Review: Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald

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I am not the most hardcore fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books or the movies. I still find them incredibly entertaining and imaginative. And perhaps it’s my age where I’ve seen fandom devolve from healthy debates to full on battles within fandom that keeps me from going overboard with my fandom. I’ve been through it with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. But I’m at an age where as much as I love these properties and their world I don’t want to center my life around it. They are fun and can be enjoyed for what they are or even dived more deeply for some sort of hidden meaning that is or is not apparent.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is going to piss some people off. Some of it will just be fans who just want to recycle the experience and whimsy of the Potter Books or marvel at the fantastic beasts from the previous film. I didn’t want any of that. Your mileage may vary. This is definitely a dark film which means it’s right in my wheelhouse.

The first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, saw a new protagonist in Rowling’s world come to the screen. Newt Scamander, played haltingly by Eddie Redmayne, comes to 1927 New York with his magic suitcase full of magical creatures (It’s bigger on the inside).  Soon enough magical shenanigans and property destruction ensues. Beneath that though is fact that Gellert Grindelwald, a dark wizard who believes wizards are meant to rule over humans. He is caught in the end.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up a few months after his arrest and the film opens with an elaborate escape as Grindelwald is being transferred by Thestral carriage to the wizarding prison of Nurmengard.

Meanwhile, back in London, Newt Scamander has his travelling privileges revoked because he basically broke New York but also because he refuses to become an Auror like his brother Theseus. The Ministry believes that not only is Credence, the young Obscurial from the previous chapter is alive but is in Paris and wherever he is so will Grindelwald be, because — plot.

After Newt refuses the Ministry’s offer to become a dark wizard hunter, along comes Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law) who also tries to convince Newt to go to Paris because Credence is in search of his real family and he may be related to someone they both know. It is also revealed that Dumbledore was behind the machinations of Newt ending up in New York in the first place. Newt again refuses.

Newt does go to Paris, though. He brings along Jacob Kowalski who had obviously recovered his memory from the obliviating rain from the previous film. Jacob and Newt are looking for Queenie who left in a huff because Jacob thinks even though England has no wizarding anti-miscegenation laws, their marriage would be harmful for her. So Queenie leaves to join her sister, who not only is an Auror but is also looking for Credence. So plot devices compel Newt forward and to once again become reluctantly involved in the worldly problems of wizards.

What will follow is basically a laying down of the foundations for the next three films since it is projected to be a 5 film series. Now there is plenty of hijinks involving following Credence around as he follows clue to his real life before being adopted in America. Along the way, someone is also hunting him. The dude is the living McGuffin of this movie.

We are also introduced to a very human Nagini, who is described as a Maledictus. A witch with a blood curse that not only turns them into a beast but will eventually permanently make them so. Somewhere along the way, Grindelwald acquires a handful of disposable and frankly unremarkable minions.  Honestly, I think they are there just for Johnny Depp to have someone to talk to.

For a five movie series, there is a lot of information and plot details that are revealed especially in the third act where there is a long scene where hidden histories of some of the characters are revealed eventually revealing who Credence is (is allegedly is). A lot of it does no add up though because of established lore, so there is going to a lot o debate online about that.

I am not going to spoil that for this review but I may get into it in a deep dive in a later post. But the motivations of Grindelwald becomes more clear and we get more background on why Dumbledore can not go against Grindelwald directly.

Crimes of Grindelwald is far from being a perfect film but it is not a bad film. I truly enjoyed it but there are lots of questions I have as far as established history is concerned. Either Rowling made a mistake in the writing and her timeline or she is retconning he lore. And she has been known to retcon before. Nevertheless it is her world and we are along for the ride.

The movie really could have been three hours long mainly because the last act seemed to throw so much information at the end. The final act is solid once you get past the first act of establishment and meandering plot-points.

The visual effects are as can be expected from the series, well done with some nice scenes of the wizarding world. Now concerning the world, the various Ministries of France, England and the United States do not look like the Dickensian world that we have seen in the Harry Potter.Ministers and Aurors wear modern (1927 modern) suits and not robes. The Parisian alternate world, instead of looking like London’s Diagon Alley, it looks like 1927 Paris.

