Movie reviews: 'Tenet' a mind-bending experience in actual cinemas now
This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Robert Pattinson, left, and John David Washington in a scene from "Tenet." (Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)
TENET: 4 STARS
"We're living in a twilight world." That's the password The Protagonist (John David Washington) and Company use in "Tenet," the new Christopher Nolan mind-bender, now playing only in theatres, but the movie's premise is more "Twilight Zone" than twilight world.
The movie opens with a breathless and loud rescue sequence in an opera house in Ukraine, the first of the movie's several eye-and-ear-popping action sequences. At stake is a mysterious component, part of a much larger device, with the power to end the world. A nuclear holocaust? "No, something worse."
The Protagonist is tasked with piecing together the potentially world-ending puzzle. "Your duty transcends national interest," says his handler Victor (Martin Donovan). All he has to go on is a gesture and a code word, Tenet. "It will open some of the right doors," Victor says, "but some of the wrong ones too."
So far, "Tenet" feels like an elaborate James Bond style story, complete with exotic locations, enigmatic characters and a world that needs saving.
Then things get complicated.
The Protagonist isn't simply dealing with the usual spy stuff, like international intrigue, a Russian oligarch or femme fatales. He's fighting against "inversion," a disturbance in the very fabric of time, that sees material running backwards through time, while the rest of the world moves forward. So, in the upside-down story of "Tenet," an "inverted" weapon could affect the past as well as the present.
It's a reversal of the way we think of linear time. It's not time travel. The Protagonist doesn't jump back to ancient Egypt for a quick chat with Cleopatra or zip forward to talk to his 100-year-old self. When he inverts, he is in the moment, but running counter to everyone else. "You're not shooting the bullet," he's told by a researcher (Clémence Poésy). "You're catching it." Then, by way of clarity, she adds, "don't try and understand it," which may be the best advice The Protagonist has received to this point.
Teamed with shadowy operative Neil (Robert Pattinson), The Protagonist enters a topsy-turvy world of high-end art, down-and-dirty dealings with strongman Andrei Stor (Kenneth Branagh) and a clock that is moving backwards and forwards simultaneously. "You have a future in the past," Neil says to The Protagonist.
At the centre of the action is John David Washington, hot off his Golden Globe Best Actor nomination for "BlacKkKlansman." He's in every scene, and whether wearing a Brooks Brother suit (in one of the film's funniest exchanges) or hanging off the side of a building, he's a convincing action hero with acting chops. It's a demanding role and he pulls it off with equal parts bravado and restraint. It takes swagger to anchor a movie like this but in his relationship with Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) he reveals a flirtier, more tender side. The Protagonist is a well-rounded character and, if they don't do a "Tenet 2: Time Gone Wild" perhaps his name could be added to the list of 007 candidates.
The supporting cast, Branagh as the "all our lives in his hands" villain and Debicki as his beleaguered wife and Pattinson as the calm, cool and collected mercenary, all acquit themselves well but "Tenet's" real star, however, is Christopher Nolan.
For blockbuster starved audiences Nolan delivers the kind of spectacle we're used to seeing in the summer months. As per usual, he avoids CGI wherever possible in favour of practical effects. The results are eye-popping. The big set pieces — like an airplane driving through a building — don't have the kind of digital disconnect that often comes with computer generated action. The show-stopping sequences are busy, exciting but most of all, organic, and the sense of peril (and pageantry) that comes with that is undeniable. Add to that Nolan's use of IMAX cameras and you have wild action that fills the big screen in every way.
With a complicated story comes drawbacks. In the first hour there is a lot of exposition. People ask questions — Do you know what a free port is? How does inversion work? — while others take the time to answer them all in an effort to keep the audience in the loop. There's a lot of talk about theories and plans, but Nolan keeps things lively with lightning fast — with a capital "F" — pacing.
