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Hitmen’s Wives, Sea Monsters and Legends at the Movies

George Wolf George Wolf Hitmen’s Wives, Sea Monsters and Legends at the MoviesPhoto via IMDb
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Who’s in the mood for a good documentary? Because that’s your best bet this week at the movies, whether you want to couch potato along with a Beach Boys soundtrack or hit Drexel or Gateway Film Center to celebrate the EGOT goddess Rita Moreno. Looking for fiction instead? Well, none of this week’s narrative options are classics, but all of them are decent. Here’s the low down.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

by George Wolf

In theaters

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is not a great movie – heck it’s barely a good movie – but it is a fun movie. And that last part means the film does have pretty great timing.

Because with so many of us returning to movie theaters for the first time in a long time, what is the majority looking for?

A good time. And this film does deliver it, even if it is just one Fat Bastard away from parody.

In case you’ve forgotten, this is a sequel to 2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and returning writer Tom O’Connor gets us up to speed via Michael Bryce’s (Ryan Reynolds) final therapy session with a doctor who can’t wait to be rid of him.

Bryce has lost his AAA bodyguard license, which is going to make it difficult to win the Bodyguard of the Year award he dreams of. Bryce has also sworn off guns, which becomes a problem once the bullets start flying and director Patrick Hughes (also back from part one) rolls out more direct head shots than a zombie apocalypse.

Bryce doesn’t let the lack of licensing stop him from guarding Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek), a spitfire who has no problem shooting first – from the hip or from the lip. Plus, she happens to be married to Bryce’s old nemesis Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). So while Bryce and Darius are bickering about old grudges, Sonia and Darius argue about starting a family (don’t bother thinking about their ages – just go with it).

The dangerous games come from an evil tycoon (Antonio Banderas on a steady diet of scenery) who’s fighting back against E.U. sanctions on Greece, and from a frustrated federal agent (Frank Grillo) who decides his best bet is to work with bad guys in hopes of catching worse guys.

Hughes proves adept at quick-paced action and satisfying set pieces full of sound and fury, signifying nothing but excess. There’s plenty of globe-trotting to beautiful locales, lo-cut costume changes for Hayek and enough all around ridiculousness to make you wonder when Reynolds and Jackson are going to switch faces.

But the starring trio seems to be enjoying it enough to be in perfect sync – with each other and the level of material they’ve been handed. All three may be on auto-pilot, but their banter is an expletive-laden, rapid fire hoot that’s consistently mischievous and sometimes downright hilarious.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard isn’t high art, but it isn’t trying to be. In the words of Bret Michaels and Sam Jackson: it ain’t nothin’ but a good time, motherf^*%$#.

Grade: C+

Luca

by Hope Madden

On Disney+

It’s summertime. Who doesn’t want to look out on the bluest water as little boats rock in the breeze and kids cavort in a tiny seaside villa on the Italian Riviera? Awash in the wonder of childhood, the latest adventure from Pixar follows someone from under the sea who’s lured to dry land—against their parents’ wishes—and finds a whole new world.

Wait, that last phrase evokes a different movie, but Luca – a Disney + release that doesn’t require the Premier Access fee – does share a winking resemblance to Disney’s most famous fish out of water story. Young sea monster Luca (Jacob Tremblay) finds the idea of the world above sea level equally forbidding and fascinating. He discovers, with the assistance of another young sea monster named Alberto (It’s Jack Dylan Grazier), that as long as he stays dry, he can pass for human.

Good thing, since the whole villa where they hide from Luca’s parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) is obsessed with finding and killing the elusive sea monsters of lore.

Writers Jesse Andrews (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and Mike Jones (who co-wrote last year’s Oscar winner for Pixar, Soul) essentially turned The Little Mermaid into a buddy comedy. Rather than digging into a lot of angst, self-sacrifice or villainy, director Enrico Casarosa— longtime animator and writer/director of Pixar’s lovely 2011 short La Luna—keeps things light and harmless.

The water here is shallow but bubbling with activity. Luca and Alberto make a friend in the feisty Giulia (Emma Berman), make an enemy of the conniving Ercole (Saverio Visconti), learn a trade, discover a love of pasta, develop a longing to learn, and take part in an Italian triathlon (the middle leg is pasta eating) so they can win enough money to buy a Vespa and see the world.

It’s busy. It looks pretty. The message – embrace who you are – is worthy, but there’s just not much in the delivery for the film to call its own. From any other animation studio, Luca would be a solid summer release, but for Pixar, it’s a middling effort on par with Onward or Finding Dory. It’s a forgettable if lovely time waster.

Grade: B-

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It

by George Wolf

At Gateway Film Center and Drexel Theatre

By now, we can probably guess your age by how you first came to know Rita Moreno.

Singin’ in the Rain? The King and I? West Side Story? The Electric Company? The Rockford Files? Oz? Jane the Virgin? Carmen Sandiego? The One Day at a Time reboot? Even if you just got here, there’s the recent In The Heights twitter feud and if you’re on your way, it’s almost time for West Side Story again!

