Tenet (2020)

I’ve seen quite a few films since the cinemas reopened, some good, some very very bad, but this is the first “cinema” film. The first film where I felt it needed to be seen on a big screen to be appreciated.

I feel Nolan is aiming his films squarely at cinema use now, which I really appreciate. I love how his films are ambitious and full of spectacle, with jaw-dropping practical effects (in this one he actually crashed a plane). On the downside I think his characters tend to feel a little flat. With the exception of the main characters, nobody in his films tend to stand out as particularly well written. That’s definitely also the case in this one, the main character is literally called The Protagonist. It’s weird as it’s got a lot of big actors in it, but they barely do anything. There are a lot of actors in this film who are not really needed. Michael Caine, for example, is in a single scene which could be cut entirely from the film and it wouldn’t effect the plot. It would effect the enjoyment of the film though as it would take away from the excessive runtime. It’s two and a half hours and you feel every moment.

Make no mistake, this is a BIG film, and you will be amazed, but you will also be slightly frustrated. Not so much at the plot which isn’t anywhere near as clever as it thinks it is, not so much at the complete lack of character development, and not even at the handwaving of the science integral to the plot (seriously they just say “don’t try to understand it), but you will be frustrated by the audio. It sounds like they’ve just made a song go backwards, I don’t know if they actually did that or not but that’s the definite intention they meant. Now in Inception they slowed down Non, je ne regrette rien until it was unrecognisable, and that worked. But melodies don’t always work backwards, they’re jarring and uncomfortable to listen to, so if you have your entire soundtrack be like that it’s just kind of annoying. Also, the sound mixing is atrocious so a lot of the time dialogue is impossible to understand. I wasn’t going to mention this at first as I thought there’s a chance it might have just been an issue with the cinema I saw it in, but then I saw other reviews mention it. So either every cinema in the country has got it wrong, or there is an actual problem. Supporting the “it’s an issue with the film, not the cinema” theory is a post from sound designer Richard King who has worked with Nolan on seven films (including this one). He said:

“He wants to grab the audience by the lapels and pull them toward the screen, and not allow the watching of his films to be a passive experience.”

Far be from me to criticise Nolan, but what the fuck is he thinking? I know they did something similar in The Wire, where they had characters use a lot of slang and didn’t explain it, so that people would have to pay attention to it. But that’s done realistically, people do speak in slang, and they don’t often understand it. Watching a film where they intentionally muffle the dialogue is not the same. If reality was like that then 50% of conversations would consist of the words “sorry, can you repeat that?” It doesn’t make you lean in to the film, if anything it frustrates you so you lean out. You don’t make a film entirely in shadows “so the audience has to really focus with their eyes and get drawn in”, no, you make shit that people can actually see (I understand darkness is an effective tool in film, I’m not talking about singular scenes and motives, I’m talking about in general).

None of that can compare to my biggest issue with the film: I just didn’t give a shit. I didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t care about the plot, I just did not care at all. I was completely passive when viewing it.

I get I may be one of the few people who didn’t love this film (and after the response to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I know my viewpoints don’t always match the general public), but I did like it. The performances were good, visually it was superb, it had a great concept, and the fight choreography was incredibly unique. The plot….I feel if I watched it a second time I’d notice lots of foreshadowing and realise how intelligent a lot of that is, I love when films do that. The only issue: I don’t particularly want to watch this film again. I don’t want to spend another 3 hours in a cinema, and I don’t want to watch this at home. It just…..it did absolutely nothing for me. I felt the same way about Interstellar to be honest, and Dunkirk. I sat there thinking “this is an absolute masterclass in film-making that I will never ever have the desire to watch again”.

Vivarium (2019)

I remember when I watched The VVitch years ago and was amazed at how it made somewhat standard scenes seem creepy and scary. A shot of a tree would somehow be one of the scariest moments in film and you have no idea why, it’s just great film-making. This is similar. It has a moment where they drive up a street to a house, that’s it. Nothing happens to them, nothing jumps out at them, it’s just them driving up a street. It’s also the creepiest scene I’ve seen in a LONG time. The houses are identical, like they’ve all been copied and pasted in an unnatural manner. The whole film is like that, the mundane made incredibly creepy through FANTASTIC film-making. Normally in horror it’s darkness that makes things creepy. This is the opposite, everything is so well-light and normal and bright that it’s that that makes it creepy.

