Tag Archives: sequel

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

[2.5 stars]

What a bloody mess this movie is.

Director David Yates (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) tried to make up for the lack of script by going with lots of pretty effects, which are impressive, but often add little to the story. And even a lot of that eye candy was hard to watch and took very little advantage of the technologies in Atmos or big screen. What story there is from JK Rowling, is practically impossible to follow.

I’ll admit that I didn’t have much hope going in. The first Fantastic Beasts was a visual feast, but not a great movie either; it was really just all set-up. This second of the five planned chapters had to kick it up a gear and get things really rolling. I had hoped for at least a fun distraction and the next chapter in the story, but instead got a half-baked idea full of plot holes and pointless characters. Just a ridiculous waste of time. Even though the cast gave it their all, the story and the final cut did them no service.

Jude Law (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Johnny Depp (Sherlock Gnomes), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) all bring their talents to bear. Admittedly, none bring anything particularly new to screen, but certainly they do well. However, other returning characters added nothing to their stories. Even Ezra Miller (Suicide Squad) was practically a prop, with no appreciable moments despite being at the center of it all.

But you may have noticed that there are no women in that list. This movie, despite the current cultural wave and a female demigod of entertainment at one of the  helms, is driven entirely by men. Worse, the women that were strong in the first movie are made into weak ones in this. Zoë Kravitz (Kin), Katherine Waterston (Alien: Covenant), and in particular Alison Sudol (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) were all made into side characters or dumbed down into thin representations. And the one gift character, Claudia Kim (Avengers: Age of Ultron), despite her power, was just window dressing.

Here’s the thing with successful franchises like Harry Potter: If you want to continue the stories, you have to continue those stories or risk losing your rabid following. Such was the risk with Fantastic Beasts when it left Potter, if not Hogwarts and all the characters, behind. [Need proof? Search for Harry Potter on Netflix and Fantastic Beasts doesn’t even appear, though it does eventually on Amazon Prime]. It can be done, but it takes excellent writing and some patience. And I certainly understand Rowling’s desire to not be hemmed in or defined so narrowly that she can leave her pseudonyms and write something new under her name, even if it is derivative of her best known opus. But she clearly needed more time to craft this new epic. The first movie was tolerable and had promise. This second plays like half an outline that was rushed out. And there was so much potential given where the world is at present. FB2 is neither a kid’s film nor an adult one. But, hey, on the up side, it is also long.

Seriously, this is for die-hards only. It will probably continue on, but hopefully Rowling will realize she needs help and the studio will insist on getting her some going forward. Because, if this is the quality we’re going to get for the rest of the series, they might as well quit now.

 

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

[2.5 stars]

When Stieg Larsson died in 2004, he left us all hanging on the intended fate of Lisbeth Salander. His first three books weren’t the entire journey he’d envisioned. His fourth book will never see the light of day due to legal stupidity and family greed. And the final six lived only in his head. However, his remaining legal family licensed out the characters and commissioned more books, starting with The Girl in the Spider’s Web. I refused to support the ongoing book series, but I couldn’t resist checking out the movie. I wish I had.

Despite some real effort on the part of Claire Foy (First Man), this is a hollow movie with no heart at the core. The gap is in the plot and the script, which assume you know the previous stories (and are willing to forget parts of it as well). The story also veers radically from the central drives for Salandar and her relationships in the world.

This is most notable with Sverrir Gudnason (The Circle), who does a fine job of acting, but he isn’t Blomkvist. He’s far to young and pretty. And he has no emotional thread to grasp; though one is indicated in the script, the story isn’t there. He is a complicated man with complicated relationships, not just a foil or convenience with which to move the plot. Even the usually entertaining hacker Plague, Cameron Britton (Mindhunter), was somewhat flat in this story.

Three new characters were introduced into the series. Stephen Merchant (Logan) probably had the most levels to play with because the writers had to give him a story; we knew nothing about him from the beginning and it is his actions that start the plot. On the other hand Lakeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You) is OK, but sort of cookie-cutter American NSA from a European point of view. The writers assumed actions would obviate the need for character on his part. They were wrong.

