Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwlad

I need a safe house in Paris, because things have gone terribly wrong. J.K. Rowling has finally exhausted her creativity and has delivered the first vapid filler of the Wizarding World. “The Crimes of Grinelwald” could easily be called the “Exposition of Grindelwald”. Almost nothing that happens in this film makes a difference in the narrative that is supposed to be coming. After the opening escape sequence, we get two hours of visual imagination signifying nothing.

Last week on the Lambcast, we covered all eight of the Harry Potter films. I was only on the second show covering the last four films, but if you listen, you will hear everyone at some point praising these movies for making the books come alive and entertaining us. I doubt that on tomorrow’s Lambcast, anyone will be saying the same things about this movie. I fell asleep several times because nothing seemed to be going anywhere. Every time a new scene came up, it involved giving us backstory on a character we just met and who may very well be out of the story by the end of the movie. Halfway through the film I realized I had no idea what was happening and why. I think it’s because nothing was happening and there was no reason.

Let me pick out two or three things that irritate me about the “story” and then I will try to find some things that I can complement. Jacob and Queenie were my two favorite things about “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them“,  in this movie, Jacob is wasted and has lost most of the charm that made his presence in the first film so refreshing. Queenie is completely misused, including having her character undermine the relationship that was so pleasing in the first film. If you get to the end of this movie and you think what happens to her makes sense, please post an explanation so the rest of us can figure it out. Was Katherine Waterson’s “Tina” even in this movie. I don’t recall any scene where she was essential. Her character appears and mostly stands around while other people explain things. She gets back to being an Aurour, but has the investigative ability of a Niffler. She can only see the shiny distraction in front of here and she lets her relationship with Newt turn sour for the stupidest reason imaginable. Newt Scamander is supposed to be the central hero, but Eddie Redmayne is so understated and boring in the film that he is an invitation to nap until something starts to happen (which it rarely does). Now I have a policy on this site to not give spoilers and to avoid recapping the whole movie. The later of these two is easy today because I can’t recall much of the story. As for the former, it is not much of a spoiler to say that Credence, the character from Fantastic Beasts who was responsible for the Obscurial is back. How? I don’t know. Why? the same reason in the first film. What happens?, the exact opposite of what we saw in the first movie.  Again it makes no sense.

There are a wide variety of spectacular visual sequences in the movie. I thought the opening escape from custody by Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald worked really well. The rally sequence at the end also looks solid. There are a few creatures that manage to get our attention as well, but none of them except the nifflers are really relevant to the plot and that is peripheral as well. Jude Law turns out to be perfect casting as a young Dumbledore but he mostly stays on the sidelines. It’s not till we get to the end of the movie that we sort of learn why, and I guess that will be a plot thread for the next film.

Speaking of the end, there is a major issue with the climax of this film. In addition to one of the best characters in the first movie wandering off the reservation, we get a major piece of retconning. It is so unlikely, given the previous materials that if it turns out to be anything other than a convenient lie, I may have to reassess any desire I have to see subsequent film in this series. This is not a good film, and it is a major disappointment for fans of the Wizard World we have been visiting for the last seventeen years.

Alien Covenant

There is always hope that a movie you have doubts about will overcome them and manage to please you. No one goes to a film hoping for disappointment, although we often go expecting it.My level of excitement for “Prometheus” five years ago was through the roof. The fact that it let me down has not vanished from my memory. In fact. it is a warning beacon, just like in the original “Alien” and also like in that original story, it was misinterpreted. You would think after all the crap he got for the last film in the franchise, Ridley Scott would stop visiting it or at least have a better vision of what he wants to say. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. “Covenant ” is a let down. It’s not as big a let down as “Prometheus” but that’s because we were alerted.

When the “Halloween” story got franchised,  there was an attempt with one film to try something different. “Season of the Witch” had nothing to do with Michael Meyers, and the objective was to make the franchise more of an anthology concept using the idea of Halloween as the connective tissue. I think that would be a good approach to this film series. The adventures and horror should be concentrated around new ideas and new aliens each time. Than you would not have to keep trying to figure out how all of the stories fit into a time line or make sense in light of the last film. This movie might have been better if it was not trying so hard to be “Prometheus Part 2” without actually saying that.

