Lily of the Amazon

Jungle Cruise

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Veronica Falcon, Dani Rovira, Quim Gutierrez

Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10

If viewers are looking for a fun-filled action adventure film then look no further than Jungle Cruise, a film by Disney based upon a ride at Disney World.

Jungle Cruise has the unique mixture of Pirates of the Caribbean tinged with a dash of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with undertones of Maurice and The Lost City of Z.

Essentially, Jungle Cruise is about headstrong British explorer Lily Houghton brilliantly played by a blonde haired and gorgeous looking Emily Blunt who teams up with alpha male Frank Wolff played again by Dwayne Johnson, who is lovable in this part but entirely miscast, as they journey down the Amazon river in search of a rare petal, called tears of the moon which promises immortality and a range of exotic cures for Western ailments.

Jack Whitehall plays the prissy younger brother MacGregor Houghton, channelling a younger Hugh Grant, but eventually just emerging as a gay caricature. Nevertheless, Whitehall makes the most of his role as MacGregor who is largely superfluous to the action, but who acts as a foil for his older sister Lily, who is all strong and adventurous.

Unfortunately for Jungle Cruise, there is no clear villain, so the plot gets as entangled as the thickest vines of the Amazon, as two actors Edgar Ramirez (Resistance, Zero Dark Thirty, Domino) and Jesse Plemons (The Irishman, Battleship) both vie for the roles of the main villain.

Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez should have been the quintessential villain, but his role is upstaged by character actor Jesse Plemons playing the young son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Prince Joachim who is after the mysterious petal in a German submarine so that he can obtain the rare flower to help Germany win the First World War.

The plot is outlandish, the action is at times messy but fortunately Emily Blunt is a skilled enough actress to make her role as the dynamic Lily Houghton believable and recognizable.

Suspend your disbelief at the door as Jungle Cruise is that crazy adventure film set in Brazil in 1916 during the First World War about British explorers, conquistadores, jaguars and disgruntled German princes.

Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man) and Mexican actress Veronica Falcon are wasted in extremely small roles. Jungle Cruise is all about a satisfying adventure film and in this respect it achieves its goal and delivers.

Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra steers a solid action packed adventure film which should please the entire family. Jungle Cruise might be as bumpy as a Disney ride, but it is enjoyable and light entertainment disregarding many of its classic film inspirations.

Jungle Cruise gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 but it could have been so much better.

It is surprising that Collet-Serra did not fight for more representation from the vastly talented pool of Latino actors that he had at his disposal namely Edgar Ramirez and Veronica Falcon. Fortunately for all its faults, Emily Blunt shines as Lily of the Amazon.

The Pink Whale

The Rain Falls Where it Will

Director: Majid Barzegar

Cast: Nazanin Ahmadi, Mazdak Mirebedini Alireza Sani Far, Arshia Nikbin, Hamidreza Maleki, Kaveh Hadi-Moghaddam

This film is in Farsi with English Subtitles

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

The 2020 film The Rain Falls Where it Will is Iranian director Majid Barzegar’s contemplative multi-generational character study of a family in crisis.

Majid Barzegar has not achieved the international status of his fellow Iranian director Asghar Farhadi who walked away with the Best Foreign Language film Oscar in 2016 for his superb film The Salesman, however Barzegar does explore the intricate relationships of a family as his nuanced story with the somewhat lackluster title of The Rain Falls Where it Will which follows a middle aged nurse Sara expertly played by Nazanin Ahmadi who is sent away from Tehran up north to look after a wealthy patriarch who has had a stroke.

Sara arrives at a remote and somewhat palatial mansion near the ocean and has to deal with a Grandfather whose three children, a son and two daughters are all pessimistic that their father won’t recover as he lies bedridden with a stoke.

As a nurse, Sara intuitively feels that her patient has a chance of recovery and that the family should not make the critical decision to switch off the life support machines which are keeping the patriarch alive.

The emotional crux of this nuanced Iranian film are the scenes between Sara the hired nurse and the grandson Aria who explains that he thinks his grandfather has a chance of recovery. Upon further discussion, Sara discovers that the cheeky and petulant grandson had given his grandfather weed which possibly made his grandfather see a Pink Whale on the shoreline near their family estate.

