Film Review: Dune: Part One (2021)

Release Date: September 3rd, 2021 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth
Based on: Dune by Frank Herbert
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, David Dastmalchian

Villeneuve Films, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 155 Minutes


“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Lady Jessica Atreides

Well, the long-awaited Dune movie by Denis Villeneuve is finally here and while I tried to go into it without any expectations, I am a pretty big fan of the original novels by Frank Herbert and am one of the weirdos that likes the 1984 David Lynch adaptation while also enjoying those two Sci-Fi Channel miniseries that adapted the first three books back around the turn of the new millennium.

It’s hard to review this, however, because it is just one half of the story and it doesn’t even end at a logical point, the film just decides to stop and roll its credits. There are some logical points in the book that would’ve been much better areas to pause the film.

For those who haven’t read the book, which is most people in 2021, this will probably confuse them or piss them off. Especially, since a follow up wasn’t guaranteed. At the time of me writing this, though, the sequel was just greenlit.

So up to the point where the film just stops, I’d have to consider this the best adaptation of the book so far. Granted, it could still fall apart in the second half, which hopefully we don’t have to wait four years for.

The film, as should be expected with Villeneuve at the helm, is a visual masterpiece. However, also with Villeneuve at the helm, Dune starts to suffer, as the initial awe of the visuals starts to wear off and normalize. The movie is slow. That’s not to say that nothing happens but like Blade Runner 2049, it just takes a long time to get there. With this being nearly two and a half hours and just half the plot, I feel like this whole story could’ve been told well over three-to-four hours if it moved at a brisker pace.

As far as the acting goes, it was all good. There really wasn’t a weak link in this chain but it was also hard really getting a grasp on whether or not Zendaya was going to be able to hang, as she only shows up in the last ten minutes of the movie, apart from appearing in Paul Atreides’ dreams.

Timothée Chalamet made a solid Paul, though. I also really liked Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac. Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem both had great presence and Jason Momoa actually impressed me quite a bit, as Duncan Idaho, one of my favorite characters from the book.

Beyond that, Stellan Skarsgård completely owned the role of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Dave Bautista was also intimidating as hell as the Beast Rabban with one of my favorite modern character actors, David Dastmalchian, doing a f’n superb job as the Harkonnen mentat, Piter De Vries. Dastmalchian was in good company with Brad Dourif playing the role in the 1984 film but he still made the role his own, in this film, and really shined through in a unique way.

I wasn’t a big fan of the Hans Zimmer score and honestly, you barely even notice it. It’s just noise and atmosphere and the movie lacks any real themes like the 1984 version, which had incredible music.

Also, as visually impressive as this is, when I read the books, I’m pretty sure my mind is still going to visualize the David Lynch style. It’s just burnt into my memory, at this point. I can’t really say which is better, overall, because of my nostalgic love of the visuals and design of the original film but this one still looks great and really utilizes modern special effects technology exceptionally well. It greatly benefits in that regard, where David Lynch only had practical effects and physical sets to work with.

All in all, this was a good adaptation, more than anything. It’s hard to say how it will play as a total body of work, once the second half is released, but I now have fairly high hopes for the completed picture. Granted, I assume that one will also be pretty slow.

Rating: 7.5/10

Vids I Dig 435: The Critical Drinker: ‘Blade Runner 2049’ – The iPhone of Movie Sequels

From The Critical Drinker’s YouTube description: Since people have been asking me to review this film ever since I covered the 1982 original, I decided to oblige. Let’s take a look at Blade Runner 2049.

Vids I Dig 426: Filmento: ‘Blade Runner 2049’: Why Great Movies Fail

From Filmento’s YouTube description: 2017’s Denis Villeneueve cyberpunk film Blade Runner 2049 is a remarkable experience… but still ended up flopping in the box office and losing a big bunch of money. We’ve been talking about bad and mediocre box office flops recently like John Carter and The Lone Ranger, but today let’s look at the same topic from the other side of the fence — why a great movie ended up losing money. It’s not the biggest box office flop of all time but still. They have Villeneuve making Dune for Warner Bros now, so here’s a few things to keep in mind for that.

