Category Archives: Kick-ass!

Rising Phoenix

Dr. Ludwig Guttmann worked in a hospital with British WW2 veterans with spinal chord injuries. He quickly realized that some of the best physical therapy for their healing, both physically and mentally, was sport. In 1948 he organized the International Wheelchair Games. By 1960, no longer open solely to war veterans, the games were dubbed the Paralympics, held in Rome, with 400 athletes competing from 23 countries. Though the games were held for wheelchair-bound athletes, the “para” in Paralympics is not a references to paralysis, though that’s a common misconception. It was compound word formed to indicate that these games would run parallel to the Olympic games, and every year since 1960 they have taken place in the same year. In 1976, athletes with different disabilities were included for the first time. Able bodies all look the same, but disabled bodies can be disabled in so many different ways. The Paralympics can be broken down into 10 eligible impairment types: impaired muscle power (such as paraplegia), impaired passive range of movement (impairment of a joint), limb deficiency (amputation), leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia (reduced ability for a muscle to stretch), ataxia (lack of coordination), athetosis (involuntary movement), vision impairment, and intellectual impairment (the Special Olympics are also for children and adults with intellectual impairments, but it’s for building community and enriching people’s lives through sport no matter their skill level; the Paralympics are for world-class athletes). For many years now, the Paralympics have taken place in the same host city as the Olympics, almost immediately following them, and using the same facilities.

This documentary covers two major wings of the Paralympic experience:

  1. We hear from members of the International Paralympic Committee – Xavier Gonzalez, Philip Craven, Andrew Parsons talk about issues that have threatened the games such as subpar conditions in Atlanta, poor attendance and coverage in Athens, Russia’s refusal to host them at all in 1980 because they “had no disabled people” in Russia, and most recently, Rio’s Olympic committee running out of money before the games and stealing from the Paralympic pot to cover the Olympic expenses.
  2. We hear from the athletes themselves: Jonnie Peacock, the 100m runner who beat Oscar Pistorius; Bebe Vio, a beautiful young woman with no limbs whatsoever who still managed to win gold in wheelchair fencing; Jean-Baptiste Alaize, who survived a genocide to compete in the long jump despite losing a limb to a machete; Ryley Batt, who must be at least a little crazy to ram himself around the brutal court of wheel chair rugby; and many more besides. Everyone has an incredible story, but the athletes seem to appreciate that when they are competing, the sport becomes the story rather than the origins of their disability. The games are not about disability, but about people who have super abilities despite any impairments their bodies may have.

I was fascinated to hear more about the incredible people who work so hard to make these games happen and to learn not just how much they mean to the people who train so hard to compete into them, but to the rest of us, who have our notions of disability challenged when we see people competing at the top of their game. At the top of anyone’s game, frankly speaking.

Prince Harry, or the Duke of Sussex rather, at least at the time of filming, chimes in as the founder of the Invictus Games, which ironically have gone back to Dr. Guttmann’s original concept, giving wounded and sick veterans the opportunity to rehabilitate with the power of sport. We will likely be seeing more of him and wife Meghan since they’ve decamped from the palace to become Hollywood producers, signing an exclusive multi-year deal with Netflix to produce whatever kind of inspirational content they deem fit, be it documentaries, docu-series, feature films, scripted shows or children’s programming – and quite possibly all.

While Harry adds a little something, he’s probably the least compelling subject, despite his title or notoriety. These athletes are more than enough reason to tune into Rising Phoenix, which is inspiring without even trying to be.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

A woman, our unnamed protagonist, gets into boyfriend Jake’s car. After just 7 weeks of dating, they are driving to meet his parents for dinner at their secluded farm. The woman (Jessie Buckley) doesn’t particularly want to go, she’s got stuff to do, and she’s been concerned about some bizarre phone calls, but more importantly, she’s thinking of ending things. We are privy to these unvoiced thoughts as she and Jake make their snowy drive, but she keeps them from him. Or at least she thinks she does. Does she? They discuss life and philosophy in strange and circular ways, they quote poetry to each other, and we see flashes of someone else’s life, a school janitor. Whose memories are these? We don’t know.

