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Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of my very favorite novels.  I adore it and have read it many times.  (Each time I read it, I feel like I inch closer to full comprehension.)  I have a soft spot in my heart for David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune; it’s a terrible movie, but I still find quite a lot to enjoy.  I am an unabashed fan of John Harrison’s three-part Dune adaptation for the Sci-Fi channel from 2000, as well as the 2003 follow-up Children of Dune.  Some of the visual effects from those mini-series haven’t aged well, but I think the cast in both mini-series is fantastic, there’s lots of wonderfully weird design work, and most of all they approached the adaptations with seriousness and great reverence for Frank Herbert’s work.  But while I love those previous efforts, I still felt that a definitive, fully satisfying adaptation of Dune had not yet been achieved.  To say that I was excited when I heard that Denis Villeneuve would be adapting Dune for the big screen would be an enormous understatement.  I am a huge fan of Mr. Villeneuve’s previous two gorgeous sci-fi films, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and I thought he was the perfect choice to tackle Frank Herbert’s epic.

Mr. Villeneuve and his team did not disappoint.  Dune Part One is a masterpiece.  It is a magnificent piece of work.  It is stunningly gorgeous.  The cast is extraordinary.  The film digs deep into Frank Herbert’s universe; they have produced a remarkably faithful adaptation that is able to respect the richness of the world of Dune while also compressing and simplifying the story and the vast cast of characters to present it all in a way that is clear and easy to follow.  The film is long, but it is masterfully paced and never lags.  I was hooked in right from the first frame and on to the last.  I could have easily watched three more hours of Dune immediately.  Do I really have to wait years for the second half of the story???

(I really wonder how general audiences will respond when they get to the end of this film.  It doesn’t end on a “dun-dun-dun” cliffhanger, but the we’re clearly leaving off in the middle of the story.  It’s very similar to the end of Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring film…)

(Update: Dune Part Two was green-lit yesterday, with a release date of October 2023.  I’ll be very impressed if they’re really able to get that second film into theaters in just two years!  I hope that happens.  While I applaud and support to split this adaptation of Dune into two films — … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Snyder Cut of Justice League!

Let’s start here: I’m a Zack Snyder fan.  I was blown away by his adaptation of 300 when it was released in 2006, and I’m a staunch defender of his adaptation of Watchmen (especially the super-long “Ultimate Cut”) which, while flawed, is still a heck of a great movie.  I’ve been a little colder on his DC movies.  There was a lot that I loved about Man of Steel, though it demonstrated a worrisome lack of understanding of the characters (particularly Superman himself, and also Pa Kent) and it bungled its ending.  Batman v. Superman was a mess (though the longer extended cut is far more watchable).  Whatever you think of those films, and of the original theatrical cut of Justice League (which I liked, by the way — oh, it’s a huge mess and the seams of Mr. Whedon’s mid-production reworking of the film are painfully obvious, but I enjoyed it and appreciated the lighter touch of the film after the overly dour Batman v. Superman), I think it’d be difficult to deny that Zack Snyder was poorly treated by Warner Brothers.  I have always thought it a shame that he’d been working for years on those DC universe films, and that he’d actually filmed most of Justice League, but that he wasn’t able to complete the film and, instead, it was mostly rewritten and reshot by another filmmaker.  I was always dubious that the rumored “Snyder Cut” of Justice League was some sort of buried masterpiece.  Remember, Mr. Snyder’s Batman v. Superman was not a good movie.  But I’ve always been curious as to what he originally intended for the film, and I was thrilled to learn that, with the backing of HBO Max, he was finally being allowed to complete his original vision for Justice League.

In evaluating the Snyder Cut of Justice League, one must first make clear that there is no way that this four-hour behemoth is what would have been released to theaters had Mr. Snyder been allowed to complete his film as originally intended.   He certainly would have edited this film down, tightening up the scenes and eliminating the bloat.  This might have been a long film — far longer than Joss Whedon’s zippy Justice League theatrical cut was — but it clearly wouldn’t have looked anything like this.  For this release on HBO Max, Mr. Snyder seems to have taken the approach of including anything and everything that he filmed.  This feels more like an “assembly cut” of the film — a standard practice in which an editor assembles all of the scenes shot for the film, in order, at which point the editor and director begin their work … [continued]

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Josh Has Seen a SNEAK PEEK of AQUAMAN!

Over the weekend I had a chance to see a SNEAK PEEK of the latest big new DC Universe movie: Aquaman!

