Happy summer, everybody! Feel free to go outside and smell the flowers and enjoy the sunshine. And then head directly to the closest theater and soak in every moment. Movies are back, baby. As I write this in mid-June, I can proudly say that I’ve been making bi-weekly treks to the AMC Lincoln Square cineplex on the Upper West Side for various screenings. Cruella. A Quiet Place II. That totally unnecessary and not-at-all scary Conjuring sequel. And each time, I couldn’t help but smile as I plopped into the seat and looked up at the screen. Pressing play on my laptop may be convenient, but the communal big screen experience simply can’t be matched. Now, look. The newest crop of June movies aren’t all winners. The only reason why I didn’t nap through Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is because I was hopped on the sugar from a large diet cream soda (don’t judge). But at least you have the choice to plunk down the money and see for yourself. Happy summer, indeed.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It
3.5 stars (out of 4)
If any actress deserves a career renaissance in her 80s, it’s Rita Moreno. An OG EGOT winner — and she didn’t get the cheap way either — she’s a living legend who’s faced extraordinary challenges en route to icon status. She tells all about her 70+-year career in this fascinating documentary. With unflinching honesty, the 89-year-old Puerto Rican-born singer and actress (still best known for her Oscar-winning turn in 1961’s West Side Story) details her upbringing in New York and the macro and micro discrimination she’s faced throughout her years in the industry. (She was constantly cast in roles that required an accent, despite her flawless English.) Blessedly, Moreno has a quick wit and a long memory: She speaks with passion of both her doomed affair with Marlon Brando and the sight of Gene Kelly jumping in puddles on the set of Singin’ in the Rain. With that kind of recall, the contributions of other celebrity talking heads seem superfluous at best. (Now in theaters)
3 stars (out of 4)
“Wanna hear a story about how this b—tch here and I fell out? It’s kind of long but it’s full of suspense.” That’s the kick-off to a kinetic and lurid tale, based on a semi-factual, totally insane marathon Twitter thread. Got that? Good, now try to keep up: Zola (Taylor Paige, wow) meets Stefani (Riley Keough) at a Detroit restaurant. They hit it off, and Stefani invites her on a road trip to Florida to make money for exotic dancing. A sense of adventure turns into panic as Zola soon realizes that she’s trapped in a game of prostitution, pimps and murder with two wild cards (Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo) playing along. I gotta tell you that I despised this film when I originally saw it back at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. But on second viewing, I found the narrative weirdly compelling as it zigs and zags during its brisk 90-minute run time. There’s a but. The lack of structure amid this seedy underworld still grates after a while — as does the incessant use of a digital-ping sound effect. No need for electric buzz on top of electric buzz. (In theaters June 30)
In the Heights
3 stars (out of 4)
Pre-Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda composed a Tony Award-winning musical about the big-dreaming Dominican and Puerto Rican-Americans in his Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City. The big-screen adaptation captures its scrappy exuberance, as it practically bursts off the screen. It follows several residents in the orbit of a young bodega owner (Anthony Ramos) whose shop sells a winning lottery ticket worth $96,000. That’s reason enough to dance and sing in the streets over the course of three summer days, leading to bustling production numbers courtesy of Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu. Bigger is better: The titular track that opens the film and “96,000,” set at the local pool, are crowd-pleasing show-stoppers; the lower-key ones come and go with scant emotional impact. (Read: Don’t expect an “It’s Quiet Uptown.”) And none of the songs stand-out based on audio alone. Still, what a joyous ode to the power of family and community. It’s not a hit movie, but it deserves to be. (Now in theaters and HBO Max)
2.5 stars (out of 4)
You want ludicrous? Witness two urban speed demons orbiting through space in a beat-up car to prevent a satellite takeover. You want Ludacris? Guess which rapper-turned-actor is riding shotgun. So it goes for the Fast and Furious’ new installment, which also manages to feature Charlize Theron spewing Star Wars references in a life-size glass box and Helen Mirren evading Eurotrash on downtown London streets. That leaves our death-defying heroes, played by Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and Tyrese Gibson, on the run to once again save the world. Only this time, the villain is Diesel’s disgruntled (and previously nonexistent) younger brother (John Cena)! And he has daddy issues! Though this once-gritty franchise veered off-course years ago, Chapter 9 seems particularly aimless. And many of the physical feats — including the admittedly LOL astronaut thing — are too absurd to embrace. Please let F10 be a tiny bit more down to Earth. (In theaters June 25)
Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard
2 stars (out of 4)
Nothing says “really stupid summer movie” like Salma Hayek stripping down to her lingerie before dispatching a bunch of goons with a machine gun. But hey, what else would you expect from the sequel to a crass action comedy? Hayek is the deranged con artist married to the hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) who once again needs the help of an elite bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) to snare him from trouble. The three are also embroiled in a plot involving a silver-haired Greek madman (a laughably miscast Antonio Banderas) trying to blowing up Europe. No worries if you can’t follow any of that. You’re not supposed to. Just like the 2017 original, the enjoyment level here is solely based on a tolerance for extreme vulgarity and cartoonish violence. (Hayek rams Reynolds with her car as if she’s swatting a fly; he walks away without limping.) The stars’ charms aside, this one misses the mark. (Now in theaters)
Also published on Medium.