DUNE 2021 MOVIE REVIEW: THE SLEEPER HAS AWAKENED!

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Everything you love from pop culture, including #StarWars, has been greately influenced by Frank Herbert’s Dune saga. Continued by his son, Brian Herbert, and his co-author, Kevin J Anderson, the Dune universe spans many eons and storylines that all mash up together to give a complex storyline that at the center of it, remains timeless. It is the struggle to free the mind, the ties that binds us across time and space to family, culture and the sense of finding ourselves in an ever changing landscape.
When you read the saga, especially the original saga started by Frank Herbert, you don’t feel like you are reading a space opera but rather a historical tale. Something that has been persevered thanks to the voice of history and the cruel efforts of one family against the sands of time. Frank Herbert, inspired by Isaac Asimov’s FOUNDATION saga (of which an adaptation has also been made, albeit it is as a series for the streaming platform Apple +), understood the importance of ancestral memory or rather history. If we are to move forward, we have to take into account the past. But more than that, we have to be careful how we choose to remember and who we choose to follow.


*SPOILERS* (Thou Have been Warned!)

The film comprises only the first half of the first book. As such, we don’t get to see Paul fighting Feyd or meeting Princess Irulan to force her into marriage to solidify his future bloody imperial reign. Paul does come to be self-aware near the end of this film, but he’s also terrified by what he knows he must do in order to save humanity from extinction and into the golden path. In the books, we get a better sense into his psyche. This being a visual medium, the director did a good job highlighting this via the acting of Timothee Chalamet and his visions.
I was worried that the film would not be opening like the eponymous book with Irulan’s narration; yet, this slight distortion ended up working to better get a sense of where the Fremen are coming from and what lays ahead for Paul. Chani’s role is a big one in future books and determines his cowardice and cruelty to their future children and his neglected wife, Princess Irulan (the daughter of the Padisah Emperor Shaddam IV he will end up deposing and exiling). Though the latter aforementioned characters are not seen here, they are referenced in subtle ways which leaves the door open for a better understanding of when they are finally introduced in part 2.

That aside, the film is a visual spectacle. It is a masterpiece.Though there are not ETs here, everything feels alien. Humanity has moved beyond the confines of our solar system. The imperium is similar to other empires in our history, but it also feels like something completely different. Despite the other similarities between feudalism and the way the Houses are structred, this is not a space feudalism. It is something else. And this feeling is exactly what one feels when reading the books. It feels familiar but also something completely detached from our reality. We are meant to be part of the ride, but not meant to be fully integrated into this new universe of evolutionary wonders and horrors. Humanity has moved past A.I. In its stead, they have splintered into different factions, all under the rule of the Imperium. Some humans seem no different than their ancestors on earth from more than ten thousand years ago, but others might as well be classified as alien because they have modified themselves to such an extent that they are almost a separate species. At the center of it all, is the one substance that powers the entire universe: the spice melange. Found in only one planet in the known universe: Arrakis (also known as Dune), everyone fights for control of this precious substance. He who controls the spice controls the universe.Beyond extending life, persevering youth, opening consciousness and allowing other super-human abilities, the spice has helped humanity stay away from the temptation of falling prey to technological curiosity and dependence. But there are one group of humans who have claimed the desert of Arrakis as their own despite not being native to the planet. These are called the Fremen. Originally, they formed part of the humans who fought the machines in the last machine war or Butlerian Jihad. They settled on Arrakis and called themselves the Free Men. Through time, they formed an enclave which grew until becoming the Fremen we see in the film. Their religion is a mixture of Zen Buddhism and Islam, with tinges of the ever more complicated mixture of Abrahamic religions and other religious philosophies found in the OCB (the Orange Catholic Bible, which has become the new official bible by the ruling houses). Though this is not explicitly mentioned in the movie, enough hints are dropped here for viewers to know and find out more about the underlying religious and philosophical currents in this universe. What these rebels don’t know though is that the prophecy of their messiah is nothing more than religious engineering by the powerful sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit. Insidious and extremely dangerous, this religious organization does what it can for power. Although they want to save humanity from future extinction, at the end of the day, they want power and believe that the super human messiah they have long been awaiting for will be theirs to control. But as what happens with every human calculation: something goes wrong.This is where Paul Atreides comes in.

