Tag: Drama

Cruella

I often talk about bias and my attempts to avoid it completely, by avoiding the source material, or you know, letting you know if I have a bias. Like my hatred towards Luc Besson.

With Cruella, ever since it was announced it met me with confusion. But why? Why would anyone want to make a story about the origins of Cruella? The dog killer? I understand they did this same bullshit with Maleficent, someone in the original cartoon who was said to be the biggest evil thing ever, but in Sleeping Beauty, she didn’t do that many bad things. She never attempted to kill puppies. (And, author’s opinion of course, Maleficent was a bad movie, and the sequel was worse, so not worth going down that path too many times).

But in 101 Dalmatians, we can see why she is the bad guy. She wanted to kill dalmatians to make fashion. How the fuck are you gonna redeem that? The only way that could be redeemed would be if you decide to just ignore it…or just say it was a misunderstand and a lie. Neither feel like really strong arguments to run with because there wasn’t really any grey area in 101 Dalmatians for us to see a misunderstanding.

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Based on this hair in the photo, we could have had 101 Cliffords.

Just as a heads up, this shouldn’t be considered a spoiler, as it happens very early on, but this next paragraph has someone people might want to see happen and not know why.

Because this is an origin story, we are going to start with  Cruella’s birth, except her name is Estella and she has that black/white hair out of the womb for some reason. Growing up, she was interested in fashion, and getting revenge on bullies. She got into trouble, all of that. Her mom (Emily Beecham) tried to help her out and encourage her dreams, but they were poor. Then one day, at a fancy party which they weren’t invited too, Estella snuck in to find her mom and the host. Some dalmations were chasing her, and sure enough, they actually ended up pushing her mom off a cliff and she died. Oh boy. See. There you have it. There is an angle. Instead of becoming Dalmatian Lady, she set off to kill them all right? Wrong.

Now Estella is an orphan, but she meets two other orphan pick pockets and they end up living together to run the streets. Now years later, Estella (Emma Stone), Jasper (Joel Fry), and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), do a lot of criming. They steal, they plan crime, they dress up in outfits, and they get by. What fun, what fun. But Estella wants something more. Jasper sees that, and lies on a resume for her to get her an in job at a fashion store!

And well, a lot more happens. But Estella is going to have a rise to power eventually, change her name, and have reasons to take down the head fashionista (Emma Thompson) in London, with a few balls, robberies, and shenanigans along the way.

Also starring Mark Strong, Kayvan Novak, and John McCrea.

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“There’s no way that could be the same woman with the red hair. There is different hair!”

I really wanted to get it out of my head, but the nagging feeling remained throughout. This lady wants to kill dogs eventually. They didn’t try to paint Cruella as the nicest woman around. She obviously still is a criminal, who steals, vandalizes, and is some punkrock incarnation of fashion in London in the 1970’s. Will they get to the dalmatian part at all? Because Maleficent did deal with Aurora growing up and the curse. The answer is no. This film ends before 101 Dalmatians begins, but it introduces us to those characters, which will at least mean in the future, when they inevitably make a sequel, maybe that one will be the film that will explain why Cruella isn’t all that bad and is misunderstood.

But for this film, it doesn’t get there. There is a reference to killing dogs for their fur, but it doesn’t happen in this movie, and again, it all takes place before the one we know about her. This is a bit of a cop out. I would assume most people are going into this movie to see how they can see how trying to kill puppies is redeemable, but we never get that far into the story, and we just get some strange fashion based Oliver Twist story of revenge.

This tale has twists, music, shenanigans, and more, but I continually wanted it to get to the point, and frankly, I feel like it never reached it. Now, it is not like the movie makers said they would explain why Cruella wants to kill puppies for fashion, just her background, so we got a background, and now I have nothing to do with this information. Again, there will likely be a sequel, and the sequel will be the story I am most curious about given the reference information we were all given over the last 50 years of living in a world with 101 Dalmatians.

