‘Tenet’

(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references, and brief strong language.)

Touted as the first high-profile movie to hit theaters since they reopened amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, “Tenet” is hit-or-miss despite stellar visual effects and a willing cast. Ultimately, Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated new project illustrates the danger that months of hype and speculation can have on a film that was never designed to be the savior of the theatrical experience.

Of course, that’s not fair to the movie itself. “Tenet” should be assessed on its own terms, rather than the unanticipated cultural moment in which it finds itself. As such, I’m curious to see how it plays once expectations melt away and viewers can engage with it apart from all the baggage.

John David Washington stars as the film’s unnamed protagonist, a covert agent who is recruited into a shadowy organization called Tenet. Their mission is a complex one: save the planet from a villain who has discovered how to send items and people backward through time in a process known as inversion. Now the Protagonist must team up with mysterious colleague Neil (Robert Pattinson) and Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), the wife of a terrifying Russian arms dealer (Kenneth Branagh) if he’s going to prevent global destruction. The only problem is that the bad guy seems to know every step of their plan before they do. Once you brush aside the convoluted exposition and headache-inducing physics, Nolan has essentially crafted his version of a Bond movie (although I’d argue it’s more like a really expensive episode of “24”). It’s fine — nowhere near the top of the director’s filmography, but a solid way to spend two-and-a-half hours.

I imagine there’s also a possibility it improves with repeat viewings.

By the end, the movie feels like watching Nolan attempt a magic trick, but along the way, he walks you through a detailed PowerPoint presentation explaining the physics of every part of the illusion. After a while, I just wanted to yell, “Dude, none of this is real. Just say it’s magic.”

Compare the convoluted explanation of time travel in “Tenet” to movies like “Back to the Future” or “Looper.” True, those sci-fi flicks lean heavier on the “fi” than the “sci,” but they’re also really fun. While Nolan is undisputedly an incredible filmmaker, his movies would be a lot more entertaining if he’d realize there’s no shame in making genre flicks. No need to class them up. They’re great on their own.

Grade: C+

Blu-ray Review: “The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection”

(“Rear Window” and “Vertigo” are rated PG; “Psycho” is rated R; and “The Birds” is rated PG-13.)

Just in time for the holiday season, Universal has released a stunning Blu-ray collection that will make the cinephile on your list shout when they unwrap their gift. “The Alfred Hitchcock Collection” contains four of the director’s most iconic films, all of them in 4K resolution. (The set also includes standard Blu-rays for those who haven’t yet upgraded their televisions and players.)

While the set would be worth buying just for the inclusion of “Rear Window,” “Vertigo” and “The Birds,” the real selling point is that it contains the original, uncut version of “Psycho” for the first time ever. It’s the movie 1960 audiences saw in theaters, rather than the edited version used afterward for TV broadcasts, big-screen re-releases and home video. But that one is included too, meaning you technically get five movies rather than four.

Each film includes a treasure trove of bonus features, including documentaries, commentaries, alternate endings, deleted scenes, vintage trailers, and archival conversations with Hitchcock and fellow filmmaker Francois Truffaut.

I’m always looking for classic films to show my 9-year-old daughter. She’s probably not quite ready for “Psycho” or “Vertigo” yet, but I can’t wait to show her “The Birds” and “Rear Window.”

Grade: A+

Book Review: “Made Men: The Story of ‘Goodfellas’ ”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece “Goodfellas,” which redefined the gangster movie and went on to influence other iconic mob stories like “The Sopranos.” To commemorate this occasion, film critic Glenn Kenny has written “Made Men: The Story of ‘Goodfellas,’ ” the ultimate behind-the-scenes history of the film.

He covers its origins, the hectic production, its journey to becoming a critical and commercial success, and how it relaunched Scorsese’s career after a string of box office disappointments.

It features interviews with many of the key players, including Scorsese and Robert De Niro, and addresses various reasons why the film became a classic. For instance, there’s an entire chapter devoted to Scorsese’s incredible use of music. I’m blown away at the level of detail in Kenny’s writing, which is more than a fan-friendly puff piece but also avoids diving into the kind of academic jargon that often alienates mainstream readers.

It’s worth buying “Made Men” for Chapter 4 alone: a scene-by-scene analysis of the entire film that spans 156 pages.

The entire book is fantastic, but I devoured that particular section like it was candy. If you’re a fan of “Goodfellas,” or filmmaking in general, I can’t recommend Kenny’s book enough.

Grade: A-

Twitter: @IAmJoshSewell

Email: joshsewell81@gmail.com

Twitter: @IAmJoshSewell

Website: flixchat.blogspot.com