Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

By: Kevin Jordan

How to make magic boring.

We are often faced with choices in life that we wish we could go back and choose again. While walking into the screening of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, I was presented with a choice of schwag for the film – would I like a movie poster or a reusable, cloth grocery bag? As a fan of movie posters, I took the poster offered to me. After watching the film, I realize I made a terrible error. As much fun as it would be to poke a thousand thumbtacks through the poster to express my opinion of this movie, I could at least have made use of the grocery bag. I would have turned it inside out to avoid the shame of carrying around an advertisement for the film, but at least its sole purpose wouldn’t have been to rot in a landfill for its entire existence.

(SPOILER ALERT – Despite there being very little plot to speak of, I’m going to speak of it anyway.)

It’s been three and a half years since the last Fantastic Beasts film – The Crimes of Grindelwald – and it’s safe to say quite a bit has happened in real life since then, and is still happening. Suffice it to say, trying to remember anything that happened in Crimes after absorbing recent IRL events is a monumental task. It also doesn’t help that Crimes was so forgettable. In fact, it was so unmemorable that it didn’t even phase me when Mads Mikkelsen appeared in the new film as Gellert Grindelwald, in place of Grindelwald’s former portrayer, Johnny Depp. To be specific, my response was “well, I guess Depp is out.”

The film opens with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) tending to a magical beast called a qilin, underneath a rock arch on top of a mountain. That word is pronounced: chill-in, and, yes, it’s as dumb as it sounds. I chuckled every time it was uttered on screen. That aside, it was nice to see a new creature introduced, since the last film decided to all but abandon the concept of showing us fantastic beasts. This time, the film embraced this new beast by making the qilin the film’s MacGuffin. Newt is there to assist with the birth of a baby (maybe called a chill-y? eh?) but is attacked by a couple of Grindelwald’s hench-wizards, including Credence (Ezra Miller). They kill the mother and steal the baby, leaving Newt unconscious in a river. Newt wakes, returns to the dead mother, and is greeted by a second baby qilin.

Meanwhile, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) meets with Grindelwald at a cafe. They discuss the anti-muggle pact they made when they were young, which Albus chalks up as a mistake he made because he was blinded by his love for Grindelwald. If there is one through-line in all of the Potter-verse, ahem, Wizarding World (try as hard as you want WB, it’ll always be the Potter-verse), it’s that dark wizards are driven by racism as their sole motivation for everything they do. Grindelwald is no exception, as his plan continues to be the subjugation or extermination of muggles. One small problem – Grindelwald is an escaped fugitive and accused murderer being hunted by the wizard cops.

Those two paragraphs intersect to form the mess posing as a plot. As we learned in the previous film, Grindelwald can see bits of the future. This is how he was able to send people to capture the baby qilin. We eventually learn that qilins are used to select the leader of the entire wizarding world. Apparently, qilins can see into the hearts of all people and know who is pure and who is not. To those who are pure, they will bow in respect. In that case, why the hell is anyone campaigning and why are there people advocating for one wizard or another? On top of that, do wizard leaders not keep a qilin in some sort of protected sanctuary that is kept in the public eye, in order to prevent any shenanigans? Nobody is going to question the fact that the qilin being used in the selection isn’t glowing, despite that being a qilin’s defining physical feature? And what happens if the qilin doesn’t bow to anyone? And they say muggles are the inferior ones.

My friend summed up the movie quite nicely, saying “I didn’t care about anything or anyone at any time during this movie.” If any one scene is the epitome of that statement, it’s when we meet the group of people Albus has assembled who are going to try to stop Grindelwald. Returning is Newt’s muggle friend Jacob (Dan Fogler), Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), Lally (Jessica Williams), Yusuf (William Nadylam), and Newt’s assistant Bunty (Victoria Yates). Apparently, all of these characters appeared in the previous film, yet Jacob is the only one that I could remember. It didn’t help that they were all introduced to each other by name in the scene, as if the film is as unfamiliar with them as the audience. But, to my point, I didn’t care that any of them were there either.

