Archive for Tenet

Back Asswards

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2020 by dcairns

SPOILERS FOR TENET! !TENET ROF SRELIOPS

Lots of them.

I felt a sort of historic obligation to see TENT since it positioned itself as the Great Return to Cinema — its writer-director seemed eager to create a series of super-spreader screenings and, like his Russian supervillain, bring his medium of expression (arms dealing, cinema) to an end along with all of us. That plan was thwarted, perhaps by a time-traveling secret agent, and now, also like his Russian supervillain, his movie has bellyflopped into the icy waters of indifference, pausing only to smash its skull on a jutting section of luxury yacht, and will shortly be towed off by a motor launch, its pale and shapeless body, a Felliniesque dead mackerel, glistening with poorly-applied sun cream. Or am I stretching my simile too far?

I enjoyed this film! Maybe my favourite Nolan since THE PRESTIGE. Of course I have grumbles, but there were at least moments where I felt a kind of glee over what was about to happen, or maybe what had just happened? So hard to tell.

Of course I went in knowing that all the dialogue was exposition, and most of it was inaudible. Knowing that helped to not worry about that. Must be even tougher if you’re unused to Cockney.

Robert Pattinson’s impersonation of Christopher Hitchens may not be as dazzling as Roger Allam’s in V FOR VENDETTA, but it’s very entertaining.

About that: Sir Michael Caine appears, since this is a Nolan joint, and it’s always nice to see him. But the appearance feels valedictory. Damn you, 2020! It’s a wholly sedentary appearance, unevenly cut, and that fine actor seems to be having trouble speaking. That thing, whatever it is, when your teeth are no longer firmly rooted. Nolan gives Caine some of the best lines in the film, and drops the thundering Zimmerist music of Ludwig Göransson so we can hear him. Caine is playing Sir Michael Crosby, and when John David Washington (continuing to prove his worth as an excellent, sensitive leading man) gets up to leave he pauses, and in a specially weighted close-up, says, “Goodbye, Sir Michael.”

So there’s THAT — the only emotional moment in the film, really, and the most successful emotional beat of Nolan’s career. Maybe I’m out of line for even mentioning it. I do hope Caine does lots more films. Nolan and Caine seem to be admitting otherwise, if that moment is there for a reason.

Elsewhere, the film is a series of heists and capers and assaults. You know that thing about INCEPTION? That thing where they bend Paris, and it’s just a DEMO, to let you know the kind of thing they can do in a dream? And then they never do anything like that again? Except the Fred Astaire punch-up in the rotating corridor?

Well, TENT, sorry, TENET, isn’t quite like that, but I was waiting for them to do more with their reverse gear. I had guessed from the title that the film would go forwards for half its running time, then backwards to the beginning, but that’s not really true. They do start reversing at the halfway mark. There’s a fun backwards car chase. And a fight played first with the protagonist moving forwards, then replayed with him reversed (Nolan can’t quite shoot this expressively enough to make the masked man the hero — your eye keeps going to the unmasked one). And at the end there’s a “temporal pincer movement” in which one set of attackers are in reverse, but why?

Best bit in that attack — where a building seems to blow up twice, both forwards and backwards and there really wasn’t time why or even WHAT — is when a wall reverse-explodes and sucks a passing trooper into itself. Presumably, if we had a flashback to the construction of that wall, we’d see a couple of builders going What do you want done with these human bones? Oh just put them in the wall, it’ll be fine. Are you sure? Yeah, when somebody eventually blows up the wall all the bits will turn into a person and he’ll run off backwards it’ll be FINE.

Disappointing the film does not include that scene.

TENET contains the palindrome Tenet, and also the reversible names Sator and Rotas, and it contains a racecar (kind of) and a mom. But no kayak or madam. The LA JETEE moment when a memory is replayed only this time the person whose memory it is becomes a character seen in that memory — I saw that one coming — is, given that the character is called Kat, perhaps a visualisation of the palindromic sentence “Was it a cat I saw?”

In terms of clarity — I think the film suffers not just from everyone saying important lines through masks or cockney accents, but because Nolan is not the world’s most lucid visual storyteller. Think of the incoherent fights in his first BATMAN, then listen to him saying they were like that on purpose, then look at the later BATMEN and their fights, which are only like 25% better. So he can’t help it. I always felt THE PRESTIGE needed not just a big CITIZEN KANE shot at the end — which is easy to do if you have a big budget for man-sized mason jars — but a tracking shot that shows a reasonable sampling of WHO is in those jars. Because I value clarity. TENT has a big briefing scene (I think it’s actually in a TENT) where they explain what they’re going to do before the final battle, and it’s STILL confusing.

Some really nice location shooting. But if it had proper James Bond swooning strings and torch song vamping over it, that would have been better than the pounding, throbbing stuff Nolan always goes for. The James Bond films that inspire him are technocratic power fantasies of violence and casual sex, and when you put s. strings and t.s. vamping on top, you get wonderful IRONY. Which Nolan doesn’t do, does he? Extraordinary that you can be a Bond fan and not appreciate or aspire to an ironic tone.

But he’s quite an odd fellow, I think, Nolan, in his dry, boring way.

