Your Weekly Roundup of Movies: Ben Kingsley Seeks Alien Life in “Jules”

What to see and what to skip.

Jules (Bleecker Street)


*** Like clockwork, solitary widower Milton (Ben Kingsley) makes two testimonies at his weekly city council meetings. One statement amounts to senile nonsense about the town motto (“a great place to call home”); the other is a genuine concern regarding a much-needed crosswalk. Through this dichotomy, we understand Jules’ take on Milton (whose grumbling sounds like Kingsley meets Dustin Hoffman): Yes, he’s slipping mentally, but his everyday experience shouldn’t be discounted. So when Milton believes a flying saucer has crash-landed in his azaleas, Jules presents the kind of earthbound sci-fi usually reserved for movies about children and their supernatural discoveries—only here, the heroes are a Western Pennsylvania town’s septuagenarians, including alien caretakers played by Jane Curtin (SNL) and Harriet Sansom Harris (Frasier), being instructed by their adult children to stop imagining things. Heartfelt to the end, Jules has no ambitions to ascend the alien-encounter movie canon, but by toying with the E.T. formula, it makes clear a gentle point well taken: Before life ends, the need for childlike wonder comes back around. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cascade, Clackamas, Living Room.


**** At the start of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, raindrops fall; at the end, fire rages. You’ll feel it burn long after the end credits roll. Nolan has made violent movies before, but Oppenheimer is not just about physical devastation. It submerges you in the violence of a guilt-ravaged soul, leaving you feeling unsettled and unclean. With agitated charisma and vulnerability, Cillian Murphy embodies J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist whose mind birthed the atomic bomb. When we first meet him, he’s a curly-haired lad staring at a puddle, but he swiftly evolves into an excitable visionary leading a cadre of scientists into the deserts of New Mexico, where they will ultimately build and test a plutonium device (referred to as “the gadget”) on July 16, 1945. What saves the film from becoming a connect-the-dots biopic is Nolan’s ingenious chronicle of the post-World War II rivalry between Oppenheimer and Atomic Energy Commission chair Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.). The more Oppenheimer fights to put “the nuclear genie back in the bottle,” the more Strauss seethes and schemes, thrusting the movie into a maze of double-crosses that echo the exhilarating games of perception in Nolan’s 2001 breakout hit Memento. Of course, the thrill can’t (and shouldn’t) last. As many as 226,000 people were killed when the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and they haunt the film like ghosts—especially when Oppenheimer imagines a charred corpse beneath his foot. A man dreamed; people died. All a work of art can do is evoke their absence. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Academy, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Cinemagic, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Studio One.


**** Talk to Me is the scariest horror movie of 2023. Walking the fine line between referential and redundant—good horror filmmakers employ motifs, but bad horror filmmakers rely on them—twin-brother duo Danny and Michael Philippou stun in their directorial debut, delivering a gripping (pun intended) plot driven by starmaking performances. Sophie Wilde shines as Mia, a grieving teenage girl reeling from her mother’s death two years earlier. Then, a paranormal party trick lifts the veil between the living and the dead—and teens recklessly abuse it for entertainment purposes (shocking!). In some ways, Talk to Me is a natural evolution beyond the Ouija board, the deadest horse of all horror tropes. In others, it’s an existential exploration that leads to a genre-defining question: Can new rules be made and/or old ones broken? Either way, there are moments when the movie makes the theater feel like a vacuum, sucking you into a vortex of heart-racing, chest-clutching, jaw-dropping terror. It’s the enthralling kind of horror that you can’t look away from. R. ALEX BARR. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 2, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Progress Ridge, Vancouver Plaza.


*** “Maybe good things didn’t happen to me because I had no one to tell them to,” muses Amanda (Benedetta Porcaroli), a formerly anti-social 25-year-old who, in one fell swoop, has befriended an agoraphobe, a horse, and a dude who distributes condoms outside raves. Her theory raises a good chicken-or-egg question about social momentum, as just months ago, Amanda’s only meaningful connection was to her wealthy family’s longtime housekeeper. Quirky, never cute, Amanda is the sort of movie that in many American hands would be about a teenage girl learning it’s OK to be weird, but Italian writer-director Carolina Cavalli imbues her debut feature with the terrifying loneliness of young adulthood amid formalist sight gags, like Amanda trying to leap across a double-door frame undetected by her mother. There’s a clear Wes Anderson influence to how Amanda stomps through often symmetrical frames in her combat boots and finds comedy in Max Fischer-esque character paradoxes—she’s both childish and deathly serious, both outcast and alpha. The script never evolves or resolves these contradictions through self-discovery. Really, Amanda is only ever a few tone toggles away from the difficult loners of Ingrid Goes West or Taxi Driver. But mostly, we’re made to feel safe with her. She wants only “good things.” NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.


*** Once upon a time, Barbie dolls liberated all women from tyranny. The end…at least according to the first few minutes of Barbie, a sleek and satirical fantasia from director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women). Set in the utopian kingdom of Barbieland, the movie dramatizes the existential crises of the winkingly named Stereotypical Barbie. She’s played by Margot Robbie, who was last seen battling a rattlesnake in Damien Chazelle’s Babylon—and her misadventures in Barbie are hardly less bizarre. Plagued by flat feet, cellulite and fears of death, Barbie seeks the source of her ailments in the real world, bringing along a beamingly inadequate Ken (Ryan Gosling) with catastrophic consequences: Awed by images of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, Ken becomes a crusading men’s rights activist, leading a revolt against the government of Barbieland and instituting bros-first martial law. And they say originality is dead! With its absurdist wit, glitzy musical numbers, and earnest ruminations on whether matriarchy and patriarchy can coexist, Barbie is easily one of the most brazen movies released by a major studio. Yes, its tidy ending betrays its anarchic spirit—after insisting that empowerment can’t be neatly packaged in a doll box, the film seems to say, “No, wait! It can!”—but it would be churlish to deny the charm of Gerwig’s buoyant creation. In an age when genuine cinematic joy is rare, we’re all lucky to be passengers in Barbie’s hot-pink plastic convertible. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Academy, Bagdad, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Clackamas, Empirical, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Joy Cinema, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, St. Johns, Studio One.