The point is, Rita is among the most legendary of entertainment legends, and Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It is a completely captivating tour through an iconic, trailblazing life.

A Puerto Rico native, Rosita Alverio emigrated to New York with her mother at age 5 – and never saw her native family again. “Rita” made her dancing debut at age 6 in a Greenwich Village nightclub, and by 16 she had landed a contract with MGM Studios.

Through countless “shut up and be sexy” roles that prompted self-loathing, to Emmy, Oscar, Grammy and Tony Awards, an abortion, a suicide attempt, marriage and family, political activism and therapy, her 90th year has found Rita to be a fulfilled, thankful survivor.

And beyond the treasure trove of archival footage, home movies and interview praises from the likes of Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (also one of the film’s producers), director Mariem Pérez Riera finds the most resonance in the personal journey told by Rita herself.

Looking back on the obstacles she faced and the successes and failures of her life and career, Moreno displays a hard-won self worth and an honest self awareness, one that – as evidenced by her In The Heights second thoughts – she continues to probe.

This is not just an entertaining Hollywood story, it’s an inspiring American story and a hopeful human story. It’s just a damn good story, from someone worthy of celebrating while she’s still here.

Grade: A-

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road

by George Wolf

On VOD

“Genius” is a term often thrown around too casually, but about one-third of the way through Long Promised Road, a moment drops that leaves little doubt Brian Wilson fits the bill.

Veteran producer Don Was sits in a recording studio with the original masters of God Only Knows, the classic pop symphony Wilson wrote and produced for The Beach Boys in 1966. As Was isolates track after track of those ethereal harmonies, he’s left to just shake his head in amazement.

“I’ve been making records for 40 years, and I have no idea what he’s doing.”

Credited with being an innovator of recording studio possibilities and the architect of the unmistakable Beach Boys sound, Brian has a long list of music business admirers, and director/co-writer Brent Wilson lines up an array of famous faces to sing Brian’s praises. From Elton to Springsteen, Foo Fighters to Nick Jonas and more, we hear nothing but well-earned respect and praise for a once-in-a-lifetime virtuoso. 

And that’s great, but it’s not exactly anything new.

What makes Long Promised Road resonate is the time we spend with the man himself, in rare moments when Brian feels safe enough to let his guard down and revisit people and places from his life and career.

Our guide is the film’s co-writer Jason Fine, a longtime journalist who gained Brian’s trust over the course of several years and many conversations. Brian started hearing voices at age 21, and he is still troubled by mental health issues which can make formal, sit-down interviews uncomfortable for him. So instead, Jason and Brian take to the road for some engaging carpool conversation.

They tool around Brian’s old California stomping grounds (some of which are now actual landmarks saluting him and The Beach Boys) as Jason asks about the past and Brian answers, while often calling out song requests for Jason to cue up in the car. Through it all, Brian comes across as a dear, sweet soul with minimal ego (he excitedly introduces himself to Vanna White in a diner), full of deep feeling and affection for those who’ve touched his life (even his father Murray and his longtime doctor Eugene Landy – whose relationships with Brian were at best volatile and at worst criminal).

Director Wilson (Streetlight Harmonies) intersperses the conversation with some terrific archival footage, at one point layering film of a young Brian directing the famous “Wrecking Crew” of studio musicians alongside more recent footage of him onstage and in studio. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition that brings the film full circle, giving us both a warm and often moving look back with a fragile genius and an illuminating glimpse of the maestro in his element.

Grade: A-

Woe

by Hope Madden

On VOD

What is it that haunts us, really?

Horror has a blossoming subgenre that’s particularly spooked by that inescapable curse of heredity. The metaphorical horror of facing what your family has to hand down to you whether you want it or not fueled Relic, Hereditary, The Dark and the Wicked, and now, Matthew Goodhue’s family horror, Woe.

It’s been a year since his father died, but Charlie (Adam Halferty) still hasn’t seemed to put it behind him. He toils on his dad’s old house but doesn’t ever make any real progress. Same with the backyard. Same with everything. He barely evens speaks to his family anymore, even though his sister Betty (Jessie Rabideau) is about to get married.

Charlie’s not just grieving. There’s something really weird happening to him in that house, and it colors his perceptions of everyone and everything else. Mysterious phone calls and a sketchy meeting out in the woods might set things straight.

Wait a minute, when has that ever helped anything?

Goodhue’s script avoids easy answers or simple metaphors. He evokes an eerie atmosphere, one that seems to envelop Charlie and threatens to take in Betty, but something that everyone else appears to be immune to. That’s especially true of Betty’s well-meaning doofus of a fiancé, Benjamin (Ryan Kattner, as an endearing as any could possibly be).

The three performances sell the story, the Twilight Zone weirdness, and the human pathos that underly everything. Woe is a slow burn, rushing nothing but punctuating its fog of depression and sorrow with bursts of action and brief, welcome splashes of humor.

Grade: B

Follow George and Hope on Twitter @maddwolf and listen to their weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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