April 2022 Roundup
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
Warner Bros. Pictures // Directed by David Yates // Starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston, Mads Mikkelsen
The Fantastic Beasts franchise has stumbled back into view, plagued by a myriad of behind-the-scenes issues that have become more notable than the movies, and, again, taking the story further from its origins. The Crimes of Grindelwald struggled with cohesion and juggling a multitude of narratives, and, whilst The Secrets of Dumbledore is a step up from its predecessor, it still falls foul of the same issues. Once again, Eddie Redmayne’s magizoologist Newt Scamander is forced aside in favour of the clunkily-portrayed relationship between Dumbledore (Law) and Grindelwald (Mikkelsen) and, strangely, the romance between Jacob (Folger) and Queenie (Sudol). It’s a shame as, whilst everyone here delivers a solid performance (including Katherine Waterston for all of about sixteen seconds of screentime), Redmayne provides a sense of fun and whimsy that this movie is SORELY lacking. It’s no pun or exaggeration to state that The Secrets of Dumbledore crumbles under the weight of its own self-importance and lack of magic or soul - that’s not to dismiss the movie as bad because I enjoyed a large chunk of it, but there’s a real lack of wonder throughout. Subplots of varying importance wrestle for superiority when JK Rowling, Steve Kloves, David Yates et al really needed to focus on either Newt and his fantastic beasts (which are slightly more prevalent here) or the story of Dumbledore, his strained family issues, his love for Grindelwald (which could be, you know, actually explored), and the tie-ins to the Potter saga that looms large.
The movie is not without its merits, visually it’s appealing and it boasts some very decent sequences - an intriguing opening scene and a scorpion infused murder-dance spring to mind - but it feels directionless and as if it’s going through the motions towards the beckoning duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Whilst not a complete bust, The Secrets of Dumbledore feels hollow and provides another janky, tonally misjudged entry into a floundering franchise - I’m not entirely sure even the Reparo spell could make a difference.
Sony Pictures Releasing // Directed by Daniel Espinosa // Starring Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson, Michael Keaton
The Sony/Marvelverse continues with the hugely-delayed Morbius, led by Jared Leto and the director of Child 44 and Safe House. Whilst Leto has been pushing the movie and the character for what seems like the longest time, initial hopes were not high for Morbius based on the constant delays and marketing. The first thing I must say is the studio interference with this movie is clear from simply viewing the movie - Morbius is a tonal, joyless mess. Dark and gritty can work if other aspects are working in partnership, but the uneven feeling of the movie never allowed for any balance. If anything, the sheer absurdity of the story almost called for more gonzo humour or levity to be present, though sadly certain sequences are unintentionally hilarious (Matt Smith and the slow motion vampire running…oh boy). When you factor in the bland look of the movie and the lazy script, it would seem that Morbius was a total bust. Not entirely. Is it awful? No. Is it great? Certainly not. Leto and Smith are decent in their respective roles, and whilst the tone is awry, both were committed to their performances - Leto clearly gives a damn about the character. On the flipside, Adria Arjona isn’t really given much to do which feels like a waste. The attempts at creating a legitimate horror atmosphere are admirable and not unsuccessful, however, the execution of nearly every action sequence feels heavy and uninspired. It feels like there was a really decent draft of this movie waiting to be discovered, and whilst it succeeds at times, instead, Morbius feels hollow and very much like a missed opportunity.
IFC Films // Directed by Audrey Diwan // Starring Anamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet Klein, Sandrine Bonnaire, Louise Orry-Diquero, Louise Chevillotte, Pio Marmaï, Anna Mouglalis, Fabrizio Rongione
Audrey Diwan’s Happening is without a doubt one of the toughest watches I’ve experienced in many years. Based on Annie Ernaux’s novel and set in 1960s France, the story focuses on Anne (Vartolomei), a young and gifted student who falls pregnant in an era when abortion carried the threat of jail (or worse). As her pregnancy advances, Anne must decide which path she wants her life to take and confront her fears head-on - and she is alone with her situation, unable to lean on friends and family for support. It’s a soul-crushingly difficult choice to comprehend in a time where choice simply wasn’t an option (good thing that’s in the past, right? Right…?) and Diwan delivers a heartwrenching, and, frankly, excellent depiction of the anguish and isolation, claustrophobia and pain with Happening. Make no mistake, this is a tough watch - but that’s the point, there is no glamorization to be found here, the severity of the situation is treated with harsh and unflinching respect. Confidently accompanying the story is the magnificent performance from Anamaria Vartolomei, how she portrays the varying emotions with a steely determination that constantly runs the risk of faltering is revelatory. There’s an ominous ambiance that hangs over Happening, any music is sparse and we’re left with natural commotion and the silent agony sweeping over Anne to escort us through to the agonizing denouement. Crucially, too, is the fact the Happening is less concerned with who the father is or any faux-mystery surrounding that aspect, this is Anne’s story (and the story of many women around the world) and Diwan never strays from that. Any drama that is conjured via events or the ticking-clock nature of the countdown that appears on-screen to also lend chapters to proceedings feels authentic and not in anyway manufactured or feigned. Beautifully captured by DoP Lauren Tangy, Happening is an honest, harrowing, frighteningly timely, moving, and powerful experience.