Before we get started. Word of Advice: See it in IMAX! That’s all.
This was the big one. Literally. Out of all the films at Venice, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was indisputably the big ticket film on this years festival. Not only in terms of (IMAX) size, scale, scope and star-power but also in terms of how much hangs in the balance.
Many have tried before to adapt Frank Herberts’s renowned sci-fi novel before with varying degrees of success. But if anyone seemed like the right fit to take on Herbert’s space epic and do it justice, it was Denis Villeneuve. The man’s CV speaks for itself, with recent sci-fi gems like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 under his belt. But with Villeneuve’s decision to split the acclaimed novel into 2 parts and Warner Bros controversial decision to release the film both in cinemas and on HBO Max at the same time. Many were worried (myself included) that we might see another repeat of what happened to Blade Runner 2049 – raved by critics but poor box office performance. Will Villeneuve’s blend of mainstream grandeur and artistic integrity render Dune part 2 doomed to exist?
Well, fear not. After an uproarious response from critics and cinemagoers at Venice and TIFF. I would bet my first born child that Villeneuve will get to see his vision come to fruition with Part 2. People would riot if he didn’t because the film is simply too damn good. Warner Brothers have offically stated that as as long as Dune’s numbers are strong on HBO Max then part 2 will be green-lit regardless of box office numbers.
I can only imagine what a relief that must feel to the die-hard Dune fans but for someone like myself who had zero knowledge of the books and previous adaptations going into Dune, I too am beyond ecstatic to know I’ll get to see how part 2 will play out.
The added benefit of never having read the book or having seen David Lynch’s 1984 version or the early 2000’s TV series, is I had no preexisting knowledge or expectations for Villeneuve’s film. I had nothing to compare it too so I could go in as a blank slate and judge objectively for myself.
I will admit after reading the synopsis, I was worried that a story so vast as this would be a challenge for me to keep up. Thankfully that was not the case. Not once did I feel lost watching Dune. The exposition is handled extremely well. Villeneuve has taken newcomers by the hand and explained the universe in a way that is very easy to digest. So those worrying it might not be accessible to all audiences – if I can keep up with it, then anyone can.
The year is 10191. Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Issac) of Calden is tasked by the emporer with the stewardship of the deadly desert planet of Arrakis (also known as Dune). Arrakis is home to the most valuable resource in the universe known as spice which can extend a human life span and is the key to space travel. So naturally, whoever holds Arrakis holds the power.
Leto intends to mine the planet for spice but he also takes his Concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) down to Arrakis in hopes of teaching his son how to become the leader he needs to be. By forging an alliance with the native inhabitants of Arrakis known as Fremen his people will know peace and prosperity when Paul becomes Duke.
However, when house Atreides learns of a spy within their rankings Lady Jessica and Paul must venture into the Arrakis desert to find the Fremen for help. Which is no small task as the desert lands are populated by 400m-long burrowing, man-eating Sandworms.
Villeneuve certainly sets the stage for bigger things to come in part 2 but despite being only one half of the story, part 1 completely works as a standalone film.
The praise knows no bound for this film. Every department harmonises succinctly with the next.
The casting alone – while admittedly it’s a tad boastful in it’s star-studded lineup but truly, everybody is exceptional. To go through the cast and effusively sing their praises one-by-one would be a waste of a word-count, so I’ll say everyone fits their role like a glove but I’ll call special mention to a few.
Timothée Chalamet has been a star for years but Dune just solidifies the fact he will be gracing our screens as a leading man for decades to come. As Paul he finds just the right balance of boyish naivety and inner strength. Thanks to his Concubine mother’s lineage, Paul has gifts such as prophetic dreams and mind manipulation but he’s not quite mastered them yet. But where the film leaves us with Paul is tantalisingly teasing.
Rebecca Ferguson does most of the emotional heavy-lifting as Lady Jessica. A mother role that’s pleasantly full of surprises. Ferguson shines here. If the Academy weren’t so genre-biased towards sci-fi I would say she is worthy of best supporting actress nomination.
