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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P!nk: All I Know So Far

Posted on May 20, 2021 at 5:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Wine
Violence/ Scariness: Brief scene of accident
Diversity Issues: Acceptance of diversity a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 21, 2021

Copyright 2021 Amazon Studios
As I watched “P!nk: All I Know So Far,” I thought tof what W.H. Auden wrote in a poem called “Tonight at Seven-Thirty:” “The funniest mortals and the kindest are those who are most aware of the baffle of being, don’t kid themselves our care is consolable but believe a laugh is less heartless than tears.” P!nk, one of the world’s biggest rock stars, exemplifies that deep appreciation of humanity. Her tour, like her most recent album, is titled “Beautiful Trauma.” She embraces all of life’s struggles, losses, problems, and joys with laughter.

The film documents a portion of her pre-pandemic tour. Skillfully directed by Michael Gracey, who showed his appreciation for backstage stories with “The Greatest Showman” and “Rocketman,” the film follows P!ink and her family as they approach one of the highlights of the tour, her appearance at the legendary Wembley Stadium. There is the usual mix of rehearsal and concert footage, with perhaps more than usual of the star herself, who also produced, telling her story, which is about living at the intersection of art, commerce, and life, not trying to balance it all but trying to embrace it all at once, to integrate every part of it as seamlessly as she can. “I enjoy seeing the world with my kids as much as I enjoy nailing it on stage,” she says. “I want it to be perfect for everyone buying a ticket and in my kids’ minds.”

Essentially, she is responsible for three different jobs, though, all unimaginably all-consuming. She is the mother of Willow (age 8) and Jameson (age 3) and the wife of Carey Hart, formerly a Motocross champion, now a full-time dad. She is a Grammy award-winning mega-rock star who fills stadiums like Wembley for her concerts and thrills audience with acrobatic stunts that would be a challenge for Cirque du Soleil performers, belting out the hit songs that she wrote as she swings above the crowd, sometimes upside-down. And she is essentially the CEO of P!ink, Inc. as we see after a concert performance when she sits across a table from the people who work her show with a list of changes. For example, this venue has a stage 85,000 square feet larger than the one they had blocked the choreography on, so they need to figure out a way to adapt so that she can be where she needs to be without having to race so fast to get there that she does not have enough breath to sing. Just as she has to manage simultaneously singing and dancing (and swinging from the ceiling) she has to manage simultaneously touring and mom-ing. She laughs (of course) at one point remembering her wild child days, when she thought being a rock star meant freedom from anyone else’s rules only to find that she not only had to obey rules like being on time, she had to enforce them.

That applies to parenting, too, of course. It is a pleasure to see the patience and love P!nk and Carey show Willow and Jameson. Willow shyly asks if she can take some time off from the tour to see her friends and in one of the film’s sweetest moments, P!nk says she is proud of Willow for being able to express her feelings.

Hart does not get much time on camera until about halfway through the film, and when he refers to Alecia, it took me a moment to remember who that was. For her family, she is Alecia. And Mommy. The musical performances are thrilling, but what is most memorable about this film is Alecia/P!ink herself. She says that when you’re struggling, you imagine that if you ever get a Grammy you will take the opportunity at the podium to call out the high school principal who didn’t believe in you. But after all of the work it takes to get there, you find you are just grateful for everything that got you to that point. Watching her helps us to reframe our own lives with gratitude as well.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and explicit lyrics and some drinking of wine. There are references to past wild behavior.

Family discussion: What is P!nk’s biggest challenge, performing or being a mom? How are they different? What will her children remember about the tours?

If you like this, try: “The Other F Word” about punk and metal musicians and fatherhood.

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Schmigadoon! Coming to AppleTV+

Posted on May 2, 2021 at 8:25 pm

Copyright AppleTV+ 2021
Apple TV+ today announced “Schmigadoon!,” the six-episode musical comedy series executive produced by Lorne Michaels (“Saturday Night Live”) and starring Emmy Award-nominee Cecily Strong and Emmy Award-winner Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “The Prom”), will debut on Friday, July 16. Two episodes will be available at launch followed by one episode weekly every Friday.

“Schmigadoon!” is a parody of iconic Golden Age musicals. Cecily Strong “Saturday Night Live”) and Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “The Prom”) play a couple on a backpacking trip designed to reinvigorate their relationship who discover a magical town living in a 1940s musical. They then learn that they can’t leave until they find “true love.” The first season also stars Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ariana DeBose, Fred Armisen, Jaime Camil, Jane Krakowski and Ann Harada, with a guest appearance by Martin Short.