Pulling up to the farm, Jake (Jesse Plemmons) tempers his girlfriend’s expectations with some warnings about his parents, who may come off as odd. The girlfriend starts to wonder if they’re even expected or indeed welcome, but such thoughts are quickly swept away when his mom (Toni Collette) pelts her with prying and invasive questions all dinner long and his dad (David Thewlis) seems more and more angry. Right around dessert time, what has up until now been merely creepy starts to turn toward the surreal. Time, identity, and memory start to dissolve, and as the girlfriend begins to doubt herself, so do we. Meanwhile, that mysterious janitor only seen in flashbacks (flash forwards? flash sideways?) is now watching a film directed by Robert Zemeckis, and our own director Charlie Fucking Kaufman, seems really intent that we watch along with him. But why, Kauf? Why?

Back on the road, with a blizzard coming down around them, wrapping the car in a bubble of white, we’re feeling off-kilter, disoriented, disturbed, claustrophobic. And the Jake leaves the dark and deserted road to take an even darker, more deserted road. Turn back, you want to scream, you know they should, but they don’t.

If you were a fan of the book by Iain Reid, you’ll have some idea of what awaits them ahead, but you won’t be totally right. It’s Charlie Kaufman who’s adapted this, and the dude has some IDEAS. All told, I think the movie ends up less scary than the book, but weirder, if you can believe it. And it’s Kaufman we’re talking about, so you best believe it. If you’re a fan of his, you knew you were in for a strange and unique experience, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

There are strings pulled in the very beginning that see you through to the end if you were alert enough to follow them, and not distracted by the red herrings, or the terrific and layered performances by the cast. Luckily Netflix is the perfect home for such a movie. If you’re into this kind of thing, you can immediately give it a rewatch, searching for those breadcrumbs, reinterpreting with the benefit of a view or two under your belt. And it’s still not enough, but it’ll give you a fighting chance. Kaufman’s movies reward your due diligence. They’re meant for cinema snobs who will invest their time and energy into a story, who are willing to work for it, and work at it. Deciphering the ending is its own adventure, and in some ways I suppose you get to choose your own – it’s ambiguous, unexpected, and a little bit haunting considering Kaufman’s leaving us with his own spin on longing, regret, and the frailty of the human condition.

Best of luck.

Mulan

The reason why this Mulan live-action movie is better than its Disney predecessors is that it unyokes itself from the animated film and doesn’t attempt a scene-by-scene remake. The story is similar, but is more faithful to the Ballad of Mulan myth, with fewer Disney-fications. While Cinderella and Beauty & the Beast were meant to appeal to the little girls who watched and loved the originals, now grown up and ready to be dazzled all over again, they inevitably disappointed because you can’t recapture that magic in a bottle. Mulan doesn’t try. It’s not made for the little girls we used to be, but for modern audiences used to stunning cinematography and well-choreographed action. The movie doesn’t seek to appease our inner princesses but to waken our inner warriors. Don’t compare this to the animated Mulan, compare it to Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, Tomb Raider, Captain Marvel, Rogue One.

Mulan (Yifei Liu) is a spirited young woman whose childhood antics were somewhat indulged by her family but now that she’s of marrying age, she needs to dampen that fire in order to make an auspicious match and bring honour to her family. That is a woman’s place, a daughter’s place: honour through a good marriage and by being a quiet, elegant, composed, invisible wife. Her chi needs to be hidden away; it is meant for warriors, not women. But you know how this story goes. When the enemy Rouran threaten the Chinese empire, each family must send a man to fight, and since Mulan’s father has no sons, he himself is the only option, even though he’s disabled from the last war. To save him, Mulan steals away in the night, and poses as a man to take her family’s place in the Chinese army.

Niki Caro’s Mulan looks slick as hell. The colours are fantastic, the reds so vivid they’re nearly engorged, Mandy Walker’s cinematography bringing lush, diverse landscapes into sharp focus.