The film itself is pretty standard. The look and feel is exactly what I would expect based on recent Disney productions. I put this film down as a drama, but I guess it is labeled as a comedy. Honestly, it is all over the place in terms of tone and plot. It was hard figuring out exactly what I was meant to write about in that section. Cruella I am sure will have an audience somewhere, and although not inherently bad, it is still very messy.

And you know. How they gonna try and redeem a would-be puppy killer?

2 out of 4.

Percy vs. Goliath

Percy vs. Goliath came out some time ago, and it is only called this title in America. In Canada, where the film takes place, and other parts of the world, it is just called Percy.

I don’t pretend to know anything about market research, but I guess that vs. Goliath tagline is to appeal to those fundamental Christians to get them to watch this movie. They might think Percy, in America, is like Percy Jackson, and those people are heretics!

Yep, that is the only reason I can come up with for why there needs to be a different movie title. 

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Walken Hard: The Christopher Walken Cowboy Story. 

Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken) surely does sound like a made up name, but this one is a true story. Set in Canada! So you know it is true in spirit and true in heart.

Ahem. Percy is a farmer. He is really old. He has been farming for a long time, with his wife (Roberta Maxwell), and he thinks he does a good job. He has used his own seeds the whole time, never going into that corporate stuff that claim to have better growing seeds for a price. And he does what every farmer does. He saves his strongest and best crops to harvest those seeds so that he can plant them the next year, so his crops can be as strong as possible.

However, things aren’t as they seem. A company who makes GMO seeds claims he has been using their seeds illegally for years for profit, without paying them ever, so they are bringing the lawsuits. And they have proof. Proof on the DNA level, where their patents on their modified strains show up in his crops.

Percy has never bought from them, and the likely story is that they were planted in his farm thanks to the wind from neighbor farms in the past. But is that enough for them to claim royalties, when he is using a product through no fault of his own? Looks like he is going to have to take this battle to court, even though the corporations have money and technically the law on their side. And now Percy is like a folk hero for all of these individual farmers, trying to stand up to the corporate man. That’s a lot of pressure.

Also starring Adam Beach, Christina Ricci, Luke Kirby, Martin Donovan, and Zach Braff.

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Braff, if you lose this case, you will feel really, really, really, sorry

Walken hasn’t had a good acting job since he was in the music video for Weapon of Choice, by Fatboy Slim. That is a fact. He is in movies I like over the last two decades, but he is often one of the worst parts. Like Hairspray, I like it, but by far Walken drags it down. He drags them all down, and some of these films he seems to be playing just a strange parody of himself with his word choice. I blame the cowbells skit. 

And for this movie? Well, it is more of the same. I can’t possibly say it is well acted, because Walken seems lost the whole film. He is playing a man over his head, sure, but it doesn’t help if he is seemingly acting like his normal self the whole time as well. That isn’t acting. That is just reading lines. 

This film is weak on a lot of fronts. The acting is a big one. The plot is another. The courtroom drama is pretty tame, and only a small portion of it. I came for kick ass legal case courtroom proceedings, like I would for most films that deal with trials, and it just treated it like it was no big deal, despite being a very big deal. Maybe it had the chill Canadian energy going on throughout it. None of the fun theatrics. 

Percy wins, by the way, as you would expect based on the title and it is history. He wins, at a cost, but he wins. And corporations learned their lesson and never messed with the poor little farmers again. Right? Well…

1 out of 4.

Things Heard & Seen

When I see things and when I hear things, I tend to believe them. They are some strong senses. I use those two more than the rest of the basic five senses. Smell, Touch, Taste? Not stuff that matters for the most part when it comes to believing.

Sure, we do have a lot more senses, like a sense of time, or sense of balance. But we are lead to believe if we can see and hear something, we should trust it and believe it.

So for Things Heard & Seen, I imagine, there are going to be unbelievable things that get heard and seen, and the characters in it will have to believe it, even if they too find it unbelievable.

Fuck yeah, I really broke down that title there.

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Fuck yeah, the sun really did get partially in both of their eyes.

It is 1979 and Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) and her husband, George (James Norton), are finally ready to move on to the next stage of their life. Is it children? Nope. They already have a daughter (Ana Sophia Heger), and she is a regular kid. No. George got a job!