Here is how someone wiser than I and less blinded by the hope that Scott could get Alien right again put it, according to my daughter, “Alien Covenant”  is  a hybrid of Alien 3, Alien Resurrection sprinkled with Prometheus as a topping.” If that sounds like a tasty concoction to you, by all means indulge. To me it sounds like adding onions to a PB and J made with whole wheat bread and “natural” peanut butter” . That is a lot of ingredients that I don’t care for being combined to make something else I don’t care for. I never go into spoilers in these commentaries because I want you to listen to my opinion about the film, not my reconstruction of it. I do however have to occasionally mention components that are part of the story. To begin with, just assume anyone who’s name you do not have in your head after the first ten minutes is going to die in the story.  Also, assume that the reason they die is that they do something stupid, inappropriate for the moment, or in violation of a protocol. The story telling in this movie is just irritating.

Katherine Waterston does make an effective heroine in the film. I did not recognize her at first but then it dawned on me that she was one of the charming new additions to the world of Harry Potter, having played Tina in “Fantastic Beasts“. There are a couple of dramatic moments, an intense scene or two, and a realistic portrayal of someone forced into making decisions she does not want to. Michael Fassbinder has dual roles in the film, both of them as synthetics and each one with some distinctive personality characteristics. The novelty has worn off a bit and the character David is not much more than an Evil Genius, with no real heart. Walter, the more contemporary [or should it be more futuristic?] synthetic person has very little personality for most of the film. There are two turns with his character that make no sense whatsoever, and they are the things that are supposed to launch the last act of the film. Billy Crudup is the man who reluctantly assumes command after an early catastrophe, and there is supposed to be a backstory that involves his faith and how it may have effected the decisions about command in the first place. That story goes nowhere and he is reduced to making the same kinds of silly choices that every other person in these stories makes. Danny McBride goes by a nickname, wears a cowboy straw hat, and doesn’t get to show any of the obnoxious charm that might be his reason for being in the film in the first place. I was a little surprised by two uncredited performances, both are early in the film, one makes a little sense, the other must be an inside joke because it was completely unneeded.

The movie looks solid, but it lacks the pizazz of  it predecessor,   which was the main redeeming quality of that film. For me, the best part of this film was the use of the original Jerry Goldsmith theme as a motif in the opening credits. So, thirty seconds in, it is mostly downhill. The third act is a logic defying series of events, designed to sucker punch you in much the same way as “Life” attempted earlier this year. That movie pissed me off and this one leaves me with the same irritated feeling.

Since my dander is up about the film, let me add my two cents about the experience and presentation. We chose a theater based on when the film was playing, and it was not one of our typical haunts. In fact, we ended up paying a little extra to see the film in a “Dine-In” experience. I have always had my reservations about the concept, but since we had driven out of our way and already paid a premium, we went with the flow and ordered concessions off the menu and had a “usher/waiter” take care of us. Other than popcorn and soda, we splurged on nachos, but not the kind that come in a box with melted cheese in a plastic container. These were restaurant style with guacamole and other toppings. They cam twenty minutes after the popcorn. The traditional movie fare arrived before the film started, the nachos did not. The soda we ordered came not in a large cup like the overpriced style at the concession stand, but in a medium sized plastic cup designed to look like a glass coke glass.  The size of the serving, which I was sharing with my wife was diminutive compared to a regular theater, and insured that we would need a re-fill to go with the spicy nachos during the movie. So we got a second visit from the “usher/waiter” while the film was running. He returned a third time with a check in a folder, much like a restaurant, that I would need to sign before we left. A fourth visit was made to try to collect the glasses and silverware that we were not yet finished with. Also, the button for calling for service is over my right shoulder, and it is surrounded by embedded lighting that identifies the theater chain. So the whole time I am watching the film, I have four interruptions and a light in the corner of my eye. Fortunately, the black cloth napkin I was provided, draped nicely over the service button and removed that distraction. Now, if only everything we ordered could arrive before the movie began, we would have half as much to object to. Frankly, eating hot food off a plate, set on an attached tray, in the dark is a pain in the butt as well.

So, I can now say I have tried it, and it is officially more cumbersome than eating KFC in the car while at a drive in. Maybe if I had ordered the hard liquor from the bar, I would not have minded so much, but since I don’t drink, and I have a low tolerance for people who can’t hold their liquor well,  this was never going to be a solution for me. If that is how you roll, more power to you, but in the future, I’d rather stand in line at a concession stand, juggle my purchases in my arms walking back into the theater, and be left the hell alone while I am watching a movie. I’ve now had the “dine-in experience”, and I’m not sure if it was more irritating than the movie, but I do know I won’t be doing either one of them again.