24/06/2024 5:54 AM

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Adorn your Feelings

Naomi Watts Battles a Blizzard in “Infinite Storm”

7 min read

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK

Infinite Storm

*** Pam Bales’ heroic story of rescue and survival on Mount Washington stretches well beyond the standard human-vs.-nature narrative—and director Malgorzata Szumowska isn’t afraid to go there. Based on an article in Reader’s Digest, “High Places: Footprints in the Snow Lead to an Emotional Rescue” by Ty Gagne, the movie centers on Bales (Naomi Watts), a climber and member of a local search and rescue team who finds John (Billy Howle), a stranger alone on the mountain, slowly succumbing to extreme wintry conditions and resigned to his fate. Bales snaps into action, taking John on a perilous journey down the mountain and into the teeth of an unforgiving blizzard. Szumowska doesn’t lean on sweeping shots, opting instead to use the camera to create a more visceral experience by lingering on Bales’ painfully human struggle—the trauma of losing loved ones to the mountain is the crux of the story—while Watts reminds us why she’s twice been nominated for an Oscar (for 21 Grams and The Impossible) with an unfiltered performance that you won’t soon forget. Overall, the film indulges a bit too much in the morose to be considered entertaining, but it still delivers an effective and powerful examination of grief and the value of life. R. RAY GILL JR. Bridgeport, Clackamas, Cornelius 10, Fox Tower, Movies on TV, Progress Ridge, Studio One.

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*** A skillful, clever, not entirely satisfying homage to the heyday of both skin flicks and slasher cinema, the latest left-field fearjerker by Ti West (The Innkeepers, The Sacrament) thrusts new meaning into grindhouse. It’s a blood-steeped farmer’s grandmother yarn about a van full of overripe, reflective, Linklaterian Texas stoners renting a ramshackle cabin from a decrepit couple for an amateur hardcore shoot. An undersexed harpie and long-suffering codger might not seem especially terrifying on paper, but West expertly teases, say, the looming specter of Chekhov’s Alligator just long enough for audiences to walk straight into the business end of a rusted pitchfork. If anything, the technical facility and lockstep set pieces can feel too perfectly composed. Given the sheer amount of peen and gore on display, there’s an odd sense of restraint tempering the anarchic abandon that burbles throughout the classics of the genre. Halfhearted attempts at providing a psychological basis for the elderly couple’s homicidal mania weaken the lingering air of menace as swiftly an acoustic Fleetwood Mac cover kills any sexual tension. Like a cameraman/budding-indie-auteur character pointedly claims, every dirty (or scary) movie may as well strive for greatness. R. JAY HORTON. Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Living Room, Laurelhurst, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Pioneer Place, Studio One, Tigard.

Deep Water

**** Vic (Ben Affleck) is rich. By designing a computer chip used in drone warfare, he bought himself ample time to pursue his favorite hobbies—biking, cultivating a snail colony, and quietly murdering the many lovers of his wife, Melinda (Ana de Armas). Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith and directed by Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction), Deep Water savors the thrills of sadistic foreplay. “Finally, some emotion,” Melinda sneers when Vic confronts her about one of her affairs. Cuckolding him turns her on, but they’re both aroused by his vicious hunger to control her. Melinda’s conquests may think that they’ve captured a slice of her soul, but they’re merely pieces on the chess board that is her marriage to Vic—just like Lionel (Tracy Letts), a snoopy acquaintance who knows too much about their relationship for his own good. All of this is sick, slick fun, thanks to Lyne’s mastery of the film’s menacing atmosphere and the peerless pairing of de Armas and Affleck. Her teasing cruelty clashes delectably with his sinister stoicism, creating a confounding balance between their performances. Deep Water could have been a hysterical thriller about the horrors of having an unfaithful wife or a post-#MeToo indictment of a deadly husband, but it’s neither. Lyne, Affleck and de Armas have instead created an erotic game in which man and wife have an equal stake in the inevitably twisted outcome. Progress? Possibly. Entertainment? Undeniably. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Hulu.

