My Month in Movies (January 2022)

Looks like I’m doing “My Month in Movies” again. I feel I watched enough movies in the first month of 2022 to warrant another one. And the movies mostly followed the specific theme of ‘fantasy’ – which I like to think is something of a speciality of mine – so it made sense. Even more specifically, I rewatched the entire Harry Potter series again (Fantastic Beasts and all), partly because Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (what a title) comes out in a couple of months, and partly because I started the year watching that retrospective special on the Harry Potter movies’ twentieth anniversary on HBO Max, so I was feeling nostalgic for them. I’m glad I did, because I feel it rekindled my interest in the series, and even gave me new appreciation for it. I would like to review all of the Harry Potter movies someday, and perhaps sooner still make a ranking of them. But I have so many backlogged things I want to write as it is, so for now, they can be a part of this My Month in Movies.

Because ‘My Month in Movies’ has gotten ridiculously long in the past, I’m going to try and keep things as short and simple as possible. And due to the aforementioned backlog of reviews and other things, I don’t plan on doing another My Month in Movies for February or March. But then again, I only decided to write this one for January after I watched the entire Harry Potter series, so who knows. I’ll write them when I write them, I guess.

Enough intros and wasting time. Here are the eighteen movies I watched in January of 2022, in chronological order of when I watched them. Movies with asterisks next to them are ones I watched for the very first time.

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts*

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald

The BFG*

Bram Stoker’s Dracula*

Hook

It Follows

Labyrinth

Wild Wild West*

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild*


So yeah, ‘fantasy’ was definitely the name of the game this month. There are a couple of horror movies in there, but both would still ultimately fall under fantasy in one way or another (many people consider fantasy, horror and science fiction to be like different branches of the same tree. But I’d argue that fantasy is the tree itself, considering it supersedes the other two in terms of concept whenever it’s joined together with them. For example, when science-fiction dabbles into fantasy, it becomes science-fantasy. But when fantasy dabbles in science fiction, it’s still fantasy). You could even argue that Wild Wild West and The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild could be considered variations of fantasy.

My month/year in movies began with Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts. You could argue it isn’t actually a movie, but it’s feature length and certainly entertaining, so I’m counting it here. A lovely look back on twenty years of Harry Potter movies. I was actually surprised how emotional I got during it. I’ve taken some jabs at Harry Potter here and there in the past, namely because people often (and strangely) compared it to The Lord of the Rings back in the day. And well, that was always a losing battle. But deep down I’ve always loved Harry Potter, despite some narrative shortcomings. And this 20 year retrospective reminded me of why I love it. It was great that the Harry Potter books got kids reading again (there have been other popular book series for children and young adults since, none of which are as indelible). And then you have the movies giving a generation of audiences a gateway to imagination and magic (figurative and literal, in this case).

I definitely have to appreciate the magic and world-building of the Harry Potter series, which feels all the more unique in retrospect now that movies aren’t allowed to have magic anymore (if Harry Potter took place in the MCU, every time someone casted a spell they’d have to stop and explain how it “wasn’t really magic, but a really advanced science”). The series is sometimes too loose with its rules, with magic seemingly changing for plot convenience. But for the most part, it’s well done and imaginative. And again, I’ll take it over the alternative of over-explaining fantasy elements or being embarrassed by them (again, I’m looking at you, MCU).

Something the 20th anniversary special really brought to my attention is how the Harry Potter series appropriately matures as it goes on. It’s maybe the only movie series in which you see its main stars grow up throughout it. Obviously I was aware of that, but I never really gave it much thought until watching the special. The fact that they were able to adapt all seven books (into eight movies) with the same cast over the course of a decade is quite the unique achievement.

