If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

This is one of the most critically acclaimed films I’ve seen so far this year. And I can see why; the performances are mesmerising, and the film looks beautiful. It’s an important tale of race and relationships. It just….it wasn’t for me. I found the story-telling too slow and fragmented. Things happen and then are forgotten about, 20 minute scenes cover what could take just 2 minutes, characters you think are going to be important end up appearing in one scene and then disappear.

It’s a shame as it is a wonderful film, you feel an entire universe in this film, every character seems to have a backstory you can’t wait to explore. It’s a fantastic slice of the characters life that we explore. It’s just narratively frustrating. Slice-of-life films are risky as they can end up lacking a definitive story. Some of them I do love (Ghost World in particular will always be a favourite), but some just kind of annoy me. This was in the second category. It’s mainly about someone in jail for a false rape allegation after he was framed by a racist cop (thank god THOSE aren’t a problem in America anymore). It feels like the story is building towards the trial, but that’s skipped over at the end and we go to about 3 years later. It’s a powerful ending as it illustrates how the system can just keep delaying trials to keep people incarcerated until they get frustrated and accept a plea bargain. It’s just a shame that it’s not done well; they give us this information by narration, and it doesn’t really feel natural. The film doesn’t really make us feel as frustrated at the system as it should to make that feel effective. It does it once or twice, but you never really get the sense that this is his only option.

I feel I need to mention the narration again. There’s waaaaay too much of it. The film doesn’t like silence or ambiguity, so if there’s a scene which would be silence and we have to actually think about what the characters motivations are, we get narration straight out telling us. It’s frustrating and doesn’t seem to mesh well with the overall aesthetic of the movie. Everything about this movie, from the story, to the look, to the name actors in small parts, just screams ARTHOUSE cinema, yet the needless narration makes it seem like it’s aimed at mass market. I suspect that’s not the case and it’s just the most effective way to get a lot of things from the book in. I just really wish they found another way.

This review has seemed overly negative I get that. But everything positive about is stuff you’ve already heard. I would recommend seeing this film, and I am glad I saw it, and I do know it was an absolute superb piece of film-making, it just wasn’t for me, and that’s okay. Everything is not for everyone, and that’s okay.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

No, Melissa McCarthy, we can’t forgive you for Tammy, or The Boss, or Happytime Murders, or, damn McCarthy, you’ve been in a LOT of bad films. I mean, also been in St. Vincent, and that film was fantastic. I do like McCarthy, but I don’t trust her. Like I will never go and see a film because she’s in it. She can be really good but occasionally falls into scripts which just seem incredibly lazy and one joke (that joke being: woman swears and is violent, HAH!”. Thankfully this is one of her good ones. Full of emotion, warmth, and great characters. This film has had so many awards thrown at it that it begins to feel like an assault. But it earns every single one. Not just McCarthy’s performance, but Richard E. Grant finally seems to be getting the mainstream attention he deserves with a beautifully broken performance. I really hope this leads to him becoming a household name. I mean, he is a known name among people who like films, but I don’t feel he’s yet at the “recognised by people who watch one or two films a year”, and he should be, he’s immensely talented (also, how great a horror movie villain would he make?).

The script is also brilliant. It’s about a woman knowingly making forgeries of letters by famous people. That doesn’t exactly sound fascinating, does it? It sounds boring as hell. It also sounds like it will be hard to make the main character likeable. This manages it though (but I think McCarthy’s performance is part of what makes the character likeable too), the story is incredibly riveting, but it does make one misstep. It’s not a problem with the film, but with the marketing, or maybe even the story itself. The trailer showed us how she got found out and investigated for fraud. This doesn’t happen until into the closing section, so it’s odd to watch a film about a plan and KNOW it doesn’t work. I mean, it is kind of fascinating in a way to watch with the knowledge that it all goes to shit, but it does take away from the drama somewhat.

