Upon revisiting our podcast on the previous entry in the Harry Potter-adjacent Fantastic Beasts series, The Crimes of Grindelwald, we find that we could virtually have copied and pasted its content for our discussion of The Secrets of Dumbledore. It’s again less than the sum of its parts, a fantasy adventure with some charms, several good performances, but incoherent storytelling, and too little that convinces us to get invested in the characters’ lives and the fate of the world they seek to save.
At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, riots erupted when thousands of anti-Vietnam War protestors clashed with police. Seeking to crush the energetic counterculture, the US government put on trial a group of eight defendants, some political organisers, some cultural radicals, some with hardly any influence, a pacifist, and a Black Panther, hoping to convict them for conspiracy to incite the riots. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is a good fit for this story, the disparate group of defendants arguing amongst themselves sharply, and many scenes flowing beautifully towards their own internal climaxes; the same cannot be said of his direction, the film lacking much visual flair and instinct for expressive imagery.
We revisit our common theme of British actors playing Americans, José finding more fault with it here than Mike does – we can, at least, agree that Sacha Baron Cohen’s accent is atrocious, his Abbie Hoffman a weak point. Mike expounds upon how much he hates himself for how much he likes Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, comfort food for the American left, which he sees echoes of here.
We find flaw upon flaw with The Trial of the Chicago 7, but despite every one of them, it’s an immensely watchable film with a terrific ensemble cast and entertaining dialogue. With an awareness of its limitations and economy with the truth, we recommend it.
The second Fantastic Beasts film, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spin-off series, has numerous pleasures, but makes it hard to appreciate them thanks to a pointlessly convoluted plot and unimaginative character goals. Jude Law stands out, bringing a calm control and gravity to Dumbledore, and Eddie Redmayne, while typically a little irritating, is cast well in the role of a near-autistic, nerdy zoologist who connects far better with animals than people. The question of who the film is aimed at is an interesting one – the animal designs and elements of performance are quite cartoony and broad, and the film as a whole is borne of a world-renowned children’s fantasy series, but in this film alone two infants die, and there’s almost no levity to be found anywhere. Certainly, as a middle child of a forthcoming five-part series (how!?), it’s a bit of a holding pattern, interested primarily in making situations worse so as to provide the foundation for future triumphs.
Two of the film’s love stories provide food for thought; one a bizarre love spell story that, upon the charm being broken, attempts to cast the enchantress – or as we think of her, rapist – as the victim; the other a subtle, quiet, but clear gay romance between Dumbledore and Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald. We disagree on the film’s visual qualities – Mike finds beauty in some shots but more or less everything fails to arouse José – and some of its attempts as charm and humour, but despite our deep, deep reservations about the storytelling and lack of interest in the characters or plot, somehow we’re still keen to see the next one.
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