TRIBECA 2021 REVIEW: “BRIGHTON 4TH”

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Winner of the Best International Narrative Feature at Tribeca Film Festival, “BRIGHTON 4TH” is noted as being a ‘Comedy/Drama’ which made me do a double take at that one. Drama – yes, in a big way, yet Comedy just didn’t seem to be it’s forte’ as what I watched from director Levan Koguashvili, truly left nothing comedic in it’s path.

It is however a long drawn out story of a former wrestling champion Kakhi (Levan Tediashvili – an actual former Olympic wrestler), who seemingly feels he needs to take on the responsibility for everyone around him and their problems. The story follows his long drawn out trek from his native Georgia to the well-known Russian enclave of Brighton Beach, where many of his fellow countrymen have immigrated to as well. His son Soso (Giorgi Tabidze), went to study medicine, but needs a green card and Khaki had given him $15,000 to do so and if necessary, pay Lena (Nadezhda Mikalkova) to marry him. Instead he is working as a mover and has gambled away the money plus an additional $14,000 he now owes to head of the gambling mob. Khaki finds him in a small room & board house ran by the wife of his best friend who also ended up gambling away his money. Now he seeks to find a solution to it all and while we go through a good hour plus of side stories that include: Kakhi taking a job helping out an elderly couple, and getting sexually propositioned by the wife; as well as a very lengthy deviation that involves Kahki in the midst of a plan to kidnap a man who’s been refusing to pay the Georgian women he hires as hotel maids. All these things relay nothing to the point of the film – what the main goal is – saving his son’s life from the mobsters he owes money to.

We finally get to the point in the final minutes of the film, as it has Khaki challenging the head mobster whom his son owes, to a wrestling match as even though Kakhi is in his 70’s and is at least 20 years older, he does it to take care of the debt his son owes. Oddly, it’s a surprisingly believable moment, even in it’s bleakness. While the acting here is mostly done by non-actors as well, they too are believable within reason. But it’s the length of time that it took to even get to the point here that made it too sluggish and weighed down, and while going through storylines that didn’t lead anywhere. Also, the fact of the oh-so-familiar mob-lines of Russian/Georgian immigrant community in Brighton Beach has a ‘been there – done that’ feel to it all. While the final moment is sweet in it’s own way, it’s the ‘getting there’ long windedness that just didn’t work as well for me as it clearly did for others.

‘C’

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Tribeca Virtual screening of ‘’Brighton 4th” ~ courtesy of Susan Norget Film Promotion

“BRIGHTON 4TH” DEBUTED AT TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL JUNE 2021

TRIBECA 2021 REVIEW: “FALSE POSITIVE” HULU

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One of my tops to watch for Tribeca 2021 was “FALSE POSITIVE” and let me tell you how this slow-burn thriller did not disappoint – for the first hour. What started off semi-interesting, unfortunately took a spin into left field and went for ridiculous and non-sensical.

Lucy (Ilana Glazer), plays a mom who is struggling with something that many have before, conceiving a child. Her husband Adrian (Justin Theroux), agrees they need to to a fertility clinic in attempt to get pregnant, and he conveniently knows of one ran by his old medical professor, Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). It’s an odd place, with stepford like nurses in Nurse Rita (Sabine Gadecki) and most especially lead Nurse Dawn (Gretchen Mol). She conceives multiple babies, twin boys and a daughter she names “Wendy”. But the one fetus, the girl, is weak, and Lucy and Adrian have to make a choice about selective reduction: save the two males or save the female.

Replete with the evil fertility doctor played by Brosnan, and the thoroughly complicit husband played by Theroux, Ilana gets to play a mom, struggling with something that everybody, in this movie at least, keeps calling “mommy brain”. But it’s clearly much much more than whatever that ‘affliction’ might be. First her husband, then her friends, even the closest one from the ‘mommy group’ Corgan (Sophia Bush), seemingly start to turn on her as we see Lucy having all these random paranoid thoughts and dreams. But the absolute last straw is when the midwife she chose in secret and insists on using finally proclaims, “I am not your mystical negress.” How does that even come to be stated in a screenplay, one will never know. Anyway, what was actually intriguing and entertaining for the first 45 minutes, dramatically changes, but what puts you into the ‘really ick’ category is by what unfolds towards the end. It didn’t sit well with me at all. It was incredibly strange, cringey, and just in bad taste. I’m not even sure if the writers knew where they were going with this ending, most especially the last scene. None of this can be revealed as it’s something each person needs to see to decide for themselves what their ‘factor’ is. Plus it’s essentially the entire plot of the movie as well.

