by Philip Price
Director: Sean Durkin
Starring: Jude Law & Carrie Coon
Runtime: 1 hour & 47 minutes
As a huge fan of writer/director Sean Durkin's 2011 breakout feature, “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” I was very much looking forward to his follow-up which unfortunately has taken nine years to craft and unfortunately feels like it should have taken less than half that time. It's not difficult to see where folks who enjoy the art form that is the motion picture will derive pleasure and satisfaction from Durkin's “The Nest” for, despite watching hundreds of films a year, I still consider myself very much a novice when it comes to movies of bygone eras-especially those prior to the turn of the millennium. This could certainly have influenced my perception of “The Nest” as not only is the film set during, but very much feels like a film born of the late seventies to early eighties. That said, it's not difficult to see what Durkin is going for here with this assessment of preserving one's own identity within a marriage while simultaneously preserving the illusion of a unified union to the world at large as everyday actions threaten to tear it apart, but even that summarization makes the proceedings sound more exciting than they actually are and furthermore, lends me no idea as to how well Durkin is achieving his goal. To this untrained eye at least, the writer/director takes far longer to build the basis on which we will see the cracks that come to divide this family unit than he does on actually exploring those crevices. “The Nest” is the type of movie most modern moviegoers wouldn't consider a story-or more appropriately, a study-that necessarily needs or deserves to be told on the big screen. Of course, this is also the type of movie that the parents of modern moviegoers watched in droves in the ‘70s as this feels akin to the kind of work I expect Mike Nichols and the like were doing at the time. These smaller, character-driven pieces analyzing the fractured American dream and how the layers of such a facade easily fall apart when that's all it was to begin with: a deceitful outward appearance meant to conceal a less pleasant reality. Though Durkin's seeming objective of depicting an unpleasant reality is an unequivocal success, whether the film as whole is equally successful is more up for debate as what “The Nest” achieves is far easier to appreciate than it is to experience.
In “The Nest,” we are introduced to what seem to be a well-rounded family in mother Allison (Carrie Coon), her husband Rory (Jude Law) and Allison's teenage daughter, Samantha (Oona Roche), along with Allison and Rory's younger son, Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell). Rory works in the world of finance while Allison trains horses and gives riding lessons near their New York home. From the outside, this well-groomed clan would seem to have all their ducks in a row, but Rory is floundering in this environment leading him to propose a move to London for a better job opportunity and chance for the family to truly prosper. It's clear Allison isn't pleased with the idea as this would be the family's "fourth move in 10 years," but Rory (unfairly or not) positions the U.S.-based excursion as an allowance for Allison to be close to her family (Wendy Crewson shows up as Allison's mother in a single, brief scene), but one that has run its course and in order to change his fortunes Rory needs to change his scenery. It is immediately after they arrive in London that Rory seems to begin spending more than he is bringing home; living above the family's means for no other reason than he genuinely feels he deserves the life he is leading others to believe he's already attained. Rory leases an abandoned country manor in Suree, just outside of London while also talking of purchasing a flat in the city, buying Allison a horse and beginning construction on stables on their property while enlisting Benjamin in the best school available. Rory initially appears to have crafted a sturdy relationship with Samantha if not necessarily a close one, but the inclusion of small details such as Rory intentionally leaving her out of the family picture in front of their new house and relegating her to the shitty school as opposed to Benjamin's privately-funded education make way for the reasons Samantha begins to feel isolated-if not only by her "family" but simply by being secluded to this country house that's so much more than a family of four could ever need. The Rory/Samantha dynamic doesn't go anywhere profound, but more it simply serves the purpose of underlining and illustrating the pattern of Rory's relationships with people. Of course, the real core of “The Nest” is that of Allison and Rory's rapidly devolving marriage as-to put it simply-Allison is fed up with my man's bullshit. Unfortunately, my man's bullshit extends to this new job (which, Allison comes to realize, Rory reached out to his former employer about and not vice versa as he'd told her), but while Rory is more or less banking on the idea that his boss (Michael Culkin) will jump at the opportunity to sell his company to a Chicago-based investor and retire with plenty of money before the end of the year when new regulation laws go into effect, he couldn't be less cautious about counting his chickens before they hatch. This goes for every aspect of his Rory's life as Durkin's film is ultimately a portrait of sad, rich, white people and why they have to perpetuate these hardships out of nothing but circumstances of their own making in order to feel anything real.
