TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
The Last Duel
**** The place is France. The time is the Middle Ages. The crime is rape. That’s the premise of The Last Duel, director Ridley Scott’s thunderous cinematic portrait of Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer), a real-life noblewoman who accused Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), a squire and knight, of sexually assaulting her. Each of the film’s three acts is filmed from the perspective of one character—first Marguerite’s husband, Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), then Le Gris, then Marguerite. While the male perspectives were written by Damon and Ben Affleck, the scenes that peer into Marguerite’s soul were scripted by Nicole Holofcener, who emphasizes the tension between monstrous masculine delusions and brutal feminine realities. The Last Duel understands the fluidity of memory—in one scene, Le Gris willfully misinterprets Marguerite’s mocking smile as a flirtation—but it unequivocally states that only Marguerite is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The trial by combat between Carrouges and Le Gris that decides whether Marguerite will be vindicated or burned alive is exhilaratingly brutish, but the film keeps cutting away from the bloodshed to show us her haunted, hardened features. The greatest war in The Last Duel is the one she wages against the patriarchy, proving that Scott—who also directed Alien and Thelma & Louise—is still a feminist to his core. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Cornelius, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Sherwood, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza.
No Time to Die
*** The essence of James Bond is iteration, evolving just enough to survive new eras rather than conclude—just like the Cold War, Hollywood machine and patriarchal framework that birthed the character. So it’s an unprecedented position in which No Time to Die finds itself: belting out a nearly three-hour swan song to Daniel Craig’s chiseled, well-meaning, haunted 007. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) breaks visual ground in the enchanting blues and purples of nocturnal Cuba and Jamaica set pieces, and bursts of eerie emotional tension stamp his trademark on action set pieces. Meanwhile, stellar supporting actors like Ralph Fiennes (M), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter) and Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) savor their chemistry with Craig to the last sip. Of course, No Time to Die was literally and figuratively meant for two years ago (delayed by COVID-19), when its plot line about weaponized contagions wasn’t so gutting, when villain Rami Malek’s dead stare and monotone whispering wasn’t such tired schtick. More impressive than fun, this 25th Bond outing wraps the Craig years with all the heartache (for Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann) and visceral ass-kicking he’s cultivated since Casino Royale. Always in pain, always trying to quit, Craig’s Bond was the only 007 who saw his end from the very beginning. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Cinema 99, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Division, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, St. Johns Theater & Pub, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver Mall, Vancouver Plaza, Wilsonville.
*** “I could talk for an hour about the ways these kids could die,” admits Australian doctor Richard Harris about the Thai youth soccer players he extracted from 2018′s internationally famous cave flooding. These odd, macabre little moments are the most striking of documentary team Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s recounting-cum-reenactment of the harrowing 18-day rescue from Tham Luang Nang Non cave. Another diver wonders aloud whether he would’ve drunk his life away if the boy he ferried to safety for three subterranean hours had died. Much like in Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi’s Oscar-winning Free Solo, the filmmakers pick knowingly at the bare psyches of adventurers (swapping rock climbers for cave divers) fascinatingly desensitized to death. And while the expert editing does wonders to disguise extended stretches of reenactment (like a very expensive episode of Dateline), creeping, unanswered questions of retraumatization float in those scenes’ staged abyss. Even if thornier issues of dramatic reproduction and white interloping are sanded clean off the film, The Rescue remains a worthy tribute to the operation’s 5,000 volunteers from all over Thailand, the U.K., U.S. and China. At every turn, they chose action when hope was for fools. PG. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Clackamas Town Center, Fox Tower.
The Universality of It All
*** The Universality of It All is the debut documentary by Andrés Bronnimann, a Swiss-Mexican-Costa Rican director and producer. The film, which took nearly two years to make, is a study of human interconnectedness as explored through the eyes of the director’s best friend, Emad, a Yemeni refugee living in Vancouver, Canada. The question driving Bronnimann’s project: How did two people with such different backgrounds become so connected? He starts to answer that by explaining how the two met in college in 2013, which instantly grounds the film in a relatable space before taking the audience on a voyage through some of the global events that defined that era. The Universality of It All touches everything from the Yemeni Civil War to the 2016 U.S. election to the great Costa Rican and Nicaraguan migrations. Bronnimann artfully lays out how those experiences contribute to our current migration trends by employing infographic aids and interviews with experts. But rather than presenting the information academically, Bronnimann artfully shoots imagery that pops off the screen like moving Life magazine photographs that provide emotional weight, and the narration is hushed but sincere. While this isn’t a documentary that follows traditional journalistic standards, it certainly gives us context worthy of any equation used to come to a conclusion about global migration. NR. RAY GILL JR. Virtual Cinema.
** Among the quartet of indie horror flicks streaming on Amazon Prime this October for the second annual Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology series, Bingo Hell continues along the gold-plated schlockmeister’s lighthearted, heavyhanded formula. While most Blumhouse productions depend on a steady stream of camera-ready 20-somethings cast as good-looking corpses, this darkly satirical fable focuses on a rather different demographic. Within a working-class New Orleans neighborhood recently overtaken by hipster millennials, Adriana Barraza’s hausfrau heroine Lupita can’t help but notice the sudden exodus of her elderly cohorts following the overnight appearance of a suspiciously luxe gaming emporium run by the seedily sinister Mr. Big (Richard Brake), whose widescreen rictus grin furiously chews every inch of infernal casino scenery. A premise conflating gentrification with selling one’s soul has some teeth, and the picture’s far more engaging first half clearly illustrates the plight of struggling seniors already preyed upon by a rapacious housing market well before the devil came to town. Alas, that measured world-building renders the intercut scenes of close-up carnage especially cartoonish, and however textured the victims’ backstories, their gory fates feel weirdly incidental—collateral damage in service to the larger points expressed by a none-too-clever political skit. Characters so artfully constructed should be allowed to die gracefully. NR. JAY HORTON. Amazon Prime.
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, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 99, Division, Movies on TV, Sherwood, Stark, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza, Wilsonville.
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. Fox Tower, Living Room.