More surprising was the lack of a character for Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049) playing Lisbeth’s sister. Forgetting how this and the rest of the revised/ignored backstory affects the series canon, there were rich possibilities for this woman, none of which were plumbed.

Director and co-writer Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) did a beautiful visual job with the film. He also managed to capture the Swedish emotional sense with a lot of the characters. But he failed to recognize the weaknesses in the script and fight for better. And he allowed cliche to triumph over effort by some of his cast.

So the core issues of this come back to the script by writers Steven Knight (November Criminals) and Jay Basu. It feels like they took a passing knowledge of the books and decided to take those characters and throw them into a standard story. There is a small nod to the core of Salander’s, saving women or reacting to injustice, but that is simply there as a short grace note before dropping her into a Bond-like story that just isn’t a good fit and doesn’t further her purpose. However, and in some ways worse, some of the law enforcement research is awful, making the Swedish police and secret service into idiots.

So, to sum up, this is a somewhat mediocre action film and a very poor continuation of the Millennium series. Foy does a game job capturing the character, but never really gets to emotionally explore or expand her. As a stand-alone flick, without any knowledge of the base tale, you’d be watching a rather empty action movie with some clever bits to it. And there are some good moments and aspects, but this could have been a triumph, especially in the current climate. I’ll leave it to you whether or not to spend you time with it.

Halloween (2018)

[3.5 stars]

This sequel is different than most. One of its most radical choices is that it discarded every film that followed the 1978 original, even those with Jamie Lee Curtis in them, to give us a different follow-up and one more fitting for the times. The depiction of a woman under threat and not being believed becomes a metaphor made manifest. The result is a bit more than a slasher flick…but not much. Though it tried to subvert that formula, it ended up bowing to the weight of expectation and gave in a bit too often.

Along with Curtis Judy Greer (Wilson) and Andi Matichak as her daughter and granddaughter add some generational expansion and views. And there is a host of potential and realized fodder with some nice talent throughout, including Virginia Gardner (Runaways) and Dylan Arnold (Mudbound) for some nice teenage hijinks. The rest of the cast is good. But then there was Haluk Bilginer’s (Rosewater) shrink, who fills the hole left by the late Donald Pleasence. Like Dr. Loomis, he is an obsessive with his own agenda. This is also where the script is at its weakest and moves the furthest from its updated feel. But none of it is far from the genre.

Director and co-writer David Gordon Green (Your Highness) was a mere 3 years old when the original Halloween hit screens in 1978 and spawned a 40 year franchise. Despite growing up with the sequels, he really managed to make it his own but with nods to both the original and the sequels as we knew them. Stylistically, however, it fits right in with the original. The script, co-written with Danny McBride (Hell and Back) and Jeff Fradley shows a real love for the series and the horror experience. It isn’t brilliant, but it manages a few surprises and some grounded aspects to its plotting.

As a side note, I’ve been watching a number of conversations about why horror is making such a come-back these days. One explanation is that horror is best experienced with others in a theater, that is more fun and satisfying that way. Sure, I’ll give you that, but I think it has more to do with our current state of the world. As with during the Cold War, people want safe ways to feel scared and in control. Then it was primarily scifi monsters. There is also a new trend in horror (Get Out, Quiet Place, It), that takes itself seriously as film, not just pulp. Halloween doesn’t rise to that level, though it certainly takes itself a half-step above pure slasher film by the end very cleverly.

For the heck of it, I also decided to see this in one of AMC’s new Dolby theaters, assuming that sound was more important than visuals for this kind of skin crawl and seat jump film. I have to say, the visuals and sound are pretty astounding. While it doesn’t quite have the visual scope of IMAX, it certainly has impact. If you’re wanting to try it out, pick a film like this one to try it out where you are less invested and think sound will be impactful.

But back to the film in question. If you like this kind of horror or just have a penchant for Halloween, you’ll have fun with this. I wish it had been a little more, but I definitely had fun and appreciated the result.

