**** Jo Koy’s standup translates seamlessly to film in Easter Sunday, which captures his signature blend of humor and sentimentality. Written by Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo (and based on Koy’s life), the film centers on an Easter family gathering dominated by Susan Valencia, a matriarch exquisitely embodied by Lydia Gaston. Koy plays a version of himself named Joe, a struggling actor attempting to balance the ever-present demands of career and family. Due to a poverty of time, Joe often finds himself neglecting the most important people in his life, including his son Junior (Brandon Wardell), whom he struggles to connect with, and his mother, whom he struggles to please. Even as the film reaches for bigger and bigger jokes, its relatability makes it work—the essence of the story is Joe’s family and the sacrifices they’re willing to make for one another, along with Koy’s wit. Tapping into the devastating honesty of Valencia elders who emigrated from the Philippines to America, Easter Sunday reflects on the realities of generational assimilation, but it never loses sight of the inherent humor that only family can expose. PG-13. RAY GILL JR. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver Mall, Vancouver Plaza.
**** On a sunny afternoon, 12 junior soccer players (and their coach) decide to explore a cave. As they enter, their crimson uniforms contrasting with the dark rocks, the boys have no idea that the cave will flood and they will be trapped inside for 18 days—or that an international effort of more than 10,000 rescuers will be necessary to save them. Thirteen Lives tells that story, transforming the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand into a suspenseful, compassionate and disciplined film. It’s directed by Ron Howard, but without the soapy sensationalism of his most famous rescue movie, Apollo 13. As he observes the countless souls called to the cave—from parents desperate for news of their sons to volunteers who divert lethal amounts of water from the sinkholes above—it’s clear that he doesn’t care who these people were before the crisis or who they will be after. He simply wants us to be in the moment with them, feeling their terror and their dedication. Why? Because although Thirteen Lives celebrates the heroes of the rescue (including the British divers, played by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell, who find the soccer team first), it isn’t about individuals. Howard wants to immerse us in a massive movement that, in some ways, transcended borders—”a war with water” that gave way to a vision of peace. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Amazon Prime.
*** Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, John Wick, Deadpool 2) takes an all-gas-no-brakes approach to Bullet Train, an ultra-stylized adaptation of the novel Maria Beetle starring Brad Pitt as a mercenary codenamed Ladybug. Pressed into service by his handler (Sandra Bullock), Ladybug receives a “simple” assignment: recover a metal briefcase from a Japanese bullet train. Onboard, he faces a series of killers who multiply like a Matryoshka doll, each harboring their own mysterious, dubious motivations for being there and wanting him dead (a plot further complicated by the looming presence of White Death, a Russian crime lord played by Michael Shannon). While Leitch’s blatant attempts to imitate the kinetic filmmaking of Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) overshadow some subtler flourishes, Bullet Train is deft enough to give each confrontation stakes and each character their time to shine (it helps that the members of its underworld ensemble are introduced through snappy dialogue and expository flashback scenes, giving the film opportunities to stretch its legs outside the confines of the train). The final reveals are trite, the action becomes absurd, and the character resolutions are vague, but Bullet Train delivers enough to be a forgivable blast of a movie. R. RAY GILL JR. Academy, Bagdad, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Eastport, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, St. Johns, St. Johns Twin, Studio One, Tigard.
** The first feature from Skydance Animation whisks viewers to a wonderful world of magical creatures, but it doesn’t know what to do once it gets there. Luck’s heroine is Sam Greenfield (voiced by Eva Noblezada), an 18-year-old girl aging out of an orphanage. She’s been plagued with bad luck her entire life, but upon discovering a lucky penny, she nobly decides to use it to help a younger resident named Hazel (Adelynn Spoon) facing an impending meeting with a potential new family. There’s just one problem: Sam loses the penny, which leads her to follow a talking black cat named Bob (Simon Pegg) into the fantastical Land of Luck, which is run by leprechauns and their dragon leader (Jane Fonda). Throughout Sam’s wild, convoluted quest to find another lucky penny, Luck serves up slapstick animation with whimsical music cues more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon than The Wizard of Oz (which the film emulates without offering anything as poignant as the emotional bond between Dorothy and her sidekicks). It’s a lackluster start for Skydance, which enlisted the legendary John Lasseter, who left Pixar in 2018 after being accused of sexual misconduct, as head of animation. It remains to be seen whether Lasseter can bring any Pixar magic to Skydance—and continue to avoid meaningfully addressing the accusations against him. G. RAY GILL JR. Clackamas, Apple TV+.