Tenet

A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same backward as forward. “Tenet” is a palindrome. There are entire scenes within this movie that are palindrome-ish. The movie is utterly confusing and exhausting to decipher for the entirety of its two and a half hours. It is also brilliantly written, if complexity gets credit, and the editor(s) of this beast should win an Oscar.

I could tell you the entire plot and key scenes of this film without spoiling it. I love good time travel movies, but they are simple by comparison to this looping, parallel timeline action film in which John David Washington, known as “The Protagonist” and his strangely familiar partner Neil, played by Robert Pattinson, set out to save the world from something they don’t understand. Washington recently starred in BlacKkKlansman, which was a walk in the park compared to this very physical role as a CIA type who has been tested for inclusion in a secret organization that operates outside of time and national interests. Michael Caine makes a brief appearance as Crosby, an elite conduit to forged art and the world of uber-wealthy arms dealers.

If you’re familiar with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during the 1940s, lead scientist Robert Oppenheimer has an analogous team leader hundreds of years in the future. That female scientist is working on a project so dangerous to the existence of everything that she hides nine components back in time and kills herself to prevent her knowledge from being known. The project is called Tenet and it has fallen into the hands of Andrei Sator, a crazed Russian oligarch suffering from a terminal illness. He plans the annihilation of the entire history of the human species rather than die and leave the world to continue in his absence. As with his estranged wife, if he can’t have her no one can.

“What’s happened has happened” is repeated frequently throughout the film. People and things are “inverted” through time turnstyles, machines that act as portals to a backward running parallel dimension. This results in fights, battles and chases being run simultaneously in positive and negative time, bullets being caught by guns and characters coming dangerously close to their alter-selves, sometimes without even being aware. The climactic James Bond-like battle scene is filmed with red and blue teams of soldiers running against ten-minute countdown and count-up clocks toward the same zero point. One’s knowledge of the other’s actions contributes to confusing reversals within the action and results in unexplainable paradoxes that defy logic and physics. Buildings are simultaneously blown up and reconstructed as timelines cross. The sometimes overly ominous musical score has snippets of backward sounds, and some dialogue is played both forward and reversed.

It’s no surprise that Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this mind bender. He is also responsible for MementoInception and Interstellar, all cerebral and non-linear productions, but not to this level.

I recommend being well rested before seeing this movie. It’s worth seeing, perhaps more than once if you really want to understand what’s happening. But that might require using the turnstyle to run a temporal pincer operation in order to give future information to your past self. Yeah, it’s that complicated.

Tenet (2020) runs 2 hours, 30 minutes and is rated PG-13

 

The Broken Hearts Gallery

On our latest outing to the “new normal” intensive care unit known as going to the movies in the year 2020 I wanted to see Tenet but it wasn’t my turn to choose. That’s ok, since a steady diet of Netflix eventually grows tiresome and just isn’t the cure for cabin fever or whatever we now call being trapped by an invisible enemy. We needed to get out of the house.

Something light hearted actually sounded appealing, and a Rom Com is about the lightest level movies can attain, short of Blazing Saddles or Superbad. But be clear, this is a chick flick, fulfilling all criteria of that species – catering to a youthful, female demographic on topics of love and romance. But this is not The Big Sick or When Harry Met Sally. It’s cute, but not even close.

The only familiar actor in this film is 72 year old Bernadette Peters who is not only still living but has retained that pinched, cute little face and voice that plays well in drama or comedy. She is an insanely talented singer who branched off into comic roles thanks to Mel Brooks and alongside one time partner Steve Martin. She even appeared on Carol Burnett and with The Muppets where she fit right in.

A diverse and heavily female cast of twenty-somethings over shares just within the bounds of the PG-13 rating, threatening each other with vibrators and talking obsessively about penises and vaginas. Lucy, played by an energized but frequently depressed Geraldine Viswanathan is a collector of memorabilia. She is clearly a hoarder living in an apartment-sized museum of reminders, the most recent of which is a tie from the artist she just broke up with. That tie becomes the inspiration, hung from a nail on a wall, for a gallery of memorabilia. The idea is a surprisingly huge hit among fellow New Yorkers who share a similarly unhealthy tendency to wallow in past relationship souvenirs. Nick, played by Dacre Montgomery, Lucy’s eventual love interest is rehabbing a building that becomes the Broken Hearts Gallery. He plays the part with sweet and sincere detached strength and vulnerability. You know, kind of a Rom Com Everyman. Prior to this he appeared in Stranger Things and as Jason, the red Power Ranger.

The dialogue in Broken Hearts Gallery often becomes that machine gun spray of impossibly cohesive and funny lines that perhaps only Robin Williams was actually capable of delivering. But there are quite a few laughs and if you can look past the unrealistic delivery, the lines are quite good. Director Natalie Krinsky also wrote the screenplay which may explain this stuffing of large words into small spaces.


The Broken Hearts Gallery (2020) runs 1 hour, 48 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Unhinged

In Unhinged, an almost unrecognizably overweight Russell Crowe stars as a deranged assailant in pursuit of a young mother who honks at him when he fails to proceed at a green traffic light. Granted, she lays on the horn hard three times and he sits through the entire light. Road rage ensues, but quickly becomes something far more sinister.

