(Review) Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Gindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The Harry Potter franchise is a little tough to get into at this point, so if you’re not already onboard, this is definitely not the place to hop on. With eight entries in the original Harry Potter series and then a prequel to this film, Crimes of Grindelwald is both a prequel and a sequel and carries a lot of baggage with it.

The gist.

In the last film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we were introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an introverted wizard who finds comfort with exotic beasts moreso than other people. He befriended a human named Jacob (Dan Fogler) and two sisters Tina and Queenie (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol). There was also a mysterious yet powerful wizard named Credence (Ezra Miller) who is trying to figure out who he really is. At the end of the first film, we discover that evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is really behind some of these nefarious schemes.

In this new movie, we’re introduced to a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) who has a past with Grindelwald. Dumbledore recruits Scamander to try to stop Grindelwald’s plans.

We also have Zoe Kravitz, Callum Turner, and Claudia Kim.

What works?

This is a film with a very focused demographic and it relies on your extensive knowledge of the Harry Potterverse. If you’re a fan, this should be everything you want. It’s got plenty of fantastic creatures and explores some new corners of the wizarding world. The monsters are all varied and vibrant and interesting, resulting in some spectacular action sequences.

In terms of casting, it’s a little hit or miss, but the new addition of Jude Law is fantastic. He’s not in the film as much as you might expect, but he breathes new life into this franchise whenever he’s on-screen.

What doesn’t work?

This is going to be a divisive film, as some people will absolutely love the flair and color and the excitement of it all. However, after each of these “wow” moments I found myself saying “Wait, what?” a few more times than I would’ve liked. The story is all over the place. I kind of wish that the Fantastic Beasts series had veered off from the original films, instead of charging right into them, which is what’s happening. Because we’re leading right up to the events of the Harry Potter films, these movies have a unique problem of trying to be true to continuity and somehow also be mysterious and suspenseful. This means the story takes some sharp twists and turns that might shock you, but maybe leave a bad taste in your mouth later.

There’s also a problem of having a bloated cast. We were introduced to a whole new cast in the prior movie, and here we’re introduced to a whole bunch more. Almost none of these characters get any sort of development as they’re hurriedly rushed from plot point to plot point. Our lead Newt gets the shortest end of the stick, serving really just to move the plot. Eddie Redmayne is an incredible actor and he’s not utilized at all here.

The other problem is Ezra Miller, who was the weakest link in the first film as well. I’m not quite sure what he’s trying to do in this role and his character is both intentionally and unintentionally confusing. I don’t know if I was missing some pieces of information but his whole character makes zero sense to me.

Johnny Depp as Grindelwald also seems uninspired. Other than “Wizards must rule!”, we get no insight into why he’s evil or what he’s trying to do. You never feel threatened by him. He’s just around.

Overall…

I was bummed out by Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I’m a fan, I’ve read every book and seen every movie, yet I still was thrown off by the twists and turns here. They’re trying too hard to surprise fans that the plot becomes incomprehensible at times. The casting choices are hit or miss, combined with a lack of development for almost any character. It is a fun time, though, and it’s full of action and interesting monsters, and if you’re able to wrap your head around the plot, you might have a good time here.

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Review: Widows

Widows.

Viola Davis is becoming quite the powerhouse in Hollywood, especially following her performance in Fences. This film pairs her up with director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), so how does it fare?

The gist.

Harry (Liam Neeson) is a criminal, running a job where he’s stealing millions of dollars. Things go sideways and he’s killed, along with his entire crew. His wife Veronica (Viola Davis) finds out that Harry was stealing from a dangerous man named Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry) who wants his money back. To get money, she discovers that Harry had his next heist all planned out and she is going to attempt it, along with two other wives who lost their husbands in the job (Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki). They recruit another woman (Cynthia Erivo) to help them. It turns out Jamal is running in a local election against a man named Jack (Colin Farrell), whose family has had a grip on this neighborhood for a long time, so Jamal uses his intimidating brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluyya) to help gain an advantage.

What works?

The performances here are all incredible, highlighted by another triumph for Viola Davis. It’s really an ensemble piece though, so the other women surrounding her all do an incredible job as well. We know what to expect from Michelle Rodriguez but Elizabeth Debicki is a relative unknown and plays her part well. We also have Cynthia Erivo who has really only starred in the recent Bad Times at the El Royale. Her two performances are like night and day, which is an impressive range and I’m excited to see where she goes from here.

The other standout here is Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Black Panther). He’s the villain here and steals the show whenever he’s onstage. There are a few moments revolving around him that have you on the absolute edge of your seat.

I also want to applaud this script, written by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and translated from a book by Lynda La Plante. This is a suspenseful movie, with plenty of moments that you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next.

What doesn’t work?

