Tenet (2020, Directed by Christopher Nolan) English 5

Starring John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, Himesh Patel, Martin Donovan, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy

Christopher Nolan's movie 'Tenet': What is this movie about? – Film Daily

(5-Okay Film)

Tedious. Solemn. Convoluted.

Lady in a Lab Coat: Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.

“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it,” a lady in a lab coat tells our protagonist, simply referred to as Protagonist (Washington), for the whole of the film. Protagonist appears to accept this there and then-though it’s hard to determine what he’s thinking, if he’s thinking, at any point. I could not accept it. I don’t want to not understand. I don’t enjoy being lost, in general, but if I am to be lost, I’d prefer a vibrant setting, a character or two to care about, and a sense of humor. Not this gray oblivion devoid of humor that touts intelligence and sophistication at the expense of humor, entertainment, and emotion. In thinking about it, it’s strange what the lady in a lab coat says to Protagonist. The line is clearly meant as a clue to the viewer on how to experience Tenet and in this sense, it does its job, but within the context of the film, does Protagonist ever “feel” anything? Don’t try to understand it? I don’t even understand who she is.

Any film made by Christopher Nolan bears the weight of exceptional expectations. Nolan is quite possibly the most popular filmmaker working today and, perhaps more impressively, he’s also almost universally admired by his peers. His popularity was built chiefly on his take on the superhero genre with Batman and The Dark Knight saga. Since the final film in that trilogy though, The Dark Knight Rises, his films have grown increasingly austere and opaque. Those two words combine to mean pretentious in my eyes. I was not a fan of Interstellar (the second half meandered its way to the goofiest ending I’ve seen in years), I was apathetic towards Dunkirk (admittedly, I’ve seen this once and I’m willing to see it again before I mark my opinion in stone), and now, Tenet, Nolan’s worst film; an interminable barrage of noise and poor sound design, unintelligible, obscure dialogue, superficial characters, wrapped around a “high-concept” central conceit that I don’t give one damn about.

The story follows Protagonist, hired by some unknown figure to…(I don’t know what this film’s about and you probably don’t want me to tell you anyways.) Let’s go broad strokes instead. John David Washington is the good guy. Kenneth Branagh is the bad guy. The end of the world is at stake. Time can be manipulated. Robert Pattinson is in this movie. He’s helping the good guys. Elizabeth Debicki is married to the bad guy, but reluctantly helps the good guys. Will subtitles help? Do I want to give Tenet a third try on DVD where I’ll at least know what’s being said? Half of the dialogue is spoken through thick accents or obscured by masks which has become a trademark for Nolan and not one of his better ones.

In order for there to be suspense, the audience needs to be in on what’s going on. Alfred Hitchcock famously explained (explained it best, in my opinion), saying, ““There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” There’s no anticipation in this film because we’re never given a solid enough picture of what is happening. We’re meant to be overwhelmed. Everything, from the bombastic sound design to the narrative structure, conspires to overwhelm us. This is not a spy film like some critics claim it is. Cinematic espionage is not knowing who to trust but knowing that good and bad will reveal itself by the end. Tenet is knowing who’s good from the start, Protagonist, but not knowing who he is or why he does anything. The good guys are emotionless suits with no backstory whatsoever and no clear motivation.

Perhaps the large-canvas, awfully convoluted plot is simply a means to an end; an excuse for large-scale spectacle and masterfully crafted action sequences. I’d never accuse Nolan of being a hack. He’s a technician. Many of the action set-pieces are incredible. Tenet is consistently beautiful and well-acted in the rare moments when acting is called for (aside from Debicki, the cast is mostly called on to look good in a suit and spout pseudo-clever dialogue). However, as I said in a different review (Highlander 2, I believe, another nonsensical sci-fi flick), when I can’t follow the plot, I have no sense of what a scene’s purpose is in the grand scheme. Then, I can only hope to enjoy each scene independent of context. There are a number of scenes in Tenet in which I was able to do this, but it’s hard to do for 2 and a half hours. “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” No lady in a lab coat. I felt nothing, and in the time spent between seeing Tenet and writing this review, I didn’t think about the film once.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Frighteners (1996, Directed by Peter Jackson) English 7

Starring Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Jake Busey, Jeffrey Combs, John Astin, Dee Wallace, Chi McBride, Troy Evans

Looking Back: The Frighteners (1996) - MAUIWatch

(7-Very Good Film)

Goofy. Exciting. Fun.

