**** Although director Alexander Payne (The Descendants) can be a cheeky SOB, he’s at his best when he’s observing the quieter, bittersweet moments that are part of growing up or growing old. So it goes with The Holdovers, which follows the brilliant but inflexible history teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) as he’s tasked with looking after students stuck at a New England prep school over the 1970 winter break—including the smart but troubled Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa). Grief becomes a unifying theme for our heroes: Angus mourning his lost father, head cook Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) facing Christmas for the first time since her son’s death, and Hunham despairing over the state of the world (and his own stalled academic career) in general. Yet Payne and writer David Hemingson find humor, heart and humanity buried beneath the snowy landscape. Giamatti manages to make Hunham compelling despite his snobbery, and Sessa makes a fantastic debut as someone too witty for his own good—the pair have a crackling, acerbic chemistry that makes the movie sing. The Holdovers is perhaps a touch on the schmaltzy side, but it earns that schmaltz through great performances, a sharp script, and a director with an eye for finding beauty and meaning in the ordinary. R. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Bridgeport, Cinema 21.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON
**** Martin Scorsese’s final act is that of an American tragedian, and in Killers of the Flower Moon, the 80-year-old film icon unflinchingly dramatizes the history of white, 1920s Oklahomans wreaking intrafamily genocide on the Osage people after oil is discovered beneath the tribe’s lands. The murders are underway when Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns from World War I to work for his uncle (Robert De Niro), a cattle baron whose actual business is infiltrating the Osage community and plotting to steal their fortunes. Thus, Ernest’s personal sins will become inextricable from his work, even if DiCaprio wears a perfectly dumb underbite to suggest the character is straining not to comprehend his deeds. There’s no such underplaying of intelligence by Lily Gladstone (Certain Women), whose acting superpower is gentle directness. She plays Mollie, an Osage woman who loses family members fast when she marries Ernest. In the film’s only glaring flaw, the script leaves Mollie, its most important Osage character, wanting for moments of dynamism amid her suffering. That said, Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t about dynamism or change; like The Irishman, it commits over three hours to study crushing inevitability. The film is at once a crime epic, a spiritual exorcism, a portrait of a ne’er-do-well, a black comedy about the FBI’s birth, and a ballad for those who didn’t see modernity coming. It is also about movies, as Scorsese reminds us with a brilliant closing comment on the nature of true crime and mass media. If this is one of Scorsese’s last films, behold the bracing reflection of a murderer, a nation, and a legendary artist all asking: “What have I done?” R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cedar Hills, Cinemagic, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Lake Theater, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin, Studio One.
FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S
*** Five Nights at Freddy’s, based on the popular video game franchise, is the latest animatronics-run-amok horror film following The Banana Splits Movie (2019) and Willy’s Wonderland (2021). The always likable Josh Hutcherson plays Mike Schmidt, who accepts a nightly security position at an abandoned family entertainment center called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. He soon finds that the place’s colorful mascots are actually deadly and have an interest in his little sister Abby (Piper Rubio). Director Emma Tammi’s adaptation of the games remains faithful in many ways, which isn’t too surprising given that Freddy’s creator Scott Cawthon is a co-writer on the project. The animatronics are impressively designed by the folks at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, while Tammi’s production designer, Marc Fisichella, has gone to great lengths to bring the pizzeria setting alive. Lulls settle in when Mike’s backstory is belabored or when a cop shows up repeatedly just to drop exposition, but the film should serve as a macabre-cute gateway horror picture for younger audiences and fans of the franchise. PG-13. DANIEL RESTER. Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, St. Johns Twin, Studio One.
