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!

Of Juxtapositions and Oxymorons

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

Book Review for The Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste by Arundhati Roy and Tales of Nevèrÿon by Samuel R Delaney. As usual, spoiler alert in place for both of these books. If you intend on reading either of the books, stop here, bookmark this page and come back when you are done.

This review is NOT intended to compare the two extremely distinct authors nor the books. This review is my point of view, my thoughts and my opinions alone. You are welcome to click off if anything seems not to your liking.

Background on why these books and why in this combination. A few years ago, I realized that my reading habits were exclusively housed in the fantasy genre and more so in the YA fantasy genre. I decided that it was time to expand my bookshelf. Ever since, I have been trying to incorporate different genres, authors, countries and eras. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I have learned so much and I can feel my brain expanding covering up some of my blind spots that I would never have had otherwise.

It isn’t easy, however, to branch out of your comfort zone and commit to reading a book that you probably will have no interest in. Luckily, I know myself pretty well and am able to pick out books I know I want to learn from or is a topic I care about. I have had a few duds on the way (looking at you The King of Kahel) but for the most part I have really enjoyed this journey.

I try to pick a book I really want to and a book I really should, to read simultaneously. This way if one of them is not really doing it for me, I can take a break with the other one. It is also fun reading different styles of writing and storytelling at the same time.

Never before have I read two books that are stark contrasts yet vaguely related. I also did not expect to enjoy Delany as much as I did or be disappointed in Roy as much as I was. It was fascinating reading these two books together though. Social commentary hasn’t changed much in the past few decades probably because the world seems to be going backwards rather than becoming more tolerant.

I enjoy Roy’s works – a lot. I devoured The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and can’t get The God of Small Things out of my head even after all these years. I have heard very good things about her non-fiction narrative works. I was very excited to read The Doctor and the Saint. Perhaps my expectations were misplaced, I was hoping for a logical comparison of India’s two greatest leaders during the Freedom movement. Both had very distinct styles of rebellion, different causes and fundamentally different ideologies. Obviously, neither of them are perfect and depending on who you ask, they are going to pick a side. I was prepared for a somewhat biased discourse. Instead, what I got was an all out attack on the Saint and next to no analysis on the Doctor. Don’t get me wrong – my loyalties lie with the Doctor just as Roy. However, I was hoping for an in-depth analysis of how their ideologies affected the Freedom Movement, the impact of their involvement and how it shaped Independent India.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Delaney however, absolutely blew my mind. Something about their writing style is so captivating; I was mesmerized by the world building, invested in the characters all the while very acutely aware of the social commentary. The story telling is amazing and the writer successfully brings all the stories into a full circle – which is no easy feat considering each story is a different part of the world and a different set of characters. At no point does it feel preachy and the commentary is so effortlessly woven into the story telling that it doesn’t feel jarring at all.

It was an absolute pleasure reading my first ever Delaney and you bet I am going to get my hands on some of their other works.

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?

Necromancy Anyone?

SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for Gideon the Ninth.

I absolutely love all things fantasy. I went through a Goth phase in my teenage years (the love is still there). And so it is astonishing that I have never read anything in the necromancy fiction genre. As someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, I am starved for well written queer characters. When my friend suggested we read Gideon the Ninth for our book club, I was entirely on board. But, boy oh boy, I had no idea that I had found my next obsession!

It is rare to find well fleshed out female characters let alone queer characters. It was a wonderful change in pace to read Gideon, Harrow and all the amazing characters. I was completely lost in the world Tamsyn Muir built for us. I was laughing, crying and bleeding with the Houses. I fell in love with Gideon so hard and I never saw the heartbreak in my near future. What a bittersweet ending?!

The Goth in me was ecstatic reading about re-animated skeletons and the part of me obsessed with sci-fi was jumping with joy at the concept of space necromancers. SPACE NECROMANCERS!!! What a story Tamsyn has written for us – I am a plot junkie and this satisfied my craving. The character arches are well thought out, well paced and sufficiently engaging. Plot twists and deaths are unexpected. You would think that someone who is a fan of Game of Thrones would be prepared for sudden character deaths. That is not true at all. My shock when Isaac exploded into a burst of necro-light was greater than my shock at the Red Wedding. And I wept harder at Gideon’s sacrifice than at Dobby’s death. I had not realized how attached I had gotten to these characters over a course of 500 pages.

The last battle between Cytherea and Harrow went a little too long. I enjoyed how you think Cytherea is almost defeated but comes back bigger and badder, however, it got a little old when the same trope was used over three times. Initially, I thought the first Lyctor was too powerful. I was worried Tamsyn had written themselves (I don’t want to miss-pronoun Tamsyn) in a corner, like so many other writers. I wasn’t sure how Cytherea would be defeated, I hoped it wouldn’t be some lame ex machina weakness she throws at us in the end. Gideon’s sacrifice, though tragic, was genius writing.

I read some articles arguing that Gideon the Ninth falls under fiction that romanticizes toxic relationships. I strongly disagree. I think that the book does a good job of portraying dis-functional relationships. Portrayal is not romanticizing. It is important for fiction to depict these relationships, for readers to have an avenue to read about what abusive relationships look like in a disconnected, fictional medium. These depictions beget conversations, important dialogue that goes a long way to help those in these types of relationships. And it is important for us to distinguish between stories that celebrate it (Twilight!) and those that talk about it.

