fantastic-beast-crimes-of-grindelwald-002

In 1927, dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes from a maximum security prison while in transport from New York City.  Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is appealing his travel ban to the Ministry of Magic.  The Ministry of Magic states that Newt can get his travel pass back if he agrees to work with his brother, Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) but Newt refuses.  Theseus is marrying Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and Newt still has feelings for Leta. Newt accepts a mission from Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) in Paris.

Newt finds out from Queenie Goldstein (Allison Sudol) that her sister Tina (Katherine Waterston) is also in Paris.  Newt also has feelings for Tina, but Tina thinks Newt is marrying Leta, so she’s run away to Paris.  Tina is also looking for Credence in Paris.  Grindelwald also has a reason to find Credence.  Credence is in Paris, with his girlfriend Nagini. (Claudia Kim) Credence is looking to find his real mother.  Does he find her?  Who finds Credence first?  Tina, Newt or Grindelwald?  What does Grindelwald plan for Credence if he finds him first?

The Crimes of Grindelwald does not have many beasts in it, so if a viewer was enthralled by that aspect of the first movie, that element is sorely missing.  What the story does have is a multi-track storyline, there is a romantic storyline, involving, for the most part, Newt and his love interests, past and possibly future.  For those not interested in the romantic side, there is the mystery of Credence, who he is and his powers as a wizard.  There’s also the Grindelwald storyline, is he a threat to the existing order or a prophet to deliver the wizards to their rightful place in humanity?  I like all of the storylines, if there is a complaint, it is that the female characters are underdeveloped, only Queenie seems to have a multifaceted character.   It was also nice to see younger versions of beloved Harry Potter characters, although there was some controversy in one of the younger incarnations of a character.

The story goes along fine until the ending , which is a real head-scorcher for even die hard Potter fans, which I am not, I have not read the books, but I have seen all the movies, and JK Rowling basically reached for something that did not exist in the past books or movies to create a twist ending.  She hinted at one thing, and sprang this ending out of the blue.  It didn’t ruin the film, but it did call into question her writing skills.

The acting is far stronger than I expected.  Eddie Redmyne still has that sly look on his face, and he still has fun with the role, but he seems like a sidekick in the sequel, and that’s too bad.  Johnny Depp thankfully plays Grindelwald with some restraint, and turns in a nice understated performance.  Jude Law displays enough gravitas to play Albus Dumbledore as he should be played.  I’m sure Law will add more layers to his performance in the next film.  Allison Sudol, does a good job of playing Queenie, she is given more serious material in this film, and she handles it well.  Katherine Waterston is ok, but her character is still not well-developed, even after two films.  Zoe Kravitz was pleasantly surprising, I was expecting a flat performance from her, but it was filled with emotion.

The direction was good.  Director David Yates did a good job of letting the disparate elements of the story unfurl, and he got good performances from his lead actors.  This is familiar territory for Yates, he directed Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows Pat 2.  Where I think Yates went awry was with the special effects.  He lets the special effects take over at some points, and the special effects obstruct the narrative and get in the way, rather than enhancing the story.

Fantastic Beasts:   The Crimes of Grindelwald:  I’m a slave to the Grind.

 

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Hotel Artemis

In Los Angeles, in the year 2028, a “nurse” named Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) runs a members only secret hospital for criminals.  A bank robber named Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) seeks medical attention for his brother, Honolulu. (Bryan Tyree Henry)  Waikiki definitely wants out of Lost Angeles, but has to wait for his brother to heal first. The brothers are joined by Acapulco (Charlie Day) and Nice (Sophia Boutella) a contract killer looking for her mark.  Nurse Thomas is also told that Niagara (Jeff Goldblum) is coming to Hotel Artemis for treatment, he runs Los Angeles in the year 2028, and so he is let in without question.  Then , Nurse Thomas sees a woman  named Morgan (Jenny Slate)  injured in the street, and tells her assistant Everest (Dave Bautista ) to bring her in. Trouble is Morgan is a cop, and there are definitely no police allowed in Hotel Artemis.  Why does the nurse make an exception for Morgan?  Does Waikiki ever get out of L.A.?  Does Nice Find her mark?

This should have been a good story, it was a pretty good premise, but badly executed.  The relationships between the characters is vague, they all seem to know each other, but how is not exactly spelled out, the character development is poor, some character development is non-existent and the story meanders for a long time, the ending is chaotic and violent, maybe that was the intent, but this ending looked like another Hollywood excuse for mayhem, and bloodshed.