The first two Harry Potter features, Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, feel more like kids’ movies than the others. Both were directed by Chris Columbus (he did Home Alone, among others), whose work with the series I feel is under appreciated. Some applaud the first two movies in the series as being the most faithful to the books, while others feel the series hadn’t yet found its voice, and that they’re too long given they’re targeted at a younger audience. I think both movies are pretty great, even if it’s obvious the three leads hadn’t quite meshed into the roles yet (which is forgivable, given their ages at the time). They’re great fantasy-adventure movies for kids that are equally entertaining for adults. I think Chris Columbus set a great tone for the start of the series. And we can’t forget the score by John Williams! Because having done Star Wars and Spielberg’s filmography wasn’t enough, John Williams also gave us the music to Harry Potter as well. What a legend.

The third film in the series, Prisoner of Azkaban, is often regarded as the best of the lot, and rightfully so. Azkaban isn’t simply a great Harry Potter movie or a great fantasy movie. It’s a great movie, period. It’s more grown up than its two predecessors, but still retains their more playful spirit (something some of the sequels lack). It also has perhaps the most self-contained story, and certainly the most character-driven one. It ended up being the only Harry Potter film directed by Alfonso Cuarón, and the last one to feature music by John Williams.

Goblet of Fire is the first notable dip in the series, but it certainly isn’t bad. Admittedly, some of that dip is simply because Azkaban was so good. But it also feels like most of Goblet’s story is just padding to get to the ending, when the evil Lord Voldemort is resurrected. It’s hard to explain, but the ending of the film feels like the start of a new series (which I guess makes sense, since Voldemort’s resurrection marks the biggest tonal and narrative shift in the series). It doesn’t really feel like an ending to the story of the rest of the movie. And I always found it a bit weird how, after the elaborate plots Voldemort attempted to be resurrected in Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, he just has one of his minions perform a dark ritual to successfully be brought back. Seems like he could have saved himself some trouble by jumping straight into that. Goblet was the only Harry Potter film directed by Mike Newell before David Yates took over the rest of the series (which continues to this day with the Fantastic Beasts movies).

Order of the Phoenix is probably the Harry Potter movie I’ve seen the most times (except maybe Sorcerer’s Stone), although I don’t really know why. It’s a good movie, but I think it only occasionally reaches the same heights as the first three. I guess, with Voldemort back, the story had to change. I just don’t think the change is always for the better (perhaps it’s no coincidence that I and many others hold Azkaban in such high regard and it also happens to be the most Voldemort-free entry?). It’s still a fun movie, and gives us the franchise’s most gloriously hatable character in the form of Dolores Umbridge. With David Yates’ grip on the series starting here, Phoenix set the tone for the rest of the films to follow.

Half-Blood Prince is the penultimate story in the series. I never read the book for this one, which is sometimes considered the best book in the series. The movie seems to have a rockier reputation, and again, I tend to agree. Before my current run-through of the Harry Potter movies, I had only seen Half-Blood Prince once, back when it was in theaters. At the time, I would have said it was my least favorite Harry Potter movie, but now it’s a toss-up between it and Goblet of Fire (unless we count the Fantastic Beasts movies, in which case we all know The Crimes of Grindlewald takes the dubious crown with ease). Like Goblet of Fire, it’s not a bad movie, it just feels like something is missing. There are some great, key moments for the franchise here. But on the whole, it just isn’t as memorable as some of the other movies in the series. I also never really bought into the Hermione/Ron romance (something which J.K. Rowling herself regrets), and that enters the forefront here. Said romance also seems oddly placed given the severity of everything else going on (or maybe it’s just because I’m a predominantly asexual individual so teen romance is lost on me). Again, not a bad movie, but the series can do better.

Somewhat annoyingly, Harry Potter started that trend we saw in the early 2010s of a franchise finale being split into two movies with Deathly Hallows (technically, The Hobbit started the trend when it was set to be split in two a while beforehand, despite being released after both Deathly Hallows. Though The Hobbit was ultimately spread too thin with three movies). In all fairness, at least Harry Potter was a big enough franchise that splitting its finale felt warranted.

