Then Playing — Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets; Tenet; Lovers Rock

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross, 2020). Depicting the last day of operation for a Las Vegas dive bar, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets accurately captures the wounded rhythms of a place that serves as a refuge for society’s discards. Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross accomplished this feat by largely casting local barflies (the film was mostly shot in New Orleans) and asking them to play out the scenario, not so much improvising characters as existing honestly within the moment. The filmmakers stitch together the resulting footage into a compelling portrait, accurately framing the sadness and camaraderie of lives lived almost entirely within the confines of a ramshackle drinking establishment. Michael Martin, one of the few cast members with a significant amount of acting experience, is especially memorable, signaling how wisdom and weariness are kindred qualities.

Tenet (Christopher Nolan, 2020). Absolutely exhausting mumbo jumbo from Christopher Nolan, Tenet is what happens when wild-ride set pieces dictate a narrative rather than the other way around. The film involves a CIA agent (John David Washington) who becomes involved with a shadowy organization that introduces him to the idea of events being cast in reverse by a phenomenon called reversed entropy, or something like that. Nolan himself demonstrates the vaguest interest in making this loopy stuff cohere, and the plot is filled with stiff exposition and hackneyed shorthand emotions as alleyways between scenes of technical razzle dazzle. As a new colleague of Washington’s character, Robert Pattinson briefly seems like he’s going to redeem the film all on his own, strolling through his first few scenes with the loose-limbed mischievousness of Peter O’Toole. Before long, the movie’s grinding mechanics weigh him down, too.

Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, 2020). Part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of films (or TV episodes, or general visual storytelling), Lovers Rock revolves around a London house party in 1980. There’s barely any plot, but the film is rich with detail, feeling, and elegant visual storytelling. McQueen is especially interested in the intricacies of interaction, charting the delicate tests people make as they try to connect — sometimes with nefarious intent — with others at the get-together. McQueen expertly conveys the feel of the time and place, coaxing out moments that are telling, moving, and almost preternatural in their depth of feeling. The scene driven by the 1979 U.K. “Silly Games” is imbued with the sort of elusive wonderment that can only happen in the movies.

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