The story is good, but ultimately frustrating sometimes as there are multiple questions which don’t get answered. Normally I’d call that annoying and lazy, but with this it works. The tone is perfect for that kind of narrative. It’s supposed to be a confusing mess as that’s what the characters are feeling. It makes you feel as helpless and trapped as the characters. There’s not enough focus on how character empathy can be tied into the narrative structure. I’ve made a conscious decision to do this when I made Poppy Blooms. I intentionally kept everything in that building so that the audience would feel as limited as the character was. The best case I can think of where the opposite has been the case and the narrative structure has been hurt by it will be The Mercy, aka, the film where Colin Firth is stuck on a boat. As I said here the film was supposed to be about how isolated he felt, but it kept cutting back to other characters, and had a lot of flashbacks of him interacting with people, as such you never felt as isolated as he did.

This is the opposite, it’s a confusing mess, because the characters are confused. I refuse to believe the confusing nature isn’t intentional, the film-maker is just too talented for that to be the case. I’m basing that off one film, yes, but it is a very good film. Plus, anybody who made this scene is certainly one of the most talented film-makers the world has.

I highly recommend this film, I’m not going to want to watch it again but I’m very glad I watched it. Well, maybe “glad” isn’t the correct word but you know what I mean, if you have shudder (and if you don’t, you should), it’s available on there.

Bloodshot (2020)

I was going to cough on the woman who lives next door the other day, then I remembered that the bible says you shouldn’t COVID your neighbours wife.

There it is, possibly the worst joke I will make all day, maybe. But what does it have to do with this film? Absolutely nothing. So was there any point in me making it? Not really. So why did I do it? I don’t exactly have a word count here, I just go until the review naturally stops. I do know, though, that I don’t want a review to just be a single paragraph as that will be a bit weird. But that might be all I can manage for this review so I have to pad it out somewhat. It’s a difficult review to write. Not for any personal or deeply emotional reason, I just can’t remember much about it. I can’t remember any of the characters names, much of the plot or sequences etc, it left absolutely no impression on me.

I think part of that is due to the advertising, it made it clear that the backstory about his wife being killed was a lie so that he would hunt down and kill people in revenge. This takes A LONG TIME to happen in the film, so for a large portion of the film you don’t pay attention because you know it’s fake. You know that what you’re watching doesn’t matter so you don’t care. A smarter thing to do would have been to either not have that in the advertising, or to change it so it happens much earlier in the film.

Don’t get me wrong, predictable can still be good if it’s done well. If it’s either stylish enough or funny enough so that the predictability doesn’t effect it too much. This doesn’t do that. It doesn’t have enough impressive action set pieces and the ones it does have don’t really work. The best example of this is a scene set in the aftermath of a truck carrying flour crashing. The flour causes the scene to look like snow. It’s being bathed in the light from a red flare so it looks kind of cool. There’s just one small problem: flares are fire, and flour is flammable (trust me on this). This would have been a cool moment if he set fire to the flour and used that, but nope, they just it for a cool visual, and sacrifice realism and logic to do so.

I would mention some of the background characters but with the exception of two characters nobody was given anything to do. There are 3 more enhanced individuals but the enhancements they have are not really given any focus so it’s easy to forget what they are (I think one had robot legs, and one could breathe underwater, a skill which doesn’t really factor into the plot at all, despite it being very easy to do so). Obviously the script thought it was more important to spend all it’s time showing things the audience already knows is false when it would have been a better use of the time to develop the side characters.

So yeah, that’s Bloodshot, and I can’t even be bothered to write a joke about bloodshot eyes through alcohol consumption. I would not recommend this at all, a huge disappointment (well it would have been if I had any expectations of it to begin with) that just leaves you asking questions. Mainly:

  1. Who edited that trailer?
  2. Who thought it would be a good idea to try and start a franchise with a first time director?
  3. Why did they keep his ex alive? They should have known he would attempt to find her and then find out how long ago they split. Actually, why did they use a real person at all? They could have just fabricated one in a false memory like they did everything else. Was it an attempt to get emotion into the film? Why would you attempt to put emotion in a Vin Diesel action film? FFS

My Spy (2020)

I mentioned in my review of Stuber last year my hope that this would be the film that causes Batista to go from “oh yeah, that guy” to “THE guy”. Sadly that’s not the case. This film is predictable, the villains are SEVERELY underdeveloped, and a lot of the actions of the characters don’t make any sense if you think about it for more than a minute. It’s also REALLY fun and well worth a watch.