Jacob’s charm was stomped on in the last film and is essentially there as trolling of Grindelwald by Dumbledore, if not trolling of the audience by J.K. Rowling. Yusuf is supposed to be a spy, but Grindelwald can see the future, plus Grindelwald has Queenie (Alison Sudol) reading the minds of anyone who comes near. The fact that Yusuf is a spy is literally the first conversation topic between Yusuf and Grindelwald, so what’s his job again? Theseus and Lally are the muscle known as aurors, though Lally should have been pushed from their train for whatever the fuck was the affectation she was going for with her dialogue delivery. Conspicuously missing are Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Albus, though Albus at least has an excuse – he can’t even think about fighting Grindelwald due to their blood pact. All in all, it’s a group that exudes nothing but shrugs throughout the film, mostly due to them barely mattering to the plot.

Speaking of not mattering to the plot, this won’t be the last time we see Grindelwald. Like every film in the Potter-verse, save The Deathly Hallows Part 2, the film ends without concluding anything important. We haven’t met any new, interesting characters and the ones we have met inspire little more than yawns. We haven’t gotten any new story arcs to follow and the main story – dark wizards hate muggles – is as uninteresting as ever. All we’ve seen is a couple of minor subplots conclude and an implicit To Be Continued…

In addition to the film not making us care about anything, it was straight boring. How the fuck do you make a movie about wizards and magical animals boring, J.K.?! All I wanted from this movie was to be entertained for a couple of hours and see a bunch of magic. What I got was a wand fight that might as well have been a laser gun fight (just different colored balls of light flying at each other), a few floating teacups (which we already saw in Beauty and the Beast, so not impressed), and Newt and his brother doing a goofy walk to avoid being attacked by some scorpion-crab things in a dungeon. The most boring movie I’ve ever seen used to have an easy answer. Now, I have to pause before I answer The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back for two movies worth of Potter-verse.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

By: Kevin Jordan

Sooooooo worth the wait.

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Has it already been a year since Star Wars: The Force Awakens?  It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were all giddily applauding the resurrection of one of the greatest and nerdiest movie franchises of all time.  Okay, maybe not all of us – 8% of critics and 11% of audience members (on Rotten Tomatoes) gave it a thumb’s down and probably kicked a puppy for good measure.  For the rest of us, the countdown to Rogue One began the moment the proverbial curtain closed on TFA because, like the addicts we are, we wanted our next fix.  Finally, that clock has hit 00:00:00:00 and we nerds rejoice.

(I will keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but beware.)

My favorite conversation about this movie right now is the bizarre notion that Rogue One is a standalone movie in the Star Wars universe.  If you have been paying even the tiniest bit of attention, you know that this movie can only be a prequel to A New Hope.  The entire plot is how the rebellion manages to steal the plans to the Death Star and (SPOILER ALERT) you know they succeed because A New Hope opens with Princess Leia hiding those plans in R2-D2.  If you somehow forgot that or didn’t know it, you probably aren’t going to watch this movie anyway.

On a related topic, I predicted that everyone was going to die by the end of Rogue One because of a line spoken in the original trilogy by Mon Mothma – “Many bothans died to bring us this information.”  I would have sworn that this came from A New Hope and I think most people believed that as well (I confirmed this by asking several people about it).  As it turns out, that line was said in Return of the Jedi and was referencing Death Star II.  Whoops.  I’m not going to tell you how right or wrong I was, but I will say I wasn’t surprised at any death in this film because of my prediction.  I’m telling you this so you don’t make the same mistake.  The impressive thing about this film is that the characters were written so well that, even though I was expecting them all to die, I still hoped they would all pull through.  You know what I mean – every time you watch A New Hope there’s a small part of you that thinks Obi-Wan will hightail it out of there rather than letting Darth Vader kill him.

More.

More.