There are definite slow moments, as the movie builds to its epic climax. I wouldn’t call it slow or boring, but these moments are slower than the rest of the film, so these calms can feel a little jarring.

Overall…

Widows is a suspenseful heist movie, in which we watch the entire planning and execution of this job. It’s a tried and true structure for heist movies and Widows does a great job by allowing its female leads to shine. Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez deliver what they’re known for, but newcomers like Elizbeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo are pleasant surprises. It can feel a tad long as we wait for the eventual climax, but most people should find this story enthralling.

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Review: Instant Family

Instant Family.

I knew from the trailers that I would cry like a baby during this movie. And on that front, it didn’t disappoint. Let’s discuss.

The gist.

Husband and wife Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) decide to go down the path of adopting a foster child, so they meet with a foster agency (Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer) to get matched up. They eventually meet Lizzy (Isabela Moner) who is a rebellious teenager, but Lizzy comes with two younger siblings (Gustavo Quiroz and Julianna Gamiz). We watch the struggles and triumphs that our new parents encounter on this journey to learn how to be parents.

What works?

Both Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne continue to prove that they’ve got some serious comedy chops here, delivering far more laughs than I was expecting. Their chemistry together is spot-on and they carry this movie entirely. They also manage to balance the humor with some really poignant and serious moments, as you would expect when tackling a topic like foster homes and adoption. These serious moments are also perfect, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I cried like a baby.

The three siblings also do an incredible job, though Isabela Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight) definitely gets the most focus. The other two are young enough that they get a few moments here and there, but relatively little to do. It works though. The chemistry between the three feels like they’re actually siblings, plucked and placed into another family.

I also appreciated the brisk pace of Instant Family. It moves quickly, so you never feel bored or impatient, but it also spends time on the things that matter. Pacing is a constant complaint that I find myself writing about, so it’s nice to have a movie that does it right.

What doesn’t work?

Very little. This movie does a lot right and it’s an incredible example of balancing humor and seriousness, but some movies even at their best aren’t going to be five-star films.

The only complaint is that this movie is relatively safe. It’s cliche and somewhat predictable. Both Wahlberg and Byrne give great performances, but it’s not unlike what we’ve seen from them before. This movie’s only fault is that it doesn’t push the boundaries or do anything new or unique.

Overall…

Instant Family is a safe choice. It’s got plenty of laughs and a lot of heart. It balances it all perfectly and delivers a movie that most people should have a really good time with. The target demographic for this film is pretty much anyone with a pulse. The only thing keeping it from a perfect score is that it’s a tad predictable from the get-go, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

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Review: Nobody’s Fool

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Nobody’s Fool.

Tiffany Haddish is making more movies than I thought possible, with several coming out within months of each other. She has a very predictable schtick but that’s what people want. They want crazy, they want over the top. So in Nobody’s Fool, does Haddish manage to top what she’s already done?

The gist.

Danica (Tika Sumpter) has her life together. Great job, beautiful apartment, and a boyfriend that seems to check everything on her list. One small catch, she’s never actually met him. Or seen him. When Danica’s sister Tanya (Tiffany Haddish) gets out of jail, the first thing she decides to do is uncover who is catfishing her dear sister. We also have Whoopi Goldberg as their mother, Omari Hardwick as the charismatic owner of a coffee shop that has a crush on Danica, and Amber Riley (Glee) as Danica’s best friend and coworker.

What works?

If you came for Tiffany Haddish, well you’re in luck. My complaint with Night School was that Haddish felt underwhelming, she felt like she was holding back. Here, she goes full force and if you like her style of comedy, you should have a blast here. Now, this is a full R-rated movie, whereas Night School was PG-13. So with that bump in rating, expect raunchier jokes and more profanity (and a very odd and very explicit sex scene or two).

I also was surprised by how much I liked the catfishing angle here. The stars of the show Catfish even make an appearance as this whole investigation goes down, that was probably the highlight of the film. It was a legitimate mystery, though unfortunately resolves in the weirdest of ways.

UNTITLED TYLER PERRY

What doesn’t work?

Whenever Tiffany Haddish wasn’t on-screen, I didn’t care about what was happening. This is a major problem considering she wasn’t even vital to the story. The actual story of Danica (Sumpter) falling love with a stranger, uncovering who that is, and then finding happiness with or without them… has nothing to do with Haddish’s character. This feels like a romantic comedy that Tyler Perry wrote before snagging Tiffany Haddish, then did a few rewrites to incorporate her. She could be cut completely from this film.

I said in the “pro” section that I enjoyed the catfishing storyline the most here, but that storyline pretty much wraps up in the middle of the movie. It resolves in the weirdest of ways, sending this plot zigging and zagging through the last third of the movie. I can’t spoil it, but Sumpter’s character is unbearable to watch (maybe intentionally?) and Haddish pretty much disappears. This movie had no point, no focus, and ultimately failed at the few things it tried to do.

