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The Alienation and Genius of Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet'


Tenet is a challenging and frustrating film from writer-director, Christopher Nolan. Much like giving a Rubik's Cube a few twists and turns before finally giving up and turning it into a mocking ornament, this is probably most people's experience of Nolan's latest movie. The director has a knack for pushing the boundaries of filmmaking and seems to have a particular penchant for the flow of time in his stories as witnessed in Memento and Inception.

In this light, Tenet must surely be his boldest, most challenging and self-indulgent film to date, based in a single electron universe, where like its title suggests, time moves forward and backward through the process of inversion, toying with the Grandfather Paradox. See 'The Genius of Tenet' video (below) for a thorough investigation and insightful deconstruction.

This information isn't fully explained to audiences and there are only hints at what's actually going on with a scene involving a bullet being dropped and picked up. This is reinforced by scenes with action playing backwards and forwards simultaneously. The effects are very cool, even if borderline comical at times, keeping the story puzzle something of a secret.

The narrative progresses with a character simply known as Protagonist, played elegantly by John David Washington, moving in a linear fashion long enough to get a semblance of his one word mission and the story's main characters, doubling back on itself for us to realise that the characters have witnessed scenarios from different viewpoints in an alternate dimension.

Taking place in a "twilight world of international espionage", its vague premise and attempts to fight for the "survival of the entire world" aren't fully impressed, much like just how Inception works, sidestepping laborious explanations to try and prevent it from getting bogged down with technicality. Dealing with such hypothetical scenarios, nothing seems to be set in stone and being suspended in the air with so many questions about what we're seeing makes things seem rather inconsequential without a bevy of characters you've grown to care for or feeling part of this aloof and clinical environment.

Obviously, if Nolan over-explained the story it wouldn't be much fun and would feel like cheating. Being subtle and nuanced is his thing - he's an auteur after all, so it's much easier for the director to just serve it up without risking tripping himself up and landing in the terrain of spoilers. While this makes the nitty-gritty of the timeline fascinating to a select few who are into unlocking the secrets of sci-fi fantasy, it's more alienating as pure entertainment to others. This is the fine balancing act the contemporary great filmmaker walks, taking risks at a chance of greatness.

He's earned a place in the sun, so if anyone's allowed to just do what they please, he's certainly one of the top candidates. Much like letting David Lynch just unleash his creative genius in the form of a film or series, the same privilege can and should be awarded to Nolan. As convoluted as his film's plotting gets, crossing dimensions and trying to bend his audience's minds backwards, there's not really such a thing as a bad Nolan film.

Tenet fits into the category of almost, but not quite and watching explainer videos will definitely improve the viewing experience, making it easier to skip discovering some of these elements by fluke on the third or fifth viewing. The problem is that the detached film experience doesn't really prompt repeat viewings other than to unlock the puzzle or rewatch some of the grand action sequences.

Playing into the territory of Heat with some epic crime drama set pieces and rivalries, Tenet actually has a lot in common with Bond's panache and more recent sleek cinematography too. The strong science fiction element seems to have a Matrix appetite for interdimensional world-building, deja vu, duality and storytelling. Ironically, it was easier to understand The Matrix, a dilemma some university professors use as a classic example for building arguments. The stylish, high-end action thriller is as pristine as most of Nolan's movies are... a director who seems to be aiming for perfection.

Tenet is visually spectacular, immense and thought-provoking as a grandiose Nolan film, but it's also alienating, joyless and confusing. This duality is carried through by its stellar ensemble also including: Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and a strangely effective and distracting Kenneth Branagh. His Shakespearean background and more recent role as a director just make a fuzzy choice - probably intentionally there to break perceptions and timelines. While their performances serve their purpose, there's a deliberate attempt to downplay rather than charm.

While this may have been part of Nolan's plan all along and somehow linked to the passage of time in this world of Tenet, it doesn't add to the entertainment value. The unemotional videogame superficiality substitutes real connection with the actors, foregoing emotional contact points in favour of a flatline and rather soulless level of engagement, mostly appealing to the intellect and working on the level of eye candy. As intricate and tricky as Tenet seems, it's alienation limits immersion and its detached feel blunts emotional investment. It's an elegant and even breathtakingly beautiful film, yet this opulent and rather pretentious affair is designed almost entirely for Nolan's amusement as he tests the limits of his audience's loyalty and single-viewing film interpretation.

It may only be recommended for the most ardent Nolan fans, moviegoers who want mind-bending challenges to strike up a post-movie conversation or cinephiles who can focus on and simply appreciate the aesthetic audio-visual component of films. Tenet remains a puzzling film, which you will probably appreciate more on a repeat viewing, yet one that's so cold and uninviting it hardly seems worth it.