Deathly Hallows: Part 1 set the stage for a big, epic finale. And for the most part, it succeeds. I think my two big issues with Deathly Hallows are that some of the notable character deaths happen off-screen (apparently these same deaths happened off-page in the book, so this is on Rowling), and that I think the whole storyline with Voldemort’s Horcruxes (cursed objects that contain pieces of his soul thus leaving him immortal) needed to be a little more spread out. The first Horcrux is taken care of all the way back in Chamber of Secrets, which makes sense and gives that story even more importance. But then when Harry and Dumbledore find another Horcrux in Half-Blood Prince, it needlessly turns out to be a fake, so a good deal of Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is dealing with that same Horcrux. It seems like the one Harry and Dumbledore found in Half-Blood Prince should have just been the real thing and destroyed then and there so the story could move on to the rest of the Horcruxes.

Anyway, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a highly entertaining movie that fittingly feels like a big deal, even when watching it today. But I think that Part 2 is even better.

Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is one of the best franchise closers in movie history. The sense of drama and urgency feels well earned, the emotion is strong, and it all boils down to an appropriately epic finale. And it has the best music in the series since John Williams left it behind. This is another great movie. Not nearly as standalone as Azkaban, nor does it have that film’s hard to describe ‘dreamlike’ quality. But because it’s such a satisfying end to the series, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 might be my second favorite Harry Potter movie (guess we’ll see when I finally decide to rank the series). I have a lingering complaint from Part 1 with the continuing trend of off-screen character deaths (for some of them I understand it. Harry can’t be present for every character death. But some of the more important characters’ deaths make it feel like Rowling started killing them off just to do it, since they happen off-screen). Though my complaint that’s unique to Part 2 is that – and I admit this may seem weird – there’s not a whole lot that happens after the final battle and before the epilogue. Basically, I think there needed to be more ending. Not necessarily a better ending, since I feel the ending is fine. Just more of it.

People love to joke that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has multiple endings. But I never took issue with any of them. They all gave an appropriate sense of finality to one of cinema’s great franchises. And I think Harry Potter could have done something similar. I would have liked to have seen more of the characters in detail after the final battle and before the epilogue. This is a series that earned the “never-ending endings” treatment. So it’s a shame it doesn’t get it. Otherwise, a great movie, and a prime example of how to close out a movie series.

Now we move on to the Fantastic Beasts series, a prequel/spinoff of Harry Potter exclusive to the world of movies (okay, there was a book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” but from what I gather it was more like a guide of fictional animals within the Harry Potter universe, as opposed to the story we see in the movie series). Prequels released after a beloved franchise has wrapped up don’t exactly have the best track record. And well, Fantastic Beasts hasn’t exactly done a great job at bucking that trend.

Okay, so the first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is okay. It doesn’t do anything really great, but it’s fun and introduces us to some entertaining new characters like Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and the Muggle/No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the first non-magic main character in the series (something that proves to be a lot of fun) as well as the first American actor/main character in the franchise.

Fantastic Beasts is a solidly enjoyable movie that is at once nostalgic for the Harry Potter of yesteryear, while also showing audiences different aspects of that world. And in a move I like, it introduces us to some creatures in the Wizarding World that are actually cute! One of my ongoing issues with Harry Potter was how ugly all the creatures of its world were, so it was nice that Fantastic Beasts showed us some cute ones. Fantastic Beasts is nothing special, but it’s a fun movie.

The same can’t be said about the sequel, the awkwardly-titled Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald. This movie is such a mess that it (as well as the whole Johnny Depp controversy) derailed the series for a good few years. Although it’s annoying that this sequel resurrects a character who seemingly died in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, it otherwise starts out alright. But things quickly go off the rails as the movie devolves into an undying barrage of exposition, which leaves the second half of the film feeling more like the appendices of a book than an actual movie. We also can’t forget the introduction of a character who seems destined to be important to the series going forward, only for the movie to kill them off before everything is said and done. One of the main characters ends up siding with the villain in the most random heel turn ever. And the movie ends on a cliffhanger that is also one of the most annoying retcons to an established story I can recall (I suppose it is possible this can be undone in the upcoming installments, but we’ll see). Some even argue that the series entered into the “more serious” territory too soon with the second entry, considering there are still three more to go.

