“Dune” Trailer Review!

Like The Lord Of The Rings before it, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic Dune has long been considered “unfilmable”: too huge and complex to ever successfully translate to the big screen. But Peter Jackson achieved the impossible by bringing Tolkien’s masterpiece to life (and in turn, revolutionizing the fantasy genre in Hollywood), and it looks like director Denis Villeneuve will try to do the same for Dune, with a lot of help from his incredible cinematographer Greig Fraser and his all-star cast led by Timoth√©e Chalamet.

Dune
indiewire.com

Chalamet has made a name for himself in the indie and arthouse scene, and is one of the actors whose name routinely pops up during awards season: but Dune will mark his biggest role to date, as he steps into the shoes of futuristic messiah Paul Atreides, royal scion of House Atreides and heir to the throne of Arrakis, a remote desert planet rich with the resource known as Spice: a dangerous but powerful drug that pretty much everybody in the galaxy wants to get their hands on, either to use it (Spice plays a part in spiritualistic rituals and even interstellar travel) or to control it (due to its rarity, Spice is also extremely expensive and can be heavily taxed when it’s not being smuggled illegally out of Arrakis). Although it’s been a while since I’ve read Dune (it’s probably one of the most inaccessible books ever written), I remember most of the major story beats: Paul, whose entire life is built around a series of prophecies, sets off into Arrakis’ rugged, inhospitable deserts to try and unite the planet’s indigenous people, the Fremen, against the forces of his family’s sworn enemies, the tyrannical Harkonnens, when the latter clan arrives with the intention of conquering Arrakis and winning control of the Spice. At some point, I suppose I’ll have to reread the book, but that’s the general concept: from there, it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes a cautionary tale about ecological disaster (an issue it tackles head-on and spectacularly) and religion (an issue it tackles boldly but with less success, due to its reliance on tropes regarding indigenous cultures).

For most people, the image that comes to mind when they think Dune (assuming they know about the book at all, which might be rarer now than it would be in 1965, when the novel became an instant cult classic) is that of the terrifying Sandworms, gargantuan beasts that roam beneath the deserts of Arrakis and are worshiped as divine beings by the native Fremen. Appropriately, the first trailer for Villeneuve’s Dune holds off on the reveal of the Sandworms until the very end, when one suddenly erupts from the sand and rises over Paul. I love the new design: it looks awe-inspiring but also frightening in the best way possible. I would have maybe liked it to be a little bigger, but it’s possible that, like an iceberg, more of it is concealed beneath the sand than is visible above the surface.

Dune
polygon.com

The trailer intersperses scenes of desert warfare and high-tech weaponry with beautiful shots of Arrakis’ deserts and the already radiant cast: from Rebecca Ferguson to Zendaya to Jason Momoa to Oscar Isaac (and Oscar Issac’s impressive beard, which I count as an entire supporting character), there’s not an unattractive person on this planet. And Greig Fraser, Villeneuve’s cinematographer, has captured it all in the very best lighting with hazy, orange and blue overtones (orange and blue is a color combo proven to attract attention, and it never fails to do just that). Fraser’s job is made a lot easier by the fact that, canonically, Spice turns human eyes a vivid shade of blue. Visually, this trailer is nothing short of stunning.

