FlixChatter Review: DUNE (2021)

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Few films are as buzzy as DUNE in the past decade and after nearly a year delay, its eventual release date felt like it crept up on me all of sudden. The press screening was packed, which wasn’t always the case lately as most screenings have been barely half full. But DUNE felt like a cinematic event, and the visuals on screen certainly attest to that. No wonder, Denis Villeneuve wasn’t pleased that DUNE will be released on HBO Max the same day as its theatrical opening, even from the first five minutes, this is a film to be seen in as big a screen as possible.

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Right from its opening screen, I was immediately in awe of the visuals… the world building that Villeneuve has done with his longtime collaborator Patrice Vermette. Set in the year 10191, the universe of DUNE is undeniably vast, so I’m glad I had read up about it leading up to the film. It certainly helps me digest the plot a bit better, which begins on planet Caladan, where the leader of the House Atreides, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) is preparing for a new role as the governor of Arrakis.

It’s a lucrative gig given the desert planet is the only place the vital natural resource of spice, aka melange, can be found in the galaxy. Of course, that new power comes with a dangerous enemy, especially from the House Harkonnen, the previous family in charge of mining the spice. Like any greedy colonial government, the Harkonnen is good at stripping any place of its natural resources and use it for their own gain. Naturally they’re not happy to have to leave Arrakis and would do anything to regain control of it.

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At the center of the story is Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the Duke’s son and heir of the royal house. Obviously he’s special given what he’s to inherit, but he’s also got special powers thanks to his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who belongs to a mythical intergalactic guild comprised of women with special powers called Bene Gesserit. The scene between Paul is tested by the guild’s leader Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) is a memorable one and filled with mystery and suspense. The film shows just how revered and powerful this group is, as Mohiam is seen talking to and wielding her influence in both royal houses.

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The set design, architecture, costumes, and the futuristic elements are marvelous to look at. The Atreides’ home base in Arrakis capital Arrakeen looks like a world war bunker with its angular shape, which I read is what the style was modeled after. The construction looks like it could withstand the extreme climate and high winds of the desert planet. I especially LOVE the four-winged, dragonfly-like chopper (ornithopter) used by the Atreides, which apparently built for real by a company in England specifically for the film. This meticulous details of futuristic elements are the kind of stuff we go see a sci-fi movie for! I’ve always appreciate films shot on location and the fact that DUNE was filmed in UAE and Jordan definitely lends authenticity to the story, you could almost believe this desert planet actually exists.

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Given the complexity of the story, this film could’ve easily get bogged down by exposition. Thankfully, the script by Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth and Villeneuve did a good job in not over-explaining things. I like how Dr. Liet-Kynes, the planetary ecologist explain how the Fremen stillsuits work to help survive Arrakis’ harsh environment while commenting on how Paul seems to already been familiar with a world he never steps foot in. It’s obvious that Paul, like his mother, has supernatural abilities who’s destined for adventure and greatness.

One of my favorite scene is when Paul is in his room studying about Arrakis via holographic imagery and senses a foreign object has trespassed his space. It’s such a cool, thrilling scene that’s beautifully-filmed. Given this is just first part of the story, the script feels more enigmatic that sparks my curiosity. I like all the mystery of it all… the secrecy surrounding Bene Gesserit, the Fremen’s native people and desert power, etc. There’s a lot to take in, but the film makes it enjoyable to digest them.

Hans Zimmer‘s music helps immerse me in the desert universe with its Middle-Eastern motifs and African beats. Just like Villeneuve, Zimmer has been a huge fan of the book in his teenage years. He seems to relish working on this project and the result is an evocative, soulful and rousing score. As much as I love it though, the music can get overwhelming in some scenes as it overpowers the action. I think in certain parts, the music could have been toned down a bit.

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I have to commend Villeneuve in the one thing that many filmmakers struggle with, and that is pacing. It’s especially crucial in films over 2 hours long, but for me, its 2.5-hour running time didn’t feel like a drag. I do have my quibbles–for one, the films does feel overly indulgent at times, likely because of the director’s passion for the subject matter. The film’s energy also dips a bit in the second act, but overall it’s well-paced and the talented actors help keep me engaged throughout.

Oh and what an ensemble cast it was! Chalamet is perfect as the film’s protagonist, he’s got a strong screen presence with his handsome, youthful face and lithe figure. There’s an inner tumult and angst, which is typical in a teenage boy, but there seems to be something deeper that plagues him… as he constantly dreams of a Fremen girl that’s both seductive and ominous. Zendaya’s Chani is an important figure in the story. Though she doesn’t really get to do much until the third act, her presence is felt throughout through Paul’s dreams.

