Archive for the Drama Category

Run

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on December 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It wasn’t her first role, but I suppose people first became aware of Sarah Paulson back in 1995 on the supernatural-themed TV series American Gothic on CBS. It only ran for one season, but she’s been steadily working ever since. She’s arguably one of the hardest working people in show business. She’s done Broadway (The Glass Menagerie), starred in the ABC network TV program Cupid in 2009, and performed in supporting roles in a plethora of high profile films (12 Years a Slave, Ocean’s 8). However, what’s brought the most acclaim is her ongoing involvement in the FX anthology American Horror Story. She has portrayed many different characters on AHS. It has earned the actress a Golden Globe and 6 Emmy nominations for that show alone. She just began another similarly themed TV series Ratched on Netflix. She’s good at horrifying people. I mean that as a compliment. She radiates goodness on the surface but there’s a sinister quality underneath her placid exterior that is most unsettling. That edgy trait is put to good use here.

I didn’t’ watch Run when it debuted 2 weeks ago (November 20) on Hulu. It unexpectedly broke records as that streaming service’s most-watched film premiere ever. Then I took notice. The outstanding Palm Springs previously held that record. Run concerns a new mother (Sarah Paulson) who has recently given birth with complications. Flash forward 17 years later. Daughter Chloe, played by newcomer Kiera Allen, is in a wheelchair. She is housebound and chronically ill. Diane homeschools her daughter and seems to be a doting and loving parent. She unfailingly administers the medications Chloe requires to stay healthy. Then one day Diane gives Chloe an unfamiliar green pill. Chloe had inadvertently seen the bottle earlier. It was prescribed to her mother and this discovery creates a nagging suspicion in Chloe. She tries to get to the bottom of what’s happening.

Run is a modest but efficient thriller from director Aneesh Chaganty. He did the mystery movie Searching in 2018, a missing child saga entirely set on computers and smartphones. This is given a traditional approach, but it’s likewise compelling. Sarah Paulson is good at playing the kindly mother that may not be all she appears to be. Kiera Allen is impressive in her debut as Chloe. The actress has used a wheelchair for 6 years in real life. The account builds, exploiting a growing feeling of anxiety. Things get crazier and the adventure involves a battle of wits. The writing is dependable. As details unfold, however, there is a salient sense of predictability. The screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty and frequent collaborator Sev Ohanian contains foreseeable story beats. A game of pursuit, near captures, and escapes isn’t innovative. Yet a tale can succeed if the actors invoke your emotion. This boilerplate narrative might have failed in the hands of lesser talents. Paulson and Allen believably sell this movie. Because of them, I enjoyed Run.

11-23-20

Hillbilly Elegy

Posted in Drama on November 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It is a true sign of our fractured times that a work as inoffensive as Hillbilly Elegy has inexplicably become one of the most polarizing films in recent memory. Critics hate it! Audiences love it! Dissension between egalitarian pleasures versus the opinions of the elite is nothing new. This is merely the latest work to expose the current cultural divide. A cursory glance uncovers that the swath of negative reviews is rooted in politics that have been shoehorned into a saga that is nonpartisan. Perhaps pundits are conflating the movie with the bestselling memoir by J. D. Vance on which this is based. His comment on class, family, and the American dream is culled from his own experience. In this adaption, Howard and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water) sidestep those issues directly.

Hillbilly Elegy is simply about succeeding in America from difficult circumstances. If director Ron Howard is guilty of anything, it’s that he has dared to show compassion for unlovable people. Although J.D. Vance has predictably cast himself as the admirable center of his biography, it’s the women in his life that make the strongest impression. Howard’s straightforward portrait miraculously empathizes with irresponsible and immature adults. Chief among these is J.D.’s mother Bev played by Amy Adams and Glenn Close as his grandmother Bonnie who is affectionately known as “Mamaw.” The two actresses give authentic performances that draw you into this family and provide a basis for his upbringing. Mamaw’s fondness for Terminator 2: Judgment Day is just one random but amusingly honest detail. I was emotionally invested in these people. Actor Gabriel Basso plays the adult J.D. but Owen Asztalos emodies him as a child. You wholeheartedly believe Asztalos is the younger version of this character. He’s exceptional. The ensemble is united in its conviction to present the undeniable warmth within a family affected by profound hardship.

