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FilmWatch Weekly: ‘Dune: Part Two’ triumphs, plus ‘Navalny,’ ‘Occupied City,’ and Tenacious D on Blu-ray

Timothée Chalamet rides a sandworm in the sequel to 2021's "Dune," and a 2022 documentary portrait of Alexei Navalny gets a theatrical release after his death.

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A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “Dune: Part Two,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Throughout much of the extensive running time of Denis Villeneuve’s generally smashing Dune: Part Two, a mischievous part of my brain kept wanting reluctant savior Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) to turn to his throngs of followers and cry out, in Graham Champan’s voice, “I’m not the Messiah!,” only to have Terry Jones appear of out nowhere and add “He’s a very naughty boy!”

Yes, this deadly serious interstellar epic and Monty Python’s uproarious satire Life of Brian ultimately carry the same message: the human tendency to have faith in a fated redeemer is both powerful and dangerous. It’s a force that can easily be both misdirected and corrupting. But it can also, as the saying goes, move mountains. Or at least ginormous sandworms.

I’d recommend revisiting 2021’s Dune before dipping into the sequel, as it picks up precisely where that film left off. If you can’t, perhaps this will do: After his father, Duke Leto Atreides, is appointed ruler of the desert planet Arrakis, the only known source for the invaluable commodity known as “spice,” young Paul’s world quickly collapses around him. When the evil Harkonnen clan launches an assault on Arrakis, killing the Duke and devastating the Atreides forces, Paul and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a member of an ancient all-female order called the Bene Gesserit who believe that Paul may be a mythical figure their legends have foretold, flee into the vast desert, where they meet up with the Fremen, a band of hardy Arrakis natives. This is where Paul meets Chani (Zendaya), with whom he quickly forms an intense bond. (Narrator exhales.)

As that summary may suggest, 2021’s Dune could feel a bit narratively rushed as it put all its pieces on its galactic chessboard. (I didn’t even mention Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho, Josh Brolin’s Gurney Hallick, or Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother, all of whom return for the sequel.) Part Two, on the other hand, is able to slow down and explore the cosmic politics at play, the culture of the Fremen, and the implications of Paul’s status as a pre-ordained (but by who?) revolutionary leader.

As Paul ingratiates himself with the Fremen, leading raids on Harkonnen mining operations, Jessica works to cement the belief that he is the One they have awaited. Meanwhile, the Harkonnens try to track Paul down, eventually handing the reins of that effort to the frightening killing machine Feyd-Rautha (a hairless, albino Austin Butler), a nephew of the Harkonnen baron (Stellan Skarsgård). Attempting to manipulate things from behind his curtain is the Emperor of the Universe (nice work if you can get it!), played by none other than Christopher Walken. His presence is one of Villeneuve’s few missteps—it’s just not possible to think (and hear) of him as anything but the iconic, all-too-imitable star. And waiting in the wings is Baron Harkonnen’s daughter Irulan (Florence Pugh).

Anyone in this vast cast without an Oscar nomination on their resume must have felt seriously insecure. That said, my favorite performance came from Javier Bardem as Stilgar, leader of the Fremen. He exudes a welcome, ground-level humanity (even, at times, levity) that most other characters are too mixed up in their mythos to possess. I’m focusing on the cast so much because this is the rare case where a gaggle of A-listers in a big-budget genre film are in no way slumming. (Well, maybe Walken is.)

Grand in scope, stunningly photographed, stirringly scored, and impeccably designed, Dune: Part Two is a good bet to take home a similar passel to the six technical Oscars its predecessor earned. It is, despite some flaws (do the Harkonnens have to be that monotonously evil?), a near-unicorn: an expensive, star-studded movie that rises to the level of its ambitions, both cinematically and intellectually. Villeneuve, inspired of course by Frank Herbert’s novel, dares to subvert the heroic narratives that Hollywood rarely even tinkers with.

