Heartbreaking Universe

Photo credit: Aditya Vyas on Unsplash

Reviewing Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore today. The first little bit will be a spoiler free review, talking about the movie in general and then I will dive into a fully fledged spoiled review. I will definitely include a spoiler alert before I start talking plot points. Be warned, there is a high probability this will turn into a rant.

There are two ways to watch the movie. One is to watch it by itself, as a stand alone series and the second is to watch it in the context of the Harry Potter universe. If you are a fan of the Harry Potter series, grew up with it and are able to separate these movies – good for you! I am honestly jealous.

First things first, the Secrets of Dumbledore is better than Crimes of Grindelwald by a lot. This part of the review is spoiler-free and also more accurate if you are watching this movie without the context of the Harry Potter universe. It is an okay movie. The visual effects are amazing, all fight sequences are beautifully shot and it is a well paced movie. Mads Mikkelsen is great as Grindelwald – I may be biased here because I really like Mads Mikkelsen in villain roles. He was great as Hannibal. Honestly, those are the only positive things I can muster up about the movie.

I grew up reading Harry Potter and used to be a huge fan. It has gotten me through some really tough times, it taught me about inclusion and has been like a security blanket for me. It all came crashing down when the author came out as a TERF. In retrospect, I should have seen the signs but I guess I was just blind. It was a heartbreaking moment. It took a lot out of me to find a way to separate the books from the hatred. It isn’t easy because it would be one thing if the series had ended in a completely – however, JK seems adamant on dragging out the Harry Potter universe until its death. Constant tweets, retcon and video games keep it in the public eye. All these cash grabby techniques are annoying at the least. Anti-trans is now combined with anti-Semitism – the new game about defeating a ‘goblin rebellion’ is problematic in more ways than one.

The natural question here is, why did I go watch the movie? I was sort of forced to. Some friends really wanted to watch it and I couldn’t get out of it for different reasons. I am hoping this review can help you if you are curious but have no interest in watching the movie. As mentioned earlier, it is almost impossible to separate the Fantastic Beasts from the Harry Potter universe because of all the forced connections they keep making in the movies. I am also going to be very nitpicky – I used to be super fan. I was on a Harry Potter fan panel at comic con so yes, it might be a bit much, I might be taking this a bit seriously but whatever. A lot of my life is spent with fictional characters and they become important to me.

Spoiler Alert – Plot points and nitpicking begins here.

The movie starts with retcon’d relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. On the one hand, I am glad they made their very non-platonic relationship obvious but it just felt like too little, too late. Lets get the little inconsistencies out of the way first, shall we –

  1. They use a Portkey to transport from point A but arrive via Floo powder in point B.
  2. There is a lot of magic performed out in public around muggles – is the American Statute of Secrecy different than the British?
  3. Some of the magic makes no sense: this one witch is able to magically change not just her clothes but also Jacob’s?
  4. Albus and Aberforth have way more of a relationship than we were led to believe in the original.
  5. WHY THE HELL IS MINERVA MCGONAGALL A TEACHER ALREADY?
  6. There is a fake Azkaban called Irkstarg or something – no information about it is given.
  7. Albus can create illusionary settings like in Inception – what?
  8. The Room of Requirements just appears without all of them imagining the same thing.
  9. Killing curse didn’t kill a beast entirely – it was still groaning…
  10. ABERFORTH HAS A SON (it is Credence, what the freaking hell!!)
  11. There is one leader for the entire magical world? Since when?
  12. Two movies were spent with Grindelwald manipulating Credence but in a matter of minutes, Credence’s loyalties are turned.
  13. What happened to Dumbledore’s flamboyance?
  14. There is a forced emotional scene between Aberforth and Credence and it ends with “Always” – come on!!
  15. Dumbledore’s and Grindelwald’s wands meet like in Harry Potter – there was a very specific reason for it.
  16. Jacob’s wand is fake – it is just a stick.

The worst of all is the main conflict in the movie is so ridiculously solved. The three movies were all about how Dumbledore can’t fight Grindelwald because of this ‘blood oath’ they had taken as lovers. If either of them tried to attack the other, the blood oath would kill them. But by the end of the movie the oath is just… broken. Without any consequences. Grindelwald aims his wand to kill Credence and at the same time Dumbledore aims his wand to protect Credence and their wands meet. There is a short scuffle and the oath just shatters. Apparently it is fate? What a let down!

