**** Imagine Superbad led by an all-female, mostly lesbian cast of characters and you can picture Emma Seligman’s Bottoms, which stuns in its originality and hilarity. Best friends PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) have one goal for the upcoming school year: sleep with the hot cheerleaders they’ve been pining for. Through a gut-busting comedy of errors, the pair start a self-defense club as a ruse to get closer to their crushes, a premise packed with blink-and-you-miss-it comedy (before the audience can finish laughing at one joke, Sennott and Edebiri have delivered another horribly hilarious line). Be warned: The humor isn’t for the faint of heart. Bottoms doesn’t adhere to the #GirlPower comedy rule book (in one scene, a group of girls all slowly raise their hands when Sennott asks, “Who here has been raped? Even gray-area stuff?”). But if you can handle the edgy jokes that would get a Tumblr user canceled in a heartbeat, Bottoms will make you laugh until you cry in the best way possible. R. ALEX BARR. Cinema 21, Clackamas, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, St. Johns Twin, Studio One.
**** 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. Cinema 99, Clackamas, Division, Empirical, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Movies on TV, Studio One.
*** 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. Cinema 21, Cinema 99, Clackamas, Division, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Living Room, Lloyd Center, McMenamins St. Johns, Mill Plain, Movies On TV, Oak Grove, Studio One.
*** Donya (Anaita Wali Zada) is a refugee freshly relocated from Afghanistan to the Bay Area after working as a U.S. Army translator. Given the danger and alienation she’s experienced fleeing the Taliban and leaving her family, it’s curious at first that director Babak Jalali renders this hushed, black-and-white dramedy so placid on its surface. Donya is resolute, confident and privately contemplative, especially as she rises to the rank of “message writer” at the San Francisco fortune cookie factory where she works. Yet she is also an iceberg, silently and sometimes inscrutably tolerating the oddballs who attempt to connect with her largely through monologue. Donya’s therapist, for one—Gregg Turkington, eerily similar here to his On Cinema character—can’t stop yakking about White Fang, and her boss (Eddie Tang) constantly tries to impart how proper cookie fortunes straddle both meaning and meaninglessness. These one-sided interactions pile up a little bafflingly until Donya encounters a fellow iceberg, Daniel (The Bear star Jeremy Allen White), a mechanic who brings instant steadiness to the film’s sometimes head-scratching tone and harmony to Wali Zada’s proudly composed performance. In the film, as in life’s loneliest moments, it’s hard to decipher how ill-fitting new relationships can be until the fog lifts and the real thing appears. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.
*** While cinematic canines have wagged their tails across the silver screen since Rin Tin Tin’s heyday, Strays stands out by recognizing that any “man’s best friend” sentiment does neither side any favors. Playing an adorably scrappy pup determined to view the repeated efforts at abandonment by his human (a loathsome Will Forte) as extreme fetch, Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell) digs deep within an Elf-ish faux-naïfdom that soon becomes a perfect counterpoint to an eccentric ensemble of pooches, including anti-owner provocateur Bug (Jamie Foxx), a police hound turned therapy animal (Raymond Park), and a binge-dieting collie of a certain age (Isla Fisher). They’re on an incredible journey to fulfill a dog’s purpose: to bite his owner’s dick off. Amid the film’s copious attempts at body humor, writer Dan Perrault’s brisk absurdities and director Josh Greenbaum’s graceful prowl between raunch and reflection offer just enough character development for an earned whiff of sentimentality lingering well beyond the crapshoot of barnyard gags. Uncovering the tragic misunderstanding that fueled Bug’s separatist agitprop seems no less sad (or, ultimately, hilarious) than Reggie’s reflexive defense of his owner’s unrelenting abuse (plot points that offer more perspective on modern relationships than any rom-com of recent memory). It’s all well and good counseling friends not to take any shit but, Strays bravely asks, what if they like the way it tastes? R. JAY HORTON. Clackamas, Hilltop, Oak Grove.
** Anyone attempting to imitate Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has their work cut out for them. Stewart Thorndike’s sophomore film, Bad Things, is one such piece, playing like an LGBTQ response to Kubrick’s masterpiece. The story follows Ruthie (Gayle Rankin), who inherits a hotel and invites her friends for a winter vacation that grows thorny as past trauma is revealed and some of the women start seeing ghosts. Bad Things is a disappointment from Thorndike (who showed promise with her high-energy debut Lyle); although it gets points for representation, acting and a beautiful piano score by Jason Falkner, the film is a bit of a mess. Its mix of relationship drama and paranormal thriller never quite gels, the hotel setting lacks character, and Thorndike never establishes the brooding atmosphere the tale requires. The Overlook Hotel in The Shining is one of the most memorable settings in all of cinema. The Comely Suites in Bad Things are instantly forgettable, much like the film itself. NR. DANIEL RESTER. Shudder.
A DAY AND A HALF
** With this banal hostage thriller, actor Fares Fares makes his directorial debut, showing confidence as a filmmaker, but fumbling as a writer (he co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Smirnakos). Alexej Manvelov plays Artan, who storms into a hospital and demands to see his estranged wife, Louise (Alma Pöysti), because she has been ignoring his requests to see their daughter, though the film doesn’t truly begin until Artan holds a cop (Fares) at gunpoint, forcing him to take him to his child. A Day and a Half looks polished and has two fine performances from Fares and Pöysti, but Manvelov overdoes it as Artan, hitting the same frantic notes over and over again. Worse, the dumbed-down story basically boils down to two men facing the consequences of their families distancing themselves after they have cheated on their wives, funneled into a seen-it-all-before thriller plot. R. DANIEL RESTER. Netflix.