He’s the Dune Messiah, the Kwisatz Haderach, the prophesized savior of the Fremen, the Muad’Dib, and future savior of humanity. He is also part of a carefully engineered genetic planning by the Bene Gesserit. His mother, a Bene Gesserit herself, has worked in tandem with the Sisterhood to orchestrate this. However, the calculations were disrupted by Lady Jessica (Paul’s mother) decision to fall in love with the Duke Leto of House Atreides and give him a son rather than a daughter. The Bene Gesserit in their infinite wisdom and conniving nature, have been in charge of mixing bloodlines for thousands of years until their end result. To achieve their ultimate power, the last move on the chessboard would depend on the daughter Lady Jessica would give Duke Leto. This daughter would be given in marriage to a Harkonnen (the Atreides’ main enemy) heir and the result be a Kwisatz Haderach which, with the support of both Houses, overthrow the Padisha Empire, declare himself Emperor and thorugh him, the Bene Gesserit would rule and bring forth the Golden Path. But Lady Jessica chose love over duty. It is this simple choice which upset their plans, but also set in motion a crueler fate in order to achieve this “Golden Path”. Paul comes to find this out near the end of the movie and resents his mother for this. Yet, he realizes that he has no other option but to do what was meant of the Kwisatz Haderach in order to save himself and his loved ones. The Dune Movie does a good job in showing all of this. Hopefully this will lead people to become more interested in this world and the historical and philosophical influences which inspired Frank Herbert to write his space opera. This, along with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, is the original Star Wars. But while in Star Wars, the alien worlds and species still feel human, here, set tens of thousands of years into the future, the world feels more alien. It is more grounded in scifi, while still being relatable because of the timeless conflicts that have plagued mankind since its creation.

When Paul “awakens”, it is not only he who does but the rest of us as well.

If I were to have a concern it’d be that Irulan’s role is minimized in future adaptations. She is an extremely important part in the saga. The old saying that the “pen is mightier than the sword” is demonstrated through her. While it’s through the fanatical hordes of Fremen’s crysknives and their religious fervor which places the galaxy into submission, as well as the near-omniscience of the God Emperor Leto II (Paul’s son) that the Known Universe is pushed towards the Golden Path, none of this could have been possible without the eloquence and intellectual curiosity of Princess Irulan. Princess Irulan is everything we dream in a historian. Despite being uncomfortable in her own skin, being mistreated by Paul and suspected by the rest, she quickly redeems herself by taking on the task of raising her twin stepchildren and preserving knowledge for future generations. If the next sequels are to continue being masterpieces and represent the importance of history, they need to expand on Irulan’s role as they have already pledged they will do on Paul’s love interest, Chani. The second novel (DUNE MESSIAH) does a good job expanding her role. The director has stated that he plans to add more dimension to her character other than being a love interest of Paul. This was good to hear. However, I hope this doesn’t fall into the common old Victorian trope of elevating one female character at the expense of the other. This would be detrimental and contrary to the intention of what the director’s claims and what Herbert intended in the first place.

With this being said, I hope things go well and we get to see more of the marvelous worlds that the known universe in Dune has yet to offer us in future sequels, and does justice to all the characters. If that is so, then let the spice flow!

Murder on the Orient Express (Movie Review)

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Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is one of her best novels, and the best in her Hercules Poirot series so it is with a heavy heart that I must express my deepest sympathies to those who feel that I am being unfair with my upcoming review of this latest adaptation.

I was eager to see this movie. As a big fan of police and crime dramas, I was excited to see one of the greateste detectives, as Kenneth Branagh who plays him in this film (which he also directs) boasted. But I was sorely disappointed. The movie feels extremely apologetic with the writers having tried so hard to make us like the characters. I ended up feeling that some of the theatrics were over the top and unnecessary. Indeed, some of the characters ended up being cartoonish, with Poirot not being played as the methodical, dapper, complex man that he is in the novels.
The end result is another one of Hollywood’s recent attempts to modernize a timeless classic. And I say classic despite the novel being less than a century old. Published in 1934, the story centers on a gruesome morder on the Orient Express. Poirot is the only qualified to take on the case. Whereas the film lacks some of the more comedic elements of the book, the latter doesn’t shy away from inserting light-hearted humor, balancing it with the darker overtones of the ‘victim’ (and I use that term lightly here for those who have already read the book or seen the film) and those involved in the murder.
The novel has a lot of heart. It is something unique, and as the other ones of Agatha’s detective novels, by making the characters flawed, and difficult to decipher they become subjects that we can all relato.
Poirot is not an easy man to interpret and I was hoping that if someone could outdo Finney and Suchet, it would be Kenneth Branagh. The man is not only a great director, he is a great actor. A Shakesperean actor at that! But the movie suffers from trying too hard.
The direction is good, the settings are wonderful, and it deserved to be at least nominated in those categories. But it cut through many important details and overdid it on others. Had it not left out the important details, then all of Poirot’s conclusions would have been easily understood. He is not just one of the world’s best detectives because of his intuition or passion to take on a big challenge such as this one, he is the best because he is highly methodical and nothing escapes his eye. In fact, Daisy Ridley’s character (the governess) points this out at the beginning of the film.
There is also some role reversals which I won’t complain about because it didn’t change the ending of the film, or undermine the plot; but I would have liked the movie to be longer so audiences would have become more invested on these characters and their grievances.

