In the Heights

Posted on June 8, 2021 at 2:27 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 or some suggestive references and strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some social drinking, some substance abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death, emotional confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 9, 2021
Copyright 2021 Warner Brothers

Love, loss, hope, dreams, family, community, hope, darkness, purpose, dancing. Very, very specific and ultimately universal. “In the Heights,” based on what will always be known as the play Lin-Manuel Miranda did before “Hamilton,” has been gently streamlined and updated into a joyous post-pandemic welcome back into the world after a year postponement due to the coronavirus. It is touching, ebullient, timely and timeless with an irresistible cast of young performers filled with screen chemistry.

It began in the dorm room of Wesleyan student Miranda, who has said if he did not see roles he could play in the theater, he would write his own. After an award-winning run off-Broadway, with a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, it moved to Broadway itself, with Miranda in a lead role, and was awarded Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Like the original, the movie takes place over three hot summer days on and around one block of the predominantly Latino community of Washington Heights. It is a place where “You can’t walk two steps without bumping into someone’s big plans.”

There is a little bodega run by Usnavi (named after the letters his Dominican parents saw on a military ship when they first came to the United States) is played by the endlessly appealing Anthony Ramos (also seen this summer on “In Treatment”). He gets help from his teenage cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), who likes to tease Navi about his crush on aspiring fashion designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera). They get a lot of support from their honorary Abuela Claudia (grandmother), played by Olga Merediz in her Tony-nominated role. Claudia is like everyone’s grandmother, doling out good food and good advice to everyone.

Also on the block is the car service owned by Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), whose one goal is to give his brilliant daughter Nina (Leslie Grace), a student at Stanford, every opportunity to achieve success. Nina is loved by her ex, Benny (Corey Hawkins), a dispatcher in her father’s company. She does not want anyone to know what a difficult time she has been having because she is afraid of letting them down.

Both businesses are at risk as the neighborhood is gentrified and ask their owners consider other priorities. Navi wants to return to the Dominican Republic he dreams of as an idyllic paradise. We first see him on a beach like the one he dreamed of, telling children “the story of a clock that was disappearing in a faraway land called New York.”

Kevin will make any sacrifice to keep Nina in school, even though Nina is not sure she wants to stay, and she feels guilty about taking anything more from him.

Someone, we don’t know who, has purchased a winning lottery ticket for the bodega. It is worth $96,000, enough to make any of the dreams of the characters come true, or at least come closer. And, there is a blackout. All of the power goes out.

The story is told with songs and dance that are never less than glorious, especially a number at the local pool that harks back to the days of Esther Williams and Busby Berkeley, and a fair with all of the different nationalities showing off their dances. The beauty parlor estheticians form a Latina Greek chorus, and their musical number is pure delight. The vibrant energy of the film (and I do recommend seeing it in IMAX) is like a burst of sunshine.

That does not mean there aren’t struggles and losses and not all dreams come true. But that is life, and it is the life that shines through this movie that makes it one of the year’s deepest pleasures.

Parents should know that this film includes a sad death and references to other losses and struggles, some suggestive references, substance abuse, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What are the dreams of you and your family? What little details help you assert your dignity? How can we make sure no one feels invisible?

If you like this, try: “Hamilton” and “West Side Story”

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Based on a play movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Musical Race and Diversity Romance

Spirit: Untamed

Posted on June 3, 2021 at 5:04 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some adventure action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Action-style peril, sad offscreen death of parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 4, 2021

Copyright DreamWorks 2021
If there’s an aspiring grad student looking for a sociology paper topic, a compare and contrast approach to the original “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” released in 2002, and 2021’s “Spirit Untamed,” with references to the “Spirit Riding Free” series on Netflix. The original film was hand-drawn and the new version, like the series, is computer-animated. But the gap between the two feature films allows for distinctive evidence of changes in culture as well as technology.

The original film centered on the title character a wild horse captured by cowboys but searching for freedom. He was voiced by Matt Damon. This film, like the Netflix series, is more of a spin-off than a sequel, with another wild horse named Spirit, but the only talking characters are the humans.

In the mid-1800s, a little girl named Lucky (Fortuna to her Spanish-speaking mother, Milagro Navarro, lovingly voiced by Eiza González) is sent to live in the big city with her stern grandfather, a politician who insists that family comes first. Her mother has been killed in an accident performing on horseback, and her grief-stricken father is not able to care for her.

Ten years later, the animal-loving Lucky (voiced by Isabela Merced) manages to disrupt her grandfather’s important political appearance, and so she and her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore) are packed off to the west, where Lucky’s father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) is helping to get the railroad built. Lucky and her father have not seen each other in a decade, but they awkwardly begin to get to know one another until he discovers she has been riding, and forbids her to go anywhere near a horse. The memories of the loss of Lucky’s mother are still too painful.

