Main Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp
Director: David Yates
Harjinder dropped me at the port in Long Beach after we finished our little cross-country odyssey and I was all set to call an Uber to head back to Casa Maine but then I had a brilliant idea. With poor Normy gone, Casa Maine feels a little empty and Leah, my gal Friday, has everything under control there with both the household and my fine consumer products. (We’re doing a holiday special on Lesterene brand sour cream and chive overnight eye cream – guaranteed to shrink those bags away). So, I called up Captain Drew and had him bring the yacht over from Marina Del Rey to Long Beach to pick me up at the dock. I felt like a little change of scene after the rigors of the recent road trip might be just the scene.
Having spent hours in a sleeper cab with Harjinder with his Ganesh on the dashboard and long discussions of the wonders of Hindu mythology and how to reinvent musical classics with a Bollywood flair, I have developed a wish to see the wonders of Asia. I boarded the yacht, told Captain Drew to stop at the marina grocery for some supplies and then to turn the yacht west into the wide Pacific and head for India. The time it will take to cross the seas should give me a little time to unwind and relax and come up with a new project to bring my wholesome entertainment to the great American public. If all goes well, I may even be able to get the UN to declare me a cultural ambassador to exotic Asia. That should rate a magazine cover or two. My first few thoughts were an updating of The Pajama Game to an Indian sweatshop manufacturing T-shirts for H & M or possibly a new version of Brigadoon set in the highlands of Kashmir where the villagers are personifications of various Hindu deities. I see Charlie Dalrymple as Hanuman, the monkey god.
While Captain Drew was provisioning the ship, I looked over the accumulated mail that Leah sent down from the house. (The scripts sent for consideration were not promising although the drama about aging actresses selling Bel Air real estate entitled Glengarry Glenn Close has some possibilities). After finishing, there was still time for me to catch a film before we sailed on the evening tide. The cineplex down the street was just starting a showing of the new film in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise and so I purchased a ticket, a large box of popcorn and settled in to enjoy The Crimes of Grindelwald.
For those of you new to world pop culture, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a series of prequels to the Harry Potter phenomenon set in the same magical universe, only a couple of generations earlier in the late 20s and early 30s. J. K. Rowling is the creative visionary behind the whole thing and wrote the screenplay. It comes from the same production company as the Harry Potter films and David Yates, who helmed the last four Potter films, directs so it has an excellent pedigree and fits seamlessly visually and stylistically into that world. This film is the second chapter of a purported five film series and therein lies its greatest weakness. Without a thorough grounding in Potter lore and a recent viewing of the first film from 2016, this one is going to be incomprehensible. One of the strengths of the Potter series was that while each novel/film built upon those preceding, they were constructed in such a way that a casual reader/viewer could follow along each independent adventure. The Crimes of Grindelwald appears to have forgotten that premise, plopping the audience directly into complicated wizarding world dynamics with no exposition. Fortunately, I had recently re-watched the first film in the sequence or I would have been horribly confused.
We begin with Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald (introduced at the end of the previous movie) who successfully escapes from custody much to the consternation of both the US and UK wizards. Then we cut to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) at home with his magical zoo in London and an assistant named Bunty (Victoria Yeates) who exists mainly to pine away with unrequited love in reaction shots. All of a sudden Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler) from the first film turn up from New York. Jacob has regained his memory (dealt with in a couple of very unconvincing lines of dialogue) and they seem to have just popped in for a transatlantic visit (one of hundreds of plot holes – if it’s possible to apparate intercontinentally, why do the other wizards have to take ships or portkeys?) Katherine, Newt’s love interest, is not with them, being away on assignment. Soon everyone is off to Paris chasing after Katherine and the soul sucking obscurial Credence (Ezra Miller) at the behest of the young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). There’s a bunch of chasing through a night carnival, an introduction to various evil followers of Grindelwald, and romantic complications involving Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner). To tie fully into Potter lore, there are appearances by Nagini in human form (Claudia Kim) and Nicholas Flammel (Brontis Jodorowsky). Then there’s a lot of backstory about Credence the obscurial’s origins including a major last-minute revelation and a huge good versus bad showdown at Pere Lachaise cemetery where the pyrotechnics and special effects people earn their money. Confused? So was I.
There are some things to like. Some of the references and tie ins to the Potter story are quite clever and it fleshes out wizarding families in an earlier generation. The dialogue is pretty good most of the time. Ms. Rowling can write plot and character and knows how to cut through to an essential truth or two in her storytelling. Some of the performances are reasonable. Eddie Redmayne is becoming less of a cipher and starting to inhabit more of a real character. The supporting cast, especially Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler, remain delightful. Jude Law has enough gravitas and resemblance to Michael Gambon to make us believe that it is indeed the same person, some decades before. The visual look remains top notch and a few sequences are lovely. A magical French library and the carnival of wonders especially come to mind. Kudos to the art department for blending the look of the original films, US, UK and French cultural norms, and sumptuous Art Deco together.
There is much not to like. Johnny Depp is horribly miscast. He finds none of the quirks or magnetism that made him so mesmerizing as such characters as Jack Sparrow. Perhaps he’s aging out of such roles. They should have gone with less of a marquee name and a better fit for the part. People aren’t going to buy tickets to this based on his presence or absence, they’re buying them on the Potter/Rowling brand. For the most part, I checked out when he was on screen. When you’re overshadowed by Ezra Miller, perhaps it’s time to call it a day. I also did not care for the frenetically overly busy plot. There are far too many plot threads and characters to fit in a two-and-a-half-hour film. When your audience is wishing they had a scorecard to keep track of who is whom half the time, there’s something seriously wrong with your underlying concepts and construction. A few less action sequences and a few more moments letting us get to know the characters and their relationships better would have done the film a world of good.
I’m happy I saw The Crimes of Grindelwald. I’ll see the rest as they come out (as I am a huge Potter fan) and if the films are going to be this busy, I’m going to put my management team in touch with the production company to have me play the Ilvemory wizarding dance teacher in a later installment. A five-minute tap production number may just be what these films need.
Baby switching. Dwarf nanny. Kelpie riding. Gratuitous bowtruckle. Albino twins. Exploding Alps. Magic glove. Polyjuice potion. Baby nifflers.
Originally from Seattle Washington, land of mist, coffee and flying salmon, Mrs. Norman Maine sprang to life, full grown like Athena, from Andy’s head during a difficult period of life shortly after his relocation to Alabama.