Frank Bannister: I can’t fight it, Luce. I can’t protect you! There’s only one way to deal with this thing. I gotta have an out-of-body experience.

The Frighteners is Peter Jackson’s first big Hollywood production, years before he’d make his name with the Lord of the Rings saga. Jackson described his own humor as “moronic,” and it’s true that juvenile jokes are scattered throughout the film, but it’s his ability to mix a childlike spirit of fun with solid, adult material that makes him special. The Frighteners is a substantial, thrilling ghost story that follows a local shyster, Frank Bannister (Fox), who advertises as an expert on the paranormal. The town pretty much ignores him, but the truth is, despite his con man ways, he actually can see ghosts, and later, when a mysterious force starts taking the lives of town residents, Frank is the only one who can help. Trini Alvarez plays a kind widow and the only one to believe Frank. The special effects run rampant in this film and have dated significantly. That I still find The Frighteners an effective, exciting thriller proves that Jackson uses the effects well and is above all, a storyteller.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Hellzapoppin’ (1941, Directed by H.C Potter) English 6

Starring Ole Olson, Chic Johnson, Martha Raye, Mischa Auer, Hugh Herbert, Shemp Howard, Robert Paige, Elisha Cook Jr.

Hellzapoppin' - Film | Park Circus

(6-Good Film)

Trailblazing. Crazy. Memorable.

Louie: What’s the matter with you guys? Don’t you know you can’t talk to me and the audience?

Ole Olson: Well, we’re doin’ it, aren’t we?

Comedians Ole Olson and Chic Johnson interrupt classical dancers being tortured by demons in hell to adapt their stage hit, Hellzapoppin’. A young scriptwriter (Cook Jr,) lets them in on how he plans to update the show and mix in the cursory Hollywood romance. Olson and Johnson, then, wade their way through his Hollywood script, breaking the fourth wall every step of the way. This is an insane film. There’s no old Hollywood classic like it and there’s nothing to prepare you for the mile-a-minute screwball action that’s overwhelming. Even the later Road to…movies featuring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour played by the rules in comparison. As an exercise in style and in originality, Hellzapoppin’ is a brilliant film. As an isolated piece of entertainment, it’s simply passing. More episodically enjoyable than a whole work. There are a few sequences, however, that are absolutely incredible. First and foremost, the dance number by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. If you’re unwilling to see the movie, you must, at least, check out this dance scene because it’s awe-inspiring.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Love Guru (2008, Directed by Marco Schnabel) English 3

Starring Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Romany Malco, Justin Timberlake, Ben Kingsley, Verne Troyer, Meagan Good, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Jim Gaffigan, Samantha Bee, Daniel Tosh, Telma Hopkins

BRIANORNDORF.COM: Film Review: The Love Guru

(3-Horrible Film)

Unfunny. Gross. Dumb.

Guru Pitka: Give me a pound. Lock it down. Break the pickle. Tickle, tickle.

