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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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Little Women (2019)

Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Sony Pictures

Little Women – Film Review

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Director: Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Telling the lives of the March sisters as they navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood in a post Civil War USA…

Review: After the storming success of her unique and original debut film, that added her name to the select few women to have been nominated for an Oscar for directing, the world was the oyster for Greta Gerwig. For her sophomore feature, she would have likely had the green light to make anything that she so desired. Therefore, to give the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott another adaptation seemed to be unnecessary. However, Gerwig has taken on this adaptation, and breathed new life into this beloved story, in magnificent style.

In a post Civil War United States, we meet the March sisters: Jo (Ronan), Meg (Watson), Amy (Pugh) and Beth (Scanlen). We see their lives from two different time periods, firstly in a post Civil War setting, mixed in with flashbacks to their time spent growing up together in Massachusetts. Jo is determined to make her own way in the world to pursue a career as a writer, Amy wishes to become an artist, Meg dreams of becoming an actress, and Beth aspires to be a musician. They assist their mother (Dern) in any way they can while their father is away fighting in the war. Growing up, the sisters spend a lot of their time together, supporting their mother any way they can as their lack of money means that luxuries are extremely hard to come by.

Straight away, the chemistry between the four sisters leaps off the screen. There is a warm feeling that comes off in the relationships that they have with each other. Their chemistry feels very sincere and genuine, which is a credit to the talent of the actresses playing them. As anyone who grew up with one or more siblings will tell you, they love and care for each other. Yet, at any given moment, that can flip on its head and that love can turn to loathing. Every member of this cast delivers delightful performances, from Meryl Streep’s hilarious turn as their snidey (but hilarious) Aunt, to Laura Dern as their steadfast and extremely patient mother, to Timothee Chalamet as their childhood friend, who becomes the man that they all would dream of marrying.

However, the stars of the show (as they should be), are the titular little women, the March sisters. Gerwig’s screenplay explores in great detail the pressures that women like the sisters would have faced during that time period. Finding themselves in a position where they would love nothing more than to follow their hearts, but they are frustrated due to the constraints that society placed on women at the time. The strength of the screenplay ensures that Gerwig gives each of her stars excellent material to work with. It enables each of their personalities to shine through and though each of them all give sincere performances, the performances by Saoirse Ronan’s Jo and Florence Pugh’s Amy shine the brightest.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is befitting of the warm and delightful ambience that the film generates. Similarly, Jacqueline Durran’s wonderful costumes perfectly illustrate the calibre of such an esteemed, Oscar winning costume designer. The film adopts a non-linear approach to its storytelling, which can perhaps be a little jarring at first to any viewers who may be unfamiliar with the source material. It’s a testament to the Alcott’s novel that it can still resonate with people over a century and a half after it was first published, proving it to be a timeless piece of storytelling. Furthermore, it has proved to be a springboard for a talent like Greta Gerwig to adapt it once again for the big screen so beautifully. She retains those powerful core messages that will especially resonate with everyone regardless, of their gender, but especially for women who grew up with sisters.

One might have argued that this beloved novel did not need yet another adaptation. However, a terrific ensemble cast led by Ronan and Pugh, combined with Gerwig’s excellent screenplay ensures that this latest adaptation will charm its way into your heart.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

The King (2019)

Image is property of Netflix

The King – Film Review

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, Dean-Charles Chapman

Director: David Michôd

Synopsis: Following the death of his father, a young Prince succeeds his father as King, and immediately finds his rule under threat from internal politics, and the ever-present threat posed from across the English Channel…

Review: The world has undoubtedly changed in the several hundred years since the times of medieval politics. However, what hasn’t changed is the squabbling and backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes in politics and policy making in governments the world over. Though, it has to be said that considerably less swords are now involved. Though that hasn’t prevented this era from being dramatised quite a few times, most notably in recent times by Netflix. After 2018’s Outlaw King, with sword in hand, they are taking another swing at crafting a compelling medieval drama.

England has been at war for many years, and as such, a considerable proportion of the country’s resources are crippled. With the current king Henry IV (Mendelsohn) approaching the end of his life, he seeks to appoint his successor. Through not initially his first choice, his son Hal (Chalamet) is eventually crowned King, becoming Henry V. Having previously expressed little desire to assume the throne, the young King finds many obstacles in his path, from within his own circle to the prospect of invasion from foreign adversaries, all while finding out what kind of ruler he wishes to be. Shortly after being crowned, he is the recipient of a rather derogatory and insulting gift, which prompts the young King to have to decide if he wants to continue going to war.

Given that much of the film is on his personal struggle on his ascension to the throne, such a role would require an actor of immense stature to play such a Kingly figure. Chalamet is certainly a very capable actor, and while he gives it his all, but you can’t help but wonder if this was a role that was came too early on for him in his career. He certainly puts everything he’s got into the role but unfortunately for him, his performance is a bit too one dimensional and lacks that aforementioned stature and charisma that such a King should have in his armoury.

Though like any good King, he has some capable aides by his side, and its these performances that give Chalamet a run for his money. Most notably the jovial, and consistently entertaining John Fastolf (Edgerton). Similarly for William Gascoigne (Harris) who despite being a loyal adviser to the new King, has a personality and a demeanour of a man who you should keep a close eye on. Though on the opposite side of that coin, Robert Pattinson as the leader of the opposing French army really sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s certainly a capable actor, but unfortunately he provides some (perhaps inadvertently) comedic moments. His extremely dubious French accent leaves an awful lot to be desired, and one can perhaps question as to why a French actor was not hired for the part.

French actor or not, there’s clearly no expense spared on the production design, nor the costumes, and these help to bring an air of authenticity. From a technical perspective, the battle scenes are extremely well executed. With Michôd’s solid direction, and Adam Arkapaw’s impressive cinematography, they are by far, the highlights of the film. Yet, while the battle scenes are consistently entertaining, they are not nearly as enthralling when compared to the likes of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, what really lets the whole film down is a mixed bag of a script. Given that it’s a very loose adaption of the works of William Shakespeare, there was potential for greatness. While, it certainly has its moments, it ultimately falls short of providing a riveting narrative, that would make the audience bow down in wonder.

There’s some excellent technical aspects that deserve to be hailed. However due to a somewhat melodramatic leading performance and an indifferent script, The King does not earn the Crown it clearly covets.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Lady Bird (2018)

Image is property of A24, Universal Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions

Lady Bird – Film Review

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein

Director: Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Lady Bird  (Ronan) is a 17 year old woman in the final year of high school, while having a tricky relationship with her mother, must negotiate friendships, romance and the prospect of college…

Review: For some, those teenage years  are the best times of your life, on the brink of adulthood but not quite at that point where you have to start looking after your own affairs. It’s something that we all go through and is as much a part of life as death and taxes. As such, to make such a film about going through that particular period of life, and to give it such a refreshing and unique spin is a very impressive feat, even more so considering that this is the film that marks the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig.

Focusing on Christine or Lady Bird as she prefers to be known, as she navigates her final year of school before heading off to college. Before that can happen though, she experiences everything people go through in their final year of school, establishing friendships, making new relationships, and bickering with your parents. It is such a simple, almost by the numbers premise that has been done so many times before. Yet through her remarkable and screenplay that has some razor sharp wit and humour, Gerwig fashions a story that will be relatable to almost all who watch it, as everyone will have remembered that point in their lives when they were in the exact same position as Lady Bird finds herself here, particularly when it comes to moving away from home and settling down at college/university.

A key reason as to why this film feels so fresh and so impactful is the performance of Saoirse Ronan. You know that when you just see the character and not the actor is when you know you’re witnessing a good performance, and that is applicable for almost everyone in the film. Everything about her just feels so real and genuine, and though she has a bit of a temper (let’s be fair who didn’t when they were a teenager?) she is effortlessly watchable.  To have already garnered three Oscar nominations at the age of 23 is a staggeringly impressive achievement and it is a testament to her wonderful ability as an actor. With everyone everyone else on screen giving perfect performances, it does feel like you’re watching real people with real lives, rather than watching a film.

Special mention must go to Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother. This Mother-Daughter relationship makes up the most significant portion of the film. It is a relationship that is far from perfect, indeed it’s a pretty fraught one at times. Yet there is a clear respect for one another, even if they don’t always show it. In everything the film says about the typical struggles a teenager goes through, especially for teenage girls. It manages to tell them in a manner that almost no coming-of-age film has done before. What’s more, the film is utterly hilarious, it finds its humour in all of those little moments that life throws at us when we’re on the brink of adulthood. The road of life is full of ups and downs and this film captures those moments of joy and heartbreak and tells them with such affection, that you will want a pal like Lady Bird around in your life. She’s just that lovable.

A familiar tale, but told in such a refreshingly original manner, this is a coming-of-age drama done almost to perfection, with a stunning turn from Ronan at its centre.