 
Local Mockumentary Daryn's Gym Set to Lift Spirits


Daryn's Gym is a mockumentary comedy from writer-director, Brett Michael Innes, a filmmaker best known for Sink and Fiela se Kind. While his heartrending dramas have come to characterise his genre range when it comes to narrative films, his latest offering is much lighter, probably a good thing considering the pandemic age. As Innes puts it, "the last thing anyone wants to watch right now is a movie about pain" hoping audiences will take solace in the lightness of his comedy much like smash hit TV series, Ted Lasso.

Set at a family gym in Johannesburg, the story follows Daryn Jr. who goes head-to-head with Funi, owner of a multi-national fitness chain. Playing into the classic David vs. Goliath dynamic, or Daryn vs. Goliath in this case, this upbeat and fun comedy sees Miller & Sons fall prey to the ruthless Stars gym as moles are sent in to infiltrate as dirty tactics come into play.

Daryn's Gym stars the easy-going and charming Clifford Joshua Young as Daryn Jr. in his film debut who found the experience to be truly life-changing. When he got the call to say that he'd secured the part, he was literally in a huge glass box doing promotion work at the V&A Waterfront and couldn't believe that an opportunity had finally arrived, saying that having Brett walk this road with him was "a dream come true".

Young's supported by a cast of local favourites including: Hlubi Mboya (I Am All Girls), Natasha Sutherland (Lioness), Deon Coetzee (Dust) and Siv Ngesi (Knuckle City). Produced by Paulo Areal, known for the hard-hitting SAFTA-winning drama Ellen, the duo have gathered some of South Africa's sharpest dramatic actors and are introducing some fresh rising talents.

Daryn's Gym Movie

While Innes admittedly says he "felt out of my depth at times", the critically-acclaimed filmmaker leaned back on his experience in drama to "always pursue truth over a punchline". Pivoting on this bubbly channel of entertainment, he hopes "that the film leaves viewers feeling a little lighter when the credits start to roll". Getting comedy right is much trickier than you'd expect and Daryn's Gym offers something fresh for local audiences who may not be all that familiar with a genre made famous by the likes of Christopher Guest and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Being set at a gym, there's a wealth of comedic scenarios to send up as you may remember from Brad Pitt's depiction in Burn After Reading and many sitcoms such as Seinfeld and Perfect Strangers. One of the tricks is to establish an air of sincerity and self-belief to help foster the right conditions for comedy to bloom. Getting the balance between earnest hilarity and more contrived scenarios is critical in establishing a silly-serious tone. As with The Office, the next step is crafting endearing characters.

Using documentary style camera shots as with Modern Family, it'll be interesting to see how Daryn's Gym fares in a time when the activity of "going to the gym" could use a shot in the arm and a touch of nostalgic magic. The trailer looks promising and whether it's a smash hit or not, there must be some potential for it to become the premise for a local TV series. Who knows? Maybe this little comedy is an undercover pilot.

 
Neill Blomkamp's Horror 'Demonic' Inspired by Volumetric Capture


Neill Blomkamp is a name synonymous with the groundbreaking District 9. It's hard to believe that it's been over a decade since his South African sci-fi thriller earned a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. Since then, Blomkamp has directed Elysium, Chappie and a host of short films under his Oats Studios initiative. Being attached to the Alien and then RoboCop reboots, there have been some rather exciting possibilities, which has unfortunately created more news than credits for the visionary sci-fi director.

His latest move is into the realm of supernatural horror and science fiction with Demonic, which was filmed secretly in British Columbia over the course of the 2020 pandemic. Influenced by the pandemic, which put Blomkamp's other projects on hold, he wanted to do something he could control and "just go out and shoot". Blomkamp decided to delve into horror with a typically sci-fi idea involving around volumetric capture and demon possession. The story revolves around an unconventional reunion between a daughter and her estranged convict mother when they become part of a medical tech firm's experimental therapy treatment.

Starring Carly Pope and Nathalie Boltt, as Carly and her mass murderer mother Angela, Demonic follows an attempt to tap into a mother's still-active brain in order to communicate after she falls into a coma. Entering a disturbing simulation, where Carly is confronted by her comatose mother's mind - she soon discovers that the grisly acts of violence her mother carried out were the result of supernatural forces.

