DUNE***** Stunning

DUNE IS BRAVURA film-making. It’s a big, bold epic story that seems less sci-fi, more Greek myth with its themes of fate and destiny. Denis Villeneuve’s directing, along with his cinematographer, Grieg Fraser and production design team headed by Patrice Vermette have created a vast, visionary world that makes Star Wars seem flat footed and average. The story, mirroring the first fall of Troy grips you from the get-go and never releases you until its cliff-hanger end.

As the young prince, Paul Atreides, the mercurial Timothée Chalamet (part androgynous boy child, part master swordsman) is the offspring of royalty (a regally credible Oscar Issac) and a woman of mystic powers (an equally regally compelling Rebecca Ferguson). The arc of the story tracks Paul’s emergence from the overly protected heir to the throne to its last remaining protector. His journey, with his mother as mentor and guide to his as yet unrealized powers, leads him away from the pomp of palaces to the parched sands of the lethal, monster-inhabited dunes of Arrakis, and the sand people who live there. This is a place that has been ruthlessly colonized for its interstellar powering spice, the big oil of this universe.

The writers (Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth and Denis Villeneuve) have managed to offer us glimpses of the multiple worlds and kingdoms of the original novel by Frank Herbert without overly complicating the narrative. And what with the false promises, double crosses and serial betrayals that shape the tale, this is quite an achievement.

What a story! What a journey! What a cast of compelling, well defined characters: the goodies, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Charlotte Rampling, Zendaya, Javier Badem and the evil baddies, Stellan Skatsgard, David Bautista

Villeneuve paces his story at a leisurely gait. You know the cathartic and explosive action is coming; he makes the audience wait for it…wait with bated breath. Much of the narrative takes place in the twilight hours before the glare and heat of the sun make life on Arrakis intolerable. This world is a place where there’s a dark sense of foreboding hovering in the shadows, in the indecipherable dreams of the young prince and in Hans Zimmer’s deep, menacing score.

Is Paul ‘the one’, the messiah that has been foretold by the ancients? Will he too understand how to command his mother’s power of ‘the voice’ and ‘the sight’? Will he outmaneuver his enemies and surmount the challenges that lay ahead? All will be revealed when Dune 2 returns next year sometime.
I can’t wait.

DUNE: Dir: Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049). Writers: Jon Spaihts (Dr. Strange), Eric Roth (A Star is Born) and Denis Villeneuve. With: Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Issac,  Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Charlotte Rampling, Javier Badem, Stellan Skatsgard, David Bautista.
Cinematographer: Grieg Fraser (Rogue One, Zero Dark Thirty). Production Design: Patrice Vermette (Arrival, Sicario). Composer: Hans Zimmer (Zac Snyder’s Justice League)

NO TIME TO DIE**** Cinema’s alive again!

LET’S CUT TO the chase: Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die is a stunning movie. Probably the best Bond ever and sooo worth the wait. There have been more exciting set pieces (the beginnings of Casino Royale and Skyfall for instance) and more ‘Bond-esque’ memorable one-liners (most of Diamonds are Forever). It’s the heady combination of heartbreak, humor and hurt, of wrung out emotions and edge of your seat excitement that tips the scales in No Time to Die’s favour.

Clearly Fukunaga had no intention of simply making another Bond movie, albeit bigger, badder and with more bombs. Instead, he set out to reframe 007 and rub it in just what we’ll be missing with Daniel Craig’s exit.

He’s crafted a fabulously fitting finalé for Daniel Craig’s fifteen years as 007. It’s grand, epic, operatic, well written and re-watchably thrilling (I’ll probably go along again tomorrow). It’s also a subtle nostalgia trip down memory lane with visual cues to Bonds past from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the movie’s end credits scroll to Luis Armstrong’s “I’ve got all the time in the world”) to Goldeneye to Dr. No.

The story revolves around the theft (from an MI6 lab) and potential release of a terrible plague, code-named Heracles. The plague is programmed to the DNA’s of individuals as well as of entire populations. Here’s a world-ending plague that’ll make Covid seem like a common cold. Yet another megalomaniac serial terrorist, one Lyustifer Safin (a facially disfigured Rami Malik in a sort of barely controlled dementia), emotionally wounded by the murder of his family by Spectre, is out to avenge himself on (the caged) Blofeld’s (Christopher Waltz) crime syndicate and anyone else who’s in the way.

And where is Bond? Off having the time of his life with the love of his life, Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) and without a care in the world. Until death comes a calling in the form of a one-eyed Spectre killer. How did Spectre know where he was? Was the love of his life double crossing him (remember she was the daughter of a Spectre agent)? It’s easier, this all too human, all too feeling Bond finds, to be armed against the shadows of mayhem than disarmed against the glare of love.

His friend, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), bent of dragging him back into the field of danger confesses to Bond that he’s the only person he can trust. Indeed, just who can you trust, Bond wonders? Madeline? M? The new 007 (Lashana Lynch)? Felix’ grinning colleague?

But the license to kill cannot kill his license to love.This secret agent must find a route past the secrets his lover hides, even as he uncovers the hidden secret pathways to the lair of his latest nemesis.

Craig is such a dominant presence in the movie that the others often feel like bit players. Lea Seydoux just about manages to hold her own. Her character has been enhanced (the hand of Phoebe Waller-Bridge?) and she’s emerged from being the archetypal ‘threatened woman’ in Spectre to a woman of genuine tenderness and deep mystery. And she’s no slouch with a gun
The surprise player is Ana de Armas (Knives Out), as Paloma, an undercover agent he meets courtesy Leiter in Cuba. Her faux naïf beautifully masks a fierce fighter.

But as the new 007, Lashana Lynch was disappointing; she seemed overwhelmed by the role. Her acting lacked the confidence she mustered up in Captain Marvel.

It didn’t matter, really. After almost three intense hours, the movie ends with the twist of all twists and with the audible gasps of the audience drowning out the dying notes of Hans Zimmer’s richly orchestral score.

Oh Mr. Bond, now is no time to die.

NO TIME TO DIE: Dir: Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation). Writers: Neil Purvis and Robert Wade (both of whom have been writing Bond movies since The World is Not Enough) + Phoebe Waller-bridge (Fleabag; Killing Eve) with a story by Purvis, Wade and Fukunaga. With: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Ralph Feinnes, Ben Wishaw, Naomi Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Waltz. Cinematographer: Linus Sandgren (La La Land). Production Designer: Mark Tildesley (The Phantom Thread). Composer: Hans Zimmer (Zack Snyder’s Justice League)