As a comedy, this movie walked a fine line. Haddish is ridiculous yes, but it doesn’t always land. To be fair, I didn’t enjoy Girls Trip so you can take my opinion with a grain of salt. Buuuuuut I acknowledged that the sappy inspirational part of Girls Trip was the best part of that movie. Here, we don’t get that. The sappy story here is messy and confusing and poorly written. So I’d think that even fans of Girls Trip would find this movie a little underwhelming.

nobodys fool 2

Overall…

I commend Tyler Perry for letting Tiffany Haddish go wild here, that puts it a notch above Night School. However, the movie that she’s in falls flat. Tika Sumpter is unlikeable as our lead, the story loses focus about halfway through, and Haddish feels like an afterthought. You might have some laughs here but this movie will be forgotten by the world in just a few weeks.

3

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Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody.

Queen is a legendary musical group. Even if you don’t think you know a lot of their stuff, as the songs play, you realize how many of their tracks have seeped into your mind over the years. It’s an astounding list, highlighted by the eccentric Bohemian Rhapsody, a six-minute operatic rock track. Can a film about the lead singer Freddie Mercury work? Or is this sacred ground that shouldn’t be attempted?

The gist.

Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek) grew up taking music lessons and wanting to be a star, though his family wanted him to live a much more traditional life. When he encountered a band that just lost their lead singer, he teams up with them (Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy) to start the band Queen. They need a bass player, so they recruit one (Joseph Mazzello, or known as little Timmy from Jurassic Park). This movie then tracks their achievements as they create some spectacular music and Bulsara, now going by the stagename Freddie Mercury, struggles with finding his place in the world. We also feature Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones), Allen Leech, Lucy Boynton, and a camouflage cameo by Mike Myers (Wayne’s World).

What works?

The music is the star of the show, which is predictable. The performances are chilling and energetic and the story of how these songs were created are often fascinating stories. It’s all held together by an interesting performance by Rami Malek, giving us a caricature of Freddie Mercury, outlandish and yet sympathetic. I watched a few interviews and performances by Mercury just now and I’m not sure if Malek is accurate but it’s definitely enthralling.

The supporting cast do their best but they’re obviously second-fiddle. I don’t even remember any names, they were all just orbiting Mercury and his tale. This movie is really a Freddie Mercury story, not a Queen story.

The climax of the movie centers around a huge concert, the biggest performance Queen ever held, and this sequence is incredible. It capitalizes on our love of Queen music and allows Malek to dominate the stage. It’s a fantastic ending to the film, though it’s debatable if the movie succeeds elsewhere.

What doesn’t work?

While the music is the star, the rest of the movie in between big tracks feels a little mundane and kind of boring, which a shame considering how interesting Mercury should be. The second half of the movie especially feels very sluggish, until the big climax. Your ears perk up when the music kicks in, but if that’s all you’re going for, you might as well watch the actual performances that they’re reenacting.

This movie has an interesting problem in that it can feel sluggish but the events move quickly. Mercury starts the film as an unknown but it seems as if suddenly they have a big following. Years fly by, we miss major milestones, so that we can get to the next big single. It moves fast, trying to get you through everything, that there’s very little downtime. This is why we don’t get to learn names and why some characters get no resolution, the movie just moves too quickly. But that quick journey isn’t always enthralling, so it’s still a little dull.

Overall…

I wanted Bohemian Rhapsody to be great but I think a better experience might be rewatching Queen’s library of music videos and live performances. At its best, Rami Malek does an interesting job as Freddie Mercury and we see him lip sync to Queen’s biggest hits. The story has a few great moments but overall feels a tad dull but skips along through plot points too quickly to really dwell in them. I had a fun time but this wasn’t the great movie that I wanted it to be.

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Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give.

This movie is extremely important in what it talks about, but that doesn’t always mean it’s a good movie, or that is succeeds in what it’s trying to do. So let’s dive in and see if this movie manages to hit all the right notes.

The gist.

Starr Carter (Amanda Stenberg) is living dual lives. At home, she lives in a predominantly black neighborhood and feels comfortable being herself, as opposed to when she goes to a nice private school where she has to pretend to be “Starr 2.0.” At home, her parents (Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby) try to teach her about safety out in the world, but that doesn’t stop tragedy from striking. Starr is riding with her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) when he is shot by a white police officer. What ensues is a battle between her speaking up for the victims or laying low and maintaining the status quo in her small town. We also have Common starring as her uncle, who also happens to be a police officer, and Issa Rae (Insecure) as a lawyer who wants Starr to speak loudly about what happened. Anthony Mackie also stars as the local drug dealer who wants Starr to stay silent. We also have Starr’s white best friend (Sabrina Carpenter) and white boyfriend (K.J. Apa, Riverdale).