With regards to the story, it will be interesting to see whether or not Villeneuve has streamlined the book’s plot dramatically or fixed some of its major problems, particularly….well, the entire plot, which isn’t a white savior narrative in the usual sense, but still “has many of the same discomfiting hallmarks that we see replicated again and again”, to quote from a recent, brilliantly-written breakdown of the book’s dealings with issues of race, gender and sexuality. Getting into that issue would require talking about spoilers for the book, so I’m not going to get into that conversation here, but suffice it to say that the Fremen (who, remember, are based off an amalgamation of various Native American, Middle Eastern and African cultures) and their interactions with Paul Atreides veer dangerously close to white saviorism for reasons that are not only difficult to explain, but downright disturbing. That’s why I’m hoping there’s just as much focus on the diverse supporting cast as there is on Paul: the Fremen, in particular, but also Paul’s mother (the sorceress/concubine Lady Jessica), and his love interest (the desert warrior Chani). Surprisingly, the trailer doesn’t give much screentime to Jessica (despite her being a major character in the books), but Chani’s role does seem to have been expanded – the trailer even starts with her meeting Paul in one of his prophetic dreams and the two exchanging a heartfelt kiss, before later reuniting in real life. There’s still no word on whether the villainous Baron Harkonnen will be depicted as he is in the books, as a grotesque, homophobic caricature who preys on younger men, but I have to hope that’s not the case.

Dune
techcrunch.com

But while it’s still too early to tell how similar Villeneuve’s Dune is to Frank Herbert’s original novel, it’s not too early to guess that this movie will generate a lot of conversation heading into next year’s awards season, thanks to the out-of-this-world special effects, cinematography, production design, direction and cast. Hopefully it generates just as much money at the box-office, but that will depend on how successfully it has updated its controversial and complicated story. In a year like 2020 (or, in fact, in any year), the last thing we need is a white savior.

Trailer Rating: 9.5/10

“Avengers: Infinity Wars” Movie Review!

With Avengers: Endgame only a few days away, it makes sense to revisit the first part of the Infinity Saga – Avengers: Infinity Wars, one of the greatest movies of the past year and the beginning of the end of the current phase of the MCU. This movie is such a monolith of pop culture that it could be easy to overlook the fact that, first and foremost, it’s a film just like any other, and should be reviewed as such. So here’s my comprehensive and complete analysis of everything in Avengers: Infinity Wars that you need to remember before going into Avengers: Endgame, plus everything you need to know about Infinity Wars itself, as a film.

SPOILERS for Avengers: Infinity Wars ahead. Obviously.

So, in case, you’ve forgotten everything that happened (how could you?), we’ll start out with a brief summary of events: the film picks up where the 2017 film Thor: Ragnarok¬†left off, with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) among the last survivors of an attack on their spaceship. It is soon revealed that the attackers are led by none other than the Mad Titan Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin), who is hunting for the six incredibly powerful Infinity Stones that have been scattered across the universe. Having already been armed with the Power Stone, Thanos is able to force Loki to divulge the location of his next target, the Space Stone – which, unsurprisingly, turns out to be in Loki’s possession. During the ensuing fight, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) gets sent hurtling off into space, headed for earth, and Loki gets strangled by Thanos. The spaceship blows up (with Thor inside, still cradling his dead brother’s body), and Thanos and his minions go their separate ways, pursuing the other Stones.

This opening scene is fantastic: it sets the mood for the rest of the film (grim and tragic), and kills off two characters very quickly – Loki, and Thor’s best friend Heimdall (Idris Elba). It also sets up some important questions for Avengers: Endgame – (1) is Loki really dead? (2) What happened to two other characters, Valkyrie and Korg, who were on that spaceship before the attack? (3) Is this whole thing really Thor’s story?

These questions don’t have answers yet, but there are a number of good theories out there: (1) Loki was holding the Space Stone during the fight, so it’s possible he was able to use it to escape across the galaxy, leaving a clone of himself to die. (2) It has been confirmed that Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) escaped the attack, and that she will be returning for Avengers: Endgame – it’s still a mystery where she went, though, or what her purpose in Endgame could be. The fate of Korg (voiced by Taika Waititi) remains unknown. (3) This question has been asked a lot. Infinity Wars starts with Thor, and it ends with Thor (more on that later). The heroic Asgardian god doesn’t actually have very much to do throughout the film, but in Infinity Wars he was undeniably the only Avenger with a clear motive to stop Thanos. And it’s worth noting that Infinity Wars and Endgame are just two halves of one movie, according to the directors, Joe and Anthony Russo. If Thor was the protagonist in the first half, will that carry through into the second? I’d suspect not. While Thor is a crucial member of the team, Endgame truly belongs to Iron Man and Captain America. That’s my opinion, and you’ll see why in a minute.

