TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
*** Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun’s debut is a distressing game of digital chicken. Essentially alone in the world, teenage Casey (newcomer Anna Cobb) grows immersed in an online role-playing game called World’s Fair. It’s a horror RPG, and Casey crafts videos suggesting increasingly dark personal fantasies and, like many users, plays at transforming into a new being. Both Casey and her online followers seem to know it’s all staged, but their joint push toward the terrifying cusp of believability adds to the game’s natural momentum. Even more, participatory concern is the movie audience’s role. Interspersed between YouTube and Skype collages, we glimpse a lonely girl packaging her unknown disturbance into a fantastical realm. The more we ask, “Wait, but could this part be real?” or “What actual trauma is driving this?” the more we’re also playing World’s Fair. It’s a fascinating investigation of the liminal space that fear inhabits once a filmmaker all but mediates reality out of scary movies, though that makes for a better concept than story. Likewise, Cobb’s terrifically vulnerable performance becomes more textual than emotional. Still, don’t doubt the psychological weight of a film this creative and intelligent. Zooming miles past Unfriended and its ilk, Schoenbrun’s work lives at the piercing edge of modern horror. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. PAM CUT, April 22-23.
*** Michael Bay’s Ambulance is stupid beyond belief, but it’s also thrilling, terrifying and impressively brutal. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Danny, a career criminal who enlists his adopted brother Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to help steal $32 million from a Los Angeles bank in broad daylight. It’s an insultingly improbable setup—even if Will needs money for his wife’s “experimental surgery,” why would he agree to Danny’s delusional scheme in minutes? But once they steal an ambulance to escape the army of police officers on their trail, the movie gets into a volatile groove. By trapping a bleeding cop (Jackson White) and a hardened EMT named Cam (Eiza González) in the ambulance with the brothers, Bay creates countless possibilities for triumphant tension. When Cam has to use a hair clip to perform surgery, your heart skips a beat—and when snipers prepare to fire shots that could kill everyone in the ambulance, it nearly stops. Hyperactive editing and swooping camera movements make too much of the action a frantic blur, but there’s no denying Bay’s control over the exhilarating currents of fear that course through your mind and body as you watch. Based on a 2005 Danish film, Ambulance strikes its share of false notes, but unlike most modern action movies, it understands the difference between bombast and suspense. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
*** A hyperkinetic sci-fi/martial arts (kung fusion?) fever dream grounded in Asian American family dynamics, Everything Everywhere All at Once will be absolutely adored by some moviegoers from its very first moments. It’s a film made to be loved—and, given the sheer eye-popping technical wizardry at play throughout, nearly impossible to hate. Michelle Yeoh is typically dazzling as Evelyn Wong, a misanthropic laundromat owner called upon to save the multiverse from her daughter’s worst self (Stephanie Hsu, in a role intended for Awkwafina). Evelyn is an underwritten character, but Yeoh brings a welcome authenticity to the film, even if a performance of such finely shaded nuance isn’t the best fit for the DayGlo sensationalism of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the filmmaking duo known as Daniels (Swiss Army Man). As with Terry Gilliam, Edgar Wright or any other avant-garde sentimentalist pressing restless rhythms and visual inventiveness into the service of a wholly undeserving story, the directors effortlessly pep up the slow parts and paper over the plot holes, but when the pace calms and the fireworks die down for an emotional climax, the film moves glacially. Inevitable? Perhaps, but it’s still disappointing that Everything Everywhere All at Once is less than the sum of its dazzling parts. R. JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Cinema 21, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Hollywood, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
*** When it was announced that J.K. Rowling was unleashing five films based on a faux-academic textbook that she had assembled for charity, Harry Potter fans instantly knew two things about the coming Fantastic Beasts pentalogy: An epic saga wrung from a whimsical taxonomy was a terrible idea, and that mattered not at all. Despite the irrelevance of the concept, the IP-that-lived held enough power to birth a third adventure for cryptozoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), despite the recasting of big bad Johnny Depp, the transphobic rants from Rowling, and the tonal sea change from earlier entries’ Dr. Dolittle-esque period travelogue toward a secret agent yarn about a failed affair between arch-mages. While replacement Grindelwald Mads Mikkelsen lacks Depp’s cartoonish self-regard—which provided a romantic counterweight to the incandescence of Jude Law’s Dumbledore—his Hannibal/Bond villain brand of drolly effete cruelty brings a necessary gravitas to a story that moves through a Disney-fied Weimar Berlin with bounce and verve. It also helps that the screenplay (by Rowling and Steve Kloves) expertly seeds the voluminous exposition with fan-servicing nods, but scarcely requires prior knowledge of the titular future headmaster. Yes, this is still the Potterverse, but to the film’s eternal blessing, it needn’t always be. PG-13. JAY HORTON. Academy, Bagdad, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Eastport, Fox Tower, Pioneer Place, Lloyd Center, St. Johns, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Tigard.
*** The latest from “slow cinema” master Apichatpong Weerasethakul starts with a bang—but only literally. Jessica (Tilda Swinton), an orchid grower living in Medellín, Colombia, is awakened one night by a booming, unidentifiable sound. Along with insomnia, the noise becomes a fixture in Jessica’s life, heard only by her. In a long-term waking daze, she eventually heads into the mountains toward the sound’s origins. That said, to fixate on a Weerasethakul movie’s plot misrepresents its appeal; sensory exploration is the main attraction. In Memoria, time slows, stalls and reconstitutes itself in minuteslong unbroken takes of jazz quartets, hospital visits and even deeply poetic naps. Swinton is as committed as ever, giving a performance seemingly bare of desire, charisma and even makeup. Fans of Weerasethakul standouts like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives may be easily swept away in the Thai director’s first (partly) English-language film, but it’s difficult to speculate whether the uninitiated will find Memoria more transcendent or just tedious. There’s little spiritual enrichment to Jessica’s alienation—rather, the movie gradually positions her and the audience as infinitesimal, with identity and logic as mere blips and coincidences in spacetime. The metaphysical mysteries of the universe boom and then retreat. PG. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.
** If you like your men handsome, violent and oozing self-pity, you’ll get a kick out of The Northman, a new take on the Scandinavian legend that inspired Hamlet. It’s a satisfyingly brutish mystical epic directed by Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse, The Witch) starring Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth, a comically obsessive Viking prince. When Amleth was a boy, his father, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) was murdered by his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who then married Amleth’s mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). By the time Amleth is old enough to seek revenge, Fjölnir has lost the kingdom to a rival ruler and become a farmer, which is one of the film’s many perverse jokes—Fjölnir can never fall far enough to sate Amleth’s fury. While Amleth’s macho theatrics could have been intolerable, they’re undercut by the film’s peculiar humor. There’s a charming self-amusement behind the exaggerated Scandinavian accents of the actors—they know they’re in a bonkers movie and they’re loving it. Plenty of audiences probably will too, but save for Queen Gudrún mocking her son with a beautifully mad cackle, Eggers is a director of divided loyalties—he rebukes toxic masculinity while reveling in it. Hypocrisy is by no means fatal, but despite a glorious climactic duel on a lava-drenched volcano, The Northman leaves weary familiarity in its wake. Critiquing men like Amleth and Fjölnir? Good. Leaving them behind? Better. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Clackamas, Cinemagic, Cinema 21, City Center, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
** For the past decade, film studios have chased the culture-shattering impact of The Avengers with mixed results. Yet Sonic the Hedgehog 2 understands what made Marvel’s 2012 superhero mashup a success: not apologizing for making a children’s movie starring a cast of shiny action figures that repeatedly get smacked together. Sonic’s latest adventure is unlikely to change the lives of anyone above the age of 12, but if Sega Sammy silliness is your jam, you’re in for a wild ride. Directed by Jeff Fowler, the sequel is dominated by a sense of exploration, earnestness and, above all, fun. The action is fast-paced and creative, some of the gags are genuinely funny, and the cast is game—Idris Elba in particular has a ball voicing the ever-stoic Knuckles the Echidna, making the character both an unflappable warrior and an overgrown child trying to convince everyone of his seriousness. Outside of Jim Carrey’s gleefully maniacal Dr. Robotnik, however, the film struggles to find a purpose for its human supporting cast, to the point you begin to wonder why they even bother. Ultimately, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is at best a mostly harmless romp that keeps you entertained, or at least distracted. PG. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Academy, Cedar Hills, City Center, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Joy Cinema, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, Roseway, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland, Wunderland Milwaukie.