I love how grounded in history this movie felt; the animated film tread rather lightly on the reality of Mulan’s every day life, but here her mother reminds her (and us) of the dire consequences should her spunk be taken the wrong way, that such a woman would swiftly be labelled a witch and put to death.

At boot camp, sheltered Mulan is bunking among rough young soldiers. They do not sing their way through a snappy montage of training, they push their bodies to the limit trying to get battle-ready in time to save their country and their emperor. Friendships are made but they are also tested. This is not some summer camp – these young men know that their lives will soon be on the line, and they will need to count on each other in order to survive not to mention succeed.

The action sequences are stunning. Clearly Yifei Liu and company are the real deal, expertly trained and extremely convincing. Any movie that has the guts to bench Jet Li as the emperor and let others perform the martial arts had better bring the goods, and Mulan does. It’s not breaking new ground, but it’s well-executed and exciting to watch.

My one complaint is that the movie’s so intent on delivering incredible visuals and epic battle scenes, it devotes precious little time to developing its characters. We know that Mulan is fiesty and brave, but little else. We know even less of the others. Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) is a fierce leader and knows raw talent when he sees it but if he has any life or thoughts outside of war we aren’t privy. If Honghui (Yoson An) is surprised by the intimate nature of his friendship with the new, very handsome, very soft-featured soldier, he doesn’t show it, or shy away from it. He doesn’t mention it at all. And the other soldiers are just caricatures, filling up the ranks. But I think the real loss is in our villains, a duo didn’t inspire as much panic as their potential first teased. The one is just your run of the mill bad guy – his want and his greed are in opposition to China’s, and he’s pretty ruthless in his pursuit, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, in movies and in life. The other is by far the more interesting and I wish we could have known more of her, particularly because the final showdown between herself and Mulan is low-key amazing and I think understanding her a little better would only have strengthened that moment. Still, 1998’s Mulan had a villain, a Hun named Shan Yu, with eyes as black as his soul, who inspired not mere fear but terror, and we didn’t know anything about him. True, I was a child then, but I’ve rewatched it recently, and his menace is chilling, even without much context.

I enjoyed the 2020 Mulan. The cast was great. The film was incredibly shot and almost ridiculously beautiful. It evokes just enough of the first film through detail and musical cues. It was a treat, a rarity among Disney remakes, one that actually justifies its existence by incorporating the best of the first but improves upon it too, gives it a more mature and serious tone, one befitting a warrior, and that’s exactly what she is.

Love, Guaranteed

In need of a good old fashioned romantic comedy?

Like the vast majority of human beings this century, Nick joins a dating site after a failed relationship, looking for love. And looking and looking and looking. Since the site literally guarantees love, the next place he eventually looks is the fine print: guaranteed, it reads, as long as you’ve gone on 1000 dates. So he does.

Does that seem like a lot? Yes it does. How does he do it? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner dates. But no one ever works out. There’s the one who brings her parents, the one who’s allergic to everything, the one who jumps the gun…no one is quite right. So while he’s a perfect gentleman on the dates, Nick (Damon Wayans Jr.) keeps a file on each and every one of them because he’s building a case. When he’s got date #986 in the bank, he looks up lawyer Susan Whitaker (Rachel Leigh Cook), a hard working litigator with a reputation for crusading for just causes. She’s not overly keen on this case but she is rather keen on keeping the lights on in her fledgling little office, so she takes it, and the rest is history.

You know the kind of movie this is and so you know the path is must take to get to where it’s obviously going. It is not a long and winding road; it’s pretty darn straight forward. There are, however, some nice ornamental benches along the way, a few surprisingly tasteful streetlamps, and even some lovely flower beds lining the path.

