Tenet (2020) Review

Director: Christopher Nolan

Genre(s): Action, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 150 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Director Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi actioner Tenet was supposed to be one of those films to bail out the struggling movie theater industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The picture follows a secret agent, simply referred to as “the Protagonist” (John David Washington), who must stop a group of terrorists from using time-inversion technology to threaten the planet. It’s a long, puzzling ride…is it worth the trip?

The admirably ambitious Tenet is, unfortunately, a confusing feature. With characters traveling forward in time and others backwards in time at the same time, it’s hard to keep abreast of. The complicated-for-the-sake-of-complicated nature of the film doesn’t really make me want to watch it over and over again, it just sparks apathy. Perhaps the time-inversion stuff would’ve worked better in smaller doses.

There is some nice action here, though. The opening sequence is the highlight, but numerous chases, fights, and moments of miscellaneous mayhem are littered throughout the (overlong) runtime. There’s certainly an I-haven’t-seen-that-before factor in play here, but the movie’s wildly intricate plot largely means that these scenes must be enjoyed in isolation from any compelling story.

I suppose that Tenet will appeal to those who like ambiguous mysteries in their cinema and try to watch the same flicks repeatedly in order to dissect every last detail. This movie is a lot less easy to follow than Christopher Nolan’s own Inception (2010), and it suffers from that. Although it occasionally dabbles in James Bond-style antics, this work feels like it’s intentionally trying to “lose” the audience in its complex storytelling.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Total Recall (1990) Review

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Genre(s): Action, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 113 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Three years after his RoboCop (1987), another sci-fi-action film directed by Paul Verhoeven hit the big screen: the Arnold Schwarzenegger action-thriller Total Recall. This imaginative what-is-real-and-what-is-not? motion picture lives up to its reputation as an excellent mind-bender. Set in the distant future, construction worker Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decides to have memories of a vacation to Mars he’s apparently never taken implanted into his brain…and things go wrong from there…or do they?

Total Recall benefits from a musical score from Jerry Goldsmith that’s simultaneously classy, muscular, and urgent-sounding. It’s a darkly comedic (even satirical, at times) ride, and pacing is never really an issue. A big shout-out goes to the film’s wild, glorious (and often grotesque) special effects. They really make it seem like anything is possible with practical effects (and a big enough budget).

This movie has no shortage of action, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag here. The orchestration of the action scenes is pretty average by Arnie standards (with the notable exception of their generously-pouring blood squibs), but the characters do look mighty cool when jumping through glass in slow-motion. The non-stop chasing also means the flick loses some “weight” when it needs it. Okay, the action isn’t as immaculately choreographed as it is in Commando (1985), but does it need to be?

Total Recall might surprise Schwarzenegger skeptics with its wit and clever plotting. It may not be high art, but this action flick’s got brains. The Austrian Oak’s made some great science-fiction movies over the years, and this is one of them. It’s a wildly over-the-top film, but it knows it, winking at the audience occasionally, but not enough for it to be a genuine comedy.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) Review

Director: Dave Filoni

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Kids & Family, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 98 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

This animated Star Wars movie was the first look fans would get at the style of animation that would be employed in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series, which was also launched in 2008. Set in between the events of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), Obi-Wan Kenobi (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) are tasked with rescuing gangster Jabba the Hutt’s (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) son, Rotta (voiced by David Acord), as the Clone Wars rage on across the galaxy. This one’s strictly for followers of the franchise only.

The film in question is actually four episodes of the aforementioned T.V. show stitched together (think of it as the series pilot). This means that the structure of the picture is on the awkward side, with several climaxes. Okay, it’s not as bad as it sounds, but it definitely feels like a small part of a larger whole, as characters come and go from the narrative. Yeah, sending this movie to theaters was clearly a cash-grab move.

This film caters to Star Wars fans who prefer the action set-pieces to the chit-chat (wait…are there any Star Wars fans who watch these flicks for the dialogue?). The action scenes are almost incessant here, with plenty of familiar-looking vehicles, weapons, droids, and gadgets thrown into the mix. They’re more over-the-top than anything viewers had seen in a Star Wars film up to the time of its original release, but I suppose that’s to be expected, as it is an animated film.

Speaking of animation, it’s certainly a mixed bag, to be sure. It often looks too mechanical, but it does look pretty at other moments. Anyway, Star Wars: The Clone Wars sticks quite close to the spirit of the franchise. Audience members who aren’t already interested in Star Wars will get lost awfully quick, but fans will find enough here to make it through the runtime. This feature took a thrashing from critics, yet people already in love with that galaxy far, far away will be far more forgiving.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (2020) Review

Director: Ken Cunningham

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Kids & Family, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

It’s probably a daring move to put the words “Holiday” and “Special” together into a Star Wars movie title after the disastrous The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), which is considered such an abomination that it’s never been given an official home video release. However, in 2020, Lego put out its own Christmas-themed Star Wars film, meeting greater acclaim than the 1978 flop. Set after the events in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019), the good guys of that picture set out to the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day, while Rey (voiced by Helen Sadler) tries to uncover some lost Jedi knowledge, causing her to discover a gem that enables time travel.

