YOU HURT MY FEELINGS
*** Is Nicole Holofcener’s cup half-full or half-empty? Both, judging by You Hurt My Feelings, which she wrote and directed. This witty, perceptive film explores everyday dichotomies between truth and lies, encouragement and abuse, haves and have-nots. Beth (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who proves again she’s adept at serious comedy) and Don (Tobias Menzies) are a long-married couple so cozy with each other they don’t mind licking the same ice cream cone. But when Beth, a writer, overhears Don say he doesn’t like her newest manuscript (even though he’s repeatedly told her he loves it), she loses her trust in him and her own abilities. The film asks how much harm we cause by telling well-meant white lies; has Beth, for example, put too much pressure on their pot-selling son by cheerfully insisting he’s destined to do great things? As the daughter of a man who called her “stupid” and “shit for brains,” though, she’s still lacerated by the memory of her late father’s slurs. All the characters in the film get tangled in webs of self-doubt, while also recognizing their privilege in a melting world, as Beth’s sister, Sarah (played by a splendid Michaela Watkins), says. Still, private dramas matter, and when Beth cries over her husband’s betrayal, the psychic pain on her face is as real as any physical wound. R. LINDA FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Clackamas, Fox Tower, Movies on TV, Vancouver Mall.
THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS
*** The luminous cinematography of Ruben Impens takes the lead until filmmakers Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix van Groeningen allow their characters to wrestle it back in this adaptation of Paolo Cognetti’s 2016 novel, which took home a Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film embarks on a four-decade journey with Pietro (Lupo Barbiero), whom we first met as an 11-year-old city kid in 1984. His family has rented a house in a small mountain village for the summer. There, he’s introduced to the only other child in town, Bruno (Cristiano Sassella), who lives and works with his aunt and uncle. Each summer, Pietro returns, cultivating their friendship until they’re separated by diverging paths not of their choosing. Then, the boys reunite several years later, with unspoken envy frustrating any efforts to recapture that idyllic childhood connection. As the film progresses, the captivating imagery washes away, revealing a gruff reality resulting from the characters’ inability to communicate and the hidden traumas caused by their fathers. The oscillating nature of their friendship gets tedious over the two-and-a-half-hour runtime, but the film movingly explores family and identity, asking, “Can we truly ever go home again?” NR. RAY GILL JR. Cinema 21.
*** In this 10th Fast & Furious film, Vin Diesel neutralizes a bomb with a construction crane, John Cena disguises a spy plane as a canoe, and Jason Momoa paints the toenails of a corpse. Yet the real insanity was happening behind the camera. A week into filming, longtime Fast director Justin Lin quit the film, reportedly declaring, “This movie is not worth my mental health.” It was Lin who solidified the series’ signature blend of working-class vengeance (destroying a bank with a vault!), absurdist action (Ludacris and Tyrese in space!) and impassioned melodrama (family!). His journeyman replacement, Louis Leterrier (The Transporter), was never going to match Lin’s idiosyncratic flair, but he has made an appealingly sincere spectacle. This time, Dom Toretto (Diesel) and his family of street racers/de facto special forces agents are pursued by Dante (Momoa), a preening psychopath who vows vengeance on Dom for reasons too convoluted to explain here. Automotive insanity ensues, much of it rote; it’s touches of tenderness that make the movie—from a vignette about a grieving hotshot driver (Daniela Melchior) to a mid-car-chase testament of love from Cena’s Jakob to his brother Dom (“thank you for showing me the light”). There will never again be a Fast & Furious flick as gonzo and glorious as Tokyo Drift or Fast Five (even devout fans can sense the wind is no longer at the franchise’s back), but the series’ movingly messy humanity is intact. Which is another way of saying that Leterrier is at the wheel of a car that Lin built. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cedar Hills, Cinemagic, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin, Studio One.
