Dune: Film Review

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

I’m a huge fan of Denis Villeneuve, Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya and Jason Momoa (and basically everyone else in this cast) so naturally, I was keen to see Dune, even if the trailers never got me hyped.

This sci-fi epic, part one of a planned two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name, follows the noble House Atreides – Duke Leto (Isaac), his concubine Lady Jessica (Ferguson) and their son Paul (Chalamet) – as they are awarded the stewardship of the dangerous desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the valuable drug spice, which can give people powers and extend human life. House Harkonnen, led by Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), the former steward of Arrakis, is outraged with this decision and mounts an attack against House Atreides.

First things first – make sure you watch Dune on the big screen. It is a stunning visual spectacle and a jaw-dropping cinematic experience that has gorgeous cinematography and feels so epic in terms of scope and scale. It’s also a filmmaking feat, given that the majority of it was shot in the harsh desert conditions of Jordan and the UAE. Hats off to Villeneuve for taking on the ambitious and almost impossible task of bringing Herbert’s complex novel to life and making it into an accessible film that is easy enough for newcomers like me, who haven’t read the book, to understand.

The film is super overwhelming at the start as the world-building is complicated and there are so many new characters, words, places and concepts to wrap your head around. It took a while for me to get into it as I was thrown in the deep end and I found myself actively trying to remember everything, thinking it might be important going forward. People who have read the book or seen the previous film adaptation probably won’t have this issue, but to my fellow newcomers, don’t worry – I think it’s presented in quite a digestible way that won’t spoil your enjoyment of the film.

While I could appreciate that this is an amazing piece of cinema, I was never truly invested in the story. I never got swept up in it, felt like I had a character to truly root for, or had any emotional or visceral response when bad things happened. I don’t want to spoil anything but there’s a point in Dune where it becomes a different kind of film and it starts to drag. The movie is also epic in terms of length – 2 hours and 35 minutes – but there’s a lot to pack in so it only starts to feel that long after this point. However, I know that this was done so the film could get to a logical halfway point to conclude part one and tease part two.

It’s an embarrassment of riches in terms of the calibre of actors Villeneuve has assembled for Dune. Chalamet does well as a young boy who is conflicted, vulnerable and with a tremendous responsibility on his shoulders – not only is he expected to succeed his father as ruler but he is learning his mother’s mind powers. Momoa has a warm and friendly personality as Duncan Idaho (who also gets some cool fights) and Skarsgard was suitably vile and disgusting as the Baron. Zendaya and Javier Bardem were fine as Chani and Stilgar, the Fremen, the people native to Arrakis. They don’t have much screen time but this looks set to change in part two.

My favourite was Ferguson, she brought a really interesting dimension to the story as a member of the Bene Gisseret, a sisterhood of women with mind powers. I loved that she had so much hidden power and was more dangerous than her husband and all his physically strong men. She is also deeply worried about the visions she’s seen and how Paul is coping with his training so she’s really in touch with her emotions, much more so than any other character.

Dune is an impressive piece of filmmaking and one that needs to be witnessed at the cinema. I never really warmed to the story but I loved the cast, the cinematography and Hans Zimmer‘s score.

In cinemas from Thursday 21st October

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Malcolm & Marie: Netflix Film Review

Malcolm & Marie

I love Zendaya and her work with Sam Levinson on Euphoria so I had high hopes for their lockdown project Malcolm & Marie and went in really wanting to love it. But I had a lot of problems with it.

The film opens with Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya) coming home from the premiere of his new movie. It has been a great success and looks to be the defining film of his career, so naturally, Malcolm is on cloud nine, but Marie is clearly unhappy about something. Their argument begins because he failed to thank her in his speech, even though she was the inspiration for his film, and escalates from there throughout the night.

Because this film is so simplistic (it’s literally just two people arguing in a house), there is nowhere to hide – you have to bring your A-game or the whole thing falls apart, and thankfully, both leads do. Washington plays this passionate hot-headed man who says hurtful things just for the sake of being mean, but Zendaya is far more effective as her rage is simmering below the surface and she generally keeps her voice quiet and controlled. She is sensational; she shows off her impressive range and is the emotional centre of the story. Washington doesn’t let the side down and serves as a great sparring partner, but his character could have done with more nuance and texture as he was like a bulldozer in comparison to Zendaya’s Marie.

I also loved the concept, how the entirety of the house is used throughout the movie, the music by Labrinth, plus their entrance and initial conversation about the reception to his movie. I enjoyed how their argument evolved and how the power dynamics shifted over the course of the film and I thought Marie was written very well.

However, Levinson’s screenplay loses its way when it goes off on a tangent from the central focus of their relationship. He’s clearly got a lot to say about film critics and there is a section in Malcolm & Marie in which Washington lets rip and goes off on this long stream of consciousness rant about a review and I couldn’t help but feel Levinson was using Malcolm as a stand-in to unleash his personal agenda on a critic in real life. This rant went on far too long and felt unnecessary. This is where I started to lose my patience with the film.

Malcolm & Marie is a trying and exhausting film because you are simply watching a couple arguing, yelling, and verbally abusing each other for almost two hours. There are moments of peace here and there but otherwise, it’s pretty relentless, so the whole thing should have been much shorter. It’s A LOT. I wouldn’t call it an enjoyable watch but I can appreciate many elements about it, most notably Zendaya’s performance. This was clearly designed as a showcase for her talents and what an impressive showcase it is!

Streaming on Netflix from Friday 5th February

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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