Tenet

Posted on August 31, 2020 at 8:00 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and intense action
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended, intense peril and violence, characters injured and killed, guns, chases, explosions, weapons of mass and total destruction, torture
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 4, 2020
Copyright Warner Brothers 2020

Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” is like a three-dimensional chess game. The storyline is mind-bendingly intricate, with thought-provoking fantasy and juicy twists. But the characters are never more than one-dimensional, like the pawns, rooks, and bishops on the chess board, their sole defining characteristics are the way they look and move. The brilliantly-staged action sequences punctuate a muddled story-line with under-written characters and — its biggest failing, a boring bad guy.

The story’s leading man does not have a name. In the most eye-rolling cognomen since M. Night Shyamalan dubbed his muse-like character in “Lady in the Water” “Story,” our hero is known only as Protagonist. He even insists, “I am the protagonist!” a couple of times, so it seems to be more than a name. Fortunately for the movie and the audience, Protagonist is played by the infinitely engaging John David Washington (“BlackKklansman”) who brings so much grace and charm to the role we forget how under-written his character is. He conveys with a gleam in his eye and a shift of his shoulders more than any line of dialogue in the script.

The opening scene is a stunner. We are brought into the most civilized of environments, a concert hall, with an audience rustling in anticipation of a symphony orchestra performance. And then suddenly, it turns into the most uncivilized of situations, with terrorists breaking in to, well, we do not know exactly what, except that they are clearly combat-trained and equipped and ruthless. They carry an assortment of international law enforcement patches so they can select whichever one is right for the moment. Nolan expertly conveys the contrast between the control of the terrorists and the chaos they create.

Protagonist is one of the guys in combat gear, and he seems to be, maybe, a good guy? There to extract some dignitary? Anyway, he is soon put in a position where he must decide whether to allow himself to be tortured into giving up information or commit suicide with a cyanide capsule. He chooses the capsule, and wakes up in a hospital room. It was a test of whether he was all in. He passed.

And now he has a new assignment, the darkest of dark ops, and the direst of end-of-times consequences if he does not succeed. Even if I wanted to spoil it, I really couldn’t, as it is pretty murky, but basically someone has figured out how to make time go backward and that is very, very bad, especially if — say it with me — it gets into the wrong hands. He gets some help from Michael Caine, with one brief scene keeping his record of appearing in Christopher Nolan films going. And he gets some more from a charmingly raffish guy named Neil (Robert Pattinson), who always seems to be smiling about some delicious secret. (SPOILER ALERT: He is.) Note: compliments to costume designer Jeffrey Kurland for gorgeous suits, in the words of Dorothy L. Sayers, “tailored to the swooning point.”

Enter the bad guy, who seems to be a character from another movie, like a shlocky Bond rip-off. Kenneth Branagh plays Andrei Sator, an expat Russian oligarch, international arms dealer, and all-around sadist. His estranged wife is the elegant art dealer Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). And if that isn’t an overused enough character sketch, there’s this: he enjoys blackmailing and manipulating her by threatening to keep her away from their young son. Protagonist is just the kind of cowboy to want to save the day for her while he’s saving the world.

There’s a highway chase with some vehicles going forward in time and some backward that is a wow and a half. But it is a combination of too much (nearly 2 1/2 hours long, with so many McGuffins to retrieve I thought I was back with Harry Potter and the horcruxes), too little (I’m not sure the backwards time thing all fits together — maybe there will be some charts online from fans who are willing to sit through it four or five times to figure it out), and the complete mess that is the Sator character, who not only is an under-imagined cliche but on top of everything else not only suffers from explaining bad guy syndrome but actually is so committed to going into detail about what he is doing that he actually gets on the phone to make sure he provides even more. Murky as it all is, it gets even murkier because of some muffled sound when people are speaking, especially when part of the whole backwards time thing for some reason have to have oxygen masks over their faces.

“Don’t try to understand it,” one character tells another. The best way to enjoy this movie is to follow that advice.

Parents should know that this film includes extended and occasionally graphic peril and violence with international arms dealers, guns, bombs, explosions, chases, torture, and terrorism. There is some strong language.

Family discussion: Why does the main character insist that he is the protagonist? Which twist surprised you most? Were there clues you missed?

If you like this, try: “Edge of Tomorrow”

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Drama Movies -- format

Going in Style

Posted on April 6, 2017 at 5:31 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Mostly comic peril and violence, issues of aging and illness
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 7, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 31, 2017

Copyright Warner Brothers 2017
Copyright Warner Brothers 2017
Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin are such a dream team that we almost forget how weak this remake of the 1979 George Burns “Going in Style” is. It is always a pleasure to see these old pros, and in this heist story the real theft is every scene they are in from anyone else in the cast.

As in the original, which co-starred Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, it is the story of three old guys who rob a bank. This time, the script by Theodore Melfi (“St. Vincent,” “Hidden Figures”) leverages the post-financial meltdown Trump era animosity toward banks and big multi-national corporations that consider the pensions they promised their long-term employees as just another stream of revenue to redirect to investment bankers and CEOs. Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman), and Albert (Alan Arkin) are not just proving that experience and wiliness will triumph over youth and overconfidence; they are a new version of Robin Hood, seeking justice for the little guys.

The men are all retirees from the same manufacturing company, which is moving all of its operations out of the United States and cancelling all pension plans. Joe, whose daughter and granddaughter (Joey King) live with him, has had to stop making the mortgage payments that tripled after his rate went up, and his home is in foreclosure. Willie’s dialysis is not enough any more and he will die if he does not get a new kidney. When Joe’s meeting at the bank about his mortgage is interrupted by a bank robbery, it looks like a way for him to solve his money problems.

