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Dune (2021)

Dune 2021 film review: The spice must flow, but it stops abruptly | Ars  Technica

DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve

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

REVIEW:

Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune, a futuristic geopolitical allegory that is unabashedly pro eco-radicalism, anti-corporate, and Islamophilic, is such a notoriously dense work that some believed it was unfilmable, even though it had an influence on various more commercialized sci-fi works that came after it, including George Lucas’ Star Wars (Dune takes place on a desert planet, features a scheming emperor, and involves a mystical power called “The Voice”….sound vaguely familiar?). Attempts were made, most prominently David Lynch’s borderline incoherent—and loosely adapted—1984 film, but its garbled narrative and the deviations it took from the source material rankled Dune fans. Later, a 2000 television miniseries adapted the plot more faithfully, but its low budget TV movie quality kept fans waiting for a definitive adaptation and did not fully allay concerns that perhaps Dune just didn’t work as a movie. Denis Villeneuve has tackled the ambitious task of bringing Dune to the screen in big-budget fashion, and while not a completely unqualified success, his version is successful and engaging enough that the biggest thing wrong with it is its subtitle “Part One”. The approximate first half of Herbert’s original novel has been brought to the screen, but with funding for the rest not yet secure, it remains to be seen if Villeneuve will be allowed to finish his work or whether this Dune will remain a half-told story.

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

First reactions to Marvel Movie 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings':  Is it

DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton

CAST: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN “SPOILERS”

With the Infinity War phase ended, the Marvel Cinematic Universe must now turn its focus toward the next era of its superheroes, including replacing some of its long-running mainstays who’ve left us (Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow) with the next generation. To that end, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an engaging origin story that manages touches of an epic feel and does things different from what we expect from the Marvel formula and whose first half feels like an old-school martial arts action flick and whose second half feels like a mythological fantasy epic with shades of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Mulan.

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The Suicide Squad (2021)

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DIRECTOR: James Gunn

CAST: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, Sylvester Stallone (voice)

REVIEW:

With The Suicide Squad (with a “The” tacked on to differentiate it from David Ayer’s sporadically entertaining but scattershot 2016 hot mess), James Gunn has become the second high-profile Marvel director to moonlight in the DCEU, and fortunately his DC detour is more successful than Joss Whedon’s misbegotten Justice League. In fact, while not entirely escaping some of the flaws of its predecessor, Gunn’s rendition of the titular squad of supervillains is enough of an improvement over Ayer’s that it’s possible to disregard the previous film’s existence (this one exists in a vague unspecified territory between a loose sequel and a quasi-reboot, and features a few returning characters and actors, but no previous events are directly referenced, so familiarity with the “first” movie isn’t necessary to enjoying this one). Gunn delivers the same quirky, breezy tone that helped make his Guardians of the Galaxy so popular, but combined with his warped, blackly comical, and often gory tendencies now being given free rein by an R rating that Disney/Marvel would never have allowed. This isn’t a movie for the kids, but for adults who aren’t squeamish, it’s flawed but a blast of wild irreverent fun.

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Black Widow (2021)

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DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland

CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt

REVIEW:

Black Widow, the movie to finally give the long-running MCU character her own posthumous solo movie, arrives at an awkward time, skipping back to sandwich itself into the time period between Captain America: Civil War and The Avengers: Infinity War and attempt to give more depth and backstory to a character who’s already dead. If timing is everything, Black Widow has missed the boat and feels like it should have come out several years ago, but setting the awkwardness of its release date aside, it’s an enjoyable enough stand-alone adventure, although it’s more successful in giving an often underdeveloped supporting Avenger a deeper backstory than it is in its generic narrative that feels like it borrows a page—or several pages—from other movies in the spy thriller genre.

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In the Heights (2021)

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DIRECTOR: Jon M. Chu

CAST: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Lin-Manuel Miranda

REVIEW:

Prolific and multi-talented Broadway star and singer-songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda first developed In the Heights long before 2015’s phenomenon Hamilton made him a more recognizable name, and bringing it first to the stage and then eventually to the screen has been a longtime labor of love. In fact, Miranda first wrote what would become In the Heights in college, then fine-tuned it in 2002 with the intention of producing it as a Broadway show. The version that eventually debuted on the Broadway stage was co-written by Miranda and playwright Quiara Alegria Hudges. In 2008 the original Broadway run of In the Heights (also starring Miranda himself) was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won 4, including Best Musical. The film rights were bought the same year, but it has taken thirteen years for a film adaptation of In the Heights to reach the screen. The result, while overlong and not among the top tier of film musicals (or Miranda’s own output), and likely a little less relatable to viewers not personally connected to the Hispanic-American immigrant experience, is still a lively and enjoyable “feel good” experience.

