‘Last Night in Soho’
Rated R for bloody violence, sexual content, language, brief drug material and brief graphic nudity. Opens in theaters Oct. 29.
The premise: Innovative director Edgar Wright’s psychological thriller centers on Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), an aspiring fashion designer who is mysteriously able to enter 1960s London. That’s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), trying to make it in the industry. But the era’s glamour is only surface level — not everything is what it seems.
The verdict: Among the many reasons Wright is one of my favorite directors is his ambition. He’s never content to play it safe as a storyteller. Sometimes that results in brilliant films like his “Cornetto trilogy” and “Baby Driver.” Other times, it leads to interesting misfires like this one — but I’d much rather have a flawed Wright movie than bland competency from a director-for-hire.
To be fair, I was totally hooked for the first 90 minutes. Marcus Rowland’s production design is stunning in both of the story’s eras, changing in subtle ways as Eloise’s nostalgic view of the 1960s begins to splinter. Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous (all that neon!) and Wright’s music choices are, as always, perfect.
The dynamite performances from McKenzie and Taylor-Joy, two of the most exciting young actresses working today, keep the movie compelling, even if I didn’t always love where the story took them. Despite their characters veering dangerously close to clichéd in places (without getting into spoilers, it’s one thing to examine genre tropes and another to embody them), the actresses mostly succeed in making them feel like actual people.
But then there’s that pesky last act. As the answer to the central mystery become clear, the film starts to unravel in a hurry. By the time Wright brings us to the big confrontation, despite its appropriately blood-drenched tribute to Grand Guignol (evoking the director’s far superior “Hot Fuzz”), the movie goes off the rails entirely.
Granted, it’s obvious the filmmaker intended for the ending to be bold and divisive. To his credit, he and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns more than deliver in that respect. In the press screening I attended, reactions were mixed: some of my colleagues loved it, others hated it, and folks like me were caught somewhere in the middle. I’m curious to see how mainstream audiences respond.
‘The French Dispatch’
Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language. Opens in select theaters Oct. 29.
The premise: The latest from Wes Anderson is a collection of episodic stories representing the final issue of the titular magazine, an American publication based in a fictional 20th-century French city. The all-star cast includes Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson.
The verdict: Despite his reputation in most critical circles, I’m not the biggest Anderson devotee. I loved “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but I run hot and cold on his other work. That’s why I was happy to find myself so engaged with “The French Dispatch.”
No one is going to consider it Anderson’s magnum opus (that honor probably goes to “Grand Budapest” or “The Royal Tenenbaums”), but it has all of the filmmaker’s usual quirks that viewers either adore or loathe. They’re a great fit for this witty, engaging and often melancholy tribute to print journalism.
The movie is slight, but a lot of fun. The best segment is a toss-up between the convoluted story of a psychotic imprisoned artist (del Toro) and his jailer muse (Seydoux), or a reporter (Wright) recounting his adventure at the center of a kidnapping case.
Other episodes are nice but second-tier, like the tale of student activism that allows Chalamet to engage in some witty banter with McDormand and demonstrate his comedic chops. That one’s a no-brainer match of actor and director; honestly, I’m surprised it took so long for them to work together. I still think one day we’re going to find out Anderson cast him in “Rushmore” when he was a toddler.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material. Now playing in theaters and also available on HBO Max.
The premise: In this highly anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel, filmmaker Denis Villeneuve crafts an epic hero’s journey centered on Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). The gifted young man was born into a great destiny beyond his understanding: he’s rumored to be the prophesied messiah of a dangerous planet that’s home to the exclusive supply of the universe’s most precious resource.
The verdict: “Dune” is a foundational sci-fi text (one that George Lucas heavily “borrowed” from to create large chunks of his “Star Wars” mythology), but it has eluded a quality cinematic adaptation because Herbert’s heady, philosophical themes and near-impenetrable exposition don’t easily translate.
Possible blasphemy alert … that’s why I’m glad I ended up seeing Villeneuve’s impressive film on HBO Max instead of in a theater. I sacrificed the epic scope for sure, but watching at home also allowed me to turn on subtitles — a fair trade considering there were large stretches when I couldn’t understand a word the characters were saying, in terms of both vocabulary and volume.
Barely 10 minutes in, I gave up trying to follow the impenetrable mythology and character names. Instead, I just surrendered to the atmosphere and solid performances, particularly from Chalamet, Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson.
The most pleasant surprise was how much I loved Jason Momoa, playing a soldier named Duncan Idaho(!). It seems like the actor basically decided, “yeah, my character’s not a pretentious official, so I’m just gonna talk like myself” and it’s absolutely the right call. He’s the only actor who seems to genuinely be having fun. It’s like Han Solo suddenly showing up in the middle of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which is a huge compliment.
Still, casual viewers should know going in that “Dune” is literally half a film. Fortunately, “Dune: Part Two” was officially greenlit earlier this week, which made die-hard fans sigh in relief. So, until it hits theaters in 2023, I can’t give this one an official grade yet.
Home Video Spotlight
Not rated. Available Nov. 2.
Originally released in 1921, the epic romantic drama “The Sheik” became a sensation, breaking box office records and cementing actor Rudolph Valentino as a Hollywood legend. A century later, this classic silent film is getting a new life on Blu-ray as part of the Paramount Presents line.
Restored using modern technology and a global search for the best remaining elements of the film, the result is the best picture quality “The Sheik” has had since it was shown in theaters 100 years ago. The disc includes several features, including a music score by Roger Bellon; access to a digital copy of the film; and “Desert Heat: 100 Years with ‘The Sheik,’ ” a featurette tackling the story’s controversial elements with film historian and professor Leslie Midkiff DeBauche.
Rated R for strong graphic horror violence and gore, and for language. Now available on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary and to prepare for a sequel in early 2022, horror classic “Scream” recently hit 4K Ultra HD for the first time, along with a newly remastered Blu-ray. Directed by the late Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, the film cleverly deconstructs and honors the genre, while also being funny, smart and — most importantly — absolutely terrifying.
The new release includes a brand-new look back at the film and director Wes Craven. It also features archival behind-the-scenes footage and new interviews with stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette and screenwriter Kevin Williamson. There’s also a previously released audio commentary with Craven and Williamson; several behind-the-scenes featurettes; and access to a Digital copy of the film.