I’m usually the last person to say this about a traditional rom-com, but it didn’t suck. Late 90s it-girl Cook pops up from out of nowhere and has some pretty believable chemistry with Wayans. Heather Graham plays a Gwyneth Paltrow type with a Goop-like empire. Even Susan’s ugly little car, haunted by the ghost of Tiffany, is so ugly it’s cute. Plus, the script by  Elizabeth Hackett and Hilary Galanoy is just a little smarter than the usual Hallmark-y stuff we’re stuck with lately (thanks to a chasm left by Nora Ephron in the genre). The two leads have cute, sparky banter, the supporting roles have identifiable personality traits, and there are fun little side-bars lampooning namaste bullshit and the fad diet trend of intermittent fasting. What’s not to love?

Wait: did I just say love? Love is a many-splendored thing but let me be clear that this review is NOT guaranteeing that you will love this movie. Only that should you tolerate rom-coms fairly well, this one is a nice addition to the lineup, and is now available to stream on Netflix.

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe

I didn’t know my Phineas from my Ferb until about 20 minutes ago. No, I’m exagerating. I still can’t tell them apart. I vaguely knew they existed but had assumed the teal bird was either Phineas or perhaps Ferb. He’s not. Turns out he’s called Perry the Platypus, so apparently he’s not even a bird. As far as Phineas and Ferb (two human children, step-brothers) know, Perry is just the family pet, but he’s actually been placed in the family as a secret agent, which is old news if you’re a fan of the show – nearly every episode’s b-plot involves Perry trying to foil mad scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz’s latest evil scheme. The main plot usually consists of Phineas and Ferb embarking on some grandiose project – like building a roller coaster in their backyard – which annoys the heck out of big sister Candace, and of which all evidence is improbably erased before she can alert their parents. This movie, it would seem, is when poor Candace finally gets her due, not to mention a starring role (although have no fear: Phineas, Ferb, and even Perry are all along for the ride).

If, like me, you’d never seen the show, worry not, because Candace basically sums up her fraught history with Phineas and Ferb in a cute opening musical number. Which brings me to the next point: Phineas and Ferb is somehow an animated musical comedy. That’s ambitious!

Anyway, poor Candace is usually portrayed as controlling and a tattletale, but I bet you’d feel kind of annoyed if you little brothers were always getting away with murder in the backyard. This is the film that finally reveals that she’s mostly been misunderstood. She’s not mean. She doesn’t hate them. She just feels excluded. So not only will Phineas and Ferb’s project today involve her, she’s actually its inspiration: Phineas and Ferb are going to rescue their sister from an alien abduction!

Yeah, I may have buried the lead. The stepbrothers witness her abduction and recruit Isabella, Baljeet and Buford to build a portal which fails to bring them to the planet where she’s been taken and instead redirects them to Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz’s lab, where he too was attempting to build a portal. So instead they board the evil doctor’s spaceship and head toward outer space, with Perry the Platypus secretly tagging along.

But Candace is not having the very bad day you might expect from the recent victim of an alien invasion. She’s bonding with her captor, who commiserates with her hardships (she also has 2 brothers, ugh), and who makes her feel special for carrying the rare element Remarkalonium.

Will the brothers find Candace before extraction takes place? And if they do – will she even want to leave? And will their parents finally catch them in the act?

The movie was surprisingly accessible to a first-time viewer, and was also surprisingly well-written. A stand-alone movie is planned for a theatrical release, but this movie, meant to have taken place before the series ended, was written specifically for Disney+ where it will find its fans the quickest. And that’s who this movie is really for, after all: the people who have loved and supported it since day one. The people, young and old alike, who miss seeing their favourite characters in new adventures. Fans of the show will be delighted with the film, which expands the Phineas and Ferb universe while working in all the things you loved about the original series.

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe features the voice work of Vincent Martella, Ashley Tisdale, Dan Povenmire, David Errigo Jr., Alyson Stoner, Maulik Pancholy, Bobby Gaylor, Ali Wong, Dee Bradley Baker, Wayne Brady, Olivia Olson, Thomas Middleditch, Diedrich Bader, Caroline Rhea, Tiffany Haddish, John O’Hurley, Weird Al Yankovic, and more besides, but my fingers are cramping. It’s a good mix of new and old, which is what you want in a nostalgia-driven sequel. And what better way to indulge your youthful whim than to spend a Saturday morning in pajamas, with a heaping bowl full of sugary cereal, and your subscription to Disney+.

