In the Heights – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Olga Merediz. Directed by Jon M. Chu Written by Quiara Alegria Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda Length: 143mins

Lin Manuel Miranda’s first, deeply personal, broadway musical explodes onto our screens, full of passion, exuberance and joy. In the Heights, directed by Jon M. Chu and led by the formidable Anthony Ramos, is finally hitting the big screen after it’s initial release date in summer 2020 was pushed due to Covid 19, and this is definitely a great film to return to if you haven’t been to the cinema since they’ve reopened.

The story is somewhat three pronged; our leading man, Usnavi, navigating rising costs and running his bodega in Washington Heights with his young cousin as he dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic to spark life into the beach side bar his father owned before coming to New York. Nina, the brilliant student returning from Stanford facing the pressure of being the ‘one who made it out’ and representing her community in an environment that doesn’t treat her with any kind of respect and Vanessa, the girl with big dreams who is itching to get started. All three stories intertwine with one connecting factor. Community.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know to expect fireworks. This film is big, it’s colourful, its loud and it’s unashamedly a translation from stage to screen. Chu hasn’t tried to mould this musical into a hard hitting movie. It manages to carry the energy that was something that made the Broadway show so incredible and drop it into our cinemas letting the fun of musical theatre to do it’s thing all while bringing attention to the themes of unity, representation, community and love to the forefront. Now if you’ve seen or heard any of Miranda’s songwriting then you’ll be aware that his style doesn’t fall into a classic ‘razzle dazzle’, jazz hands musical theatre genre. He uses rap as much as ballad and I’m aware that this might put people off but I highly recommend that you give it a go. The first 10 minutes of the film take a bit of adjusting, your thrown into quite a long rap, a few location jumps, actors looking down the camera lens…it’s quite a lot. But if you allow yourself to settle down, accept what is on your screens and get to know the characters and the stories in front of you then you’re likely to find yourself deeply invested as well as shimmying in your seats. 

Now as a film, it’s not perfect. It’s a long movie which is fine if you can buy into the world but I appreciate that the 2hrs23mins run time might be somewhat off putting. There’s very little character development which I think is part of the transition from stage to screen, it requires it’s audience to take it at face value and just hop on with the situation as it is. Had this not been a musical, you can see where film makers might explore the backstories of some focal characters; I personally didn’t mind the lack of deep characterisation but again, appreciate that others might find it a little jarring.

This feels like an important film. Not only is it bringing attention to an under represented group of highly skilled, brilliant people from the Latinx community, but it is a film for the dreamers. There’s been a lot of discussion around representation within this film, on which I am not really the right person to be commenting, but one thing that I think is so important in this movie is that it highlights people. It highlights community. It highlights friendships. It highlights family. It represents the dreamers. The bottom line is that the style of this film will not be to everyones taste, but, it speaks to more than ‘taste’. If you watch it with an open heart I truly believe that there is something that everyone can take from it.

“With patience and faith we remain unafraid”

First Cow – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd and Gary Farmer
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond (Original Novel)
Length: 122mins

‘First Cow’ tells the story of two men trying their best to get through the hardships of everyday American life in the early 1800’s. One a chef and the other a Chinese immigrant looking for any opportunity of wealth, their misfortune turns when they begin to run a successful bakery trade at the local market, which is hindered only by their dependency on the stolen milk of local landowners’ prized cow. Directed by seasoned indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, there’s a charm to ‘First Cow’ which is unlike anything else I’ve seen on the big screen recently.

Completely unrecognisable in his role as ‘Cookie’, when compared to the rest of his filmography, John Magaro brilliantly fulfils the role of the unassuming chef who simply wishes to get by in the world. His own anxieties towards the threat those around him pose, as well as the questionable ethics which his and Lee’s bakery trade are grounded in are reflected in the feelings of the audience, creating a character who we feel pride for when triumphant, and empathy towards when defeated. Without a great amount of dialogue, Magaro provides a powerful physical performance to embody the role of ‘Cookie’ brilliantly, showing his emotions rather than telling.

Toby Jones is also not one to be forgotten, and although his filmography boasts roles in some of the largest franchises ever put to screen, he’s still able to disappear into a character, completely making it his own. The first appearance of Jones as the region’s landowner is contradictory to his own stature, conveying power and status simply through the deliverance of his dialogue and psychical composure. The relationship between the Chief Factor and the two younger men is an essential element of the narrative, and through the performances of these three exciting actors a great amount of tension and uncertainty is created.

A visually stunning film which utilises the natural landscape of the early-American settlements to its advantage, there isn’t a single aspect of ‘First Cow’s’ cinematography I could think to critique. An attention to the most minute, or even irrelevant details only help to further invest the audience in the world of the film, and by the time the credits roll, the cinematography and setting have created a portrayal of a location so vivid I felt as if I’d be able to walk through it myself, pointing out key landmarks as I went.

Now that it’s finally been released in UK cinemas I can’t recommend ‘First Cow’ enough. The story and visuals both definitely benefit from a focused viewing, so there’s no better place to give it a watch than your local cinema. An escape into the past and the natural beauty found amongst such early settlements, ‘First Cow’ is the perfect film for anyone looking to get away from it all for a few hours and lose themselves in a story of brotherhood and hope.

