FANTASTIC BEASTS 2: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD – WEAK, FLAWED PLOT RUINS A PROMISING STORY AND UNDERCUTS ITS INTERESTING CHARACTERS

SHORT TAKE:

Sequel to Fantastic Beasts which follows the Hitler-like rise of Grindelwald.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults who were fans of the series growing up.

AND IF YOU LIKE THESE REVIEWS PLEASE SUBSCRIBE! THEN YOU'LL GET     EVERY NEW REVIEW SENT STRAIGHT TO YOUR E-MAIL!!

GO TO THE BOTTOM OF THE LEFT HAND SIDE AND TYPE YOUR E-MAIL IN – IT (SHOULD BE) THAT EASY. ANY PROBLEMS PLEASE SEND ME A COMMENT AND I'LL DO MY BEST TO RESOLVE YOUR ISSUE.

LONG TAKE:

I'm going to say it because no one in the last eleven years has: JK Rowling is a genius, and therein lies the crime worse than Grindelwald's.

SPOILERS

The premise of the Crimes of Grindelwald is the continuation of the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne – Les Mis, The Theory of Everything) and his sidekick Jacob (Dan Fogler from Balls of Fury), as they look for Credence (Ezra Miller, Flash from Justice League and Suicide Squad), thought to have been killed in the previous movie. Side plots involve a misunderstanding between Newt and Tina (Katherine Waterston) and the ultimately fatal frustration of Queenie (Alsion Sudol) over the law which forbids her and Jacob to marry. Against all this is the rising of the tide of Grindelwald (Johnny Depp – Murder on the Orient Express, Benny and Joon, Pirates of the Carribbean, Public Enemy and almost every Tim Burton movie ever made), Grindelwald's threatening anti-muggle philosophy, which plays out akin to the anti-semitism of the Nazis, and … Dumbledore's initially inexplicable reluctance to fight him.

JK Rowling pronounced, three months after the publication of the last book in the Harry Potter series, that Dumbledore was gay. This was an extraordinarily dramatic twist in the backstory of a major character which had no clues or preparation for it in the books to support it.

Revelations about sexual preferences amongst main characters are not usually the fodder of children's storybook mythology. Granted the people who started out with Rowling when they were 11 are now in their thirties, big people who are more readily able to handle this kind of dark, complex relationship. But this is still a children's story, andDumbledore's same sex attractions are really just not something appropriate to the child-target audience. But, even aside from that, there is no literary justification for it, no relevant hints to it and no established lore for it.

JK doubles down on this issue by making Dumbledore's sexual proclivities a major plot point in Fantastic Beasts 2. Dumbdledore will not confront the most dangerous and diaboliocal wizard ever born because … he is infatuated with him. This is a weak excuse at best and not up to Rowling's best efforts.While there is absolutely nothing explicit whatsoever in the movie between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, there are uncomfortable and unnecessary innuendos and long hairy looks aplenty between Law's Dumbledore and Depps' Grindelwald, which I would NOT want to have to explain to my underage child. It's just not subject matter that should even be averred to in a story primarily aimed at school aged children, even IF the charter fans are well past the age of consent now.

In addition, there are a number of other ill advised, non-sequitor, anachronistic, plot convolutions it will be very difficult for JK to explain away without time turners. Keep in mind Rowling wrote this script so can not blame a poor scriptwriting translation.

Short list:

The presence of Professor McGonagall at the castle during the movie (Fiona Glascott in FB2 and during the first eight movies by Dame Maggie Smith) is one of the most obvious. The film takes place in 1927 and McGonagall did not start teaching at Hogwarts until 1956. Of course, this could have been her relative, but then the appearance of this character would be just a sloppy name drop.

Dumbledore is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. According to the original lore, Dumbledore never taught Defense Against the Dark Arts, but Transfigurations.

Credence is alive but there is no explanation as to how. Granted there was a remaining wisp of his obscurus (a manifestation of a wizard's repressed magical powers which forms if they are not allowed to express those powers openly), left at the end of the previous movie. Does even a single bit of the obscurus have the ENTIRE person in it with memories intact? This power is never alluded to in the first story's description of the obscurus.

