TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
*** “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. Bridgeport, Fox Tower, Movies on TV.
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, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, St. Johns Theater & Pub, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Studio One, Tigard.
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.
** 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, Cinema 99, Tigard.
The French Dispatch
** A prison guard becomes an inmate’s muse. A reporter beds a budding activist. A police commissioner’s son is abducted by a criminal called The Chauffeur. Those are the stories that define director Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, a perky anthology of tales from a fictional publication called The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun. The film was inspired by articles from The New Yorker, but its blend of pastel colors and deadpan wit is pure Anderson. His direction is painfully precise—even a clash between protesters and police looks like a series of still images—and it threatens to squeeze the life out of a cast that includes Bill Murray, Benicio del Toro, Timothée Chalamet and Jeffrey Wright. Yet Anderson’s fussiness isn’t half as troubling as his attitude toward the film’s female journalists, including J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) and Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand). Both of them lust after the subjects of their articles, a toxic trope that Anderson deploys without a hint of his trademark irony. Some of his early films—particularly Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums—have aged with good-natured grace, but The French Dispatch proves he has a long way to go if he wants to be the clever and compassionate comedian he once was. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cinema 21.
* A new menace is loose in the universe. His diabolical plan? To bore moviegoers until they lose consciousness. His name? Director Denis Villeneuve. After the haunting poetry of Arrival and the dreamy romanticism of Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve seemed incapable of creating a bad sci-fi film. Yet he’s done it with his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s hulking 1965 novel Dune, which follows the ponderous adventures of the callow nobleman Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) on the desert planet Arrakis. The film keeps hinting at Paul’s potential to become an interplanetary messiah, but Chalamet is so wan and lifeless it’s difficult to care whether the character lives or dies. Rebecca Ferguson adds some fiery charisma as Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica, but Villeneuve buries her performance beneath a seemingly endless stream of information about the politics, rituals and ecology of Arrakis. He cares more about world-building than storytelling, which is why watching Dune feels like reading an excruciatingly dry textbook instead of experiencing a movie. Some people will see the existence of a big-budget, 155-minute art film as a sign of hope in a cinematic landscape strewn with superhero bombast, but Dune isn’t salvation. It’s a stark reminder that pretentiousness can be just as punishing as commercialism. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinemagic, City Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lake Theater & Cafe, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Studio One, Tigard.