Taking all that under consideration, the acting was still quite good from all concerned, most especially Brosnan who took the creepy villain to heart here. But the whole dream sequence after dream sequence and with an ending that made me scream out WHY?? – just took what could have been a truly good creeper horror and made it almost into a joke – albeit a not so good one from this point of view.

C-

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Tribeca Virtual screening of ‘’False Positive” ~ courtesy of ID PR

“FALSE POSITIVE” DEBUTED AT TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL AND IS NOW PLAYING ON HULU

TRIBECA 2021 REVIEW: “CATCH THE FAIR ONE”

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“CATCH THE FAIR ONE” is a bleak at times, but oh-so-powerful film that pulls no punches in its hard hitting revenge story of a Native American boxer searching for her missing little sister. Kaylee (Kali Reis) nicknamed “K.O.”, is a former boxer and addict who willfully infiltrates a sex trafficking ring in order to find her missing younger sister Weeta (Mainaku Borrero). Waitressing to get enough money to pay the “recruiter”, Lisa (Isabelle Chester), who helps find vulnerable and at-risk girls for a sex trafficking ring. The same ring might have something to do with her missing underage sister which we find out is KO’s motivation. We watch as first Kaylee trains for this like you would a mission, except this training mission involves sleeping with a razor blade in your mouth to be able to use as protection.

All this comes in handy when she is drugged and ‘sold’ to sex trafficker by boss Bobby (Daniel Henshall). But Kaylee surprises her captor, kills him, and then sets off on a ‘no holds barred’ mission to track down Weeta. This all out journey leads to a string of events that take her first to see Danny (Michael Drayer), then with his abused wife & child in tow, to Willie’s house (Kevin Dunn), who is the real main honcho of this sex trafficking ring.

All along she’s been dealing with her unsupportive mother Jaya (Kimberly Guerrero), who has never backed her and made her feel as though it should have been her versus her sister. Flashbacks of Kaylee’s violent times in the ring bring us into what her life once entailed as well. A story that contains a lot of really well done twists and turns, along with real-life middle-weight champion, Reis is impressive in her hunt for vengeance, her hostile expressions and sheer strengths strike fear into her opponents – both in and out of the ring. Summing it up, Kali Reis gives us a powerful breakthrough performance that knocked me out.

Unglamorous, chillingly brutal and all of it left me wanting more. “Catch the Fair One” captures the right mix of vulnerability and empowerment. Reis performed her own stunts and the film doesn’t go overboard with gratuitous action. The unexpected screenplay makes this the one most thrilling film I’ve seen in years with a definite point being made, Native American young girls are trafficked at whim, this is not a fake story line, and they are also less likely to be even looked for. All this is brought to the forefront and in a wildly stark, yet realistic way. It only adds to the brilliance of this film. But please take note of it. It’s important.

B+

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Tribeca Virtual screening of ‘’CATCH THE FAIR ONE’ ~ courtesy of Accolade PR

“CATCH THE FAIR ONE” DEBUTED AT TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL

TRIBECA 2021 REVIEW: “CLEAN”

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“CLEAN” from director Paul Solet, is the Tribeca Film Festival offering in the crime-action genre. It also gives us Adrien Brody as writer/lead and impressive as that is, I can’t say I’m rolling out the ‘Welcome’ mat to Brody as an action star from this one.

Clean (Adrien Brody), seems to be just a simple salvage pick-up guy working the graveyard shifts and has a knack for fixing up items he picks up that can be repaired. Cool vintage stuff that actually brings in money and he has somewhat of a friendship with the pawn shop guy played by RZA. Then there is the random fact he always stops off to give a young girl Dianda (Chandler DuPont) lunch and make sure she gets to school. More like protecting her from the neighborhood, but we really aren’t clued in as to why.