I will say this though. I do not hate this film. It is entertaining, but it is not as great as I thought it would be. Out of all the performances, the one that stood out the most was Michelle Pfeiffer.

The Martian is a space epic!

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The movie is without one of the best flicks I’ve seen this year. Together with Everest, it is one of those flicks that pushes the human spirit to the limit. Just how far are you willing to go, to achieve something that will last a lifetime? In Everest it was a personal goal, in Martian, the goal is to leave behind something for humanity. The human spirit knows no bounds. Even though Mark Whatney is stranded millions of miles away in space, he tells himself “I am not going to die here” and he figures out a plan to grow crops “in a place where nothing grows”. I don’t want to spoil the whole movie because I hope people go see it, and get as excited about science as I was, and some kids in the theater were. (Yes, some kids were there despite the strong cursing. But come on guys, kids get exposed to violence all the time. Surely you they can stomach a few swearing that I bet they do when nobody is watching.)

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The movie is also very true to the book; Matt Damon lives up to the hype and so does the rest of the cast. There is politics, some intrigue but also hope (which is something that’s often lacking in today’s movies). It is done in a very realistic way, where it’s not just good guy vs bad guys, but just people trying to find out a solution to bring him home, others to make him survive long enough so he can wait for the next ARES mission, and others who don’t want to sacrifice everything for one man. In a typical Hollywood movie, the latter would be the villain, a cold hearted, nasty suit who doesn’t care about anyone but his own ego. But that is not the case here. Jeff Daniel’s character, Teddy, is the director of NASA and he cares for Mark’s safety as much as the rest, but as the leader of a public funded organization, he has to look out for the team first and he is not going to risk everything for one man. In contrast we have another leader, the Commander of Mark’s team, Louis (played by Jessica Chastain) who feels guilty she left Mark for dead and wants to make up for that.
The ending differs from the book and it feels like one additional chapter, but it works perfectly.

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I just want to add something more because after I got out of the theater I felt like they were also some similarities with Ridley Scott’s other science fiction movie ‘ALIEN’ (1979). The interior of the Mars base and the ARES look a hell of a lot like the Nostromo and its proto-prequel ‘Prometheus’ (2012). The opening of the movie has that mystery music that works up the suspense like the first one did for Alien, and the letters even appear slowly. The slogan for Alien was ‘in space no one can hear you scream’, the slogan for Prometheus was something along the lines they went searching for our salvation that turned out to be our doom. MARTIAN is all the contrary. It keeps the suspense of the first movie and there is that fear of the unknown. In Alien the fear was that you are stuck in a planet where everything works against you and you find a space monster that is hell bent on killing you. In The Martian, you are stuck on a planet where the science is well known, but you are all alone and nobody knows you are alive until much later and even then, there is no guarantee they can come and pick you up, so you still feel helpless because as Mark says towards the end ‘its space, it doesn’t cooperate’. And there are those similar space suits and rovers like the ones used on Prometheus but whereas the first two were about caution and the dangers of exploration, this is about hope and ingenuity.

Movie Review of Everest: Never let Go! Thrilling and Suspenseful!

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I just came from watching Everest and let me tell you it was mental! It is one of those movies that you don’t want to watch because you know the story but at the same time, you can’t stop your curiosity –and even after its finished, you can’t satiate it because you want to know more about the Mountain and why so many people will risk their lives for it. But that is the beauty –and tragedy of it. Everest is a metaphor. More than a physical challenge, it is a spiritual challenge where you are pushing yourself to go to the limits, believing that once you head to the top as Doug Hansen “the mailman” says to Rob and Beck, people (in this case, his kids) will think it’s possible to do anything.
It’s conquering your own self, testing yourself against the limits. But ultimately as another one of the ill-fated says, the mountain has the last words.

There were so many moments at the end where I want it to cry –and I hate crying, I am not a crying person. The part where Rob **spoilers** calls his wife for the penultimate time, and she is just there helpless to stop what she knows in her heart is coming but she can’t come to grips with it (yet); and Rob crying out of fear, sadness (that two people have died on his watch and he too was powerless to stop it), hurt and finally resignation and telling his wife that he loves her, calling her sweet words like “my love” like reminding her to call their unborn child “Sarah”. And then the final call where one of the South-African climbers (from another team) tells Jan (Rob’s wife) that they can’t come for him until the next morning –by which then, he will be dead- and she calls him again and he is absolutely devastated and yet he keeps part of his composure and tells his wife one last time that he loves her. That was absolutely heartbreaking.

