SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING
**** Astoria becomes an extension of a young woman’s soul in Sometimes I Think About Dying, an exquisitely restrained drama from director Rachel Lambert. Rey Skywalker herself, Daisy Ridley, plays Fran, a numb office worker who sits rigidly in her cubicle, silently terrified of being forced to engage in pleasantries. With eerie grace, Sometimes I Think About Dying peers into Fran’s suicidal visions—she imagines herself entombed in a tangle of driftwood on a desolate beach—but even as the film evokes the monotony of her depression, it gleams in moments of connection. An unexpected friendship with a hyperactive, pie-munching co-worker (Dave Merheje) leads Fran to a murder mystery party, where she delights the guests by flamboyantly miming death by acid. Fran is never more alive than when she yanks death from the darkened crevices of her mind and plays it as farce, an act that draws her more deeply into a city and its people. Sometimes I Think About Dying is unmistakably an Astorian movie—only in a close-knit community could a character give directions to their home by saying it’s behind “the purple house”—but its emotional reach goes beyond the sweep of the Columbia River, which to Fran seems both an empty void and an inviting canvas. Sometimes she thinks about living. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Fox Tower.
ALL OF US STRANGERS
**** “If I am lonely,” Adam (Andrew Scott) says, “it’s not because I’m gay.” He’s only partially right. No, Adam doesn’t face bigotry or exclusion in his day-to-day life, but his self-imposed isolation stems from a number of lingering traumas—his closeted youth being among them. However, in All of Us Strangers, we see Adam slowly begin to connect with others: his neighbor and suitor Harry (Paul Mescal) and his suburban parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell)—despite the fact that they died when Adam was a boy. Writer-director Andrew Haigh (45 Years, Lean on Pete) is smart enough never to reveal the mechanics of Mum and Dad’s return. The point is Adam getting a second chance at closure and the emotional roller coaster that comes with it, rendered in a shaky, uncomfortable style that stays just surreal and ethereal enough to be in the realm of magical realism. All the actors put forth their A-game, but it’s Scott who burns brightest, turning in a performance that’s bashful, earnest and absolutely devastating. If there’s any criticism to be leveled at All of Us Strangers, it’s that it’s sometimes too safe and sterile, but the movie still earns its ending and delivers a quietly stirring story of looking back in order to move forward. R. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Eastport, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Studio One.
**** In Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2018 masterpiece Shoplifters, a father tells his son, “All men like boobs.” It’s a cringe-y declaration, but hardly evidence of bigotry. The father, a scrappy shoplifter, doesn’t hate gay people; he just isn’t worldly enough to consider that his son might be one. In retrospect, the moment plays like a prelude to Monster, in which Kore-eda crafts an exquisite portrait of queer love that gradually comes into focus. A time-shifting tale of anguished parents, desperate teachers, and barely knowable youths, Monster is a beautifully slippery creation. While the film is populated with tragically well-meaning grown-ups, it is two boys, Minato and Yori (Soya Kurokawa and Hinata Hiiragi), who get the last word—or note, rather. As Minato and Yori flee the confinement and compromises of the adult world, the film’s score punctuates their escape with a beautifully delicate piano melody by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who died of cancer last year. In 2021, Sakamoto wrote, “I am hoping to make music for a little while longer.” So he did, writing a score that captures the lyrical essence of first love. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Living Room.
*** Cady Heron, the corrupted innocent; Regina George, the diabolically perfect teen dictator. As mythic as they are backstabbing, the characters of Mean Girls have clung to pop culture for 20 years, infiltrating the English language (“fetch” happened, y’all) and solidifying our collective imagining of American high schools as battlefields littered with the corpses of dead friendships. Some would have you believe that the original 2004 film was a righteous lesson in the evils of bullying, but it reveled in Regina’s rampant cruelty and her blunt-force comeuppance (though she took being pummeled by a school bus like a champ). However, the new musical version of the story—based on the 2017 stage play the film inspired—is noticeably nice. Gone is the mysteriousness of Cady and Regina’s reconciliation (they now share a bathroom heart-to-heart instead of a dreamy, wordless truce) and the horrifying scene in which a student is sexually abused by Coach Carr (now played by Jon Hamm as a wholesome dumbass). Fans will debate whether Mean Girls ‘24 is a welcome refresh or a dishonest gloss on an inherently ugly tale, but at least two of the songs (“Revenge Party” and “Apex Predator”) come respectably close to being bangers, and the new cast (led by Angourie Rice as Cady and Reneé Rapp as Regina) is surprisingly serviceable. Filling a role originated by Lindsay Lohan or Rachel McAdams without embarrassing yourself? That really is fetch. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Vancouver Plaza.