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In the House Atredeis side, I love how commanding and regal Oscar Isaac looks as the Duke with his glorious grayish hair and matching beard. Apparently he lobbied for a role in DUNE and he’s spot on as the patriarch who’s protective but also loving to his heir. But then again, he rarely made a wrong move since I first laid eyes on him in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood as Prince John. I’ve loved Rebecca Ferguson since The White Queen series and she’s got the beauty, strength and certain mystical aura as Lady Jessica. She has the most screen time with Chalamet here and I like the unconventional mother-son dynamic. In many ways, his mother is also his mentor as she was still training Paul to use the ‘voice,’ an audio-neuro mechanism used to manipulate others. 

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As the Duke’s most trusted military advisers, both Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa have the brute force as well as intellect required for the roles. The fighting scenes are pretty cool to watch, especially since the characters use an invisible shield, some kind of protective energy field that make them temporarily impervious from harm. Charlotte Rampling is not in the film much but you definitely won’t forget her in one pivotal scene. In the House Harkonnen side, we’ve got the villainous Baron Harkonnen, who looks like an oily version of Jabba the Hutt. Stellan Skarsgård portrayed the role in full body prosthetic jumpsuit. He doesn’t have to act much as his body makeup alone does the work. Baron is more repulsive than scary, while Dave Bautista barely has much to do here as his henchman.

Javier Bardem plays the leader of a Fremen tribe who has the audacity to visit the House Atredeis without an invitation. He’s a knight-like figure who’s strong and defiant, but like Zendaya, we only get to see him prominently in the third act. Taiwanese actor Chen Chang has some memorable moments as House Atredeis’ family physician Dr. Yueh despite his limited screen time. Last but definitely not least, there’s Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Dr. Liet-Kynes who’s easily one of my favorite characters in the entire film. Apparently the film changed the gender of the character from male to female in the book, which I think works just as well. Duncan-Brewster has a charismatic presence here so I’m glad to see her featured prominently throughout.

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I think fans of the book would likely have more things to pick apart than those who have not, such as myself. Herbert’s book has an anti-imperial, anti-colonial themes woven in its larger arcs. Even without reading the book, I could see the unsubtle commentary on Middle Eastern oil (swapped for the spice in this story) and also its environmental message that resonates today in regards to climate change and lack of care for our planet. As for the ‘white savior trope’ criticism towards the book, Villeneuve himself has addressed that as saying that ‘…it’s not a celebration of a savior, but more of a criticism of the idea of a savior, of someone that will come and tell another population how to be, what to believe.’ As someone from a SE Asian country that was colonized for over three centuries by a small country who literally mined our spices, obviously I’m not fond of this commonly-used narrative.

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To be fair, I think Villeneuve has tread carefully in this regard and present Paul’s story as someone who struggles with the idea that he’s seen as a savior. He’s shown as being passionate to learn about Arrakis and its people. There’s a scene where he’s talking to a Fremen watering the native palm trees. You can imagine how precious water is to a desert planet, and Paul questions whether the water should be saved for the people instead.

There’s also a scene where he and his mother mimic the Desert Walk of the Fremen where one alters its rhythm while walking on sand. It’s not just for efficiency but for survival given the giant sand worm is a constant threat. The fictional extraterrestrial desert creature is meticulously designed and it’s quite thrilling and suspenseful every time it glides through under the sand and practically swallow everything in its path, even a giant mining machine, if you can’t outrun it.

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Overall I’m impressed with what Villeneuve has done in bringing his vision of DUNE to life. It’s more than just a feast for the eyes, but the narrative delivery offers something thrilling and thought-provoking. The version we’re seeing is in fact Villeneuve’s vision from when he was a teen when he first read Frank Herbert’s influential sci-fi novel. I’ve mentioned in this post that I haven’t seen the David Lynch version, or should I say the Dino De Laurentiis version as Lynch disowned it. Not that it matters as Villeneuve has said repeatedly that his version wouldn’t have any semblance to the 1984 film. ‘Fear is the mind-killer,’ that’s the book’s mantra, but it might as well be Villeneuve’s as well given he dared to tackle something deemed ‘unfilmable.’ Tackling this weighty project obviously takes some massive ambition, passion and craftsmanship. It takes an even higher level of courage given that the Montreal-born director took this on after the major box office bomb of Blade Runner 2049 which also happens to be a remake of a 1980s version. 

Now, I’m not saying this movie is without flaws. I was hoping there’d be more emotional resonance given the high stakes. I didn’t connect with some of the key characters as much I had hoped, either because they’re under-developed or inaccessible. I figure it’s par for the course that the film feels incomplete, as this is just the first part of the whole story (even the poster spells it out… IT BEGINS). One thing for sure, there’s enough to get me invested in the world of DUNE, and the ending certainly makes me hope we get to see the conclusion in part II.

