Your Weekly Roundup of New Movies: “The Power of the Dog” Is a Triumphantly Suspenseful Western

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

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The Power of the Dog

**** When Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) sees Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) watching him bathe outdoors in The Power of the Dog, he shouts and calls him a little bitch. It’s a terrifying moment, but it’s also the start of a twisted friendship that defines this triumphantly suspenseful Western directed by Jane Campion (The Piano, Top of the Lake). Based on a novel by Thomas Savage and set in 1925, The Power of the Dog takes place on a Montana cattle ranch where the stench of resentment is equal to the odor of manure. Seething over the marriage of his brother (Jesse Plemons) to a widow named Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil torments them both. His ultimate revenge on Rose? Grooming Peter, her teenage son, to be his protégé—and perhaps something more. Violence is inevitable, but Campion is more interested in the tragic erosion of Rose’s dignity and the anguish that Phil experiences as a closeted gay man in a tyrannically heteronormative world. By capturing Phil’s dangerous petulance and haunting vulnerability, Cumberbatch makes the character worthy of both our revulsion and our compassion. If you see the film, you may despise him, but like Peter, you won’t be able to look away. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Hollywood, Netflix.

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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, Cinemagic, City Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Sherwood, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Studio One, Tigard.

Citizen Ashe

*** Arthur Ashe may have broken tennis’s racial barriers in the early 1960s, but when it came to finding his place among the era’s activist Black athletes, he was a late bloomer. At its most insightful, the new documentary from Rex Miller (Althea) and Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI) infers that Ashe’s gradual discovery of his voice on civil rights was due to his internalizing a back-breaking perfectionism and respectability streak while thriving in America’s whitest major sport. In this way, Citizen Ashe examines an athlete who’s reduced, however ironically, to groundbreaker status. But what of the man himself? Sometimes even the film isn’t sure. The closing credits reveal Ashe’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, displaying the depths of his library. This evidence of an intellectual thirst stands out as one of the film’s few journalistic moments as opposed to straight biography. Mostly, Citizen Ashe functions and compels as your average 30 for 30-level sports doc. The details of Ashe’s ingenious gambit against Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1975 are riveting, and activist Harry Edwards fascinatingly assesses the covert radicalism of Ashe’s anti-apartheid rhetoric. In the end, saddled with the inevitable details of Ashe’s tragic health issues, Citizen Ashe settles for the simple conclusion that he was a great man. It’s not wrong. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. HBO Max.

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.

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, Cascade, Cinema 21, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Sherwood, Vancouver Mall.

Encanto

** 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, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lake Theater & Cafe, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.

13 Minutes

* 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.