Christopher Nolan's Tenet is the first major blockbuster to hit the theaters during our COVID times — Nolanite's may be eager to experience it in the theaters, whereas; I felt more comfortable watching Tenet from the safety of my car at my local Drive-In.
I am thrilled that there is still a local Drive-In Theater less than 40 minutes from my house, which provided me the opportunity to experience Christopher Nolan's (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Dunkirk) Tenet on the big screen but from the safety and comfort of my car. After weeks-months of delays, Tenet is the first major Hollywood blockbuster to make a crack at helping filmgoers return to the theaters during this global pandemic. While other countries have excelled at slowing the spread of this virus through a variety of safety measures, testing, masks, and actually listening to our health experts — the United States has failed at every corner. This failure has made it harder for the US to return to a 'new normal.' Where other countries that have succeeded in containment; are now allowed to re-open their theaters at a less health risk than we are. Re-opening theaters in the US has been incredibly risky on a health level and a financial level. The numbers don't lie: Tenet only managed to open with $9.6 million domestically, which makes sense given the circumstances and that people are still not comfortable on returning to the theaters, myself included.
Only 65% of the American and Canadian theaters are operating at 25–40% capacity. During the film's first eleven days, Tenet acquired $20.2 million from 2,810 theaters — while all of the New York, LA, and San Francisco theaters are still closed. Tenet has fared much better overseas — $242 million in other territories. Since we have witnessed Tenet's shaky box office performance, more studios have decided to push their big-budget blockbusters into 2021, giving the US more time to, hopefully, get a hold of this virus. I believe this was a smart move. Studios need theaters, and theaters need studios, but the studios are willing to wait until it's safe, or at least until they can make good money. If you do have a local theater in your neighborhood, I encourage you to buy a gift card to help support them during these troubling times. Finally, let's talk about Tenet: Nolan's latest feature is undoubtedly his weakest film yet — however, that doesn't stop Tenet from still being entertaining, puzzling, and at times, cathartic. Even though Tenet's plot was a bit convoluted, I still might be a little bias when it comes to Nolan movies because I've always welcomed their presence, and maybe it was also the fact that I had not seen a movie on the big screen in seven months. I feel like most of my excitement was returning to see a Hollywood blockbuster on the big screen.
Nevertheless, Tenet displayed some pulp-worthy action spectacles upheld by strong performances from John David Washington and Robert Pattinson. Plus, we cannot forget composer Ludwig Göransson's (Creed and Black Panther) intoxicating score that will chill your bones. Göransson was unable to complete his score in-person due to the US lockdown last February, resulting in him putting together individual recordings of the musicians in their homes to finish the soundtrack. Impressive doesn't even begin to describe what Göransson accomplished with this task, providing us with a mesmerizing score that will send shivers down your spine from the first to the final note. Tenet follows the storyline of an unnamed CIA agent, The Protagonist (a strong Washington), as he embarks on a dangerous mission to prevent the start of World War III. During this mission, The Protagonist discovers a time-bending method allowing the antagonists to move backward through time, achieving their mischievous goal.
Doctor Who explains time better than I do: "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff." Along the way, The Protagonist meets Neil (a wonderful Pattinson), who becomes his handler. They also get caught up with a man named Sator (Kenneth Branagh) — who I won't spoil — and his estranged wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). Though Tenet fails to meet the same standard as previous Nolan treats, Tenet still had enough smart action and trippy mind games to keep the ball rolling. I was happy that I got experience Tenet on the big screen in a safe environment. In the end, it's a twilight world out there. I got to experience this movie from the safety of my car at the Skyview Drive-In. If you live in Greater St. Louis area and are itching to see a movie on the big screen but still feel uncomfortable, then I highly recommend attending the Skyview Drive-In. You won't be disappointed.
Tenet is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Brief Strong Language, Action, Intense Sequences of Violence, Some Suggestive References.
This time-y wimey movie is directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
The Magic Bomb is a minute-in-by-minute thriller filmed with a mostly Latinx cast and done on a zero dollar budget. It was some impressive work by filmmaker Randy Gordon-Gatica.
