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musical

In the Heights (2021)

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DIRECTOR: Jon M. Chu

CAST: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Lin-Manuel Miranda

REVIEW:

Prolific and multi-talented Broadway star and singer-songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda first developed In the Heights long before 2015’s phenomenon Hamilton made him a more recognizable name, and bringing it first to the stage and then eventually to the screen has been a longtime labor of love. In fact, Miranda first wrote what would become In the Heights in college, then fine-tuned it in 2002 with the intention of producing it as a Broadway show. The version that eventually debuted on the Broadway stage was co-written by Miranda and playwright Quiara Alegria Hudges. In 2008 the original Broadway run of In the Heights (also starring Miranda himself) was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won 4, including Best Musical. The film rights were bought the same year, but it has taken thirteen years for a film adaptation of In the Heights to reach the screen. The result, while overlong and not among the top tier of film musicals (or Miranda’s own output), and likely a little less relatable to viewers not personally connected to the Hispanic-American immigrant experience, is still a lively and enjoyable “feel good” experience.

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Hamilton (2020)

DIRECTOR: Thomas Kail

CAST: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Christopher Jackson, Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Groff

REVIEW:

Counting Hamilton as a “movie” is using the term loosely, rather a live film recording of the original run of the 2015 Broadway musical featuring its original cast, but while no filmed recording can fully recreate the immersive nature of seeing a show live, Hamilton‘s release on online streaming service Disney + (following Disney outbidding all competition to call dibs on the film rights) gives a chance for those who missed or could not afford the opportunity to buy Broadway tickets, or those who wish to revisit the play’s original run with its original cast, a chance to experience the phenomenon for themselves. A musical adaptation of Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, with Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda composing the songs, writing the lyrics, and starring in the title role, Hamilton deserves its success and popularity. While non-musical fans might not be converted, for those to whom the medium appeals, it’s a lively, lavish, passionate production of the highest quality combining rap, pop, and showtunes to turn a biography into an engaging and energetic modernized history lesson that both educates and entertains.

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Rocketman (2019)

DIRECTOR: Dexter Fletcher

CAST: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard

REVIEW:

Is someone in Hollywood trying to build a ’70s rock star cinematic universe? Close on the heels of last year’s Oscar-winning (albeit somewhat overrated) Bohemian Rhapsody, now comes Rocketman, covering one of the few ’70s-’80s musical icons who rivaled or surpassed Freddie Mercury for over-the-top flamboyance: Elton John. Director Dexter Fletcher, who took over finishing up Bohemian Rhapsody in place of a fired Bryan Singer but gets full creative control here, takes a different approach, styling Rocketman as a musical fantasy rather than a strictly conventional biopic. And of course, like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman will take some nostalgic fans of the featured artist down memory lane.

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Aladdin (2019)

DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie

CAST: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Numan Acar, Alan Tudyk (voice)

REVIEW:

Hasn’t the novelty worn off yet for Disney throwing a lot of money around on scene-by-scene live-action regurgitations of its own animated classics? Probably not, at least until Jon Favreau’s upcoming The Lion King (probably the most anticipated of them all), but Guy Ritchie’s remake of the 1992 animated musical Aladdin has done nothing to increase my enthusiasm for this latest fad. Everything that was true of Bill Condon’s 2017 Beauty and the Beast is equally true here, if not more so, a rote and uninspired retread of a previous movie that can be revisited on DVD any time its fans desire that offers nothing except the “novelty” of seeing it underwhelmingly reenacted in live-action (and losing most of its pizzazz along the way). Unfortunately, nostalgia is a powerful thing, and Disney’s string of cannibalized remakes are almost guaranteed to continue to be a reliably profitable, if terminally lazy, cynical, and creatively bankrupt enterprise. This rehash might boast live action, Will Smith, and expensive sets, costuming, and CGI, but it’s missing the magic.

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The Greatest Showman (2017)

DIRECTOR: Michael Gracey

CAST: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson

REVIEW:

Big lavish musicals have been brought back into vogue by critically-acclaimed recent entries like Les Miserables and La La Land, and The Greatest Showman, more-or-less based on the life and career of P.T. Barnum (with a healthy helping of dramatic license) keeps the resurgent genre going strong.  Those who are not fans of musicals are unlikely to be converted, but for those who are, The Greatest Showman is lavish, lively, and joyous, filled with infectious, crowd-pleasing song-and-dance numbers, well-choreographed and elaborately-staged, with a timely (if historically questionable) theme of inclusivity and celebrating humanity in all forms.  If you’re a fan of this kind of big Hollywood musical, it represents a trip to the theater well worth taking. Continue reading

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

DIRECTOR: Bill Condon

CAST: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald

REVIEW:

Following in the footsteps of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is the latest (and arguably most ambitious yet) entry in Disney’s recent dubious fixation with throwing a lot of money around remaking its classic animated films as live-action versions.  For those who decry virtually shot-for-shot remakes of Disney classics that didn’t need to be remade (especially with “new” versions that are content to slavishly follow the source material rather than doing any different or innovative on their own), Beauty and the Beast is unlikely to convert them into the fold.  It’s technically well-made, handsomely-filmed, served up with a loving dose of nostalgia as a lavish love letter to the 1991 original, but despite sumptuous sets and flashy special effects, it lacks the heart and charm of the original.  There’s a sense of a by-the-numbers hollowness to the proceedings, like a competent but uninspired cover of a classic song.  Fans may enjoy themselves out of nostalgia, but it never escapes the shadow of its forefather (nor does it try). Continue reading

Into the Woods (2014)

Into-The-Woods-e1415275006650DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall

CAST: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Mackenzie Mauzy, Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp

REVIEW:

Into the Woods doesn’t make the journey worth taking.  Perhaps part of the blame lies with Disney neutering Stephen Sondheim’s original play, a dark-edged satire of classic fairy tales, toning down darker and more sexually suggestive moments in the name of “family friendliness”, but the generic musical numbers, with nary a catchy tune to be found (just compare it to the list of memorable songs in, say, Les Miserables) aren’t a promising advertisement for Sondheim’s original material either.  Satire only fully works when it’s a razor-sharp, incisive blade.  Whether or not the fault lies with Disney softening its edges, the movie adaptation of Sondheim’s play is a dull butter knife. Continue reading

Les Misérables (2012)

DIRECTOR: Tom Hooper

CAST:

Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN “SPOILERS”

Based on the phenomenally popular, long-running musical stage production which debuted in 1985, which itself was based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, this musical big screen adaptation of arguably the greatest French novel was a long time coming. Attempts were made at bringing the musical version of Les Mis to the big screen since the 1990s, but the various productions fell through time and again, while several non-musical adaptations of Hugo’s magnum opus were featured both in the theater and on television, only finally moving full steam ahead in 2011, when Tom Hooper, fresh off his acclaimed historical drama The King’s Speech, came onboard.  As someone who would not really consider himself a particular Les Mis aficionado, I’m not really in a position to say how satisfied the musical’s legion of fans will be by this film (though I suspect many of them should be).  In fact, I’ve always been partial to the 1998 non-musical film starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush (although some of its omissions, including the character of Eponine, rankled fans).  Even so, Les Mis is a lavish, sumptuous experience, with plenty of emotionally stirring moments along the way.  It’s also as pure a musical as they come–lines of spoken dialogue are few and brief.  Those for whom musicals are unbearable are not likely to have their opinion changed here.  But for those who enjoy them, and especially for fans of this musical in particular, there is much to appreciate.

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