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Movie Review | ‘Dune: Part Two’ improves on first film’s grand formula

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Movie Review | ‘Dune: Part Two’ improves on first film’s grand formula

When your first movie is a hit, the studio tends to give you more cash to spend on the sequel.

And when your film adapts what essentially is the second half of a book, it tends to be more exciting than the installment that came before it.

Not surprisingly, then, filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s excellent “Dune: Part Two” — in theaters March 1, after being pushed into 2024 as a result of last year’s Hollywood strikes — is greater in scale and more frequently riveting than its strong predecessor, 2021’s six-time Academy Award-winning “Dune.”

This second “Dune,” costing a reported $190 million, isn’t a giant leap forward, the science-fiction epic matching the first ($165 million) precisely in terms of look and tone. And it picks up where “Dune” left off, with possible future messiah Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, mystical Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning”), living among the Fremen, the native people of the remote desert planet Arrakis.

The giant sandworms of the planet Arrakis are an even bigger presence in “Dune: Part Two” than they were in 2021’s “Dune.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

In case you need a refresher, “Dune” and “Dune: Part Two” are based on Frank Herbert’s influential 1965 novel “Dune,” a work interested in ecological themes, among others.

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In Herbert’s world — set thousands of years in the future and following humanity winning a war against artificial intelligence — computers are outlawed in the universe. Instead, to traverse space, folks depend on spice, the mind-altering substance that grows in the sands of Arrakis. As a result, control of the otherwise desolate planet is important — so important that it cost Paul his father and saw the great House Atreides fall to the merciless types of House Harkonnen.

Now, the prescient Paul desires to express his distinct displeasure with what has happened to that house’s leader, the grotesque Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård, “Andor”), and the man pulling the strings from above him, the Emperor (Christopher Walken, “The Deer Hunter”), seen in “Part Two” for the first time.

“Your father didn’t believe in revenge,” Jessica reminds her son.

“Well I do,” Paul responds.

Paul wishes to learn the ways of the Fremen, who exist in the harsh lands of Arrakis despite the ever-present threat of the giant sandworms and do not appreciate outsiders coming to take the planet’s valuable resource. Fortunately for Paul, a key Fremen, Stilgar (Javier Bardem, “No Country for Old Men”), believes him to be the prophesied off-worlder who will lead the Fremen to a better existence. Paul isn’t so sure about that, and neither are others, among them Chani (Zendaya “Spider-Man: No Way Home”) — literally the woman of his spice-fueled dreams and to whom, of course, he grows closer in this film.

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As the story progresses, Paul works to pass tests administered by Stilgar to prove his worth; encounters an old friend and mentor in Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin, “Avengers: End Game”); and faces a new and possibly more dangerous enemy in Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), the psychopathic nephew of the baron, who rises to power as his brother, Beast Rabbanas (Dave Bautista, “Guardians of the Galaxy”), struggles to defeat the constantly attacking Fremen.

Most importantly, Paul wants to avoid the potentially catastrophic results of choosing the path he takes in his visions. However, other forces, including his mother — traveling her own rise to power in this chapter — may pull him there nonetheless.

Visually, at least, “Dune: Part Two” is a masterpiece. With contributions from returning contributors including director of photography Greig Fraser, production designer Patrice Vermette, editor Joe Walker, visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert and costume designer Jacqueline, the film is regularly wondrous while also presenting a very gritty and lived-in world. It is a sight to behold, for example, every time Fremen warriors rise from the sand and charge at the Harkonnen spice-harvesting operation. Ultimately, we seldom get world-building as stunning as what Villeneuve has offered with these two films.

Like the 2021 release, “Part Two” is a little slow at times, not a shock given its two-and-a-half-hour-plus runtime. Even still, this is yet more topnotch filmmaking from Villeneuve, whose previous directorial efforts include the outstanding films “Sicario” and “Blade Runner 2049.” He knows how to pull you into a story and keep you invested, even a narrative as strange and sprawling as that of “Dune.”

Villeneuve co-wrote the screenplay with another returning collaborator Jon Spaihts (“Doctor Strange”), the tandem continuing to show tremendous work in the realm of adaptation, bringing to the screen only what we need for a compelling tale.

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Within the frame, Chalamet (“Wonka,” “Call Me by Your Name”), as he was in the first film, is merely a semi-engaging hero — that is until a rousing late-affair scene where the actor goes big and truly impresses. It’s a performance that’s needed to sell what’s to follow, and sell it he does.