Will you understand the puzzles of "Tenet's" time manipulation story? Maybe, maybe not. It's definitely a movie that will hold up to multiple viewings, revealing new info and fostering more understanding of the plot each time. The trippy last hour is jam packed with artfully arranged action scenes that manipulate time in increasingly psychedelic ways. While you may feel lost in time as the movie careens toward the end of its 150-minute running time with an involved and inversive climax that weaves the past into the fabric of The Protagonist's mission, you may wish you could invert time and relive the story again. And you can, for the price of a ticket.
"Tenet" opened in more than 70 countries worldwide, including Europe and Canada, starting on Wednesday, August 26.
BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC: 3 STARS
Just because Bill and Ted, the time travelling slackers last seen on screen almost thirty years ago, got bigger and older doesn't mean they grew up. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves reunite as William S. "Bill" Preston, Esq and Theodore "Ted" Logan in "Bill and Ted Face the Music," available now in theatres and on demand, to try, once again, to save the world through music.
The leaders of the Wyld Stallyns are now middle aged with kids of their own, played by Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving. At their peak Bill and Ted's band played at the Grand Canyon but are now reduced to performing at a lodge for a handful of people who were already there for taco night. Still, they persist in their quest to write the perfect song, a tune so powerful it will unite the world.
Not everyone is on board. "It's been hard to watch you beat your heads against the wall for 25 years," says Ted's wife Princess Elizabeth Logan (Erinn Hayes). "Not sure how much more we can take."
But when their old mentor Rufus (George Carlin in archival footage) send his daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) from the future with a mission, Bill and Ted accept. Given 77 minutes and 25 seconds to create a song that will "save reality," the duo go on an excellent, time travelling journey to the future to get the song from their future selves. "Let's go say hello to ourselves and get that song," says the ever-optimistic Bill.
Cue the famous inner-dimensional phone box.
The new adventure brings with it some grown-up issues, marital problems, matters of life and death, their manipulative future selves, a trip to hell and killer robots.
Meanwhile, as Bill and Ted race into the future with Kelly their daughters are on a mission of their own. Zipping through time they convince some of the greatest musicians the world has ever known—Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still), Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), Mozart (Daniel Dorr), drummer Grom (Patty Anne Miller), flautist Ling Lun (Sharon Gee) and rapper Kid Cudi as himself—to bring Bill and Ted's music to life.
A mix of quantum physics and silly humour, "Bill and Ted Face the Music" is more a blast in nostalgia than laugh out loud funny. The screenplay, by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who also penned "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey," haven't played around with the formula. This isn't a gritty reimagining of the franchise. Bill and Ted haven't developed dark sides or become jaded. They are carbon copies of their former screen selves, albeit with a few more miles on their faces. The yuks are derived from Bill and Ted as wide-eyed, Valley-speaking saviors who look for and find the best in everyone they meet in the past, present and future.
Along the way there are some welcome returns, most notably William Sadler as the bass playing Grim Reaper, who can't understand why Bill and Ted don't appreciate his 40-minute-long bass solos, and it's nice to see Carlin again, if only for a second. Lundy-Paine and Weaving, have fun, playing the daughters as two chips off the old blockheads, naively discovering the true secret of world unity.
"Bill and Ted Face the Music" is a blast from the past, a movie that would look great on VHS, that maintains the goofiness and the optimism of the originals.
THE NEW MUTANTS: 2 STARS
I will give "The New Mutants" director Josh Boone a couple of points for attempting to push the limits of what an X-Men movie can be. The spin-off of the Marvel comics, now playing in theatres, isn't about saving the planet or battling little green beings from outer space.
Boone mixes and matches the superheroes with psychological horror, placing people with extraordinary powers battling their own, earthbound demons. It's a genre film, but not a memorable one. In this case, you can't spell "generic" without "genre."
