By Lynn Venhaus
For all his technical brilliance, Christopher Nolan’s ambition and vision sometimes impede his screenplays from making sense. And despite its dazzling action scenes, “Tenet” can’t overcome an unwieldy time-travel plot to make us care – about the future, present or past on screen.

The dangerous time-bending mission is to prevent the start of World War III.

Basically, this jumbo-sized James Bond-type thriller, complete with fabulous gadgets and zippy globe-trotting, is complicated, trying to employ algorithms and explain inversion in its race to thwart doomsday. The layers are murky, the dialogue isn’t always convincing and the complexities lead to overthinking. By midway, it’s a lot to keep straight.

As a director, Nolan’s bombast and daring are unmatched today. And for every letdown like “Interstellar,” there is a masterpiece like “The Dark Knight.” That’s why I look forward to his films, and this one drew me into a theater for the first time since mid-March.

Its stunning set pieces – especially an airport scene and a highway car chase that features speeding cars going backwards, are quite something, and make it a blockbuster worthy of the big screen (and IMAX if you want the upgrade).

As a writer, Nolan’s obsession with puzzles, obviously one of his signatures, and his ability to frame a shot with the fanaticism of a Kubrick, is admirable, but he is often too cold and clinical. With little backstory, we aren’t sympathetic to the principal characters or drawn into their world, with the exception of Elizabeth Debicki, a strikingly beautiful and tall actress playing the Hitchcock blonde, art dealer Kat. She married a vicious oligarch and arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), who is keeping her estranged from her young son. And he has plutonium. And tons of money.

Branagh chews the scenery in a cartoonish role, and his thick Russian accent doesn’t help in deciphering his threats, as he attempts to be menacing with a steady monotone.

The Protagonist, John David Washington, seems miscast. As good as he was in “BlacKkKlansman,” he appears ill-at-ease here, and it’s not just in the fancy suits to convince others he has wealth. On the other hand, Robert Pattinson is fine as his handler, the mysterious Neil. We don’t know much about him by design, but he and Washington make a good pair.

Clues are dispensed in a frustrating fashion. Oh, there are many big ideas, paradoxes, secrets — and plenty of head-scratching, but by the third act, interest fades. At 150 minutes, it is not exactly taut, although the action is fluid. When military guys in shields show up in droves, and the visors make them unrecognizable, that is a problem.

Nolan is very serious here – maybe too serious. He is good at harrowing — it just always seems we are kept at a distance. Think of this as “Inception” times 10.

“People saw the world for what might have been,” one character says at the end. This did not help me in understanding.

I don’t go to movies to do math. And you shouldn’t have to see a movie again to figure it out, although I’m not sure a second viewing would help anyway, because the story is too convoluted, not to mention flat dialogue and sound-mixing issues.

The movie is very loud – but Ludwig Goransson’s musical score effectively ratchets up danger and suspense with its ominous tone. Goransson won an Oscar for the “Black Panther” score.

The Nolan production team is stellar – magnificent cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema and smart, crisp editing from Jennifer Lame are among its virtues.

For all its pomp, “Tenet” was a victim of circumstance with its release delayed by the coronavirus global pandemic. It has pulled us back in to theaters, but its lack of connection makes the flaws stand out more than the spectacle.

“Tenet” is an action, suspense film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debecki, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine and Hamish Patel. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language. Run-time is 150 minutes. Released on Sept. 3 in movie theaters and IMAX.
Lynn’s Grade: C+
A version of this review was published in the Webster-Kirkwood Times.

By Lynn Venhaus
A juicy neo-noir thriller, “The Burnt Orange Heresy” has a lush backdrop, a steamy love affair and a fascinating setting in the international art world.

James Figueras (Claes Bang), a charming and ambitious art critic, spends his days in Milan lecturing tourists about art history. It’s an easy way to make a buck and he is quite good at it. He is invited to the estate of wealthy art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger) and brings along new love interest Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), an American on holiday. Also living on the property near Lake Como is reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland). 

As James has fallen from grace, a shot at redemption is appealing – and provides a financial opportunity. But is this scheme worth it? Turns out, everyone has secrets! As a web of intrigue gets more tangled, we learn more about the four people who are integral to this story.

Based on Charles Willeford’s 1971 novel, the film has much to recommend. The script is adapted by Scott B. Smith, whose book-turned-into-film “A Simple Plan” followed a similar pattern of a too-good-to-be-true scheme that goes horribly awry. 

We’re in Milan as the story begins with witty banter between smart and attractive people — and sparks soon fly between Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debecki. 

Once we arrive at the luxurious northern Italian villa owned by the rich and roguish Joseph Cassidy, there is a palpable air of mystery. What fate awaits?

Man of the house Mick Jagger, who is only in two scenes, makes the most of his mischievous international wheeler-dealer. With a twinkle in his eye and hints at danger, he’s fun to watch. 

So is Donald Sutherland as a reclusive aging artist. Debney’s reputation rises and falls, a sign of art’s hard-to-interpret and sometimes fickle nature. Director Giuseppe Capotondi shows both the sophistication and the pretensions of the art world.

This is Capotondi’s first English-language feature after the intriguing “The Double Hour” in 2009, and he is good at setting up symbols and clever with details. With cinematographer David Ungaro and production designer Totoi Santoro, they give us breathtaking panoramas and an opulent estate. Composer Craig Armstrong’s score enhances the ‘something’s afoot’ tone.

Bang, who made the art satire “The Square” a few years ago, and Debecki, good in “Widows,” have terrific chemistry from the start. Her small-town teacher character is more enigmatic than he is, and the men are all captivated by her. 

That is why the third act, which some find problematic, worked for me. It may stretch logic a tad, but all film noir has delicious zigs and zags. 

As a luscious summer escape, sink into a gorgeous place with pretty people and signs of temptation everywhere – where will it lead? Follow the twists and turns, and you will be rewarded.

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is a thriller directed by Giuseppe Capotondi, starring Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debecki, Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland. It is Rated R for some sexual content/nudity, language, drug use and violence. Run-time is: 99 min.
Lynn’s Grade: A-

Video on Demand and Select Theatres This film closed the Venice Film Festival last fall and is now available on demand and is playing in select theaters, including the Hi-Pointe Theatre, as of Aug. 7.