As one might be able to derive, Law has a lot he can play with and chew on here and the actor continues to perfect this ability to manipulate his good looks and natural charm into an embodiment of vapidness for certain characters (see “Vox Lux”). In the case of Rory, this conveyance essentially confirms that the only thing this man is good at isn't good for anyone else around him; he's an image-conscious and money-hungry patriarch that will never be fulfilled no matter how high up the ladder he climbs..."more is always the answer," as they say. It is in Law's performance that we garner Durkin's intent of dismantling the image and difference in achieving a sense of belonging where you think you want to belong despite having to change who you are in order to achieve that sense. It's almost pathetic how desperate Rory becomes in attempting to become someone he's not and it's the ripple effect of this type of personality and how it begins to impact the people around him where Durkin finds his most interesting layers; the ones that conflict in maintaining how Rory wants to be perceived versus Allison's mentality of genuine happiness over outside perception. This level of unrest only begins to come to the forefront at the forty-five minute mark leaving just under an hour for Durkin to discuss and exemplify his main ideas. While it may be a little too deliberate for its own good the pacing and uneventful nature of the film does also seem to be completely in line with the filmmaker's intent. There is a moment late in the film when Rory's planned "win" at work is crumbling around him and Culkin's character says to him that he, "doesn't pay attention to the detail," and that the detail is, "boring, ugly and (his) favorite part of the business." This makes sense at least when taken on the fact Durkin also wrote this dialogue and likely comes from his own sense of cognitive consonance as his favorite parts of crafting a film seem to be found in what others might largely perceive as the boring and ugly aspects of life; especially given the movies typically encapsulate only the most exciting of life's moments. Again, it's easy to respect this approach as many different strands within “The Nest” are fascinating and compelling enough in their own, small yet resonating ways, but when said strands need to come together to form a whole is where the intrigue falls apart. The most striking of these strands though, is Coon's performance as Allison. While it becomes increasingly obvious as the film plays that this is not so much Allison's story it does become apparent this is totally Coon's movie. There is a scene an hour and 20 or so minutes into the film where she becomes increasingly nauseated by the sound of her husband's voice in an unbroken shot that condenses everything this movie is attempting to capture and pull from the depths of its soul into a single look. It's a glimmer of magic in an otherwise mundane world and for a brief moment genuinely makes the viewer want to run toward these characters who only want to run away from themselves.
by Philip Price
Director: Niki Caro
Starring: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen & Li Gong
Runtime: 1 hour & 55 minutes
As always, context is important and when it comes to Disney's 2020 re-imagining of the story of Mulan it should be noted that I was 12-years old when the original animated film was released. That film, coming in between the likes of “Hercules” and “Tarzan” would signal the end of Disney's animation renaissance of the ‘90s and in many ways-though there are live-action re-imaginings of “The Little Mermaid” and “Hercules” among others in the works-this new “Mulan” somewhat feels as if it also signals the end of this particular brand exercise. What's most disappointing though, is this very easily could have felt like a turning point instead of a conclusion, but alas director Niki Caro's (“Whale Rider,” “McFarland, USA”) re-imagining of the material fails to inspire its own identity despite diverting the most from the original blueprint. Having now seen live-action adaptations of most if not all of those Ashman and Menken collaborations along with the likes of the classic princess tales (surely Disney won't make its own ‘Snow White,’ “Peter Pan” or “Pinocchio” again after so many iterations already having been produc...*googles furiously*...oh no) it would seem this trend has more or less run its course with more critical failures than successes even if most have knocked it out of the park in terms of box office. How this pertains to Caro's vision of the fictional folk heroine from the Northern and Southern dynasties of Chinese history though has to do with how audiences have come to perceive the film. Once regarded as the opportunity among the other, more formulaic fairy tales to become an authentic historical epic with sweeping visuals, large battles, and a brave female lead the sequence of events that have led “Mulan” to landing on Disney+ for an added premiere price seems to have reduced the impact of said opportunity. It's impossible to say if first impressions might have been stronger had the initial experience with Caro's film been on the big screen rather than from the comfort of my own home, but given some of the blatantly bad CGI work in a handful of shots it could have certainly come across worse as well, I guess. This is all to say that 2020's live-action version of “Mulan” funnily enough ends up making many of the same mistakes as its predecessors despite trying the hardest not to. This “Mulan” removes many of the elements that infused so much life and energy into the original without bothering to substitute them with anything new or substantial even as that seems to be the intent and not to simply strip away your favorite childhood aspects (and save money on a CGI dragon) for the hell of it. Good intentions are always honorable (at least, one would hope), but the danger in adjusting a narrative that already worked so well and leaning more heavily into a certain theme tends to undo the crucial balance that was struck-likely not easily-before. As someone who found not only the music, but the arc of the camaraderie between our heroine and her newfound peers along with the strong tonal balance the animated film exhibited alarmingly well as a child I had hopes that as an adult Caro's version-while clearly leaning into the more historical, less-musical side of things-might find its own balance and sense of self-being as well, but the biggest issue with Caro's film is that it knows it needs to be a massive, epic adventure, but doesn't really have any idea what it wants to be.
