Paul McGuire Grimes chats with the stars of Dune and Mass, two new movies out in theaters.
DUNE (In theaters, HBO Max)
One of the most highly-anticipated films of the year is the latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune. The planet of Arrakis is beautiful when the sun is low. Its rich commodity known as the spice is coveted by all. There are spice harvesters at night and sand worms to test nefarious wanderers. Without the spice, interstellar space travel is impossible so there’s an intergalactic battle for anyone who wants their hands on the spice. A war battles on for control of the planet and its remaining inhabitants known as the Fremen people. Their only hope comes from an unlikely hero, the young Paul Atreides. He’s the son of royalty under Duke Leto and Lady Jessica and has spent years training to be fulfill his destiny.
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgård, Jason Mamoa
Writer/director Denis Villeneuve brings Herbert’s world to life in a breathtaking jaw-dropping fashion. He’s the visionary behind Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 and considers himself a passionate fan of the material and set out to make a faithful adaptation of Herbert’s world.
From the first frame, you’ll notice the intricate detail and care Villeneuve and his creative team have taken with every aspect of the film. Dune is a large-scale film that is so rarely made anymore. This feels more in line with the Lord of the Rings movies than the CGI heavy Marvel films.
The practical set pieces and cinematography by Greig Fraser give the film lush artistry that feels lived in and part of the world building that’s so necessary for visualizing Frank Herbert’s novel. It’s bleak and dark, and you feel that heat rising with the sand and spice.
There’s a sense of dread early on thanks to Hans Zimmer’s breathtaking score that drives so much of this film. It’s one of his greatest scores that feels like a work of art on its own on top of complimenting the story on screen.
The story is layered and complicated, but one that is forced to move at a brisk pace. Some of this may get lost on Dune first-timers given there’s so much going on at any given moment. Villeneuve has a wonderful cast all given moments to shine.
Timothée Chalamet makes for the unlikely hero that Paul is. We believe in him but know it will be an arduous journey with high stakes for him to prove he’s the heir he’s meant to be.
Dune is the kind of cinematic experience that comes along so rarely and demands to be seen on the big screen. While it will be streaming on HBO Max, I encourage you to see it in a theater if you feel comfortable. You may just need to see it a few times. It’s being billed as Part One. You’ll get swept up in the artistry and the world building that Denis Villeneuve thrives at as a director, but I suspect more of the story and emotional weight will come in the second part.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
MASS (in theaters)
Four of the best performances I’ve seen all year are in the intimate new film, Mass. It centers on two couples Gail and Jay (Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs) and Richard and Linda (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) They come together in the basement room of a church for the first time in years hoping for forgiveness, understanding, and closure. They will forever be connected after an unimaginable tragedy.
Fran Kranz has written and directed Mass in a way that benefits from having the viewer know as little as possible going on. I knew virtually nothing about the story and part of the success of the film comes from the reveals and lessons that are learned along the way.
The movie opens with members of the church staff and a therapist prepping the room to be just right for these four parents. It’s not directly discussed between them what happened, but it’s openly known. The room must be laid out just right without anything that could go pose as a trigger to anyone involved.
As Gail, Jay, Richard, and Linda start the conversation, you feel that awkwardness between them, but Jay is the one trying to break the ice and initiate conversation. It’s almost too painful for the two mothers to open up. It’s Jay who reminds Richard and Linda that they are here to “Express ourselves, not interrogate”
Fran Kranz makes the viewer the silent fifth member of this meeting. I started to theorize what happened and how I would react in this situation. There are conversations about “What changed” with one of the boys as we inevitably try to look for answers and evidence from guns to mental health to violent video games in an attempt to figure out why and when that shift happened.
Not many people have found themselves in the situation these parents find themselves in and yet Kranz and his four actors make this story approachable in a thought-provoking manner about blame and hate which can be found in many real-life circumstances.
Mass is directed with fine precision never forcing the emotions as there’s quite a bit of restraint from his actors. This could have become a shouting match of melodrama, but the power is in the restraint slowly building to a breaking point.
I love the open and raw dialogue as there’s no therapist or social worker to intervene. The four of them talk about the timeline of events both surface level and the concrete facts and yet it’s a fascinating exercise in how our brains process things differently as all four see this event from a different viewpoint.
Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton give these soul-breaking performances finding those gut-punching moments what it would be like to to be a mother to one of these boys. They along with Reed Birney and Jason Isaacs make the four characters intrinsically different in how they respond and understand the unthinkable.
I can imagine Mass being hard to watch for parents. It’s one of the best films of the year that should stir conversation, hopefully opening minds and hearts to tragic events like this that happen far too often.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS