Dune Part 1 | Last Night in Soho
And it's time to attend the Landsmeet in Dragon Age: Origins.
MOVIE REVIEW /// Dune Part 1
Movie summary: Feature adaptation of Frank Herbert's science fiction novel, about the son of a noble family entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy. (IMDb)
Yes, that is the name of the movie - ignore the posters, trailers and all the other marketing material, the movie literally starts with a title card that says 'Dune Part 1'. And this really is a part one too, simply stopping halfway through the story because that's where I'm guessing the time and budget for the film ran out. The now-greenlit sequel may help retroactively improve this movie, but it doesn't really work by itself.
I should also say now that I do have a lot of criticisms for this movie that I'll go into here, but consider this a review of exceptions: if I don't mention something, feel free to assume that it simply matches up to Denis Villeneuve's usual super-high standards of film-making. This isn't a Dune super-fan talking either - I read and enjoyed the book when I read it over twenty years ago, but haven't had anything to do with the franchise since.
That said, it is noticeable even to me how much of the book was cut out for Dune Part 1. There is the same issue at the start here that The Last Duel had, with the movie jumping around and some odd editing choices early on before settling down, but - unlike Ridley Scott's movie - this continues to feel like a cut-down version of what the story really should've been.
The story jumps forwards from event to event at breakneck pace, with characters introduced and then forgotten about/killed off not long after. It feels very much like anything that could add texture, depth or character to this world and the people in it was cut out, hoping the visuals would carry the load, while giving no chance for growth to any character other than Timothée Chalamet's Paul Atreides.
It especially hurts that Rebecca Ferguson's Jessica is so different to what I remember from the books, being weepy and overly-emotional for the majority of the time here rather than the stronger character who reined in her feelings as best she could in the books. Thanks to this internal conflict being shown through internal monologues in the book, I can understand making this aspect of her character external to a degree, but considering the lack of other prominent female characters, it's not exactly the best look.
Saying that, Jessica does play a major part in my favourite scene in the movie, where she uses The Voice to lethal ends in order to save herself and Paul. That Bene Gesserit trick is pulled off in an inventive and impressive manner that absolutely separates it from being considered anything close to a Jedi mind trick from Star Wars, and is used to maximum effect whenever done.
Another problem I have with Dune Part 1 is something that is down to personal taste, and that is Villeneuve's apparent penchant for brutalist sci-fi imagery. Arrival has the pebble-like ship, and Blade Runner 2049 does away with the intricate, detailed designs of Blade Runner in exchange for a cleaner, but more spartan and angular design, which this movie also uses.
The problem I have with this design choice is that it breaks that 'uncanny valley' of set design for me, creating spaces which feel just empty and lifeless - a definite issue when supposedly depicting the Atreides' home, which comes across more like a prison at times thanks to so little apparently existing inside the admittedly fantastic-looking structures other than the bare minimum needed to live.
This lifelessness of locations carries across to many of the characters, who act more like automatons than human beings - even when the characters are not the Mentats (human 'computers') that advise the leaders of the houses of Atreides and Harkonnen. This even affects Paul, who might show the most growth of any character in this partial story, but Chalamet still feels stiff and inhuman a lot of the time.
It works to some degree as the character of Paul spends the movie trying to figure out who and what he is, but that doesn't mean it makes for an interesting performance; Chalamet is a really bloody good actor, so I'm hoping he gets to show off his range a little more in Dune Part 2. Then again, hoping that the sequel can fix a lot of the issues here is an issue unto itself.
I really did enjoy watching Dune Part 1, but I think having that little bit of knowledge from the book helped me piece together more of what was happening than non-readers will be able to, so it's difficult to know whether I would recommend this or not - a large part of my enjoyment came from knowing what certain scenes or moments were setting up for the future rather than being entertaining in their own right.
If anything, I think the movie could enjoy a feedback loop - it feels like there's enough done well here to get people interested in the world, which will hopefully drive them to the book to find out more. Once they have the extra knowledge of the setting and characters, that could potentially improve their enjoyment of the movie as they'll know why certain things happen the way they do!
Dune Part 1 is enjoyable to watch but suffers from being literally half a story, so is almost entirely lacking in any kind of narrative or dramatic catharsis. It's an incredibly well-made movie, even if the production design isn't to my liking, and a showcase of Denis Villeneuve's mastery of technical film-making, but that lack of any completed character arcs and generally emotionally-distanced performances makes it feel a little hollow.
