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: The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch is a display of director Wes Anderson’s uninhibited ambition, manifesting itself in a whirlwind of drama and colorful characters. The film does not stick to a single narrative but rather tells three stories in long segments. Each story is a vignette written by a journalist for The French Dispatch, an international outpost of an American newspaper that operates in a dreary French town by the name of Ennui-sur-Blasé. Everything is mundane— even the name of the fictional town translates to “boredom-on-apathy”— except for the dedicated journalists, the invigorating stories they release to the world, and the eccentric people involved in the stories. Thus the typical Anderson irony begins. This film is, at its core, a celebration of journalists and a love letter to all things literary and artistic. It is an Anderson classic: upbeat, artistic, and a bit pretentious, but its unfamiliar structure makes it feel fresh.

Each scene is rich with deadpan humor, rarely outright saying a joke but implying it in every corner of the frame. The juxtaposition of the still-faced, sharp-tongued characters and their chaotic predicaments against the colorful backdrop feels unnatural, as is the constant narration that overlays the stories, but they both add to the unique nostalgia of the film. Rather than experiencing the stories myself, I am being guided through them like a picture book. The visuals add to the book-like atmosphere— black-and-white scenes, entirely animated scenes, and experimental lighting exaggerate the easily-missed emotions. The world is symmetrical, well-color-coordinated, and moving in synchronicity, just as a storybook world should. Wes Anderson’s films stick with me for this reason— not because they are believable in the slightest but because they revive a childlike amusement. The unrealistic twists and turns in each segment are comical and effortlessly engaging. However, the sentimentality of his films is usually amplified by emotional depth. This is where The French Dispatch falters. The three-story structure and quick pace refuse to allow us to get attached to one character for too long or watch the slow development of relationships. I gravitated toward the recognizable faces and quirky personalities (such as the mustache-wearing and disheveled teenage rebel played by Timothée Chalamet) but the characters disappear shortly after they serve their purpose.

The French Dispatch manages to be a sensory feast on top of an exciting tangle of stories but the combination is nearly exhausting. From the hard-to-catch humor to the drastic time jumps, I attempted to absorb everything yet desperately needed to let my senses rest. It is also overwhelming in its organization, as the stories have no connection besides the journalists publishing them, so the film is difficult to process as a sum of all its parts. The French Dispatch is not a casual watch if you want to enjoy all its beauty; it requires patience, energy, and an attention span, and an estimated two or three watches.

As a sum of its visuals, script, and diverse storylines, each element of The French Dispatch is crafted in a way that maximizes Anderson’s quirky innocence and childlike fun. Anderson may have been trying to emphasize too much of his signature style in one film, resulting in entertainment so constant that it is almost nauseating. The French Dispatch is an exhilarating masterpiece but it is a masterpiece that needs to be prepared for.

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: The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson’s distinctly colorful filmmaking makes an ambitious return to theatres with the release of The French Dispatch. Originally set for release in July of 2020, the film was postponed indefinitely due to coronavirus complications, keeping eager Wes Anderson fans on their toes. One year later, the film makes its long-awaited debut. Boasting the whimsical fast-paced storytelling and rich visual aesthetic of Anderson’s previously celebrated films such as Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch has the potential to become another Wes Anderson classic.

Set in a fictional French town, The French Dispatch tells the story of an American journalism outpost publishing its final travel-oriented issue. The star-studded cast that is semi-consistent throughout Wes Anderson’s films, including Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, is joined by a seemingly endless array of other recognizable names such as Timothée Chalamet and Christoph Waltz. The trailer alone speeds through various visual styles, plotlines, subplots, and complicated relationships that are hard to follow. This is to be expected of Wes Anderson’s films, as his stories move quickly by nature, but it slightly worries me. I am curious to experience how Anderson weaves together the talents with the storyline but I fear that the busy feel could deteriorate or drown out its emotional depth.

Even if the story of The French Dispatch becomes muddled and messy, the film is guaranteed to be a visual feast. About a dozen rewatches of Fantastic Mr. Fox, with its earthy warm tones that are comfortingly autumnal, have solidified my trust in his mastery of visual beauty. Wes Anderson’s signature style is defined by symmetry in every shot and childlike pastel hues that evoke a refined, nostalgic feeling, untouched by the dirtiness and complications of the real world. Every shot from his film Moonrise Kingdom feels torn from the pages of a children’s book. For his more mature films, like The Darjeeling Limited, the childlike innocence is balanced by deadpan humor and ironic violence, creating an entertaining juxtaposition. The French Dispatch seems perfectly capable of spinning all of Anderson’s favorite elements into one, building a world overflowing with picture-book nostalgia and colorful characters. From a cinematographic standpoint, it will not disappoint.

Addicted to the nostalgia and satisfying symmetry of his films, I don’t believe I can truly be let down by Wes Anderson. But, after the long wait, I pray The French Dispatch isn’t trying to accomplish too much in one go. Will The French Dispatch become overwhelmed and oversaturated by its elements, unable to fulfill the artistic prophecy it set for itself?

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.