Your Weekly Roundup of Movies: An Ex-Con Acclimates to Southeast Portland in “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine”

What to see and what to skip.

Can't Seem to Make You Mine (Courtesy of Jessica Barr)


*** Fresh out of jail and acclimating to Southeast Portland, Wilder (Zachary Ray Sherman) has his feet in different worlds. His initial connection to the outside is former prison pen pal Riley (Jessica Barr), a young, open-minded sex worker. Then there’s the sway of the past: Wilder has a 6-year-old son he’s never met and an ex (Lindsay Burdge) with every reason not to trust his gestures toward reconciliation. That may sound like a moralistic setup, but directors Aaron Keene and Sara Burke (both former Portlanders) withhold judgment. Can’t Seem to Make You Mine is a patient character study, all handheld close-ups, watching and waiting as Wilder negotiates the tensions of life beyond a cell. Sherman, another former Portlander, plays Wilder as an ex-con whose battle is not with an outlaw spirit, but his own nervous system. Can his twitchiness handle an interminable safety lecture at a new welding job? Can he give his estranged son an impromptu bath without distress turning to anger? In this way, the film blurs Wilder’s suggested make-good arc into something increasingly lifelike. Redemption is too idealistic a concept when relationships are built moment by moment. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Hollywood. 7:30 pm Wednesday, Dec. 6. Filmmaker Q&A after the screening.


**** Near the end of Napoleon, the eponymous French emperor (Joaquin Phoenix) demands to know what happened to the adoring letters he wrote to his beloved Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby). Yet for all his lordly airs, Napoleon doesn’t sound like a conqueror; he sounds like a high schooler whining about his flirty love notes to a cute girl in algebra class getting tossed in the trash. Such is life in Napoleon, which fuses the beautifully erratic humanity of Phoenix with the sweeping meticulousness of director Ridley Scott. Portraying Napoleon as both a devilish strategist and a lovesick dope is hardly a stretch: When the emperor died in exile in 1821, his final words were, “France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine.” That demands a paramour of mythic proportions, though “mythic” hardly does Kirby’s Joséphine justice. A scene in which she bares her crotch to Napoleon (“once you see it, you will always want it,” she prophetically declares) is memorable, but barely necessary; one word spoken in Kirby’s steely, velvety voice could seduce all but the sternest of authoritarians. Napoleon is even better as a sex comedy than it is as a violent spectacle, which is really saying something: Even the melees Scott staged for Gladiator are outdone by his poetic and brutish re-creation of Napoleon’s theatrics at the Battle of Austerlitz, which leaves Lake Satschen filled with ice, blood and cannon balls. Still, Scott never lets us forget that Napoleon is the overgrown adolescent who, in one scene, shames an Englishman by shouting, “You think you’re so great because you have boats!” Cry havoc and let slip the boys of war. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lake Theater, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Progress Ridge, Studio One.


*** 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. Cedar Hills, Century Eastport, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Studio One, Vancouver Plaza.


*** 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, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Studio One, Vancouver Plaza.


*** Director Eli Roth offers up a bloody feast for fans of old-school slashers with Thanksgiving, a feature-length adaptation of his fake trailer that played in front of Grindhouse (2007). The film opens with a bang as chaos spreads in a Right Mart during Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving night; Roth treats the scene more like a zombie invasion than a shopping event. The plot then jumps forward a year as a killer in a pilgrim mask targets a group of teens he finds responsible for the previous holiday disaster. Thanksgiving may be Roth’s best horror effort since he traumatized audiences with Hostel (2006). Yes, the premise is silly, but the movie knows it, winking at the audience with absurd scenarios and over-the-top gore (one scene involving a cat is especially welcome). The killer’s identity, motivation, and even downfall can be guessed pretty early on, but seasoned horror fans should enjoy watching Roth cook with ingredients borrowed from Pieces (1982) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Dinner is served. R. DANIEL RESTER. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Studio One, Vancouver Plaza.


** This year marks the centennial of Walt Disney Studios, which is celebrating by releasing Wish, a distillation of its fairy tale mastery filtered through the lens of modernity, but riddled with references to the House of Mouse’s back catalog. Unfortunately, in all the hullabaloo, the filmmakers seem to have forgotten to make the project itself innovative or compelling. Set in the Kingdom of Rosas, our story follows Asha (Ariana DeBose), who accidentally summons a magical wishing star from the sky, which threatens King Magnifico (Chris Pine) and his monopoly on all things enchanted and wishful. DeBose works wonders as our adorkable heroine, but there’s little to say about Asha as a character beyond that. Worse, the film’s forgettable songs lean heavy on bombast but light on poetry (the exception being Magnifico’s ode to his own despotism and the first proper villain song Disney has unleashed in years, “This Is the Thanks I Get?!” ). Visually, there’s nothing to complain about: The film’s fusion of retro watercolors with a CGI sheen is a marvel to behold. At a breezy 95 minutes, Wish doesn’t overstay its welcome and kids are sure to enjoy the cute critters and slapstick set pieces. Older fans, however, may realize their true wish is to see something else. PG. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Joy Cinema, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, St. Johns Twin, Wunderland Milwaukie.


* Years after the young-adult dystopia genre crested and flattened, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is here to remind us of what we are missing: not much. Set 64 years before Katniss Everdeen volunteered as tribute, the story follows young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) as he’s assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) in the future’s favorite child beauty pageant/televised bloodsport. In theory, this is the origin story of how Snow went from the penniless son of a disgraced noble to the all-powerful villain Donald Sutherland played in the main trilogy. However, Snow doesn’t have much of an arc to speak of, starting and ending the film as an ambitious schemer, with his only lessons being the very obvious consequences of his actions. Snow’s eventual maxim, “It is the things we love the most that destroy us,” doesn’t amount to anything since his romance with Lucy Gray is as baffling as it is predictable and his survival is a foregone conclusion. The action outside the relationship drama is tepid at best, as Ballad retreads the beats from the earlier films but with worse editing and fewer sci-fi elements. The movie only comes alive when the actors themselves seem to be taking the piss out of the whole concept—particularly Viola Davis, who plays gamemaker Dr. Gaul as a cross between Willy Wonka and Emperor Palpatine. After 150 minutes of screentime that feels like far more, she asks Snow what the Hunger Games are for. Sadly, the best answer Ballad can give us is “because Lionsgate Films needed a tentpole in Q4.” PG-13. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Bagdad, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Vancouver Plaza.

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