Review – Nolan Has You Coming and Going (“Tenet”)

I have to admit, when I first saw the trailer for Tenet, I was way beyond confused, yet happy. Practically every trailer shown gives away the entire plot of the movie start to finish. I hate that! But this movie trailer? I had no idea what the movie was about! I love that, but will it be just as confusing?

** SPOILERS AHEAD **

*

No doubt about it, writer/director Christopher Nolan never makes your A-typical movie. From Dunkirk to The Prestige to his Batman trilogy, the man doesn’t disappoint. This time around he tackles the concept of time itself, a subject he kinda touched on with his mind-bending film, Inception. We begin with a bang. . .literally! While trying to extract a guy at a Russian opera house, a CIA agent (John David Washington) is captured by Russian spies and almost killed. This agent, who’s never called by a name – he’s only referred to as ‘the Protagonist’ so I’ll call him Pro for this review – is recruited by an off-the-books organization called Tenet to go undercover to stop the world from ending. So, y’know, no pressure!

Pro is then let in on a super-secret that blows his mind: a nefarious megalomaniac named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) has discovered an algorithm from the future that lets him invert time and allows him to travel backward to events already done by going through some rotating turnstiles. It’s like the twin Earth portals in TV’s Fringe. His plan? What else! Destroy the planet! Bwhahahahaaa!! Yeah, this guy would make a great Bond villain. Pro’s only way to get to this creep is going through a variety of bad guys and to Sator’s estranged wife, Katherine (Elizabeth Debicki), who hates his guts. Helping Pro out in his Mission Impossible playbook of getting things done is Neil (Robert Pattinson), a Tenet handler.

But getting Pro to see Sator isn’t going to be easy, as Katherine demands a favor first, and that means stealing a McGuffin… sorry, I mean a painting and that’s where the fun (and the head-scratching) begins. Pro and his friends pull a major distraction (and it’s crazy-nuts, too!), giving Pro the leverage he needs to finally meet the elusive and evil Sator. But things go really south when Pro, Sator, Neil, Katherine, and a chunk of plutonium all go on a wild car chase–twice—through inverted time! It’s jaw-dropping, messes with your mind, and makes you start doing calculus in your head just to keep up.

The third act is just a mind-f***, with stuff going on with inverted/backward time, so much so, I had to go to YouTube and check out several videos (The Ending of Tenet Explained) just to get a handle of what the hell happened. Writer/director Nolan loves this sort of stuff and must giggle like a schoolgirl when writing it, knowing it’s going to confuse 98% of the public. But I’ll say this, his directing is flawless. It’s precise, elegant, and dramatic and he never wastes a single frame. The screenplay is difficult to follow, God knows I tried! It’s an intricate jigsaw puzzle of covert operations that, entertaining and fascinating as it is, is hampered by all that “temporal pincer movement” and “inverted entropy” gobbledy-gook jargon. 

To their credit, Washington and Pattinson are excellent, making it all look easy when spouting this time-gibberish and moving around in a reversed world. They make a perfect team and have great chemistry together. Branagh oozes evil, a nice change for him, and look for Nolan’s favorite son, Michael Caine, to pop up for a small cameo. Debecki shines here as the emotionally battered wife who has inner strength enough to see things through. With a movie that’s 2.5 hours long, it does hold your interest with all the eye-candy SPFX and outrageous stunt work, Ludwig Gorannson’s loud throommmmming score, so be prepared to have your brain spun inside a salad-spinner with this maddingly convoluted masterpiece. 

**Showing only in limited release in selected theaters. Check Fandango.com for theaters near you. VOD not available until 2021.   

Clockstoppers (2002)


Now, you would think a movie made by Nickelodeon Studios, written by some guys that wrote The Rug Rats and Shrek 2, and directed by Jonathan Frakes (of Star Trek:TNG) would be a pretty good movie, right? Well, sadly, that wasn’t the case. It was safe to say this time-manipulation movie arrived too late.

Poor Earl Dobler (French Stewart). He’s a scientist that’s trying to escape the evil clutches of the Quantum Tech (QT) Corporation. Y’see, Earl has developed a wristwatch gizmo called Hypertime, a technology that allows its user to manipulate time. The NSA’s leader (Ken Jenkins) ends the project due to its high amount of risk, however, CEO Henry Gates (Michael Biehn) plans on using it to dominate the world. Bwahahaha!! He forces Earl to fix the remaining glitch in the technology, a glitch that ages Earl at a molecular level.

Meanwhile, we meet happy-go-lucky teenager Zak (Jesse Bradford) who has a strained relationship with his workaholic dad, Dr. George Gibbs (Robin Thomas–who looks like the late Harold Ramis). Earl sent that wristwatch thingy to his old colleague George for safekeeping, but Zak finds it first, thinking it’s just a watch. After Zak, and his over-the-top, goofy BFF Meeker (Garikayi Mutambirwa) are harassed at school by two lame bullies, Zak is smitten by Francesca (Paula Garces), a new Venezuelan girl in class. Whilst trying to woo her, Zak accidentally activates the watch and ZAP! Time slows down to a snail’s pace. Now, what do two teenagers do with such a device? What else? Cause insurmountable chaos and mischief, what else?

Many hijinks later, trouble rears its ugly head as Gates’ henchmen are after Zak, his dad, and that watch. While being chased, Zak hooks up with Francesca and they both get “kidnapped” by Earl who has escaped from Quantum Tech. After nearly dying in a crash, the watch gets damaged, so it’s up to Earl to fix it while the bad guys are still after them. Of course, by this time, resourceful Earl has managed to build some liquid nitrogen ‘freezing paintball guns’ to help Zak and his new girlfriend defend themselves with. The fast-paced third act back at Quantum Tech has Zak’s captured dad as bait and Zak racing to the rescue with the repaired watch, causing havoc with a crazed Henry Gates and his evil stooges.

Screenwriters Rob Hedden (Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan), J. David Stem & David N. Weiss (Shrek 2, Rugrats In Paris) took a clichéd story about a lonely teen that gets untold powers and just let it run its natural, uninteresting course. Being a Nickelodeon film, it’s chock-full of the tropes you’d expect. Boring teen suddenly gets a “power”? Check. Pretty girl at school to have fun with and will eventually be a girlfriend? Check. Goofy best friend to hang with? Check. Bullies at school who get their comeuppance? Check. Strained family issues get tied up at the end by some ridiculous heroic act? Check. The ending has everyone happy and that wacky teen going off to create more hijinks? Oh, yeah!

Now Jonathan Frakes, aside from being Number One from the Star Trek franchise, is no slouch when it comes to directing movies or TV series. His creativity in camera angles, positioning, and using the camera to elicit laughs is well known and he uses it here to show-off the many SPFX of time-manipulation. Although the plot holes are many when Zak uses that watch, the effects of slowed-down speed, reversed time, and some ‘bullet-time’ shots are very effective and used for laughs. After all, this IS a film for kids, right? Overall, it’s not really that bad a movie, my only beef is Mutambirwa and his portrayal of Zak’s way-over-the-top friend, Meeker. Really, it’s a performance of rare embarrassment so cringe-worthy that sets back racial stereotypes ten years. Fortunately, he’s gone on to better, meaningful roles.  

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