The cast does well with the material they are given. Frankly the love triangle (quadrangle?) does not really work and it seems to show in their performance. Dan Fogler as Jacob and Allison Sudol as Queenie are an incredibly charming couple and the one we instinctively root for. I hope it works out though as there is some Empire Strikes Back level of stuff that goes on by the end of the film.

I’ve heard the Harry Potter franchise described as this generation’s Star Wars. On that note, I’ve seen all the Wizarding World movies and have enjoyed them all, some more than others. Some Star Wars films I outright hated. And with Crimes of Grindelwald we get an appealing movie that moves the narrative forward rather clumsily at some points. It still remains fun and entertaining. But be aware that it is dark.

Recommended with the caveat that if you are just a casual fan, you may have to catch up and if you are a rabid fan, you may be nitpicking this for days.

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Harry Potter and the Brisket of Beef

So a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending LeakyCon 2018 a Harry Potter Convention. It was in Dallas  Texas and since it was in the middle of August it was muggy, and it was rainy, actually. So of course with tradition among all convention centers, the air conditioning was turned to about 60 degrees inside while it was in the 90s outside.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, when you find yourself in Texas, and you like barbecue, y’all gotta try Texas barbecue. I found my way to Lockhart Smokehouse which is a place where you place your order at a counter in a back and they give you your food wrapped in butcher paper, then you find a place to sit. As my hobby is smoking barbecue, it was damn good brisket. Seriously, getting good authentic barbecue should not be that hard in San Francisco. Okay, onward.

If you discount the Harry Potter Celebration Days at Universal Studios Orlando then this is my third Harry Potter inspired convention my first was Azkatraz 2009 which was held in my hometown of San Francisco It was fun. And of course, being that kind of nerd, I really liked the academic panels, especially about the mythology and influences of the books.

My second was LeakyCon 2016 in Anaheim. It was similar in many ways to Azkatraz. It was a small convention, maybe less than a thousand attendees, but that made it all the more friendly. Sure, the passes I got allowed me autographs with some of the actors, but I was not actually interested in getting anything signed. The highlight of the event was one night just hanging out in the lobby with a couple of those same actors who were having a great time playing the bar piano and belting away Broadway tunes.

LeakyCon 2017 was held in Dublin, Ireland. I was hoping for Dublin, California. But no go there. So I missed out on that.

Which brings us to LeakyCon 2018 in Dallas, Texas. For me I had not planned on going post Dublin. In fact, since I ain’t rich and have to work for a living, by mid 2017 I already planned my nerdy convention going, Baycon in May, Wordcon in August and CRX (Crunchyroll Expo) sometime in the fall. In fact I already paid for Baycon and Wordcon a year ahead of time. So of course I ended up going  to Dallas anyway, which happened the weekend before Worldcon.

I don’t know what the final numbers are for the attendance of LeakyCon 18 were but it was far bigger than I had imagined it would be and frankly beyond the intimate convention that I was expecting. Instead it was like something between a Wizard Word Convention and Wondercon size. Hurray for the attendance, but there were sacrifices of that small intimacy and of previous experiences and as huge and diverse as the panels were, there were a couple of things lacking, one of which was no panels on cosplay or costuming. And there were basically no or little academic panels. There were quite a few sorting of other fictional character though.

I’m sure there were several factors that contributed to the size of this sold out convention, part of it was that there has never been a Leaky convention in Texas. Another part was that since last year’s was in Dublin Ireland, those that could not make it overseas wanted to come to this year’s. And of course guest actors from the movies (with autograph opportunities) were a big draw. Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol (Kowalski and Queenie respectively from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) have great chemistry and play off each other well off screen as well as on.

We are at a cusp now. Harry Potter is now entering into its third decade and it is remarkable that the fandom is not slowing down. But it should be noted that many of those fans in 1998 when the first book came out are still around and possibly raising their own children. Which brings me to the point about the panels, they still skewed towards a YA crowd but a good percentage of the crowd were over 25.

Next year, I’ll be in Boston. They will have one in Dallas too, in August again. No thanks to that. Anyway, I hope they realize that diverse panels also include panels for some of us old folks and some of us nerdy college grads and English majors would totally love more academic tracks in the programming. If you are fan of Harry Potter, going to one of these is still a joy and definitely an experience.