Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

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Lumos! The second part of the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ series has arrived but does the sequel light up the Wizarding World or is it a Boggart best left in the cupboard?

After the events in New York, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is forbidden to travel out of the UK. Upon finding out both Credence (Ezra Miller) and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) are in Paris, the kindly Hufflepuff must try to get to France. However, the dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has escaped from lock-up and is calling on magic folk to take a stand against the powers that tell them they should hide their true selves from Muggles.

So, the biggest problem that lies within J.K. Rowling’s second screenplay is the muddled mess of differing narratives. The first film may not have been outstanding but it carried a simple enough premise with a third act that became a lumbering CGI mess, yet on the whole it was good to follow. However, this movie seems so preoccupied with the setting up of another three films to come, that it never has a breath to focus on a story or character and they eventually become confused and tiresome to keep up with.

Another issue with ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’ is how distinctly lacking of magical charm it is. The wonderful thing about the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise; however fuelled by nostalgia they may be, is that they possessed a great level of delight and engaging dazzle. It has only been two films and already this part of the Wizarding World has lost its spark, with a story empty of wonder and severely low on coherent adventure for the family to enjoy.

In the grand scheme of things and considering we’re laboured with another trio of Scamander led movies, there may be a great plan concocted by the author of the Potter books but at the moment it feels like it’s a series stuffing way too many Augrey eggs in its basket. There are a couple of entertaining moments and a few of the creatures are well designed, as are the brilliant costumes from previous Oscar winner Colleen Atwood but aside from some solid production, the movie doesn’t seem to know what it is and good luck if the audience is meant to either.

Eddie Redmayne is coasting on auto-pilot as the nearly annoyingly prim and goody two shoes Newt. Katherine Waterston and Ezra Miller get little time to make an impact amongst the zig-zagging of plot-lines. Alison Sudol gets to explore Queenie a touch more which is nice and the newcomer presence of Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore is fine enough, he’s got the charisma necessary but feels like he’s rooted at exposition checkpoints for the story. Johnny Depp has the snarl but still should have been recast and now, for worse we’re stuck with him.

There are some flashy visuals and it isn’t terrible but it feels dead behind the eyes. You can’t repel the feeling that this has already become a cheap and hollow shiny cash-grab that the greediest Niffler would love to pocket.

5.5/10

 

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Wildlife (2018)

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‘Wildlife’ marks the directorial debut for actor Paul Dano and what an assured, quality debut it is. Dano and his partner; fellow actor and screenwriter Zoe Kazan, have joined as a force of talent to script this film, which delves into a family through beautiful crisis.

In Montana of 1960, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) has to find a new job and gets one working away from home, to control the fires in some mountains. Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) finds work of her own and it’s during this time when their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) has to become the man of the house and witness a shift in his parent’s relationship.

Paul Dano had stated that he always knew he wanted to make films about families and this is a look at one that disintegrates whilst you helplessly watch. Based on a 1990 novel of the same name, his screenplay was looked over by ‘Ruby Sparks’ writer and playwright Zoe Kazan who then helped as joint screenwriter and, together the pair have really nailed down on the personal, unflinching state of separation, explored through the 14 year old eyes of Joe, yet blisteringly sold by Mulligan’s performance.

It isn’t long until the strains of Jerry and Jeannette’s marriage take hold and once this happens the cracks can do little but get larger and larger. Through this slow-motion descent, Carey Mulligan trembles, spills tears and explodes with her affecting portrayal of a mother always asking what her son thinks and slowly taking her own route at whatever cost. She provides a fantastically haunting, mesmerising performance.

The cinematography from Diego Garcia is similarly mesmerising in a haunted, stunning way. Just from the opening shot, which sets the scene for it being a movie about house and home and the dysfunction that can happen within. Then you see the lovely bliss of this town and its peaked background reflecting the story of their apparently blissful marriage clouding over like the fire and smoke which is raging close by.