In the 1998 animated film, “Mulan” broke conventional expectations with a new type of female hero and 2020's version more or less sticks with the same basic premise of that original. When a Chinese dynasty is invaded a young maiden disguises herself as a male warrior to save her elderly father (Tzi Ma) from having to join the army. That said, this is where the similarities end as the four credited screenwriters, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (“Jurassic World”) along with relative newcomers Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek, have added and axed several notable character's from the animated film as Mulan now has a sister named Xiu (Xana Tang) whereas Army Captain Li Shang who fell for Mulan in the original is nowhere to be found, but has instead been replaced by a love interest named Chen Honghui (Yoson An), a military recruit who becomes one of Mulan's few allies. There's also the technical replacement of original Hun villain Shan Yu with Jason Scott Lee's Böri Khan, but Lee's character is largely a front of an antagonist here as Mulan's actual nemesis is that of a powerful female witch named Xianniang (Li Gong). Xianniang is a foretelling of what Mulan could become if she were to allow her "qi" to engulf her and take over which is an interesting take and something one might argue could bring those "new" and "substantial" aspects to this updated version of the story and I agree, they certainly could, but outside of a single scene an hour into the movie where Mulan and Xianniang face off against one another to illustrate that Mulan deserves to be known and respected for who she is and what she brings to the table as a soldier rather than it being hid underneath a disguise there is seemingly no other reason for this character to exist. The complexity of the dynamic between Mulan and Xianniang is not explored and the scene ends abruptly when Xianniang believes herself to have killed Mulan but doesn't hang around for a few extra minutes to make sure. Don't get me wrong, the scene looks great as it's set in between the mountains where steam is billowing from every corner of the frame as the frozen ground appears a sickly green color rather than the typical white making it feel as if the witch has infected the location with her evil magic, but the interaction is so emotionally vacant beyond the obvious "don't be afraid to be yourself" message even when the truth would definitely guarantee execution and bring shame upon ones family for generations making this argument or push for theme, to put it bluntly, rather weak.
The existence and inclusion of Xianniang also brings us to yet another change in Caro's film as not only is magic real and present, but Mulan is essentially imbued with said magic from the very beginning. The aforementioned "qi" Mulan possesses ultimately gives the character a fail-safe which in turn gives the story zero stakes as to the outcome of our hero's story. After re-watching the animated film after this new live-action version it is clear this alteration-which could have excluded the magic in favor of having it been her father's training and misplaced desire for a son as the reason for Mulan's skill with a sword-is the biggest offender in terms of changes made with no valuable collateral to add. This single difference alters the entire arc of Mulan as a character and instead of forcing her to find funny, creative, and-most importantly-charismatic ways to solve her problems she instead is already a skilled soldier when she arrives at camp and has no areas in which growth is necessary or crucial to being able to convince her commanding officers that not only is she a man, but a man worthy of serving in the Chinese army. Rather, the only thing that holds any weight or tension throughout the training montages in Caro's film is that Mulan cannot reveal said true identity. Boiling Mulan's entire character arc down to a single objective and then having the antagonist speak to this objective as a misguided one that then resolves the character's internal conflict while still having a whole hour left in your movie not only strips the film of any real tension or motivation for investment, but almost literally gives actress Yifei Liu only a single note to play as the titular character. This isn't to say Liu is bad in the role, she seemingly does what she can with what she was given on the page, but this certainly feels like a case where the creative teams bent over backwards in order to try and find ways to make alterations to the story in order to make it feel fresh and potentially more relevant to today's audiences, but went in so many circles that they wound up writing themselves into this corner. Mulan is no longer forced to find her way out of uncertain situations because of both her hidden gender and the fact she's ill-equipped for the task at hand, but solely because of her gender so when she reveals her truth shortly after the aforementioned hour mark it quickly becomes apparent the film will then stick mostly to large action beats to purport its entertainment value and thus gives viewers little reason to continue investing in it. Speaking of investments, it is at this turning point into the third act that it also becomes apparent no one involved in the making of this ($200 million) project had any real goal of pushing the story, its meaning, and/or its purpose any further than what they were given in the script to construct. The intent is good, sure, but once you hear these bland and underdeveloped characters incorporate lines of lyrics from songs in the original film into plain conversation it immediately registers as lazy and uninspiring and unfortunately speaks to more of the project as a whole than it doesn't.