Yeah it has some flaws, but I seriously doubt you’ll regret watching it. It’s funny, sweet, and has enough unique parts to stand out. It sets its tone very early on with a hostage situation that turns into laugh out loud comedy, and a reference to Iron Man 2 (although if the MCU exists in this universe, who played Drax?), and then plays a car chase to foreign language covers of I Will Survive and My Heart Will Go On. It’s a cheap laugh, but it’s a laugh nonetheless. It’s also something you don’t really expect in this film, a bit like the high number of Notting Hill references compared to most comedy action films.

Now when I say “things that don’t make sense” they’re mainly character-based mistakes rather than impossibilities. For example he stands in front of a class and admits he’s a spy. Number one on the “list of things needed to be a good spy” would be “never mention you’re a spy” yet he never suffers any backlash from this. (Number two on the list, by the way, is “a preference for cheese sandwiches over ham”, I don’t know why that’s important, it just is.) It’s strange as he suffers for other things he do which aren’t spy-like, but not for this. It’s a very sweet moment, and incredibly funny, but like I said it doesn’t make that much sense. I mean, it is worth it for his description of his time in the service when he mentions killing people: “they were all terrorists, human traffickers, or really annoying”

One thing is made abundantly clear in this film: Batista is f*cking huge. You don’t normally notice it because he’s paired up against similarly muscled men. But when you see him standing against normal people, you realise he’s a massive human being. Like, scarily large.

So in summary I think you do need to see this. It’s not like “omg that was so smart and brilliant” but near the end they think a helicopters about to explode so she begs to do a slow cool-guy walk away from it. it doesn’t blow up so he throws a grenade at it so she can do it. How can you not love a film like that?

An American Pickle (2020)

I should have liked this. It’s a funny idea, and it’s something quirky and strange, I like strange. It just didn’t land with me, though. I went in not knowing what the story is, I came out and still didn’t really know, it goes through multiple ideas so quickly that it never really has an identity.

Essentially it’s about a guy who falls into a pickle vat and ends up being uncovered still alive 100 years later and you think the film is going to be about him adjusting to a modern age. Nope. He meets his great grandson who he hopes is a success, and you think it may be a family based drama about the two connecting, nope, although for the brief moment where it is that, it is superb. He finds a billboard in the graveyard where his family is buried and vows to get enough money to take it down. That storyline lasts about 20 minutes. He gets into an argument with his relative and starts selling pickles out of spite, becoming internet famous among hipsters. That is part of the previous story and is how he gets the money, so also doesn’t last that long. He goes on twitter and tweets offensive shit, which people love. He then slightly suggests running for President before offending Christians and having everybody hates him. That lasts about 5 minutes. He is about to get deported so makes up with his relative and the two try to smuggle him into Canada. That lasts about 10 minutes. He swaps places with his relative (they’re both played by Seth Rogan), so his great grandson gets deported to a place he doesn’t know. That storyline takes about 20 minutes, then the film ends.

It was first showcased on HBO’s streaming service, and it’s definitely a streaming movie. I would probably be more charitable towards it if I watched it online instead of cinema. As it is I just wish it was a TV show instead. If it was then each of those storylines I mentioned would have time to be fleshed out and breathe, they’d be able to develop into actual stories instead of just a collection of scenes.

It’s a shame, as Seth Rogen is great in it. Even when they are supposed to look exactly the same you can tell which one you’re looking at due to the way they carry themselves. It’s a testament to his talent that despite some characters being confused as to who is who, the audience never is. I would compliment the other actors, but most of them turn up, do a few scenes then are never heard from again as their story is dropped. So in summary, I’m not sure whether to recommend this. It had some good moments, but they were too fleeting to offer the film a full recommendation I’m afraid.