film

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

*I’ve also been writing about films and filmmakers over at http://www.filmsfatale.com Here are some links to my most recent articles:

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/10/15/what-if-spike-lee-directed-a-remake-of-mr-smith-goes-to-washington?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/10/18/halloween-kills?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

film

Review: Spider-Man Far From Home

*Warning! Due to the nature of the film, this review will contain spoilers: you have been warned*

Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, and directed by Jon Watts, “Spider-Man: far from home” is the second iteration of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first film to follow up the two part culmination of Marvel’s Infinity Saga. As such the film had to juggle several major obstacles. In-between dovetailing the final film of phase three including the world’s reaction to the death of Tony Stark and retirement of Captain America, and expanding on the social dramas of Parker’s high school friends, AND giving us a satisfying and comics-accurate version of the fan favorite villain Mysterio- this film had many a hurdle to leap. Masterfully, all this and more is accomplished with style, wit, and heart.

So, the film hits the ground running with Nick Fury and Maria Hill investigating a natural disaster in Mexico with more than a few hints of curiosity surrounding it. As soon as a giant monster forms from the rubble around them, another new factor emerges- the mysterious Quentin Beck garbed in a cape with a cloudy fish bowl atop his head. Later in Europe we discover that this unheard of hero is working with the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop these Elementals from destroying the Earth- just as they had done on his own Earth from another parallel universe… or so he tells us. Okay, here’s where anyone who knows anything about the character of Quentin Beck knows that he’s lying. That is, IF, Marvel Studios kept in line with the traditional aspects of the villain Mysterio. Which to my delight- they absolutely did. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in this film as Beck was pitch perfect for the character and his backstory of disgruntled Stark Tech creative slid wonderfully into the background of the MCU as if he had been there all along. Mysterio’s illusions throughout the film were excellently rendered, but there’s one scene in particular where the film blurs the line between mediums of film and comic-book in what I like to call, The Nightmare Sequence, in which Beck thrusts Spidey into illusion after illusion after which he gets so shook up he starts to question reality. Over all, this was an excellent example of a fantastic villain used correctly, while being comic-book accurate, and molded to fit this medium and existing story structure.

As for our hero, Peter Parker may not have been in his traditional setting, but this was a story well in line with the familiar tropes of our favorite webslinger. Throughout the film Peter is under constant pressure, from Nick Fury, from his potential rival for MJ’s affection, from Beck, but primarily, and poignantly, from the expectations laid upon him after the death of Tony Stark. Stark wasn’t just Iron Man to Peter, he quickly formed into the parental figure where other films utilized the reliable but familiar role Uncle Ben played in Peter’s life. He may not have said that singular advice that so motivated Peter in various other stories and mediums, but the advice that the tin man did give Peter was essentially similar, and from a place of personal experience for our late armored Avenger. Pull all of those story strings with the right amount of tension and you put Spider-Man where is meant to be in most of his stories, his greatest growth always comes from his moments of greatest peril. This film has that crucial aspect for the character, and the film crew behind these two Spider-Man films have utilized that well.

I wanted to quickly highlight a few of the things that I thought elevated this film a little further than it might have otherwise been without them. Zendaya’s MJ had a lot more to do this time around and her character was expanded upon in a thoughtful and charming manner. Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his girlfriend for the summer Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) were a fun aspect of the trip and reminiscent of how fleeting teenage romances can be. Fortunately though, they never crossed over into the void of being overly cringey. The few scenes and jokes we got with Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) were entertaining and there’s even a quick moment where we get a peek into Flash’s personal life (it is very fleeting, but still appreciated). Oh, and how could we forget Happy Hogan? It must have been pretty amazing to be Jon Favreau on the set of this film, still keeping watchful eye on the film series he helped to craft into existence more than a decade ago now. I’m glad his character still has purpose and still matters in this cinematic universe, we should be so lucky to have him around! I can’t think of much else to add at this point, I highly enjoyed this film at the theater, and I’m very much looking forward to the next Spider-Man film starring Tom Holland and company!

Final Score: Hundreds of killer drones!

*Oh, and for the love of god: Stay through the credits for the best reveal in Marvel Cinematic history.