Many were concerned due to the early trailer footage of Jason Momoa, that he would be coasting on his Aquaman charisma but his Duncan is sincerely heartfelt.
And Stellan Skarsgård is frighteningly good as Baron Harkonnen. He might be caked in makeup and buried in a fat-suit but his stunning performance beams through.
On the technical side, every single department hits the bullseye. There’s a visible fusion of Eastern inspiration between Patrice Vermette’s production design, Bob Morgan and Jacqueline West’s costumes and Greig Fraser’s cinematography. They all should be receiving Oscar nominations next year.
But not only do Villeneuve’s dazzling visuals cascade off the screen. They’re complimented perfectly by Hans Zimmer’s immaculate score. For the past decade Zimmer has been synonymous with the Bwom-heavy soundtracks of the Tenties thanks to his game-changing score for Inception. Now he will be known as the man who pulled off the impossible; the man who made bloody bagpipes sound epic as fuck. For real. His majestic score is nothing short of astonishing.
One really has to go searching for faults with Dune and the only thing that might be concerning to some viewers is Dune is not a particularly funny film. The two humorous lines from the trailers are essentially all you get in terms of comedic relief. But I personally found the lack of snarky Marvel-esque humour refreshing. The truth is, the film simply doesn’t need it – not when the characters are this interesting and the world building is so immersive. Villeneuve’s preference to shoot as much on location rather than green screen sound-stages helps to make Dune one of the most transportive films of late memory. You can practically feel the Arrakis sand beneath your feet.
Dune is the reason we go to the cinema. It’s movies like this which is why I do what I do – to get lost and absorbed in story. Many considered the source material unadaptable for the big screen but in the hands of Denis Villeneuve, he’s truly made the impossible possible. Much like what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings, Villeneuve has made a film for the fanboys (and the critics) but he’s also made it completely accessible to newcomers. Dune is cinema at its most ambitious, boldest and most beautiful.
Dune is having a staggered worldwide release over late September and October. It will be available on HBO Max regionally as the same time as cinemas. But please, I cannot stress this enough; go see Dune in the cinema. IMAX if possible. THIS IS CINEMA! No home theatre system can do this film justice.
For more of Luke’s coverage from the Venice Film Festival be sure to check out his YouTube Channel.
Triangle of Sadness | Movie Review | Cannes Film Festival 2022
The last time Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund was in Cannes he went home with the Palme D’or for his satire on the pretentious world of art culture; The Square – that was back in 2017. Now 5 years later he has returned to the croisette to debut his shape-related follow-up; Triangle of Sadness which has caused the most noticeable slice of fanfare in the festival lineup this year. Östlund’s new film received an 8 minute standing ovation after its gala screening – the longest (and loudest) of the festival thus far. Might he be looking at back-to-back Palmes? We shall find out in a few days time.
At first upon hearing the title of this film I presumed the “triangle of sadness” might refer to a love triangle within the narrative. However, as explained in the opening scene when model Carl (Harris Dickinson) is practicing his catwalk for a panel of casting agents. The triangle actually refers to a triangular patch of skin between a persons eyebrows and across the bridge of their nose – which Carl can’t seem to relax. They mutter that the twenty-something might need botox.
Knowing his best days as a model are in the rear view mirror, Carl and his fellow catwalk model girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) hatch a plan to travel the world as a pair of super-hot influencers. They see their relationship as transactional. A means to boost each others followings so that when their expiration date arrives on their youth, they can live off the earnings and sponsorship deals they acquire off of Instagram. They’re given a free trip aboard a luxury yacht which brings us to act 2 appropriately titled “the yacht”.
That’s as far as I’m going to go into detail regarding the plot because anything else would be spoiling it. But let’s just say from here on out the remainder of the film is wild.
