Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Dune (2021)

© Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures

Dune  – Film Review

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: On the harsh desert world of Arrakis, the Atreides family are entrusted with the stewardship of the planet that is home to the most valuable resource in the world….

Review: When it comes to science fiction and fantasy storytelling, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are two of the pinnacles of the genre, and have inspired generations of filmmakers and audiences. Yet, there is another body of work that is hugely influential to the genre. A story that featured a vast array of planets and civilisations, hailed by many as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. Now, in the hands of one of the finest directors working today, a new adaptation of Dune is here, and ready to win over a brand-new generation of fans.

In the far future, the most valuable resource is the spice Melange, harvested on the planet of Arrakis. For years, the planet and its people, the Fremen, have been under the brutal rule of the Harkonnens, who have ruled with an iron fist of fear. Now, it has been decreed that the planet, and the monumental task of mining the spice, will fall to the House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Isaac). By his side, will be his son Paul (Chalamet) and Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica (Ferguson), who belongs to a mystical order of powerful women known as the Bene Gesserit. There’s a lot of pressure on Paul’s shoulders, as the Bene Gesserit believe Paul could one day turn out to be the Chosen One.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Frank Herbert’s novel has been adapted for the big screen. However, for reasons that are far too numerous to list here, David Lynch promptly disowned his 1984 adaptation upon release. Villeneuve has cited Dune as one of his favourite novels growing up, and from the very first minute, it is clear why he was the perfect director to helm this new adaptation. A glance at Villeneuve’s body of work has demonstrated his outstanding skill to bring jaw-dropping visuals to any story he directs, often in part due to astounding cinematography. While there’s no Roger Deakins behind the camera here, Greig Fraser is an extremely capable replacement. The gorgeous visuals are expertly combined with the sheer scale of this universe, and it is nothing short of epic.

Due to the extremely dense nature of the source material, it is a necessity for Villeneuve and writers Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, to take their time. There is a staggering amount of existing lore and mythology to establish, as well all the various planets and Houses that exist within this story. It would be easy for any newcomers to get lost in the enormity of the world-building. Hence, the screenplay bides its time, and gives the audience ample opportunity to take everything in. The use of the practical, real life sets for the film’s production design, such as the immense Jordanian desert amplifies the impressive nature of the construction of this universe. As Villeneuve memorably said in an interview last year, “They didn’t shoot Jaws in a swimming pool!” The use of practical sets adds so much richness to the film and ultimately it makes it unlike anything that we’ve seen in this type of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking in a very long time.

At the centre of all this is Chalamet’s Paul. He’s an actor who has carved himself a career in a plethora of Indie films over the years. The central role in a gargantuan behemoth that is Dune, is quite the step up. However, he makes that transition into a leading man seamlessly. Ferguson as the Lady Jessica is a fierce and strong-willed woman. However, there is a vulnerability that she brings to the role as she is fiercely protective of her son and the gifts that he possesses. This adds considerable depth and nuance to the relationship between Paul and Jessica. Oscar Isaac brings a lordly aura to that of Duke Leto. Yet, despite his very many duties as the leader of a great House, he still exhibits warmth, especially where Paul is concerned.

Meanwhile, the characters of Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho and Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck, core components of the inner circle of House Atreides, are the notable standouts. Opposing the Atreides, is the ruthless House Harkonnen. Right from the moment they are introduced, they are instantaneously the foreboding and ominous threat that any film with such a richly developed universe, incomparable in its scope and majesty, requires. Furthermore, Stellan Skarsgård as the villainous Baron, is an on-screen presence that you will not be forgetting in a hurry.

Reuniting with Villeneuve after collaborating on Blade Runner 2049, it feels like there aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how special this score by Hans Zimmer really is. The true power of a good film score is how a single note can transport you into that world, and this score by Zimmer will take you back to Arrakis in an instant. While the cast are all phenomenal in their roles, given the obvious influences of Arab culture into the source material, it is disappointing that there is a distinct lack of MENA cast members present. However, as this film only represents one half of Herbert’s novel, a second part would give Villeneuve the chance to rectify that missed opportunity.

To give audiences one half of this incredible story, only to not tell the second half would be extremely disappointing. Sweeping epics like this seldom come around very often. Hence, the spice must flow sufficiently enough to ensure that second part will come to fruition, and not be something that will be swirling in our dreams from the deep forever more.

