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FilmWatch Weekly: ‘Kinds of Kindness,’ ‘Janet Planet,’ ‘Daddio’ and more

The latest film from "Poor Things" director Yorgos Lanthimos is a darkly bizarre anthology featuring Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons.

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Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of “Kinds of Kindness.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Before he became the Oscar-nominated auteur behind bizarre, baroque efforts such as Poor Things and The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos was a member of what became known as the “Greek Weird Wave.” In contrast to the richly imagined, fantastical worlds of his recent work, Lanthimos’s first films were set in recognizable environments, albeit ones where the normal rules of human relations were often turned upside-down. It’s that vibe that the suddenly prolific director returns to in Kinds of Kindness, and it will be interesting to see how audiences that appreciated the more overtly surreal stuff will react to this deadpan, disturbing aesthetic. Lanthimos is working with his longtime writing partner Efthimis Filippou (Dogtooth, Alps, The Lobster) rather than Tony McNamara, who penned Poor Things and The Favourite, and it shows.

Filmed in New Orleans rather secretly last year and sprung on the world only at this year’s Academy Awards, Kinds of Kindness is comprised of a trio of tales, in which the same actors play different roles. The cast includes Poor Things players Emma Stone, Margaret Qualley, and Willem Dafoe; the increasingly ubiquitous Jesse Plemons; and a couple of wildcards in Hunter Schafer (Entourage) and Joe Alwyn (Taylor Swift). If there’s a through-line to the stories, it’s one that’s boldfaced by the prominence of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” on the soundtrack:

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to be used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused

In the first segment, titled “The Death of R.M.F.,” Plemons seems to fit that fourth category. He’s an executive named Robert Fletcher whose life is controlled, down to the tiniest detail, by his boss (Dafoe). He receives a memo each morning outlining what he will wear, what he will eat, and whether or not he will have sex with his wife (Hong Chau) that day. In exchange, Robert is given various rare pieces of sports memorabilia and otherwise allowed to live a life of ease. He quails, though, when he’s ordered to arrange a car accident that will result in the death of a man he doesn’t know.

Next, in “R.M.F. Is Flying,” Plemons plays a cop whose wife (Stone) returns home after having gone missing for weeks following a helicopter crash in the South Pacific. He immediately suspects, however, that this is not his beautiful wife after all. She seems fine to everyone else, including their friends-slash-swingers partners, and she vows to do anything it takes to convince him she’s the real McCoy, but his conviction that something happened while she was stranded on a tropical island causes him to slowly unravel.

In the final episode, Stone and Plemons play a pair of cult members who have been sent by their leaders (Dafoe and Chau) to identify a prophesied figure with the ability to raise the dead. After a promising candidate (Hunter Schafer) fails to reincarnate a corpse, the seekers become more desperate, and Stone sneaks off to visit the home of the daughter and husband (Joe Alwyn) she abandoned to join Dafoe and Chau’s sect. This decision leads to Stone’s excommunication, but another promising messianic lead (Qualley) offers the hope of redemption.

As bizarre as each of those setups is, each twists its way to an unexpectedly dark and deadly denouement. Poor Things is by no means an ordinary Hollywood production, but Kinds of Kindness plays a more alienating game. Trying to solve puzzles and connect the three narratives is ultimately an exercise in futility. Although themes of control, obsession, and ritual feature in each segment, Lanthimos isn’t interested in providing tea leaves for viewers to decipher.

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One exception to this is the identity of the thrice-referenced R.M.F., which can be conclusively determined by staying through the credits that play after the film’s final third, titled “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich.” It’s a fittingly existential capper to the latest example of what can happen when an utterly original filmmaker is allowed to play in the movie star sandbox. (Hollywood Theatre, Cinema 21, Living Room Theaters, Salem Cinema, and other locations)

ALSO OPENING

Janet Planet: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker makes her film directing debut with this pensive, endearing story about a preteen girl spending the summer of 1991 with her mother. It wasn’t planned that way: the movie begins with Lacy (a perfectly deadpan Zoe Ziegler) calling her mother Janet (Julianne Nicholson) from summer camp and begging to come home. Once begrudgingly retrieved, Lacy is witness to Janet’s efforts to craft a life of her own. (You get the sense that she’s only recently single.)