The story centers around Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), an indigenous teen whose entire reservation was wiped off the face of the earth by… something. For some reason she survives, only to find herself chained to a hospital bed in a mysterious facility. Enter Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga), a kindly (or is she?) physician who unchains Dani and explains the situation to her. "You're in a safe place," the good (once again, is she?) doctor says. "Nothing can hurt you here."
Soon she is introduced to the other inmates… er… patients. There's Russian meanie Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a mutant who can teleport and slice people to bits with an arm that morphs into a sword. Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams) is part human, part werewolf and can smell trouble from a mile away, while hunky Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga) is so hot he will occasionally burst into flames. Completing the line-up is Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), a southerner whose slowed down drawl hides the fact that he's gifted with thermo-chemical energy propulsion that would make Usain Bolt look like a slow poke.
As young adults they are new to their powers, attending therapy sessions with Dr. Reyes to learn how to control their abilities.
How does Dani fit in? What are her powers? That's what Reyes wants to find out. What will she do with that information? "This isn't a hospital," warns Illyana. "It's a cage and you're trapped in here forever."
"The New Mutants" then becomes a guessing game as strange things start happening. Bad dreams terrorize Dani's fellow mutants, each reliving a terrible, formative moment in their development. "We're trapped in here with demons!" Roberto shrieks.
Boone conjures up some eerie imagery. Illyana's slender-man wannabe ghouls are unsettling, but the idea of the manifestation of the character's fears has been done before and done better in movies like "It."
Eventually "The New Mutants" biodegrades into a computer-generated slog as the movie approaches the end of its 90-minute running time. Whatever character work the cast, who are actually quite good, have done to involve the viewer is undone by a series of loud episodes that favor empty spectacle over humanity.
PHINEAS AND FERB THE MOVIE: CANDACE AGAINST THE UNIVERSE: 3 ½ STARS
For the uninitiated "Phineas and Ferb," the animated Disney Channel show which ran from 2007 to 2015, was a kind of kid-friendly version of "The Simpsons" that saw suburban stepbrothers have fun on their summer vacation. After over one hundred television adventures and a 2011 movie trip to the second dimension what is left to do with these two cartoon kids in "Phineas And Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe," now on Disney+?
As on the TV show, older sister Candace (voice of Ashley Tisdale) is feeling put upon and underappreciated by her brothers. Even her complaints to her parents fall on deaf ears. "Every day you call me to tell me that Phineas and Ferb have built some unbelievable thing," says mom (Caroline Rhea), "and every day I come home to find nothing there. Doesn't it exhaust you? It exhausts me." When she is abducted by aliens and taken to another planet the enterprising brothers (voices of Vincent Martella and David Errigo Jr. respectively) jet off into space to rescue her.
Trouble is, she doesn't need rescuing. The aliens treat her better than her family did—they call her The Chosen One—and she's having fun… until she learns the truth of her new alien friends. "I used to think the universe was against me," Candace says, "but now I realize it's me against the universe."
"Phineas And Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe" reunites the original creative team-- creators/executive producers Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh—and most of the television cast. New comers include comedian Ali Wong as Super Super Big Doctor, improv king Wayne Brady as Stapler Fist and actor Diedrich Bader. The result is a movie that feels like a continuation rather than a reboot of the series, complete with new, fun songs by guest songwriters like Karey Kirkpatrick of the musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates.
The movie is definitely aimed at kids, from the broad humour to the bright colours, the wild action and good messages—"You may not be the Chosen One," Phineas and Ferb tell her, "but we choose you as a sister every time."—but it doesn't talk down to its audience. It's smart, funny and there's even stuff in there the parents will enjoy.
THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD: 3 ½ STARS
Trading the barbed satire of "The Death of Stalin" for the socially aware period comedy of Charles Dickens, director Armando Iannucci breathes new life into a classic, often told tale.
"The Personal History of David Copperfield" sees Jairaj Varsani play Copperfield as a youngster born into a life of Victorian comfort. His life takes a turn when his widowed mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) marries the sadistic Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd) who beats David for the slightest of transgressions. When things come to a head at home David (now played by Dev Patel) is sent away to board with the down-on-his-luck Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and family and work as child labor at Murdstone's bottle factory.