It was said to be unfilmable. Yet with a superb cast, incredible world-building and a sweeping and enthralling narrative, Denis Villeneuve has accomplished something truly special, and we’re only halfway through the story.

a

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

No Time To Die (2021)

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions

No Time To Die – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Synopsis: After spending time living a peaceful, retired life, James Bond is brought back to the world of assassins and espionage when an old friend approaches him to request his help for a new mission…

Review: It has been a difficult journey for the 25th instalment of the James Bond franchise to make its way to the big screen. A planned November 2019 release date that never materialised due to creative differences, which led to initial director Danny Boyle to depart the project. The injury that star Daniel Craig suffered during its production. All of which were compounded by the multiple enforced delays to its planned release due to the COVID pandemic. It was beginning to feel like there was an unbreakable curse on this film, that would prevent it from ever seeing the light of a big cinema screen. For a film that was marketed as Daniel Craig’s final bow in this role, it has been an agonising wait for it to finally be unveiled to the public. Now at last, Craig’s Bond takes aim at his final mission, and it was worth the wait.

Following on from the events of Spectre, Bond and Madeleine (Seydoux) are living a peaceful, quiet life in picturesque Italy. However, it isn’t long before their romantic bubble is burst when some startling revelations about the past are uncovered, which threatens to tear their relationship apart. Determined to find some answers, Bond teams up with old ally Felix Leiter (Wright) who approaches Bond for his help with a mission that leads back to some familiar faces, whilst uncovering a deadly plot at the hands of the villainous Safin (Malek), that threatens to unleash global destruction.

For a time, it was very uncertain whether Craig would continue in the role due to some infamous comments that he once made when asked if he would return to the role. Right throughout his tenure, Craig has always thrown everything he’s got into the role, and it is fitting that his final turn as this iconic character is possibly his best performance. He’s a character who has been on quite the journey since we first met him back in Casino Royale. While he often exhibits the cold and stoic persona that would be demanded of a paid assassin, there is a substantial amount of emotion to his final portrayal of this character. Of the new cast members, the standout is easily Lashana Lynch’s Nomi, a new double 0 agent that Bond must work with on this mission. Ana de Armas as the CIA agent Paloma that Bond also teams up is also another delightful addition to this cast. Given that they worked together to wonderful effect in Knives Out, the chemistry between de Armas and Craig is perfect. Frustratingly, she’s given a scarce amount of screen time.

Following the tragic fate of Vesper Lynd, it would have seemed unlikely that any other woman would capture Bond’s heart. Yet, following on from her introduction in the previous film, Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann proved otherwise, given it was her that prompted Bond’s decision to retire from the life of a double 0-agent. Her performance, and the relationship that she shares with Bond here very much represents the heart of the film. There’s been no shortage of memorable women in the history of this franchise, and when looking back at this era of the Bond franchise, it will be hard not to recognise her as one of the more noteworthy Bond ladies. While Craig and Seydoux are the heart and soul of the film, it would not be a Bond film without the supporting cast. The familiar faces of Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes as M, and especially Ben Whishaw’s Q are all once again excellent.

The Craig era has introduced us to some of the most iconic villains, from Le Chiffre and Silva in Casino and Skyfall respectively, Malek’s Safin is not quite as memorable as the aforementioned villains. Nevertheless, he is a calm, methodical antagonist who proves to be more than a match for 007. While he was not the first choice for the director’s gig, Cary Fukunaga proved to be the perfect director for the task of giving Craig’s Bond the send off that he deserved. Craig’s Bond era has set the benchmark for gripping opening action scenes. From the enthralling opening action scene, to every action scene that the film packs into is run time, there’s a grittiness and intensity that is consistent throughout all of the action that gets the adrenaline pumping, aided by an excellent score from the maestro that is Hans Zimmer.

At 2 hours and 43 minutes, this is the longest film in the franchise’s history. Fukunaga worked on the script alongside franchise regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. As such, the film is filled with everything you have come to expect from a Bond film, as well as one of the best one-liners in this franchise’s history. One suspects that could be down to the script polishes that came courtesy of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. However, that run time does feel overly long as the film does suffer from pacing issues in a handful of places. The James Bond franchise is one that has endured over multiple decades and with five films across nearly 15 years in this role, Daniel Craig bows out of this franchise with a legacy that will live forever.

The expectations were enormous, and after an agonisingly long wait, Craig’s final bow has met those expectations in an enthralling and stylish manner. A fitting send off for one of the best actors to ever don Bond’s tuxedo.