More importantly, he finished his PhD in Art History (Woo), really exciting stuff, but it took him awhile. So now they can leave New York City and go to small town New York for him to be an exciting professor of Art History.

And of course, their house has history, but George didn’t want to tell Catherine about it. Catherine gets superstitious, about ghosts, gods, and the dead. He doesn’t need that. Turns out the whole community is mostly religious. Well, it is the 1970’s, so nonbelievers are less out open.

But sure enough, George kind of sucks. Immediately flirts with some students, spends a lot of time away from Catherine. Catherine’s only reprieve is some neighbor kids who help watch their daughter and are helping fix up aspects of the house.

As time continues on, George gets work, more secrets come out for Catherine, and you know, dark stuff.

Also starring Alex Neustaedter, F. Murray Abraham, Jack Gore, Natalia Dyer, and Rhea Seehorn.

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Candles mean Séance which means WHAT IS BEHIND THAT GUY?

Things Heard & Seen definitely kept my attention…in the beginning of the film. I was really excited to get to know these characters, honestly. The husband turning out to be a sleazeball wasn’t surprising and happened really early on. I expected that.

And then large swaths of time after that were just showing that he is actually worse than we thought and a sleazeball in many other elements too, not just relationship wise. A liar, and a cheat, and an adulterer he is I tell you.

This movie ended up providing zero excitement the more things were being revealed. The sort of thing that classifies as twists happened, but they made the film actually seem duller the further it went along. And this is just the mans story! Our main character’s story barely moves at all, outside of an increase in her own paranoia.

The ending itself would be considered a huge let down if I didn’t already lose most interest before that point. (It can’t be a huge let down if it isn’t a big drop, so just a regular let down). It takes more that nice cameras to make a nice movie. Things Heard & Seen should remain unheard and unseen. Clever joke, I know.

1 out of 4.

Beast Beast

One beast is hard enough to deal with, but two beasts?

For the movie Beast Beast, you will be happy to know that it doesn’t actually have anything to do with a literal beast creature, let alone two of them. It is taken from a brief chant in the movie, that has some context, but has nothing to do with scary, gnawing, creatures on all fours.

Well, the story does involve some scary mammals overall, but they are the ones that stand on two legs and can speak Human languages.

Maybe the beast beast was the friends we made along the way?

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No, the beast beast are the people who put their feet on chairs. >:o 

Beast Beast is a story of three individuals, in high school, and recently graduated. Krista (Shirley Chen) is a drama student, who has a flair for the…well, dramatics. She puts her whole heart into their improv activities and cares about acting. She is fine with the rest of the school, but she knows she wants to act in her life.

There is Nito (Jose Angeles), a new senior to the school, who isn’t great at the school thing. He is good at skateboarding, and making videos of himself skateboarding to put on YouTube. His first set of friends also encourage him to skip school and hang out and party, so that is what his life is now like.

And we also have Adam (Will Madden), who has graduated last year, but is going to just live at home with his parents. He is not looking for a job, or college, but he is also getting into YouTube, namely, a channel that is about proper gun use and safety over a large variety of weapons (that his dad has owned and encouraged him to learn about). No zany effects, just the facts.

Beast Beast is all about them navigating a year, trying to live their best life, until these lives all start to intersect, and somehow, bad things happen as a result.

Also starring Courtney Dietz, Daniel Rashid, Anissa Matlock, and Stephen Ruffin.

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How does one act? What does one do with one’s hands?

Beast Beast is certainly one of those lower budget, indie movies that you hear about rarely, and then forget about if you never saw it. But these are the ones that can end up being pretty powerful.

I don’t think this will end up being a spoiler, but yes, this movie will deal with some gun violence. It will deal with the castle doctrine/stand your ground. It will deal with some racism and a current culture obsessed with fame on YouTube.

I think it goes over some of these really well. The ending is strong, the whole last act. There are two bigger moment scenes that make sense based on the events before it, and by the end, feels like a justified ending for those who are in that situation.