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Fans of Herbert’s novels know that his follow-up Dune Messiah went even further in depicting the dangers of absolute power and blind faith, and Villeneuve has indicated his strong desire to adapt it as a third film. It’s the sort of message that mainstream American film audiences could use a dose of, so let’s hope he doesn’t get around to it too late. (playing everywhere)

DISC OF THE WEEK

Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny: The year after appearing in Peter Jackson’s blockbuster King Kong, Jack Black returned to his roots as one-half, along with Kyle Gass, of the world’s finest acoustic metal band, Tenacious D. Following a short-lived HBO series, the duo, Gen-X icons, starred in this hilarious, juvenile epic that tells their origin story. All you really need to know is that said story culminates with a “rock-off” between our heroes and a ten-foot-tall Satan played by Dave Grohl. Other guest stars include Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, Fred Armisen, and, of course, Ronnie James Dio and Meat Loaf.

This magnum opus of stoner humor and dick jokes (but, y’know, the smart kind) makes its Blu-ray debut accompanied by enough supplemental material to satisfy even the most hardcore D-head. A pair of commentary tracks, one from director and co-writer Liam Lynch, the other from Black and Gass, recorded in 2006, are as entertaining as you’d expect. The bevy of deleted and extended scenes are short-attention-span catnip, even if it’s clear why most were ultimately relegated to that status. Most bizarre are the numerous promotional Internet shorts, presented as broadcasts of “Hell TV,” clearly done on a shoestring and out of love. They match the feature’s endearingly ramshackle approach to making movies and, to paraphrase Spinal Tap’s drummer, having a good time, all the time.

ALSO OPENING

Navalny: In the wake of the Russian activist’s death at the hands of the Russian government, this Oscar-winning 2022 documentary portrait of Alexei Navalny gets a theatrical re-release. (Friday through Monday, Salem Cinema)

ALSO THIS WEEK

Matinee Baby: The world premiere of director Thom Hilton’s Portland-filmed short film, about a pair of Clinton Street Theater employees beset by oddball suitors, will be preceded by musical performances from artists on its soundtrack and followed by a Q&A session with members of the cast and crew. (Thursday, Tomorrow Theater)

Palestinian Film Festival: PSU’s 5th Avenue Cinema hosts a weekend of films chronicling the Palestinian experience, including Elia Suleiman’s 2009 The Time That Remains; 2021’s Farha, which shows the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl; and the harrowing 2011 documentary 5 Broken Cameras. (Friday-Sunday, 5th Avenue Cinema)

Occupied City: Rescheduled due to January’s ice storm, director Steve McQueen’s four-hour documentary examination of Amsterdam’s geography during the Nazi occupation and its echoes today finally hits a Portland movie screen. (Saturday, Tomorrow Theater)

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Nimona: This Oscar-nominated animated feature premiered on Netflix, but its fractured, diverse, sensationally animated, very funny fantasy tale should be even more engaging on a big screen. (Sunday, Tomorrow Theater)

We Are Everywhere: Documentary that looks at the experiences of several sex workers in Portland during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tuesday, Clinton St.)

REVIVALS

Thursday

  • Auntie Mame [1958] (Living Room, benefit for Cascade AIDS Project)
  • Prophecy [1979] (Hollywood)
  • Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One [1968] (Clinton St.)

Friday

  • Crossroads [2002] (Hollywood)
  • Lost in Translation [2003] (Academy, through Thursday)
  • Rumplestiltskin [1995] (Cinemagic, on VHS)
  • Shrek [2001] (Tomorrow Theater)
  • The Slumber Party Massacre [1982] (Academy, through Thursday)

Saturday

  • Dance, Girl, Dance [1940] (Hollywood, on 35mm, also Sunday)
  • The Decline of Western Civilization: Part One [1981] (Clinton St.)
  • Ikiru [1952] (Hollywood, on 35mm)
  • Red-Headed Woman [1932] (Cinema 21)
  • Trouble Every Day [2001] (Hollywood)

Sunday

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  • Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie [2016] (Tomorrow Theater)
  • Mississippi Masala [1991] (Clinton St.)
  • Rocky (Cinema 21, on 35mm)

Monday

  • A Magical Substance Flows into Me [2016] (Hollywood)

Tuesday

  • Lady Reporter [1989] (Hollywood)

Wednesday

  • The Big Lebowski [1998] (Kiggins)
  • Freaked [1993] (Hollywood)

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since, as the manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité; and as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, he pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017 and graduating cum laude in 2020 with a specialization in Intellectual Property. He now splits his time between his practice with Vérité Law Company and his continuing efforts to spread the word about great (and not-so-great) movies, which include a weekly column at Oregon ArtsWatch.

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