All Together Now

Amber (Auli’i Cravalho) and her mother Becky (Justina Machado) are down on their luck. Things spiraled after the death of her father; Becky’s job isn’t enough to support them and unless they live with one bad boyfriend or another, they’re homeless. Like many high schoolers would, Amber struggles to keep this secret from her friends while working a multitude of after-school jobs to put cash in the kitty toward renting an apartment. That’s the dream. But she’s a senior in high school, so her dreams also include pursuing her music, and possibly pursuing the guy with the melty brown eyes (Rhenzy Feliz).

Amber is obviously a remarkable young woman. Her time and heart are splintered between many obligations. She’s got great friends but keeping her secret is an obstacle that stops her from really leaning on them for support. Auli’i Cravalho (you may know her as the voice of Moana) is a great choice for the role because her beaming smile lights the way through her hardships and sacrifice, and when that smile slips even the tiniest bit, we feel it immediately. Amber is juggling school work and work work and if she’s lucky, she sleeps at night illegally in the back of a cold bus, eating whatever her mother could flirt her way into acquiring, and trying to support her mother’s tenuous sobriety. But the next day at school she looks like any of her peers. It’s an interesting reminder that the face of poverty is not always what we expect.

With Cravalho, Fred Armisen, and Carol Burnett in the cast, we hardly needed any further inducement to watch All Together Now on Netflix, but then we realized Brett Haley was directing, and he alone would have been all the reason we needed. He is such a talented writer and director and I’ve been a fan of his since he shone his light on Blythe Danner in 2015’s I’ll See You In My Dreams and then he blew me away completely with Hearts Beat Loud. He’s got a real talent for raising up the everyday and finding moments of raw glory in ordinary people. Haley and frequent collaborator Marc Basch help Matthew Quick adapt his own novel, Sorta Like A Rock Star, for the screen.

Together they’ve crafted something special. Haley’s movies are thoughtful, sensitive, and measure. They reflect feeling rather than sentimentality. Amber is proud but if she’s shielding anyone from shame, it’s her mother, not herself. But Haley et. al show us the dignity in accepting help, in allowing our friends and family to get close enough to see the need and the opportunity.

All Together Now is a spirited film with a strong cast and a sweet story. It was a real pleasure to watch, a rare treat from Netflix.

Bill & Ted Face The Music

I didn’t realize until recently that I had never actually seen a Bill & Ted movie. Sean made me watch their Excellent Adventure knowing this new movie was coming down the pipes. I guess Bill & Ted are just so much a part of popular culture that I was familiar enough with the characters to believe I’d watched it. But actually watching it made me realize it’s such a bizarre trip I never would have forgotten it. We never got around to the second movie and I wasn’t too bothered by that but then Sean read a review of the new one that hinted it revisited the first two and felt maybe he should have pushed harder. Lest I not be able to follow the narrative complexities of Bill & Ted Face The Music. Except the sequel’s rental price was twice the going rate. Clearly someone planned a clever little monopoly. I opted to have Sean read me a synopsis instead and to this day I 90% believe he was pranking me. If two surfer dudes travelling through time in a phone booth in order to ace their homework was weird (and it was!), their Bogus Journey is even more unbelievable, being chased by robot versions of themselves sent to kill them from the future, winding up dead, and playing Battleship with Death himself. At least that’s what Sean would have me believe. I realize Bogus is right in the name, but this still sounds so weird it can possibly be a movie. Right? It sounds like Sean married the plots of Terminator and Little Nicky and thought I wouldn’t notice. Except that plot is referenced in the new film. So if this is a hoax, it’s pretty elaborate.

Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are still the best of friends. They’ve named their daughters after each other and bought side by side homes. Their wives, the two princesses they brought back in the first film, find this a little excessive, but Bill and Ted have been charged with writing the song that will unite and save the world, and in the face of that you can hardly complain. Except it’s been nearly 30 years since we last saw them and the song has still not been written. They’ve had ups and downs in their career and now they’re middle aged men playing weddings and bar mitzvahs. They still haven’t fullfilled their destiny but the future calls – it’s Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of Rufus – and tells them to light a fire under their butts. And it sends another robot for extra insurance. Luckily their teenage daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) have a little more hustle, and they probe their fathers into action.

Bill & Ted Face The Music is not a ‘good’ movie. If you weren’t a fan of the first two, this one’s not going to convert you. But on the same token, if you were/are a fan, you’re getting exactly what you hoped for. Keanu and Winter slide back into their roles like they’ve never really left them. It’s a little unnerving to see those characters reach middle age and still be acting like dumb teenagers. They haven’t done a lot of personal growth in the last 30 years, which is frustrating if you’re married to them, but satisfying if you’re simply a fan. Weaving and Lundy-Paine are a little less consistent. Lundy-Paine inhabits Keanu even better than he himself does. She’s got Ted down cold and never blunders, but Weaving is comparatively low-key and thus feels out of place.

However, it must be said that Sean, a fan, giggled throughout. And of course Keanu is as watchable as ever. Lately he’s done a lot of action stuff, with a few comedic cameos, so this full-length feature really hits the comedy spot and it’s nice to see him having fun. He’s still got it. And he’s still got an easy chemistry with Winter. Theirs are not the only familiar faces you’ll see in the film. This isn’t going to unite or save the world but it’s a bit of nostalgic goodness in an otherwise crap year for film. It’s the bit of levity we deserve and nostalgia we crave. And you just can’t go wrong with Keanu.

Alone

Jessica (Jules Wilcox) is driving alone on the highway at night. If you’re a woman, that alone is enough to send chills down your spine. We’ve all had to confront that fear, that feeling of eerie vulnerability. Should you get a flat tire, or your engine quit, or a patch of black ice send you careening into a shoulder of snow that won’t let go – you’ll be a sitting duck. It’s sad when a horror movie doesn’t have to introduce any other element before this scenario, just a woman driving at night, is already creepy.

But since this is a horror movie, Jules will not stay alone for long. In broad daylight, a slow-moving Jeep impedes her progress so she ignores the double solid yellow lines and undertakes a pass – which is when a) the Jeep of course suddenly decides to speed up, and b) a tractor trailer comes barreling toward her. With a thumping heart and shaky hands, she barely swerves back into her lane on time. She’s still shaking that evening as she speaks to her mother on the phone at a rest stop. She is disconcerted to find both the Jeep and its driver (Marc Menchaca) are there as well. This is only the first time she realizes he’s been following her, but not the last. Eventually she will wake up hog tied in his basement. But that’s not the worst of it. The worst is when she makes a break for it – high tails it out of his cabin only to find herself alone and barefoot in the woods. She’s at a huge disadvantage, her pursuer is relentless, and now she’s got two things to battle and survive: the man, and the elements.

I am kind of a wuss about horror movies (haha, “kind of”), but every summer I make an exception for the Fantasia Film Festival which brings together an exceptional lineup of genre cinema that is so weird and wonderful I simply cannot resist. Director John Hyams takes full advantage of my generosity by crafting a film that feels like a personal affront: pretty much everything I’ve ever lost sleep about is in this movie.

Since the pandemic has dried up our main source of movies (ie, cinemas), I’ve actually been watching a greater number of horror movies lately, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but my main complain has been that they’re not scary enough. As a well-established chicken, if I can sit through your film comfortably, you have failed as a horror director. Hang up your hockey mask and go. But Hyams has managed not only to bring the dread, but to sustain it throughout the entire 90+ minutes of the film. The tension is uninterrupted and it is serious.