This is J.D.’s life and it’s his story to tell. Hillbilly Elegy is a moving chronicle of a dysfunctional clan of eastern Kentucky natives. It’s part of a larger tradition. Frank Capra was a filmmaker whose populism often heralded the everyman. These “pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” ideals unify audiences. One would think the concept of a poor individual who triumphs over modest beginnings to find success would be a quality that anyone could champion. Close and Adams are especially good. Thanks to their engaging performances, the “rags-to-riches” drama is compelling, even uplifting at times. This is admittedly a clumsy account. One simplistic scene is set at a dinner at Yale with a bunch of Ivy league types. J.D. runs to the phone to ask his girlfriend which fork to use and what white wine to order. This can be melodramatic and corny but it is very entertaining nonetheless. Certainly far from the “poverty porn” epithet that detractors have used to dismiss it. Hillbilly Elegy clearly wasn’t made for the critics. It’s an affecting profile of the common man. In that spirit, I embraced their humanity.

11-24-20

Ammonite

Posted in Biography, Drama, Romance on November 25, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Let me just begin by saying that if Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan are starring in a movie together, I’m already on board. The two are among the best actresses of our time. I am an avowed fan. Given my predisposition to appreciate the talent involved, you’d think I would be awarding Ammonite at least four stars. Then I saw it. I struggled to maintain even a modicum of interest in this story. Precious little happens.

Ammonite is loosely based on the real Mary Anning (Kate Winslet), an acclaimed paleontologist whose explorations in the Jurassic marine fossil beds along the Southern English coastline yielded an abundance of scientific finds. Ammonites were among the fossils she discovered. Yet this is not about her glory days as a researcher but rather pure conjecture as to how she spent her later life. She currently supports both herself and her dying mother (Gemma Jones) by selling common fossils to wealthy tourists. Things get — shall we say — interesting when Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) arrives and entrusts his sickly and fragile wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), to Mary’s care. Mary begrudgingly accepts because the pay is good. Although the two women have a somewhat antagonistic relationship at first, they develop a deep bond. They amble about looking for fossils and ever so slowly fall in love.

This is the kind of experience that inspires earnest critics to consult a thesaurus. One must interestingly describe an account with a more creative word than “boring.” “Inert” is a favorite of mine. The definition includes “chemically inactive” which perfectly describes the scientific reaction this presentation had on my physical state. “Lethargic” and “listless” work too. Any comparable vocabulary word would effectively convey this saga — any except perhaps “impotent” due to its sexual connotation. This does in fact feature two sex scenes, one explicit. Yes, I realize I’ve now inadvertently recommended this to some of you. The lovemaking incongruously pops up in such direct contrast to the rest of the tepid tale. Maybe it’s not so shocking, however. Their seemingly schizophrenic personalities are rooted in an idiomatic cliché: “A lady in the streets and freak in the sheets.”

19th-century lesbians find love by the Ocean. The subject, time, and locale have all converged to be very hot in the art house circuit as of late. The well-reviewed Portrait of a Lady on Fire got a widespread U.S. theatrical release back in February. Meanwhile, Ammonite has likewise garnered critical acclaim. I won’t be adding my praise to the heap. It’s not for lack of trying. Kate and Saoirse do their capable best to imbue these characters with humanity. The actors radiate sincerity, heart, and pathos. But their thespian skill can only carry this chronicle so far. Ammonite is the follow up to British director Francis Lee’s feature debut, God’s Own Country. I’m not faulting Ammonite for its similarities to Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It’s is a thoroughly dreary film judged on its own terms — visually drab and narratively aloof. Quite bewildering that the characteristics of both works are so similar, though. Comparisons are inevitable. If you haven’t seen either and the subject interests you, the choice is blazingly clear.

11-19-20

The Life Ahead

Posted in Drama on November 22, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’m always amused when I see a critic heralding an actor’s appearance in a new movie as a comeback. It’s such a backhanded compliment either implying that they haven’t been working or that the stuff they’ve been doing for years isn’t good. In the last decade, Sophia Loren was the Rob Marshall-directed musical Nine, the Italian TV miniseries My House Is Full of Mirrors, and an Italian short-film adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play The Human Voice. Now granted the screen icon doesn’t act very often and her work of the past certainly overshadows her modern output, but in the immortal words of LL Cool J: “Don’t call it a comeback! I’ve been here for years.” The Life Ahead has received significant buzz for Sophia Loren’s performance. She is indeed the main reason to see this.

