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Cinematic Spillover: Short reviews of Tenet, Cuties and The Social Dilemma 

click to enlarge NETFLIX AND WARNER BROS.
  • Netflix and Warner Bros.

We finally made it out to the drive-in theater to review Christopher Nolan’s new time-warping film Tenet. We also have reviews of two new films on Netflix – a documentary on the negative aspects of social media and a feature film from France that has been receiving a considerable amount of online condemnation over the last week. Until Friday, folks!

Cuties

The criticism over the last few days that has come out against the French coming-of-age drama Cuties has been substantial. It has only intensified since its release last week on Netflix after mostly conservative lawmakers in Washington D.C. demanded that the U.S. Justice Department investigate possible laws being broken on child pornography and the sexual exploitation of minors. While there are a handful of scenes in the film that are uncomfortable to watch, the anger from the film’s detractors is misplaced. What politicians are ignoring (probably because they have not seen the film themselves) is that Cuties is pushing back against the exact thing it is being accused of perpetrating. The film tells the story of Amy (Fathia Youssouf Abdillahi), an 11-year-old Senegalese Muslim who becomes fascinated by a group of girls at her school who have formed a provocative dance group to compete in an upcoming local competition. Amy’s home life has become stressful since her father decided to take a second wife, so she finds solace hanging out with her new friends who wear inappropriate clothes, watch inappropriate music videos and choreograph inappropriate dances. When it comes to those latter scenes, first-time director Maïmouna Doucouré pushes the limits with her invasive camerawork. Do audiences really need to see a close-up of an 11-year-old girl’s twerking backside to know that she is twerking? No. But it is not Doucouré’s intention to offend those with the most sensitive, pearl-clutching inclinations. While some people might think Cuties is immoral, it does have a moral. Contrary to popular belief, that moral does not run counter to those who are opposing the film. Whether we put the blame on technology or an unstable home life, we can all agree that children are growing up too quickly. Disagree with the way Doucouré presents that narrative if you must, but do not pretend her message on the negative implications of sexual exploitation is absent. This is a thought-provoking cautionary tale. Little girls need to stay little girls for as long as possible. No one is arguing otherwise. Cuties was released on Netflix last week. 3.5 out of 5 stars (recommended)

The Social Dilemma

The most unsettling part of the documentary The Social Dilemma might just be how not shocking all of it really is. It is obvious the film wants to be a wake-up call to users of social media to show how harmful, unethical and manipulative platforms like Facebook and Twitter really are, but the exposé only feels significant and authentic when it plays as a conventional, talking-head doc featuring defectors from Silicon Valley. During the less-than-compelling sections of the film, director Jeff Orlowski (Chasing Coral) decides the best way to tell his story about the pitfalls of social media is to dramatize it with a built-in narrative that follows a family’s personal interactions with their tech devices. The inclusion of a family as a storytelling device is filler at best. What was unnecessary, however, was Orlowski’s use of actor Vincent Kartheiser (TV’s Mad Men) to personify artificial intelligence and explain how it can infiltrate the lives of these family members. Think of Kartheiser’s character as the emoticons in Pixar’s Inside Out if they were all named Deceit. Still, when the experts speak, audiences should listen. The Social Dilemma is an eye-opening, well-packaged collection of facts we should already have know about our online behavior. If anything, combining all of it into one movie to see the full picture makes it all the more chilling. The Social Dilemma was released on Netflix last week. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)

Tenet

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is the most Christopher Nolanesque movie the ambitious writer/director has released since his 2014 mind-bender Interstellar and his 2010 thriller Inception. High-concept science fiction and the exploration of time and space are shared elements in these types of Nolan projects (see Memento and The Prestige, also), but Tenet is easily the most narratively distorted, emotionally hollow and unabashedly gimmicky film the five-time Oscar nominee has created. While there really isn’t a point to delve too deep into the convoluted plot, Tenet basically follows a main unnamed character (John David Washington) in his search for a Russian arms dealer (Kenneth Branagh) set on destroying the world by way of “inverted time.” The plan is described as “something worse than nuclear holocaust.” The amount of brain power viewers want to expend dissecting Nolan’s ideas will likely dictate the impact the film has for everyone. Visually, Tenet is stunning. Editor Jennifer Lame (Marriage Story) does an incredible job piecing together scenes that are more conceptually complex than they need to be. As stellar as Tenet is for the senses, it is not something most moviegoers will want to revisit – unless, of course, they believe Nolan’s brand of storytelling really doesn’t add up until the third or fourth viewing. Tenet is currently playing at local theaters and at the Stars & Stripes Drive-in Theatre in New Braunfels. 2 out of 5 stars (not recommended)

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