Every comedian bombs. Every film comic puts out a dud or two or even several and it doesn’t mean their good comedies get forgotten. Think of John Candy. Are you picturing the ghastly Wagons East or are you smiling fondly, remembering the classics? I say this as an olive branch to Mike Myers whom I do think is funny, because The Love Guru is an awful comedy. Myers plays Guru Pitka, a white man raised in India by gurus (at least he’s not in brown face, he spares himself that embarrassment). He’s brought in to help raddled, star hockey player, Darren Roanoke (Malco), reconcile with his wife, Prudence (Good), in time to focus for the Stanley Cup. The plot is reasonable enough but it’s really just an excuse for one misguided, unfunny gag after another. There are no laughs in this picture but an abundance of second-hand embarrassment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Midnight Lace (1960, Directed by David Miller) English 8

Starring Doris Day, Rex Harrison, John Gavin, Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowall, Herbert Marshall, Natasha Parry, John Williams

Midnight Lace 1960 Full Movie - YouTube

(8-Exceptional Film)

Gripping. Thrilling. Surprising.

Voice: Careful, Mrs. Preston. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt. Not yet.

Kit Preston (Day) is a happy American wife living in London with her doting husband, Anthony (Harrison). Walking home in the fog one afternoon, Kit has her life torn apart when a voice calls out to her making disturbing threats on her life. At first convinced it was simply a prank, the threats continue over the phone causing Kit to become more and more paranoid, while those around her (who find no proof of this mysterious stalker) question whether she’s losing her sanity. Described as Hitchockian, Midnight Lace does, in my opinion, earn that distinction, expertly balancing its many suspects and red herrings, ultimately leading us to its exceptional conclusion. Day, in an unfamiliar genre, proves (as she did in The Man Who Knew Too Much), to be perfect in the role as lady in distress.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Arabesque (1966, Directed by Stanley Donen) English 6

Starring Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren, Alan Badel, Carl Duering, Kieron Moore, John Merivale, Duncan Lamont

Film - Arabesque - Into Film

(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Vibrant. Superficial.

David Pollock: Let us through! That man’s about to be killed!

Policeman: I hardly think so, sir. This is England!

Written with Cary Grant in mind to star, Stanley Donen (the director), himself, admitted to the script not being very good, “Our only hope is to make it so visually exciting the audience will never have time to work out what the hell is going on.” I think his comments are spot on and I guess, with that in mind, he succeeded. Arabesque, off the heels of Donen’s Charade (which had a phenomenal script), is convoluted rather than clever, exciting rather than romantic. As far as I could work out, Peck plays a professor, David Pollock, asked to spy on a nefarious middle-eastern tycoon, Nejim Beshraavi (Badel), who wants him to crack a code. David gets tangled up with Beshraavi’s mistress, Yasmin (Loren), who is hard to trust but even harder to ignore. Arabesque is solid light entertainment but far from essential.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Rear Window (1954, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 10

Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, Judith Evelyn

Through the Looking Glass, Down the Rabbit Hole: REAR WINDOW | Scarecrow

(10-Masterpiece)

Masterful. Inventive. Original.

Stella: We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. 

A countless number of essays and reviews have pointed out the Challenger deep level of subtext that makes Rear Window so many critics’ favorite Hitchcock film. Voyeurism as a whole and then the parallels between looking in on people’s lives through windows with watching people’s lives through television screens have been pointed out to me, and make the film a good cinematic example of Ernest Hemingway’s popular ice-berg theory (1/8 above the surface, 7/8 beneath). I’m going to focus my brief recommendation on the 1/8 above the surface because it’s here that separates Rear Window, for me, from say, Vertigo, another particular favorite of critics. All of Hitchcock’s films are worthy of deeper exploration and warrant the essays that have been written about them. Rear Window, like The 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes, also happens to be one of the most entertaining movies ever made. Stewart plays Jeff, a photographer, layed up with a broken leg after a work incident. Decades before Netflix and Chill, Jeff finds very little else to do but stare out his window at his neighbors and watch their lives unfold. Later, he and his gung ho girl, Lisa (Kelly), are certain that a neighbor across the way has gotten rid of his wife…for good. Excellent narrative, beautifully polished film, you have only to watch the first two remarkably efficient minutes (the entire premise is established with a long take and no dialogue in those minutes) to understand Hitchcock’s powers as a filmmaker and storyteller.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Major and the Minor (1942, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 7

Starring Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Diana Lynn, Rita Johnson, Lela E. Rogers, Edward Fielding, Robert Benchley

The Major and the Minor (1942)

(7-Very Good Film)

Awkward. Nifty. Fun.

