Denis Villeneuve’s Dune

It’s been a long wait for Dune, but it’s finally here and let me tell you it was worth it. I didn’t get to see it in theatres because my country has gone collectively insane for a minute (hopefully a temporary situation) but it’s a strong testament to Denis Villeneuve and his entire creative team that even on my modest 55” TV with a JBL soundbar, this thing is one powerful spectacle of immense, grandiose science fiction storytelling, a Shakespearean space opera for the ages and the culmination of this filmmaker’s work so far reaching a fever pitch of visual creative energy, motion and sound. Obvious comparisons will be drawn between this and David Lynch’s notorious 1980’s version of Frank Herbert’s novel, but I won’t be making any other than to say I deeply love both films for different reasons, and they are so far removed from one another in style, tone and essence I can’t even place them on the shelf next to one another. The story is told in broad, sweeping strokes with an elemental momentum to both the set pieces of thundering action and soulful, dialogue driven character interaction. Keystone sequences like the Harkonnen invasion, the spice harvester rescue and the Atreides house triumphantly arriving on Arrakis are handled with massive scope, vision, beautiful world building and breathtaking, dreamlike production design. Hans Zimmer’s reliably supersonic score is a bass soaked deep space lullaby, a trancelike composition that echoes his work in Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 while organically blasting into new neural pathways of what is possible in music for film. I thought that Timothee Chalamet might annoy me as Paul, but he’s stellar, almost underplaying the enigmatic budding hero with a layered introspection and genuinely discernible arc from naive youngling prince to rough, rugged desert wanderer. All of the other actors are superb and imbue the characters with a subdued, mesmeric and haunted aura that adds to the spacey atmosphere, apart from Jason Momoa as fierce warrior Duncan Idaho, his performance is lively, brusque and the closest any of the actors get to down to earth. Stellan Skarsgard gives the same sort of villainous turn here as he did in Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur, a wistful, distant and detached yet quietly malicious and rotten bastard of a Baron, like an evil floating Humpty Dumpty, but in a good way. My favourite performance of the film goes to an unassuming Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, a character not featured all that heavily in the marketing but one that comes across as the desperate soul of the film, a loving mother torn between her fealty to a strange sisterhood of weird nun magicians and her love for Paul and Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac is superb) and her people. Ferguson is eerie, wide eyed and charismatic in the type of way that holds you attention raptly, the only performance in this film that feels like it might be at home in Lynch’s version of Dune. The world presented here is tangible, tactile, the special effects are a seamless blend of CGI and practical, the baroque design of dragonfly winged spacecrafts, mammoth ancient pyramids, impossibly detailed metallic frescoes depicting the lore and history of these civilizations are a magisterial tapestry of woven visual creativity, costume design, detailed wildlife and anthropological wonder that will sweep you away into this realm. My only complaint is that, because this is only part one, the air gets sucked out of the room narratively speaking when this thing ends and I felt an aching yearn for the continuation of the story, which it looks like we will now indeed get and I understand that Villeneuve made a wise choice splitting the novel up to let the story breathe, but it still finishes on an airy exhale that leaves you craving more. I’m excited for part two, there are several characters that *are* featured a lot in marketing that only show up for like, five minutes or less, I want to see this story develop further so that I may get to know them, experience more brilliant performances and sink deeper into this gorgeous, hypnotic, mythologically rich universe. Great film.

