TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
Those Who Wish Me Dead
*** Those Who Wish Me Dead is the kind of movie that makes you feel alive. The suspense that surges through the film is so intense it’s almost as if you’re wincing at the heat of the flames surrounding Hannah (Angelina Jolie), a Montana firefighter defending an orphaned boy named Connor (Finn Little). A nonsensical conspiracy has put Connor in the crosshairs of two assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) who are so single-minded that they chase Hannah and Connor into a forest being devoured by a wildfire. Can Jolie triumph over the cruelty of man and nature? Director Taylor Sheridan (who wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water) keeps you guessing by making the action rough and fierce, pummeling his characters with everything from bullets to an improvised blowtorch. Gillen is a laughable villain (Game of Thrones actors don’t belong in Westerns) and the story is annoyingly tidy (why does Hannah have to be motivated by her failure to save a group of boys who were the same age as Connor?), but Those Who Wish Me Dead transcends its artificial trappings. It’s a bracing adaptation of the novel by Michael Koryta—and a reminder that Jolie is an indomitable action star. She is the fire. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 99, City Center, Cornelius, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, HBO Max, Living Room, Regal Movies On TV, St. Johns Theater & Pub.
**** Mahboob is a fictional character, but that doesn’t stop him from making real-life mayhem in this cheeky comedy from Indian filmmaker Rajat Kapoor. Kapoor stars as RK, a somber visionary who directs himself in a film about Mahboob, a mustachioed romantic who is murdered in a forest. Rather than face his morbid fate, Mahboob hails a taxi that inexplicably transports him out of the film and into RK’s life, where he pleads for his creator to spare him. RK/RKAY could have been a Truman Show-style meditation on faith and free will, but Kapoor is more interested in asking witty questions. How do you report a fictitious person missing to the police? How do you return him to your imagination? What do you do when his diabolical nemesis (Ranvir Shorey) follows him into the real world with a lethal grudge? The answers that the film offers are delightfully clever and deliciously bizarre. Kapoor seems to be meditating on what happens when a director is drawn too deeply into his art, but allegorical baggage never weighs down the film. He keeps the mood playful, setting the stage for a magnificently wacky ending that suggests the only thing stranger than cinema is life. NR. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Virtual Cinema.
The Killing of Two Lovers
*** Robert Machoian’s family drama knows it’s freighted with a foreboding title, and violence looms immediately over this story of a freshly separated couple. The longer it takes for that title to come true, the more we nervously rifle through its possible meanings. Even so, The Killing of Two Lovers slips into an inquisitive mode, deeper than pure tension. We witness father and Western Utah day laborer David (Clayne Crawford) make genuine and misguided efforts to resist the deadbeat-dad status that his moving out and family visiting hours suggest. While some of the supporting acting verges on stilted (given the film’s overall earthiness), The Killing of Two Lovers is largely a director’s showcase. Known mostly for short documentaries, Machoian concocts an internal universe of David’s rage through sound design full of slamming doors and endless creaking. And the complex, uncut blocking of a key marital squabble against a high-desert horizon blends stark indie filmmaking with Edward Albee-esque theatrical instincts. The particular shape of this failing marriage confronts the characters’ expectations as much as the audience’s. It’s easy (perhaps sickeningly preferable) to believe David is living out a filmed murder ballad, or elegy for faded youth and manhood. The reality is both simpler and more complicated than all that country poetry. Realities always are. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Cinema 21, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube.