The film is almost entirely a two-hander, with both Wilcox and Menchaca well cast and believable. Earlier that day I’d been reading an article for actors which said that one of the most important things you can do for yourself is know your type. Solicit opinions from trusted directors and colleagues and have them assess which type you best fulfill – which may be hard to hear, but is essential to succeeding in your career. So watching Alone, I couldn’t help but send mental kudos to the person who looked Menchaca dead in the eye and said “pervert.” It takes guts to tell someone they have a future in playing perps: abductors, rapists, all around creeps.To his credit, Menchaca grew the obligatory mustache and has clearly embraced the trope. There is some freedom in playing a man so detached from morals and social order and Menchaca clearly thrives in that pocket. But Wilcox is more than merely prey. Some of us are paralyzed by fear, but Jessica remains engaged, and willing to take risks. This is why it’s appropriate to give props to the screenwriter, Mattias Olsson, who subverts our assumptions about victim and offender and really puts his own spin on our expectations. Everyone involved in the film is pushing hard, which is what elevates Alone from being just another girl-being-chased thriller on the shelf to something I think genre fans should actually seek out.

Tenet

No worries, no spoilers.

I’m an insomniac, emphasis on the niac. As in: not sleeping turns you into a complete and utter maniac. As in: not many good words end in niac. Egomaniac. Pyromaniac. Kleptomaniac. Megalomaniac, for maniacs with positive self regard. But while the word insomniac focuses on that which I do not have (ie, sleep), it fails to account for the many things I’ve gained, (ie, time). Time to stew on thoughts and do deep dives probing insecurities and trying new anxieties on for size, sure, of course, but also time to read. There is a special kind of reading that takes place in the middle of the night, when everyone else is sleeping. Once you’ve reached at least the 36th hour of nonstop awakeness, your brain unveils a secret capacity, a wormhole of clarity, almost, wherein all things are possible. I do read a fair amount of trash, but every now and again I like to throw in a hefty tome or two, just in case I’m secretly a genius with untapped potential, should I ever come across it. And it was on one such night, June 6, 2018 in fact, in a feverish sleepless state, that I was reading a book about string theory and understanding it. By morning, the ghost of string theory was still with me, and as long as I didn’t attempt to look at it straight in the face, it was there, a light dusting of dew on my brain that I worried would evaporate with the sun. Or rather, with sleep. Anyway, I am to this day not a world-renowned particle physicist, so it wasn’t permanent or complete enlightenment. But this wasn’t the first time I’d experienced such insight. In March of 2003, I was making my way through James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Ugh. That Joyce is a straight up dick. Finnegans Wake is the single most obtuse piece of literature to ever darken the Dewey decimal system. If you hate readers so much, why on earth did you become a writer? Idioglossia my ass, this man’s just straight up making shit up as he goes along all stream of consciousness like he’s never met a piece of punctuation he didn’t want to flick to the ground and grind it like it’s the stub of a cigarette and we’re the ones getting smoked. But for a minute there, a glorious minute, I was getting it. I was getting it! I was lost in the rhythm of Joyce’s unique syntax, I was beyond comprehension, I was feeling the meaning, and the subtext. I was absorbing it into my skin like Joyce and his opaque one-hundred-letter-words were nothing but aloe.

This might feel like kind of a digression, but first let me remind you that in order to digress, you have to have first introduced the topic from which to digress, and I haven’t done that, so consider the above paragraph bonus content. Now I will tell you that I am writing a review of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, the saviour of the summer blockbuster. Except it’s now been released at the very end of August, and even as desperate as people are for a good movie and a return to some normalcy, Tenet is not some trashy beach read, accessible and easily digested. It is most definitely a Finnegans Wake, and it’s unlikely to save cinema no matter what the hype may have you believe.

After a brush with insomnia over the weekend, I got some medically-induced sleep earlier this week and am feeling fresh of brain and body. But Christopher Nolan knows how to hypnotize his audience. We feel, if not incapacitated, then intoxicated. Nolan builds the kinds of worlds we might encounter in dreams. Inception taught us to challenge everything. Interstellar taught us to think outside the box. Tenet merely kicks us in the teeth.

