This Is a Movie Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ Knows What It Wants to Say, But It’s Still a Messy Slog

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, Jude Law

Director: David Yates

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Fiery and Occasionally Hate-Filled Magic

Release Date: November 16, 2018

Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is the wizarding world’s worst nightmare, at least for those witches and warlocks who care more about morality than power. His evil is more complicated and confounding than that of Lord Voldemort, as he has a knack for convincing people to act against their best interests. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald knows what devastating points it wants to make with Grindelwald, but they are stuck within a bunch of dithering around. The film climaxes with the dark wizard holding a rally, bringing to mind charismatic politicians who have sowed hatred throughout history. Even though Grindelwald has made it clear that he wants pure-blooded wizards to rule over all magical and non-magical folks, he uses suspect but alluring promises to convince some people who very much do not agree with his agenda to join him. This is irrational, but it’s a type of irrational behavior that has caused real devastation. However, instead of coming of as a frightening warning, these unreasonable decisions all just feel nonsensical.

Take for example Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who is in love with non-magical Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) but lives in a society in which their marriage would be illegal. There is no way she could reasonably be seduced by Grindelwald, who would not support their union except for how it might offer him a chance for manipulation. There could be a powerfully relevant story about Queenie being swayed to the dark side, but instead her shift is too sudden and too jarring, and thus ineffective. Her subplot is a microcosm of The Crimes of Grindelwald‘s problems.

Elsewhere, there is plenty of other business going on. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is in Paris looking for some sort of MacGuffin or another. Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) is becoming ever more dangerous for whatever reason. There are farcical misunderstandings about who is engaged to whom. Various magical creatures act in ways that are kind of cute and/or frightening, but not particularly memorable. In conclusion, Jude Law is a fine young Dumbledore (and perhaps a fine young everything), and any future Fantastic Beasts installments should not be afraid to use him more often.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is Recommended If You Like: Every nook and cranny of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter but without getting too worked up about the details, The Young Pope

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Salamander Eyes

This Is A Movie Review: Aardman Kicks It Stone Age-Style with ‘Early Man’

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Lionsgate

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Gina Yashere, Simon Greenall, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Miriam Margoyles, Nick Park

Director: Nick Park

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG for Stone/Rock/Boulder-Based Cartoon Physical Humor

Release Date: February 16, 2018

Early Man is the sort of film that delivers exactly what you expect and hope it would deliver. It is the latest stop-motion animated effort from Aardman, and it is just as understated, British, and charming as Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Shaun the Sheep. There might be a bit more physical humor this time around, though. It does take place in the Stone Age, after all, so it makes sense that it would feature a significant number of conks on the head.

This is one of those movies that presupposes that subsequent historical periods existed side by side against each other as opposing tribes. It may be true that the Bronze Age followed the Stone Age, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t go down with bronze-toting brutes declaring to a tribe of cavemen, “The Stone Age is SO OVER! Bronze is where it’s at now!” Of course, historical accuracy is not the point here, so these are not complaints, just descriptions of goofiness. It is worth noting, though, that ahistorical larks like Early Man like to pretend that they are historically accurate, thus why we get very precise setting-establishing subtitles like “neo-Pleistocene Age, near Manchester, around lunchtime.” It’s all in good fun!

Early Man is essentially an underdog sports movie, as the fight between the Stonies and the Bronzers comes down to a soccer match (or football, since we’re in England). After a Bronze Age army overruns the Stone Age village, caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) bumbles his way into the Bronze city and then brokers a deal with Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) in which the two societies will face off on the pitch to determine who gets to retain residence of the village. As the caveman are totally unfamiliar with the sport, this leads to a predictably silly training montage. Also fitting in with the tropes of the genre is Goona (Maisie Williams), a Bronze Age vendor who defects to help the caveman, since she is not a fan of the big bad team winning all the time without emphasizing teamwork or allowing women into its ranks.

The character design would be grotesque if it were live action, but the Aardman style renders it cute, though still weird, but adorably so. The cavemen are all buck teeth and porcine snouts, while the Bronzers sport skinny heads and exaggerated midsections. The biggest fun comes from the puns based in hindsight and the retrofitted modern technology. Noting that their tribe are early risers, Dug reminds his chief (Timothy Spall) “we’re early men,” and for all you hooligans out there, there is indeed a team named “Early Man United.” But bringing me the most joy has got to be the “instant replay,” in which plays are reenacted with crude figures on a board along the sideline. Obviously this is not the actual origin of replay, but it is fun to spend an hour and a half within a world in which it is.

Early Man is Recommended If You Like: Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep Movie

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Buck Teeth

This Is a Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Leave a comment

fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-core-four

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has basically three elements on offer: the beasts, the evils of wizardry, and the magician/No-Maj relations. The beasts are generally fine, not especially super-duper, but there is a fun payoff at the end. The fight against evil is thoughtful, though not fully satisfying, because it is obviously built to last into sequels.

But those relations between magical and non-magical folk are where Fantastic Beasts has the most of value to say. Wizards are boogeymen obviously meant as metaphorical stand-ins for immigrants. That has been a big theme for J.K. Rowling since the beginning of her career.

In this particular case, it is most intriguing in the example of Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler), a witchy/no-maj combo whose chemistry is off the charts, though any pairing between them is forbidden by American wizarding laws that shun such fraternization. Their story reminds me of the interracial real-life couple at the heart of Loving insofar it makes me declare, “Let love conquer all!”

I give Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 7 Pieces of Collateral out of 10 Bakeries.