The story concerns a 12-year old immigrant from Senegal named Momo (Ibrahima Gueye). A street kid living in coastal Italy, he snatches the shopping bag from elderly Rosa (Sophia Loren) at the market one day. After her possessions are returned, the tenacious woman reluctantly agrees to take him in. She attempts to mentor him to be a better person and they develop a deep connection. This isn’t the first child she has given shelter. Rosa is both a Holocaust survivor and an ex-prostitute who now cares for the children of other sex workers.

The chronicle may sound familiar. It is based on the French novel The Life Before Us by Romain Gary which has been adapted a few times before. The most notable one being Madame Rosa starring Simone Signoret in 1977. That subsequently won the Academy Award for Best International Feature. This version is directed and co-written (with Ugo Chiti) by Edoardo Ponti who is in fact Loren’s son with her husband producer Carlo Ponti Sr. I think it’s safe to say that director and star have a warm rapport. It comes through on the screen.

The Life Ahead is a perfect vehicle for Loren. The motherly bond that develops between her and Momo is basically the narrative here. As you can probably surmise from the setup, the saga is a little treacly and manipulative. Yet it can be captivating too. Furthermore, it’s nice to see the legendary actress in a feature film again. She exudes charisma. Will she garner another Oscar nomination? There has been serious talk. If Sophia is cited in 2021, it would mark a 56-year span since she was last nominated. This would make history as the longest gap ever. Incidentally, the current record holder is Henry Fonda who went 41-years between nominations. Sophia makes this genial account something worth watching. For that reason, I’m hoping she is included.

11-15-20

On the Rocks

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama with tags on November 10, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Has anyone noticed this? As the sheer drama of the everyday news gets more fantastical and bizarre, the storylines in movies seem more and more rooted in reality. On the Rocks reflects that trend to the point that it is merely a chronicle that details someone with a suspicious feeling. Hollywood has long relied on science fiction and fantasy for its big-budget tent-poles. The New Mutants and Tenet are recent examples. I get that Hollywood hasn’t released much over the past nine months but where are the low-cost science fiction and fantasy flicks? Vivarium, Sputnik, and Possessor immediately come to mind, but those are the exception in an industry where it used to be the rule. Ah, but I digress. On the Rocks came out in October to AppleTV. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, it stars Bill Murray and Rashida Jones. Coppola famously worked with Murray in Lost in Translation back in 2003, so devotees of that film may appreciate this as a reunion of sorts.

A simple deliberation on humanity can be refreshing. The story concerns Laura (Rashida Jones), a wife who suspects that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating. Bill Murray portrays her father Felix who wants to trail the husband detective style with his daughter by his side and determine beyond any doubt whether Dean is in fact disloyal. Laura is a sweet and likable novelist who is struggling to finish her latest book. Felix is a successful art dealer and a bit of a lothario. Perhaps Laura’s husband is somewhat like her dad? The script gets a lot of humor from the exasperated reactions from his daughter. Murray and Jones have lovely chemistry together. They do indeed make a nice team. The New York locations add a cosmopolitan feel to the narrative and Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography beautifully exploits that.

This is a slight account built around an extremely thin storyline. Not a lot happens. It essentially coasts on the considerable charm of its stars. I’m not saying it’s bad. However, the wistful but conventional tone wasn’t enough to captivate this particular viewer. It’s never a good sign when a 96-minute movie is so inconsequential that you have to watch it in two parts. I watched a full hour before checking out and returning the next day to finish it up. On the Rocks has gotten positive reviews. It’s unquestionably well-acted. Both Murray and Jones imbue their characters with genuine pathos, but the subject is surprisingly mundane for a Sofia Coppola screenplay. She directed the less old-fashioned Somewhere back in 2010. I suppose if you’re a fan of that film and its leisurely pace then I’d recommend this one to you as well.

11-05-20

His House

Posted in Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on November 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The greatest horror films have something more percolating beneath the surface than what is readily apparent. His House begins as an immigration drama about a married couple from South Sudan named Bol (Sopé Dìrísù) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) who are seeking asylum in Britain. As refugees, they’re given an expansive but dilapidated flat to live in for the time being. Soon after they discover a demonic presence within the home. Are these problems part of the residence itself or have visions of their very difficult past come to haunt them in this new setting?

