TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
**** Near the climax of CODA, audiences experience a much-foreshadowed concert from the perspective of a singer’s deaf family. It’s not just sound’s absence that seals the Apple TV+ film’s best scene; it’s how the camera registers Frank and Jackie Rossi gauging the crowd’s reaction to their daughter Ruby (Emilia Jones) belting. That’s the moment you know why CODA (or Child of Deaf Adults) won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize and why, despite playing on a clear inspirational formula and remaking a 2014 French film, it’s a smart and heartfelt portrayal of deafness in mainstream American movies. For one, there’s Ruby’s complex role as the only hearing member and de facto translator of her gruff yet charming New England fishing family. Playing her parents and brother, deaf actors Marlee Matlin (Oscar winner from Children of a Lesser God), Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant are grounded and multidimensional, signing with Ruby in rage, mockery, hubris and shame. While some of the supporting performances pale—Ruby’s fastidious choir teacher is more irritating than aspirational and her love interest a classic doesn’t-deserve-her wet blanket—try not to be moved by this loving, needy, overwhelmed and surprisingly horny family confronting change. The formula works for a reason. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Apple TV+.
**** Big House answers the question none of us were asking: What if mumblecore met The Real World? The film opens on half-sisters Claire (Ellie Reed) and Ali (Paige Collins) arriving at their father’s vacation house. It’s Claire’s birthday weekend, and they’ve brought their boyfriends along to celebrate. As the couples unpack, we learn more about this odd, tiki-themed pad where the ladies have set up shop. They’re staying at their father’s “honey house,” the tropical beach abode where he once took his mistresses. Even juicier, we discover that history is repeating itself: Claire has a fiancé, but she’s left him at home while she cozies up with the nerdy, endearing co-worker she’s taken as a lover. Big House was shot in just two days with improv-heavy dialogue, and you can hear it in the mumblecore-style exchanges. Often shot at close—even claustrophobic—range, with audio that lingers even after the scenes change, the movie has a hazy, confined quality. It’s a tone that fits with the broader questions about monogamy and transparency that writer-director Jack Lawrence Mayer is raising through the sisters’ romantic arcs. The script is witty, and the acting is natural and often resonant, particularly Michael Molina’s turn as Claire’s awkward, unappreciated lover String. The finale does take a turn for the Real Housewives, but after shaking the proverbial soda can for 90 minutes, the explosion feels earned. NR. GRACE CULHANE. Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube.
**** In a sublime scene in Blue Bayou, Antonio (Justin Chon) lets his friend Parker (Linh Dan Pham) ride on the back of his motorcycle without a helmet. Parker has terminal cancer, and as they ride through the night, the wind blows off her wig, leaving her head bare. It’s a moment of both freedom and vulnerability—two forces that define Antonio’s existence. He’s a Korean immigrant who was legally adopted and raised in the Louisiana bayou, but is now being threatened with deportation because of a cruel technicality that could tear him away from his wife, Kathy (Alicia Vikander), and his stepdaughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske). To watch Blue Bayou, which Chon wrote and directed, is to understand everything about the lives of its characters—the food they eat, the vehicles they drive, the emotions that ripple through their souls. Thousands of real-life international adoptees have suffered the same fate as Antonio, but the film conveys the horror of that reality through the beauty of its intimacy. How could anyone who has watched Antonio and Jessie running together at blissfully breakneck speeds believe they should be parted? Nothing in Blue Bayou—not family, not friendship, not work—lasts forever, but the film reminds you that the things that are finite are the things most worth fighting for. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Eastport Plaza, Fox Tower.
