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? 

NOVEMBER 2016 Viewing Recap + Movie(s) of the Month

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Well I guess we better get used to saying ‘see ya next year’ now that we’ve only got a month left in 2016! Of course now that award season is officially in full swing, there’s a slew of new film screenings coming in December! I sure hope next month isn’t going to be too snowy. I don’t mind cold temps so long as it won’t cause traffic havoc, which always happen whenever there’s a snowstorm.

After a hectic October, I only watched a third of what I did last month. But I had been busy planning a script reading in January and I also did a phone pitch to a producer in the UK for the first time. I bought a pitch session via Stage 32 site just to see if I could do it, it was nerve-wracking!

In any case, stay tuned for some of the interviews from TCFF I haven’t posted yet, i.e. my chat w/ indie comedy Funeral Day‘s director Jon Weinberg and star Dominic Rains.

Here are movies I saw in October:

New-to-me Movies

(Click on the underlined titles for a full review)

drstrange

Doctor Strange (2016)

xmenapocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

arrival

Arrival (2016)

welltakemanhattan

We’ll Take Manhattan (2012)

allied

Allied (2016)

wilderpeople

Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)

littleprince

The Little Prince (2015)

loving

Loving (2016)

fantasticbeasts

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

theshallows

The Shallows (2016)

cairotime

Cairo Time (2009)

talesbylight

Tales By Light documentary (2016)

We also got to see season 1 of this amazing Netflix Original documentary. It follows five photographers around the world documenting their approach to photography and story telling. A must for photography lovers, or those who appreciate beautiful imagery (and who doesn’t?)
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Movies I look forward to in December

So far I’ve RSVP-ed to see Miss Sloane, Jackie, Passengers, and Rogue One in the next couple of weeks. My blog contributor Laura S. will be watching/reviewing Office Christmas Party, Why Him?, and Collateral Beauty. There are even screenings scheduled for January and I can’t wait to see Hidden Figures!


Rewatches


Casablanca
| Sing Street | Love and Friendship

After watching the sputtering Allied (thanks for that description Cindy!) which has many scenes in Morroco, I’ve convinced my hubby to finally watch the masterful classic WWII romance Casablanca! Well let’s just say it was still amazing and though it looked beautiful, it wasn’t style over substance. The other two films were in my top 10 fave movies of the year. I’m glad Sing Street is on Netflix now, and I watched Love & Friendship on the plane back from Vegas.


MOVIE(S) OF THE MONTH

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We have a tie again this month! I have written a review of Hunt For the Wilderpeople and Arrival that I’ll be posting next week. They’re two very different films in terms of tone and plot, but both are excellent in their own right. You can rent ‘Wilderpeople’ now and Arrival is in theaters, so I highly recommend both of these if you haven’t seen them already. Both will surely make it to my top 10 BEST of the year!


Well that’s my viewing recap of NOVEMBER. What’s YOUR favorite film(s) of the month?

Guest Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

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It’s going to be hard for me not to turn this into a fifty-page essay, because I am an enormous Harry Potter fan. I have been since I was ten years old. I’ve re-read all the books more times than I can remember, I wrote so much embarrassingly bad fan-fiction as a preteen, and I’ve attended multiple book and movie midnight releases in costume (more recently than I’d care to admit). Like every other Harry Potter fan in the world, I was psyched to hear about the Fantastic Beasts films, but, like many other fans, I was also nervous.

I’ve already been disappointed in new Harry Potter-related media released this year (damn you, Cursed Child), and a lot of the details J.K. Rowling has released about the Fantastic Beasts movie and the Wizarding culture in America has been even less promising (such as Muggles being called “No-Maj”). My expectation was that the writing would fall flat, but the visuals would be beautiful. My expectations were mostly met.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, named for the fictional textbook from the Harry Potter series, follows its author, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), on his adventure through 1926 New York City where, through a series of mishaps, he loses his case full of magical creatures. Several of the creatures get loose, and it’s up to Newt, ex-employee of the Magical Congress of the USA Tina (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to retrieve them before the Wizarding World is exposed.

I think J.K. Rowling is a much better novelist than a screenwriter. She’s not used to writing within the time constraints of a movie, which meant this one was messy, disorganized, and lacked exposition in areas where it was sorely needed. The biggest example of this comes toward the end, in the most infuriatingly stupid deus ex machina I have seen in a long time. I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers, but trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. It was exciting to see the Wizarding World in a different location and time period, but it was a shaky introduction. It was recently announced that the film series was expanded from a trilogy into a five-part series, so hopefully the next four movies will be paced better now that Rowling has more time to work with.

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Queenie and Tina
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Dan Fogler as Jacob

That said, there is still so much about this movie that I loved. The four main characters are incredibly well-written; they’re all likeable and have unique personalities that don’t just feel like movie stereotypes. The actors do an amazing job bringing the characters to life, especially lead Eddie Redmayne; his shy, awkward, quirky personality was delightful. My one critique is that his tendency to mumble his lines made it hard to understand what he was saying. Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, the sole No-Maj pulled into the magical adventure, is excellent as well. He could have easily fallen into the overused role of a slapstick comedic sidekick, but he brought so much heart to the character.


The most memorable part of this movie, though, was the design of titular fantastic beasts. The visuals in this movie are phenomenal. The creatures range from being so adorable it hurts my heart, to breathtakingly majestic. They’re also surprisingly faithful to the descriptions in the original book; the designers were clearly familiar with the source material, and as a die-hard fan, I appreciated the attention to detail.

While there were obvious flaws in this movie, I still really enjoyed it, both as a Harry Potter fan and as a moviegoer. I would absolutely watch it again, and I’m eager to see how the next four go.


laurasLaura Schaubschlager is a Winona State University graduate with a B.A. in English, which is seldom put to use in my health insurance career (outside of cringing at the grammatical errors my superiors make in their emails). I’m an avid horror fan (movies, novels, video games- anything that makes me hesitate when I go to turn off the light at night), and I’m always looking for writing opportunities, although my current portfolio is made up of partially-completed short stories and an occasionally-updated blog: schaublahblah.wordpress.com.


Have you seen ‘Fantastic Beasts’? Well, what did you think?