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Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Godzilla Vs. Kong': first trailer sees cinematic titans square off in epic  battle

DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard

CAST: Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Julian Dennison, Eiza Gonzalez, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Kaylee Hottle, Shun Oguri

REVIEW:

Godzilla vs. Kong, the fourth installment in Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse (and bearing little plot resemblance to 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla), is an example of how a two-minute trailer highlight reel shows its inherent shallowness when stretched out over two hours. Sporadic monster slugfests are not enough to sustain a Saturday morning cartoon plot with inane human characters scurrying around. Fans of the “classic” Godzilla series—which regularly featured plots every bit as silly as this one—might be entertained, but for casual fans, this series demonstrates diminishing returns.

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Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Wonder Woman 1984 Review: Sequel Floats On One Wing - The Returning Gal  Gadot - 2.5 Stars (Out Of 5)

DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins

CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal, Kristen Wiig

REVIEW:

Unpopular opinion time: while I acknowledged 2017’s Wonder Woman as the most solid movie to come out of the troubled DC Expanded Universe at the time (which was no great accomplishment when held up against the hot messes of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad), I wasn’t onboard the bandwagon showering it with rapturous praise, and felt it was a fairly standard-issue comic book superhero origin story. With Wonder Woman 1984, Patty Jenkins (returning to the director’s chair) has crafted a sequel that is bigger, brighter, and flashier than its predecessor, serving up flashy eighties glitz (as indicated by its title) and cheerfully campy superhero action wedded to a sometimes surprisingly heartfelt and thematically rich plotline that recaptures the earnestness and heroics first ingrained in pop culture by Richard Donner’s Superman (from which it borrows a page or two). Its tonal differences from its predecessor might gain it a mixed reception from the first film’s ardent fans, but it’s a welcome blast of fresh air and unabashedly old-fashioned comic book superhero heroics.

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Mank (2020)

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DIRECTOR: David Fincher

CAST: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton, Joseph Cross, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughton, Tom Burke, Toby Leonard Moore, Charles Dance

REVIEW:

David Fincher’s period piece, telling the (mostly) true story of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz, filmed in black-and-white and made to emulate the look and feel of an actual movie from the 1940s with meticulous verisimilitude, may be the notoriously perfectionist and visually dynamic director’s most technically challenging (and in some ways technically accomplished) project to date, but his laser-focus on capturing the look, style, and feel of a 1940s Hollywood motion picture results in a lukewarm emotional temperature. For Fincher, this has been a passion project and a labor of love; he’s working off a script credited to his own late journalist/essayist father Jack Fincher (although producer Eric Roth, who previously wrote Fincher’s 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, also had a hand in the screenplay), who wrote what would eventually become Mank in the 1990s. Fincher had originally intended to film his father’s script in 1997 after finishing The Game, envisioning it as starring Kevin Spacey and Jodie Foster, but plans fell through (his father never lived to see it finally completed, passing away in 2003). Alas, while one can respect what Fincher has accomplished here on a technical level, whatever passion may have gone into the making of Mank is not stirred by watching it. Mank is entertaining and engaging, especially for those with an interest in the subject matter or an appreciation for “Classic Hollywood”, but it’s at times emotionally uninvolving and appeals more to appreciators of witty dialogue and technical filmmaking craftsmanship than to the heart.

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Jiu Jitsu (2020)

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DIRECTOR: Dimitri Logothetis

CAST: Alain Moussi, Nicolas Cage, Frank Grillo, Tony Jaa, JuJu Chan, Marie Avgeropoulos, Rick Yune

REVIEW:

Every once in a while, I suppose a bit like slowing down when passing a car crash, I get the strange compulsion to review something truly terrible, whose amateurish ineptitude begs the question of who funded this in the first place. The inappropriately-named Jiu Jitsu (inappropriate because, as many a disgruntled Jiu Jitsu practitioner can tell you, it’s light on any actual Jiu Jitsu) is such a movie, taking the most ridiculous premise imaginable and using it to string together a series of clumsily-choreographed martial arts fight scenes interspersed with a bargain basement rip-off of Predator, all with bad acting, worse writing, and distractingly excessive directorial flourishes. One is better off watching a stunt/fight demo reel on YouTube and dodging the tediously awful filmmaking.

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Enola Holmes (2020)

Enola Holmes Teaser Unites Millie Bobby Brown & Henry Cavill on Netflix  This September

DIRECTOR: Harry Bradbeer

CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, Louis Partridge, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar, Fiona Shaw, Susie Wokoma, Frances de la Tour

REVIEW:

An adaptation of the first of a series of Sherlock Holmes spin-off novels by Nancy Springer inventing his younger (but equally deductive) sister Enola, Enola Holmes is a thin but breezy YA mystery-adventure that works almost in spite of itself. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes mysteries might be unimpressed by what amounts to YA spin-off fanfiction, but for those who aren’t too demanding, it’s a slight but charming diversion carried by a delightfully effervescent lead performance by Millie Bobby Brown.

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