The Crimes of Grindlewald has some entertainment value, and it’s fun that we finally get to see Nicolas Flamel (the titular sorcerer/philosopher behind the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone). But boy, does it lose its way by the end. Here’s hoping that The Secrets of Dumbledore gets the series back on track.

As an added bonus, I also watched all four episodes of that game show Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses that aired in December of 2021, hosted by Dame Helen Mirren (I guess because she was just about the only notable English actor not to appear in the Harry Potter movies). I was surprised to hear the game show didn’t have too fond of a reception, as I found it to be pretty fun (though I did have some issues with the structure of the contest). I don’t know if a second season is planned, but I hope it happens.

And now we finally move on from Harry Potter.

Next up was the BFG, the 2016 Steven Spielberg movie based on the Road Dahl book, about a little girl who befriends a Big Friendly Giant (BFG). I intended to see this in theaters back in the day, but never got around to it. Apparently I’m not the only one, because the film was a box office bomb. That’s a shame, because the movie was actually pretty good. It’s certainly not among Spielberg’s best films or anything, and it takes a while to get going, but it ultimately charmed me. Considering this was Spielberg’s first movie to be released by Disney, you would think that combination would have put more butts in the seats. Alas, fairy tales such as this just don’t sell unless they’re made directly by Disney Animation. The BFG may not be a Spielberg or Disney great, but it’s a good family movie that deserves a little more attention.

Now we take a total 180 with Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1992, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the director of the 1996 film Jack… and also The Godfather (I’ve been waiting to use that for a while). This is the Dracula movie where Gary Oldman plays the iconic vampire. And the one where Dracula has the butt/boob shaped hair. What? He does!

Anyway, the film is considered one of the more faithful adaptations of Dracula, hence Bram Stoker’s name in the title. Some people love this movie, others less so. I think it’s worth a watch for fans of Dracula and horror, and the film looks good. But if I’m going to be honest, some scenes are kind of unintentionally hilarious. And well, even the film’s defenders can’t deny that Keanu Reeve’s English accent makes Dick Van Dyke seem like a full-blooded Englishman.

One thing’s for sure, the theme music to Bram Stoker’s Dracula is amazing! So menacing and foreboding. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve probably heard the theme music. It’s so effective as villainous music that many other works have used it, ranging from an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars to the original teaser for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. And though I can’t confirm it, I think Super Mario Galaxy’s rendition of Super Mario Bros. 3’s Airship theme was inspired by the theme of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Damn, this music is good!

Speaking of good music, my next movie was Hook. Oh boy, does the soundtrack to Hook kick ass!

For those unfamiliar, Hook is a 1991 Steven Spielberg movie that has a rather amazing premise: What if Peter Pan grew up?

The film stars the late, great Robin Williams as an adult Peter Pan (perfect casting there), who has forgotten his past and now goes by Peter Banning. But when Captain Hook (memorably portrayed by Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps Peter’s children, Peter has to rediscover who he really is to take down his old foe and rescue his kids.

There seem to be two different opinions when it comes to Hook: There’s the more critical crowd who consider it one of Spielberg’s weakest movies (a sentiment shared by Spielberg himself), and those who grew up watching it on VHS who adore it. As is often the case with two such extreme opposing viewpoints, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I think Hook is a better movie than it gets credit for, but no doubt it takes more than one serious dip once Peter makes his way back to Neverland. And even the film’s aforementioned amazing premise of a grown up Peter Pan gets a little squandered in the latter half as it devolves into a simple retelling of Peter Pan.

