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IN THE HEIGHTS - musical in the classic, Hollywood sense

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IN THE HEIGHTS feels both progressive AND traditional.  Structurally, as well as choreography and cinematography the film is in line with all of the truly great, classic Hollywood musicals: WEST SIDE STORY; GUYS AND DOLLS; THE KING AND I.  It even feels in line with the 'new musical classics' such as LES MIS, CHICAGO, or THE GREATEST SHOWMAN.  As both a lover for film and musicals, IN THE HEIGHTS feels like a refreshing return to the classic movie musicals: not just a "slightly tweaked for the big screen" adaptation, but a film that expands via film HUGE choreography numbers that weren't possible on a stage.  The music mixes some 'traditional' Broadway music (show tune-esque) with hip-hop and heavy Latin music stylings, which makes the film feel fresh.

The story is simplistic enough, with a neighborhood full of characters pursuing their various dreams. Usnavi (who has an incredibly amusing/charming story for how he got his name), played by Anthony Ramos (of the original Broadway cast of  "Hamilton" as well as GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS and Lady Gaga's BFF in A STAR IS BORN) is the main character who runs a bodega and dreams of returning back to his native country of Dominican Republic to bring back his deceased father's beachside bar; he's an orphan.  Nina (played by singer/songwriter Leslie Grace) is the intelligent young lady home from Stanford, the first member of her family to go to college, who thinks college life may not be her thing but is afraid of letting the whole neighborhood, leas of all her dad (Kevin, played by Jimmy Smits, who owns a local cab stand and his working hard to support Nina through college - UBER proud of his daughter).  Benny (played by Corey Hawkins, of SKULL ISLAND and BLACKKKLANSMAN) manages Kevin's cab stand & has a HARD crush on Nina and dreams of opening his own business.  Should be noted that Benny is the only major character who doesn't speak Spanish.  Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) is Usnavi's love interest; she works at a salon and lives with her alcoholic mom; she dreams of moving out of the neighborhood to the big city but can't afford it.  And of course there's Usnavi's Abuela: the 'Grandma' figure that's looked after him all his life who's lived a hard life as an immigrate having to assimilate to American culture.

The various characters' stories are told over the span of a couple of days during a summer heat wave with rolling brown outs.  There's the typical relationship drama, and other story aspects that are fairly typical for these types of movies, as well as the big dramatic moments, relationship squabbles that occur in Act 2 so they can be resolved in Act 3, etc.  The stories are mildly compelling on their own, but the real showcase of this film is the awesome choreography, staging, visual look, etc.  If you've seen the trailers, you've already seen glimpses at some of the big production numbers: "96,000" has the cast imagining what they'd do if they won the lotto with some awesome choreography at the local community pool is a big highlight.  “Paciencia y Fe” uses some inventive multi-colored lighting, as well as radical location shifts as Abuela tells her story of coming from Cuba to make her life in NYC.  "When The Sun Goes Down" has some really cool, surreal stuff where Nina and Benny climb outside of their apartment, defy gravity by dancing on the side of the walls, etc.  Really cool stuff; some of the numbers I'm kind of really curious to see how they were performed on the stage originally!

The film is full of some nice visual flourishes, such as some small animation figures drawn as characters are singing and talking about action, pantomiming what they're talking about, and animation 'filling in the blanks' so-to-speak.  There is also a lot of camera movement with the shooting style that often keeps the pace fast.  Sometimes the cinematography took me out of the moment, and felt a little "show offy," so to speak, but there is quite a bit of great work.

IN THE HEIGHTS is really a top-notch musical: easily the best Hollywood musical produced in decades.  For me, this musical feels exactly what I thought it would be: early Lin-Manuel Miranda musical that is incredibly well done that hints at his future greatness.  This in no way tops "Hamilton" on any level (IMO, at least), but has a nice story, characters you would easily want to spend time with for the most part, some good music, and some awe-inspiring choreography.  Miranda (who starred as Usnavi in the original Broadway production) has a small role as an iced drink salesman on a bike, who competes with the local ice cream truck (played by "Hamilton's" George Washington as well as the original "In the Heights" Broadway Benny).  I'm incredibly excited at the thought that between this film and Steven Spielberg's WEST SIDE STORY opening in December that 2021 will (likely) see two incredibly well-done musicals; I don't know if this will rekindle the musical trend (I don't think IN THE HEIGHTS made a lot of money this weekend, and honestly while the film is clearly a summer movie it feels like had it been delayed to late fall, when COVID will likely have the country in a MUCH better situation than now and thus may have achieved a better opening weekend Box Office haul), but I'm hyped that we're getting some legit great musicals this year!

IN THE HEIGHTS is streaming now on HBO Max and in theaters

Haven’t seen it yet. Debating seeing it in theatre vs at home

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You are not allowed to view links. Register or LoginHaven’t seen it yet. Debating seeing it in theatre vs at home

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Yeah this may be THE film to get me back in theaters.  I'm weak and couldn't wait longer than 24ish hours to watch it at home on my TV, but this is a movie that I think I need to see on the big screen.
That being said, because of the nature of Lin-Manuel Miranda's composing, I appreciated watching the movie at home w/closed captioning on (I have hearing problems so I watch all TV w/cc on; it's not a huge problem when I wear my hearing aids but at night I'd rather be lazy and read the cc when necessary rather than wear them beyond 12 hours a day).  Like "Hamilton," some of the songs feature lyrics delivered via hip hop that come at ya pretty dang fast (though, at least on a first listen/watch, not as many songs in IN THE HEIGHTS are hip hop as compared)

Definitely see this one in a theater!!  It was FANTASTIC and didn't feel like 2.5 hours.  My NYC annual trip group "rented" a theatre and saw it together on Friday in preparation for our trip this December (can't wait to see Dear Evan Hansen in movie theaters later in the year as well!).  Highly recommend!

You are not allowed to view links. Register or LoginDefinitely see this one in a theater!!  It was FANTASTIC and didn't feel like 2.5 hours.  My NYC annual trip group "rented" a theatre and saw it together on Friday in preparation for our trip this December (can't wait to see Dear Evan Hansen in movie theaters later in the year as well!).  Highly recommend!

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That's right, I forgot about that musical: coming out in late September!  That's potentially 3 big Hollywood musical films this year!


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