Friday, June 11, 2021

In the Heights (2021)

Movie Name/Year: In the Heights (2021)
Genre: Drama, Musical
Length: 143 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Production/Distribution: Warner Bros., 5000 Broadway Productions, Likely Story, Scott Sanders Productions, NOS Audiovisuais, Warner Bros. Pictures Germany, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Singapore, Flixzilla, HBO Max
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writer:  Quiara Alegría Hudes, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Actors: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Noah Catala, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mateo Gómez, Marc Anthony, Analia Gomez
Blurb from IMDb: A film version of the Broadway musical in which Usnavi, a sympathetic New York bodega owner, saves every penny every day as he imagines and sings about a better life.

Selina’s Point of View:
I have a ton to say and I honestly have no idea where to start. I have opinions about the content, the politics, the creative aspect, the translation to reality… I was incredibly affected by In the Heights.
I guess I’ll start with where I made a mistake.
I initially thought the film involved Brooklyn Heights – but it’s actually Washington Heights, which is in Manhattan. Even with that difference, though, there were so many similarities to the areas I belonged to in Brooklyn.
There’s a soul to neighborhoods like the one in In the Heights. Sometimes it’s not visible to outsiders, but it’s there. No bodega is just a corner store. Every one of them is different – as if it were its own individual. You could live closest to the one on Utica Avenue, but walk a little further because 18th has the best coffee. There’s always a neighborhood mom, or grandma, that looks after all the kids on the block. Hell, my ‘grandma’ even dressed identically to the abuela in this film.
During In the Heights there’s a moment where everything stands still and one of the characters seeks to just listen to her block. When I closed my eyes, it sounded so real.
I have never seen any movie capture the feel of the neighborhoods in NYC better than this one did.
If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know how much I dislike the hipsters taking over NY neighborhoods. I’ve gone into how I feel they are just bleaching away the character of those places. If you want to truly understand what I’ve been saying – this is what you need to watch.
The characters of In the Heights spend a lot of their time talking about how they’re losing their block. How the people who built the soul of their area are being priced out. That’s ridiculously accurate. Visiting home now feels like I’m walking into a new place, one that’s been sapped of so much of what made it special. The mom-and-pop shops. The small restaurants. And, of course, the bodegas – even though most of them come equipped with my worst allergy (cats).
By the time the flick ended, I was so homesick. I’ve been homesick for a while, but I could never figure out why – and this piece of cinema explained it to me. The little town I moved to has no soul. I moved here so my daughter could live a safer life, but I will always wonder if I robbed her of the variety of cultures she could have absorbed in Brooklyn.

We see ourselves in the best works of art. This is just the most personal place that In the Heights hit me.
As deep as that meaning went, there were more general aspects that would affect many others. It went into DACA and dreamers. It gave a front row seat to what it’s like to be an immigrant, or even just darker than white, in America.
There are going to be people who don’t appreciate that message. Those are the people I think need to pay the most attention.
When I placed In the Heights in the #1 spot of my Top 20 movies to look out for in June, I mentioned my concern that people would undoubtedly compare it to Hamilton (2020). Following up a film like that is no joke.
I worried that even if this one was an amazing film, it still might not live up to Hamilton – which could cause a lot of people to look down on it.
I don’t think that’s an issue anymore.
In the Heights was insanely good. It was a two-and-a-half-hour movie that I wound up hyper-focusing on so much that I forgot to take a drink during it. My coffee went completely ignored until the credits.
I do believe that Hamilton’s soundtrack is better, but that doesn’t mean the music in this film was bad. In the Heights was almost the same quality, just more relatable.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns, His Dark Materials, DuckTales), Quiara Alegría Hudes (Vivo, My America), and Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, Somewhere, Now You See Me 2) are geniuses. There’s nothing else to say about them. Anthony Ramos (Honest Thief, Trolls World Tour, Elena of Avalor) was every bit as amazing as I knew he would be, but he didn’t overshadow anyone. The actors who worked along-side him – regardless of age or gender – were all just as good.
If you have the chance to see In the Heights, I cannot recommend it enough.

Cat’s Point of View:
I am absolutely loving the recent resurgence of musicals in pop culture. We’ve seen a number of them adapted from movies to live-action TV specials in recent years. There have even been several new musical movies. Though, perhaps the most impactful by far was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. In the Heights was Miranda’s Broadway production that came about a decade before the American Revolutionary War mega-hit.
Broadway to film adaptations will always hold a special place in my heart. My inner music-geek does a happy dance every time a new one comes out – except for Cats (2019). I tried watching that and I couldn’t get past the strangeness of the CGI. It was so weird. I digress.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to afford to go to a real Broadway production in person. I’ve seen a few musicals in off-Broadway settings. They were magical experiences that I will never forget. Hamilton was filmed so that it felt like a trip to the theater. In the Heights, however, was a bit different.