Consider this film a cross between Falling Down and Duel. Although not all of the action is in vehicles, much of it takes place behind the wheel. A staccato tap, tap, tap, tap musical/mechanical score during a relentless pursuit accompanies the action, similar to Duel and eventually you expect Rachel’s station wagon to start smoking and breaking down, just like Dennis Weaver’s car did on a long uphill climb.

If Crowe gained a ton of weight for this script I feel bad for him. It wasn’t worth the pain and suffering he’ll endure if he wants to trim down. He does a great job of playing a deranged killer, but the script has numerous flaws, mostly in the frightened female victim’s logic. After so many recent films in which women leverage their strength, intellect and cunning it seems this script returns us to a time in which helpless females were victimized by a big, bad man, though she does have a plan thanks to her Fortnite-playing son.

Just a few of the lessons we learn between scenes of graphic torture and highway carnage:

1.     Control your emotions in traffic,

2.     Say you’re sorry convincingly, even if you don’t feel the need,

3.     Don’t put on mascara while driving,

4.     Take your phone with you when you pay for gas,

5.     A phone without a screen lock is asking for trouble,

6.     Call the police instead of trying to outwit a lunatic,

7.     Never negotiate or follow a psychopath’s instructions.

Caren Pistorius plays Rachel, the woman who drives a red station wagon with lots of warning lights illuminated. She allows her busy life to get in the way of her busy life, oversleeping and losing her biggest client, letting her gas tank run down to empty and other avoidable actions on a day when everything has consequences. Pistorius does the best she can with a somewhat corny script, but she just can’t seem to find a breakout film. This one surely won’t be it.

Director Derrick Borte has six unremarkable films to his credit in twelve years. The opening scene in Unhinged is solely for the purpose of establishing Crowe’s unstable, violent behavior, I guess so that we understand when he next “unhinges” we’ll know what he’s capable of doing. But when Michael Douglas comes unglued in 1993’s Falling Down, you almost feel for him. That one is a much better film.

The opening scenes in Unhinged are a compilation of news stories, some of which appear to be actual footage of our stress-filled and chaotic current events. This sets up the film’s premise but then takes it to a completely insane next level, sort of like Fortnite.

The anxiety first felt when Rachel is targeted eventually fades when her actions and those of her pursuer become clearly unreasonable. Reaction to Rachel’s decision-making border on those experienced in teen slasher movies where you find yourself asking, “Why is she doing that? No, don’t go alone into the dark kitchen filled with knives.”

This pandemic-delayed film is mercifully short and has an estimated budget of $33 million with global opening weekend receipts of $23 million. They may make money on this thanks to Crowe’s power to draw crowds.

 

Unhinged (2019) runs 1 hour, 30 minutes and is rated R.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Those who may be mistakenly drawn to this film as fans of the magician David Copperfield will be disappointed. But as a huge Charles Dickens fan, it was a must see as soon as I heard it was released. It was also our first time venturing out to a theater since about February. I’m happy to report that the experience was safe and sanitary. Being virtually the only two people in the theater helped a lot. Contactless ticketing and concessions, masks, gloves, cleaning between features and social distancing were all in play.

So, a brief note about the magician we’ve unfortunately all come to know better perhaps than this classic character from Dickens’ own favorite and most successful book. Magician David Seth Kotkin changed his name to the Charles Dickens character David Copperfield because he liked the sound of it. The book is magical, but that’s about all the two have in common.

Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire plays David alongside several other memorable cast members. Not least of these, and a real treat to see them onscreen together, are Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micawber and Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick. Capaldi is known primarily from his television portfolio, with 46 episodes as a recent Dr. Who incarnation, and Laurie we know of course from 176 episodes of House, sans English accent, and much other television work. The two could have easily exchanged the quirky roles they played in this film. Both were a delight.

This modernized take on Dickens’ enhanced autobiography is his own coming of age story. It takes us from his birth to middle age, with memorable characters and events that became fodder for his eventual writing career. The director explored young Copperfield’s brilliant and inquisitive mind dissecting and jotting down bits of idiosyncratic comments and capturing differences in dialect among those around him. Casting of this movie is interestingly diverse. Copperfield is Indian and several traditionally white characters are Black. After a very brief bit of confusion you settle right into the acting and accept the portrayal without regard to race, which is nice.

Perfectly cast as the character Uriah Heep is Ben Whishaw who has played everything from Q in recent Bond films to Melville in The Heart of the Sea and the voice of Paddington the bear. Critics have called him one of the best actors of his generation. He is a sniveling, falsely humble and insincere antagonist to the extreme. Those who think Copperfield is a magician may think Heep is a rock band. Nope, but great choice of name.

It’s been a long time since I read David Copperfield, but this movie makes me want to read it again. There are numerous comedic threads running throughout the story that make it a fun and richly British period piece set in the mid 1800s. The opening scene has an adult Dickens reading his tale to an auditorium filled with admiring listeners. For a brief period, the public speaking engagements of Dickens and Mark Twain overlapped. Amazingly, though Twain was a great admirer of Dickens, and they were once in the same room, they never met. What a dream it would be to hear either one perform.

One other note: the actual title of the book was The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery.

 

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019) runs 1 hour, 59 minutes and is rated PG. 

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