What works?

This is an important topic. We’ve seen situations exactly like the one outlined in this movie happen in real life, so it’s a potentially great way to talk to kids and teenagers about these tragedies, especially as a way to show non-people of color why these tragedies are part of something larger. As an educational tool, this is going to be very valuable.

Some of the performances deserve recognition as well. The standouts for me included the two parents, played by Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby. They showed two sides of the coin on how you might want your children to act in this situation, while both caring for their daughter. They play well off each other, though the tension between them (as their daughter chooses what route to go) is incredibly realistic.

What doesn’t work?

Like I said, as an educational tool, this movie will be valuable. As a film, I think it hits some major problems.

Many of the performances don’t feel authentic, instead veering towards high-drama CW-style dialogue. The biggest problems are K.J. Apa (who comes from the high-drama world of Riverdale) and Sabrina Carpenter, who was a Disney channel star and singer. These are also the two most prominent white characters in the movie, who get their fair share of “Why is this such a big deal?” dialogue that is naturally a little more dramatic.

And I’m on the fence about the lead, Amanda Stenberg. I wasn’t put off by her performance at all, but it didn’t induce the sort of intensity that this movie deserved. I didn’t cry, which is a problem. I cry during commercials and yet somehow this movie didn’t punch me in the stomach the way that it should have and I feel like most of that should have come from her performance.

Overall…

As a film, this falls short. It’s a valuable story and there’s some great parts about it, but when you leave the theater, it doesn’t have the sort of impact you’d expect. I got more chills from the final five minutes of BlacKkKlansman than I did in this entire movie. Maybe rent and watch with your family, I don’t know if it should be your top pick for full price at the theaters.

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Review: First Man (2018)

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First Man.

This is the third film by director Damien Chazelle, following Whiplash and La La Land. While those two shared a common theme of music, this movie is a tad more unrelated.

The gist.

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is working at NASA, with the end goal being to land on the moon, though they have quite an uphill struggle before that can happen. As the movie begins, tragedy strikes his family, resulting in a much more personal movie than I expected, following how Armstrong ran from his friends and family, throwing himself into his work. His wife (Claire Foy from The Crown) tries to reach him, as do his fellow engineers and astronauts including Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, Pablo Schreiber, Jason Clarke, and Patrick Fugit.

What works?

Ryan Gosling here is playing a character that has seen tragedy and has gone to more funerals than anyone should have to go to. He’s broken and disheartened and somber. Gosling’s performance is superb in its subtlety but it also means our main protagonist is rather boring and dull to watch, for large sections of the film. Great performance, though not necessarily very engaging.

The emotional heart of the movie comes from Claire Foy, who knocks it out of the park in her first big Hollywood film. She gives us the emotional response that we want from Gosling’s character; she gets to swing for the fences. She really carries the weight of this film.

What really works here is how authentic the movie feels. It feels like it’s shot in shaky cam style or in first-person, making us feel like we’re there on these adventures. The visual effects are also seamless, doing some incredible stuff but without making a big scene about how elaborate it is. It all feels very real and very dated, so it totally works.

first man 2

What doesn’t work?

This movie was a bit mis-marketed. The trailers showcase epic launches and death-defying moments. Those happen, yes, but a majority of this nearly 3-hour movie is much more calm. It’s dialogue-driven, it’s about characters coming to grips with eventually going on this adventure. This may mean that you might feel swindled or betrayed. The film opens with a big moment and then it calms down and stays calm for nearly an hour. It’s not an action film, so you need to know that going in.

Now knowing that… does this film succeed? As a character-piece, is this a solid movie? I’m torn. This is not even in the same league as Chazelle’s past accomplishments. Both La La Land and Whiplash stick with you, they have moments that punch you in the gut. Here, it all felt rather muted, likely because our main character is stoic and distant. Our characters don’t really change much, things just happen to them. The ending is not the satisfying and predictable ending that I had kind of hoped for. I don’t know if the climax was worth the journey.

This movie also had a problem with its supporting cast. Let me try to explain this without spoiling much… There are a lot of brown-haired white guys in this film and the movie moves them around in a way that you lose track. Someone will die and it’s a struggle to remember which person that is. At one point, I swore Armstrong was in space with another guy that I had never seen before. The movie doesn’t adequately set these people up, so when they have an important moment, we have no idea who they are. It might’ve been wise to streamline the cast at the expense of realism.

first man 1

Overall…

First Man is a movie that will likely get some buzz come Oscar season but I don’t think it will win anything. It’s close, it’s got some decent performances (Claire Foy might be the only one who snags a nomination) but ultimately it’s a bit of a slog, watching a distant and emotionless protagonist. Those of you that live for Oscar-bait character pieces will love this, but everyone else might have a struggle with the runtime.

3

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