-Nate Hill

James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad

James Gunn has always been a delightfully rambunctious, perennially irreverent filmmaker whether he’s exploring the realm of sentient alien slugs, sad-sack superhero wannabes or comic book property, which he gets to do once again in The Suicide Squad, one of his very best films yet. He feels more at home in the world of DC than he does in Marvel and it’s not just the larger playground that a hard-R rating gifts him, although that is a *huge* factor given his stylistic tendencies as an artist and his roots in horror, which are on gooey display here as well. The DC stable, particularly villains, just has this dark, perverse edge to it that Marvel can’t match and in creating a maniacal palooza of second tier baddies in a subversive, heavily violent extravaganza he has found a groove and achieved an aesthetic that for the entire two plus hour runtime I wasn’t bored by once. Some of our familiar favourites from the other Suicide Squad naturally return including Harley (Margot Robbie, resplendent in the role of her career), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) as well as welcome new additions like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), Savant (Gunn totem Michael Rooker looking like he walked in from a Rob Zombie flick) the scene stealing Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), impossibly adorable King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) and of course Viola Davis as their game warden Amanda Waller, the cunt to end all cunts. Their missions here include the overthrow of a South American country, constant bickering, shocking team casualties, betrayals, clever skewering of American patriotism, a giant alien starfish, bountiful loads of gratuitous and blessedly gory violence and a clever balancing act between lighthearted, frothy banter and a darker undercurrent of thematic heft that sneaks in the back door and lands with an effective, grounded touch. Obvious comparisons will be made to the 2016 Suicide Squad and I’d like to sideswipe that other than to say I love both films, they’re both very different and the 2016 is what it is, it has its reputation. I do believe this to be the stronger film but I think they both have their place on my shelf, they are M&M’s and Skittles, Pepsi and Coke, or Warheads and Airheads to reference a junk food as obscure as the characters on display here. Gunn has made a rollicking, badass, bizarre yet strangely accessible piece of pop art nutso comic book madness here with many standout moments including an emotional monologue by Ratcatcher (she’s the soul of the film), some stunning technicolor gore effects that call to mind Lovecraft and Carpenter, an Easter egg hunt of many hidden film and literary references, a ballsy, nihilism laced opening sequence wherein some of the characters brutally live up to the title of the film, one instance of Waller *finally* getting a modicum of what she deserves, some painfully on the nose political satire and, in my favourite sequence the film has to offer, a brilliantly placed and paced opportunity for Robbie’s ever awesome Harley to work through the trauma of her past and absolutely TAKE DOWN toxic relationships like the badass boss bitch we all know she is. A wonderful, weird, wild and fantastic film.

Marvel’s Ant Man

In a world of gargantuan Marvel Movie phenomena, it’s nice to see the little guy get some love amidst titans, superheroes and demigods, and by little guy I mean Ant Man, who I recently heard referred to as the underdog of Marvel movie protagonists, and that he is, given adorable slacker charm by Paul Rudd, who couldn’t have been cast better. From InnerSpace to Antibody (first rounds on me if anyone’s heard of that one), the concept of people shrinking down to minuscule size has been a staple of cinema since before The Borrowers said they were doing it before it was cool, and this one, although stubbornly an MCU entry, functions better as a loving throwback to the kind of old school Sci-Fi bliss you’d find someone like Dennis Quaid, Jeff Bridges or Michael Douglas headlining in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Speaking of Douglas, he’s in this, as Dr. Hank Pym, a fancy scientist who should star in his own spinoff/crossover called Honey I Shrunk Paul Rudd, because that’s more or less what happens. Rudd is petty thief Scott Lang, a middle aged dude who acts like he’s twelve until a little fatherly guidance from Pym and a *lot* of snazzy metaphysical science turns him into a microscopic hero. Of course the technology is coveted by a sinister rival scientist, played by Corey Stoll and set set up for this summers sequel as the super villain The Wasp. What I loved so much about this is it knows how to have fun and utilize the potential of it’s premise so effectively. All the scenes involving shrinking have a thoughtful innovation, absurd sense of humour (the toy train crash jump cut killed me) and warped, trippy style. The third act sees a scary malfunction in which he literally can’t stop shrinking and starts to lose himself in molecular infinity, which is probably the coolest or at least most original Sci-fi set piece of any Marvel flick. Joining Rudd and Douglas is whip smart scientist Evangeline Lily (Kate from LOST), and the cast is thick with excellent talent including the lovely Judy Greer as Rudd’s exasperated wife, Bobby Cannavle as her new cop boyfriend, Michael Pena, TI and David Dastmalchian as Rudd’s merry band of thieves, with work from John Slattery and Hayley Atwell to remind us we’re in the Marvel Universe, and a cameo from oddball entertainer Greg Turkington (Baskin Robbins always knows) to remind us this is also a departure for the MCU into something a little more delightfully bizarre. A rockin good time.

