Movie reviews: 'Luca' is a fanciful coming-of-age story about friendship
LUCA: 3 ½ STARS
Set on the Italian Riviera, “Luca,” the new film from animation giants Pixar and now streaming on Disney+, is a fantasy story about sea monsters with a beating, human heart.
Jacob Tremblay is 13-year-old Luca Paguro, a shy sea monster with a typical teenager’s curiosity. When he discovers items that have floated down from the surface he wonders what the world outside the sea has to offer. Despite the stories his parents, Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan), have told him of fisherman and the horrors of dry land, his free-spirited best friend Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer) has been above the water line and convinces the shy Luca to check out the terra firma.
On land, Luca and Alberto, who look like a cross between the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Sigmund Ooze of 1970s Saturday morning television fame, transform from underwater creatures to human form. Blending in, they explore the seaside town of Portorosso, discovering the pleasures of pasta, gelato and most of all, the Vespa. The town bully Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo) sets his sights on them but a young girl, Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman) befriends them and has an idea that may help them get their very own Vespa.
“Luca” is a fanciful coming-of-age story. The very specific story of sea monsters who aspire for more in their lives, has universal messages about find commonalities not differences, anti-bullying and never giving up. The morals are a bit on the nose—"Some people will never accept him, and never will, but he seems to be able to find the good ones.”—but they are kept afloat with imaginative animation and a simple story that zips along.
At its cold-blooded little heart though, “Luca” is about friendship. The kind of bond that happens between kids who are just figuring out the world and its possibilities. Director Enrico Casarosa, who directed Pixar’s 2011 Oscar nominated short “La Luna,” aided by fun voice work from Tremblay and Grazer, captures the youthful exuberance needed to make the story work.
“Luca” doesn’t have the emotional resonance of classic era Pixar—think “Up,” “WALL-E” and “Ratatouille”—but what it lacks in gut punch sentiment, it makes up for in imagination, action and the good-natured look of finding a place to belong, above and below sea level.
THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD: 2 STARS
“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the odd couple buddy flick starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson and now playing in theatres, is a story about finding your logical, not biological family, disguised as violent shoot ‘em up comedy.
As the movie begins Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is “like a belly dancer without a torso.” He’s lost his bodyguard license and is in therapy. Tormented by bad dreams, he’s fixated on a customer who was killed by hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) while on his watch. On sabbatical in Capri (“like the pants”) Italy, he imagines a world without bodyguards or guns.
But his newfound inner peace doesn’t last long. Just as he is shaking off his old life he is drawn back into the game, hunted down by Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek), who uses fire power and moxy to lure him out of semi-retirement to rescue her husband, Darius. That’s right, the guy who has been haunting Michael’s dreams.
As the bodies pile up in the wake of their rescue attempt, it turns out Darius actually said, “Get me anyone BUT Michael Bryce!” Nonetheless, this mismatched trio work together to prevent a madman (Antonio Banderas) from destroying Europe and throwing the world into chaos.
“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is a sequel to the equally noisy 2017 film “The Hitman's Bodyguard,” but despite the appealing leads and the addition of Hayek, Banderas and Morgan Freeman, doesn’t have the same silly charm. The first movie was an over-the-top mish mash of exotic locations, violence, jokes and romance. The sequel contains all those elements, but is somehow less than the sum of its parts.
Given the talent involved, this should be more fun.
Reynolds works his way with a line like a master tradesman, recalling the kind of goofy smart aleck characters he played early in his career. Jackson makes use of his expertise with swearwords and is only upstaged by Hayek, whose entertaining use of salty language would make a sailor blush. But, take away those sweary flourishes, and you’re left with is a few quick laughs, casual video game violence, a body count that rivals the “Lord of the Rings” franchise and an unconvincing attempt at sentimentality.
Between the gun battles is a thinly sketched subplot about finding family wherever you can, but it is played for laughs and gets lost in the ballet of bullets and explosions.
“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is pure escapism, a loud, brash movie that mixes well with popcorn, but leaves a funny aftertaste in your mouth.
CENSOR: 3 STARS
In “Censor,” a new psychological horror film on VOD, Niamh Algar plays Enid, a stern young woman who brings childhood trauma to her job as an English film censor.
Set in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, “Censor” makes it clear that Enid sees her job as an essential service. Her profession, as she sees it, is to protect the public by cutting out eye gouges, intestinal tug of wars and other ghastly staples from the “video nasties” she screens before they are released. Convinced those bloody exploitation films feed anti-social behaviour, she’s snip happy. Her co-workers mockingly call her “Little Miss Perfect” but she has a dark side.
When she reviews a gorefest called “Don’t Go in the Church,” it brings back long suppressed memories of the disappearance of her sister Nina. Delving deeper into the work of the movie’s notorious director Frederick North, she comes across Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta), an actress who looks exactly like her late sister. Searching for answers Enid visits the set of North’s new film, and her descent into madness begins.
“People think I create the horror,” North says. “But I don’t. Horror is already out there, in all of us.”
“Censor” works on several levels. It has elements of the video nasties Enid tries to suppress, but as fact and fiction intertwine, it is her efforts to edit her memories that resonates. She is driven in her work by trauma in her life, and vice versa.
As “Censor” drifts from tribute to the video nasties that fuel the early part of the story to a psychological portrait of Enid’s problems, it is clear she can no longer tell what is real and what is not. Driven by guilt, she is unable to move past grief to acceptance. That is the root of her problems, not the outside influence of art, no matter how grotesque.
The Welsh-born director Prano Bailey-Bond doesn’t have quite enough steam to keep the intriguing premise going straight through to the end, but she does fill the screen with compelling images, some inspired by the lurid video nasty period VHS horror aesthetic, others reflecting the dull grey of 1980s England. It adds up to a movie that stylishly explores the relationship between art and real-life.