Review of “Tenet”

A CIA operative known only as the Protagonist (John David Washington) is given a case to prevent a third world war. Working with another agent, Neil (Robert Pattinson), he must infiltrate the operation of Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) by going through his art dealer wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). The war the agents are trying to prevent is one that won’t be fought with conventional or nuclear weapons; this war will be fought using the flow of time. Someone has figured out a way to control entropy, changing the normal order of cause and effect. If a government or terrorist group could observe the events of the future, they could counter any efforts to stop their plans. The past, present and future are at stake.

Trying to explain the story of “Tenet” is like teaching a squid how to write. It’s complicated, messy and I don’t think I have the intelligence to grasp it all. Writer and director Christopher Nolan has crafted a bizarre and labyrinthian story of technology, power and greed with the fate of the world in the balance. I won’t be surprised if audiences are deeply divided in their opinions on the film with some thinking it’s a masterpiece while other find it taxing and incoherent. Both will be correct. Much like cause and effect are reversed in the film, feelings about it will also travel in both directions. While struggled as I watched the movie and the alternating passage of time, sometimes occurring simultaneously, I felt the door to a level of understanding crack ever so slightly as the events played out. I happen to be one that thinks “Tenet” is brilliant.

That doesn’t mean it is flawless. The dialog can be dense when characters are discussing the finer points of entropy and how the rules of one person travelling in one direction while the rest of the world is moving in another. And perhaps is was the speaker set up in the theater, but I had a hard time understanding what characters were saying from scene to scene. Maybe it was the ambient background noise on the soundtrack mixed with the various accents, but some of the dialog was garbled and lost to me.

Otherwise, the movie is also unbearably loud. The action scenes with guns, explosions and car crashes left my ears ringing. I would have chocked that up to my individual theater, but I’ve seen other viewers post how near deafening the volume is. This appears to be a deliberate choice by Nolan and the studio to crank up the sound and beat the audience into aural submission. If you have especially sensitive hearing or suffer from hearing loss, you may want to bring ear protection just in case.

Have you ever had a TV show suggested to you and the suggester says, “It really gets good by episode 3,” or “The second season is where it takes off”? That’s kind of how “Tenet” is. Things won’t make much sense in the early scenes, and you’ll wonder if Nolan has let you down with a subpar effort. However, visuals you’ll find confounding will make more sense as you go through the story. By the end, scattered and random events early will finally become clear. Nolan has made a movie that is the epitome of the conspiracy theorist cork board with pictures, headlines and random pieces of paper covered in scribbles connected with push pins and red string.

While the story takes some time to make sense, the performances will hold your interest until your brain catches up. While the film is filled with characters, our four main players dominate the screen and ably so. John David Washington keeps his character’s emotions in check, just as a season CIA operative would. While he’s facing an unprecedented situation, Washington’s Protagonist rolls with it. While some may criticize his performance as dull, I found his ever in control operative to be a source of calm in a temporal storm.

Debicki, Pattinson and Branagh provide all the emotion for the film. Debicki’s Kat is a woman in a loveless marriage to a cold and cruel man holding their son as leverage over her. Her flares of anger and pain ring so true they caused me to wince. Pattinson provides a bit of comic relief as Neil. Allowed to speak with his British accent, Pattinson’s Neil is droll and a tiny bit condescending while also being a master of understatement. Neil is the Protagonists fixer, gofer and sounding board. His role is to give the CIA operative the tools and materials he needs to do the job. Providing a laugh along the way is a bonus. Branagh’s Sator is a fairly standard villain but provides flashes of the madness and cruelty that make him rise above. Branagh slinks through some scenes like a python approaching his prey. In other scenes he’s brash and big like a bull elephant charging through the African plains. While the role doesn’t provide much meat on the bone, Branagh strips it clean and makes a meal from the part.

“Tenet” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language. There are fights, shootings and crashes of various types throughout the film. Gore is kept to a minimum even during a scene of torture. A 747 is crashed into a building. A couple of people are shot at close range. A person is beaten to death with an unusual object. Foul language is scattered and mile except for one F-Bomb.

The action scenes in “Tenet” are unconventional but thrilling. Some of them happen in regular time while others are going backwards. Some scenes have some of the characters travelling in one direction while other in the same scene are going backwards. Nolan filmed the actors doing the scenes forward and backward so he could splice the two together as seamlessly as possible. For the most part it works, but sometimes people are clearly running backward and then had the film reversed and vice versa. Those moments are rare and don’t ruin what is otherwise a very good film. I would have liked a clearer understanding of what’s causing the reversal of time and would also have liked a better reason for why the bad guys wanted to fulfill their ultimate goal. That said, “Tenet” is a brain-breaking sci-fi/action/thriller that, if you’re comfortable heading to the theater, should be seen on the big screen. Just remember to wear your mask.