I did like this film a lot, didn’t love it for some reason. Think it might have been because of the aforementioned lack of narrative surprise. It might have just been that the story itself felt inconsequential. I mean, it was incredibly charming and delightful to watch, and if it’s on BBC over Christmas I’ll give it a watch, but I don’t need to buy it. It deserved the plaudits though, without a shadow of a doubt. I must check out the book some time.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

I genuinely enjoyed this film and will definitely buy it on DVD when it comes out. It was funny, heartwarming and had an incredibly well-crafted script that is suitable for children and adults. If you asked me during the first half of the movie my response would have been the opposite. I was kind of bored, the jokes were mainly from the trailer so were ones I’d heard before, and the songs were only okay. That songs gripe might not have been the film though, it is possible that the way the cinema set it up was the problem; the background noise and the music was louder than the lyrics so you couldn’t make them out clearly.

So yeah I was not a fan of the opening, it felt not quite as sharp as the first movie, and it sidelines a lot of the characters. Princess Unikitty for example was one of the highlights of the first movie and is not really in this one. The same goes for almost all of the characters from the first one with the exception of Emmet, Lucy, and Batman. This would be fine if the characters who replaced them were as good, and whilst there is nothing really wrong with them they just miss that spark.

One other issue is reality. In the first movie the fact that it was a kid playing with lego didn’t really matter until the very end of the movie. In this it goes throughout, which is both better and worse. It does mean that since you’re constantly aware that it’s kids playing with toys, your brain always thinks “ok, this is what’s happening in the film, now what’s REALLY happening?” so you can’t really get invested in it. The upside is how beautifully it ties into the ending. The final third of this film is amazing and WOULD NOT work without the reality subtext. It’s genuinely genius what it does, and what it means. Yeah this film is about kids playing with toys, but it’s about HOW they play with them. It’s the first film I’ve seen which kind of takes aim at the notion of everything having to be dark and gritty, that phase which every teenage male goes through where they feel everything they like has to be grown up. The idea that films they watch have to be dark and fully of guns. A concept which causes people to try so hard to appear to be mature that it comes off as juvenile. This film takes aim at that notion, and does so wonderfully. The way that reality bleeds into this film is a work of art and I commend it.

So yeah, go see this film, see it twice if you have to. It may not start great but it does achieve greatness when you stick with it. Has a few niggles, and there’s one live action moment which drags longer than it needs to. But it’s very funny with GREAT voice performances and is just as loveable as the first one

Escape Room (2019)

I love the premise of this. The idea that an escape room actually being a torture device that tests people’s wits and logical thinking? I love that! I did not love this film, mainly because they don’t seem to make to the most of the actual premise. It reminded me of Saw, and not in a good way. I insulted that series a lot, but when it was good, the storytelling was superb; when it was bad, it was just a mess. This is closer to the bad. It never gets quite as messy as the Saw movies, by which I mean in terms of how bad the storytelling of those films got, not by the gore. Although more mess in this film would improve it. It is lacking in gore. I’m not a fan of needless gore, but in a horror film, it’s kind of needed. You need some form of brutality to the physical pain to make the audience feel it. I don’t just mean “you need to see lots of blood,” but if you don’t see blood, you need to make up for it through either the performances or the sound design. Sound is an element which often goes underlooked in horror films. A lot of them know you have to use music but don’t really know how to use it effectively. Most of the time when they use music and sound it’s like this:

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LOUD NOISES.

Seriously, that is at least 80% of horror films approach to sound, and it sucks. But yeah, back to the point I was making. This film could have maybe worked if it had excellent sound design, excellent performances, excellent ANYTHING really. But it’s all just so plain. Some of the rooms are pretty unique (there’s one in a bar which is a particular highlight), but that just brings me to another issue I had with it. There are multiple rooms. The point of an escape room (not the singular room, not rooms) is you’re locked into one room and there are things which don’t make sense until you see them in a new context later on. It’s about making the most of limited and confined spaces to create terror. Now THAT’S a horror movie. What this one does is constantly move from one room to another. The rooms don’t really seem to link together well in terms of spatial geography. (Seriously, I’d like to see the architectural blueprints of the building this film takes place in.) So, not only does it not really work, but it also wastes a potentially great idea. Seriously. Think about it: a horror film with multiple deaths in a closed room would be incredible because you’d have a constant reminder of the deaths. As it is, because of this, the way it changes from one room to the next, as soon as somebody dies their body disappears and is never seen again, effectively making it like a video game. If it was a singular room, then all the deaths would have a constant presence in the film, which would give you a lot more interesting shots to work with. It could be used to justify almost any stupid decision the characters make. All it would take is someone looking sadly at one of the bodies and it would justify anything as you know they’re full of fear and panic.

