Tenet arrives right on time for Princess Theatre as Calgary's Plaza closes


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There’s a great moment in Christopher Nolan’s not-so-great film Interstellar where, subtly, the “World Famous New York Yankees” are playing in a tiny ballpark in some unnamed rural sticks. It’s the 2070s here, and the tilt is soon interrupted by a gigantic dust storm — but the real message we’re supposed to absorb was perfectly put in Stephen King’s also-apocalyptic Gunslinger series: “The world has moved on.”

The world that we knew: not exactly a mutant-filled ruin like Mad Max, but in the wake of an ever-growing shadow of decline.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the creeping feeling of dread, living warily in the moment.

Going to see Tenet, one of the few-released Hollywood movies at the Princess Theatre on Whyte Avenue in a crowd of eight people on Sunday, had very much this same dusty vibe — as if we were somehow watching a classic action movie from 2020 a generation later.

Hearing last week that Plaza Theatre in the heart of Calgary’s Kensington now has “for lease” on its marquee was an honest trigger for concern: Plaza’s 70-year-old owner Mike Brar recently had to step back in the shadow of the pandemic, and there’s the fact he also owns the Princess. Can Edmonton be doing any better than Calgary?


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And the small, COVID-distanced crowd at Princess lingered a reminder of how tenuous any in-person entertainment venture feels these days.

Still, we can apparently rest easy.

The owner’s son TJ Brar, a university student, helps out around the theatre, and notes Friday and Saturday had decent turnouts for the film’s opening weekend. Down in Calgary, he says, Plaza was in far worse shape from any angle of consideration.

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“We were getting quite a lot of no-show nights,” says Brar. “It got to the point the last six months COVID’s been going on, we’ve just been running the theatre out of our own pocket, a serious hit for us. But the Princess should be business as usual — it’s been running quite a lot stronger than the Plaza, for sure.”

Films like Tenet — one of the few new releases (along with New Mutants and Bill & Ted Face the Music) — provide at least a little incentive for people to come out to the theatres instead of just watching TV at home.

“I’m not going to lie, we are doing our best to maintain the whole social distancing, taped off rows on seats. But people are still scared of COVID. But we had the best numbers so far for Tenet, one of the few movies to come out in 2020.

“But it’s been a pretty sad year in terms of content in general.”

It probably wouldn’t have mattered if Tenet was any good, it just felt so nice to see a new film in a theatre, even with slipping the mask back on after a vacuumed-up bag of popcorn.

Before Landmark Cinemas downtown was annoyingly hijacked into the not-really-a-bubble by the NHL invaders, I’d gone to a number of old films in Edmonton City Centre, all in all a lovely mix of nostalgia for the old days of both the 1980s and a few months before this useless pandemic.


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John David Washington stars in Tenet.
John David Washington stars in Tenet. Photo by supplied

Though slightly soulless and impersonal as all modern blockbusters tend to be, Nolan’s central concept of time running backwards in Tenet is extremely cool, especially paying off as John David Washington’s protagonist starts running (and punching) his way into earlier moments in the film in reverse.

My tall female and short male friends were each also very excited to see Elizabeth Debicki play that rare female co-star clearly towering above all the dudes around her. It’s the little — and not-so-little — things, you know?

The film’s on-screen opening scene in a crowded auditorium, dangerous for reasons other than simple human contact, also summoned its own very modern, accidental tension.

We were all really glad we went, and may even go again, just to hear Ludwig Goransson’s amazing score — he also made the music for The Mandalorian and Black Panther (RIP, Chadwick Boseman) — and to figure out exactly what the hell actually happened in the movie.

But I think this one is supposed to be watched several times — perhaps including backwards — and it’s absolutely set up for a sequel … or would that be prequel?

But in the spirit of Tenet, let Brar repeat here: “The Princess is running a lot stronger, it just doesn’t make sense to close it. And now we have Princess I and II (downstairs) open, and we’re open all week.” This he means instead of just on the weekend.

Also a new release, The Personal History of David Copperfield is currently playing downstairs at Princess II, 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, with extra showings on the weekend — princesstheatre.ca has all the info.

“If someone would like to take over our lease,” Brar adds, “great, actually. My father’s been in this business for 40 years. I think it’s fair to say he deserves to take a break now,” he laughs. “But we’ll keep the theatre going in the meantime.”

Asked if he wishes Hollywood would release more of the delayed films it’s holding on to, Brar says, “It’s any movie theatre’s dream to hear there’s a lot more stuff coming through. I’m sure as hell not surprised.

“But we’re just a little theatre — if it’s best for the theatre we’ll play it.”




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