4/5 stars


Have you seen DUNE? I’d love to hear what you think!

THIS JUST IN! Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE (2020) trailer

Woo wee!! Can you believe it’s been five months since the first official FIRST LOOK photos of DUNE were released?! I remember hyperventilating then just looking at a bunch of photos, well… finally, the trailer is here!

Behold…


I had been standing in front of my laptop since 10:45 CST… waiting w/ bated breath to see the trailer. Well, as it turns out the studios had a special event Q&A w/ the director Denis Villeneuve and the entire cast, hosted by Stephen Colbert, here’s the convo if you missed it:

 

My reaction is: WOO HOO!!! Cannot. freakin’. wait for this!! As if I weren’t anticipating this enough already, the Q&A w/ the cast/crew really whet my appetite even more! The world building, the set pieces, outstanding ensemble cast… boy, it LOOKS AMAZING! Glorious, atmospheric, mysterious, suspenseful… everything I expect from a sci-fi epic.

I respect Villeneuve as a filmmaker and I trust that he’s going to bring something that’s truly worth the hype!

Hollywood’s it-boy Timothée Chalamet is perfectly cast here as Paul Atreides… the narration of DUNE’s famous quote about fear gives me goosebumps!

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear and I will permit it to pass over me. When the fear is gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I quite like the pairing of him and Zendaya too as Chani, a Fremen woman.

Full cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem.

Great seeing several of them on the Twitter trailer event Q&A today!! They all look happy, even emotional, seeing the trailer, just like the fans!

Twitter trailer event Q&A w/ director + cast

DUNE’s full synopsis:

A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence—a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential—only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

Chalamet as Paul Atredes with Charlotte Rampling’s Gaius Helen Mohiam

The film is currently set for theatrical release on December 18 in the U.S. and the UK.


Well, what do you think of the DUNE teaser?

Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE – what I’ve learned of the 2020 adaptation so far

Happy um-what-day-is-it? The days have become such a blur lately… and honestly, it’s tough to keep motivated during the lockdown, and the not-knowing when this whole thing would actually end is the toughest part. Summer’s practically been canceled, which if you’ve lived in places like Minnesota, that’s so devastating given how fleeting Summer is and ‘Spring’ is an on-and-off affair (I mean we just got a blizzard in some parts of MN on Easter weekend!).

Ok, venting over. I’d rather focus on the positive and look to the future! Well, since this is a film blog, one of the films that [hopefully] won’t get canceled is DUNE. Its release date is December 18.

Of course, an astute person already saw the glaring similarities of DUNE’s logo to an NBC sci-fi series that aired in 2006, ha! I actually like the look of the original one they posted a few months ago, it looked far more modern w/ an aerial image of sand dunes in the background.

In any case… the photos posted by Vanity Fair yesterday look stunning, they’re mostly the star-studded cast in costumes, but certainly made me even more anxious to see it! You can see them in video form thanks to MovieGasm, and I also posted the photos below.

Honestly, I’m not that familiar about DUNE, which is based on Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novels. I haven’t seen the David Lynch 1984 version (I’ve watched the trailer a couple of times but haven’t mustered enough interest to actually watch it), nor the two-part series on Sci-Fi channel. But once Denis Villeneuve‘s attached to direct a two-part films, I’m immediately intrigued. So I’ve been reading a ton of stuff about this adaptation and how this version is supposed to be different.

Consider this a summary of what I’ve read so far, that some of you might find helpful.

Thanks to this comprehensive Reddit post, here’s the official synopsis:

A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence—a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential—only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair

Timothée Chalamet is definitely Hollywood’s boy du jour right now, and I think he’d be good as the young protagonist. I like the idea of Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac as Chalamet’s parents!

The amazing ensemble cast!

Here’s the full cast list (thanks to that Reddit post):