The year 2020 can only charitably be described as a colossal mess. Perhaps that is the reason why the past 10 months have conspicuously released more horror films than I’ve ever seen. His House is yet another addition to the genre. There are deeper elements at work. The lives of this pair have been affected by unfathomable tragedy. Their daughter (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba) drowned in a boat accident while they were trying to escape. To make matters worse, they’re working with a caseworker (Matt Smith) who reminds them they’re on probation and need to “fit in” to remain in their new environment. Bol buys clothes to match the photograph of a happy white family in an in-store display. He also joins the locals at the pub in a song about footballer Peter Crouch and starts eating with a knife and fork. Rial can’t abide by the utensils. “All I can taste is metal,” she complains. Their attempt to assimilate isn’t successful. Meanwhile, the evil spirits only seem to intensify.

Writer/director Remi Weekes’ first feature is basically a haunted house tale. Yet it’s a bit more. He presents a character study of well-developed characters. We care about the victims being terrorized which is always a good thing in any story. Remi Weekes explores some interesting ideas about how sometimes the terrors we’ve had to confront within our own lives are just as — if not more than — nightmarish as supernatural forces. Despite the artistic milieu, there are several effective jump scares that will entertain fans.

If only the conclusion had been afforded the same intellectual consideration. Peel back the layers of a complex foundation and you’re left with the essence of a scenario we’ve seen before. OK, sure, there’s a surprising plot twist thrown in, but to what end? The fantastic setup promises a dissertation on racism, xenophobia, and colonialism then devolves into a generic fable about guilt. A violent act suddenly provides a quick and easy solution. The disparity between the emptiness of what ultimately happens and the depth of what came before is vast. A clever metaphor needs a brilliant climax and this one sadly falters. Still, a fascinating effort that is well worth checking out.

10-30-20

Possessor

Posted in Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on October 22, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Possessor is brutal. This is horror with the mischievous intent to disturb. I’m not surprised. It’s precisely what I would expect from the son of David Cronenberg. Brandon’s last effort was Antiviral which came out almost a decade ago in 2012. His belated follow-up concerns the degeneration of the human mind. It honors repellent gore at the expense of a compelling plot. Visually it’s a stunner though. Brandon Cronenberg includes all of the superficial affectations that make his father’s work fascinating, but he forgets the fact that story and character development matter too.

Plotwise there isn’t a lot to discuss. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a “possessor.” She works as a contract killer whose consciousness is implanted into the body of a person close to the target in order to carry out an assassination. She receives her orders from Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a relentless boss without any moral qualms whatsoever. Tasya is instructed to kill billionaire John Parse (Sean Bean). To do so, she is embedded into the psyche of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the boyfriend of John’s daughter, Ava (Tuppence Middleton). Despite Andrea Riseborough’s top billing, it is Christopher Abbott who occupies the bulk of the narrative. He’s a handsome fellow with a wooden personality that never displays any more than the bare minimum required to convey a human being. If he had been revealed to be a robot at the end, his impassivity would’ve made perfect sense.

Possessor isn’t a complicated film. The saga details a murder gone wrong. Yet a science fiction milieu has been grafted onto a simplistic outline that travels at a snail’s pace. The futuristic cyberpunk vibe elevates the atmosphere into something far more convoluted than the facade. I’m not saying the concept couldn’t have inspired something great. Christopher Nolan took the notion and made Inception — one of the greatest films of the past 10 years. Give the idea to the progeny of a famous filmmaker and you get lots of macabre ways to creatively kill people. As the body count grows, it’s apparent that Cronenberg is more interested in making people uncomfortable than telling an appealing story. This is a thoroughly repellent production that cruelly assaults the viewer without engaging our emotions. At least Karim Hussain’s cinematography imbues the carnage with an elegant sheen. It’s a testament to its style that this film has garnered some very positive reviews from the cognoscenti. I want substance however, and stomach-churning violence doesn’t qualify.

09-01-20

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Posted in Crime, Drama, History with tags on October 19, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the most significant film of 2020. No, not really, but that’s how this solemn melodrama is presented. Incoming attorney general John Mitchell (John Doman) and his justice department have cooked up a case against a list of Richard Nixon’s enemies. To underscore the point, Mitchell even describes the litigation to prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as “the most important trial of your lifetime.” This is a gloomy and academic courtroom drama from writer Aaron Sorkin who is a talented writer who knows a thing or two about such things. Nearly 3 decades ago he gave us A Few Good Men which is a classic I truly adore. I was primed to love this. Alas, this is my reflection on a disappointment.