Jason Clarke’s performance as the magazine ‘Outside’ said in an interview with the rest of the cast and crew, does have that ‘gravitas’ to him that makes this even harder to watch. And Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhal are not that far behind. It is amazing all the number of actors and actresses that were in this movie, and not feel the same terror and sadness as the people they played felt when they were hit by this tragedy. Jake Gyllenhaal who plays another expert climber (Scott) was amazing, and you can feel his doubt veiled behind that arrogant smile, that he will make it. You want him to get out, you want him to make it; you don’t want to believe that he will die (even though you know the story) and when he falls, when he looks resigned; you as a viewer can’t come to grips with what is happening and as he, you must resign yourself to his ultimate fate.

Scott, Rob, Beck opposite the actors who play them (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke and Josh Brolin).
Scott, Rob, Beck opposite the actors who play them (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke and Josh Brolin).

The only one who makes it out alive of the main three is Beck (Josh Brolin). Beck is enthusiastic, he is a proud Texan who wants to make it to the top. He doesn’t because it becomes too much for him and when they are all stranded up there, he miraculously survives and again, this is why Everest triumphs as a movie because it also shows a triumph of the human spirit to push yourself to the limits and defy all odds. The odds were stacked against Beck but he didn’t let go; as he opens his eyes he imagines seeing his wife and his kids and those three images give him the strength he needs to get up and rejoin the others.
But greatness has a price. Nothing in life is for free, and the price they paid to get to the top, was very high. At the end the movie shows the real people behind the victims, and the real photo of Adventure Consultants from that expedition, as well as what happened to Beck (hands and nose amputated).

The movie plays like a bittersweet symphony, it is a tale of survival, love, tragedy, and conquering one’s self against everything; and without a doubt one of the best flicks I’ve seen this year. A thrilling and suspenseful ride! Go see it.

The real team of Adventure Consultants led by Rob Hall. (May 1996)
The real team of Adventure Consultants led by Rob Hall. (May 1996)

Out of the people who died besides Scott Fisher and Rob Hall were: Andrew Harris, Dorje Moup, Yasuko Namba, Tsweang Paijor, Tsewang Samanla, Reinhard Wlasich.

SELMA: A Must-See Movie

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There are many people I admire from this era, from Dolores Huerta, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King among many others. The movie centers around MLK’s struggle with other African American leaders to get the vote. The Civil Rights act had been passed and signed by LBJ in 1964 but the South did not respect it and it was one of those state vs federal government quarrels that many politicians did not want to get into. But while the politicians debate, the activists act. This was an epic movie and I do say epic because the movie did not just center about MLK, but also around the other men and women who were important to this struggle and it also showed MLK as a very human. Someone who is on the brink of giving up. He has given so much of his life, of his own family life so that people can have equal rights and justice, but it is all weighing down on him. Often times we think how easy it was for heroes or people we admire but it was not. And the movie managed to do that brilliantly. Another thing the movie did as Derrik Clinton pointed out in MSNBC So Popular/Shift edition today is that the director showed everyone as they really were. People complain because LBJ was not portrayed as the holier than thou or great figure that has been romanticized; but as a man of his times. LBJ was a tough and no-nonsense president and I really admire him, but I admire for obvious reasons the activists in the civil rights movements more.

LBJ as a man of his time, and a politician uses racist language in the film that was very common during that era among white folks. It is something we not often think of him doing it, but he did. Ava DuVernay did an excellent film doing a multi-dimensional portrayal of all the people involved and also including the women who were involved in the movement and the harsh reality of those times. My only critique was the way Malcom X was presented and constantly referred to as militant and as for someone who has read extensively on him, I did not like that very much but then I understood that the people in the film saying that are Johnson and others who did see Malcom that way. (I recommend everyone reading on Malcom X’s autobiography by the way, as well as doing their own research on him. He was another remarkable person of this time. There are many youtube videos of his interview. A well spoken and eloquent man as MLK. Both were amazing men, and both dead before their time).

There was a part in the movie where he says that while the police continue to abuse their authority and they are continued to be portrayed as deranged and criminals, they are not and the only way to do something is to protest and to speak out. And that, he adds means disturbing the peace. And this rang so true to me. Currently in my country of origin there have been so many student protests and the way the media portrays the protestors and the students is as terrorists and deranged. And we do not have to go very far to my country, but right here in the US, with policemen killing African American teens and racially profiling other minorities; we see that many things still need to be changed and we need to speak out. Whether it is protesting, posting things to our facebook or discussing it with friends to raise awareness, it all matters.

Many Millenials as many commentators have pointed out live in this daze where they think racism doesn’t exist but it still does and this film can point it out when they realize how bad it was fifty years ago and that while things have become better, they are not as great as we believe them to be. The fight goes on.

The real Martin Luther King delivering his 'I have a dream speech' in August 1963.
The real Martin Luther King delivering his ‘I have a dream speech’ in August 1963.