Film Review: Dune: Part One (2021)

Release Date: September 3rd, 2021 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth
Based on: Dune by Frank Herbert
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, David Dastmalchian

Villeneuve Films, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 155 Minutes

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 permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Lady Jessica Atreides

Well, the long-awaited Dune movie by Denis Villeneuve is finally here and while I tried to go into it without any expectations, I am a pretty big fan of the original novels by Frank Herbert and am one of the weirdos that likes the 1984 David Lynch adaptation while also enjoying those two Sci-Fi Channel miniseries that adapted the first three books back around the turn of the new millennium.

It’s hard to review this, however, because it is just one half of the story and it doesn’t even end at a logical point, the film just decides to stop and roll its credits. There are some logical points in the book that would’ve been much better areas to pause the film.

For those who haven’t read the book, which is most people in 2021, this will probably confuse them or piss them off. Especially, since a follow up wasn’t guaranteed. At the time of me writing this, though, the sequel was just greenlit.

So up to the point where the film just stops, I’d have to consider this the best adaptation of the book so far. Granted, it could still fall apart in the second half, which hopefully we don’t have to wait four years for.

The film, as should be expected with Villeneuve at the helm, is a visual masterpiece. However, also with Villeneuve at the helm, Dune starts to suffer, as the initial awe of the visuals starts to wear off and normalize. The movie is slow. That’s not to say that nothing happens but like Blade Runner 2049, it just takes a long time to get there. With this being nearly two and a half hours and just half the plot, I feel like this whole story could’ve been told well over three-to-four hours if it moved at a brisker pace.

As far as the acting goes, it was all good. There really wasn’t a weak link in this chain but it was also hard really getting a grasp on whether or not Zendaya was going to be able to hang, as she only shows up in the last ten minutes of the movie, apart from appearing in Paul Atreides’ dreams.

Timothée Chalamet made a solid Paul, though. I also really liked Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac. Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem both had great presence and Jason Momoa actually impressed me quite a bit, as Duncan Idaho, one of my favorite characters from the book.

Beyond that, Stellan Skarsgård completely owned the role of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Dave Bautista was also intimidating as hell as the Beast Rabban with one of my favorite modern character actors, David Dastmalchian, doing a f’n superb job as the Harkonnen mentat, Piter De Vries. Dastmalchian was in good company with Brad Dourif playing the role in the 1984 film but he still made the role his own, in this film, and really shined through in a unique way.

I wasn’t a big fan of the Hans Zimmer score and honestly, you barely even notice it. It’s just noise and atmosphere and the movie lacks any real themes like the 1984 version, which had incredible music.

Also, as visually impressive as this is, when I read the books, I’m pretty sure my mind is still going to visualize the David Lynch style. It’s just burnt into my memory, at this point. I can’t really say which is better, overall, because of my nostalgic love of the visuals and design of the original film but this one still looks great and really utilizes modern special effects technology exceptionally well. It greatly benefits in that regard, where David Lynch only had practical effects and physical sets to work with.

All in all, this was a good adaptation, more than anything. It’s hard to say how it will play as a total body of work, once the second half is released, but I now have fairly high hopes for the completed picture. Granted, I assume that one will also be pretty slow.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Written by: James Ivory
Based on: Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
Music by: various
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois

Frenesy Film Company, La Cinéfacture, RT Features, M.Y.R.A. Entertainment, Water’s End Productions, Sony Pictures Classics, Warner Bros., 132 Minutes

Review:

“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!” – Mr. Perlman

I didn’t get to see this in the theater, where I intended to check it out. It wasn’t the highest on my list of “awards worthy” films last year and I had a big list to work through. Plus, I’m not in an area where “awards worthy” films are looked at as all that important. But hey, everyone around here is really excited for that Bumblebee movie.

Anyway, I finally caught this on the Starz app, it’s still there, if you’ve been wanting to see this highly lauded motion picture.

