Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

Director: David Yates 

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Jude Law, Alison Sudol, Zoe Kravitz, 

Runtime: 2 hrs 13 mins Rated: PG-13

Watch the trailer here

Crimes of Grendelwald is the next installment in the Fantastic Beasts corner of the Potterverse, and continues the adventures of “magizoologist” Newt Scamander during the 1920s as the sinister Gellert Grendelwald rises to the height of his power. 

The Story – Not the film for newbies to jump on. 

First and foremost if you’re new to J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world, this is frankly not a good movie to start watching. The story picks up after the events of the last movie and absolutely no time is wasted on recapping what has transpired so far. I am glad that my wife and I decided to re-watch the previous movie a couple nights earlier and recommend it as it definitely helped us stay on track with the sequel.

In addition to no summary, this movie makes enough references from previous Harry Potter movies to fill the Room of Requirement – see what I did there? So while it’s not required to enjoy the movie, I would say that it’s at least a good idea to have seen the Harry Potter films in order to get the most out of the Fantastic Beasts sequels – especially this one. 

The story itself is entertaining, however you should be aware going in that it does move a bit slow through several sections. That’s not to say there isn’t a fair share of action, because there definitely is. The movie kicks off with a great action scene. However, there is a lot of exposition and dialogue through out the movie as well. I felt it was interesting and worked well, but not everyone wants that in a movie so just be aware. You will need to pay attention.

The reason for the slower burn is due most likely to the fact that Rowling is writing the screenplay for each film since there aren’t already published books to draw from. I think it’s awesome she’s able to do this, but when you have a writer who’s accustomed to telling a story over the course of an entire novel having to shrink that to a screen play for a 2 and 1/2 hour movie, it’s inevitable that it will feel more like watching a visual novel at times. 

The movie isn’t perfect – but don’t let that spoil the fun. 

One of the big criticisms for this film I’ve seen is that it creates multiple plot holes and timeline blunders as it seeks to expand and give depth to the universe. Most are fair issues, while others do seem more like the disappointed grumblings of super fans. It reminds me, on a much smaller scale, of the controversy that recently rocked the Star Wars fandom with the release of The Last Jedi.

When any universe is as beloved as giants like Harry Potter, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, it’s going to get held to a higher standard by its fans. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact it serves to keep pressure on the studios to continue making quality films.

However, the downside is that a fan’s expectations can also make it far more difficult to enjoy a perfectly good movie. It happens all the time. Fans envision what they want to happen in a movie before even seeing it. When those expectations aren’t met people start feeling let down or even cheated out of an experience they feel they deserve. The problem is, there are millions of fans associated with each of these properties; each with oftentimes drastically different expectations for how the franchise should continue. There is simply no way to please everyone.

My best advice for getting the most out of this film (or any film honestly) is two-fold:

First: go in with as little specific expectations on what you want the movie to accomplish as possible. Let the movie hit you, and then see how it makes you feel.

Second: Keep in mind that no matter how long you have been a fan of the movie or book series, it is not yours or my story. Let Rowling tell her story and realize that this is only movie 2 out of 5; anything can still happen. If something doesn’t sit well with you at first, ask yourself if it’s because it legitimately doesn’t work in the movie or is it more that you personally wanted something else to happen?

It is awesome that the creator of this universe is still getting to tell the story the way she wants to. So few authors get this much control over how their characters portrayed in film and I hope it continues.

My wife and I have read all the Harry Potter books and seen all the movies more times than I can count, and we both thouroughly enjoyed Crimes of Grendelwald. I went in blind and then afterwards reading other fan’s articles about plot holes, timeline changes, and other grievances after the movie was interesting but didn’t alter the fact that I enjoyed the movie. 

I will say that the Fantastic Beast movies will most likely suffer the same fate as other franchises that have tried to continue the magic of their predecesors. They will be enjoyable and have their own place in the universe, but will never be quite as good as the originals. 

Visually, this is the best looking film yet, and the opening scene does a great job of hooking you into the film with all its spectacle. There’s also something special and appealing about combining wizards with the style and flair of 1920’s. It worked well in the first film and it does so again here. 

Characters

Newt Scamander – Eddie Redmayne

Eddie Redmayne continues to play the charmingly awkward Newt Scamander. It felt like he had just a bit more of an arc in this movie which was nice. By the end of the film, it felt like Newt had grown as a character. 

