most awe-inspiring would be the Zouwu (a cross between a dragon and a lion, I guess). They play a part of being plot points but they are still wonderful to look at. And for one poor Chupacabra (yes, you read that right), a sad ending.

But mostly, this is a really complex collection of narratives thrown into a blender–and you’d better pay attention to every piece of dialog if you want to follow what’s going on. That’s the one inhibition J.K. Rowling has as a screenwriter: she forgot the memo that exposition in a screenplay is more of a weakness than a strength, unlike in a novel. You simply don’t have the time to establish so much backstory in flashes and snippets of conversations, when the run-time keeps, well, running. In a novel you can stop, read it again, digest it. In a movie, you are visually digesting so much that you can miss the words in between.

That drawback will certainly leave any non-Potterverse filmgoer bewildered and confused; and for Potter fans, it’ll have them wishing they had a remote control to keep rewinding so they don’t miss anything.

There may also be some problems with the revelations revealed at the end–which again, are dropped in so rapidly that it’s hard to really process them all at once, in one viewing. Some of them may also be reviled by some fans.

For me, I think the film works just enough. I still like these characters, and want to see where this story goes: but I did see some predictability in the climax, and the set-up for the next film is very familiar. In some ways this felt like “Fantastic Beasts: The Empire Strikes Back”. It had a lot going on, but not as much character depth that puts it in the same conversation as that film.

I think there is a lot at stake for this franchise, as we no longer have the innocent world that Harry Potter gave us. We have a lot of dark, brooding tones that are shared by adults. And as adults, we already live in that world. This film won’t make you escape that. But it at least gives a good effort at making it entertaining.

My rating: :-)

Tower Heist

November 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

Oh those heist movies. Cute little capers. I don’t think you can go too wrong when you involve Eddie Murphy in them; and even though this one is fairly standard with its typical implausabilities and somewhat thin characters, it is rather entertaining. I call movies like these “getaway movies”. Normally these come out in the summer or around the holidays. This one’s a little early. This would be a great movie to leave the Holiday family woes behind and just enjoy 2 hours of peace and a few laughs. But if you’d still like to get away for 2 hours of your real life (do you still have leaves to rake? that annoying cousin’s birthday party to attend?), then I’d still recommend seeing it.

Just to be clear, it’s not all that great. The concept is similar to “Oceans 11” (which is a better film): a group of charismatic people get together to pull of a robbery. In this case, it’s not elites, it’s average joes. Ben Stiller plays Josh, the building manager of The Tower, a luxurious hotel in New York City. He’s rather mild mannered and well liked by his employees that include Charlie (Casey Affleck), Dev’reaux (Michael Pena), and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe). He’s also well liked by an extremely wealthy client, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who winds up being caught in a Ponzi scheme that winds up including all of them in his losses. The fraudulent money he threw around was used by Josh to put into their pensions, leaving them all with nothing. Lester (well played by Stephen Henderson), the doorman, attemps suicide, and it strikes a chord with Josh who wants to do the right thing and get their money back. The problem is, he takes out his angst on Shaw’s prized possession: a Ferrari 250. So now Shaw, who believes he will be found innocent, wants to charge Josh and that little incident also costs him his job. It also costs Charlie’s and Dev’reaux’s. Charlie’s upset because his wife is pregnant and he needs to work.

But Josh believes Shaw is guilty, and teams up with some oddfellows to rob Shaw of some misplaced money after a drunken evening with an FBI agent, Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), leads to her leaking information about a safe being in Shaw’s penthouse suite somewhere.

Josh enlists Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) who was recently evicted from the building because he’s broke and was fired from Merrill Lynch, and a guy he knows from crossing paths every morning (and his childhood, apparently), named Slide (played by Eddie Murphy).

So you have the ingredients for a fun little caper. Enough of it works to be enjoyable. I wish it wouldn’t have relied so much on the standard issue heist plot; but I suppose in the hands of someone like Brett Ratner, what can you really expect? The performances are all well done, but of course the stand out is Eddie Murphy. In recent years, I thought he should scale it back a bit and maybe take a supporting role in something to get back on his feet. Seeing him here, where he’s most comfortable being a fast-talking criminal who still can light up the screen, made me want to see more of him. He’s just underused for some reason.

This script was originally intended†for an all black cast that included Murphy, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle in which a group of employees attempt to rob the Trump Plaza. In a way, I wish that would’ve been made instead of this. With some of the edgy comedians in it, perhaps Eddie Murphy would’ve still been lost in the shuffle; but you’ve got great supporting actors there. Not to say that Broderick and Stiller can’t hold their own–but their characters just don’t allow them to do much, either. And both actors play their characters completely straight; something I don’t think we’d see out of guys like Rock or Chappelle, or Tracy Morgan (another rumored star attached).

Some of the rewrites included screenwriter Ted Griffin, whose work I’ve always been impressed with (including “Ravenous”, “Best Laid Plans”, and of course, “Oceans 11”), and you can see some of his sharp wit and dialog fused in the script. With some of the characters, good dialog is necessary. Obviously, with Murphy, the guy could write his own and improv.

A lot of the climax is hard to believe, and I still think they missed an opportunity to make a Ferris/Ferrari joke somewhere seeing as how they cast Matthew Broderick who isn’t exactly Mr. Movie Star anymore (and that film is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year).

But again, this is not a very creative director at the helm. And so we’re left with a fairly garden variety film that is amusing enough to pass; but I think we could’ve been in for a lot more treats.

My rating: :-)