Tenet (2020): A Thriller That Explores the Nature of Time

Tenet (2020) - IMDb

“Tenet” is a great film, but there is no way this film could have saved movie theaters and nor should it have. I wish more had been done in regards to studios waiting and helping theaters by having them as an option to stream films (support your local theatre by logging onto to their website, buy a virtual ticket and you can watch it from your home and still support them). That doesn’t have to do with the film though. This is a great science fiction film that made some compelling characters in a film that largely depends on the reveal of an idea. I won’t tell you anymore than that but if you are a Nolan fan and want some great sci. fi. concepts explored with amazing action, check this one out.

The film was directed and written by Christopher Nolan.

The story follows Protagonist (John David Washington) as he is pulled into the mysterious organization known as Tenet to stop World War III.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of stopping World War III through time manipulation is really cool. Especially in how this is explored, initially through the reveal of time inverted bullets and eventually traveling inverted through time and having to avoid meeting yourself and causing a paradox. It is so much fun and the slow buildup to reveal works great.

The Action – The action is absolutely fantastic. The action is the best it has been since “Inception” and we get fights and car chases mixed with forward and reverse action, and it still making sense and really good hand to hand combat and gunplay. At the core this is a spy film and it does that really well.

The Characters – The characters either work on a basic level or are compelling in how they are portrayed and their backstories revealed over the course of the film. Each of them are given a moment of empathy and also a time to establish their power. Nolan does nuance.

Andrei Sator – Kenneth Branagh plays the Russian mobster who is the main villain of the piece. He never stops being bad and someone you want to root for to be taken down but he does have a few moments that give him some complexity. He gained wealth from the very thing that is killing him and therefore wants to end the world. He also at one point loved his wife it seems but even that maybe an illusion as he does have the delusion of seeing the destruction of the world as becoming a God. I appreciate how difficult he was to beat as it took all of Tenet’s resources and best agents to finally stop him from activating the Algorithm that would destroy the world through inverting entropy.

Katherine Barton – Elizabeth Debicki does a wonderful job as the abused wife of Andrei Sator who is using everything at her disposal to resist or escape. Her drive is to protect her son and to get revenge and when she finally gets revenge and calls out her abusive spouse it is rewarding. She goes through so much in this film and seeing her claim justice is one of the strongest parts of the film.

Ives – Ives is one of the agents from the future and knows the most of what is going on. He initially comes off as driven and militant but over time we see his humanity too as rather than complete what they believe the mission to be (after the parts of the algorithm are hid, ending their lives). The implication is that he won’t ever find them and it makes sense when we learn more of what is going on. He was the one who at that point held the most information on the nature of Tenet. Aaron Taylor-Johnson elevated would is initially presented as a fairly forgettable character.

Neil – Robert Pattinson’s Neil is Protagonist’s ally and eventual friend over the course of the film. He knows the rules of time travel the most and embraces each moment willingly. In this he helps Protagonist rise to the role he will eventually become. Pattinson imbues him with empathy, cleverness and a sense of mystery which makes him a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see his Batman. In the end he tells Protagonist that Protagonist founded Tenet and was the one to recruit him when Protagonist is much older. Establishing that loop of time.

Protagonist – John David Washington makes a character who has no backstory beyond being a CIA agent a compelling protagonist. In this we see what drives him and his connection to Katherine humanizes his drive as that personal connection more closely connects him to Sator. Seeing him grow into the role of the Protagonist and with what he learns at the end, closes the loop. Honestly, I’d watch another film with him and what else happens in Tenet.

The Nature of Time – Time is a loop and each time you go back you don’t change things but become a part of what happened. This was really cool in how it was handled and it doesn’t really answer the point of choice or destiny just that the loop exists based on the actions of the people using inversion. This core exploration that drives the film kept intrigued beyond the character drama.

The Cons:

Initial Stilted Dialogue – Everyone is talking in code at the beginning and I get it, it is a CIA operation but it just came off as stilled as silly. So glad that after the opening they got away from this. After the dialogue isn’t stilted but the opening is somewhat long.

Overlong in Parts – The opening and the final battle could have been cut by 5 minutes and been stronger for it. Both go on a bit longer than they need to and I would have traded it for backstory for Protagonist or more time with Neil and Ives.

