Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or DVD, PG-13, 143 min.). This is the first of the 10 Harry Potter-Fantastic Beasts films that I have been disappointed with. There is hardly any of the light tone of the previous two Fantastic Beasts films and the beginning is generally murky, especially magizoologist Next Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) adventure on China’s Tianzi Mountain, attending to the birth of the Qilin, a magical beast that can read one’s soul and therefore will be used to help chose the new leader of the International Convention of Magic. The twist comes when evil Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp), who has been the ultimate opponent in the first two films, is absolved of all crimes against Muggles (non-magical people) and becomes a candidate for leadership.

As for Albus Dumbledore’s (Jude Law) secrets of the title, they are hardly earth-shattering, as we already knew he once loved Grindelwald — hence the blood troth charm that prevents them from acting against each other. The secrets mostly involved the fate of his sister and the fact he has an innkeeper brother (Richard Coyle as Aberforth). Most will enjoy the brief return trip to Hogwarts School of Magic. Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who went over to the dark side and was central in the last film, is shoehorned in here, but ill-used, although his true parentage is one of the secrets, revealed at the end of the last film.
Grindelwald’s stated racist desire to eliminate all the Muggles fits with the 1930s Berlin in the film. The climax takes place in Bhutan in the Himalayas. Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner) has a bigger role to play and one of the better scenes involves Newt trying to break him out of a magical prison filled with hundreds of dangerous manticores and their huge mother. Also called to action are NYC baker Jacob (Dan Fogler, bringing his usual humor, especially in the Berlin dinner “assassination” scene), Newt’s assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates), Hogwarts Professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams) and French wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), half-brother of Leta Lestrange.

David Yates directed his 7th straight film in the two series. Maddeningly, the film still does not resolve Grindelwald’s fate; reportedly, two more films are planned in the series.

Plentiful extras include a helpful look at Dumbledore’s family (8:38) and how Newt’s adventure on Tianzi was filmed (4:48). Another looks at all who have played Dumbledore. Actors guess whether items are magical or Muggle, and there are looks at the return to Hogwarts, the German Ministry of Magic, the new beasts, the Berlin dinner, Dumbledore’s duel, the jailbreak, and the Bhutan battle. Additionally, there are five deleted scenes and actor Ian Radford giving a backstage tour of London’s theatrical “Cursed Child” production. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Firestarter (Universal, Blu-ray or DVD, R, 94 min.). I enjoyed this different approach to Stephen King’s source novel, with the emphasis placed on 11-year-old Charlie’s (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) relationship with both parents (Zac Efron as Andy and Sydney Lemmon as Vicky), both of whom were subject to experiments with Lot Six while college students. Vicky’s enhanced powers include telekinesis, while Andy’s include being able to “push” people’s minds into desired actions (like his getting clients to stop smoking). It feels strange to see Efron old enough to play a father.

Charlie’s parents have been staying off the grid to protect her, but that stealth gets literally blown to bits when Charlie goes “off” in a school bathroom after a dodgeball incident. New leader of The Shop (Gloria Reuben as Capt. Hollister) calls in retired bounty hunter and Lot Six subject John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) to bring in Charlie. Of course, he is heavy-handed, leaving a string of bodies.

The film is less successful in plotting and looks low budget. The electronic film score reminded me of John Carpenter and, sure enough, he is one of three credited composers. The way the film ends cries out for a sequel. Extras include an alternate ending, five deleted and two extended scenes, a useless gag reel, developing the script, and looks at the actors’ relationship and director Keith Thomas (he also does an audio commentary), the fire special effects and the fights and stunts. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3 stars

After Yang (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or DVD, PG, 95 min.). I found this slow, deliberate, meditative film to be too slow and could not engage with its melancholy. Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith play Jake and Kyra, adoptive parents of Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). In order to have Mika remain connected to her Chinese heritage, Jake buys a refurbished techno-sapien, the artificial human Yang (Justin H. Min). Although Jake tries, efforts to bring Yang back to life after he shuts down fail, as he has an interior core problem.

During Jake’s attempts, he learns Yang had a secret memory chip, whose “memories” he can now access, and he views scenes of several families Yang served. The question is whether Yang was a spy or if these memories had certain emotional attachments.

The film is based on a short story by Alexander Weinstein. The sole extra is a making-of featurette (23:32). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extra 2 stars

Aliens, Clowns & Geeks (MVD Visual, Blu-ray, NR, 87 min.). This slice of absurdist humor comes from writer-director Richard Elfman, known for founding the band Oingo Boingo with his brother/now film composer Danny Elfman, who contributes the score here (co-written with Ego Plum), and directing the 1980 cult film “Forbidden Zone.” Elfman clearly set out to create another cult film and have a blast while doing so.

Some parts are over-the-top, such as the slightly speeded-up, silly sex scenes, but then the whole film is about a poor actor (Bodhi Elfman, the director’s son, as Eddy Pine) who, after sex, excretes an obelisk that happens to be the key to controlling the universe and is subject of a war between clown aliens and green aliens. Eddy had been down because his new TV series had been cancelled before any of the episodes aired. Nearly all of the actors play multiple roles, as Bodhi also plays Clown Zippy. The director plays Clown Bippy.

Anastasia Elfman, the director’s wife, plays Cindy, the young version of Eddy’s mom (with the amazing ping pong ball trick), a nun and a burlesque dancer. Also in Eddy’s family is his transgendered sister Jumbo (Steve Agee, who also plays chicken Lenny), who runs a bar.

Seeking information about the obelisk, whose surface notations are all squiggly, Eddy goes to German scientist Prof. von Scheisenberg (French Stewart of TV’s “3rd Rock from the Sun”), whose assistants are the Svenson sisters, Inga (Angeline-Rose Troy, who also plays Eddy’s “junkie-whore mother”) and Helga (Rebecca Forsythe). Helga immediately attaches herself to Eddy. The professor wants to turn the obelisk into clean energy. George Wendt (TV’s “Cheers”) has a brief cameo as a priest.

The late Verne Troyer (“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” and “Goldmember,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”) plays Clown Emperor Beezel-Chugg, the narcissistic, lethal emperor of the Nine Planet Federation.

Extras include brief interviews with cast and crew (33:52), a funny director’s interview (4:11) and the “Mambo Diabolico” music video. Portions of the film were filmed at Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, which also served as the setting for “The Brain from Planet Arous.” Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.5 stars

“The Brain from Planet Arous” (1958, The Film Detective, Blu-ray, NR, 71 min.) has alien criminal Gor land in the California desert. Gor wants to enslave humanity so he can become ruler of the universe. He has a radiation-emitting ability that can destroy buildings and crash airplanes. Nearby scientist Steve Marsh (John Agar of “The Mole People”) detects some higher radiation and goes to investigate, along with eye-candy Dan Murphy (Robert Fuller, TV’s “Emergency!”), who only lasts 11 minutes. Gor takes over Marsh’s body and the hilarious tipoff is that he kisses girlfriend Sally (Jayne Meadows) more aggressively. The dog no longer likes him as well.

The film was inspired by Hal Clement’s “Needle.” This is a new special edition of the film, with a commentary track by historian Tom Weaver, who spends time on Fuller’s career, and includes recorded comments by Meadows. Meadows also does a playful introduction, in character as Sally (11:40). In the booklet, Weaver writes about producer Jacques Marquette. There are two featurettes on the career of director Nathan Juran, one by Justin Humphreys (11:42) and the other by C. Courtney Joyner (13:52). Juran won an Oscar for the set decoration in “How Green Was My Valley.” Grade: 2.75 stars; extras 3.5 stars

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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