If the chupacabra (a mini-dragon-like craeture which accompanies Grindelwald at the beginning of the movie) is a guard, why does it attack the ministry member and seem so affectionate to Grindelwald? If it belongs to Grindelwald, why does Grindelwald so casually kill it?

While everyone was happy to see Jacob, the muggle baker, return, it was with a shoddy trick – that the obliviate didn't work on him because it only erased BAD memories and he only had good ones. But at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts it was OBVIOUS Jacob did not recognize Newt, did not clearly understand where his bakery ideas were coming from, and at first did not recognize Queenie. It would have been more believable to say, for example, that Queenie had placed a protective charm on him in their final parting kiss, which would make the obliviate in the rain cause only a temporary loss of memory. But the way Rowling handled it in this second FB script was just clumsy and careless.

Why did Queenie abandon Jacob? If Queenie's primary reason for wanting to follow Grindelwald was to fight the rule prohibiting her relationship with Jacob, then how does leaving Jacob in a collapsing arena, surrounded by lethally enchanted flames, to follow someone who hates muggles, going to further this goal? Was she a victim of the Imperius curse?  She seemed to succumb to Grindelwald's "charms" pretty voluntarily when she first meets him without his using a spell.

On the plus side – The Fantastic Beasts themselves are delightful, especially as they do not heavily rehash the old ones, but introduce us to new ones: the Zouwu, which looks like a Chinese parade float come to toothy life, the underwater horse, the Kelpie (because it looks like it is made from kelp), and the creepy black Matagot cats from French folklore. (Thankfully no more Erumpant-Newt mating dances – that was just embarrassing.)

The special effects – from the underground circus performers to Newt's Kelpie ride – are interesting. The music is familiar Potter themes. And the acting is solid as all the characters we've seen before reprise their roles solidly.

Redmayne is especially outstanding as the socially challenged Newt tries very hard to reconnect with Tina and reconcile with his brother, Theseus. Redmayne's performance is worth seeing the movie for. His depiction of Newt with autistic characteristics – lack of eye contact, difficulty understanding the social cues others take for granted, his hesitant verbal skills, trouble expressing physical affection with his own brother – is not an accident. While Rowling never expressly named the spectrum when discussing the character with Redmayne, Redmayne was openly aware of what these personality quirks denoted and actively created this character within the spectrum of autistic behavior.

No overt mention of autism ever comes up – this movie takes place in 1927 and autism was not even recognized until the '30's, so, appropriately, everyone just accepts Newt's behavior as just a part of his unusual personality. In addition to his spot on Newt, Redmayne presents us with a Newt that grows and develops, improving his interpersonal expressions with those to whom he feels most close: Theseus, Tina and Jacob.

Fogler is again adorable, funny and relatable as the muggle, Jacob. Sudol is disturbing and heartbreaking as she morphs from the gentle Queenie to Grindelwald's complicit functionary. Jude Law, aside from the demands of his unique relationship preferences, is a wonderful young Dumbledore, with just the right whimsy, humor and mystery which could believably mature into Richard Harris' Dumbledore in The Sorcerer's (/Philosopher's) Stone.

The Nazi theme is also very dark, and for mature audiences. There are at least a couple of events, relating appropriately but grimly enough to Grindelwald's rise as a charismatic tyrannical leader, which by themselves would recommend against taking children. One example is the cold-blooded murder of an adorable two year old toddler, even as Grindelwald smiles at the babe's inherent charms, similar to the Nazi thugs who bundled families into gas chambers after giving the children sweets. This parallel hits hard when one notes that Queenie and Tina's last name is Goldstein, an obvious Jewish connection, making Queenie's betrayal all the more ironic and heartbreaking.

But while the characters – creature, wizard and muggle – all fare well, the overall plot suffers from plain old bad writing. If Rowling has something up her sleeve that would clear much of the threadbare points up she has left no breadcrumbs to give us some confidence in a strategy, though the movie ends on a number of cliffhangers and set ups for the next movie.

CONCLUSION

Between the inappropriate sexual references and well thought out but grimly burgeoning magical Third Reich, I would NOT take children to see this movie. If you were the age to receive a letter from Hogwarts when the first books came out, you'd be more than old enough for the themes now. BUT be aware of the peculiar plot holes and unexplained inconsistencies from the long held, previously well established Harry Potter canon, which makes this a disappointing and unsatisfying outing despite the good performances and interesting creatures. Rowling is capable of so much better.

