Future to the Back

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Brothers Pictures

Tenet (2020)

“Tenet” might not be the safest movie to release during such perilous times. For this is a film that demands repeat viewings – a dazzling puzzle box that you will need to see at least twice to comprehend, and even then there will still be gaps in your knowledge. Going once will simply not be enough as – virus be damned – you’ll feel compelled to go back for another look. Sure you could wait and stream “Tenet” at a later date, but this is a film that deserves the biggest of big screens. There will be online videos where the film will be salivated over and pulled apart like a hog roast, but relying on those is just cheating. Christopher Nolan spent years writing this thing so you owe it to him to do the detective work yourself. All you will need is a wipe-board, several different colored pens and a focus group of the world’s top physicists. Fear not reader, there will be no major spoilers in this review, for that would require me to know what the hell was going on in “Tenet” to start with.

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Unhappy Death Day

Tobias Höiem-Flyckt/Dark Star Pictures

Koko-di Koko-da (2020)

It’s not often that a movie truly lives up to its horror billing. Sure you get scares, thrills and women being mistreated in the most unspeakable of ways, but it’s rare that you are made to feel as if you are in an interminable nightmare. This Swedish oddity, about three lives which are wrecked while on holiday in Denmark, does exactly this. It’s awful to watch, and not in a good way.

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Disinfo Wars

Patti Perret/Universal Pictures

The Hunt (2020)

After President Donald Trump personally “canceled” it in a tweet, “The Hunt” was abruptly bumped from its Sept. 27, 2019, release date indefinitely — until now. Its premise involves a group of “woke” “libtards” declaring open season on “deplorables” and kidnapping a dozen of them. That’s basically its plot: The "elites” pick off the conspiritards one by one in gory detail over a bogus conspiracy dubbed “Manorgate” until a few escape and strike back in similarly gory detail. The end.

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The Spy Who Bugged Me

Michael Gibson/STXfilms

My Spy (2020)

In “My Spy,” former wrestler-mixed martial artist Dave Bautista plays J. J., a nails-for-breakfast war veteran-turned-C.I.A. operative on assignment staking out newly widowed Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her 9-year-old daughter, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), who have recently fled Paris and are struggling to adjust to their new life in Chicago. The clever Sophie is quickly on to J. J. and threatens to blow his cover if he doesn’t take her ice skating, participate in her special person’s day at school and train her to become a spy, all so that her new classmates will no longer ostracize her.

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Necronomicon Air

NonStop Entertainment

Color Out of Space (2020)

If you’re going to return to making feature films after 27 years away, you might as well pick up where you left off. The opening credits of “Color Out of Space” have Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) carrying out a Wicca ritual, appealing to the angels to take care of her mother, and the words "Directed by Richard Stanley" appear over a close-up of the antique compass in her hand. Back in 1992 Mr. Stanley’s previous feature, "Dust Devil," started with another pilgrim looking at a hand-held totem; but then the figure was a supernatural serial killer and the item was a pocket watch going backwards. And back before that, the credits of “Hardware” ended with a post-apocalyptic scavenger dressed in the very 1990 boho-gothic style of Carl McCoy from the band Fields of the Nephilim (for it was he) holding another battered compass in equal close-up, although the credits on-screen at that exact instant are the freighted names of Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Three films, three nomads, looking at three antique analogue icons for some signal from a cosmos that shows every sign of being otherwise engaged.

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La même Nikita

Bernard Walsh/Paramount Pictures

The Rhythm Section (2020)

The Broccolis, whose Eon Productions holds film rights to Ian Fleming’s lucrative James Bond franchise, are probably keen on turning Mark Burnell’s Stephanie Patrick novels into their next cash cow, but “The Rhythm Section” plays out more like “La Femme Nikita” than “Dr. No.” Blake Lively channels Anne Parillaud as Stephanie Patrick, a junkie prostitute trained into a deadly assassin under the Tchéky Karyo-esque hard-bitten Jude Law. She then trots the globe to hunt in exotic locales replete with sand roads and teal walls and colorful parrots chirping for the terrorists responsible for murdering her entire family.

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A Loose Screw

Patrick Redmond/Universal Pictures

The Turning (2020)

It’s difficult to imagine “The Turning,” Universal Pictures’s newest throwaway in the January trash heap following the dismally reviewed “Cats” and “Dolittle,” being worse than those two debacles. Indeed, music video auteur Floria Sigismondi’s first film since indie gem “The Runaways” a decade ago could pass as respectable if not for its utterly impenetrable final minutes.

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Creep Dive

Twentieth Century Fox

Underwater (2020)

A remarkably late addition to Fox’s 1980s sci-fi canon, “Underwater” finally surfaces some three years since the completion of principal photography. To be sure, the studio has never gotten out of the B-picture business entirely, but for the past few decades its niche pipeline has been mostly outsourced to Eurotrashy outfits like Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, resulting in more bargain actioners like “Taken” while the low-budget sci-fi well ran dry in favor of . . . James Cameron’s other preoccupations.

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Girls Tripped

Eli Joshua Ade/Paramount Pictures

Like a Boss (2020)

Miguel Arteta’s distinctive directorial style could, depending on the film, be seen as either auteuristic or indicative of a limited range. He is at his most memorable, for better or worse, when his characters walk the line of childlike naiveté and mental imbalance à la “Chuck & Buck” and the recent “Duck Butter.” “Like a Boss,” only the second studio film in Mr. Arteta’s two-decades-plus career, retains this intangible indie/sitcomesque sensibility in spite of the raunchiness promised by his star Tiffany Haddish.

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They Shall Not Grow Dull

François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

1917 (2019)

Alfred Hitchcock pulled it off in 1948 with “Rope.” Regarding “1917,” Paul Schrader wrote on Facebook: “The ‘one shot film’ is no longer an innovation. It has its own Wikipedia entry. The question is no longer ‘how did they do that shot?’ but ‘why did they do that shot?’ ”

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Taxied to the Dark Side

Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The first three words in the crawl are "The dead speak!"

Other critics can talk about how the movie looks awful – the reliance on CGI and seizure-inducing light effects doesn't make up for its feeling of flatness. Others can tell you how the camera swooshing around constantly is supposed to provide big emotions. Others can tell you that the death of Carrie Fisher apparently killed all the ideas the film apparently had for its climatic 40-year resolution of this fight between good and evil, but that did not stop them using her likeness (body doubles, CGI superimposed on footage with poor Daisy Ridley, and yes, full CGI again) to make it appear she was part of this. And if that was the only way the dead spoke, it would almost – almost – have been bearable.

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