Gellert Grendelwald – Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp has moved from that actor who plays wacky characters to something more of a controversial figure with accusations of domestic abuse against his ex, Amber Heard. And while those accusations seem most likely true, I have no interest in getting into that in this post. I’ll only talk about how Depp’s performance as an actor was in this film. As a general rule, I try to stay away from diving too deep into what’s going on in actors’ personal lives. If we knew every detail of what goes on behind closed doors there would probably be very few of them we could stomach.

That being said, just know that he will play a large role in the films from here going forward, so if you find him morally repulsive and have his picture up on a dartboard somewhere it may be difficult enjoying the rest of the Fantastic Beast movies.

Strictly from a performance standpoint, Depp is of course excellent as the sinister dark wizard Grindelwald. Somehow even in 2018 the look and style of the character feels original and unlike any movie bad guy I’ve seen.

The best villains are the ones that believe they are in fact the hero of the story and have motivations you can at least somewhat sympathize with. That fits Grendelwald perfectly. He believes he is fighting the injustice of the magical government and begins to win followers to his cause. He’s an interesting villain, but also manages to be evil while not just following the same steps we’ve already seen with Voldemort. 

Jacob Kowalski – Dan Fogler

Jacob is still the goofy yet endearing muggle who’s just a couple steps behind everyone else. His relationship with Queenie (Alison Sudol) gets a fair amount of screen time as they struggle to make their “mixed” relationship as a muggle and wizard work. Dan Fogler adds a lot of personality to the character and makes you root for him. 

Albus Dumbledore – Jude Law

I thought it was a puzzling pick at first, but Jude Law won me over and is actually an excellent choice for a young Albus Dumbledore. Maybe not so much the voice, but watching his expressions during his scenes looked like you were watching a a younger Michael Gambon – the actor who has portrayed the character the longest. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in the upcoming sequels. 

Credence Barebone – Ezra Miller

The only one I can’t seem to get past; Ezra Miller just doesn’t quite work in his role to me. Maybe I’m just still bitter over him being cast as the Flash in Justice League? He’s really hot right now in Hollywood, but I just don’t get it. The character has a big reveal in this movie and after I found myself wishing they had chosen someone, anyone else to be that person. 

Leta Lastrange – Zoe Kravitz

I was also surprised and a little disappointed at the direction Leta went in this film. It is hard not to think she could have had more use in a different direction, but I guess I’ll go back and re-read my advice from earlier. Especially with 3 films remaining; anything can still happen. 

Final Verdict

Crimes of Grendelwald is an enjoyable sequel to Fantastic Beasts, but in the end serves mainly as a setup for the films to come. There are tons of references to catch, and the movie looks spectacular visually. Ultimately, following and investing in the movie’s cast of characters, once again created by Rowling is the movie’s strongest selling point. 


Cinematic Quality: 4 out of 5

Fun Factor: 3.5 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 3.5 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 3 out of 5

Overall Score – 3.5 dark wizards rising out of 5

What Stan Lee Meant To A DC Fanboy.

The pop culture world has been mourning the loss of Stan Lee this last week after he passed away on Monday at the age of 95. The internet is still flooded with social media posts paying their digital respects to the man who will be remembered for co-creating some of the most iconic comic book characters ever to exist. Stan’s influence had an immeasurable impact on my life as well, and I wanted to write about that briefly.

Avengers #1. Art by Jack Kirby.

I definitely read plenty of comics as a kid, but some of my earliest memories interacting with the Marvel Universe are actually from watching two of the most legendary cartoons of the 90’s: Spider-Man and X-Men. Cartoons like these played a key role in getting me hooked into comics and cultivating a love of art in general. I remember buying several books over the years from school book fairs that detailed how to draw the Marvel characters, and for a long time I even considered becoming a cartoonist or comic book artist.

The X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons of the 90s were the best.

If you were unfortunate to have missed these animated gems growing up, the animation in both were top quality while also doing a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the comics. Both shows had memorable opening themes as well, with music that screamed 90s. Once either of these two shows started, nothing else mattered until the episode was over.

Do yourself a favor and check out the opening titles to both Spider-Man and X-Men.

Honestly, whenever forced to choose I’ve always leaned more to the DC Universe. My parents named me after Superman actor Christopher Reeve (a tale for another day), which naturally made me gravitate to that side of the superhero aisle. That being said, I wholeheartedly believe there is enough geek love to go around for both companies’ cast of characters.

