TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
The Green Knight
**** With A Ghost Story, director David Lowery demonstrated he was a master of dreamy wonderment. Yet that film never hinted he was capable of creating The Green Knight, a romantic fantasy so overwhelming it leaves you shivering in awe of cinema’s possibilities. Dev Patel stars as Sir Gawain, a callow adventurer who must repay a debt to his nemesis, the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). As their final confrontation looms, Gawain wanders, encountering giants, a talking fox and a noblewoman (Alicia Vikander) who challenges his sexual timidity. Vikander also plays Essel, a sex worker with whom Gawain is in love, creating the impression that a single soul is guiding his journey in different forms. All of this strangeness makes perfect sense in Lowery’s universe, which modernizes the 14th century epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. While Gawain hungers for greatness, Essel asks him, “Why is goodness not enough?” The Green Knight matters, but not as much as Gawain’s acts of compassion, like helping a violated spirit (Erin Kellyman) find peace. It is possible to simply bask in the film’s surreal visions—like a beautifully haunting shot of Gawain and the fox walking along a ridge at night—but the wisest moviegoers will also cheer its rejection of hollow patriarchal glories and embrace its conviction that goodness is more than enough. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Cinemagic, City Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Sherwood, Studio One, Tigard.
**** Bill Baker (Matt Damon) has a new life. After a career working on oil rigs, he has moved to Marseilles, started dating an actress named Virginie (Camille Cottin) and become a father to her daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). Yet Bill didn’t plan to forge a new family. He left his home in Stillwater, Okla., because his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin), was convicted of murdering her college roommate and has been languishing in a French prison for five years. While a wimpier film would have turned Bill’s dogged quest to prove Allison’s innocence into a righteous tale of a hometown hero battling foreign evils, Stillwater’s sharp emotional claws shred Bill’s moral authority and the myth of American exceptionalism. In ways both shocking and right, director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight, The Station Agent) reinvents the story seemingly in real time. Mystery and melodrama give way to romance, which gives way to horrific vigilantism and a reckoning with the anguish and delusions of America’s white working class. Late in the film, Bill stares at Stillwater and claims that he no longer recognizes it, but the truth is that he also no longer recognizes himself. Like us, he’s seen too much. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 99, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Cornelius, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Sherwood, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Studio One.
*** If you’re scouring Netflix for a breezy summer flick, the New Zealand saga Cousins is not your best bet. It’s an ambitious, often heartbreaking film that follows the lives of three Maori women, cousins Mata, Missy and Makareta. The sprawling family epic opens on an adult Mata wandering barefoot through the streets of Wellington, disheveled and muttering a nursery rhyme under her breath. As her story unfolds, we begin to understand how she wound up there: Mata became estranged from her Maori culture after being illegally adopted by a white Christian orphanage. She never learned to speak te reo, the Eastern Polynesian language of the Indigenous population, and has the Bible shoved down her throat. Soon, Mata begins to distrust her own culture. The film is a homecoming story but also one of loss and alienation. We follow the cousins in a kind of narrative mosaic that chronicles the characters’ lives as their paths weave together and diverge. At times, the dialogue veers from expository to didactic. Luckily for the viewer, it’s also gorgeously shot and impeccably acted, with standout performances by Tanea Heke as older Mata and Keyahne Patrick Williams as a young Missy. NR. GRACE CULHANE. Netflix.
Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over
** In an era of rockumentary overload, where every single act to grace CBGB’s stage shall receive full Behind the Music treatment, Lydia Lunch—iconic poster girl for the early ‘80s, avant-rock No Wave scene—eminently deserves her moment in the spotlight. Moreover, director Beth B, Lunch’s contemporary in the salad days of New York’s downtown underground, guarantees a too-close-up authenticity while ensuring the 75-minute overview never lags. If age hasn’t exactly mellowed the sexagenarian survivor, the years have burnished Lunch’s wry, sardonic, almost droll perspective on a youth in constant revolt. Lunch appears newly comfortable letting loose the raconteur long hidden behind the rage-fueled, frontwoman theatrics, and the documentary’s best scenes play with that seeming disconnect between gimlet-eyed remembrances from our current lioness in winter and past concert films framing an incandescent performance artist. To be sure, anyone who so fiercely intermingles the personal and political runs the risk of allowing larger ideological musings to seem faintly cartoonish. As the fusillade of rant blurbs wander from Vietnam to Hillary Clinton, the disconnected musings veer uncomfortably between tweaker delirium and the sort of entitled irrelevance rattled off as a great-aunt finishes her third bottle. Nobody should look to performative poets for coherent societal analyses, but set so near musings about feminist paradigms, her forcible deflowering of a much younger (male, as it happens) band member throws harsh light on a power dynamic trending toxic. “Lydia’s greatest work of art was herself,” one adoring fellow traveler marvels early on, but doesn’t that make the curator’s job that much more important? NR. JAY HORTON. Hollywood.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
** Early in Space Jam: A New Legacy, two marvelously smarmy Warner Bros. executives (Sarah Silverman and Steven Yeun) pitch a galaxy of LeBron James crossover projects, including LeBron v Batman and LeBron of Thrones. LeBron (who plays himself) calls the concept one of the top five worst ideas he’s ever heard, but the idea is essentially the plot of A New Legacy, a shameless commercial for Warner Bros. properties that barely keeps up the pretense of being a movie. If the film were merely the story of LeBron and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) being sucked into the so-called Warner Bros. ServerVerse to play basketball with the Looney Tunes, it might have gotten by on goofy charm, but director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip) inserts LeBron into The Matrix, Mad Max: Fury Road and even Casablanca. By the time LeBron is playing basketball in front of Catwoman, Pennywise and the Night King, it’s clear that the film is nothing more than a product engineered to sell other products. Like too many mainstream movies, it adheres to the golden rule of the Ready Player One school of filmmaking—bludgeon your audience with references until they beg for mercy. PG. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Cornelius, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, HBO Max, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Sherwood, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland Milwaukie.
* Eighteen years ago, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl took the unholy idea of a film adaptation of a Disneyland ride and slathered it with subversiveness and eyeliner. Yet instead of admitting that Black Pearl was a corporate product that had personality almost by accident, the Mouse House unleashed Haunted Mansion, four Pirates sequels and now Jungle Cruise, a bludgeoning voyage from Jaume Collett-Serra, director of four Liam Neeson action movies. Dwayne Johnson stars as Frank Wolff, a skipper helping two British explorers (Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall) search the Amazon for magic flower petals called the Tears of the Moon during World War I. The story is absurd, but it isn’t messy enough for Jungle Cruise to be a batshit B-movie. Collett-Serra mechanically serves up stingy doses of action, humor and romance—watching his film is like watching an alien try to create a summer blockbuster based on a checklist. Jungle Cruise may be a movie, but it isn’t cinema. It’s a Disney film that wasn’t made by Lucasfilm, Marvel or Pixar, which is another way of saying that it’s from a studio currently better at buying dreams than creating its own. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Disney+, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Theater & Pub, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.