Your Weekly Roundup of Movies: A Vampire Dictator Reigns in “El Conde”

What to see and what to skip.

El Conde (Netflix)


*** Pablo Larraín is best known for period dramas like Jackie (2016) and Spencer (2021), but his latest, El Conde, finds him in horror comedy territory. Jaime Vadell plays dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose rule in Chile from 1973 to 1990 resulted in the killings of thousands. Larraín’s film is no straightforward biopic, though, instead portraying Pinochet as a 250-year-old vampire who has decided he wants to die (while his children surround him in hopes of inheriting his wealth, a nun seeks to exorcise the evil from his soul). El Conde is acidulous and unsubtle as Larraín mocks the tyrannical Pinochet with deadpan humor; the ruler, who blends human hearts to make smoothies, is often portrayed as oblivious to his own atrocities, worrying instead about people labeling him a thief. It’s political satire at its purest, all captured in gorgeous black-and-white by cinematographer Edward Lachman—fitting for a film that brings to mind aspects of Nosferatu (1922) and Dr. Strangelove (1964). Yes, El Conde leans on narration often and has a muddled final stretch, but it’s Larraín at his most original and darkly amusing. R. DANIEL RESTER. Netflix.


**** 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’ll-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. Academy, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Fox Tower, Lake Theater, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, St. Johns Twin, Studio One.


**** 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.


*** From Garden State (2004) to Young Adult (2011), there’s a veritable subgenre of American townie films reminding morose expats they can never truly go home again. The Adults far from breaks that mold, but it does let its trio of grown siblings—played by Michael Cera (Arrested Development), Hannah Gross (Mindhunter), and Sophia Lillis (It)—get compellingly knotted in each other’s insecurities. When Eric (Cera) returns to his Hudson River Valley hometown (from Portland, a throwaway line tells us!), he’s ostensibly there to reunite with his sisters: the simmering Rachel (Gross), who’s living in their late mother’s gorgeous old Victorian, and Maggie (Lillis), who uses her giant eyes to crave and mourn the connection she’s lost with her brother. The performances are all distinctly sad and believable, and Cera expertly channels his onscreen neuroses into a suspiciously over-controlled, serious-man façade (he has VIP status with his airline, so it’s absolutely no problem to change his flight, he likes to remind people). As they hash out their once-unspoken distance, the sisters and brother create the movie’s off-putting pinnacle with protracted inside jokes, confessing the tough stuff via musical numbers and uncanny Marge Simpson impressions. They have each other at the very least, and they’re doing the only thing adult siblings really can: receding and returning like a rubber band. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. On demand.


*** 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.


*** 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 to 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. Living Room.


** For most of this century, Adam Sandler has enjoyed casting friends and family in Happy Madison movies. With You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, the perk becomes the project. Adam, his wife Jackie, and their two daughters, Sadie and Sunny, all star in this Netflix adaptation of Fiona Rosenbloom’s YA novel. It’s a stock premise about two best friends (Sunny Sandler’s Stacy and Samantha Lorraine’s Lydia) dreaming of adulthood rites of passage—in this case, their perfect bat mitzvahs—only to see a floppy-haired boy come between them. Sandler has gifted himself the easiest role, albeit one he crushes: Stacy’s embarrassing, shambling dad, who goes to the movies in a bathrobe and naps on department store benches. Conversely, the youngest Sandler’s protagonist job is the hardest. The film shifts jarringly between parental humor and throwing on the veritable drunk goggles of pubescent reactionism, as Stacy horrifyingly runs into her new frenemy Lydia virtually every time she’s in public. But if you want SNL wild card Sarah Sherman sashaying and improvising as Rabbi Rebecca (you do), you’ll need to accept Netflix’s YA house style, which demands endless drone shots and music supervision that feels indebted to DJ Schmuley (the cornball bat mitzvah emcee who wears three-quarters of a disco ball as a helmet). As always, adulthood is about compromises. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Netflix.

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