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Widows

Films and TV have relied on each other for decades. Since television began, showing movies on the ‘idiot box’ has been a mainstay. Likewise, cinema has plundered ideas for stories from countless TV shows to varying degrees of success. ‘Widows’ is the latest Tinsletown television facsimile based on a hit 1980’s British mini-series which was based on Lynda La Plante’s 1983 novel of the same name. With its talented ensemble, the story attempts to break out from its small-screen confines with a potentially gripping tale of love and vengeance.

Four armed thieves are killed during a botched heist on behalf of crime boss Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry). With the debt still to be paid, Jamal leans on the thieves’ widows to finish the job. Among the bereaved ladies are Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo). With shady politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) also mixed up in their plans, the quartet do what must be done in order to survive Jamal’s fearsome wrath.

Directed by Steve McQueen, ‘Widows’ is less than the sum of its parts. The lead actresses put in excellent performances and the main concept is sound. Notions of grief, betrayal and determination receive plenty of screen-time with everyone giving it their all. Sadly the muddled screenplay continually lets them down. ‘Widows’ feels like a series disparate sequences rather than a cohesive whole with too many characters vying for attention.

Perhaps the length of the original mini-series allowed for better characterisation than found here. A screenwriter can only squeeze in so much in two hours versus the original’s six hours. McQueen does his best to keep things moving and he handles the action scenes very well. The few surprises are genuine with Hans Zimmer’s score aiding in ratcheting up the story’s intensity. It’s a pity the narrative is a confused jumble as ‘Widows’ had a lot of potential to be a stirring movie.

Cinema will always rely on television for ideas with ‘Widows’ the latest providing inspiration. It doesn’t quite work with more time is needed to develop characters and increase story focus. As a vehicle to see fine actresses show their skills, ‘Widows’ doesn’t disgrace itself with their characters not going down without a fight.

Rating out of 10: 6

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ shows what can happen when an author writes a screenplay. Cinema history has been littered with successful novelists thinking they can also pen hit movie scripts. This hasn’t always been the case with few writers having the skill to effectively switch between two very different mediums. J.K. Rowling writes only her second screenplay for this ‘Fantastic Beasts’ sequel which is part of the popular ‘Harry Potter’ universe. Sadly it proves that Rowling shouldn’t give up her day job with a lacklustre script quickly sinking into murky confusion.

After powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes custody, he sets about gathering a new band of followers. Aiming to raise wizards and witches so they can rule over non-magical beings, Grindelwald’s plans capture the attention of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). With the help of an assortment of wizards, they attempt to hold back Grindelwald’s ruthless power before their world is torn asunder.

Although beautiful to look at, ‘Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald’ is a chore to watch. For fans of the Potter series, who know every minute detail, this may please. For others, who simply want to watch a well-rounded and clearly scripted film, boredom may quickly sink in. There are far too many characters and sub-plots to squeeze into an already over-long movie with Rowling failing to capture the magic of previous Potter films. Those were written by better scriptwriters who knew the basic mechanics of film screenplays.

That isn’t to say ‘Fantastic Beasts 2’ is a total loss as it is clear money has been spent on opulent production design and CGI. These successfully convey the magical world in which all live with the excellent musical arrangements mirroring those of earlier instalments. The performers do their best to not look too confused at the increasingly messy plot with Depp bringing energy in a generally pedestrian production. Overall it feels like a set up for further sequels instead of being its own entity – a mistake a more experienced film writer would have avoided.

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ is fair entertainment but could have been much better. Whilst spectacle is provided, it’s done without much heart as all go through the motions until the next sequel. It will still make a fortune as ‘Harry Potter’ fans are nothing if not loyal. But such loyalty will be sorely needed if more mediocre works like this reach the silver screen.

Rating out of 10: 5