Drive My Car

**** After you see Drive My Car, you will never look at snow, suspension bridges or stages the same way again. When you see the world through the searching eyes of director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, there is no such thing as mere scenery. There is only the living fabric of the places and objects that envelop Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and Misaki (Tôko Miura), whose compassion and complexity are a world unto themselves. Most of the film is set in Hiroshima, where Yûsuke is directing a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Misaki is assigned to be his driver, but their relationship transcends the divide between the front seat and the back. During drives, conversations, and surreal yet strangely believable adventures, their reserve gradually erodes as they reveal their losses and their inner lives to each other, building to a cathartic climax that leaves you at once shattered and soaring. The film, based on a novella by Haruki Murakami, isn’t afraid to face the agony of grief and loneliness, but Hamaguchi’s obvious love for his characters suffuses the entire journey with life-giving warmth. A tender, hopeful coda set during the pandemic could have been cringeworthy, but like every moment of the movie, it’s worth believing in because Hamaguchi’s sincerity is beyond question. “We must keep on living,” Yûsuke tells Misaki. With those words, he speaks not only to her but to us. NR. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, City Center, Evergreen Parkway, Hollywood.

Fear

**** Bulgarian writer-director Ivaylo Hristov’s Fear portrays humanity with brute honesty and moments of levity. Shot in beautifully ominous black-and-white, the film drops in on the life of Svetla (Svetlana Yancheva), a gruff widow and recently unemployed teacher living near the Turkish border who runs across an African refugee named Bamba (Michael Flemming) attempt
ing to make his way to Germany. With the authorities bogged down as they deal with the many immigrants coming to Svetla’s dilapidated town, she finds herself reluctantly taking Bamba in while town officials figure out what to do with him. A fascinating relationship starts to take shape between Svetla and Bamba, despite the socially constructed obstacles posed by language, nationality and race. Before long, word is spread around town of the African man staying with Svetla, sparking rash speculation filtered through xenophobia, racism and misinformation. Hristov’s cleverly injected comedic beats in the face of absurd situations become fleeting as the looming danger grows, tapping into the gut-wrenching lessons of history that subconsciously warn the audience of what’s to come. NR. RAY GILL JR. Apple TV+, Vudu.

Turning Red

**** In Turning Red, the latest kinetic gem from Pixar Animation Studios, 13-year-old Meilin (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) howls, “I’m a gross red monster!” Given her age, you might think she’s talking about pimples, but Meilin is speaking literally—when her emotions rise, she transforms into a fuzzy red panda. It’s a metaphor, but for what? Puberty? Coming out? Discovering a furry fetish? Audiences are likely to put forth dueling perspectives, which is a sign of the film’s smarts—it’s too sweeping and mythic to be confined to a single interpretation. Meilin’s mother, Ming (Sandra Oh), wants to perform a ritual to banish the panda in her daughter’s soul, but Meilin cheerily and firmly tells her, “My panda, my choice, Mom,” a characteristically loaded line from a studio that specializes in serving up allegorical baggage for all ages. Both kids and adults will appreciate that Turning Red, directed by Domee Shi, revels in Meilin’s panda-mode exultation—she beats up a bully and bounds across rooftops—but above all, the film is for girls Meilin’s age. As a triumphant “Pandas, assemble!” climax suggests, Turning Red, the first Pixar film with an all-female creative leadership team, wants them to feel both entertained and seen. PG. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Disney+.

The Batman

** “What’s black and blue and dead all over?” In The Batman, the Riddler (Paul Dano) poses that question to the Dark Knight (Robert Pattinson), but blacks and blues don’t figure into the film much—visually, morally and emotionally, it’s a gray movie. While director Matt Reeves brought a majestic mournfulness to the Planet of the Apes series, he seems utterly lost in Gotham City. His nearly three-hour film is less a narrative than a mechanistic survey of a political conspiracy that the Riddler wants to expose—the story starts after the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents not just because we’ve seen it before, but because Reeves is more interested in plot than pathos. Even the soulful, sultry presence of Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman can’t liven up the film—she and the Batman flirt so chastely that if it weren’t for a few F-bombs and clumsily staged fight scenes, Reeves could have easily gotten away with a G rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. When Christopher Nolan was directing the Dark Knight trilogy, he tore into the Batman mythos with fervor, whereas Reeves just seems to be lackadaisically marinating in misery—especially when the film attempts an embarrassingly halfhearted critique of Bruce and the rest of Gotham’s 1%. What’s dead all over? The Batman. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Academy, Bagdad, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Cinemagic, City Center, Eastport, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, St. Johns, St. Johns Theater & Pub, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Tigard.



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