But Lucky has found Spirit, like the one in the original film a wild horse captured by cowboys and scheduled to be “broken.” Lucky patiently allows Spirit to feel comfortable with her. And nothing Jim says can keep her away from Spirit. She feels they understand each other.

When Lucky learns that Spirit’s family (his herd) is about to be captured and sold by wicked outlaws, she decides to rescue them, with the help of her new friends Pru (Marsai Martin of “Black-ish”) and Abigail (McKenna Grace). To get there in time will require riding their horses over a treacherous trail. But “Prescotts never give up” and Lucky is brave.

This is the best part of the film, as the girls navigate all kinds of danger with courage, loyalty, and good humor. “I rode a horse!” Lucky crows. “Around here we call that holding on for dear life,” one of her friends responds dryly. Co-writer/co-director Elaine Bogan has a perceptive understanding of the vital importance of the P-A-L (the girls’ initials) friendship. While parents will want to remind their children that no one should leave home without letting family know where they’re going and “never give up” does not mean taking unreasonable risks, this is a heartwarming story of human and equine courage and loyalty and a tribute to the wild spirit in both species that seeks adventure and rights wrongs.

Parents should know that this movie includes peril, cruel treatment of animals, very risky behavior by young girls, and the off-screen said death of a parent.

Family discussion: When is it brave to be careful? What adventures do you have with your friends?

If you like this, try: The earlier Spirit film and the Netflix series, and live action films like “The Black Stallion” and “National Velvet”

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Animation movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Series/Sequel Stories About Kids

Summer Movies 2021! Back in the Theater and at Home!!!!

Posted on June 1, 2021 at 7:13 pm

Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, Disney and Pixar’s “Luca” is a coming-of-age story about a boy and his newfound best friend experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. But their fun is threatened by a secret: they are sea monsters from another world. “Luca” is directed by Enrico Casarosa (“La Luna”) and produced by Andrea Warren (“Lava,” “Cars 3”). © 2020 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
Happy June! Lots of great stuff coming our way this summer and I think you will agree with me that IT’S ABOUT TIME! And best of all, as I say every year, some movie no one is paying attention to now will bring us unexpected joy.

Sequels and remakes

F9 — I used to joke about how the “Fast and Furious” movie titles were getting shorter every time and some day it would just be “F” and what do you know, here we are.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife — The saga continues with Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, who wrote and directed the original, taking over for his dad. A new cast of character find their connection to the original crew, who reprise their roles.

Black Widow — Scarlett Johansson’s Avengers character gets the movie the fans have waited for.

Space Jam: A New Legacy: Basketball and cartoon characters return. This looks better than the original!

Suicide Squad 2 — This one seems to look better than the original, too, I hope?

Action and Adventure and Thrills

Jungle Cruise: Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt star in this Disneyland ride-inspired adventure that looks like a cross between “Jumanji” and the original “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Free Guy: Feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this Ryan Reynolds action fantasy about a video game character. (Reynolds is also appearing this summer in an action-comedy sequel, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

The Green Knight — One of the most enduring legends of Western culture is brought to life starring Dev Patel.

Reminiscence — Hugh Jackman stars in a movie about a service that makes it possible for you to relive your memories. What could go wrong?

The Tomorrow War — Time travelers from the future arrive to gather today’s people to help them fight a war with an alien.

The Misfits — Pierce Brosnan plays a thief recruited by a group of young crooks to pull off a heist.

Old — M. Knight Shamalyn is back to scare us with the story of a beach that accelerates aging.

Music!

In the Heights — Before “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music for this Tony Award-winning musical about the residents of a Latin-American community.

Respect — Aretha Franklin told Jennifer Hudson that someday she would play the Queen of Soul in a biopic, and here it is.

Summer of Soul — Dazzling recovered footage from the “Black Woodstock,”featuring B.B. King, Stevie Wonder and more, brought to us from Questlove.

The Beatles: Get Back — “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson is behind this documentary made from more than 50 hours of extra footage from “Let it Be”

For the Family

Wish Dragon — A teenager who longs to be reunited with his best friend meets a dragon that grants wishes.

Luca — Pixar’s latest is set in sunny Italy, the story of boys who become sea creatures when they are wet. Or are they sea creatures who become boys when they are dry?

Peter Rabbit 2 — I didn’t think much of the first one. Another sequel I hope is better.

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania — Episode four in the series about the lovable monsters has humans turning into monsters and monsters turning into — horrors! — humans!

Festival Favorite:

CODA — It stands for children of deaf adults, and this story of a hearing daughter of deaf parents won big at Sundance.

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