Dune – A Movie Review

Dune never interested me all that much until when, years ago, I heard Denis Villeneuve planned to release his interpretation of the seminal work. As a big fan of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, I knew Villeneuve would do something very special as he put his unique stamp on the mythology.

I immediately set out to read the book before the movie’s release. Because the pandemic kept pushing the movie down the calendar, I managed to finish it with plenty of time to spare, though I wouldn’t consider it an easy read. You can see my thoughts about the book HERE.

Dune released both in theaters and on HBO Max on October 21st. I sat down around 9:30 that Thursday night intending to just watch thirty minutes or so, enough to get a first impression of the film.

I couldn’t turn it off. I was up until 12:30 a.m., on a work night, dog tired, watching Dune, and couldn’t turn it off.

That probably speaks volumes in and of itself, but I’ll share a few thoughts.

As expected, Dune is visually magnificent and utilizes a striking ambiance. It hit all the right chords and delivered the essence of the book. Well, most of the book. Half of the book? More on that to come.

Dune is also filled with true stars. Consider some of these names: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem, and Zendaya. These are full-fledged movie stars, each and every one.

I found the movie riveting, obviously, but as I watched it I found myself wondering: “Does this thing make any sense at all to anyone who hasn’t read the book?” I’ve since spoken with a few friends who really enjoyed the movie, even loved it in some cases, and haven’t read the book and weren’t familiar with the premise. I think that’s a good sign! As noted before, it definitely hit the high notes of the source material, but many of the more nuanced items were, as one would expect, left out.

I love that a book originally published in 1965 can still feel fresh and captivate audiences in 2021.

Chalamet, who plays the story’s protagonist named Paul, owned his role. Paul is a complex character, and though the movie doesn’t quite make it to his most controversial moments, it absolutely lays the groundwork for his epic quest to come. Rebecca Ferguson plays his mother, Lady Jessica, and I feel that she nailed the loving, dangerous woman that she is. Oscar Isaac proved he can command a screen yet again when given a meaty character to work with, and, as Paul’s father Duke Leto, he does just that. Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin respectively play Duncan and Gurney, mentors to Paul even while being vastly different men. Both actors were perfectly suited for these roles. Unfortunately, Zendya, Dave Bautista, and Javier Bardem were not given much to do … yet. If a second installment is indeed in the cards, you’ll see what interesting characters these three play, particularly Zendaya, who is Chani, the yin to Paul’s yang. Zendaya is a huge star in the making. She and Chalamet, if given a chance, are going to make Dune even more special than it already is.

Which, it must be said, leads me to my final point. Even at nearly three hours, Dune only covers about half of the book. If it feels as though the movie ends on a cliffhanger, well, it very much does. If it feels as though Dune spent a lot of time establishing characters, environments, technology, and religions … it does. If Dune: Part 2 is anything like the book, though, you are in for a very exciting experience.

Even if you’ve never read the book and even if you normally don’t care for science fiction, I urge you to give Dune a chance. It looks amazing, has an interesting take on established archetypes, utilizes themes that are very relevant to today’s world, features some very good acting, and is simply flat-out cool.

No Country for Old Men – A Movie Review

It’s a rare occurrence indeed when a film adaptation lives up to its source material, but with No Country for Old Men, Ethan and Joel Coen have done right by Cormac McCarthy. 

In McCarthy’s novel, he is terse and economic with details.  The book moves at an incredibly frantic pace and he shows no mercy to any of his characters.  Often violence is implied and sometimes even painfully described.  The Coens made sure not to deviate from this established tone.

Because they work in a visual medium, the Coens not only had to capture the essence of No Country for Old Men, but they also had to literally show us what these characters looked like, all the way from their faces to their boots.  McCarthy allowed the reader to fill in quite a few visual and auditory gaps, but the Coens had no such luxury.

And so, in my mind, we were awfully lucky the Coens found the perfect Moss and Chigurh in Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem.  Brolin oozed the silent, capable resourcefulness of Moss while Bardem took a character who had thus been sparsely described and created cinematic gold. 

Chigurh is unsettling in the novel, but in the movie the Coens and Bardem make him a terrifying study of subtle villainy.  I don’t think Bardem raised his voice even once in the movie, but his empty facial expressions and slight voice inflections were more nerve-wracking than any chest-thumping or profanity-laced tirades.  Too often villains simply become the reverse of the protagonist.  Not in No Country for Old Men.  Not by a long shot.  Each character is his own man, far and away.

From a cinematic point of view, the Coens were marvelous with their choice of shots, locations, costumes, props, and acting directions.  There’s a particular scene near the beginning of the movie where a man is strangled while laying on his back upon the floor.  Graphic, yes, but what impressed me to no end is the fact that the Coens made sure the man’s boot heels left hundreds of scuff marks on the tiled floor.  That sort of attention to detail is much appreciated.

Some may feel the Coens offered too violent of a film.  I think it’s important to note that they embellished nothing from the novel.  The movie is one of the purest adaptations I’ve ever seen, and McCarthy wrote one very violent, unapologetic, merciless novel. 

I personally am grateful to the Coens for taking a masterfully written novel and treating its subject matter just as the author intended.  It would seem that because they converted literary art to true cinematic art, they were amply rewarded.

Grindhouse: Planet Terror/Death Proof – A Movie Review

I want to point out that I did not see Grindhouse in the theater; I watched Planet Terror and Death Proof as two separate movies on DVD.  Therefore, I did not get the full “grindhouse” experience as the directors and producers sought to offer in the theater.

That being said, I watched Planet Terror first and absolutely had a blast with it!  Robert Rodriguez directs an ensemble cast featuring Freddy Rodriguez, Rose McGowan, Josh Brolin, and Bruce Willis in a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek zombie movie.  This film was pure, over-the-top action, obviously fake blood and guts galore, and dialogue demanding a straight face.  In other words, Robert Rodriguez knew exactly what sort of “grindhouse” movie he wanted to make and had fun making it.  Planet Terror in no way took itself seriously, and that’s what made it so enjoyable.  I won’t even bother to explain the premise other than to say a military weapon went wrong resulting in a zombie epidemic.  The movie didn’t bother to explain this too thoroughly, so why should I?  In the end, it didn’t matter at all.  Each actor played to their “type” perfectly, and this was just a very fun, hyper-stylistic movie.

Death Proof, on the other hand, represents everything that drives me nuts about today’s Quentin Tarantino (no pun intended).  Look, Pulp Fiction was unlike anything I’d ever seen and will forever be one of my favorites.  But Tarantino, the director of Death Proof, has lost the ability to reign himself in.  He says he wanted to make a movie with the ultimate car chase scene.  Fine.  Mission accomplished.  The other hour and a half is unwatchable, though.  Tarantino gives us an all female cast, scantily clad, spouting horrific dialogue delivered horrifically, which I’m guessing Tarantino found “cool.”  They talk mostly about sex, and as I’m watching it I’m envisioning Tarantino slobbering off-camera over these women he has amassed for his own personal fantasy.  The only saving grace of Death Proof is Rosario Dawson, who lights up the screen, and Kurt Russell, who gives a great performance for half the movie, then a terrible performance for the other half.  Tarantino took himself too seriously with this genre, and thus had the exact opposite effect Planet Terror achieved.  Oh, by the way, Death Proof is about a deranged former stuntman hunting down women and committing vehicular homicide in one case, and attempting to in another. 

My recommendation is to watch Planet Terror and skip Death Proof.  If you must watch Death Proof, I suggest only watching the last half-hour, the incredible car chase; the rest of it is painfully inept.