Baker divides the story into three rough sections (hey, sort of like Kinds of Kindness!). In the first, Janet’s boyfriend (Will Patton) tries to adapt to Lacy’s unexpected presence during a time when he thought he’d have Janet to himself. Then, a woman (Sophie Okonedo) stays with the pair after leaving a communal living situation. Finally, the leader of the that commune (Elias Koteas) tries to insinuate himself into the household. But Baker’s approach highlights atmosphere, character, and elliptical silences as much as it does conflicts or dramatic events. Nicholson and Ziegler are superb as a textbook (yet unique) instance of a codependent, but immensely touching, mother-daughter relationship. (Regal Fox Tower, Living Room Theaters, Salem Cinema, and other locations)

Daddio: Setting an entire film inside a car isn’t a brand-new idea. Steven Knight did it with the Tom-Hardy vehicle (sorry!) Locke, and Robert Pattinson spent the vast majority of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis in a New York City limo. This time it’s Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn, trapped together in a cab and forced to gab. Well, not forced, I suppose. These days, the unnamed passenger Johnson plays would be just as likely to stare at her phone during the entire traffic-delayed ride from JFK to Hell’s Kitchen. But that wouldn’t be a very good movie.

Neither is Daddio, to be honest. First-time director Christy Hall sets a tough challenge by restricting the action to the taxi driven by Penn, a gruff truth-teller from Queens who thinks he’s got all the answers for his fare’s relationship problems. He diagnoses the daddy issues behind her affair with the older married man who’s impatiently, hornily awaiting her arrival. A real Sigmund Freud, this guy. Maybe this is birth of a new trope: The Magical Yellow Cabbie. In any event, neither of these characters feel especially genuine, and you get the sense that Daddio may have been better off as the stage play it was originally intended to be, operating in the Venn diagram overlap between David Mamet and Neil LaBute, but with a woman’s touch. (Regal Fox Tower, Living Room Theaters, Salem Cinema, and other locations)

DISC OF THE WEEK

American Gigolo: Much maligned upon its release 44 years ago, Paul Schrader’s cinematic shot across the bow of the 1980s has improved with age, and not just because it’s a time capsule of Armani suits, Giorgio Moroder beats, a Blondie theme song, and the pinnacle of Lauren Hutton’s acting career. It’s also, like most of Schrader’s films, an exploration of morality, sexuality, and the meaning of existence wrapped (rather awkwardly, at times) inside a genre piece.

Richard Gere (famously and frontally nude in one scene) plays the titular man for hire, as cocksure and content with his lot in life as you’d be if you were Richard Gere in 1980. After he’s framed for the murder of one of his clients, however, he finds that the carefree life he had so carefully constructed has left him without any true connections, other than perhaps the inexplicably besotted wife (Hutton) of a politician. The rest of the cast includes the redoubtable Nina van Pallandt, a menacing Bill Duke, and Hector Elizondo as the oddly sympathetic detective bent on running Gere in.

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The new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video is almost the Platonic ideal of such a thing. The film looks and sounds amazing, and the supplemental material is consistently edifying and engaging. Film critic Adrian Martin contributes an excellent commentary track, pointing out the influences of Robert Bresson (Pickpocket) and Bernardo Bertolucci (The Conformist) on Schrader. Schrader is typically frank, especially concerning the reasons that John Travolta dropped out of the lead role just before shooting, in one of several new interviews. My favorite of these is a 20-minute talk with camera operator King Baggett, a true industry vet (his grandfather was a silent cowboy star) who shares his experiences on the film, including his mastery of the then-new Steadicam. Toss in attractive packaging and a booklet of new writing on the film, and you’ve got one more reason that physical media still has a purpose in this crazy digital world.  

