*MOVIE RECAP: DUNE — Part One

Embarrassingly enough, I went into this movie not having read the book. My knowledge of Frank Herbert’s Dune can be best summarized to a simple cliff notes overview of the story. And my other familiarity with the novel is that I used to sell hundreds of copies per year, back when I was a bookseller slash bookstore manager. It was a constant bestseller, so I always kept it in stock.

At the same time, I have to admit that I’m a bit biased when it comes to this movie. Full disclaimer, a few weeks before the official cast of Dune was announced, I got the chance to meet and exchange words with Timothee Chalamet briefly — Oscar Isaac made the introduction. Yes, THAT Oscar Isaac.

All told, I have been dealing with Mr. Isaac for a while now through my day job. He is a normal and down-to-earth dude — extremely likable and personable. Unlike some of those entitled Hollywood types, acting pretentious and asking to be treated special…ahem, Jeremy Strong…. I had an awkward conversation with Jeremy Strong on the phone once. But that is another story for a different time.

Anyhow, meeting Timothee Chalamet was a pretty awesome experience, and even though it was a brief encounter, it was a pretty memorable encounter; He shook my hand and said, “Hi, it is cool to meet you”….It made my day, week, month, and so on… and I haven’t shut up about it ever since.

So yes, it was my own personal “Hollywood moment.” One of many unique Hollywood moments — meeting celebrities is one of the cool perks of working in New York City.

Ok, about the movie. 

So this movie is officially named DUNE: Part One — because it is based on the first half of Frank Herbert’s 1965 Dune novel. And I assume that the next Dune movie will be based on the second half of the book — unless they decide to turn the entire first book into a trilogy, which I doubt.

I read in different pieces that Frank Herbert was heavily influenced by the 1926 book Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E Lawrence — which was the basis for the epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia directed by David Lean……One of my favorite films of all time.

In any case, the story of Dune takes place on a desert planet called Arrakis. The native people of this planet are called the Fremen — The Fremen are nomadic, Arab-looking tribes. They are ruled and oppressed by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) of the House Harkonnen; He is like a feudalistic planetary overlord of sorts.

The other power player here is the House of Atreides; Rule by Duke Leto Atreides (my boy, Oscar Isaac). Duke Leto’s young son Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), heir to House Atreides.

The Emperor and supreme ruler of the known universe assigns Duke Leto to replace House Harkonnen as overlords of Arrakis and all of the “spice” mining operations there. Spice is a precious asset; it is the equivalent to oil in terms of power for fuel — You need this Spice for interstellar travel.

And here is where the fuckery starts…

There is a conspiracy between the Emperor and House Harkonnen to wipe out House Atreides from existence. So not long after arriving in Arrakis, there is a surprise attack by the combined forces of the Emperor and House Harkonnen to kill off House Atreides.

Young Paul Atreides and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), escape, and the journey between boy and mother begin.

What pleasantly surprised me the most here was the solid screenwriting — primarily in how the knots and bolts of the story are explained to the audience. Mainly the opening scenes and the introduction of the Houses and the whole space mining concept, plus how the movie’s beginning gave us a quick background to the never-ending conflict between the ruling overlords and the Fremen. All of that was written and directed brilliantly, and it was very engaging.

Not having read the book, I was impressed with this adaptation because they did not try to force-feed the entire first book into one movie. Instead, they opted to split the books into parts and thus remain faithful to the source material. Therefore, it doesn’t feel like it was dumb down for the audience like some other adaptations out there.

Brilliant screenwriting work from Denis Villeneuve and his writing partners, Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Passenger) and Eric Roth (Munich, The Good Shepherd, Forrest Gump, and The Insider).

Dune, the novel, is a complex and spectacular story that many consider unfilmable. But director Denis Villeneuve has created an exceptional experience here, adding a visual depth and dimension that I’m sure the book does not have — Villeneuve’s filmography is extraordinary with films like Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and The Arrival (2016), among others. So I’m not surprised by this achievement.

The scope and scale of this movie are epic and breathtaking. The combination of location shooting and special effects is outstanding. Bringing this world to life both digitally and physically is remarkable. The natural environment and the power of the desert felt real, which is something CGI or green screens cannot truly capture.

The atmospheric elements and the middle eastern imagery are well done. There is also a sense of spirituality and mysticism slowly being developed, which I’m sure will be further explored in upcoming films. On top of all that, Hans Zimmer’s score is superb.

The performances are excellent. Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgard, and David Dastmalchia are all fantastic. There is an air of Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now to Stellan Skarsgard’s character — No CGI, only prosthetics for Skarsgard — pretty cool.

Additionally, Rebecca Ferguson is noteworthy here; Lady Jessica is at the epicenter of the story, and Ferguson conveys such a powerful presence in every scene that she is in.

But objectively, Timothee Chalamet is the heart and soul here; he is perfect for this role. At first, he seems flat, stoic, and almost emotionless. But as the story evolves, you see him maturing and embracing his messianic destiny. There is a sense of vulnerability from Chalamet’s performance that merits praise.

And sure, this is another white savior story; however, it gets a pass from me, mainly because the source material is over 55 years old. My other issue is that they did not make time early enough in the story to explain to the audience about the whole aspect of sword-fighting with shields and how those personal shield devices can protect you. I hope there will be a director’s cut available at some point addressing some of the technology, like the whole thing with the lack of computers and Artificial Intelligence in this world.