The good thing about not understanding a movie is that you can’t possibly spoil it. And yes, yes there were times when I thought I was getting it. I was a smug little shit, untangling the plot like it’s a delicate, thoroughly knotted rose gold pendant that I’m desperate to dangle above my cleavage at dinner, the diamond shining just a little brighter for having worked for it. But no. No.

John David Washington is simply The Protagonist, an operative with a global assignment to stop a renegade Russian oligarch from destroying the world. To do so, he’ll have to master time inversion because sometimes the only way out is through.

Parallel universes are for pussies. Christopher Nolan’s played with time and space before. This time he’s fucking with it, and with us.

In the deepest, deepest layers of Inception, it was difficult to judge just how many layers down we’d gone, and therefore it was easy to lose track of which reality was actual reality. When Leo spins that top and the screen goes black before we know whether it will topple over, that’s basic math. Like, ultra basic. Not even addition, just straight counting. Tenet is like abstract algebra, necessitating the contemplation of infinite dimensions. Plus number theory, the properties of and relationships between integers and integer-valued functions. Nolan may be one heck of a professor and Tenet the most sublime power point presentation, but this shit is hard and for most of us, a little out of reach. Way too many times during the film I could smell the smoke coming from my brain as it attempted to calculate and process too many things at once. I am way too linear a thinker to feel comfortable when Tenet hits its stride, which is frustrating because those are objectively the very most interesting bits!

You know those pricks who back into a parking spot just because they can? Like it was totally unnecessary so they’re basically just showing off? Nolan is that prick. Tenet is his oversized pickup truck. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS HARD! But since it is, a few tricks:

  1. Pay attention to everything. Because everything is something, nothing is nothing, the more nothing it seems, the more something it is.
  2. You’re going to want to watch it again. Even if you hate the movie and how it makes you feel (cough*inadequate*cough), you’ll want to see it again. You need to watch it with the knowledge you can only gain by watching it hopelessly and helplessly the first time. And you’re definitely going to want to discuss it.
  3. The title is a clue.
  4. The movie poster is a clue.
  5. Even my goddamned digression is an accidental clue.
  6. Everything is important, okay? And it’s all happening all the time, and especially when it’s not. So don’t let your guard down.

The Sleepover

Kevin’s having a bad day. First his teacher, the humourless Mrs. W, busts him for fabricating his family history for an oral presentation (hint: pick something less obvious than best-selling novel The Martian), then he gets caught on camera by the school bully dancing his pants off in the boys’ washroom, and then he gets saved by his mommy/lunch lady in front of the whole cafeteria. Could his day get any worse?

Yes. Yes it can. While Kevin (Maxwell Simkins) and nerdy friend Lewis (Lucas Jaye) are having a sleepover in the backyard, and big sister Clancy (Sadie Stanley) and her friend Mim (Cree Cicchino) are trying to sneak out to a party, their parents Margot (Malin Akerman) and Ron (Ken Marino) are abducted by what witness Lewis can only describe as “ninjas.” But the fact that Margot has left them a series of clues hints at another sort of life, one her family knows nothing about, but these intrepid kids are going to follow them into the city and a whole heap of trouble, all in the name of rescuing their parents.

The Sleepover plays like a kid version of National Treasure or The Da Vinci Code; director Trish Sie serves up some decent action sequences, but the tone and the humour do much to dilute the sense of peril and remains appropriate for family viewing. Ken Marino offers up his particular brand of wimpy wit, but it’s the kids who hog the spotlight. Maxwell Simkins is an especially wonderful addition; his bathroom dance is so charming and well-executed it’s hard to believe he’s bullied for it rather than praised – especially in the age of Tiktok, where this kind of thing would likely turn him into an overnight sensation. Actually, it sort of does anyway: the video posted to tease him goes viral, which is sort of what gets them into this mess.

Casting the right kids is imperative for a movie like this, but The Sleepover gets it right. It’s way too easy for a movie like this to go sideways, falling prey to either inauthentic child performances or an overly trite script, but Sie and screenwriter Sarah Rothschild manage a delicate balance of broad humour and credible adventure in crafting a fun ride fit for the whole family.