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Category: A Movie a Day

A MOVIE A DAY #5 – Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)

I am not entirely sure why I didn’t go to see this one when it was in theatres, but I think mostly it was for two reasons: 1) the previous Fantastic Beasts movie wasn’t that fantastic, and 2) the replacement of Johnny Depp with Mads Mikkelson as the pre-Voldemort fascist allegory, Gellert Grindelwald.

It’s not that I don’t approve of that decision, given the problematic nature of Depp as a person. (Though, one might argue, he’s not that much more problematic than J. K. Rowling.) It’s just that, though their time on screen was limited, there was a very real chemistry between Depp’s Grindelwald and Jude Law’s Dumbledore, and for all Mikkelson’s accomplishment as an actor of great presence and menace, I just don’t see him as a romantic lead.

Of course, the story here isn’t really about the one-time romance between these two enemies, back when they were united in their ideals and wanted to change the world together. (Their dynamic is all very Professor X and Magneto, actually, except that their once tender feelings are made explicit, and any Charles/Eric love story belongs squarely in the realms of fanfic.) Instead, we mostly deal with Grindelwald’s growing cult of Dark Side wizardry as they attempt to wrest control of the Wizarding World and ultimately go to war with Muggledom, mostly for the usual “pureblood” reasons, because that is the only motive for any evil megalomaniacal wizard to go to war, apparently.

Of course, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his CGI magical creatures, along with sundry sidekicks and the titular Dumbledore, find themselves in constant peril as they strive to save the day, and while there are a few moments of tension, it all feels a little bit by-the-numbers—and some of those numbers simply don’t add up, as we are treated to such plot nonsense as a crazed mob first cheering the prospect of a war on Muggles, and then setting of wand-based fireworks in joy at the election of a non-warmongering witch with amazing taste in gowns—and that is just one example.   

I’m also not sure that too many of Dumbledore’s secrets were actually revealed here – except for when he kept on outing himself, I guess – so the title seems a bit misleading, too. But it was all… fine… I didn’t dislike it… there were some decent character redemption arcs, one excellent line that especially resonated with me (NEWT: “He doesn’t want to lead you, he just wants you to follow him.”), and I do enjoy the Wizarding World in general, so I’m happy that I watched it.

No disrespect to Mads Mikkelson, though, but I do think it would have been better with Johnny Depp in it. Is it just me?   


Based on characters created by J. K. Rowling
Written by: J. K. Rowling, Steve Kloves
Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelson, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, William Nadylam. Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Richard Coyle


A MOVIE A DAY #4 – Into the Beat (2020)

For me, one of the few positives to come out of the years of upheaval that we as a planet have experienced in this post-Covid age is the weekly remote watch-date I now have with my childhood best friend, Megan. She lives in another state, and I am often elsewhere anyway, so for years, spending quality time together has usually meant my visits to her, or the occasional dinner and karaoke session when she is back in our hometown.

But since the pandemic, with its attendant lockdowns and social isolation, we began a tradition of Wednesday night online viewing, where we would make our way through a couple of episodes of our show du jour, or the occasional movie, with Netflix on our screens and each other on our phones. We have thus made our weekly way through four seasons of Virgin River, three of Never Have I Ever and all 16 episodes of Megan’s first ever K-drama, Forecasting Love and Weather, as well as indulging in some of the very flimsiest of Hallmark rom-coms—because who doesn’t love a flimsy Hallmark rom-com?

For our first remote watch of the new year, I suggested a film, given my current project, and Megan readily agreed. I dug around in My List until I found a likely candidate:

“How about Into the Beat?” I suggested, reading the Netflix synopsis aloud: “’A teen ballerina discovers hip-hop by chance and is faced with an impossible choice: Does she follow her parents’ footsteps… or her newfound passion?’”

“That sounds like us,” Megan said – dance films being a genre we have loved since we first discovered Grease as starry-eyed 6-year-olds – and so it proved to be, even if it did turn out to be a German film, which came as a surprise (though not an unpleasant one) to both of us.  

Our story centres on Katya (Alexandra Pfeifer), an accomplished teen ballerina destined for greatness. She comes from a renowned ballet family, with both parents stars in the field. Her mother died three years since – we know not how – but her surely-too-young father (Trystan Pütter) still performs, until a tragic on-stage accident that someone must have gotten fired over puts his career in jeopardy.

Around this time, Katya encounters some free-wheeling and high-spirited underground hip-hop dancers, and gets swept up in their joyful world, mostly because of the expected disdainful-yet-interested-handsome-dance-prodigy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks, Marlon (Yalany Marschner), and there follows many a highly choreographed group dance scene and getting-better-at-it montage until, of course, Katya’s two worlds inevitably collide and she must choose between auditioning for the New York Ballet or for a street dance crew, thereby following her bliss but breaking her wounded father’s heart. (Megan grew very concerned about Katya’s career prospects here, feeling ballet the safer option of the two, upon what evidence I am not sure. Centre Stage, maybe?) There is much teen angst, and teen romance, and teen rebellion and teen tears, but it all makes sense – except maybe for the scene on that ship full of merchant sailors; what was that about? – and everything wraps up very satisfactorily.