Predator (2018)

[3.5 stars]

The first Predator was popcorn malicious monster mayhem. Then there were a few…let’s just say misfires with a brief the amusement of AVP.  Shane Black (The Nice Guys) and co-writer Fred Dekker (Monster Squad) bring back the action and enhance the humor to bring us a silly romp with lots of fun and, actually, moderated gore despite all the violence. They even open the story with clear nods back to the first movie to anchor us before it starts to veer off. The resulting plot is very much a sequel, but with a reboot feel.

The latest collection of misfit commandos are led by Boyd Holbrook (Logan), who brings brains and brawn to our defenders. But, of course, they are defending against monsters of both alien and human-kind. The latter led by Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther) who chews and chews the scenery until it is a fine, pulpy mass. Fighting alongside Holbrook is a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of souls.  Thomas Jane (AXL), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Trevante Rhodes (Song to Song), Keegan-Michael Key (Why Him?), and Augusto Aguilera are all more than a little forced (for humor, more than anything else) but they do entertain.

And then there are the outliers that try to broaden the plot and give it a bit more meat. You’ll have to decide for yourself how credibly that is achieved. Jacob Tremblay (Book of Henry) and Yvonne Strahovski (I, FrankensteinHandmaid’s Tale) are each fine in their roles as Holbrook’s semi-estranged family. Tremblay is a bit inconsistent, but Strahovski gets in some good levels. Finally, there is Olivia Munn (Ocean’s 8) who gets to kick some butt and have some fun, but not really much of a purpose. And this is where the movie lost some of its rating for me. There are a lot of intentions toward a complex plot, but not much delivery, just lip service.

Basically, the trick with this film is to not look too closely. Despite many attempts to bring story and explanation to the tale, and some very self-conscious exposition (purposefully done), the story doesn’t really hold up to close inspection. That said, when do they ever? This is entertainment, pure and simple, with a sequel setup and the likely event of there being more to come. It does manage to recreate the fun of the first film again. I laughed, I flinched, and I enjoyed the heck out of the hunt and tech. But this isn’t groundbreaking, just entertaining (which, honestly, can be enough).

The Predator

Cardinal: Blackfly Season (series 2)

[3 stars]

The first series for Cardinal was highly personal, very twisted and very bloody. This second series picks up the story where it left off with Billy Campbell (Modus) and Karine Vanasse (Revenge) putting their lives back together and expanding their partnership to catch killers. And, yes, this one is as gruesome as the first, though with considerably fewer unknowns.

Campbell’s story this round revolves around the return of his wife and the challenges of mental illness. Vanasse’s story is less clear this time and, frankly, rather side-lined. Overall, this felt like a transition series where the writers were trying to get the characters to a new place, but chose not to jump there. Instead, we are taking the long journey. While that works with a darker, slower-paced show like Wallander, it made this series drag a bit with a lack of energy, despite all the events.

On the wrong side of the law are two rather chilling, and very different, sociopaths embodied by Bruce Ramsay (Behind the Candleabra) and Dan Petronijevic (19-2). Unfortunately on this side of the story, though we also have Alex Paxton-Beesley (Copper) and Jonathan Keltz (Reign), there is nothing much sympathetic about any of them. The result is that we don’t invest overmuch in the outcomes. In the first series, we had characters to care about on all sides, so this was a definitely step backwards.

The series remains hard to get a hold of, but I expect it will eventually get wider distribution as it is about to go into its third series on CBC. If you like the darker suspense mysteries, this is one to add to your queue.

Cardinal Poster

Escape Plan 2: Hades

[2.5 stars]

The first Escape Plan was silly at best, but it boasted the buddying up of Stallone (Creed) and Schwarzenegger. This sequel dropped Arnold and added Dave Bautista (Blade Runner 2049), sort of. The two headliners are really more in the side action than the main plot.

The real focus of the story is Xiaoming Huang. He certainly has the martial arts chops for the role, but he isn’t the most emotive. Established as Stallone’s protege, he spends portions of the film “hearing” Stallone in his head. Let’s just say that Stallone’s voice isn’t the most mellifluous nor the most understandable inner voice to listen to as Huang’s companion.

