Friday, November 16

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Dir: David Yates

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Claudia Kim, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law

“You’ve never met a monster you couldn’t love.” This sentiment, proclaimed during a titular scene in the continuing wizard saga “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, is the perfect description for the film and its author/screenwriter J.K. Rowling. This sequel is a monster, a rapturous beast that devours scenery without much rhyme or reason with its abundance of ideas. You can also feel its creators undying admiration and love for the material and characters. Regardless of how unwieldy and overstuffed the film becomes with its shifting plot elements, drifting characters, and magical creatures, it’s clear Ms. Rowling has generated one monster of a movie. 

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) trains, collects, and cares for magical creatures of varying size and magical specialty. Newt, when we last ventured with him, had just thwarted a plan from a powerful wizard, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who was trying to engage war and chaos between the non-magic world and the magic world. Grindelwald, while being transferred from the United States to Europe to stand trial for his crimes, escapes and reignites his plot to form a world ruled by pure blood wizards. It is up to Newt and his pals to fight this evil force once again.

Director David Yates continues to mold his aesthetic over every frame of the film, creating an environment that clearly exists within the structure Mr. Yates has already established during his run with the Harry Potter franchise. With its 1920’s style, deep black and dreary gray visual palette, and flashy special effects laden action, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a fun film to look at, especially when it unleashes all manner of beasts all over the screen. One scene involving a monster that can only be described as a Chinese New Year dragon, provides the fierce yet cute factor that has come to describe most monsters within the wizarding world established by J.K. Rowling. 

While the film is constantly trying to connect viewers to the sentiments felt during the Harry Potter films, we are provided a visit back to Hogwarts and the inclusion of an old friend Albus Dumbledore played by Jude Law, the journey here feels more convoluted and purposefully mysterious. The questions asked during the first film are not any closer to being answered, instead we are provided with more questions and more mysteries needing to be solved. The awe and wonder of the magic spells and enchanted beings typically found within this world feels more ornamental here, a backdrop that will step in when needed to introduce a new character subplot or fill a quick narrative plot hole. The excitement and tension of spell casting, with wands at the ready, now feels like the simple mumbling and whispering of words. 

However, what hurts this film most is its need to expand the universe and engage in more material to elongate this story. Grindelwald, introduced in the final moments of the first film, is slowly rising to power with new followers and new plans that center on a powerful character with an unknown origin. Romantic storylines take greater shape with the primary characters, centering on love lost and love discovered. New characters are introduced and are featured heavily within the main story of the film, adding complications to themes associated with the past and directly influencing matters of the future. And within all of this is the story of Newt and his fantastic beasts; it’s a lot to handle and direct in one film. You can sense early that more sequels will be needed to complete the story loops. It makes it hard to find perspective with a piece of work if you are only given the frame to work with, the vessel that would transport characters from one solution to another is never present with the film. 

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” still has some great characters that shine when given the opportunity. Eddie Redmayne is awkward and indecisive in very charming ways and Katherine Waterston does a great job of playing off Redmayne’s strangeness as the the head strong love interest. Johnny Depp plays the villain here, and while there is nothing wrong with the performance, the character of Grindelwald just never feels threatening in the composition of everything happening.

David Yates and J.K. Rowling clearly understand that this franchise will need more time, more characters, and more fantastic beasts to find its closure. And while, when it’s all said and done, we may look back and see how this film piece fits into the whole puzzle, currently it’s easier to find the crimes than the fantastic with this film. 

Monte’s Rating 

2.50 out of 5.00

Friday, November 9

Boy Erased Review

Boy Erased

Dir: Joel Edgerton

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Madelyn Cline, and Joel Edgerton

For many of us, the correlation of “erasing” something is in direct reference to righting a mistake, correcting something that didn’t turn out how we perceived. “Boy Erased” is a film exactly about that, though in a far more horrific and inhumane way. What is being “erased” in this film isn’t a mistake on an art project or a misspelled word on a hand-written letter, it’s the identity of a young man who is struggling with his sexuality and the conflicts it has on his faith. The people doing the “erasing” are his parents through a conversion therapy program. “Boy Erased” is a horror film in the most reality driven way.

Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is a college student with loving parents who have supported him in every aspect of life. His father Marshall (Russell Crowe) is a car dealership owner and a minister in the local church, his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) is a proud wife and even prouder mother. Jared, trying desperately to keep his secret, is forced to come out to his parents. They are not receptive and through guidance from members of their church Jared is sent to the “Love in Action” program, a conversion therapy program. 

