Friday, October 22, 2021

Trio of fair-to-middlers arrive from TIFF 46: 'Dune,' 'Wain' and 'Cousteau'

If hard-working director Denis Villeneuve's "Dune," his long-awaited retelling of Frank Herbert's epic '60s novel, wasn't necessarily the best movie at last month's 46th annual Toronto International Film Festival, then the star-studded, sci-fi adventure was the biggest and most breathtaking, at least in terms of visual cinema. That likely means seeing it, if you can, on an IMAX screen such as the one I was fortunate enough to absorb it all on at the Cinesphere Theater in Ontario Place.

Otherwise, the genuinely huge event film depends on a somewhat unwieldy ensemble that includes Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Stellen Skarsgard, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista and Rebecca Ferguson. In other words, you might not be able to tell a player without a scorecard, as characters -- none of whom are particularly engaging in this lengthy "Part 1" assortment -- weave in and out of the omnipresent sand sets like a busy bunch of heavily clothed beach volleyballers.

For the uninitiated, "Dune" focuses on the mining of the precious Spice (read: drug without the capital "d"), not so easily extracted from the endless sands on the stiflingly warm planet Arraxis in a galaxy far, far away about 8000 years from now. That means no one hardly ever smiles in a war-filled world, headed by a gross-looking Baron (Skarsgard), who definitely will remind everyone of Jabba the Hutt of "Star Wars" saga fame.

The latter's substantially more famous "Force" probably has its roots growing firmly out of the original story of "Dune," too, since Chalamet's young Paul, no doubt headed for heroic heights in "Part 2" and maybe even a "3," has his own mind-bending skills at the ready. For now, though, we'll settle for Villeneuve's crack craft team giving us even more to take in on a really big screen than they did in their director's last two great films, "Arrival" and "Blade Runner 2049."

(If you can't find "Dune" in IMAX, you can watch it now at a slew of theaters and on HBO Max. Also, northeast Ohioans can go one better by checking out both David Lynch's ill-fated 1984 version of the film and the 2013 documentary, "Jodorowsky's Dune," next month at the Cleveland Institue of Art Cinematheque.)

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: Sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material; 2:35; $ $ $ out of $5

Cumberbatch as the loopy "Louis."
"The Electrical Life of Louis Wain," a chaotic and often whimsical biopic, also evolved into a visual treat I was able to see in IMAX at TIFF, although staring at an array of housecats that big became a bit alarming down the stretch. (I'm kidding, I'm kidding!)

Seriously, the quirky Wain, played consistently on the nose by the gifted Benedict Cumberbatch, is the boxer/inventor/artist whose paintings made felines so popular in Great Britain after he and his equally kooky bride (Claire Foy) took in a stray they found in a rainstorm. 

Sadly, not much of anything he actually did played well with his brood of Victorian-era sisters, especially the ever-unhappy eldest (the sharp Andrea Riseborough) in a famous man's eventful life riddled with as much tragedy as joy.

("The Electrical Life of Louis Wain" is currently playing in a select few theaters, including the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heghts, before its Nov. 5 streaming debut on Amazon Prime.) 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: thematic material and strong language; 1:51; $ $ $ out of $5

Cousteau and his men at work.
"I am miserable out of the water," the subject of a more by-the-book biography says very early in the documentary, "Becoming Cousteau," a third Toronto Film Festival entry ironically making its full theatrical debut this week.

People of a certain age definitely will recognize the face and probably also the voice as belonging to Jacques Cousteau, a diver, scientist, filmmaker, TV star, humanitarian and so much more.

Director Liz Garbus ("All in the Fight for Democracy," "What Happened, Miss Simone") shows us a lot in a collection of nifty archival footage, although nothing becomes very surprising about any of the man's celebrity or accomplishments. Well, yes there is. Hold your breath now: Cousteau was a chain smoker. 

("Becoming Cousteau," a National Geographic fiilm, is playing exclusively in theaters.) 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: brief strong language, some disturbing images and smoking; 1:36; $ $ $ out of $5

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