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Non-Review Review: Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald knows its audience.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is a film consciously aimed at the audience member who has charted and navigated the family trees of the Harry Potter franchise, who knows the finer details of families that were never explicitly featured in the original series and who can recognise names that were never spoken aloud. This is a film that is geared towards the kinds of fans who devour supporting material, who pour enthusiastically and endlessly over the appendices to The Lord of the Rings.

Law student.

This is not to mock or belittle those sorts of fans. Indeed, there is something infectious and exciting in that enthusiasm, in standing outside a cinema and hear enthusiastic six-year-olds with a much better grasp of the dynamics at play than the adults who accompanied them. The eagerness with which these fans pour over the finer details is genuinely heartening, and some of it might even be absorbed by osmosis as they boast about “when” they “got” some twist or other. This a movie aimed at those who devour scenes of exposition and love a good flashback or six.

The only issue is that The Crimes of Grindelwald has precious little for the more casual audience member, whether the casual cinema-goer who just wants a night full of wizards and witches or the more relaxed fan who has only watched the films or read the books once a few years ago. For those audience members, The Crimes of Grindelwald does not offer nearly enough. Or it offers too much.

Partially wanted for crimes against fashion.

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Non-Review Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a solid piece of popcorn entertainment.

It is, to be clear, just a little overstuffed. Its cast is so large that it borders on unwieldy. Its runtime is just a little bit bloated. It devotes far too much time and energy to setting up movies that will be released over the next couple of years. It is a surprisingly dark movie for a film that seems to set a whimsical tone. Its central metaphors get a little muddled. Its version of America feels like it has been stitched together by a collection of anthropologists who have access to well-worn copies of King Kong and Citizen Kane.

Suits you, sir!

Suits you, sir!

Still, there is an undeniable charm to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a movie that luxuriates in the chance to explore a familiar universe through a different perspective. Given the success of the franchise in all media, it was inevitable that audiences would get “an American Harry Potter.” In fact, it could be argued that there have been any number of ill-fated attempts over the years including films like Mortal Instruments. If “an American Harry Potter” was to be inescapable, there are worse options than Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them never quite matches the height of its parent franchise, but occasionally manages to recapture some of the magic.

Wizzing around the world.

Wizzing around the world.

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Non-Review Review: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters demonstrates just how lucky the Harry Potter films were when it came to casting teenage performers. As a movie series centred around the off-spring of Greek deities, the movie relies on the charisma of its leads to sell the premise. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite up to the task. While none of the performers are terrible or wooden, the film drags to a hault when the teenage actors are asked to carry a scene. As a result, a quiet boat ride in the middle of the film seems interminable, and a heart-to-heart before the climax feels overlong.

None of the cast are assisted by a script from Marc Guggenheim. Guggenheim is capable of a well-placed zinger, and the movie offers its fair share of wit, but everything about the movie feels pandering and simplistic, as if Guggenheim doesn’t trust his audience to pick up on the plot points if they aren’t painstakingly catalogued and repeatedly spelt out with cringe-worthy dialogue. Indeed, Guggenheim’s desire to slow everything down so he can repeatedly explain what’s going on only adds to the pacing issues caused by the weak leads.

It’s a shame, because the adult cast seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves, and there’s something quite charming about the idea of “demi-googling” as a means of retrieving information.

Another stab at a Percy Jackson film...

Another stab at a Percy Jackson film…

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Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (Review)

You know when Amy and I first got married and we went travelling…

To Thailand?

More the entirety of space and time… in that Police Box.

– Rory and Brian Williams share some truths

There is a strange listlessness to the seventh season, despite its position on the cusp of the big anniversary year. In many ways, the seventh season feels awkwardly positioned between the “timey wimey” ambitiousness of the sixth season and the “new beginning” aesthetic of the eighth season. The fact that the seventh season is split in half doesn’t help matters; it feels like an epilogue to the story of Amy and Rory, and a prologue to the story of Clara. It feels very much like a “light” year, which is a strange way to head into a big anniversary celebration.

