FlixChatter Review – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

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Review by: Laura Schaubschlager

I just saw Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and once again, I have to separate my feelings as a die-hard 20-year-long Harry Potter fan from my thoughts as a movie critic. While I have a lot of gripes about how lazy J.K. Rowling‘s later additions and retcons to the Wizarding World canon have been, how parts of the timelines between the books and these movies don’t line up, and how casting an alleged domestic abuser as a lead in a movie whose source material has a main character who regularly suffers domestic abuse is messed up, I need to focus on this movie as just that–a movie. Fortunately, this second installment in the five-part series gives me plenty to work with on its own.

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, directed by David Yates, picks up nearly a year after the end of the first film’s events. The sinister criminal wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes captivity and flees to Paris to rally more supporters and continue manipulating Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the sensitive orphaned teen with a mysterious and dangerous background. Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits his former student and magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to find and help Credence before Grindelwald can get to him.

As with the first Fantastic Beasts movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald has a serious pacing problem. I had hoped that once they decided to expand the series from three to five movies it would improve, since they now have two more films to spread out the story, but it’s just worse. They try to fit in too many subplots and character backstories without enough time to develop them, so they feel forced and lazy.

The plots and subplots include: Newt’s continued research of magical creatures (you know, what you’d expect a film series titled FANTASTIC BEASTS to mostly focus on) and his mission to save Credence per Dumbledore’s request with the help of wizard cop and maybe more-than-friend Tina (Katherine Waterston), as well as their strained relationship over a misunderstanding; Grindelwald’s plotting to take over the wizarding world; non-wizard Jacob (Dan Fogler) regaining his memory after having it wiped in the first movie (which happens entirely off screen) and having a rocky relationship with mind-reading witch Queenie (Alison Sudol); Queenie’s wavering loyalty and growing attraction to Grindelwald’s side; Credence’s relationship with the cursed serpentine shapeshifter Nagini (Claudia Kim), their background at a sketchy wizard circus, and their search for Credence’s birth mother; the love triange between Newt, his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and Theseus’s fiance/Newt’s former flame Leta Lestrange (Zöe Kravitz), and Leta’s dark family backstory, filled in by enigmatic wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam). There’s a good chance I forgot some smaller subplots. That’s a LOT to include in a two hour and thirteen minute-long movie, and because of that, it all feels underdeveloped and hastily explained.

While the writing is a major issue, there are still good parts of this movie. The acting is still mostly strong, especially the core four. Fogler is delightful as Jacob, Redmayne is charming as Newt, Waterston is excellent but underused as Tina, and Sudol does well with what she’s given as Queenie, considering her character feels dumber and more easily manipulated than she was set up to be in the first movie. Jude Law is a great new addition to the cast and is wonderful as a younger Dumbledore. Ezra Miller and Claudia Kim feel a little wooden in their performances, but that might be because of how little they’re given dialogue-wise. Zoe Kravitz gives an understated but emotional performance; while her backstory is poorly handled, she does a great job in the role. The weakest link acting-wise is absolutely Johnny Depp, whose performance feels so half-assed. Depp himself has admitted he’s had a sound engineer feed his lines to him through an earpiece for some movies (he claims it allows him to “act better with his eyes”), and it definitely feels like he did that here, and no amount of “eye acting” can save this performance. I’m still baffled at this casting decision; it feels like the filmmakers thought “Well, he was famous for playing exaggerated characters a decade or two ago, so let’s go with him.” I really wish they had kept Colin Farrell, who was much better as a disguised Grindelwald in the first movie; he’s just as menacing but much more subtle than Depp could ever be.

As with the first movie, this film’s biggest strength is the visuals. The CGI is gorgeous, and the design for the magical creatures is beautifully imaginative; I especially like the zouwu, an enormous lion-like beast Newt finds in Paris. We see some new creatures in Newt’s workspace at the beginning as well, and I really wish there had been more focus there, because there’s so much to look at. Some familiar creatures from the last film make appearances too, including the gold-sniffing niffler, and I don’t care how overused for cheap laughs he is, because he is SO CUTE and if you want to see me cry, just play the scene with an injured niffler dejectedly limping out of the wreckage of the fight toward the end of the film on a loop, and if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas, Barnes and Noble sells niffler stuffed animals-ahem, sorry. In addition to the stunning CGI, the costumes, hair, and makeup in this film is mostly lovely too, with the exception of Grindelwald’s watered-down Tim Burton-style villain look. Overall, I love the late-30’s aesthetic, and it blends well with the wizarding fashion.