[7/10 - Good]
MOVIE REVIEW /// Last Night in Soho
Movie summary: An aspiring fashion designer is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer. But the glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something darker. (IMDb)
I was not a fan of Baby Driver at all, but rate Hot Fuzz as one of my favourite movies ever made - Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, The World's End and Scott Pilgrim were all enjoyable to varying degrees too, so I think it would be fair to say that I have an overall fondness for his work. However, learning that Last Night in Soho was going to be another non-comedy akin to Baby Driver had me a little worried.
I shouldn't have had any concerns though, as this movie is bloody fantastic for the most part. Honestly, I was thinking at one point that Last Night in Soho was pushing close to Hot Fuzz as my favourite movie of his as I was enjoying it so much. Then the last third happens. From enjoying it so much, I actually left the cinema disappointed at how 'poorly' it had finished, except that wasn't quite accurate.
Some movies are of a consistent enough level of quality that it's easy to write about them immediately and not worry about your opinion changing, but I'm glad I left it a few days since seeing the movie before writing this review, as it allowed me to gain some much needed perspective: the last third of the movie isn't poor by any stretch of the imagination, it's simply good, which only feels disappointing solely in comparison to how incredible the rest of the film is.
It's hard to talk about the story without spoiling it, but I will say that as events take a more supernatural turn late on and Eloise's mind really begins to unravel is where the movie kind of wobbles - it doesn't feel like the 'correct' final third to match the first two-thirds. Thomasin McKenzie (Eloise) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Sandie) are still great in the final stretch, as are the rest of the cast involved, but it all resolves in a fairly expected fashion, rather than doing something truly interesting.
And let me just repeat: Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are both great, if not outright phenomenal here. I would fully expect them both to challenge Jodie Comer's performance in The Last Duel, although the story being split between them and their respective (and occasionally over-lapping) time periods may prevent either or both from receiving the acclaim they deserve for their efforts here - McKenzie especially stands out and I can't wait to watch more of her work after Jojo Rabbit and this.
The rest of the cast do their best to keep up, although it's only really Matt Smith as the slimy Jack and Diana Rigg as Eloise's landlady who come close. Smith is great to watch - his run on Doctor Who is my favourite of the entire series, and it's so much fun seeing him excelling at playing a role that couldn't be further from the Doctor in terms of character.
I will admit that I think some of the fondness for Last Night in Soho is seeing so much of London that was familiar, including more than a few jokes at the city's expense - one touching on the difficulty of getting from south to north London got a huge laugh from the audience, which probably won't do much for anyone with little knowledge of why the joke is so painfully accurate. This definitely isn't a comedy, but is filled with a supporting cast that feel like actual people who react appropriately to the bizarre shit going on and getting some humour out of it in the process.
The movie looks gorgeous too, with a fantastic soundtrack on top that means there should be something for most people to enjoy here even if they don't have a connection to London or found the ending even more jarring than I did. Edgar Wright is on top of his game from start to finish as far as excelling at film-making goes, even if the story can't quite sustain that excellence all the way to the end.
Last Night in Soho is still an easy recommend though, because there's simply so much to like here that to say otherwise would be quite frankly ridiculous. It's a great addition to a quality-packed subgenre of young women wanting more from their life and unravelling for various reasons - this, Perfect Blue, Mulholland Drive and Neon Demon would make for quite the movie marathon, albeit a very bleak one.
Last Night in Soho was a very pleasant surprise that is only let down by an ending that is 'merely' good, creating a sense of unjustified disappointment with how things finish purely because the first two-thirds of the movie are so damn good, ranking right up there with some of Edgar Wright's best work. And all the credit in the world to Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, who deliver awards-worthy performances.
[8/10 - Very Good]
GAME PLAY /// Dragon Age: Origins, "The Landsmeet"
Before starting this section of the game, while playing it, and once the Landsmeet was over, I kept wondering if I should split this section into two parts, but I honestly had no idea how; this is endgame territory for Dragon Age: Origins and, having done virtually all of the side stories, there's not much else to do other than press on with the story, the weight of which continues to increase as you go.
Elissa, Arl Eamon and the others arrive in Denerim to be greeted by Loghain; Rendon Howe, having gained an immense amount of power and influence by this point and further ramming home just how much the Human Noble origin seems to be the best to pick if you want the most complete story; and Ser Cauthrien, who comes across as a combination of Loghain's chief lieutenant and bodyguard.
Threats are made by both sides, although Loghain really does come across as more unhinged than ever at this point, especially considering what Elissa and her friends have accomplished so far in their journeys. Regardless, Loghain withdraws and sends the Grey Warden out into Denerim to try and find out more about Loghain's plans.
Nothing really develops until Queen Anora's servant, Erlina, arrives to tell the heroes that Howe has the Queen locked up and unable to help Eamon sway the nobles at the Landsmeet, which she is apparently willing to do, having lost faith in her father. Elissa is keen to help, especially as it might provide a chance of revenge against her parents' killer, although she is reminded that Anora must be the priority.
