Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald (2018)

Fantastic Beasts The Curse of Grindlewald

Newt (Eddie Redmayne) is back, and in for more than he bargained for.

One of the best things about the original Harry Potter films was that all were such good entertainments on their own merits that I still have a problem of picking my favorite (though the 5th and 8th are strong contenders). One thing is for certain: none of the prequels are in the conversation.

Which brings us to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald, and while I am a fan of J.K. Rowling’s magical universe, I feel the movie is more for the hardcore fans than the casual ones. Basically, this not a movie for those who may want to start off in the Potter universe. One thing the movie does keep in tradition with is the good casting choices. We see the return of magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) after the events of the first Fantastic Beasts film where he helped with the capture of the evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). The film starts with Grindelwald’s escape and Scamander having a meeting with a young Dumbledore (Jude Law), who asks Newt if he could help catch Grindelwald again, who is now in Paris.

We get returning characters such as Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), along with Queenie’s boyfriend Jacob (Dan Folger). Tina is in a race with Grindelwald to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who is on a search for his own past before he was adopted.

While this sounds simple enough, the main problem with the film is that there are far too many story lines to follow, leaving one scratching his or her head. Only in the last third or fourth of the film does the drama pick up, and we begin to finally see some things we have not seen much of before in this universe.

Parents, the movie is fine for anyone who has ever seen any of the other films that were also rated PG-13. There is nothing completely sexual, and there is some swearing. It is the thematic elements and mild violence that make this for middle schoolers and up.

I admit there are some parts that hint at the original stories (my favorite was the inclusion of Nicholas Flamel), and a twist at the end that I am still debating on whether I liked or not. What has me most upset though is that this is only the second of five planned films. That is right, five, which makes me feel like it will tread down the path of the underwhelming Hobbit prequels. That, in the long run, would be a crime.

 

Overall: Two and a Half Stars **1/2

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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Eddie Redmayne is Newt Scamander, on a trip through New York that is not as he planned it…

Fantastic Beasts and where to find them does what it is meant to do: introduce us to characters that are magical in a magical world. It does not do much more than that, but what it does do is done pretty dog gone well.

For those of you who know nothing about the Harry Potter universe (and if you are one of those, just stop reading now and read the original books, see the movies, and then come back to see this film), Newt Scamander (Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, proving yet again to any naysayers that his talent as an actor is quiet something to watch) is a magizoologist. He arrives in New York in 1926 (in the Wizarding World, this is seventy years before Harry Potter ever attended Hogwarts). A mishap occurs with a no maj (a non-wizard, aka “muggle” in Great Britain terms) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), resulting in many of Newt’s kept beasts are let loose in New York.

At the same time, Grindlewald (who will eventually confront Dumbledore) is on the loose, killing no majs and wizards alike (whether he shows up or the rumors about the actor who plays him are true, I will not say, though you may have heard by now). Investigations are led by the Wizarding President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and auror (a wizarding version of the police) Perceveil Graves (Colin Farrell). Graves is also trying to get help from a troubled boy named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller, from The Flash). Graves is also trying to stop the dangers of Newt’s beasts. Assisting Newt and Jacob  are witches Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who can read minds. Others with minor roles include Oscar winner Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, and Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lenny).

I admit a lot is happening on the screen, both special effects wise (which is obviously something spectacular to see) and screenplay wise (which is not too much to handle, but is close). Creator/writer/household name known everywhere J.K. Rowling wrote Fantastic Beasts and where to find them back in 2001 one for Comic Relief (it is meant to be one of the eventual text books at Hogwarts). I have never read it (though the original Potter series I consumed like oxygen), so I can’t say whether or not it is true to the source material completely or not. However, Rowling herself wrote the screenplay (her first), so really, who are we to disagree with her?

Parents, the PG-13 rating is not meant to say that you can’t take kids to this. If they have seen the original films (and if they haven’t, what are you waiting for?), then they are ok with this. There are a few curse words, nothing at all sexual, and quite a bit of action/peril. It is a little more on the side of the last few films of the original series, which makes sense, since films five six seven and eight were done by the same director, David Yates.

