Thursday, 30 December 2021

Things I didn't blog about in 2021 - Part One: Recent Movies


 As anyone still here would have noticed, 2021 has been a pretty poor year for this 'ere blog. Although in the last year we've had ( slightly ) more freedom as things became ( slightly ) safer, and I've managed to get out and do more things, I've done less and less blogging. ( Irony, don't talk to me about irony. ) Anyway, I'm going to write about a few things I should have mentioned earlier, starting with movies...


But first... a slight tangent. Last year ( 2020, that is, anyone remember it? ) I really struggled with reading. I've always been a voracious reader, often with a couple of books on the go at once, but the whole craziness of the pandemic left me unable to focus on prose. I managed to read a lot of magazines and comics and probably way too much crap on t'internet but not novels. I started but didn't finish a few books which I may return to at some point ( Galapagos by Vonnegut, An American Dream by Mailer, Naked Lunch by Burroughs ) but the one book I did read was Frank Herbert's SF classic Dune. I first read Dune when I was about 13 and was totally blown away by it and have re-read it a couple of times in the following decades. I've always loved the book and, while it's no longer My Favourite Book Ever, I really enjoyed returning to Arrakis in preparation for the upcoming release of the new film adaptation. Well, I say "upcoming", but as we all know the film's release was delayed more than once due to the bloody pandemic. And then, it finally appeared like a sandworm on the horizon...


An adaptation of such a complex, dense novel was always going to be a major challenge for any film-maker and David Lynch's flawed but fascinating 1984 version demonstrated the perils of trying to fit the mammoth story into one movie. Visionary Blade Runner: 2049 director Denis Villeneuve made the risky decision to split the story across two movies and the box office success of part one shows the gamble paid off.
This new take on Dune is thankfully hugely successful. And that's the key word: huge. From the endless vistas of sand stretching before the characters, to the monolithic Chris Foss-inspired spaceships, to the colossal sandworms themselves, everything about this movie is on a massive scale. Luckily the drama also finds, er, space for small, subtle moments of character and reflection in between the epic set pieces. The cast are all outstanding, Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in particular being just perfect as burgeoning prophet / rebel leader Paul Atreides and his mysterious, psychic mother Jessica. Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin add testosterone as House Atreides warriors and Sharon Duncan-Brewster brings gravitas ( and exposition ) as the planetary ecologist Liet-Kynes. The luminous Zendaya has comparatively little to do but will feature more in Part Two and, similar to the charismatic Chalamet, the camera loves her.
Even with the breathing space afforded by the two-film format there's still detail missing here ( the Mentats aren't explained, there's little about the Navigators' Guild and nothing about CHOAM ) but it's not surprising really and doesn't detract from the story. Maybe more of this will appear in the next movie ( due in 2023 ) where we'll also surely see more of Paul's journey towards the later fanaticism and genocide barely glimpsed in this movie. ( Reading Dune as a teenager, I first came across the word "Jihad"  -  I'd never heard this before and presumed it was a term Frank Herbert had created for his science fiction universe. I wonder if this word will appear in the movies? I think it's likely to be replaced, as in the trailer, with the word "Crusade" which, while similar, obviously has different connotations. )
After the protracted wait for Villeneuve's Dune I was so glad to see it and in fact loved it so much I went twice, once to the Imax in Cheltenham and then to the Odeon in Hereford. I think it's a wonderful adaptation of a book that's meant so much to me over the years and I can't wait to see Paul become the legendary, infamous Maud'dib...


Another long-awaited film arrived late this year, the wonderful Edgar Wright's Last Night In Soho.
I've been a fan of Edgar Wright since the Spaced days and the idea of him directing a psychological horror movie was an intriguing one. 
LNIS tells the story of Eloise ( Thomasin McKenzie ) a shy, 1960s-obsessed fashion student who moves from Cornwall to that there London Town where spooky shit goes down. Specifically she finds herself somehow back in Soho of the 1960s, first in dreams and then maybe in her waking life, but in the form of a contemporary singer, Sandy ( Anya Taylor-Joy ), trying to make her mark in Soho's seedy clubs. Sandy is picked up by a seemingly lovable rogue ( Matt Smith ) who "helps" her with her singing career, only for things to go very wrong, and Eloise feels powerless to help her. This film is very good at showing the darkness and virulent misogyny beneath the glitz of the Swinging Sixties and Wright's recreation of the times is stunning. The casting of '60s icons Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp and Rita Tushingham adds to the verisimilitude and the film itself is dedicated to Rigg, whose last film this sadly was.
Although Wright's trademark whip-pans and frenetic editing, familiar from his more comedic films, have been toned down here, the direction is still assured and immersive, becoming looser and more jittery as Eloise's mental state fractures. When the psychological horror kicks in, the movie's debt to Polanski, Hitchcock et al becomes apparent although, for me, it doesn't go quite horrific enough. That's a very small caveat though, as the overall effect is very powerful and it's a treat to see Wright working in this genre. The script, co-written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns is sharp and barbed with some last-reel twists that really hit home. The two leads are both fantastic, especially McKenzie who completely sells Eloise's transformation, while Matt Smith was born to play a Sixties spiv.
I saw this in the cinema room of my fave venue, Gloucester's Guildhall, and it was great to see a film there for the first time since the pandemic hit.

More unblogged 2021-ness to come soon...

4 comments:

McSCOTTY said...

I'm not sure how I feel about the new Dune film as I really wasn't a fan of the original, but the clips look good. Last night in Soho looks interesting .

Strangely I haven't read much this year either which is weird considering we have been in knockdown ( of sorts) for most of the year ( in Scotland at least) and you would think I would have more free time to read. I have barely read a comic book or magazine

cerebus660 said...

Hi Paul! You can probably guess from my post that I think the new Dune is quite good. Okay, I think it's a masterpiece. The original film is definitely an acquired taste - I do like its Lynchian madness but it's certainly flawed.

Happy New Year, mate. I hope you and yours have a great 2022 - stay safe!

Anonymous said...

I also read Dune as a youngster but wasn't that keen Simon, and gave the Lynch version a miss back in the day (although I did get the Marvel adaptation by Sienkiewicz).
Generally I've been pretty down on mega-budget sf/fantasy flicks for some time... but you make it sound worth seeing, and I'll probably check it out. Thanks for the review.

Presumably you're aware of Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt at a Dune film in the 70s?
If you haven't seen the documentary about his version, you may be interested to know that its been posted in full at -

www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfJi2sfduqk

Considering how apocryphal it sounds (Moebius, Chris Foss, Giger, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles etc) its amazing how close he came to making it - everyone was signed up, the money was there...

-sean

cerebus660 said...

Hi Sean! Jodorowsky's proposed Dune movie always sounds like it's better as an idea than it ever could have been as an actual movie. As you say, the talent involved was staggering but I think it may have ended up as a mess... but of course we'll never know. I haven't seen the documentary but I really should.

My unfinished copy of Jodorowsky & Moebius' The Incal is glaring at me balefully from a nearby shelf as I type this sentence. Now I'm feeling guilty.

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