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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) Review

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Fantastic Beasts The Secrets of Dumbledore

Time: 142 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander
Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore
Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone
Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski
Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein
Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander
Jessica Williams as Professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks
Katherine Waterston as Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein
Mads Mikkelsen as Gellert Grindelwald
Director: David Yates

Professor Albus Dumbledore knows the powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is moving to seize control of the wizarding world. Unable to stop him alone, he entrusts magizoologist Newt Scamander to lead an intrepid team of wizards and witches. They soon encounter an array of old and new beasts as they clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers.

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I admit I wasn’t the most looking forward to the new Fantastic Beasts movie. The spinoff Harry Potter series has been very divisive to say the least. I thought that the first Fantastic Beasts movie (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) was decent but definitely flawed and could’ve been more. I even liked the follow up The Crimes of Grindelwald when I saw it, but it soured upon further thought. It was way too messy, and I pretty much lost confident in whatever JK Rowling was planning to do with this series. And without getting too deep into it, Rowling herself has been making it difficult to look forward to anything she creates and releases outside of the Fantastic Beasts movies. So outside of the addition of Mads Mikkelsen, I really wasn’t that looking forward to the third movie in the series. The Secrets of Dumbledore definitely has its problems, but for what its worth, I liked it.

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The first two movies were solely written by JK Rowling and while the script of the first movie was okay, the second was a mess. One thing that elevated my hopes for the third movie was the addition of Steve Kloves as a co-writer alongside Rowling. He was involved with adapting most of the Harry Potter books into movies and while I can’t say for certain how big of a role he had in the writing process, it must’ve done something because it’s at least an improvement over Crimes of Grindelwald. An issue that CoG had was that the story felt incredibly scattered, with so many plotlines and characters that by the end, they all felt half baked and underdeveloped. To a degree, Secrets of Dumbledore also has that same issue, but it is definitely an improvement here. It helps that many of these characters are together in groups a lot of the time and comparatively less scattered. It was a lot easier to comprehend what was happening and I was interested enough to follow the characters, even if there were some storylines I wasn’t invested in. With that said, there are still too many characters. Some storylines felt downright unnecessary, like with the character of Yousuf Kama. If they incorporated characters or storylines together (or cut them out entirely), it might’ve worked better. Cutting down the storylines would’ve removed the unnecessary and dull scenes too. It also doesn’t help that there’s a lack of stakes; the Grindelwald vs Dumbledore storyline doesn’t have many stakes since we know the outcome already. However, they could’ve added some personal stakes with the rest of the characters, and there’s just not a lot of those here.

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Unfortunately, The Secrets of Dumbledore just can’t get away from feeling drawn out. The storyline of this whole series is the very opposite of tight, you just don’t know what it is all leading towards beyond the inevitable final duel between Grindelwald and Dumbledore. There might be some plot and character reveals, but like with Crimes of Grindelwald, I really didn’t get a sense that anything had progressed. Even Harry Potter with its 8 films, it felt like something had happened in each instalment. Each Fantastic Beasts movie feels like build up for the next one. With the storylines in SoD and the way they are resolved (or not resolved) by the end, it feels like the overarching story is being padded out. There are supposedly two more movies coming, and once again I really don’t expect much progress in the next entry. Some of the choices that JK Rowling made with this series are weird, but I’ll focus on probably the most critical one. It’s clear that Rowling wants to have this series focussing on the Grindelwald vs Dumbledore war, but because the first movie was a Fantastic Beasts film, I guess she felt that she had to keep Newt Scamander as the protagonist. However, with every movie he feels less relevant to this storyline and as a result he feels very out of place, and not in a good way. For what its worth though, they do manage to find a way to incorporate magical beasts into the storyline of this movie in a way that makes sense. Secrets of Dumbledore is a long movie at nearly 2.5 hours in length, and you definitely feel it. There were definitely scenes that could’ve been shorter, even full-on sequences which feel like padding. An example is a sequence involving Newt Scamander and crabs, while it is amusing, it is drawn out and really didn’t anything for the movie outside of having an action scene and being longer.