The concept behind this visually-inventive film recalls The Cell with Jennifer Lopez allowing Carly to walk inside Angela's mind through a virtual reality that creates some engaging dreamscapes. Blomkamp wasn't going for full-blown science fiction but running with his fascination between "the brain as a computational device" and the potential for it to be "connected to other sources". Using a new technology called volumetric capture or 3D video, where actors are turned into geometry, a over 200 cameras are arranged to form a grid so they capture actors from all points of view.

Working closely with his DOP, Byron Kopman, the two discussed the lighting... moving away from the propensity for horror films to make "dark environments feel overly lit and synthetic". Opting to go for scenes with the goal of getting a real feel with as little light as possible, the filmmakers tended toward illuminating scenes with only headlights and flashlights instead of the cliché of what he calls "giant moonlight with smoke going through the air".

Leaning into the technology space, Blomkamp turned to acclaimed composer, Ola Strandh, who's best known for his video game scores. Blomkamp finds music to be a "wealth of inspiration" and makes sure to take note of new artists he admires, which is how the two formed the collaboration.

While Demonic's praised for being bold and visually-inventive, Blomkamp's low budget supernatural horror thriller has been met with mostly negative reviews so far.

 
It All Begins Again with Ghostbusters: Afterlife


Ghostbusters is a supernatural comedy film series made famous in 1984 with a sequel, Ghostbusters II in 1989. Since then, the third film has been elusive in part due to Bill Murray's reluctance, made even more challenging by the passing of Harold Ramis in 2014. While the Ghostbusters films have stalled in terms of the original line-up like a bad rock band reunion, the concept behind the story still holds intrigue.

There was enough interest to spark an all-girls remake of the original starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. While the reboot drew staunch criticism, mostly for its gender reversal, it was middling and didn't impress at the box office. The fourth film in the series has gone on to have another stab in the dark. This time, Jason Reitman, son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, has returned to give the original series a third film that follows 30 years after the events of Ghostbusters II. Usually when a "son of" becomes involved, it spells disaster but maybe that was just The Son of the Mask?

This time around, the fourth Ghostbusters film centres on a single mother and her two kids who move to a "creepy old farm house in the middle of nowhere" also known as Summerville, Oklahoma where they discover their grandfather's secret legacy. Titled Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the film screened at CinemaCon in Las Vegas with a cinematic release that has been delayed four times. This film appeals to nostalgia, featuring original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts.

Starring Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace and Paul Rudd. This is a big step up for Carrie Coon who's best known for her recurring role in The Leftovers with supporting roles in Gone Girl, Avengers: Infinity War and The Post. Finn Wolfhard is a child actor who has racked up considerable credits in the It reboot and Stranger Things opposite McKenna Grace, who is known for her strong performance in Gifted and spirited supporting role in Young Sheldon. Rounding off a promising cast, chock-full of throwbacks to the original, is Paul Rudd... who must be an avid fan and just seems perfect for the world of Ghostbusters.

Based on the trailer, the new Ghostbusters: Afterlife recalls Steven Spielberg's depiction of the '80s. Gathering a Super 8 feel, much like JJ Abrams' homage to Spielberg, the film taps into the nostalgia of the cinematic era with an E.T. meets Goonies feel. A slow immersion not unlike Transformers, it seems as though this clever concept is the first of a full reprisal of the iconic film series. Expect eye-popping visual effects and sharp performances in a film laden with a spirit of discovery and mystery.

 
10 Tragic Film Set Disasters


Alec Baldwin was recently involved in a fatal movie set accident when a prop gun misfired, killing the director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, and injuring the director, Joel Souza. Busy filming the New Mexico western, Rust, with co-producer Baldwin also playing the lead... no charges have been laid yet with a full scale investigation currently underway. The incident recalls the tragic death of 24-year-old Brandon Lee during the filming of action thriller, The Crow (1994), who died after a slug was dislodged and fired into his abdomen by a prop .44 Magnum revolver loaded with blanks.

The shock news story and Hutchins' tragic death serves as yet another reminder of the dangers of working in an industry concerned with the art of illusion. Flirting dangerously close with death in order to get the perfect shot, it's imperative that experienced stunts and munitions professionals are hired to perform and co-ordinate stunts. Tragically, accidents can and do happen on set with Rust joining the long list of deadly movie sets. While these tragedies do lead to films becoming notorious, they should also serve as a healthy reminder of just how much stunt people put their bodies on the line for the sake of the silver screen.

These equally devastating incidents just highlight their contribution and makes you wonder why stunt performers don't get more acknowledgement or recognition beyond in memoriam film dedications. Their efforts are designed to become invisible and while they understand the risks of the job, it just seems as though there isn't enough award recognition for their efforts, respect for their contributions or compensation when accidents happen.