Marvel and DC have always offered 2 sides of the same coin for me, allowing me to jump back and forth depending on what kind of story I’m in the mood for. And who was the person responsible for differentiating Marvel from the rest of the superheroes at the time? In large part it was Stan Lee of course.

The DC Universe roster has been around longer and excels at telling entertaining stories that provide an escape from reality. These heroes live more in the realm of fantasy and mythology as the universe is crowded with super powered beings from other planets who always do the right thing to protect their imaginary cities from the forces of evil. They are truly larger than life.

Stan saw this even back in the 60’s and decided to tell his stories from a different angle. He created characters along side legendary artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others who at their core were every day humans, based in real cities, dealing not just with bad guys wanting to wreck everything but their own real life dilemas as well.

This famous panel drawn by Steve Ditko was paid homage in Spiderman: Homecoming.

This artwork from iconic artist Steve Ditko was paid homage in Spiderman: Homecoming.

The Marvel characters don’t just provide entertaining escapism, they also resonate with readers. They’re not just tireless do-gooders who always do the right thing. They make mistakes. They fail. They give us hope that it’s possible to do great things while also struggling with every day life. I’m not saying these qualities are completely absent from the DC Universe; only that Stan set up Marvel to consistently do a far better job.

The X-men constantly face prejudice and racism from a world that doesn’t understand their mutant abilities. Tony Stark is his own worst enemy with a monster size ego and inner demons of alcoholism. Mathew Murdock, a nobody from Hell’s Kitchen, turned his crippling disability into one of his greatest strengths as a hero. Peter Parker is constantly forced to juggle the pressures of his personal life with crime fighting. The list could go on for pages.

The immense success of the Marvel movies over the past decade is also proof of how much these characters resonate with the world. I was 23 years old when Iron-Man released and now at 33, married, and a baby on the way the franchise is 20 movies in and still going strong. I, like so many others have been to every single opening weekend, and have collected each film as it came out on DVD/Blu ray. I absolutely love and am fascinated with how these movies all contect together and reference each other as every iteration builds the universe just a little deeper, just like issues of comic books.

President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige deserves a large amount of credit for crafting films that appeal to the masses, but the heart of the these characters wouldnt exist without Stan. Honestly, seeing Stan’s cameo in every single film is also part of the experience that will sadly end after his last cameo in the upcoming Avengers 4.

Despite all of this, I don’t find myself overly saddened thinking about Stan’s passing. He had a long and fulfilling life, and is now at rest after accomplishing more with his life than most ever think is possible. He has inspired countless artists and creators to leave their mark on the world and will continue to do so as future generations experience his universe for the first time.

My wife and I meeting Stan at Awesome Con.

I’m beyond grateful to have met Stan a year or so ago at Awesome Con in DC, but as incredible an experience as it was, I was surprised at how little he resembled the comic book rockstar from my childhood. He kept reminding me of someone’s grandfather that should probably just be at home, resting. I think it was in that moment that I knew and accepted this marvelous man (see what I did there) wouldnt be with us much longer.

However, this is not how he will be remembered. He will be remembered for all the things previously mentioned in this post; as the man that revolutionized not just comics but art, TV, and film as well. He will be remembered for his bombastic story telling, a knack for alliteration, and his trademark sunglasses and mustache.

Never fear true believers. Though he is no longer among us, his legacy on pop culture will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

Excelsior.

The Origin of Movie Genres: Science Fiction

What are your favorite movie genres? Action, horror, sci-fi, drama, superhero? Have you ever wondered where those genres got their start? With every genre there is an obvious beginning, a pioneer to blaze the trail and inspire future filmmakers.

I’ve had a book for a while that was recommended by a friend; 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Seems like a pushy title but sure. It’s actually a terrific book if you’re interested in film history or just discovering new movies. You can pick up the latest edition here. Flipping through the different era’s of influential film history, I realized I had no idea what these early trend setters were and it would be fun to learn and post about them.

20181104_183555.jpg
I have the 2015 edition. If you love film history or just discovering fantastic movies, this is a great book you should consider picking up.

This post we’re going to take a broad overview look at the first entry in the book which showcases the beginning of the science fiction genre; one of my personal favorites. Try thinking back to the oldest sci-fi movie you can remember. For some memory may only go as far back as 1978’s Star Wars, others have seen 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still. However, to see the first, we have to go further back still. Much further.

