NEXT GOAL WINS
*** The premise of “a soccer coach and his club of misfits learn the value of friendship and positive thinking” might sound a little less played out if audiences weren’t familiar with Ted Lasso (or indeed any other sports comedy). Fortunately, director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok) has both the charm and insight to make Next Goal Wins an enjoyable, if slight, trip to the pitch. Based on the 2014 documentary of the same name, the story follows rage-aholic coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender), who is assigned to lead the American Samoa national team, the laughingstock of international football since a humiliating 31-0 loss in a qualifying match for the 2001 World Cup. In theory, Fassbender’s casting is part of the joke—an actor known for his dramatic intensity (see 12 Years a Slave) transplanted into a formula comedy—but his Rongen is more despondent than fierce, and he ends up the weak link in the cast. Fortunately, the rest of our players make up for it with humor and humanity to spare, particularly Oscar Kightley as the ever-optimistic club president and Kaimana as Jaiyah Saelua, the trail-blazing transgender player who is the heart of the team. Next Goal Wins works best as a loving tribute to sports movies of the past that, at a breezy 103 minutes, moves quickly and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It may not be a blowout, but it’s still a win in my book. PG-13. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 99, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Progress Ridge, Stark Street, Vancouver Mall, Vancouver Plaza.
**** 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 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 is mourning his lost father, head cook Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) is facing Christmas for the first time since her son’s death, and Hunham is 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, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Living Room.
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, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Empirical, Fox Tower, Joy Cinema, Lake Theater, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, 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. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Wunderland Beaverton.
*** Shitting on the Marvel Cinematic Universe is hip right now, but it shouldn’t be. Amid its putative decline, the franchise has unleashed some of its liveliest and strangest films, from the oedipal Shang-Chi to the operatic Eternals. The trend toward general wackiness continues with The Marvels, which is less a sequel to 2019′s Captain Marvel than a multigenerational, quasi-musical buddy movie. Wearing a crimson bodysuit and wrangling glowing CGI effects, Brie Larson returns as Carol Danvers, the cosmic warrior known as Captain Marvel. She’s ditched her battle-ready pixie cut from Avengers: Endgame, but gained some new friends: astronaut Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Captain Marvel fangirl Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), both of whom prove invaluable allies in Carol’s war with a planet-hopping despot (Zawe Ashton). After a baffling first act suffocated by references to previous films and streaming series, The Marvels allows its heroic trio to bond and bumble with ease, whether they’re jumping rope on a spaceship or navigating a song-and-dance routine on an aquatic planet. In that scene, Larson wears a sumptuous red ball gown, which reminds us that Carol is never one thing—she’s casual and committed, gritty and glamorous. The greatest superhero Larson ever played was Grace Howard, the ferociously compassionate group home supervisor in Short Term 12 (2013), but as long as she’s willing to lend Marvel her unpredictable light, the franchise would be wise to let it shine. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Academy, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Wunderland Milwaukie.
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 film 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 died 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. Academy, Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove. Studio One.