The Rain Falls Where it Will is a slight and fascinating film about a family who are contemplating the impending death of their patriarch while the nurses discovers that sometimes questions of life and death are sometimes more intuitive than medical.

This nuanced family drama is a melancholic contemplation of life, death and family from an entirely different perspective. Iranian cinema is rarely seen in the Western World so it is always a treat to watch some brilliant cinema even if it is that brief glimpse into a nation which is exiled from the media and labelled a pariah state.

Cinema transcends geographic boundaries so viewers take a chance on The Rain Falls Where it Will, which gets a film rating of 7 out of 10, which is recommended viewing.

What Gabriel Found

Sons of the Sea

Director: John Gutierrez

Cast: Roberto Kyle, Marlon Swarts, Brendon Daniels, Nicole Fortuin

This Film is available to watch on the DIFF 2021 website – https://www.durbanfilmfest.com/collection/features/

Please note this film has violence and strong language has not been rated yet by the South African Film and Publication board.

Afrikaans with English Subtitles

Winner of Best South African Feature Film at the 2021 Durban International Film Festival

American director John Guiterrez debuts his feature film Sons of the Sea at the 2021 Durban International Film Festival all set in Simonstown and the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. This tightly wrought action thriller focuses on two brothers Mikhail and Gabriel played respectively by newcomer actors Roberto Kyle and Marlon Swarts, whose fraternal bond is stretched beyond breaking point when the younger brother Gabriel finds a dead foreigner in the small boutique hotel he is working at in Simonstown.

The foreigner is a Chinese man who has been stabbed and was trafficking abalone or perlemoen which is common off the rugged Atlantic coastline of the Western Cape.

Gabriel’s more violent and headstrong brother Mikhail convinces him that it is a brilliant idea to steal the abalone so that they can resell it. Soon a corrupt government official Peterson is onto their trail. Peterson is played by another screen newcomer Brendon Daniels. Peterson has his own worries to deal with, with a drunken mother-in-law and a young son to take care of.

Gabriel mistakenly confides his secret find to his girlfriend Tanya played by Nicole Fortuin (Flatland). Gabriel’s job at the boutique hotel and his naïve dream of becoming a photographer is shattered when Peterson starts chasing him and his brother Mikhail as they head out of Kalk Bay area over the mountainous Cape of Good Hope region where tragedy strikes.

Writer and director John Gutierrez has a firm grip on the action genre although some of the scenes are messy and he does not provide sufficient back story about the characters or about the larger issue of abalone poaching which is an ongoing problem in the Western Cape.

Gutierrez fails to contextualize the action within the broader city landscape of Cape Town, which is massive and diverse. The actors do a good job in the three respective leads and Sons of the Sea is a proudly South African film.

Sons of the Sea is a tightly wrought action film which focuses on the brother’s relationship and how Gabriel’s find leads him and his sibling into deeper trouble.

Sons of the Sea gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is worth seeing, it’s light on characterization but heavy on suspense. Recommended Viewing

The Tear Drinkers

iGilbert

Director: Adrian Martinez

Cast: Adrian Martinez, Dascha Polanco, Raul Castillo, Socorro Santiago, Mozhan Marno, Emilio Delgado

Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10

English and Spanish with English subtitles

Once Upon Time in Venice and Focus actor Adrian Martinez writes, directs and acts in his directorial debut film iGilbert about a diabetic overweight man who lives with his overprotective mother in a Manhattan brownstone and secretly takes pictures of beautiful woman while also spying on his mother’s tenant the voluptuous exotic dancer Jana wonderfully played by Dascha Polanca (Joy, In the Heights).

Psychologically iGilbert is a fascinatingly complex film yet Martinez as writer, director and actor of this film, unfortunately cannot view himself from a distance, so there are unexpected directorial flourishes which detract from the overall narrative. Nevertheless, iGilbert is interesting and disturbing.

It’s a bizarre tale of morally flawed characters that are all cloying at each other’s emotional boundaries, tear drinkers, waiting for the final combustion to occur. There is Jana’s aggressive boyfriend Tony, well played by Raul Castillo who is both possessive and unhinged, an ex-Army War veteran suffering from severe PTSD.