Sure, tropes fly around the place like the obscenely acrobatic break dancers, and there isn’t much that is new here—and Marlon’s a bit of an unfair jerk in his first interactions with Katya (because, again, tropes). But for all that Into the Beat is very familiar, it is still rather captivating, with the timeless beauty of Pfeifer’s Katya and hard-won smile of Marschner’s Marlon lighting up the screen alongside some notable side characters, like their friendly hip-hop rivals, and the kindly hip-hop teacher who first brings Katya into their world, and the genuinely caring carer sent to help out after Papa’s injury.

There is conflict, of course, but basically, it’s all very nice—which should not have surprised us about a German film, but absolutely did.

Another pleasant surprise: the dancers can not only dance, they can also act. And our ballerina can even dance hip-hop without looking ridiculous. (Take note, Cooper Neilson!) Which, despite its familiar – ahem – beats, makes this dance movie a very original entry into the genre indeed.


Written by: Hannah Schweier, Stefan Westerwelle
Directed by: Stefan Westerwelle
Starring: Alexandra Pfeifer, Yalany Marschner, Trystan Pütter, Helen Schneider, Katrin Pollit, Nadja Stübiger


A MOVIE A DAY #3 – Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

I love Marvel. I always have. I’m a huge fan of the comics, of the films, of the TV series and the merchandise, going all the way back to a childhood obsession with X-Men, Daredevil and the underrated 1986 cinematic masterpiece that is Howard the Duck. Usually, I am in the cinema on opening day, or at least in opening week, of each new MCU or Sony release (or, as here, a combination of the two), but in the case of this one, I just couldn’t.

It was the end of Spider-Man: Far from Home that did this to me. I just hate a falsely accused storyline, and there is nothing more false than the accusation, made by the petty and mean-spirited Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhall), that it was Peter Parker (Tom Holland) who unleashed drone weapons on London and not, y’know, Mysterio himself. Then, the villain made things even worse by revealing Peter’s secret identity to the world, and I just—suffice it to say, this was not a story I was eager to see play out.

When I tell you that I paused this movie a good seventeen times in its first twenty minutes, in order to manage my emotions and prepare myself for yet more unfairness, believe that I am possibly underestimating the figure here. But once I allowed the movie to get going, I was entirely hooked, even though MAN Peter Parker is stupid here. Sure, he’s a teenager, but he’s supposed to be a genius – why do they have him making so many idiotic decisions?

The cameos are fun, and I liked the use of the multiverse here much better than I did in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (though not as much as I liked it in 2018’s animated classic, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). Unfortunately, I was spoiled about the presence of previous Spider-Men in the film, but I had managed to avoid mention of all of the other former Spiderverse appearances (not to mention Matt Murdock!), and I loved all of them. There are some particularly engaging conversations between all three Spider-Men that really make the film feel really special (both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are compelling, but Maguire’s oddly natural delivery is just excellent) and I loved the many, many Easter eggs throughout, both subtle and overt. (Even one to the aforementioned animated classic!) MCU Spidey’s closest confidantes, Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya), bring some enjoyable humour as well, and Dr. Strange – well, he’s there, and he’s kind of cool, but he does not take enough responsibility for his part in the film’s tragic events, to my mind.

For some reason, I decided to watch the 11-minute longer “Extended Edition” of this Spider-Man outing, despite my reservations about the plotline, and I am not sure which deleted scenes made it into this one, but none of them seem out of place or redundant. There is, of course, the expected climactic battle scene but, for me, it actually didn’t go on too long – rare, in any comic book or similar action film; they really love a lengthy and violent set piece to wrap things up, don’t they? – and even though I didn’t love the ending, I get why it had to happen, and I find I am not as reluctant to see the next MCU-sanctioned Sony Spider-Man movie (which will apparently not be out until at least 2024) as I was with this one.

In fact, I will probably be there opening day.

And now I kind of wish I had been with this one, too.


Based on the Marvel superhero Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Written by: Chris McKenna
Directed by: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Thomas Haden-Church, Marisa Tomei


A MOVIE A DAY #2 – The Lunchbox (2013)

When I mentioned to my friend Zamir my plan to watch a movie every day this year, he promptly reminded me of our long-held promise to watch the acclaimed 2013 Indian film The Lunchbox together. A few messages back and forth later and suddenly he is on a train, heading across town with a container of his mum’s fantastic biriyani in hand, and since we hadn’t actually seen each other in person in at least four years, this was both a shock and a delight, and makes me already grateful to have made this particular resolution.

After several hours of catching up, we finally settled down to watch this simple yet complex, sweet yet poignant, depressing yet uplifting gem of a film. Irrfan Khan plays the reclusive, widowed curmudgeon Saajan, who is about to take early retirement from his office job and doesn’t seem happy about it. Or anything, really. But then one day he receives the wrong lunch, this one lovingly prepared by the beautiful and unhappily married Ily (Nimrat Kaur) instead of the restaurant he usually receives it from. This begins a correspondence both intimate and anonymous, as these two forthright but uncertain souls – so different in so many ways – find common ground, and, above anything, hope in each other.

