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“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” Conjures Magical Monotony

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I had written that with the first Fantastic Beasts film I hoped I wouldn’t need giggle juice to be entertained by the sequel. Forget being entertained. I’m going to need a hefty reference manual to even comprehend the muddy and clunky nature of The Crimes of Grindelwald. I took note of how the audience couldn’t stop whispering among themselves, the common questions being “who is that?” and “when did this happen?”. Here’s a better question: Why must J.K. Rowling’s latest wizarding tale feel like a high school class where nobody read the material and the teacher is having lapses in memory?

Consider how the two plot arcs have a stunning familiarity with the previous picture but with much less charm and comprehension. Magical zoologist Newt Scamander (played meekly by Eddie Redmayne) still can’t be bothered with the politics of the wizarding world, even when his brother comes to him begging to work for the British Ministry of Magic. The organization has their hands full with the sinister wizard Grindelwald (played by a tired and frosted Johnny Depp), having recently escaped prison and seeking to stir up a rebellion of wizards to dominate the world of muggles. But Newt doesn’t like choosing sides in his shy nature, choosing instead to conquer the mountains of feeding his kelp monster and maybe confessing his feelings for American Magic Ministry agent Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston).

This is very much a bridge movie in how it slowly moseys along with its story, never in a rush to make anything happen. A major part of Grindelwald’s scheme is to convince Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) to use his Obscurus parasite to overtake the muggle world. But rather than seek him out directly, Grindelwald lays out an absurdly long plan to stage death and deception to convince Credence to join him. And you better believe he spends the entire film trying to shyly woo the boy to his master plan for riling up wizards as the master race.

When the film isn’t stooped in the lore of Grindelwald and Credence, it’s drowning in the backstories of other characters. Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) is a conflicted wizard that has ties to Credence among her sordid history of feeling like an outsider. Nagini (Claudia Kim), apparently half-woman and half-snake running contrary to her Harry Potter role, also has a dark past that attracts her to Credence. Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) stays even further out of the picture due to the Ministry disapproving of Dumbledore’s no-nonsense chipperness when it comes to the rules. And there’s probably a handful of other wizards weaved into the overblown tapestry of a case that I felt as though I needed a corkboard with pins and string to keep all this together, especially with the rushed and clunky editing.

What could’ve been a pleasing backup was Newt’s whimsical adventuring, once more joined by American muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). While he does showcase a few more of his furry, friendly, and peculiar creatures, including a giant cat easily distracted by feathery toys, his ultimate adventure is a rather tiresome one better suited for a sitcom than a film. Jacob has been unwittingly charmed by his love Queenie (Alison Sudol) into marrying him. Very deceitful. And yet she somehow ends up being the angry one in the relationship, leaving him to go stay with her sister. Thus the adventure is on for Newt and Jacob to win back the ladies in their life by seeking them out and confessing their feelings. Of course, their meetings will once again overlap with Grindelwald’s evil plan, leading to awkward pauses where an infiltration into the Ministry is halted so that Newt can tell Tina her eyes look as beautiful as a salamander.

This movie is so busy with its own magical world building it not only forgets to make the characters interesting but the world itself. Consider how stunning it was to witness the American Ministry of Magic in the 1920s, with its magical tube transportation system and unique methods of interrogation. Newt and company now venture into Paris, France and it feels so very vanilla of the country without many sights to see or magical cultures to take in. This is a film that could really stand to slow down and smell the mythical flowers. Then again, the special effects are not as up to snuff this time around, especially in one scene where monstrous cats transform into harmless felines that look about as believable as a CGI cat in 1999.

Rowling’s wizarding world has become so deeply ingrained into the pop culture that all its whimsy comes off standard atop a very weak and sloppy story. Overloaded with too many backstories and characters, many of which come out of the woodwork with left-field reveals and unconvincing motivations, this is a bore of a fantasy that only the most devout of Potter-heads will be able to sit through. And even then I could tell from the contortion of the timeline that it will exist mostly for fans to complain about how Rowling has gone full George Lucas on her own series. Personally, I couldn’t care less about continuity; just make me care about the adventure and the characters in the now. Rowling has yet to master this spell in her screenwriting.

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.

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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.

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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.

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