The Magic Bomb is an independent thriller, produced, written, and directed by Randy Gordon-Gatica. What was most striking was Gordon-Gatica's ability to produce a full feature film on a zero dollar budget. This Latinx thriller follows the story of a young Mexican-American man named Conrad Lopez (Jonathan Iglesias), who gets entangled in a plot to nuke Manhattan. On the day that Conrad is married, a mysterious packaged is placed on his doorstep. After Conrad finds the package, he receives a call from a stranger (actor Marcial Urena) demanding he delivers the package to Central Park in sixty minutes, or his wife, Clara (Nicole Palermo), will be murdered. The stranger reveals to him that the package is a bomb designed to wipe out New York City. After this confrontation, Gordon-Gatica then decides to take the storyline back to events leading up to the package. During this time, we see Conrad's former love, Lisa (Maria Jung), and their falling out together.
Lisa and Conrad are both "Dreamers" struggling to get by in life during Trump's America. Although The Magic Bomb was filmed two years ago, immigration and DACA are still very much a part of the conversation today. These are critical topics, especially DACA — an American policy that needs protection. These immigrants are Americans, and this is their home. There was a line in the film when Conrad talks about how New York has been all that he's ever known — a very natural commentary on real-life DACA recipients whose home has always been here, in America. Conrad also gets caught up with a sinister man named Gus (Kenny Nowell). Gus is a known racist and conspiracy theorist, babbling on about deep state plots and racial slurs. During this time, Conrad and his new girlfriend, Clara (Palermo), decide to trick Gus into stealing $250,000 from him. They come up with a plan to sell Gus on the premise that they possess a very powerful nuke called "The Magic Bomb." Due to Gus' anti-immigration views and twisted ideology, he accepts their offer of $250,000 in exchange for "The Magic Bomb." Actor Benjamin John Burbidge also plays a secretive man, whose identity I won't spoil — during the film, we see shots of him scattered throughout the city.
Another important aspect of The Magic Bomb was Gordon-Gatica's ability to have Latinx actors in leading roles. Doing so presents a spotlight on Latinx actors and the importance of why representation matters. At a time when it feels like there are multiple Latinx stories being either sidelined or canceled in both TV and film — having both Conrad and Lisa's narrative, front and center was a statement on its own. We see the firsthand struggles of what it's like being Latino in America and trying to get ahead in life. While all of this is being done, Gordon-Gatica takes crime and suspenseful genres and sandwiches them in-between this potent social commentary. Gordon-Gatica has a story that needs to be heard and seen. If Gordon-Gatica was able to produce a film this powerful, imagine what he could make on a full-scale budget. Independent films are vital to the natures of cinema and need our help and support on getting them out to the masses. The Magic Bomb has been submitted to multiple film festivals, including Queens World Film Festival and Las Cruces International Film Festival. Here, Gordon-Gatica's Latinx thriller won Best First Feature (Queens, 2018) and Audience Choice Award (Las Cruces, 2018). Will Conrad be able to stop the bomb from destroying New York City, while also saving the two most important women (Lisa and Clara) in his life? I'll let you find out for yourself. The Magic Bomb is available to rent on Vimeo on Demand. The Magic Bomb has tons of twists and turns, upheld by a talented cast and a cathartic musical score. I am incredibly excited to see more of Gordon-Gatica and his craft in the near future.
The Magic Bomb is not rated NR.
Directed by Randy Gordon-Gatica
Starring Jonathan Iglesias, Maria Jung, Nicole Palermo, Marcial Urena, Kenny Nowell, and Benjamin John Burbidge.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things: I loved it and I am excited to watch it again. 2020 has been an unprecedented year, and somehow Charlie Kaufman’s strange-beautiful film on life, time, death, and the human condition brought me fulfilled joy.
I was finally challenged, with a film from this year that presented an unclassifiable craft and uncompromising darkness. Charlie Kaufman's newest masterpiece is a film I will be studying for the years to come. My head was spinning as we gazed into a glass window with actors Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons drifting to another dimension. This was by far the most Kaufman-esque movie one could hope for. It was a mysterious puzzle of the meaning of life and the loneliness that tries to conspire. I think I am safe to say that I’m Thinking of Ending Things is my new favorite film of 2020. First off, for viewers who have never seen a Kaufman film before, I would recommend you do your homework and watch some of his earlier films before viewing I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
This will help give you a better understanding of Kaufman's existentialism and overall craft. Kaufman first pulled me in back in the day with his exquisite writing in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). It was a psychological drama that studied memory, romantic love, and heartbreak. Kaufman’s nonlinear structure blossomed beautifully on the screen along with spectacular performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. As a first time viewer to Kaufman material, I would recommend first watch films that he has written, like Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), and or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Then, I would move up to films that he has both written and directed, like Synecdoche, New York (2008), and or Anomalisa (2015). In Anomalisa, Kaufman somehow managed to make a claymation movie feel more human than most human films.