I hear now that we are getting more films to follow-up on Fantastic Beasts and where to find them. This does not excite me so much as it worries me. When The Hobbit films came out, I thought it was a mistake to add so much that it took three films to make the story complete (by the end, it all seemed superfluous). The same could be said for franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean (we are getting another one), Star Wars (kidding! kidding!) and Transformers (totally not kidding, and sadly another is coming out next year). Thankfully, if J.K. Rowling is still doing the writing, I have some hope for the Wizarding World.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

The Danish Girl (2015)

The Danish Girl

Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”.

 

The Danish Girl is a well intentioned bio pic that delivers two great performances but does not seem to be anything beyond what we expected. Perhaps it is ironic that a movie about someone trying to do something new does not do something very new in itself.

That does not mean I did not like the movie. I just expected more of the tale of married couple Einar and Gerda Wegener, married artists in the 1920s. One day, Gerda’s (Alicia Vikander) friend Ulla (Amber Heard) is unable to pose for one of her paintings, so she recruits her husband Einar (Eddie Redmayne). Ulla surprises them, and names Einar “Lilly”. This eventually leads to Einar wanting to become one of the first known in the transgender community.

As shown in The Theory of Everything (which he recently won the Oscar for), Eddie Redmayne is proving he is one of the best actors of his generation. He delivers another fine performance here as Einar/Lilly. However, it was Alicia Viander I was most impressed with. Her Gerda is one of the most devoted wives in recent movie memory. The key is that she is not one to just sit back and let it all happen. She has a fire in her that says don’t mess with me, but also an inner gentleness that is evident if she wants to show it. It is clearly an Oscar nomination for both actors.

Parents, the R rating is justified. There is not much swearing and little violence (just in one scene) but there is a lot of nudity (not just in the art pieces).

In the end, I wish the film was not just another straight bio pic, and tried to be a little more (though I did enjoy the score by Desplat). Still, it is worth seeing for Redmayne and Vikander , both giving award worthy performances.

Overall: Three Stars ***

 

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis in “Jupiter Ascending”.

I remember back when The Matrix came out, and (after having to see it twice, since I was a little young to comprehend what the heck was happening) thinking it was awesome. And while I did enjoy the second film (I never saw the third), the only other thing I think the Wachowskis did worth seeing was V for Vendetta (I will always remember  remember the fifth of November).

However, there is a big crash known as Jupiter Ascending. It is one of the most confusing movies I have seen recently, but, unlike in The Matrix, I do not have the desire to go back to find out what it was about. Any movie is in trouble when you want to play on you mobile device over watching it.

I will try to see what I can put together. The movie starts out when Jupiter (Mila Kunis) is telling about how her father was murdered right before she was born (and just after he decides to name her after the planet). She, along with her Russian (I think) family cleaning houses (she is stuck to bathroom duty). We then meet Caine (Channing Tatum), some form of space warrior who is sent to protect Jupiter because we find out she is meant to be the Queen of Earth (she also apparently can handle bees well because, you know, they sense her Queenyness. Yeah, I evented a word).

There is also one of Caine’s friends, Stinger (the always present Sean Bean). We find out that Earth is to be “harvested” by an evil Abrasax family. There is the mother Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and one of her sons Titus (Douglas Booth). However, it is her other son, Balem, who is the main bad guy. He is played by recent Oscar Winner Eddie Redmayne, who I still think is a great actor. I say this because his performance in this film absolutly stunk, and made no sense. He, like the film, was trying to be original, and failed miserably.

Another problem with the film is Mila Kunis. She is a good, likable actor, but her character is not even worth mentioning in the same sentence as female heroines such as Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripely, even Nintendo’s Samus Aran. Jupiter lacks any toughness, or spark, and humor.

Parents, the film has one scene where a (minor) character is in her underwear, but that is it. There is also some swearing, a little action, and some kissing. There is not, however, any real character development, good action, or, worst of all, entertaining content.

 

Overall: One Star *