While rumor has it that Warner Brothers won’t be continuing with this current iteration of the interconnected DC movie universe following the less-than-stellar reception of Justice League, they did move forward on Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa, who played the character in Justice League.  I have not been impressed with the last few years worth of DC movies.  Other than Wonder Woman (which was terrific), these films since Man of Steel, which have attempted to copy Marvel Studio’s enormously successful model of an interconnected universe, have been mediocre at best and more-often-than-not atrocious (cough Suicide Squad cough).  But I’ve been impressed by the trailers for Aquaman — they looked fun and excitingly large in scale — and the early word was positive.  So what did I think?

I really really wanted to love this movie, I went in with an open heart and an open mind.  But OY!  Aquaman is another big swing and a miss for DC/Warner Brothers.

To continue with my baseball analogy, the film represents a big swing at the plate for DC/Warners.  The scale of this movie is ENORMOUS.  Aquaman is a character who has often been treated as a joke, but DC/Warners threw everything they had at this film.  I respect the film’s ambition.  This is a BIG BUDGET movie and they clearly spared no expense in bringing this project to life.

The best thing I can say is that the film looks gorgeous.  I love the design and look of the many, many underwater settings and species.  I loved the look of all the many different types of Atlantean armor, from the royal garb of King Orm to the mostly white armor of the Atlantean shock troops, to the red armor of the squad of commandos sent after Aquaman and Mera late in the film.  I loved all the underwater ships, from Mera’s sleek cruiser to King Orm’s enormous palace-ship.  I adored the look of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis itself, a futuristic city-scape that was a riot of color.  I loved all of the crazy sea-creatures, from the large sea-fish-like creatures we see soldiers riding into battle (and that Aquaman commandeers at one point, in a nice nod to his silly depiction on the Super Friends cartoon) to the humongous guardian of the Trident macguffin later on in the film.  I’m not sure I understand why the Atlanteans mutated into different species after Atlantis fell into the sea, but I liked the look of the different underwater tribes/creatures.  The film’s climax gives us some crazy-huge underwater battles between all … [continued]

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Warner Brothers and DC’s new film, Justice League, is a milestone in their efforts to chase after the achievements of Marvel’s cinematic universe.  But whereas Marvel’s last decade-worth of films has seen a remarkably cohesive, gradual unfolding and expansion of a universe’s worth of characters and story-lines, DC/Warners’ efforts have been, well, let’s say a little more stumbling.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was enormously successful, critically and commercially, but those films were a self-contained series.  Once that wrapped up with The Dark Knight Rises, DC/Warners began working to create their own interconnected cinematic universe.  Green Lantern failed, but Man of Steel seemed like a stronger first step, though that film was not quite the smash DC/Warners was likely hoping for, and it met with a mixed reaction from fans and critics.  (Overall I enjoy the film and I like a lot of the visual choices that Zack Snyder and his team made, though the film is undermined by several critical story-choices that don’t work and an ill-conceived ending.)  Whereas Marvel introduced its heroes gradually, though their own solo films, DC/Warners moved to jump-start their shared super-hero universe with 2016’s Batman v. Superman, which was intended to lead into the first part of a two-part Justice League film.  But while it made money, Batman v. Superman was roundly (and accurately) criticized for being an overly-long, overly-dour mess with an incoherent plot and flat characters.  (The extended version actually improves upon many of the film’s flaws, but not nearly enough to consider the film “good.”).  Suicide Squad was supposed to be a hip, fun shot-in-the-arm for DC/Warners’ super-hero film series, but I thought it was even worse than Batman v. Superman.  Only Wonder Woman was a true success, telling a fun, solid story with real characters that connected with the fans.

With their films failing to connect with audiences, DC/Warners began to curtail their ambitious plans that were laid out back in 2014.  Suddenly the two-part Justice League epic became a single film; who knows if we will ever see a sequel, or whether any of the other promised solo films (a Flash film, a Cyborg film, another try at Green Lantern, a solo Batman film starring Ben Affleck, a Man of Steel 2) will ever actually come to be.

Meanwhile, following Batman v. Superman’s critical drubbing, reports came out about efforts to rework and reshape Justice League, in an attempt to inject some of the lightness and optimism that has proven so successful with the Marvel films.  (The degree to which Zack Snyder, who directed Man of Steel, Batman and Superman, and Justice League, was on board with these changes is somewhat … [continued]