Character Actor Films Actors’ Known For
Paul Atreides Timothée Chalamet Ladybird, Call Me By Your Name
Lady Jessica Rebecca Ferguson Mission Impossible, The Greatest Showman
Duke Leto Atreides Oscar Isaac Ex Machina, Star Wars
Gurney Halleck Josh Brolin No Country for Old Men, The Avengers
Duncan Idaho Jason Momoa Game of Thrones, Aquaman
Dr. Liet-Kynes Sharon Duncan-Brewster Rogue One, Sex Education series
Reverend Mother Mohiam Charlotte Rampling Broadchurch, The Verdict, 45 Days
Baron Harkonnen Stellan Skarsgård Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Good Will Hunting
Feyd-Rautha Tye Sheridan Ready Player One, Dark Phoenix, Mud
Piter De Vries David Dastmalchian Prisoners, Ant-man
Count Glossu Rabban Dave Bautista Guardians of the Galaxy, Blade Runner 2049
Dr. Wellington Yueh Chang Chen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Assassin
Stilgar Javier Bardem No Country for Old Men, Skyfall
Chani Zendaya Spiderman, The Greatest Showman
Jamis Babs Olusanmokun Black Mirror, The Night Of, The Defenders
TBA Stephen Henderson Fences, Ladybird, Lincoln
Harah Gloria Obiano High Life, Good Omens

The House of Atreides - Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair
The House of Atreides

Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac
Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac – Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair

What is the story about exactly?

Per Vanity Fair article… Villeneuve sees this story of a planet being mined to death as something prophetic “No matter what you believe, Earth is changing, and we will have to adapt,” It’s hard to argue that our earth has been overexploited no matter which spectrum you are in the climate change debate. Villeneuve, who’s producing his own film for the first time, sees the story as a ‘call to action for the youth.’ I can see Greta Thunberg liking this movie a lot!

Villeneuve on set with Javier Bardem as Stilgar, leader of the Fremen tribe – Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair

Since the French Canadian filmmaker is set on ‘going back to [Herbert’s] book and going to the images that came out when I read it’ (per Yahoo article), here’s a brief summary of the novel per SparkNotes:

Dune is based on a complex imagined society set roughly 20,000 years in the future. The setting is the year 10,191, and human beings have spread out and colonized planets throughout the universe. On the planet Caladan, Duke Leto of the House of Atreides is preparing to leave for his new position as the governor of Arrakis, a desert planet with valuable resources of melange, a spice drug that is extremely popular with wealthy people. Leto and his family, including his concubine, Jessica, and his son, Paul, suspect a trap by their rivals, the Harkonnens, led by Baron Harkonnen. Leto decides to settle on Arrakis because of its rich supplies of melange, despite warnings from his men, including his adviser, Thufir Hawat, and his master-of-arms, Gurney Halleck.

The Atreides arrive on Arrakis and the duke quickly moves to secure the planet from a Harkonnen attack. His main plan is to enlist the Fremen, the tough natives of the Arrakeen desert, as soldiers and advisers. Meanwhile, Paul’s and Jessica’s special abilities intrigue the Fremen. Jessica is a member of the Bene Gesserit, a school of quasi-mystical witches with strange powers. The Fremen believe that Jessica and her son are saviors who have come to lead them toward creating a lush paradise on the dry Arrakis.

Some interesting trivia about DUNE 2020

(thanks to Reddit, Vanity Fair, Nerdist, THR, Inverse.com

  • Denis Villeneuve confirmed that his adaptation of Dune will be split into at least two films, in order to ensure that the original story would be “preserved and not cut into a million pieces.”
  • Budapest is one the primary shooting location for the film. Denis will once again be working with Origo Film Studios who provided many of the stages and facilities used in the shooting of Blade Runner 2049. The other location for the sand dune landscape is remote regions outside Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where temperatures can reach 100 degrees.
  • Zendaya is playing Chani, seen here wearing the signature Fremen stillsuit. The suit’s designed to recapture the maximum amount of moisture and the nose tube is to reclaim vapor from every breath. As for those piercing blue eyes, it’s a condition caused by consuming melange (a.k.a. spice), a drug produced in Arrakis’ sands.

    Zendaya as Chani – photo courtsey of Vanity Fair
  • Charlotte Rampling, who will star in this upcoming adaptation of the 1965 novel, originally wanted to play Lady Jessica in Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s failed Dune project, but declined the offer due to a scene that involved 2,000 extras defecating at once.
  • Rampling will play the Reverend Mother Mohiam, the emperor’s truthsayer, a person who can divine intentions, suss out lies and manipulate people’s emotional states.
  • In an intriguing change to the source material, Villeneuve has also updated Dr. Liet Kynes, the leading ecologist on Arrakis and an independent power broker amid the various warring factions. Although always depicted as a white man, the character is now played by a black British actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Rogue One).

    Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Dr. Liet Kynes – photo courtesy of Vanity Fair
  • Hans Zimmer is set to score the film, having worked with Villeneuve previously on Blade Runner 2049.
  • In June 2019, a TV spinoff titled Dune: The Sisterhood was announced, which would be overseen by Villeneuve and focused on the mysterious Bene Gesserit, a key social, religious, and political force in the fictional Dune universe.

Splitting Dune into two films

Now, about the part that the film will be a two-part series. We’ve seen that in major finales of lucrative franchises like Harry Potter, Hunger Games and The Avengers are split into two movies. Honestly, I’m not too fond of that idea as it’s really a money-making scheme. But with this one, I feel like there is merit.

Per the VF article, Villeneuve said “I would not agree to make this adaptation of the book with one single movie…The world is too complex. It’s a world that takes its power in details.” I haven’t read the book but I can see how such a dense, multi-layered story would be challenging to adapt. The director has said this project has been the most difficult thing he’s ever done… “It’s a book that tackles politics, religion, ecology, spirituality—and with a lot of characters,”

I’d even think making it as a miniseries might be the best format, but then again, the grand visuals would be something amazing to see on the big screen. Oh man, to actually be able to experience movies with fellow film fans again in a movie theater… those are simple joys we’ve all taken for granted!


Ok that’s all I’ve got on Dune so far… but speaking of power in the details, let me just end this post with this um, epic photo…

Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair

I bow to thee Duke Atreides… yowza! 😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍

Sorry, just got to get that out of the way… man, can’t wait to see the trailer for this!!


Are you excited about this new DUNE adaptation? Let me know your thoughts!

FlixChatter Review: SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (2018)

Denis Villeneuve’s SICARIO was one of the best films of 2015 and one of my favorites that year. It was well received by many movie critics, but it wasn’t a huge box office hit, so I didn’t expect or wanted to see a sequel. But these days Hollywood studios will try to turn ANY movie into a franchise and now part 2 of the hit man saga has been unleash to multiplexes.

The story kicks off with terrorist bombings, including one at a major convenient store in the heartland of America. Special agent Matt Gravers (Josh Brolin) has been summon by his boss Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) to find out who’s responsible for the bombings. With the blessing from the Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine), Gravers was given a mission to do whatever it takes to get a payback for the bombings.

After interrogating a Somalian pirate, he found out that the drug cartels in Mexico are smuggling terrorists through southern border of Texas. With a help of his trusted assassin Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), they devised a plan to kidnap a daughter of one of the big drug cartels and made it look like it’s another cartel who did it. Their goal is to start a war between the cartels, hoping they would all kill each other and wouldn’t be able to smuggle people to the United States. The victim is teenager named Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), whose father happens to be the biggest drug lord in Mexico. Once Graves and his men took Isabel, things went south fast and Alejandro must use skills to protect Isabel from danger.

With Villeneuve being busy with other projects, stepping into the director’s chair this time is Stefano Sollima, whose previous projects were mostly TV shows in Italy. I thought he did a decent job by following Villeneuve’s template, in fact I think most people would think this film was directed by Villeneuve if they didn’t know a new director was hired for the job. The look and feel were no different from the last film. There’s nothing wrong with following the previous director’s style but for me, if a new director takes over a franchise, I expect to see that person to bring in their own creative vision. Sollima did stage a pretty impressive action sequence in a desert where Graves and his men got ambushed.

Taylor Sheridan’s script is solid but not as good as the first one. Here he tackled several political subjects that are relevant to our real-world issues such as immigration debate, terrorism and politics bickering. But I thought with all those complex ideas he came up with, they just masked a very thin plot. If you’ve seen the trailers of this film, you pretty much know the whole story and that’s pretty disappointing to me. There were opportunities to make this one even compelling than the first film, but the story ended way too fast. I understand they’re planning a trilogy, so hopefully the third film will give us better story.

Performances were pretty decent all around, Brolin and Del Toro looked very comfortable in their respective roles and some of the young actors were pretty good. I thought Keener’s and Modine’s character were kind of wasted, they didn’t really have much to do and could’ve been played by unknown actors.

I was looking forward to this sequel and was a disappointed, mostly with the script. I think they missed an opportunity to make this one as good or better than the last film. Still a solid thriller and fans of the first film should check it out.

TedS_post


So have you seen Sicario: Day of the Soldado? Well, what did you think?

Top 10 BEST Movies of 2016

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I always wait until at least the first week of January before I made my top 10 list of the year prior, and this year is no different. Now, last year I combined my top 10 best and worst in a single post. This year I will just focus on the BEST list and do a WORST (or I’d say disappointing) list in a separate post. Fortunately my worst list is far less extensive than the best one, as I can only count with one hand the worst movies I saw this past year.