The first known science fiction film was created in 1902 by the French cinema pioneer, Georges Méliès titled Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon). This was a time when cinema was in it’s infancy and dominated by short films showcasing people in the daily routines of life.

MeliesPort05
George Méliès and his impressive ‘stache.

Méliès made hundreds of movies over his career and revolutionized cinema in ways that we still enjoy today. He was the first to make a movie based on a fictional story, to incorporate special effects into his films including camera tricks such as splicing, multiple exposures and time lapse photography among others. He was also the first to create elaborate, often times hand painted, multi-scene sets. All of these characteristics define A Trip to the Moon and made it one of the most famous films of the era.

Unfortunately, he was not able to keep up with the much larger competing film companies and retired broke in 1912. Many of these rival companies (including Edison’s in the United States) pirated and sold Méliès films without paying royalties back to Méliès company, Star Films. I guess it’s true what they say after all; “piracy is not a victimless crime.”

trip-to-the-moon_voyage-dans-la-lune503324156910095526.jpg
A theatrical poster for A Trip to the Moon.

Voyage_dans_la_Lune_affiche
A rough sketch of a movie poster design Méliès created himself.

A Trip to the Moon is only 14 mins long which was actually far longer than the standard 1-2 min films that were common in his day. Many were even shorter than that. This “extended” run time allowed Méliès to create a surprisingly complex story totaling 30 different scenes in all. His budget for such an elaborate endeavor was unheard of; 10,000 francs which would be roughly the equivalent of $50,000 US today. This film was the summer blockbuster of the time period.

voyage_dans_la_lune_cliff_still1113130796909702493.jpg
A Trip to the Moon had un-paralleled set design for it’s time.

A brief summary of the plot: a group of scientists headed by Professor Barbenfouillis (played by Méliès himself) travel to the moon in a bullet shaped rocket, shot from an enormous cannon. While exploring the surface, they encounter and are captured by a race of moon aliens known as Selenites. The group manages to escape and fight their way back to the rocket, successfully traveling back to Earth with a captured Selenite. The group is celebrated as heroes and receive a parade in their honor.

a-trip-to-the-moon-launch
The cannon that blasts the rocket ship towards the moon.

Méliès drew from multiple sources for his film including the literature of his time such as Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and H. G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon (1901).

“The idea of ‘A Trip to the Moon‘ came to me when I was reading a book by Jules Verne called ‘From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon’. So I imagined, using the same means as Jules Verne(shooting a projectile from an enormous canon), landing on the moon, in such a way that I could put together some arresting and amusing fairy tale images, show the outside and the inside of the moon, and some monsters that might live on the moon, add one or two artistic effects.”

Méliès also incorporated his knowledge from past careers as a magician and theater owner with elaborately designed sets and sensational special effects. I watched the film before knowing his professional background and various scenes in particular actually made me think of a magician such as when the Selenites disappear into puffs of smoke after being struck, Professor Barbenfouillis’ umbrella changing into a mushroom, or even the acrobatic showmanship of the Selenites (who were actual acrobats Méliès hired for the part).

Watch the first sci-fi movie:

Being that this movie is in the public domain, it’s easy to find on YouTube. Here is the original black and white version. When it was originally released, the film was silent, and a live orchestra would play various pieces while the scenes were narrated.

There is also a color version that was thought to be lost but has since been found and restored over several years by a group called Lobster Films and showcased at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. The French electronica duo known as Air also created an “official” score to accompany the film. If I’m being honest the score is creative and fun to listen to, but I can’t help thinking that it doesn’t fit with the music of the time period. At the very least it’s interesting how much impact music has on the tone of a film.

After watching A Trip to the Moon, much of it will seem completely absurd. In fact, you could probably turn the number of scientific laws broken during the film into a fun drinking game. One of my favorite moments happened when to travel back to earth, all that was required was pulling the rocket over a cliff and then gravity took over. The movie is littered with moments like this.

le-voyage-dans-la-lune-a-trip-to-the-moon-georges-melies-movie-still
The statue erected to commemorate Professor Barbenfouillis’ return. Most historians believe this scene is part of the political satire Méliès weaved into the film.

Film historians believe though that much of the ridiculousness is because the film was intended to be satirical in nature. Méliès was mocking the scientific community of his day as well as injecting the film with strong anti-imperialist themes. So not only is Méliès the first movie maker to bring a fictional story to life, he’s also the first to use that story to convey a larger message to his audience.