Comedic elements in the film are supplied mostly by Saajan’s eager new apprentice, Shaikh (a very engaging Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Ily’s voice-only upstairs neighbour Auntie, who dispenses marital advice, cooking tips and spices while caring for her bedridden husband. There is a lot of local flavour, as the lunch delivery service – the dabbawalla system – is celebrated in all its chaotic complexity, with legions of lunches being collected from homes all over the huge and sprawling metropolis that is Mumbai and taken by bicycle, cart and train into the city’s packed offices. At one point in the film, Ily tells her delivery man that her lunch is going to the wrong place, and he refuses to believe such a mistake can possibly have happened. People from Harvard, he says, came and observed its flawlessness, after all. I did some research, and yes, not only is this system held as the gold standard by most authorities, it is theorized that the reason this film was not chosen by the Film Federation of India as the nation’s official submission to the Academy Awards that year was because it dared to call into question the infallibility of the dabbawallas.

Both Kahn and Kaur are fantastic here, each of them expressing their loneliness with few words—its mostly in their eyes, their sighs, their silence. The change in them, as their penpal-based acquaintanceship/romance develops, is subtle but visceral, and the while of course, no film of this nature is going to wrap things up for us in a neat, pretty bow, when it ended I had a smile on my face, and Zamir and I spent a very happy half hour essentially writing verbal fanfic, as we speculated on what would happen next.

In all, a lovely film, a lovely experience, and lovely company with whom to enjoy it.

And lovely biriyani, too.


Written by: Ritesh Batra
Directed by: Ritesh Batra
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bharti Achrekar, Nakul Vaid


A MOVIE A DAY #1 – Creation (2009)

For my first film of the year, I turn to one I have been meaning to watch since it came out more than a decade ago – the story of how Charles Darwin came to write his world-changing On the Origin of Species, as told through the medium of Paul Bettany, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Northam and a host of other British screen luminaries. (Plus, Jennifer Connolly.) It is a rather bleak and certainly very upsetting tale, as Bettany’s Darwin not only faces opposition from religious types who refuse to believe in dinosaurs, let alone evolution (including his own wife, Emma, the kind of devout Christian who condones having her daughter – a bright girl who does believe in dinosaurs – tortured by their local clergyman), but also experiences an ongoing mystery illness, as well as a heart-shattering loss.

And kills a whole lot of pigeons.

The film does not shy away from the darker side of Darwin’s life, opening with a very, almost unashamedly colonial sequence, and showing us a man of science who was, nevertheless, very much a man of his time. And that time was often an unpleasant one, especially when it came to the very questionable medical practices prescribed for assorted illnesses – opium as a pain reliever! Poison for tuberculosis! (Not they knew it was tuberculosis.) Icy cold water as a… well, I’m not even sure what that was supposed to be curing. Also, there was the dominance of of the Christian religion in everyday life, and the subsequent vitriol that Darwin unleashed upon himself with his work, which many believed to be heresy. Love that they also mention Alfred Russel Wallace here: the naturalist who independently came up with his own theory of evolution amidst Darwin’s decades-long research, spelling the whole out in a 20-page paper, and spurring on Darwin to produce the slim tome that is his greatest legacy.

As biopics go, this one is pretty unflinching, but it spends way more time on Darwin’s family life – and his grief- and drug-induced madness – than one might have supposed. (It turns out it is based on a book, Annie’s Box, all about the Darwins’ beloved eldest daughter, which perhaps explains this, but it is still  rather jarring.) I didn’t hate that part, especially since the young actress who plays Annie is very engaging, but it certainly wasn’t what I thought I was signing up for. I was expecting way more about the writing – excuse me, creation – of Darwin’s magnum opus, and way less about his family drama. So little, in fact, was this movie actually about the creation of On the Origin of Species that, in both the prologue and epilogue text, they misnamed the book! (Call me pedantic, but that “On” is very important; how they came to make such an egregious error I cannot even imagine.)

Incidentally, I wondered why Jennifer Connolly was in this very English movie, only to discover that she and Paul Bettany have been married since 2003. Who knew? And it must be said, she makes a very convincing wife of Paul Bettany – not to mention a very convincing woman of faith, and a very convincing English wife and mother of the Victorian era. She is really very good here—as is everyone, as one would expect from such an accomplished cast. And the production is generally very well done, from the costuming to the cinematography to some very picturesque locations.

It’s a pity, then, that the overall experience of the film does not equal the sum of its parts. But I did learn a lot about Charles Darwin that I didn’t know before, so I can’t be sorry that I watched it. If nothing else, I feel like I now have a more thorough understanding of his theory of natural selection than I previously had gleaned from reading the actual book about it.

But hey, unlike this movie, at least I know its correct title.


Adapted from the novel Annie’s Box by Randal Keynes
Written by: John Collee
Directed by: Jon Amiel
Starring: Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam