DUNE (2021)

Extraordinary and epic, this new adaption of Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 sci-fi novel doesn’t just demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible, it questions whether there exists a screen large enough to do justice to this Lawrence of Arabia meets Apocalypse Now space opera.

Directed with a relentless majesty by Denis Villeneuve, the Canadian takes the tremendous sense of scale he essayed in Blade Runner 2049 and beats it mercilessly into a cocked hat as he crafts a tale of cosmic proportions.

Assembling the considerable weapons of the Hollywood arsenal such as a huge budget, state of the art special effects, a pantheon of big name stars and a well known intellectual property, Villeneuve allies them to his astonishing vision and outstanding technical ability to deliver thumping action and spectacle on an out-of-this-world scale.

Starring as Paul, a young man is stripped of his wealth and status, and outcast on a dessert planet where he begins to develop his mystical mind control powers, Timothee Chalamet further cements his heartthrob-with-talent status with a nuanced performance geared to character development.

If this setting all sounds familiar then you won’t be surprised to find there’s also an evil all-powerful empire and a brutal lord as the villain who commands an army of faceless stormtroopers.

Dune was one of the key texts influencing Star Wars supremo George Lucas, but where he leant into the comedy, Villeneuve’s broadly faithful and respectful version embraces the slowly unfolding tragedy.

With its litany of betrayals and battles Dune is at times extraordinarily exciting, yet the script has time to explore contemporary concerns such as resource scarcity and colonialism. It’s a film rich with its own internal history and yet also is remarkably intimate, exploding with charisma as humanity blooms across the desert with romance, loyalty and love to spare.

Paul’s dreams are filled with visions of a beautiful woman of the desert planet Arrakis, as she’s played by Zendaya this seems perfectly reasonable for a person of his age. And the accomplished actress brings much needed humour as she casts her lines with a delivery even more dry than Arrakis. Fans may feel short changed by her screen time, but her charisma allows her to make an impression even among this most manly of company.

Paul’s troop of macho role models are played by Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Jason ‘Aquaman’ Momoa, and it’s the latter who’s swagger is closest the film has to a Han Solo character. Opposing them is the considerable muscle of Dave Bautista and Stellan Skarsgard.

This remorseless machismo is partially offset the icy presence of Charlotte Rampling, and a ferociously commanding Rebecca Ferguson, who’s quite astonishing at conveying the complex layers of emotions and pain involved in being Paul’s mother as she guides him to his destiny.

Meanwhile Sharon Duncan-Brewster is given the gender-flipped role of Dr. Liet-Kynes, and makes it her own with a subtly powerful performance of openly guarded wit and grace.

Villeneuve treats his audience as adults by throwing in Herbert’s vocabulary of ‘Fremen’, ‘Mentat’, ‘Bene Gesserit’ and so on, but this is no more puzzling than Sith, Jedi, and so on. Besides, the storytelling is so well rendered you could follow the story without the dialogue. Puny humans being terrorised by giant sand worms looks the same whatever language the characters are screaming in.

Plus with the outrageous phallic symbolism of the hero having to master an enormous worm as proof of his manhood, it’s difficult not to imagine Herbert smuttily giggling to himself as he conceived the idea, and laughing out loud as he dared himself to write it.

In a film of wondrous design, it’s the rotating winged aircraft resemble mechanical insects, called ‘thopters, which make you gasp, and stand alongside the Eagle craft of TV’s Space 1999 as a classic of sci-fi iconography.

Complementing the monumental cinematography of Greig Fraser, who’s work can next be seen in next year’s superhero neo-noir, The Batman, Hans Zimmer’s score is a teeth-rattling achievement, even for this noted composer of titanic-sized themes, and Zimmer seems to have invented a new language of noise, which blends seamlessly into the equally unique and thunderous soundscape.

David Lynch’s disowned 1984 film version has been not ungenerously described as ‘a glorious mess’. But I’ve respect for its imaginative leaps of hideous design, and it scores over this version in that it manages to complete the book in one sitting, whereas Villeneuve only delivers the first half or thereabouts of the book.

However the sheer Everest-like enormity of Villeneuve’s Dune ensures it never feels like half a film, instead it feels more like a myth fashioned in primordial clay and brought to life by the lightning of the gods. This is a planet-stomping titan of a movie, and for us not be presented with part two would be a crime against cinema.

5/5

THE HIGHWAYMEN

Cert 15 Stars 3

Bonnie and Clyde were the Great Depression era outlaw killers whose definitive screen portrayals were by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in Arthur Penn’s 1967 masterpiece.

With little new to say about them, this handsomely mounted period crime drama is focused on the lawmen who tracked the duo down.

There’s no hardship in keeping company with class acts Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as the Texas Rangers brought out of retirement by Kathy Bates’ state governor. 

Their humour and wry chemistry give a dignified gloss to a standard tale of two good old boys rediscovering self-worth in later life.

DIVISION 19

Cert 15 93mins Stars 2

This ambitious dystopian sci-fi doesn’t lack for interesting ideas, but is guilty of terrible incoherence, a near terminal over-serious tone and lacklustre action.

In the near future the government keeps the population under control through strict surveillance and identity control.

Prisoners are now reality TV stars used by companies to sell consumer products to the citizens. This is a great satirical concept and is deserving of a far better movie.

Division 19 is the underground resistance who exist off the security grid, and plan to rescue the world’s most popular prisoner to dent an evil corporations profit-swelling expansionist plans.

Jamie Dravin is a sadly anodyne hero, Linus Rosche riffs on Alan Rickman as the sheriff of Nottingham in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and the film’s one undoubted bright spot is Alison Doody’s immaculate and villainous CEO.

The abandoned areas of modern Detroit make for a suitably apocalyptic backdrop and has featured in many films previously, notably in Ryan Gosling’s 2014 directorial debut, Lost River, which was shot concurrently.

But there’s no sense of geography or distance between locations, and while low flying skyscraper-sized satellites fill the skies, the quality of the CGI makes they seem tacked on rather than organic part of the world. In a similar manner robots appear briefly and randomly, and seem to be there to offer fleeting comic relief, but it’s hard to be sure.

Meanwhile the roof-hopping parkour action is leaden and dated, and the downtrodden masses are conspicuous by their absence.

From Westworld to Mad Max the influences are obvious, but this feels like a clumsy fan-fiction low-budget episode of the Divergent franchise.

HELLBOY (2019)

Cert 15 121mins Stars 2

Unrepentant for its blood-splattered gore, this comic book comedy horror reboot is brash, noisy and violent, reflecting the demonic character at the heart of the CGI-heavy action.

Under deadening layers of makeup, actor David Harbour tries manfully to bring life to Hellboy, a truculent government field agent attempting to prevent Milla Jovovich’s resurrected fifth century sorceress from starting the apocalypse.

Though as she wants to save us all from the hell of Reality TV, I don’t think she’s all that evil.

Rattling around England in pursuit of a decent script, Hellboy is accompanied by Sasha Lane’s very modern fortune teller, and a SWAT team leader with a secret agenda of his own.

As Hellboy’s adoptive father and boss of the US paranormal research bureau where Hellboy works, Ian McShane uses every ounce of his foul-mouthed and scene-stealing experience to bring energy and humour to this frequently flat exercise.

This is a very different beast to Hellboy’s previous cinematic incarnation in a pair of films from over a decade ago. Original director and writer, Guillermo del Toro, bailed out and went off to win Oscars for his fishy romance, The Shape of Water.

And fans of his elegant and stylish version will be horrified by way director, Neil Marshall, brings a much more action-orientated approach.

Clearly the genial Geordie was watching the same video nasties I saw growing up, and indulges his taste for gory thrills first seen in his 2002 werewolf debut, Dog Soldiers.

Throwing in an army of demons, flaming weapons, shoot-outs and Scouser Stephen Graham as a half-human warthog, it’s evident Marshall shares with Terry Gilliam a love of fairytales and Arthurian legend as well as a gleeful taste for the grotesque. 