So, the actual rooms/puzzles themselves? They’re okay, and some are better than others. I feel this would have been better if it wasn’t done by one director. If each room had a different director, then everything would have felt truly unique. Honestly, I would have LOVED a different writer for every room, too- have them written sort of like a series, then one person comes in and makes the characters consistent between each room. Then they could have had different kinds of scares in every room. They could have one that seemed very supernatural, one that was essentially a slasher, etc. It would have made this stand out in a crowded genre. Some of the rooms are okay. As I’ve already mentioned, the bar scene stands out as a true highlight for the film in terms of aesthetic, set design (similar to aesthetic, but more how everything WORKS together, not so much how it looks), the tense nature, and the absolute GENIUS use of music. It also seemed to be the best use of lateral thinking and intelligence, much more so than in the rest of the film. (There’s a moment where a key is trapped in ice and they use their body heat to melt the ice. It’s a group which contains 4 guys, and none of them suggests pissing on the ice to melt it.) The puzzles themselves are okay, I guess. But it commits a cardinal sin for a movie dependent on people doing puzzles like this: a lot of the time the audience arrives at the conclusion WAY before the characters do. The best example of this is the second room where they have to guess a certain word. The clue is “You’ll go down in history” and there are reindeer heads mounted everywhere. It takes longer than you think it would for them to figure this out. There’s no sense of “oh! so THAT’S the answer! I never would have guessed that! That’s so smart! Colour me impressed!” It’s just “well, obviously that’s the answer.” The disappointment continues to the ending, where we find out that the reason they’re all here is that *surprise* rich people are betting on them. Sigh. I know, rich sociopaths are awful, but you know what else is awful? Formulaic endings which would have been considered bland in the ’90s. It’s a secretive group which builds a high-tech building and kills people whilst watching them from a set of cameras at all times. OF COURSE it’s rich people, and of course they’re doing it to gamble, and of course, the audience realises this about 20 minutes in.

I do feel the performances need to be pointed out though, they’re pretty good. Taylor Russell could lead a Netflix drama series easily, Logan Miller would be a great “main characters best friend” in a sitcom (or just take the roles which TJ Miller won’t get any more due to him being TJ Miller), and I want to see more of Nik Dodani. It’s also great to see Tyler Labine in more stuff, although it does make me want to watch Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil. In fact, I think I will do that, I loved that film.

So in summary, I wanted this film to be smarter and it kind of frustrates me that it’s not. I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

Hot damn this film looked good. There’s one moment where the characters are on a beach, making indentations in the sand, and you can almost FEEL the sand, it’s that beautifully animated. That doesn’t quite make up for the script though. It has its moments, but it feels incredibly generic. Unless this is the first film you’ve ever seen you will know exactly what’s going to happen before it does. This is not helped by the villain; who is incredibly unremarkable to the point where he’s forgettable. This is probably also due to how much of the time he spends off-screen, and when he’s not on-screen the shadow of him doesn’t really hang over the film. The main focus of the film isn’t the villain, it’s the female version of Toothless. It seems like the villain is just a method to get to THAT story, rather than the other way around. And the Toothless/Light Fury romance isn’t quite sweet enough to wash away the cynical feeling that it was geared towards toy sales (and yes, I know it was probably in the books first, but meh).

So all of that builds up to what is undoubtedly the weakest movie in the trilogy. The first one was REALLY good, the second one was also very good, and a worthy continuation of the series. This one? It just doesn’t have that inexplicable magic that the first two had. There’s something missing and that stops it being great, and means it’s just good. The ending is pretty great though. I hope it’s the ending anyway. I’d be incredibly disappointed if there’s a sequel to this as the ending to this provides perfect closure to the series as a whole. Maybe that’s my problem with it, it doesn’t seem like a series, just a sequence of films. There’s a few moments of connectivity between the films but they don’t really feel like they’re related. A lot of the characters are exactly the same as they have been throughout. If there was a sequel to this and someone watched that one, but missed out this one, there’s nothing they’d be surprised by. There’s no “wow, that character really changed in that movie I missed”.

