Your Weekly Roundup of Movies: “A Perfect Day for Caribou” Is a Quiet, Oregon-Made Marvel

What to see and what to skip.

A Perfect Day for Caribou (IMDB)


*** On its face, this Oregon-made debut from director Jeff Rutherford is a family reconciliation drama. An estranged father, Herman (played by Portland’s Jeb Berrier), and his son Nate (Charlie Plummer, who starred in Lean on Pete) meet for a long-awaited chat and are forced into a movie-long excavatory conversation as they search for a lost child. Yet on nonplot levels, A Perfect Day of Caribou is intentionally, sometimes stiflingly disquieting—with the visual palette of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and elliptical, nature-bound dialogues reminiscent of Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy (maybe it doesn’t bode well that Herman and Nate choose to reunite in a Gilliam County cemetery). It’s interestingly subversive that Caribou opens with a 10-minute, stream-of-consciousness monologue by Herman. Matter-of-factly performed by Berrier, that prologue reveals a man capable of reflection and communication that he can’t muster for the rest of the movie. When Herman and Nate do come together, they seize up emotionally even as they range across prairie, high desert and forest in search of the child. This hunt includes one unforgettable slow zoom, which lasts a full minute as Herman and Nate jog out toward the horizon, bodies appearing to shrink as they run. Love is hard for men like this, but they’re good at disappearing. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube Movies.


**** 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 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.


*** Moviegoers were blindsided last summer by Barbie, a blockbuster enriched by a banging soundtrack featuring an Oscar-winning ballad, a Ryan Gosling showstopper, and a fresh take on a forgotten folk song: Brandi Carlile and her wife Catherine’s rendition of the Indigo Girls’ 1989 classic “Closer to Fine,” which resonated with a wave of ‘90s-era college radio and music festival fans. Directed by Alexandria Bombach, It’s Only Life After All is a time warp through their career and personal lives delivering nostalgic reflections. Bombach allows the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, to narrate their journey without the interjection of others’ opinions, which they seem to have had enough of. Ray once expressed her frustration with critics and fans in a Charlie Rose interview, saying, “They can understand Rage Against the Machine but can’t understand the Indigo Girls.” Taking up the cause, the documentary dismantles the myopic views of the haters, offering a deeper understanding of the Indigo Girls’ activism and music. Watching them struggle through the decadeslong process of answering questions about their identity that they haven’t even processed themselves is heartbreaking, but the film reaffirms the enduring power of finally speaking your truth. NR. RAY GILL JR. Bridgeport, Cinema 21. April 10 only.


*** If you’re foolish or stubborn enough (or in my case, both) to still spend time in the contemptuous wasteland formerly known as Twitter, you may be aware that Late Night With the Devil has come under fire for its use of AI-generated images for its interstitials. This is a regrettable turn of events, not only because the filmmakers denied actual artists work in favor of a cheap facsimile, but because this one unforced error distracts from the fact that the movie is actually an effective low-budget thriller that uses the familiarity of a retro aesthetic to deliver some potent scares. Our story takes us to Oct. 31, 1977, the day (fictional) talk show host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) goes all out for his Halloween special in an attempt to finally outperform his longtime rival Johnny Carson. Unfortunately, Jack’s lineup of guests includes the sole survivor of a Satanic cult’s mass suicide (Ingrid Torelli), who understandably still has demons to deal with. Writers-directors-editors Colin and Cameron Cairnes create slow-burn dread in the first act, letting the audience get comfortable with the setting before ramping up to a bonkers finale involving gruesome body horror, false realities, and Torelli doing a killer Regan MacNeil impression. Plus, Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight, Dune) doesn’t miss a beat in his first starring role, giving Jack an affable, self-deprecating charm that slowly gives way to a profound sadness mixed with a desperate need for attention. While its mistakes may haunt it, Late Night With the Devil still boasts impressive filmmaking in front of and behind the camera, making it a trip to hell worth taking. R. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Progress Ridge, Vancouver Mall, Vancouver Plaza.


*** Writer-director Noora Niasari’s bilingual (Farsi and English) narrative feature debut chronicles the hurdles an Iranian mother faces after fleeing an abusive marriage. Inspired by Niasari’s personal experience, the tale is told through the eyes of Shayda (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) and her daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia), who have escaped the torment of Shayda’s marriage—she now lives in an Australian women’s shelter—only to endure threats from her ex-husband and feckless institutions. Shayda’s struggle is contextualized through her relationship with Mona, who cannot understand their circumstances, but is beautifully played by Zahednia (even with line readings that aren’t always crisp, she displays a venerability beyond many of her precocious peers). Unflinching in its portrayal of battle lines defined by gender and tradition, Shayda refuses to force-feed a message to its audience, confronting you with a harsh reality that’s already staring you in the face. PG-13. RAY GILL JR. Living Room.


*** A breezy musical genre birthed in 1950s Brazil, bossa nova shimmers over the dark underbelly that shaped it. Spanish co-directors Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal immerse us in the music and its milieu with They Shot the Piano Player, an animated docudrama telling the true story behind the 1976 disappearance of Francisco Tenório Júnior, a Brazilian pianist rumored to have been murdered by the government. The film focuses on Jeff Harris (Jeff Goldblum), a fictitious music journalist compelled to find out what happened to Tenório Júnior. Harris’ infectious curiosity draws you into bossa nova’s history with style that never sacrifices the emotional heft felt in the real-life audio from interviews, peering inside the homes and clubs of Tenório Júnior’s friends and family with naturalistic details and surrealist flair. The film may be an unflinching look at a murderous past, but tragedy is juxtaposed with the joy of seeing an animated Ella Fitzgerald running barefoot through the streets of Rio de Janeiro from one gig to the next, encapsulating the chaotic splendor and spirit of this cinematic gem. PG-13. RAY GILL JR. Fox Tower.


** 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. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Laurelhurst Theater, Vancouver Mall.

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