“We are all going to the world’s fair” is a distressing game of digital chicken
TOP CHOICE OF THE WEEK
We’re all going to the world’s fair
*** Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun’s debut is an agonizing game of digital chicken. Virtually alone in the world, teenager Casey (newcomer Anna Cobb) grows up immersed in an online role-playing game called World’s Fair. It’s a horror RPG, and Casey creates videos suggesting darker and darker personal fantasies and, like many users, plays at transforming into a new being. Casey and his online followers seem to know it’s all staged, but their joint push for the terrifying edge of believability adds to the game’s natural momentum. More so, the participatory concern is the role of the film’s audience. Interspersed with YouTube and Skype collages, we glimpse a lonely girl packing her unknown disturbance into a fantasy realm. The more we ask, “Wait, but could that part be real?” or “What real trauma is causing this?” plus we also play World’s Fair. It’s a fascinating investigation into the liminal space fear inhabits once a filmmaker is only mediating reality from scary movies, though it makes for a better concept than the story. Likewise, Cobb’s terribly vulnerable performance becomes more textual than emotional. Nevertheless, do not doubt the psychological weight of such a creative and intelligent film. Zoom for miles friendless and his ilk, Schoenbrun’s work lives on the cutting edge of modern horror. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. PAM CUT, April 22-23.
***Michael Bay’s Ambulance is stupid beyond belief, but it’s also thrilling, terrifying and impressively brutal. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Danny, a career criminal who enlists his adoptive brother Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to help him steal $32 million from a Los Angeles bank in broad daylight. It’s an insulting and unlikely setup – even if Will needs the money for his wife’s “experimental surgery”, why would he go along with Danny’s delusional plan in minutes? But once they steal an ambulance to escape the army of police on their trail, the film gets into a choppy pace. By trapping a bleeding cop (Jackson White) and a hardened EMT named Cam (Eiza González) in the ambulance with the brothers, Bay creates countless possibilities for triumphant tension. When Cam has to use a hair clip to perform surgery, your heart skips a beat – and when the snipers prepare to fire shots that could kill everyone in the ambulance, it stops. almost. Hyper-editing and swooping camera movements make the action too frenetically blurry, but there’s no denying Bay’s control over the exhilarating currents of fear that run through your mind and body as you watch. Based on a 2005 Danish film, Ambulance hits its share of false notes, but unlike most modern action films, it understands the difference between bombast and suspense. R BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza.
Everything everywhere all at once
*** A sci-fi/martial arts (kung fusion?) hyperkinetic fever dream grounded in Asian American family dynamics, Everything everywhere all at once will be absolutely adored by some moviegoers from its first moments. It’s a movie made to be loved and, given the jaw-dropping technical magic at play throughout, nearly impossible to hate. Michelle Yeoh is usually dazzling as Evelyn Wong, a misanthropic laundromat owner called upon to save the multiverse from her daughter’s worst self (Stephanie Hsu, in a role intended for Awkwafina). Evelyn is an underwritten character, but Yeoh brings a welcome authenticity to the film, even if a performance of such finely nuanced nuance isn’t the best fit for the DayGlo sensationalism of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the filmmaking duo known as the name of Daniels (Swiss army man). As with Terry Gilliam, Edgar Wright or any other avant-garde sentimentalist pressing restless rhythms and visual inventiveness in the service of a totally unworthy story, the directors effortlessly energize the slow parts and the paper on the holes of the plot, but when the pacing calms down and the fireworks go down for an emotional climax, the film moves chillingly. Inevitable? Maybe, but it’s still disappointing Everything everywhere all at once is less than the sum of its dazzling parts. R JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Cinema 21, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Hollywood, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center.
Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets
*** When it was announced that JK Rowling was releasing five films based on a fake textbook she put together for charity, Harry Potter fans instantly knew two things about the coming fantastic beasts pentalogy: An epic saga drawn from a fanciful taxonomy was a terrible idea, and it didn’t matter. Despite the irrelevance of the concept, the surviving IP held enough power to spawn a third adventure for cryptozoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), despite the recasting of big bad Johnny Depp, Rowling’s transphobic rants and the change of tone. previous entries’ Dr. Dolittle-period travelogue to a secret agent thread on a failed liaison between archmages. While Grindelwald stand-in Mads Mikkelsen lacks Depp’s cartoonish self-esteem – which provided a romantic counterbalance to Jude Law’s Dumbledore incandescence – his Hannibal/Bond villain brand of comically erased cruelty brings gravity necessary for a story that moves through a Disney-fied Weimar Berlin with bounce and verve. It also helps that the screenplay (by Rowling and Steve Kloves) expertly seeds the voluminous exposition with fan-service nods, but barely requires prior knowledge from the titular future director. Yes, it’s still the Potterverse, but for the movie’s eternal blessing, that’s not always necessary. PG-13. JAY HORTON. Academy, Baghdad, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Eastport, Fox Tower, Pioneer Place, Lloyd Center, St. Johns, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Tigard.