Film Review: Sicario (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Music by: Johann Johannsson
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan

Black Label Media, Thunder Road, Lionsgate, 121 Minutes


“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything that we do, but in the end you will understand.” – Alejandro

This is a film that I put off watching because there was a lot of hype about it when it came out. Had I watched it in 2015 or even 2016, I probably would’ve lost my shit.

Reason being, this is nowhere near as good as the critics and my friends led me to believe.

In fact, other than less than a handful of scenes, this is a boring fucking movie that doesn’t seem to have much of a point.

I mean, I get it, the drug cartels in Mexico are fucked up. But I’ve known this and seen this in lots of film and television shows that are far better than this.

With the cast and a very capable director I was expected an intense, badass neo-western in the vein of No Country For Old Men and Hell or High Water. Sadly, this doesn’t hold a candle to those films and it is just a few cool action sequences and one intense dinner scene, strung together with moral babble and Emily Blunt not doing much other than looking offended and confused.

I can see why she didn’t come back for a sequel but her character was completely vacant anyway and it didn’t really matter that she was in this film. And that’s not to knock Blunt, she’s an incredibly capable actress. However, they could’ve just taken all her close ups in this movie, spliced them into the sequel and no one would’ve been the wiser, as she is just sort of in the film as an observer and moral compass.

Now I can’t completely shit on the film. The high points were actually good and intense. The dinner scene has incredible tension but at the same time, the end result of that scene is not shocking and has little effect. It’s more fucked up than shocking.

Also, the cinematography and shot framing were incredible. This is a good looking film from start to finish and that’s probably its biggest positive. But I can get these things in a music video from a talented director of photography. Alluring visuals are great and they are important but they can’t be the sole driving force of a film.

For instance, The Revenant was visually breathtaking but none of that would’ve mattered if the rest of the film was a crap factory.

I absolutely love the modernized western film but they are really hard to do well. Sicario doesn’t deliver on much but I’ll still probably check out the sequel just to review it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the sequel and other neo-westerns, most of which are better than this.

Film Review: Next Floor (2008)

Release Date: May 15th, 2008 (Cannes)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Jacques Davidts, Phoebe Greenberg
Music by: Warren “Slim” Williams
Cast: Simone Chevalot, Luc-Martial Dagenais, Kenneth Fernandez

Phi, CBC, Canal+, 11 Minutes


“Next floor.” – Maître D’

Before wowing audiences with SicarioThe Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve made several short films that won him over with producers that would go on to fund his feature length projects. This short film made its debut at Cannes, a real accomplishment for the young director at the time.

This is only 11 minutes long but it makes its point pretty effectively in that time and with almost no dialogue.

I guess the most important thing about this short film is its style and the master craftsmanship behind it. Villeneuve showed that he had great skill, was able to create a well lived in set and had a stupendous eye for cinematography alongside Nicolas Bolduc, who would also go on to carve out a nice career.

The story is about this insane banquet where these fat cat types are violently and quickly scarfing down the strange meat selections of all the weird creatures and big game wheeled out to their large table. Every few minutes (or quicker, actually) the floor breaks and our dinner party falls into the room below. It’s a strange yet interesting idea but there doesn’t seem to be much point to it other than poking fun at gluttony in all of its forms.

There really isn’t much else to the film though. The dinner party goes through a floor, the waiters rush down a flight of stairs, wash, rinse, repeat until the big ending.

Still, the film looks damn good visually but there’s not much more to digest.

It also has what I consider to be a continuity error but I guess the filmmakers could argue that it’s their art. But after the group crashes through the first floor, one of the people looks up revealing that they’ve already been through several floors. The problem with this, is that all the people are very clean when you first see them. As the film progresses beyond the opening moments, they get more and more dirty from the building collapsing under and around them. Where is the dust and drywall from the previous floors before the film starts?

Anyway, that’s just me bitching about a small detail.