10 Tragic Film Set Disasters

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Steven Spielberg's Twilight Zone: The Movie is steeped in notoriety after a tragic incident led to the death of actor Vic Morrow and two children, who were hired illegally. The production used multiple directors to film three short films, which played as a feature film. During the shooting of an aerial stunt sequence directed by John Landis, tragedy struck when high winds, pyrotechnics and an overly complicated stunt forced a low-flying helicopter to crash into the path of Morrow and the two children.

Midnight Rider: The Gregg Allman Story (2014)

Midnight Rider: The Gregg Allman Story is an unfinished biographical drama, which was set to star William Hurt but led to an investigation due to criminal negligence. Tragedy struck on the first day of filming on an active railroad trestle bridge over the Altamaha River in Georgia. When a train approached, the cast and crew got off the tracks leaving their props behind. Hitting a gurney the train inadvertently threw second assistant camerawoman, Sarah Jones, into the path of the locomotive killing her instantly and injuring several others. This incident has led to the creation of the Safety for Sarah movement.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)

The finale to the successful and long-running Resident Evil franchise, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring Milla Jovovich, left the zombie action series on a tragic note after a serious injury and death rocked the production. Jovovich's experienced stunt double, Olivia Jackson (Mad Max: Fury Road), lost her left arm after injuries sustained during a motorbike stunt forced her to have it amputated. After this horrific ordeal, the set suffered yet another disaster after crew member, Ricardo Cornelius, was killed during a botched car stunt involving a Humvee after it slid off a platform and pinned him to a wall, resulting in injuries that led to his death hours later.

Dead Pool 2

Ryan Reynolds is the star of Dead Pool, an irreverent action comedy that sees the actor play the titular near-invincible and masked superhero. The much-anticipated sequel was marred by the death of stunt performer, Joi 'SJ' Harris, who died after hitting a curb, losing control of her motorcycle and crashing into a plate glass window during an action sequence near Shaw Tower in Vancouver, Canada. An experienced rider, it was her first job and she wasn't wearing a helmet because her stunt double character, Domino, didn't wear one in the scene.

xXx (2002)

xXx was a stunt-orientated actioner for Vin Diesel in his prime, which saw the actor take on an action adrenaline hero. Sadly, Diesel's stunt double, Conway Wickliffe, who died on set after suffering a severe head trauma during a botched stunt rehearsal. Preparing for a scene involving the Batmobile, Wickliffe was leaning out of a Nissan 4x4 travelling parallel to an old American police car when the driver failed to make a 90 degree turn at the end of the run only to hit a tree.

The Expendables 2 (2012)

Being a tribute to action men of the '80s, it's no surprise that Sly Stallone's Expendables series is jam-packed with wild stunt work and pyrotechnics. The Expendables 2 upped their game, going for bigger and better and hiring Con Air director Simon West to replace Stallone. Tragically, a sequence shot by the second unit saw the death of 26-year-old Kun Liu and injury to Nuo Sun after the stuntmen got too close to an explosion near a rubber boat on the Ognyanovo dam in Bulgaria.

Top Gun (1986)

The iconic '80s film is celebrated in pop culture but a tragic aerial stunt sequence still haunts the film's crew and cast. Well-known and experienced stunt pilot, Art Scholl, was flying a Pitts S-2 camera plane and wasn't able to maintain altitude after an uncontrollable spin forced him to plunge into the Pacific Ocean off the Californian coastline never to be recovered. A chilling and fateful moment, observers watched the incident unfurl in which his last words were "I have a real problem".

Red Heat (1988)

Red Heat is a buddy cop movie from the '80s co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi, who play police officers on either side of the Iron Curtain. Sadly, stunt coordinator Bennie E. Dobbins known for TRON, The Running Man and Commando suffered a heart attack, brought on by a bad case of pneumonia.

Jumper (2008)

Jumper is a sci-fi thriller directed by Doug Liman, starring Hayden Christensen and Jamie Bell. Tragically, 56-year-old set dresser, David Ritchie (X-Men), was killed when frozen debris from an exterior set struck him and workers below whilst dismantling an outdoor set in wintry conditions, seriously injuring another man.

Vampire In Brooklyn (1995)

Wes Craven's horror comedy, Vampire in Brooklyn, sees the charming Eddie Murphy playing opposite Angela Bassett in a story about a vampire trying to ensure the legacy of his blood line. While quite forgettable as a film, it is remembered for Timecop and Strange Days stunt double, Sonja Davis, who fell 42 feet to her death.
 
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