Your Weekly Roundup of New Movies: “About Dry Grasses” Is the Latest Masterpiece From Turkish Auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan

What to see and what to skip.

About Dry Grasses (Courtesy of IMDB)


**** Set during a heavy winter in an isolated Turkish town, the latest drama from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) takes wild swings yet strikes brilliantly understated notes. Deniz Celiloglu stars as Samet, a teacher perplexed by allegations that he’s too familiar with female students. His roommate and colleague, Kenan (Musab Ekici), faces similar accusations—and the two share a budding friendship with a female teacher, Nuray (Merve Dizdar), from a neighboring town, complicating their unspoken resentment. Working with cinematographers Cevahir Sahinand and Kürsat Üresin, Ceylan favors long, static shots, putting you in the room with his characters during extended conversations, but never in their heads (aside from the Terrence Malick-like philosophical introspection by Samet). Yet strategically sudden camera movements sometimes remind you that you’re watching a movie…and what a movie it is. Is About Dry Grasses about a work scandal or a love triangle, or is it truly about dry grasses? The answer is elusive, and the ideal viewer will stop asking what Ceylan’s film is about and accept it for what it is: a masterpiece. NR. RAY GILL JR. Living Room.


*** As tonally and stylistically consistent with its predecessor as any sequel you’ll encounter, Dune: Part Two—which adapts the back half of Frank Herbert’s landmark novel—is an escalation. We catch up with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) deep in the northern deserts of Arrakis, learning the ways of the indigenous Fremen, who debate among themselves whether Paul is the prophesied savior Muad’Dib. Falling for his fellow guerrilla fighter Chani (Zendaya), Paul seeks revenge on the invaders who destroyed House Atreides and whose ranks are now bolstered by sociopathic Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler). With production design that would make a pharaoh blush and sonics that touch bone marrow, director Denis Villeneuve outdoes himself in the realms of scale and sensory impact (any sequence involving sandworms is a guaranteed jaw-dropper). Yet no amount of mind-expanding spice could convince an audience that Chalamet and Zendaya have romantic chemistry or can quite explain Villeneuve’s overly slick habit of resolving hard-earned confrontations with swift, barely visible violence. Part Two also complicates the first film’s coldness by actualizing how cryptic storytelling can become when every major character is basically drunk on fate, unsure whether they are pawns, gods or kingmakers…or if convincing onlookers of that status simply makes it so, a philosophical dilemma destined to be resolved in a planned third film. It’s curious to say that a two-hour, 45-minute epic of this tonnage is holding something back, but Villeneuve is (once again) just as interested in prophesying the next film as he is in cementing the current one. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Academy, Bagdad, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Cinemagic, Empirical, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, St. Johns, St. Johns Twin, Wunderland Milwaukie.


*** March is Women’s History Month—and A24 decided to mark the occasion with Love Lies Bleeding, a grimy, gritty, female-fronted crime thriller that plays out like Thelma & Louise on HGH. Set in New Mexico circa 1989, the film follows Lou (Kristen Stewart), a small-time gym owner who strikes up a romance with aspiring bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O’Brian). Their relationship faces complications from Lou’s gun-running father (Ed Harris) and scumbag brother-in-law (Dave Franco), a pair whose attitudes are as bad as their era-appropriate haircuts. Love Lies Bleeding comes courtesy of director and co-writer Rose Glass, the mind behind 2019′s Saint Maud—and she brings the same raw, visceral energy of that holy terror. The new film threatens to break under its surrealist flights of fancy in the third act, but the connection between our heroines and the commitment of the actors hold it together. O’Brian in particular takes full advantage of her big indie-film break. She’s made a career out of playing heavies on network TV and the occasional action flick, but Love Lies Bleeding gives her the chance to flex her dramatic muscles as well, and she makes a character as dark as Jackie shine. Love Lies Bleeding’s mix of lurid violence and dreamlike atmosphere may turn off some viewers, but those looking for a hard-edged, gravel-in-your-gut kind of caper will enjoy feeling the burn. Plus, it would make a fascinating double feature with 2024′s other Sapphic saga. Anyone up for Drive Away Bleeding? R. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Progress Ridge, Vancouver Mall, Vancouver Plaza.