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Comedy Musical Satire

A Week Away

Posted on March 25, 2021 at 5:39 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: References to offscreen deaths of parents
Diversity Issues: Christian themes, diverse cast
Date Released to Theaters: March 26, 2021
Copyright Netflix 2021

An unhappy teenager gets into trouble and is given a choice: juvie or a week at a Christian summer camp. He takes the second option, planning to run away. But, and I am pretty sure this is not a spoiler, he finds acceptance and hope there and a bit of romance, too. Plus a ton of music. Some of the people behind “High School Musical” (which I unabashedly love, don’t @ me) are behind this one, too, and the musical numbers are filled with “I could do that” accessibility and enthusiasm that makes them especially inviting.

Will (Kevin Quinn) was devastated when his parents were killed in a car accident that he survived. He has no one in his life looking out for him and no direction. The openheartedness and good spirits at the camp connect to him in a way he did not expect, and he is drawn to Avery (Bailee Madison), the daughter of the camp’s director (David Koechner).

The campers are divided into teams that will be competing throughout the week. And there is a campfire, an eating hall where campers are selected to answer questions about who their heroes and crushes are, and is “The Blob,” a huge inflated raft to jump on. I mean, the kids do about three months worth of activities and interactions in one week, but then people don’t randomly break into Broadway-style music numbers, either, so let’s not get picky.

What we do have here is something there just isn’t enough of: genuine kindness. The faith themes are presented very lightly and the primary messages are universal: acceptance, honesty, and connection. Avery, whose mother died some years earlier, talks to Will about “choosing to believe” and the help she gets from her father, making clear that faith and earthly support go together. Insiders and church camp veterans will recognize some of the songs and rhetoric and the Biblical references of the names of the four teams, but newcomers, those of other faiths, and non-believers will either miss them or ignore them. They will catch some movie references, including “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” And they will enjoy the exuberance and old-fashioned fun of the cast, clearly having as much fun as the teens they are portraying.

Parents should know that the story includes two teens who discuss the loss of their parents.

Family discussion: Why did Will and Avery respond to loss differently? How did each of the characters learn something about acceptance? What advice would you give George?

If you like this, try: “High School Musical,” “Camp Rock,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

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The Prom

Posted on December 10, 2020 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive/sexual references, and language
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, homophobia
Date Released to Theaters: December 11, 2020

Copyright Netflix 2020
Irving Berlin was right. There’s no people like show people. And no one knows and loves show people as much as other show people, which is why “The Prom” is 20 percent sly satire and 80 percent love letter to the craziness that goes into entertaining audiences.

“The Prom” was a mildly successful Broadway musical about Broadway stars who want to restore their reputations after their new show has a disastrous opening night (a musical about Franklin and Eleonor Roosevelt). They see an injustice on Twitter. A small Indiana high school has cancelled its prom rather than allow a student to bring a same-sex date. And so, not even sure where Indiana is or what it is, they get on a bus, sure that their Broadway luster and can-do spirit will teach those people in flyover country about respect and inclusion. “This will be the biggest thing that’s happened in Indiana since..whatever the last big thing that happened in Indiana was,” one declares.

As you might guess, the Hoosiers are not impressed, even when Broadway leading lady Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) pulls out her two Tony Awards, which she apparently has on hand at all times, in case someone does not who Who She Is. The high school student at the center of the fuss is Emma (a star-making turn from Jo Ellen Pellman) has a bigger problem than the prom; the girl who would be her date is the daughter of the woman fighting to prevent same-sex couples from attending (Kerry Washington as Mrs. Greene). Caught in the middle is the high school principal, Tom Hawkins, who happens to be a fan of Broadway musicals, especially those featuring Dee Dee (Keegan-Michael Key).

The story adds some unexpected sweetness and reconciliation but really the entire production is just a change to have some fun with some inside theater humor and put on a big, colorful, splashy show with a bunch of Tony and Oscar-winners. Streep has a blast as a larger-than-life personality who is only at home on stage. After letting down someone who genuinely cares for her, the only way she can apologize is to reprise one of her career’s signature numbers. Andrew Rannells (a Tony Award winner for “Book of Mormon”) has a huge musical number with local kids in a shopping mall. Nicole Kidman plays the kind of chorus line hoofer who goes from show to show but never makes it into a lead role, and James Corden is a gay man who sees Emma’s problems in very personal terms because his parents rejected him after he came out.

You don’t have to understand the relative status of a Tony vs. a Drama Desk award or remember which musical had the most performances before “Cats” to sit back and enjoy the good-hearted fun, clever lyrics (by Chad Beguelin), and the jubilant dance numbers choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. It most important message is not inclusion but about the power of art itself, especially big, splashy, energetic, colorful musical, to bring us together and heal what hurts.

Parents should know that the theme of this movie is homophobia and inclusion. It includes some sexual humor and some sexual references, some alcohol, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What would you say to Mrs. Greene? What’s your favorite musical?

If you like this, try: “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Footloose,” “Hairspray,” and “High School Musical”

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