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Your Weekly Roundup of New Movies: “They Say Nothing Stays the Same” Is a Twilight Portrait of a Community Fixture in Japan

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

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK

They Say Nothing Stays the Same

*** Every day, Toichi ferries villagers across a remote Japanese river in an unspecified age, watching the construction of a bridge that will mark his obsolescence. Still, Toichi doesn’t much seem to care, as star Akira Emoto (Dr. Akagi) embodies a weathered loner accustomed to experiencing life, like the wind on the water, just befalling him. The fabulist core of Japanese actor-musician Joe Odagiri’s directorial debut bolsters and deepens its twilight portrait of a community fixture that many passengers view as an Old World inconvenience soon to be resolved. But Toichi is also an impassable conduit for their aspirations, grief and violence unfolding beyond the little-seen banks, especially in the form of an abandoned young woman (Ririka Kawashima), whom he finds floating unconscious in the river and nurses to health. All the while, he questions whether she arrived at his shack as the result of some local crime or by more supernatural means. In this stretch of the plot, despite frequent Wong Kar-wai collaborator and cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s unmatched eye for beauty, the film suffers badly from leaping into interstitials of horror, folklore and dreamscapes nowhere near as convincing as the film’s main visual palette and pacing. Thankfully, it always returns to rowing up and down this boatman’s elegy—poignant, calming and inevitable with each oar stroke. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. On Demand, Virtual Cinema.

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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. City Center, 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, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Tigard.

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.

Antlers

** As far as faux-Oregon movies go, Antlers tries tapping into relevancy. Set in the fictional town of Cispus Falls—but shot largely in Hope, British Columbia—director Scott Cooper’s horror debut tangles with rural poverty, addiction, environmental pillaging and indigenous erasure that literalize into a monster. In this case, the monster is a Wendigo—the cannibalistic, horned humanoid of many Algonquin-speaking tribes’ folklore. In a town analogous to any number of isolated Northwest Oregon highway communities, Kerri Russell stars as Julia, an elementary school teacher in the midst of an uneasy homecoming. Grappling with her own troubled past, Julia fixates on a frail, introverted student, Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas), whose bloodthirsty family of beasts that appear in his class drawings imply that just maybe all is not well at home. With her brother the sheriff (Jesse Plemons) in tow, Julia gradually strives to scope out the Weavers’ dilapidated home. Antlers is based on a short story about a well-intended young teacher playing savior in rotting Appalachia. While Cooper’s film maintains that mood, it’s mired in additional paint-by-numbers screenwriting. Combine that with Cooper’s inexperience directing horror, and it’s a superficially polished, well-acted movie that gravely stammers through a repetitive 95 minutes. To be fair, Antlers does possess one unexpected screenwriting flourish that pivots the movie away from hillbilly exploitation. But that sensitivity and the care that went into consulting on Wendigo lore with Native artists and experts amounts to very little. Honestly, check out last year’s Blood Quantum if you seek a recent, well-done First Nations horror movie. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport, City Center, Cornelius, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Sherwood, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza.

Belfast

** Near the end of director Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan dance to “Everlasting Love,” Love Affair’s lustrous anthem of desire, regret and hope. It’s an intoxicating scene, but it’s also an outlier. Burdened by a suffocating cloak of nostalgia, Belfast is unable to reconcile the demands of a tale defined by trauma and a director who can’t stop gazing wistfully into the past. The setting is Ireland and the year is 1969, during the 30-year clash between Catholics and Protestants known as the Troubles. Sectarian violence rages, but religious battles hold no interest for Buddy (Jude Hill), a young Protestant who’s happiest watching movies like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with his parents (Balfe and Dornan). Based in part on Branagh’s childhood, Belfast is a safe, smooth film where kids are adorably spunky and life has a never-ending Van Morrison soundtrack. Branagh seems to be trying to get away from the glorious excesses of his Shakespeare films, but restraint doesn’t suit him—nothing in Belfast is so vibrant and truthful as the sight of him jubilantly frolicking in a fountain in 1993′s Much Ado About Nothing. If the play is still the thing for Branagh, it’s because he speaks more eloquently through the stories of others than he does through his own. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Clackamas Town Center, Fox Tower, Living Room.

Eternals

* After releasing a few dozen era-defining blockbusters, the MCU industrial complex’s amazing, incredible, uncanny dominion has become a genre unto itself. But with great power comes great responsibility, alas, and Eternals proves nothing lasts forever. 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. 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, Cinemagic, City Center, Evergreen Parkway, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.