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There are some great actors involved in this movie, though only some are utilised well. There are two highlights in the cast for me. The first is Jude Law as younger Albus Dumbledore, returning from Crimes of Grindelwald. In the last movie he was in a supporting role, but here is in a much bigger part. Law is fantastic as Dumbledore and adds so much to his scenes. It’s actually a wonder why Rowling didn’t have this prequel series just follow Dumbledore as the protagonist. The other highlight is that of Gellert Grindelwald, now played by Mads Mikkelsen. The casting of Grindelwald in these movies has certainly been a roller coaster. In the first movie it was Colin Farrell portraying the disguised Grindelwald, then Johnny Depp played the true Grindelwald, and now they’ve recast him with Mikkelsen in this third movie. The recasting was a definite upgrade. Depp’s Grindelwald was really out of place and didn’t fit the character. Mads on the other hand felt more like a character than a caricature, less overtly evil and more alluring and convincingly sinister (which is what Grindelwald should be). It really felt like he should’ve been cast for the part in the first place. He and Law share some very convincing chemistry, it’s fantastic whenever the two of them are on screen interacting with each other.

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Eddie Redmayne once again returns to the role of Newt Scamander, and he is very well suited for this role, he plays it well. Unfortunately, as I just said earlier, Newt’s inclusion makes less and less sense with every entry. At this point, there’s no reason for him to be the protagonist, and he makes more sense as a supporting player instead. Dan Fogler also returns as Jacob Kowalski and remains likable and enjoyable to watch as before. Jessica Williams is a new addition to the cast, and I really liked her, she brought a lot of energy and humour to her scenes and made her scenes enjoyable to watch.  However, some of the other cast members and characters weren’t handled the best. One notable mishandling was Alison Sudol’s character of Queenie. In a very underdeveloped storyline in the last movie, she joined Grindelwald at the end. All I’ll say is that Queenie’s story in the third movie is half baked and disappointing, especially with how it is resolved. Ezra Miller’s character of Credence is notable throughout the series, now he’s joined up with Grindelwald and going after Albus Dumbledore. This character is definitely meant to be a major part of the movie, however there’s something about the handling of the storyline that it makes it difficult to care about. However the more egregious handling is that of Katherine Waterston’s character Tina Goldstein, who is barely in the film despite being one of the main Fantastic Beasts characters alongside Newt, Jacob and Queenie. There’s definitely an explanation given for her not playing a part in the plot ( “she’s busy”). While it’s one thing to reduce a character’s role down a little (like she was in the last movie), it felt like Waterston had said or done something that caused her role to be minimised to a couple scenes (and I’m 95% sure that’s what happened).

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE

David Yates once again returns to direct another Fantastic Beasts movie. As expected, his work is competent, but you really wish that someone else stepped in to give their own take on a Wizarding World movie, because Yate’s direction and style feels a little stale at this point. For the most part, the visuals are good with some solid cinematography. Most of the VFX are good, especially with the beasts and the magic, and there’s some entertaining action scenes, especially with the wizard duels. The score from James Newton Howard is also quite good and accompanies the movie nicely, even if it occasionally overuses familiar Harry Potter themes at points.

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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore was better than what I was expecting. I was more invested in the story compared to CoG, there are some entertaining sequences, and the cast are solid, if mostly underutilised, with Jude Law and Mads Mikkelsen really shining in their respective roles. It also avoided some of the issues that the first two movies had. Unfortunately, there is still a fair amount of Fantastic Beasts problems that it can’t escape, like the feeling of being yet another entry building up for the next film in a prolonged series. There are two more movies to come and while I’ll probably end up watching them, I can’t say I’m super excited to see the next one, especially if it’ll just be another set-up film. For what its worth though, if you liked the other two Fantastic Beasts movies then you’ll probably like Secrets of Dumbledore too.