Mulan's father, Zhou, has a line in the film where he is responding to his daughter's comment about his inscribed sword and how beautiful it is to which Zhou states it is a "beautiful tool for terrible work." This could also apply to all the time, effort, ideas and other beautiful tools that must be utilized in order to continue creating these true to life versions of Disney classics that always end up somehow being less realized than their cartoon counterparts. It's been true since the beginning with Tim Burton's empty take on “Alice in Wonderland” through to Bill Condon's lifeless “Beauty and the Beast” and onto Jon Favreau's even more hollow take on “The Lion King.” Sure, Favreau's “The Jungle Book” had some charm and wonder to it while Kenneth Branagh was able to strike a surprising balance in his version of “Cinderella,” and last year's “Aladdin” was charming thanks in large part to its cast as well as director Guy Ritchie really leaning into the scale, but even with these exceptions it would seem all of that time and talent might have been better focused on new, original stories and concepts rather than being spent on re-hashing a past product that, in most cases, required little to no improvement. So, where does “Mulan” fall in the ranks of these live action Disney re-makes? Well, it would certainly be somewhere above the CGI-laden worlds of the ‘Alice’ films, the first “Maleficent,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King,” but not much else. The one that comes to mind as most comparable is actually last year's “Dumbo” as that film's CG-heavy elements were complimented with equal heart and authenticity. Caro's “Mulan” accomplishes these things on a surface-level but is also under more scrutiny as my affinity for the original 1941 “Dumbo” isn't nearly as great as it is for the original “Mulan” and therefore may be somewhat skewed in that regard. Needless to say, “Mulan” is very much the average, inoffensive, middle-of-the-road final product that Disney wholeheartedly intended and expected for it to be and it will win both many fans and please the majority of casual viewers with its familiar structure and consistent action sequences, but while passably entertaining is one metric by which to judge yourself 2020's “Mulan” ultimately submits itself as something that has shades of something more ambitious and fulfilling; a compelling take on the coming of age film in a time period and environment not often seen in the West on such a scale, but rather than taking the time to find what is genuinely impactful in the scene where Mulan's father volunteers to fight despite his age, or to find the earnestness when Honghui opens himself up to Mulan for the first time, or build to the true triumph of Mulan carrying buckets of water to the top of a mountain this interpretation settles for spectacle and seriousness none of which either replace or overcome the memory of the original.
by Philip Price
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson & Elizabeth Debicki
Runtime: 2 hours & 30 minutes
“Don’t try to understand it, feel it.”
This is a direct quote from Clémence Poésy’s character in writer/director Christopher Nolan’s “TENET,” which derives its name from the Sator Square (or Rotas Square) containing a five-word Latin palindrome. The text on this square may be read top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, left-to-right, or right-to-left; it may also be rotated 180 degrees and is still able to be read in all those ways. In the simplest of terms, this is kind of all you need to know in order to understand what Nolan is going for in his latest if not necessarily grasping how he’s meaning to achieve it.
“Broad terms” is a key phrase for an initial viewing of “TENET” as in it’s best to try and understand everything in broad terms. If one tries to focus too heavily on the intricacies (or the exposition, as you may have heard) it’s without doubt that one will also become overwhelmed by the complexities Nolan and his screenplay are compacting into a narrative that is not only here to serve a story or an idea, but the filmmaker that is Nolan himself.
Is the film complicated?
Undoubtedly, but does it make sense in those broad terms to the extent there is something for audiences to take away from the experience?
