Your Weekly Roundup of Movies: Gael García Bernal Stars as a Heroic Luchador in “Cassandro”

What to see and what to skip.

Cassandro This image released by Amazon Prime Video shows Gael Garcia Bernal in a scene from "Cassandro." (Amazon Prime Video via AP) (Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video/AP)


**** Superhero origin stories typically emanate from exotic places and extraordinary individuals. Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams (best known for the documentary Life, Animated) has brought a very different journey to the screen with Cassandro. The true-life tale of how Saúl Armendáriz (Gael García Bernal), a gay amateur wrestler from El Paso, Texas, became a Mexican lucha libre wrestling superstar in the 1980s, Cassandro digs deeper than truth, justice and the American way to find a neglected community that yearns for a hero. Williams’ attention to detail fiercely grounds the film—and an especially moving performance by Bernal as Armendáriz, like Mickey Rourke’s Oscar-nominated turn in The Wrestler, possesses an emotional gravity that makes winning the final match an afterthought (Armendáriz’s quest exceeds his initial desire for personal fame, inspires admirers and smashes archaic ultra-masculine barriers). For Armendáriz, wrestling as an exótico (a luchador in drag) in a fixed sport meant he wasn’t allowed to win anyway. His wrestling alter ego, Cassandro, is born from such slights, delivering an exhilarating ride that allows for character flaws without asking for forgiveness. This origin story isn’t about acquiring powers; it’s about discovering the strength to achieve a victory that transcends “winning.” That’s Cassandro’s superpower. NR. RAY GILL JR. Living Room.


**** 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. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lake Theater, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Progress Ridge, 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. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Empirical, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Progress Ridge, Vancouver Mall.


*** With The Attachment Diaries, writer-director Valentín Javier Diment has whipped up the cinematic equivalent of an icky-delicious pizza. The toppings? Film noir, kinky sex and gynecological horror. The base? Probably the bloodiest marinara you’ll taste this year. Don’t be fooled by the opening scene where Carla (Jimena Anganuzzi) walks through a storm to tell Irina (Lola Berthet), a doctor, that she’s pregnant after being raped by three men. The elegant black-and-white images of Carla’s fragile high heels being buffeted by rain may suggest an oh-so-tasteful art film, but The Attachment Diaries, which is set in 1970s Argentina, is something freakier, trashier and lustier. Ruminative drama quickly makes way for scars, severed fingers and so many slayings that it’s almost hilarious that the police haven’t caught Irina slicing up fresh corpses with a hand saw (she does this a lot). Diment is a poet of perversion, daring us to flinch, then trolling us with a delectable fait accompli: transforming what seems to be a paranoid nightmare-fantasy about bloodthirsty lesbians into a relatively progressive romance with an ending designed to elicit a collective “aw!” I’m not exactly ready to don a “Carla & Irina 4-ever” T-shirt; they are serial killers, after all. Yet part of me can’t help hoping those crazy kids make it. NR. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cinema 21, Sept. 22 and 23.


*** 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, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, 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.


** Sung Kang—the actor best known for playing the ultra-cool, repeatedly resurrected Han in the Fast & Furious series—makes his directorial debut with this ‘80s-style horror comedy set in Winlock, Wash. (despite being filmed in California). A cute opening scene where misfit girls argue over whether one of them has actually become a werewolf takes a weird turn when it turns out that werewolves exist and a character dies in a firearm accident. Bickering over whether a book of magic spells is real? Funny. Actually killing people? Not so much. Unable to fully commit to being either a full-on parody or grounded in reality, Shaky Shivers delivers no real payoff, despite the chemistry of its cast (which includes Brooke Markham and VyVy Nguyen). Even the title, a reference to an ice cream dessert developed by one of the girls, is just a half-joke without a punchline. NR. WILLIAM SCHWARTZ. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Lloyd Center.

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