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“Late Night With the Devil” Is a Trip to Hell That Pays for Its Sins

March 26, 202410 Mins Read


*** If you’re foolish or stubborn enough (or in my case, both) to still spend time in the contemptuous wasteland formerly known as Twitter, you may be aware that Late Night With the Devil has come under fire for its use of AI-generated images for its interstitials. This is a regrettable turn of events, not only because the filmmakers denied actual artists work in favor of a cheap facsimile, but because this one unforced error distracts from the fact that the movie is actually an effective low-budget thriller that uses the familiarity of a retro aesthetic to deliver some potent scares. Our story takes us to Oct. 31, 1977, the day (fictional) talk show host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) goes all out for his Halloween special in an attempt to finally outperform his longtime rival Johnny Carson. Unfortunately, Jack’s lineup of guests includes the sole survivor of a Satanic cult’s mass suicide (Ingrid Torelli), who understandably still has demons to deal with. Writers-directors-editors Colin and Cameron Cairnes create slow-burn dread in the first act, letting the audience get comfortable with the setting before ramping up to a bonkers finale involving gruesome body horror, false realities, and Torelli doing a killer Regan MacNeil impression. Plus, Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight, Dune) doesn’t miss a beat in his first starring role, giving Jack an affable, self-deprecating charm that slowly gives way to a profound sadness mixed with a desperate need for attention. While its mistakes may haunt it, Late Night With the Devil still boasts impressive filmmaking in front of and behind the camera, making it a trip to hell worth taking. R. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Bridgeport, Cascade, Clackamas, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Movies on TV, Oak Grove, Vancouver Mall.


**** Set during a heavy winter in an isolated Turkish town, the latest drama from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) takes wild swings yet strikes brilliantly understated notes. Deniz Celiloglu stars as Samet, a teacher perplexed by allegations that he’s too familiar with female students. His roommate and colleague, Kenan (Musab Ekici), faces similar accusations—and the two share a budding friendship with a female teacher, Nuray (Merve Dizdar), from a neighboring town, complicating their unspoken resentment. Working with cinematographers Cevahir Sahinand and Kürsat Üresin, Ceylan favors long, static shots, putting you in the room with his characters during extended conversations, but never in their heads (aside from the Terrence Malick-like philosophical introspection by Samet). Yet strategically sudden camera movements sometimes remind you you’re watching a movie…and what a movie it is. Is About Dry Grasses about a work scandal or a love triangle, or is it truly about dry grasses? The answer is elusive, and the ideal viewer will stop asking what Ceylan’s film is about and accept it for what it is: a masterpiece. NR. RAY GILL JR. Living Room.


** More than any other screen idol working today, Mark Wahlberg has that dog in him. The former poster boy’s presence all but guarantees an impassioned overcommitment, scruffy adorability, and bucketloads of nervous energy aching to be let loose—reliably cinematic qualities that his best films (Boogie Nights, Three Kings) have unleashed. Alas, Wahlberg’s star vehicles too often dispense with any hint of nuance or conflict to focus on bravura stunts unfurled at breakneck pace as an end unto themselves requiring no greater justification. Hence the new docudrama Arthur the King, about a quartet of weekend warriors who risk life and limb (and the titular mutt they find along the way) to climb, kayak and bound across hundreds of miles of mountainous old-growth canopy. Hyperfit cardiophiles may thrill at the prospect of performative self-abuse within the forest primeval, but does anyone besides participants and their long-suffering loved ones even know this race exists? Playing our hero’s better half, Juliet Rylance joins a long list of Wahlberg wives with little choice but to offer tearful support for their life partner’s wanderlust each time he grabs hold of an intriguing scent. A more humane interpretation of events (the film is based on Mikael Lindnord’s nonfiction book Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home) would’ve at least questioned the wisdom of a career spent so ferociously chasing one’s own tail—though self-prescribed incredible journeys are rarely about the destination. PG-13. JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Oak Grove, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Vancouver Mall, Vancouver Plaza.