The cast is stellar.  Jodie Foster tries to eschew her physical beauty, as a tough-as nails, no-nonsense healthcare professional.  It works at times, and doesn’t work at other times.  Sterling K. Brown is good as Waikiki, the only good guy in a den of thieves, he displays a different character than he plays in This Is Us The other actors play characters familiar to them. Charlie Day plays a fast-talking wise guy, a role that’s oh so familiar to viewers of the first Pacific Rim movie. Sofia Boutella plays a mysterious assassin, which is what she played in Kingsman.  Dave Bautista, plays a big dumb comedy relief role, same as Guardians of the Galaxy.  Jeff Goldblum actually reins in his performance a bit, it’s actually quite a muted performance.  But Jenny Slate as a police officer?  No, just no.

The direction is ok.  Not great, there are some interesting crane shots from above, but the pacing is slow.  Drew Pearce is the director and the writer, something that usually sets off alarm bels for me, and Hotel Artemis is no exception. The elements of the story that he wrote come together very slowly.  An hour and a half long movie seems much longer.

Hotel Artemis:  Where For Art Thou plot?

 

 

runnin with the devil

Van Halen was one of the most popular and influential rock bands of the late 70’s and mid 80’s.  Their sound is trademarked by the distinctive howl of original lead singer David Lee Roth, and the revolutionary finger tapping guitar technique of Eddie Van Halen.  Noel Monk managed the original lineup from 1978-1985, when Roth left the band and went on to pursue a solo career.

I am a big Van Halen fan, the original lineup was one of my favorite rock bands ever.  So imagine my excitement when I got this book as a birthday present this year, I would finally get to hear some juicy stories from someone on the inside.  The book is both less entertaining and less informative than I expected.  Sure there are stories, but they are nothing that a devoted Van Halen fan wouldn’t already know. A large part of this book consists of stories about how the manager, who’s also the author, came to the rescue of the band, or made the band better, or richer or more popular. One thing is for certain, no Van Halen fan, no matter how dedicated, gives a rat’s behind about Noel Monk, or what he did he did for Van Halen.  It was Eddie Van Halen’s guitar skills and David Lee Roth’s promotional skills, some would say self-promotional skills, that made Van Halen famous, the manager had very little to do with the music, honestly Monk is a glorified tour manager, and he probably overstates his role as manager.

Noel also takes shots at everyone in the band, except one, depending one who he was angry at in that chapter.  Monk was never involved in the musical end of Van Halen, and the music would seem to be what would be most interesting to me, so I would read a book by Van Halen producer by Ted Templeman before I would read this book because I would really like to know what the studio experience was like with Van Halen, what the creative process was like with them, and this book never provided those insights.  Monk gives his opinions about the songs and the cd’s, almost all of which I disagree with, so take his opinions about the music with a grain of salt.  Somehow, at the end of this complicated story, Monk makes himself the victim of the whole sordid tale, Monk comes across as many things, but a victim, no.  Not by a long shot.

I read David Lee Roth’s book Crazy From The Heat, a long time ago, I don’t remember many details, but I remember laughing a lot, because when David Lee Roth tells a story, it was worth telling.  There was always a punchline, and the punchline was worth hearing.  This book seems to forget about the fun,  and concentrates on the anger, bitterness and acrimony that was undoubtedly  part of the band, but  it’s also what makes parts of this book difficult to read.  The stories of drugging, drinking and womanizing also become a bit redundant after a while.  That said, I read this book pretty quickly, I think I was hoping for more interesting details, or better writing, in the end, there was neither.

Runnin’ With The Devil:  The Devil’s in The Details.

bohemian rhapsody

Farokh Balsara (Rami Malek) was a baggage handler in London when he met Brian May (Gwylim Lee)  Roger Taylor (Ben  Hardy) and John Deacon.  (Joe Mazello)  They were members of the band Smile, and Freddie Mercury as he renamed himself boldly stated that he wanted to be their lead singer.  They took Freddie on, and reamed the band Queen.  At the same time, Freddie meets Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton)  Mary and Freddie fall madly in love and get married.  To take their shot at stardom, the band sells their van and records the album Night At The Opera in 1975.  A record exec named Ray Foster (Mike Myers) hates the song the band picks for the first single, Bohemian Rhapsody, but the band releases it anyway, and the song launches Queen to fame. As the band becomes more famous, Freddie comes to a realization about himself that puts a strain on his marriage, and his bandmates.  Does his marriage survive?  Does the band survive?

The story plays fast and loose with the early history of Queen that’s something that no biopic should do. The story takes a lot of liberties with what actually happened in Queen, some of it is dramatic license, but most of it is unnecessary. There’s the usual rock n’ roll clichés, partying, band members fighting, egos inflating, there’s even a Svengali, steering Freddie Mercury  toward himself and away from the band.  There is a curiously anti-gay subtext throughout the film, most of the gay characters are portrayed as users and hangers on.  The straight people are portrayed as the people trying to steer Freddie from his excesses.  The ending was too neat, tying up all the loose ends a little too well.  Hollywood loves a happy ending, even when the leading man dies.