I really wish this series had stuck to what the title promised: Newt’s adventures searching for fantastic beasts. If the focus had been on that, with Grindelwald’s rise to power as a B-plot (with some eventual overlap with the A-plot), it would have been so much easier to pace and develop. Unfortunately, J.K. Rowling continues to forget that writing screenplays isn’t the same as writing a series of 300 to 800-page novels. I know I’ll end up seeing the rest of Fantastic Beasts movies out of a sense of fan obligation, but as pretty as they are, my expectations are low for the future films.


Have you seen the latest ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

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Did you that if you type ‘Tarzan’ on IMDb, there’d be about 200 titles popped up since 1918 all the way to 2016. So yeah, you could say that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ titular character has been adapted to death in various formats. But hey, Hollywood loves to recycle stuff over and over, and this one promises to make the Lord of the Jungle to 21st Century audiences.

What I do like about this one is how the story isn’t told in a linear way. By the time the film opens, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) has been acclimated to life in London as John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke of Greystoke Manor, with Jane (Margot Robbie) as his wife. I’m glad this isn’t an origin story, though the film did reveal his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, director David Yates (known for his Harry Potter movies) use of flashbacks constantly throughout, showing us how he met Jane and so forth.
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Of course soon Tarzan ends up in Congo again, at the request of Belgium’s King Leopold II to visit & report on Belgian’s development on Congo. He’s reluctant at first, but American attaché George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) persuaded him to do so, suspecting of slavery of the Congolese people. There he crosses path with Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who’s in Congo on a rich minerals expedition for the Belgian king. It would’ve been a huge issue if it weren’t for the fact that Rom has been promised diamonds by the tribal leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou, typecast once again) in exchange for Tarzan.
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I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed the adventure ride with Tarzan, with Jackson being the comic relief throughout. I gotta say that without Jackson’s hilarious antics, I might not have enjoyed this movie as much as I did, because the film tends to take itself far too seriously. On top of that, Skarsgård plays his character in such a surly, dour manner that practically sucked the fun out of the whole thing. There’s a difference between Byronically-brooding and dull, and he definitely fits more with the latter. I mentioned on Twitter before the movie started that it’d take more than a 12-pack abs to make his character intriguing. Well, it seems that Skarsgård’s too busy working out and dieting rigorously that he forgot to infuse his role with any kind of personality, let alone charm. Oh btw, those who couldn’t wait to see Tarzan’s bare torso would be pretty disappointed that he didn’t take of his shirt until about halfway point. I should mention too that Skarsgård reminds me a lot of Sam Heughan who plays Jamie in Starz’s Outlander at times that it distracted me a bit.

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Robbie did her best with what she’s given. Her Jane isn’t quite a damsel-in-distress, though there’s still the obligatory rescue when she’s held hostage by Rom. As for Waltz, well he’s better here than in Spectre, but his mustache-twirling villain-y is becoming more of a tiresome schtick. It seems his fun baddie performance a la Hans Landa is long behind him, what a pity.

There’s also the issue with the whole colonialism and slavery that critics think are tone deaf. Now, I actually think the filmmaker/writers strived to make Tarzan more than ‘another white savior’. Jackson’s character is based on a respected real life African American minister/soldier/lawyer/writer and he’s got a major role here that includes saving Tarzan’s life. Even the moments where Tarzan returns the favor is downplayed a bit and that bit when Williams climbs onto his back as he swings down from a tree vine is pretty hilarious. I didn’t expect this Tarzan movie to be some sort of buddy comedy but at times that’s how it played out, which doesn’t always work but Jackson is always a hoot. There is also a quiet moment between Williams and Tarzan when Williams reflects on his past that I think is quite memorable. There are moments that tugged at my heartstrings too, as Tarzan and Jane seem to genuinely care for the Congolese residents, both the people and animals of the jungle.

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Having just seen The Jungle Book, the cinematography here doesn’t quite match that one, and at times it appears way too dark and gloomy. But there are some beautiful shots and some of the action sequences are pretty fun to watch. The soundtrack byRupert Gregson-Williams was pretty rousing at times too, though now I could barely remember it. Somehow every time I hear the word Tarzan I always think of Phil Collins’ fabulous song You’ll Be in My Heart from the animated Disney version.

