Film, Writing

Film Review: DUNE – Part One (2021)

Fear that Dune might not meet expectations was, for a long time, the mind killer. Thankfully, that slow death has not come to pass.

Much has been written, on an anxious level, suggesting that the much-awaited adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel should not have been divided into two-parts, a la the recent take on Stephen King’s It, for fear that Dune’s first half might underperform and thereby leave this magisterial tale unfinished. Regardless of box office, one wonders as to the logic of this thought process. Dune has quite clearly been devised, soup to nuts, as a two-part project, and Denis Villeneuve here takes the time he needs to both construct the world around the desert planet Arrakis and the central story of young Paul Atredies with two films in mind. This is not the complete Dune. This is, to quote Zendaya’s Chani, “only the beginning”.

In that sense, we have to approach Dune as such, and judge Part One on the merits of being an incomplete story. Perhaps the greatest strength of this first half is that it contains a beginning, middle and end that satisfies, even while concluding with everything but a ‘to be continued’ legend. Villeneuve successfully manages to introduce Herbert’s vast, complicated futuristic universe, and establish the broader narrative concepts and themes, while providing a rounded cinematic experience. For the first of a two-part story, this is no mean feat, and his achievement lies as deeply in a visual and auditory as it does a structural sense. Dune is a frequently breathtaking, often arresting feast for the eyes which warrants the format it was designed to embrace – IMAX.

It is rare to find filmmaking so assured, so cohesive and so faithful to deeply beloved and classical source material while at the same time providing such a cinematic experience. Dune is a stunning piece of work in that context, one that could well be for the ages.

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Film, Reviews, Stephen King

DOCTOR SLEEP is a Kubrickian xerox with soul and dark beauty (Film Review)

If it’s accepted fact that Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, one suspects Kubrick would have hated Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep.

Primarily because Flanagan (celebrated in the horror community in recent years for projects such as Hush, Oculus & The Haunting of Hill House) doesn’t just put King’s 2013 sequel on the big screen, he actively works to continue the story from Kubrick’s cinematic version, which King has always attested is less faithful to his 1977 novel than the Mick Garris-directed TV mini-series from the 1990’s.

It does feel like King is wishful thinking about a lot of this, though, if you’ve read The Shining. Kubrick added a few of his own touches and flourishes but he sticks close to the plot, and often lifts dialogue from the book. Flanagan does the same here but the singular difference is that Kubrick wasn’t actively aping a director before him. Kubrick was innovating with The Shining. Flanagan is xeroxing. Intentionally, without a doubt, but he’s xeroxing nonetheless as he works to thematically and visually connect Doctor Sleep to the iconic 1980 horror film.

This ultimately works both to the advantage and the detriment of Doctor Sleep as a movie in its own right.

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Essays, Film, The Greatest Showman

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN: Barnum’s biggest con job is on us

There are winds in the east, a storm coming in apparently for the newly released Mary Poppins Returns, if some of the box office reports are accurate.

Forbes are saying that Rob Marshall’s sequel is being seen off quite resoundingly by the surprisingly critically acclaimed Bumblebee, and the fairly divisive Aquaman. The absence of a Star Wars this Christmas for the first time in three years has meant studios have thrown a few major blockbuster candidates into the pot, but it would have been a sure fire bet that family friendly musical Mary Poppins Returns—featuring the half-century long return of one of Disney’s most iconic characters—would rule the roost. This does not seem to be the case so far.

Yet a year ago, another musical, trailing in the wake of The Last Jedi, took audiences increasingly by storm as 2018 kicked off: The Greatest Showman.

To date, Michael Gracey’s film has made $434 million dollars at the global box office, making it the fifth most commercially successful musical of all time. All. Time. In one year. It climbed considerably at the box office on the back of word of mouth, fighting off not just The Last Jedi but other competitors with franchises behind their backs – Pitch Perfect 3 (one of my worst films of 2017) and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. There was over a 70% jump weekend on weekend as the film closed out 2017, which for an original musical, and a 19th century biopic no less, is quite remarkable.

The film collected accolades and nominations for its music, particular the song ‘This Is Me’. In the UK it became only the second album in 30 years to achieve 11 consecutive weeks at number 1. Fans over just the space of a year have started attending ‘sing along showings’ of the film. A sing along version can be watched now on streaming services alongside the traditional way to view it.

This has all been in the space of just 12 months. Can you think of any other film of this genre which has captured the public consciousness in quite the same way in recent years? Only Frozen eclipses it for reach and cultural crossover between children and adults, and that has the advantage of being Disney animation. The Greatest Showman is a live action biopic. How did this happen? And my biggest question, the one that has been rolling around in my head since I watched it a year on from when it was released… how have so many people been conned by it?

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Film, Mission Impossible, Reviews

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT is the most thrilling, bravura entry in the franchise yet

Given the stature and prowess of the Mission Impossible franchise, the sixth movie is not likely to bring the curtain down on this series, but were Fallout to be the swansong for Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, it would quite honestly be a perfect way to bow out.

Everything about Fallout has the sense of an ending. Christopher McQuarrie’s second film as writer/director does numerous things. It fully transforms Mission Impossible, in its twilight years, into his personal baby, on which he stamps his mark in a way not seen since Brian De Palma’s original 1996 adaptation of the 1960’s original TV show.

Fallout is not just a direct sequel to Rogue Nation, despite being the first Mission Impossible film to pick up where the previous one left off, but it also works to tie together from a storytelling perspective every film from Mission Impossible III onwards, while thematically reaching back to John Woo’s derided Mission Impossible II. It teaches a film like James Bond movie Spectre, which retroactively attempted to link Daniel Craig’s 007 into a string of continuity, how it’s done.

Mission Impossible: Fallout might just also boast some of the most intense, robust and powerful sequences of the entire franchise. This is doubly surprising given just how much of it doesn’t even feel like a Mission Impossible film at all.

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Film, Reviews

Franchise Retrospective: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015)

If Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation confirms anything, it’s that the Tom Cruise-fronted franchise has spent almost two decades trying to work its way back to Brian De Palma and back to the roots of where the series began.

In some of my previous pieces on the earlier films in the Mission Impossible franchise, one fact that remains true is how the series consistently reinvents itself every few years in order to stay vibrant and relevant, but oddly enough Rogue Nation on reflection is not as bold a reinvention after 2011’s Ghost Protocol as you might remember. There is greater filmmaking skill involved, with Christopher McQuarrie imbuing more heft into his set pieces than Brad Bird managed in the previous film, while McQuarrie’s script (revised after efforts by Will Staples and before that Drew Pearce, with whom he shares a story credit) certainly has more depth to the storytelling. Beyond that, there is a consistency framing itself between this and Ghost Protocol, one which may well carry through into the next film, Fallout.

Rogue Nation is consistent in how it stylistically reaches back to the first film in the franchise while further mythologising Cruise and his character Ethan Hunt.

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