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In the Heights (2021)  

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Absolutely phenomenal. Such a memorable tale that talks about the joys of community and togetherness in a way very few films can achieve. LMM truly, does not, ever, ever miss.

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Lovely little musical. Jon M. Chu proves that Crazy Rich Asians wasn't a fluke, as this is a similarly impeccably-crafted movie that feels very much alive with a beating heart, and it's also highly refreshing just to see this kind of representation on screen in a major Hollywood movie for once (like the director's previous effort, there isn't a single token white character to be found, nor does it need one). Despite its stage origins, this feels like a fully cinematic experience (and very much worth seeing on a big screen). The entire cast is also fantastic: Anthony Ramos is excellent in a breakthrough performance that's likely to turn him into a leading man, Melissa Barrera is delightful, Olga Merediz is phenomenal as the true soul of the movie, even the kid was great...there isn't a single weak link in this amazing ensemble. And the music, as is usually the case when it comes to anything from Lin-Manuel Miranda, is super catchy and sure to be stuck in the brain for days. Wouldn't say it's up there among my favorite movie musicals ever, but there is a lot of greatness here. I can't wait to watch it again. A-

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Among the many bummers of last summer’s theatrical release dead zone was having to wait a whole year to see In the Heights, a film I had been anticipating because of the strength of its source material and the dynamism present in its early trailers. As such, I’m happy to report that director Jon M. Chu’s take on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony winner lives up to the hype. It’s a vivid, wholly engrossing viewing experience crafted with such passion and energy that it almost feels as if it’s bursting at the seams. Chu has never been better in utilizing his spatial strengths as a director, and the intensity with which he directs the musical numbers allows them to fit well within this medium. After watching the filmed production of Hamilton released last summer, I worried that perhaps conventional film wouldn’t be able to do justice to the emotional power and intensity that Miranda’s songs gain from the intimate stage setting; under Chu’s direction, however, they translate remarkably well, feeling designed specifically for an invested audience to react to. The ensemble cast obviously gets something juicy to work with in the music, and they capitalize on it beautifully. Unsurprisingly, Anthony Ramos is best in show in a ferociously confident breakthrough performance where he owns the screen with ease; it definitely helps that he’s worked with Miranda directly and has a similar vocal style, but even with those advantages cast aside, he stills excels at packing unmistakable passion and verve into each of his scenes. The two female leads, Melissa Barrera and Leslie Grace, also absolutely have the feel of breakout stars in the making. Barrera arrests attention from the moment she first appears onscreen, selling all her character beats with power and precision, and her chemistry with Ramos sells their relationship well. Grace knocks her numbers out of the park and makes the most of the film’s most compelling character narrative; like Barrera, she also shares a cute bond with her love interest in Corey Hawkins. And though she doesn’t have as much to do as the others mentioned here, Olga Merediz is so good as Abuela Claudia, the de facto grandma of the entire barrio (complete with a killer showstopper in “Paciencia y Fe”), that it’s all too easy to see why the other characters treasure her as they do. (And though she’s only present in a small supporting role, I’ll never not enjoy seeing Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz in a film.) The missteps in the film are few – and perhaps inevitable in the process of translating a big stage musical into a two-and-a-half-hour cinematic experience – and the highs are so joyous that they’re bound to leave many viewers as dizzied and enthralled as I was by the time the credits rolled.

 

A-

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