In the Heights is a bit of a hybrid between the Broadway musical and a traditional movie. There were a few straight dialogue moments, and most of everything else was delivered in song and dance. The difference here was that the setting takes place on the actual streets of New York rather than a stage, and I loved it. It was wonderful to see that the neighborhood became almost a character of its own in the narrative.
Aside from the amazing music and killer dance moves, the story was touching and full of vivacious Latina flavor. I laughed and cried and sang along. I wanted to dance (but knew better than to attempt it). I could relate to the characters, even though I don’t share their ethnicity. I felt an empathetic appreciation for what they were going through. The cast absolutely killed it. Their wins and heartbreaks were mine for almost two-and-a-half-hours. It went by in a flash. Though, the ending left me fulfilled, and while wanting more; still well satisfied with the experience.
Catch this at your local theater if you safely can do so. In the Heights is a must-see, and I would recommend it a thousand times over.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 97%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 94%
Metascore – 85/100 
Metacritic User Score – 7.9/10
IMDB Score – 7.7/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating5/5
P.S. After credits scene.
Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Awake (2021)

Streaming Services: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Awake (2021)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: TV-MA
Production/Distribution: Entertainment One, Netflix, Paul Schiff Productions
Director: Mark Raso
Writer:  Gregory Poirier, Joseph Raso, Mark Raso
Actors: Gina Rodriguez, Shamier Anderson, Dan Beirne, Gil Bellows, Frances Fisher, Ariana Greenblatt, Lucius Hoyos
Blurb from IMDb: After a devastating global event wipes out all electronics and eliminated people's ability to sleep, a former soldier may have found a solution with her daughter.

Selina’s Point of View:
Awake wasn’t quite as original as I’d hoped, but I still really enjoyed it.
There were tropes. There always are, though. What impressed me about the utilization of them is that Awake did manage to subvert some.
I mean, when I see an apocalypse movie and a character is shown to have insulin-dependent diabetes – or some other illness that they need constant access to medication for – I immediately know that’s going to come into play. They’re going to lose their insulin, or it’ll be stolen, or they’ll just run out and it’ll be a whole thing. Although they showed a character taking insulin early on in the film, they didn’t take the road that trope normally goes.
I know that seems small – but I have NEVER seen an apocalypse movie do that. Not ever. I’ve seen everything from insulin, to inhalers, to anti-psychotics get lost. It’s such a recurring side-plot, that I go into every movie like this assuming it will be a thing. I’m usually right.
Not all of the tropes were subverted, but a few did go the way of the not-missing-insulin. Which was nice.

It did end the way I thought it would – but there was so much suspense leading up to it, that I didn’t mind. The whole flick felt incredibly fast-paced. About 7-minutes in, the catalyst for the apocalypse happened and there were no more chances to take a breath.
I didn’t feel time move.
Gina Rodriguez (Annihilation, Kajillionaire, Carmen Sandiego) made me feel every moment of her character’s journey to protect her kids. Ariana Greenblatt (Scoob!, Love and Monsters, In the Heights) also did a stunning job. I believed her. There were moments that she played her character so well, that it heightened my immersion – despite my not having any issues with that to begin with. She’s young, but she’s already got a decent amount of experience. If she keeps going, she’ll be a future A-lister.
The reviews are showing that a lot of people disagree with me about Awake. I think they’re wrong, and I think Awake has the chance to become a cult film. There are going to be people like me who see mostly good in it. It’s just a matter of how many.
Time will tell.

Cat’s Point of View:
I’ve been looking forward to Awake since I saw the trailer. It felt like this would be a fresh take for the disaster-flick genre.
In recent years, there have been TV shows and films featuring loss of electricity in the world – however nothing quite with this particular flavor for the apocalypse. It was fresh and intriguing. I went in with so many questions.
I wish I could say that I got some answers, if not the ones I was hoping for. There’s a mild explanation that left me fairly dissatisfied on that front – it felt like a few throw-away lines. I get it that the delivery was given while the character was generally delirious, but you’d think there’d be more substance to it.
Aside from that, the rest of Awake had my attention and I was far from any danger of zoning out.

Gina Rodriguez was impressive, as usual, in her role as a young mother with a troubled past now fighting for her children’s future. I enjoyed seeing this new facet to her range -- portraying someone desperately trying not to unravel. 

We should definitely keep our eyes on young Ariana Greenblatt. She’s come a long way from the precocious younger sister in Disney’s Stuck in the Middle (2016-2018), and I have a feeling her career is only going up from here.
Aside from a few great moments here and there, I’m afraid there weren’t a lot of elements in Awake to set it apart from the majority of the productions that focus on the crumbling of society – whether from disasters or illness.
In any case, I’d still give Awake a recommendation as a good warm-up movie to kick the summer season off. It might not blow your socks off, but it’s not a bad flick.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 38%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 33%
Metascore – 36/100
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 5.1/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating4.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating3/5
Movie Trailer:

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Amusement Park (1973/2021)

Streaming Services: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: The Amusement Park (1973/2021)
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Length: 52 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: Laurel Tape & Film, Lutheran Film Division, Potemkine Films, Shudder
Director: George A. Romero
Writer:  Wally Cook
Actors: Lincoln Maazel, Harry Albacker, Phyllis Casterwiler, Pete Chovan, Marion Cook, Sally Erwin, Michael Gornick, Jack Gottlob, Halem Joseph, Bob Koppler, Sarah Kurtz, Aleen Palmer, Georgia Palmer, Arthur Schwerin, Bill Siebart, Gabriel Verbick
Blurb from IMDb: An elderly gentleman goes for what he assumes will be an ordinary day at the amusement park, only to find himself in the middle of a hellish nightmare instead.