Triangle of Sadness is definitely a less-you-know-the-better prior to going into but it is a rapturous delight. I laughed so hard it actually hurt. Marketing for this film has been very scarce (and for good reason), what happens on board the yacht can only be described as pandemonium. It’s best to just go into this one and let the madness unfold.
Östlund has always been a filmmaker who likes to make his audience squirm. The Square was jam-packed with deliciously awkward scenes which see typically privileged characters being subjected to uncomfortable circumstances. And he’s brought the same serrated satirical wit to Triangle of Sadness.
There’s so many brilliantly awkward scenes in Triangle. In fact the opening act is simply one long argument between the Carl and Yaya about who should pick up the cheque at a restaurant. It’s a humorous unpacking of societal expectations when it comes to gender roles. And when it comes to the subject of money, class and wealth – Östlund leaves no stone unturned.
There’s numerous pointed little scenes onboard the yacht which highlight the tone-deafness of it’s predominantly white and exceedingly wealthy guests. One snobby passenger isn’t happy with the cleanliness of the ships sails – despite the fact its a motorised yacht which has no sails. There’s a very telling shot where Vicki Berlin’s head steward is getting her team of Aryan crew members to stomp and clap like a New Zealand rugby team. Screaming to “always say yes” in hopes of a receiving a generous tip. Östlund then immediately cuts to the deck below where the ship labourers are cramped into one room and all have brown skin.
With its jabs at the privileged, Triangle of Sadness is in many ways a companion piece to Östlund’s The Square but when it comes to the comedy he’s really cranked it up a notch in Triangle. This time he’s gone more raucous. There’s an entire set piece that revolves around projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea – which I found thigh-slappingly funny. Normally I find toilet humour a bit cheap but the way that Östlund gradually builds to this audacious set piece is a masterful display of set up and payoff. And because Östlund’s script is so biting and sharp, when it does come to the gross-out stuff it feels truly earned.
Triangle satirises class, white privilege, the fashion and modelling industries, influencer culture, gender politics and the super rich. It’s not saying anything that we don’t already know but it’s very much in on the joke.
There’s a recurring theme in the film that everybody is equal but this sentiment is often hilariously juxtaposed by the ships crazy-rich guests which highlights that while they see themselves as equal – some are clearly more equal than others.
The performances are wickedly fun to watch. Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean make a wonderfully vacuous pair of self-absorbed influencers. There’s also fantastic work from many of the ships characters such as Zlatko Buric who plays a Russian philanthropist who made his millions in fertiliser and got dubbed “the king of shit”. He has a marvellous scene with the ships boozed-up captain played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson. And Dolly De Leon also gets a memorable part as the ships toilet manager Abigail.
As for negatives; the film will probably be a bit too long for some at two hours and thirty minutes but Östlund’s screenplay is such a joyous laugh-a-minute ride that it can be easily forgiven. At times its a little self-indulgent and a couple sequences go on a fraction longer than they need too. There’s a few minor scenes that could’ve been taking out easily without the film losing its message – such as a scene about engagement rings and another where a character finds some aftershave.
Triangle of Sadness is tremendous follow-up for Ruben Östluand. It’s off-the-rails but in the most entertaining way imaginable. A probing satire about the elite 1% which will have you howling at the cinema. Make sure to catch it in cinema surrounded by others.
Triangle of Sadness premiered in competition at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Stay up to date with Luke’s coverage from the Cannes Film Festival via Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and TikTok @lukehearfield
Cha Cha Real Smooth | Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review
After his first feature film Shithouse won the Grand Jury Prize for Best narrative Feature at SXSW in 2020, writer/director/actor Cooper Raiff is back with his second film, Cha Cha Real Smooth, and it’s sure to be the crowd-pleasing film of Sundance 2022.