Sound Editing – There are times that the sound editing is off. The soundtrack will go almost too electronic and it ruins the flow of some scenes. The soundtrack was still great but the sound editing is a point against it and the overall film. When it should be used to elevate scenes sometimes it was working against them. It never reaches the standard of “The Dark Knight Trilogy” for amazing sound editing.

This is a great, flawed and favorite film. This film made me care about a character who isn’t given a backstory and does a great job with exploring the nature of time and making it work in a spy thriller. Seriously, this film might make my Top 5 films at the end of the year. The elements that make it great far outweigh the flaws of the film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 The ending reveal and character arcs won the film for me.

Moonlight (2016): A Beautiful Exploration of Sexuality, Trauma and Healing

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      “Moonlight” is a beautifully crafted character piece that explores the sexuality and identity as well as trauma and healing. I got a feeling this is going to make my Top 5 Films of 2016 as it hits all right notes and the only real issue I had with it is it could have ended a few times but kept on going.

     The film was written and directed by Barry Jenkins and produced by Adele Romanski, Dede Garnder and Jeremy Kleiner. The story was also by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

     The story involves Chiron (also called “Black”) and his growing up with abuse from his druggy mother and the bullies on the playground who think he’s gay. When Juan (Mahershala Ali) takes him under his wing he gets temporary peace until he learns that Juan is the drug lord who sells to his mom leaving him alone again in the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is the poor deep south (Florida and Georgia) and it is in it we see the lack of opportunities that lead to some becoming druggies or dealing in drugs. It is desolate and real and fits the world and characters and is the world of poverty here in the United States.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful with the only times where it was annoying was when there was shaky cam (thankfully this only happened once or twice). Besides that we get stark scenes that illustrate the isolation of so many of our characters.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful and full of deep and harsh string instruments that heighten the tension and illustrate the pain of the characters. Nicholas Britell really did a fantastic job.

The Characters – This is a character focused drama and is powerful at that. I cared about all the characters who got explored and I wanted to see what choices they’d make and how they’d change.

Juan – Ali once again plays a memorable complex character! This guy is one of my favorite actors at this point and I love how he is one of the first who tells Chiron it is okay to be gay and to be himself. He is a father figure until he is unable to accept the fact that he’s helping to destroy Chiron’s mom with his drugs and after we never see him again.

Teresa – Teresa is Juan’s girlfriend and one of the most supportive characters in the film. She is Chiron’s safe place and we see her doing all she can to make sure he has somewhere to call home.

Paula – Paula is Chiron’s druggy mother who thankfully gets out of it when they move as gets checked into rehab and tries to convince Chiron to stop the cycle as she apologizes for how abusive she was and how unloving she was, though she loves him now. She’s complicated and not a good person but she has a really powerful arc.

Kevin – Kevin is Chiron’s first and only love who he falls out of touch with after the bullies egg Kevin on to punch Chiron. For 10 years they don’t see one another and then we see that Kevin has a kid and got out of drugs and is a cook now. He shows Chiron there is another way and admits in his action he never stopped caring and loving Chiron….as Chiron finally finds peace with his lover.

Chiron – Chiron doesn’t speak for the beginning of the film and it isn’t until Juan and Teresa help him feel safe that he opens up and learns from them to care for his abusive mother and also to care for himself. His next arc is becoming hardened as after the bullies egg Kevin on to beat him up he puts the head bully in the hospital and becomes a rich drug lord like Juan. It isn’t until Kevin calls out of the blue that he realizes there is another way and admits to Kevin that he never let anyone else touch him and that he still loves him.

Peace in Self and the Quest for Healing – From Chiron’s mother seeking drugs, Chiron and Kevin finding each other, Juan finding Chiron…all of them are seeking healing and find it in relationship or in the case of Chiron’s mother escape. All of them at the end of the day just want peace because of how the world has hardened them.

How Trauma Changes People – Trauma hardens people, from Chiron’s mother getting into drugs to escape and bringing out her desperation on her son, to Juan’s inability to stop doing the drug trade and making money even as he is trying to help Chiron heal, from Kevin going to prison. Trauma hardens all these characters at different points.  There is so much toxic masculinity are characters are dealing with where beating someone up makes others accept you and being soft and quiet is a death sentence. Thankfully at the end we see Chiron beginning to find a way out of that cycle of trauma and abuse.