As stated, this is Nolan functioning at his most Nolan-est. John David Washington (star of “BlackKklansman,” son of Denzel) is our literal protagonist here (seriously, that’s the character name he’s given), but the real star of “TENET” is Nolan himself. The director has explored time through multiple facets throughout his filmography whether it be backwards in “Memento,” the extended experiences of our dreams that might amount to only a few minutes of actual sleep in “Inception,” the relativity and dilation of time when travelling through the stars in “Interstellar” as well as in the ticking clock of war in “Dunkirk.” Nolan has always used this element as a point of view though, as a way to better understand what his characters are going through; what the individual experience of whatever story Nolan is telling might have actually felt like. “TENET” is a different beast. Whereas time has always been more a factor of the plot (maybe even the antagonist, I see you “Interstellar”) it has never become the purpose, the cog on which the entirety of the point of the story turns.
“TENET” is both a spy film that ultimately culminates in our hero saving the girl and the world from a bad, bad man while also being a film steeped in the fantastical idea that someone has engineered a product that allows human beings to pass both forward and backward in time. Like I said, broad terms. What’s unfortunate is that while Nolan is spinning his impressive wheels at the highest of levels and combining his strong visual and atmospheric prowess with that of truly inventive and innovative ideas (per usual) he is still unable to make us care about the people parading through these locations and ideas. In short, Poésy’s character was onto something when she said, “Feel, don’t think,” as a lack of understanding regarding the world of “TENET” might more easily be forgiven if there were anything to feel for any of these individuals, but Nolan’s script is so intent on generating questions over care that it’s difficult to consider much reflection once the astonishment wears off.
I almost feel foolish for even trying to write anything analytical or interpretive about the film after only a single viewing due to the blinding awareness of how many details and plot points were either missed or misinterpreted. To try and explain the plot of “TENET” feels like an exercise in insanity. There are simply too many leaps in logic and too many questions around the necessity of certain action sequences that would undoubtedly only spurn more questions all of which I’m obviously ill-prepared to answer. It is in this regard that Nolan’s film feels more like a conveyor belt for a few cool time travel ideas and a handful of action concepts than it does a whole and complete story with people, places, and stakes that actually matter. And so, say “TENET” is nothing more than a collection of sequences set-up around the idea that a technology now exists that allows objects to have their entropy reversed and move backwards through time. Cool, right? That seems to be where Nolan started. Moving forward with that idea, Nolan seemed to think that instead of creating and developing a character through which we experience the revelations and impacts of this product, we instead watch that protagonist go through the motions of a James Bond plot while using said technology to his advantage. That’s a simple enough approach to funnel interesting ideas about time through and it’s almost enough of a cool combination that it could work, but as the thought process progresses one naturally begins to wonder if there might be anything outside the realm of this being our main character’s job that inclines him to be so adamant about his involvement. To this Nolan poses a hard rejection and dismisses such extraneous details with the simple explanation that this man is a soldier and therefore is obedient and loyal to the cause. At this point there’s still a willingness to sacrifice whatever character work is left to be done as long as we’re afforded the opportunity to see Nolan execute his ideas on the practical scale, we know he will. That’s all well and good, but about an hour into the film there begins to be this nagging feeling that there should be and needs to be more to what’s unfolding outside of being given the opportunity to watch Nolan do all the things Nolan does best with his IMAX cameras. There is a longing for pertinence between our hero and the invisible adversary he is working against. It is in response to this *feeling* that Nolan introduces the character of Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) to potentially enable growth and set-up dire circumstances for our hero, but it’s revealed all too early that both Kat and Robert Pattinson’s character, Neil, are little more than pawns set in motion to function as a way in which Nolan can cutely tie in both the time travel bit and the evil, narcissistic antagonist. As the movie barrels into its third act said bad guy (Kenneth Branagh) is the most developed character in the whole damn thing, Washington’s protagonist has developed little to no motivation or investment of his own and while the spectacle is nothing short of just that, with what we’re seeing on screen fully utilize the idea of inversion to the coolest possible degree, there is simultaneously this black hole sized emptiness around the ever-present “why?” Why should we care? Why did this have to happen? How is that critical to the overall arc? How is this possible, but not that? Well, in the words of Bruce Banner, “Time travel!”
