TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
**** Big House answers the question none of us were asking: What if mumblecore met The Real World? The film opens on half-sisters Claire (Ellie Reed) and Ali (Paige Collins) arriving at their father’s vacation house. It’s Claire’s birthday weekend, and they’ve brought their boyfriends along to celebrate. As the couples unpack, we learn more about this odd, tiki-themed pad where the ladies have set up shop. They’re staying at their father’s “honey house,” the tropical beach abode where he once took his mistresses. Even juicier, we discover that history is repeating itself: Claire has a fiancé, but she’s left him at home while she cozies up with the nerdy, endearing co-worker she’s taken as a lover. Big House was shot in just two days with improv-heavy dialogue, and you can hear it in the mumblecore-style exchanges. Often shot at close—even claustrophobic—range, with audio that lingers even after the scenes change, the movie has a hazy, confined quality. It’s a tone that fits with the broader questions about monogamy and transparency that writer-director Jack Lawrence Mayer is raising through the sisters’ romantic arcs. The script is witty, and the acting is natural and often resonant, particularly Michael Molina’s turn as Claire’s awkward, unappreciated lover String. The finale does take a turn for the Real Housewives, but after shaking the proverbial soda can for 90 minutes, the explosion feels earned. NR. GRACE CULHANE. Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube.
The Green Knight
**** With A Ghost Story, director David Lowery demonstrated he was a master of dreamy wonderment. Yet that film never hinted he was capable of creating The Green Knight, a romantic fantasy so overwhelming it leaves you shivering in awe of cinema’s possibilities. Dev Patel stars as Sir Gawain, a callow adventurer who must repay a debt to his nemesis, the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). As their final confrontation looms, Gawain wanders, encountering giants, a talking fox and a noblewoman (Alicia Vikander) who challenges his sexual timidity. Vikander also plays Essel, a sex worker with whom Gawain is in love, creating the impression that a single soul is guiding his journey in different forms. All of this strangeness makes perfect sense in Lowery’s universe, which modernizes the 14th century epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. While Gawain hungers for greatness, Essel asks him, “Why is goodness not enough?” The Green Knight matters, but not as much as Gawain’s acts of compassion, like helping a violated spirit (Erin Kellyman) find peace. It is possible to simply bask in the film’s surreal visions—like a beautifully haunting shot of Gawain and the fox walking along a ridge at night—but the wisest moviegoers will also cheer its rejection of hollow patriarchal glories and embrace its conviction that goodness is more than enough. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Studio One, Tigard.
**** Bill Baker (Matt Damon) has a new life. After a career working on oil rigs, he has moved to Marseilles, started dating an actress named Virginie (Camille Cottin) and become a father to her daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). Yet Bill didn’t plan to forge a new family. He left his home in Stillwater, Okla., because his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin), was convicted of murdering her college roommate and has been languishing in a French prison for five years. While a wimpier film would have turned Bill’s dogged quest to prove Allison’s innocence into a righteous tale of a hometown hero battling foreign evils, Stillwater’s sharp emotional claws shred Bill’s moral authority and the myth of American exceptionalism. In ways both shocking and right, director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight, The Station Agent) reinvents the story seemingly in real time. Mystery and melodrama give way to romance, which gives way to horrific vigilantism and a reckoning with the anguish and delusions of America’s white working class. Late in the film, Bill stares at Stillwater and claims that he no longer recognizes it, but the truth is that he also no longer recognizes himself. Like us, he’s seen too much. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 99, City Center, Clackamas Town Center, Division, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Sherwood, Vancouver Mall, Wilsonville.
