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.
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. Bridgeport, City Center, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Studio One, Tigard.
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.
** 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, Keri Russell stars as Julia, an elementary schoolteacher 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-intentioned 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. Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza.
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
** Like all the great ones, the latest from Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude opens with uncensored pornography. Next, it’s 30 mind-numbing minutes of a teacher (Katia Pascariu) wandering Bucharest, while the camera insinuates that billboards and toy ads are perhaps pornographic as well. Then comes an enjoyable glossary interlude, balancing terms of human history with the Romanian Urban Dictionary. Finally, it’s the trial of the century, as we discover the aforementioned teacher, Emi, actually appeared in the opening adult videos, while her school’s parents make an inquisition out of it. All in all, a real mix of antic social commentary and blowjobs. Hot pink title cards and ragtime music nowhere near mask a seething hatred for the country’s autocratic past and what’s portrayed through the third act’s kangaroo court as a misogynistic, anti-Semitic present. There’s distinct bravery in taking a bite this big and mean out of one’s own country, but it’s also far too much to chew: city planning, Fox News, rape culture, genocide, pandemic conspiracies. The film might be polemical if it focused. None of this really explains Bad Luck Banging’s Golden Bear win at the Berlin International Film Festival. Maybe an award for Best Whiplash would be more appropriate. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.
** 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, Vancouver Mall.
* Fans of Love Actually or the cursed Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift vehicle Valentine’s Day may find elements of 13 Minutes familiar. The film follows in the grand tradition of clunky ensemble flicks that are totally devoid of substance. The only difference here is that most of those movies are lighthearted and actually fun to watch. 13 Minutes isn’t fun, nor is it meant to be. It follows the residents of a small Oklahoma town as they navigate their daily lives just before a tornado is about to hit. While the premise is interesting, writers Travis Farncombe and Lindsay Gossling are entirely to blame for the film’s many failures. The script is grisly and exploitative—a half-baked tragedy porn about stock characters who feel like they were written by a bot. In fact, the whole script has an AI-generated quality. The writers seemed to pick from a grab bag of Important Social Topics, among them: abortion and crisis pregnancy centers, homophobia, racism, barriers to medical access, and immigration. Each plotline is introduced and then abruptly abandoned or, worse, wrapped up with a jerky, treacly sincerity that totally flattens the very real problems the characters face. You’d be better off streaming He’s Just Not That Into You. PG-13. GRACE CULHANE. On Demand.