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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 Spider-Man: Far From Home

While Avengers: Endgame was an epic, enormous culmination to the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, it was actually Spider-Man: Far From Home that was the official end to Marvel’s “Phase Three” of films.  (Kevin Feige just announced an exciting and weird array of films and TV shows that will make up “Phase Four” — I’ll have more to say, soon, about all of those announcements.)  Serving as something of an epilogue to Endgame and also an exciting tease of the shape of the MCU in the years ahead, Far From Home is a spectacular film.  It’s fun and funny and sweet and emotional and action-packed.  I loved pretty much every single moment of the film.  Marvel is sure making it look easy at this point; I strive to remind myself while watching every single one of these films just how difficult and unusual it is to make these sorts of super-hero films be great.  For Marvel to be succeeding film after film after film is simply extraordinary.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is set after the events of Endgame.  The film spends some time exploring the repercussions of the climactic events of Endgame (more on this below), but for the most part it puts the galaxy-shaking events of Endgame aside to focus on a much smaller-scale story.  Peter Parker and his classmates are going on a school trip to Europe.  Peter is eager to leave the responsibilities of being Spider-Man behind, and to just have fun with his friends.  But Nick Fury has other ideas: the spy-master wants Peter’s help combating a new menace from across the multiverse.  Along the way, Peter meets a new ally: Mysterio, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is stepping into the void left by the death of you-know-who at the end of Endgame, a responsibility that Peter is resisting taking on.

Far From Home is a fantastic film.  Director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (all three of who returned to the Spidey franchise after Spider-Man: Homecoming) demonstrate a perfect mastery of tone from start to finish in the film.  Far From Home is a very, very funny film.  The script is great and the talented cast are extremely funny.  There are some huge laughs in the film.  And yet, critically, Far From Home is not just a farce.  There are real stakes in the film.  Not galaxy-shaking stakes like in Endgame.  But for Peter Parker and the other characters in the film, the emotional (and, eventually, physical as well) stakes are very high.  And so the audience is engaged with the film right from the beginning.  We care about these characters and are invested in what happens to them.  This … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Spider-Man: Homecoming!

Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies are fantastic, and they deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping launch our current golden age of super-hero films.  So I knew a good Spider-Man movie could be made!!  But boy it had been a while.  Spider-Man 3 was a huge disappointment, and then Sami Raimi was never given a chance to redeem himself when the series was taken away from him and rebooted.  The two Amazing Spider-Man films were a mess, filled with shoddy characterizations and flagrant attempts to build a franchise that never materialized.  They are a case study in the perils of studios desperately wanting to create a “universe” without actually focusing on making good movies.  Then the miraculous happened: Sony (who controlled the rights to Spider-Man) and Marvel reached an unprecedented agreement to allow Marvel studios to incorporate Spider-Man into the Marvel cinematic universe!  It is easy to forget how incredible it is that this actually happened.  The new version of Spider-Man was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and every moment with the character was pretty much perfect.  Would Marvel be able to carry this success forward into a Spider-Man solo film, the first Spidey film set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

In a word: YES.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is everything I’d hoped it would be.  It is a fantastic presentation of the Spider-Man character, incredibly faithful to the character while also presenting us with a lot of new scenarios and characters from within the Spider-Man mythos, rather than falling into the trap of just being a third movie version of the character’s familiar origin and other stuff we have seen plenty of times before.  The film also fully embraces its place in the Marvel Cinematic universe, giving us all sorts of fun connections and moments without overshadowing the film’s strong, clear-eyed focus on Spidey/Peter Parker himself.

The film takes place immediately after the events of Civil War.  (In a brilliant montage, we see a quick recap of those events, from Peter Parker’s perspective.)  Peter is already Spider-Man (as just noted above, the film wisely avoids retreading his origin), and he feels flush from his involvement in Civil War and the cool new Spidey-suit that Tony Stark gave him in that film.  He feels he is ready to be an Avenger, but Tony keeps him at arm’s length, urging him to leave the big superhero stuff to the big superheroes, and to instead just be a “friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.”  (A brilliant reference to a classic Spider-Man phrase.)  That proves difficult for Peter, who feels full of desire to prove himself and to use his powers for good.  But this fifteen-year-old hero might be in over his head … [continued]