IN THE HEIGHTS: 4 STARS
“In the Heights,” currently in theaters, is a cheerful film based on the award-winning musical Tony by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which will make you feel better at the end of the movie than at the beginning. Energetic, exultant and empathetic, it feels like a long weekend away from real life.
A series of connected stories, “In the Heights” transcends its Broadway-related debut with a production detached from the confines of the stage. Shot on the streets of Washington Heights, New York, the story of a bodega, gentrification, a winning lottery ticket, love, community and the dreams of its characters is lovingly painted. in great, bright colors by director John M. Chu.
The spider’s web of a story enters and leaves the life of his character, centered on the owner of the Usnavi winery, played by the charismatic Anthony Ramos. As almost everyone in the Usnavi movie dreams of a life beyond their neighborhood, and, in a sentiment borrowed from another famous musical, soon almost everyone finds out that there is no place like home.
“In the Heights” is an immigrant experience story that touches on DREAM and fear of deportation, but is more concerned with its characters and their daily dreams of creating a better life for themselves . It’s a story of resilience, hope and it’s a tonic in these times of pandemic when it seems the media, both social and mainstream, are unable to deliver anything other than disturbing news.
In an enthusiastic cast, Olga Merediz, reprising her Broadway role as neighborhood grandmother Abuela Claudia, and Melissa Barrera as Usnavi’s lover, Vanessa, stand out.
The sheer spectacle of it all, however, may be the real star. Chu’s camera is in constant motion, capturing the many ensemble dance numbers that accompany the soundtrack’s hip-hop, salsa, merengue, soul, and R&B in a striking way. Busby Berkeley-style number “96,000”, shot in a public swimming pool, is a total throwback to Hollywood’s heyday, much like a gravity-defying dance terrifically staged on the side of a building .
However, not everything is working. A framing device that sees Usnavi telling his story to a group of kids is awkward, and the opening number, “In the Heights,” a nearly eight-minute setup of the story, is elegant but beyond its welcome.
Still, these are small glitches in an invigorating crowd pleaser that offers heart and uplifting in almost any picture.
KATE NASH: UNDERESTRATING THE GIRL: 3 ½ STARS
In just a few short months, Kate Nash went from fryer of fries to Nandos to the top of the charts. A new documentary, “Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl”, now on VOD, is a portrayal of the rise, fall and rebirth of an artist.
Kate Nash’s story begins in a very modern way, in the 21st century, through social media. “She signed up because she had the most MySpace subscribers,” says an insider of the film.
Barely out of her teens and working in a fast food restaurant, she began her journey into the darkness of the music industry when she broke her foot. Distraught and bored, his parents bought him a guitar. Soon she was writing songs and once the stand was fixed she played open mics and uploaded them to MySpace. His catchy and scary hymns resonated with audiences and record companies took note. Signed to a deal, she won awards and performed in front of large crowds.
“In the UK we have a real thirst and thirst for new sensations. The curve is so fast that you can be discovered and be the next to be the next most exciting thing and the next morning almost dismissed.
What is not so modern about his story is the misogyny that plagued his career from the start. “Underestimate the Girl” is the familiar story of a musician pushing the conventions of record label expectations and paying a high price for his independence.
“Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl” is not as straightforward as you might think. The trajectory at the start of the story would suggest an upbeat, light-hearted look at someone getting up and brushing themselves. But that is not the subject of this film. It starts off with a surge of energy, part doc, part music video, and slowly finds its marks as a deeper portrayal of a creative life. Real-life twists color the story, taking it from the usual returning reality show to something more gritty.
“I don’t know how to be a real person,” she said. “How to make money outside of touring or making a record.”
For fans of Nash, the final moments of the film are a testament to his talent.
Throughout it all, Nash’s charisma, resilience, and optimism keep her and the film afloat. You root it.
“Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl” is an uplifting real-life tale, starring villains, but it’s also a lesson in learning to roll with the punches of life.
“It’s amazing how quickly life can get really different,” she says, isn’t it? “
AKILLA ESCAPE: 3 ½ STARS
In director Charles Officer’s crime-noir “Akilla’s Escape,” now digitally and on VOD, a drug theft unfolds sideways, opening the door to reckoning the main character’s past and the young man’s future. a shotgun on his head. .
Drug dealer Akilla (Saul Williams, who also composed the score for the film with Robert 3D Del Naja) wants out. Marijuana is on the verge of becoming legal in Canada, but his days as a mid-level violent drug dealer are over.
His “retirement” is postponed when he comes across the robbery of one of his boss’s operations. As gang members armed with shotguns and machetes invade the place, Akilla meets the eyes of Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana), the youngest of the thieves. As things get violent, Akilla subdues teenager Sheppard, knocking him unconscious.
Instead of seeking revenge on behalf of his employer, Akilla forms a bond with the young man, recognizing in Sheppard parallels to his own life and the trauma that put them both on the path to a life of violence. .
“Akilla’s Escape” is a stylish detective story with social commentary. What it lacks in the thrilling action scenes, it makes up for with tense and tight performances, illustrations of toxic masculinity, and a well-rendered story that jumps back in time.
Playing a dual role, Mpumlwana plays both Sheppard and, in flashbacks, young Akilla. It’s a nifty casting trick, but it does a great job of revealing the similarities in their lives. The two characters may have followed a similar path, but Mpumlwana’s work ensures that the characters are distinct and interesting throughout.
The heart of the film is Williams’ rock-solid performance. World-weary and contemplative, he is part criminal, part social worker and is the heart and soul of the film.
“Akilla’s Escape” is a study of how generational trauma and poverty shapes life. He gets it wrong on the exhibit side in several scenes, but the power of the story lies in what isn’t said as much as what is. The movie is at its best when Williams and Mpumlwana show it, without saying it. In these moments, “Akilla’s Escape” is powerful, mature and punchy.