“Tenet” gets four stars out of five.

Release schedules are still thin so my return to reviewing may be erratic for the foreseeable future.

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Reviews of “The Meg” and “BlacKkKlansman”

BlacKkKlansman

In 1972, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) became the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After a short stint in the file room, Stallworth is moved to the intelligence division to spy on a speech by Stokley Carmichael, who took the African name Kwame Ture, hosted by the Black Student Union at the local college. He meets the president of the Black Student Union, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), at the speech and is smitten. His partner in the surveillance is Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). While flipping through the newspaper at his desk, Stallworth sees an ad for the Ku Klux Klan with a phone number to get more information. He calls and is immediately called back by Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) and invited to meet the rest of the guys. Since Stallworth is black he convinces Zimmerman, a Jew, to meet with the Klan. He goes to a bar and is picked up by Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen), who quickly impresses Zimmerman as a full-blown psychopath. Zimmerman, using Stallworth’s name, can’t participate in any Klan events, like cross burning, until he gets his official membership card. The real Stallworth calls Klan headquarters and speaks with the Grand Wizard and national director of the Klan David Duke (Topher Grace) who will be coming to Colorado Springs to give a speech and officially certify the local chapter. Kendrickson is suspicious of the man he knows as Stallworth while also coming up with a plan to make a very public and deadly statement about the presence of the Klan.

“BlacKkKlansman” is a Spike Lee joint. It is sprinkled with humor, anger, intelligence, ignorance and bliss. It is a damning indictment of America and how it deals with race in the past, present and sadly, the future. As a white man I cannot begin to understand what it’s like to be hated for the color of my skin and for just existing. Much of Lee’s obvious anger is difficult for me to comprehend as I have no basis for it in my life. What I do understand is the film will make thinking white people very uncomfortable as it possibly energizes a second Civil Rights movement that will make the people that like the way things are also very uncomfortable.

There are many uncomfortable moments in the film but there are also some tremendous performances. First and foremost is John David Washington as Ron Stallworth. His performance is nuanced and perfect. Stallworth is learning about himself and how he feels about and lives the life of a black man. He’s a cop which automatically makes him suspect in his community, tearing him between two worlds. He is challenged by everyone in both worlds for either what he is or what he does. The pressures must be tremendous on African-American police officers and that pressure is well represented in Washington’s performance. The conflict plays out across his face in certain scenes such as during the speech he’s sent to infiltrate. There’s guilt, recognition and acceptance playing across his face during this scene and the character is never the same after. Washington can also handle the lighter, more comedic moments as well such as during his calls with David Duke and some of the choices the character makes while backing up Zimmerman while he’s undercover. Washington, son of Denzel Washington, has the beginnings of a very good career under his belt with a regular role on the HBO series “Ballers” and he has a significant role in the last film of Robert Redford’s career coming out next month.

Adam Driver is better known for his role on HBO’s “Girls” and as Kylo Ren in the current “Star Wars” trilogy but he his a very versatile and talented actor. His work as Zimmerman shows that. He also is torn in dealing with his identity as a Jew. As the film says, he “passes” as white and he hasn’t given it much thought until the hatred of his religion and heritage is shoved in his face by interacting with the Klan. He also has an awakening that triggers guilt and anger. Driver’s performance is painful to watch but in a good way as he spews hate for minorities and homosexuals. The vitriol takes a personal toll on Zimmerman as his self-deception about his identity is presented front and center to him. Driver blossoms in the role and could be considered for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

It’s difficult to praise an actor’s performance when he’s playing such a despicable character but Jasper Paakkonen is frightening and brilliant as the deranged Felix Kendrickson. His hatred oozes from every oily pore as he gets wide-eyed, relishing every derogatory word. Felix is described as a general looking for an army and, if his passions were aimed in a positive direction, would be an effective leader of a group. Felix has a feeling of superiority over not only minorities but of his fellow Klansmen as well. He wants to lead them to earn the respect he feels he’s due. Paakkonen is possessed by the character and is a perfect villain on whom to focus all the audience’s rage.

Director Spike Lee’s direction is best described in this film as poetic. During the speech given by Carmichael there are individual shots of people enraptured by his words. Each is shot alone with a black background, isolating them from the group. Then Lee groups these faces in twos and threes making each unique face part of a tableau that adds to the power of the scene. Lee also pops back and forth between meetings of Klan members and a lecture being given by a black man that witnessed his friend lynched by a white crowd decades earlier. He also lets the hate run free and gives it lots of time to expose itself during planning sessions and get-togethers by Klansmen. These scenes are difficult to watch as the language of hate flows so thickly it nearly suffocates the viewer. That’s what Lee is trying to do: Bury the audience in the hate and make it so awful that it cannot be ignored. Lee is a master at rubbing our noses in societal hypocrisy. Maybe one day we’ll learn the lesson.