This may sound like a backhanded compliment but given my low expectation coming into this, I’m not disappointed. I guess I wasn’t expecting something truly epic and it wasn’t, but as far as Summer popcorn flick go, it offers an adequate escapist good time.

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Have you seen ‘The Legend of Tarzan’? Well, what did you think?

Musings on the final Harry Potter movie

Well, the 8+ months wait was finally over. Yep, that’s how far apart the two Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are and it was a bit frustrating after I saw Part I that I had to wait that long to see the conclusion.

I did my write-up about Part I in lieu of a straight-on review, so I’m going to do the same here. At the end of that post, I said that the best thing HP 7.1 did was make fans like me anticipate the FINAL movie all the more. On top of that, my friend Ted who’ve read all the books told me, “…nothing really happened much in the first half from the book and then on the second half, all hell broke loose.” So suffice to say, my expectation for HP 7.2 is quite up there… as in ‘It’s gonna be epic!!!’

Well, did it live up to my expectation?

Initially, I’d have said, ‘Not really.’ But I guess that’s because with an expectation THAT high, I’m bound to be disappointed. Now that it’s been a few days since I’ve seen it, here’s what I thought of the movie:

**SPOILER ALERT (some plot points might be discussed in this post)**

  • As in Part I, this movie opened with Severus Snape who is a crucial figure in the finale. Going in, I expected to see more of his compelling back story and in a way, the filmmaker delivered. As someone who didn’t read the books, I think it answered a lot of the questions about his complicated relationship with Harry.

    Alan Rickman is phenomenal as always, no wonder he is my favorite character in the whole HP supporting cast up until the very end. His inimitable voice and delivery is what I find fascinating about Rickman, though there was a part in this movie where it actually sounded a bit too over-the-top that I couldn’t help but chuckle as I watched it. My gripe is with his short screen time, I suppose if I had read the books I’d know about it, but I really was bummed to see the character’s demise in the first half hour. Yes he still appeared in flashback but it just wasn’t the same.
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  • The hunt for Voldemort‘s horcruxes continues for Harry, Hermione and Ron (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint). The first part was quite action-packed as the three broke into Gringott’s vault in disguise. Helena Bonham Carter did an excellent job showing a more nervous side of Bellatrix Lestrange (as it’s actually Hermione disguised as her), her character is obviously more fun to watch when she’s deranged but it’s still a funny scene nonetheless. I forgot that Ciaran Hinds is in this as Dumbledore’s brother, but his character is pretty forgettable. Not exactly his fault but that’s just the way it was written.
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  • Back in Hogwarts, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad thinking what’s about to take place here. This poster and pretty much all the promo of the final movie promises that Hogwarts will burn! The events leading up to it are comprised of a few key scenes. The confrontation between Harry and Snape was an emotional one… “How dare you stand where he stood. Tell them how it happened that night. How you looked him in the eye, a man who trusted you, and killed him.” Harry told Snape, which led to a fight between him and Minerva (Maggie Smith). We all remembered that scene of Dumbledore falling to his death and that got me teared up a bit.
  • One of the highlights of the movie was when Minerva commanded the Stone Army to come to life to guard Hogwarts. “I’ve always wanted to use that spell,” She said giddily to Molly Weasly (Ron’s mom), and it was pretty darn cool to see her use it, too.

    Props for David Yates and the SFX folks for the cool effects in creating the shield around Hogwarts, overall the special effects is first rate. I saw it in 2D as I just don’t think most 3D movies are worthwhile. (By the way, if you’re up for it, take this Hogwarts house quiz).
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  • The enemy gets stronger and inches closer and closer… Voldemort’s army moved in on Hogwarts from all sides, which is supposed to be all intense and scary but I was largely unmoved by it for some reason.