THE ZONE OF INTEREST
*** “Rudi calls me the queen of Auschwitz,” chuckles Hedwig (Sandra Hüller). Her laughter is neither mad nor maniacal; it’s a titter of amusement, light and bloodless. Hedwig may be the wife of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), but she doesn’t fit the profile of a tyrant’s spouse. At once aware and indifferent, she regards the genocide of Jews with mild interest, preferring to focus on the sunflowers and kale growing in her meticulously maintained yard. Hedwig is one of many clues that Jonathan Glazer, the writer-director of The Zone of Interest, is less interested in the banality than the triviality of evil. When movies peer through German eyes at World War II, they typically cling to the momentous, from the 1,200 lives saved by Oskar Schindler to the July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Hitler with a bomb in a briefcase. What fascinates Glazer, adapting Martin Amis’ novel, are the seemingly incidental details, like the Höss family’s pond freezing over or Rudolf petting a gray-furred dog on a snowy day. The quiet spectacle of ordinary life marching on in the shadow of the Holocaust makes you want to scream in helpless rage, an outcome Glazer stiffly guards against. He has no catharsis to offer, no words of wisdom to impart. His singular drive is to show us that horrific history is made not only by raging monsters, but by men and women who treat the slaughter of millions as another day at the office. And not even an extraordinary day. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Hollywood.
FREUD’S LAST SESSION
** This shy little story thrust into the cinematic spotlight stands on performances begging to return to the stage. Playwright Mark St. Germain worked with director Matthew Brown to adapt his play for the big screen, focusing on a fictional conversation between Sigmund Freud and future Chronicles of Narnia author and recently converted theologian C.S. Lewis. Freud (Anthony Hopkins), visibly nearing the end of his battle with cancer, summons Lewis (Matthew Goode) to his home in 1939 London as news of Hitler’s movements comes over the radio. Their meeting begins with polite verbal sparring until the looming Nazi threat invades their tangential banter. Afterward, a shaken Lewis drops the pretense as the debate shifts to the existence of God, putting them both on the therapy couch (advantage, Freud). The story spills into the conflicted world of Freud’s daughter Anna, who’s torn by ambition and obligation to her dying father. But don’t get too invested, as her presence merely plays as the arc to Freud’s theatrical resolution. The two leads, at least, offer a captivating spark layered over the indulgent flashbacks and B-plot filler. Their intellectually dense conversation exposes the origins of their opposing, deeply held beliefs, producing a mutual respect rather than a common enemy, a mythical feat in a mediocre movie. PG-13. RAY GILL JR. Fox Tower.
** A claustrophobic setting and six characters make up this chamber piece/thriller from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish, Megan Leavey). Three Americans and three Russians are working together on the International Space Station when an explosive conflict breaks out on Earth—and both teams soon get communications from their respective governments to take control of the station by any means necessary. I.S.S. begins efficiently as Cowperthwaite establishes the characters’ tension and hesitation. She’s blessed with a strong cast, including Chris Messina, John Gallagher Jr., and Pilou Asbæk (though lead Ariana DeBose feels a bit out of place). Unfortunately, I.S.S. becomes more mechanical in execution—and the characters’ decisions grow more unbelievable—in the second act, and screenwriter Nick Shafir never fully explores the political complications promised by the setup. I.S.S. is decent enough, but Shafir and Cowperthwaite should have injected more edge into the material and taken notes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. R. DANIEL RESTER. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, Vancouver Mall, Vancouver Plaza.