It does take a long time to get going. I will give it that. And from the three characters, it is unfortunate to say, but Nito’s was the least appealing for me to see what it was going. It was hardest for me to connect with him personally, and his scenes that lead up to the confrontations were the ones I had to wait to get through.

Overall, the movie is still quite powerful in its own way, and a great effort from Danny Madden, who has mostly done short films before and sound editing.

3 out of 4.

Mainstream

Andrew Garfield, is he the best Spider-Man? Honestly, most people would put him at number three, and those people are fine in my book. I do like him as Spider-Man though. I’d put him at three also, but note that everyone was a good Spider-Man in their own way.

I do like Garfield, because out of the Spider-People, he has shown me to be the best and strongest actor of the three overall. Yeah, I am including you Maguire. And Holland hasn’t done enough to really show what he can do.

But Garfield is in the sweet spot, where he has been in serious films, films that are nominated for awards, some of them because of his action.

So when I found out he was going to play a YouTube sensation that was a bit wild and I guess…accurate to modern YouTube stars, I thought it would be a perfect fit for him, because he is young enough to get that energy, and a good actor enough to have potential layers to his act, and not just parody.

And yet still, Mainstream was barely released to theaters, and pulled quickly out of many of them as no one went to see it. I think people likely

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Also, Jim Carrey 30 years ago could have done this role. 

Frankie (Maya Hawke), for the most part, lives on her phone. She is a bartender at a club, but a budding YouTuber. Like, really budding. Barely any views. She tries to make videos and content but no one cares. So she is just bartending, with one of her best friends, Jake (Nat Wolff).

However, while she was off doing regular human things, she ends up seeing Link (Andrew Garfield), in an animal costume, working who knows what promotion. But Link goes on a fun rant about art and society with the public, which she records and posts on the internet. And because this is a movie, you know that one will go slightly viral.

Now, Link, he has no parents, doesn’t like social media, hates cell phones, all of that. They end up seeing each other a couple of times, and she wants to record more of him to get famous and be a producer. But how can she do that with someone so anti-capitalist?

Well, let’s just say, the rise to the top can be very fast, and sometimes people aren’t who they seem on the outside, and maybe everything is just an act.

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“This is the internet and this –” “I know what phones are, bitch.”

Mainstream is destined to be a film that is mostly hated, and that hate it will have a lot of good arguments. The climb to the top is a bit unrealistic, and the YouTube show itself is really…bad. Just bad. It is not how YouTube channels and shows work. They turn it into a gameshow, that has contestants who agree to do bad things for their phones back? It is the type of show that maybe could work once, but not sure how they’d get to have more than a couple episodes without changing things constantly.

And it is edited like modern YouTube celebrities’, with the quick cuts sounds. I know I am an old curmudgeon, but I don’t see how they put out a product that would get people excited and watching to become YouTube famous. Yes, if things are set in the real world, we often hope for some realism in their plot lines.

Now, the saving grace is that Garfield’s character is interesting and mysterious. A little bit diabolical. It is easy to be drawn into his character, but less his character on the screen.

The ending is a big ole what the hell too, but it ends up working really well for me. A powerful creation had been unearthed on our channel, even if didn’t make total sense the journey to that point. It obviously has a lot to say about commercialism, celebrity worship, social media, and fake stars, but it also feels like it never really drives the point home at all.

Mainstream is a messy film about a messy topic. It doesn’t really overstay its welcome, more so it instead just meanders a bit before getting to the grand finale. Garfield is fine though. He should keep doing his thing.

2 out of 4.

Every Breath You Take

I feel like as a society, we should be at a collective point where people realize that the song Every Breath You Take is creepy as fuck. Sting has already said it is sinister and controlling and not a wonderful love song. And yet people still are oblivious and think its beautiful.

It is a creepy phrase and a great name for a movie. Especially if it involves a stalking romance.

Every Breath You Take doesn’t really involve romance (although there is some sexmance, if you will) and stalking. Maybe not the perfect title for this movie. But maybe the perfect title for a Casey Affleck autobiography?

