Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Two More Movie Reviews

Instant Family - I had high hopes for this movie about a couple (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) suddenly becoming the foster-parents of three complicated kids. And it was all right, at times. But not as good, and certainly not all of the time, as I had hoped. In spite of a terrific supporting cast, including Octavia Spencer, Julie Hagerty, Margo Martindale and Joan Cusack, it came across as something between an after-school special and a well-meaning marketing stunt for fostering children. Mainly, it was the occasional burst of adult language or off-color humor that set it on the next level up. One nice thing I can say about having Mark Wahlberg in the lead is that his acting style, which regularly makes me squirm, was a good match for a series of comedy gags that were apparently intended to make one squirm. Ultimately, though, the couple's unfitness to be responsible for these kids is made so heartbreakingly apparent that the happy resolution of their case isn't quite convincing.

Looking back from way too long after watching this movie to do it justice, the three things that made it for me were: (1) The hero couple's hilariously awful attempt to protect their foster daughter from a sleazoid at their school. (2) The sad but funny awkwardness of Joan Cusack's role as the nosy lady across the street. (3) The patter between the mismatched co-facilitators of their foster parenting group, played by Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro.

The Crimes of Grindelwald - Opinion was divided in the group I saw this movie with. One guy thought it was a terrible follow-up to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Another thought it was OK but could have been better. I was pretty happy with it, though it is definitely darker and leaves a lot more unresolved at the end than the previous super-sized confection from the writer and filmmakers of the "Harry Potter" franchise. The plot has jumped ahead somewhat since the last movie; for example, the supposedly dead (but vaguely hinted to be still alive) Credence Barebone, played by Ezra Miller, has obviously survived, grown up and gotten a girlfriend who, somehow or other, is destined to turn into Lord Voldemort's pet snake. Some people have flipped from the good side to evil, including the previously nice Mr. Abernathy - that young bureaucrat at MACUSA who got flustered when Queenie Goldstein adjusted his tie, back in Movie 1 - who right at the start of this movie is revealed to have gone quite dark and plays a role in Grindelwald's (Johnny Depp) jailbreak. Queenie herself - well, that's part of why the ending of this movie leaves you wondering, "That can't really have happened, can it?" Meantime, multiple mysteries and spooky plots are unfolding all at once, leading to a tour of the wizarding world within Paris, an introduction to a much younger Dumbledore (played by Jude Law), a dashing brother for Newt Scamander, and an actual appearance by the very ancient Nicolas Flamel. It features a dark magical street circus, a sort of evil cult rally, a woman whose transformation into a beast is growing increasingly uncontrollable, a young man's search for his real mother, and a guy who is paying the ultimate price for making an unbreakable vow to avenge his mother's death. Layers within layers, many of them taking a tragic turn, including the romances between Newt and Tina Goldstein and between Queenie and Jacob the muggle.

Three scenes that made it for me: (1) The escapade in the French Ministry of Magic archives, during which the heroes are stalked by catlike security spells. (2) A bit of magical CSI on the scene of a previous night's fracas in the magical quarter of Paris. (3) What it takes for Newt to finally "take sides" in the conflict between Grindelwald's fanatics and the good guys.

I've picked up a negative vibe about this movie from a lot of people. I feel like I'm in the minority for liking it and hoping that the series continues. I've had that feeling before; for example, I enjoyed Valerian while someone I saw it with came out of the theater livid with rage. I take comfort in the fact that my warm reception of then-panned The Fifth Element turned out to be, so to speak, prophetic of the cult following that movie developed. None of these examples are perfect movies or even particularly great movies, but in the case of The Crimes of Grindelwald, a bit of middle-movie-itis might provide just the seasoning a movie series needs to make its concluding installment go off with a bang.

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