There is a curious sense of idleness to all this. There is, for example, no clear story that links both halves of the season – Jenna-Louise Coleman’s role in Asylum of the Daleks notwithstanding. The seventh season has no real purpose beyond clearing out the ensemble and building towards the anniversary. As a result, it can feel more than a little rudderless and indulgent. Steven Moffat has described the “blockbuster” aesthetic of the year, and long stretches of the season feel like the show is just doing stuff because it can.

Gone to the birds?

Give Amy and Rory a five-episode coda? Sure, why not! Actually shoot a western in a country that could pass for the United States? Go for it! It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Ice Warriors, hasn’t it? Throw them in there! Neil Gaiman wants to write a Cyberman episode? Ah, go on! Develop those quirky supporting characters from A Good Man Goes to War into a part of the show’s ensemble in Victorian London? It just makes sense! Richard E. Grant as a villain from two Second Doctor stories? We’d be crazy not to!

There is a sense that the seventh season is a victory lap for the show and many involved in the production. Deservedly so. What is the point of an anniversary year if you can’t go a little wild? That is the kind of thinking that leads to Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, a simple “because we can!” story. After all, one of the stock cringe-inducing Doctor Who images is the dinosaur special effects from Invasion of the Dinosaurs. What’s the point in turning the show into a hit if you can’t take an episode to prove how far your dinosaur effects have come in four decades?

Locking horns…

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Non-Review Review: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black is a stately, old-fashioned horror film – the kind of Victorian era ghost story that I honestly feared had vanished from the multiplex. James Watkins’ adaptation of Susie Hill’s cult 1983 horror novel revels in the classic horror conventions, complete with jump scares, a stylish atmosphere and a hyperactive orchestral string section. It’s very much a loving resurrection of the type of classy conventional scary movies that have been replaced by serial killer or found footage films. There are moments when the movie might stick a little bit too close to that classic formula, and it feels a little brisk in the middle, but it’s a hugely enjoyable and thrilling experience.

Potter at the gates at dawn?

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The Doctor Is In? Is Doctor Who “Too British” For American Audiences?

Well, it’s been about a week since the news broke that David Yates would be directing the new Doctor Who movie, being produced by the BBC, aimed at American audiences. Perhaps Steven Moffat’s rumoured commentary was perfectly apt: it seems that neither the director nor the studio have any idea what exactly they are planning, and the announcement might have been more than a little preemptive. There’s a lot of chatter out there about what this means for the television show, which is rumoured to be running severely over-budget and under pressure from the BBC executives. Because, you know, it’s not like the show makes enough to justify its costs.

I don’t know if this means potential cancellation or a reboot after the fiftieth anniversary, or even if the show and the movie will run alongside in two distinct continuities (and people said Moffat’s “timey-wimey” plots were too complicated!). Being entirely honest, I’m not sure if Yates knows either. However, something does fascinate me about this. Bringing Yates on-board represents a vote of confidence, suggesting that Doctor Who could be somewhere in the region of “Harry Potter” success stateside.

I can’t help but wonder if Doctor Who is simply “too British” for mainstream American audiences, and if launching a movie franchise to appeal to the demographics will be able to keep the core of the character and the show, while courting North American movie-goers.

States of play?

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Vault-emort: Harry Potter and the Disney Vault: Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?

I’ve known about the “Disney Vault” ever since I started buying DVDs, well over a decade ago. It’s the reason why you can’t simply go into a movie shop and ask for a copy of every Disney movie, as the company regulates the titles coming in and out of release on various home entertainment platforms at any given moment, giving consumers only the smallest window of opportunity to pick up a given childhood classic before snatching it away for another six or seven years. While I have some serious problems with the practice, it’s a shrewd economic move, and I always wondered why Disney were the only studio to really do it.

Well, Warner Brothers recently announced that they’d be doing something similar, pulling the theatrical versions of the Harry Potter films from DVD and blu ray on the 29th December 2011. That leaves movie fans with only forty-eight days in which to pick up their copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. I suppose this sort of development was inevitable, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Will a lot of film fans feel a bit hallowed by the news?

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