The most important thing you need to know about this movie is that fix you’ve been waiting for is the equivalent of mixing Viagra with Ecstasy while drinking absinthe and consuming edibles – all through a firehose.  There are AT-ATs, AT-STs, and death troopers.  There are TIE fighters, X-Wings, Y-Wings, star destroyers hovering over cities, and the Death Star rising over the horizon.  There is a new snarky droid (K-2SO), a new evil imperial commander (Orson Krennic), a new roguish pilot (Cassian Andor, who is dressed like a Han Solo worshipper), a new orphaned hero (Jyn Erso), and a new guy who might be a Jedi (Chirrut Imwe).  There are even familiar characters making cameos (Vader, to name one) or prominently featured (Grand Moff Tarkin).  It’s so much Star Wars that you’ll practically float through the next year waiting for Episode VIII.

MORE!

MORE!

You also need to know that the action in this flick is fairly limited.  Where TFA was almost non-stop fireworks finale, Rogue One saves almost all of the action for its actual finale.  That doesn’t mean things don’t happen, but not everything is draped in explosions and lasers.  It’s a nice change and gives the audience the ability to really admire the detail and care put it into realizing these places.  In other words, the special effects are so amazing that I’m half convinced that Disney created a wormhole to this galaxy, sent a camera crew through, and is literally just filming what is happening there.  If you don’t get shivers when you see the Death Star rising over the horizon of the planet in the finale…you…I just…bruised puppies.

Aaaahhhhhhhhh. That's the stuff.

Aaaahhhhhhhhh. That’s the stuff.

Another positive of reducing the action is we get to know the characters better and these actors shine.  Jyn (Felicity Jones) is exactly that mix of Skywalker and Solo without being quite as optimistic as Rey in TFA.  Cassian (Diego Luna) is the type of intense character that you now realize has been missing from a rebellion.  Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is just as loathsome an imperial commander as we like, though not as coldly evil as Tarkin, but far more intimidating than General Hux.  Then there’s K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Cassian’s droid companion, who arguably steals the show.  K-2 provides the vast majority of the comic relief, but is also the trusty sidekick (to everyone, really).  Speaking of sidekicks, Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) provide the muscle, with Imwe appearing to be a quasi-Jedi, praying to the force and kicking ass, but with no light saber to be found.  Make of him what you will.  Rounding out the cast, we have Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) – an extremist rebel, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) – imperial defector, and Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) – Death Star designer.  All three are good secondary characters, though Galen and Saw get very little screen time.  That might seem like too many characters, but Saw was the only one that felt underutilized/underdeveloped to me.

We've been a waiting for you.

We’ve been a waiting for you.

The last thing you need to know is that this movie is drawing comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back and rightly so.  The movie is serious for far more of its running time than its brethren, with only a minimal amount of comic relief (but very well-timed comic relief).  The ratio of action to non-action is perfect for me, though I’ll understand if some folks get a little fidgety through the first half of the film (put the gigantic soda down).  And, again, those special effects…just wow (though one little facial rendering at the end of the movie proves we still have work to do with human faces).  As much as I liked TFA, I liked this one more simply because we got more of the nerdy stuff that we haven’t seen since the original trilogy, but wanted more of (like the Death Star doing Death Star things).  Like I said, the year was more than worth the wait and you will most likely agree.  If not, just leave the puppies alone.

Rating: Sooooooo worth more than the price of admission.

Doctor Strange

By: Kevin Jordan

Starring Bunsonburner Cucumberpatch.

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If you are a fan of BBC’s Sherlock and haven’t laughed like a hyena lately, check out the ways people have gotten his name wrong (intentionally and unintentionally).  What I love is that everybody knows who we’re talking about – as is mentioned several times in that link – and you probably read right past me referring to just ‘him’ without a second thought.  That’s the power of Bartleby Scratchanitch and might be why he’s been cast in seemingly every movie for the past five years.  And not just random movies for paychecks either.  He’s starred in The Hobbit trilogy, Star Trek: Into Darkness, several prestige films, cameoed in TV shows and other movies, was nominated for best actor as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, given us possibly the best Sherlock Holmes portrayal in history, and now is playing a prominent superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – Doctor Strange.  He’s like Nicholas Cage, but getting roles that Cage can’t even sniff at any more (also, Shaggypants is a much better actor).

