Tenet

Tenet (2020)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branaugh

I am back! I’ve been off the grid for about a year now; anything happen while I’ve been gone? In all seriousness, the pandemic has certainly disrupted life for all of us in so many ways that are impossible to quantify. We’ve adjusted and sacrificed and pulled together to keep our families, communities, and beyond safe and healthy. As part of that, watching and reviewing movies had to take a backseat to the challenges of the new daily life. I mean I haven’t written a movie review since 1917 in 2019, which is a line that belongs in the movie I am reviewing today! Accordingly, if a movie was going to get me to crawl out of my bunker it would be one from Christopher Nolan. Especially one like this that I have to watch 100 times to still not understand it.

When the Avengers announced in the film Endgame that they were going to pull a time heist, we all chuckled at the silly little notion and enjoyed our popcorn and superheroes. But somewhere in an inverted turnstile, Christopher Nolan was sitting at a computer writing and cackling maniacally, muttering to himself, “You want a time heist? I’ll give you a time heist!” And now we have Tenet, the unequivocal time heist, sci-fi, Bond-esque, brain bending spectacle that it is.

Tenet opens with a baffling sequence depicting a terrorist attack on an opera house in Kiev where many people are dressed the same but it becomes increasingly obvious that they are very different groups of people all trying to accomplish different objectives. One of the groups is the CIA led by a character known in the film only as The Protagonist (John David Washington), who is at the opera house to secure a contact whose cover is blown and recover some plutonium that the terrorists are attempting to secure. The confusion of it all is deliberate however, and lays the foundation for the viewer by introducing some consistencies that will be explored as the film progresses.

A few things before I continue:

  1. I am going to attempt to avoid spoilers, but in all honesty, it is not that easy to pinpoint what is and is not a spoiler, so be warned.
  2. While I have gotten very good at understanding people who talk while wearing a mask, for the purposes of your enjoyment of this movie, I highly recommend you watch it with subtitles on because there are lots of masks. And if that’s not enough, the booming score by Ludwig Göransson makes much of the spoken dialogue even harder to make out.
  3. Don’t watch this movie unless you are comfortable making some, most or all of the following faces while trying to figure out what’s happening:
The many faces of watching Tenet.

With that out of the way, let’s explore Tenet. Tenet is, as you’ve most likely noticed, the word ten forwards and backwards. That in itself introduces you to the concept of the film which is on the surface a story about the future attacking the past. Like Inception and Interstellar, Nolan’s previously most confusing films, there are layers at play. There are also lines in this movie like, “In one hour from now, they had this briefing,” which will just make your head implode in on itself. One character early in the film even says, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” These words should be on the poster because the true strength of Tenet (and most of Nolan’s films) is not in its cast but in its atmosphere and ambition. My suggestion is that you watch this movie, especially the first time, focusing on the surface layer which is a conflict between the future and the past. In the future, technology has progressed in a way that has brought on the advent of a process called inversion. Inversion or reversed entropy as it is also called is a process whereby objects and people can be inverted allowing them to reverse in the trajectory of time like a salmon heading upstream. Inversion is tricky business though as it is achieved through radiation and so inverted objects carry with them radioactivity and inverted people are physically unable to breathe the air and must bring their own oxygen, hence all the masks.  

The Protagonist is eventually inducted into a covert group of special forces who use the code word Tenet and are actively fighting this new “Cold War” where inversion from the future is preparing an attack on the present. He is joined by British agent, Neil (Robert Pattinson) to thwart an arms dealer who leads them to the real big baddie in this film, a Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branaugh) with lots of money and, you guessed it, ties to the future! The Protagonist and Neil spend the rest of the film in thrilling style attempting to stop Sator from gathering the weapons he needs to complete what he calls “the algorithm,” which he is able to gather thanks to knowledge from the future.

What follows is a head-scratcher to say the least, but a wild ride as only Nolan can produce. The set pieces are second to none, and scenes like the Kiev Opera siege and the climactic battle are truly spectacular. Most notably the Oslo airport scene, which is breathtaking, is done practically and with almost no special effects! Come for the action scenes, stay for the story is what I’m saying.

Image Credit: Indiewire.com

Once you get the hang of this film, there is so much to analyze and explore. Nolan drops plenty of clues and weaves a narrative that may or may not make sense, but definitely follows its own rules. Once turnstiles start showing up, buckle up for some of the most confusing cinema you’ve ever seen.