*** This compelling profile of climber Marc-André Leclerc comprises a mountain of existential contradictions. Leclerc’s winningest attribute is his indifference to attention while The Alpinist pours it on. And against all odds, this is a gripping adventure documentary despite Leclerc defining his improvised solo climbs as completely solo, i.e., largely unfilmed. What’s more, can documentarians really tell an ethical nonfiction story in a retrospective present tense when the shallowest Google of the subject’s name transforms the story? In any case, The Alpinist is wise to invest so deeply in Leclerc that he can’t resist its affection and insights. The almost shamanistic British Columbian is depicted as a climber’s climber, practicing the purest expression of human movement and risk. Granted, some voice-over flourishes by directors Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen land as both pretentious and naive: “It’s hard to reconcile the ideals of his ascents with the tragic consequences.” Counterpoint—no it’s not. Maximal life and instant death dwell together in each of Leclerc’s fearless steps. And though audiences who like to stay on the ground and, let’s say, watch a lot of movies may deem The Alpinist in the shadow of Free Solo, climber Alex Honnold is here too, repeatedly testifying to Leclerc’s mixed-method supremacy on snow, ice, rock and in the undiluted philosophy of climbing itself. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Fox Tower, Movies on TV, Vancouver Mall.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
*** In the 1970s, when a floppy-haired Bruce Lee lookalike named Shang-Chi first graced the cover of his own Marvel title, comic book crusaders seemed destined to follow radio cowboys and dime novel detectives into the dustbin of cultural oblivion. The struggling publisher responded by feverishly refashioning the heroes of trending genres (horror, blaxploitation, space opera) in the Mighty Marvel Manner, typically disappointing fans all around. But Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, forged an odd yet successful kinship with bloodless ultraviolence, pulp grandiosity and an inane origin story endlessly explained. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings completes the circle, bringing the dispossessed son of an alien-bracelet-empowered warlord to the big screen, and somehow, this latest iteration of a pointedly two-dimensional martial artist avatar reaches undeserved depths. Credit goes to the bulletproof MCU template, of course. But shove the equally athletic and comedic newcomer Simu Liu (as Shang-Chi) between the looming presence of legend Tony Leung Chiu-wai (playing Shang-Chi’s father) and comic relief Awkwafina (as Shang-Chi’s confidant/karaoke buddy), and you’ve got the makings of an excellent cast that propels the film to another level. True believers should be more than satisfied with the punch-’em-up choreography effortlessly pivoting from balletic bouts to Wick-ian technique to fated CGI spectacle. Somehow, still, director Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy, Short Term 12) finds space to let blossom a genuinely touching emotive backstory for our immortal archvillain and a (however fleeting) fresh perspective on a martial arts master. PG-13. JAY HORTON. Bagdad, Cedar Hills, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Theater & Pub, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland Beaverton.
Dear Evan Hansen
** Is Evan Hansen a teen tormented by anxiety, isolation and depression? Or a con artist masquerading as the best friend of a boy who killed himself? The answer is simple—he’s both. Humans crave characters who are easy to adore or despise, but when Dear Evan Hansen debuted on Broadway in 2016, it defied that dichotomy, becoming a blockbuster musical and winning six Tony Awards. The movie mines the play’s ambiguous magic by bringing back original star Ben Platt as Evan, who is so lonely that he invents a history of bromance between him and his dead classmate Connor (Colton Ryan). Connor’s parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) accept Evan as a surrogate son, but he’s haunted by guilt—and the truth that his deception may be all that’s keeping him from ending his own life. Dear Evan Hansen diehards will be delighted by the film’s heart-expanding performances of songs like “You Will Be Found,” but not by the ending, which radically revises the story so Evan can atone for his lies. In the play, the greatest act of penitence wasn’t apologizing. It was living honorably in the wake of your mistakes, an idea the film fails to understand. The result? An adaptation with the shape of Dear Evan Hansen, but not enough of its sad, strange and beautiful soul. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Cornelius, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Studio One, Tigard.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
**In the most absurdly erotic scene in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) tells his future wife Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) how he found God. He claims that after running over a little boy and rupturing his lung, he vowed to devote his life to the Lord if the child lived. When the story is finished, Tammy Faye is so enraptured that she practically orgasms, proving that religion is an aphrodisiac for the pair—at least until they get lost in greed and the film develops a case of the biopic blahs. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Bakkers ruled PTL, a televangelist empire that created a Christian water park, concealed Jim’s infidelity, and swindled its followers out of millions. Their marriage was an epic saga of capitalism, faith and sex, so it’s no surprise that The Eyes of Tammy Faye tries to cram in decades of gaudy details. By trying to show us everything, the film risks saying nothing, but it’s somewhat salvaged by Chastain’s eerie sincerity and Garfield’s trademark smirk, which gives new life to the old joke that PTL stood for “pass the loot.” PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Clackamas Town Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Division, Eastport, Evergreen, Fox, Living Room, Stark.