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

Trailer: Dane Dehaan as James Dean and Robert Pattinson as his Photographer Friend in “Life”

Posted on August 22, 2015 at 8:00 am

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd4q7vF__8Q

Photographer Dennis Stock befriended James Dean and saw him as the symbol of a cultural upheaval that inspired him to a naturalism with his photos like what Dean was doing with his acting. Pattinson plays Stock and Dane Dehaan plays Dean in “Life,” co-starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Joel Edgerton.

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Biography Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Trailer: Nicole Kidman Plays Gertrude Bell in “Queen of the Desert”

Posted on July 28, 2015 at 8:00 am

Nicole Kidman plays Gertrude Bell, the first woman to earn top honors in history at Oxford, fluent in six languages, and one of the great adventurers and scholars of the 20th century. Her spiritual home was the Middle East, where she became a cartographer, archaeologist, writer, and photographer, and during World War I an advisor to British military intelligence. Robert Pattinson plays her friend, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), and the cast also includes Damian Lewis and James Franco.

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Based on a true story Biography Epic/Historical Trailers, Previews, and Clips

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2

Posted on November 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm

The “Twilight” series comes to a close with the fifth film based on the four-book supernatural love story from Stephenie Meyer. This one is for the fans, with a loving farewell that includes a romantic recap series of flashbacks and final credits bringing back all the stars of the series.  It will be less satisfying for non Twi-hards, who will have a hard time ignoring the ludicrousness of the storyline.

In the last chapter, Bella (Kristen Stewart) at long last (well, not too long, she just finished high school), married her one true love, Edward (Robert Pattinson), a vampire.  They had a wonderfully romantic but bed-breaking wedding night, and she got pregnant, a surprise to everyone because it was thought to be biologically impossible.  The pregnancy left Bella so frail that childbirth would have killed her if Edward had not kept her alive by turning her into a vampire.  “Breaking Dawn, Part 1” ended with her eyes opening, vampire-ified to electrified amber with a kind of permanent mascara.  “I didn’t expect you to seem so..you,” Jacob says. “Except for the creepy eyes.”

In the past, we saw the “other” world of vampires and wolf-people like Jacob (Taylor Lautner) through Bella’s brown human eyes.  Now we see everything through the hyper-charged senses of the ultimate predator.  Ironically, it is only as a vampire that Bella feels most purely herself — strong, confident, capable.  This is the fork in the road where the fans will stay with it but everyone else may take a detour.  One reason for the sensational popularity of the books is the way they so perfectly capture a young teenager’s fantasy.  That works better when the characters are themselves teenagers.  Trying to project them into the adult world, even one as skewed as the vampire world, is a tougher stretch.

Bella and Edward have an idyllic existence of eternal adolescence, with a life free from work, struggle, and parents.  They do not have to eat or sleep.  They do not have to do anything but have wildly energetic sex and conversations about who loves who more, with banter like “We’re the same temperature now.”  You may ask, “Wait, isn’t there a baby with some kind of nutty name?”  Yes there is, and her name is Renesmee (after the two grandmothers, Renée and Esmé).  When Jacob calls her “Nessie,” Bella gets angry because that’s the Loch Ness monster’s nickname, though it seems likely that it is just another of Jacob’s protective instincts, her birth name being something of a burden.

Bella and Edward-style parenting is not very demanding.  The baby has a full-time staff of loving vampire relatives and an imprinted wolf-guy.  And it turns out that vampire/human children grow in dog years.  The movie, unfortunately, moves rather slowly, with a lot of time bringing in 18 new vampire characters from all over the world to help persuade the vampiric governing body, the Volturi, that they have not broken the law and produced an “immortal child” who could put the community at risk.  All of this leads up to a grand battle across a snowy field, the motley crew of good guy vampires and the robed Volturi.

The endless procession of new characters gets tedious except for a Revolutionary war veteran played by Lee Pace (“Lincoln,” “Pushing Daisies”), who talks about his time with General Custer and has far more electricity on screen than the vampiress who catches his attention with her super-tasing power to jolt anyone.  I also liked Rami Melek (“Night at the Museum,” “Larry Crowne”) as a vampire who can control the elements.  But the sheer volume of new characters made having to remember each one’s special talent like trying to keep track of the Smurfs.

We’ve spent a lot of time with these characters and it is good to see a satisfying resolution to their story.  But I couldn’t help feeling that Meyer had run out of ideas and just tossed in everything she could think of.  My primary reaction at the end was relief that this was the end.

Parents should know that this movie includes vampire violence with battles that include graphic decapitations and other disturbing images, characters injured and killed, sexual references and situations with some nudity, and some language.

Family discussion: What are the biggest changes in Bella’s outlook and abilities from the first installment to the last? How much should she tell Charlie? If you could have one of the special gifts of the characters in the film, which would it be and why?

If you like this, try: the other “Twilight” movies and the books by Stephenie Meyer

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Drama Fantasy Romance Series/Sequel

Why Is There Only One American Actor in a Movie Set in NY?

Posted on August 20, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Cosmopolis” is a new movie based on a book by American author Don DeLillo.  It is a story about Americans who work in the world of finance and takes place entirely in New York City.  It stars British actor Robert Pattinson, best known for another American role, Edward in the “Twilight” series.

A number of British actors play Americans very convincingly, including Hugh Laurie in “House,” Tom Hardy in next week’s “Lawless,” and Christian Bale as Batman in the Dark Knight movies.  And Americans play Brits, too, like Gwenyth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love,” “Emma,” and “Sliding Doors” and Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning role as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”

I’m in favor of casting the best actor for the role without regard to his or her native accent.  But there’s more to the story in the casting for “Cosmopolis.”  According to Slate, director David Cronenberg explained that the movie was a co-production financed by Canada and France, and so was limited to just one American actor.  He wisely chose Paul Giamatti for a small but crucial role.  Pattinson’s EU passport qualified as a part of the French component of the film.

I understand that compromise is a part of any project as expensive as this one.  But I am sorry to think that decisions so central to the quality of a film are being made for reasons that have so little to do with the quality of the film.

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