The three leads give it their best, and there is simply nothing better than that. Their enjoyment in each other and in the chance to have some fun as the movie’s heroes is palpable. And it is a joy to see the still-lovely and very game Ann-Margret as a grocery store clerk with a crush on Al. “SNL’s” Kenan Thompson and Siobhan Fallon Hogan are bright spots, but the gifted Matt Dillon, Christopher Lloyd, Josh Pais, and Peter Serafinowicz (“Spy”) are vastly under-used in one-dimensional roles. This especially disappointing from director Zach Braff (“Garden State”) and screenwriter Theodore Melfi, who seem to think that their only choice here is to make a thinly imagined, tiresomely formulaic, numbingly predictable story. Topical references notwithstanding, the movie is more outdated than the 1979 original.

Parents should know that this film includes armed robberies, guns, serious illness, marijuana, drinking and drunkenness, some strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations.

Family discussion: What did each man find the most persuasive reason to rob the bank? What was the most important advice they got?

If you like this, try: the original version with George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, and “Tower Heist”

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Comedy Crime DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues Remake

Where You’ve Seen Them Before: Cast of “Going in Style”

Posted on April 4, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers

The remake of “Going in Style,” like the original, is about a trio of retired men who rob a bank, with all three characters played by acting legends. This version stars Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin, all Oscar-winners with decades of brilliant performances. And the co-star is one of my all-time favorites, Ann-Margret.

Morgan Freeman: Best remembered as Red in “The Shawshank Redemption,” Hoke in “Driving Miss Daisy,” and God in the “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty,” and the deep, rich-voiced narrator of films like “March of the Penguins,” Freeman won an Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby.”

Michael Caine: His breakthrough role was in 1966 as the ladies’ man title character in “Alfie,” and he has delivered iconic performances in everything from period drama (“The Man Who Would be King”) to literary adaptations (an Oscar-winning performance in “The Cider House Rules”) to Alfred in the Batman movies. His distinctive voice and Cockney accent have inspired many imitators.

Alan Arkin: He won an Oscar for playing a raunchy, drug-addicted grandfather in “Little Miss Sunshine,” and his other great performances include a confused Soviet submarine captain in “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!,” an isolated deaf man in “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” and a cynical Hollywood executive in “Argo.”

Ann-Margret: Her most iconic roles showcased her fiery hair, creamy skin, flashing turquoise eyes, gorgeous figure, seductive purr, and the unmatched energy and flair of her dancing, but she showed her ability with dramatic roles in “Carnal Knowledge” and the television film “Who Will Love My Children?”

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Actors For Your Netflix Queue Movie History Where You’ve Seen Them Before

Now You See Me 2

Posted on June 9, 2016 at 5:40 pm

now-you-see-me-2The first “Now You See Me” was a deliciously entertaining heist film with “the Four Horsemen,” a team of magicians, engaged in a diabolically clever combination of misdirection and triple-cons for the purpose of revenge, Robin Hood reparations, and showmanship. We know what that means for part 2 — the Empire strikes back, and it is a popcorn pleasure. The Horsemen stole from billionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and framed the magician turned debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) so he ended up in prison.

At the end of the last film, the surprise twist revealed FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) as the brains behind the operation. As this one opens, the FBI, with Deputy Director Natalie Austin (Sanaa Lathan) in charge, does not know and thinks Rhodes is still looking for three of the Horsemen. They believe Jack Wilder, played by Dave Franco, was killed. They’re wrong about both. Rhodes is working with the Horsemen, including Wilder. But there is a new member of the group: Lula (Lizzy Caplan, replacing Isla Fisher). And they immediately run into a snag involving someone who knows a bit about magic in the movies: Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Mabry, a mysterious, mega-wealthy guy who wants the Horsemen to steal something for him. It’s the usual MacGuffin — some sort of computer thing that would give him access to everything/control of everything blah blah, and it’s locked away in a place with the kind of crazy security reserved for heist movies. All the world’s biggest, richest baddies are after it, and so the Horsemen have to find a way to get in there before one of them gets it.

The first movie had sensational performance showpieces. This one is more “Mission: Impossible” (the television series, not the Tom Cruise movies) until the final scene. But it keeps the sly twists coming, using all the magicians’ favorite ruses, from misdirection to an almost-balletic slight of hand. Just like “The Avengers,” it is a lot of fun to see each of the Horsemen use their skills — mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), lock wizard Wilder, card master Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg). We learned in the first film that McKinney’s brother stole all his money and disappeared; it turns out he was an identical twin brother, and he shows up, played by Harrelson with hair that looks like that awful perm Mike Brady had in the last season of “The Brady Bunch.”

It has all the twists and reveals and surprises we were hoping for, including one saucy switch that is not about magic, just social conventions that have not caught up to reality, some very old school means of communication, and a touch of movie magic in giving us a glimpse of one character’s past with some CGI that looks a little more realistic than the “work” that has ruined so many Hollywood faces. Director Jon M. Chu (the “Step Up” movies) has a superb sense of space and movement, giving the story exuberance and flair. It’s a fitting encore and I hope we will see them all again in part 3.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language, and some action-style peril and violence.

Family discussion: Would you want to be selected by The Eye? Which magic trick would you like to be able to master?

If you like this, try: the original film and “The Sting”

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Crime Series/Sequel
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