Booksmart (2019) Review

Time: 102 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Drug use, sexual Drug use, sexual references & offensive language
Cast:
Beanie Feldstein as Molly Davidson
Kaitlyn Dever as Amy Antsler
Jessica Williams as Miss Fine
Lisa Kudrow as Charmaine Antsler
Will Forte as Doug Antsler
Jason Sudeikis as Jordan Brown
Billie Lourd as Gigi
Diana Silvers as Hope
Director: Martin Scorsese

Academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) thought keeping their noses to the grindstone gave them a leg up on their high school peers. But on the eve of graduation, the best friends suddenly realize that they may have missed out on the special moments of their teenage years. Determined to make up for lost time, the girls decide to cram four years of not-to-be missed fun into one night — a chaotic adventure that no amount of book smarts could prepare them for.

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I have been hearing about Booksmart for the longest time, it had received acclaim from critics and audiences alike, and was often placed among the best movies of the year. I was quite sceptical about it, I have to say. From the brief glances I saw of the movie I got the feeling I wouldn’t love it as much as others, not to mention that I’m not a fan of coming of age stories. Still, I was going to give it a fair chance and I did. Having seen it, I have some very mixed feelings about the movie, and while I don’t exactly dislike it, I don’t really like it much either.

Booksmart practically announces itself as a subversive take on a coming of age story, especially with the main characters. While it seems different from other similar movies, that’s only surface level. Booksmart follows much of the same structure, story beats, and the like in most coming of age movies. There’s even a familiar argument scene between the main friend characters (which happens out of the blue and for no reason in this movie I should add). There are attempts at being modern and woke, parts of it are okay, but most of it doesn’t work, and often feels immature and out of touch. It’s pretty much what you first think of when you hear the concept of fully grow adults trying to write woke teen comedies, a mess to say the least. There’s something that hits me the more I thought about the movie afterwards, that lack of relatability. I’m not a big fan of coming of age movies, but much of why a lot of other movies in this genre are loved is relatability. Sure there might be a couple of things with the lead characters that you can relate to, but that’s where it ends. The best coming of age released in recent years for me was The Edge of Seventeen, and that was mainly because of genuine complications that the characters go through, even if you can’t relate to their problems, at least it feels somewhat real. I’m not necessarily expecting complete realism all the way through with Booksmart, but this movie is practically a fantasy and so over the top, from the scenarios to the characters. Even if it wasn’t going for realism, it’s nonetheless hard to emotionally connect to them on any level. In the third act when it tries to get emotional at a point, it just doesn’t hit at all, especially with how goofy the rest of the movie beforehand was. I haven’t even gotten to the humour yet, I really did not find Booksmart to be that funny. And it’s more than just it not being funny, there’s some scenarios and side characters that are completely awkward and hard to watch (the latter of which I’ll get into in a bit). Throughout the movie aside from maybe the early sections, I was not invested or entertained whatsoever.

The saving grace of the movie are the leads with Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. There’s parts involving the characters and the writing that aren’t so great, but these two actresses work very well together and share wonderful chemistry. I absolutely believed that these two are friends, and when it’s just the two of them acting together, I actually liked it. They are the only thing that comes close to something somewhat carrying the movie. The rest of the characters are incredibly over the top cartoons, the thing is that none of them are funny. If anything, they just made the movie awkward and hard to watch. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was meant to be unnerving (because if that was the legitimate intention they certainly succeeded), but as it is, I think it missed the mark. Billie Lourd is particularly a reoccurring character that pops up plenty of times, and I guess she’s meant to be funny and the main ‘comedic relief’… but she just didn’t work for me. Like the others she was over the top, obnoxious, and made it hard to watch it.

This is the debut of Olivia Wilde as a director, she’s definitely showed off her talents well, and I’d like to see her direct a lot more movies. On the technical side, there wasn’t much I have to complain about except that the soundtrack was a little overdone.

I really wish I could‘ve liked Booksmart, it had potential for sure. Outside of Olivia Wilde’s direction and Dever and Feldstein however, it was rather hard to get through. It’s really over the top, mostly unfunny, very cliched (for all the attempts at subverting familiar coming of age tropes), and at times obnoxious. To be brutally honest, I did not get anything out of the movie except with the feeling that Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are great and definitely deserve the attention they are getting, and that Olivia Wilde should be given more directing gigs for sure. I guess if you’re somewhat interested in this movie however, see it for yourself. Booksmart is among the most loved movies of the year, I’m just disappointingly in the minority of people who didn’t really like it.