TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
House of Gucci
**** When Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) learns that his reign over the fashion empire that bears his name is over in House of Gucci, he howls, “I’m dead! Dead!” It’s a scene that lets Pacino turn hamming it up into high art—a talent he shares with all the actors in this sleek and sumptuous melodrama directed by Ridley Scott. House of Gucci stars Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, who in 1998 was convicted of ordering a hit on her ex-husband, Gucci heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). As Patrizia and Maurizio, Lady Gaga and Driver have scorching chemistry—when she yanks him into a bubble bath, their erotic energy nearly vaporizes the screen. Yet House of Gucci is less a love story than it is Frankenstein as a soap opera, with Maurizio as the monster and Patrizia as his creator. She ignites his ambitions, tragically sealing her fate—to be cast aside when he ousts Aldo and takes command of Gucci. With obsessive fervor, Scott drinks in the grotesque magnificence of the Gucci dynasty, savoring their elegant possessions and their operatic emotions. Maurizio Gucci may be dead, but thanks to the palpable enthusiasm of Scott and the cast, House of Gucci has hunger in its eyes, lust in its heart, and the sweet breath of decadence in its lungs. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 99, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Cornelius, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Sherwood, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza.
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, Cinema 99, Clackamas Town Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Division, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Oak Grove, Sherwood, 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, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Clackamas Town Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Vancouver Mall.
** A dazzling swirl of color bursting with irrepressible joy in every frame, Disney’s 60th animated feature, Encanto, is a wonder to behold, but the story of a South American clan blessed with extraordinary powers becomes a struggle to endure. Even though glowingly introduced by fiercely envious Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), sole member of the Madrigals born without special abilities, the gifts bestowed on her family seem ones best returned. Ever-blossoming eldest sister Isabela (Diane Guerrero) rides her ability to conjure up flowers toward de facto princesshood, while curative culinary prowess keeps Mirabel’s mom (Angie Cepeda) in the kitchen and super-strong middle sis Luisa (Jessica Darrow) relegated to nonstop labor. More creepily, shape-shifting has turned cousin Camilo schizophrenic, perfect hearing renders his sister Dolores an incurable gossip, Aunt Pepa always walks under a miniature rain cloud, and the prophecies laid out in emerald flat screen for Mirabel’s uncle effectively forced his banishment years ago. Details of the disappearance of Bruno (John Leguizamo), the black sheep in the family, begin to emerge via Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original score. We learn that his special ability is predicting the future—unwanted fates foretold that are becoming all too true. When powers begin to fade and cracks in the floorboards echo familial fissures, Mirabel embarks on a quest to piece together her uncle’s most recent visions. In other words, despite the supposed wonders of the mighty Madrigals, our heroine prefers to ditch her family and zone out watching new stories appear on a jerry-rigged iPad. Judging from the murmured dismay of a progressively less-enchanted young audience, she’s far from alone. PG. JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Tigard, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.
* Fans of Love Actually or the cursed Taylor Lautner-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 º. PG-13. GRACE CULHANE. On Demand.