*** This oblique space mystery from French master Claire Denis (Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day) opens on a dewy garden. The shot is silent, striking and typical of this would-be sci-fi epic that ends up having precious little to do with its setup—death-row inmates voyaging toward a black hole while a mad scientist harvests their reproductive material. Ignore the forest for the beautiful actors (Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche) and the suggestion of plot twists at your own peril. That would only support the film's chilly views that humans perceive what they desire. Launch us into the deepest voids of space, and we believe it's for glory; strand us in a floating box, and Adam and Eve complexes are soon to take hold. Deep as it runs thematically, High Life isn't note-perfect. Sputtering dialogue foregrounds a few curious resets in the story that seem meant to ensure the audience, or perhaps distributor A24, is on board. But "on board with what?" you may ask, trying to deal with three timelines and scenes of ecstatic sexual experimentation inside something literally called the "fuckbox." Don't fight it. High Life would tell us the only path to hope is surrender. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport, Clackamas, Fox Tower.
The Beach Bum
*** Matthew McConaughey rejuvenated his career the moment he drawled "time is a flat circle" for all the internet to hear. But the 49-year-old star is arguably his best self—from Dazed and Confused to those laughable Lincoln commercials—when he makes time appear to stop completely. His is the charm of having absolutely nowhere to be. That's a quality taken to its funhouse extreme in Harmony Korine's The Beach Bum, a half-empty Corona of a movie. As a Key West burnout called Moondog, who's also somehow a universally respected poet, McConaughey roves a hedonistic world. He beats bongos with a python wrapped around his bare chest, pleasure-cruises with Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Buffett, twerks alone in a monsoon and wears a roach as a lip accessory. As with all Korine films (Spring Breakers, Kids), The Beach Bum is grossly imperfect. If it's meaning or morality you seek from this formless tale of an addict largely ignoring his family and winning literary acclaim for his sexualized doggerel, you're liable to feel the movie is mocking your efforts. Best to simply bask in one of the more ludicrous performances an A-list actor has ever committed to the screen. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Academy, City Center, Fox Tower.
*** Nearly 30 years after the original film adaptation of Stephen King's seminal horror novel of the same name hit theaters, we're getting an updated version of Pet Sematary that dumps the campiness for bone-chilling scares. Whereas Mary Lambert's 1989 movie (with a screenplay by King himself) only touched upon the utterly macabre, death-obsessed premise of the source material, this remake relishes in its darkness. Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have boldly altered some key points of the narrative that have King purists up in arms, but those changes absolutely work onscreen. Jason Clark and Amy Seimetz are good as the Creed parents who've moved their family to rural Maine, where they discover a mysterious burial ground near their new house. But it's newcomer Jeté Laurence as Ellie Creed who carries the film into truly frightening territory with her performance. King's books have been notoriously inconsistent when turned into movies, but Pet Sematary follows the recent It reboot as deserving cinematic tributes to horror's most popular writer, perhaps ushering in a golden age for adaptations of King's work. Pet Sematary isn't perfect, but its flaws are minimal enough to make it a fun and hair-raising escape from the actual horrors of the world, which is exactly what one wants from anything tied to Stephen King. R. DONOVAN FARLEY. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Division, Eastport, Laurelhurst, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Tigard.
** Shazam! is a superhero movie that would have been better without superheroics. Set in Philadelphia and based on DC Comics' revival of the original Captain Marvel in the 1970s, the film reveals the sensationalized yet dull adventures of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a 14-year-old who is granted the power to transform into Shazam (Zachary Levi), an adult superhero with a crimson bodysuit and an obnoxious personality. He spends a lot of time facing the maniacal, though oddly joyless, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) in unimaginative battles that are responsible for the movie's excessive 132-minute running time. Yet when Shazam! lingers on the foster home where Billy lives, it is genuinely charming and moving. The home—run by a couple, Victor and Rosa Vasquez (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans), and populated by promising young actors—is a place where hard-working misfits unite to build a beautiful family, overcoming differences of age, gender and race. That's the truest heroism in the film and the reason Shazam!'s theatrics are meaningless next to the defiant words that adorn a bumper sticker that belongs to Rosa: "I'm a foster mom: What's your superpower?" PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Living Room, Lloyd, Moreland, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Roseway, Scappoose, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver.