That’s Okay, Dumbledore, I Don’t Really Need to Know Your Secrets

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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (CREDIT:
Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot)

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston

Director: David Yates

Running Time: 142 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Wand Thrusts Knocking People Down

Release Date: April 15, 2022 (Theaters)

There’s one moment in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore that left me responding with a resounding blank stare. Well, actually, there was more than one moment like that. But there was one particular instance where I’m pretty sure that the hoped-for reaction was instead a pumped fist and a round of hoots and hollers. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what I’m talking about. One of our heroes informs us that their ragtag crew consists of a magizoologist, his assistant, “a wizard descended from a very old family,” a teacher, and a muggle. I guess the idea is that this isn’t exactly the A-team, but they all sound pretty capable to me! I can understand doubting the non-magical fellow, except that the previous two entries in this franchise have already established his bona fides. This all leads me to suspect that Dumbledore’s secrets aren’t as mind-blowing as advertised.

And that impenetrability doesn’t exactly pair well with the complications of watching something written by J.K. Rowling in 2022. If you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid her public persona the past several years, then I regret to inform you that she’s now just as famous for her highly public transphobic views about gender as she is for conjuring magical fantasy worlds. But hey, the Harry Potter saga preached a message of tolerance that seemed to stand in stark contrast to those opinions, so maybe Secrets of Dumbledore might as well, or at the very least be inoffensive.

But even beyond any moral reckonings, there is a mighty struggle at the core of watching this film. It has the vibe of a central creative voice given free rein to the point of absurdity. Rowling is credited as a co-screenwriter and one of five producers, but this is her brainchild set loose, unchecked and unbound. I’m not saying that someone needed to say no to her, but a little interpretation for those of us who don’t live in her brain would have been nice. The climactic battle is one of those scenes that’s so typical of modern blockbusters where the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and I just found myself profoundly confused. What are the stakes here? Why is Grindelwald such a bad wizard anyway? Maybe I missed an obvious explanation, and I’ll gladly welcome anyone who can point that out to me. But I can’t help but feel that I was watching someone tell us a story that was supposed to have self-evident importance, and that just wasn’t coming across.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is Recommended If You Are: J.K. Rowling

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Blood Pacts

Movie Review: Nerds Realize That Good Grades and Partying Aren’t Mutually Exclusive in the Goofy and Sweet ‘Booksmart’

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CREDIT: Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Pictures

Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Noah Galvin, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Mike O’Brien, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco, Nico Haraga, Stephanie Styles

Director: Olivia Wilde

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Halting and Manic Attempts at Sex and Drug Use

Release Date: May 24, 2019

Here’s what I’ve learned from Booksmart and other recent high school-set movies and TV shows: all teenagers are smart these days. Maybe there are still some lazy slackers out there, but the conventional wisdom is that they’re the exceptions, and the new normal is that it’s cool to be a good student. This comes as a bit of a shock to Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) on the eve of their graduation, who have spent four years buckling down, nose to textbook, only to look up and discover that their partying classmates also have decent enough transcripts to get into prestigious schools, including one who will be attending Yale alongside Molly. Now, I can buy that partying kids are smart, but two kids from the same high school both going to the same Ivy League institution? That might be a bridge too far. Although, the elite college admissions process can feel so random that just saying “[insert Ivy League school here]” works as shorthand to get the point across for Molly’s worldview to suddenly come tumbling down.

So with that setup, Molly and Amy decide that they’ve got to make up for all the fun they’ve unnecessarily been missing out the past four years by fitting in as much partying as possible the night before their graduation ceremony. It’s a somewhat novel setup for a fairly typical plot, as much of the night is spent getting to the party instead of actually being at the party (Molly and Amy, naturally enough, don’t know their classmate’s address). As is usually the case, the plot shenanigans are quite shaggy, which is sometimes amusing and sometimes a little too random (one drug-fueled animated sequence really comes out of nowhere). The differences come in the perspectives, with a decidedly female (and nerdy) perspective in front of and behind the camera (it’s Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut). But the typical emotional climax is still what you would expect (and be satisfied by). These movies so often steadily build to codependent friends screaming at each other, and we’ve got a doozy of a blowout here. It’s effective, but it also makes me want to see that rare high school party movie about teenage friends with a perfectly healthy relationship.

Booksmart is Recommended If You Like: Superbad, Blockers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 2000s SNL alumni

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Caps and Gowns