Now, I selected films released between January – December 2016, including the limited releases (i.e. Hidden Figures) which opened in select cities in December. Some of these might’ve opened internationally prior to 2016, but I’m using the USA release dates or the fact that they opened at a local film festival. As customary, this list is a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. The Lobster (full review)

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One of the strangest films I’ve seen last year and it’s also one of the most original concept I’ve ever seen. Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos who co-wrote the script with Efthymis Filippou created an intriguing commentary on love and relationship that’ll make you ponder about it for days. I’ve loved sci-fi concepts that’s more grounded in its presentation and the world the characters inhabit in this movie certainly looks plausible. It’s not a perfect film, but still a brilliant one that earns top marks for originality and thought-provoking ideas.

9. Love & Friendship (full review)

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Most of you already know I love Jane Austen’s work, though this one is unlike her most famous work like Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility. This one is based on Austen’s lesser-known work where we have a saucy protagonist who is as deviously-cunning as she is impeccably dressed. It’s the first film by writer/director Whit Stillman I’ve seen so far and it’s a delight! I really enjoyed Kate Beckinsale‘s in the title role and a delightfully-hilarious turn by Tom Bennett, one of my fave discoveries of 2016. Funny, witty, and so gorgeous to look at, this is another Austen movie I could watch over and over for years to come.

8. Captain Fantastic (full review)

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When I saw the trailer for the first time I knew this is a role perfect for Viggo Mortensen who plays an intellectual free spirit, a Renaissance man who’s set in his ways. It’s a fascinating slice of an unorthodox family of seven, Viggo as the unconventional dad and his six kids, following the sudden death of his wife.Set in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, themes of parenting and coming-of-age blend seamlessly. Certainly a film that subscribe to the old adage that it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters. Like The Lobster, it’s one of the most eccentric films I’ve seen this year, one that definitely left an indelible impression on me.

7. Hidden Figures

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I haven’t got a chance to review this one as I just saw it last week. As soon as I’m done watching this historical drama, thought to myself that I’m glad I waited to post my top 10 list! Since this one had opened in limited release in December, it’s still technically a 2016 movie. Starring a trifecta of terrific Black actresses, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe (who was also great in Moonlight), it tells a pivotal moment in American history in a heartwarming yet poignant manner. There are moments throughout the women’s journey that made me angry and sad, but the film is brimming with such uplifting optimism and hope. La La Land isn’t the only film that spoke about dreaming big, but the difference is, the visionary trio crossed race and gender lines to achieve what’s seemingly impossible. The quintessential inspirational film that every person, young or old, should see. As some critics put it, it’s a cinematic nourishment for the soul.

6. La La Land (full review)

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Ahhh, the critical darling of the year. It might’ve been around TIFF time last Fall when the buzz surrounds this modern musical started gaining steam. It never let up since that by the time I sat down to see it in mid December, I was a bit worried it won’t live up to such a potent hype. Well, thankfully it was indeed an enjoyable experience, with fun musical numbers, gorgeous cinematography and lively music. An unabashedly dreamy and stylish affair, I could see why it swept many off their feet. For me though, the romance wasn’t exactly swoon-worthy, but it’s the ‘fools who dream’ theme that resonated with me emotionally. It’s that key audition scene performed wonderfully by Emma Stone that I remember most about this film, the one that got me bawling as I felt as if the movie was speaking to me directly.

5. Zootopia (full review)

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In a year full of animated features, Zootopia is the only one that deserves to be on my top 10 list (note: I haven’t seen MOANA yet). Disney is sort of catching up to Pixar in terms of storytelling. Its themes of overcoming prejudices feels as timely as ever, whilst still being an enjoyable ride from start to finish. I also love the fact that Zootopia is NOT an animated musical that occasionally burst into songs. The plot is more of an action mystery thriller that is as clever and quick-witted as the smart rabbit Judy Hopps, the movie’s adorable protagonist. It’s also chockfull of wonderful characters that are easy to root for, which made for a fun, enjoyable ride of a movie that’s also smart AND has a big heart. I always appreciate animated features that can cater to adults as well as kids, and Zootopia is certainly a great example of that.

4. Loving (full review)

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There are few films that came out in 2016 that couldn’t have been more timely. One is my number 7 pick, and the other is this one. Unlike the more sensational Birth Of A Nation, which was plagued by rape allegations of its creator and star), the beauty of Loving is how personal it feels. It doesn’t come across as a ‘film with a message’, though it certainly contains a stinging commentary of race in America. The story is even more powerful because filmmaker Jeff Nichols focuses on the journey of Richard and Mildred Loving, instead of being concerned about making a political statement. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton portrayed the Lovings with such quiet grace and sincerity. Theirs is a story that must be told, and the script, direction and performance all work beautifully to bring that to life.