But enough about Endgame! Back to Infinity Wars: so we follow the Hulk as he crashes through the earth’s atmosphere and rips a hole through the roof of the New York Sanctum, interrupting a conversation between Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong) about deli food and metaphysics – the Hulk, however, has now turned back into his human self, Bruce Banner, and is babbling about Thanos. Strange and Banner decide to awkwardly interrupt an intimate moment between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). They themselves are then interrupted by Thanos’ minions landing in New York City, looking for the Time Stone, which just happens to be owned by Doctor Strange himself. This alien invasion also interrupts a certain school field-trip to MOMA, during which Peter Parker (Tom Holland) escapes out of a school-bus window and goes to help Tony Stark. Things don’t exactly turn out well, however, and Doctor Strange gets captured and sucked into a spaceship, where alien telepath Ebony Maw (voiced by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) attempts to perform surgery on him but is interrupted by Tony and Peter, who have crept aboard the spaceship. Using techniques learned from Aliens and a good amount of help from Doctor Strange’s magical cloak, the heroes manage to toss Ebony Maw out into the freezing depths of space, and hijack the ship.

And, of course, there are more hints about Endgame here too: most notably the fact that after Tony gets on the alien spaceship, he makes a call to Pepper – as the connection goes out, Pepper tells him either “I’m going to-,” or “I’m going too-“. The latter seems more likely when one takes into consideration that Gwyneth Paltrow posted a photo of herself from the Avengers: Endgame set wearing a superhero suit. Could we see Pepper suit up and fly off into space to follow Tony in Endgame, or is she going somewhere else? Or is it just a misdirection?

Now, obviously, we’ve still only discussed Thor and Tony Stark, and Infinity Wars wouldn’t be much of an Avengers film without Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye – which is exactly why Infinity Wars is not a proper Avengers film in my opinion. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) get maybe five or six minutes of screentime each, while Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) doesn’t show up at all. Instead, we get a fast but admittedly impressive fight scene in Scotland as Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) defends her robot boyfriend Vision (Paul Bettany) from getting a certain Mind Stone ripped out of his forehead by Thanos’ minions, who interrupt them during a romantic moment – what is with all the interruptions in this movie? Nobody can finish a conversation without having magic doctors pop out of portals or aliens stab them through the chest! Thankfully, Captain America and Black Widow spend their five minutes of screentime rescuing Scarlet Witch and Vision and then ferrying them to the nation of Wakanda, where they hope the genius inventor Shuri (Letitia Wright) can separate the Mind Stone from Vision’s body by non-life threatening surgical methods.

By now, the plot is literally jumping everywhere in the universe. The Guardians of the Galaxy find Thor still alive, floating in space, and rescue him: he promptly steals their escape-pod and flies off with their captain, Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and their talking tree, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). Meanwhile, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) takes the remaining Guardians on a suicide mission to stop Thanos from getting his hands on the Reality Stone…which fails…massively. Thanos’ daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) tries to kill him, and then, in desperation, calls on Star-Lord to kill her – which also fails, massively. So the Reality Stone now belongs to Thanos, and so does Gamora, Thor is lost in space with a raccoon which he thinks is a rabbit, Tony and his crew are looking for Thanos, Thanos’ minions are hunting Vision, Scarlet Witch is having a crisis because Vision keeps telling her she needs to kill him, Black Widow and Bruce Banner have literally two lines of dialogue to address their entire romantic history, and those two lines are, respectively, “Bruce” and “Nat”. And meanwhile Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is getting a new metal arm that has absolutely no consequence on anything that happens later in the story, and – oh god, not flashbacks too!

