** A bus. Black and white. The only color is the yellow of the road. The only passengers are four women of different ages. These are the titular Glorias, liminal representations of legendary feminist Gloria Steinem. Two of them are Academy Award winners Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander, the latter portraying Steinem from ages 20 to 40, the former from 40 onward. Using the bus as a narrative framing device, this biopic chronicles her journey from troubled childhood to underappreciated journalist to political activist to co-founder of the groundbreaking Ms. magazine. Julie Taymor's direction is at its most compelling when indulging in whimsical fantasy sequences reminiscent of her Beatles musical Across the Universe (2007). Her huge swings don't always hit as intended, but they at least differentiate it from the boiler-plate biopics that inexplicably dominate the cinema landscape. It's exactly these sporadic, creative risks that make the frequent expository dialogue and bloated storyline that much more exasperating. There's an engaging film buried in the 139-minute runtime, and it's a treat when it occasionally rears its head, be it in the form of co-stars Bette Midler and Janelle Monáe or the crucial amplification of intersectional feminism. Though this road trip is undeniably necessary, it's a bit of a slog nonetheless. R. MIA VICINO. Amazon Prime, On Digital.
She's in Portland
* First-time director Marc Carlini makes his debut with this meandering film about meandering people. Low-key indie She's in Portland has some touching moments in its story of two friends at a crossroads, but it feels like an initial draft whose script could have used some cuts, particularly in the road-trip sections. When former college buddies Wes (Tommy Dewey) and Luke (François Arnaud) reunite in Los Angeles, they have a lot of catching up to do—26 hours of catching up. That's how long it takes to drive from L.A. to Portland, where they hope to find Wes' college crush. Along the way, they stop by UC Santa Barbara, Big Sur and San Francisco for high jinks that don't add much to the plot, except that all of this time gives Wes and Luke the chance to prattle on about their midlife crises. This is the kind of film where rich, handsome white guys complain about life, sex and marriage for two hours, then realize they have everything they ever wanted at home. It babbles along, never achieving any emotional highs or lows, soaking up the California coast and late-afternoon sunshine until all the contrived issues are sorted out and everyone gets their way. Well, everyone except the audience. R. ASHER LUBERTO. Amazon Prime, Google Play.
* The potential for a retro paranoia thriller presents itself early in this new Shudder Original. Circa 1995, partners Malik and Aaron move to the country with Aaron's teenage daughter and immediately encounter the leering microaggressions of their white Midwestern neighbors. The setup is interesting enough. Kayla is warming up to her dad's partner while Malik ghost-writes the biography of a slowly revealed homophobe. From there, action and social commentary alike are lost in the execution. Spiral can't decide whether it's driven by trauma, schizophrenia, blood sacrifice, sexual entrapment, hauntings, immortal killers, conspiracies or just bad ol'-fashioned Newt Gingrich xenophobia. With choppy scenes that seldom last longer than two minutes before cutting to black, it's both much too easy (another screeching jump scare) and too hard (is any of this really happening?) to figure out what's going on. The drama hangs on Malik playing detective, yet Spiral seems determined to strip him of not just reliability, but coherence. Certainly, the time is ripe for horror films about covertly embedded American hatred. But whether shooting for an M. Night voilà, a Peele puzzle box, or a bludgeoning Craven allegory, canny choices catalyze the blend of politics and terror. Pick something, not everything. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Shudder.