The cast is too large to do much more singling out, but know that Butler, following impressive performances in projects including “Elvis” and “Masters of the Air,” is rather terrifying as the especially horrendous Harkonnen. Feyd-Rautha is one-dimensional and a disappointingly underdeveloped character, but Butler is terrifying as the villain all the same.

The huge ensemble of “Dune: Part Two” also includes notable newcomers in Florence Pugh (“Black Widow”), as Princess Irulan, daughter of the Emperor, and Léa Seydoux (“No Time to Die”), as Lady Fenring, an enigmatic Bene Gesserit who pays a visit to Feyd-Rautha. Both actors get relatively little screen time, but one imagines they could get significantly more in a third “Dune.”

As you’d expect given that Herbert penned sequels to “Dune,” there is room for this story to continue. And as likely as a “Dune: Part Three” is to be green-lit, there are reasons to suspect it won’t arrive as quickly as this film has.

Regardless of when it arrives, with the gift Villeneuve so far has illustrated for spice-navigating us through space, we’ll follow him back to Arrakis as beyond.

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“Dune: Part Two” is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some suggestive material and brief strong language. Runtime: Two hours, 46 minutes.

 

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Humane (2024) – Review | Dystopian Family Thriller | Heaven of Horror

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Humane (2024) – Review | Dystopian Family Thriller | Heaven of Horror

How to reduce the population in a humane way

In Humane, which takes place in one single afternoon, but based on events that have happened over decades, a family is forced to deal with an ecological collapse. Basically, we need to reduce Earth’s population now, so the question becomes; How can we do that as a society in a humane way?

Hot tip: You need to pay attention to everything being said in the background during the opening credits!

Of course, there isn’t anything humane about having to eliminate a large percentage of the population. And yet, money can help, so a new euthanasia program has been made. Basically, you can volunteer to be “put down!

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A very different take on the euthanasia plot here >

Your family will be by your side as you say goodbye to them and they will also get a pretty penny for your sacrifice. Clearly, this scheme leads to mostly poor people and immigrants signing up, as they can then help their children and grandchildren to a better life.

That’s why it’s such a shock when a recently retired newsman – who has plenty of wealth to last a few lifetimes – invites his four grown children to dinner to announce that he has enlisted for the euthanasia program.

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Of course, nothing is as simple as described in the commercials constantly playing on TV to enlist volunteers. So, when the father’s plan goes wrong, full-blown chaos erupts among the four siblings, and they end up fighting each other to survive.

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There’s Still Tomorrow (2023) – Movie Review

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There’s Still Tomorrow (2023) – Movie Review

There’s Still Tomorrow, 2023.

Directed by Paola Cortellesi.
Starring Paola Cortellesi, Valerio Mastandrea, Romana Maggiora Vergano, Emanuela Fanelli, Giorgio Colangeli, and Vinicio Marchioni.

SYNOPSIS:

Trying to escape from the patriarchy in the Italian post-war society, Delia plots an act of rebellion against her violent husband.

Italian Cinema has had its share of triumphs over the years with the likes of Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini helping to define European Cinema of the mid 1900s. There’s Still Tomorrow from Star and Director Paola Cortellesi, proves that there is still plenty of life left in Italian Cinema. It has earned rave reviews and proven to be the most successful film of 2023 in Italy and the ninth highest-grossing film of all time there.

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Set in Rome in 1946, it follows Delia (Cortellisi), caught in a loveless marriage, struggling to put food on the table. Delia cares for their three young children and is also expected to tend to her bedridden father-in-law.  The Rome we follow is far from the more glamorous one we tend to see now, more like something in Rome Open City, with the effects of the war apparent, with a sizable US military presence still in place.

It has rightly earned plaudits and the way Cortellisi has balanced the period elements with neorealism is worth singling out. On paper this shouldn’t work, feeling often like a drama lifted straight from the era but also with a striking, contemporary edge to it, buoyed by some of the musical choices. The likes of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Outkast helping to lend it a ferocious energy and give it a sense of purpose. As far as debuts go this is incredibly ambitious but it never succumbs to striving for too much, miraculously finding balance throughout.

While the action is kept largely to Delia and her family it is gripping with plenty of impressive traits from our first-time director from the use of music and dance to slow motion. Davide Leone’s cinematography is striking and perfectly captures the downbeat nature of post-war Rome.