Wes Chatham (The Expanse), along with Jesse Metcalfe (Dallas) are the primary players fighters alongside Huang. And Chenying Tang is there to add some level of story to it all…admittedly not much of one. The biggest, and oddest, surprise was Titus Welliver (Bosch) in a small but pivotal role. I’m guessing he took it for the action opportunity because, despite trying to add some depth to his character, there just isn’t much there to work with. Basically, a waste of his talents.

Stallone clearly sets this up for a third installment (Escape Plan 3: Devil’s Station now in post-production), in some kind of a weird trilogy. If they can get some better writing and not wait too long between releases, they might pull this story back on track. However, I suspect it will continue to diminish over time given that this went straight to video and it is the same writer again.

If you just want some clever ideas and occasional moments of nicely choreographed fights, it isn’t an intolerable 90 minutes, but you could do much better.

Escape Plan 2: Hades

The Tunnel: Vengeance (series 3)

[4.5 stars]

Much like the recent finale of The Bridge, the creators of its spin-off, The Tunnel: Vengeance, knew this was the last visit we would have in this world. It gave them the freedom to remove all the typical boundaries and safeguards. While the two shows paralleled each other up through the end in many ways, they diverged greatly as well, each becoming distinct despite sharing the same roots.

The Bridge had only a few characters that lasted from start to finish as the consequences of its plots mounted up. The Tunnel chose to follow the same characters through all three, complex stories changing the trajectories of the interactions. But, in both cases, it is the female lead that became the fascinating center of it all, even when the story was being told from another’s point of view. In The Tunnel, that was Clémence Poésy (The Tunnel) whose Elise, though a riff on The Bridge’s Saga, was very much her own character and with her own history. While a great deal of the Tunnel is driven by her partner, Stephen Dillane (The Darkest Hour, Game of Thrones), she is the one we fall for and care about. In part that is because she is the injured and blameless one. Dillane, like his inciting counterpart in Bridge, is quite a bit more flawed. While each influences the other over the course of the series, their base natures remain the same.

Expanded roles for a number of the minor characters were welcome in this sequence as well. William Ash (The Loch) and Juliette Navis, in particular, get to expand on a complicated and often funny interaction.

The Tunnel is a rare instance of a spin-off being as good as the original and finding its own way. For its finale, it even brought in new creative talent behind the scenes, which reinvigorated the storyline without violating the feeling of it all. It is, like its origins, decidedly dark and the events and plans byzantine, to say the least. However, it is driven by humanity and by refreshingly flawed heroes. If you haven’t caught this series or its inspiration yet, do. If you’ve been following it, you won’t be disappointed by its conclusion.

The Tunnel

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

[4 stars]

The MI series is known for huge stunts, dry humor, and cheap emotion. This sixth installment is no exception on that front, though writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation) does something a little special this time around. Fallout is brings back in Ian Hunt’s past and nods to several previous MI movies. It also manages to give a little more story time and weight to the rest of Hunt’s team, taking some of the pressure off of Tom Cruise (The Mummy) and enriching the series.

I have to admit, I was a bit worried as the movie started. Some of the choices and moments were less than nuanced and the “secrets” were bloody obvious. But it (mostly) gets past all of that by the end. Henry Cavill (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is suitably odd in his role, though I struggled with him at time. Ving Rhames (MI:5) actually got to out screen Simon Pegg (Ready Player One) this round in many ways. And the return of Sean Harris (Macbeth) was a nice touch to keep the world alive. Finally, though in a small role, Wes Bentley (Pete’s Dragon) does subtle and nice work that is almost all throw-away, but great to watch.

While this is still a heavily male dominated series, there were several strong female characters, each with their own stories as well. Rebecca Ferguson (Greatest Showman) gets to reprise her role and continue her and Hunt’s odd dance, as does Angela Bassett (Black Panther). Frustratingly, Bassett is the least credible of the characters thanks to the writing. The return of Michelle Monaghan (Sleepless) was an interesting choice by McQuarrie to flesh out Cruise’s life as Hunt. The addition, and far too little screen time, of Vanessa Kirby (The Dresser) was a nice treat too. I imagine we’ll be seeing much more of Kirby in the the next installment…and that installment is inevitable given the praises and dollars this movie has already garnered.