TULLY – AN UNUSUALLY HONEST AND FRANK LOOK AT MOTHERHOOD

SHORT TAKE:

Well done and insightful view of an ordinary family undergoing a crisis as an exhausted and post-partum depressive mom deals with three children, including one who is a special needs and another a newborn, by welcoming a "night nanny" into her life.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Adults only. Language gets raw under stress and sexuality is openly discussed, including the mom's habit of watching a porno reality site called Gigolos.

LONG TAKE:

When our oldest son was only a few months old he gave up sleeping. I discovered that going without sleep for months can make you hallucinate. I started seeing things out of the corner of my eye I knew were not there. Fortunately, I had a very supportive husband who helped me get the household and his sleeping habits under control.

OBLIQUE SPOILER

Marlo (Charlize Theron) has a similar problem. On top of the responsibilities of a newborn and a first grader, she also cares for a special needs kindergarten aged son who everyone identifies merely as "quirky" so does not really get the help he needs, she holds down a full time job, and her husband's demanding job requires he goes out of town often. With a history of detail-mysterious severe post-partum depression, her concerned and wealthy brother, Craig (Mark Duplass) offers to hire a "night nanny" for them. Marlo's pride gets in the way at first, but eventually one arrives. Her name is Tully (MacKenzie Davis) and she is a twenty something free spirit who seems to understand Marlo to her core. The two women bond immediately and Tully does a good job of caring for their new baby, cleaning the disaster that had become their house and even makes cupcakes for Marlo's children's classmates – all the things that Marlo feels guilty for not having done.

One of the great thngs about Tully is the ordinariness of the house, the kitchen, the bedroom and the people. Theron gained 50 pounds for the role. She, personally, has two adopted children so has never been pregnant but you'd never know it. We have six children and breast fed them all. So I know what a post-partum body looks like and Ms. Theron, baring almost all, certainly LOOKS like she has a genuine maternal belly. And the scenes with the leaking, pumping, breastfeeding are very very familiar. I say this to note that while the script reaches into the reality of the struggles of parenthood, the film makers go to great lengths to present what looks like an authentic family dynamic.

Ms. Theron carries most of the water in Tully and is amazing. She is one of those truly talented actors who do not mind making herself look ugly for a role. While she can be convincing as the almost supernaturally athletic spy in Atomic Blonde and convincingly sexual magnet in Gringo, here she looks like any other mother who just gave birth, including flabby tunmmy and leaky boobs. In one very funny scene her kindergartener spills a glass of juice on the dinner table and all over her. In a state of apathetic exhustaion she simply strips off her shirt and sits almost catatonically at the table. Her grade school daughter takes one look at her and innocently asks: "Mom, what's wrong with your body?"

So, for all of the occasionally dark tinged situations, this is not a depressing movie. In many ways it is a comedy – though a subtle one. And be aware, there are some seemingly startling or even shocking things that happen during the movie. But stick with it – things are not always as shocking as they appear. Tully is, ultimately, a very family, marriage, child and life affirming movie wherein normal people deal with every day challenges in their own creative ways. The people in the family strive to stay close and keep it working and stable the best way they know how. Tully advocates for the value of a family, warts and all.  In Tully, the spouses – Marlo and Drew – care about each other and their children very much. The couple has each learned from the failures of their parents' broken marriages and Drew loves and is faithful to Marlo despite her occasionally fragile mental state. They are supportive and kind to each other and to the children, tryng their best to be good attentive parents. This is greatly refreshing and necessary in a culture which promotes popular media in which the father is often marginalized, and the marriage is often portrayed as broken or only one in a cascading list of failures.

If the movie has one great flaw it is in not showing more of the beautiful ecstacy that can be parenthood – the joy of holding a newborn, the miracle of which never grows old. The story examines Marlo's overburdened exhausted life but rarely any of the blissful moments of bonding with the mom, dad and the newborn. There is also, to its detriment, no reference to the core values of any kind of spiritual life, which would have gone a long way to ameliorating Marlo's pain and depression.

As all of us, coming from our own unique brand of family, knows – it is not always easy and it is not always obvious, but, more often that not, families are, as Carly Simon once famously sang – "the stuff that dreams are made of."