**** An 80-year-old billionaire decides to secure his legacy by funding the creation of an epic film about… anything. He hires eccentric filmmaker Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz), whose idea to adapt a Nobel Prize-winning novel titled Rivalry sets the stage for Official competition, a satirical adventure by Argentinian filmmakers Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn. The film revolves around Lola’s collaboration with movie star Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) and revered theater actor Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez), who are cast in her film as rival siblings. Félix and Iván engage in a bizarre series of acting drills (which include suspending a rock over the actors’ heads as they rehearse), their egos creating comedic friction as Lola manipulates them. smartly. Cohn and Duprat, who wrote the screenplay with Duprat’s brother Andrés, use precise symmetry and over-the-shoulder shots in conversations to draw in the audience, while using deliberately bland visuals to reinforce the isolation of the characters. The result? A surreal environment that allows Lola, Félix and Iván to gradually move away from anything resembling normal society, making Official competition a compelling and subtly hilarious film to watch. R RAY GILL JR. Cinema 21.
CHA CHA TRUE SMOOTH
** In 2020, Cooper Raiff, then 23, became an overnight independent film presence by writing, directing and starring in Shit, a college comedy-drama about a deeply serious freshman who hooks up, misses mom, and finds himself. In his follow-up, Raiff advances an almost identical character and worldview in post-graduation angst, this time with Dakota Johnson and Apple TV+ in his corner. Wayward Andrew (Raiff) finds himself hosting bar mitzvahs, which leads him to meet Domino (Johnson) and his autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) and become the former’s sweetheart and the latter’s babysitter. While there’s sentimentality to spare, the film’s broad comedy — from bar mitzvah fights to Andrew roasting his stepdad (Brad Garrett) to tweens tricked into dancing with each other — plays well. Still, Cha Cha Real Smooth regularly stops for Andrew and Domino to discuss their character development (he’s young and dumb, she’s afraid of being alone), almost as if the storyline’s focus was coaching life. And without the Shithouse college bubble, it’s clear that Raiff orchestrated a wacky story so that amazing women would stare at him longingly and he could cry over his own dialogue. Cha Cha real smooth isn’t necessarily a sophomore slump, but it’s certainly an indicator that Raiff should evolve his character and on-screen formula before straining credulity (and amplifying his vanity). R CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. AppleTV+.
MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU
** The biggest animated universe in movie history is apparently on cruise control in Minions: The Rise of Gru– which hardly concerns its tiny stars, which seem to belong to a universe in their own right. A prequel to Despicable Me trilogy, the film begins with future master of evil Gru (Steve Carrell), 12 years old, living in the suburbs of the 1970s and eager to join the Vicious 6, an infamous group of supervillains. The Vicious 6 have just ousted their leader, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), and they’re holding open tryouts for a collection of dodgy wannabes in a sequence reminiscent of the audition scene from Mysterious men. It’s just one of many scenarios framed in a vivid 70s backdrop that’s glorious to watch – you feel like you’re not just looking at another era, but another world. Unfortunately, creativity ends with animation. Gru spends most of the movie with the forgettable Wild Knuckles just waiting to be rescued, limiting his interactions with the rambunctious, talkative Minions, who are fighting not just to save Gru, but for the movie as well. PG. RAY GILL JR. Academy, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Wunderland Milwaukie.
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER
** Thor: Love and Thunderthe latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, begins with a graceful tribute to The tree of life and ends with a heartbreaking climax that could have been written by Nicholas Sparks. It’s a strangely rewarding film, but it’s not good – and it casts serious doubts on director Taika Waititi’s next assignment, a star wars characteristic. Chris Hemsworth is back as Thor, the god of thunder and goofy pre-battle speeches, as is Natalie Portman, who plays Thor’s ex-girlfriend, Dr. Jane Foster. Since the breakup, she’s gained some serious superpowers, which come in handy, as a moody, murderous guy named Gorr (Christian Bale) is unleashed on the cosmos. The problem with this plot is that it is actually four plots. In the name of why not excess, Waititi has made a movie that’s equal parts dark father-daughter drama, upbeat rom-com, jaw-dropping action spectacle, and sickness of the week. . A more skilled director (Edgar Wright, perhaps) could have convinced the disparate parts of the film to stay cohesive, but Waititi doesn’t care about consistency. As its tactless and banal portrayal of a character’s Stage IV cancer diagnosis suggests, it got lost in a maze of indulgent and seemingly random storytelling impulses. Thor: Love and Thunder wants to be witty and he wants to be soulful, but his quest to be both is so scattered that he is neither. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Eastport, Fox Tower, Lake Theatre, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, St. Johns, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Tigard.