Time Out Of Mind

Tenet

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

A not-at-all funny thing happened to the movie calendar this year. And now, instead of kicking off the summer blockbuster season with a bang, the stakes for Tenet are a wee bit higher: rescue movie theaters.

As you may have heard, writer/director Christopher Nolan has been adamant that this film be experienced in theaters. He’s not wrong.

Tenet is a sensory battering experience, one not to be paused or downsized. The ideas are big, the visuals are full of wide-eyed wonders, and the persistent mind-bending immediately invites second helpings (maybe more).

An agent known only as The Protagonist (John David Washington) is introduced to technology that has the power to invert time. Time travel? Sorry, that’s Bill & Ted kid stuff. We’re talking the ability to move forward in a space where everything else is moving backward.

Nolan is returning to a familiar playground that manipulates time and reality. From Leonard looping through a constant present tense in Memento to Cobb forever bumping into his own past in his attempts to shift the future in Inception, back to The Prestige, forward to Interstellar and again to the braided timelines of Dunkirk, Nolan is a filmmaker who orchestrates universes by playing with time and consequence.   

In Tenet, the future is talking to the past, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. To put things right, our Protagonist and a mysterious partner named Neil (Robert Pattinson) must gain the trust of a high-end art dealer (Elizabeth Debicki) on the way to taking down her Russian arms dealer husband (Kenneth Branagh) who’s thinking bigger than Thanos.

A dialog heavy first half benefits primarily from the oily charm and sly humor of Pattinson’s character, whose arc is made more fun and more interesting by the way the film loops its realities. As elegant as always, Debicki exists to give the film a truly human character, which is to say, one whose behavior is too often (and too conveniently) impetuous.

The film’s biggest drawbacks are some cliched dialogue and its tendency to present itself as a SciFi James Bond movie with well-dressed characters popping up in gorgeous locales to impressively (and too conveniently) offer well-timed information. (Washington does impress as a potential Bond, though.)

The two and a half hour running time is not a concern, because once we hit the midpoint, Nolan (with a big assist from cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and stunt coordinator George Cottle) decide we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Past and present collide in some of the most interesting, tense and downright fun action sequences Nolan’s ever put together—and fan or not, that’s a feat to acknowledge.

That’s merely a summary that doesn’t require a physics degree, but as Nolan’s own screenplay admits, “Don’t try to understand it.” We’re back to big screens, baby, let’s make it count!

Harsh Mistress

The Burnt Orange Heresy

by George Wolf

A prestigious art critic (Claes Bang) with a mysterious new fling (Elizabeth Debicki) is hired by an uber wealthy dealer (Mick Jagger) to get his hands on a work from a reclusive master (Donald Sutherland).

Things slowly unravel.

With The Burnt Orange Heresy, director Giuseppe Capotondi and writer Scott B. Smith adapt Charles Willeford’s novel into a stylish thriller that casts a cynical eye on art, criticism, privilege and honesty.

The writing is playfully seductive and the cast is a joy, setting a delicious hook that keeps you guessing, at least for a while. And while the finale struggles with consistency, the final shot sends an undeniable message.

The truth can be a harsh mistress.

Oceans Apart

Widows

by Hope Madden

There are few films I have been more geeked to see than Widows.

Co-writer/director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame) and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects) update a British miniseries from the ‘80s about a heist.

Wait, Steve McQueen made a heist movie? A filmmaker so punishing you watch a little Lars von Trier to lighten the mood?

He totally made a heist movie. It is a layered, deeply cynical, wildly faceted take on politics, organized crime, familial grief and the plight of a powerless woman. So, OK, maybe not your run-of-the-mill Liam Neeson flick. But Liam Neeson is in it.

Neeson is Harry Rawlings, top man in a group of criminals who hit vaults around Chicago. This last hit went south, though, and the bad men he fleeced need that cash back. Poor Mrs. Rawlings (Viola Davis, glorious as is her way), is handed the bill.

McQueen has not made an Oceans 11. Widows is not fun. It is smart, riveting entertainment, though.

McQueen’s Chicago landscape is peopled mainly with folks desperately in need of a change: the criminal trying to get into politics (Brian Tyree Henry), the career politician with daddy issues (Colin Farrell), but mostly the widows of Harry’s crew (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki), all left as cash-strapped as Mrs. Rawlings.

It does not pay to marry a criminal.

Every member of the enormous ensemble runs with the opportunities this script allows, no matter how much or how little their screen time. Daniel Kaluuya relishes every sadistic moment he has as an enforcer, while Jacki Weaver establishes one character’s entire history with her two fascinating minutes onscreen.

But it’s Viola Davis who anchors the film. She is the grieving heart and the survivor’s mind that gives Widows its center and its momentum. She wastes nothing, never forgetting or allowing us to forget the grim reality of her situation.

There is a heist, don’t get me wrong. There are double crosses, flying bullets, car chases, explosions—genre prerequisites that feel like new toys for the super-serious director. McQueen proves a versatile a filmmaker, though he has certainly left his own distinctive mark on the action flick.






The Grommets of Oz

Breath

by Hope Madden

Quiet poetry is hardly what we’ve come to expect from a surf movie. But actor-turned-director Simon Baker offers exactly that in his elegantly familiar coming-of-age story, Breath.

Based on Tim Winton’s novel, the film follows two mates in coastal Australia as their childhood friendship faces the snarls of the onset of adulthood.

Pikelet (Samson Coulter) —a beautiful gangle of limbs and promise—is the only child of a humble but loving family. He and Loonie (Ben Spence) are inseparable, though their futures are destined to veer in wildly different directions. Before that happens, they will tumble toward adulthood on some dangerous waves.

The lads find an unlikely mentor in the form of a bohemian surfer. Bodhi…no, I’m lying. His name is Sando (Baker), and for every one of Point Break’s Hollywood-slick moments of waves, wisdom and gleaming tan, Sando offers authentic surf-tossed ruggedness and reflection.

This film is less about that one big one, the one that’ll make you famous. It’s entirely about the journey, the solitude and the fear—what an individual can make of those elements, what those elements make of an individual. It’s about life.

The young actors’ performances are wonderfully true and fresh, each easily articulating those days immediately before adulthood claims a child, determining his inevitable direction. Breath is most at home as these two boys bristle and bond, but slightly less honest as they separate and explore the world’s dangerous secrets on their own.

The lads are full of promise, though you can already see a darker path for one. The adults onscreen, including Sando and his wife Eva (played with appropriate chill by Elizabeth Debicki), represent the many possible ways that journey could go wrong.

Though Baker directed a number of episodes of his TV show The Mentalist, Breath represents his first venture into feature filmmaking. He shows a knack for authenticity and understatement—two elements sorely lacking in coming-of-age dramas, not to mention surf films.

Even the way he captures the water evokes the idea of imperfection and wonder, unlike those crystal blue, foaming tubes we’ve become used to.

It works well with Winton’s words, adapted for the screen by Gerard Lee. Both he and Baker seem to have crafted the entire, lovely effort around one nearly perfect line: Never had I seen men do something so beautiful, so pointless and elegant, as if dancing on water was the best and brightest thing a man could do.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chI8HpQt96Y





No Shoes, No Pants, No Problem

Peter Rabbit

by Christie Robb

Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, some gatecrashing, a tense dude named McGregor, and a pervasive lack of pants. But Will Gluck’s Peter Rabbit is a bit of a departure from Beatrix Potter’s twee kids’ books.

And you might think, ugh, not another attempt to lengthen and embellish a piece of classic literature beyond all reason (looking at you, Peter Jackson). But hold on. This (cotton) tale takes place somewhat after the events in Ms. Potter’s books. Both Peter’s (James Corden) parents are dead and there’s a new McGregor in town, Domhnall Gleeson (perhaps most familiarly known now as the strident General Hux from the Star Wars saga).

Gleeson’s McGregor is an acutely type A city slicker who longs to immediately sell his recently inherited country estate in order to reinvest the profits in a business venture back in London. Until he meets the animal lover/bunny portraitist Bea (Rose Byrne) who lives in the Pinterest-worthy cottage next door.

This gets Peter’s invisible knickers in a twist for two reasons: 1) restricted access to the tantalizing McGregor garden, and 2) a rival for the affections of Bea who, in the absence of his own rodent parents, has become personage he invests with a significant amount of maternal affection.

The conflicts escalate in cartoon violence that’s kinda Home Alone by way of the Odd Couple. And, as you might expect, it is an absolute delight to see Gleeson rant in nearly Shakespearean cadences about the antics of an anthropomorphized rabbit.

(To be honest, I’d probably pay the price of a movie ticket to see Gleeson take exception to piece of burnt toast.)

Like Gleeson, the supporting cast is also a delight. Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, and Daisy Ridley stand out as Peter’s siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and the devil-may-care Cotton-tail.

If you want to get all highbrow about it, the entire movie can be read as a metaphor for a kid’s struggle to accept a new romance in the life of a primary caregiver. And if you want to be honest, it bears as much resemblance to its source material as my 4-year-old’s picture of me does to the Mona Lisa.

But there’s enough beautiful animation, fun 90s and early 00s songs, and Easter-egg jokes for parents in case the kids decide they really like this movie and you have to watch it 400 times.