REVIEW: Last Night in Soho

Eloise/Ellie/Elle is a student at the London College of Fashion with a penchant for having visions of the past. Ellie moves out of the college’s student housing and into the upstairs room of an elderly woman’s home. There, she begins to experience 1960s London when she sleeps, and is led toward a young aspiring singer named Sandie’s rise to fame. However, as Sandie discovers the journey to fame is not the glitzy, glamorous life she had expected, Sandie’s past begins to haunt Ellie in the present day. 

Last Night in Soho is Edgar Wright’s first psychological horror film, and this is evident. Though the film is populated with impressive visuals of beautiful and vibrant neon lighting and Sandie’s reflections being replaced by Ellie, Wright relies on a single technique to deliver all of his scares. Because of this, the climax of the film is not as effective since at that point, I had seen the same visual used over and over again in the previous scenes. 

That being said, the beginning of the film is particularly strong, and not just because it is better than the end by default. The audience is introduced to 1960s London as Sandie and Ellie do, and the late night club scene Sandie leads us through is dazzling and sinister all at the same time. However, I will say that the plot/writing of the film relies heavily on the visuals – it sometimes feels as if Wright had inventive ideas for stunning visuals and snappy editing techniques and fit the story to the imagery he had in mind. 

Though the film is so technically impressive, I question some of the writing in the film. For example, Ellie just kind of happens to be a fashion student. Yes, it is clear the film is about the dangers of romanticizing the past, however some of the logic behind the progression of the plot is questionable. It feels like Wright knew where he wanted to start and end the film, but he struggles at some points along the way. 

Aside from the visuals, a lot of credit must be given to the two lead actresses for carrying the film’s momentum. Thomasin McKenzie perfectly encapsulates Ellie’s naive, shy, and thoughtful nature, and Anya Taylor-Joy carries herself with grace as usual as Ellie’s more confident foil. Though the two actresses never share any dialogue despite being in many scenes together, McKenzie expertly portrays Ellie’s despair as she witnesses Sandie’s fall into the rabbit hole of show business. 

Overall, Last Night in Soho is more style over substance, but it is still a refreshing watch and the technical aspects are what make the film worth watching.

PREVIEW: LAST NIGHT IN SOHO

Last Night in Soho is the new film from director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Baby Driver). The film stars The Queen’s Gambit actress Anya Taylor-Joy and Jojo Rabbit actress Thomasin McKenzie. McKenzie plays an aspiring fashion designer who is somehow able to shift between time periods, where she encounters Taylor-Joy’s character, an aspiring singer in the sixties. This is Wright’s first psychological horror film, as this ability to time travel is intertwined with something more sinister. 

I am looking forward to seeing how Wright will tackle this psychological horror genre. The trailers are populated by impressive visuals, with neon lighting and shots where the two actresses will switch spots midway through a sequence. I have seen some behind the scenes footage of McKenzie and Taylor-Joy running on and off camera to replace each other, and I’m excited to see all of these technical aspects be translated on screen. As for Wright’s past work, I very much preferred Scott Pilgrim over Baby Driver, but this can be attributed to the fact I prefer the comedy-based-on-graphic-novel genre over the straight action of Baby Driver. I think my preferences for Wright’s work depend largely on the genre he is tackling at the time because I did appreciate his style coming through in Baby Driver even though I did not love the story. I have reasonably high hopes for Last Night in Soho, but I’m most excited to see the two actresses and another example of Wright’s style. 

Last Night in Soho is now playing at the State Theater.

REVIEW: DUNE

Dune has topped the box office for the second week in a row, and its success has greenlit a sequel. Dune (part 1) is based on the first half of Dune, the first novel in a series of the same name by Frank Herbert. The film has opened to positive reviews, with praise for the scale of the film, director Denis Villeneuve’s ambition, and the technical aspects such as cinematography and score. However, some reviews argue that the film is too slow, and therefore it fails to resonate with certain audiences. 

I read Dune in anticipation of the film, and I was a little let down by the source material. I went into the film with low expectations, but I really enjoyed it. However, a lot of the criticism I have of the novel has yet to be addressed – the film is a hundred percent a set-up for Part 2, and I think its success relies heavily on how Part 2 turns out. If Part 2 is underwhelming, then I think that looking back, both parts will not be as spectacular as Part 1 seems in the present moment. 

My reasoning is that I have never been particularly drawn to the protagonist, Paul (played by Timothée Chalamet). In the novel, I found that Paul’s character was defined by the fact that he was good at everything that he needed to do, but I would have liked to see more of his struggle. Paul was raised to be a killer, so he falls under the kind of gravely-serious-assassin vibe a lot of female characters in action films possess. It makes sense that Paul would not be the most humorous character – that is not my critique at all. I believe this kind of characterization should not make Paul immune to internal conflict when considering his place in his family, as a politician, etc. In the film, Paul and his father, Duke Leto (played by Oscar Isaac) have a discussion about falling into power/it being forced upon him. This comes back to mind when considering where the position Paul ends up in at the end of the film. I am interested to see how his character is written in Part 2 as he juggles the new position, and where he is both physically and emotionally. There is a decent amount of development for several characters that needs to be furthered in Part 2, and I hope that we are able to see it come to fruition.

