‘In the Heights’ Review: Washington Heights is So Hot Right Now

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In the Heights (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Noah Catala, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony, Christopher Jackson

Director: Jon M. Chu

Running Time: 143 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Young Adults and Older Adults Dealing with Adult Stuff

Release Date: June 10, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

How could anyone possibly sing and dance on the streets of Manhattan as the temps creep up into the high 90s? This is the conundrum that In the Heights forces us to face. Sure, it’s a musical, and its attendant heightened reality isn’t meant to represent literal truth. But the vibe of this movie-based-on-a-Broadway-show is very much “This is what life is really like in the neighborhood of Washington Heights.” So how to explain it? Well, the heat can make people do some pretty irrational things. And you can get away with a few bouts of illogic here and there if you’re generally focused on friends and family.

So just who are these Washington Heights-ians in the midst of a heat wave and looming blackout in this movie musical based on the stage musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes (the latter of whom also wrote the screenplay)? First off, there’s Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), Navi for short, a young bodega owner who’s looking to buy himself a plot of land in the Dominican Republic. Then there’s his teenage cousin Sonny (Gregoy Diaz IV), who could really use some documentation to firm up his immigration status. Also hanging around the bodega is his good buddy Benny (Corey Hawkins), who really ought to make things right with Nina (Leslie Grace), who’s buckling under the pressure of being the first one in her family to make it to college. Most of that pressure is coming from her kind-of pushy dad Kevin (Jimmy Smits), who never met a financial pickle he wouldn’t crunch his way out of. And then strolling right through is Vanessa (Melissa Berrera), who’s keen on starting a fashion design career while also making sure that Navi isn’t too much of a dingus for the two of them to consummate their obvious feelings for each other. Finally, looking over it all with grace and a steady heart is Navi’s abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz). And I cannot fail to mention that LMM is also present on screen as the local shaved ice cart pusher who has an only-in-New York rivalry with the neighborhood Mr. Softee ice cream truck driver (fellow Hamilton alum Christopher Jackson).

This story all plays out via the framing device of Navi telling the tale to a quartet of kids on the beach several years later. And that’s obviously the right sort of vibe. The older generation tells the younger generation stories of their families that happened before they were born so that they know where they came from. And I love to see it, because I am just innately fulfilled by keeping track of how people are related to each other and who’s friends with whom. In the Heights doesn’t need to have song-and-dance numbers to pull off that energy, but because it is a musical, I know that these characters’ familial, romantic, and platonic emotions are indeed larger than life.

Remember at the beginning of this review when I mentioned how senseless it is to be moving your body in the midst of the mucky Manhattan heat? Let me clarify: I’m not mad at In the Heights for that. Sometimes it makes sense to be senseless, especially when you’re in a city that’s not exactly designed to offer relief for that rising mercury AND you’re in the midst of a days-long massive power outage. Hopefully in this situation, you have enough brain cells to take care of what you need to take care of, and the thrill of In the Heights is making sure that these characters maintain the minimum number of brain cells. (Barest of Spoiler Alerts: They do.)

In the Heights is Recommended If You Like: Hamilton, Step Up 3D, Family reunions

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Lottery Tickets

This Is a Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

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CREDIT: Jay Maidment/Disney

Mary Poppins is fun and all, but before she showed up again, little Annabel, John, and Georgie could have already turned to their Aunt Jane to take care of all the practical matters that their dad is struggling with. Mary Poppins Returns has magic, or at least attempted magic, in its presentation. Whether or not that magic will hit you squarely in your heart and imagination depends a great deal on your mood, I think. Emily Blunt is acceptably grand in fulfilling her Poppins-y duties, but she’s not as singularly ineffable as Julie Andrews. That’s a tough comparison, sure, but even when considered in isolation, Returns is not much more than a perfectly pleasant passing diversion. And anyway, I’m more interested in Jane’s labor organizing. Not every villain is as sniveling as Colin Firth’s bank manager, which is one reason why unions are so important.

I give Mary Poppins Returns 5 Animated Detours out of 8 Misplaced Documents.

SNL Review October 8, 2016: Lin-Manuel Miranda/twenty one pilots

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lin-manuel-miranda-snl-monologue-backstage

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2016.

Love It
Pine Ridge Campground – You know you’ve got something special when the first post-monologue sketch has a nondescript setting. That is a promise of weirdness that you do not see coming. And boy, is that promise fulfilled, as the surprises just keeps piling up. Vanessa Bayer and Kyle Mooney are a pair of incestuous amateur singers with indefinable faux-European accents, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is the captive audience wise enough to stick around and see what happens next.

Michael and Colin just keep glorifying in all the material that Trump wraps up in a bow for them, and they really sell it with asides like Che’s quick take on the tic tac ad with the new Trump-inspired slogan…Netflix: Behind the Scenes reveals the one thing that Stranger Things was missing: racial consciousness! … LMM does a variation of “My Shot” in his monologue, but more importantly his love for SNL shines through in a way that clearly came from the heart as opposed to being written by committee.

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