But the one thing that can’t be denied is that the soundtrack is phenomenal! It’s a Spielberg movie, which of course means John Williams was the composer. With John Williams, you expect good music, but the soundtrack to Hook goes above and beyond the call of duty. It’s up there with Star Wars and Jurassic Park as one of John Williams’ best scores. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s so good!

Importantly, the music to Hook played a roll in inspiring the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, AKA the best video game soundtrack. For that alone we should be eternally grateful.

Going back to horror with It Follows from 2014. Whereas Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a horror film with a great premise and so-so execution, It Follows has a concept that sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud or write it out, but the end result is actually very effective.

It Follows is a horror film about an unnamed entity that – true to the title – follows its prey until It catches up to them and kills them. But the premise is a bit more interesting because of the rules of how the entity, or “It” works.

“It” only stalks one person at any given time, and whoever is the current victim of “It” can pass “It” on to someone else by (and here’s where it may sound silly) having sex with them. But should “It” catch up to its current victim and kill them, it will go back to its previous target and keep going down the line. “It” has no definitive form, instead taking on the appearance of different people, and is only visible to its current and previous targets. But its victims have some advantages against “It.” Notably, “It” is incredibly slow, only capable of moving at waking speed. So even though “It” is aware of the location of its current target at all times, it can be outran in individual moments. “It” also is only an unstoppable killing machine if it catches its victim, otherwise it still has trouble opening locked doors or breaking through windows. Finally, even though it disguises itself as other people, because it has the singular goal of killing its current target and can only move at one speed, it’s pretty easy to pick out from a crowd.

Again, it all sounds a bit wonky when you explain it, but that makes it all the more impressive that the film manages to pull off the concept into a genuinely chilling horror film.

Next up was Labryinth, directed by Jim Henson and executive produced by George Lucas. This is a fun movie that’s often lumped together with Henson’s previous film The Dark Crystal, due to both films being fantasy worlds filled with crazy creatures brought to life by Henson’s signature puppets. In the past, I would have said Labyrinth was the better of the two movies since its smaller scope was more attainable with what Henson had to work with, though the excellent 2019 Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance has somewhat retroactively made the mythology of the original Dark Crystal film feel stronger (then Netflix, in their “infinite wisdom” decided to cancel Age of Resistance after one season). So it’s hard to say which of the two movies I prefer, but like the original Dark Crystal, Labyrinth is a good and fun movie that I still think could have been done better, given the talent involved.

The movie of course features two prominent human actors, which differentiates it from the exclusively-puppet Dark Crystal. Jennifer Connelly portrays Sarah Williams, a teenager who traverses the titular labyrinth to save her little brother from Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie).

As always with Jim Henson films, the movie is a technical marvel with how they brought everything to life, and for that alone is worth watching. But I do think Labyrinth is one of those fantasy films that feels like its concept could have been greater in execution. Imagine a Jim Henson movie with a story that could match the technical craftsmanship and artistry of it? That would be amazing! Though I guess we did get that with Age of Resistance, just in the form of a series instead of a movie (shame Netflix didn’t give it a proper chance).

Next in line was Wild Wild West, that western/steampunk movie starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline from 1999 that you probably only know about because the theme song outlived the movie. This is a bad, dumb movie. But the kind of bad, dumb movie I can at least get a kick out of. The film at least has some inventiveness with its steampunk creations. Again, it’s dumb. But whatever.

Finally, I watched the newest Ice Age film, The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild, which was released on Disney+ at the end of the month. I admit I still haven’t seen the fourth or fifth Ice Age movies in their entirety yet, but the first three were adequately entertaining. Nothing special, like Pixar. But nothing snarky and cynical, like Dreamworks. Also, I just realized I typed “the fourth and fifth Ice Age movies.” Why are there so many of them?!

