Usually in December, home entertainment columnists would be flooded with big-name blockbusters from earlier in the year, out in time for Christmas and its attendant flurry of gift lists. This year, after months of irregular cinema activity and countless delayed releases, one tentpole title pretty much has all the hype to itself: yes, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (multiple platforms from Monday) is now out to punch up your festive home viewing.
Not that “festive” is really what Nolan does: hard, unsmiling and rendered in assorted shades of steel, Tenet is essentially a Bond film with the jokes dialled way down and a tangle of sci-fi complications in their place. Like all Nolan opuses, it takes itself very seriously indeed, but is nevertheless best enjoyed as handsome hot nonsense. John David Washington plays a CIA agent drawn into a shady organisation named Tenet, charged with preventing world war three by altering the flow of time. As one does.
That’s a simple synopsis for a highly crowded film, bustling with corrupt arms dealers and art forgery and “temporal pincer movements” in which different parties must move backwards and forwards through time simultaneously: the palindromic title is no accident. Nolan has evidently conceived it to inspire a veritable online industry of fan theories and explainers, though I think approaching Tenet as a sum to be solved takes the fun out of it. Months after seeing it, my memories of Nolan’s film involve the athletic beauty of its sensational action set pieces, the high-voltage, movie-star glamour of its leads – with Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki providing slinky foils to Washington’s stern straight man – and the general high-shine elegance of Nolan’s mise-en-scène. (Plus some bespoke tailoring to die for.) Tenet may or may not entirely make sense, but it thrilled me all the same.
As an actual feat of narrative time-twisting, Nolan has crisper examples in his filmography, from the ingenious lo-fi logistics of 2000’s Memento (on iTunes) to the military precision of Dunkirk (2017; on Amazon), though I appreciate the grandiose extremes to which he’s taken his temporal fixation in his latest. Tenet can be filed alongside such other intelligently daft works as Timecrimes (on Sky Store), Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo’s dizzy 2007 tale of a man trapped in a time loop who must face off against multiple versions of himself – though its puzzle is underpinned by perverse adult desires, not world-saving action.
In fraternal duo Michael and Peter Spierig’s underrated Predestination (2014; Amazon Prime), Ethan Hawke’s time-travelling agent must contend not just with traversing multiple decades to nip future criminals in the bud, but with the shifting intersex identity of a new recruit, played quite superbly by Sarah Snook. It’s hokum of the most intricate order – Orlando meets Minority Report. And even that seems mainstream besides the still head-scrambling advanced calculus of Shane Carruth’s experimental, influential time-travel origin story Primer (2004; Amazon again).
If you prefer your time-slip head-trips on the beefy scale of Tenet, meanwhile, Nolan himself must have been envious of Rian Johnson’s neat, backflipping Looper (2012; on Google Play), whose contract killer-after-himself conceit was less smartly ripped off last year by Ang Lee’s leaden Gemini Man. And Doug Liman’s rather brilliant Edge of Tomorrow (2014; Prime again), which strands Tom Cruise’s alien-fighting lieutenant in a time loop that gradually hones his battle skills, proved that the unimprovable one-day gimmick of 1993’s Groundhog Day (on Netflix) isn’t just good for romantic comedies – though at Christmas, I’d probably choose the latter.
Also new on streaming and DVD
After a cinema-only release in the summer, one of the year’s best films is now available for home viewing. Australian director Shannon Murphy’s debut remixes a number of heavily familiar genres – rebellious teen romance, terminal disease drama, black comedy of suburban ennui – into something unexpectedly vibrant and citrus-tangy, shot through with complex feeling, while stars Toby Wallace and Eliza Scanlen pop with young, spiky verve.
The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone
History has come to brand the belated third part of Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia trilogy as a greater disappointment than its reception at the time suggested: it was always flawed, but we now underrate its grandiose power. Coppola’s new cut – the one he always wanted to present, he says – aims to rehabilitate the film’s legacy, principally via a tighter introduction and a more elegiac ending. The result is no masterwork, but an impressive, muscular film: that much has stayed the same.
(Apple TV+, PG)
Apple’s streaming service continues to assert its identity in rather low-key fashion, but here’s one of its more enviable exclusives: streaming dibs on this truly enchanting, unusual animated feature. The marriage of Irish director Tomm Moore’s distinctively stylised stained-glass aesthetic and storytelling rooted in wild Irish mythology is a rich and happy one.
No Hard Feelings
Twenty-six-year-old German-Iranian director Faraz Shariat won the Teddy award for best queer film at the Berlin film festival for his lively, surprising debut, and in a normal year it might have been a bigger arthouse success story. Combining gen-Z gay romance with sharp insights into the European migrant crisis, this study of the bond between a second-generation Iranian immigrant and two refugee siblings is alternately sobering and fizzy as sherbet.
It’s been a while since Indo-Canadian director Deepa Mehta made a film with the broad arthouse appeal of her Oscar-nominated Water, but this busy, heartfelt coming-of-age drama comes close. Setting the tender story of a young Tamil boy’s discovery of his homosexuality in the 1970s against the more brutal backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war is an ambitious bifocal strategy, but Mehta negotiates it with care and compassion.
A decade ago, Gavin Rothery was the visual effects supervisor for Duncan Jones’s film Moon; now, as a director, he’s taken his own stab at resourceful, low-budget British sci-fi. The result, starring Theo James as a reclusive AI scientist attempting to bring his departed wife to android life, is auspicious and stylish in a brushed-chrome way, even if it wears the influence of films such as Moon and Ex Machina a bit heavily.