The Cycles of Abuse – One of the things we witness in this is the cycle of abuse, Kevin goes to jail after the bullies force him to beat him best friend/lover Chiron and later he ends up in prison. After he gets out he finds that Chiron has changed as the abuse from his mother and the bullies has hardened him too and he hasn’t experienced love since their moment on the beach.

Okay: The Endings – I would have put this as a pro if they had just had the final scene at Kevin’s restaurant. There was no reason for Kevin to go home and to put them at risk given Kevin is married now. It extended the final scene of them finding peace with one another a bit too long and was the only thing that kept this film from being one of the perfect films this year.

    This is a film well worth your time. If you want to see what life is for so many who have to live in the closet because others feel threatened by their sexuality…this film does a fantastic job exploring that. As a bisexual man I found it powerful and loved how each of the characters was more complicated than what they appeared to be. None of them were stereotypes, each had multiple dimensions and contradictions and it made their struggles all the more compelling as all of them were really just looking for peace or love from another.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Ending could have happened on a few occasions so that is the only reason it isn’t a 10/10.

The First Sci. Fi. Movie Week

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One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Science Fiction is the ability it has to create wonder. Whether it is the “Star Treks” or “2001: A Space Odyssey” or countless other films these universes that draw from our own give us the chance to look towards a brighter future. This week I’ll be reviewing a few of these films that all explore the many themes that make up Science Fiction.

Whether it’s aliens and building bridges in “Enemy Mine,” Time and space in “Interstellar,” Artificial Intelligence of “Robot & Frank” or the idea behind first contact in “Contact.” All these have different themes that when I review I will tie them to their science fiction roots as well as exploring the ways they go beyond it, if they do.

If you’ve been reading the blog you have no doubt seen how the future and unknown have functioned as an inspiration for me, especially when those possible futures are tied to the relevant present. To me that is what made “Star Trek” and so many other great sci. fi. films and television shows great.

In the case of the films I’m reviewing this week, they were requested on my facebook and had the most interest attached to them. If there are films or themed weeks you are interested in seeing, feel free to request in the comment section. I’m always looking for more ideas, concepts, films and television shows to explore or re-explore if they are favorites or were favorites was younger.

So without further ado, let Sci. Fi. Movie Week begin.

Mobile Suit Gundam – Season 1, Episode 14 – “Time, Be Still” – Defending the Gundam

Time, Be Still Ep 14

“Time, Be Still” is an episode that shows smart thinking on the part of a rag tag group of Zeon soldiers and also further exploring the breakdown of Amuro’s psyche. The episode was written and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and also directed by Shinya Sadamitsu.

The story involves Zeon bases attack and laying of bombs on the Gundam. From there the story involves Amuro racing against the clock to get all the bombs off before they destroy him and his Gundam as he was lured into the trap when he saves Lt. Matilda from the attack from Zeon forces.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Zeon Base – The soldiers in this are smart and we get to see them use their limited supplies to almost win against Amuro and his Gundam, as they lure him into the forest and manage to lay the mines all over him. They also mange to injure Lt. Matilda’s supply ship too. They later come dressed as civilians when moving the base to see who was the pilot and crew who outsmarted them.

Lt. Matilda – We see that she might have feeling for Amuro but is professional and reminds him and the crew of their duty. She also gives the possibly bad news of the Federation eventually sending an officer to command over Mr. Bright, since he is just an ensign. The Federation isn’t the best of allies.

Amuro – We see his obsession of duty almost lead to his own death when he decides he alone will take off the bombs since it is his Gundam. The crew comes through for him in the end, but I don’t think he realizes all the support that is around him and the folks in the same boat.

Con: Fraw Bow – She’s jealous of Matilda, this is getting kind of annoying. She hasn’t had any romantic moments with Amuro or showed she’s interested. She needs to do something or layoff Amuro’s interest in Matilda.

This was a good episode, it isn’t quite as tied to the overall arc the way others are since it is more travel and random Zeon enemies…but there is more moments with Matilda and Amuro and we see the further destruction of Amuro’s psyche.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10