In the Heights film review: an irresistable tale from

Author : curukdewalima
Publish Date : 2021-06-12 23:07:41


In the Heights film review: an irresistable tale from

In the Heights film review: an irresistable tale from the Hamilton star of immigrants getting things done

Desperate to walk on sunshine? Think of this adaptation of the 2008 Broadway musical as a virtual mini-break. It’s set during a sweltering New York summer and is crammed with shots of an idyllic, Dominican Republic beach. OMG, the water looks nice.

Of course, since the songs and lyrics come courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the story of bodega-owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) is about more than escape.

Director Jon M Chu’s last movie was Crazy Rich Asians. This one, set in an impoverished Latino neighbourhood, is a whole different world.

The characters (whether from DR, Cuba, Puerto Rico or Mexico) dream of winning the lottery but can barely afford the spiralling rents in newly-desirable Washington Heights. As the borough suffers blackouts, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), the beautiful and creative young woman Usnavi loves, laments that she is “power-less”. Meanwhile politicised teen Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) raps that racism’s gone from “latent to blatant” and middle-aged hairdresser Daniela (the stupendously vivacious Daphne Rubin-Vega) points out, “our people survived slave ships!”

There’s even a nod to the Bronx-born, ground-breaking Justice of the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. In The Heights was thought up long before Hamilton, but its liberal credentials are just as in your face.

Personally, I can’t resist a song (the title number In the Heights) that skips from Cole Porter to condoms, or an Esther Williams-style extravaganza that takes place in a teeming municipal pool.

And most of the performances are incredibly stirring. Cuban matriarch Claudia is played by Olga Merediz, whose voice makes you want to cry an ocean. Marc Anthony, as Usnavi’s dead-beat cousin, has eyes like two dark and endless tunnels. And Miranda himself (pushing an ice cart) looks touchingly knackered.

Of the perky youngsters, Ramos, Corey Hawkins (as Benny, Usnavi’s Black best friend) and Leslie Grace (as college girl Nina, the pride and joy of the community) are the standouts.

Some of the CGI work is a little too glossy, and the plot, it must be said, doesn’t always make sense. We’re asked to pay attention to a series of transactions concerning property, lottery tickets and a court case. These sums just don’t add up.

Fans of the stage production will also note that Vanessa’s alcoholic mother has disappeared, and that Nina’s racist dad is now all pride and no prejudice. A decision has clearly been made not to diss the “neighbourhood”. This Washington Heights is so functional you half expect Mickey and Minnie Mouse to pop up in the dance scenes.

But it’s so refreshing to watch an inner city narrative that’s not dominated by snarling gangsters or guns. And it’s brave to introduce a sub-plot about an undocumented worker. The film ain’t short (143 minutes) and it would have been easy, and less financially risky, to trim that storyline.

In a key scene, Claudia says her mum, who scrubbed floors for a living, wore velvet gloves to hide the cracks on her hands. Chu and Miranda respect immigrants who don’t want to take the gloves off, even as they themselves opt for a mish-mash of glamour and grit.

In the Heights isn’t in the same league as Hamilton. Nevertheless, it’s a gorgeous tribute to Black and Hispanic power. What a trip.

Angelina Jolie was a funny girl (watch her riffing in Girl, Interrupted) who became a funny woman (see Maleficent), though she can swing the other way - it’s hard to stay jolly while watching movies like Changeling or By the Sea. Luckily, in her first action movie since Salt, the 45 year old actress-cum-global icon is definitely up for a laugh.

Thrill-seeking, secretly troubled “smoke-jumper” (someone who steps in when fires are out of control) Hannah lives in a tiny Montana town. Into her world comes 13-year-old Florida school kid and murder witness Connor (Finn Little), on the run from two disgruntled assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult). In between bitching about their penny-pinching employers, this homicidal pair deliberately start a forest blaze to misdirect local police, including Ethan (Jon Bernthal), who is Connor’s uncle, as well as Hannah’s ex.

The fiery explosions and chase sequences are handsomely shot, but the plot is undeniably absurd and the ominous/rousing soundtrack downright hokey. It’s the performances and banter that make the project worth watching.

Hannah teaches Connor an obscene tongue-twister and has a bracingly weird interest in his budding sexuality (she assumes he’s attracted to blonde cheerleaders and gives him tips on how to “swap spit”. The point isn’t laboured, but Hannah is clearly in need of a few kisses herself). She also lances a boil of self-pity. When Hannah explains that her job has exposed her to horrors, Connor says he watched his mother die of cancer. Jolie does wonders with the line, “Well, it’s impossible to feel sorry for myself around YOU!”

Even better are Hannah’s jokes about being old, skinny and tired. If you want to see Jolie in goddess mode, you’ll have to wait till November, when she appears in Chloe Zhao’s Eternals. This is not a vehicle designed to show that Jolie can still kick butt and the script, co-written by director Taylor Sheridan, makes effective use of a supporting character Allison (Medina Senghore), who has a dry sense of humour and is heavily pregnant.

Pregnant wives, in action thrillers, tend to be sacrificial lambs, as was the case in the recent Without Remorse, which Sheridan helped write. Maybe this is his bid for redemption because, as in A Quiet Place, the rules of the game here are different. Allison is only partly defined by her status as a mum (just as Hannah’s lack of children doesn’t dominate). Hannah and Allison – who never share a scene together but offer a united front – display a kind of gnarly resilience that’s truly impressive.

All in all, Those Who Wish Me Dead is a casually progressive epic, though there’s a random shot of Jolie in her bra that makes you wonder if studio execs thought this Hannah Montana needed sexing up. If so, they’re morons! It’s like asking Chris Hemsworth to take his shirt off – guaranteed to thrill certain members of the audience, but wholly unnecessary. Jolie doesn’t have anything to prove. In or out of clothes, this sardonic scrapper is hot stuff.



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