Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The first thing I noticed is how dark this film is – not in terms of content (it’s pretty light on content but more on that later) – I mean lighting wise. It’s super difficult to see a lot of what’s going on in parts at the start and while this seems to be a trademark of director David Yates (director of 4 Harry Potter films) it’s also a sign the budget perhaps couldn’t quite stretch to the CGI that the director was after (or that the director’s a bit shit – I think both apply here).

The opening sequence sees Grindelwald escape from prison while being transferred from New York to Europe. I’d like to say the scenes were well done but it was so dark you couldn’t really see what was going on – the action was blurred and fast paced to a point where you didn’t know who was who or who you were rooting for and that leads me on to another problem.

I’d not seen Fantastic Beasts since it was in the cinema and while I do own the DVD I chose to watch Geostorm the night before seeing this. This was a bit of a mistake – not because Geostorm is a bad film (which it is, sort of) – but because I spent the first 20 minutes of “The Crimes Of Grindelwald’ trying to figure out who everyone was.

While I do like a fast-paced story and get annoyed at long character introductions in sequels, a quick recap would have been most helpful – especially when you can’t figure out whether a character is a good or bad guy.

The story then moves to the main character Newt Scamander who, after causing havoc in New York in the first film, has been under a form of house arrest and has been unable to leave England. The Ministry of Magic is prepared to lift the ban if Newt helps them recapture Credence (who’s meant to be a bad guy but is just misunderstood surely? NO J.K! He’s a naughty boy, stop handling him with kid gloves!)

Newt doesn’t even entertain the offer is and all like “Dude! I don’t work for The Man, man!” so the Ministry slaps another Donald Trump-esq travel ban on him, kicks him out and gets someone else to do their dirty work.

While Newt is trying to enjoy a peaceful life with his assistant and his cellar full of magical beasts, Jacob and Queenie arrive at his home. Jacob is very much in love and is happily engaged – or so it would seem. It turns out that Queenie has put a charm on Jacob in order to keep him with her after the Magical community banned marriage between Wizards and No-Magics.

I think this part of the plot was intended to be amusing – the besotted Jacob tries to have comedic moments but in the wake of #METOO, I found the thought that Queenie had to force Jacob to be with her disturbing and, quite frankly, distasteful. Given how vocal J.K Rowling has been on these sorts of issues it’s a surprise inclusion in her script and if she were hoping to shine a spotlight on the issue by “cleverly” reversing the scenario she fell well short of the mark.

After being approached by Albus Dumbledore (played by a very smarmy Jude Law) Newt eventually decides to visit Paris (I won’t go into the “will he, won’t he” details – we knew he would go otherwise it would have been a flipping short film). Well, I say he went to Paris but as this film is so lacking in any lighting it could have been the Blackpool Tower in the background for all I know.

There’s all sorts of bits of a story involving Credence and the search for his birth mother which seems shoehorned in to make us feel sorry for him and to set up the ending so I won’t bother covering it here. Another shoehorned story is that of Leta Lestrange who is simply there to set up a few plot points, provide a red herring or two and is sorely underused and yet another shoehorned story is that of Nagini, a woman destined to become a snake, get used as a horcrux and then get her head chopped off – what her real value in this film is I’m not sure except to prove that other Asian characters apart from Cho Chang exist.

I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed and confused by this film. Jonny Depp’s Grindelwald is Rowling’s allegory for when politics goes bad (we know you hate Trump J.K, just keep it out of your films please) and there are characters that are being introduced that have no right to exist in the timeline set out by Rowling in the Harry Potter films. Ordinarily you’d blame these continuity errors on an under-prepared writer but as Rowing is the writer there is no excuse.

I don’t know if this is some clever planning on Rowling’s part, she’s gone mad with creative power or she just doesn’t care any more as she knows the money will roll in regardless but it has the Potterverse up in arms – in fact it’s caused so many ructions in terms of plot holes and racism/sexism/you-name-it-isms that it’s been mentioned in The New Statesman, NME and The Independent and when mainstream media chips in you know you have an issue.

I enjoy Harry Potter, I’m not an expert fan by any means but even I know that Professor McGonagall can’t be at Hogwarts during this period and if you make such a glaring error what other problems are there? Well, quite a massive one as it turns out but I won’t spoil the end of the film for you.

It’s a shame that this film fell so flat that I was left feeling like I needn’t have watched it and it was 2-plus hours I’d wasted that I could have used viewing something more enjoyable. The Crimes Of Grindelwald is merely filler to move the story along and bulk out the series – and as there are 5 movies planned I would image films 3 and 4 to be more filler than substance again.

I rated this film a 5 (or “Meh”) rating – why? Because you don’t really need to watch it, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to see the third film without needing to see this one so save your 2 hours and 14 minutes and watch something more worthwhile.

Watch this if you need to get angry about something but can’t quite build up a head of steam – a bad script and continuity errors will have you irate in no time at all.