*** “Forbid empathy.” The nameless assassin (Michael Fassbender) at the corroded core of David Fincher’s The Killer chants that command throughout the film, conditioning himself to be cruel. Reunited with Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, the director has made a thriller that makes you feel as if the icy blood of its protagonist is coursing through your veins, an experience that is as exhilarating as it is unnerving. When we first meet the Killer, he’s killing nothing but time, feasting on McDonald’s and listening to The Smiths as he awaits the arrival of a target in Paris. He’s methodical to a fault, but he makes a catastrophic mistake—and the woman he loves (Sophie Charlotte) pays the price. Incidentally, who is she? The Killer’s girlfriend? His wife? Revolting against the niceties of backstory, Fincher trusts the faces of his actors (including Tilda Swinton, who plays a rival assassin with haunting poise) to speak the story. His faith in Fassbender is amply rewarded—even the way the actor’s arms smoothly swing past his hips is expressive—but Fincher is the true star of the film. Adapting a French graphic novel series, he transforms a deliberately spare plot into a banquet of suspense that leaves a troubling aftertaste. It can’t be an accident that all of the Killer’s victims are women and people of color—or that the one life he spares is that of a Caucasian male. Some will interpret The Killer as an uncompromising attack on white supremacy; others will see Fincher as, at best, a white filmmaker bumbling into a conversation he can barely understand. How he responds to the audience’s reaction will determine whether, unlike the Killer, he understands the difference between precision and comprehension. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Hollywood.
THE PIGEON TUNNEL
*** Through decades of incisive interview-centric documentaries (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War), Errol Morris chose his subjects brilliantly and interrogated them doggedly. Lately, the subjects seem to choose him. The late spy novelist John le Carré (né David Cornwell) suggests as much in Morris’ latest film. Luckily, it’s not as dangerous to let Cornwell wax poetic as it is Steve Bannon (the subject of Morris’ 2018 film American Dharma). But you still feel in The Pigeon Tunnel—the name borrows the working title for almost all John le Carré novels—that Cornwell runs the show. He speaks in perfect paragraphs about the self-deceptions and contradictions of spies, writers and his own con artist father: “Whether he believed in God was mysterious, but he was certain God believed in him.” Elegiac to a fault, the film offers a chance to return one last time to the mind of a genius who passed away in 2020 and left behind 30 novels that seek, twist and elide the truth with every page. Does that make The Pigeon Tunnel an exercise in futility? More like a pleasant evening constitutional with futility. Tell us one last time—in a pretty way—how we’ll never know you, John. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Apple TV+.
** Sofia Coppola didn’t just make a masterpiece called Lost in Translation—she’s become contemporary cinema’s reigning expert on lostness. She shows us what it is to be adrift, alone, yearning—the way Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) is when she wanders through the luxuriant chambers of Graceland in Coppola’s flawed and entrancing biographical film. Elvis (a superb Jacob Elordi) spends most of the movie preoccupied with his celebrity and his infidelity, though he’s slightly more attentive to Priscilla when they meet in Germany in 1959 (when she’s 14 and he’s 24). In these scenes, the film’s best, Elvis bewitches his future bride with his manly brooding over whether he’ll have a musical career when he completes his military service. “Sure you will!” Priscilla insists, her face radiating belief. Yes, Elvis will have a career, but she won’t be a part of it. Instead, she’ll be reduced to a virginal plaything for him to gaslight, neglect and abuse (in one scene, he hurls a chair at her head). Rapturously alive with desire but unflinching in its portrait of Elvis as a predator, Priscilla shreds the mythmaking of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. It is a superior film in every respect, but once it gets to Graceland, the beautifully measured pace of the Germany prologue evaporates. Rushing through years of betrayal and bliss, the film starts to feel as if it’s checking boxes on a timeline rather than evoking Priscilla’s experience. As always, she’s lost in her own story. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Studio One, Vancouver Mall.
** It’s rather appropriate that Quiz Lady, with its love for the escapist entertainment of game shows, is itself a solid piece of escapist fiction: light, breezy, a tad unambitious but well crafted and heartfelt enough to be worth your while. The film follows the Yum sisters, who try to pay back their mother’s gambling debts by having introverted Anne (Awkwafina) put her lifetime of trivia knowledge to the test and compete on her favorite game show. Awkwafina is perfectly at home as an awkward shut-in, but it’s Sandra Oh who shines as the chaotic Jenny. Oh handles broad comedy effortlessly, and the two leads have a fast-paced and earnest rapport. The jokes are fairly basic, but there are more hits than misses, and the film gets a lot of mileage out of supporting performances by Holland Taylor, Jason Schwartzman, and Will Ferrell as the genial game show host (a far cry from his SNL days as a cynical Alex Trebek). Quiz Lady is unlikely to change anyone’s life, but it’s a vehicle for compelling performances with some good laughs and an unexpected emotional core. Survey says: See it. R. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Hulu.