I can’t wait to finish Harrow the Ninth – currently reading (check out my Goodreads on the right hand sidebar).

Let it Go!

Spoiler Alert: This post may contain spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Crimes of Grindelwald

This is not a book review but more of an author review. It is also a plea to my childhood hero to stop!

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. So much so that I was on the panel for Harry Potter Fandom at ComicCon. I grew up with the books and if you have seen my previous posts, you will know the series means a great deal to me.

Growing up, I admired J. K. Rowling. Her effortless portrayal of strong independent women was not only fascinating but also inspiring. She stood for feminism and encouraged young girls to follow in Hermoine’s path.

Over the years, the author has given us a lot of insight into the characters. Some heartbreaking like McGonagall’s past; some fairly obvious (to me, at least) like Dumbledore being gay and I have enjoyed each of these tidbits. They added depth and new dimensions to the characters I already loved.  It had always been fun discussing new information suddenly thrust upon us decades after our favorite series had ended.

But guess what? Too much of a good thing is bad! It all started with the fateful Cursed Child. ‘Disappointed’ would be an understatement. Cursed Child was one of the most sloppily written, money-grabbing piece of work I have ever read. To those of you that are going to jump at me and say she never wrote it, here’s what I have to say – signing off on that garbage was just as bad. Not only was it completely inconsistent with the characters we have come to know and love, the plot was ridiculous. I see the irony in calling a work of fantasy ridiculous but that’s exactly my point!

I have since come to forgive her for Cursed Child. But did it end there? If only! Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was acceptable but the casting of Johnny Depp is inexcusable from someone like J. K. Rowling. I was heartbroken that my hero, the one that stood for feminism and for women’s rights would allow a wife-beating abuser like Johnny Depp to star in one of the most prominent roles in her new franchise. A franchise which, by the way, is nothing but a ploy at making money.

If FBAWTFT was acceptable, Crimes of Grindelwald was awful. I am not going into detail about everything I think is wrong with the movie. It has been covered in many articles, besides that would take up almost two posts. I will, however, say this – there is no such thing as course correcting once a series has ended. It is important that J.K. Rowling accept the lack of representation (coming out and saying Hermoine is black or Dumbledore is gay AFTER the fact, doesn’t count). She needs to stop trying to “correct” her mistakes in Harry Potter. Nobody is perfect and one of the things that makes harry Potter so great are the flaws.

Whatever it is that J.K Rowling is trying to do with Nagini, having McGonagal teach at Hogwarts when she would have been 8 years old, Nicolas Flamel, problems with the Elder Wand and all the other million things that ruin the Harry Potter canon, needs to stop. We also do not need to know about wizards pissing themselves on the reg. So, can we please let Harry Potter go. Stop messing with our childhoods. Please, just stop it!

The Power in your Hands

Spoiler Alert for The Power by Naomi Alderman : If you haven’t read the book yet please stop here, bookmark the page, read it and come back. Or if you like spoilers, please go ahead.

Let me first explain the photo displayed above. From where I come, patriarchy is rampant and the only value a woman is given is based on how successful her husband is. Without a marriage, most of her accomplishments will remain unappreciated. Growing up, I associated Mehndi (henna) with weddings. It is tradition for the bride to adorn her feet and hands with Mehndi. When I turned 23 and my parents started to bring up the topic of marriage and such, I wasn’t ready. To their credit, they did not start badgering me about it until I turned 26. At this point, I started to resent weddings and everything that went with it. This was a big deal for me because my secret ambition is to be a wedding planner when I grow up. I realized however, it wasn’t Mehndi or my parents that were causing my resentment. It was the system and the patriarchal culture that required a woman’s worth to be tied to a man.

After 3 years of debating and fighting, my parents finally have given up on the prospect of me ever being married. I have since decided Mehndi will be my symbol of the power I yield as an independent woman who doesn’t need a man to validate her.

Let us move on to the actual review of the book. Now, is a book really good if it made you extremely depressed? I think it is, because it must have been written well to incite such a strong emotion in the reader. In my last post, I talked about the best book I read in 2017. (If you didn’t read my last post, it was The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy). The Power by Naomi Alderman was the best book I read in 2018. I hated that book, only because of how accurate I thought it was in it’s depiction of a dystopian future.

If you are a feminist, like I am, you have, no doubt, daydreamed about what it would be like if the patriarchy was flipped on it’s head. What if men and women switched places? If the power lay in our hands, what would the world look like? One of the reasons I hated the book is because it shattered my bubble, it was a rude awakening to reality, my daydreams turned into nightmares.

Naomi Alderman’s writing style is pleasing, she knows how to write a story and most important of all, she knows how to captivate her audience and make them feel. For days after the book, I kept trying to find flaws in her argument, to find a way to avoid the dystopia she predicted. I could not! I was distraught. Did this mean, there was no point in our fight? Would we be committing atrocities against men? We would not! The point of feminism is not to rule over men! My fight isn’t against men – it is against patriarchy, toxic masculinity, this notion that somehow women are an inferior species.

The Power is a difficult read. But it is a very important book. If you meet men that do not believe in feminism or are the poster child for everything wrong with this world, I would have them read this book. Maybe if they read about what happens to women everyday in today’s world as happening to them, maybe then they will open their eyes and aid in our fight to smash the patriarchy.

P.S. I apologize if this post was more rant than review. I think The Power is a great food for thought and these ideas are worth discussing.