A Quiet Place Part II – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and Cillian Murphy
Directed and Written by John Krasinski
Length: 97mins

Looking back on what made John Krasinski’s debut film so great, it’s easy to highlight the tension built through the lack of sound, the ambiguity of the monsters appearance, and the way in which ordinary people would hide from such things. Going into the second film in any series it can be difficult to provide an exciting new story whilst once again capturing what made the original so great, but the new ‘A Quiet Place’ film does it brilliantly. 

Answering many questions audiences may have had about the beginnings of such an apocalypse, we begin the film with a prologue which takes us all the way back to ‘Day 1’. The dramatic opening sets the tone for the rest of the film, with tension hidden within every moment of silence, and horrors around every corner. By starting the film in such a way, Krasinski builds the world of ‘A Quiet Place’ up even further, effectively drawing the audience in more and more, and familiarising us with how many attempted to survive whilst still leaving enough ambiguity for the audience to fantasise about their own role in such a hypothetical world. 

Visually, the film continues to be just as imaginative with it’s cinematography as the first. Earlier sequences lend themselves more to the adventure side of things, with stunning landscapes contrasting the devastation caused by the monsters, beautifully capturing a world caught in disarray. Moments of tension are also benefited by a careful consideration of how best to show the action, with alternating angles and camera placements working to emphasise the threat posed by the creatures. Whilst not important to the story, this consideration for colour and aesthetic work to make ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ more than just another horror.

From a narrative perspective, the film remains fairly simple, yet tells its story well. Utilising parallelism and recurring ideas to heighten moments of emotion and tension, we begin to care a greater amount for the characters we’re watching. Cillian Murphy also makes a great addition to the weary and downtrodden cast who populate the film, bringing exciting storylines and perspectives of his own which lead to a further exploration into the apocalyptic landscape.

Of course, I’d do well to review such a film and not comment on the sound design. Paying attention to every minute detail, you can’t help but hold your breath anytime a twig snaps or a door closes too hard. The silence of it all draws you to the edge of your seat, only to make you jump even further back anytime a loud bang or an unexpected cry is let out. Paced precisely throughout the film, there are some great jump-scare moments, but they also tie in well with the tension of the scene and don’t ever become overused or predictable.

‘A Quiet Place Part II’ is one you should definitely give a watch if you were a fan of the first film, building on everything established in the original, whilst also bringing some great new ideas and characters to the table. Whilst popcorn might not be the best snack to go for on your way into the theatre, I’d definitely recommend seeing this film on the biggest screen you can.

Cruella – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser and Mark Strong
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Written by Aline Brosh McKenna, Steve Zissis, Dana Fox, Tony McNamara and Kelly Marcel
Length: 134mins

‘Cruella’ marks an important change in Disney releases, with the live action prequel of a beloved animated family favourite becoming something more darker and grown up than anything the studio has released in recent years. Led by Emma Stone as the titular character, the film follows the backstory of the soon-to-be villain, and explores in detail the events which led her to become the frightening villain who reigns over ‘101 Dalmatians’. 

One of the most visibly intriguing elements of ‘Cruella’ is the fashion design. Set in 1970’s London, and drawing from designers of the time such as punk icon Vivienne Westwood, the importance of clothing within the narrative is reinforced greatly by the detailed and extravagant outfits adorned by each character – with the two leading ladies in particular boasting some of the most daring designs. Through its use of costume, ’Cruella’ is able to show a visual tension within the story which reflects the conflict between Cruella and the Baroness.

It can’t be denied that the film makes great use of the funk, punk and classic rock tracks which litter the soundtrack, with many of these being incorporated during exciting and captivating montages. Particular sequences such as heists being pulled off throughout the middle act benefit greatly not only from the use of music, but also the precise and informative editing which leaves no plot point underdeveloped. With a runtime of 134 minutes, this frequent use of montage also helps to keep the film from feeling uninteresting at any points – a great thing to boast as a Summer blockbuster aimed towards families and young teens. However, with this rise in soundtrack-reliant and overly montage-dependent films which seems to have suddenly appeared throughout Hollywood in recent years – perhaps being traced back to the nostalgic sounds of 2013’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ – it’s hard not to wonder whether these large studios may be catering towards the shortened attention spans of modern audiences, with moments of sincerity being cut short and extremely calculated, as a way to make the next montage only feel even more exciting. It’s undeniable that ‘Cruella’ is a fun film, but if a greater number of blockbusters in recent years follow in it’s footsteps, audiences may only become greater dependent on this unrelentingly high tempo style of filmmaking.

As the two lead characters, Stone and Thompson face off in a battle to outperform one another. Although occasionally limited by the clearly 12A script, the drama and tension between the two is one of the greatest parts of ‘Cruella’, and any moment where they share the screen is a moment of excitement and intrigue, not often seen in modern blockbusters. Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser also put in some great performances as Estella’s partners-in-crime, playing off one another brilliantly, as well as providing a strong contrast to the fierce persona of Cruella. 

As far as Summer blockbusters go, you couldn’t ask for too much from ‘Cruella’. It’s fun, exciting, sounds great, looks great, and best of all, keeps you engaged throughout it’s slightly lengthy runtime. With cinemas now open and in full swing, I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a trip out.