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Back in the Fight 

Mother's Day and Equalizer 3

click to enlarge Still better than being at Burning Man.

Mother's Day

Still better than being at Burning Man.

MOTHER'S DAY. In my zeal for streaming action movies out of Asia, I may have slept on Poland. The first five minutes of Mateusz Rakowicz's Dzien Matki, as it's called pre-translation, set the tone, with the exhausted, rained-upon Nina Nowak (Agnieszka Grochowska) taking on a seven-pack of right-wing corner thugs with a six-pack of beer. (Pro-tip: Don't call a woman with a bag of cans and a 1,000-yard stare "babushka.") It's an ugly fight, like most in the hour-and-a-half, hardcore woman-on-a-mission actioner. It's also interestingly shot, gritty, occasionally funny, innovatively choreographed and driven both by Grochowska's physicality and grim, troubled presence.

In Warsaw, Poland, Nina, an ex-NATO special operative, lives alone in a spare apartment. Her only apparent human contact comes in the form of strangers' fists or meeting up with her rumpled, old colleague Igor (Dariusz Chojnacki), who is the only one who knew her before she was declared dead and assumed a new identity. She does, however, do a little social media stalking of her teenage son Max (Adrian Delikta), whom she gave up when she went underground. Max is thriving in the care of his adoptive parents until he's grabbed by a crew of gangsters in ski masks. With Igor as her inside man, Nina learns the kidnapping is an act of revenge/blackmail by her old enemies. And so she comes out of hiding and works her way up the organized crime chain of command, fight by brutal fight, to find the people holding her son.

The plot serves up a series of skin-headed bad guys, one of whom keeps his father's head in a jar. Nina goes to the mat, or rather concrete, with each one in energetically choreographed set pieces. In a kitchen fight, she two-fists it with a paring knife and a frying pan, at one point deploying an exploding bag of flour for cover. There are graphic and goofy stunts with corkscrews and hammers, and the camera work and editing allow us to track the action. In every slug and slice, Grochowska shows us what it costs Nina in effort and pain in a way that big (literally and figuratively) action stars like Dwayne Johnson never do. Her small, middle-aged body is knocked around, sometimes dragged and tossed across floors and tables, and she struggles to get back on her feet, not always successfully. It's both exhausting and exhilarating to see her emerge, stumbling toward the next round.

I am, as I've said before, a sucker for an estranged mother heroine — hell, I even enjoyed JLo's manicured action turn in The Mother. And while Mother's Day could have coasted on the estranged son plot as the impetus for all the bloody work to come, Grochowska's sad, darkened eyes and animal stillness add more depth and emotional weight than expected. And when she gasps out a sudden sob before quickly stifling it, the moment hits hard. 94M. NETFLIX.

THE EQUALIZER 3. Years ago, I decided I was done watching Denzel Washington suffer. No more roaming apocalyptic wastelands or noble deaths. The Equalizer (2014) wasn't a return to the comparatively carefree roles of his youth, but in Antoine Fuqua's action reboot of the old TV show, he was doing all right. As retired intelligence operative Robert McCall, he dispensed stopwatch-timed smackdowns and executions in the first two films to help/avenge the helpless, sharing friendly chats and fatherly wisdom as he went. But this supposed final sequel takes a darker approach in theme and style that makes me think I've slipped in my resolution.

After dispatching a small army of henchmen whose shot, stabbed and cleaver-hacked bodies litter a mansion on a Sicilian vineyard, McCall doesn't quite make his escape. A local cop (Eugenio Mastrandrea) finds him and spirits him to a kindly doctor (Remo Girone) in the idyllic seaside village of Altamonte. There, he recovers with the help of the doctor, good-natured townsfolk and a rehab regimen of Italian food and stair climbing. Once he's back in fighting shape, he means to leave town, but the same Camorra/mafia that was connected to the operation in the vineyard have shown up to terrorize the residents of Altamonte. McCall sets his watch and goes to work defending the town and taking down the mobsters, all under a watchful but slightly behind CIA agent (Dakota Fanning).

Equalizer 3 swings between the beauty of the Amalfi coast and the visceral ugliness of violence. (And yes, it's the Italian mob, so there is the requisite scene of slick-haired henchmen eating spaghetti in a kitchen with prosciutto legs and cheeses strung up overhead.) There's more editing and shooting around action sequences — no shade on the 68-year-old Washington — and more screentime goes to the grisly consequences. Blood reads almost black in shots of gruesome death, and heroes and villains alike suffer in spittle-dripping, closeup agony. Upon his waking, the doctor asks McCall if he has saved a good man, to which McCall replies he doesn't know. And while he wrestles with guilt from his sick bed, he jumps back into the work of killing with more than the precision of the previous films — a glowering McCall holds eye contact with one man sliding down to his death in the street, taunting another as he crawls away. By the time he saves the town and all its good people, as we know he will, we're no longer sure he should be among them. R. 109M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 320, or Follow her on Instagram @JFumikoCahill and on Mastodon @jenniferfumikocahill.


BARBIE. Barbie and Ken live in a colorful, seemingly idyllic world but want to leave it behind for the real one. Where can I sign up for this version of Freaky Friday? With Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and Will Ferrell. PG13. 114M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

BLUE BEETLE. Xolo Maridueña plays a teen granted alien superpowers in this DC Comics adventure. PG13. 127M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

BOTTOMS. A pair of high school lesbians start a self-defense club to score with girls. As one does. Starring Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri. R. 92M. MINOR.

ELEMENTAL. Animated adventure about a city of fire, water, earth and air elements. Voiced by Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie and Catherine O'Hara. PG. 93M. BROADWAY.

GRAN TURISMO. Archie Madekwe as a gamer who wins a spot on a real race track with David Harbour as his new mentor. PG13. 135M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE HILL. Baseball biopic starring Dennis Quaid and Colin Ford. PG. 126M. BROADWAY.

JAWAN. A legendary hero returns to battle terrorists in Mumbai, India, with over-the-top action and a Bollywood musical number or two. (Subtitled.) R. 169M. BROADWAY.

JURASSIC PARK 3D (1993). Spoiler: Life finds a way. PG13. 127M. BROADWAY.

THE MEG 2: THE TRENCH. Jason Statham and Jing Wu fight another prehistorically ridiculous shark. PG13. 116M. BROADWAY.

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 3. Forget Carrie, we're here for John Corbett and Nia Vardalos. Pour out some Windex for the late patriarch as the family travels to the Mediterranean for a reunion. PG13. 91M. MILL CREEK.

THE NUN II. Cinema's scariest sister returns with worse than a ruler. Starring Taissa Farmiga and Storm Reid. R. 110M. MILL CREEK.

OPPENHEIMER. Christopher Nolan's biopic about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the "father of the atomic bomb." Starring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. R. 180M. BROADWAY, MINOR.

RETRIBUTION. Liam Neeson stars as a bank executive trying not to get blown up with his kids by a criminal mastermind. R. 90M. BROADWAY.

STRAYS. An abandoned dog falls in with a gang of tough pooches in this talking-pet comedy voiced by Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx and Isla Fisher. R. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

TALK TO ME. Aussie teens commune with spirits via an embalmed forearm handshake and things get ... out of hand. R. 95M. BROADWAY.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM. The crime-fighting brothers emerge from New York City's sewers for an animated adventure. PG. 99M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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