On the other hand, we have the usual gaggle of Eastern European mobsters led by Michael (Glenn Fleshler), and he runs the neighborhood drug trade through his grandfathers old business, a fish market, smuggling the drugs in through fish. He’s also trying to teach his fresh out of jail, wanna-be gangsta rapper son Mikey (Richie Merritt), the trade, though things aren’t going well in that area.

To make a long story short and leave out the middle-man so to speak, we know from moment one that Clean is way more than a salvage man. We slowly find out his mobbed up background as he once was called ‘The Grim Reaper’ – I kid you not – as we also find him with a full tattoo of the Reaper on his back. This is right after we are slowly finding out why he is even protecting Dianda and her mother from harm as she it seems, reminds him of his daughter, whom has passed years earlier due to negligence on his part while being the Reaper. After he finds Mikey and his crew ready to take advantage of her and beats not only the whole crew to mere pulps, but Mikey to within a inch of his life. Of course his mobster dad isn’t pleased, and sends a gaggle of the mobsters after them all, which is where all of the ax/wrench/screwdriver/gun killings of dozens of people by only Clean himself all happen.

All in all, while not completely a mess, ‘Clean’ does fail to pass the spick and span test and is a messy story that we’ve seen all too many times before.

‘C-‘

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TRIBECA 2021 REVIEW: “DO NOT HESITATE”

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The Dutch military mission in Afghanistan which had started in 2006 is coming to an end, though a redeployment task force would stay on to oversee the return of vehicles, military hardware and equipment to the Netherlands. This is the lead into one of the better foreign films of the Tribeca, “DO NOT HESITATE”. It is the second feature film by the Dutchman (originally from Venezuela) Sharif Korver, and with it, we find almost a character study of the absolute tricks of mind-play that war can do to you.

Written by Jolein Laarman, ‘Do Not Hesitate’ focuses on a trio of Dutch soldiers Erik (Joes Brauers),Thomas (Tobias Kersloot), and Roy (Spencer Bogaert), whom are separated from their unit when during a reconnaissance mission, their armored vehicle breaks down and they are tasked with staying back and ‘protecting the equipment’ while waiting for help in getting the vehicle and it’s expensive gunnery moved.

The three young soldiers, are not just bored, but you can see written all over them, how nervous and inexperienced they are. Throw in ‘paranoia’ to the mix, as anything can be a potential attack on them and all this leads one of them to ‘hear and see’ something to which it turns out, one accidentally kills a goat, which they in turn bury. Now this goat, well it’s probably the prime source of milk for a whole family, and if killed, would feed that family for a good portion of time. This isn’t at the top of their minds when a young boy, the goat’s owner/herder Khalil (Omar Alwan) shows up looking for his goat and upset by the death of his animal and demands restitution. While Khalil waits for his payment, Erik tries to be polite while Thomas spews racist words at him in Dutch. They are all frustrated by Khalil’s just screaming at the top of his little lungs at them, and though he is a teenager and he’s little, he’s determined to get more than the fifty American dollars they offer as compensation for his dead goat. Erik is the only one of the three to try to make amends and de-escalate the situation.

These three main characters have little in common besides being deployed as it’s apparent not just in the different dialects of Dutch they speak, but we see brief glimpses into who they were before being put in this most precarious of positions. So much mentally happens and it leads into a step by step tense by tense moment after moment, with the music by Juho Nurmela and Ella van der Woude‘s creeping piano and continuing drums throughout, keeps it and you on edge, to the earth shattering final act right before being rescued that can only have ended as it did. The ending, while it might shock you, you also realize it was always going to be this way because these boys are really far too young, and inexperienced in their own right to even be put in this type of predicament. No one should ever be and it’s that story with the ending showing it never ever will not effect them, that makes you think truly ask if the price of war is really worth it.