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild is the first Ice Age film since Disney bought 20th Century Fox and dissolved Blue Sky Studios (the animation studio behind the Ice Age films). So the animation was outsourced here, and boy does it show! This movie looks more like the kind of straight-to-DVD CG you would see in the early 2000s, not the latest installment of a multi-billion dollar (really) movie franchise. And aside from Simon Pegg returning as Buck Wild himself, all of the original cast has been replaced, and you can hear the difference right away. It also doesn’t have much in the way of story (but then again, none of the Ice Age sequels did). Perhaps worst of all, despite being named after Buck Wild – who was introduced in the third Ice Age movie and was probably my favorite character in the series – the film seems to focus more of its time on returning Ice Age characters Crash and Eddie. So why even make a spinoff movie about Buck Wild if it isn’t even really about him?

Also mysteriously missing is Scrat the saber-toothed squirrel, whose side antics to get/store an acorn were often more entertaining than the main stories of the Ice Age features. Apparently there was some legal trouble involving that character, and Disney couldn’t get ahold of him during the Fox acquisition or something. How weird is that?

One good thing I can say about The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild is that Simon Pegg’s voice acting is great. He’s one of the few mainstream actors who is willing to make his voice unrecognizable when doing voice over work (Benedict Cumberbatch is the other one that immediately comes to mind). Lest we forget Simon Pegg was Unkar Plutt (the “One Quarter Portion Guy”) from The Force Awakens and the SkekSis Chamberlain in the aforementioned Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

I do have to ask, why is the movie called The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild? After twenty years and six movies they suddenly decide to add a “the” to the franchise title?

Let’s wrap this up with the usual awards. Though because I’ve already rambled way more than I intended to when I started writing this, let’s keep things short.

Best Movie I Watched All Month: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I suppose the fact that I watched every Harry Potter film this past month and am naming Prisoner of Azkaban as the best movie I watched this past month, I just gave away the ending of my eventual Harry Potter movie ranking. Oh well.

While a few of the Harry Potter movies are great, Prisoner of Azkaban is the one I’ve always thought was a great film full-stop. Harry Potter fan or not.

Azkaban is more mature than the first two installments, but still retains their sense of magic and wonder (something the later Harry Potter stories somewhat lost, as they focused more on how evil Voldemort is than they did the magic of the world of these stories). It’s the entry that best focuses on Harry, Hermione and (to a lesser extent) Ron develop as characters. It also gives us a kind of standalone story that can be appreciated on its own merits outside of the overall series more so than the other entries. And it introduces us to at least two of the best characters in the series in the forms of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and Remus Lupin (David Thewlis). It’s also uniquely the only Harry Potter story in which the main villain isn’t Voldemort, but one of his minions, Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall), a baddie who sadly seems largely forgotten about in later installments.

Prisoner of Azkaban is also the most visually captivating Potter movie, with lots of saturated lighting in the daytime sequences, and an eerie fogginess at night. It reminds me of a Team Ico game in a way. Azkaban feels more subdued than past and future Harry Potter movies visually, but somehow that brings out the magic of the series all the more. The whole movie has a kind of dreamlike quality about it. I can’t really explain it.

Sure, the time travel aspect is a little wonky, but it’s one of those “small price to pay” kind of things with how great of a movie Prisoner of Azkaban is on the whole. This is to Harry Potter what Spider-Man 2 is to Marvel in that it’s a great movie even without taking the franchise into consideration. It’s the movie lover’s Harry Potter.

But let’s save some of the gushing for when I actually review and/or rank the Harry Potter movies.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild

This was actually a toss-up between Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald (which I initially thought was guaranteed this “honor”), Wild Wild West and The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild (or TIAAOBW, for short). Grindlewald almost singlehandedly halted the Harry Potter spinoff franchise, but I suppose it has some merit, and with three sequels still to come, the series may be able to salvage itself. Wild Wild West is a bad movie, but again, it’s dumb fun. It’s hard to pick on something too much when it knows exactly how dumb it is.