That being said, I am very much looking forward to Part 2 as I thought Villeneuve handled the adaptation process with an evident amount of care and grace. I am a huge fan of his work – I love Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Prisoners – and it was very interesting to see how he would handle something that could potentially turn into a franchise. The film did feel much bigger than his previous work and I am unsure if I feel 100% positive about that at all times, and I prefer the more concise, intimate nature of his other films, but I think Villeneuve did a truly great job at adapting Dune. He was able to fit so much plot context and world building into 2.5 hours in a way that made sense to audiences that were new to the world (as I have heard from my peers who have not read Dune). I am apprehensive about the handling of the few female characters, as their minimal role in the novels are primarily tied to bearing children despite the many facets of their characters. But, I do have a lot of faith in Villeneuve, and I am excited to see his world of Dune expand in Part 2.

PREVIEW: DUNE

Dune is the newest film from Denis Villeneuve, known for Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, and Prisoners. Villeneuve is known for partnering with skilled cinematographers and populating his film with impressive visuals and sound. Judging from the trailers, it seems that Dune continues this trend. 

The film follows Paul, the son of Duke Leto Atreides. House Atreides gains control of the planet Arrakis, which is abundant in spice, the most valuable resource in the Dune universe. Tensions rise when House Harkonnen, the previous stewards of Arrakis, hears of Leto’s recent acquisition, and the situation only escalates when the Duke attempts to reach out to the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis. 

I have read the first two Dune novels in anticipation of the film. Dune is a six-book series by Frank Herbert, with the first book having been published in 1965. When reading the books now, it is evident that they were written in the 60s and perhaps more progressive for the time. However there are still lingering white savior-esque tones that underlie the Middle Eastern influences on the world building and the interactions between the Atreides and the Fremen. Furthermore, I am unimpressed with the treatment of the few female characters thus far. And while I do have faith in Villeneuve in updating the source material, I simply have never found Paul to be a particularly exciting character. In the novels, he is more so defined by the fact he suddenly becomes capable of anything and everything rather than having any sort of personality.

Ultimately, Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite directors, and from recent interviews, it is clear that he cares very deeply for this project, encouraging audiences to see the film in theaters and contribute to the cultural experience of going to a movie theater. And although I am not the biggest fan of the source material, I am above all excited to see another film from Villeneuve and to see what he does with Dune to make it his.

REVIEW: Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko is a sci-fi psychological thriller and coming of age movie starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal at the start of his career. The film follows a high-schooler who narrowly escapes being killed by a plane turbine crashing into his room when a giant rabbit-like figure convinces him to leave his home in the middle of the night. Feeling indebted to the rabbit for saving his life, Donnie is convinced to commit a series of crimes.

I was under the impression that the film would lean more towards the psychological thriller side and and delve into the horror genre, however the bizarre premise is translated into a surprisingly goofy film that my friend describes as a mix between Joker and Mean Girls: the character arcs of Donnie and Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker follow similar trajectories, and both Mean Girls and Donnie Darko feature high schools as primary settings with quirky teachers and humorous health classes and all-school gatherings. Despite the unusual nature of this pairing, the tone of the film is well-balanced between the darker subject matter and the dark humor. 

The strange plot itself is never too ridiculous, except perhaps the very end. Even so, the conclusion of the film is still satisfying, though it is a little confusing, which admittedly could be frustrating. However, I think the film does a good job of explaining what you need to know, and not leaving the entire storyline up for interpretation and therefore overly vague. I did not initially realize how sci-fi the film really was, but all of the sci-fi elements had a place in the overall story – the elements did not distract from the story, rather, they enhanced the plot. 

Gyllenhaal again shows that he is a great actor, but watching this film 20 years after it came out shows that he has always been a great actor. Gyllenhaal is eerily good at playing Donnie Darko. He plays the character as quiet and calm, but with something sinister lurking beneath – and a killer smile. The role of Donnie falls into the type of borderline deranged character Gyllenhaal often plays, however this performance sticks out because of the two-sided creepy and collected aura that the character possesses. Gyllenhaal expertly portrays Donnie’s inner conflict and nervousness, yet he exudes confidence and is menacing at the same time. 

Overall, with lesser directing or acting, Donnie Darko could have been a bizarre mess and over-ambitious effort, but it is clear director Richard Kelly and all of the actors in the film cared about the project and were fully committed. Donnie Darko was a surprisingly good watch, and a perfect film to kick off October. 

PREVIEW: Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko is a science fiction meets psychological thriller meets coming of age film. Set in October 1988, Donnie Darko is a teenager who has narrowly avoided a bizarre accident. He is convinced to begin committing a series of crimes by a mysterious rabbit-like figure who informs him that the world will end in just over 28 days. 

The film was released in October of 2001. Trailers featured a teenager firing a gun as well as a plane crashing, and due to recent events at the time, the film was subject to and suffered from little advertising. Given the subject matter and distribution troubles, Donnie Darko grossed just over $500,000 during its initial run, although it received high praise from critics. After reissues and a positive home media release, the film grossed over $7 million more, and developed a devoted fan base and cult following. 

I am a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal’s work, so I was excited for the chance to see him in one of his breakout roles. I have heard that the film is a little confusing and simply weird, but I am always interested to see how these kinds of films remain unpopular with mainstream audiences but become cult classics. 

Donnie Darko will be re-released on Friday, October 8 at 10pm at the Michigan Theater.