‘B+’

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Tribeca Virtual screening of ‘’DO NOT HESITATE’ ~ courtesy of MPRM Communications

“DO NOT HESITATE” DEBUTED AT TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL // TO BE RELEASED IN NETHERLANDS THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2021

Tribeca 2021 Review: “7 DAYS”

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Adding into the mix of films featuring romance during Covid, Tribeca gives us what one is to presume, a fun comedic look at dating, but not regular dating, dating from the point of view of more the traditional arranged marriage ways with “7 DAYS”.

At the start of the film, we meet Ravi (Karan Soni), and Rita (Geraldine Viswanathan). The two have been set up by their old-fashioned Indian parents and are on a pre-arranged date right at the start of the pandemic so they do meet in person, although masked etc. They both gave the idea over video chat, of being people whom it seems they really aren’t as the two of them have absolutely nothing in common. The whole afternoon progresses very awkwardly for both as these things get quite comedically revealed. But with the snap of our fingers, the COVID outbreak gets worse and Ravi can’t get home and must spend the next few days at Rita’s place as he can’t get a car or a hotel. We proceed to watch the unlikely bond that forms as the two spend their time together despite being completely different people.

While this debut film from Roshan Sethi is cute, it’s also quite short with a runtime of just 86 minutes. Yet somehow within this ‘7 Days’ and short runtime, they manage to meet, get serious Covid, be hospitalized, become best friends and find out every little factor within each others lives, including befriending each others parents. BUT, and are you ready for the BUT, one is also to be cured of the serious Covid they were taken by ambulance to the hospital for and .. take a deep breath.. walk out of the hospital no less. This isn’t just aggravating, but a slap in the face to all the people who spent months in the hospital, some never walking out. And it’s too bad because before it hits this part, it’s actually a very well acted, quite funny little comedy with fun moments, like when we discover Rita drinking beer and eating leftover chicken for breakfast despite claiming to be a vegetarian.

But such as it is, at least try and maybe have made it 17 Days or 27 Days, anything to have made it work on all levels without just blatantly being ridiculous.

“C-“

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TRIBECA 2021 REVIEW: “WOLFGANG” Disney+

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Where do you start when talking of a man who literally put food on the map. Let’s put it this way, years ago, when things like cell phones, Instagram, and Twitter didn’t exist, restaurants were dramatically different as well. For those who could afford it, going out to dinner at fancy Los Angeles restaurant meant being served a multiple course melangerie of something along the lines of the oh-so-austere conventions of French cooking. The food might be wonderful, but it was also things people never really ate, especially Americans. And the very high-end gourmet restaurants such as L’Orangerie and L’Hermitage were stuffy, with waiters wearing tuxedos. So not only was “he” better dressed than you were, “he” (as yes, it was always a “he”), was always rude as well. “He” always looked down on you if by chance, you couldn’t pronounce the food on the menu precisely. That all changed with Wolfgang Puck.

Puck was 25 when he came to Los Angeles in 1975. At 14, he left his native Austria, where he had peeled potatoes in the back of hotel kitchens at a very early age to escape his abusive stepfather. Wolfgang went to serve as an apprentice cook in the south of France, and then in Paris as well, before coming to Los Angeles where he worked briefly in a DTLA restaurant before going to Ma Maison. Back then the owners of restaurants were the ‘Kings’ so to speak, and Patrick Terrail was just that, the owner/king of Ma Maison. But it wasn’t till Terrail was almost on the brink of bankruptcy that he let Wolfgang become head chef at Ma Maison and create his own menu, that the restaurant got put on the ‘map’ so to speak.

After years of giving it his all to get no credit whatsoever as again, owners were king and Terrail took credit for everything Puck was doing. So upon the advice of many, but mostly his girlfriend at the time, Barbara Lazaroff, Wolfgang pooled some money together with a lot of different partners chipping in what they could, took the plunge, and bought an old Russian-Armenian restaurant that had once been a private home right on a hill up-top the famed Sunset Blvd, and viola’ ~ Spago’s was born. Lazaroff became the interior designer and it was only because of lack of money that the ‘open kitchen’ was put forth and became their trademark ‘thing’. It became famous for it and and they served pizza no less from a true wood-burning oven, with fresh ingredients only as Wolfgang himself would get up early and go to the fish market. They had product picked up from a farm Wolfgang had found about 3 hours outside of the city, talk about straight off the farm, American’s in the city didn’t know what hit them. And everyone followed suit.

Spago’s was a magical place where you could ask and answer the question; what would it be like to have dinner with a big room of the most famous people in the world, and have a blast doing it, It was said that Sean Connery, Michael Caine, and Sidney Poitier had dinner together in the center table, and no one around them would leave. I wholeheartedly believe this. From Spago’s Wolfgang Puck went on to start Chinois in Santa Monica, the first ever ‘fusion’ restaurant of it’s kind. He of course became a media darling as well, going on every talk show, starting his own brand of soup and pizza and building an empire with his name on it and of course, doing every post Oscar’s Governors Ball dinner since 1994. This doesn’t come without a price, and not just the personal cost of losing your wife and not being as present in your children’s lives as they might have wanted, but the price being a workaholic who was a part of every single decision. This includes the one to leave the old location that made him famous on Sunset Blvd. behind and open a new Spagos in Beverly Hills, featuring a menu more close to his heart, of food he grew up with alongside his famous dishes. Of course it succeeded, because how could it not, he cooked with love and from passion, and that is one recipe that always works. Add in the fact that now Bryon Puck, his son, is following in his footsteps and becoming a chef, Wolfgang seems to be making up for lost time and there is no greater success than to see that of your child loving the same things you do. Puck also had son Cameron with Barbara and has remarried to Gelila Assefa with whom he had two additional sons Alexander and Oliver, and it was lovely to see them shown all together in a kitchen teaching and learning from their Masterchef father.

Adding in a personal note, I remember my first job as an Assistant to a Talent Agent in the late 90’s, I was fresh out of school, wanted to be in this world I found so fascinating. Our offices were at 9000 Sunset Blvd, right down the street from Spagos and the first time I ever went I was terrified, nervous, excited, everything all wrapped up into one thing and it was simply and truly .. magical. There was a energy, a life to it – like it was it’s own being – and the food was fantastic. I was always a fan of Anthony Bourdain as he taught us to travel and experience food, but without Wolfgang Puck cutting the path to making food and the chefs and their staff who work 12-15 hour days making it, and to tell us what food really is and can be, we might never have had the opportunity to get to know anyone else. With that, how can you not give mad respect to the master, the original, Wolfgang Puck.

“A”

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Tribeca Virtual screening of ‘Wolfgang’ ~ courtesy of ID-PR

“WOLFGANG” DEBUTS ON DISNEY+ FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 2021

Tribeca 2021 Review: “No Man of God”

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It’s hard to like a film about a serial killer as ‘like’ might just be too inappropriate a word to use. With that being said, “NO MAN OF GOD” is a familiar, yet still an intriguing look at the psychological tug-of-war so to speak, that went on between Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) and FBI Agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood).

The film starts us in 1985, shortly after Bundy’s capture and conviction. The story told here is from a bit of a different perspective as the numerous others we have seen in the past, this one being from the view of analyst Agent Hagmaier, who is in the early days of what is now known as being a criminal profiler. Being an analyst in the early days meant going in and listening to hours upon hours of what Bundy did and how, in an attempt to learn more about the psyche of those who commit these heinous crimes. Most of what takes place is one on one, in an interrogation room with the religious Hagmaier being one of the few the Bundy will speak to.

