Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Northman (2022)

© Universal Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Perfect World Pictures

The Northman  – Film Review

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: A Viking Prince swears brutal revenge after witnessing his father’s death at the hands of his traitorous uncle…

Review: Over the last few years, there have been several up-and-coming directors who have made a significant impact with their careers, establishing their reputations as sought after talent, with every film they make becoming event-worthy. One such director would be Robert Eggers. His first two films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, with a combined budget of $15million, became indie darlings that were both released to critical acclaim. With that success to his name, it has given Eggers the platform to go all out, backed by a studio’s considerably larger budget (between $70 and 90 million), and make his biggest and most visually striking film to date.

Prince Amleth is a happy young Viking boy living with his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) and his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Aurvandill is aware that the time will come for Amleth to one day assume the responsibilities of King in his stead. However, before Aurvandill can properly prepare him for his role as King, Auravandill is betrayed and murdered by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Faced with the prospect of certain death at his uncle’s hands, Amleth is forced to flee but vows brutal revenge against his Uncle for his crimes. Several decades later, the now-adult Amleth (Skarsgård) has transformed into a fierce and brutal Viking warrior. Having lost sight of his original mission for vengeance, a chance meeting with a seeress (a brilliant cameo by Icelandic singer Björk), reminds him of the promise he made to himself all those years ago.

Welcome to the Viking gun show…

Based on the legend of Amleth, which served as the inspiration for the character of Hamlet in the famous play by Shakespeare, Eggers and the Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, have crafted a screenplay that is so steeped in the richness of Norse mythology, that there probably could be a whole short film devoted to the extensive research that undoubtedly went into the making of the film. While it is first and foremost a tale of one man’s mission for revenge, Eggers takes a lot of time in the first act to establish the culture and the mythology that was central to the civilisation at the time, while simultaneously incorporating the visually striking aesthetics he’s renowned for.  By taking his time to explore the complexities of Norse mythology, Eggers is able to immerse his audiences with scenes of wild rituals, songs and spells and sacrifices. While it is true that at its heart, the plot is very much one man’s quest for bloody revenge against the man who committed a terrible atrocity against him many years ago. However, that does the plot a disservice, as there’s so much more meat on the bones to this story.

Such a physical and brutal film requires a committed leading performance, and in Alexander Skarsgård’s leading turn as Amleth, you have that and then some. His physical transformation for this role is extremely impressive, practically at times having transformed himself into a terrifying feral creature that’s more animal than man. He’s an absolute behemoth of a warrior that you would categorically not want to find yourself in battle with. While his physical prowess cannot be denied, there’s unfortunately not a lot of room for character development, beyond his desire for revenge. The character of Fjölnir could have been a very cliched villain who commits an act of betrayal against his family out of jealousy towards his brother. But as a terrifying and ruthless antagonist, Claes Bang imbues him with nuances and motivations that flesh him out.

Re-teaming with Eggers, after The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Olga is perhaps the character who is given the most development as the sorceress Olga. A witch who’s resourceful and with a cunning intellect, she works closely with Amleth to help him achieve his goal. A further reunion comes in the form of Willem Dafoe, who is clearly having a riot in his small but significant role of Helmir the Fool. Given she’s reduced to a cameo appearance in the first two acts, you’d have been forgiven for forgetting Kidman was even in the film at all. However, this all dramatically changes as she really stamps her authority onto the scene during the climactic third act.

As this is a tale about vengeance, some violence was inevitable, but this time around, Eggers holds nothing back. The violence is uncompromisingly brutal that will test even the strongest of stomachs. The thrum of the booming drums that make up a considerable chunk of the score is the perfect complement to the sweeping visual majesty of the rip-roaring spectacle. Even with one or two pacing issues in and around the middle, it’s not enough to drag down the sheer epicness of what Eggers brings to this tale. Into the halls of Valhalla, we go!

Bloody, ferocious and wildly entertaining, with an exceptional cast and an extraordinarily committed leading performance from Skarsgård, an ascension into the halls of the greatest revenge films of all time awaits.

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.

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