However, the ‘scuffle’ was actually very well shot. I enjoyed the chemistry between them in that scene. Although, Grindelwald has the freaking elder wand so how is he unable to subdue Dumbledore? I can let this one go because Dumbledore is a very powerful wizard.

There were some funny moments, not laugh out loud but puff of air funny. There was one scene in particular that I really enjoyed. They need to make decoy suitcases to protect a certain beast. One is filled with pastries, another filled with the monster book of monsters and a third filled with bludgers. Once opened, they start replicating like the items in Bellatrix’s vault. This, I thought was super fun and cool.

I am being forced to include this in here by my partner. He insists this is the most unrealistic aspect of the movie. They travel to Bhutan in the third half of the movie. If you have been to Bhutan you would know that they believe penises are sacred/good luck – it represents a certain magical monk and also fertility. The walls in Bhutan are covered in penis art. There is an entire tradition revolving around this when someone buys a new house. There isn’t a single penis in the movie. I did try to tell him that they were in the ‘wizard’ part of Bhutan but he wasn’t convinced. He says people need to know.

Bottom line – there are two more movies and you really aren’t missing much. You could probably watch it when it is eventually released on OTT and on a lazy Saturday when you aren’t in the mood to do anything.

Have you seen the movie? Are you going to see it? What are your thoughts about Harry Potter? Let me know!

Movie Review – Sherni

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

SPOILER ALERT: Movie review of Sherni. Key plot points discussed. If you hate spoilers, bookmark this page and come back to it after you have watched the movie.

Holy wow. What a refreshing change to all the garbage Bollywood has been churning out lately. I watched the movie twice in one week. So let’s break this down.

Plot: This movie isn’t plot-oriented. There is a plot but that is not the point of the movie. When I saw the trailer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I am definitely a plot junkie. I watch movies for the storylines and character development more than anything else. Occasionally I will watch movies for social impact and even rarely for the art of film making. So if I say I freaking loved this movie, then everything else about the movie must have been fantastic. And it was! Basically, the plot is to capture a tigress that has ventured into nearby villages and attacked a few people. It is a race between the Govt Forest officials to save the tigress and hunters in cahoots with the local politicians to hunt it down. Doesn’t seem like much? Because that isn’t the point of the movie!

Technical: The movie is shot like a documentary. No frills or thrills for the masala. It is a slow paced (not too slow), poignantly shot movie. The location is beautiful. It is mainly set in the forests and National parks in Madhya Pradesh. The background score is appropriate, elevates the tension and sets a perfect tone for the movie. Direction seems seamless, I would attribute some of that to the seasoned actors as well. Cinematography is so good! The forests and national parks are gorgeous and it takes skill to capture their beauty and essence without losing sight of the rest of the movie. The camera pans at all the right times and focuses on the various flora and fauna appropriately with the storyline. Lighting is great, especially for the night time scenes. And the CGI wasn’t too bad. They made a great choice of limiting the CGI and the framing of the CGI animals wasn’t centered so that lead to no awkward disjointed characters on the screen.

Casting: No whitewashing, no sexualizing, a lot of diversity, realistic and an almost perfect ensemble! Really can’t say much more than that.

Acting: Vidya Balan is a Rockstar! I absolutely adore her. She may have had some unfortunate movies in her portfolio but she has always been great in all her movies. Her tempered performance in Sherni is one of the best performances I have seen in the last decade. She definitely is the highlight of the movie. Her balanced performance is empowering, sobering and a jolt of reality. She is grounded, subtle and just a delight to watch. She is so beautiful in so many ways. No over-the-top melodrama or heavy handedness.

I really appreciated watching a woman who stood by her decision to not have children and never wavered. The supporting characters do justice to their roles.

Mukul Chadda as the limitingly supportive husband was great. Vijay Raaz’s empathetic performance was like salt in Saag Paneer, bland without it. Sharat Saxena is the saag and obviously Vidya Balan is the paneer.

Social Impact: India has had a long sordid history of extreme deforestation. This movie couldn’t have come at a more apt time. Not only does it deal with environmental issues, it incorporates patriarchy and caste issues. Political sabotage and the fascist state of our country are all prevalent themes as well. Sherni is one of those rare movies that successfully portrays multiple causes without feeling confused or unfinished. Perhaps because all the causes it deals with form a dialectic and intersectionality that can not be ignored. The movie isn’t about providing solutions either, which veers it away from the trap of sounding preachy. It shows the sobering story of reality.

