TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
Drive My Car
**** After you see Drive My Car, you will never look at snow, suspension bridges or stages the same way again. When you see the world through the searching eyes of director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, there is no such thing as mere scenery. There is only the living fabric of the places and objects that envelop Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and Misaki (Tôko Miura), whose compassion and complexity are a world unto themselves. Most of the film is set in Hiroshima, where Yûsuke is directing a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Misaki is assigned to be his driver, but their relationship transcends the divide between the front seat and the back. During drives, conversations and surreal yet strangely believable adventures, their reserve gradually erodes as they reveal their losses and their inner lives to each other, building to a cathartic climax that leaves you at once shattered and soaring. The film, based on a novella by Haruki Murakami, isn’t afraid to face the agony of grief and loneliness, but Hamaguchi’s obvious love for his characters suffuses the entire journey with life-giving warmth. A tender, hopeful coda set during the pandemic could have been cringe-worthy, but like every moment of the movie, it’s worth believing in because Hamaguchi’s sincerity is beyond question. “We must keep on living,” Yûsuke tells Misaki. With those words, he speaks not only to her but to us. NR. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cinema 21, Studio One.
**** “You get older and start to realize you and your body…just ain’t the same,” says ailing jockey Jackson Silva (Clifton Collins Jr.) when his career’s finish line finally comes into view in Jockey. This brand of gristly wisdom typifies Clint Bentley’s terrific directorial debut, which is reminiscent of The Wrestler (2008) and The Rider (2017), but has a laconic cowboy wit that harks back to The Lusty Men (1952). Racing in Arizona, Jackson is one bad spill away from paralysis, while younger riders breathe down his neck personally and professionally. That’s poor timing, since his trainer, Ruth (Molly Parker), finally has a promising pony for him. While “one last ride” is obviously one of sports movies’ most popular premises, Jockey keeps a firm, deft grip on its drama, while leaning into rarely explored track subculture. Most of all, Clifton Collins Jr. capitalizes achingly on 30 years of supporting parts, subliminally suggesting that this star turn could be his last big chance too. With a Marlboro baritone, he embodies an athlete shrewd enough to know he’s washed up, but philosophically unable to admit it. From one angle, he’s in total control. From another, he’s just hanging the hell on. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Fox Tower.
*** At its outset, director Michel Franco’s new film is a study in selfishness. While vacationing in Acapulco with his sister and her children, Neal (Tim Roth) indefinitely extends his stay in paradise, though to no apparent end. Alone on the beach, he drinks a Dos Equis, graduates to a bucket of Dos Equis, and then begins to resemble a beer bucket himself, practically melting onto the sand and inviting onlookers to check whether there’s any of him left. Best known for twitching in Tarantino movies, Roth proves masterful and provoking here, even when he’s seemingly doing nothing. Though Sundown eventually forces a plot on his understated performance, Neal appears only mildly apologetic that family and locals have to deal with his masturbatory beach-bumming. But what good is a true character study when the back half of the narrative functions as an answer key? Franco’s effort to make Neal’s destructive behavior more realistic backfires almost fatally. Ultimately, Sundown flirts with brilliance when it scrutinizes the most universal of all vacation fantasies—”what if I never went back?”—but it would be nothing without Roth’s portrayal of the most pathetic Jimmy Buffett character you’ll ever see on film. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.
Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster
** Of all Boris Karloff’s acting roles, this documentary fixates on an episode of This Is Your Life. Remember that ‘50s reality show where guests became the subjects of biographical walk-throughs? Well, Karloff seemed to despise his appearance on the show. Though Thomas Hamilton’s documentary can’t pinpoint why, it returns fruitlessly to that episode as an implied key to Karloff’s private humanity. Maybe his reticence owed to trauma; the horror icon suffered a cruel mother and ostracism for his Anglo-Indian heritage, but the documentary fails to show how those wounds shaped him. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with the film—it’s a loving chronicle of Karloff’s 50-year career across film, Broadway and TV. He was relentless in his creativity; perhaps his biographies don’t have to be. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Streams on Shudder.
* The disaster movie has aged like an ‘80s hair metal band clinging to relevance in the age of grunge—and Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall is no exception. The film begins with the moon inexplicably hurtling toward Earth, but any semblance of a story is swiftly lost as Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) buries a talented cast, including Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson, beneath a frantic pace and a seemingly endless score by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker that worsens the onscreen chaos, proving that Emmerich will never match the perfect fusion of image and sound that Christopher Nolan achieved with epics like The Dark Knight Rises. The only thing that keeps Moonfall from being intolerable is the presence of John Bradley (Game of Thrones) as a clichéd yet lovable conspiracy monger who brings some life to the film, but he’s not reason enough to buy a ticket. At a time when there are better things to watch in the comfort of your living room, Moonfall isn’t worth putting on pants for, much less going to a theater and risking exposing yourself to anyone who “did their own research.” PG-13. RAY GILL JR. Cedar Hills, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland Milwaukie.