Especially in the fall and winter, my go-to genre is mystery and suspense, with a little horror sprinkled in until the Christmas movies start to stream. We all have our comforts, but I found myself in a bit of a rut and decided it was time to branch out. So, I watched Dune. The new movie adapted from Frank Herbert’s classic novel is decidedly not the type of movie I am usually drawn to.
My father liked Dune, so I always meant to read it, but never got around to it. I therefore went into the movie without any real context or foreknowledge of the plot. What follows is my best attempt at a summary. Young Paul Atreides (Timothee Chamalet) has been raised by his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), to nurture his special psychic abilities and by his father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), to follow in his noble footsteps. For generations, his family has been hoping for The One and it might be him. Paul has visions of Chani (Zendaya) and is being trained in fighting by Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa). Then, they all have to go to a dangerous faraway land to deal with some business about a magical spice. Did I get it?! Essentially, Dune is a court drama set in space, complete with dukes.
I found Dune incredibly boring. If you are not into epic science fiction or hero’s journey stories, do not force yourself to watch this one, it is not much fun. And yet, despite my utter disinterest in the story, I must acknowledge that Dune is expertly made. The cast is so star-studded that familiar faces are continually popping up, and the ensemble does a wonderful job of portraying the gravitas of the politics and family drama. I did sometimes wonder if Rebecca Ferguson was overacting, but given how disengaged I was from the story, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She, Timothee Chamalet, and Oscar Isaac have excellent chemistry as a family.
On par with the acting, the cinematography is striking, creating a sweeping, stark world that at times looks like Star Wars and at other times could be set in a Medieval castle. I especially enjoyed the costumes which blended science fiction and old-timey royalty beautifully. Finally, the score highlights all the drama without going too heavy on musical cues.
Although I could continue to enumerate the technical excellence of this film and marvel at how people even manage to adapt such massive novels into films, the truth is that no amount of skill can make such a long movie enjoyable for people who aren’t interested in the story, and the screenplay never hooked me in.
Dune was written by Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth, and Denis Villeneuve, who directed. It is based on the classic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert. It runs 2 hours 35 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and some disturbing images and suggestive material.
In my hunt for something lighter to watch, I started In for a Murder, allegedly a comedy about a woman trying to solve a murder in her small Polish town. It seemed a perfect compromise, especially to fill the hole in my entertainment lineup left by the spectacular finale of Only Murders in the Building. In this Polish movie, Magda (Anna Smolowik) feels discontent with her life as a stay-at-home mother and is traumatized by the disappearance of a dear friend years before.
When she stumbles across the body of a murdered woman one night, it opens up old wounds and an intriguing mystery. Really, the only thing comical in this mystery is how absurdly terrible Magda’s husband, Tomasz (Przemyslaw Stippa), treats everyone. On the whole, this movie does not seem to know what genre it is in. Sometimes it seems to parody murder mysteries as though Magda reads too many of them. At other times, it verges on a Lifetime movie. There is some solid drama, complete with over-the-top music, and occasionally a genuinely funny moment. As much as I enjoyed this movie in the moment, it is pretty bad, and just left me wishing that the second season of Only Murders in the Building would come sooner.
In for a Murder was written and directed by Piotr Mularuk, based on the novel by Katarzyna Gacek. It runs 1 hour 45 minutes and is streaming on Netflix.