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Of course you can see every breath they take if you are that fucking close to their mouth. 

Philip (Casey Affleck) is a therapist, and maybe a good one, maybe a bad one. Really hard to tell. He did have one patient, Daphne (Emily Alyn Lind), who was really low and sore and couldn’t open up. And to encourage her to open up, he talked about himself. He talked about his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and kid (India Eisley), and his fears and regrets. He wasn’t trying to make her his therapist. He was just trying to be more relatable for her. And it worked! She talked and got better and he started to tell people of his discovery.

Well, then we find out that Daphne goes and dies. You know. Suicide. Shit was this his fault? We all know people will blame him anyways. Makes sense.

Maybe people like James (Sam Claflin), Daphne’s brother. Who ends up having to talk to him about it, for some closure. But then he just…keeps hanging around. He inserts himself into Philip’s life as they do funeral plans and deal with her belongings. He befriends the wife and daughter and show up in their lives when Philip isn’t around. He seems to have…ulterior motives for being there. Can Philip stop this man from stalking them all, when it would be hard to prove, and when he is doing his own shitty things?

Also starring Hiro Kanagawa and Veronica Ferres.

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“Howdy lady, did someone break your car? What a coincidence. I fix cars.”

At times, Every Breath You Take certainly feels like a movie that was forced to be a straight to DVD film. Which times? Well, at least 90% of the time. Not that those movies have to be inherently bad, because this one isn’t shockingly awful or anything like that. It just never rises to any level worth really getting excited about.

Affleck feels like a broody sad version of himself that is in a lot of films. He did it better in Manchester By The Sea, he did it better in even A Ghost Story. So it doesn’t feel new in that regard at all. Claflin plays a wormy, charismatic, clearly evil being. It is frustrating how obvious it all plays out on the screen, because apparently all of the women in this movie are easily cast into his shady as fuck web. Besides that, the rest of the cast are just smaller parts in this film and not given a lot to work with. They don’t feel believable and this really drags the movie down.

And this is frustrating, because given the story, it could have been a wonderful movie overall, but basically every part of it falls flat. The twists are obvious, and then silly. The thrilling scenes near the end don’t thrill but are laughable. There are elements of people trying, but when those elements are few and far between, it is just a disaster of a film.

1 out of 4.

Stowaway

I have never been a stowaway before, but I have been a part of a stowaway situation. Kind of.

Once, when I was a young lad, barely in high school, I went on a trip with my older brother and four of his older friends. I was the smallest person, and we had to travel in a small car. I was afraid that they would want me to go into the trunk, being the smallest person, but my brother, the driver, didn’t let it happen. Someone volunteered to go in the trunk and was in there for an entire hour car ride, just to go play some magic cards. And he found a different way home later that night.

So, it was a stowaway situation but we were all aware and knew about it. Most of the time stowaways are secrets from someone. So let’s assume Stowaway the film has some secrets in it as well. 

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In space, no one can hear your secrets. 

Three scientists are on their way to Mars for some science yeahhhh! Most astronauts are scientists, but in reality, this is like one astronaut that is a scientist, and two scientists who are now astronauts. Marina Barnett (Toni Collette) is the leader of the crew, this is not her first rodeo, she knows how to get things done. Our other two crew members, David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) put in proposals for research and got accepted, trained and are excited to be there!

And sure, during blast off, more fuel got used than expected. A little weird, but not unheard of in the exact science of space travel.

It doesn’t take long before they find out what went wrong. Turns out there is an extra person on board, and he is hurt. Once they get him healed and talking, Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) is shocked and freaking out. Just an engineer who worked for the space company, an accident knocked him out and on board, and things are going to get weird.

It could have been “fine” overall. They had food and supplies and he would pull his weight. But that same accident seems to have damaged a CO2 converter. You know, one that makes Oxygen. And if they can’t make enough Oxygen for the journey for four people, then some really hard decisions are going to have to be made. 

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This is a great time for an emergency meeting. 

When I first saw the description, I laughed. What do they mean running out of oxygen? I am pretty sure space stations have so many extra reserves of things and supplies, so they can take five times as long at least to keep things safe. The Martian taught us that. How could one man ruin that? Well, the film goes out of its way to explain all of these things. The reason oxygen is low, why they can’t easily get more, and their attempts at plan B and plan C to make it work.

But the whole point of this movie is like a very expensive trolley problem. Can they kill one or two people to save the rest, or should they risk it to save them all or none of them? (Note, they know the science and know that the risk can’t possibly work out either). 

And who is it to die? The stowaway who technically caused the issue, but is not his fault. Or one of the crew members who signed up knowing the risks that they would face. Could they live knowing they let someone die for them? 

I liked the questions posed in this slow space drama, and it gave me a slight ever tiny cry near the end. The effects are fine, but the acting is stellar. I expect a lot out of Kendrick, Kim, and Collette in a film like this, and barely have seen Anderson in anything else, but they all deliver. They are believable, they are different, and they are smart. This is a no dummy space flight. And it is annoying I have to mention that, given how many space movies send morons out into space apparently. 

Stowaway wanted to ask a hard question, and it gave some hard answers. I appreciate it telling the story it told. 

3 out of 4.

Profile

When I wrote my review of Searching, I already did a recap of all of the “From a computer screen” based films of the last few years, and how most of them were flops, except for some TV show examples.

Well, now we have Profile, another of those films, and I don’t think this “gimmick” has been played out if it is done right. Since Searching came out, we also had Host, which seemed to finally do a bit better on the horror version of these films (although Searching has plenty of tense moments).

While on the subject of Searching, should be noted that Profile was not made years later than Searching. It actually was in film festivals in 2018, same year as Searching, it just didn’t get released for three years, maybe to distance itself from Searching. I really can’t tell, couldn’t find news articles about it, and the title of ‘Profile’ doesn’t really help with searches either.

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How do you say I Love You in Skype?

This is a movie about Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane), a British journalist, hoping to get a more secure job at her news station. Someone with a salary and less freelancing. She gets the idea to pose as a recent convert to Islam, and get noticed by members of ISIS. There have been reports of them recruiting through social media, and stories of Islamic converts being brought into Syria to be brides, with really, really, bad outcomes.

So she gets a scarf to put over her head, hides her tattoos with some foundation, and makes a new Facebook profile. She finds other converts to Islam there, and begins to like and share their posts and videos, hoping to be noticed by an ISIS recruiter or soldier. And she is!

With the help of her news stations IT staff, her goal is to catfish an ISIS soldier, having actual video conferences with him, to document their talks. They want to see their methods and report on them so people can watch out for them. And also how they handle the transportation of these girls to Syria without being noticed or traced.

However, Amy is having a hard time balancing this new fake life with her real life. And there might be actual benefits to heading to Syria and leaving it all behind, because Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif) raises some good points, is attractive, and seems to have a good reason for doing what he does. Fuuuuu.

Also starring Christine Adams, Amir Rahimzadeh, Emma Cater, and Morgan Watkins.

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Don’t fuck up the headpiece, that will give it all away Amy. 

Profile is based on a true story, about a French journalist who did…you know, this sort of thing. It is called In the Skin of a Jihadist, and I am sure won awards and hopefully helped some people out.  Like real life people. I don’t know how this story compares to the book.

I first thought this movie was more of a real time picture, but it takes place over a few weeks. That isn’t a problem at all, but the film doesn’t always do a good job of showing that time has passed between sessions. I also can’t tell when events are supposed to be live or if some of them are just someone else watching recorded sessions after the fact. The transition tools used seemed to be used for either method and it was jarring as someone just trying to follow along.

But I still did like the movie. It did draw me in, however it still felt rushed. It tried its best in the short time to make us believe that she could really fall in love with this man and consider going to Syria for real, and that is the most disappointing part. He was charismatic, I will give him that.