This animated film is clearly aimed at people who are already fans of the Star Wars saga, especially the kids. It breaks no new ground, but it provides a fun nostalgia trip for viewers accustomed to that beloved galaxy far, far away. A few actors from the live-action movies even return to voice their respective characters. Anthony Daniels voices C-3PO, Billy Dee Williams does Lando Calrissian, and Kelly Marie Tran brings life to Rose Tico.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is a lightweight pleasure, but it knows that it belongs to a franchise that’s seen plenty of controversy, and it gently ribs a few of the more divisive elements of the series. Its story revolves around time travel, but doesn’t really try much new with the concept, other than using it to show off a bunch of already-iconic characters and situations. Despite being set in a Lego universe, this aspect of the picture seems underused, with little toy-building in sight.

This is an inoffensive comedy that some have compared to an overlong toy commercial. If it is an advertisement, it certainly is an entertaining one, made by people who know the lore of the Star Wars galaxy. The young ones will get the most mileage out of The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, but those who’ve followed the franchise for a while will be rewarded with an in-joke or two. It’s not essential viewing, but it’s not something you’ll regret watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Eraserhead (1977) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Horror, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 89 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Eraserhead‘s tagline is “A dream of dark and troubling things.” Yep, that sounds about right. In director David Lynch’s debut feature film, wimpy Henry Spencer’s (Jack Nance) girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), gives birth to a mutant, alien-looking baby (that sort of resembles one of the Mon Calamari from the Star Wars franchise). Set against the backdrop of an industrial, dystopian Hellhole, this black-and-white surrealist horror classic has been mesmerizing audiences since 1977.

Several years in the making, this anxiety-ridden and deeply neurotic movie feels like a twisted nightmare set to film. In this regard, it could be considered the United States’ answer to Un Chien Andalou (1929). With its bizarre dream logic, it’s more about making you feel things, rather than provoking coherent thoughts. Well, it does appear to be about the fears of parenthood (being borderline antinatalistic) and spousal abandonment, but it often lets the surrealism do the talking.

No review of Eraserhead would be complete without mentioning its demented, droning sound design. The hum of Henry Spencer’s industrialized world is pervasive and unnerving. The special effects are equally astounding, and the picture’s oneiric feel has rarely been matched. Like dreams an actual human being might have, Eraserhead is mostly terrifying, but it also has occasional moments of offbeat humor.

Yes, this feature is undeniably a bit on the “artsy-fartsy” side, but it still manages to be insanely effective at what it does. It’s a strange, for-adults-only sci-fi-horror package that will surely leave no one feeling cold or indifferent. It’s a movie that demands a strong reaction of some sort. If you know what you’re getting into, you might fall under its spell.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Despicable Me (2010) Review

Directors: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Genre(s): Comedy, Fantasy, Kids & Family, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

One of the selling points of Despicable Me is that it’s an animated kids’ movie largely told from the perspective of a bad guy. Well, don’t worry, parents, he’s really not that bad of a dude. You see, high-tech supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is plotting on stealing the Moon, but the affection of three orphans, Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), and Agnes (voiced by Elsie Fisher), threatens to derail his plans.

While this is certainly a funny film (with a couple of good jabs at Ugly-Americanism), it’s probably the more heartwarming moments that steal the show. The picture strikes a commendable balance between silly humor, loopy action, and human drama, making it run like a well-oiled machine. Okay, “machine” makes the whole thing sound a bit more, uh, mechanical than it actually is, but this is still lightweight stuff.

Steve Carell, who voices the central character, is in top form here. His Gru has an appealing blend of sinister and benevolent traits. Of course, no review of Despicable Me would be complete without a mention of the yellow Minions (the faces that launched a thousand “normie memes”). They’re actually pretty cute and funny, without becoming overbearing.

This feature is painless viewing for grown-ups, so it’s one of those flicks that both parents and their children can both watch and enjoy. Hmmm…maybe I’m underselling it by calling it “painless.” Let’s try this: Despicable Me is a charming, effortlessly engaging piece of cinema that will probably entertain filmgoers of all ages. Ah, yes, that sounds better.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Deadpool 2 (2018) Review

Director: David Leitch

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The superhero comedy Deadpool 2 certainly isn’t the easiest movie to write a review for, as it’s so similar to the original. That being said, if it’s more of the same, you can sign me up, as the first Deadpool flick was too good to resist. Here, the adventures of mercenary-turned-superhero Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) continue, as he sets out to prevent a young mutant nicknamed Firefist (Julian Dennison) from being killed by time-traveling warrior Cable (Josh Brolin).

As I hinted at earlier, Deadpool 2 maintains the crass, fourth-wall-breaking humor of the first one. However, for all the comedy (which almost always successfully hits the mark), this film has some real heart to it that makes it more than just another R-rated snarkfest. The actions of the characters are not simply consequence-free, but the picture still manages to keep a light-hearted tone.

