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.

Waterston & Redmayne

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? 

Guest Review – Rough Night (2017)

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Directed By: Lucia Aniello
Written By: Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs
Runtime: 1 hr 41 minutes

I’ve been lucky enough to have had two amazing friends in my life since elementary school: Sarah and Annalise. We’ve seen one another at our most awkward, share the same stupid sense of humor, and can talk to each other about anything. Despite school and work-related distances separating us throughout the years, we’ve remained close, and now that we’re all finally living and working in the same area for the first time since high school, we’re trying to spend more time together. So when I had the opportunity to go to a screening of Rough Night, a movie about long-time friends getting into serious hijinks, I knew I wanted to see it with two of my favorite ladies. While my expectations for this film weren’t high, the casting had me hopeful that we’d get at least a few laughs.

Rough Night follows bride-to-be Jess (Scarlett Johansson) and her college besties Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and Pippa (Kate McKinnon) on a bachelorette weekend in Miami that goes horribly wrong when hiring a stripper from Craigslist leads to a dead body in their beach house.

This movie’s biggest problem is its tonal confusion. It can’t decide if it wants to be a raunchy ensemble flick or a dark comedy (which could have been so much fun with a plot like this), so it halfheartedly attempts both. If the movie had stuck with one tone, they might have been able to pace the movie better, but because they don’t and try to fit too much into an hour and a half movie, it just feels lazy and messy.

Some of that has to do with the expository writing of the characters as well. A lot of the information we’re given about our leads is done very heavy-handedly. At first, I worried this was too harsh a critique for a comedy, but the genre isn’t an excuse for a lack of decent character development. There are plenty of comedies that manage to be hilarious and have interesting characters the audience can connect to. Bridesmaids immediately comes to my mind as an example, mainly because a lot of the radio ads I’ve heard for Rough Night announce that Elle Magazine has called it better than Bridesmaids (which makes me wonder how much the movie’s marketing team paid Elle, because….no). Bridesmaids manages to develop interesting, flawed but likable characters and share information about their pasts without dumping it all in a few seconds of sloppy dialogue. The same can’t be said for Rough Night.

That said, this was still a surprisingly enjoyable movie, mostly thanks to a strong cast that can take a weak script and make it funny. Kate McKinnon is a treasure and always makes me laugh, and her performance in this is no exception. Scarlett Johansson is a little underwhelming, as she isn’t really known for comedy, but she has a couple stand-out moments. Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer have fantastic chemistry, and Zoe’s comedic timing is especially impressive. Jillian Bell does a good job at being hilarious, obnoxious, and sympathetic all at once. Jess’s fiancé Peter (Paul W. Downs) and his bachelor party buddies (Patrick Carlyle as Patrick, Eric Andre as Jake, and Bo Burnham as Tobey) made me laugh the hardest, flipping the bachelor party bro stereotype around hilariously. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack; because the group of friends met back in the mid-2000’s, there’s a lot of pop and hip-hop music from that time, which is really fun and nostalgic.

While I wouldn’t pay to see this in theaters, it’s still a fun film, so if you’re looking for something for a girls’ night in Red Box or Netflix or something, check it out.

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Have you seen ‘Rough Night’? Well, what did you think?