It’s also fascinating how the basic themes of sci-fi movies haven’t changed much in last 116 years. Sure things are more elaborate now, but A Trip to the Moon has all the major story beats still seen in movies today: Flying through space in a rocket ship, landing and exploring the moon, encountering an evil alien race, bringing an alien back to Earth. Méliès technically even setup the possibility for a sequel with the aliens coming to earth for revenge! Think of the franchise possibilities! Just kidding.

melies.0
The most famous scene of the film; the scientists’ rocket lands on the moon…or more like shoots the moon in the eye, sending blood or some kind of weird moon juice squirting from the point of impact. Gross.

Next time you go to watch your favorite sci-fi movie, think about this first example; how far the genre has come and how much the themes honestly haven’t changed too drastically over the years. Also don’t forget the name George Méliès. He was extremely influential to cinema and will be popping up again in a future genre posts.

Sources:


Schneider, Steven Jay (2015), 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Hauppage, New York. Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. p. 20.

Wikipedia – A Trip to the Moon

AMC Filmsite

TCM Biography of George Méliès

A Star is Born Review

Directed by: Bradley Cooper

Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliot, Dave Chappelle

Rated: R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse.

Run-time: 2 hours 16 mins

Watch the trailer

Music is essentially any note between twelve octaves. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over. All that the artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.

A Star is Born hooked me right away with it’s fantastic trailer and I knew I wanted to step outside of my normal movie tastes to see this romantic drama. Watching the trailer, it hinted that it would have much more to say than a standard love story between two people. I also appreciate trailers that don’t spoil the entire plot of the movie, as there are few in recent memory that don’t.

I’m going to go out of my way to not spoil parts of this movie, because I think it has more of an impact the less you know from the start. At it’s core is the romance between famous musician, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and an undiscovered but very talented musician named Ally (Lady Gaga).

The love that the two share becomes a dramatic whirlwind journey, filled with ups and downs. It succeeds in painting a picture of what life behind the scenes for many famous musicians has probably been like. As the story unfolds, it will most likely be difficult to watch for many as a raw nerve is hit that has been in music news the last few years. This honestly is the biggest warning for A Star is Born; that it is not going to end the way you may think or want.

That being said, that’s what makes cinema powerful; when it has the ability to grab hold of you, show you a point of view you haven’t experience before and then make you feel something for it. The movie may end, but there is a discussion that still goes on. That is exactly what this film does.

This is actually the 4th telling of this story. The original released in 1937, staring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. Since then there has been a musical in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, another remake in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and again now in 2018. I havent seen the previous versions, but seeing the quality of this newest one makes me want to check them out.

The music is top notch throughout. This isn’t surprising considering some of the names attached, including Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson, who was Bradley Cooper’s music advisor.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are the duet you didn’t know you needed.

It is definitely something special watching the chemistry of Cooper and Gaga on the screen together.

There is no denying that Bradley Cooper is a fantastic actor. Whether he’s portraying a famous musician, a hungover friend, an American sniper, or even a genetically enhanced talking raccoon with a proclivity for machine guns, he gives everything he has to his craft, every time. However, A Star is Born is Cooper’s debut as a director, and it’s clear he is just as talented no matter which side of the camera he’s on. He didn’t stop there though; he also co-wrote the screenplay as well as some of the music. He even sang his character’s songs in the movie. Cooper literally poured all of himself into this movie and it shows. I actually forgot several times that Cooper isn’t actually a musician outside of the film.

Lady Gaga has the same effect, but in reverse. She is unquestionably talented as a musician. With this role, she has successfully expanded out of her comfort zone into acting, giving a fantastic performance. In many ways, her character Ally feels like a version of Gaga in real life. She’s defied and shattered the rules on what a hit singer and song writer is supposed to look like, and Ally struggles during the film with the same image stereotypes trying to be forced on her.

For such a world renown artist, it’s surprising how much down to earth innocence she brings to her character. She also is able to express a tremendous amount of emotion just through her eyes alone. I hope she continues to act, as she gives a powerful and moving performance here.

Sam Elliot has a supporting role as Jack’s older brother and manager, Bobby that compliments the tone of the film. He’s such an iconic acting legend that it doesn’t matter how much screen time he has; he always gives a great performance.

Jack was born much later in their parent’s lives and the two brothers have a contentious relationship. Neither one enjoy bringing up the pains of their past, but there’s one moment towards the end of the film where the two characters finally have a brief moment of honesty and it is a powerful scene.