As reductive as that last paragraph may sound, there is no doubt an immeasurable amount of effort that went into the writing, researching, and planning of Nolan’s “TENET” screenplay. The issue is simply that these things were not evenly distributed throughout all aspects of the screenplay, with character development receiving the short end of the stick. What almost saves Nolan though, is the presence of each and every one of his performers. Maybe our no-name lead simply referred to as “The Protagonist” is intentionally vacant in his character description and development; maybe Nolan wanted this vessel guiding the audience through a world where reverse chronology is possible to be as such in order for the mechanics of how said world works to not become less important or more overwhelming. Whatever the case, Washington’s charisma and his ability to engage with all of his co-stars on a level that oozes chemistry is undeniable and adds a very necessary layer of swagger to Nolan’s highbrow espionage thriller. The ease of the rapport and effortless harmony exuded by Washington is immediately apparent the first time he shares the screen with Pattinson with the two displaying an undeniably fun dynamic from that point on. Even in his single, short scene with Michael Caine, Washington is able to quickly establish a palpable bond endearing us to this character not only for the role he plays in the plot, but simply for the personality he injects into all of Nolan’s complicated dialogue and/or action-heavy scenes. Furthermore, Nolan hopes to root the emotion of the piece in Kat’s yearning to return to her son and be something of a dependable mother while placing Branagh’s Andrei Sator, Kat’s estranged husband, as the obstacle she must overcome which is naturally the same obstacle our hero must overcome in order to gain control of this time-reversing technology. While the drive of this mother to protect her child is an understandable and relatable one, the easiest character with which to emotionally invest surprisingly becomes that of Branagh’s Russian arms dealer. Born out of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sator is a man who earns his entitlement and never looks back. He has positioned himself in a role he holds to be of the upmost importance, living in a world of grandeur where he only accepts praise and admiration, but who only spouts demeaning remarks of guilt and shame on others. It is in the shaping of this antagonist and the realization of the purpose for his evil plan that Branagh really finds the goods in turning what very easily could have been an archetypal, trite villain into someone we hope gets what they deserve, but also feel somewhat sorry for when they do. It’s the most complicated relationship between viewer and content and exhibits the fact Nolan can have his cake and eat it too when fully in tune with all of his capabilities.
Whether the idea was weaved through the story or the story was created for the idea, in the end as the credits rolled whatever informed what doesn’t seem to have mattered. Instead, it was everything Nolan created and concocted in order to bring to life his vision in the biggest and most impressive of ways that left the biggest impressions. There’s much to be said for the pure experience that Nolan creates with his films as he’s a singular talent in this day and age in terms of having the clout and popularity to create and conduct original ideas on this massive a scale. And what a scale “TENET” displays. There are a few moments in which one genuinely sits back and considers if they’ve ever seen anything like that in the movies before which, after more than a century now, feels like quite a feat. One such example is that of the idea of having some characters move one direction in time while other characters, all within the same frame, move the opposite direction. It’s one of those visual tricks that is difficult to fully comprehend the first time you see it and even after it’s fleshed out and repeated in multiple scenarios is still rather disorienting. It’s mind-boggling. It’s something that initially feels akin to when you would just hammer buttons on a game controller in hopes you were inadvertently unlocking a killer combination and hoping for the best outcome, but in reality had no real sense of what was happening or how everything actually worked. It’s that kind of adrenaline rush. As if delivering a whole new visual sensation wasn’t enough, Nolan also applies this idea of one part moving forward in time and the other moving backward to his fight sequences where the two parts are the two individuals fighting one another. In classic Nolan fashion, no camera tricks or computer magic were used, but rather Mr. Washington and the stunt team choreographed how this would look and memorized the movements making the final effect appear not only grounded and equally inconceivable, but damn near flawless to the point we fully buy into the crazy conceit. “TENET” also sports one of the greatest high-speed chase sequences ever put to screen. Out of all the astounding visual moments in the film it is this sequence in particular that lasts, that is striking in the sense of how much of an achievement it is, and that is as thrilling in the moment as it will undoubtedly be mythologized to be in the years to come. The astonishment rendered by such sequences as this car chase lasting longer in the memory than any single thing the story has to say.