The acting is pretty good.  Rami Malek is amazing, he looks and sounds like Freddie Mercury, I really can’t imagine anyone else playing this role.  When a Freddie Mercury biopic was first discussed, Johnny Depp was spoken of as playing Freddie Mercury, that idea seems ludicrous now, and would have been another case of Hollywood whitewashing.  Glylim Lee is good as guitarist Brian May, Lucy Boynton is ok, as the love interest with a twist.  Allen Leech does a commendable job as Paul Prenter, a difficult role as Queen’s manager in the band’s later years.

Beyan Singer, director of two of my favorite  X Men films seems out of his element here, he cvan’t rely on special effects, so he goes  through the motions, There’s a predictable montage of Queen concerts, live performances of all their big hits, which by the way is disappointing to true Queen fans.  Then there’s another predictable climactic scene. There’s nothing really inspiring in the direction.

Bohemian Rhapsody:  Mercurial.

kidding

Episode 1:

 Green Means Go

Jeff (Jim Carrey) is beloved children’s television host Mr. Pickles.  Jeff has just gone through a traumatic experience which caused his wife, Jill (Judy Greer) to divorce him.  Jeff wants to talk about what happened to him on his show, but Sebastian (Frank Langella) Jeff’s father and producer of show is against it.  Deidre, (Catherine Keener) Jeff’s sister has family problems of  her own.  Does Jeff get to share his trauma on tv?  Can he put his family back together?

This show has an interesting premise, what if a Mr. Rogers type character had a life changing event happen to him?   Good premise, the execution seems a bit odd.  I know writers like to make shows edgy, but this is a little too edgy for me.  JOne of the plot points is straight out of a cheesy 70’s sitcom.

Jim Carrey is a good actor, watch him in movies like the Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but he seems to be stuck between comedy and drama here and he doesn’t know which choice is the right one. Frank Langella is a great actor, and is good here.  His voice is commanding, and he uses it well.   Catherine Keener isn’t given much to do, until the end of the episode.

Episode 2:

 Pusillanimous

Jeff visits a sick child in the hospital, Sebastian is not thrilled with Jeff’s new look.  Jeff spies on his wife’s new boyfriend, Peter.  (Justin Kirk)  Sebastian Is not happy about the direction in which the program is going.

It seems like Jim Carrey enjoys playing the scenes with the kids, and enjoys the Mr. Pickles character, more than the darker side of this character, because the Pickles character allows him to use his creativity more than the serious aspect of the character.  I think Frank Langella is enjoying plying the voice of reason, the realist in the fantasy world Jeff has created,  I don’t know what to make of the show, not yet, but I’m intrigued to find out.

Episode 3:

Every Pain Needs A Name

Jeff continues to try to vent his pain on the show, while Sebastian continues to try to merchandise Jeff’s likeness.  Sebastian also tries to convince Jeff to date one of his adult fans, while Jeff visits a cancer patient in a hospital.

This series is straddling a line between good taste and bad taste right now.  They should be careful because, the writers are dealing wiith a real live character her or at least the representation of one Fred Rogers was a real person, a Presbyterian minister, and if the writers cross that line, this will just become another joke at the expense of a kind, caring man, I hope they are cognizant of that.

 

Episode 4:

Bye Mom

Sebastian is still trying to find a way to monetize the Mr. Pickles character.  Deidre is still having marital problems, and Jill. Jeff’s ex-wife, has problems with something he has done.  Jeff is only worried if his out of date flip phone is working correctly.

This episode changed my mind about this show, I’ve always had a cynical underlying feeling about this show, that the writers were waiting for the right time to turn the Mr. Pickles character into another caricature of Fred Rogers, a man I admire very much.  Now I am more hopeful that this show will make Jeff Picklers a well-rounded humane character, instead of the butt of a cruel joke.  Let’s see how my hope plays out against the rest of the episodes.

Episode 5:

The New You

Jeff continues his unconventional relationship.  Sebastian continues to try to expand the marketing of Mr. Pickles.  Deidre tries to impress Sebastian with a new puppet.  Sebastian and Will bond.

This episode was disappointing because it focused on Jeff’s mental state, I hoped the focus would be elsewhere, but the writers are seemingly pushing the show in a different direction.  It could have been revolutionary or at least different, but it seems like it will be just another man on the edge series, and this character deserved better.  The big gag of the episode wasn’t even that funny.

