By Lynn Venhaus

A masterful melding of massive spectacle, heartfelt high-stakes performances, and astonishing visual artistry, “Dune: Part Two” expands the mythic hero’s journey to its full potential.

After the global embrace of “Dune” in 2021 as a stunning adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 book, considered the best-selling science fiction novel of all-time, the sequel has been highly anticipated to complete the first book on screen.

Part Two chronicles the novel’s second half, which follows a feudal interstellar society in a galaxy far, far away. At this time, while seeking revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) unites with Chani (Zendaya) and other Fremen. Forced to make either a personal choice or save the fate of the known universe, he endeavors to prevent a terrible future only he can foresee.

While it’s more riveting because of the whole picture, there could always be further character development due to its gigantic scope – nevertheless, the entire arc’s lucidity is much improved here.

In the first’s attempt at world-building, the narrative was largely unwieldy. However, no one could deny its mesmerizing grand-scale wizardry. (A second viewing really helped sort out the planets and houses).

Now that we are familiar with the desert wasteland Arrakis, the risks between the warring dynasties are made clearer. That is, for those of us who didn’t read Herbert’s first novel (or the other five in the “Dune” series).

‘Spice,’ the most precious resource in this universe’s existence, spurs the malevolent forces who want to control its extraction in Arrakis, because it is necessary for space navigation and its multidimensional awareness and foresight properties.

By picking up where the first left off, this second part effectively ties up loose ends, and deepens what is at stake. The focus narrows on young Paul Atreides, who must grow from an unseasoned boy, without his royal father to guide him, into the man he needs to become. Sacrifices must be made, and he continues to manifest his future in visions/dreams.

The religious and political implications of whether he is fulfilling a prophecy is what makes for propulsive viewing. The screenplay, co-written by director Denis Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts, contains requisite bombastic and brutal confrontations, but also includes sincere intimate moments that give the film its beating heart.

To that end, all the actors in this finely-tuned sprawling ensemble bring their A game, but Chalamet discernibly takes the reins – and without question, has come into his own as Paul.

It’s an emotionally charged turn, as he conveys a range of feelings, tormented by the burden of expectations and the challenge of learning ways to survive, especially conquering fear. As he notably rises above the pressures, his brooding Paul summons a strength that is exhilarating to watch.

Chalamet is fully invested as the gifted heir of the noble house of Atreides, who saw nearly everyone he cared about massacred. As the Harkonnen sharpen their attacks, Paul, who escaped Caladan with his mother to find refuge in Arrakis, is aided by the Fremen so that his people, and his family, have a future.

Whereas in the first, he was a blank slate “to the manor born,” and being groomed to take over. He accepted his duties, although reluctantly. But now, it’s urgent that he ascend into this pre-ordained role, and the question looms about his readiness. So far, he’s demonstrated heroic bravery and fierce loyalty, and must believably transform to meet the moment.

Now called “Usul,” or “Muad’Dib,” the Fremen respond to him with reverence – if they believe he is their savior. There are skeptics, though.

His mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), becomes a Reverend Mother, and has a more fully developed role, steering her son towards his destiny and acting mysteriously as she prepares for the birth of her second child, a daughter. Ferguson is shrewdly alert and misses nothing as Leto’s widow.

Zendaya is more prominent as well, as Chani, a devoted and fearless Fremen warrior. Paul, a nobleman, is everything she has previously despised, but admiring his derring-do, they fall in love. That, of course, is complicated, and the two become a dynamic duo. Now bona fide movie stars, the camera loves both actors.

Also given more heft is venerable Javier Bardem as the courageous and wise Stilgar, who becomes a mentor and protector of Paul, fully believing that he is the next Messiah “as written.”

In a spellbinding scene pitting man against “a grandfather” sandworm that is one of cinema’s most astounding ever, Paul wins over a majority of Fremen. This is the money shot folks will be talking about for a long while.

Bardem is terrific, and so is Josh Brolin, who returns as brawny Gurney Halleck, the war master of the House of Atreides, who is one of Paul’s trusted advisors. Noteworthy, too, is Souheila Yacoub as Shishakli, a powerful Fremen sandrider.