The film is about an American named Oliver (Armie Hammer) that comes to live with an Italian family for the summer. The son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), quickly develops a crush on Oliver. As the film progresses, Elio’s feelings towards Oliver are found to be mutual and we go along with him on his journey of self-discovery: trying to understand what attracts him, what love is and how to deal with the overwhelming emotions of being a passionate young man.

The film is heartbreaking at its lowest emotional moments and not just for Elio but for a few characters. At the same time, there’s hope and positivity in Elio learning to accept and find comfort in who he is. Luckily for him, he has loving and understanding parents. And while this does end on a sad note, I guess there’s a sequel in the works for some reason, even though it really isn’t necessary and sort of takes the impact away from the ending, knowing that these two characters will meet again.

The framework of an uncertain future is pretty much what makes the final moments work. And yeah, I guess the future is still uncertain but this takes some of the story magic away. Besides, I had incredibly strong feeling for the first few people I had sex with but at 39 years-old, I’ve moved on a half dozen times. That’s what life does, it moves on, you meet new people and what was once intense emotional pain was just something that happened lifetimes ago. Elio should never forget the experience but he also shouldn’t be crippled by it as life moves forward.

I thought that both Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet did a fantastic job. However, I thought their physical age differences, at least how they appeared in the film, were pretty drastic. Oliver is supposed to be 24 in the story but Hammer looks over 30. Elio is 17, which is well over the age of consent in Italy, but he looks 15. 7 years isn’t a big deal and Elio being 17 probably only seems weird in the U.S., where some states have the age of consent set at 18 and where the media is pedo crazy and we obsess over sex offenders. But in the film, the age difference looks greater than the original story intends. And I don’t think that their ages are actually mentioned in the film. It’s really not a big deal but Hammer looked much older than just being some college student living abroad for a few months.

The film moves kind of slow but it’s still well put together and it at least looks beautiful. Luca Guadagnino certainly has an eye for style and understands how to make his visuals a true accent to the narrative and the emotion unfolding on screen. While I was vehemently against anyone remaking Suspiria, I’m kind of intrigued by his vision for it after seeing this film and seeing the trailer for that film. I’m hoping that Guadagnino uses the same key crew members for that film, as this picture is so rich, visually.

In the end, I enjoyed this but it isn’t something I think I’d ever watch again. It looks beautiful, it told a good story but I feel it is also overblown due to its subject matter, which is the type of thing Hollywood snobs love because their progressive nature means that they have to push those politics and ideas into the mainstream. Which honestly, distracts from this just being a really good movie and just makes it one of many films that Hollywood has to prop up to prove that they’re not bigots anymore. But a lot of them are pedos and this doesn’t help that image, just sayin’.

Again, this is a good film. Picture of the Year nominee? Not really. But then again, most of the films that get that distinction aren’t worthy. Now if Timothée Chalamet fucked a fish man, this would have won all the big ones. Bestiality trumped gay sex this past year but gay bestiality would’ve broke the Academy.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: In recent years, Moonlight and Lady Bird.

Film Review: Hostiles (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Music by: Max Richter
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors, Q’orianka Kilcher, Paul Anderson, Stephen Lang, Scott Wilson

Waypoint Entertainment, Le Grisbi Productions, Bloom Media, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve killed everything that’s walked or crawled. If you do it enough, you get used to it.” – Captain Joseph J. Blocker

Hostiles came into the theater with a lot of praise from top critics. Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “…the best western since Unforgiven.” That’s a pretty bold statement but when looking at traditional westerns from 1992 up until now, it’s a statement that’s not too far off. It’s a superb picture, through and through.

