Review: Dune (2021)

Written by Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts, and Denis Villeneuve, and directed by Villeneuve, “Dune” is the second attempt at a film adaption of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel of the same name. There’s a lot to digest in the story of “Dune” and, wisely, this film is half of the first book. Set in the far future, the film delves into the politics of the Imperium, a set of planets governed by an Emperor who makes powerful choices from afar. Rather than diving headlong into the minutiae of the inner workings of the powerful houses of this story, the film sticks us close to the power players of House Atreides. Early on in the film the Emperor decrees that House Harkonnen, the longtime rulers of Arrakis, a resource rich desert planet, bequeath their Imperial Rule to the rising House Atreides. That’s the initial set-up for the story, and I don’t want to get too mired in plot description, but trust me on this one- this film should be seen on the biggest screen possible.

This film is one of the rare perfect equilibriums between heady artistic endeavor and blockbuster sensibilities with regard to sheer scale and spectacle. There’s a real human story at the center of “Dune”, and despite the harrowing scope of the film, those emotional strings are never snapped, but instead merrily plucked for our enjoyment. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is at the center of the story, he’s the young son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), with powerful inheritances from each parent. Trained to fight by Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), and taught the weirding ways of the Bene Gesserit by his Mother Lady Jessica, Paul left the Homeworld of House Atreides more prepared than anyone might expect. Once they arrive on Arrakis, Duke Leto and company set forth assessing the tech and gear left over from the Harkonnen rule. Once they gain their sand legs, they’re off to watch the mining rigs perform their dangerous duty, collecting the spice from the sand dunes while remaining on constant alert for giant sandworms. They always come when they hear rhythmic noises, usually devouring everything in sight.

Everything about this film is something I respect and revere about the filmmaking process. From the costumes to the score and sound design, the muted and powerful performances from the actors, the sheer detail involved with the world building and set design- it’s all pure imagination and high level technical wizardry. From the dark and disgusting Homeworld of House Harkonnen on Geidi Prime to the mountainous and forest laden Planet Caladan of House Atreides, every place feels unique and instantly recognizable. I suspect there were similar amounts of model-work done in depicting the major city on Arrakis as was done for Villeneuve’s Los Angeles in “Blade Runner 2049”. Between this film, “Blade Runner 2049”, and “Arrival”, Denis Villeneuve has firmly cemented his place as the master of science fiction epics in the modern era of Hollywood. Not to mention all the other great films he has directed in his time as well. I certainly hope this film gets the sequel it deserves, because to leave us with this lone great work would be akin to cinematic sacrilege. Can you imagine if Peter Jackson had only completed “The Fellowship of The Ring”? Leaving open the possibility as to whether or not the rest of the story would be told? Depending on the box office returns of “Dune”, that is in the cards. Hopefully not, but it is technically still a potentiality at the time of writing this review. I am not exaggerating in the scope and scale of this film series. It feels that big, that epic, that necessary for film audiences. I hope you go to the theater to see this one, it’s more than worth your time and your money.

Final Score: 1 Giant Sandworm

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Review: Mother!

This last weekend there was a lot of talk around the internet about Writer/Directer Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, “Mother!” So I thought I’d go ahead and give the film a shot, under the assumption that at the very least I’d have a good conversation piece. Well, “Mother!” starring Jennifer Lawrence as Mother and Javier Bardem as Him, or “the Poet” is certainly something to talk about. First, I’d take note that for this review, spoilers are sort of a necessity. The film is probably the most allegorical, methaphoric, and symbolic film to hit the silver screen in decades. Nothing that happens is purely what you witness taking place. Every character and every scene is translatable to Aronofsky’s message-which you will undoubtedly get by the time the credits roll. This is an incredibly divisive film, some will love the ideas in play, and others will consistently roll their eyes at what some might call pretentious filmmaking.

Personally, I mildly enjoyed the film. The performances by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are expertly acted, and the cinematography is fluid and jarring when needed. However, it was the sound design that gripped my attention the fiercest. Whoever took on that aspect of the process deserves accolades, it was crisp, taught, and appropriately overwhelming at times. Which brings me to my reaction to this film as a whole; this film reminded me most of another film by Aronofsky, “Requiem for a dream”. Both films are works that inspire on the filmmaking side of viewing, Requiem’s editing is a thing of beauty and you really should watch it just for that aspect, but I also have no urge to re-watch either of these films. They are not bad films, but both harbor subject matters that are fairly depressing and morbid.

“Mother!” seems to be a film most concerned with how humanity, in tandem with God, eventually destroys the earth by their very nature. In the film Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem live together in a large octagonal country house in the middle of nowhere, with no discernible paths or roads leading there. Mother claims she is helping the poet rebuild his house, it had been destroyed in a fire when he was young. She is his young wife, and he is a famous writer whose words have abandoned him. She tends to the health of the house and the many ongoing projects that she has put time into, and he stays up in his study staring at blank pages. Suddenly a knock comes at the door, and a Doctor, who had been told their house was a bed and breakfast, arrives at their doorstep. The Doctor (Ed Harris) eventually admits that he is a fan of the poet’s older work and the poet allows the doctor to stay- they talk, drink, and smoke late into the night. The next day the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives without an advance notice and is also greeted by the poet and allowed to stay indefinitely-much to the chagrin of his young wife. The Doctor’s wife quickly takes a judgmental eye to the Mother, asking why they have no children and if she is doing her part in the bedroom while guzzling down heavily spiked lemonade. Not long after this the Doctor and his Wife are found sneaking into the one room they were not allowed to enter, the Poet’s study. They break a treasured crystal and the Poet loudly banishes them from this room. From here the biblical allegories only continue to mount. The Doctor’s sons arrive arguing about their inheritance, one kills the other out of jealousy and then the house is filled with a wake of family and friends before the tension mounts for Mother as the guests frequently go against her simple requests and carry on rudely breaking things until a pipe bursts and the Poet finally sends them away as it rains outside. I’ll leave the rest of the film as something to be discovered, but it only escalates from there.

The meaning of this film could be interpreted in many different ways. The biblical scenes seem to hint at this overarching theme of Mother Earth being betrayed by God as he is too absorbed by the attention of humans to take notice of how his, and our, actions are negatively affecting Mother Earth. Though the film does seem to say things about celebrity and fandoms, the creative process and writer’s block, and the nature of creators in general. It’s a bit of a fascinating film, but this is also something that likely only got a wide release because of the director’s clout and the big-name actors attached, otherwise this is very much a film fest circuit story. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it most definitely will not be loved by all.

Final Score: a Poet and a Mother(!)