(Actually, the flashback is one of the best scenes in the movie, as Gamora reminisces about her first encounter with Thanos. Young Gamora learns to balance a knife on her fingertip while her people are systematically slaughtered by firing squad in the background – beautiful, heart-wrenching stuff, and all complimented nicely by some beautiful music).

Eventually, the plots and subplots start to come together, after a rocky first act. Gamora agrees to lead Thanos to the Soul Stone, located on a desolate planet, where (surprise, surprise) the movie has time to reveal that Red Skull is still alive, even though he has absolutely no consequence on anything that happens later in the story. Though presumably there’ll be more time to deal with the effects of this reveal in Endgame, where we might see a final showdown between the Red Skull and his arch-nemesis Captain America. Thanos learns that the Soul Stone demands a sacrifice before it can be won: specifically, that which you most love. Thankfully, Thanos came to this planet with Gamora, the only person he ever truly loved! Thankfully there’s a giant cliff nearby that is just perfect for throwing people off of! Thankfully the so-called “fiercest woman in the galaxy” chooses this moment to resort to trying to ineffectively punch Thanos’ arm as he throws her off of the aforementioned cliff!

With four of six Infinity Stones now in his grasp, Thanos promptly heads to his ancient homeworld of Titan to go deal with Tony Stark and Doctor Strange, who by now have run into the other Guardians of the Galaxy. On earth, the nation of Wakanda comes under attack from Thanos’ minions while Shuri works frantically to try and get the Mind Stone out of Vision’s head. Meanwhile, Thor is skiing around a frozen star (okay, fine, he’s lighting the forges of Nidavellir or whatever, but it looked like skiing to me). And…Peter Dinklage is an awesome actor, but this movie is already overcrowded with characters – did we really need a giant Peter Dinklage manning the forges of Nidavellir and loading us down with boring exposition? The only interesting part about this sequence is the fact that there’s an Infinity Gauntlet up there in Nidavellir, which may or may not be important in Endgame.

But finally…we get to the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Thanos arrives on Titan and uses the full power of his own Infinity Gauntlet to wreak havoc on the planet. What follows is one of the best fight-scenes in any movie, ever: nanotech weaponry, a moon pulled from its orbit, Doctor Strange transforming into a Hindu deity, the robot assassin Nebula (Karen Gillan) crashing her own spaceship straight into Thanos – and all of it is in vain, because idiot Star-Lord goes and starts punching Thanos in the face while they have the Titan sedated. Seriously, Star-Lord?

After that, the rest of the movie is just tragedy after tragedy. Doctor Strange gives Thanos the Time Stone in exchange for Thanos sparing Tony Stark’s life. There’s apparently a reason for this: Doctor Strange looked into the future and saw only one outcome in which the Avengers win the Infinity War. But to win, Tony Stark has to live, and Thanos has to get the Time Stone.

And Thanos doesn’t waste a single moment before teleporting to Wakanda and going after Vision – whose operation has not been going well. The poor robot literally gets thrown out of a window, on a surgical table, down a cliff. And then (finally) Scarlet Witch puts an end to the whole thing by blasting him in the head and destroying the Mind Stone.

Good thing Thanos didn’t literally just receive the ability to turn back time!

As if having his surgery rudely interrupted by aliens and getting killed by his own girlfriend wasn’t enough, Vision then has to endure being brought back to life and killed again – as Thanos simply reaches into his forehead and plucks out the Mind Stone.

Nobody saves the day in this movie. Not Doctor Strange, who tells Tony sadly that it was “the only way”. Not Tony himself, who is still recovering from having a very large piece of metal shoved into his chest. Not even Thor, when he finally shows up in Wakanda wielding an incredibly ugly ax. Thanos gets what he wants: a fully-powered Infinity Gauntlet that allows him to wipe out half of all life with a snap of his fingers – which he does, without hesitation. The audience is forced to watch in horror as beloved characters turn into ash and disappear: Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Spider-man, Star-Lord (serves him right), Scarlet Witch, etc, etc. Who gave Marvel the right to do this?

