The Crimes of Grindelwald

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the book, was not a property that I thought could be adapted. It had no plot after all. It sounded like someone was attempting to adapt Encyclopedia Britannica. But with JK Rowling herself writing the scipt and Harry Potter veteran David Yates at the helm, we got a surprisingly interesting romp through the magical streets of 1920s New York. Newt Scamander wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, but together with the side characters the film had a good emotional core.

The mouthful of a sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), was in theory the much easier ask. The world is by now incredibly familiar to much of the movie-going population, and the new characters established. Hell, even the story itself was somewhat known. Grindelwald has been lurking in the background for over a decade, ever since we learnt about him in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There is a curiosity about his motivations and methods. That is what frustrates me most about the film. It has everything I could ever want in a Grindelwald story in theory, yet it whizzes about in a weird way, paying fan service not to the series we love, but to the one movie that was ok.

So, let me explain what should have been.

Spoilers below.

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Solo – A Star Wars Story

solo

Solo, a beverage and a man. A man who was given his iconic name not through simply being Han Solo, but because an Imperial bureaucrat lacked imagination. Solo, the delicious Norwegian soda, was famously the drink that only did one thing: satisfy your thirst. Solo, a Star Wars story, does not satisfy. Solo, the heist/adventure movie, manages a soft “meh.” This angered me more than I expected as I left the cinema. I’m usually not one to care that much. What struck me constantly during the film was how little I cared for anything. Let’s try to find out why, shall we?

Han Solo is the quintessential rogue character. What satisfies me about his character will not be the same thing that does it for you. My main concern is what can his origin story even be when the ending must birth the character we all hold so dear? The task seems impossible.

This review contains all the spoilers

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The Death of Stalin

stalin

What is the difference, if any, between laughing at the absurd death of a dictator who killed around 60 million people, and laughing at one who killed anywhere from 9 to 50 million people? The numbers are impossible to verify, the suffering is impossible to quantify, but yet one is decidedly easier to laugh at than the other. From The Great Dictator (1940), through springtime to Tarantino’s Basterds (2009), I have had little self-reflection about separating laughter and sorrow at the events. In fact countless comedies are set within the horrific events of WW2, one even inside a concentration camp.

There are not as many mainstream comedies set in Stalin’s Russia, despite the fact that many non-Russian film-makers love to interpret Russian life, music and literature for their own audiences. We have countless western versions of War & Peace, to name just one. What makes one dictator more meme-friendly than another? Not a question I can answer here, but it’s an interesting thought that The Death of Stalin (2018) put in my head. There is no Stalinesque equivalent of Hitler reacting to his xbox account getting suspended. There is no Stalin singing “I’m so ronry” in puppet form. Yet, you have to admit he has the numbers too, as Eddie Izzard once noted.

You may feel all of these examples are in poor taste, and shouldn’t be laughed at. But I have, without much thought as to why I felt that’s ok. So this review of The Death of Stalin (2018) is going to be part review and part me figuring out why it’s uncomfortable even as I roll with laughter.

Spoilers below.

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Ready Player One

posterReading the novel by Ernest Cline felt a bit like watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory – not necessarily in a bad way, but more in the way that I wasn’t exactly sure who the book is written for. The book is, at first glance, for young and old geeks who like geeky things and aren’t opposed to a bit of pulp in their fiction. That’s definitely me! But at the end of the book, I didn’t really feel anything, and it had not felt like an adventure. Maybe I’m just not of a “good enough” nerd, you might say. If you do feel inclined to say that, maybe the book’s for you.

The film, on the other hand, does away with a lot of the American Psycho-esque listing of esoteric knowledge and keeps the story grounded much more in reality, both in the reality of the characters and the reality of, well, actual reality.

Some spoilers below.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

jediWe waited until Boxing Day to see The Last Jedi, but long before that I had heard – or rather felt – disturbing rumours. I’ve yet to read other reviews, so I am still not quite sure what people are all up in arms about. This review might not touch on any of the so-called “issues” people had with the film. I can see that some might find a few things hard to swallow, but this review has a lot of stuff to talk about, so I’ll save the in-depth discussion of Luke for another time. Let’s get into it.