Mr. Osborne: Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?

I’m not sure if things were less sordid then or if sordid things were just less exposed, but a film like this could never work today. I don’t think it’s any deep cynicism on my part that passages of The Major and the Minor are slightly uncomfortable and awkward viewed in today’s day and age. Ginger Rogers plays a disgruntled New York working girl packing it in and heading back to small-town Iowa. Unable to afford standard train fare, she poses as a 12-year-old to get the discounted rate, which leads to one mess after another. Eventually, she stays with Major Philip Kirby (Milland) at his military academy for young boys, and the two fall for one another…even though he thinks she’s a child for most of the movie. Taken too seriously, I suppose, the film is kind of creepy, but with a little effort, it’s not hard to enjoy this, Billy Wilder’s first time directing an American film. This isn’t the real world put on the screen. It’s a screwball comedy and everybody’s a little crazy, but mostly harmless. On its terms, The Major and the Minor is a wonderfully entertaining film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Splendor in the Grass (1961, Directed by Elia Kazan) English 8

Starring Warren Beatty, Natalie Wood, Pat Hingle, Barbara Loden, Audrey Christie, Joanna Roos, Sandy Dennis, Zohra Lampert

Love is for the Very Young: 'Splendor in the Grass' (1961) - retromoviebuff

(8-Exceptional Film)

Lurid. Affecting. Melodramatic.

“Though nothing can bring back the hour. Of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower. We will grieve not; rather find. Strength in what remains behind.” -William Wordsworth.

I could not care less about the premise of this film. A young man, handsome and affluent, is growing impatient with his “nice” girlfriend to sleep with him. The sexual frustrations of a high schooler seem small beans, on the one hand, and ripe for cinematic exploitation, on the other. Thankfully, though it doesn’t shy away from the lurid melodrama at its center, it does slowly become more than that, and by the end, it becomes a lot more. Splendor in the Grass is, ultimately, a poignant film. Beatty is the handsome young man in question and Natalie Wood, the “nice” girlfriend. I put “nice” in quotation marks not sarcastically but because her character, Deanie, comes to resent that designation. She loves Beatty’s Bud Stamper and feels that she’s willing to do anything for him, but he’s too muddled up by his domineering father to really know what he wants. There’s a lot going on in this film; a lot of tears, a lot of yelling. Films like these gave way to the soap opera on television, but there’s a level of skill in all aspects of Splendor in the Grass that elevates the material. Great stars, a handful of provocative, memorable moments, and a moving finale.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Lady Eve (1941, Directed by Preston Sturges) English 7

Starring Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Charles Coburn, Eugene Palette, Eric Blore, William Demarest, Melville Cooper

The Lady Eve | film by Sturges [1941] | Britannica

(7-Very Good Film)

Absurd. Witty. Eccentric.

Jean: I need him like the ax needs the turkey.

The Lady Eve might be the most romantic bout of cat-and-mouse ever. This battle-of-the-sexes comedy follows a con artist team made up of an elderly gentleman, Colonel Harrington (Coburn), and his daughter, Jean (Stanwyck), who set their sights on the heir to a massive fortune built on ale, Charles (Fonda). Their plan goes awry once the daughter falls for their mark, and the rest of the movie unfolds in a classic screwball manner. Stanwyck is divine in her demanding role, alternating between femme fatale and vulnerable woman in love with ease and great charm. Fonda and Stanwyck are a prototype for movie couples, and the supporting players are fantastic too. Like the writer-director himself, apparently, The Lady Eve is a strange, often absurd romantic-comedy. Best to just go with it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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