 

Jeff’s relationship hits a low point.  Will Pickles vandalizes an empty house with his stoner friends without knowing that his father has bought the house  Jeff wants Tara Lapinski to stop impersonating him on ice.  Does she listen to him?  Deidre reaches her limit with her daughter, Maddy  (Juliet Morris)

This show is maddening.  Some of this episode is so beautiful, and some of it is just plain puzzling.  Just when I think I have a handle on the show or a character, something contradictory happens, and that makes the show frustrating to watch.  Will Pickles is especially annoying, maybe because of his moral nihilism, or his sense of privilege, because of his father’s wealth and fame, Will thinks he can get away with anything , people like that exist, I don’t want to see them on tv.

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 7:

Kintsugi

Mr. Pickles San ( Louis Ozawa Changchien) visits Jeff Pickles to pick up some tips on his version of Mr. Pickles.  Jeff approves a talking Mr. Pickles doll, and feels freer to speak his mind. Deidre finds kinship with Pickles San.  Scott and Deirdre argue about Maddy’s musical choices.  Jeff’s unconventional relationship takes an unexpected turn.

For 28 minutes this show is going as expected, but for the last two minutes of the show it devolves into something I don’t want to see. I hope it doesn’t turn into the kind of show that it seems to want to use shock value to gain viewers.  There are too many shows like that already, this show has a chance to be different, I hope it takes that chance to take the road less travelled.

Episode 8:

Phillium

Phil does magic tricks.  Jeff is asked to witness an execution.  Does he do it?

This was a filler episode about a tangential relationship between minor characters, all of these pay tv based shows have at least one of these filler episodes. I hope this is the last filler episode for this show.  It’s a flashback episode but it reveals little and what it reveals are only minor about minor characters.

Episode 9:

LT Pickles

Some creates a Mr. Pickles shooting game for smartphones.  Will gets into trouble in school.  Deidre’s feelings for Mr. Pickles San intensify.  Jeff is seeing things that don’t exist, is the pressure of being Mr. Pickles getting to him?

This show seems to be going in the direction that I feared it would, not in the direction that I hoped it would.  Every show is about sensationalism these days, not about how true to life a person can be.  I once again remind the writers and creator  of this fictional show that a real-life man entertained millions of kids without having mental issues, while confronting major societal issues, but nevermind.

Episode 10:

Some Day

Jeff pours his heart out on a live Christmas tree lighting, and it has unexpected consequences.  Deidre comes to a decision about her life that may not please everyone.  Will finds something unusual in the house he thought was abandoned.

This episode was actually a fitting episode for this show. Jeff finally got to speak from his heart, and it was touching, there was also a twist at the end of the episode if the episode got too saccharine for the viewers.  This was probably the best episode of the series, and made me want to watch Season 2.

My impressions of Season 1:

The  Some Day episode went a long way toward healing the flaws in this series, but the series was not without issues.  There was a foreboding tone and a downward spiral in the arc of the characters that was at times  depressing to watch.  The writers did some things for shock value, and also some cheap situation comedy tricks that really didn’t work.  There are also characters that are annoying, mostly the children but sometimes the adults.  Deidre is an example of such a character, she is in a season long rut, and whatever she tries to get out of that rut, it fails.  Deidre’s daughter, Maddy, is just a banshee, a bratty character that bears no resemblance to a real child.  Deidre’s husband Scott is less than one-dimensional, he’s no-dimensional, Jeff’s son Will is an entitled brat that everyone hopes their son is not.  One aspect of the writing is very good, and that’s the songs, the songs and the puppetry make the viewer believe that Mr. Pickles is a real kids show.

So what saves this show from the ash heap of pay tv series?   Frankly, the main characters, Jeff and Seb, are interesting.  There’s something interesting about a man with one foot out the door and another foot on a banana peel, I was hoping for a different kind of character, but there is still something morbidly intriguing about something on the edge of losing it.  The writers definitely pushed that narrative beyond the limits, b the viewer can’t look away. Jeff starts out as a total innocent, almost childlike in his naïveté, and then he evolves.  The evolution is sometimes disappointing, but always interesting.  Seb is interesting because of his undying cynicism .  How can a grown man be so Machiavellian in trying to manipulate his son?