“BlacKkKlansman” is rated R for racial epithets, language throughout, disturbing/violent material and some sexual references. Horrendous racial epithets are common throughout the film. There is also homophobic language. Large photos of a lynched and burned man are shown. While these are grainy and it’s difficult to make out any details there is a graphic description of what was done. There’s a scene of police officers beating up a black man. A bomb explodes destroying a couple of cars. The sexual references are two men suggesting one wants to perform oral sex on the other. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Based on the book “Black Klansman” by the real Ron Stallworth, Spike Lee’s film messes with a few of the facts, adds a couple of characters and punches everyone that sees the film in the gut. Perhaps the hardest part to watch is the final few minutes that uses archive footage from a recent event to drive home to the point we have a long way to go. I feel certain the film will be in the running for the next Academy Awards in several categories and it will deserve to win them all. It is a powerful film that needs to be seen.

“BlacKkKlansman” gets five stars.

The Meg

Billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) is funding an underwater research facility. It is doing cutting edge science and is about to possibly make a big discovery. The leaders of the facility are Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing). The facility sends down a deep-water sub with a crew of three on board. They are investigating whether the bottom of the Marianas Trench is actually the bottom. Their theory is its a layer of gas and the trench is deeper. The sub breaks through the layer of gas and discovers the ocean floor is covered with hydrothermal vents called black smokers. There are many unique lifeforms that are unknown to science waiting to be discovered. Then, something rams their sub, disabling it. The subs pilot, Lori (Jessica McNamee) sends out a last desperate message saying, “Jonas was right!” Jonas is her ex-husband Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a former Navy rescue diver specializing in deep-water rescues. Five years earlier while on a rescue of crewmen from a nuclear submarine, something was ramming the sub, causing it to implode. Jonas decided to release his rescue vehicle from the sub, saving 11 men but leaving two of his own behind. In the investigation that followed Jonas was found to have panicked causing the deaths of two of his men. He was thrown out of the Navy and the stress led to his divorce from Lori. Now, Dr. Zhang and an old buddy, James “Mac” Mackreides (Cliff Curtis) who works for Dr. Zhang, approach Jonas to try a rescue of Lori’s sub. Jonas is reluctant, but he attempts the rescue. Once he’s on the bottom Jonas finally learns what damaged Lori’s sub and likely destroyed the nuclear vessel: A massive variety of shark thought to have been extinct for millions of years, a megalodon.

“The Meg” is a big, dumb action movie. It has no more value than to be a pleasant diversion from the doom and gloom of the real world. That isn’t a complaint as “The Meg” is one of the better diversions of the summer so far.

What struck me most about the film is the look. The technology on display is impressive even if it is all fake. The screens, the panels, the design of the subs are all futuristic and practical at the same time. It’s a triumph of production design that might get some attention come awards season.

There’s also the general impression of the script. While you won’t walk out of the theater feeling smarter, you might remember a couple of lines or how all the characters (with the exception of Rainn Wilson’s billionaire) sound intelligently written. Wilson’s Jack Morris is clearly intelligent but with an edge of arrogance and self-importance. The rest of the characters know their jobs and perform them efficiently. It’s only when things start to go sideways that their personalities are differentiated.

Jason Statham delivers his usual tough-guy character but with a touch of humanity. While he starts the film as a bit of a jackass and he’s the hero in almost every situation thereafter, the script gives his character a bit of warmth and charm that’s sometimes missing from his usual roles. He even gets the beginnings of a love story with one character, something you don’t always see in Statham-led films.

The rest of the cast is good but there is one standout: Sophia Shuya Cai as Meiying, the daughter of Suyin. This little firecracker has most of the best lines in the movie. She has surprisingly strong chemistry with Statham and holds her own with the adults in the cast. Anyone that’s in a movie with this young lady in the future had better bring their A game as she is as much a shark as the title monster.

“The Meg” is rated PG-13 for bloody images, action/peril and some language. We see a severed arm after a meg attack. There are also sea creatures that are bitten into (or in half). A diver in a shark cage is nearly swallowed cage and all by the meg. Another diver is chased as he’s being dragged through the water by a moving boat. Swimmers are attacked and eaten by the meg. Foul language is infrequent and mild.

“The Meg” has plenty of action and thrills, it looks great and the megalodon is a fearsome creature that I’m very happy is extinct. I’m not a huge fan of getting in the ocean anyway and if a 90-foot shark with a mouth that could open as much as 10 feet wide was still swimming around you couldn’t get me to stick my toes in the sand, much less the water. I don’t mind going to a theater to see the beast as there’s air conditioning and I won’t get any sand in places that don’t like it. What I’m saying is, it’s a fun movie.

“The Meg” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Mile 22” for WIMZ.com.

If there’s time I’ll review one of the following for this webpage:

Alpha—

Crazy Rich Asians—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, streaming and TV news. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.