Your Weekly Roundup of New Movies: Zoë Kravitz Confronts Tech Malfeasance in “Kimi”

The film proves that director Steven Soderbergh is Hollywood’s most prolific shapeshifter.

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Kimi

*** The latest from director Steven Soderbergh, Hollywood’s most prolific shapeshifter, opens with a swipe at relevance. Locked in her Seattle apartment with crippling pandemic anxiety, tech worker Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz) discovers a Kimi recording (think Siri or Alexa) of a possible violent crime. By reporting it, she’s thrust into a spiral of tech malfeasance: shady IPOs, hackers and surveillance. But once the movie’s thriller elements accelerate, David Koepp’s script resorts to tired tropes, borrowing shamelessly from Rear Window, Blow Out, The Firm and even Koepp’s own Panic Room screenplay. No points for originality, but Soderbergh’s eternal wit and curiosity elevate the material. He portrays Kimi (voiced by Betsy Brantley) as both latent and central—a paradoxically powerful MacGuffin—while visually and thematically capturing Angela’s domestic existence. She’s curated a stylish, spacious, gentrified apartment (complete with untouched vinyl, guitars and gathering areas), but for all her elegant taste, the animating force in her world is Kimi, a pink gadget identical to millions of others. Clear-eyed tech observations suit Soderbergh, who’s traded Ocean’s romps and Oscars for intelligent, inexpensive streaming efforts (No Sudden Move, Let Them All Talk) that drop without fanfare every eight months or so. If Kimi’s best moments keenly probe the behavior of the housebound, it’s no wonder. In 2022, that’s where Soderbergh finds us all. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. HBO Max.

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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, Hollywood.

A Hero

**** Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi seems poised to become a household name among film buffs around the world following the release of this latest project. He’s already snagged two Academy Awards and most recently won the Best Director Award at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival in November 2021, and A Hero is now a leading Oscar contender in the Best International Feature Film category. It begins simply with the main character, Rahim, played with a quiet grace by acclaimed Iranian theater and film actor Amir Jadidi, walking out of prison and into the Iranian urban landscape. Over the course of two days, we learn Rahim was incarcerated because he couldn’t repay a debt and, upon his release, he attempts to start fresh and even performs a good deed. Of course, as the saying goes, such righteous actions never go unpunished. Farhadi never insults his audience with obvious exposition. The viewer is left to discover who Rahim is, the various characters’ motivations, and who the stories’ villains and heroes are. All of the film’s atmosphere and emotional drive is delivered with naturalistic faithfulness by the actors, and ambient street noise replaces a contrived score to emphasize that tone. The story unfolds exactly how it’s introduced by the main character. With a quiet grace. PG-13. RAY GILL JR. Amazon Prime.

I Want You Back

*** I Want You Back, directed by Jason Orley (Big Time Adolescence), contains so many lazy rom-com tropes it feels like a parody, but it still has enough genuine laughs to be worthwhile for fans of the genre. The story follows the high jinks of Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate), who randomly meet as they are struggling to cope with recent breakups. Drunk with courage, the two decide to sabotage their exes’ new relationships in a convoluted plan to win them back. It’s a cringy premise, but Slate’s ability to find comedic moments in scenes that have no business being funny makes Emma easy to root for, even though you probably shouldn’t. Day, on the other hand, can’t elevate the film’s generic writing. His character is a morally inconsistent jerk, despite the fact that the film constantly tells us he’s a “nice guy.” It’s purely because of Slate’s performance that the film avoids being a clichéd bore and becomes something surprisingly fun and heartfelt. R. RAY GILL JR. Amazon Prime.

Marry Me

*** In the most rousing scene in the 2002 romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan, Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) tells her mother, “I’m going to take that chance without any fear. Without your voice in my head telling me that I can’t.” Given the genre, you might guess that she was talking about marriage, but you would be wrong. She was talking about her dream of being a manager at a hotel, but Lopez spoke those words with the level of passion that many actors reserve for romantic love, proving that she possessed the power to make a rom-com more than a frictionless fantasy. At least some of that spirit lives on in Marry Me, which stars Lopez as a pop goddess who falls for a guileless math teacher (Owen Wilson). It’s a slick, shiny film—the emotional roughness of Maid is a distant memory—but Lopez’s performance invests it with more passion and pathos than it deserves, and Wilson is perfectly cast as a guy who’s frightened by the intensity of his desire to bask in her glow. Best of all, Lopez sings several original songs, including the swoon-worthy “After Love.” She and Wilson have chemistry, but her singing is a chemical reaction in and of itself. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Peacock, Pioneer Place, Studio One.

Sundown

*** 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 into 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.

Breaking Bread

** When Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel declares there’s “no room for politics in the kitchen,” she sets the table for a harmonious food festival and this one-note documentary about it. Celebrated as the first Muslim Arab to win Israel’s MasterChef contest, she spearheads the A-Sham Arabic Food Festival, which sees Jewish and Muslim chefs exchange traditions and revitalize a forgotten culinary unity. While viewers hoping for a Food Network experience in the theater might be nourished (there is much slow-motion hummus), the film fails to reckon with the specter of ceaseless conflict. Forget religious debates; the chefs don’t even haggle over seasoning. In their world of apparently secularized, middle-class liberalism, all parties go swimmingly. To the limited extent we see locals dine, they dig the food, but in the doc’s waning moments, Atamna-Ismaeel insists, without evidence, that hearts and minds have been changed by the festival. While messages of peace warrant repeating, Breaking Bread essentially spends 80 minutes claiming that “food is the universal language.” Ironically, it’s missing a diversity of flavor. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.