It’s been established not only by myself in this review, but by countless others throughout the course of Nolan’s career that where he excels in the technical aspects and how he achieves such sweeping scale is often times lightyears ahead of what he can provide in terms of emotional resonance. That obviously doesn’t mean an effort isn’t put forth, but while it’s often easy to pinpoint a major theme in a Nolan work it’s more difficult to justify how much of that intent was actually felt or was relayed successfully. As with every Nolan film there will also be countless interpretations of what the writer/director is actually saying or commenting on with his work, but in regards to “TENET” it would seem Nolan has reached his limit with how complacent we’ve become not only as viewers, but how content his fellow filmmakers have become as well. Audiences are so enamored with entertainment options and move through them with such speed and thoughtlessness that expectation for each individual piece only continues to drop lower and lower. In this line of thinking, TENET is being presented as a challenge to viewers to not only see just how much they might test the capacity of their brains when it comes to their entertainment options, but through the “time element” employed in the film if creators can begin to see their own projects and ideas from different perspectives; perspectives that don’t ascribe to the traditional method of making movies or whatever type of art is being created. Nolan issues the challenge by explicitly naming our hero “The Protagonist,” by calling out Sator as the antagonist as well as having characters discuss “tying up loose threads” while other characters are urged to “stop thinking in a linear fashion”. Nolan is using these traditional pillars of story to show how they can be arranged in different patterns, looked at from different views, and the power and originality of what can be produced if we invert our own expectations. We have succumbed to looking at our entertainment through a very narrow lens with “TENET” serving as Nolan’s plea that if we’re not going to change our viewing habits that we might at least become more astute viewers in the process of becoming more experienced ones. “TENET” sees Nolan doing everything he could seemingly want to do in a motion picture so much so that some elements almost feel like a parody of a himself-namely the pounding score by Ludwig Göransson, but even as I write I’m listening to the score and marveling at how each track immediately transports me back to the moment in the film in which it played-while others feel particularly progressive and poetic in regards to typical Nolan staples. Christopher Nolan’s eleventh feature film is a mixed bag, but is nonetheless an achievement and an effort put forth by someone who’s clearly a proponent of the art form telling a story concerned with keeping time and our present reality intact while serving as his defense for doing the same for the experience of this art form he adores. I feel that.
“Their oceans rose and their rivers ran dry. They had no choice but to turn back. It is our fault and they came back to tell us.”
by Julian Spivey
Away (Netflix) – 9/4
Jason Katims has been one of my favorite showrunners and television writers of the last two decades leading terrific dramas like “Friday Night Lights” (NBC) and “Parenthood” (NBC). He brings his newest show “Away” to Netflix and it feels like his most ambitious series yet. Katims does family drama better than anyone and what could be more dramatic than a wife and mother (played by two-time Oscar-winner Hillary Swank) leaving her husband (played by multiple time Emmy-nominee Josh Charles) and her daughter behind to lead an international space crew on a mission to Mars. It’s certainly a plot we’ve seen before, but I trust Katims and this great cast to complete the mission.
Mulan (Disney+) – 9/4
The live action version of Disney’s popular 1998 animated film “Mulan” will finally see the light of day on Sept. 4 after multiple delays due to COVID-19 pushing it out of theaters. Disney is bringing “Mulan” to its streaming service Disney+ in its first ever “premium release,” meaning not only do you have to subscribe to the service, but also pay a $29.99 fee to see the film. It’s not a very good deal if you were planning to watch “Mulan” by your lonesome, but if you have a family night planned it’s definitely a money-saver compared to what you would’ve spent out at a theater.
The Devil All the Time (Netflix) – 9/16
The trailer for “The Devil All the Time,” the new gothic psychological thriller premiering on Netflix on Sept. 16, looks terrific. Directed and co-written by Antonio Campos, “The Devil All the Time” based on Donald Ray Pollock’s 2011 debut novel is the story of a backwoods Ohio town and the sinister characters that converge on Arvin Russell (played by Tom Holland) that include a devilish preacher (played by Robert Pattinson) and a crooked sheriff (played by Sebastian Stan).
Ratched (Netflix) – 9/18
Ryan Murphy is everywhere on television. His latest TV series “Ratched” comes to Netflix on Sept. 18 and is the origin story of one of cinema’s greatest villains Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Murphy’s seeming muse Sarah Paulson takes on the title role in a psychological horror series that follows Nurse Ratched from a bitter mental institution nurse into a monster. Because it’s a Ryan Murphy show you can expect it to be truly wild – which isn’t always a good thing, but let’s see how it goes.
Enola Holmes (Netflix) – 9/23
This one feels like it’s going to be an absolute riot. “Enola Holmes” is based on a book series by Nancy Springer that follows the teen sister of the famous Sherlock Holmes. “Stranger Things” breakout actress Millie Bobby Brown plays the title character in this film directed by Harry Bradbeer who embarks on a mission to find her missing mother (played by Helena Bonham Carter). Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin appears as Enola’s brothers Sherlock and Mycroft.