On the dark side, a hulking, menacing Dave Bautista rages as Beast Rabban, part of the ruthless Harkonnen House, never to be trusted, and Stellan Skarsgard is a slimy and treacherous baron, a grotesque cross between Jabba the Hut and Palpatine in the “Star Wars” universe.

New to the story is a mind-blowing Austin Butler as the diabolical Feyd-Rautha, the baron’s cruel nephew and heir apparent. A cunning psychopath, the na-baron is imposing physically, and Butler’s transformation is startling. He proves that he is no one-trick pony after his breakthrough Oscar-nominated role as Elvis in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic last year.

Another new wrinkle is Florence Pugh as savvy Princess Irulen, daughter of the scheming emperor, smartly played by Christopher Walken. Pugh is properly regal, and while she only has one scene with her “Little Women” suitor Chalamet, it’s a showcase for all – the battle royale.

The cast serves the complexities of the characters well, we care more about their fates, and while the uninitiated might not understand all the elements at play, this trajectory is much smoother with this second helping.

Villeneuve establishes himself as a true visionary here – while I’ve enjoyed many of his films (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Arrival,” “Sicario” among them), and he is a meticulous craftsman, this is the first time I understood his fully realized end game, how the storytelling rose to the level of the visual effects.

If “Oppenheimer” is Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, then “Dune: Part Two” is Villeneuve’s. What is impressive about both directors is their desire to create cinematic experiences, films that demand big-screen viewings because they fill the screen with wonder.

It was also smart to delay the sequel’s release date from November because it becomes the first welcome and sorely needed blockbuster of 2024. Mark my words, if “Dune: Part One” won six Oscars two years ago (original score, sound, film editing, cinematography, production design and visual effects), clear the trophy case for this latest during next year’s awards season.

The mythology’s epic scale is presented in a next-level, state-of-the-art artisanal way. Oscar winner Greig Fraser’s cinematography again dazzles with his panoramic planetary landcapes, scary sandworm eruptions, and grisly gladiator confrontations.

Production designer Patrice Vermette has created eye-popping worlds distinguishing each planet and house. Hans Zimmer’s stirring music effectively underscores the action and enhances the moods.

The first film was 2 hours and 35 minutes, and this follow-up adds 11 minutes, but didn’t detract. It certainly sets up an eager anticipation for “Dune: Part 3,” which is supposedly in the works, and will be based on the second novel, “Dune: Messiah.”

Villeneuve’s “Dune” series is the most successful to date for the devoted fan base. Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky attempted a film adaptation in the 1970s but was cancelled after three years in development. Then David Lynch made a complex adaptation in 1984, which was not well-received, although fans were receptive to a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries in 2000.

With its breath-taking and jaw-dropping visuals and big-stakes bravado, “Dune: Part 2” is an enthralling cinematic marvel that we can both admire and enjoy.

“Dune: Part Two” is a 2024 science fiction action-adventure directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Austin Butler, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Florence Pugh, Christopher Walken, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgard and Charlotte Rampling. It is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some suggestive material and brief strong language, and its runtime is 2 hours, 46 minutes. It opens in theatres March 1. Lynn’s Grade: A.

By Lynn Venhaus
A taut and tense thriller that taps into our anxieties and fears during the past three years of the pandemic, “Knock at the Cabin” keeps one off-guard and on the edge.

While vacationing in a remote area, a girl, Wen (Kristen Cui) and her parents (Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge) are taken hostage by armed strangers who demand that the family make a choice to avert the apocalypse.

Its alarming scenario – sacrifice to avert the world’s end – grows tedious as the minutes tick by (1 hour, 40-minute runtime), but the viewer isn’t sure if we’re being played or is it convincing enough to think about doing the unthinkable. Therefore, it’s fraught with danger until the conclusion.

Supernatural specialist M. Night Shyamalan remains streaky as a director, but this is one of his more grounded works, on par with “The Visit” (2015) and “Split” (2016), if not his masterpieces “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.”