The acting is another reason to watch the series.  Jim Carrey gives a mostly understated, well-modulated performance, as a man coping with incredible stress, and trying to find a silver lining in what he’s going through.  Sometimes Carrey reverts back to sit-com Jim Carrey,  but most of the time he delivers a sensitive and sweet performance.  The character has many sides and Carrey does well in exploring all facets of this character. Frank Langella almost steals the show as Seb, Jeff’s dad, Seb is underhanded, manipulative and mercenary.  The show needed someone like Seb to balance out all of Jeff’s good instincts.  It’s really a one dimensional character, Seb is basically trying to find new and different ways to monetize Jeff, but Langella does his best to infuse the character with humor, and that makes the character palatable.  Catherine Keener is stuck playing a sad-sack character who is desperately trying to find some happiness that seems just out of reach.  I don’t blame Keener, more the writers for giving her an untenable character.

Mostly for the acting, I will watch season two, because there is a twist at the end of season 1 that revives all the questions of  season 1.

Kidding:  Jim doesn’t get “Carreyd” away with silliness.

Movie Review: Traffik (2018)

Posted: November 17, 2018 in Drama
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traffik

Brea (Paula Patton) is an investigative journalist, who has just been fired for writing flowery, overly intellectual articles.  In order to buoy her flagging spirits her boyfriend John (Omar Epps) takes her on a trip to a luxurious cabin in the woods.  On the way to the cabin, Brea runs into a woman named Cara (Dawn Oliveri) in a gas station ladies room, who seems to want Brea to help her, but is pressured to leave by her boyfriend Red. (Luke Goss)  After Brea leaves the gas station, she discovers a phone in her purse, a short time later Cara tracks Brea down and demands her phone back.  What is on the phone?  Does Brea return the phone to Cara?

Traffik begins by saying that the film is based on actual events, which is movie speak for, we took a true story and made stuff up to make it more exciting.  The subject matter discussed in Traffik is very serious indeed, but the seriousness of the subject matter is undermined by a deeply flawed script.  Among the flaws are, Tyler Perry style infighting between the main characters, negative stereotyping of both races, excessive violence, and a sloppy transformation into a pseudo Blaxploitation film.  The film also features a needless plot twist, which again plays on minority fears regarding authority figures. The ending is predictable, and really gives the audience nothing to think about.

The acting is sub-par.  Paula Patton is limited as an actress, I didn’t realize how limited her skills were,  She is not well equipped for dramatic movies, she looks and sounds like a Valley Girl, which is definitely not the right character choice for this film.  She should stick to light romantic comedy, like Baggage Claim, that she can handle.  Omar Epps does a credible job as John, Brea’s boyfriend, but there’s not much to his character either. Roselyn Sanchez is not given much to do, and Missy Pyle giver her character a permanent scowl that gives away her character’s intentions.

Deon Taylor is the writer and director, he did not write a good story and his direction was similarly bad.  The last half an hour where the action should be picking up is when the pacing goes to Hell and slows to a crawl.  He doesn’t get good performances and  uses the song “Strange Fruit” a song  about lynching, at the most inopportune time.

Traffik:  Jammed with bad ideas.

hero_Neighbor-4

Won’t  You Be My Neighbor is an entertaining and enlightening documentary about Fred Rogers and his groundbreaking children’s show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  The interviews of Fred Rogers, his wife, his children, the crew of the show, and people whose lives he touched, give remarkable insight to the man, and those who made this show a special show for the millions of children who loved the show.

I did not watch Mister Rogers Neighborhood as a child, but I learned about Fred Rogers several things as an adult that made me respect the man as an adult.  I learned even more about the man and the show through this documentary and that made me respect the man and the show even more.  The show had an overarching message, and Fred Rogers was the perfect man to deliver that message, kind, gentle, the kind of man anyone would want to talk to their children.  His wife mirrored Fred Rogers’ personality kind and genteel. The honesty and sincerity of Fred Rogers, his wife and the crew behind the scenes come shining through every frame. One of the interviews with a cast member is especially illuminating.  The cast member is Francois Clemmons, and his work on the show and his friendship with Rogers is an illustration of how kindness can heal a turbulent world.

The era in which Mr. Rogers Neighborhood aired was also important, The show first aired in 1968 and went off the air in 2001, this was a period marked by jarring events, political assassination, segregation, wars, and Mr. Rogers was there to soothe children and shepherd  them to being productive adults.   The film is not only laudatory, it includes criticism of Rogers and the theme of the show, which makes the movie inclusive of all perspectives.  The movie was also funny, touching and sad, the film ran the emotional gamut, which is exceptional for a documentary.

The direction is very good.  Director Morgan Neville keeps the pacing fast, and the only creative flourish  is some animation of Daniel the Striped Tiger.  The animated vignettes are nice, but Neville realizes that the emotional heft of the movie lies in the words of Fred Rogers, his family, the people who made the show and the archival footage of the show, so he quickly goes back to the strengths of this film.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor  I Love This Neighbor.