I haven’t been a huge fan of director Scott Cooper’s work. I didn’t care too much for Black Mass and I thought Out of the Furnace was pretty mediocre; I’ve yet to see Crazy Heart, even though I’ve been meaning to. I think Cooper certainly has a good eye and he’s great at building suspense but I thought Black Mass suffered from a narrative standpoint, as it seemed to rely on people already knowing its story, while Out of the Furnace was initially engaging put tapered off pretty quickly. With Hostiles, I was pulled in from the opening scene, fully engaged throughout and thought the narrative was really strong, well paced and subliminally sweet underneath all the violence and racial tensions. I feel like Hostiles was a body of work that benefited from the director learning from his past hiccups and thus, really coming into his own in a new way.

The film was so amazing and visually enchanting that it’s the first film I’ve been to in years, where the theater was full and everyone actually stayed off of their phones and shut the hell up for the duration of the picture, which must have been hard for them, as this was over two and a half hours with all those friggin’ trailers.

The story sees a war hero have to transport an old Indian chief from New Mexico to Montana, where he is to be buried on his sacred land. The hero, played by Christian Bale, wants nothing to do with the mission and even tries to bait the Indian once they get far enough away from his fort in New Mexico.

As the story progresses, we meet a woman whose entire family was slaughtered by Indians. The journey is long and arduous and the party encounters many enemies, some Indians and some white men. By the end, we see personal biases fade and a family dynamic develop between this small group of people who started the journey with hatred for one another.

The film had a perfect cast. I’ve been a fan of Wes Studi and Adam Beach for a long time. I’ve actually loved Beach as far back as 1998’s Smoke Signals, a fantastic Native American coming of age picture that everyone should experience at some point.

Additionally, Bale was stellar, as was Rosamund Pike. I liked seeing Jesse Plemons play a nice character and it was cool seeing Timothée Chalamet in this, as he’s a young actor who is quickly becoming one of the best talents working today. Rory Cochrane was a pleasant surprise in this, as I’ve followed him since his teen pictures Dazed and Confused and Empire Records in the ’90s. There are also small but pivotal roles played by Ben Foster, Stephen Lang and Scott Wilson, who was pretty much the antithesis of his most famous character, Hershel from The Walking Dead.

The cinematography was handled by Masanobu Takayanagi, who also did The Grey, which I loved but most people didn’t. He has a real talent for capturing incredibly majestic landscapes. Here, he had some vast and beautiful country at his disposal and made the most of it.

Max Richter provided the score and did a fine job with the film’s music. He most recently worked on Miss Sloane and Arrival before this.

I would say that Hostiles is as good as the critical hype. I love westerns and it’s rare that I get to see a really great one come down the pipeline.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Scott Cooper’s other films.

Film Review: Lady Bird (2017)

Release Date: September 1st, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Written by: Greta Gerwig
Music by: Jon Brion
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith, Kathryn Newton

Scott Rudin Productions, Management 360, IAC Films, A24, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I hate California, I want to go to the east coast. I want to go where culture is like, New York, or Connecticut or New Hampshire.” – Lady Bird

Coming of age dramedies aren’t too uncommon and frankly, most of them are incredibly predictable and derivative. While I can’t say that Lady Bird doesn’t follow suit, it is the characters and the talent that brings them to life that sets this apart from the average bear.

Having seen this film and getting to know the character of Lady Bird, I can’t think of a single actress that could have done what Saoirse Ronan did with the part. She brought her A-game to the table and delivered one of her best performances to date. She was natural and likable and it is hard to not feel an emotional attachment to her and her struggles, as she wanted more than what she had and felt trapped in her small world.

The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother felt real and that was due to a great script, Ronan’s abilities and the incredible performance by Laurie Metcalf, who I have loved ever since she was Aunt Jackie on Roseanne and because she is an actress that is far more deserving of bigger and better roles than what she typically gets. I mean, Metcalf has never been better and I hope that this leads to some sort of recognition for her contribution to the film and to the industry she’s worked in for decades. I really hope that this opens up some new doors for her, as well.