If he hadn’t already played Sherlock, I would have been skeptical of Bishandchips being cast as a super hero.  As it is, casting him as an acerbic, arrogant, superhero who has to learn some humility is pretty much par for his course, especially since Robert Downey Jr. is already Iron Man.  Much like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange is another unknown Marvel property that exceeds expectations partly because of superb casting.  In addition to Biddlebosh, Doctor Strange features Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams.  Wait…that can’t be right – they got four Oscar nominated actors and a James Bond villain in this movie?  Holy $#%^.  Also, they were all really, really good.

(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Perhaps the trickiest component of the film was giving the audience a character with an origin story that seems far more suited to a Harry Potter movie than an MCU film.  In a nutshell, Strange is a surgeon who loses his livelihood after a car accident maims his hands.  In desperation, he goes to Nepal to track down some magicians after Benjamin Bratt explains how they helped him heal from paralysis.  Yes, that Benjamin Bratt.  Strange learns magic, is taught about the infinite universes (multiverse) by The Ancient One (Swinton), and trains with Mordo (Ejiofor) in a Hogwarts-like setting.  Except without all the dragons and elves.  But, there is a lot of hand waving and library scenes.  And magical circles and teleportation.  If not Potter, then at least The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Huh….Cage…anyway.

Dumbledore looks weird bald.

Dumbledore looks weird bald.

Strange learns that this group is charged with keeping the Earth safe from a world-eating cloud monster (Dormamu) from another universe and Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to help Dormamu eat the Earth by destroying the three buildings on Earth that keep him at bay.  I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous and it is.  But it also works within the context of this film, as well as the MCU.  And because this movie is following a classic playbook (the hero’s journey), Strange rejects the quest at first (he just wants to heal his hands), then reluctantly agrees to fight for the cause.  I’m not saying it’s a great plot.  In fact, there are plenty of faulty pieces that would have been much more glaring if the other components of the movie didn’t make up for it.  For all you pouty DC fans, a couple of examples are Strange’s cape is very inconsistent (it’s alive…or something, and protects him…sometimes), the mirror universe seems to be there strictly for Inception-y special effects (they can bend buildings in there), and why doesn’t Kaecilius steal some other powerful artifacts and books in addition to the two pages from one book he steals at the beginning of the movie?  I mean they’re literally just sitting out in the open.  There, happy now?

In the mirror universe, Leonardo DiCaprio is still dreaming.

In the mirror universe, Leonardo DiCaprio is still dreaming.

Even though they left some things underdeveloped and even though making the noob fight the most powerful and dangerous entity in all the universes seems a tad clichéd, the movie is still immensely entertaining.  Like all MCU movies, the comedic relief hits every mark, things introduced early on have importance later in the movie, the romantic subplot between Strange and Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) doesn’t feel trite, the chemistry between Strange and Mordo is great, and Swinton crushes every scene she’s in, even when she’s fight-acting.  I didn’t know she could do that.  The movie even manages to include a “crossing the streams moment” that works on multiple levels.  Yes, it’s a deus ex machina, but Marvel manages to make it fun instead of eye-rolling.

And she didn't even say hi-yah.

And she didn’t even say hi-yah.

So, what do I think of it overall?  Well, I can’t just completely dismiss those earlier complaints.  But, with a cast including Bumpysplash and a summer filled with middling popcorn flicks, we’ve been looking forward to this movie for months, so it automatically gets a little slack.  Not to mention expectations were high because Marvel hasn’t whiffed on any of their films since The Incredible Hulk.  But most importantly, Barslap Cooneylatch was so good and fun that the movie could have been much worse and I still would have forgiven it.  Luckily, it wasn’t.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, and thanks to Binneyloon Crazypants for having such an awesome name (and being a great sport about it).