Based on the book, “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay, co-screenwriters Shyamalan, Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman keep the focus tightly controlled. The cabin becomes a claustrophobic setting instead of its relaxing get-away-from-the-city intentions.

Shyamalan, who is a master at simmering tensions, has a strong cast to work with here.

Playing against type, Dave Bautista is gentle-giant Leonard, who says he is a school teacher but is a hulking, menacing presence leading a team of nervous enforcers who mean what they say.

These are not idle threats they speak, but what they say is so preposterous, it’s hard to believe that humanity rests on one family’s decision. However, they follow through with the gruesome details – and thankfully, we are spared most of the horrific visuals.

The four have intruded on a same-sex couple’s vacation with their adopted daughter. Daddy Eric (Groff) and Daddy Andrew (Aldridge) are used to being targeted, but they are fierce warriors regarding their family. They are not going to give up easily, no matter how many pleas from Leonard’s team.

Rupert Grint is Redmond, a hothead whose temper hurts their mission more than helps. Abby Quinn is Adriene, a nurturing type, and Nikki Amuka-Bird is Sabrina, a nurse, trying to be compassionate but firm.

Their words fall on deaf ears, as news reports visualize the grim reality of the outside world. Who do we believe?

Showing flashbacks of their relationship and their setbacks, Andrew and Eric are given a backstory that ties a few things together. The pair dote on their charming daughter, which makes the choices even more gut-wrenching.

The authentic performances, especially by Groff, best known as a Tony nominee in musical theater (“Spring Awakening,” “Hamilton”), but who also starred in David Fincher’s TV series “Mindhunter,” and Aldridge, a veterans of several television shows, help stick the landing.

Shayamalan uses his beloved Philadelphia again, and appears briefly in an air fryer infomercial, as he likes to pop into his own films.

It’s a satisfactory thriller for our times, and ramped up those uneasy feelings we’ve all had since the lockdown three years ago.

“Knock at the Cabin” is a 2023 horror, mystery thriller directed by M. Night Shyamalan and stars Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui. It is rated R for violence and language, and runs 1 hour, 40 minutes. It opened in theaters on Feb. 3. Lynn’s Grade: B.

Knock at the Cabin Trailer; Credit: Universal Pictures/YouTube;

By Lynn Venhaus
As far as big-budget cosmic spectacles go, “Dune” is impressive at filling the screen with wonder.

Directed by visionary Denis Villeneuve, who frames everything with meticulous care, as he did with “Arrival,” his only Oscar nomination, and “Blade Runner 2049” – the film is a technical marvel, with visually stunning panoramas and innovative flying machines.

A mythic hero’s journey, “Dune” is the big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 bestseller about a feudal interstellar society in a galaxy far, far away, which is set in a distant future.

It’s the story of Paul Atreides, a gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding. As part of the noble house of Atreides, he must travel to Arrakis, the most dangerous planet in the universe for the future of his family and people.

The desert wasteland planet has an exclusive supply of “mélange,” aka “the spice,” a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. As it is the most precious resource in existence, malevolent forces are at work to prevent this, and only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

Yet are these characters engaging enough? How much do we care about what happens to these political dynasties? They prefer to whisper in cavernous spaces, and while mesmerizing Zendaya’s narration helps, the project’s mythology on such an epic scale tends to weigh it down with “importance.”

Our hero’s journey is a very long one and we spend 2 hours and 35 minutes leading up to a next chapter. This is only Part One. We are warned at the end, when one character says to Paul: “You’re just getting started.” The payoff isn’t quite there – so when is Part Two?

We have just invested time on an extended prologue. Oh dear. Will only fans of the book be able to appreciate this saga? And isn’t that the true test? As is always the case, those not familiar with the source material will be at a disadvantage trying to keep up with the warring factions.

Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac and Stephen McKinley Henderson

Considered the best-selling science fiction novel of all-time, “Dune” is gigantic in scope, and the 1965 cult classic touches on themes involving politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, threading them all together in space.