Final Verdict

The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is the driving force of A Star is Born. The movie has powerful music and acting that is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. Make sure you have your tissues close by.


Cinematic Quality: 4 out of 5

Enjoyment Factor: 4.5 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 4 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 3.5 out of 5 (depends on how you like your movies to end)

Overall Score – 4 chart topping songs out of 5.

Our Geeked-Out Star Wars Baby Announcement!

It’s no secret that my wife and I love movies. Sure we have different taste in genre sometimes, but it’s a fun thing to share.

At our wedding reception last year, we decided to give it a movie theme:

our favors were movie candy:

Our seating cart had a different movie poster at each table with guests’ faces photoshopped into the poster:

and our photo booth had a movie theme:

It’s been a great year (Michelle didn’t make me say that I swear) and this week we announced excitedly that we are pregnant with our first baby.

When we first found out, we went back and forth on how exactly we should do the official announcement on social media. We kept coming back to keeping the movie theme from the wedding going, but we couldn’t agree on how exactly to do it.

That is until our first sonogram, where we found out the due date: May 4th. Star Wars day. Suddenly it all became clear, almost as if a light came down from geek heaven: A Star Wars baby announcement.

The first part consisted of creating our own unique version of the “crawl” featured at the beginning of every Star Wars movie. There’s a great little app called “Star Words” that is very simple to use: just type in whatever you want the text to say and it takes care of the rest.

We also decided (aka Michelle allowed me) to take our picture in Star Wars themed shirts as you see below. Thanks to our friends Katie and Christian for playing photographer for us!

20181022_103335

The final part was to include our sonogram in the announcement. Michelle got very good at photoshopping faces for our wedding seating chart and she quickly created this little master piece:

20181022_103452

While it’s not likely that the baby will actually be born on May 4th, it is still a pretty awesome due date and was a blast putting together the announcement for our first kid. Hopefully they’ll appreciate it one day. Either that or they’ll think it’s the most embarrassing thing ever. Most likely both.

Venom: Movie Review

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate

Run-time: 2hr and 20 min Rated PG-13

Check out the trailer here

Venom has been a “dark horse” of sorts pretty much since it was announced a few years ago. The thought of Sony making a stand alone film with one of Spider-Man’s most popular foes without everyone’s favorite wall-crawler even making an appearance seemed destined for failure. The movie’s outlook improved only slightly when the talented Tom Hardy was announced as taking on the lead role of investigative journalist turned alien powered anti-hero: Eddie Brock.

Fast forward to 2018 and we are now into the third week of its theatrical run. Despite opening to a more than expected thrashing by movie critics, something unexpected has happened. Venom is actually a damn fun time.

As word of mouth spreads, Venom has broken records and become a box office hit (currently having raked in over $400 million).

I went in expecting to be disappointed with a mediocre action CGI-fest and was shocked at how much I enjoyed the film. Not only that, but I’m also looking forward to the already announced sequel.

Let me be clear: Venom is light years behind 95% of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a clunky story that suffers from several issues.

Despite that, the movie makes you look past all of its flaws with a relatable anti-hero and his strange but endearing bond with Venom that is entertaining to see develop. It’s a solid attempt on Sony’s part of bringing the character to the big screen and a hell of a lot better than the garbage we were given, shoe-horned in at the end of 2007’s Spider-Man 3 (I’m looking at you, Topher Grace):

Spider-Man-3-Topher-Grace-Venom

It’s no secret that Hardy is a brilliant actor and he was a smart choice for Eddie Brock. While I’m a huge fan of his work normally, I was definitely questioning the decision based on the first trailer, as the accent he was going for didn’t seem to work nor did he come across as a believable reporter.

Now, having seen the movie, I think a lot of that was a result of poor editing choices in the trailer. He feels like a much better fit in the actual film, minus a few scenes, and actually has a sort of awkward charm that helps make his character relatable and endearing. The first trailer also butchered the pronounciation of “symbiote,” but I was releaved to see they fixed it for the film.

Interestingly, he’s also the voice of Venom, proving once again he’s the cinematic master of weird voices. Hardy explained in an interview how they created and implemented Venom’s voice into the scenes.

The relationship / bonding moments between Eddie and Venom are hands down the most enjoyable parts of the movie. The interactions are so fun that it’s a shame more time was devoted to pre-Venom setup and not more so to these moments.

