Film Review: Dune – Extended Edition (1984)

Release Date: December 3rd, 1984 (Washington DC premiere)
Directed by: David Lynch (credited as Alan Smithee in the Extended Edition)
Written by: David Lynch
Based on: Dune by Frank Herbert
Music by: Toto, Brian Eno
Cast: Francesca Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, José Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Silvana Mangano, Everett McGill, Kenneth McMillan, Jack Nance, Siân Phillips, Jürgen Prochnow, Paul Smith, Patrick Stewart, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow, Alicia Roanne Witt, Sean Young, David Lynch (cameo, uncredited)

Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A., Dino De Laurentiis Company, Universal Pictures, 137 Minutes (theatrical), 190 Minutes (Special Edition), 177 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will let it pass over me and through me. And when it has passed I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where it has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Paul Atreides

I noticed that I hadn’t reviewed this yet, which surprised me. It’s actually one of my all-time favorite movies, even though most people absolutely do not feel the same way about it.

Granted, I should state that the Extended Edition is one of my all-time favorites, as it fleshes out a lot of story and is more coherent and easier to follow than the original theatrical cut that left those who didn’t read the book, baffled and irritated.

David Lynch, the director, also hates this picture and I find that a bit funny, as I think it’s his second best behind The Elephant Man. In regards to this edition and any of the other versions, he requested his name be removed from the film and it has since been replaced by “Alan Smithee”. Lynch has also refused to do a director’s cut and doesn’t like to talk about this movie in interviews.

Before I saw this longer cut of the film, Dune still had a pretty profound effect on me when I was a kid. While I found it somewhat hard to grasp, the story of a messiah figure rising to challenge the powerful elite in an effort to eradicate their tyranny and corruption still shined through. I definitely got that part of the story and beyond that, fell in love with the look of the film from its truly exotic sets, costumes and cultures. Visually, this is the version of Dune that I still see in my mind when I read any of the books in the series.

The Extended Edition has the same major issue that the theatrical cut did and that’s that this story is kind of hard to follow if one doesn’t know the source material. Although, the Extended Edition isn’t as bad in that regard, as it allows room for more details and character development.

I used to love this film so much that it eventually inspired me to read the Frank Herbert books in his Dune series. Having read the first book and really loving it even more than this film, it kind of opened my mind up to the movie in a bigger way and I saw this as a visual companion piece to the literary novel. But I understand why that probably doesn’t work for most people, who won’t read the first book because it is pretty thick and dense.

Getting back specifically to this film, it still should have been crafted in a way that it could’ve been more palatable for regular moviegoers. I think that this would have been a pretty big deal and a more beloved film had it not come out after the original Star Wars trilogy. People wanted more of that and Dune wasn’t an action heavy space adventure, it was a “thinking” movie and featured concepts that needed more exploration.

I think it’s pretty well directed, honestly, even if Lynch was unhappy with it and the whole experience was miserable for him. It did actually establish his relationships with many actors who would go on to be featured in a lot of his work after this, most notably Twin Peaks.

I also think this is well acted and it was my introduction to Kyle MacLachlan, a guy I’ve loved in everything he’s done, ever since. And beyond MacLachlan, this truly features an all-star cast.

The big issue with this film and adapting Dune in the first place, is that there just isn’t enough room in a single movie to tell this story. I think each of Frank Herbert’s original six novels should be adapted and told over an entire season of a series. It’s really the only way to do it right.

A new Dune adaptation is just a few weeks away from releasing in the United States, though. While the first book is going to be split over two films, I still think that it’s going to be hard to properly adapt it. We shall see and I’ll review that once I’m able to view it.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: If Looks Could Kill (1991)

Also known as: Teen Agent (UK, Denmark, Japanese English title)
Release Date: March 9th, 1991 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: William Dear
Written by: Darren Star, Fred Dekker
Music by: David Foster
Cast: Richard Grieco, Linda Hunt, Roger Rees, Robin Bartlett, Gabrielle Anwar, Roger Daltrey

Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“I knew I should have taken Spanish.” – Michael Corben

I can understand why this film wasn’t a big hit in theaters but I never understood why it didn’t catch on once it came out on video. It’s one of those films that should’ve been a cult classic because it’s just a ton of fun and Richard Grieco was immensely talented, especially in this sort of production.

Sadly, this flopped hard and Richard Grieco didn’t become the superstar that many thought he was destined to become coming off of 21 Jump Street and his own spinoff series Booker. I liked both those shows, liked Grieco and was pretty stoked when this was coming out, as I also loved goofy teen comedies, loser rising to the occasion stories and spy flicks.

This seemed like a perfect formula for my twelve year-old self in 1991 and fuck it, it totally was! I loved it and copied the VHS tape that I rented. I’d then go on to watch it quite a bit but since then, it’s been lost to time and sort of just faded away and pretty quickly.