Lastly, I find it interesting how they went out of their way to exaggerate Zendaya’s contribution here. The advertising was misleading — she was all over the promotion materials, hyping up her performance. Yet, she was in the movie for roughly 10 minutes, but it is evident that she will play a significant role in the second part.

All in all, Dune: Part One is a major cinematic achievement. Here is an adaptation that Hollywood got right, and I have not been this excited about a sci/fi slash fantasy series since the original Lord of the Rings trilogy back in the early 2000s.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

DUNE: Part One (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: AQUAMAN

I avoided this movie when it came out in theaters back in 2018. Mostly ‘cause, around those days, I was not feeling any of the DC Extended Universe movies (DCEU). However, I have recently decided to give them another chance and watch them all back to back; Starting with Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), which, for the most part, I really liked both of them, with a few minor exceptions here and there.

Aquaman was a massive worldwide box office hit, and now I kind of wish that I had seen it in theaters when it first came out — CGI spectacles like this type of movie are meant to be experienced on the big screen. Still, this is an entertaining movie, and it is an origin story at its core. I really liked the whole love story angle between Aquaman’s parents, which was a pretty compelling storyline. It was also pretty cool seeing Temuera Morrison (Tom Curry/Aquaman’s father), aka Jango Fett, in another big blockbuster flick.

Jason Momoa (Arthur/Aquaman) is excellent here; it is like he was tailor-made for this role. The main premise here is that Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who rules the deep ocean world of Atlantis, wants to unite all of the underwater tribes and wage war against the “surface dwellers.” Aquaman finds himself as the reluctant hero, pressured by his mentor Vulko (Willem Dafoe) to find The Trident of Atlan. This Trident is a powerful weapon that only responds to the one and true king (echoes of king Arthur and Excalibur). With this Trident, Aquaman can lay claim to the title of Ocean Master and rule over all of the underwater kingdoms, which would essentially put a stop to his half-brother’s warmongering campaign.

There is massive cheesiness in this movie, especially in the dialogue, which makes the chemistry between some of the characters tough to watch, most notably the chemistry between Amber Heard (Mera) and Jason Momoa; their chemistry is not great.

David Kane/Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) was not well developed, especially if the plan is to turn this character into a formidable villain for future Aquaman movies. I was static to see Dolph Lundgren (King Nereus); it is pretty neat seeing iconic action stars from my childhood showing up in mainstream movies.

There are a bunch of far fetch scenes that seemed unnecessary; for instance, there is a scene with an Octopus playing drums….I didn’t think it was needed or in any way useful.

So far, Wonder Woman (2017) has been the best of all the DC Extended Universe movies. I’m looking forward to HBO releasing the Snyder cut of Justice League, which will be an epic streaming event.

Despite the lazy dialogue and the heavy CGI action sequences, Aquaman is a fun and enjoyable movie worth watching, mainly due to Jason Momoa’s performance. Overall, Aquaman is a welcome addition to this ever-evolving but highly flawed DC Extended Universe.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags

AQUAMAN (2018)

*MOVIE RECAP: JUSTICE LEAGUE

I don’t get excited when new superhero movies come out as much as I used to — it took me a few years to make time to watch this movie, and I actually ended up liking it better than I expected. Look, at the end of the day, I’m still a huge fanboy when it comes to all comic book movies, but I don’t take them that seriously anymore; I just sit back and enjoy the ride.

This is the closest a DC Extended Universe movie (DCEU) has come to a MARVEL movie. I think critics were way too harsh on this movie when it first came out, and it did not deserve all the abuse it received. I think I’m comfortable enough to say that I actually enjoy DCEU movies more than most Marvel movies (in terms of tone and execution).

The vibe and tone of Justice League are slightly lighter than previous DCEU movies…. And even though I prefer and appreciate the darker tone films from all the DCEU movies, I find myself welcoming the lighter vibe Justice League brings.

This version of BATMAN (Ben Affleck) is pretty damn good; Affleck’s performance has grown on me, especially as Bruce Wayne. WONDER WOMAN (Gal Gadot) continues to be the best-written character here, explaining why she wasn’t around for a hundred years since the events of the 2017 Wonder Woman movie made sense. Disappointingly, Wonder Woman 1984 pissed away all the solid groundwork done developing this character. SUPERMAN (Henry Cavill) was excellent; most of his scenes worked well for me, especially as he battled Steppenwolf. Jason Momoa was born to play AQUAMAN. (read my Aquaman recap on this blog).

FLASH (Ezra Miller) is funny, engaging, and very relatable. CYBORG (Ray Fisher) is a compelling character that needs his own movie at some point. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) was okay; her character didn’t do much, and I wanted to see more from her. STEPPENWOLF (Ciaran Hinds), as a villain, was an underdeveloped character, and I felt like there was no fundamental necessity to go full CGI here. Some people hated the PARADEMONS, but I didn’t mind them; I thought they were cool. There are some emotional moments, mainly from Martha Kent (Diane Lane). The post-credit scene with LEX LUTHOR (Jesse Eisenberg) was necessary for purposes of continuity.

Although there are some obvious flaws with this movie, JUSTICE LEAGUE is a highly entertaining addition to the DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE. There is a ton of potential here to build up future films around. I’m incredibly excited and curious to see how the Snyder cut will differ from this version.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Justice League (2017)

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