But there’s little tension or chemistry, the CGI looks cheap, and the hardworking editing disguises a lot of sins, leaving this to feel more like purgatory than a hellish good time.

 

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM

Cert 15 130min Stars 4

Keanu Reeves burns the candle at both ends and in the middle in as he returns as the titular hitman this blistering all-action thriller.

Fast, ferocious and surprisingly funny, we join the much feared dog-loving assassin exactly where the previous film left him, alone in New York with a $14m bounty on his head and every hitman in the Big Apple gunning for him.

Almost immediately he’s busting out his brutal bone-breaking and head-cracking action moves. Where once he killed a man with only a pencil, here he uses a library book as a lethal weapon in his bid to survive, as well as an assortment of more traditional weapons, such as knives, pistols and automatic rifles.

Among the tremendously and energetically staged ultra-violent fights which had me wincing with their savagery, one in a stable full of horses and another utilises motorbikes.

Ian McShane is back as the nonchalant manager of New York’s most sumptuous hotel, The Continental, while franchise newcomer Anjelica Huston is majestic as a powerful Belarusian matriarch.

An angry Halle Berry is far more interesting and kick-ass here than she ever was as a sidekick to Pierce Brosnan’s 007 in 2002’s Die Another Day. And her pair of trained attack dogs deserving of their own spin-off adventure.

A sojourn to Casablanca adds epic sweep, and there are nods to Clint Eastwood in his Spaghetti Westerns, and with every frame capturing the tactile weight of the luxuriously decadent interiors, this is easily the most handsome action franchise. 

Unfortunately the running time is as much a hindrance as the clumsy title, and takes the sting out of the climactic battle, which is overlong and less inventive and impressive than those preceding it.

Parabellum comes from a latin phrase meaning ‘prepare for war’. Well, you can’t say this bloody and frequently brilliant episode doesn’t warn you of what to expect.

 

BLACK ’47

Cert 15 100mins Stars 4

The Western is bracingly invigorated with this bitter, brutal and brilliant Irish revenge thriller which swaps the Wild West desert for Ireland’s bleak midwinter of 1847.

When a soldier returns home from fighting for the British overseas, he finds the remains of his family in desperate circumstances due to the potato famine and the despotic land clearances of the English aristocracy.

It’s an impressively physical and taciturn performance by Aussie actor, James Frecheville, as the veteran, Martin Feeney, who begins to wage a one-man war across the land and has his sights set on Jim Broadbent’s callously indifferent lord of the manor.

Meanwhile Freddie Fox’s foppish sergeant is sent to hunt down Martin, and recruits Hugo Weaving’s disgraced policeman, who is also a former army colleague of the renegade.

During the course of his personal vendetta, Martin’s patriotic shift is clear from his use of his native Irish language, and those caught in his violent wake also experience a political radicalisation.

One such example is Barry Keoghan’s squaddie, whose conscience-driven actions suggests the working classes on either side of the Irish Sea have a great deal of common cause against the English landed gentry.

Adopting a suitably spartan style, director Lance Daly brings a harsh mournful beauty and mythic overtones to the magnificently photographed epic landscapes, while not forgetting to feature plenty of shoot-outs and horse rides.

A lean script doesn’t waste a word of dialogue is full of contemporary concerns such as bigotry, torture, the clash of religions and a refugee crisis. It also includes moments of gallows humour and there’s a novel use for a pig’s head, which even the English members of today’s broadminded political elite would shy away from.

Though lacking the romance, melodrama or grandstanding speeches of Mel Gibson’s Oscar winner, this is very much an Irish Braveheart, and is intense, timely and terrific.

Free State Of Jones

Director: Gary Ross (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Matthew McConaughey is the Hollywood romcom star who so successfully reinvented his career he won an Oscar. In only his third leading role since his 2014 success in Dallas Buyers Club, he gives a brooding and impassioned performance in this high minded American civil war drama.

What begins as an exciting action movie develops into a sincere and somber look at how the wealthy white elite kept their grip on the lives of freed slaves when the fighting stopped.