3. Arrival (full review)

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Jeff Nichols and Denis Villeneuve are two emerging filmmakers in the past decade who have continually churned out excellent work. So it’s no surprise their latest work end up on my top 10 list. With any great science-fiction, the best ones are those that remind us of our humanity, and that is the case with Arrival. It’s rare to see a film that treads a familiar ground, aliens visiting earth, yet still manages to be original and truly thought-provoking. The linguistic aspect is something I haven’t seen before in a sci-fi movie, and it’s even more compelling when the core of the story is a deeply personal one. Amy Adams ought to have swept every award this year, I think she deserved it more than Emma Stone in La La Land. Her quiet yet affecting performance is superb here, she is truly the heart and soul of the film. The contemplative nature of the film is far from boring, in fact it makes it even more haunting and enigmatic. It won’t be a hyperbole to call it one of the best sci-fi dramas ever produced, and I think it will stand the test of time.

2. Hunt For the Wilderpeople (full review)

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One of the biggest travesties of this year’s Golden Globes, and there are many, is that this film was NOT nominated in the Best Comedy/Musical category. Boy, I’d be hard pressed to find a funnier film than this one, made by yet another emerging filmmaker who’s a force to be reckoned with. Written and directed by Taika Waititi, it’s a riotous adventure movie I could watch over and over. Pairing a veteran actor, Sam Neill, with 13-year-old newcomer Julian Dennison made for a brilliant duo, I’d welcome a sequel with those two in another zany journey through New Zealand wilderness! It’s uproariously funny but also has a huge heart, not relying on crude gags masquerading as *comedy* Hollywood churn out these days. This is the only one of two films I gave a 5/5 rating this year, and it’s destined to be a comedy classic.

1. Moonlight (full review)

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This is the second movie of 2016 that I gave a full 5/5 rating to. A poignant coming-of-age story of a young boy living struggling with his identity and sexuality, this film is masterfully-directed by Barry Jenkins. I have no qualms calling it a masterpiece, considering the challenge of using three actors to portray a single character, Chiron, in three different stages of his life. The transition between the three time periods is handled well, it never feels abrupt or jarring. The combination of newbie actors and established ones make up one of the strongest ensemble cast of the year, led by the charismatic Mahershala Ali. 

Few films hit me as hard as Moonlight did. I was so emotionally-invested in Chiron and I often have tears in my eyes when I think about his arduous life journey. The films also deftly broke stereotypes, challenging our perceptions of what we think of masculinity, especially amongst the Black community. I was also in awe by the poignant, elegant and graceful storytelling style of a subject matter rarely depicted on screen. A triumphant film through and through.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Pretty much every movie that made my BEST list of the first half of 2016 would count as honorable mentions. So combined with those that were released in the latter half of the year, here are the 20 films released last year that I was impressed with (in alphabetical order):

  1. Anthropoid
  2. A Bigger Splash
  3. Blood Stripe
  4. Captain America: Civil War
  5. Deadpool
  6. The Eagle Huntress (doc)
  7. Equity
  8. The Fencer
  9. The Jungle Book
  10. Lion
  11. The Magnificent Seven
  12. Midnight Special
  13. Pete’s Dragon
  14. Pride + Prejudice + Zombies
  15. Prison Dogs (doc)
  16. Queen of Katwe
  17. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  18. The Shallows
  19. Sing Street
  20. Sully

What I missed in 2016

There are still some highly-rated films that came out last year that I haven’t seen, yet… Elle, Manchester By The Sea, Fences, Jackie, Kubo and the Two Strings, 20th Century Women, Neruda, Silence, amongst others.


So that’s my BEST list of 2016. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d be happy to discuss ’em with you 😀

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FlixChatter Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

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Sci-fi films involving aliens coming to earth is a dime a dozen. So it’s so refreshing to see a film that treads a familiar ground, yet still manages to be original and truly thought-provoking. Based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the premise of ARRIVAL is deceptively simple. One day, twelve alien ships land all over earth, one of them in is Montana, USA. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) was teaching at her college when the world came to a standstill watching the breaking news reporting the aliens arrival. Soon Louise is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

The linguistic aspect is something I haven’t seen before in a sci-fi movie, or not one I remember well anyway. Apparently director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer created a fully functioning, visual, alien language, which is utterly fascinating to see on film. It looks like a circular thing made out of black ink called the logograms. The alien creatures (which they dubbed ‘heptapods’) have a squid-like form with tentacles that they use to ‘write’ these logograms onto a frosty glass wall that separate them from the humans when they visit their spaceship. There’s quite a suspense the first time we saw these heptapods, but as the film progresses, it’s apparent that this film is so much more than an alien movie or stories about aliens. With any great science-fiction, the best ones are those that remind us of our humanity, and that is the case with Arrival.