This will allow viewers to see Kaufman’s craft evolve throughout his writing and directing. Kaufman’s style is very unique, and he matured more over time with his material, while the themes continue to get heavier and heavier. If one would start with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, it may be too much material for the viewer to jump into headfirst. Kaufman has always grappled with morality, loneliness, and our place in the universe, but these topics seemed to be dramatically more poignant in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. I believe this is because Kaufman has been able to build off his previous films. Looking at this movie, I loved how Kaufman remained vague throughout most of the beginning and middle of this film — only planting small seeds for the viewers. Here, we explored tough themes on morality, identity, and loneliness. This painted a beautiful and complex portrait of the meaning of life. The scene where Plemons sings Lonely Room from Oklahoma! was both heartbreaking and astonishing at the same time. Kaufman will always be a master for presenting surrealist views through the medium. What is fascinating about Kaufman movies is that he embodies the sadness and meditates on the existential — leaving us, as the viewer, too reexamine ourselves.
Without giving too much away, I’m Thinking of Ending Things follows a young woman (a potent Jessie Buckley) who is questioning her relationship with her boyfriend Jake (a top-notch Jesse Plemons). The couple set off on a road trip to visit Jake’s family farm (a never better Toni Collette and David Thewlis). A snowstorm is prevailing around them as they make their way to the farm. On the farm, the young woman begins to question the nature of everything she knew or understood about her boyfriend, herself, and the world. This evaluation allows us, as the viewer, to question how we study the structure of the film itself and reevaluate our own messy lives. I’m Thinking of Ending Things touches on some heavy topics on regret, yearning, and the fragility of the human condition. There are good portions of this film that sit back and let Buckley and Plemons take control the conversation about philosophy and purpose to oneself. These scenes take place mostly in the car, often with little to no edit cuts and very scarce music. These conversations are raw and uncut, like how real-life can be. They are not polished, nor are they smooth. They are rigid, yet they find purpose through words and emotions — ever flowing throughout the screen.
Finally, I’m Thinking of Ending Things unveils an identity factor throughout the film. Most notably during Plemons’ striking Lonely Room scene. Here, Plemons displayed past regret and remorse, but also unveiled his identity has a human being. Plemons beautifully captured this thanks to his skillful acting and emotional power. In addition, Buckley shined throughout the film, with her heavy-handed acting chops and a keen sense of dialogue. Watching from Buckley's perspective will gut you to your core. In the end, the beauty of a Kaufman film is that we could dissect all of his movies in ten different ways and still probably come up with new meanings and ideas every time. He is one of our greatest filmmakers in Hollywood right now. Kaufman's latest picture receives a 5-star review from me. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is currently my favorite film of 2020, and it's also one of the best.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things is rated R (Restricted) For language including some sexual references.
This masterpiece is directed by Charlie Kaufman
Starring Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, and Guy Boyd.
Available to stream on Netflix.
An American Pickle is a delightful low-key comedy, helmed by Seth Rogen's dual performance. One can relish on Rogen's newest dish.
An American Pickle is not a perfect picture, but this breezy movie might hit a sweet spot inside you. Seth Rogen's dueling performance as Herschel and Ben Greenbaum is a treat to watch on the small screen. Herschel Greenbaum (a bearded Rogen) and his spouse, Sarah (Sarah Snook), are struggling Jewish laborers who decide to immigrate to America in 1919 with dreams of building a better life. One day, after the announcement that the factory will be closing, Herschel accidentally falls into a vat of pickles and is brined for 100 years. Miraculously, the brine has preserved Herschel perfectly, emerging in present-day Brooklyn. Silly yes, but we'll let this slide. Herschel decides to seek out his family, but he is disheartened to learn his only surviving relative is his great-grandson, Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen, but clean-cut and shaved). Ben is a computer coder, which exceeds Herschel's prehistoric ability to comprehend.