Dano and Kazan have ensured there’s a quiet burning which runs through the narrative, carrying a simmer of unease. You never truly know if something will boil over and on the occasion it might, the atmosphere slams with such a ferocity of family heartbreak, none more powerful than the silent and final image of this film. Paul Dano himself has seamlessly carried his remarkable magnetic talent from in front of the camera and neatly placed that skill behind it, ensuring there’s no need for showy tension to make a weighty drama and that’s what makes this film all the more important and brilliant.

‘Wildlife‘ is a carefully written work of art with its power buried from the inside out. As it slowly leaks out, the audience are in for a film that feels like theatre, this scenario of a family breakdown gorgeously acted by Mulligan and Gyllenhaal and wonderfully sold from Oxenbould’s Joe, as he and we too, can’t help but face this happen.

8/10

 

Juliet, Naked (2018)

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‘Juliet, Naked’ premiered in January this year at the Sundance Film Festival and it couldn’t be more of a Sundance flick; the charming aspects and the unlikely romance are right in the wheelhouse of indie darlings and on the most part, this Jesse Peretz feature works thanks to the effortless matching of its lead actors.

Annie Platt (Rose Byrne) is stuck in a seaside town thanks to boyfriend Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd), some of her resentment is due to her job but some boils down to Duncan’s love of a rock star named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), whose music Annie finds intolerable. One day she receives an email from the mysterious musician himself and they begin a 100/1 relationship.

Throughout this darling song of a movie there are a rare couple of comedic moments and though it’s not as outright funny as certain scenes had room to be, what works much better are the dramatic notes that are lyrically added to the appealing narrative. This is a film, almost like a melodic tale of love and regrets, parenting and loneliness and these themes are handled in a great heart-felt manner.

When you have source material from Nick Hornby; novelist of High Fidelity and About a Boy and screenwriter of ‘Brooklyn’ then you know to expect a romantic tale with plenty to say and thematic weight to keep the characters going to their end goals. This adaptation from the 2009 book of the same name works in the sense that you feel a faint smile on your face appear as you watch the relationship of Tucker and Annie grow. The warming sensation of a feel-good film can’t be beaten.

Here is perhaps where I am being critically unfair but the similarly driven ‘Hearts Beat Loud’, also premiering at the same Sundance, managed to capture a great mix of light comedy, fantastic songs, romance and family emotion whereas this more recent release doesn’t quite. There’s something not entirely perfect about this film which I felt the Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons music based movie reached closer to.

Rose Byrne is utterly sensational as Annie; the emotive range is great and she really makes us like her character. She lovingly handles every beat of the journey Annie goes on and the way she performs the disappointments of her life and love for 15 years are really believable. Ethan Hawke as this apparently seminal music star, gives grit and reflective thought to a man clearly unused to the extended family he has and the role as a father he’s meant to live up to. The moments between him and Byrne, whether through email voice-over or in person are touching and yes that word again, charming.

So whilst ‘Juliet, Naked’ might not be as endearing as other rom-coms, there’s a strong character duo to watch and the bittersweet indie aspect of their connection more than make up for the likelihood of its forgettable nature.

6.5/10

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

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Halloween is done and dusted so that must mean we’re onto the next big holiday event, which is Christmas and here comes the first festive feature of the year. ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ retells the 1816 story of ‘‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ and the famous ballet composed by Tchaikovsky, so with Disney behind this, is the film a feast for the senses?

Just before her father makes her attend a high society ball, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is gifted a present that her mother wished her to have. The present is a intricate egg but it’s locked and Clara needs the key which leads her out of the party into a fantasy land led by a regent trio in fear of Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) who resides in the Four Realms. Clara’s arrival could spell a hopeful change for the kingdom and she may just discover more than she bargained for.

A stellar cast and the usually reliable might of the House of Mouse aren’t strong enough qualities to save this film from feeling insanely lifeless and a less than encouraging early welcome to the Christmas season. It just feels like there is never enough time or care placed into any character and Clara herself becomes a less than engaging heroine. The script chugs along with no apparent desire to make you connect to what you are seeing.