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The story also deals with the notion of time, which I can’t quite begin to explain. I have to admit it took me a while to grasp just what is going on, as Louise’s time decoding the alien language is interspersed with remembrance of Louise’s daughter. To say more about this might get into spoiler territory, but let’s just say that the mother/daughter story is an emotional one. By the end of the film, we’re not asking so much about how and why the aliens got to earth, but it makes us ponder about love, loss, and the ‘choices’ that we make in life.

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Amy Adams‘ quiet yet affecting performance is superb here, she is truly the heart and soul of the film. I have seen quite a few of her stellar work and this could be her best performance yet. Perhaps 2017 would be the year the 5-time Academy Award nominee is finally a ‘bride’ instead of the the ‘bridesmaids’ at the Oscar. Jeremy Renner gives a strong supporting performance here as the mathematician partner of Louise, he has a pretty effortless chemistry with Adams and was quite the comic relief in some scenes. I thought the Abbott and Costello reference was quite a hoot. Unfortunately Forest Whitaker isn’t given that much to do in this film, neither is Michael Stuhlbarg.

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I have to say that people who have little patience for slow-paced films could be potentially frustrating. In fact, the guy next to me actually dozed off and snored loudly after about a half hour, it’s too bad as he missed out on the best parts of the film. For me, it’s such a treat to see a visceral and emotionally-complex film, especially with a female protagonist at the center, so I was engrossed from start to finish. The eerie music by Jóhann Jóhannsson adds a creepy and mysterious feel to the film, it’s deliberately somber yet enigmatic. I still prefer Jóhannsson’s work in Sicario but this one is certainly excellent in its own right.

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Québec-based filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is one of the few emerging directors (like Jeff Nichols, Taika Waititi) whose work have continued to impress me. I love his emphasis on character development instead of wham-bam action. The use of special effects here is utterly fascinating, especially in the design of the alien spaceships and the otherwordly logograms language and how they’re transmitted. I’m now even more psyched about Blade Runner 2 just on account of having Villeneuve at the helm.

Arrival is one of those films that will stay with you long after the end credits, and that’s always a good sign. It certainly has a haunting quality that is always a positive thing in my book. Whether or not this will be a sci-fi classic remains to be seen, but without a doubt this is one of the best films of the year.

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What are your thoughts on ARRIVAL?

FlixChatter Review: SICARIO (2015)

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Director Denis Villeneuve loves to make films about dark subjects, in his latest one he decides to tackle the dark world of war on drugs here in United States.

After a raid that’s gone terribly wrong on a home that belongs to a very powerful drug cartel, young FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) decides to volunteer to be part of a secret mission that’s being lead by a mysterious agent named Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). She’s on a need-to-know basis on this mission, she also meets another mysterious agent named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro); who tells her that they’re going to find the biggest drug dealer in the world and take him down. Their first task was to transfer a prisoner from Mexico back to the States but some thugs decided to attempt the break the prisoner free.

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This lead to a shootout that killed all of the thugs in the middle of the highway and Macer was not too happy about it. She’s a by the book type of an agent and thought what happened during the shootout was illegal. But both Graver and Alejandro told her this is how it’s done in the real world and she has to deal with it. As the movie progresses, Macer starts to wonder if she’s in over her head and not sure if she could trust either of the men she thought had her back.

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I can’t say that I’m a fan of Emily Blunt since I haven’t seen many of her work. But she’s very good here as the ambitious young agent who thinks she can make a difference. Basically she represents us the audience, she’s seeing this ugly world of drug war for the first time, there are no rules and innocent people gets kill in the middle of it. Brolin is his usual self; he’s a mysterious character that you don’t really know which side he’s on. Del Toro on the other hand, really shines in this movie. His character is a cross between James Bond and Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men. He’s a cold blooded killer that can’t stop, but there’s a reason behind his madness.

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Director Denis Villeneuve did a great job of setting up the tension of every intense scenes but chose not to show the graphic violence you’d expect in this kind of film. The script by Taylor Sheridan is very well-written and full of twists and turns. For example, there’s a potential love story that I thought would derail the movie but then it turned ugly real fast. You think you figured something out, but he threw a curve ball at you.

Last but certainly not least is Roger Deakins‘ excellent cinematography, just like his other famous work, the shots in this film were all jaw dropping. There were a lot of wide shots of landscape and city that you have to see on the big screen to appreciate his beautiful work; maybe the Oscar voters will finally give him the golden statue this year.

With great performances, tight direction, well-written script and superlative cinematography, this is one of the year’s best films and I can’t wait to see it again. It’s very highly recommended.

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So have you seen SICARIO? Well, what did you think?