Olivia Wilde's outstanding directorial debut follows two high school best friends (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) who realize they've wasted four years of high school studying instead of breaking the rules. On the last day of senior year, they pledge to find the hottest party and create some hazy memories. Of course, it's not that simple, and the girls are thrust into a series of misadventures involving hallucinogenic strawberries, mortifying Lyft rides and Alanis Morissette karaoke. But underneath the roguish shell of raunchy humor beats a heart of gold. Wilde had a strict "No Assholes" policy on set, and the results are self-evident: The young cast's naturalistic performances stem from a place of comfort, and you can tell they weren't afraid to shed their inhibitions and experiment. Billie Lourd shines in particular as a Manic Pixie Rich Witch, channeling the off-the-wall comedic instincts of her late mother, Carrie Fisher. While the comparisons to Superbad are apt (Feldstein is even Jonah Hill's little sister), the originality of the whip-smart script and empathetic direction should not be diminished—plus, the inclusion of a lesbian main character will mean the world to questioning teens. Ultimately, the vital takeaway is that nobody is one-dimensional, and neither is Booksmart. R. MIA VICINO. Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Fox Tower, Lloyd, Sherwood, Tigard, Scappoose Cinema 7.
Aladdin is the latest entry in the Walt Disney Company's ongoing effort to mitigate any and all risk in their movie offerings by rehashing past musical successes with live actors and monumentally large special effects budgets. Honestly, for an entry in the world's most cynical art-making enterprise, it's pretty enjoyable. Will Smith, who plays a beatboxing manifestation of the Genie that Robin Williams and a team of animators brought to life in the 1994 film, is better than he has any right to be, even when the movie's unnerving use of motion-capture seeks to undercut him. He spends the movie trying to get with Nasim Pedrad, which is honestly a lot of fun. There should be more movies about middle-aged women and supernatural beings forging loving, trusting relationships. Unfortunately, Aladdin isn't really about the Genie and Jasmine's handmaiden trying to make it work in this crazy world. It's about Aladdin, and the guy who plays him, Mena Massoud, is a dull singer and a wooden actor. Naomi Scott, who plays Jasmine, runs laps around him the whole movie, belting out Alan Menken's songs with precision. (Will Smith isn't a great singer, but he makes up for it by getting drowned out by the orchestra and being Will Smith.) The movie also looks…weird? Director Guy Ritchie pushes a muted palette that clashes with the special effects. The dance sequences look good, though. Not sure why there are only, like, two of them. PG. CORBIN SMITH. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Milwaukie, Moreland, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Lloyd, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Tigard, Scappoose, St. Johns Pub and Theater.
Trial by Fire
Directed by Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall), Trial by Fire is based on David Grann's 2009 article in The New Yorker of the same name about the case of Cameron Todd Willingham (played ably here by Jack O'Connell), a man executed in 2004 by the state of Texas for allegedly killing his three young daughters in a 1991 fire at their home. The case against Willingham was filled with holes, and it seems abundantly clear he was murdered by the state for a crime he didn't commit. The film examines the desperate efforts of playwright Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern) to clear his name before his execution in the face of maddening resistance from the powers that be. Dern is typically effective as Gilbert, and O'Connell seems destined for big things, but Trial by Fire is unfortunately bogged down by Zwick's heavy-handedness, which makes the film devolve quickly into clichés. Willingham's narrative is an enragingly tragic one, and as each day brings fresh headlines about "respecting life" via the abortion debate, Trial by Fire could have been a timely examination of the many hypocrisies of "pro-life" conservatives like Rick Perry (Texas' governor at the time) who are so eager to execute prisoners in the name of "justice." Sadly, this cinematic retelling of a truly appalling story is too often hamstrung by its predictability and overreliance on the audience's outrage at Willingham's plight. Dern and O'Connell—and Willingham, quite frankly—deserve better. R. DONOVAN FARLEY. Fox Tower.