Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

I almost didn’t bother seeing this movie. The various controversies surrounding the film, and especially Johnny Depp, left a very sour taste in my mouth, and I started to feel as if paying to watch it would be a violation of my own values.

The poster for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of GrindelwaldBut perhaps my values aren’t so ironclad, because here we are. Hey, I loved the original.

In an attempt to balance my karma and/or assuage my guilty conscience, I did make a $10 donation to the North York Women’s Shelter. If anyone else is feeling similarly conflicted, I’d recommend making a similar donation to a charity in their community.

Anyway, on to the movie.

As I said above, I was very impressed by the last Fantastic Beasts movie. It provided a surprisingly dark and powerful tale with far more depth than I anticipated. Crimes of Grindelwald is perhaps not quite so impressive, but I still enjoyed it.

Once again, my expectations were defied. With a title like “Crimes of Grindelwald,” I was expecting an action-packed, Empire Strikes Back style tour de force. Instead, the experience is much more introspective and character-driven.

The theme of Crimes seems to be the wizarding world choosing sides. Grindelwald is marshaling his army, and people must choose to either stand with him, or against him. This takes place both on a grand, societal scale and a more intimate scale as the cast — including all the main characters from last time plus a few new faces — also must begin to take sides.

I don’t want to say too much, but you should expect to be surprised by how some characters choose to place their loyalties. I sure as hell was.

Newt Scamander and Albus Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of GrindelwaldThe cast of Crimes of Grindelwald is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

On the one hand, every character is once again excellent, both in terms of writing and acting. Even Newt’s started to grow on me.

Much as it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, I must give special praise to Johnny Depp, who absolutely nails Grindelwald’s dark charisma. The cartoonish evil of Voldemort this is not; as sinister as he is, Grindelwald is a man I can believe people would want to follow.

However, there is a downside. The cast has become quite bloated. On top of all the characters from the first movie, quite a number of new ones have been added, and while they’re also good characters played by talented actors, there just isn’t enough time in the movie to give every character their due. It’s spread too thin.

As a devoted Tina fanboy, I was particularly distressed by how small her role in this movie was. She’s hardly there, and she doesn’t contribute anything of value to the story. Honestly, she doesn’t need to be included at all. It would be almost exactly the same movie without her.

Aside from that issue, though, Crimes of Grindelwald is another surprisingly dark and thoughtful movie that is worth your time if your morals are as evidently flexible as mine.

Overall rating: 8.1/10

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Odds and Ends: Venom, ESO, Hard in Hightown

I’ve had a few topics I’ve wanted to discuss but which didn’t seem meaty enough to fill a blog post on their own, so I’ve decided to cram them all into one Frankenstein monster post.

Venom mini-review:

A shot from the movie Venom, starring Tom HardyI wanted to do a full review of the Venom movie, but as I’ve said before, mediocrity is hard to review, and I just don’t have much to say on the matter.

It’s not a bad movie in general terms, but it may be a bad Venom movie. I’d expect Venom to be a very dark, gritty story, but instead it’s more of a light, campy romp. As light, campy romps go, it’s actually pretty fun, but it just doesn’t fit the character very well.

I wouldn’t advise against seeing it, but it’s definitely not a must-see, either.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

ESO’s bribery:

Despite my griping, I’ve been playing a fair bit of Elder Scrolls Online lately. This is in large part due to the fact Zenimax has been showering players with a number of incredibly generous giveaways as of late. It’s shameless bribery, and it’s working.

Probably the most notable giveaway is the palatial Grand Psijic Villa home. Given how over-priced housing in this game usually is, giving away a house of this scale is kind of incredible. My previous home in the Rift and its yard could comfortably fit in the Psijic Villa’s main hall.

One of many beautiful views from the Grand Psijic Villa home in Elder Scrolls OnlineMy focus lately has been furnishing the new dwelling, which given the high costs in gold and crafting resources of furniture is actually quite a challenge. Not even sure why I’m bothering given the total lack of practical functionality for housing in this game, but there is something satisfying about it. It’s a pale shadow of the creativity I got to display back in Landmark.

It has had the side effect of helping me learn to earn gold more efficiently. I’m trying to get in the habit of doing crafting writs every day. That’s easy money. Along the way I’ve been developing my crafting skills further. I had already maxed out woodworking, clothing, and blacksmithing a long time ago, and I’ve now maxed my provisioning skill, as well. Enchanting, alchemy, and jewelry crafting are lagging behind, but they’re a good source of writ income if nothing else.

While the story of Summerset may have disappointed me, it remains a beautiful zone, and Alinor is a very conveniently laid out city, so I’ve made Summerset my “home” for the time being. I spend most of my time there, doing dailies and farming.

I’ve also been playing my warden a little.

Oh, yeah, I have a warden.

Don’t think I’ve mentioned her before — probably because I haven’t played her much — but yes, I have a High Elf warden. When I pre-ordered Summerset, I got Morrowind for free, and while I haven’t explored its content yet, I did want to try out the new (to me) class.

My High Elf warden in Elder Scrolls OnlineThe warden marks my third attempt to play a pure caster, the previous being a Khajiit dragonknight and a Breton nightblade. It finally seems to be sticking this time. I think it may be because I’m building this one as a healer.

One interesting — if possibly unbalanced — quirk of healers in ESO is that they use largely the same stats and gear as magicka DPS, meaning there appears to be little penalty to doing both on the same character, which is exactly what I’m doing with my warden. One action bar uses a resto staff and is pure support, while the other uses a destro staff and is pure damage.

One thing I’ve learned from D&D is that a hybrid of support and damage may just be my ideal RPG playstyle, or at least as close as someone as indecisive as me is ever going to find.

A final interesting note about my warden is that although she’s now well into her 20s, I have yet to do any significant amount of questing with her. And honestly, I haven’t missed it. There may be a whole post to do about that…

Hard in Hightown thoughts:

Finally, I recently finished reading through the physical copy of Varric Tethras’ Hard in Hightown. Yes, the book you can find chapters of in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s a real book in the real world now.

Cover art for Hard in Hightown by "Varric Tethras" (really Mary Kirby)Well, for a certain definition of “real book,” anyway. There wasn’t actually that much effort put in, sadly. The whole thing is only about seventy pages, and it’s barely been fleshed out any more than the chapters you could find in Inquisition. In the end it’s more of a gag collectible than a book that’s worth reading on its own merits.

It does have some cool illustrations, though.

Overall rating: 5.8/10