Chicago 7 has value because it’s a true story. However, as the chronicle is detailed here, it wouldn’t exist solely a fictional work to be enjoyed. This is the depiction of an event from the past that seeks to instruct and enlighten. The account is based on the prosecution of a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters. They were charged with conspiracy to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. This timely tale “ripped from the headlines” seizes the current zeitgeist. As such, it’s been hyped as a major awards contender this year.

Aaron Sorkin is an exceptional writer. Of that, I am convinced. He won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Social Network which is brilliant. Although that picture was directed by David Fincher who imbued its aesthetic with spectacular style. This is only Sorkin’s 2nd time directing (Molly’s Game was the first) and I truly wish someone else had taken over those duties. While he has an ear for crackerjack conversation, he’s less attuned to what makes a compelling movie. He’s famous for fast-paced dialogue and extended monologues. The saga runs 130 minutes so you’re going to get a lot of those. Nevertheless, the delivery of those speeches is so traditional and dated. This feels like something you’d watch in school. There’s a frustratingly long opening montage that clumsily introduces the characters. Then there’s the actual lawsuit which is the bulk of the movie. Flashbacks are peppered into the narrative. These interstitials illustrate why these defendants are before the court. None of it is innovative or emotionally galvanizing. It simply exists to educate. This is your standard-issue Hollywood legal drama with the good guys clearly defined on one side and the bad guys on the other.

The sprawling cast is composed of unique casting choices. The “saints” include Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale. They all have vignettes that will play well in the highlight reel on Oscar night — should they get nominated, that is. That clearly is the goal. Civil rights lawyer William Kunstler who defends the Chicago Seven is the designated hero so he has several moments. Actor Mark Rylance sporting long hair, is quite affecting in the role. Now for the “sinners.” If there’s a performance that’s begging for a prize, it’s Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman. Initially, I was inclined to hate him as the villain of the piece. His grumpy old man character glaringly represents the establishment. However, I gradually regarded his over-the-top histrionics as a reactionary as a welcome comedic break from all the serious talk. I savored his cranky behavior in his verbal exchanges with William Kunstler.

It all climaxes with a conventional checklist of some of the most hackneyed elements ever put forth on film. The ending literally features a slow clap with the music swelling and a stirring speech. I mean it’s as cliched as anything I’ve ever seen and it’s the last thing you’re left to think about before the credits roll. Some will relish the theatrics. Overall Chicago 7 has some great writing about a historical milestone, but as entertainment it came up short for me. Be that as it may, it is just the type of didactic, politically left learning portrait that Hollywood adores. Its heart-tugging specifying is designed to win accolades. I suspect this will be recognized when nominations are announced on March 15th. It is a wee bit amusing when lesser-known defendant John Froines (Danny Flaherty) wonders aloud as to why he and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) have been included. “This is the Academy Awards of protests,” Lee deadpans. “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” At least the movie is self-aware.

10-16-20

The Wolf House

Posted in Animation, Drama, Horror with tags on October 15, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Wolf House (La Casa Lobo) is like a fairy tale out of the Brothers Grimm. The twisted fables collected by those German authors definitely had an edge. Yet this is even more unnerving. Striking! Innovative! Hypnotic! Bizarre! Mere adjectives aren’t enough to do it justice. If you’re familiar with the work of the Brothers Quay or Jan Švankmajer then you’ll have a reference point at least. For others, this will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Regardless, it will undoubtedly be the strangest movie you will see this year. This first premiered in February 2018 at the Berlin International Film Festival. Since then it has won a slew of awards and garnered widespread critical acclaim. It finally received a release in May 2020 in the U.S.

Maria (Amalia Kassai) is a young woman who escapes from a German community in the south of Chile. She takes refuge in a mysterious house in the woods. From that seed of an idea, emerges a stop motion animated tableau that is an unforgettable display of creative ingenuity. Her thoughts progressively infect the walls of the dwelling in which she lives. The surfaces come to life in a nightmarish vision. The Wolf House is a living, breathing physical room that is a painstakingly created tactile world. The art installation combines papier-mâché, puppets, sculptures, paintings, and other artistic methods to create scenes that were staged and photographed in various galleries throughout the world. This was accomplished over the course of several years in full view of the public. Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña are artists turned filmmakers with a series of shorts to their credit. This is their first feature and judging by the warm response, not their last.

This dark tale has its roots in a very sinister reality. Paul Schäfer was a Nazi sergeant that ultimately fled Germany after he was charged with pedophilia. He escaped to South America and it was there that he formed Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony), an isolated cult in the Andean foothills of eastern Chile. It was portrayed to the public as a bucolic agrarian utopia but was in fact closer to an authoritarian Nazi police state. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet used the colony as a detention camp to torture and execute political prisoners.