*** Part of what makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles unique among other franchises is its malleability. Reinvention is as much a part of the Turtles’ DNA as glowing green ooze and a love of pizza—and in the case of Mutant Mayhem, the recipe is a blend of family dynamics, grandiose sci-fi and heartfelt comedy. For the first time in franchise history, the Heroes in a Half-Shell are actually voiced by teenagers: Leonardo (Nicholas Cantu), Raphael (Brady Noon), Donatello (Micah Abbey) and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) goof around and clown on each other like any other kids, and their interactions make for the movie’s strongest moments, comedically and emotionally. Things get mighty chaotic in the back half when we’re introduced to the megalomaniacal Superfly (Ice Cube) and his cadre of mutant henchmen (voiced by several recognizable names pulled from producer-writer Seth Rogen’s contact list), but it all fits with the movie’s eager, excited vibe. There’s a love for the boundless possibilities of the TMNT world and a desire to bring as much of it to life as possible, all through the filter of a wonky, hand-drawn aesthetic that makes for some spectacular creature designs and doesn’t skimp on the martial-arts action. The quest for a perfect TMNT film remains incomplete, but Mutant Mayhem is nonetheless a fine effort: a stylish, fast-paced, eminently fun take on the material that updates the Turtles for the modern world without losing the oddball charm that has made them fixtures of pop culture since 1984. Cowabunga, dudes! PG. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Academy, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Lake Theater, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Studio One, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.


*** In Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s hysterical mockumentary Theater Camp, self-delusion drives youth theater camp AdirondACTS and the lives of its eccentric campers. After the camp’s founder, Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris), falls into a coma, devoted counselors Rebecca-Diane (Gordon) and Amos (Ben Platt) return to AdirondACTS to put on a biographical musical about their matriarchal founder—while crypto-bro Troy Rubinsky (Jimmy Tatro) flounders as he attempts to keep the camp afloat in his mother’s absence. Written by Gordon, Lieberman, Platt and Noah Galvin (who plays a stage manager), the screenplay delivers sharp deadpan humor as it satirizes theater kids’ notorious self-seriousness (children in a seemingly furtive drug deal negotiate for “throat coat” tea bags and Amos calls a child using a tear stick onstage “Lance Armstrong for actors”). The actors’ egos contrast with the camp’s financial ruin and the counselors’ stale individual careers; self-delusion becomes power in surviving a profession based on attention and rejection. Most scenes were improvised with rough outlines, a method that causes the story to wander, but highlights the actors’ craft and chemistry. It’s all captured with swift camera work that drenches the audience in summer camp nostalgia, a sweet blur seemingly over just as it began. PG-13. ROSE WONG. Bridgeport, Cascade, Eastport, Fox Tower, Movies On TV, Progress Ridge.


** Back in 1987, Robert Townsend started a compelling conversation about representation with his groundbreaking satire Hollywood Shuffle. Over three decades later, Randall Park has something to add. While Townsend took direct aim at the ignorance of typecasting, comedic actor-turned-first-time director Park embeds his contribution in an unremarkable rom-com. The film opens on the final scene of a Crazy Rich Asians-type movie playing at an Asian American film festival, where we find Ben (Justin H. Min) sitting stoically unimpressed in a theater of cheering admirers. He unloads a caustic critique on his girlfriend, Miko (Ally Maki), who laughs off his diatribe and eventually accepts an internship requiring her to temporarily move across the country, leaving the relationship in limbo. But don’t feel too bad for Ben: He’s an unlikable misanthrope in the mold of Rob from High Fidelity, caught on the bad side of a breakup (but without the fun of fourth-wall breaks and top-five song lists). In fact, Ben is no fun at all. The screenplay (by graphic novelist Adrian Tomine) neglects to flesh out the character in any way that would have inspired us to root for him, save for his poignant conversations about representation and Asian identity (which hold more interest than the romantic storyline). Sadly, they’re not enough to save Shortcomings, which may well leave you feeling as disdainful as Ben does at the film’s beginning. R. RAY GILL JR. City Center, Living Room, Movies On TV, Vancouver Mall.


*** The grindhouse-style premise of Til Death Do Us Part is pretty simple: A bride runs off on her wedding night and has to kill her groomsmen, and eventually her husband. So it’s an unfortunate surprise that the movie waits over half an hour to get into its first action scene. The lion’s share of the exposition doesn’t even deal with the lead assassin couple of Natalie Burn and Ser’Darius Blain; it’s just Cam Gigandet in the technically supporting role of the scenery chewing best man. Burn and Blain have decent chemistry but little apparent reason to be assassins. Til Death Do Us Part follows in the dubious path of John Wick and Kill Boksoon in expecting the viewer to find assassin-centric economic systems to be inherently interesting. What this movie really needed was more aggressive editing, particularly in the opening half which is needlessly coy in getting to the premise. Technically it’s a spoiler that nearly all of the characters in this movie are assassins, but more interesting than that is the fact that none of them are really very good at killing people, probably because they’re used to catching their victims by surprise. NR. WILLIAM SCHWARTZ. Division.

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