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FilmWatch Weekly: ‘Scrambled’ and ‘Fitting In’ take humorous looks at women’s health, plus ‘Argylle,’ African Film Fest and more

Also this week: Mads Mikkelsen in "The Promised Land" and the documentaries "Dario Argento Panico" and "In the Dirt."

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Leah McKendrick as Nellie Robinson in “Scrambled.” Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lionsgate

This week’s big studio release is the comedic spy caper Argylle, the sort of star-studded crowd-pleaser that should do big business in the wake of Oscar nominees and other Serious Movies. More on it below, but I wanted to highlight a couple of other films that very nearly crept under my radar. In a bizarre coincidence, they’re both semi-autobiographical tales with punning titles by female directors, each centering humorously on women dealing with gynecological medical issues. In an even more unlikely twist, they’re both actually good.

Leah McKendrick wrote, directed, and stars in Scrambled as Nellie, a 34-year-old party girl and perpetual bridesmaid who decides to freeze her eggs once she learns that she has “diminishing ovarian reserves.” Affording fertility treatment is her first challenge, since her Etsy-based jewelry business isn’t exactly a cash cow. Dealing with her grumpy pop (Clancy Brown) and her annoyingly wealthy brother (Andrew Santino) is another hurdle. And Nellie’s contemporaneous efforts to reconnect with old dating partners to see if she missed out on “the one” leads to additional, frequently raunchy, complications.

McKendrick, who wrote and starred in the 2017 indie thriller M.F.A., is a promising triple threat. Her script largely succeeds in walking a line between Apatow-influenced R-rated high jinks and the legit anxiety Nellie’s processing—not to mention the physical realities of going through the hormone injection regime prior to the extraction of her ova. She’s also an appealing on-screen presence and at least a competent director. McKendrick’s profile as a writer is on the rise, as she’s attached to the upcoming Grease prequel Summer Lovin’ and the remake of teen horror classic I Know What You Did Last Summer. Here’s hoping she gets opportunities to tell more personal stories as well.

The same goes for Molly McGlynn, who has a sizable TV-directing resume to her name as well as one previous feature, 2017’s Mary Goes Round. She drew on her own experiences for Fitting In, which stars Maddie Ziegler as Lindy, a 16-year-old who goes to see a gynecologist about the fact that she hasn’t experienced menarche. She learns that she has a rare condition known as MRKH syndrome, in which her vagina is underdeveloped and she lacks a uterus. You wouldn’t think this is the stuff of laughs, but McGlynn finds some humor in Lindy’s efforts to come to terms with her complicated diagnosis. At the same time, the film doesn’t shy away from the turbulence that ensues in Lindy’s relationships with her boyfriend (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai of Reservation Dogs) and her single mom (Emily Hampshire of Schitt’s Creek).

The film does the job of educating us about an anatomical oddity with which very few viewers will likely have been familiar, without slipping into medical-melodrama territory. As Lindy seeks treatment and meets others with similar problems, the script makes clear that there is no “right” response to her situation, and Ziegler’s spunky performance makes clear that, despite everything, this girl is going to be okay.

Neither of these films is perfect, but in combination they demonstrate that stories about very real, very intimate, and very female concerns can be the source for movies that entertain, inform, and empathize.

(Scrambled opens on Thursday at Regal Fox Tower and other area theaters; Fitting In opens on Thursday at Regal Movies on TV in Hillsboro.)

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ALSO OPENING THIS WEEK

The Cascade Festival of African Films: Returning for an awe-inspiring 34th edition, this series of FREE screenings runs the entire month of February, with most of them occurring at Portland Community College’s Cascade campus. The opening night selection, however, screens at the Hollywood Theatre. It’s the Sudanese film Goodbye Julia, the first one from that nation to screen at the Cannes Film Festival and one that addresses the divide between the north and south that has led to civil war in recent years. Other selections this first weekend include the South African romcom Catching Feelings and the Oscar-nominated Tunisian documentary Four Daughters, both of which screen Saturday at PCC Cascade. In addition, a selection of titles are available to stream for free through the Multnomah County Library.

