A Dog's Purpose

Critic's Rating: B+  All things considered, given the potential harm that could easily have followed initial news stories threatening charges of on-set animal abuse days before the film's scheduled rollout, A Dog's Purpose largely escaped the neg press blitz with ticket sales approaching early projections and an opening weekend tied atop the box-office charts. Since allegations had been largely discredited within a few days, curious pet folk were not forced to confront ethical struggles when attending, for better or worse. Though the surprisingly engaging Lasse Hallstrom fable deserves full support from its presumable target audience, A Dog's Purpose has little interest in flattering owners. For its first hour, the film relishes the widescreen delight of golden retriever Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) soaring through acres of wheat or cataloging each smell at the carnival until little Ethan abandons him for his own off-screen incredible journey: go to college, save the farm, become Dennis Quaid. And, pretty quickly, Bailey mopes himself to death. A string of deaths soon follow—a '70s Chicago police dog, a beloved corgi for an '80s Atlanta buppie brood. Funny thing, repeatedly killing the same dog evades the whiff of Old Yeller morbidity. Because they're ll-equipped for sentience and inherently disposable, a dog's purpose (or, sure, A Dog's Purpose) should be understood as no more or less than an endlessly looped sales pitch for itself—breathlessly exploiting every inch of adorability to blot critical faculties and fan the sparks of true emotion. We could argue the film represents an artless waste of resources and brazen manipulation of empty sentiment, but…oooh, who's a good movie? Who's a good movie?! PG-13. JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Tigard, Vancouver.

Arbor Demon

A couple in a struggling marriage go camping to try to reconnect, but a malevolent forest spirit keeps them trapped in their tent. Not screened for critics. NR. Clinton Street Theater.

The Comedian

Critic's Rating:   As with all the worst jokes, The Comedian took forever to set up and somehow still overlooked one crucial detail. While still finishing his 2011 screenplay about a fading TV icon's return to the comedy-club circuit, legendary producer Art Linson enlisted Robert De Niro for the central role of quick-tempered, two-fisted, living anachronism Jackie Burke. The only problem is, no one questioned our titular comedian's absolute inability to tell a joke. There's a reason De Niro's funniest films left the gags to Charles Grodin or Billy Crystal—both cameo here—while asking their putative star to glower humorlessly. Whatever easy rapport shines through scenes talking up a lovely "volunteer" (Leslie Mann) amid court-mandated community service, all charm curdles the moment he takes the mic. To be fair, no delivery could sell this dreary succession of cringe-worthy routines, and any punch lines that do crawl forth are abandoned to die by Taylor Hackford's stunningly clumsy direction. Whether continually misidentifying the nature of viral video or blithely accepting the three-decade age gap separating our romantic leads, the film betrays a sloppiness and blinkered entitlement bordering on the toxic. Retiring is easy. Comedy is hard. R. JAY HORTON. Clackamas, Vancouver.

Gold

Critic's Rating:   Gold isn't so much a rags-to-riches story as a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-domestic-abuse-to-riches story. On top of being narratively formless and about 45 minutes too long, its protagonist is perfectly deplorable. A beer-bellied, snaggle-toothed, ignorant prospector, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is intended as a gonzo-style caricature of gaudy 1980s Reno. Any redeeming moment he might have had is obscured instead by his naive greed for gold—for which he first risks all his savings, then his life, then the love of his life. Gold operates on the obtuse assumption that any American sitting in the theater watching it will relate to Kenny's money hunger enough to moot the need for him to be relatable or lovable in any other way. He lies to his business partner (Edgar Ramirez) about how much startup money he has, asks the indigenous people working at his Indonesian mine to keep working even when he can't pay them anymore, pridefully turns down a $30 million deal so his name isn't removed from his company, and verbally degrades women for laughs. Spoiler alert: In the end, he's rewarded for all of it. Welcome to America, I guess. R. ISABEL ZACHARIAS. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Tigard, Vancouver.

Hunter Gatherer

A rescheduling of Josh Locy's new flick that stars Andre Royo (The Wire) as a reformed addict who tries to rebuild his life after a three-year bid. PG-13. Clinton Street Theater. 7 pm Saturday, Feb. 4.

NW Film Center's 34th Reel Music Film Festival, three weeks of new and old movies celebrating music, wraps up this week. See nwfilm.org/calendar for the full lineup. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. Through Feb. 5.

Rings

The first Ring movie scared the absolute shit out of me when I was a tween, except for the part where the horse freaks out and jumps off the boat and it's legs catch on the side of the boat. I was the only one laughing in the theater. Not screened for critics. PG-13. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Pioneer Place, Tigard, Vancouver.

Same Kind of Different as Me

This movie, about a rich Texan (Greg Kinnear) who befriends a homeless guy (Djimon Hounsou) to save his marriage, is based on a best-selling book co-written by Lynn Vincent, who co-wrote Sarah Palin's autobiography and Heaven Is for Real. Not screened for critics. NR.

Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe

Critic's Rating:   If you think the Trump regime has brought us dark days, Stefan Zweig reminds us of the clouds Nazi Germany cast over Europe. German actress-turned-filmmaker Maria Schrader introduces us to the Jewish novelist and playwright (Josef Hader), who lived the last eight years of his life in exile from Nazi Germany. Divided into five chapters between 1936 and 1942, it's a saddening adventure witnessing Zweig and wife Lotte (Aenne Schwarz) travel the world with nowhere to call home. You'll find them hiking through the luscious, green jungles of Brazil, only to end up ultimately in a dark, dreary New York apartment listening to Zweig's ex-wife, Friderike (Barbara Sukowa), also in hiding, rant about the Nazis with a menorah perched in the background. We watch Zweig as guest of honor speaking about his hope for a unified Europe, surrounded by vibrant, floral arrangements for the Poets, Essayists and Novelists International Conference in Buenos Aires, before the audience is thrown into the devastating last chapter of Zweig's life. This film is The New York Times best-seller you can't put down: alluring as it is enlightening. Stefan Zweig screens as part of the Portland German Film Festival, with director Maria Schrader attending for a discussion after the movie. NR. AMY WOLFE. Cinema 21. 7 pm Sunday, Feb. 5.