At this point it is clear that these movies will only be used with macs I guess, due to their tool potential. In these movies a lot of people apparently do face chatting allllll the time. Is this real? I would never imagine doing that with my friends and family. People are quick to call and assume you are free to do it, and that is another awkward thing in this one (and other films).  Does anyone do this in real life at all? Help me out here. I could be out of touch. I don’t have a Mac computer.

3 out of 4.

In The Heights

We were supposed to get In The Heights last June, but, you know what happened. Sad things happened. We all know that. But the only good news about it is that they ended up releasing Hamilton 15 months early or so, straight to Disney Plus, to make up for the fact that In The Heights would be pushed back. It is not a compromise I knew I would have to accept, but one I did gladly accept overall.

In The Heights the musical hit Broadway in 2008, and earned quite a few Tony nominations, putting Lin-Manuel Miranda, lyricist and main actor, on the map. That lead to other things as we all know.

I had only knew one song from this musical really well, called It Won’t Be Long Now, because it showed up on my Musical Pandora and no other songs from the whole show. I did give the sound track a good listen before hand the day before this screening, to get familiar with the tunes and lyrics, since I know they can sometimes be hard to hear on the screen. It made me cry once or twice on its own, so I knew there was no hope for my tears to see the whole thing in front of my eyes.

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These people are all happy, but I know I’ll end up sappy. 

We are going to check out Washington Heights, a small area in New York City, or Neuva York if you want to call it that, I won’t stop you. This is where will meet Usnavy (Anthony Ramos), owner of a bodega in this area, where almost all of the citizens stop by for his coffee that they have grown attached to. He runs it with his younger cousin Sunny (Gregory Diaz IV) who is still in high school, but politically motivated. Usnavy came from the Dominican Republic before he was 10 with his parents, but the best days of his life were back then, living on the beaches, while his dad ran a bar. Every day was paradise. And he has the chance to go back finally, buy his father’s shop (now in need of repair) and location, and start the final chapters of his life, at home.

It is also about a few other characters. Like Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who works at the local salon (run by Daphne Rubin-Vega), but has dreams of getting out of this area as well. Not as far as another country, but deeper into the city, to work as a fashion designer. We have Nina (Leslie Grace), the “one who got out”, a girl who was so smart and full of learning wonder that she went to Stanford! But this is the summer after getting back and she has to tell her dad (Jimmy Smits) some not great news. And there is also Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works for her dad, is into Nina a whole lot, and wants to become a big money maker in the future.

And of course there is the Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), who never had her own kids but is like an Abuela to a lot of our characters, who wants to help everyone in the block and be a great person overall. So sweet.

In The Heights is about the dreams and aspirations of a few characters who live there, hoping to eventually find a home. And it takes place in the summer, before the hottest day and a blackout that will change all of their lives forever.

Also starring Ariana Greenblatt, Stephanie Beatriz, Chris Jackson, Dascha Polanco, Marc Anthony, Noah Catala, Olivia Perez, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Piragua Guy.

lin manuel miranda
A man who can wear shorts to work is a man I inspire to be. 

Jon M. Chu, director of In The Heights the movie, was the perfect choice for this musical, and frankly, all musicals going forward. His name really came into my eyes when he did Crazy Rich Asians, which was gorgeously shot, and every frame seemed to pop out of the screen. From the trailers of In The Heights, you can tell a similar story. Hell, he did mostly music videos before this, some Step Up films, and even Jem and the Holograms. Say one thing about all of these, you can say they at least look nice. Fuck. He is even doing Wicked once it eventually comes out. Can not fucking wait.

This movie is a goddamn spectacle. It is the first film I saw in theaters, since things started to shut down. I went 421 days without seeing a movie in theaters, and watched 440 films in that time, on my screens at home for the most part. And at the start of the film, in the “welcome to our theater” videos, I found myself already tearing up.

Because cry I did this film, early and often. Usually for just such heartbreaking soul crushing numbers, so well sung and choreographed. I wanted to help everyone. I cried from sadness and from happiness. It will give you that full range of emotions. I did not have any rage crying though. That would be hard to pull off.