The film is based on the memoir of Garrard Conley and adapted for the screen by Joel Edgerton who also directs and stars in this film. Mr. Edgerton, who proved his skill behind the camera with the 2015 thriller “The Gift”, shapes “Boy Erased” with a jumping narrative that switches from the past into the present. It helps in quickly establishing the key moments that lead to Jared’s stay at “Love in Action”. Unfortunate , here also lies the problem with the film. The aspects of the past that are explored during the film are so neatly packaged that its easy to lose sight of the complications that would exist with a family so committed to their faith that they lose sight of their own son’s physical and mental well-being. Lost is the emotional conflict for the family who aren’t necessarily bad people, Nancy has a few moments of doubt, as they are being guided by the structure and views of their faith and other people who have no connection to Jared. 

Still, the performances are what transcend the simplistic designs of the character and narrative. Lucas Hedges does a great job of displaying the concerns that exist with his decision of embracing his feelings and committing to a wayward treatment for the comfort of his family structure. Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman are equally good too; Mr. Crowe offers a convincingly staunch approach to the portrayal and Ms. Kidman does a great job of being the compassionate mother who is skeptical of the entire process but is bound to the hierarchy that exists within her religious foundation. Joel Edgerton plays the leader of the therapy center, it’s a character who epitomizes the hatred that exists with those who are unwilling to accept people regardless of their differences.

“Boy Erased” has some truly disturbing and troubling moments, a scene of sexual assault and the abandonment seen in Jared’s eyes when he reveals his feelings to his family are completely heartrending. Joel Edgerton never tries to sensationalize the drama during this film, instead, the director quietly guides the viewer into the situation and diverts from the perils that may exist along the way. The film makes a point about the terrible things that happen every day in America, both inside terror facilities like conversion therapy clinics but also the misfortune that enters the home with parents and friends who are unaccepting of the feelings and emotions of others. While the narrative could have pushed for more insight and observation of Jared and his family’s journey, the effort being presented in “Boy Erased” is well-intentioned. Sometimes you don’t need ghosts or masked killers to bring horror to life, sometimes reality is all the monster you need.

Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

Overlord Review


Dir: Julius Avery

Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbaek, and John Magaro

A convoy of American war ships and transport planes are traveling on the sea and through the sky with Germany in its sights. It’s the night before D-Day, a billowing cloud of smoke erupts with explosions that illuminate the sky as combat planes fad into the abyss of artillery clouds. A group of soldiers, fresh out of boot camp, nervously wait for their call to parachute into battle. In a blink, bullets riddle the airplane and chaos overtakes the company. The adrenaline fueled, absolutely terrifying, chaos of war. 

Director Julius Avery and writing team Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith introduce their crossover genre film “Overlord” with an emphasis on real life atrocities and the terror of combat. However, the team also isn’t too concerned with making a full-blown war film but rather focus their attention on crafting a fright fest. “Overlord” utilizes many of the awful aspects of war to make its point about monsters; the captivity, the torture, and the maniacal control make perfect sense when crossing paths with horror.

Boyce (Jovan Adepo) and Ford (Wyatt Russell) are two paratroopers who survive the fall to earth after their plane is destroyed over the combat zone. Their mission is to take down a Nazi controlled radio tower that sits atop a hill outside a nearby village. Boyce, trying to connect with other members of his platoon, gets forced into the radio tower station which is completely occupied by Nazi soldiers. Boyce discovers a laboratory beneath the tower where a scientist is conducting terrifying experiments on locals from the village and captured soldiers. 

“Overlord”, amidst some nasty bits of human experimentation, torture, and assault, is operating to induce the same sensation one might feel while playing an intense round of team deathmatch in a multiplayer first-person video game. And, unfortunately, just like the sporadic and fleeting nature of video game shooters, the thrill is short lived. That’s the major issue with “Overlord”, it seldom commits towards embracing the frenetic and frightening pace it achieves in very small doses, specifically the first and final 15 minutes of the film which are fantastic. It lingers in moments of needless exposition and meaningless side missions, these moments undercut the thrill achieved in the introduction and take away from the building excitement of entering a madhouse of horror. 

However, when the film unleashes into action sequences, with all of its monster mayhem and breakneck brutality, the film is an absolute crowd pleaser. The intensity of the terror, when it pushes into this realm, is such a good time. It feels like your favorite video game with the gun fights, the exploration and finding of clues inside different environments, and the stalking through dingy tunnels and darkened hiding places. While this technique doesn’t allow for the best character development, there are still a few highlighted performances specifically from lead Jovan Adepo who controls the balance of showing humanity versus turning into the monsters he is fighting. Also, Mathilde Ollivier, playing a French freedom fighter, does a nice job wielding a flame thrower and showing the soldiers she can fight just like them.

“Overlord” struggles in finding the path and tone it wants to take, combining the war and horror genre was the best choice here because neither story in this film was strong enough to exist on their own. Still, there are many genre film fans who will find the nearly 2-hour experience entertaining because of its commitment to punishing war violence and gory monsters.

Monte’s Rating 

3.00 out of 5.00