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

REVIEW: “A STAR IS BORN” (2018) Warner Bros.

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“A Star is Born” version 4.0 is here. And with it, we get not only Lady Gaga, but Bradley Cooper in his directorial debut doing double duty as lead actor as well. Straight off the bat I have to say this was a fantastic film with deserved praise for both its stars performance and their chemistry. The rise of fame from Gaga’s character to the declining career of Cooper’s was a roller-coaster ride of emotion. And the soundtrack can be just summed up as WOW!.

This 2018 updated version is very much in tune with today’s world and thankfully so, as I can only confess to seeing the last two versions and they were too kept in time with the day/age of music of that period. The first half of film for me is certainly the strongest part as we get to meet our main characters Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a musician who is struggling to cope with his life and Ally (Lady Gaga), who thru a through a random stop, meetup where she is performing at a drag bar that Maine stops in while in an alcoholic stupor, for just one more cocktail.

We get a very good supporting cast here who all stand on their own in their parts of the story. Once again, I am impressed by Andrew Dice Clay’s performance – something I’d never thought I’d see or say, as Ally’s father Lorenzo. Her sidekick throughout the film is Ramon (Anthony Ramos) and her manager who takes her down fame’s sidewalk Rez (Rafi Gavron). Cooper has his own great support in Sam Elliot as his much older 1/2 brother Bobby. Bobby is the one who has picked Jackson up off the ground – literally – and wrapped him up at night before any major damage can be done.

Cue to the second half of the film. While still great does have more than a few cliche moments which can be a bit distracting especially if you have seen the other versions. Coopers directorial eye is certainly great capturing some great brilliant musical performance shots and always capturing the characters emotional thoughts. I certainly would have liked more Dave Chappelle scenes and loved the different type of character he played.

If I had to sum up this film – acting/directing/story/soundtrack in the best way possible it would be as follows: Gaga out-sings Cooper by a long shot, though make no mistake, he does a passable job. But Cooper on the other hand, out acts Gaga – who again, does well for a first time starring role – but cannot compete with either Streisand or Garland’s previous acting performances while her voice is just as comparable. Realistically speaking, those two are a tough act to follow for ANYONE. I know everyone is screaming Oscar, but personally, and again this is just me, I think it might be to early to call that yet – though it’s all a possibility.

While it’s a very tough job to pull this off as this type of story was maybe thought to have been done to death, but truly congratulations to all on a job well done.

Grade: B
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Monday, October 1, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
‘A STAR IS BORN’ IS OUT WORLDWIDE FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2018