Your Weekly Roundup of Movies: Charlie Kaufman Explores Childhood Terrors in “Orion and the Dark”

What to see and what to skip.

ORION AND THE DARK

*** Orion and the Dark is an animated kids movie penned by Charlie Kaufman, who is known for writing offbeat dramas like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Based on the book of the same name by Emma Yarlett, Kaufman’s script follows a boy named Orion (Jacob Tremblay) who is afraid of everything. The night before a school field trip, Orion meets his biggest fear: the Dark (Paul Walter Hauser), who joins him on a journey that forces Orion to face and learn from his fears. While Orion and the Dark is kiddie fare, Kaufman does manage to squeeze in some jokes aimed at adults (children likely won’t understand the nods to David Foster Wallace and Werner Herzog), while director Sean Charmatz brings Kaufman’s script to life in colorful ways (including when Orion’s drawings of his fears come flying off the pages of his sketchbook). Some of the characters’ facial animations look dated, but Charmatz’s stylistic choices are enjoyable overall. Orion and the Dark is no Inside Out or Soul, but it’s still an entertaining exploration of Orion’s vivid inner life. TV-Y7. DANIEL RESTER. Netflix.

MONSTER

**** 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.

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.

MEAN GIRLS

*** 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 musical the film inspired—is noticeably nice. Gone are 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, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, 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, Clackamas, Hollywood.

ARGYLLE

** If there’s one word to describe Argylle, it’s “indecisive.” There’s clever ideas at play, and at times the film is outright spectacular, but director Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman, X-Men: First Class) and screenwriter Jason Fuchs seem incapable of picking just one tone, tangent or trajectory to follow. The film starts as Romancing the Stone meets The Bourne Identity, as mild-mannered spy-fi novelist Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) becomes the target of actual secret agents when her latest manuscript reads too much like an active black-ops case. There’s fun to be had with the contrast between Elly’s clean-cut protagonist Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) and the uncouth spy who protects her, Aidan Wilde (Sam Rockwell), but a midpoint twist upends the whole excursion and sends Elly on a divergent emotional journey that easily could have taken up the whole runtime. Vaughn can’t decide if he’s making another twisted James Bond spoof like Kingsman or a sincere ode to bombastic ‘80s thrillers, but he remains unimpeachable as an action director, delivering fight scenes that range from the creative to the ludicrous (all while Howard and Rockwell share fabulous rom-com rapport). Argylle strains under the weight of its ambitions, but if Vaughn’s irreverent charm is your thing, it’ll leave you shaken and stirred. PG-13. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, St. Johns Twin, Studio One.

I.S.S.

** 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. Cascade, Clackamas, Division Street, Evergreen Parkway, Lloyd Center, Vancouver Plaza.

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