The Grey Warden leads her team in to the Arl of Denerim's estate, now belonging to Howe, entering in disguise thanks to Erlina and discovering that magic is keeping Anora trapped, which means heading into the dungeons to find the mage responsible. What follows is a lengthy, literal dungeon crawl as the group carve their way through all opposition, even freeing an Orlesian Grey Warden and other 'political' prisoners along the way.
They finally confront Howe, with Elissa taking him on my herself to keep him occupied as the others wipe out those on his side, before helping to finish him off, although he shows no remorse before finally passing. After that, it's back to Anora and leading her out of the estate, only to be confronted by Cauthrien and a huge number of enemy soldiers, plus a couple more mages.
You can choose to surrender or to fight, although the latter can prove immensely tough, if not outright impossible if not appropriately prepared. Just to see if I could win, I let the fight play out and it went much like the Howe fight, with Elissa occupying Cauthrien while taking little to no damage as the others wiped out her forces.
However, that's not much fun to play out as it's just one fight and then on with the story, so I reloaded and surrendered, being imprisoned in Fort Drakon. Again, you can choose how to proceed here, either breaking out yourself or waiting for your team to come get you, so I had Elissa tell a fellow prisoner that she would wait for Leliana and Wynne to save her.
It was trickier than I thought it would be, thanks to both being easily hurt due to not having much in the way of strong armour, but there are some fun conversations to have with the guards here as you bluff your way inside regardless of who you pick to come and rescue you - yes, even if you choose your Mabari hound as a rescuer!
Once free from Fort Drakon, it's straight to Eamon's estate and what I thought would then be the Landsmeet, because I'd forgotten about another section of the game: the Elven Alienage. If you don't choose the City Elf origin, this is your first time in this area and it's nice to have somewhere new to visit, with a whole new set of characters to meet so late on - it also adds possibly the single greatest confirmation that all of the origins you can pick play out, what you're really choosing at the start is which one Duncan was present for, with the others not turning out so well for those involved where he was around.
As it turns out, mages from the Tevinter Imperium agreed a deal with Loghain to take the elves as slaves for their empire, which means another string of battles until you reach the magister in charge of operations, who tries to make a deal with Elissa. Being intensely anti-slavery, she says the only way he can leave alive is to give her everything she wants, which he curiously doesn't agree to and is cut down. It's an odd moment - when the choices are 'die and the Warden takes everything' or 'live and the Warden takes everything', who would ever take the first option?
Once that horrific mess is sorted out, the elves have been freed and Elissa has evidence of Loghain's consent to the operation, it's finally time to head to the Landsmeet, where the Warden has promised to support Anora's claim to the throne even though Eamon wants Alistair to become King. Loghain seems to hold more anger for Elissa though, seeing her as his opponent instead of Cailan's half-brother.
Unfortunately for him, the sheer weight of evidence Elissa has gathered about what Loghain personally did or simply allowed to be done is overwhelming, prompting the Landsmeet to vote against him. Even Anora appears and testifies against him, seemingly settling the matter, but he refuses to accept the outcome and so it comes down to a trial by combat.
(Just a note here: if you didn't agree to support Anora, or questioned her too hard before agreeing, she will show up to support her father and swing the Landsmeet in Loghain's favour - her treacherous nature can be seen earlier if you choose to reveal her presence to Cauthrien when rescuing her from Howe, where the Queen will claim you are the ones trying to capture her instead!)
Elissa takes on Loghain herself and it's laughably one-sided, with the Warden not taking so much as a scratch from his attacks and he soon yields, with Elissa allowing Alistair to execute him on behalf of Duncan and the Grey Wardens for his betrayal at Ostagar back at the start of the game. With Loghain gone, a power vacuum remains with Anora and Alistair both candidates for the throne.
There are a lot of options how this scenario can play out, including a female human noble making herself Queen to Alistair's King if they are in a relationship and Alistair's opinion of the Warden is maxed out to 100; but Elissa is with Leliana in this game, so she instead chooses to betray her promise to Anora and support Alistair as King - something I intended from the very beginning thanks to my previous knowledge of her own back-stabbing nature from previous games.
Alistair reluctantly accepts becoming King and points out that his first duty as ruler is the same as for a Grey Warden: to protect Ferelden from the Blight. The nobles fully support him and it's now time to start preparing for the final battle, even if he does take the time to angrily attack Elissa for putting him in that position considering he thought she'd never do something like that to a friend.
But personal squabbles are now irrelevant, we're into the real endgame now...