Sometimes I Think About Dying: Shot in Astoria, this dry comedy about an introverted office worker (Daisy Ridley) morphs into an endearing story about her relationship with a new co-worker (Dave Merheje). I interviewed director Rachel Lambert and Merheje here. (Regal Fox Tower; opens Feb. 9 at the Salem Cinema

Argylle: The high concept of director Matthew Vaughn’s latest trifle is clever enough: the mousy, reclusive author (Bryce Dallas Howard) of a series of best-selling spy novels featuring the titular hero (Henry Cavill) finds herself paired with a real-life agent (Sam Rockwell) when her books seem to be uncannily referencing actual, deadly skullduggery. There’s room here to do some inventive things about the relationships between authors and their work, or the dichotomy between how pop culture depicts intelligence work and how it’s really done. Unfortunately, the parade of check-cashing stars (Samuel L. Jackson, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, John Cena) and the distraction of a feline sidekick can’t hide how shoddily the whole thing is put together. Maybe it’s quaint to notice cheesy green-screen shots or the fact that said cat is almost always CGI, but it’s still annoying. We should expect more, even from movies released in February. Especially one that has the audacity to run two hours and twenty minutes. And, as an aggravating circumstance, the crass, repeated use of The Beatles’ reconstructed song “Now and Then” feels almost blasphemous. (in wide release)

The Promised Land: Two words: Mads Mikkelsen. Although he’s best known stateside for his villainous portrayals of Hannibal Lecter, the Bond nemesis Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, and the bad guy in Doctor Strange, Mikkelsen is a full-bore leading man back in Denmark. In this latest exhibit, he plays an ambitious war veteran in the mid-18th century who decides to earn a noble title by cultivating a barren, remote tract of land in the name of the king. Taking in a pair of fugitive indentured servants, he struggles to till the land while fending off the interference of a rival landowner. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who previously worked with Mikkelsen on 2012’s Oscar-nominated A Royal Affair, crafts an epic frontier drama that’s gorgeously shot. (Hollywood Theatre, Living Room Theaters, Cedar Hills, Darkside Cinema, Metro Cinemas)

Dario Argento Panico: This retrospective documentary on the life and career of the man generally considered to be the master of Italian horror cinema is geared towards those who already appreciate the operatic flourishes he brought to masterworks such as Suspiria, Profundo Rosso, and, well, Opera. Fans will savor interviews with Argento and his contemporaries (Michele Soavi and Lamberto Bava among them) and collaborators (his daughter Asia and Daria Nicolodi of the band Goblin among them). But there’s not much to be learned about why his films are so singular or how he developed his cinematic style. (streaming on Shudder)

ALSO THIS WEEK

Passing Through: Independent filmmaker Larry Clark (Kids) made this 16mm story about a jazz musician, recently released from prison, trying to track down his mentor as his student thesis in 1977 at the American Film Institute. It was selected to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry last year, but has never been released on home video and is very rarely screened publicly. (Friday, Clinton Street Theater)

In the Dirt: This documentary follows the efforts of a retired pro cyclist to build a cycling culture in the Navajo Nation, a vast expanse of beautiful territory that lacked even a single bike shop. (Saturday, Clinton Street Theater)

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Figures: A married zoologist couple travels to Togo to make a film about venomous snakes and ends up learning a thing or two about their own relationship. (Monday, Cinema 21)

REVIVALS

THURSDAY

  • Of Human Bondage [1934] (Hollywood)

FRIDAY

  • A Clockwork Orange [1971] (Eugene Art House, through Thursday)
  • The Fog [1980] (Academy, through Thursday)
  • Free Angela and All Political Prisoners [2012] (5th Avenue Cinema, through Sunday)
  • Groundhog Day [1993] (Tomorrow Theater; Academy, through Thursday)
  • Shakma [1990] (Cinemagic, on VHS)

SATURDAY

  • 9 to 5 [1980] (Hollywood)
  • Gamera: The Heisei Trilogy {rescheduled from ice storm} (Cinemagic)
  • Jurassic Park [1993] (Hollywood, also Sunday)
  • Odds Against Tomorrow [1959] (Hollywood, also Sunday)
  • Rocky [1976] (Cinema 21)
  • Tron [1982] (Tomorrow Theater)

SUNDAY

  • Frozen [2013] (Cinemagic)
  • Inside Man [2006] (Clinton)
  • My Fair Lady [1964] (Eugene Art House, also Monday)
  • The Sparks Brothers [2021] (Tomorrow Theater)
  • Top Secret! [1984] (Hollywood)

MONDAY

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  • And Then We Danced [2019] (Hollywood)

TUESDAY

  • Creature [1985] (Darkside Cinema)
  • Quilombo [1984] (Clinton, free screening)
  • U.S.A. Ninja [1985] (Hollywood)

WEDNESDAY

  • Sarraouina [1986] (Clinton)
  • Star Trek Beyond [2016] (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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