I did like this movie, more than this review makes it seem. But put it this way; I don’t have the first one on DVD, and I do occasionally feel like my DVD collection is missing it. My collection will definitely not miss this. Also, the main characters looks way too much like Jake Gyllenhaal at the end.

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Also, I can’t help this but whenever I hear the title to this series I sing it to the tune of Paint Your Wagon

Glass (2019)

This was perfectly serviceable, but that’s it. I wish this was better. I really do. It had moments of a great movie. The plot is interesting as hell and it was great to see an Unbreakable sequel, and it was always going to be interesting to see that mixed up with Split. So why doesn’t this work? I think the main issue is the script. M.Night is great at coming up with ideas and concepts, but he really needs to find a writing partner who can iron out a few of his weaknesses. Maybe even just focus them down from 10 ideas to 2. It’s great to see Anya Taylor-Joy in anything, but her characterisation doesn’t really make much sense in this film considering what happened to her in the last one. It would be like if the Halloween sequel had Laurie Strode set up a shrine to Michael Myers. It doesn’t ring true and is kind of problematic.

That’s not my biggest issue with the script. Surprisingly my biggest issue isn’t even the obligatory twist ending (although I will go into that later on. You know what? Fuck it, I’ll go into it now. There are two twists, one is that James McAvoy’s character was killed in the train crash in Unbreakable. We already knew he died in a train crash, so everybody guessed it was the same one. The other twist is that Sarah Paulson’s character turns out to be evil, an ending which was figured by, I dunno, EVERYBODY who watched the trailer), no, the real problem is one that someone reading it really should have fixed. Most of the movie is about Sarah Paulson’s character convincing the main 3 that they are not extraordinary, and are in fact just normal members of the public with delusions. That the metal they bent was severely weakened etc. This would be a unique arc for a superhero film, if it wasn’t the third film. As it is, we’ve already seen what they can do, so we know they have powers. So it just seems like a massive waste of time. That wouldn’t matter if the story was compelling, but it’s incredibly dull with some quite bad dialogue. Actually the dialogue is a constant problem here as it doesn’t so much ignore the “show, don’t tell” theory, as talk it into submission. Almost every character explains their motives, explains their feelings, and (worst of all), explains the differences between this and a normal superhero story.

Also, the ending is kind of a damp squib. I feel the same way I felt after watching Unbreakable, disappointed at what I just saw, but really excited about what happens next. Which is good for the sequel, but bad for this films chances of me ever watching it again.

I do have to point out though that the idea is pretty good, McAvoy is the highlight of it (putting much more effort than Bruce Willis does, and is given more to do than Samuel L. Jackson), and the fact that M.Night self-funds his film is incredibly admirable. I just wish he spent more time fine-tuning the scripts.

Stan & Ollie (2019)

I recommend you see this movie, but with one caveat. It’s about one of the most famous comedy duos of told time, so you expect this to be highly comedic, right? That’s the wrong approach to this, go in expecting a drama and you’ll be fine. It took a while for me to adjust to that mindset, so for about half the film I was disappointed, then there was a scene in a hotel lobby of the two of them having an argument, a really heavy one. Not in terms of shouting and screaming, but in terms of the pure emotion on display. At that point a switch in my head was turned on and I got it. From that point on I enjoyed it a lot more. I get the feeling they used artistic license with history at some moments, but not too many. It seemed relatively honest. By which I mean it made them seem like dicks at times, it admitted they were not perfect individuals or ones who had just suffered misfortunes, but were in fact sometimes the cause of their own misfortunes. I like when biopics do that (for a great example of this, watch Get On Up, the film about James Brown which seems to veer from loving warm tales to a full-on character assassination depending what scene you’re watching).

I will admit to having never scene any Laurel And Hardy, but now I want to. I want to see how accurate their depictions are of them. I’ve heard people say they were spot on imitations, but I can’t really comment on that, all I can comment on really is the story, which was great. It was almost like a love story. Well, it is a relationship story, essentially. We see them at their best, and at their worst. When their wives join them it completely changes the interplay between them, for the better. The wives’ interactions with each other are delightful, in a cringey way. The pair throw pointed barbs at each other all the time, some subtle, some not, and they provide some of the best laughs of the film. It also provides the backdrop of one of the biggest heartwarming moments near the end. A moment which will make you think “oh no, don’t do that” but then be very glad they did.

The big downside is the pacing is a bit slow at times. And we’re not really shown enough background about them. But that is minor, this isn’t a film about Laurel and Hardy, this is a film about a very specific time period in their life. And that it does very well, you really get a feeling for how far they’ve fallen.

This film is very good, but it lacked that something that made it great. If it’s the best film I see all year I won’t consider this a good year, but if it’s the worst film I see all year then 2019 is going to be great.

Aquaman (2018)

Before I saw this I accidentally glimpsed a review that stated this film was “The DC Black Panther (and much better than the MCU one). To which I say…….nothing because I’m too busy laughing. Aquaman is good, but not better than that. It looks great at parts, and the opening fight scene is better than a lot of the Marvel fights purely on the basis it doesn’t do that “cut before every punch lands” thing that Marvel does, it holds on the action so you see contact and it makes it seem real. But that opening fight scene? Takes place like 15 or 20 minutes in. Before that we get the character backstory. So, we get the backstory to someone we’ve already seen in two movies already. A backstory that’s not really needed, certainly not seen. All of it could have been just dropped throughout the film. I mean, yeah that would have meant not opening the film with Nicole Kidman, but it would have meant opening the film with your main character. The way it’s done is like it’s trying to build up audience excitement to see the character, like it’s building up his appearance, but we’ve already seen him in other films. By the time the character comes around I was actually kind of bored., which was my main issue with the film, it was WAY too long. It’s nearly 2 and a half hours, yet contains only 2 hours of film. There’s A LOT of filler in this movie, so many moments just happens to either pad out the runtime, or because they want to put an action scene in.

There are a few other problems, but a lot of them are personal preference. Like people dismiss the idea of Atlantis existing, but this is a world where Superman exists, and Aquaman has been seen with him. The catfish is out of the bag when it comes to heroes etc in this universe, you can’t pretend people are surprised or don’t believe in this.

I have been negative against this film, and I think I’m making it sound worse than it actually is. Truth is, it’s not a bad movie, it’s just dull and formulaic. There’s very few moments in it which will surprise you, it mostly does EXACTLY what you expect it do, all the time. I find it hard to hate this movie because it does have moments of greatness (the way they play with the “random biker assholes start a bar fight with the main character” trope was hilarious), but not enough of them, and they’re usually just fleeting. Also, the main villain reminded me too much of Randall from Clerks and it kept putting me off:

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Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)

Before I start on this review I have to give out the biggest negative about it, and it’s one that will stop many people seeing the film. This film has intense flashing lights, so if you have epilepsy, or have sensory processing disorder, this might not be the film for you. That’s actually really annoying that that was not publicised. I mean, shouldn’t films that do that have a warning? We have warnings for “contains mild peril”, but not this. That’s…..really fucking weird and needs changing.

Now, onto the film…..this film loves the character of Spider-man, you can tell this by the way it mocks him sometimes. It’s like the lego batman movie in that way, it does make fun of previous films, but it’s done with such knowledge and love. This is a different kind of comic book movie, for one thing it’s REALLY weird. It’s a film for kids that deals with multiverse theory, didn’t get that in Thor (well you might have done but I didn’t pay attention because it was awful, or Thor-fal if you’re the type of person who feels the need to cram puns in where they don’t fit). It’s incredibly meta, but not too much so. None of this would matter if the actors didn’t put effort in, but the voice work here is great too. The film-makers didn’t skimp when it came to casting, you’ve got real talent here: Hailee Steinfeld, Lily Tomlin, Nicholas Cage, Liev Schreiber, Kathryn Hahn etc.

I mentioned the intense flashing lights earlier, apart from that this film looks SUPERB. The animation is some of the best you’ll see, with multiple styles displayed across the film, each incredibly distinct and gorgeous. The fight scenes are done brilliantly too, you never lose track of whats happening, the final fight in particular is a masterpiece of surreal film-making that plays out like a AAA video game boss level.