-Nate Hill

“You’ve never seen a miracle.” A spoiler free review of Blade Runner 2049 – by Josh Hains 

I can understand why there are some people out there who don’t like this movie. In 1982 Blade Runner wasn’t made for the masses. It was an expensive arthouse sci-fi neo-noir detective story that critics loathed and most couldn’t make heads or tails of. Only over time and through multiple cuts did the movie gain the legendary cult status it carries today. Blade Runner 2049 feels cut from the same cloth. It’s not for everyone, there are those who have seen it and don’t like it, and there will be others who join them over time. Like its predecessor, it’s not an easily accessible movie that everyone can sink their teeth into and enjoy. It’s less easily categorized by younger overtly politically correct audiences that brand everything in sight with unnecessary dehumanizing labels, and given the reputation of its predecessor, it doesn’t much matter who loves or hates it. This movie is for Blade Runner fans, made by a man who calls Blade Runner his favourite movie, likely to grow into a legendary cult status just like Blade Runner before it. It’s better this way.

Blade Runner 2049 follows K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner for the LAPD. It’s his job to track down Nexus 8 replicants and retire them, and he’s quite good at it. He uncovers information that could spark a war between replicants and humans, and sets out to find the long missing, rumored dead Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the legendary Blade Runner from the original film. That’s as far as I’ll get into plot details, it’s obviously better to know little about the actual plot of this movie, despite the plot being pretty easy to piece together. Anyone familiar with film noir ought to know by now that the plot of a noir is never the focus. In noir, plot is a McGuffin, something we the audience chase, much like Sam Spade trying to find the Maltese Falcon, and while the pieces usually fit together rather nicely by films end (unless we’re talking about Night Moves, the 1975 Gene Hackman starring noir detective yarn), the plot is never why you watch a noir, such is the case here.

For the last few years it has said a lot to me when I can count the number of problems I have with a movie on just one hand. In the case of Blade Runner 2049, there were two performances that felt culled from a totally different, and weird, movie. But I chose to overlook those while I was watching the movie, because one performance occupied just one scene, while the other only took up three long scenes (it might have been four, but I could be wrong). Nothing else sticks out in my mind.

Roger Deakins has outdone nearly his entire filmography of gorgeous, spellbinding cinematography, save for The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, which still might be his finest work to date. With the exception of the two performers who will go unnamed, the rest of the cast provided their best performances to date, especially Gosling, Ford, Ana de Armas, and Dave Bautista. And Denis Villeneuve, working from a great script by original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher, and Michael Green (watch American Gods, the Starz series he collaborated on with Bryan Fuller and author Neil Gaiman), and with original director Ridley Scott producing, has crafted a worthy sequel to Blade Runner that captures everything I love about the original yet also feels new, fresh, and exciting.

I don’t know if there’s a such thing as a perfect movie. Maybe there is, and if that’s the case then I’ve seen quite a few. Lawrence Of Arabia, The Godfather Part II, Jaws, and L.A. Confidential, to name a few. And if there’s no such thing as a perfect movie, and if that should be the case then I’ve seen ample imperfect movies that somehow seem perfect amidst whatever flaws others have found in them. I could complain about the first roughly two hours of 2049 feeling like one drawn out (but so damn good) tease leading up to everything I really wanted to see (which takes place in the third act of the film), but I enjoyed all of it so much, so why bother?

When the year started and I had the first teaser trailer for Blade Runner 2049 to watch on a loop, I hoped it would live up to my own expectations. I wasn’t hoping for a movie that would blow my mind six ways to Sunday and change my life somehow. I wasn’t hoping for some easily categorizable, digestible, flawless masterpiece. All I wanted and hoped for was a sequel that would feel like the natural progression of the story I love so much in Blade Runner, that would look born from the same universe yet unique to itself, and would make me feel the way I do when I watch Blade Runner: The Final Cut: awestruck, mesmerized, subtly moved. What I watched Sunday night did exactly that for nearly three hours, and won’t soon be lost in time, like tears in rain.