Newton Knight is a confederate deserter who leads of an insurrection during the American civil war. McConaughey hides his leading man looks behind long hair and a ragged beard, mostly saving his charm for Rachel. The underused British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw does well to bring depth to her role as a slave who joins his band of outlaws as they hide out in the local swamp.

The two leads ensure it’s always watchable and there’s no shortage of battles, burnings, hangings and evil deeds by the Ku Klux Klan. But brief flash forwards to a court room drama involving Knight’s great great grandson muddy the narrative flow, and the story becomes mired in the Mississippi swamp.

Although the film is keen to flag up its the accuracy of its historical accuracy via contemporary photographs and on screen captions, Knight is presented as an unrealistic combination of Robin Hood, Che Guevara and Jesus Christ.

As a revolutionary socialist who preaches from from a bible, Knight inspires slaves, farmers and women to take arms against the powerful and the rich. They declare themselves the free State of Jones.

However as Knight moves from pacifist medical orderly to merciless killer and then political activist, he suffers from an alarming lack of self reflection and none of his horrific experiences seem to affect him. And if he isn’t moved by what he sees, there’s no reason why we should be.

@ChrisHunneysett

Anthropoid

Director: Sean Ellis (2016) BBFC cert: 15

This agonising account of espionage and assassination makes for a gut wrenching watch.

It’s a handsome dramatisation of Operation Anthropoid, the real life mission to the eliminate Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s third in command and architect of the Final Solution.

As well as being a ferocious entertainment, Anthropoid is a moving testament to the astonishing defiance and sacrifice of the country’s citizens under the rule of the Nazi known as the Butcher of Prague.

Sean Ellis produces, directs and co-writes with confidence and authority. Filming on location, the autumnal palette weathers the lovingly crafted period detail with a sepia tone. It’s use heralds a ferocious finale and recalls the final moments of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969).

Betrayal is a recurring idea, perpetrated on the country and its citizens on an international, local and individual level. The British government is not spared admonishment.

Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan are terrific as patriots Jozef and Jan who risk torture and execution when they return by parachute to their homeland, Czechoslovakia.

Making contact with the pitiful remnants of the resistance, they discover Prague in the winter of 1941 is caught in a blizzard of suspicion and paranoia. There’s little safety in this turbulent world of coded conversations, cyanide capsules and clandestine meetings on park benches.

Anna Geislerova and Charlotte Le Bon are local ladies who soften the boys’ demeanour and raise their personal investment. One soldier becomes less fatalistic and the other learns to lead.

This intimate investment in the characters allows for fleeting humour and desperate romance. We fear the repercussions of the attack on those on the periphery of the plotting as much as for the main conspirators.

Among the remainder of the strong supporting cast, stalwart character actor Toby Jones offers dignified concern.

The sometimes graphic but always purposeful and excellently staged action culminates in the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where the bullet holes sustained in the actual fight can still be seen.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

The Purge: Election Year

Director: James DeMonaco (2016) BBFC cert:

In these turbulent post-Brexit political times, I’m casting my vote in favour of this gleefully violent satirical action thriller.

This third in the low budget and highly succcessful US series is set in the year 2022.

Frank Grillo returns as the bullish and brutal cop with a conscience, Leo Barnes. He is now head of security to Elizabeth Mitchell‘s Senator, Charlie Roan.

She’s standing for President to abolish the Purge, the annual night of chaos where for one night all law is suspended and murder is legal.

The event makes the ruling far-right wing party a lot of money. As such the New Founding Fathers see the Purge as the ideal opportunity to have Roan permanently removed from the ballot paper.

They suspend the rules protecting political figures, a short sighted decision which seems destined to backfire.

A betrayal by one of the senator’s team leaves Roan and Barnes on the streets of Washington D.C. at the height of The Purge.

Citizens are tortured, burnt, shot, hung and guillotined. No one stops to eat, drink or sleep and the tension rises with the body count.

Costumed crazies rampage through the neon lit streets like a garish halloween party with chainsaws and machine pistols.