The empire’s other planets want control of Arrakis for its spice, which is also necessary for space navigation because of its multidimensional awareness and foresight.

“Dune” is only the first in a series, followed by Herbert’s five sequels: Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune. After his death, others have kept the franchise going.

Its devoted fan base inspired filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky to attempt a film adaptation in the 1970s but it was cancelled after three years in development. Along came David Lynch’s complex adaptation in 1984, which was a harshly received misguided mess, and there was a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries in 2000.

While light years ahead of the 37-year-old film, “Dune” does seem to have the same problem about adapting something so unwieldy – that the character development suffers.

It’s difficult to figure out the planetary relationships and who’s who among the different groups, even with a strong cast that attempts to make everything as lucid as possible.

This one does attempt to over-correct in a tedious way, with a screenplay by director Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts (“Doctor Strange,” “Prometheus”) and Eric Roth, Oscar winner for “Forrest Gump,” that still is lacking in explanations.

Paul is played with youthful elan by Timothee Chalamet, who seems to be working non-stop. His character, burdened by birthright, is actually the least interesting of the massive ensemble – but the camera loves him, and he looks good standing in many shots of wind and blowing sands, contemplating.

Chalamet has genuine interactions with his father, an authoritative but loving Duke Leto Atreides, well-played by the always captivating Oscar Isaac. With warm fatherly advice, Isaac tells him: “A great man doesn’t seek to lead; he’s called to it.”

It’s not his fault that Paul is a blank slate. He is being groomed to take over, and while at times reluctant and confused, he ultimately accepts his duties. His mother, all-serious Lady Jessica, is a tough taskmaster, and subtly played by Rebecca Ferguson, they have a protective relationship.

Far more compelling is Jason Momoa as the fierce warrior Duncan Idaho. He brings some oomph to the fighter’s bravado and his fists of fury are legitimate. Momoa and Chalamet warmly convey a loyal long standing friendship.

Not given much to do is Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, the duke’s right-hand man, and Dave Bautista as antagonist Beast Rabben Harkonnen – along with Momoa, they are the recognizable fighters.

A barely there Javier Bardem is Stilgar, a leader of a desert tribe. An unrecognizable Stellen Skarsgard appears, Jabba the Hut-like, as the disgusting despot Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The Harkonnens are the evil not-to-be-trusted bad guys.

The first hour is full of awe. But why do movies about the future tend to mix medieval and “Star Wars” knock offs in production design and costumes, similar to the “Game of Thrones”? The color palette is deary shades of gray, beige and black.

While that gets wearisome, the cinematography of Greig Fraser is dazzling. An Emmy winner for “The Mandalorian” and Oscar nominee for “Lion,” he expresses the grandeur of the planets’ landscapes as well as the more intimate moments in various degrees of light.

He worked on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and the upcoming “The Batman,” so tackling sandworms and spaceships is natural for him. His majestic work is one of the pleasures of seeing this in IMAX.

Hans Zimmer’s score is a stirring mix projecting danger and derring-do in dissonant chords, setting an urgent tone for action.

Dune (2021).TIMOTHEE CHALAMET.Credit: Chia Bella James/Warner Bros.

Despite its storytelling flaws, “Dune” is such a monumental example of state-of-the-art filmmaking that its cinematic universe deserves to be seen on the big screen.

“Dune” is a 2021 science-fiction action adventure directed by Denis Villeneuve. It stars Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson
, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgard, and Javier Bardem. Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material, its run time is 2 hours, 35 minutes. It opened in theaters Oct. 22 and is streaming on HBO Max for 31 days. Lynn’s Grade: B.

By Alex McPherson

Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” is a hugely enjoyable jaunt into undead splatterville.

After a military convoy transporting cargo from Area 51 collides with a distracted driver, a bloodthirsty brain-muncher is unleashed upon the population of Las Vegas. All hell breaks loose — visualized in an over-the-top montage involving strippers, Elvis impersonators and others being overpowered in slow motion while “Viva Las Vegas” plays on the soundtrack. Oh, there’s also a zombie tiger and two smarter “alpha” zombies leading a, well, army of the dead. 