So, Herschel decides to do what he does best, sell pickles all throughout New York City. Rogen's chemistry with himself was humorous to watch. Rogen was able to capture two very different characters with a variety of mannerisms. With Herschel, Rogen grappled with unfiltered determination and a fighting spirit for the American dream. With Ben, Rogen grappled with loneliness and the distress of failure. In the end, Herschel and Ben demonstrated a unique bond through the love of their ancestors and a passion for achievement. An American Pickle isn't thought-provoking, nor is it a masterpiece. Instead, we get a comedic and semi-sweet movie that unveiled a bigger heart than it could hold. Rogen alongside himself was the most important ingredient the movie could offer. It's an entertaining fable bound together by a silly plot (script-writer Simon Rich) and a wonderful performance by a dual Rogen. An American Pickle demonstrates the power of togetherness, while also honoring the importance of tradition. Captured through great Yiddish humor, An American Pickle is a film one could take a juicy bite out of.
An American Pickle is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For some language and rude humor.
Directed by Brandon Trost
Starring Seth Rogen and Seth Rogen.
Available to stream on HBO Max.
Birds Of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is blissfully messy throughout, yet, its upheld by color action sequences, glittery bullets, and a prideful performance by Margot Robbie. It's an explosive comic flick chop-full of grit and confetti.
I, unfortunately, missed seeing Birds of Prey in the theaters and then COVID hit, and the rest is history. Luckily, HBO Max finally dropped Cathy Yan's (2018's Dead Pigs) newest additional to the DCEU. Birds of Prey is messy, narratively speaking, yet the film is upheld by several stellar performances — Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Ewan McGregor. Yan gives this glittery-potluck of a film a beating heart and keeps its manic momentum going. The only critique I had with the movie was writer Christina Hodson's (2018's Bumblebee) jumbled structure in storytelling. The beginning and middle of this film jumps all over the place until it finally finds its footing. But this is Margot's baby, and she's no longer tied to Mr. J, so she gets to call the shots. Birds of Prey gives Gotham a new makeover, similar to the neon glow and structure of Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever (1995).
Yan's film also avoids objectifying our female hero's attire — something 2016's Suicide Squad failed to do. Robbie's Harley Quinn feels more like a three-dimensional person and not a prop that fanboys can fantasize over. We get a Harley with a more appealing, bright, and fierce look — a long yellow jumpsuit or a plastic raincoat (top) with an outburst of streamers and fringe. The solution to this exquisite clothing was, in particular, thanks to costume designer Erin Benach (Neon Demon, Drive, Loving, and 2018's A Star is Born). This choice of a female director (Yan), a female writer (Hodson), a female costume designer (Benach), and a female co-producer (Robbie) are the reasons I believe Birds of Prey succeeded in telling a comic-book story from a woman's perspective. Our film follows Harley (a knockout Robbie) and her mischief around the city — unfortunately, with Harley no longer being Mr. J's number two, the entire city of thieves are after her head.
This leads us to the plot of Cassandra "Cass" Cain (Basco): a young girl who has pick-pocketed her way into stealing a valuable diamond from Roman Sionis (a wild McGregor) a.k.a. Black Mask. Sionis puts a bounty on Cass's head, leading to a mass man-hunt of Gotham's most notorious criminals searching for her. Harley and Cass eventually cross paths leading Harley to become Cass's guardian throughout the film. There are several other subplots throughout the movie — Winstead's The Huntress backstory, Smollett-Bell's Black Canary transformation, and Perez's rogue detective, Renee Montoya. All roads lead our heroines to eventually square off with each other, and make alliances fighting together against Sionis. With all of its small missteps, Birds of Prey was a colorful firework display of strong female leads, glorious action sequences, and a mouthwatering egg sandwich scene. We also meet Harley's unusual pet, a spotted hyena named Bruce. In addition, Birds of Prey marked Yan as the first female Asian director to direct a superhero film. This was a fun cotton-candy superhero flick that I hope gets a sequel. Robbie and Yan's neon comic strip is chop-full of grit, confetti, and well worth your time.
Birds of Prey is rated R (Restricted) For strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material.
Directed by Cathy Yan
Starring Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina, Ali Wong, Dana Lee and Ewan McGregor.
From April 27 to May 6, 2020, I watched 25 Narrative and Documentary Shorts. Sadly, SXSW 2020 did not get to happen in-person this year in Austin, Texas, due to COVID. However, I am incredibly happy that Amazon picked up 39 films from the festival and was able to stream them for free to the general public. I proudly present Part Two of my exclusive SXSW packaged reviews. Below are the 9 Documentary Shorts I watched back in May. Enjoy!
For Your Consideration:
In Their Own League
Mashley at the Movies
Mike, Mike, and Oscar
Next Best Picture
The Movie Oracle
Untitled Cinema Gals Project