This is essentially a movie about two people, and each gets almost equal focus. Wood plays Bill as the newbie who doesn’t really want to be there, but feels duty prone. Bundy, who was known for intensely disliking anyone in law enforcement or government, has turned down a TV special for $50,000, but Bill is convinced that he can be the one to get Bundy to open up. Bundy thinks the cops are all “liars in cheap suits.” and is playing them all hard at the end saying he has tantalizing tidbits to reveal about some unknown victims to avoid the death penalty. Despite numerous warnings like “when you get too close to a guy like this, you could lose your way,” Bill talks with Bundy year after year as his revolting in-detail, tales begin to overshadow into Bill’s home life. On the other hand, Kirby portrays Ted with a cool calculated indifference, an almost unnerving calm, that feels as though it reaches through the screen at you and carries a whole lot of intimidation along with it. As Bundy’s ‘friendship’ with Bill morphs into more, you begin to feel a layer of the almost filmy slime forming on your skin, the kind that makes you feel you need a shower. While I might be baffled a bit by the casting of Kirby though, as the impression was that Bundy had these beautiful blue eyes that made him so irresistible and helped lure in the women to him, it’s fair to also point out he could make his eyes almost black because yes, he was a very dark human being. Whichever it is, both acting portrayals here are top of the line, including the small supporting cast of Robert Patrick as Roger Depue, Bill’s boss, and Aleska Palladino as Carolyn Lieberman, Bundy’s death penalty lawyer who was rumoured to have been having a prison affair with him, though the film does clear this up once and for all.

Director Amber Sealy doesn’t take us into any new or unknown territory in ‘No Man of God’, it does give us probably the best acted and darkest Bundy to date. Oddly, I hope this is the last one as the obsession of serial killers being ‘all the rage’ of our society and the fame they achieve doing it, is not really something to be celebrated.

C+

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Tribeca Virtual screening ~ courtesy of KWPR

NO MAN OF GOD” OPENS IN THEATERS AUGUST 27,2021

RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT (2021) Roadside Attractions

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Have you ever looked at someone’s life from the outside and just said to yourself “wow, I wish I could be just like them”. Well that’s what so many thought when looking at Rita Moreno and this great in-depth documentary about one of Hollywood’s most trailblazing actors, can confirm you just might still want to be.

The now 89-year-old actress, born in Puerto Rico, Moreno came to New York with her mother as a child at age 6, leaving behind her brother and father, whom she never saw again in her life. Moreno dropped out of school at the age of 15 and earned the money for her family as a dancer at the age of 16. When the boss of a Hollywood studio was in town, she auditioned with her mother: “I styled myself like Elizabeth Taylor, because that was the only actress who looked like me at the time.” She got the contract and from then on played everyone small role that looked somehow exotic, from the ‘Indian girls’ to the Asian dancers, and yes, even the playing Russian/Hungarian girls and incredibly, all of them with the same accent.

We see the good, the bad, and the ugly side of Rita’s life, not just the ‘grazing at the surface’ good things. It shows how Rita struggled with hating her Hispanic roots, because it limited her as an actress. She tells how she was sexually abused, was forced into an abortion by her then-boyfriend Marlon Brando, with whom she had a very turbulent 8 year on/off relationship with, and then tried to commit suicide. The film shows exactly why Rita is such a beloved actress and person as despite all the obstacles and what she has been through, she never gives up and learned to value the woman she is. Rita grows into her own person throughout the movie, telling how everything that put her down at the time just made her stronger.

Doing her due research here and getting it right, director Mariam Pérez Riera visited with the likes of: Morgan Freeman, Lin-Manual Miranda, Gloria Estefan, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria, Mitzi Gaynor, West Side Story co-star George Chakiris to name a few, and Moreno’s co-star on the much loved and critically acclaimed Latina version of “One Day at a Time”, Justina Machado. She collected anecdotes about Moreno’s daughter Fernanda Luisa Gordon, (an actress in her own right who performed with her mom), she scoured film and newspaper archives with journalistic meticulousness and peppered her documentary with countless glossy recordings and glowing testimonies. All of it showing that Rita has truly always been a force to be reckoned with and not just the first Latina to collect an Oscar in the 60’s when something like that was unheard of, and then went on to be the first Latina to win the celebrated EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, & Tony) as well.

Rita wearing her film titled top

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It’ ~ has thus become a film that shows how much has changed in Hollywood and is a true monument to a young girl who evolved into a strong, wonderful woman who has done a lot for this change. And yes, if I could be even the teensiest bit like Rita, well of course I would GO FOR IT!

B+

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT” opens only in theaters June 18th, 2021

Review: “In The Heights” (2021) Warner Bros.