But in the case of The Ice Age Adv… you know, let’s just call it Buck Wild.

In the case of Buck Wild, it felt like it took a series that has already overstayed its welcome, and stripped it of the few things fans of the series had left to enjoy (animation quality, the voice acting, Scrat, etc.). Outside of Simon Pegg’s vocal work, this is bottom of the barrel, cash-grab animation. If you have a Disney+ subscription, watch any of the countless infinitely better animated offerings on the service instead.

Best Movie I Watched for the First Time this Month: Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts

“Mrs. Puff…I think I cheated.”

Does this count as a movie? A documentary? I never know with these kinds of specials. So my claiming that Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is the best movie I watched for the first time this month may be a bit dubious. But whatever, I greatly enjoyed it.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, I think this is a must watch. Even if you’re not totally engrossed in the franchise but have an interest in pop culture phenomenons, I also think this is a must watch. It’s a detailed look back at one of cinema’s (and literature’s) most successful franchises, gives insight into the series and the making of it. And thankfully, the special’s feature length runtime means it gives plenty of attention to each individual installment in the series.

It’s a very insightful, fun special. I’m not even sorry that I’m cheating by selecting it.

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Hook

Hook could have, and should have, been a better movie than it is. But it’s still better than its critics say. It’s a good time that may lose its magic as it goes, but it’s still a fun movie.

Most importantly, the music is sublime!


That’s all folks!

What did I say at the beginning of this? “I’m going to try to keep this as short and simple as possible?” Well, mission failed there!

I don’t know why these keep ending up being so long. I have so many other things to write, I need to start focusing on those instead. I still haven’t reviewed Luca, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Ron’s Gone Wrong or Encanto. And let’s not even get into all the video games I’ve been meaning to review…

So, let’s see this as the last My Month in Movies for a while. I enjoy writing these, but they’re taking away too much of my writing time that I should be spending elsewhere. So until I catch up a little bit on all of those other things, let’s put My Month in Movies on hold for a while.

At any rate, I hope you had some fun reading all this. I also hope you found any of it even the slightest bit interesting. And most importantly, I hope you’re having a good and happy 2022 so far.

Take care.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

In more recent years, with what was previously deemed as the “nerd side” of popular culture more or less becoming one with pop culture itself, it seems more and more properties are putting a higher emphasis on world-building, in the vein of Tolkien or George Lucas. On one hand, this is a great thing, as it’s always enjoyable to see a fantasy world create a backstory for itself and its characters. But I have recently began to worry that too many works are prioritizing world-building over actual storytelling. One reason I love the Star Wars sequel trilogy is that it bucks this trend, introducing elements such as The First Order in passing without detailing how and why they came to power, and letting the story at hand take center stage. By contrast, it seems that the Harry Potter prequel franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, goes in the exact opposite direction of the Star Wars sequels, with its own narrative being drowned in backstories and lore. While the first Fantastic Beasts at least introduced us to some potentially charming franchise players, its sequel – the bizarrely titled The Crimes of Grindelwald – feels like it completely surrenders its own identity for the sake of world-building.

Like the first film, the screenplay is written by J.K. Rowling herself. Though Rowling seems to handle the material as if she’s writing the appendices of one of her books, as opposed to a screenplay. This is a film that squanders so much potential with its characters, as it feels so much more inclined to explain elements of the Wizarding World than it does in following its lead cast. It does this to such an extent that it really feels like very little actually happens within the film’s plot.

“Sexy Dumbledore.”

The (supposed) story still follows magi-zoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his American friends; Wizarding sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol), and the muggle/no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). They are all caught in the middle of a crises in the Wizarding World, as the evil wizard Grendalwald (Johnny Depp) has escaped custody, and is rallying more and more wizards to his cause of “wizard supremacy” (that is to say, wizards being superior by nature to non-magic beings). While Scamander would rather not be involved in any greater conflict and just resume his studies of magical creatures, he is persuaded by one Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to aide the future Hogwarts Headmaster’s personal attempts to weaken Grindelwald’s efforts.