There are moments contained within this account I will never forget. Despite its disturbing inspiration, nothing presented is even remotely gory or violent. However, the eerie mood gradually works its way into your psyche and the effect can be unsettling. The narrative opens with an indoctrination video of an idyllic residence where the inhabitants live off the land in perfect harmony. The propaganda confers the settlement in a positive light. Supernatural developments ensue. Early on Maria finds two escaped pigs and she mothers them until they turn into human children. However, the ensuing production is not dependent on plot. Maria’s shoddy little shack is a constantly evolving nightmare of shapes and images. I sat there gobsmacked by the spectacle. During the chronicle, “the wolf” (Rainer Krause) is a foreboding presence that haunts Maria even after she escapes. His disembodied but seductive voice intones: “Maria…..Maria…..Maria.” He beckons her to return. It still gives me the chills.

09-03-20

Tenet

Posted in Action, Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller on October 5, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I feel I must acknowledge right from the beginning that Tenet was supposed to be the movie that would “save” cinema by inspiring people back into theaters. It didn’t. There was reason to think it would flourish. 10 years ago, the thematically similar Inception made nearly $300 million in the U.S. alone. Unfortunately, Tenet isn’t anywhere near as good. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the film and honestly, it was a success everywhere else in the world. Its poor showing at the U.S. box office has a lot more to do with the fact that many markets, including the two largest (New York, Los Angeles) weren’t even open when it was released on September 3.

In retrospect, a talky and confusing spy thriller from the creative imagination of Christopher Nolan wasn’t the best choice to welcome people back into theaters. There are those who will demand the astonishing visuals must be seen on the biggest screen available. They are indeed breathtaking. However, I’m here to say that this feature will probably find its greatest victory at home where viewers can pause and re-rewind to their heart’s content to fully comprehend Christopher Nolan’s impenetrable screenplay. Audiences have also complained that the dialogue can be hard to hear. I didn’t have a problem with it but closed captioning will be a godsend for those who feel this way. Now let’s discuss the story.

A CIA agent (John David Washington) is recruited by an organization from the future called Tenet to save the world. A Russian oligarch named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) is dying. He wants to use a device called an Algorithm which allows him to alter time. His doomsday plan is to invert the universe and have humanity die with him. The CIA officer contacts Andrei’s estranged wife Kat Barton (Elizabeth Debicki) to aid him in his task. Also assisting the “Protagonist” (he’s not given a name) is Neil (Robert Pattinson), his handler in the mission. Of course that’s simplifying things considerably. The plot isn’t straightforward, but that’s all you need to know. This is the mind of Christopher Nolan where he complicates the notion of time travel with a facility called a Turnstile that uses red and blue rooms to invert and revert a traveler’s path. Whatever.

Nolan is obsessed with time. I submit Memento, Inception, and Interstellar as exhibits A, B, and C. It’s his fetish, and Tenet furthers that obsession. He would rather articulate how time travel could occur with verbose specificity and then manipulate that idea even further to the point of nonsense. He exploits that theorem as an excuse to create nifty setpieces where multiple timelines exist concurrently. Time is moving ahead in one chronology and reversed in another simultaneously right before our eyes. I’d argue that the mechanism of time travel never holds up intellectually. Once you accept that principle, the easier it will be to champion any movie that employs that concept.

Suspend your desire to understand the baffling exposition. Simply delight in the sheer scale of the extravaganza that is presented. You will be satisfied. There are spectacles created within this environment that are too beautiful to dismiss. A shootout at the opera, a fistfight in a hallway, a plane crash at an airport, a reverse car chase, and the climax when the protagonist is inverted and he goes back in time while another team is advancing forward. It is is a vivid action display that is easily the most thrilling sequence of the year. Buildings collapsing, coming back together, and exploding again is a sight I won’t soon forget. The action is highlighted by the type of blasting soundscape of a score we’ve come to expect in a Nolan production. Ludwig Göransson’s music reverberates with bass to thrillingly punctuate the action. Does the chronicle make coherent sense? No, but I enjoy Tenet for the same reasons I appreciate the 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. It’s not about rationalizing every plot detail or understanding the dense narrative. It’s about the manifestation of spectacular style that could only triumph within the world of cinema.

09-29-20