After having recently graduated from college, 22-year-old Andrew (played by writer/director Cooper Raiff) is stuck back at home living with his family in New Jersey unsure of his career path going forward. After taking his younger brother David to a bar mitzvah, Andrew discovers one thing that he is very good at- partying. This makes him the perfect candidate for a job starting parties at all the local bar and bat mitzvahs.
It’s at one of these bar mitzvahs that Andrew meets single mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (played by Vanessa Burghardt, an autistic actor) and he finally discovers a future that he wants after striking up a strong bond with both Domino and Lola.
Much like with his first film Shithouse, Raiff fills Cha Cha Real Smooth completely full to the brim with emotion and with characters that feel so real and honest. Raiff proves himself as an absolute gem both behind the camera and in front of it as it’s a film that has so much heart to it. The cast are all fantastic which only fuels these characters and makes them stand out even more so that they really feel like real people.
Once again Raiff has created such complex characters with so much beneath the surface to the extent that if anyone of these characters were the protagonist it would still be an interesting film. If the film focused on Andrew’s brother, or his mum, or Domino or Lola instead of making Andrew the protagonist it would still be just as interesting a film. And so to have Andrew as well as all of these other characters makes for a really compelling film.
As the title of the film hints at, we do get to experience the Cha Cha Slide at one of the bar mitzvahs in the film and it’s a wild one. But as well as being very funny, Cha Cha Real Smooth is incredibly emotional. There’s a conversation around the midpoint of the film about depression and about what it feels like and the writing hits so hard, along with Raiff and Johnson’s fantastic delivery that you can’t help but start welling up.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is charming in every single aspect and it’s the best film of Sundance 2022 so far. Raiff is certainly one to watch going forward.
Cha Cha Real Smooth premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Living | Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review
Remakes seem like such a frequent occurrence these days that there’s often very little reason to make them beyond people liking the original so the filmmakers hope the remake will be just as successful. And with Living being a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 classic Ikiru it was always going to have big shoes to fill. Whilst Living never fully justifies its own existence, nor does it get anywhere close to the heights of Kurosawa’s classic, it’s still a powerful watch nonetheless.
Living switches up the setting and takes place in 1950s post-World War II Britain where we meet Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) a veteran civil servant and bureaucrat working in a government office. Much like in the original film, upon discovering he has a terminal illness his outlook on life completely changes and he looks for the meaning of life. He realizes that he’s spent his whole life passively going about his day and he hasn’t truly lived. And it’s only now that his days are numbered that he wants to experience life to the fullest.
He keeps the news of his condition from his son and daughter in law and uncharacteristically starts avoiding the office in search of meaning in his remaining days. He’s determined to get a children’s playground built that the local mothers have been campaigning for despite the fact that him and his colleagues have failed to do so yet.
Oliver Hermanus directs this reimagining with poignancy and to some level he captures the essence of Kurosawa’s film. The film’s London setting works well for the story and 1950s London is lovingly recreated with such great detail and the film displays an incredible look to it that right from the opening really makes you feel like you’re there in post-war Britain. Nighy excels as Mr. Williams with a graceful performance that in tandem with the film’s charming score and elegant writing makes for a stunning film about what it means to live.
However Living never fully hits anywhere nearly as hard as Ikiru does. After finishing Ikiru the film leaves you completely floored and contemplating your entire existence as a human being on planet Earth. After watching Living you don’t come out with that same feeling. Granted, it is a very difficult feeling to capture and to reproduce and Living does get some part of the way there, it’s representation of life’s purpose never quite feels as strong as it does in Kurosawa’s film. And as a result, Living’s own purpose as a film is never fully expressed. It’s an excellent film that does really touch you at times, it’s just a very pale shadow of Ikiru.
Living is one of those films that on its own merits is a very good film, anchored by a remarkably moving performance from Nighy, it’s just that Ikiru in all its glory looms over the film and it just can’t escape that and it never reaches anywhere close to the greatness of Kurosawa. It was always going to be a difficult task and Living does take a pretty good stab at it, but it still didn’t really need to be made.
Living premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
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