The movie also features Lucas Hedges, who has been busy with this film and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. He’s a good young actor that has been getting some good work. Here, he has the challenge of playing an Irish Catholic teen from a large, very religious family that has to hide the fact that he’s gay. He’s young, distraught and there’s a moment where he really shows how good of an actor he is and gives me hope that I’ll get to enjoy his work for years to come.

Ultimately, the premise and the story aren’t wholly original but the personal touch by Greta Gerwig’s script and direction add some authenticity to the picture. The film feels real and just because it treads territory that we’ve seen in other films doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real purpose or story to enjoy.

Besides, even if we’ve watched films like this before, everyone’s coming of age experience is different. I don’t know how Gerwig’s teenage years played out for her but this certainly feels like it comes from real experiences and is an homage to her past and the people who were there, at the time, that had some sort of strong affect on her.

I really liked Lady Bird and it is one of my favorite movies of the year. While I haven’t seen a whole lot of Gerwig in front of the camera, I do hope that we get to see more of her behind it.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

Release Date: October 26th, 2014 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Matt Damon, Timothée Chalamet, Wes Bentley, William Devane

Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, Lynda Obst Productions, Paramount Pictures, 169 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down, and worry about our place in the dirt.” – Cooper

Man, where to begin?

Let me kick this off by saying that overall I did like this film. It wasn’t this generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as I had hoped and granted, those are massive shoes to fill, but this was a fairly okay effort by Christopher Nolan at trying to emulate Stanley Kubrick. And I say that because this film felt like Nolan trying to create his 2001 and his brother, who co-wrote the film, admitted to channeling 2001 while penning this story. Unfortunately, it fell short of coming close to the level of grandeur and wonder that is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also, it falls short of what Nolan has proven his skill level is capable of.

As far as visuals and sound, this film knocks it out of the park. I deliberately didn’t see this in IMAX, as I wanted to be wowed on a regular screen because that is how the majority of eyes will see this picture and to compare it to the amazing visual effects of other films throughout history, I wanted to see it on a level playing field and not on steroids. And truthfully, I’ve come to look at the IMAX thing as a fad like 3D. Until it is the norm in every theater, it isn’t what I consider the industry standard. It’s certainly a cool experience but films that rely on it, as greatly as Nolan has been over his last few films, just tell me that they are pushing their visual style and effects over their film as a whole: sparkle over substance. And that is what this film was. I got to the point where I was like, “Fuck these bells and whistles, just show me the damn film!”

There were amazingly shot sequences that used practical effects, which gave a lot of the important visual elements a sense of realism that can’t be manufactured digitally. This didn’t feel like a cartoon like the recent Star Trek films, it felt cold, dreary and authentic. In that regard, it had the real organic and realistic soul that 2001 had in 1968.

The score to the film and the sound in general were perfect. It definitely has an Oscar-caliber vibe to it and if the film isn’t nominated for the score by Hans Zimmer and for a best sound category, that would be a pretty shitty snub by the Academy. Additionally, it definitely deserves a nomination for visual effects.

The pace and editing of the film was pretty disjointed as things would pop in and out of the film that just didn’t seem to fit or be necessary. I feel like a two hour version of this film would play much better. The time spent with Matt Damon’s character on a dangerous planet is way too drawn out.

When delving into the story of this film, it is a convoluted mess. Yes, things are pretty straightforward but there are a few minor plot twists and developments that come out of nowhere and don’t fit the overall narrative of the film. For instance, Matthew McConaughey’s character Cooper has a son who, for whatever reason, is obsessed with staying on his M.I.A. father’s farm even though it is killing his wife and child. This is a bizarre side story that just doesn’t fit within the film. And after his sister burns his crops and tries to kidnap his family, after he punched her husband in the face, he just stands there like a mute retard when confronted by her babbling about her dad’s magic watch sending Morse code through space and time through the power of love. It was reminiscent of the plot to a bad 80s music video.