    I think the biggest beef I have with this final act is that the arch nemesis, the biggest, most bad-ass beast of all… the bald, nose-less, squinty-eyed Voldemort, in the end he didn’t seem all that intimidating to me. I mean, he seemed lot scarier throughout all the HP movies, even in the beginning when he was merely a tiny, deformed thing. I can’t explain it really and I’m not really criticizing Ralph Fiennes‘ performance or anything, but I just never felt the ‘shudder effect’ whenever he appeared like it used to… ok, perhaps one time when he said ‘Harry Potter… the boy who lived, come to die,’  as he summoned Harry to come closer. I kind of shuddered a little.
  • Btw, perhaps someone who’ve read the book can explain it to me. In the parts where Harry was supposedly dead in the forest, now why on earth would Voldemort ask someone else to check out if he was dead or not. I mean, if you’ve been trying to kill someone for a long time, searched long and hard for that person with all your might, wouldn’t you rather go over there yourself and make absolutely certain that the subject is actually dead?? Maybe there is a logical explanation to that (other than for plot device for Malfoy’s mom to find out if Draco is dead or not), but as of right now I’m scratching my head.
  • Ok, allow me to digress a bit. The ‘nyeaaaaaaaaaa’ squeals that were ubiquitous in every clip/trailer of HP 7.2 wasn’t that prevalent in the actual movie, thank goodness. Ironically, I actually was mildly disappointed that the V-man didn’t yell that when Harry yanked him to the bottom of the castle in their final battle 🙂
  • Speaking of the final face off between Voldemort and Harry, which is what every HP fan has been waiting for. One can’t help but feel the enormity of the circumstances, I mean, THIS IS IT, Harry finally has to fend for himself against the big evil dude. But at the same time, I wasn’t exactly transfixed by it if you will.

    Perhaps I’m all ‘spelled-out’ as in tired of seeing all those spell effects, I don’t know. There is quite a lot going on at the same time this scene is happening. Ron and Hermione are busy trying to kill, unsuccessfully I might add, the elusive Nagini, Voldemort’s pet snake which is also his horcrux. But Neville gets to show his heroic side, yay! Man look at how he (Matthew Lewis) has grown, no longer is he the dorky kid on the block 🙂

  • Glad to see Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) back, even in the form of a dream sequence in a Heaven-like setting. The scene seems rather long and overly sentimental for my taste however, and so was the scenes of Harry with all his dead family/relatives (though again, it’s nice to see Gary Oldman in it). I’m gonna give that a pass however, as this being the last movie, I guess they’re allowed to get a bit melodramatic.
  • Ok, lastly I just want to comment on Hermione’s character. I feel like she’s not as strong in this as she has been in previous movies. What I mean by that is that, the prettier and less bookish she gets, she seems to lose her assertiveness as well. She hesitated killing a horcrux until Ron encourages her, which I find a bit uncharacteristic of her usually brave self. I realize that she’s obviously anxious about what they are going through, but she appears a whole lot more melancholy with Harry, embracing him every five minutes it seems. That part doesn’t bother me, but I do feel it’s a bit jarring to see the ‘evolution’ of Hermione in this movie, which this Guardian article covered in details.

    “There’s almost a direct correlation with actress Emma Watson‘s growing prettiness through the course of the films and Hermione’s decreased bookishness and pragmatism.”
    The article said, and even went so far as saying that “When it comes to film, something about a smart, fearless woman who doesn’t care about her looks makes Hollywood leery; even if, in this instance, she commands a loyal and loving built-in audience before the film begins.”

    Now, whether that assessment is entirely accurate or not, I do see her point of view and I did miss the spunkier Hermione.

It’s definitely a challenging task of visualizing J.K. Rowling’s vision in the books (as in with most other literary adaptation). Dan from Top 10 Films assessment that splitting the movies into two serves a purely commercial reason than anything else, and perhaps it might’ve been better to keep it as one long film. It’s hard to say if that would’ve made it a better finale, but one thing for sure, it’d perhaps be more engaging and coherent as some people won’t feel ‘disconnected’ if they didn’t have time to see Part I right before seeing the second one. Making one long film would also force the filmmaker to be more efficient/prudent in choosing what scenes to include, which is quite a formidable task.

I wholeheartedly agree with Dan also in regards to the veteran supporting cast easily outshining the main ones. Don’t get me wrong, I think those three did a tremendous job (as do the other young cast like Tom Felton as Draco), but obviously they’re not as experienced as the more mature actors. I’ve dedicated a post a while ago to highlight my Top Ten Favorites HP cast, and having seen ALL of them now, I still stand by that list 😀

In conclusion, despite some quibbles and falling a bit short of the ‘epic’ quality I was hoping for, I still think it’s a worthy effort to close such a beloved franchise. Unlike most fans though, I’m not at all emotional that it’s the end of HP franchise (at least in cinematic form). I’m glad I’ve watched them all and they have been entertaining, but there are other films that I’m anticipating so yeah, I’m ready to move on 😀


Well, those of you who have seen this final Harry Potter movie. What did you think? Was it as epic as you had hoped?