I found myself thinking about it, recently, so I looked to see if there was a DVD release and there was. When I looked some time ago, it hadn’t yet been released in that format. So I bought it and threw it in the DVD player the same day it arrived.

What I was most happy about was that this held up really well. I mean, it definitely feels like a product of its time but it wasn’t an awful movie that I simply liked because I was a twelve year-old idiot. The main reason is because Grieco has charisma, charm and he just comes across as cool, which is something lost in most modern films.

This is the epitome of mindless, fun escapism and it was a hell of a lot of fun escaping into it in 2020, a year that almost all of us would love to forget.

Beyond Grieco, I loved the women in this, especially Linda Hunt and Robin Bartlett. Both of them really got to ham it up and they appeared like they were having a real blast making this movie. Hell, Linda Hunt is an Academy Award winner and she still performed in this “low brow” comedy with gusto and real passion.

This also looked like it cost a pretty penny to make, as the special effects and stunts were top notch stuff, especially for the time. Now this wasn’t James Bond level but it obviously had a budget much higher than your typical teen comedy flick.

I also learned that this was written by Fred Dekker in the ’80s with the intention of it being a starring vehicle for Anthony Michael Hall, capitalizing off of his fame from multiple John Hughes movies. I’m sure that would’ve been a pretty awesome film too but I’m really happy with how this turned out, regardless.

It sucks that this wasn’t a big kickoff to Richard Grieco’s film career but he’s got nothing to be ashamed of, as this is a film I’ve loved for decades and was really happy revisiting nearly thirty years later.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other goofy teen movies from the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Release Date: May 10th, 2018 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Powell, John Williams (original Han Solo and Star Wars themes)
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau (voice), Warwick Davis, Linda Hunt (voice), Clint Howard, Anthony Daniels, Ray Park, Sam Witwer (voice)

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 135 Minutes

Review:

“I hate you.” – Lando Calrissian, “I know.” – Han Solo

*Warning: there will be spoilers… and probably some ranting!

At one point, Star Wars was the biggest pop culture thing in my life. Over the years, a lot has changed: ownership of the franchise, the fan base and most importantly, the canon. I’m told that decades worth of novels and comic books on my shelves are irrelevant now. I would have been able to adjust to that if the new additions to Star Wars were better than the stories given to us by dozens (if not hundreds) of authors that have been enriching the mythos for over 40 years. But so far, Disney has done nothing but drop the ball. Granted, I did like Rogue One but that’s just one film out of the four that Disney has done and I still have my fair share of issues with it.

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a bad film but it isn’t a very good one either. Frankly, other than a few sequences, it was kind of boring and unexciting. But then there were the politics in it, which is something I usually stay away from talking about but if this film is going to beat its audience over the head with its fucking nonsense, just as the other Disney Star Wars films have, I have to speak up.

When Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas, most people were ecstatic. People were espousing things like, “Finally, George Lucas is gone, we can forget about those terrible prequels!” and “Disney will fix the franchise!” Yeah, they fixed it, alright. If by “fix” you mean “neuter”.

Kathleen Kennedy and Disney have already run this franchise into the ground and it happened a lot quicker than I thought it would. Their first attempt at Star Wars isn’t even three years old yet but based off of the audience’s response to this film and its incredibly lackluster opening weekend, I think that the public’s opinion is abundantly clear.

There is already Star Wars fatigue and it came so damn quickly. Had these movies been great or at least, very good, people would still be enthused. And if Disney wasn’t milking the franchise to piggyback off of known characters like Han Solo, Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi for their spinoff films, maybe they could actually move the franchise forward.

In regards to the movie Solo, as this is a review of it, let me talk about the positives.

First of all, I really liked the train robbery sequence. That was the highlight of the film and one of the best, if not the best sequence in the Disney Star Wars films. It was creatively done, well thought out, well executed and just a good time.

Second, I liked the tone of the film. The atmosphere was dark and brooding, which enhanced the story, the peril the characters found themselves in and the life they were living, which is one of crime… even if Solo is considered to be a hero.

I also liked Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. There are certain moments in the film where Glover is talking and you literally hear Billy Dee Williams’ voice. He definitely prepped for this role and really studied Billy Dee Williams. He is kind of the antithesis to Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo but I’ll get to his performance in a minute.

I thought that Paul Bettany as the villain was a strong positive. He didn’t have the sort of weight that a traditional Star Wars movie villain should have but he nailed the part, hands down. But I’ll get into the villain problem in a minute, as well.

The other big highlight of the film was the conclusion. I liked the Darth Maul cameo and am genuinely interested in what it means for Star Wars going forward but I hope it is to tie into the Obi-Wan movie and not a sequel to this film, which they should not make. I also liked the reveal of who the Marauders were and that whole sequence on the beach between them, Beckett, Solo, Chewie and Qi’ra.