There’s Still Tomorrow is a wonderful blend of 1940s Italian Cinema and melodrama with a distinctly modern edge to it, landing this awkward balance for the most part. It will be intriguing to see whether international audiences take to it quite as strongly but as Italian as it feels, there is a global appeal to it, of a woman trying to escape a horrendous situation and reclaim her life. It is a very impressive debut and we can only hope Paola Cortellisi directs more in future. It is an unpredictable love letter to Italian cinema and this particular era in Italian society that wears its heart on its sleeve and is hard not to be enamoured with.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

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Chris Connor

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

 

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Movie Review: Prepare to get hot and bothered with stylish, synthy tennis drama 'Challengers'

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Movie Review: Prepare to get hot and bothered with stylish, synthy tennis drama 'Challengers'

“Challengers” is a bit of a tease. That’s what makes it fun.

There is plenty of skin, sweat, close-ups of muscly thighs and smoldering looks of lust and hate in this deliriously over-the-top psychodrama. But get that image of Josh O’Connor, Zendaya and Mike Faist sitting together on the bed out of your mind. Most of this action takes place on the tennis court.

It’s still a sexy tennis movie about friendship, love, competition and sport set to a synth-y score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross — it just might not contain exactly what you think it does. But remember, Luca Guadagnino is the one who filmed Timothée Chalamet with that peach, perhaps more memorable than any actual sex scene from the past decade. Manage expectations, but also trust.

And like “Call Me By Your Name” did for Chalamet, “Challengers” is one of those rare original big-screen delights that firmly announces the arrival of a new generation of movie stars. Zendaya and Faist already had a bit of a leg up. She has played significant supporting roles in some of the biggest movies of the past few years, from “Spider-Man” to “Dune,” and he had had his big cinematic breakthrough as Riff in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” But it’s O’Connor who really comes out on top, effectively shedding any lingering image of him as a whiny, dweeby Prince Charles in seasons three and four of “The Crown.” In “Challengers,” his Patrick Zweig is the cocky, flirty, slightly mean, slightly dirty and slightly broken bad boyfriend of our fictional dreams.

Written by playwright Justin Kuritzkes (who is married to “Past Lives” filmmaker Celine Song) “Challengers” is a prickly treat, about fractured relationships, egos, infidelity and ambition. Set during a qualifying match at the New Rochelle Tennis Club, outside New York City, the intricately woven story reveals itself through flashbacks that build to a crescendo in the present-day match.

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O’Connor’s Patrick and Faist’s Art are old boarding school roommates turned tennis teammates. It’s a relationship that’s at turns brotherly, erotic and competitive. Whatever it is, they are definitely too close and not remotely prepared for Zendaya’s Tashi Duncan to enter the mix.

Tashi, in high school, is well on her way to becoming the next big tennis superstar. Art and Patrick watch her play, mouths agape at her technical form and physical beauty. Later, they both ask for her number, leading to a revealing night in a grungy hotel room. She promises her number to the one who wins the singles match the next day. Tashi just wants to see some good tennis, she says, but she also knows how to motivate and manipulate.

This image released by Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures shows Zendaya in a scene from “Challengers.” Credit: AP/Niko Tavernise

Because of the fractured timeline, we know that Tashi in the present day does not play tennis anymore. She was injured at some point and never recovered, unlike her husband, Art, who is now one of the most famous players in the world. The two of them are wildly wealthy, living in a ritzy hotel and fronting Aston Martin ad campaigns. At night, Tashi uses Augustinus Bader cream to moisturize her legs. Guadagnino, who likes to wink at and luxuriate in wealth signifiers, enlisted JW Anderson designer Jonathan Anderson to do the costumes, which will surely populate summer style inspiration boards the way his “A Bigger Splash” and “Call Me By Your Name” have in the past.

But while they are technically at the top, Art is also on a losing streak, so Tashi sends him to a low-stakes tournament where he can get his confidence back. That’s where they encounter Patrick, who has not been so fortunate over the years and who has fallen out with his old friends. Of course, it’s all building to Patrick and Art playing one another in the final match, a part of which is so wildly and comically drawn out that you can almost envision the “Saturday Night Live” spoof.

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“Challengers” is a drama, but a funny and self-aware one. It doesn’t take itself very seriously and has a lot of fun with its characters, all three of which are anti-heroes in a way. You might have a favorite, but you’re probably not rooting for anyone exactly — just glued to the screen to see how it all plays out on and off the court.

“Challengers,” an MGM release in theaters Friday, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for “language throughout, some sexual content and graphic nudity.” Running time: 131 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

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