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Your Weekly Roundup of New Movies: “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” Profiling the Famous Painter of Psychedelic Cats, Is Not a Normal Biopic

What to see and skip while streaming or going to the theater.

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

*** Fans of cats and Benedict Cumberbatch, get ready to purr. With manic charm and moving grace, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain welcomes us into the psychedelic world of Wain (Cumberbatch), a real-life English artist who brought whimsy and wonderment to the Victorian era with his feline-filled drawings and paintings. The film begins with an elderly Wain withering in an asylum, but it swiftly skips back to his marriage to Emily Richardson-Wain (Claire Foy), a fellow cat lover. When she dies of breast cancer, Wain becomes such a cat fanatic that his mind starts to reshape the world to his liking. When he looks at people, their heads sprout fur and whiskers, and when he looks at cats, they talk to him via subtitles. These fantastical touches are not standard biopic fare, but the film’s last half reveals the fragility of its decadeslong narrative—it’s so anxious to get to Wain’s death that it doesn’t take enough time to savor his life. Yet the gleam of Louis and Emily’s love brightens the movie long after she’s gone. When he tells her she makes the world beautiful, she simply tells him that the world is already beautiful. By finding sweet silliness in everyday life, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain proves her right. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Amazon Prime, Living Room.

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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, Eastport Plaza, Fox Tower, Movies on TV.

Last Night in Soho

***1/2 Of all the spectral menaces bedeviling Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie), fresh-faced protagonist of the marvelous new paranormal thriller Last Night in Soho, the worst moments of vicarious dread occur early on as the rural scholarship student first braves her couture-draped classmates at a chic central London fashion institute. Soon fleeing an insufferable roommate (Synnove Karlsen), our plucky homespun heroine chances upon a boarding house flat with a stern landlady (the ever-imperious Diana Rigg’s final role) and dusty furnishings. The first evening Ellie lays herself down to sleep while spinning 45s, she’s transported back to swinging ‘60s Soho, where she meets Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), a striving chanteuse whose perspective Ellie giddily adopts during what become nightly visitations. Even without Matt Smith’s heel turn as Sandy’s abusive manager/paramour, the storyline’s guiding conceit threatens an all-too-Whovian clever-clever irrelevance, but director Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Hot Fuzz) pivots gracefully from rom-com to sumptuous period musical to snark-free Hammer horror, committing fully to each disparate genre. Whatever whiff of glib vacuity lurked beneath the sleekened charms of Wright’s earlier films, Last Night in Soho leans into every stylistic flourish as further illustration of the retro delights binding Ellie to the past while also seamlessly disguising the plot’s inevitable twists. Audiences needn’t be oversold on the dangers that await a damsel falling head over heels for the wrong man or the wrong era. The trick lies in convincing us why she’d keep coming back. R. JAY HORTON. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Studio One, 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. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Living Room, McMinnville.

Dune

* 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. Cedar Hills, Cinemagic, 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.

Eternals

* After releasing a few dozen era-defining blockbusters, the MCU industrial complex’s amazing, incredible, uncanny dominion has become a genre unto itself. A generation grew up trusting feature films told in the Mighty Marvel Manner to guarantee damnably effective pop operas brimming with inventive action, droll charm and uncommon verve. With great power comes great responsibility, alas, and Eternals proves nothing lasts forever. Ostensibly fleshing out the origins of yet more legendary heroes remembered only by the superfans, this latest MCU release follows the path of immortal warriors and sages sent earthward millennia ago to protect a young humanity from the Deviant, a scourge of planet-hopping alien beasties. It becomes clear that scattershot casting created this ensemble—mujer fatale Salma Hayek’s all-mother Ajak, indie horror tot Lia McHugh’s illusionist Sprite, sitcom vet Kumail Nanjiani’s energy bolt-wielding Kingo, fan-fic fave Richard Madden’s superishman Ikarus. The result is an utter failure to convey even the uneasy intimacy of long-term co-workers, much less supposed family. (Angelina Jolie’s Thena, icily drifting through her scenes like a botoxed glacier, seems always to be meeting the others anew.) As a popcorn-munching spectacle, the 2D characters and garbled narrative drain rote punch-’em-ups of emotive purpose, and director Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) leans into a tonal confusion overly fond of the reflective pause that renders every explosion more disconnected. Bloated with artless pretensions and self-important sanctimony, beholden to a convoluted backstory that could never justify the endless exposition, Eternals arrives as Marvel’s greatest failure and feels like the worst Power Rangers adaptation yet conceived. Face plant, true believers! PG-13. JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Cornelius, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Fox Tower, Lake Theater & Cafe, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Studio One, Tigard.