Tenet is still event movie making in the style that Nolan has grown accustomed and the challenges put forth by the narrative are not lazy or purposefully divisive; they are surgically inserted with great care and precision. At the risk of sounding cliché, Tenet is a film that must be seen twice. The film asks a lot from its audience in terms of attention to detail, navigating its audio hurdles, and its extended running time, but if you are up for that kind of commitment, it will be a rewarding watch. B

PS – I’m hoping the new year brings more love, health and happiness to all along with more new movies and of course more reviews from The People’s Critic.

Tenet is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 31 minutes.

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse Poster
The Lighthouse (2019)

Director: Robert Eggers

Screenwriters: Max Eggers and Robert Eggers

Cast: Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson

Arrr – ye all be a scurvy lot, boastin’ a tall tale of the sea be ye? That is not a line from Robert Egger’s 2019 film, The Lighthouse…but it could have been! The Lighthouse is Egger’s follow up to his film The VVitch: A New-England Folktale, which gained the director a lot of attention in 2015. Now Eggers is back with a film about two lighthouse keepers that will no-doubt have people talking…like a pirate!

The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers off the coast of Nova Scotia sometime in the mid-to-late 19th century. Dafoe plays Thomas Wake, a grizzled, weather-beaten veteran and foil to Pattinson’s young, idealistic Ephraim Winslow. Wake and Winslow arrive for a four-week shift looking after a lighthouse as wickies, the colloquial term for this occupation. It’s isolating, hard work, as you can imagine, especially given Wake’s insistence that he is the only one who gets to keep the light atop the lighthouse, leaving Winslow to most of the hard labor and grunt work. At night, there’s little to do but eat, drink, and talk and much of the film is dedicated to these activities, but that’s where we as the audience learn the most. These men have secrets.

Dafoe and Pattinson in The Lighthouse
Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson star as sparring lighthouse keepers who drive each other mad in Robert Eggers’s “The Lighthouse.” Image Credit: A24 Pictures

As the film progresses, we get quite a bit of insight on these men. Both have questionable pasts that have brought them to this “rock” as Wake calls it, and both are dealing with inner struggle that slowly reveals itself. That slow burn could result in a slog of a film; Eggers’s dialogue through the mouths of Dafoe and Pattinson goes a long way. First, a word about Dafoe. Whether you know it or not, Willem Dafoe has been quietly scooping up Oscar nominations left and right. Assuming he is nominated for this role (which in my opinion is a sure thing), he would be receiving his third nomination in as many years, placing him on the shortlist of actors like Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, and Marlon Brando who have accomplished such a feat! Dafoe puts out a vicious, raw, funny, and technical performance as the gritty Thomas Wake. The credits express thanks to the dark Romanticist, Herman Melville for inspiring much of the dialect and language for the film, and Dafoe masterfully spits this lugubrious, Melvillian prose in such a captivating way that I searched in vain for the screenplay for this film just so I could read and treasure every syllable of exactly what resulted when poor Ephraim Winslow expressed disfavor with Thomas Wake’s prepared lobster dinner. It is a scene for the ages.

Dafoe as Thomas Wake

Pattinson too gives a layered and impressive performance. While his character has fewer eccentricities with which to chew the proverbial scenery, his performance is solid and aggressively mysterious.

For a movie with really only two characters and one principle setting, The Lighthouse is actually quite confusing; however, I would preface this with the understanding that this confusion is mostly deliberate. Writer/Director Robert Eggers layers the film with texture. Shot entirely in black and white with an aspect ratio of 1.19:1, the film resembles something out of German expressionism resembling films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu (coincidentally Dafoe played Max Schreck, the actor who portrayed Nosferatu, in the 2001 film Shadow of the Vampire). This places us as viewers in bizarre territory as madness and insanity are tropes often associated with films that look like this, and The Lighthouse, it seems, is no exception. Eggers uses Expressionist qualities to tell a fable-like story full of mystery and mythology that takes some serious unpacking upon its conclusion.

The Expression I get

I certainly cannot say I got every bit of this film, but I can say that I enjoyed the ride from start to finish, and I look forward to reunitin’ with this salty cinematic saga again one day if the sea-god Triton grants it be so. B+

The Lighthouse is Rated Arrrrr as has a running time of 1 hour and 5 minutes.

The Rover

Image“Fear the man with nothing left to lose,” is the prominent message from the official poster of David Michôd’s latest film, The Rover. Michôd is mostly known for his 2010 film Animal Kingdom about an Australian crime family. Four years later, Michôd is back in Australia with a film Quentin Tarantino calls, “The best post-apocalyptic movie since the original Mad Max.” I am a true Tarantino fan and have always been impressed with his knowledge of the history of film, but I have 2 basic faults with this statement. First, The Road Warrior, the first sequel to Mad Max, is the best post-apocalyptic movie since Mad Max. Second, The Rover is not even the tenth best post-apocalyptic movie since the original Mad Max.

The Rover is a piece of cinematic naturalism thematically reminiscent of last year’s All is Lost but with more characters. It is ten years since an economic collapse has crushed the civilization of Australia. The film is rather vague about how far reaching this fall has actually spread, but it seems at least semi-global and has certainly engulfed Australia in its entirety. An act of chance causes a speeding land rover to roll over and get trapped in a ditch. The three passengers rush out of the damaged rover and into a nearby parked car, which they steal and use to speed away. The stolen car’s owner Eric, played by Guy Pearce, frees the ensnared rover and hurries off in the direction of his stolen car. What follows is an exploration of a simple conflict where we discover exactly what there is to fear from the man who has nothing left to lose. Eric fiercely pursues the gang of thieves until, in an initial confrontation with the men, he is knocked unconscious and loses the trail. In another act of fate, a chance encounter with an injured man named Rey (Robert Pattinson) gets Eric back on track since Rey turns out to be the injured brother of one of the thieves. Eric and Rey form an antagonistic bond and much of the film explores the nature of their unusual relationship.

Part Crime and Punishment and part Of Mice and Men, the philosophy of The Rover basically examines the human psyche when civilization decays, and man must determine his own values and refine his own morality. The idea is sound and fascinating, but the film is not. This is a slow moving film, regardless of the frequent scenes featuring high speed driving and some sporadic intense violence. Furthermore, the score is obnoxious in its attempt to be atmospheric, and the narrative’s overall plot is underwhelming and thin. The film rests a lot of weight on the relationship between Rey and Eric, but there’s not enough for an audience to care about, and by the film’s conclusion, I didn’t care what happened to any of these people.

The Rover is not the important film Tarantino touted it to be, nor is it the important film David Michôd hoped it would be. It’s not a total failure and Pearce and Pattinson are good. They try their best to get us to see the value in the crippled animal that is this film, but in the end The Rover certainly “has nothing left to lose” and should be put out of its misery. C-

The Rover is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

ImageWe may be edging near the saturation point of vampire-related entertainment, however, as brooding, Washington-state-based, vampire/werewolf romance films go, Breaking Dawn: Part 2 easily ranks in the top five.  Twi-Hards have been waiting over four years to finally see how the cinematic adaptation of the Stephenie Meyer series of books will end.  All things considered, the end result is actually rather exciting.

Breaking Dawn: Part 1 left us staring into the (red) eyes of Bella post-pregnancy and post-transformation.  Part 2 begins at this same moment as Bella adapts to her new vampiric life-style and her new role as mother to the half-human, half-vampire child, Renesmee.  Now if you haven’t managed to suspend your disbelief at this point, leave the theater; I’m sure Lincoln is playing right next door.  Regardless, as Renesmee rapidly grows, the Cullen clan finds themselves in new territory, raising a natural newborn.  Furthermore, word spreads to the Volturi that such a unique child exists and that it might be immortal, and therefore, illegal.  This looming inevitability of a final showdown between the Cullens and Volturi drives the plot unlike any of this film’s predecessors, and as climaxes go, this one is by far the best.

In spite of this, there is certainly no shortage of excessive melodrama or corny moments of tepid dialogue.  While Stewart and Pattinson have reached an iconic status as leads Bella and Edward, they continue to fail to deliver powerful performances in these roles.  Throughout the series, both leads seem too comfortable resting on the idea that these characters do nothing but whisper, stare, and have sex.  If you buy Kristin Stewart as a caring mother in this film, I have the actual bowie knife that killed Dracula to sell you.  Taylor Lautner holds his own as Jacob, who’s scene with Bella’s father Charlie Swan (Billy Burke) steals the movie.  Nonetheless, no one goes to see this series of films to be wowed by the range of its actors.  In fact, this film introduces so many characters that none of them have much time to shine (sparkly or otherwise).  What these characters do bring is a host of new X-Men-style super powers, which are enjoyable elements to the film.  Thus, the film delivers in other ways.  Its pacing is strong as it does not dwell on any one moment in its journey to the final showdown.  Additionally, its action is crisp and deliberate; there is very little to distract from the story’s momentum.  The cast does their job, but these successes are the result of writers Melissa Rosenberg and Stephenie Meyer along with director, Bill Condon.

The vampire craze that started all of this may be starting to show some signs of declining slightly, yet this is a fairly strong send-off to an epically successful series of adolescent-aimed pop culture.  It is clearly the best of the series, which adds a significance to all five of the films.  The closing credits illustrate this as they celebrate the entire cast of the films together.  Pop culture vampires may be in their eclipse rather than beginning their new moon, but Twilight certainly lived to see the break of dawn.  B