This a long movie at 2hrs and 20 mins, but the time flies by. Another 15-20 more mins of Eddie and Venom time would not have been a bad thing.

The rest of the cast worked but could have been better. Riz Ahmed was a supreme dick as the villanous head of the “Life Foundation”, though he really never came across as menacing or as powerful as he was supposed to be. He’s just a dick…with money to waste on irrational science experiments.

Michelle Williams and Jenny Slate were fine, but could have been given more to do. Williams, who plays Eddie’s girlfriend, does have one awesome moment towards the 3rd act but by time you realize what’s happening, it’s over.

Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake, head of the Life Foundation.

Jenny Slate as Dr Skirth.

Michelle Williams as Eddie’s girlfriend Anne Weying.

The action scenes are well done and there are a couple solid fights. A car chase involving Venom made for some great stunts and effects. I do think Venom would have benefited from an R rating. I understand that the studio wants to make as much money as possible, however this is another example where the more adult rating fits the character. Movies like Logan and Deadpool prove if done right, studios can still make tons of money with an R rating.

I think much of the negative reviews by critics comes from not really understanding the personality of the source material. Possibly, they went in expecting a dark and gritty film, almost bordering horror and didn’t know what to do with the hybrid action/comedy with an alien creature making childish jokes about eating people. He does have an off kilter sense of humor and some of Venom’s comedic lines were actually ripped straight from the comics:

main-qimg-cf7d026cb80a7aaea34f87dcadc28eb3

The plot is the movie’s biggest stumbling block. It isn’t terrible…but it isn’t amazing either. It feels like a trip back in time to a 90’s superhero flick. That may be in large part due to the director drawing heavily from the 1993 Venom comic arc “Lethal Protector.” The issue is this story features Spidey in the comics and you can tell Sony stumbled around trying to figure out how to redo the story without him. They actually did a respectable job all things considered, but it is hard not to think about how much better it could have been.

With the financial success of this one maybe the sequel could have a least a guest appearance from Spider-Man…if only long enough for Venom to gain his signature white symbol and ability to shoot his own version of webs.

There are two after credits scenes: the one at the very end is only worth watching if you’re interested in Sony’s upcoming “Into the Spider-Verse” Animated film as there’s a short clip for it.

I won’t spoil who the actor is, but the middle credits scene is where it’s at, teasing the villain of the Venom sequel: Cletus Kasady aka Carnage.

Final Verdict

Overall, while Venom could have been a much better movie and has several issues, the relationship between Eddie and Venom makes you forget the film’s short comings and just have a great time.


Cinematic Quality: 3.5 out of 5

Fun Factor: 4.5 out of 5

Worth the price of admission: 3.5 out of 5

Re-watch Value: 3.5 out of 5

Overall Score – 3.75 body part Venom snacks out of 5

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review

Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, James Cromwell, Jeff Goldblum, BD Wong, Rafe Spall, Toby Jones

Runtime: 2hrs 8min Rating: PG-13

Check out the trailer

One of the most common negatives against 2015’s Jurassic World was that it felt too much like a rehash of the original Jurassic Park. While that is true to some degree, it was also part of its charm: being able to see the park open and running as John Hammond had originally envisioned. Of course, the dinosaurs still broke out and ate people, because as Dr. Malcolm so eloquently put it, “Life…ah…finds a way.” Regardless, if similarity to previous films was what turned you off of the last movie, prepare for more of the same with the sequel…at least until about the half way point of the film. (Actually a couple moments in the 2nd half feel familiar also.)

goldblum

The Story

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom almost feels like two short films rolled into one. The 1st half is much more of a blockbuster action movie and is essentially what you’ve seen in the trailers. A volcano on Isla Nublar is going to erupt, and the world is debating over whether or not to save the dinosaurs. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who now runs a “save the dinos” foundation, convinces Owen (Chris Pratt) to join the team heading to the island after telling him one of his trained velociraptors from the last movie is still alive. This first part does have some noticeable similarities to the second movie in the franchise; The Lost World:

  • It’s set in the park a few years after being completely overtaken by the dinosaurs.
  • Dr. Malcolm warns everyone that going back to the island is a horrible idea.
  • The film’s main characters come to the island in an effort to preserve the dinosaurs; this time from a volcanic eruption.
  • The crew thinks they are well equipped to deal with the island, but not even close (Actually they seem less prepared this time).