Mary Poppins Returns

I grew up watching Mary Poppins. She was the magical Nanny we all wanted to waft in on an umbrella and fix our everyday boring lives. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and I was left with just Mary Poppins once or twice a year on TV.

When I heard they were making a sequel to a much beloved film I have to admit I was a bit worried and while Mary Poppins Returns isn’t as bad as I thought it could be, it’s not a patch on the original.

While no specific year is mentioned, apparently the film is set in the mid-1930s, around 25 years after the events of the first film and sees Ben Whishaw star as a grown Michael Banks, his wife has not long passed away and he’s struggling to cope look after his 3 children and run the family home.

Michael has forgotten to make 3 loan payments and the bank is foreclosing on the house, giving them just 5 days to get the money or get out.

And that is basically the story.

There’s not much to it at all, the adults need to find a share certificate and lighten up a little, the kids need to stop acting like adults and lighten up a little so along comes Mary Poppins to wave her magic umbrella and fix everything.

The problem with Mary Poppins Returns is that it lacks the warmth and charm of the original. I found very little humour in it (I don’t think I laughed once)  and I had to reach for a hanky at one point thanks to an excellent Withenshaw who is wasted is this film.

Emily Blunt’s clipped could-cut-glass English accent has none of the undercurrent of love that Julie Andrews’ version has. In fact the only reason we know Blunt’s Poppins isn’t a right bitch is down to a few knowing looks in various shiny surfaces.

Musically the film is a bit of a let down, there isn’t a show stopper like
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and the big ensemble dance number (that replaces the chimney sweeps with lamplighters) has to rely on BMX stunts and parkour to make it vaguely interesting.

The film is also far too long, weighing in at 2 hours and 10 minutes. I looked at my watch (always a bad sign) and was horrified to discover only 20 minutes had passed when it felt like the film should be wrapping up.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mary Poppins film without a dodgy cockney accent and while Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) could never, ever, ever be as bad as Dick Van Dyke, a cockney accent is more than saying “wiv” instead of “with” – why Hollywood insists on making American actors attempt a cockney accent I’ll never know.

And Mary Poppins’ mockney accent during the “A Cover Is Not A Book” number doesn’t fair any better.

Speaking of Dick Van Dyke, the real stars of the show are the celebrity cameo moment. Meryl Streep as cousin Topsy is a hilariously drunk sounding character (I’m not sure if it was a Russian accent or just vodka that was at work here) and she certainly shows Blunt et al how it’s really done. Julie Walters is also present as the family cook Ellen, doing her best “I’m not channeling Mrs Overall, honest” impression.

Van Dyke makes a welcome appearance as the “young” Mr Dawes Jr. and throws in a nice reference to a gag in the previous film, David Warner is great as the crotchety admiral but that standout performance for me was from Dame Angela Lansbury as the Balloon Lady. She may be 93 but she certainly blew Blunt off the screen in the few seconds they shared together (think Judy Dench in Shakespeare In Love).

Overall the film was pretty much what I expected – a cynical attempt to cash in on a much loved tradition which seems to be par for the course at Disney at the moment (Lion King and Dumbo being released later this year as further examples).

Watch this if you have a spare couple of of hours over the rainy holidays, but don’t expect the kids to pick up any long lasting catch phrases or sing any songs 20 years later.

Aquaman

I’m going to try and make this review as fair as possible considering that the film was pretty much ruined for me. I booked in to the super-duper 2DX screen at my local cinema (of you’re not familiar it offers a 270-degree screen experience) which I thought would be fabulous with all the underwater scenes in Aquaman. Well, the technology is new and it decided to break down meaning that we watched the first 15 minutes of the film 3 times while they tried and failed to get the projector system up and running.

Because of the interruption, it took me a while to get back into the film and I was constantly keeping an eye on the time as I had another film booked later in the evening and it was looking increasingly like both films would clash due to the delay and I’d either have to leave early or get in late (both of which I hate to do).

Anyway, I concentrated the best I could and this is as unbiased as I can do!

The film starts with Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) finding a woman washed up on the rocks at the bottom of his lighthouse. It turns out that the mysterious female is a Queen of Atlantis who has fled to avoid an arranged marriage. The unlikely pair fall in love and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) gives birth to a son who the name Arthur after a hurricane that’s raging out in the ocean.

While Arthur is still young, guards from Atlantis track down Atlanna and try to take her back. She fiercely fights them off (girls got some moves!) but realises that in order to keep Tom and their son safe she needs to leave but leaves her advisor Vulko to train Arthur in how to fight and what it means to be an Atlantean.

Fast forward a few years and Arthur (Jason Momoa) is now a big burly bloke that likes to have a few beers in a bar with his Dad and rescue submariners from pirates. It’s this confrontation that brings Arthur face-to-face with David Kane who will later become the Black Manta (no, I hadn’t heard of this D.C villain either) and vow revenge on Aquaman after his Father is killed in the submarine raid.

As well as Black Manta as a baddie in this film, we’re also introduced to sleazy Orm who wants to rule the underwater realm by uniting the sea clans using some rather suspect tactics. Plot twist: Orm is Arthur’s half-brother! Way to add a conflict plot point – that’s two boxes ticked!