While the action in 2016’s Deadpool was far from bad, its sequel ups the ante. While it’s not top-notch, the combat here is an improvement over the original installment in the franchise. Ryan Reynolds seems to be having plenty of fun throughout the movie, but I feel the need to bring up Josh Brolin’s role as the villain. He mostly plays things straight and serious, but he never falls victim to does-he-even-know-what-kind-of-movie-he’s-in-right-now? syndrome.

A few people have taken issue with the Deadpool features for trying to subvert the superhero subgenre while largely playing by its rules (in terms of storytelling). I don’t have much of a problem with this. I mean, what’s a comic book movie without a big, high-stakes confrontation with the baddies at the end? Overall, I can’t say that I enjoy Deadpool 2 as much as the 2016 original, but it’s still a swell piece of light-weight action-comedy fluff.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Deadpool (2016) Review

Director: Tim Miller

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 108 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

While not the first superhero movie rated R by the MPAA, Deadpool helped prove that fully R-rated comic book flicks could be box office smashes, with all the requisite violence, sex, and swearing. In this film, terminally-ill mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is tortured into immortality, leaving him gruesomely scarred from head to toe. He then sets out to exterminate the goons who gave him his current looks. It sounds pretty heavy, but this is, in fact, an action-comedy.

Few films smash down the fourth wall quite like Deadpool. It’s a relentlessly irreverent and often satirical take on superhero pictures that takes no prisoners. However, don’t worry about your expectations being subverted too much. As meta as the whole thing is, this feature still manages to invest the audience in its characters and make you care about the outcome of the story.

With a plot often told in a non-linear fashion, there’s no shortage of either laugh-out-loud-funny jokes or bloody action. While the fight scenes get a thumbs-up from me, it’s really the comedy that’s at the heart of Deadpool. It really is an endless series of smart-ass pop culture references. It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.

This is sort of a spin-off of the X-Men series, but you should be fine watching this movie even if you know nothing about the rest of the characters in its expanded universe. With action that comes fiery and frequent and gags that land far more often than they fail, Deadpool is a recommended piece of cinema for fans of superhero flicks. Well, I should specify that it’s for superhero aficionados who are old enough to watch R-rated films.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Genre(s): Action, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 93 minutes (standard version), 96 minutes (extended version)

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Battle for the Planet of the Apes was the fifth and last installment in the original film series. After a nuclear war, underground, radioactive humans seek one final confrontation with a commune of humans and apes living together in peace. It’s not an abomination, but this is the weakest of the Planet of the Apes movies released in the 1960s and 1970s.

After the dark, chaotic, violent Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), a more kiddie approach was decided on for the franchise. Indeed, this is perhaps the most family-friendly of the entire series…including the Planet of the Apes pictures that came in the twenty-first century. Despite being the least graphic, this feature still attempts to grapple with some philosophical issues. Whether it’s successful or not, I’ll leave that up to you.

This piece of cinema has a noticeably lower budget than its predecessors. The ten-minute final action scene seems laughable at first, due to its monetary restrictions. However, director J. Lee Thompson makes the best of a dubious situation and the action (with the exception of a clunky shootout in the radioactive city where the bad guys come from) is moderately exciting.

Okay, it barely lives up to its title, as it borders on being called “Minor Skirmish for the Planet of the Apes,” but this is an okay movie. It certainly is kitschy, and not every scene is completely captivating. However, I still watch it every time I view the Planet of the Apes film franchise of the ’60s and ’70s, so I suppose that says something. It’s not torture unless you’re allergic to sci-fi cheesefests.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG (theatrical cut), Not Rated (unrated cut)

IMDb Page

The Planet of the Apes series had been dark before, but, with the fourth entry, it became outright pissed-off. In a fascistic future where all dogs and cats have died due to a plague from outer space, apes are used as pets and slaves by humans. However, one chimpanzee, Caesar (Roddy McDowall), has violent revolt on his mind. This, right here, is the best of the original set of sequels to Planet of the Apes (1968).

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is seething with revolutionary fervor. This is an angry and incendiary film, built around a slave rebellion…and it almost plays out like a start-your-own-state-of-anarchy playbook. It is available in two versions: the standard, PG-rated theatrical cut (that’s still plenty vicious) and a bloodier unrated version with an alternate ending.

The big draw of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is the final action sequence, which lasts about twenty minutes. It is certainly the most sustained scene of mayhem that the franchise has seen yet. It’s exceptional, with humans and apes duking it out at the “Ape Management” building and in the streets of the city that the picture is set in. Its budget wasn’t unlimited, but director J. Lee Thompson (who had previously helmed The Guns of Navarone [1961]) uses his resources very effectively.

Roddy McDowall gives a surprisingly good performance, considering that he’s covered in chimpanzee make-up. It’s a little odd seeing dirty apes, when they’re being used as slaves, serving humans food and touching all of their precious belongings. Get past that, and you’ll be rewarded with a fiery, dramatic, action-oriented sci-fi film with plenty of passion. Forget satire and nuance, let’s get straight to violent revolution!

My rating is 7 outta 10.