TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
**** Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a sea monster, but there’s nothing monstrous about him. That’s the premise of this buoyant adventure from Pixar Animation, a studio that specializes in telling profoundly human stories about nonhuman characters, from the tormented toys in the Toy Story films to the lovestruck robots in WALL-E. Like those movies, Luca is an allegory for kids. When Luca first emerges from the sea and sets foot on the Italian coast, he is horrified to find that coming ashore has physically transformed him into a human (his soul remains the same). If the ocean embodies the oppressive coziness of childhood, the land represents the seductive liberation of adulthood. When Luca becomes human, he protests, “I’m a good kid,” sounding like a boy taught to be ashamed of his sexuality. The ideal audience for the film will be interested in both the hints that Luca is gay and the kinetic pleasures of the plot, which include Luca and his best friend, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), teaming up with a valorous human girl (Emma Berman) for a bicycle race. There is a winner, but the real winners are the young moviegoers who will learn that Luca respects and cares about them enough to challenge them while also delivering a good time. PG. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Disney +.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It
**** “Damn the shadows and here’s to the light.” When Rita Moreno speaks those words in Mariem Pérez Riera’s excellent documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, she isn’t just talking. She’s revealing the inner strength that sustained her from her childhood in Puerto Rico to an acting career that led her to face the triumphs of stardom and the evils of discrimination and abuse. The documentary is a chronicle of her experiences and a corrective for moviegoers who have seen only her Oscar-winning performance as Anita in West Side Story. Did you know she won an Emmy for The Muppet Show? That she played a nun working in a prison on Oz? That she unleashed unscripted fury on her toxic former lover, Marlon Brando, in the 1969 film The Night of the Following Day? Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It revels in these victories, but it also listens to Moreno’s recollections of her most harrowing hours, from onset jellyfish stings to being raped by her agent while she was menstruating. Riera’s documentary is about how Moreno lived through those horrors and transcended them. A series of animations imagines her as a living paper doll, but the movie shows you that she was (and is) nobody’s plaything. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cinema 21.
*** In 1980s England, an unassuming woman named Enid (Niamh Algar) works as a film censor of “video nasties,” a British term for exploitation horror. Still reeling from her sister’s disappearance years ago, her noble goal is to protect the Thatcher-era public from gruesome images, potentially preventing trauma and violent crime. But when Enid is assigned to censor an eerily familiar film from a controversial director, repressed memories about her past are unlocked. As her grasp on reality gradually slips, well-intentioned obsession mutates into dangerous delusion—she becomes convinced her long-lost sister is alive, working as a video nasty actress. But Censor isn’t so much a traditional missing-person mystery as it is an experimental psychological character study. Writer-director Prano Bailey-Bond, in her feature debut, films the action from Enid’s disoriented perspective, with frenetic editing and hallucinatory lighting. Sure, it’s a bit unfocused and murky, but perhaps that’s intentional. The horror here is derived from an inability to cope, to gain closure, to accept that, despite what mainstream movies tell us, not every loose end in life ties itself up in an immaculate bow. Sometimes, the question is more chilling than the answer. NR. MIA VICINO. Cinema 21.
*** This latest entry in the emerging screenlife cinema format, which filters all action through a laptop screen, might seem oddly ambitious given that the microgenre is still hovering perception-wise between the formalist pretensions of feature-length single takes and Blumhouse’s found-footage schlock. Based on a French reporter’s exposé of how extremists recruit young women to join the Islamic State only to sell them into sexual slavery, Profile uses the trappings of a ripped-from-the-headlines story and elevates it into an effective little thriller steeped in modern social media and a catfishing pas de deux. Just as Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984) updated Hitchcockian voyeur tropes with advancing technology, Profile director Timur Bekmambetov maintains a fusillade of ADHD diversions to enliven the more mundane aspects of newspaper reporting while preying on the tensions of our Not Safe For Work-braving, right-swiping age. Really, though, he just sets the minimal stage for freelance journalist Amy (Valene Kane) and terrorist-as-21st-century-rock-star Bilel (Shazad Latif) to promote their precisely curated brands. The result is a film that features just enough manipulative carelessness and toxic aggression to remind audiences that some personae are best left virtual. R. JAY HORTON. Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube.
