Sunday 15 September 2019

Film of the week: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Eddie Redmayne stars in 'Fantastic Beasts' - a dour, swollen, and worst of all, boring slog
Eddie Redmayne stars in 'Fantastic Beasts' - a dour, swollen, and worst of all, boring slog
Dakota Fanning leads the pack in the farcical remake of Suspiria

Thanks in large part to director Christopher Nolan, the 12A cert now appears to be the realm of darkness and foreboding, a place where primary colours and tomfoolery are discouraged so sharp cheekbones and brooding frowns can prevail.

When Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them arrived two years ago, it was welcomed with open arms - a Harry Potter spin-off where the hero was not only played by a trained actor (Eddie Redmayne) but also actually used his wizarding skills to get out of pickles.

It had a light, caper-ish feel, and though it featured a troubled antagonist grappling with dangerous powers, Redmayne's bashful smile and its cast of silly creatures rounded-off any sharp edges.

And now, this sequel has undone much of that good work. Over a yawnsome 130 minutes, we find ourselves back in the same kind of sullen, grey-hued, bellicose pomposity that the Harry Potter series itself descended into.

Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has escaped prison and wants his legions of pure-blood wizard followers to rule the world.

Newt (Eddie Redmayne) is assigned to help stop him by old Hogwarts tutor Dumbledore (Jude Law). He reunites with Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Joe (Dan Fogler).

One or two fun rabbits are pulled out of hats, and the great Olwen Fouere makes a cameo.

Otherwise, this is a dour, swollen, and worst of all, boring slog that just feels like any other crumby post-Lord of The Rings sorcery epic that values franchise-building above closing narrative circles.★★ Hilary A White

The Girl in the Spider's Web

Cert: 15A; Opens November 21

I'm a little torn about this latest incarnation of Lisbeth Salander. On the one hand it is great to have a female day-saving action hero - on the other it is a great pity to see one of the original examples of #MeToo reduced to a day-saving action hero.

The current Lisbeth (Claire Foy) avenges women who have been abused. But the plot is based around her hacking the US government to retrieve an important program at the behest of its creator (Stephen Merchant). But a lot of people want this program, the password to which can only be unlocked by the creator's son. There are lots of chases and fights and things get blown up.

When we first knew her (played by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish films), Lisbeth was a complex character and the after-effects of abuse were woven through and around her. In this version, by Fede Alvarez, I feel Foy is miscast - but the writing is where the real weakness lies. Lisbeth has been emotionally neutered, her sexuality, too, is mere tokenism, and she has been given more fire power in compensation. (The childhood sisters' scene is plot mechanism rather than character set up.) Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) is a mere decoration, an American (Lakeith Stanfield) is required to save the day and the baddie Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) is straight out of the rent-a-villain character school. As an action film it is fine, ridiculous but non-stop and well-paced. As a piece of writing, however, it is reductive of the source material, has some bonkers segues and all those interesting characters and dynamics have been either over simplified or crushed with cliche.

Fans of the franchise won't be happy, newbies might be. ★★ Aine O'Connor


Cert: 18; Selected cinemas

Dakota Fanning leads the pack in the farcical remake of Suspiria

With liberal blood-letting and a striking sensory aesthetic, Dario Argento's Suspiria had audiences terrorised and spellbound on its release in 1977. The brand is now revived by another Italian director keen to usher back in the original's "giallo horror" tale of a dance academy that acts as a front for an ancient coven of witches.

After the award-courting bliss of Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino changes tack entirely as he reformats Argento's film for another age. David Kajganich's screenplay overhaul sees Dakota Johnson take on the role of Suzie, a quiet American who rocks up to a dance academy that sits right by the Berlin Wall. She quickly finds favour with the school's artistic director (Guadagnino regular Tilda Swinton) who encourages her to reinterpret a famous recital.

Parallel to this, a heavy dread brews as we see sacrifices, mutilation and dark magic behind the scenes, while an elderly psychotherapist (also, bizarrely, played by Swinton) looks to investigate the disappearance of a former student of the academy.

The luminous palette of Argento is replaced with a pallor and graininess that befits the setting and era. Dynamic, sharp cutting and choreography pastiches Friedkin and Kubrick while keeping things on edge until the frights - some shocking - materialise. Thom Yorke's score is a presence. But as with 99pc of horror outings, Suspiria unravels in its final acts into a wheezing farce. A bit of a missed opportunity, you feel. ★★★ Hilary A White

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