A minor minimalist masterpiece, writer-director Jeff Rutherford’s first feature consists almost entirely of halting conversation between an estranged father and son as they meander through the beautifully barren, black-and-white landscape of Central Oregon. Shot in decadently long takes, A Perfect Day for Caribou conjures a captivating, lived-in ennui and gives its two lead actors plenty of room to walk around in their seamlessly inhabited characters.
The film opens with a lengthy monologue from Herman (Jeb Barrier), spoken into a hand-held recorder as he loiters near a pick-up truck filled with, presumably, all his worldly possessions. It has the feel of a suicide note, and when it’s interrupted by a phone call, he heads over to the local cemetery for an impromptu reunion with Nate (Charlie Plummer), the 24-year-old son he hasn’t seen in years.
Nate’s got a seven-year-old son of his own, and works the night shift as a janitor at his old middle school. Herman has just left his most recent girlfriend—it’s her truck, which she considers a fair price for being rid of him. They’re a pair of real sad sacks, for sure. But Rutherford finds a hangdog profundity in their terse dialogues, and in the silences between them. He’s helped immensely by Plummer (Lean on Pete) and Barrier, a Portland actor who has had small roles on Portlandia, Grimm, Shrill, and The Benefits of Gusbandry, and makes the most of his opportunity to tackle a meatier role here. (He also stars in Rutherford’s short Rainbow Pie.)
The other prized asset is the cinematography of Alfonso Herrera Salcedo, whose crisp monochrome images reveal the stark beauty of Gilliam County, where the film was shot. Films like Nebraska and The Last Picture Show come to mind, and A Perfect Day for Caribou holds up to the comparison. Five-minute takes in which two rather pitiful dudes talk around their trauma may not be everyone’s cup of cinematic tea, but Rutherford keeps things interesting, inserting brief, surreal flashbacks or imaginings ever so often to make sure you’re paying attention. The director will attend the film’s Portland premiere next Tuesday for a Q&A moderated by author Jon Raymond. (Tuesday, August 8, at Cinema 21.)
PASSAGES: The new film from director Ira Sachs (Little Men, Love Is Strange) features fine performances from three talented leads in a messy, modern-day love triangle. Well, more of a sex triangle. German star Franz Rogowski, memorably intense in Luzifer and The Great Freedom, brings similar energy to the role of Tomas, a film director working in Paris. Ben Whishaw, the adorable voice of Paddington Bear, is his British lover Martin. And the stunning Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Color, Zero Fucks Given) is Agathe, the French woman who comes between them. When Tomas impulsively starts an affair with Agathe, Martin doesn’t initially object. But when Martin starts his own affair, things get messy. Exploring the slipperiness of sexual identity and open relationships with almost brutal candor, Passages doesn’t necessarily say anything new about the human condition, but it rephrases things in interesting ways. (Opens Friday, August 11 at Cinema 21.)
JULES: Ben Kingsley never ceases to surprise. A guy with the range to play Mahatma Gandhi and the sociopathic villain in Sexy Beast can do just about anything, right? It turns out he’s just as convincing as a doddering old man whose life is changed forever when an alien crash-lands in his backyard. Jules is basically a geriatric take on E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and in the hands of a lesser talent, it would have been a cloying embarrassment. As it is, director Marc Turtletaub can’t quite conjure the whimsical magic he did as a producer of films such as Little Miss Sunshine and Safety Not Guaranteed. Still, it’s a pleasant diversion, featuring a memorable, alabaster alien and a nice role for Jane Curtin. (Opens Friday, August 11, at Living Room Theaters, Regal Fox Tower, and theaters statewide.)
OLDBOY: One of the most brutal revenge thrillers ever made is back in theaters for its 20th anniversary. The film that made Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook’s name follows a man who is kidnapped and held prisoner for fifteen years, then embarks on a merciless quest to find his captor. He has only five days to do so. To give away more would threaten to spoil one of the best and darkest twist endings you’ll ever see. Be warned, though, that the movie contains a scene that some may consider animal cruelty. (Opens Wednesday, August 16, at the Hollywood Theatre and Cinema 21.)
ALSO THIS WEEK:
CUDDLY TOYS: Prolific music video director Kansas Bowling, who made her first feature at the age of 17, has now made her second. It’s a bizarre-looking cult-classic in the making, shot on Super 16 and apparently outrageous enough that the Clinton Street Theater, no stranger to edgy programming, has issued a special content advisory.
FRIDAY: Czech New wave masterpiece Daisies (5th Avenue Cinema, through Sunday); 1983 slasher classic Madman (Academy, all week); Moonrise Kingdom (Eugene Art House, all week); Mystery Men (Kiggins Theatre, through Sunday); Pacific Rim (Cinemagic, also Saturday & Monday); Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (Kiggins, through Monday); The Road Warrior (Academy, all week); Starship Troopers (Cinemagic, also Sunday & Thursday); Wild Style (Hollywood, also Sunday)
SATURDAY: William Shatner stars as a sleazy serial killer in the restored 1974 thriller Impulse, which is not available on any streaming service (Hollywood); Krush Groove (Hollywood); Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (Cinema 21); the Portland 48 Hour Film Project (Clinton Street, also Sunday); Shin Godzilla (Cinemagic, also Sunday & Tuesday)
SUNDAY: Enter the Dragon (Eugene Art House, also Wednesday); Gremlins (Living Room Theaters, free matinee); Step Brothers (Cinemagic)
MONDAY: Coraline (Eugene Art House, also Tuesday); Desperately Seeking Susan (Hollywood); 1944’s Gaslight (Kiggins)
TUESDAY: The 2007 Bollywood field hockey drama Chak De! India (Clinton Street); Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell (Hollywood)
WEDNESDAY: The psychedelic Italian animation classic Allegro non troppo (Clinton Street); John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (Cinemagic)