ALSO OPENING

Horizon: An American Saga Chapter One: The first of a two-part Western saga from Kevin Costner, this three-hour epic attempts to tell a star-studded tale about the push by European-Americans to settle the vast Western part of the country in the years following the Civil War. Costner’s usual trope (see Dances with Wolves and Wyatt Earp) is to walk a fine line between old-fashioned Manifest Destiny and an appreciation of the experiences of the Native Americans who, shall we say, bore the brunt of this westward expansion. Mere lip service, or an honest effort to tell a more inclusive story about wagon trains and Indian massacres? We shall see. Part two to follow in August.

A Quiet Place: Day One: In this prequel to the hit thriller about blind alien invaders with supersensitive hearing, we get to see how said monsters first arrived on Earth and initiated the apocalypse in which the first film was set. Opportunities for genuine suspense, then, seem slim at best. Besides, with my luck, I’d end up sitting next to some loud popcorn-chewer who’d ruin all the silent sneaking scenes.

Flipside: In director Chris Wilcha’s first-person documentary, he returns to his New Jersey hometown and tries to revitalize the local record store he once worked at, while also coming to terms with his own personal foibles and failures. (Kiggins Theater)

ALSO THIS WEEK

Warm Blood: Director Rick Charnoski’s collage-like first feature follows the journey of a teenaged runaway returning home to Modesto, California. Charnoski uses found footage and ephemera to create an aura of environmental and existential despair. (Saturday, Clinton St.)

The Blues Society: The intersection of 1960s white counterculture and Black blues culture of the South is explored in this documentary focusing on the Memphis Country Blues Festival, which ran from 1966 to 1969. (Sunday, Hollywood)

Butterfly in the Sky: A heartwarming look back at the groundbreaking educational TV program Reading Rainbow and its national treasure of a host, LeVar Burton. (Sunday, Hollywood)

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It Came from Japan!: A collection of Japanese live-action TV episodes from the Takusatsu genre (think Ultraman), namely Ultra Q (1966), Spectreman (1971), and a surprise, unsubtitled episode. (Monday, Hollywood)

Queer 16mm: The title (almost) says it all. As Pride Month sashays to a conclusion, this gender-bending selection from the Dennis Nyback Archives focuses on depictions of queerness from decades past, not all of it exactly forward-thinking. (Monday, Clinton St.)

Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers: Groundbreaking trans actor Holly Woodlawn, best known as one of Andy Warhol’s Superstars, plays a simple Kansas girl who moves to New York City and encounters all sorts of shenanigans at the Chelsea Hotel in this rarely seen 1972 camp classic. Presented by Church of Film. (Wednesday, Clinton St.)

Bad Faith: It would be nice if documentaries about things like the rise of Christian Nationalism in the United States could be described as something other than “timely,” but here we are. Watch this one now before it’s banned by the coming Inquisition. (Thursday, Clinton St.)

REVIVALS

Friday

  • Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle [2003] (Hollywood, on 35mm)
  • Fight Club [1999] (Cinemagic, also Saturday & Tuesday)
  • The Game [1997] (Cinemagic, also Tuesday)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1978] (Kiggins, through Sunday)
  • Knife + Heart [2018] (Clinton St.)
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation [1984] (Academy, through Thursday)
  • Paper Moon [1973] (Academy, through Thursday)
  • Sleepaway Camp [1983] (Academy, through Thursday)

Saturday

  • The Blues Brothers [1980] (Hollywood, on 35mm, introduction by Curtis Salgado)
  • The Killer [2023] (Cinemagic, through Monday)
  • The Last of the Mohicans [1992] (Cinema 21)
  • Return to Oz [1985] (Rooster Rock State Park)
  • School of Rock [2003] (Tomorrow)
  • Stop Making Sense [1984] (Hollywood)
  • Swing Kids [1993] (Tomorrow)
  • Zodiac [2007] (Cinemagic, through Monday)

Sunday

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Oregon Cultural Trust

Tuesday

  • Omega Cop [1990] (Hollywood)

Wednesday

  • Return of the Living Dead [1985] (Hollywood)

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since, as the manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité; and as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, he pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017 and graduating cum laude in 2020 with a specialization in Intellectual Property. He now splits his time between his practice with Nine Muses Law and his continuing efforts to spread the word about great (and not-so-great) movies, which include a weekly column at Oregon ArtsWatch.

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