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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 Lady Bird

Set in 2002, Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird tells the story of a teenaged girl, Christine (though she prefers to go by “Lady Bird” — her given name in that, as she says in the film, “it was given to me, by me”) growing up in Sacramento.  Lady Bird is desperate to get out of Sacramento, and she has plans to attend a liberal arts college on the East Coast, though the combination of her family’s tight finances and her own poor grades seems like an insurmountable obstacle to that dream.  The film unfolds over the course of Lady Bird’s senior year in high school.  We see her move through two romantic relationships and different friend circles, an often tumultuous relationship with her mother, and an exploration of various interests (such as her involvement in the school’s drama troupe, in which she finds that the only roles she can get are made-up parts like “the tempest” in The Tempest).

I have always enjoyed Greta Gerwig’s work as an actress, but in Lady Bird (her first film in which she is solo-credited as a writer and director) we see the announcement of an extraordinary talent behind-the-camera.  I absolutely adored this film.  It’s a riveting, wonderfully honest look at adolescence-on-the-cusp-of-adulthood.  The film is very funny, and also deeply emotionally affecting.  I was in tears for much of the second half.  I love a great coming-of-age film, and Lady Bird steps instantly into the pantheon.

The film is anchored by yet another incredible performance by Saoirse Ronan (who was so great in Brooklyn).  The film is blunt in depicting how annoying a super-sure-of-themself teenager can be; how selfish and destructive and clueless even a sweet, trying-to-be-good teenager usually is.  This wouldn’t work if the actress playing Lady Bird wasn’t able to win us over with the character’s inner life, with her warmth and the passion with which she feels everything in her day-to-day life.  Ms. Ronan is brilliant in the role, taking what is already a well-written, thoughtfully crafted strong female character and elevating it into an instantly memorable performance that truly sings.  It’s a fantastic piece of work.  And Ms. Ronan’s effortless skill at her accent (masking her natural Irish accent) is quite impressive.

Ms. Ronan is surrounded by a spectacular ensemble of actors, just as Lady Bird’s character is surrounded by a wonderful group of supporting characters who have each been crafted by Ms. Gerwig with attention and love.  After Ms. Ronan, the film’s next stand-out is Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) as Lady Bird’s mother, Marion.  This is a phenomenal performance, richly textured.  Marion and Lady Bird have an often antagonistic relationship, and Ms. Metcalf plays those dramatic moments with … [continued]