* If you were to choose a historic figure to profile in a film, Harriet Tubman is about as courageous and inspiring as they come. She was not only the face of the Underground Railroad, but a beacon of hope for slaves. But in this titular movie, she's the face of a paint-by-numbers biopic filled with generic characters and situations, all of which amount to what should have been a straight-to-TV project. Which naturally brings up some questions. What was director Kasi Lemmons (Black Nativity, Eve's Bayou) thinking? Having plowed the fields of servitude her whole life, you would think Harriet's (Cynthia Erivo) 100-mile escape from a Maryland plantation to Pennsylvania would have ended with a smile. Nope. Or when our heroine guides slaves on nights so cold they can see their own breath, you'd imagine Harriet would show some sort of emotion. Instead, Lemmons has limited the talented Erivo to blank expressions. Then there's the puzzle of figuring out what audience this was made for. It's a film that plays like a tug of war: On one side is the realism of 12 Years a Slave, on the other is a History Channel memoir that teachers will show to high school students. Lemmons is the first to tell Harriet's story on the big screen, and she's done it in a way you could bring the kids if you wanted to. But why would you want to when the lead is devoid of emotion? PG-13. ASHER LUBERTO. Dine-In Progress Ridge 13, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Bridgeport, Cascade, City Center, Division, Evergreen Parkway, Lloyd.
*** Need a refresher on what all work and no play can do to the human psyche? Hint—it usually leads to someone picking up an ax, with no intent of using it to chop wood. But at least Jack Torrance had racist ghosts to keep him company. In Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse, all Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson have are each other. Stranded on a windswept island off the coast of New England in the late 1800s and tasked with keeping the lights on for passing ships, they spend their days hauling barrels of kerosene up steep staircases and scrubbing uncleanable surfaces, and spend their evenings swilling rum and arguing about who gets to tend the light that night. That's about all you get for plot, yet it's enough for Eggers—who broke through four years ago with gothic horror masterstroke The Witch—to craft a moody, disorienting and utterly bonkers psychodrama about the insanity of isolation, one which bears traces of both The Shining and Ingmar Bergman's hallucinatory Persona. But The Lighthouse isn't just a depiction of madness—it's an act of crazy-making itself. Everything from the black-and-white cinematography and silent-era aspect ratio to the creaking, croaking sound design seems aimed to drive the audience as batshit as the actors, both of whom tear into their roles with ravenous ferality. As the wheels really start to come off, it becomes increasingly unclear who's gaslighting whom, or which character might be a figment of the other's imagination, or if the whole thing is just a fevered illusion playing out in one of their heads. Like the worst nightmares, it's an experience you might come away from hoping never to revisit, and it'll haunt you long after it's over. R. MATTHEW SINGER. Mill Plain 8, Vancouver Mall 23, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport.
Where's My Roy Cohn?
* For thematic and undoubtedly commercial reasons, this documentary obsessively connects Joseph McCarthy counsel, New York fixer and 20th century ghoul Roy Cohn to the current president. Indeed, Cohn was an attorney and adviser to Trump in the '70s. But like his then-client, Cohn is intriguing only as a construct of American power, not as a human being. A so-called mastermind, he resembles a vacuum of morality driven more by reflex than intellect. Still, Matt Tyrnauer's film is nearly hysterical in its joint efforts to humanize and shame Cohn—a battery-acid cocktail of pop psychology set to 100 minutes of pulsating, minor-key hype music. It's not that Cohn doesn't deserve this treatment, but does the audience? It's faux journalism that literally resorts to calling Cohn unattractive. From there, the power broker's cousins (without any deeper relationship context) recount his sexual exploits as a closeted gay man. Then, Roger Stone appears without the slightest irony to praise his mentor's doggedness. Worst of all, Cohn might actually fancy this condemnation. In treating him as a devil, its most cogent argument is for the continued power and relevance of a long-dead man. Step back a pace, and his only legacy was in manipulating a system of influence that existed before, during and after his life. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Fox Tower.