*** When journalists Deborah and James Fallows conclude their new HBO documentary in Bend, the Central Oregon hub is held up as a beacon, having reinvented itself into a year-round tourist destination after weathering the 1980s timber crash. Evolving municipal identity runs through all eight profiles in Our Towns, based on the Fallowses’ 2018 book of the same name. While the film’s many drone-captured sweeps of marshes, highways and farmland are simultaneously majestic and too polished, the most useful takeaway from Our Towns is a psychological prophecy. The Fallowses note that although Americans are routinely intransigent when it comes to their national politics, they often believe their communities’ outlooks to be different. And with enough of that exceptionalism, cities can actually become positively idiosyncratic. California’s Inland Empire boxing gyms double as chess clubs. West Virginia public radio stations leap to the national stage. Small-town Maine newspapers stay robust against all odds. If Our Towns has a major shortfall, it too often employs industrial narratives as a crutch for town health and identity. Today’s innovations are framed as victories for locales like Bend, but the exit of the previous industry only shows how fickle and exploitative commercial definitions can be. Luckily, though, the guiding principle here is classic, unassuming human interest—may it never decline, crash or outsource. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. HBO, HBO Max.
** “Never read the comments.” That is the golden rule of online content creation. And yet, when your job requires any sort of internet presence, it’s nearly impossible to avoid. Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) is a columnist for a popular Dutch magazine. Because her articles tend to focus on women and/or politics, Femke is constantly being harassed with vile Twitter replies and death threats—all perpetrated by men. This is an all too common problem for women who dare to post their opinions online, and Femke is justifiably fed up. So, when the police won’t do anything, she takes matters into her own hands by going on a killing spree. This is where the catharsis is supposed to kick in. And it does, somewhat, but there is a vital nuance missing. What the male writers and director of this icy thriller gloss over is that we don’t necessarily purely want revenge on these bullies. While retaliation is always cinematic and awesome, women really just want to be seen as people, not faceless vessels for others to project their own insecurities onto. As a result, the end product feels flattened and surface level, its innovative and relevant premise held back from reaching its full potential. Still cool to see bigots get wrecked, though. NR. MIA VICINO. Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube.
** The newest chapter in the Book of Saw stars Chris Rock (who also executive produces) as Zeke, a cynical detective on the hunt for the infamous Jigsaw killer. Though the original Jigsaw has been dead for years, a copycat who exclusively targets and tortures dirty cops has sprung up in his place. It gets personal when Zeke’s father (Samuel L. Jackson) goes missing, and he finds himself at the center of the new Jigsaw’s twisted game. Discussing the politics of a Saw movie feels counterproductive (I wanna talk traps!), but when the villain uses a pig puppet to literally say, “I want to reform the police,” one’s hand is forced. Spiral seems to have a noble goal of exposing the force’s corruption and brutality, and in the first half, it even succeeds. But as the plot unravels, so does the movie’s political statement, leading to a disaster of an ending that’s obscenely disturbing—and not even in the gleefully gory way that the franchise admittedly tends to nail. If the traps were more memorable, maybe they could atone, but aside from the agonizing opening scene involving a man’s tongue and a railway train, they’re lacking in the clever creativity that made the series a cultural mainstay. That’s not to say I won’t watch the inevitable sequel, though. R. MIA VICINO. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 99, City Center, Cornelius, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Regal Movies On TV, Vancouver Mall.
The Woman in the Window
** Dan Mallory is a liar. His deceptions include pretending to have a doctorate from Oxford and falsely claiming that his mother died of cancer, but most people don’t know that. He is better known as A.J. Finn, the author of the bestselling mystery novel The Woman in the Window, which has been transformed into a glossy and frenzied film by director Joe Wright. Amy Adams stars as Anna Fox, an agoraphobe barricaded in a gloomy brownstone in Manhattan. Addled by pills and alcohol, she’s a less than credible witness when she says that she saw a woman (Julianne Moore) stabbed to death across the street, but that doesn’t stop her from spying on Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman), a neighbor who she suspects is a serial killer. The Woman in the Window is modeled on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but Wright doesn’t have Hitchcock’s patience—frantic pacing and a pounding score by Danny Elfman combine to create a film that is exhausting instead of exciting. Wright can be an ingenious director, but the visual flamboyance that he brought to Anna Karenina and Pan—both of which were cinematic carnivals of swirling colors—has all but dried up. Skip The Woman in the Window and wait for the upcoming TV series about Dan Mallory starring Jake Gyllenhaal. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Netflix.