*** Like a goth dad who's traded his eyeliner for a job in a bank, Tim Burton has gone square. Yet Dumbo—his live-action remake of the 1941 Disney animated film about an airborne elephant—has traces of the macabre magic of Edward Scissorhands. Like the protagonist of that film, Dumbo is both lauded and loathed. He elevates a subpar circus by flapping his oversized ears so vigorously that he takes flight, but is also tormented by the villainous impresario V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), much to the consternation of a horseman (Colin Farrell) and a trapeze artist (Eva Green) who team up to set the kindly elephant free. Too many of the film's scenes have a bright, hazy look that makes you thirst for the crisp darkness of moodier Burton endeavors, and the CGI Dumbo has nothing on the eerily alive menagerie of the last three Planet of the Apes movies. Yet Dumbo gets an electric jolt of nastiness from Keaton—whose malicious grin is a character in its own right—and Green, whose regal spunkiness confirms she's the 21st-century equivalent of Grace Kelly. Burton's career may be going downhill, but his casting choices suggest he hasn't fully sold out. PG. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Milwaukie, Moreland, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Scappoose, St. Johns Pub and Theater, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver.
** As it so often goes with Keira Knightley period pieces that aren’t Atonement or Pride & Prejudice, it’s safe to assume you’ll feel the same way about this one as you do all the others. Obligated to move to Hamburg with her British colonel husband (Jason Clarke) as he deals with the aftermath of World War II, Rachael (Knightley) is dismayed to learn that they must share the estate with the previous owners: a handsome German widower named Stephen (Alexander Skarsgård) and his troubled teenage daughter. At first, Rachael is untrusting of her new neighbor, suspecting him of Naziism. But of course, as her husband grows more emotionally distant, a love triangle emerges. It’s a clear subversion of Europeans hiding Jewish refugees in their attics, but the question is…why? Even though “Rachael” is a Hebrew name, her religion is, astonishingly, never explored. At its best when focusing on Rachael’s struggle to balance the weight of war trauma and the guilt of her steamy affair with a man she perceives to be the enemy, what could’ve been a moving character study of a woman’s grief morphs into the usual war drama that doesn’t offer much in terms of novelty—aside from a few impeccably well-done sex scenes. R. MIA VICINO. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Fox Tower.
**** Us is a film concerned with dualities, so much so that even the title acts as one. There are a number of deeply entrenched American dichotomies under examination here: the difference between our flesh-and-blood selves and our digital ones; the sickening and ever-expanding economic divide; and the vehement us-versus-them mentality Donald Trump has fueled. Jordan Peele doesn't tell his audience precisely what's afoot here, and Us is stronger for that choice. The theme of the distressing "other" is reflected in the story of the Wilsons, a well-off family of four, and a harrowing encounter with their deeply malevolent doppelgängers. Highly animalistic in nature, these children of a lesser god called the Tethered move by lurching disjointedly about, sometimes on all fours, and communicate largely through grunts and screams. All the players shine and throw themselves into the challenges that come with playing two characters: the Wilsons and the malformed, homicidal version of the family. However, Us is undoubtedly a film carried by the women, particularly Lupita Nyong'o's transcendent acting as dueling matriarchs: Adelaide Wilson and Red, her subterranean counterpart. The sheer physicality of her performance alone is worth the price of admission. Red's guttural croak of a voice sounds if it hadn't been used in decades, and the way she moves—like a deadly ballerina manipulated from above by a devilish marionettist—will send chills down your spine. The film's most harrowing line occurs when Red is asked who the Tethered are. She scoffs before croaking out a simple response: "We're Americans." It's that opaque insidiousness that drives this movie into truly memorable territory. R. DONOVAN FARLEY. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Cinemagic, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Scappoose, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver.
**** Near the beginning of Gloria Bell, director Sebastián Lelio's remake of his 2013 Spanish language film, Gloria, someone asks the title character, played by Julianne Moore, "Are you always this happy?" The two hours of film that follow are a kind of ongoing dialogue that seeks to challenge our definition of what happiness is supposed to be and where it can be found. Moore is in nearly every shot of the movie as a free-spirited, clubgoing, middle-aged divorcée. We witness Gloria having conversations with her family, singing in her car, dancing, doing her best at yoga and sneaking cigarettes. These moments play against a backdrop of the anxiety everyday life produces—kids, money, the always-lurking spectre of death. When Gloria finds herself in a new relationship with Arnold, a paintball entrepreneur played by, of all people, John Turturro, their affection plays out amid those concerns. Moore is natural and truthful throughout, and the spaces her Gloria inhabits, be they dance clubs, bedrooms or casinos, are beautifully filmed. R. CORBIN SMITH. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Vancouver.
* Why a Mötley Crüe biopic now? "Why not?" Jackass director Jeff Tremaine's new Netflix original would argue with a pelvic thrust and a guffaw. And perhaps the only defense of a movie this pointless is an argument so stupidly thick. Give it this: The Dirt has arrived shrewdly in an industry sense. For one, it's just a basic-cable movie covered in Netflix glitter. And months after Bohemian Rhapsody's mammoth success, it rides a new current in the tidal wave of intellectual property as filmmaking—authorized re-creations of rock's heyday. There's really not much to unpack about the movie itself. Machine Gun Kelly plays Tommy Lee, which is oddly perfect stunt-casting with nonsensical results. Iwan Rheon (of Ramsay Bolton villainy) has a few great guitar-solo sneers as Mick Mars. The first 30 minutes shamelessly ape Goodfellas to make debauchery seem self-aware. The last 30 are unconscionably earnest considering this whole endeavor resembles the Predator biceps meme if it had a cocaine problem and lost a fight with a blow dryer. At least The Dirt has the decency not to pretend Mötley Crüe made important music, but then you're just watching a poorly lit TV movie about misogynists who had it out for hotel furniture. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Netflix.
** With both The Rider and Lean On Pete winning widespread praise last year, horses in indie films are doing a blue-ribbon job of healing humans. The Mustang, then, is out to test how damaged the humans in question can be, dramatizing real-life programs in which maximum-security inmates train the wild animals. The movie practically writes itself: Cellblock loner Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts), looking scarier than any stallion, will experience the restorative powers of trusting a creature that hits even harder than he does. It's a strong performance, reminiscent of Tom Hardy in hulking posture and selective muteness, though non-actors like Thomas Smittle nearly steal the movie simply by talking to horses with unfussy grace. There's an ease required to winning over a mustang that unfortunately clashes with a film enterprise out to hard-sell its stakes. And sometimes debut director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's film tips fully into prison-movie formula, threatening Roman with a ketamine-peddling enforcer and straining to make our protagonist reconcile with his daughter. Curiously, the film's central failing lies in not redeeming Roman largely through his relationship with his equine charge, even as the movie would no doubt argue it is. Any horse trainer (or even someone who loved The Rider) could spot the missing virtue here—patience. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.