Another bizarre plot twist that we are introduced to is when Anne Hathaway’s character Amelia Brand uncharacteristically pushes for the explorers to use the last of their fuel to visit the planet with her former lover on it. After being a hardcore scientist and being bred for this mission, probably all of her adult life, she is willing to throw all of humanity away on her own selfish heart. This just doesn’t fit her character leading up to that point and this also leads to the film pushing the concept that love is a dimension that can transcend space, time and every other barrier. Love is a force similar to gravity. The film lost me with this mystic woo. It suddenly felt like a Manga written by a 12 year-old girl.

And speaking of mystic woo, we come to discover that getting sucked into a black hole brings a person to some weird alien-crafted maze of windows that look into Cooper’s daughter’s bedroom at different points in time. This led to Cooper reaching out through love to send messages to his daughter years prior, which earlier in the film, were dismissed as a ghost. Cooper discovers that the ghost was real and he was the ghost. Cue panic-ridden crying and yelling by McConaughey for fifteen minutes as he is stuck behind his daughter’s mystic bookshelf in the center of a black hole.

The film confusingly represents love as a force like gravity and somehow love can make a wristwatch’s second hand talk to someone in the past with Morse code.

What is somewhat irritating is that Christopher Nolan consulted with a very knowledgeable physicist on this film but the scientific accuracy was pretty shitty. What I had hoped would be a scientific film where we might encounter another intelligence beyond our scope of comprehension, was instead a fantasy film wrapped in fairy tale where the superior intelligence was just fifth dimensional human beings trying to help their own race evolve and get off of a dying planet. I’d have to write a series of blogs or a book even on the amount of paradoxes here.

In regards to the black hole sequence, Nolan used his physics expert to help him create a realistic scenario and to make the sequence visually authentic. What we got was neither. Now while the black hole looked absolutely fucking amazing and grandiose, when McConaughey flew into it, we never experienced spaghettification. Also, black holes are so powerful that even light cannot escape them, hence the name “black hole”.

As McConaughey pilots his craft into the core of the cosmic maelstrom, we can still see things and the lights inside the ship give a nice cool glow in the cockpit. Maybe it is hard to tell a visual story in darkness but I feel like a black screen with the sounds of a ship being torn apart would have been more haunting, more realistic and added more credence and authenticity. What we got was Nolan’s version of the lone astronaut entering the monolith, except this one finds himself behind his daughter’s bookshelf. It wasn’t anywhere near as cool and epic as where David Bowman went in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hell, it wasn’t even as cool as where the crew went in Disney’s 1979 film The Black Hole. At least they flew through Hell filled with evil robots.

It is worth noting that this film also borrowed from 2001 in the character of the computer/robot named TARS, who was this film’s version of HAL 9000. Except TARS didn’t kill astronauts, he just joked about it and served more of an R2-D2 role.

In the end, Matthew McConaughey’s mission is a failure, in a sense, but I guess it inspired his aging daughter to work hard on equations and save humankind from their dying world. Her work leads to humans ending up on some Saturn-orbiting space station that is a complete rip-off of the cylindrical spaceship Rama from Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama. Being that Clarke penned the original 2001 novel and all its sequels, this brings Nolan’s “borrowing” of Clarke’s ideas and concepts full circle.

What you have, in my estimation, is a good looking, often times visually amazing film, that unfortunately sells itself short by tapping into the Stanley Kubrick/Arthur C. Clarke well too often. The major difference, is that Kubrick took risks and did things that challenged filmmaking and changed it forever. Nolan played it safe and didn’t leave us with anything daring, as he seemed to be more interested in making a commercial success and an homage, as opposed to something more authentic and true to his heart. However, this is the difference between Kubrick and Nolan. One is the professor, the other is a really good student that idolizes the professor a bit too much.

Is the film worth a watch? Definitely. Is it destined to be a beloved classic? Probably to some but it lacks the depth and originality to truly make it stand on its own legs.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Nolan films that don’t feature Batman.