In The Heights and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Jon M Chu
Things are finally opening back up and I’m so glad that we finally get to see movies in theaters again (remember to get vaccinated before you go!), but I’ll admit that I’m also still glad that Warner Bros is still releasing movies on HBO Max the same day as theaters. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly return to my old routine of going to the theater two to three times a week, but if I’m going to get ANYWHERE close to that I’ll need to make the transition slowly, so being able to sit on my couch and catch up on the latest releases without having to worry about show times or theater prices is a genuine relief to me. Perhaps a big lavish musical like this is something that SHOULD be seen in the theater, but I saw Hamilton for the first time on a TV and it blew me away then so hopefully Lin-Manuel Miranda’s earlier musical can hit home the same way whether it’s seen in the most ideal conditions or not. Is this adaptation of the Broadway show as magical as you would hope from the names behind it, or was it a stretch to hope that Hamilton’s success would mean all of Miranda’s works were worth bringing into people’s homes? Let’s find out!!
Washington Heights is a predominantly Latino community in New York City where Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) whiles away the days working in his bodega and fondly remembering of his childhood in the Dominican Republic. He has always dreamed of returning there one day and when an opportunity to leave all of this behind and return to his home country, he seizes upon it and plans to leave the community in just a few days’ time. While trying to tie up his loose ends, we learn more about the people of Washington Heights, their struggles, and the many characters who fill out the rest of the story including Nina (Leslie Grace) who’s back from her first year at Stanford but may not be able to return, Melissa (Vanessa Morales) an aspiring fashion designer who can’t catch a break, Claudia (Olga Merediz) who everyone in the community loves but has some deep pain that she’s pushing deep down to try and be the matriarch of the community that everyone needs, and even good ol’ Benny (Corey Hawkins) who dreams of pulling himself up by his boot straps and making something of himself in the world of business. As these stories interweave and Usnavi’s flight out of the country gets closer and closer, more secrets are revealed, more heartbreak is had, and more than enough excuses to dance are made to make the days go by with a smile on everyone’s faces and joy in their hearts! Will Usnavi’s final days in Washington Heights change the way he sees himself, his dreams, and the people around him? What hardships will the people in this community face, and will they be able to overcome them with strength and pride? Is there any other neighborhood with THIS density of amazing dancers, because I’m pretty sure Time Square’s got NOTHING on this!
BlacKkKlansman and all the images you see in this review are owned by Focus Features
Directed by Spike Lee
There’s a lot going on right now and as much as I’d honestly like to take a step back from the heavier subject matter to focus on terrible horror films and laughable thrillers, well… there’s a bigger story that needs to be told and at the very least I can try to stay engaged with the films that are being made because of it. Fortunately the films this year that faced issues of racism, white supremacy, privilege, and state sponsored oppression have been pretty great so far with The First Purge being a worth addition to one of the best film series we have today, Sorry to Bother You feeling like the kind of gonzo shot in the arm film making that will inspire others to think outside the standard feature film model, and Blindspotting being a supremely empathetic examination that’s palatable and poignant for any audience member. However, it’s time for the king to return to his throne as Spike Lee has spent his entire career (barring Oldboy) speaking on these very issues that the rest of Hollywood is just catching up to and is now throwing their weight behind these artists. Did Spike Lee make the definitive film of our turbulent times, or has his style gotten tiresome in the face of newer voices in his political circle? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the strange yet true story of Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who joined the Colorado Springs police force in the seventies and not long after joining the force started a sting operation against the KKK in the area. With the help of a fellow cop Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) he managed to impersonate a white supremacists over the phone while Flip would pretend to be him in person; a plan that was so successful that they even managed to dupe KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) who had several conversations with Ron never realizing he was in fact black. As the investigation goes along though, things start to get complicated as certain members of the Colorado chapter of the KKK start to suspect their newest recruit, and Ron start to find it hard to live not only a double life as a fake white man, but also the dichotomy of being a black man and a police officer in that period of time; especially when he starts falling for the President of the Black Student Union Patrice (Laura Harrier) who is just as militant against white systems of power as Ron is determined to use his position in said system to take the KKK down a peg. Will Ron and Flip manage to stop the KKK from whatever it is they’re planning without getting caught in the crossfire themselves? How far will the KKK members go to assert themselves as a threat to be taken seriously, and who do they plan to hurt in the process? Just how many white people jokes can Ron get away with before David Duke becomes suspicious!?