The U.S. military tries to rescue as many survivors as possible, assisted by mercenaries Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a lover of buzzsaws and existential ponderings. They eventually contain the zombies within the city’s borders. The government establishes a ramshackle refugee camp immediately outside, and the President announces a plan to deploy a tactical nuke to eliminate the infected once and for all. 

Scott, reeling from a decision that fractured his relationship with his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), is relegated to flipping burgers at a bar outside Vegas, despite having received the Medal of Freedom for saving the Secretary of Defense. Soon enough, a sketchy businessman named Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) offers Scott an assignment to venture back inside Vegas to retrieve the contents of his casino’s safe, with the potential to get rich. Scott then recruits Maria, Vanderohe, a socially awkward safecracker named Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), a viral zombie-killing sensation named Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), and a sardonic helicopter pilot named Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro, digitally replacing Chris D’Elia).

They are joined by Guzman’s pal, Chambers (Samantha Win), Bly’s crony, Martin (Garret Dillahunt), and “The Coyote,” (Nora Arnezeder), a badass individual who knows how to navigate the zombified horde. To complicate matters, Kate insists on rescuing her friend Geeta (Huma Qureshi), who entered Vegas to find funds to buy her escape from the refugee camp. Last and certainly least, an abusive security guard named Burt Cummings (Theo Rossi) tags along. Over-the-top fun ensues as the group attempts to grab the cash before they’re disemboweled or blown to smithereens.

Tig Notaro

Loud, unrestrained, and packed with cliches, “Army of the Dead” is perfectly satisfying as a summer action film, albeit one that shouldn’t be analyzed too closely. Indeed, for the most part, Snyder’s film embraces its goofiness — going all in on the gore and bombastic set pieces that any reasonable viewer should expect, while delivering the occasionally effective character moment and feeling about an hour too long.

Sure, “Army of the Dead” might not be doing anything particularly “new” for the genre, but the few additions Snyder adds are welcome, especially the aforementioned zombie hierarchy and intimidating feline. There’s little to criticize in the outrageously gory action sequences with on-the-nose musical accompaniments. During these moments, Snyder’s indulgent style absolutely shines, creating a symphony of carnage that’s glorious to behold.

The quieter scenes are less successful, but there’s still a few surprises to be found. “Army of the Dead” takes a while to get going, mostly due to the excess of characters of varying quality. Besides Scott, they’re each given barebones backstories that render them more as cartoonish caricatures than real people, and maybe that’s acceptable in this instance. I certainly wouldn’t want the film to be any longer — it’s two-and-a-half hours, for god’s sake — but having fewer characters could have strengthened the film’s pacing and given us more time to grow attached before they’re fighting for their lives. 

The film’s screenplay does elevate their charm, though, especially regarding the unlikely bond between Vanderohe and Dieter. Hardwick and Schweighöfer have excellent comedic chemistry, creating several amusing moments.  There’s plenty of cringeworthy lines scattered throughout, but the script has enough personality for me to care about (most) of the characters by the intense finale, overlooking some abrupt tonal shifts.

Only Scott is given much depth, but Bautista’s performance carries the film’s heart, lending the proceedings a human edge amid the bloodshed. Although I wish he was given more screen time and his storyline took more risks, there’s enough thematic meat to chew on. Bautista proves that he can deliver emotional lines with skill, as well as demolish ghoulish baddies with gusto.

All things considered, “Army of the Dead” is a messy, but nevertheless thrilling blockbuster. My criticisms don’t detract much from how entertained I was, and as a balm for our depressing times, it’s a meal worth feasting on.

“Army of the Dead” is a 2021 horror-action movie directed by Zack Snyder and starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, . Rated R for strong bloody violence, gore and language throughout, some sexual content and brief nudity/graphic nudity, the film’s run time is 2 hours and 28 minutes. The movie is currently available in theaters and streaming on Netflix. Alex’s Rating: B