MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE
**** Danger is a drug—and in his third Mission: Impossible film, director Christopher McQuarrie simultaneously shoves it up your nostrils and stabs it into your veins. As usual, daredevil secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is chasing after an explosive MacGuffin that he must protect from a doomsday-loving maniac (Esai Morales, in this case) lest the world go boom. Rather than vary the formula, McQuarrie simply refurbishes it (brilliantly) with fresh flourishes of suspense. You’ve seen Ethan race against the clock, but you’ve never seen him rushing through an airport in Abu Dhabi during a countdown to a nuclear explosion. You’ve seen him in one-on-one fights, but never with a demented French swordswoman (Pom Klementieff) in a terrifyingly cramped alley in Venice. You’ve seen him battle his adversaries on trains, but never run through one as it tumbles into…oh, just see the movie already, will you? Dead Reckoning Part One isn’t just cinema. It’s the essence of everything cinema was made for—not just triumphantly tense violence, but delicious glamour and sex appeal (a nighttime negotiation with Alanna Mitsopolis, a broker played with a lascivious grin by Vanessa Kirby, is nearly erotic enough to deserve an NC-17 rating). And while the apparent death of a main character strikes a sour note—these films work best when they’re disposable and delightful, not tragic and ruthless—I’m hopeful that it’s a red herring designed to goose our sympathies before Part Two arrives next year. It wouldn’t be the first time that a Mission: Impossible movie has manipulated its audience to irresistibly grand effect. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Academy, Bagdad, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Joy Cinema, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, St. Johns, St. Johns Twin, Studio One.
**** As Nora (Greta Lee) is about to share a first kiss with her future husband, Arthur (John Magaro), she explains the Korean phrase in-yun—fate’s hand in human connection and reconnection. Intentionally or not, she’s referring just as much to Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), her best friend and crush from before she immigrated from Seoul to Canada. Ever since, Hae Sung has reappeared to Nora like a 12-year comet, and in director Celine Song’s Past Lives, Hae Sung visits Nora in present-day Brooklyn. Both unambiguous romance and genre experiment, Past Lives sustains itself on love’s textures and musings: endless gazes, mirrorlike skyscrapers, a twinkling synth score (by Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen), and a vibrant but melancholy obsession with New York City. Gorgeous 30-somethings who can’t keep guileless vulnerability off their faces, these characters aren’t looking to blow up their lives for the sake of movie contrivances, but through every private conversation, they’re drawn to discussing the same narrative possibilities on the audience’s minds. Who is the right lover in a story sense? Even Arthur wonders. Are in-yun and Nora’s brief, almost multiversal encounters with Hae Sung potent enough to alter the years in between? And when she glimpses the past in his kind, mournful eyes, is she dreaming or seeing? PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Living Room.
INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY
*** The Indiana Jones saga gives its iconic character a fifth adventure that moviegoers didn’t ask for, but that longtime fans should appreciate. Yes, the story blatantly mines the series trope of an archaeological artifact chase with a foreign adversary threatening catastrophe, but director James Mangold (Logan) has crafted an installment laden with pleasing referential tips of the fedora to Steven Spielberg’s previous chapters. As comforting as the homages are, what saves the film from being a rolling boulder of mediocrity is 91-year-old composer John Williams, who has scored every Indiana Jones film. Harrison Ford still charms as Jones (an aging icon recognizable the world over by his statuesque silhouette), but Indy could have become a relic of the ‘80s if not for Williams. His inspired work on Dial of Destiny breathes life into the action scenes, authenticates the otherwise unearned emotional interludes, and adds a tickle to the comedy in ways its 80-year-old lead can no longer pull off (to quote Indy, “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage”). This cinematic serial has run its course, but thanks to Williams, Indiana Jones can now retire with his dignity mostly intact. PG-13. RAY GILL JR. Academy, City Center, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin.
*** “Good writers borrow; great writers steal.” Richard E. Grant (playing fictitious literary dynamo J.M. Sinclair) delivers that line with a domineering grin that all but proves the sentiment, passing off a cliché as wisdom and telegraphing where veteran British TV director Alice Troughton’s film will venture. It’s a pleasure to watch Grant overdo it through the watchful eyes of Liam (Daryl McCormack), an aspiring author who is obsessed with Sinclair’s prose and journeys to his idol’s country manor to tutor his son (it’s Oxford or bust). Across from Grant’s sometimes campy inhumanity, McCormack acts carefully, offering shades of Tom Ripley’s shifty confidence as Liam fulfills the awkward yet advantageous position of a trusted servant. Julie Delpy also excels as the icy but pervious queen of the house (which has grounds eerily patrolled by muskrats and self-piloted lawn mowers). The characters verbally spar through tense dinners and writing debriefs, while Sinclair battles with the third act of his mysterious comeback novel. He’s discovering, as this film does, that endings can be conspicuously difficult. The Lesson downshifts to belligerently throwing its cards on the table by the end, but the slippery journey there shouldn’t be written off. Beware meeting your heroes—and, especially, freelancing for them. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.
RUBY GILLMAN: TEENAGE KRAKEN
*** Like The Bad Guys before it, Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken returns DreamWorks to its early ‘00s roots of copying whatever Disney had come up with (the film could be described either as a nautical-themed Turning Red or a gender-swapped Luca). The story follows the Gillmans, a nuclear family of sea monsters who have, despite having blue skin and no bones, lived as ordinary humans without being detected for 15 years. However, when eldest daughter Ruby (Lana Condor) begins to chafe against the convictions of her mother (Toni Collette), she ends up discovering her own fantastical superpowers and meeting her oceanic royal grandmother (Jane Fonda). Ruby Gillman suffers from an overabundance of plotlines and character arcs that make the second act feel disjointed and clumsy, but there’s enough charm and personality that you’re never quite bored with the proceedings. The animation employs a retro, rubber-hose style that brings physicality to the invertebrate Gillmans and the movie’s goofy slapstick. Condor is perfect as Ruby—earnest and shy, but kind and determined when she needs to be—and there’s a lot of fun to be had in the supporting performances, including Sam Richardson as a goofy uncle and Annie Murphy as a mean-girl mermaid. Ruby Gillman doesn’t quite break new ground in the “powers as a metaphor for puberty” subgenre of sci-fi/fantasy, but it’s beautiful and exuberant enough to make for a fun and heartwarming trip under the sea. PG. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Division, Oak Grove, Studio One, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.
** In a seeming attempt to reflect the diverse array of untold Asian narratives—a shared pressure among many Asian American artists—Joy Ride accomplishes the opposite, offering a rushed 90 minutes overcrowded by underdeveloped characters and plot turns. Adopted Chinese American Audrey (Ashley Park) travels to her birth country for the first time, along with two eccentric best friends, Kat (Stephanie Hsu), a Chinese soap opera actor hiding her sexual past from her God-fearing virgin fiancé, and Lolo (Sherry Cola), a fledgling artist who makes playground models resembling genitalia to “get the conversation going” (Lolo also brings along her BTS-obsessed cousin, played by a wide-eyed, scene-stealing Sabrina Wu). Audrey’s business trip to China quickly turns into a cross-continental search for her birth mother, and the film sharply illustrates certain minority challenges—internalized shame, dissonance between internal and external perceptions of self. Yet its efforts to provide a comprehensive cultural education (the work of not one, but many, many more representative films) result in stilted dialogue and a hasty denouement. The comedy’s saving grace lies in its effectively over-the-top humor; filled with riotous bits and clever one-liners, Joy Ride promises to leave the audience feeling lighter than before they entered the theater. And sometimes, that’s all we need from a movie. R. ROSE WONG. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Vancouver Plaza.