Time-travelling blockbuster we need right now
HOW good is it to be back in a multiplex cinema with the sound cranked up so loud your insides tremble! With Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated Tenet previewing this weekend here is your chance to shrug off your streaming stupor and enjoy movies as they are meant to be watched.
Three and a half stars
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Running time: 150 minutes
Verdict: Class act caught in a time warp
Damn, but it's good to be back in a multiplex cinema with the sound cranked up so loud your insides tremble!
Christopher Nolan has pulled out all the stops for Tenet, the first major tentpole release in six months.
"Of all the film's that I've l made, this is perhaps the one that is most designed for ... the big screen experience," the writer-director said recently.
Nolan built an abandoned city in the Californian desert for one explosive set piece; he blew up an old Boeing 747 in another.
In terms of production values, one might almost argue that Tenet over-delivers, starting with an attention-grabbing opening sequence during which Russian mercenaries gas an auditorium full of concert goers to kidnap a high-profile target.
The film's hero (BlacKkKlansman's John David Washington) pulls off an eleventh hour-rescue with the help of a mysterious sci-fi device.
Once this "inverter" really gets cracking, nobody knows whether they are coming or going - quite literally, since the characters are moving simultaneously back and forth through time.
While this puts a distinctive spin on the one-to-one action choreography, it overcomplicates the large-scale battle and car chase sequences.
The characters' muffled dialogue doesn't always shed much light on the matter - significant chunks of exposition are inaudible.
This isn't as much of a problem as one might expect because the plot is essentially pretty simple, but some of the finer points of Nolan's world-building are definitely lost.
After proving himself worthy, by holding his tongue even as he loses his teeth, The Protagonist (a running joke that pays off nicely) is charged with the task of "saving the world from what might be".
Details are to be revealed on a need-to-know basis. At least for the time being, he doesn't.
A brief encounter with a scientist in a white coat -who teaches The Protagonist how to "catch" bullets - gives him, and us, just enough to be going on with.
Washington is superb in the lead role. A fresh talent with charisma to burn, he is remarkably relaxed in this strange, heightened world.
Robert Pattinson is similarly at ease as The Protagonist's rumpled, resourceful offsider and Elizabeth Debicki once again finds hidden depths to the role of a femme fatale.
Kenneth Branagh's villain is more thinly drawn, but the line Nolan draws between the brutal Russian oligarch's jealous, controlling attitude towards his wife and his all-consuming appetite for world domination feels right.
For movie-goers chaffing against the limits COVID-19 has brought with it, Tenet offers a rich and unpredictable world to escape into; a way of travelling without leaving home.
About two-thirds the way through, however, the pacing falters. Nolan's fascination for time-manipulation is starting to feel a little forced.
There are advance screenings of Tenet this weekend. It opens on Thursday.
I AM WOMAN
Two and a half stars
Director: Unjoo Moon
Starring: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Danielle Macdonald, Evan Peters
Running time: 116 minutes
Verdict: An affectionate, but formulaic tribute
ON stage, resplendent in a flaming red sequined sheath, Helen Reddy (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) roars. Off stage, her voice is a little more tremulous.
Unjoo Moon's by-the-numbers biopic might have dug a little deeper into that very human contradiction.
Instead, it diligently ticks off the plot points, one by one, such as the singer's arrival in New York as a single mum with a three-year-old in tow and her formative friendship with rock journalist Lilian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald), who according to this version of events, charged admission to a party she threw for Reddy to enable the singer to pay her rent. (In fact, that was hypnotist/entertainer Martin St James's idea).
Reddy met her future manager and husband Jeff Wald (Evan Peters) when he crashed said event - without coughing up the $5 entry fee.
Perhaps she should have taken that as an omen.
Three years after the couple relocated to Los Angeles, Reddy's signature hit I Am Woman became a No 1 hit in the US.
Moon's film of Emma Jensen's screenplay charts the singer's resultant rise to mega-stardom - right up to the moment when she discovers that her coke-addicted husband/manager has pretty much squandered their fortune.
It's an (over)familiar rock 'n' roll story.
The filmmakers don't gloss over the volatility of Reddy's marriage, or the irony inherent in the feminist icon's willingness let her husband take care of her finances, but nor do they offer much in the way of insights.
The treatment of Reddy's activism is similarly superficial; her feminist credentials, for example, are explored only in the dialogue.
Alice Cooper famously described Reddy as "the Queen of Housewife Rock".
I Am Woman doesn't altogether dispel this myth.
Moon portrays her leading lady as determined, ambitious and hard-working, but at no point does she explore her musical craftswomanship.
The scene in which Reddy jots down a couple of inspirational lines for what will become the unofficial anthem for the women's movement on a handy notepad - after first tucking her daughter into bed - underscores this point.
Cobham-Hervey's at-times luminous performance commands moviegoer's attention and the scenes of Reddy in concert, shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Memoirs Of A Geisha), are powerfully staged.
Poduction values are high, the costumes are eye-catching, and the songs speak for themselves - particularly Moon's use of Reddy's enduring hit to provide a satisfying emotional resolution at the end of the film. An affectionate but formulaic tribute to a much-loved Aussie legend.
Stan from August 28
Originally published as Time-travelling blockbuster we need right now