David takes steps to shape his destiny after he isn't told of his mother's death until after her funeral. Following an emotional scene at the factory, he sets out to find his wealthy aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and her lodger, the kite-flying eccentric Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie) who believes he is possessed by the spirit of King Charles the First. Aunty pays for David's tony university education, where he confirms his love of language and begins making the detailed notes on the people he meets that will one day form the backbone of his debut book, "The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery."
It's also there that he meets James Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard), a wealthy and witty student and obsequious law clerk Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw). Both will have a major impact on David's trajectory from pauper to gentleman and author.
Patel leads a diverse cast, jam packed with oddball characters, that maintains Dickens's themes while giving the story a contemporary feel. Iannucci has compressed the 600-page book, boiling out the essence of Dickens's condemnation of exploitation of the weak and comment on wealth and class as a measure of a person's value. The result is uneven that sometimes feels like a series of vignettes but Iannucci mines a rich comedic vein that smoothes over the story's fits and starts. Capaldi, Swinton and Laurie deliver broad performances but it is Patel who brings the humanity that balances everything out.
As David, Patel is at the center of the action and grounds some of the story's more fanciful aspects with a deep humanity.
Iannucci is a Dickens fan and it shows. "The Personal History of David Copperfield" is a sparkling adaptation of the original story that uses wonderful dialogue and physical comedy to paint a heartfelt, serious and timely portrait of social anxiety and inequality.
YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE: 3 STARS
Like Rodney Dangerfield, all David Arquette wants is some respect. The "Scream" and "Eight Legged Freaks" actor and sometimes wrestler is the subject of "You Cannot Kill David Arquette," a new documentary, now on VOD, that traces his journey to redemption in and out of the ring.
You likely know Arquette as part of the famous Hollywood family. His grandfather Cliff was a well-known comedian, his father Lewis was best known for playing J.D. Pickett on "The Waltons," and his four siblings, Rosanna, Richmond, Patricia and Alexis (whop passed away in 2016) all became successful actors. He was once married to Cortney Cox and has been acting since his teens. Like everyone with a long career he's been in hits and flops but, according to the documentary, "Scream," the movie that made him a star also type cast him as a goofy, dim witted guy and ruined his serious acting career.
It was another movie, however, that sent him in a different direction. The actor was always a wrestling fan but "Ready to Rumble," the story of a pair of slacker wrestling fans upset by the ouster of their favorite character by an unscrupulous promoter, brought him into the wrestling biz. Brought into Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling, he became a comic relief attraction and eventually winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. It was a marketing attempt, but wrestling fans were incensed that an interloper, a Hollywood actor, could take the championship away from "real" wrestlers. He became the he most hated man in pro-wrestling and gave up the ring for eighteen years.
Ostracized by Hollywood and the wrestling world, he battled substance abuse, a public divorce and a life-threatening heart attack. It's here "You Cannot Kill David Arquette" begins.
Battling self-esteem issues—he frequently refers to himself as a loser—and the backlash that set him professionally adrift, Arquette, at age 48, and unable to get the acting auditions he wants, attempts a return to the ring. Like a flies-on-the-wall directors David Darg and Price James follow the actor as he loses fifty pounds, quits smoking, practices, gets his ass kicked, rehearses on the streets of Mexico and in one harrowing sequence, suffers a serious injury during an aptly named death match.
Wrestling takes up a great deal of screen time and it is clear that this is meant, in part, to be Arquette's love letter to the sport, the important stuff in the film happens outside the ring. Arquette is raw here, exposing his struggles in a raw and candid way. He lays it bare, telling his tale on his own terms. It's a story of personal redemption that never quite feels fulfilled, but Arquette's directness and eagerness to set things right, if only in his own mind, is compelling.