Ramos, a few years out after starring in Hamilton, has to play the role Miranda made and feels like a great passing of the torch. He oozes charisma in this role, and having this musical be told through stories from him to children brings a lot of bonus personality to it. I wanted everything to work out for his character just mere minutes into the film.

There were awkward moments of the musical too. Don’t worry. I don’t think the film did a great job of fully giving a good reason for the arguments that occurred during the song Blackout. Except for some reason our lead character maybe has higher levels of anxiety and fear, with a little bit of alcoholism, that don’t go fully explained or fleshed out, to make it make much sense. But in musicals, life can move fast through a song, so that also plays an element in it.

I honestly didn’t know how I would feel about In The Heights, knowing the music stylings and lyrics were not my usual fair. Maybe I liked it more because of Hamilton’s existence and getting used to the rhyming and rapping in musical fair, and the speed of the lyrics coming at me. Maybe I liked it on its own merits.

Oh, and for Hamilton fans, outside of actor cameos (of which we have just the three?), there is one other sneaky Hamilton reference that should be easy to see. Well, hear. And one other note. The Broadway songs have a reference to Donald Trump, which makes sense in there lyrically, but they definitely replaced that line in this film version. A good change overall.

4 out of 4.

Limbo

A lot of the times I make a corny joke at the start of these reviews where I get excited about the movie being about one thing, and it is actually about something else, despite the titles being the same. Most of the time it is a lie. Almost all of the time. I don’t think I have ever told the truth for that joke.

But for real this time, we got a movie named Limbo right? I first thought it would be a movie based on the successful indie game Limbo, because I loved Limbo. Limbo made me seek out and try more indie games and opened me up to so much more being out there. I beat it in one day (it isn’t that long) and it was a complete trip. A beautiful sad trip.

Well, this is not that game, and that game likely won’t be a movie. I don’t know why it would be, to be honest.

Instead Limbo is referring to being stuck in limbo. Not the death afterlife one, but just an in general waiting place.

slide
This is like a puzzle. How to get down the slide past the panda-man. 

Omar (Amir El-Masry) is a Syrian refugee, from… yep, Syria! Syria has a lot of scary stuff going on. A lot of Isis, and a lot of refugee’s leaving to find a safe place to live and grow in the world. Omar has found himself in Scotland! Specifically, a made up island off of Scotland, a very tiny community that has accepted a couple dozen refugees to join and specifically, assimilate into the community.

They get to take classes on dances, music, culture, proper greetings, language and more, while also are given places to stay. But technically, none of them have been granted asylum yet. They are hoping to be counted as official refugees, because they might be able to secure places for their family as well. And in general, it is not fun to be stuck waiting to see if you would get help and can become a citizen, or if you might be denied and sent back? Is that even what people do? Shit, that is scary.

Omar has to travel to the one pay phone in the region, in the middle of nowhere, just to call his parents, discuss the current events, and give them hope. But Omar, a musician, can’t even find the strength to play his grandfather’s oud, and doesn’t know what will finally give him the spark to feel creative again.

Also starring Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kenneth Collard, Grace Chilton, Kais Nashif, and Kwabena Ansah.

refugees
What is that off in the sunset? Hope? Or just more endless nothing?

In Limbo, you get to really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. There are fields in Scotland, both land based and water based, and a lot of space. That is great, for refugees technically, because they need unused space. But if they are used to big living  city in Syria, going to bumfuck nowhere Scotland can be jarring. It would be for anyone.

Are the people nice there? Sure. But their expectation is assimilation, and not technically them bringing their culture over. Would the locals appreciate his instrument and music choices, or would he be shunned by it?

Some good questions and Limbo gives a lot of time to ponder them. Probably too much time. It does have its fill of quirky moments and situations, mostly dealing with culture clash and the oddities behind it. But the majority of the film is just trying to find existence in a world that is completely foreign to you and seemingly unwilling to bend.

El-Masry gives a deep and personal performance as our lead. He gives a strong performance without there being a lot to actually happen in the film. This is just a snapshot of something that is happening all over the world, and it is just one of those important stories to help ground us and realize what is important in life. You know. Live theater.

3 out of 4.