The soundtrack too, is amazing. It really suits the film, the songs are not only great but they go perfectly with the images. It does what a soundtrack should do, it complements the film perfectly. It also features what has to count as the best and most heartbreaking Stan Lee cameo ever. This is the first film released after his death (not counting the Deadpool 2 re-release), he appears on screen after Spider-man dies and says “I’m going to miss him”. F*cking heartbreaking. The most depressing part of the film, and there’s quite a lot of them, I mean, the original Spider-man gets killed early on, and all the alternate spider-men/pig/women are haunted by a death of someone, they’re defined by guilt about who they could not save. This is the best time to mention the characterisation of the different universe characters; they are all fully fledged characters with motivations and back stories. This could be a film to launch a franchise.

I honestly believe this might be the best Spider-man movie ever made, it’s VERY close. But yeah, the no warnings about flashing lights of that nature is hard to look past.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

The most positive thing I can say about this film? They tried. They really tried hard. They tried to build off the amazement of the first film, create their own story, set up a universe, and tie it into the Harry Potter universe. They really tried. The trouble is; they failed. Badly.

It’s like they didn’t really care that much, to the point where it seems like bad fan fiction. They didn’t care about carrying on the legacy of the first film, the ending of which was slightly heartbreaking and sweet and wonderful and completely undone within the opening 5 minutes of this film. Let’s remind ourselves of what happened at the end of the first film: Grindelwald is captured, and Dan Fogler’s character has his memory wiped. Opening of this film; Grindelwald escapes, and Fogler’s character didn’t actually lose his memory (this is explained in the worst bullshitty way possible, that’s so bad I won’t spoil here, but needless to say there is no way it was planned).

They didn’t care about creating their own story, a lot of issues people have bought up about this film have had people respond with “but it might pay off in a future movie”. No, fuck that. It’s okay for a film to be part of a series, but it needs to stand on its own two feet to be considered worthy. It’s fun to bingewatch a movie series, but if bingewatching it is the only way the movie is good, then you’ve failed as a writer.

They didn’t care about setting up a universe. As mentioned before, so many of the moments which are intended to set up the universe, just end up being annoying and frustrating the audience.

They didn’t care about tying into the Harry Potter universe. They messed around with McGonagall’s age so that she’s middle aged and working at the school before she should even be alive. They made Nagini human, which kind of makes Neville Longbottom a murderer, and COMPLETELY changes the nature of Voldemort and Nagini’s relationship, makes a it a lot creepier. It’s a bit odd really as both of those things didn’t need to be done. McGonagall being there didn’t add anything to the plot and nothing would have been lost if they just made her a completely different character. Nagini, also, never really came into the plot. They also don’t seem to understand the Mirror of Erised, treating it like a magic flashback machine.

There are other issues with the film too. A lot of the action scenes aren’t really very cinematic, and consist of people waving their arms about as pretty lights go around. It’s not an action sequence, it’s a light show. It also has an ending that’s so bad I’m not going to mention it.

 

 

Actually you know what? Fuck it I’m mentioning it. It turns out Ezra Millers character is Dumbledore’s brother, no, not the one who got caught doing things with goats, the other one, you know, the one that has NEVER been mentioned or even alluded to at ANY point. Yes, it surprises me, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. If I ordered a pizza and got a piece of shit, I’d be surprised, but I’d also be annoyed and feel cheated. And that’s how I feel about this movie, I expected pizza and got a turd.

I feel it has to be said that Jude Law does make a GREAT Dumbledore in the extremely few moments he’s in this film. If it was focused more on him, I’d have enjoyed it a lot more. Also, the set design is BEAUTIFUL, the whole universe looks fantastic. It also has just enough charm to carry it through the worst parts. And finally, whenever I type the title of this film into my phone it autocorrects it to “Fantastic Breasts”, which makes me laugh as it sounds like something from Wallace And Gromit.

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“Cracking breasts”

I know it seems like I’m being overly harsh on this film, and I am. But it should be better. I’m not expecting it to be the best film of all time, but I’m expecting internal logic and consistency. People have been following Harry Potter for years now, and it deserves a lot better than this.