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We all go to the movies for various reasons. Some love the fear and horror, some love thrillers or animation, and then there is the sheer joy of seeing a movie that just makes you smile and want to dance and “IN THE HEIGHTS” is that movie. With it’s joyful incredible large-scaled choreographed dancing and singing, Heights is a cinematic treat for your eyes and ears as well. There has never been a more perfect time to release this film until now in the Summer! baby! Summer! On the serious side, this is an important film for all and it is what we all need as well in our lives, a bit of music, dance, joy and a story about life and a dream.

Starting us off in the way up the A train line in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights lives twenty-something Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a dreamer whose pursuit of that dream is to go beyond the corner bodega store he owns and works at, and head back to the Dominican Republic to re-open the bar his dad once owned. The barrio portrayed here is chock full of colorful characters from all parts of life and the world. Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), the always-wise, all-knowing, grandmotherly figure of the barrio; Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), is a young, beautiful, vibrant and optimistic woman with a strong desire to become a fashion designer, along with nail salon owner and queen of neighborhood gossip circle Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Lastly is Usnavi’s younger cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), who has ambitions beyond his somewhat slacker style as behind it all, is a quick, highly intelligent young man. And of course there is Benny (Corey Hawkins), best friend to Usnavi, and dispatcher at the local neighborhood service run by the neighborhood’s oldest business owner, Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits). Benny meanwhile is thinking he might be promoted and is working towards opening his own business as well. Returning home on that one hot, sweltering July morning is Nina (Leslie Grace), who’s dropped out of Stanford despite the neighborhood’s awe of her being the only one to get away. Her father has been finagling the finances at the cab company to keep Nina at the college, though there are deeper underlying issues that soon surface.

The adaptation, as one would assume, had to alter from the stage production but that job is done by none other than Quiara Alegria Hudes, who penned the musical’s book. Three-time Emmy nominee Christopher Scott really brings the musical numbers to life through such exquisite choreography that you can get lost in. At one point realizing just the enormity of this production and how many people are involved in some of the larger dance scenes left me in awe. In the director’s chair is Jon M. Chu, and his skills shine in this enchanting tale of unity, community and following your dreams, wherever and however they might end up. The music supervisor here is none other than Steve Gizicki, an old personal friend of some 20+ years and he does a fantastic job here.

It’s the little things of ‘In The Heights’ as well. If you’ve ever had a true neighborhood Abuelas’ food then you understand how here, you can almost smell and taste her cooking straight from the film. Or the dancing ~ you feel as though you are there doing the cha cha salsa dancing with them, and trust me, it is no easy feat to dance like that, most especially the ladies part. And if you didn’t feel right at home in the nail salon, well then you my friends, are going to the wrong nail salon. While one or two musical numbers might have stretched and went a bit too long, and it’s also possible the second act feels like it drags a bit here and there in comparison to the first and third acts, these things are minor nit picking as all in all, it’s just truly a very entertaining watch. Lengthy as it is, it’s truly a 2 hour 24 minutes love story. But not just a love story in the traditional sense, but a love story about a city, a place, a time and about it’s people. The senses of it all you can taste, feel and smell – all through the music and dance.

The acting and dancing is out of this world, though I did NOT know Jimmy Smits was a singer! While everyone is shooing Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Gregory Diaz IV as the new faces to follow, to put Anthony Ramos as being in that category as well is just a bit on the incorrect side, as he has been putting in the good work since Monsters and Men in 2018, and can we say A Star Is Born co-star anyone? But enough with the young stars as they have wonderful careers ahead of them and were all sensational here. But a standout here that many seem to overlook is our Abuela herself, Olga Merediz, as she is simply wonderful here in her supporting role and I truly hope she is not forgotten about during supporting nomination time, just because she didn’t sing and dance up a storm, she held this group together like a true neighborhood Abuela.

No matter the tiny criticisms, there’s something truly radiating about the film’s vibrancy and joyful enthusiasm – which is, frankly, what we all need right now. And do yourself one last favour before you leave, stay for the post-credit scene.

B+

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Review Screening: Monday, January 7, 2021 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

IN THE HEIGHTS” OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE AND ON HBO MAX ON FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2021