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

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean DMTNT

Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar is out for Depp’s Sparrow in the 5th Caribbean flick.

There are fewer movie characters of the 21st century more notable, original, entertaining, or recognizable than Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. It is sometimes hard to remember how impacting he was in the original film fourteen years ago (the role earned him an Oscar nomination and SAG award). Now, in the fifth film, I feel sad to say that this character has been stretched to his limit.

At some point, all film franchises are to have an end point: It is a matter of whether to end it on a solid note (as the original Star Wars Trilogy did) or on a whimper (if only The Terminator franchise did not go past the second film, and The Transformers franchise was….well, never mind). Undoubtably, it is all about making money, so sequels are going to happen one way or another.

Enter the newest film in the universe (or seas?) of the Pirates of the Caribbean films (I still have yet to see the fourth one in its entirety, but the third at least gave us a solid ending to it all). Depp is back as Sparrow (if he wasn’t, there would be no audience), and he is basically the same, nothing more or less. After a bank robbery (which I could not believe at all was plausible) goes wrong, his crew abandons him (many of the same actors since the first film). Eventually, Jack comes across Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a scientist (though accused by others for being a witch) on the search for Poseidon’s Trident. Also on the search is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley). Whoever gains the trident can reverse any curse (in Henry’s case, he wants to free his father from the curse he has had since the third movie). The trouble is that hot on their trail is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), out to kill Sparrow for cursing him (curse the curses!) to be a half ghost creature along with his crew. He has asked for the help of Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

As I think of it, one of the nice things of the film is that the story is not that hard to follow (which can happen a lot in summer blockbusters). Each character has his/her reason for reaching Poseidon’s Macguffin (oops, I mean Trident), and none are totally completely complicated reasons.

The special effects are nice, but, again, nothing we have not actually seen before in the other movies. There are a few exceptions, and the one I wish to talk about is one of the more unrealistic action sequences I have seen in some time. A certain character is in a guillotine, about to have their head sliced off. In the chaos of being rescued, this character is having the blade inch toward his/her neck back and forth. I sat there, wondering how any of that could happen in real life.

Some of the CGI is neat, mainly of Salazar’s crew. The bodies are not skeletal remains (as was the case in the first film), but just sections of skin we might see. This does give a bit more menace to Bardem’s performance as the villain, but I kept thinking that he came into the series too late for me to take him completely seriously enough.

Parents, if your kids have seen the original film, then they should be fine. However, there are some suggestive comments made with the humor, which, for the record, I hardly smiled at all during.

Sadly, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is doing what The Hobbit trilogy did to the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It seems to be staying way past its welcome (and I mean WAY past, so much so that I made it in caps and everything.) In my mind, I kept thinking the title should have read “Dead movie franchises should stop telling tales”.

Throughout most of the movie, only one word came to mind.

Lame

Overall: One and a Half Stars * 1/2

Gene Wilder: (1933-2016)

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Even at an early age, I possessed a rather good memory. After multiple viewings of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), I memorized his monologue in the creepy tunnel. “There’s no earthly way of knowing…” While watching this in my fourth grade class, I recited it, thinking everyone would think me cool. Instead, I am pretty sure I just creeped them out.

Gene Wilder, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83, was in many roles throughout his career, but I think is still cemented in film  history as Willy Wonka. True, Johnny Depp did a good job in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), but Wilder was the first, and set the standard (he also was not a fan of the 2005 film, though he was fine with Depp as Wonka).

Wilder was known for other films as well, including a small (yet memorable part) in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). The same year, he was brought into the light with his Oscar nominated role as Leo in The Producers, which would not be the first movie he made with comedy icon Mel Brooks. It was in 1974 that they made two of the greatest comedies ever made: Young Frankenstein (“Fronkensteen”) and Blazing Saddles (“My name is Jim, but most people call me….Jim”.)

He was also known for his romance with the late great Gilda Radner (who passed away from ovarian cancer in 1989).

It was released recently that he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. When you think of it, it is only this dreadful sickness that could make us forget the talent of Gene Wilder.

His talent was sweet.

Everlasting.

…like a Gobstopper.

A Gobstopper that, like Charlie did, is one I would gladly give “Mr. Wonka”back.