Finally, hurray to no item numbers! Seems like it is possible to portray strong independent women. Who knew?

Movie Review – Naandhi

I know I said this blog was for book reviews but I also did say it was for practicing my writing. Besides, I am feeling compelled to write a review about this movie. Without further ado let us get into it.

SPOILER ALERT: There are important plot points I have discussed down below that are considered spoilers. You have been warned! So, if you hate spoilers bookmark this page and come back to it after you have seen the movie.

For those unfamiliar with Indian movies – Naandhi is a Telugu language mainstream Indian movie (part of Tollywood). The movie is available in a few other Indian languages as well.

Let me get something straight before I write this review. I thoroughly enjoy Bollywood and Tollywood. I used to enjoy them unironically but since becoming an adult and seeing the world for what it actually is, I enjoy them secretly – in a nostalgic, childhood memory sort of way. I haven’t stopped enjoying them because the movies are all pretty much the same now, there are definitely some that are trying to experiment with the ‘formula’; I have stopped enjoying them because of the rampant misogyny and rape culture. Thank God or maybe the ‘woke’ audience for the reducing casual rape culture in Tollywood these days. Both genres of movies have a long way to go. Even the most liberal mainstream movies have their own set of flaws. Least of all is the gross age gap between the protagonists – which obviously is part of the patriarchy and misogyny I mentioned earlier.

I picked Naandhi as my first movie to review because I just had this urgent need to write down my thoughts about this movie. I have seen several movies in my life and very few of them have stood out for me as this one. In the last few years, I have also started to enjoy the art of filmmaking – I pay attention to things like camera angles, number of cuts per minute, mise-en-scene, etc. Naandhi is one of the first mainstream Telugu movies I have seen that has successfully pulled off one continuous no cut shot. That is it for the intro, let’s delve into the good and the bad of Naandhi.

The good – Allari Naresh is and has always been an extremely underrated actor, in my opinion. I was very impressed with him back when Nenu was released in 2004. He did an amazing job though the movie was slightly lacking. And that is true for Naandhi as well. Allari Naresh did a great job – his acting is on point. He was the right amount of dramatic and somber as the script demanded. He was expressive without over doing it, charming without being sloppy and overall a great casting choice.

The direction in the first two acts is amazing. Director Vijay was able to experiment within the realm of mainstream Telugu formulae and I think it was a risk that paid off. The 8 minute long shot of when Surya Prakash is finally released is so heartbreaking. The music, the direction, the lighting and the acting were fantastic. I re-watched that scene three times and you bet I cried. This was the scene that did it for me – the whole movie was made wonderful despite any shortcomings. Telugu movies tend to get overly melodramatic but the depth of this scene was just perfect.

I enjoyed the court scene when Aadhya calmly disproves the prosecution’s entire case with some brilliant matter-of-fact legal arguments – You would think the prosecution would have been more careful with the false evidence and testimony, it seemed a bit too weak to me but perhaps that was the point? To me, it felt as if the writer made the prosecution case so weak on purpose to show up Aadhya but maybe they were also trying to show the overconfidence of men in power?

This segues neatly into the bad – Naandhi’s social commentary is weak and falls flat – it is trying to bring awareness to convicts serving sentences while awaiting trial but Surya Prakash’s story is too unique and implausible to apply to any such convicts. It also fails to provide a solution. I think the movie tried to tackle too many topics – innocent people convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, corruption, powerful men being beyond law’s reach, under trial convicts and I wish they had just picked one cause to fight for. In the end, the message was unclear.

The entire third act seemed like a last minute put together pandering to the masses. The story was hurried, there was unnecessary violence, the ending was plain stupid and the entire mood of the movie was ruined. Up until then, there was this obvious subtlety, a balanced melodrama and a darkish tone but the third act was plain masala. If I were to re-watch the movie, I will always end after the 8-minute long shot of Surya Prakash being released and that’s my true ending. I am going to pretend the third act never happened.

In conclusion, I would rate the first two-thirds of the movie a 4/5, the last third a 1/5 and so overall – 3/5.

What did you think about the movie? Have you seen it? Are you going to watch it? Let me know in the comments!