Selina’s Point of View:
If you are one of those people who is known to say, “they just don’t make horror films the way they used to” – then I have good news. The Amusement Park is a new old film. I don’t mean that in a hypothetical way.
The Amusement Park is a lost George A. Romero (The Crazies, Night of the Living Dead, Creepshow) flick that was filmed in 1973. It was found in 2018 and restored. That means that this old film, is completely new.
In this movie, Romero was trying to highlight the discrimination and abuse that elders face, despite the fact that the majority of us will eventually be a part of that group. He utilized an amusement park as a way to show how people treat the oldest generation and hypothesized that it’s because of our fear. Not just our fear of death, but our fear of being in their shoes.
It’s a heavy subject, and one that a newer film might have glossed over with significant gore and visual effects – but that would have altered the message. It might have separated it further from reality and made it all easier to swallow. In this presentation it’s raw and anxiety inducing.
Without the Hollywood beautification treatment, we’re left with the bare bones of a mockumentary/drama. We see a man entering his elderly years with hope, then quickly learning exactly why he was warned against that. We watch people steal from him, ignore him, treat him like a freak, and attempt to scam him.
If this had been released in the 1970s, it would have had the same kind of high ratings it will have now – but there’d be one difference.
The knowledge that the subject still holds water 50 years later, would be lost on us.

Everything shown in the film is recognizable today. The images and sounds may be distinctly 1970s, but the ideas translate through time.
We all make fun of those prank calls where someone tells us our computer is infected, or that they’re trying to contact us about our car’s extended warranty – but those calls aren’t directed at the majority of the population. They are looking for elderly people who don’t understand technology – or current-day business practices – so they can drain them for everything they’re worth.
Recent movies like I Care a Lot (2021) touch on subjects like this.
It’s a problem that has stretched through, at the very least, a half-century (likely longer).
I believe Romero was looking to force his audience to face the atrocities he outlined in The Amusement Park, and I think he succeeded. So much of it was an incredible sensory overload of anxiety and existential dread… and he did it without any of the horror tropes or visuals that we are used to. There was nowhere to seek comfort. No safe scenes.
It’s not a movie that’s going to be for everyone, but it’s still horrifyingly effective.
The Amusement Park will be available for streaming by Shudder on June 8.

Cat’s Point of View:
When you hear the name George A. Romero, the thoughts that follow generally flash to classic horror movies featuring zombies. Romero is fairly synonymous with the horror genre, in general. With that in mind, when you tell someone that a lost Romero film has been found and remastered for release, it might just spark a tingly feeling of anticipation – well, at least it did for me.
The Amusement Park wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. There are minimal amounts of blood. There aren’t any shambling zombies – at least, not by the genre’s modern definition. The horror here was very real all the same. This movie just unabashedly smacks you in the face that time is ticking, and one day death will come for us all. The Amusement Park also draws an effective parallel to remind us that life can be a circus or a rollercoaster at times, and there are swindling carnival barkers around every corner.

Even though I was warned going in that this would be a psychological horror movie and disturbing at a deep and visceral level, I still underestimated how profoundly it would impact me.

One of my deepest fears is reaching a point that I am trapped in my own head with the world going on around me without a chance for me to interact or communicate. While that wasn’t exactly the case here, it wasn’t that far a reach to envision that sort of situation. I am left rattled in the wake of the credits.
The Amusement Park was quite obviously filmed many years ago, and yet the flaws in society that the film brought to light are no better today than at the time of filming. It’s sad that all of our ‘modern advances’ in the decades that have passed have not created a better environment for the aging members of our population. The divide between the haves and have-nots and that created by racial bias is pretty much just as great now as then. Those that are affluent are afforded more care and consideration than those that lack such resources.
I could get on a soapbox and rattle on about this for days. I’ll spare you. The point is that The Amusement Park wasn’t merely meant to be a horror movie – it is also a call to action. It’s meant to make everyone think and put themselves in the protagonist’s shoes.

I don’t think I’d be able to recommend The Amusement Park enough. Change doesn’t happen from sitting idly by. Hopefully, this movie will spur change – of course, I’m an eternal optimist and so I can only hope for the best here. At the very least, Romero's movie forces us to consider our humanity in a very stark and unflinching manner. Perhaps the true horror here is that we, as a society, seem to be caught in a vicious loop to continue this pattern...and without change, what fate awaits us all? 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 91%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None 
IMDB Score – 7.1/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating5/5
Movie Trailer: