Talking Movies

August 31, 2020

Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated new film is an intricate and satisfying puzzle piece housed in a less satisfying blockbuster frame.

John David Washington is the protagonist who has a mysterious close shave with a bullet that seems to whip out of woodwork and away from him during a terrorist siege of the Kiev Opera House. Shortly thereafter Martin Donovan informs him that he has been recruited for an international mission involving Robert Pattinson’s British agent that will take them from Mumbai to London, Oslo to Tallin, and deep into the cold heart of Siberia trying to unravel the secrets of Kenneth Branagh’s vicious Russian oligarch arms dealer. An uneasy alliance forms with Branagh’s estranged wife Elizabeth Debicki, as Washington and Pattinson try to understand why an arms dealer is able to anticipate all their moves as if he already knew them, and why ‘inverted’ bullets may be the least of their worries as a wider more sinister conspiracy unfurls itself.

And so to ‘inversion’… Time travel, but not really time travel. If you liked cult Ethan Hawke flick Predestination then you will like this. If talk of closed loops, grandfather paradoxes, and the like makes your nose bleed then you will not like this. Nolan’s script features the same deeply satisfying feeling as Interstellar and Dunkirk when a piece of the puzzle slots into place and you understand that there was more going on than you apprehended first time around. But this satisfying feeling is surrounded by the scaffolding of a blockbuster that doesn’t truly stand tall when the scaffolding is kicked away. Crashing a large airplane into a building for real is great fun to watch, and the chase with cars driving inversely on a freeway is also entertaining, but there is no true knockout punch of a sequence.

Some of this is because this is less fun than Inception, almost as if Tom Hardy and JGL’s roles had been collapsed into one and Robert Pattinson (rediscovering his inner Cedric Diggory) couldn’t possibly deliver both those notes at once. Some of it is because this has less heart than Interstellar, with the Debicki/Branagh dynamic not humming as it ideally should as the emotional motor of the movie. Nolan regulars Hoyte van Hoytema and Nathan Crowley are present and correct but the largely Northern European settings are neither as crisply shot as one might expect nor as intriguingly designed; indeed the finale recalls the crumbling Russian industrial hellscape from Hobbs & Shaw. Jeffrey Kurland provides some notably sharp suits and elegant dresses for the ensemble, but Hans Zimmer’s replacement Ludwig Goransson struggles to impose himself with any truly memorable motifs.

Tenet does not reach the hoped for heights, but it is devilishly clever and always absorbing; one wonders if perhaps making it on a smaller scale, more noirish, less blockbusting, might have been wiser.

3.5/5

August 26, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXV

As the title suggests, so forth.

I tell you R-Patz, I just can’t stop washing my hands lately. You’d think I’d been reading Heidegger or something.

The End of Cinema, or at least American-led cinema

And so Tenet is here. Eventually. The most anticipated summer blockbuster of 2020 might also be the only summer (or autumn or winter) blockbuster of 2020 that actually gets released in cinemas. But not in America. I am still tentative about venturing to a cinema for the first time since the coronavirus arrived, but it’s a dilemma. There is no such dilemma Stateside, because Tenet is not being released in America. In some senses this merely makes painfully obvious what was already to be gleaned from statistical analysis of say Transformers or Fast and Furious: major American movies make more money overseas than in America. But the risk, to simply cut off the American market and throw it away as unnecessary, is still breathtaking on the part of Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. And it seems, in this week of make-believe by Donald Trump that everything is rosy in the Rose Garden, that the pandemic has been defeated by his amazing leadership, that the roaring economy is now roaring again in a V shaped recovery, to take on an almost mythic cultural and political heft. The free world has given up on America providing any sort of leadership, and now even America’s own dream factory has given up on America. Americana still sells overseas, but the country itself is no longer a viable market.

There is an idea of a United States of America, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real country, only an entity, something illusory, and though it can hide its cold heart and you can see its flag-waving and hear its anthem deafening your ears and maybe you can even sense its values are probably comparable: it simply is not there.

Tarantino misreads 1960s television

When I returned home last August from watching Quentin Tarantino make shameful pigswill of reality with his nonsense version of the Manson Family Murders I watched the end of Kill Bill: Volume 2 randomly playing on TV and then turned on True Movies for their late night re-runs of The Man from UNCLE, and this only increased my annoyance with QT for also shamefully calumning late 1960s TV. Cinematographer Robert Richardson has noted that Tarantino deliberately included camera moves in the Western pilot that our hero Rick Dalton appears in that would have been utterly impractical for the era. Taken beside how he presents Rick’s appearance in the real show The FBI as a bad joke, you’d be hard put not to think that Tarantino is implying 1960s television was a waste of time. Which is odd given how he’s been perpetually circling a movie based on a 1960s TV show – Star Trek. The truth is that 1960s television was actually pretty good: The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Fugitive, The Man from UNCLE, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Thunderbirds, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, The Monkees, Batman, The Invaders, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Doctor Who, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Hogan’s Heroes, Rawhide, The Champions,  Land of the GiantsGilligan’s Island, Get SmartThe Munsters, My Favourite Martian, The Addams FamilyFlipper, The Flinstones, Joe 90, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the MysteronsDad’s ArmySteptoe and Son. Ask yourself why pop culture would still be in thrall to so many of these shows if they were all a bad joke…

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