THE LITTLE MERMAID
*** Disney’s ongoing project to make live-action adaptations of its animated classics has thus far delivered mixed results at the best of times, but it’s an especially risky move when the House of Mouse tackles projects from its Renaissance era. The early ‘90s was when Disney perfected its formula for animated blockbusters, and works like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King remain indelible touchstones for a generation of filmgoers. 1989′s The Little Mermaid is no exception, and while its modern update holds up better than most, it still struggles to find its own identity. The story remains a bowdlerized version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale—a mermaid princess (Halle Bailey) goes against the demands of her overprotective father (Javier Bardem) and makes a Faustian bargain with a sea witch (Melissa McCarthy) to become human and win the heart of a handsome prince (Jonah Hauer-King)—with most of the film’s resources going to rendering the most vibrant and lush undersea world since Avatar: The Way of Water. Bailey’s performance is a stunning, starmaking endeavor, revealing her as a vividly talented name in the making (and her chemistry with Hauer-King helps sell the story). Plus, the filmmakers faithfully re-create iconic moments from the original in beautiful CGI, but it all can’t help but come off as a facsimile of a modern classic rather than anything experimental, challenging or bold. PG. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Academy, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Joy Cinema, Lake Theater, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Wunderland Milwaukie.
*** When devout gardener Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) wants his staff to inspect a handful of dirt, he tells them to smell and kiss the soil; inhale the scents of animal, vegetable and mineral, he insists. What drives such discipline? When we see the swastika tattoos covering Narvel’s back, we begin to understand. Once a white supremacist, Narvel turned on his fellow neo-Nazis. Now sequestered in a witness protection program, he quietly and diligently tends to Gracewood Gardens, the verdant estate of the imperious Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). Racially insensitive, sexually ravenous, and baffled by the internet, Norma is a crude caricature of a wealthy old white woman—just as her drug-addicted grandniece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) is a crude caricature of a disenfranchised Black millennial. Director Paul Schrader’s illustrious career (from writing Taxi Driver to directing First Reformed) clearly hasn’t taught him much about women, but the deeper he digs into Narvel’s broken soul, the more persuasive Master Gardener becomes. “I was raised to hate people who were different than me,” Narvel says. Determined to nurture life instead of destroying it, he embraces gardening as both a path to joy and an act of penance. Can it lead to redemption? A radiant, hallucinatory image of Narvel surrounded by pink blossoms gleaming in the night offers hope. Master Gardener may not fully earn its tender conclusion, but its faith in the power of both plant and human life to radically transform is profoundly moving. At 76, Schrader has learned what many of his filmmaking peers never have: that dreaming up a happy ending, not unlike gardening, is hard and worthy work. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Laurelhurst.
*** An absurd but fun piece of pulp, Sisu plays like a mix of a spaghetti Western, a World War II thriller, and John Wick (2014). The film reteams director Jalmari Helander and actor Jorma Tommila, who previously worked together on the Christmas horror film Rare Exports (2010). Tommila plays Aatami, a man of few words and many scars, who discovers a gold deposit during the Lapland War in 1944. He then comes in contact with a platoon of Nazis, led by the ruthless Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie), who defies orders and sets his sights on Aatami’s gold, even after learning that Aatami is a former Finnish soldier nicknamed “The Immortal.” Most of Sisu finds Aatami killing off the Nazis in a variety of brutal ways as he protects his riches. He manages to outmaneuver the soldiers at nearly every turn; he even sets himself on fire at one point in order to stop a dog from attacking him. The last 20 minutes of Helander’s film gets a bit too ridiculous as Aatami reaches an almost superhero level. For much of its runtime, though, Sisu remains just believable enough to go along with as Helander keeps the creative and bloody action sequences coming. R. DANIEL RESTER. Eastport.
WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP
** Ron Shelton’s 1992 film White Men Can’t Jump is a minor classic in the sports comedy genre. It features fire and charm in its dialogue and performances, with Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson an electric pair to watch. Director Calmatic’s remake, on the other hand, is a pale imitation of Shelton’s movie. Rapper Jack Harlow plays Jeremy, a basketball hustler who teams with Kamal (Sinqua Walls); the latter blew a chance at a professional career 10 years earlier, and the two enter basketball competitions in Los Angeles together, even as they confront crises on the home front. The basic framework of the original film still remains, but the screenplay is more conventional and many of its jokes fall flat. Walls turns in a solid performance, but Harlow is more hit and miss in his debut acting role, while the majority of the supporting cast plays characters who are cartoonish (though the late Lance Reddick is strong in a small role as Kamal’s father). And though some of the game scenes are impressive (Tommy Maddox-Upshaw’s cinematography gives the imagery a sun-kissed look), you’d be better off watching Shelton’s film instead if you’ve somehow missed it. R. DANIEL RESTER. Hulu.