There’s a few others, but I won’t mention them to avoid spoilers.

jurassic-world-2-fallen-kingdom-blue-owen

Then, halfway through, something is revealed that makes the movie switch gears dramatically. The rest of the story takes place off the island and feels much more slower paced; turning into a close quarters monster movie. This means that the movie’s biggest action set piece happens in the middle of the movie…which depending on what you were hoping for with this movie, may make the ending feel a bit anticlimactic.

Whether you enjoy the film or not, it’s actually refreshing to watch a movie’s plot unfold that wasn’t totally spoiled by it’s trailer. That seems to be a rare thing for movies today. Despite having some minor things I didn’t like, I left the movie genuinely entertained and excited to see where the next one goes (of course there will be a next one). I was expecting this just to be another run through the park, however Fallen Kingdom goes in a direction that hasn’t been fully explored in a Jurassic Park/World movie before.

This feels like a transition movie for the franchise, as the studio is undoubtedly looking for a way to make more movies without continuing to retell the same type of story we’ve seen several times already. You can make the argument that they should just stop making movies, but since that obviously isn’t going to happen at least they’re taking a chance on doing something creatively different. However, no matter how different the next movie is, at its core this franchise will always be about prehistoric monsters trying to hunt down and eat modern day humans. I’m always a sucker for more of that.

jurassic-world-fallen-kingdom-takes-itself-way-too-seriously-and-that-dampens-the-fun.png

We do also get a little more back story into how John Hammond and company came up with the idea to bring dinosaurs to life. I’m not sure if it was entirely necessary, and may even add an element to the story that over complicates things.

On a side note, maybe it was just the theater I was in but the score seemed very loud and chaotic at times…almost to the point where it threatened to drown out what was going on in the scene.

Oh no…parts of Solo: A Star Wars Story were too dark and this movie is too loud. It’s happened…I’ve gotten old.

As far as the music, it would have also been nice to hear more of the familiar sections of the Jurassic Park music at times. They did a decent job of this with the last movie. Given how the movie ends, I can understand why they are maybe starting to move away from that, but at least try to make the new music more memorable.

The Actors

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back to reprise their characters. Owen is essentially unchanged from the last movie, however Claire has evolved from thinking about the dinosaurs purely as “business assets” to becoming a full fledged dino activist. There’s even a fictional but well made website that was created for the movie. Studios use to create fake, promotional websites like this a lot more than they do now. In this age where kids have smart phones and tablets, I think it would be beneficial to create them more often and really advertise it. If done well they are fun to navigate and can help add a little more back story to the movie without taking up more screen time.

Claire and Owen are accompanied by two supporting characters, played by Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith. Both help to add more humor to the movie, but also end up being as stereotypical as they are unnecessary. Take them out of the movie, and it wouldn’t have mattered. They just could have been written better.

Everyone else gave fairly standard performances for the genre. You should watch these movies for some light entertainment, not to witness Oscar worthy performances. Characters are as predictable as you would expect: bad guys take part in bad guy shenanigans, and dumb people make ridiculously stupid decisions that allow the dinos to eat people.

There’s a couple cool cameo’s from the original. Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm remains the smartest guy in the movie, even only having about a minute long cameo where he warns everyone how dumb going back to the island is. I also still really enjoy the nostalgia factor of bringing back the character Henry Wu, played by BD Wong. He had such a small role in the original Jurassic Park movie. Now, after two movies, Owen and Claire still have no idea who he is, and yet he’s the real mastermind working behind the scenes. If the studio is smart, he’ll continue to have a role to play in future movies.

Final Verdict


Cinematic Quality: 3.5 out of 5

  • Dramatic pacing change that makes the movie feel like 2 separate stories. People will either go with it or hate it, wishing the rest of the movie had been more like the first half.
  • The CGI and special effects look amazing for the most part. However, there’s something special about the practical effects of the original that’s missing from the newer Jurassic World movies
  • supporting characters are forgettable

Fun Factor: 4 out of 5

  • Not the best entry in the series but still a very fun time.
  • The 2nd half takes the franchise to creatively new places for the franchise

Worth the price of admission: 2 out of 5

  • The first half of the movie is definitely worth seeing in theaters. The second half doesn’t really add anything on the big screen.

Re-watch Value: 3 out of 5

  • While definitely worth watching again, it feels like more of a transition movie to setup bigger things to come.

Overall Score – 3 raptor claw taps out of 5

9-Jurassic-World-Fallen-Kingdom