There is a glorious amount of colour and pizzazz on show, lavish sets and fancy production design all look well and good but they aren’t enough to distract from a painful script and frequently irritating performances, Foy being dull a lot of the time and Keira Knightley going down the squeaky route in the same vein as the annoying presence of Michelle Williams in ‘I Feel Pretty’. The acting can be slightly forgiven as it fits the mould of a super child friendly fantasy flick but the abundance of horrendous cliches littering the entire screenplay would even make a 10 year old with little film knowledge roll their eyes.

This film does excel in the costume department and I have no doubt for that and Hair and Make-up it will pick up some Academy nominations. The attention to detail in these areas are exquisite and it does help the film at least look spectacular, it’s a shame they couldn’t have tried putting that effort in the storytelling because it’s all hollow and fairly sleep-inducing.

‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ feels like a lazy script transplant from 2010 Disney feature ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and with further lazy parallels to a Narnia like entrance to a snowy landscape and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ references including the yellow brick road and a riff on the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” line, it’s a movie that comes across like no real thought has gone into the process, making the whole thing less than a transporting experience to watch.

A grand costume affair but for a yuletide film, this leaves you feeling exceptionally cold.

3.5/10

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

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So, normally I’m not a fan of rom-coms; the calculable nature of them and how cheesy the dialogue can often be, puts me off them. Surprisingly this film won me over, sure there are cheesier moments but there’s smart writing and spectacular production quality which made it a more satisfying example to come out of the genre.

Economics professor and New York resident Rachel (Constance Wu) is invited to her boyfriend’s best friends wedding. Nick (Henry Golding), the best man, hopes that his large family will love Rachel as much as he does. As the celebrations get under way in Singapore, Rachel faces difficulties living up to the high hopes of Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ brings together a massive cast of talented actors who offer comedy and emotion to a rich story adapted from Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel. This tale of romance and acceptance may have slight touches of being over-sentimental but that in no way jolts us from the dazzling charm, which the stars and story convey. The screenplay also ends down familiar territory but there’s so much to cheer on in this picture, that the predictability becomes a muted backseat passenger in a joyful experience.

This is an extremely extravagant and beautiful movie. A wedding sequence is torn straight out of a jungle and is perhaps one of the most ridiculously over the top ceremonies but it fills the heart and it’ll likely fill some eyes with tears. The many lush settings and cinematography are crackling with a luxury that will do wonders for the tourism board of Singapore.

On the flip side of the romantic coin is the comedy sparkle, which does work well throughout. It is not solely ‘Community’ alumni Ken Jeong that gifts some funny to the movie; but a gay fashionista, a snap-happy single lad and Awkwafina’s Goh Peik Lin all bring a delicious amount of humour to the table. The latter is bursting with a comic energy that lifts the film even higher than it already is.

Constance Wu is the bridge to the audience; she grounds us to the glittering, affluent world we’re stepping into. She makes her fish out of water character a heart-warming and believable figure to follow. Wu isn’t just stunning and likable but she’s headstrong and smart too which make her moments facing adversity a strong example of women standing strong and proud. Henry Golding is the handsome and charming boyfriend but isn’t the lead usual movies would stumble to. The actor is confident in playing this caring man but doesn’t ever overshadow the brilliance of his leading lady. This movie features the incredible Gemma Chan and unlike her synth days from ‘Humans’, she demonstrates a wealth of touching emotion as Astrid.

Like the dumplings that a family make within the plot, this film is a sweet and often loving romantic filling wrapped up with fluffy comedy and pinched together with a stroke of drama and judgement. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ has blown the box office apart and with it’s affable cast and elegant, delightful storytelling it’s not hard to see why.

7.5/10

 

The Children Act (2018)

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This is a drama with a profound core revolving around a quandary of life and death. It’s very easy to say that Emma Thompson is the crowning aspect within ‘The Children Act’. There is a lot of weighty material going on in this plot and not all of it is as stirring as the film would believe it is.

The Honorable Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a well respected judge but away from the courts she’s facing a communication breakdown with her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci). On top of this she is given a case about a 17 year old with leukaemia; his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and are refusing a blood transfusion which leaves Maye to make an informed choice on the teenagers welfare.