As Roan battles to survive, she finds allies in shotgun wielding shopkeepers and veteran Purge night players. They’re motivated from a desire to see the senator win the election.

But as the night progresses they discover they’re not the only group trying to smash the system.

There’s manic rhetoric, an asset stripping government exploiting religion for politic gain and state sanctioned slaughter on the streets.

The satirical intent is somewhat neutered by the astonishing real life US Presidential electoral race taking place. But as an action movie The Purge: Election Year is the candidate that ticks the right boxes.

@ChrisHunneysett

Gods Of Egypt

Director: Alex Proyas (2016)

With a budget of $140M this is possibly the most dull and cheap looking special effects spectacular you’ll be unfortunate to suffer.

Mortals and gods battling to save ancient Egypt in a camp and glossy action adventure romp should be huge amounts of fun.

10 feet tall gods bleed liquid gold and ride chariots pulled by giant beetles. Plus there are enormous fire breathing snakes and ox headed warriors.

But due to a terrible script, laboured jokes and painful dialogue it’s sadly far less entertaining than the sum of its ridiculous parts.

Also it’s terribly edited and badly dubbed with a voice over dropped in to fill – or possibly distract from – the gaps in the inconsistent story.

Humans are referred to as mortals even though gods are regularly killed or threatened with death.

The heroes are dull, women are inconsequential plot devices, no one knows who the main character is and it’s left to the bad guys to provide what fun there is.

The gorgeous set and costume design is wasted by appalling shoddy CGI, terrible storytelling and some awful acting.

Gerard Butler’s reputation survives because the Scots actor embraces the nonsense, strutting manfully as Set, god of the desert and war. He brings the noise and the muscle and when he and the excellent Elodie Yung are off screen everything flags, in the manner of the inflatable pyramid in Despicable Me 2 (2013).

It’s a shame the majority of the cast don’t follow his cue, offering light weight performances which are dwarfed by the sets and lost in the gravity free CGI.

Butler goes full Sparta, reprising the roaring camp egotism of his skirt and sandalled fighting king Leonidas, from Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006).

Bored after a thousand years of peace, he stages a violent coup over his nephew. Danish Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is astonishingly dull as the rightful king Horus left blind and in exile.

Equalling him for a lack of charisma are Brenton Thwaites and Courtney Eaton. As Bek and Zaya they are the happiest, healthiest and most handsomest slaves in Hollywood.

When Zaya dies Bek strikes a deal with Horus. In return for helping Horus reclaiming his eyes and his throne, Horus will use his power to return Zaya to the land of the living.

They trek about the desert, raiding tombs, visiting gods and fighting monsters. Joining them from Netflix’s Daredevil is the under used Yung.

Despite Hathor being the only female character on show with anything approaching complexity, she’s eventually sidelined and suffers the usual fate of strong headed women in movies. Being punished for her promiscuity would be wrong even if Hathor wasn’t the goddess of love.

Hathor’s absence from the rooftop finale leaves us with musclebound mahogany mugs battering each other as a giant space worm attempts to eat Egypt. Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.

Fresh from Captain America: Civil War (2016) Chadwick Boseman out camps out as Thoth the god of knowledge. In an ’80s romcom he’d be classed as the gay black best friend.

A strongly Australian supporting cast sees Bryan Brown, Bruce Spence and Geoffrey Rush failing to be embarrassed as various gods. Abbey Lee was last seen in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) alongside Courtney Eaton as wives of Immortan Joe.

The growling muffle of Kenneth Ransom’s voice of the Sphinx leaves his riddle indecipherable, never mind unsolvable.

With ancient gods reimagined as superheroes, for much of the running time this feels more like a retread of the recent X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) than anything Ray Harryhausen may have conjured up. And about as much fun.

It’s a long fall from grace for Alex Proyas whose directorial debut was the intelligently composed sci fi thriller Dark City (1998).

Gods Of Egypt has been criticised for a lack of Egyptian actors. Maybe they realised how bad it was going to be and decided against it.

@ChrisHunneysett