*** The latest from “slow cinema” master Apichatpong Weerasethakul starts with a bang, but only literally. Jessica (Tilda Swinton), an orchid grower living in Medellín, Colombia, is awakened one night by a loud, unidentifiable sound. With insomnia, noise becomes an inescapable part of Jessica’s life, heard only by her. In a long-lasting stun, she finally heads for the mountains to the origins of sound. That said, focusing on the plot of a Weerasethakul film distorts its appeal; sensory exploration is the main attraction. In Memory, time slows down, stalls and replenishes itself in minutes of uninterrupted takes of jazz quartets, hospital visits and even deeply poetic siestas. Swinton is more engaged than ever, giving a performance seemingly devoid of desire, charisma, and even makeup. Fans of Weerasethakul stars like Uncle Boonmee who can remember his past lives can be easily swept away in the Thai director’s first (partially) English-language film, but it’s hard to speculate whether the uninitiated will find Memory more transcendent or simply tedious. There is little spiritual enrichment in Jessica’s alienation – instead, the film gradually positions her and the audience as infinitesimal, with identity and logic as mere blips and coincidences in space – weather. The metaphysical mysteries of the universe explode and then recede. PG. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.
The man from the north
** If you like your men handsome, violent and full of self-pity, you’ll love it The Nordic, a new interpretation of the Scandinavian legend that inspired Hamlet. It’s a satisfying and brutal mystical epic directed by Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse, The Witch) starring Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth, a comically obsessive Viking prince. When Amleth was a boy, his father, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) was murdered by his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who later married Amleth’s mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). By the time Amleth is old enough to seek revenge, Fjölnir has lost the kingdom to a rival ruler and become a farmer, which is one of the film’s many twisted jokes – Fjölnir can never fall far enough to sate the fury of Amleth. While Amleth’s macho theatrics might have been intolerable, it is undermined by the film’s particular humor. There’s a charming self-amusingness behind the actors’ exaggerated Scandinavian accents – they know they’re in a bonkers movie and they love it. Many audiences probably will be too, but with the exception of Queen Gudrún who pokes fun at her son with a beautifully mad cackle, Eggers is a director of split loyalties – he berates toxic masculinity while reveling in it. Hypocrisy is by no means fatal, but despite a glorious duel climaxing on a lava-flooded volcano, The man from the north leaves a weary familiarity in its wake. Criticize men like Amleth and Fjölnir? Good. Leave them behind? Better. R BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Clackamas, Cinemagic, Cinema 21, City Center, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza.
sonic the hedgehog 2
** Over the past decade, movie studios have chased the earth-shattering impact of the culture of The Avengers with mixed results. Still sonic the hedgehog 2 understands what made Marvel’s superhero mashup so successful in 2012: making no apologies for making a kids’ movie featuring a cast of brilliant action figures that repeatedly collide. Sonic’s latest adventure is unlikely to change the life of anyone over the age of 12, but if Sega Sammy’s silliness is your jam, you’re in for a wild ride. Directed by Jeff Fowler, the sequel is dominated by a sense of exploration, seriousness and, above all, fun. The action is fast and creative, some of the gags are genuinely funny and the cast is game – Idris Elba in particular has a ball voicing the ever stoic Knuckles the echidna, making the character both an unflappable warrior and a child too great trying to convince everyone of his seriousness. Outside of Jim Carrey’s happily maniacal Dr. Robotnik, however, the film struggles to find purpose for its human supporting cast, to the point that you start to wonder why they even bother. Ultimately, sonic the hedgehog 2 is at best a mostly harmless romp that entertains you, or at least distracts you. PG. MORGAN SHAUNET. Academy, Cedar Hills, City Center, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Joy Cinema, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, Roseway, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Tigard, Wunderland, Wunderland Milwaukie.