The Sparks Brothers
*** At first glance, the cult rock band Sparks seems a bizarre subject to receive the epic rockumentary treatment. Ron and Russell Mael’s long-tenured art pop group, whose visual impact John Lennon allegedly described as something akin to Hitler playing piano for English musician Marc Bolan, released 24 and counting chart-nudging albums that flirted with relevance during the glam and disco periods before retreating toward a decidedly niche appeal in the past few decades. Nevertheless, The Sparks Brothers wrings ecstatic appreciation from a murderers’ row of commenters, ranging from obvious acolytes (members of Erasure, Squeeze, Duran Duran) to further afield well-wishers (Beck, Flea, Weird Al) to friendly faces perhaps just passing by the studio that day (Mike Myers, Neil Gaiman, Patton Oswalt). As multimedia homage to a deserving band, there’s a desperate allure to the hyperkinetic blend of monochromatic celeb testaments, sweaty ’70s concert footage and animated re-creations of what few stories emerge. Clearly a passion project for first-time documentarian Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver), his all-encompassing ardor tries its best to breathe life into the inevitably less than compelling tale of talented brothers who overcame loving parents and SoCal golden-boy origins. At its best, the doc plays out like a star-studded listening party thrown by a manic superfan asserting the Sparks’ rarefied charms, and the sheer breadth of luminaries gathered diverts attention for a while. Well before minute 150, though, even the guests of honor might wish to hear something else. R. JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 21, Clackamas Town Center, Living Room, Vancouver Mall.
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard
** With a title resembling an SAT question on the possessive form, this sequel to 2017′s The Hitman’s Bodyguard follows up one of the least-discussed studio hits of the past five years. This round again pairs Ryan Reynolds, a rule-abiding bodyguard, with Samuel L. Jackson, a hitman who loves to yell “motherfucker,” this time on a mission to save that little old world. Reynolds, we’re reminded, is one of Hollywood’s most reliable stars in any context, with a comedic bounce that bolsters this chaotic sequel’s surprisingly strong bones. The delight of Reynolds’ relentless thwarting, drugging and battering from hyperactive and hyperviolent Jackson and Selma Hayek (the hitman’s wife who was foretold) is so thorough that the rest of the movie can mostly be as loud, crass and ridiculous as it likes. That said, director Patrick Hughes’ action is dreadfully incompetent. Frank Grillo and Antonio Banderas spearhead a nonsensical world-domination plot that delivers some of the shoddiest visual effects in recent memory. Though placating 2021 attention spans might explain the film’s needlessly panicked clip, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard looks warmer through the lens of action-comedy ancestors like Midnight Run and The In-Laws. God knows why it’s shot and edited like a drunken Bourne movie. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Clackamas Town Center, Eastport Plaza, Evergreen Parkway, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Theater & Pub, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, Tigard.
**Like a giant shouldering the weight of the planet, Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi) lumbers through this Argentine thriller, which is simultaneously sinister and lethargic. Marcos is a nurse in an intensive care unit, but he doesn’t just heal the sick—he quietly puts them out of their misery when he believes it is necessary. He’s a murderer, but not like Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers), a slick nurse who kills not out of compassion, but for kicks. La Dosis is essentially a morbid duet performed by these two men. One considers taking lives to be a solemn duty, and one revels in the unholy thrill of playing God, but they are both symbols in writer-director Martín Kraut’s medical parable. La Dosis is a portrait of health care workers who are so brutally demeaned and exploited that they can’t feel in control unless they shatter their most sacred oath. It’s a perverse and audacious idea, but the film built around it is punishingly slow and lacks conviction. Kraut seems afraid to decide whether the psychological battle between Marcos and Gabriel is a showdown between good and evil or if they are just devils in slightly different disguises. Despite its impressively dark premise, La Dosis doesn’t end with a shock. It ends with a shrug. NR. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. On Demand.