Richard Eyre; with a sturdy background in theatre and directing play adaptations for TV certainly knows how to facilitate strong performances for this thought-provoking story. It’s a shame then that he overdoes the melodrama and thrusts too much emotional manipulation onto the audience come the final minutes of this film.

Before that point, the first two acts are solid and methodically attentive to both the trials of court room lore and her marriage behind closed doors. The High Court of Justice scenes are gripping and tackle tricky issues of law and morals, family and love, death and life which are beautifully explored in Ian McEwan’s script. This sensitive development of healthcare versus dignity never backs down by taking one side and that makes the dialogue based within the court rooms very interesting to hear.

After the verdict is decided, it isn’t only the melodramatic nature that spoils the film but the scripted behaviour and actions of one character are apparently signs of a forced upbringing but are just strange and make the story a surreal ache to get through. I was totally out of the film by the midst of the third act and any chance of evoking a sad reaction from me was utterly in the wind.

Thompson is as sensational as you’d expect, she has such a great emotive range which is second to none. In her eyes, a thousand words are spoken even when she is just silently listening or contemplating. Tucci doesn’t have a large role but brings a subtlety to his turn as Jack, there’s definitely an interest he portrays of quiet, honest conflict for Fiona’s personal life.

‘The Children Act’ has a lot going for it and with a powerful duo of performances, the story especially in the first stages is dignified and absorbing but after a while, it views like a train coming to a halt but still with a mile of track left to go.

5.5/10

Christopher Robin (2018)

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The stories from A.A Milne have always proved popular with families so it’s no surprise that another iteration of Christopher Robin and friends is out, not long after the more factual release starring Domhnall Gleeson, Disney are back on the Hundred Acre Wood trail and ensure their magical touch runs through this movie.

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has left his childhood and woodland playmates behind for a grey adult life working at a luggage company. He’s losing grip on fun, his daughter Madeline and wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) who just wants him to focus on family and being less stuffy again which is where the stuffed Pooh bear comes in to hopefully get Robin to help him find himself once more.

This film works better for the more innocent eyes, the honey sweetness of the story is thick and sickly that children will undoubtedly lap up. That isn’t to say this child friendly approach to the movie is a negative, it has problems of a befuddling plot and is slightly weird as we’re meant to believe the characters bounding into the city are real. It might just be me but I was hoping that they were just toys and Christopher had a playful imagination that he’d hand down to his daughter but the fact they were actually alive, being seen by London folk was odd.

Pooh is a bear of very big heart and this is a film of very big emotional manipulation. In the final stages the movie especially tries to make the audience well up and gosh darn it they almost succeed, not because the film is sad but because the filmmakers utilise strings in their music and every other cliche expected to force that emotive pang. This is a harsh statement though because aside from that the movie is exceptionally charming.

Winnie’s little doddering walk and his pearls of silly wisdom are cute, Tigger’s colours may be as muted as some of the less sparky earlier moments in the film but his bounce brings a spark into the movie and the funny bone is tickled on occasion by moments like Pooh loving his Pennywise balloon, playing games on a train and Eeyore frankly stealing the show with his unyielding pessimistic attitude of which I relate!

It’s quite a run of the mill Ewan McGregor performance, he’s good but doesn’t really show off major acting chops. He acts opposite the fuzzy CG pals nicely but they do act him off the screen. Jim Cummings vocals for both Winnie and Tigger are exquisite, he’s perfect in giving this cuddly creatures personality and an infectious quality, you can’t help smiling when they’re on screen. Nick Mohammed is Piglet but something about his voice work for the acorn loving pig is askew. There’s also some brilliant cameos from a trio of British comedic talent as a policeman, taxi driver and street salesman.

Disney seem like they’re hoping to echo the ‘Paddington’ success but the saccharine element is too much and there are no stylistic flourishes. Also the story is massively predictable but it’s a gentile watch that does no harm and is a sweet humorous watch.

6/10