*** Nico Parker gives a breakout performance as Doris in Suncoast, the directorial debut from Laura Chinn, who based the film on her experience watching her brother die of brain cancer. In the movie, the brother is Max (Cree Kawa), who grows up with Doris in Florida. Even in the face of death, life goes on. The siblings’ mother, Kristine (Laura Linney), watches over Max at a hospice, while Doris befriends Paul (Woody Harrelson), an activist campaigning for Terry Schiavo to be kept on life support (the time is the mid-2000s). Suncoast is a deeply felt coming-of-age film that mostly works, despite stepping into familiar territory (anytime a film features driving lessons and a prom, clichés are guaranteed). Linney and Harrelson have their roles down pat, but it is Parker who breathes life into Suncoast. She takes Chinn’s sincere writing and runs with it in beautiful ways, turning Doris into a relatable teen who believably grapples with the awkwardness of friendship and the grief of her brother’s deterioration. It’s a performance that makes Suncoast a rarity: a film that evokes a specific moment in time without getting too heavy-handed with the nostalgia. R. DANIEL RESTER. Hulu.


** What if imaginary friends were not just real but, you know, scary? That’s the concept behind director Jeff Wadlow’s latest horror film. A soulful DeWanda Wise stars as Jessica, a children’s book author who moves into her childhood home with her new family. Her young stepdaughter Alice (Pyper Braun) soon finds a stuffed bear in the basement and names him Chauncey. Creative, Alice, but lordly monikers aside, Imaginary hits routine beats, including predictable fake-out scares, an old woman who delivers exposition, and a therapist who acts nothing like a real therapist (is there any other kind of movie therapist?). Imaginary finally gains momentum in the third act once the plot gets nutty (or nuttier), but by then it is too little too late. Wadlow has certainly made worse horror films than Imaginary (including the hilariously bad Truth or Dare), but his latest effort is still mostly toothless and unimaginative. PG-13. DANIEL RESTER. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, Vancouver Mall, Vancouver Plaza.


** As a semi-lucid showcase for DreamWorks’ animation empire in the late aughts, the first Kung Fu Panda engendered a near universal goodwill that has kept the eponymous body-posi demon warrior Po (Jack Black) afloat in an IP-soaked media universe. Casual fans might rightly question the sheer amount of material wholly dependent upon the undimmed adorability of Black’s slow-rolling fave phrase (skadoosh!), but for better or worse, these are children’s cartoons. As opening info drops in Kung Fu Panda 4 make clear, prior installments had neither the talent nor the inclination to sow seeds for an eventual world building of this luxe wuxia pastiche—and failed efforts at moralizing through Po’s long-suffering spiritual adviser (Dustin Hoffman) spotlight how little meat is left on this particular bone. Any actual philosophical tenets are clouded with pan-Asian greeting-card mysticism that divorces martial arts from violence altogether, implying that fighting is really just kinetic yoga. As with that other express Panda franchise hawking oversugared flavors plucked out of context, a creative vision ungrounded by larger perspective and unconnected to cultural context leaves a nauseating aftertaste. PG. JAY HORTON. Academy, Avalon, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.


** The best scene in Problemista ends with a bullet. Anguished by overdraft fees, Alejandro (Julio Torres) begs a Bank of America employee to acknowledge the injustice of his plight. Her response? She whips out a pistol, shoots him, and declares, “I stand with Bank of America!” Savagely funny and direct, that punchline is the opposite of everything else in Problemista, a satire of immigrant dreams that parries when it should stab. Written and directed by Torres (co-creator and star of Los Espookys), Problemista finds Alejandro in New York struggling to become a high-concept toy designer—his ideas include a stairs-hating Slinky—but Hasbro keeps rebuffing him. If he doesn’t want to be deported home to El Salvador, he needs a work visa, but the only person who will sponsor him is a deranged art critic (Tilda Swinton) curating an exhibition of her cryogenically frozen husband’s paintings of eggs (quirkiness alert!). Torres is a delightfully nimble performer, but Swinton’s Elizabeth is surprisingly staid, lobbing cruel, witless jokes at service-industry workers as if she were auditioning for a Z-grade Seinfeld ripoff. Problemista seeks to cultivate an aura of absurd wonderment, but its stock characters and forced whimsy are so wearying that when Alejandro is offered putatively soul-killing work as a paralegal, you want to cry, “Take the job, kid! Creativity ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.” R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cinema 21.

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