That may sound like a brief summary to avoid spoilers, but the fact of the matter is the story never really evolves from that setup. To make matters worse, elements of the first Fantastic Beast film’s ending are entirely retconned for seemingly no reason other than that they allow for more convenient progression to future sequels.

Kowalski – along with other non-magic folk in New York City – had his memory of the magic world wiped clean in the first film’s finale, which served as its most emotional moment. But apparently he still remembers everything just fine, because only “bad memories” were erased, and his were mostly good. Way to undermine the first film’s emotional crescendo…

Now, it’s safe to say we all assumed Kowalski would be getting his memories back, but to more or less brush aside an important part of its predecessor’s ending so nonchalantly just demeans the franchise itself. Ironically, The Crimes of Grindelwald would have probably been a better movie if getting Kowalski’s memories of wizards and magic back were a key plot point. At the very least, the plot would have actually been about the main characters in such a scenario.

“Unless you’re the most diehard Potterhead, this may be your reaction to all the mythology babble.”

Instead, we have a plot centered around Dumbledore and Grindelwald attempting to sway Credence Barebones (Ezra Miller) – the disturbed wizard with a demonic parasite who seemingly died in the first movie – to their respective sides of the struggle. Poor Newt doesn’t even feel like the hero of his own story, rather, just a figure passing through it. That’s a real shame, because Newt – as well as Kowalski, and Tina and Queenie – were characters who were distinct from the existing heroes of the Harry Potter series (particularly Kowalski, as his status as a non-magical being wandering the Wizarding World with childlike glee makes him one of the most unique characters in Rowling’s mega-franchise). But here we are, only in the second installment of this five-part series, and already the main cast feels like an afterthought to all the other goings-on. Heaven forbid the main characters get in the way of extended monologues of events the side characters went through.

All of this could have been made more forgivable if it only started out this way. Because in all honesty, there actually is some charm left in this Wizarding World as the film opens. The first few tidbits of lore and “for hardcore fans only” dialogue are fine, since they’re setting things up. But the film only builds on these overly descriptive elements more and more as the film goes on. I wish I were joking when I say the third act of the film comes to a dead stop as one character gives an overly long monologue on some backstory, before another character butts in and delves into their own overly long monologue on some backstory. What’s worse is that certain revelations that are made with the main characters feel completely rushed and meaningless because of this (one major ‘twist’ in particular comes across as utterly lifeless, as it seemingly comes out of nowhere). Maybe Rowling should have spent a little more time writing her main characters and less on…everything else possible?

There are some redeeming qualities to the film. The costume designs and special effects still impress, and despite their tragically limited presence, the primary quartet of characters still feel like a refreshing change of pace from Harry, Ron and Hermione. The acting is also pretty solid, with Jude Law and (I hate to admit it) Johnny Depp making the most of their limited screen time (seeing Grindelwald wave his magic wand like a conductor’s baton as he burns his enemies in blue flames is a memorable visual that feels overdue for the franchise, as it sums up its villain in a single moment). The titular Fantastic Beasts that show up are still memorable (even if they only really show up in an attempt to justify this series’ ongoing title), and I like that we finally get to meet Nicolas Flamel (Brontis jodorowsky), the immortal alchemist first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, who has become so old that a small handshake nearly breaks his fingers, but still possesses strength in magic.

There are small doses of memorability in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald then. But they are too few and far between the constant cascades of exposition and sequel-hyping. There are still three entries left for the Fantastic Beasts series to live up to its potential (and Crimes of Grindelwald certainly lets you know more films are coming). But in order to make a great franchise, each individual installment has to be able to stand on its own two feet in addition to building the greater mythology. J. K. Rowling’s script for Crimes of Grindelwald is so deeply preoccupied with world-building that it forgets to be a movie in its own right.

 

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