SPOILERS DOWN BELOW

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Thor: Ragnarok

thorragnarokWhen choosing which movie to see last weekend there wasn’t really a debate. Above the cinema, and on every other bus in town, was the drab and unsettling poster for Justice League, DC’s Avengers, their first full line-up movie. I think it’s safe to say I’ve been more lenient to the DC movies than most of the reviewers I follow, but I still had absolutely no desire to see another DC outing.

The alternative was Thor: Ragnarok, the follow up to Thor: The Dark World, which is arguably near the bottom of Marvel’s film hierarchy, and God knows which number it holds in Marvels cinematic universe timeline. I should have Marvel fatigue, but I happily paid to visit this franchise yet again, knowing exactly what I was going to get, instead of giving DC the benefit of the doubt.

Setting aside the why and the how of my Marvel-tolerance, can Thor: Ragnarok be a better sequel than the first?

The review below contains mild spoilers

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Blade Runner 2049

bladerunnerCan the Uncanny Valley ever be overcome? The line between a computer simulation or robot, and a real person seems like a great chasm today, but once we get closer and closer, will the line blur, or will we become hyper-sensitive to the minute differences? Will we ever need to have a debate over a “grown” human’s rights? Are they the same as a robot? A fleshy version of Commander Data? Can an automaton have a soul if it passes an emotional Turing Test? Is it different if it bleeds? Do tests even really mean anything when we’re looking for a soul? We could sit here and have ourselves a podcast’s worth of questions, but let’s talk about the movie instead. Is it a good movie?

Blade Runner officer “K” (Ryan Gosling) goes out to a protein farm outside Los Angeles and “retires” one of the old replicant models. The replicant was hiding a secret so powerful it might “end the world” as officer K’s superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) explains it. It is up to K to unravel the mystery.

This review contains SPOILERS

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword review

arthurThere are some stories that we will never stop telling. The recent round of these stories, be it fairytales, legends or classic books, seem to lean towards the “darker and grittier” aesthetic. A lot of people complain that this is unnecessary; that it leaves the characters one dimensional, and makes the ridiculous aspects of fantasy worlds all the more obvious and harder to swallow. But there are good things to say about this “genre” of remake. For one, it occacionally looks totally badass. It also, when done right, allows otherwise “silly” aspects of stories to be reworked, which can be a good stepping stone to more nuanced versions of those stories.

The gritty remake of King Arthur was King Arthur (2004) with Clive Owen as the legendary king. It did not add much to the Arthurian legend, and only stands out in my mind due to the uproar over Keira Knightly’s photoshopped bosom on the poster. It’s a bit of an odd relic today, full of actors who would become better known later, for better or worse.

Guy Ritchie’s take on the well-known story is full of grittiness – silent screams, washed out colours, deep drumming music. In the hands of any other director it might have come out as “Batman in the 12th century”, but Ritchie has his own aesthetic, one that clashes head first into the dark fantasy version of Camelot. If you don’t like Guy Ritchie, you won’t like this film. It has all his hallmarks: parallell story, hard to follow narrators, hand held running, slow-motion, and cheeky banter. But does it lean too much in either direction? Would the story have been better served if it layed on more dark grit, or more lock stock?

Spoilers ahead.

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Beauty and the Beast Review

beautyI’m tempted to bastardise Dickens for my own amusement, so here it goes: all Disney-haters hate Disney in the same way, all Disney-lovers love Disney each in their own way. We all have our favourites, we all prefer one technique over another, some languages over others. I can swallow Hakuna Matata in Norwegian, but don’t you dare show me The Little Mermaid in my native tongue. I love Sleeping Beauty for its art, Tangled for its feel-goodness, The Hunchback of Notre Dame for its score, and Hercules for James Woods alone.

The new live-action Disney classics are very difficult to review without these childhood emotions colouring everything. It is therefore much easier to simply lay all those biases out, and see the movie as it is: an adaptation, from animation to live-action. In my humble opinion, I think Beauty and the Beast (2017) improves on the original in many ways.

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