This is really just a concept and an idea executed pretty well. It’s not a great idea but it was at least interesting trying to decipher what was happening in the first few minutes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Denis Villeneuve shorts 120 Seconds to Get Elected and Rated R for Nudity.

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Release Date: October 3rd, 2017 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young

Alcon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Scott Free Productions, Torridon Films, 16:14 Entertainment, Thunderbird Entertainment, Warner Bros., 163 Minutes  


“Replicants are like any other machine – they are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit, it’s not my problem.” – Rick Deckard

Here we go, I’ve been waiting for this movie since Ridley Scott first mentioned that he had an idea for a follow up. This is the film I have most anticipated in 2017. So how did this sequel, thirty-five years after the original, pan out?

Well, it is mostly good. It is also a very different film than its predecessor.

While Ridley Scott produced and was originally set to direct this, he gave the job to Denis Villeneuve, a guy who is really making a name for himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood. Between ArrivalSicario and now this, the 50 year-old director has found his stride and may be blossoming into an auteur for the current generation.

From a visual standpoint, while Villeneuve had a hand in it, the credit really has to go to cinematographer Roger Deakins. He’s a veteran of cinema that has worked on some true classics, including twelve collaborations with the Coen brothers, three with Sam Mendes and now three with Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 is something Deakins should truly be proud of and it may be his magnum opus as a cinematographer. His work and vision is a clear homage to the original Blade Runner while updating it and moving it into the future. It is still a neo-noir dreamscape with a cyberpunk aesthetic. It employs the same lighting techniques as classic film-noir, as did the 1982 Blade Runner, and it brings in vibrant and breathtaking colors. This is one of the best looking films to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.

The screenplay was handled by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Fancher co-wrote the original movie and was partly responsible for giving life to these characters and their world. While the original Blade Runner conveys emotion in a more subtle way, by the time you see the character of Deckard in this film, thirty years later in the story, he clearly wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is a pretty welcome and refreshing change.

We also get little cameos by Edward James Olmos and Sean Young. With Olmos, we see how he has evolved and he gives insight into Deckard. Sean Young appears in order to get a reaction out of Deckard from a narrative standpoint.

Now the star of the picture is Ryan Gosling. Harrison Ford doesn’t really show up until the third act of the film. Regardless, Gosling really knocks it out of the park in this. He is one of the best actors working today and he gives a performance that is very well-balanced. Where Ford gave a pretty understated performance in the 1982 film, Gosling feels more like a real person, which is funny, considering that you know he is actually a Replicant in the beginning of the film.

The cast is rounded out by three great females: Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks. Wright plays Gosling’s tough as nails commanding officer. De Armas plays Gosling’s right hand, a digital maid, companion and quite possibly the real love of his life. Hoeks plays the villainous Replicant who works for the story’s main villain and is sent into the field to fulfill his hidden agenda.

The film also features small but pivotal parts for Jared Leto and Dave Bautista. Leto plays the villain of the story and is the man who bought out the Tyrell Corporation and has made an even larger company that makes a ton of products but primarily focuses on further developing Replicant technology. Bautista plays the Replicant that Gosling is looking for in the very beginning; he has major ties to the film’s overarching plot.

One thing that makes the film so alluring, apart from the visuals, is the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. It is a departure from the style Zimmer usually employs. While it still has his touch, it is a score that is truly an artistic extension of Vangelis’ work on the original Blade Runner. It has those Zimmer flourishes in it but very much matches up with the audible essence of the first picture.

Everything about this film is pretty good, except for one thing: the pacing. While there isn’t really a dull moment in the film, it does seem to drag on longer than it needs to. Some of the details could have been whittled down. The thing I love about the first film is that it just sort of moves. While a lot doesn’t happen in it overall, it still flows, things happen and it isn’t over saturated with lots of details or plot developments. Compared to the first, this film feels over complicated. Plus, it is just so long. Maybe I’m getting old but I just don’t want to sit in a theater for three hours, unless it’s some grindhouse double feature. But I also sat through the first Blade Runner before this, as I caught this on a special double feature bill. I could have just been antsy after being in my seat for over five hours with just a quick intermission.

Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own film. It works as a sequel but it also works as a sole body of work. The fact that it doesn’t simply retread the same story as the first and instead expands on it quite a bit, is what makes this a picture that can justify its own existence. Was this sequel necessary? We were fine for thirty-five years without it. But it proved that it is more than just a Hollywood cash grab because of its brand recognition.

Few films these days are truly art; at least films from the major studios. Blade Runner 2049 is a solid piece of cinematic art. While not perfect, it’s about as close as modern Hollywood gets these days.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Arrival (2016)

Release Date: November 11th 2016 (USA)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Based on: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
Music by: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma

FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films, 21 Laps Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing International, 116 Minutes


Over the last few years, there have been a lot of big science fiction films popping up around November. I’m really liking this trend, even if most of them don’t seem to be as smart as they are marketed. The thing is, as scientifically literate as Interstellar claimed to be, it was ultimately a disappointment to those of us who have ever picked up a book by Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking or Neil deGrasse Tyson. When you expect to see a spaghettified version of Matthew McConaughey entering the black hole but instead, you get him playing around in his daughter’s closet sending time traveling Morse code to a watch in the past, it’s a pretty eye-rolling experience.

Arrival doesn’t try to dupe the audience with the illusion of a real scientific approach. It actually manages, for the most part, to come of as realistic as a film can considering the subject matter. Sure, like Interstellar, it pulls at the heartstrings, maybe a bit too much, and it brings in a time traveling element of sorts – tying every big event in the film to the main character’s personal life – but Arrival does a much better job of it.

The film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker: three heavy hitters with loads of talent that carry this film on their backs without any problems. Director Denis Villeneuve maybe had it too easy, as the cast felt completely natural with one another and acted out their roles flawlessly.

However, the picture may have benefited more, had Whitaker had a bit more screen time. His character was the thinnest and I wish he had been fleshed out to some degree, as there really wasn’t much that the audience knew about him. I guess the same could be said for Renner, to a lesser degree. Ultimately, this is Amy Adams’ film and she takes center stage. But the film is also her story and really no one else’s.

The highlight of this film is the use of linguistics. Amy Adams’ character, Dr. Louise Banks, is an expert in language and has deciphered things for the government before. This time, she is needed to figure out why alien visitors have arrived on Earth. Instead of following standard sci-fi alien invasion tropes, Arrival doesn’t serve up invaders who already speak our language or who have “studied our planet’s radio waves for years” and figured out how to send us messages. Arrival gives us an alien civilization that we have to work with in an effort to communicate with one another. That is the big story of the movie. Well, as much as I can say without spoiling too much.

The film builds up a lot of tension and it does a great job of moving forward at a good pace while keeping everything interesting and on point. However, by the time you get to the end, which features a sort of plot twist and big reveal, things feel pretty underwhelming. The build up was great but the resolution was pretty bland. There really were no big surprises in the film, even though the picture felt like it thought there were. But maybe that is because the time traveling element that I mentioned before, has already been used quite a bit in these types of serious sci-fi movies.

Ultimately, this film is still pretty fantastic, regardless of the underwhelming resolution.

The cinematography is pretty great. The alien vessel reminds me a lot of the visual style of Michael Mann’s 1983 film The Keep. The rolling fog over the Montana mountains as Louise arrives to base camp the first time is majestic. The cold dark tone of the human side of the glass versus the bright foggy alien side creates a pretty stark contrast between the two species and foreshadows what is to come.

In regards to the aliens, Arrival benefits in that it reveals them almost immediately. There is no mysterious build up over the course of two hours for a crappy reveal ala Super 8 and some other movies. The aliens are just kind of present in the film. Their look isn’t distracting and it is pretty simple and neutral. They aren’t super cool and they aren’t super lame, they just exist and it works.

I was pleasantly surprised by Arrival and was glad that when I first heard about it, that it wasn’t a reboot of that 1996 Charlie Sheen film of the same name. All of these serious sci-fi pictures, as of late, have left me pretty disappointed. Arrival did not. I would say it is the best of the lot.

Rating: 8/10