Even worse, who gave Marvel the right to use such sloppy CGI on the Hulkbuster suit that Bruce Banner wears during the Battle of Wakanda? And for that matter, the Battle of Wakanda is filmed in such a boring fashion that it’s a crime all in itself: boring color palette and boring choreography make that fight scene one of the most forgettable in any recent Marvel film.

I’m not trying to look for fault in the film, of course. The film is quite good, overall. But the storyline is all over the place, and certain characters (ahem, Star-Lord) did not need anywhere near as much screentime as they got, while other characters (ahem, Captain America) got little to no screentime, when they should have been stars. Hopefully, everything will be resolved in the second half of this still very incomplete movie, which is only a few days away now. Half of the Marvel universe is currently dust, the villain has won and is relaxing on some paradise planet, and the Avengers are all split up across the galaxy.

Let’s hope Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) can do something about this problem when she arrives on earth…

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

James Gunn Reinstated by Disney

Last July, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was fired from Disney after old tweets of his surfaced, in which he had touched on multiple sensitive and offensive topics, making jokes of them. Gunn appeared to apologize, and the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy came out in support of him – most notably Dave Bautista, who plays the character Drax in the Marvel films. There was a social media debate that lasted for months, James Gunn retreated from Twitter, and there was even speculation that Dave Bautista would also be let go.

James Gunn then got picked up by Warner Brothers in October to direct the DC Suicide Squad sequel. Meanwhile, Disney appeared to be looking for someone new to helm the Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 film, but it seemed no one could be found. However, Disney CEO Bob Iger said he had supported the unanimous decision by Disney executives to fire Gunn, and, “I haven’t second-guessed their decision.”

Yeah, well, today, it became clear that he did.

Today, Disney brought James Gunn back to direct Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3. There was fanfare about it too: Marvel directors such as Peyton Reed and Scott Derrickson welcomed him back, and Guardians of the Galaxy star Karen Gillan quoted the franchise’s mascot Groot with the line “we are groot”, as if to say the Guardians family is back together at last.

James Gunn himself has issued multiple apologies for his offensive statements, and it is worth noting that the tweets were brought to light for overtly political reasons: on the other hand, was this really the right move? As a marketing strategy, certainly, this doesn’t seem like a good idea: for Marvel fans, it has already proven divisive, with some saying the firing was misguided and provoked by politics, and others claiming that Gunn shouldn’t get a second chance after some of the remarks he made.

For myself, I believe that Disney should not have rehired Gunn: I just feel that this will increase rifts between the opposing sides of the fandom. A new director, such as Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), could have filled Gunn’s shoes easily. I also understand, though, that a lot of people believe the outrage that sparked the firing was itself contrived, and that the tweets were made long ago. But I don’t know if I, personally, can feel comfortable supporting this decision yet. If I can have solid proof that Gunn’s old tweets do not represent who he is as a person (proof other than his own apologies) then maybe…maybe I can get on board. But this is simply not the sort of controversy that should have to accompany the MCU going forward, nor was it unavoidable. Disney could have hired a new director: however, we know now that they never even considered the possibility. They always meant to bring him back on. Which means Bob Iger lied.

And that…that is what makes me so angry. Why fire him in the first place, if you knew he was blameless? Iger’s plan seems to have been to let the scandal die down for a few months before bringing him back into the MCU. This is something that, even if it is entirely innocent, simply doesn’t look good.

Will it prove to be a blunder for Disney? Will James Gunn be re-fired and re-hired again? Well, we don’t know yet. But I know that from this point on, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 will become a hot-topic in the Marvel fandom, and maybe not in a good way. But who knows? Maybe Gunn (who apologized again today) really is a better person: maybe he isn’t the man that he implicated himself to be with those tweets: maybe.

This debate, I feel, does not end here.