Tag Archives: Oscar Isaac

Review: ‘Dune’

Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, and Oscar Isaac star in part one of a masterful epic, directed by Denis Villeneuve.

In 1970-something, I sat at the feet of Frank Herbert and listened to him talk enthusiastically about the prospect of Alejandro Jodorowsky adapting Dune (1965).

Herbert’s novel was one of the first books I read as part of my youthful introduction to science fiction, and I was delighted by its depiction of sandworms and spice on a desert planet, which reminded me of some portions of Southern California, where I grew up. Dutifully, I read Herbert’s sequel, Dune Messiah, which was alright, but around the time of the book signing where I met Frank Herbert — at the foundational A Change of Hobbit bookstore in Westwood, California — his next novel, Children of Dune, was being serialized in Analog Magazine, which was truly exciting for me and my few fellow science-fiction aficionados.  

Jodorowsky’s grand movie vision never found funding, as expansively detailed in Frank Pavich’s wonderful documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), which left me feeling sad that his version was never realized. Later, of course, David Lynch directed his Dune (1984), which wasn’t really his version, due to interference from his producers and other issues. (When his sons dragged him to see Lynch’s film, Jodorowsky was sure that it would depress him profoundly; instead, he was elated: “It was awful! I was so happy!”)

John Harrison wrote and directed a miniseries adaptation that was first broadcast on the Sci Fi Channel in December 2000, followed by a sequel series in 2003. I haven’t seen either series; reportedly, they were among the basic cable channel’s most popular shows. 

In his most recent projects, Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Denis Villeneuve has demonstrated his fearless willingness to reshape and remake expectations, exercising a set of creative muscles, separate from, though related to, those he exercised in his superb dramatic thrillers Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2013). 

With Dune (subtitled Part One on its opening title), Villeneuve creates a mesmerizing masterpiece, overflowing with serious eye candy. The film looks genuinely spectacular on a big screen, accompanied by a swirling and thunderous soundtrack that often rumbled the seats where I saw it at an ATMOS theater on a recent afternoon. 

(Unless you want to annoy your neighbors and crack your plaster, I urge you to see the film in a giant-sized movie theater, if at all possible, rather than at home via the HBO Max streaming service, where it will also be available on the day of release.) 

Though my praise may sound like an advertisement for ‘movies as theme park attractions,’ the film’s narrative strength is what is nourished by the experience. The narrative, the picture and the sound are intertwined and feed upon each other in a notably organic manner. 

At its core, Dune is a hero’s journey, following Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) as his travels with his parents (Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac) to the desert planet Arrakis, where his father has been appointed ruler by an almighty, unseen Emperor. Young Paul is said to be destined for great things. 

In preparation, Paul has been training extensively for years in combat techniques, mostly by his friends Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Gurney Hallack (Josh Brolin). Lately, though, even before traveling to Arrakis, Paul has been experiencing troubling dreams (or prophetic visions), including recurring dreams featuring a mysterious, blue-eyed lass (Zendaya). 

His mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), is closely involved with the Bene Gesserit, an all-female group (led by Charlotte Rampling) with extraordinary, though very mystifying, powers that are shrouded in secrecy, and there are suspicions that Paul may have inherited some of these powers as well.  

Even before House Atreides arrives upon the planet Arrakis, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) suspects something treacherous may be afoot, especially since the rival House Harkonnen (represented by the grunting Stellan Skarsgard and obedient Dave Bautista) has long controlled the flow of the planet’s native spice, melange, which is only found on Arrakis and is very powerful and extremely valuable. The Emperor, however, has assured Duke Leto that an accord has been reached, which doesn’t completely allay Duke Leto’s suspicions. 

And what about the native people (represented by Javier Bardem and Zendaya), who are wise about the threatened environment and the threatening sandworms, but who are wary about all invaders who endeavor to conquer them? They too play an important role as things play out. 

The plot may sound complicated, and it is, but only the basic outline matters: rival royal houses, loyal families, mysterious powers, treachery, fierce battles, and giant sandworms, capable of swallowing people, places, and things of all shapes and sizes. 

Director Villeneuve weaves the narrative strands together, giving substance to the visual delights that unfold continually in an awesome mosaic, sometimes providing colorful backgrounds, sometimes taking center stage as the characters and families and soldiers and villains and mystics surround and overwhelm the viewer. 

It’s magical, mysterious, and altogether mesmerizing. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on October 22, via Warner Brothers. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

dfn-xmen_apocalypse_ver18-300The best superhero movie of the year (so far), X-Men: Apocalypse is a reflection of director Bryan Singer’s strength in storytelling.

Based on a screenplay by Simon Kinberg — with story credit to Singer, Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris — X-Men: Apocalypse makes it easy enough to pick up the story threads from the film’s two immediate predecessors in the long-running series. The initial sequence follows on directly from a post-credits scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past, providing an origin story for the titular, all-powerful mutant En Sabah Nur, also known as Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac).

Events then move forward to 1983, ten years after the main thrust of X-Men: Days of Future Past. The primary heroes are introduced: Mystique, aka Raven (Jennifer Lawrence); Professor X, aka Charles Xavier (James McAvoy); and Beast, aka Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). They are soon joined by neophytes Nightcrawler, aka Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee); Jean Grey (Sophie Turner); Cyclops, aka Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), as well as the more experienced Quicksilver, aka Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters) and Havok, aka Alex Summers (Lucas Till), the older brother of Cyclops. There’s also the human CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), who stumbles upon the resurrection of Apocalypse.

The heroes are introduced as Apocalypse gathers his villainous forces. He needs only four: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). In the decade that has passed since the previous episode, Magneto has attempted to live as a human, moving to Poland, getting married, having a daughter, and taking a job at a steel factory. Things do not work out, however, making him ripe for Apocalypse’s overtures.

On paper, the film to this point sounds rote and mechanical. On screen, however, it is anything but that. Singer is marvelous at creating a universe that makes superheroes feel very human. For the most part, they do not consider their powers to be a positive but a negative, something to set them apart from mankind as objects of ridicule and fear.

The thrust of the current trilogy acknowledges the many reasons the mutants have to be unhappy with the state of affairs on Earth, and with their own place in it. Yet it argues in favor of selfless service, of putting the needs of others ahead of their own. True, Moira is one of only two non-mutants who play any kind of role in the movie, and both are kept in the background.

Yet the shared humanity of the mutants unites them in opposition to Apocalypse. Humans have their faults and cannot always be trusted, but compared to Apocalypse, who is determined to wipe away the vast majority and allow only the strongest to survive to build a new civilization with him as their leader, well, humans don’t seem so bad after all.

Despite its title and overall theme, X-Men: Apocalypse maintains a doggedly optimistic viewpoint, incorporating character-based comic relief to keep things from feeling too oppressive. The film also benefits tremendously from Singer’s ability to direct exciting action sequences that are easy to follow from a visual standpoint and also inform the characters and overall narrative. Every scene has a point to make and a purpose to advance, which keeps the film engaging throughout its running time.

Based on comic book characters as it is, X-Men: Apocalypse exudes an essential simplicity — the good guys must defeat the bad guys — and enhances that to the next level of storytelling with elegance, polish and power. That makes it a compelling and satisfying experience.

The film will open in theaters throughout Dallas/Fort Worth on Friday, May 27.