If you like the MI series, this fast-paced 2.5 hour adventure is a worthy addition to the collection. In many ways it is the best movie of the bunch, if not always the best MI story. Much like Equalizer 2, Cruise and McQuarrie are revitalizing the series by making it more personal while still holding onto most of the bare bones of its origins. Things still go wrong, spectacularly in some cases. The stakes are ridiculously high. The tech is important, but not always the answer. The world is mostly unaware of the craziness going on around them and shaping their lives. But deep underneath it all are a group of increasingly more human agents trying to do the right thing for the right reasons despite the politicos and evil-doers around them.

As escapist adventure with a bit of heart, this is probably the best popcorn film of the summer. And that’s what summer movie going is often for: escapism. So go, gasp, and escape for a couple hours.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Mama Mia! Here We Go Again

[3.5 stars]

Here we go again, indeed. And why the hell not? Sure, it is treacly pointlessness with a beat, but it is certainly a welcome break from reality. This installment does suffer a bit from sequel-itis in that it is a bit less focused and not quite “new,” but the cast and production throw themselves into the story to bring it all nicely full-circle.

The original cast return, picking up where they left off, but the real focus is very much in the past. Lily James (The Darkest Hour) as the young Meryl Streep (The Post) is magnetic and wonderful. And Jessica Keenan Wynn, in particular, nails Christine Baranski (Into the Woods) beautifully.

What is most interesting, at least for me, was watching how director/writer Ol Parker (Now is Good) structured the movie to get the effect he wanted. The initial songs and performances are purposefully lack-luster to leave room for the bigger and better-known numbers and stars later on. The first 15-20 minutes of the movie is all about breaking down the happy ending of the previous film so the characters have something to fight for. The inter-cuts from past to present are expertly and interestingly woven together. And the drive to the finale is inevitable. The rhythm builds like Grand Budapest Hotel, compressing as we get closer to the ending.

But therein lies the rub. For me, the film never quite peaked. We’re promised a huge finale, and there is a nice emotional one on some levels, but we never quite have the musical finale we deserve. Think The Greatest ShowmanMoulin Rouge, or Across the Universe or just about any Broadway show. And I say this especially because Cher (Burlesque) was in the mix. The fault really lies with the music arrangements. In every case they seem to hang back or back off the blow-out ending. Whether that was to accommodate the actor’s abilities or to keep Cher from stealing away the film, I don’t know, but it was very palpable for me. The trailers had more showmanship for me than the movie itself.

All that said, the two hour diversion was welcome and entertaining. If you liked the first, you’ll like returning for the second. There is a sweet story, both romantic and personal, being told and ABBA’s music remains unavoidably foot-tapping. Just stay through to the end of the credits for a final, short scene.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Sherlock Gnomes

[3 stars]

This sequel to the silly, but adorable, Gnomeo and Juliet is aimed at the same audience as its predecessor (15 and under). That isn’t to say that the riffs on Sherlock, and a dozen or more other shows and movies, aren’t entertaining for adults but it is thin feasting between those moments. However, the message of partnership and equality is a bit more palatable than most animated films aimed at this age group, which tend to fall into cringworthy cliché when it comes to relationships and roles.

Like the first, this also boasts amazing voice talent, adding Johnny Depp (Murder on the Orient Express), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange), Michael Caine (Going in Style), Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Matt Lucas (Doctor Who), Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), and Julie Walters (Brooklyn) to a hoard of others whose names are less recognizable. James McAvoy (Atomic Blonde) and Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) reprised their un-starcrossed lovers to complete the cast.

This is John Stevenson’s (Kung Fu Panda) second feature from the director’s seat. He doesn’t break new ground, but he keeps up the pace and finds some solid moments. However, it isn’t for a broad audience like, say, The Incredibles, so approach with caution and ready distraction as you keep your younger companions company (or that necessary large glass of happy juice to launch a mindless evening of entertainment).

Sherlock Gnomes