TENT stars Ron Stallworth; Crocker Fenway; Fleur Delacour; Rev. Preston Teagardin; Bobby J. Braganza; Harry Palmer; Mopsy Rabbit; Prince Bertie; Hercule Poirot; John Lennon; and Lilian Roth.

The 10th

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 10, 2020 by dcairns
Stan demonstrates to the key to surviving lockdown: pie

It’s my birthday! I am mumblety-mumble years old and will celebrate with Fiona by meeting friends and, later, finishing off the Pordenone Festival of Silent Cinema by devouring their Laurel & Hardy programme. This being Pordenone, where obscurity is the new ubiquity, this is a programme of Laurel films and Hardy films, not Laurel & Hardy films. One thousand times the rarity value and one five-hundredth the laughs, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Maybe DON’T try this on your piano?

Pordenone, concentrating on delivering ALL of its programme online, has gotten some things right that Bologna just couldn’t (rights reasons), but the principle of making a film available for 24 hrs seems to work, even if there are benefits to watching each streaming movie “live” with a crowd of online friends.

Yesterday I saw TENET, partly for historical reasons, so I’ll review that soon. Interesting going to the cinema with ads saying “Welcome Back!” even as Cineworld, the UK’s largest chain, announces closure, and Covid cases skyrocket, and seeing a trailer for the new Bond film that announces “Coming in November!” which is no longer true. And about three other people in the auditorium. By “interesting” I guess I mean “melancholy,” but hey, this is autumn.

Going to the cinema

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2020 by dcairns

There’s no streaming platform for BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC so if we wanted to see it, which we did, we were going to have to suit up and brave the Vue Ocean terminal, which we did. We figured sitting in the back row would make it less likely that other patrons would laugh droplets into us. So, yesterday afternoon, we did it.

I’d taught my first classes of the academic year that week. Edinburgh University is being sensible, which means everything essential’s delivered online. In principle non-essential things can be delivered in person, but current lockdown rules prevent gatherings from more than two households, and one-on-one tutorials don’t seem wise. If I caught the bug from the first tutee, I could infect the second, third, fourth, etc. There are twenty-one of them. A good day’s work.

Still, it seemed like a week of new beginnings. And the word “joyous” had been used to describe B&TFTM. And it is — it’s the kind of film that would most benefit from a big audience, but alas the big audience might not benefit, in the long term, so we saw it in a sparsely-spread, socially distanced group, who seemed to have as fun a time as us.

I recall Joss Ackland (De Nomolos) disparaging BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY, saying it glorified stupidity. I feel this was unfair. Bill and Ted’s disadvantage in their adventures is that they’re not terribly bright, though they have a bit of imagination. But what the films glorify is their niceness. And, though the years have thrown a lot of troubles their way, they are, if anything, even nicer. True, their future selves in this movie go through some changes and rather let the side down, but we know they’ll come through in the end. (There’s a multiverse thing thrown in to explain away certain inconsistencies… never mind, I’m sure it makes more sense than TENET.)

The only note of discomfort in earlier B&T entries was the gag that, when the boys embrace in an emotional moment, they then step back, alarmed by their own expression of intimacy, and say “Fag” at each other in a somewhat flat mechanical way. They don’t really mean it, but in their subculture it has to be said. I think it was always sort of a joke ABOUT homophobia, and it was an honest one about the language and culture of American male metalhead youth, but it stuck out as the only unpleasant note, and there’s no way they were going to do it in 2020. And that, too, is an honest reflection of how at least much of the culture has changed.

I do think it’s harder for dumb people to be nice, since they don’t know or understand the rules that should apply, so maybe Bill & Ted deserve all the more respect for managing it. And people who are smart and nasty like De Nomolos deserve all the more contempt.

And actually nobody’s all bad in this film. A robot killer from the future turns out to be one of the film’s most endearing new creations. The people who send him mean well, but are falling into the old “ends-justify-the-means” trap.

I wondered if the central premise — everything’s falling apart — spacetime itself disintegrating — is a metaphor for where the world is currently at. Of course there was no pandemic in progress when this film was conceived, but there was already a lot going on. The utopian ideal promulgated is that we could all come together if we concentrated on what we have in common rather than what divides us. Which I believe is true, the problems come when, having come together, we try to accomplish anything.

If I had a suggestion for how to improve the film, I would let Alex Winter direct it, because he’s a brilliant visual stylist and he’s already on the payroll anyway and Dean Parisot, who made the superb GALAXY QUEST and has great taste in performers and performance, isn’t. But he DOES have great taste in performers and performances. Among the people who are terrific in this, asides from all the returning series favourites, are Bill & Ted’s daughters, Thea & Billie (particularly Samara Weaving, one of those damned Australians who can do anything), Kristen Schaal, Anthony Carrigan, and Dave Grohl who is being particularly excellent this year.

BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC stars John Wick; John Polidori; Gertha Teeth; Nix; Julia Clarke; Heywood; Pencil Machine Operator; Professor Stromwell; Chlorinda; Satan; Lt Obersturmfuhrer Schmidt; DW Griffith; Cardinal Glick; and You pigs…say your prayers.