To the degree any Marvel movie could be considered an afterthought, the comics publisher and now media empire's foray into superheroine-dom does function as something of an explanatory footnote wedged in the margins of Avengers: Infinity War. After all, Ms. Marvel hasn't quite the cultural footprint of, say, Wonder Woman, but anonymity has its advantages. Opening inside the apartment of the seemingly all-American girl Vers (Brie Larson), we know only that the amnesic warrior has been trained by a golden-irised Jude Law as commando for the blue-skinned Kree empire. When abducted by shape-shifting Skrulls seeking the origins of some light-speed engine MacGuffin, we try to make sense of the scattered memories and share the titular protagonist's confusion as the trail leads across the galaxy to the technological backwater of Earth circa 1995. Setting the story during the Clinton era enables not only a platinum alt-grrrl soundtrack (Breeders, Hole, Garbage) but blessed freedom from the cross-referential winks otherwise plaguing the MCU oeuvre. Alas, the directorial tandem of Mississippi Grind vets Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck never quite get comfortable orchestrating the requisite snarky exposition dumps and CGI-laden battles these pictures require, but their loping rhythms slowly heighten the emotional charge as Larson creates from whole cloth a recognizable template of unsinkable feminine swagger. PG-13. JAY HORTON. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Kennedy School, Laurelhurst, Lloyd, Milwaukie, Moreland, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Roseway, Scappoose, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver.
Gaspar Noé's latest journey into the depths of human depravity, Climax—in which a troupe of young dancers are unwittingly slipped LSD in sangria and then overcome by madness—unequivocally contains some of the filmmaker's finest work. Though at times the movie is hamstrung by some of Noé's usual preoccupations, namely his seemingly unquenchable desire to offend and shock. After some opening interviews introducing us to the film's racially and sexually diverse characters, we're brought to the story proper via a thrilling dance sequence that is quite possibly the best I've ever seen committed to film. When Noé gifts the audience with a second choreographed number—and "gift" is absolutely the word for these astonishing scenes—I found myself hoping he would focus on the joyous abandonment of dancing. He does not. As the performers begin to succumb to the acid now coursing through their bodies, Noé puts them through all manner of horrors. And that's the main issue with an otherwise enthralling work. The paranoia that slowly overcomes the group is masterfully presented—Benoît Debie's disorienting cinematography is stellar, and when combined with the nonstop pulsating electronic music, it provides the viewer with an otherworldly anxiety not unlike a bad trip. However, the characters are lesser for the illogical way they hasten themselves to incredible cruelty and violence. Noé is a captivating, unmistakably talented filmmaker, but one wishes he was a tad less hellbent on making his audiences stare the worst of humanity in the face. R. DONOVAN FARLEY. Bridgeport, Cinema 21.
Insisting on the literal interpretation of a religious text can be a shortcut to fanaticism. That's part of the pleasure in To Dust handling an orthodox view so sweetly and personally. Shawn Snyder directs this story of a Hasidic widower obsessing over his late wife physically returning to earth. Believing her spirit (but more likely his own) won't rest until the interred body evacuates this world, Shmuel (Géza Röhrig) enlists the help of a community college professor (Matthew Broderick) to study and quicken her decomposition. Even if the "why" is deep and bizarre, the "how" in To Dust is a little easy. Broderick slides too neatly into the role of the put-upon, burnout teacher (think his Election character 20 years later). And a hokey buddy dynamic develops around a series of morbid missions and some culture-clash chatter. The Broderick of it all is more like a selling point than a necessity to what's otherwise a Hasidic character study with scant handholding for the audience. When the movie prioritizes drama, Röhrig (who you might know from 2015's Son of Saul) carries the day as a sympathetic believer whose fixation drives him outside his church so he can honor his faith. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Fox Tower.
Ruben Brandt, Collector
Animator Milorad Krstic's weirdo art-heist movie, released in Europe last year and new to America through distribution by Sony, is by design a hodgepodge—both critically and graphically. The animation is an ambitious mixture of techniques and styles inspired by a myriad of fine artists—one woman, for example, is a three-eyed, two-mouthed Picasso painting. The plot contains wildly divergent threads spinning off in all kinds of directions: spy story, heist movie, pop-psychological portrait, dreamscape simulator, art critique—whatever you can think of, it's in here somewhere. The first half is entertaining, though at times the storyline can feel mushed together. But when the plot really locks in, Ruben Brandt becomes a surprisingly compelling film. A famous psychotherapist and his patients end up stealing artistic masterpieces to help him cure what he believes is the early stages of schizophrenia. Think of it as a messier Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse for art snobs, with a collision of styles and themes that use the medium of digital animation to do the unexpected onscreen. R. CORBIN SMITH. Living Room.