I thought that the pace of the film and its progression were good, even if a lot of the stuff wasn’t as interesting as the filmmakers probably thought it was.

But on to the negatives.

I like Alden Ehrenreich as an actor but I didn’t like him trying to play Han Solo. The character is so distinctly Harrison Ford and Ehrenreich tried to nail it but fell short. I thought his comedic timing was off, his mannerisms didn’t work and “the cool” felt forced. The thing is, he could have just been his own character and this film would have worked better. He didn’t have to be Han Solo, this could have been a Star Wars heist movie with all new characters, punctuated by its main player that was more of an homage to the Han Solo archetype and not Solo himself. This would have served Ehrenreich’s talents better and opened the door to a new thread in the grand Star Wars universe.

Next up is Emilia Clarke. I don’t know what it is about her but I just don’t like her. Granted, I’m probably the only person on Earth that can’t get into Game of Thrones but that’s also not just her fault, it’s that whole thing. Anyway, Clarke is just an incredibly one-dimensional and boring actress. She makes me feel absolutely nothing. She’s no different in this. Her character felt soulless and just made me yearn for her death and for Han to hurry up and go meet Leia.

Then there is the Woody Harrelson problem. For the record, I love Harrelson. I always have, ever since I was a young kid watching Cheers with my mum and granmum when it was still broadcasting. The problem with Harrelson is that he is such a distinct actor that it is sort of distracting in a film like Star Wars. All I ever see is Harrelson, which most of the time is a good thing, but in a Star Wars picture, it just pulls me out of the movie. I think that the original Star Wars films were so magical due to George Lucas finding the right kind of talent from a pool of unknown actors. He did use a few well-known actors but their parts were perfectly tailored and fit them. But really, we’re just talking about Peter Cushing, who was primarily a low budget horror actor, and Alec Guinness, who had a long filmography but was never as recognizable or as famous as Woody Harrelson has become.

Earlier I mentioned the villain problem about the movie, even though I praised Bettany’s performance. You see, his baddie here was just some low level crime boss. Okay, maybe he’s a high level crime boss but him being the big bad would have been like Return of the Jedi expanding the Jabba the Hutt stuff to two hours and cutting out the second and much bigger half of the film. The Jabba stuff is solid but a gangster is not the type of villain that really brings a high threat level in the Star Wars universe. Frankly, Solo felt like it should have happened in an episode of Clone Wars or Rebels and not on the big screen for over two hours.

The biggest blight on all of Star Wars history though has to be Lando’s droid Che Droidvera a.k.a. L3-37. The droid was a wisecracking feminist revolutionary because robots apparently have gender in Star Wars now and are fighting for equal rights or something. Basically, this was Disney’s attempts at bringing gender politics into a Star Wars film in a cutesy and funny way. It’s not that I’m against feminism or equal rights, but this was absolute retardation of the highest caliber. I don’t bitch and moan about SJWs because sometimes those bitching about SJWs can come off as terrible as SJWs themselves but Jesus Jeff Goldblum Christ, man! Is this what Star Wars is now? A political and social platform for Hollywood holier-than-thous to sneak their messages into mindless entertainment used for escapism? You know, escapism: where people want to escape the real world for two hours because of real world problems and issues?

Then again, we’re dealing with people whose only counterargument is to point and call those who disagree with them “racist woman hating alt-right Nazis.”

See what I’m saying, though? In a world where people espouse politics and aren’t even minutely rational about it, you sometimes need to escape. But when that escape is inundated with that same irrational political bullshit, you look for another form of escapism. Hence, why this movie isn’t the success that Disney was absolutely sure it would be.

People just didn’t have the interest in this movie like they did with the old school Star Wars films before it.

Reason being, The Last Jedi mostly sucked and it pushed its politics on the people. People responded by telling Solo to “go fuck itself” when they didn’t rush out and buy tickets opening weekend. In fact, this is the first Star Wars movie I didn’t see within the first few hours of its release. I waited over a week and really, that wasn’t even over politics it was over The Last Jedi just sucking as a whole, politics aside.

Last week, I started organizing and cataloging my comic book collection. I came across my massive collection of Star Wars Dark Horse stuff from the ’90s and ’00s. I flipped through a lot of them, re-familiarizing myself with the stories. It really just reinforced my sentiment that the Expanded Universe, that has been washed away with the Disney tide, was so much better than what we have now.

Those Clone Wars tales with Quinlan Vos and all that Knights of the Old Republic era stuff were great Star Wars stories. Jacen and Jaina Solo were infinitely better characters than Kylo Ren and Rey. Well, at least Disney kept Thrawn relevant but Mara Jade is bantha fodder.

Solo: A Star Wars Story just doesn’t work. But hey, at least I got to see Lando, even if it wasn’t Billy Dee Williams and it wasn’t in The Force Awakens where Lando and Han should have had a reunion.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Disney Star Wars films.