Orm decides that he needs to get Arthur out of the way for his plan to succeed and launches a tidal wave to take him out, fortunately Princess Mera (Amber Heard) is on-hand to help save Arthur and his Dad so Arthur agrees to help thwart Orm’s plans. I’m not sure if the effects were good in this bit or not as the scenes were so dark that you couldn’t really see what was happening. This seems to be a bit of a recurring theme with films at the moment, if a scene is either difficult or the budget doesn’t quite stretch they make it take place at night so they can get away with shoddy CGI (more on that later).

The rest of the film is set in the underwater realm which is film in a cool and yet odd way. The floating hair is clever but the movement of the character’s bodies is a little off which I found somewhat disconcerting. There are also bubbles. A lot of bubbles. When there are any action sequences they roll out the bubbles so you can’t see a lot of what’s happening.

Part of the problem with this film is that it’s not quite sure what it should be. At one point Arthur turns into an Indiana Jones style character when he and Mera head off to find a lost spear, in other parts he’s almost a sulky teenager that wants nothing to do with his underwater heritage and in others he’s Aquaman, scourge of the underwater pirates.

I also think that having two villians in Orm and Black Manta is a bit much – one would have sufficed but they need to set up a sequel so they bung in an unnecessary character.

It’s not a bad film – it’s certainly 20,000 leagues (get it?) ahead of Batman vs Superman and The Justice League but it’s nowhere near Wonder Woman (despite what the box office figures might say).

Jason Momoa is good as Curry but his performance reminded me a lot of his character Ronon Dex in Stargate: Atlantis (ooooh…. Maybe he was Aquaman undercover and not an alien after all!), Patrick Wilson chews the scenery as King Orm but is perfectly suited to the role, Willem Defoe usually plays a bad guy so I was distracted quite a bit wondering when he’s turn nasty and Dolph Lungren is… well, Dolph Lungren.

I rated this film a 7 which is probably slightly higher than it deserves but I can’t give half-marks on my tracking app and didn’t want to mark it down unfairly.

Watch this film if you want to get away with watching a superhero film and your girlfriend is up for a chic flick.

Age Of The Dragons

Age Of The Dragons is a rip-off re-imagining of Moby Dick set in a weird alternative world when humans hunt dragons instead of whales for “vitriol” that powers their world.

The film starts with a young Ahab (yes, that is his name) out hunting with his sister. She wanders off and gets killed by a giant white dragon (yes, seriously) and Ahab is horribly disfigured (where do they get their script ideas from?).

Fast forward about 100 years (not that many really but it felt like it) and Ishmael (I kid you not) is introduced to us in the following manner:

Old bloke in the Inn: “I hear you’re called Ishmael”

Ishamel: “You may call me that”

Seriously.

All the script writers have done is to take a copy of Moby Dick and do a find & replace with ship to wagon and whale to dragon (that rhyme had more thought put into in than the Age of The Dragons script by the way).

Ishmael and his companion Queequeg (where do they get these names from?) are looking for work and join a rag-tag bunch of Dragon hunters as they cross the country to find as much vitriol as they can – and if they happen across a white dragon, well that’s a bonus!

There’s a fair bit of character backstory set up in the first half-an-hour. Mind you not a lot else happens so they have to fill it with something. This is were we learn about Ahab and his mad quest for the white dragon and how no-one in the crew believes him and they’re just in it for the money Yadda Yadda.

I’m assuming that the budget for this film all went on Danny Glover’s salary (yes, that Danny Glover) who stars as Ahab. Well, when I say “stars”, he decides to turn up after about forty minutes, chew some scenery and then growl a bit. For most of the film he’s wearing a mask and you can’t see his face so I doubt he even turned up and they just used a body double.

The film also stars Vinnie Jones – when he popped up I almost spat my coffee out! He has a monologue scene which he’s hoping to use for his Hamlet audition tape I think, but every time he’s on screen I can’t help wondering if he’s going to start crashing through walls Juggernaut style – sadly that doesn’t happen as it would have livened things up considerably.

There are two great things about this film – the lighting is fantastic. It’s atmospheric and really conveys the meaning of a scene (which is fortunate as most of the actors seem incapable of doing that). The other good thing is Sophia Pernas‘ performance as Ahab’s daughter Rachel – Age Of The Dragons is only her second film but she is a lot more believable that any of the other actors (perhaps being a newcomer she’s not as jaded as the rest of the cast and is actually excited to be working on something).

I can see why they made this film – I’m sure it sounded great in the pitch meeting (Moby Dick Meets Dragons)  – however it’s massively let down by a poor script and a mediocre cast which is a shame. Given the big-budget treatment and some star actors (sorry Danny Glover, you peaked at Lethal Weapon) it could have worked well, instead it was relegated to the bargain bin at the local blockbusters.

Watch this if you have a test on Moby Dick in the morning and haven’t bothered to read the book yet (just remember to replace dragon with whale when you write your answers).