Kong: Skull Island and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Truth be told I’ve always been more of a Godzilla fan, and while the recent Shin Godzilla was pretty good (if a bit disjointed and tonally uneven) the American film with Gareth Edwards wasn’t so much. Now Warner Bros is trying to create yet another Expanded Cinematic Universe (because the DCCU is working out SO well for them) and this is in some ways a sequel… or prequel I guess… to the 2014 Godzilla film. Does this manage to make up for the mistakes of that film while setting the groundwork for future monster movies to come, or are we much better off watching that 1962 film where the two of them duked it out and threw rocks at each other? Admittedly that wouldn’t be the WORST thing to do as it’s still pretty freaking awesome, but let’s find out!!
The movie starts by introducing us to Bill Randa (John Goodman) who is the head of Monarch; an organization that is hell bent on proving the existence of monsters. They’ve hit a rough patch, mostly due to them never finding any monsters, but 1973 just might be the year they turn things around! They have some satellite images of a heretofore unknown island which may or may not contain resources that the government can use in their fight against the Russians, and Monarch wants to tag along with another organization already headed there for some basic geological research. Actually, all Bill wants to do is find monsters, but the US government gives them the go ahead to tag along and to also bring a military squadron who JUST SO HAPPEN to be one day away from heading back home from Vietnam. Of course the commander Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) is thrilled at the opportunity as he doesn’t seem too interested in leaving the war, but those under his command which includes Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell) are less so. Still, they follow the orders that are given to them and they are even joined by former British SAS bad ass James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) who’s supposed to be an expert tracker and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) who somehow manages to be a part of this expedition as well. The crew packs up, they fly to the mysterious island that is colorfully known as Skull Island, and IMMEDIATLEY get their asses kicked by Kong who mows down all their helicopters; leaving all of the name actors but only a handful of army and scientist extras. Along their travels, they run into even MORE monsters, find a World War 2 fighter pilot who’s been trapped on the island for almost two decades (John C Reilly), and ultimately have to come up with a way to escape the island before their one chance of rescue passes them by. Can the remaining survivors make it off the island before they become monster food, or will some of them refuse to leave until Kong is dead? Just what is Kong fighting on this island when he’s not swatting down humans? Most importantly, WHEN ARE WE GONNA GET A NEW GODZILLA VS KING KONG MOVIE!?
Straight Outta Compton and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by F Gary Gray
Does this count as the beginning of Oscar season? I mean we ARE in August and this is a biopic about famous yet controversial musicians! What more could the academy be looking for!? This retelling of the history of NWA directed by F Gary Gray (because who the hell else would you get to direct this) has gotten a lot of buzz recently and is already a certifiable smash hit at the box office with an opening weekend of over SIXTY MILLION which is nearly unheard of for a rated R movie. So what is it about this movie that’s gotten so many people’s attention? Is it the controversial nature of its subjects? Maybe it’s out of pure nostalgia that people are checking out this movie about a rap group from the nineties. That basically how Dragon Ball Z managed to make it in the top ten on a limited release. Well for whatever reason this movie has connected with the movie going public, the question remains as to whether or not it’s any good, especially considering that the movie is produced by the people it’s portraying which can be a bad sign for any biopic. Does this manage to be a fascinating examination of America’s scariest musicians, or will it be an endless parade of self-congratulations for a bunch of guys who have long outlived their relevance? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with our three principal players Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr) living their lives in Compton California and writing music whenever they have some free time. After one of their songs hits it big on the local stations, they get the attention of a music manager (Jerry Heller played by Paul Giamatti) who puts them on the fast track to stardom and we watch the rise of one of America’s most notorious musical acts become legendary and the behind the scenes conflicts that eventually led to their downfall.