** As a semi-lucid showcase for DreamWorks’ animation empire in the late aughts, the first Kung Fu Panda engendered a near universal goodwill that has kept the eponymous body-posi demon warrior Po (Jack Black) afloat in an IP-soaked media universe. Casual fans might rightly question the sheer amount of material wholly dependent upon the undimmed adorability of Black’s slow-rolling fave phrase (skadoosh!), but for better or worse, these are children’s cartoons. As opening info drops in Kung Fu Panda 4 make clear, prior installments had neither the talent nor the inclination to sow seeds for an eventual world building of this luxe wuxia pastiche—and failed efforts at moralizing through Po’s long-suffering spiritual adviser (Dustin Hoffman) spotlight how little meat is left on this particular bone. Any actual philosophical tenets are clouded with pan-Asian greeting-card mysticism that divorces martial arts from violence altogether, implying that fighting is really just kinetic yoga. As with that other express Panda franchise hawking oversugared flavors plucked out of context, a creative vision ungrounded by larger perspective and unconnected to cultural context leaves a nauseating aftertaste. PG. JAY HORTON. Academy, Avalon, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Joy Cinema, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Pioneer Place, Studio One, Wunderland Beaverton, Wunderland Milwaukie.


** What if imaginary friends were not just real but, you know, scary? That’s the concept behind director Jeff Wadlow’s latest horror film. A soulful DeWanda Wise stars as Jessica, a children’s book author who moves into her childhood home with her new family. Her young stepdaughter Alice (Pyper Braun) soon finds a stuffed bear in the basement and names him Chauncey. Creative, Alice, but lordly monikers aside, Imaginary hits routine beats, including predictable fake-out scares, an old woman who delivers exposition, and a therapist who acts nothing like a real therapist (is there any other kind of movie therapist?). Imaginary finally gains momentum in the third act once the plot gets nutty (or nuttier), but by then it is too little too late. Wadlow has certainly made worse horror films than Imaginary (including the hilariously bad Truth or Dare), but his latest effort is still mostly toothless and unimaginative. PG-13. DANIEL RESTER. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 99, Clackamas, Division Street, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Hilltop, Movies On TV, Oak Grove, Progress Ridge, Sandy Cinema, Stark Street, Vancouver Plaza.


** The best scene in Problemista ends with a bullet. Anguished by overdraft fees, Alejandro (Julio Torres) begs a Bank of America employee to acknowledge the injustice of his plight. Her response? She whips out a pistol, shoots him, and declares, “I stand with Bank of America!” Savagely funny and direct, that punchline is the opposite of everything else in Problemista, a satire of immigrant dreams that parries when it should stab. Written and directed by Torres (co-creator and star of Los Espookys), Problemista finds Alejandro in New York struggling to become a high-concept toy designer—his ideas include a stairs-hating Slinky—but Hasbro keeps rebuffing him. If he doesn’t want to be deported home to El Salvador, he needs a work visa, but the only person who will sponsor him is a deranged art critic (Tilda Swinton) curating an exhibition of her cryogenically frozen husband’s paintings of eggs (quirkiness alert!). Torres is a delightfully nimble performer, but Swinton’s Elizabeth is surprisingly staid, lobbing cruel, witless jokes at service-industry workers as if she were auditioning for a Z-grade Seinfeld ripoff. Problemista seeks to cultivate an aura of absurd wonderment, but its stock characters and forced whimsy are so wearying that when Alejandro is offered putatively soul-killing work as a paralegal, you want to cry, “Take the job, kid! Creativity ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.” R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Hollywood, Laurelhurst.


** It would be difficult to declare the 1989 Patrick Swayze vehicle Road House a “good” film, but it does provide some trashy fun and has a cult following for a reason—which is more than can be said for director Doug Liman’s remake. Stepping into Swayze’s boots, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dalton, an ex-UFC fighter who heads to the Florida Keys to become a bouncer, attracting the attention of Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), a crime boss who wants to control a particularly rowdy joint. While Gyllenhaal is solid as Dalton, the supporting cast is mostly indifferent (the exception is a scenery-chewing Conor McGregor as a henchman named Knox). Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) delivers slick imagery and welcome chuckles (Dalton kindly brings some of his opponents to the hospital), but for the most part, Road House is a generic and forgettable action flick missing its predecessor’s lurid spirit. The 1989 film is many things, but bland isn’t one of them. R. DANIEL RESTER. Amazon Prime.

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