Small Town News: KPVM Pahrump
*** A charming docuseries about an independent news station 60 long miles west of Las Vegas might seem the ultimate slice-of-life piece. Nothing seismic happens at KPVM. The station struggles to raise money and retain talent. It reports on petty desert crimes and livestock interest stories. Its founder, Vern Van Winkle, dreams of getting an antenna that will allow the broadcast to reach Vegas. But the mundanity of Small Town News belies its existence at an event horizon of creative nonfiction, reality television and 25 years of mockumentary comedy. Some of the show’s riotous yet eerie highlights depict station employees giving self-deluded pep talks worthy of Michael Scott or revealing their secret soft rock à la David Brent. The new weatherman in Pahrump could rival Fred Willard in any Christopher Guest outing for witless mugging. What’s more, the creators edit and score the show to play more like Waiting for Guffman than the actual documentary it purports to be. Two episodes in, that certainly renders Small Town News a gold mine of tomfoolery, but it’s never going to feel totally right finessing human beings into caricature, no matter how lucky the find or how funny the form. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. HBO, HBO Max.
** The premise of Free Guy is so smart it almost makes you forget the movie is stupid. In a video game called Free City, a background character (Ryan Reynolds) gains sentience and teams up with Molotov Girl, the avatar of a gifted game designer (Jodie Comer) searching for dirt on Antoine (Taika Waititi), the shameless, swaggering mogul behind Free City. The film is basically a comedic riff on The Truman Show and Ready Player One, and for a while, it’s clever fun. Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) is an action ace—a garage battle that pits knife against steering wheel is a thing of kinetic beauty—and Comer relishes Molotov Girl’s goofy affections, including her artfully disheveled dark hair and faux-Emily Blunt accent. The movie is bursting with good vibes, but they get crushed by the climax: a bland brawl that bluntly reminds viewers they’re watching a Disney product. It’s sad to see storytelling shoved aside in favor of obnoxious cross-promotional gimmicks like Reynolds wielding a lightsaber and carrying Captain America’s shield. It’s even sadder that next to abysmal recent Disney films like Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, Free Guy looks like art. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, St. Johns Theater & Pub, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Studio One, Tigard.
The Suicide Squad
** In one of the most memorable scenes in The Suicide Squad, a giant shark with the voice of Sylvester Stallone is repeatedly bitten by a school of deceptively cute-looking fish. Why? Because the film was directed by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), who likes to blend sweetness and savagery until you can barely tell the difference. The Suicide Squad directs his gruesome imagination toward Task Force X, a gaggle of superpowered convicts who invade a fictional Latin American nation called Corto Maltese in exchange for reduced prison sentences. The cast—which includes Idris Elba, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie and John Cena—is charismatic, but it would take more than good acting to redeem Gunn’s warped world. While the film depicts the murder of a main character as a tragedy, it plays a boomerang slicing an anonymous soldier’s head in half as a joke, suggesting that Gunn thinks violence is funny as long as it happens to other people. It’s a disturbing perspective, especially since it goes hand in hand with the film’s absurd conviction that Task Force X’s brutal brand of American interventionism could actually bring democracy to Corto Maltese. The Suicide Squad may be based on a DC comic book, but its ideal audience isn’t your average superhero fan. It’s George W. Bush. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, HBO Max, Lloyd Center, Laurelhurst, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland Milwaukie.
* Eighteen years ago, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl took the unholy idea of a film adaptation of a Disneyland ride and slathered it with subversiveness and eyeliner. Yet instead of admitting that Black Pearl was a corporate product that had personality almost by accident, the House of Mouse unleashed Haunted Mansion, four Pirates sequels and now Jungle Cruise, a bludgeoning voyage from Jaume Collett-Serra, director of four Liam Neeson action movies. Dwayne Johnson stars as Frank Wolff, a skipper helping two British explorers (Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall) search the Amazon for magic flower petals called the Tears of the Moon during World War I. The story is absurd, but it isn’t messy enough for Jungle Cruise to be a batshit B-movie. Collett-Serra mechanically serves up stingy doses of action, humor and romance—watching his film is like watching an alien try to create a summer blockbuster based on a checklist. Jungle Cruise may be a movie, but it isn’t cinema. It’s a Disney film that wasn’t made by Lucasfilm, Marvel or Pixar, which is another way of saying it’s from a studio currently better at buying dreams than creating its own. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Dine-In Progress Ridge, Disney+, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.