There is Gilbert Gonzalez’s mother Carmen who constantly plies her overweight son with more food despite his obesity, feeding his own insecurities and heightening his secretive voyeuristic tendencies. Carmen is expertly played by Socorro Santiago last seen in director Steve McQueen’s heist film Widows back in 2018.

Then there is detective Rivera who comes to Gilbert’s aid when he reports a rapist to the police. Detective Rivera is played by character TV actress Mozhan Marno who soon realizes that Gilbert has lots of psychological issues which he needs to explore and play out.

There is also Gilbert’s late step father who appears to him in surreal dream sequences: Rodolfo Delgado, a bizarre Charlie Chaplinesque type figure that antagonizes Gilbert adding to his psychological angst and his neurotic voyeuristic tendencies.

Most of the action takes place in and around a Manhattan brownstone, so if audiences are looking for an angst ridden, claustrophobic psychological drama then iGilbert is both entertaining and disturbing.

As a director Adrian Martinez should have handed the project to someone with more experience although he doesn’t do a bad job but his talent is nowhere near the likes of actors turned directors like Ben Affleck, Kenneth Brannagh and Clint Eastwood. Acting, directing and writing your own story is a tough act to follow.

 iGilbert gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is an unsettling piece of urban cinema all set in New York City.

Places Are Like Lovers

Granada Nights

Director: Abid Khan

Cast: Antonio Aakeel, Oscar Casas, Quintessa Swindell, Virgile Bramly, Julius Fleischanderl, Laura Frederico, Alice Sanders

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

This film is in English with minimal subtitles.

This film has not been released commercially yet and is only available to watch in South Africa as part of the Durban International Film Festival DIFF2021 online program

Writer and director Abid Khan takes the viewer through a whimsical and exploratory film about young people travelling in Southern Spain in his delightful debut film Granada Nights which follows the adventures of Ben, a young British Pakistani man who arrives in Granada in the Costa do Sol in search of his girlfriend Helen.

When Helen has moved on and at the urging of a complete stranger Amelia played by Quintessa Swindell who encourages him to live life spontaneously and not be such a tourist but a traveller. Ben decides to remain in Granada to study Spanish at the Centre for Modern Languages. He moves into an apartment and meets Lucas played by Oscar Casas; Oscar played by Julius Fleischanderl, a wealthy Scandinavian and Silvia played by Laura Frederico.

Ben soon forgets Helen and joins his new friends in an endless series of late night parties and fiestas in Granada, a decadent mix of youthful nonchalance encouraged by the drifter barman Big Dave played by Virgile Bramly.

Abid Khan’s fun loving and incredibly light film Granada Nights is a wonderful story of a young man who grows up emotionally from being a nerdy tourist to an adventurous millennial who realizes that he has to experience life and not take it so seriously.

Inspired by Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy, Khan’s direction perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the modern traveller a group of transient young people that drink, party and socialize while he demonstrates how Ben grows from being a shy young tourist who transforms into a modern traveller who soaks up all the excitement and experiences that Granada has to offer from the late night parties to the strange Catholic parades that occur on the cobbled streets of this ancient Southern Spanish town with the Alhambra at its centre.

The well-scripted snappy dialogue also captures how millennials converse without taking on the bigger responsibilities of the 40 something generation such as job status, marriage and children. 

There is a poignant scene in Granada nights when Ben has a late night discussion with a Pakistani flower seller in the Arab quarter of the Moorish styled Granada about such contemporary issues as islamophobia and the concept of being an immigrant in Europe.

A critical moment comes when Ben finally does reunite with Helen his lacklustre British girlfriend played by Alice Sanders just as he falls in love with Spanish beauty Ella played by Tabata Cerezo.

As Amelia so aptly states at the film’s beginning, places are like lovers, so Ben decides to take a chance on a more flamboyant side of Granada complete with flamenco dancing, broken hearts and late night shots. Granada Nights will make viewers want to be 20 again and travel the world. It is a carefree film without taking its storyline too seriously.

Granada Nights gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes, a lovely film that beautifully embraces all the energies of the transient youth. Highly recommended viewing.

Repression and Desire

Firebird

Director: Peeter Rebane

Cast: Tom Prior, Nicholas Woodeson, Diana Pozharskaya, Oleg Zagorodnii, Jake Henderson

This Film is available on the DIFF Website to be viewed and has not had a cinematic release yet https://www.durbanfilmfest.com/collection/features/

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

This film is in English with no subtitles.

Young Estonian director Peeter Rebane’s heart-warming 2021 film Firebird is a must see at this year’s Durban International Film Festival to be viewed online.

Firebird focuses on the forbidden and touching love story between Sergey wonderfully played by the gorgeous British actor Tom Prior (The Theory of Everything) and Roman played by Ukrainian actor Oleg Zagorodnii set during the cold war in a Soviet Airforce Base just before the impending Soviet invasion of Afghanistan placing the timeline of the film set in the early 1980’s.

Beautifully filmed, Firebird refers to the Stravinsky ballet of the same name and centres on a young private soldier Sergey in the Soviet military who falls in love with his hopelessly dashing lieutenant and aircraft pilot Roman. 

In the midst of this extremely macho world of the Soviet military is this lyrical and beautiful love story that unfolds unexpectedly which director Peeter Rebane treats with sensitivity and grace, without demeaning desire while highlighting the extreme repression that both men were living under whereby any form of suspected homosexual activity was punishable by 5 years in a Soviet labour camp.

Roman is forced to completely hide his sexuality, while Sergey’s true sexuality blossoms as he leaves the military as he pursues a career in the dramatic arts, while studying lines for Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

The fact that both actors are so utterly convincing and easy to watch, makes Firebird excellent viewing, a film very similar to the BAFTA nominated South African 2020 film Moffie directed by Oliver Hermanus. Rebane also draws much inspiration from the Oscar winning Ang Lee film Brokeback Mountain which caused quite a stir upon its first release in 2005.

Repression and desire are intermingled as Roman and Sergey attempt to hide their love for each other not only from the spying military but also from an extremely conservative Soviet society in which men must marry women and reproduce to increase the population of the Soviet Union.

Homosexuality is still banned in Russia but the daring bravado of Estonian director Peeter Rebane’s beautiful and fascinating portrayal of forbidden love both before and during a heteronormative relationship is both informative and exquisite. Roman marries Luisa played by Diana Pozharskaya and even has a child with her, while continuing to keep in touch with the flamboyant thespian Sergey who finds unadulterated acceptance within the Soviet theatre and ballet community.

Rebane’s film is melancholic without being morbid, sensual without being contrived, held together by two decent performances by Prior and Zagorodnii.

Firebird gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended for those viewers that enjoyed Brokeback Mountain and Moffie. A fascinating tale of a true story adapted to film.

Departure Lebanese Style

The Sticky Side of Baklava

Director: Maryanne Zehil

Cast: Claudia Ferri, Jean-Nicholas Verreault, Raia Haidar, Genevieve Brouillette, Zenab Jaber, Michel Forget

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Genre: Family Comedy

French with English Subtitles

Beirut born Canadian film director Maryanne Zehil’s delightful family comedy The Sticky Side of Baklava or La Face du Baklava in French is a must see at this year’s Durban International Film Festival DIFF 2021 which is being screened virtually from Thursday 22nd July until Sunday 1st August 2021.

Zehil writes and directs this delightful family comedy about a couple, Houwayda a Lebanese immigrant woman and her French Canadian husband Pierre who live in Montreal and face the prospect of a year’s internship at a prestige academic institution in Montpellier in France.

Houwayda, wonderfully played by Claudia Ferri dreads the prospects of breaking the news of their imminent departure to her extended expat Lebanese family especially her crazy sister Joelle played by Raia Haider. The couple plan a farewell brunch to their closest family. The husband’s family are all French Canadian so that aspect of the farewell in a plush Montreal home goes perfectly well, despite Pierre’s anxiety about leaving Canada to go and live in France for a year.

Nothing prepares Pierre for Houwayda’s Lebanese brunch on the Saturday before their departure as unbeknownst to her, Houwayda’s sister has invited an entire section of the glamourous and raucous Lebanese family. Because in Lebanon, extended family is everything. Even in the tranquil surroundings of a the Montreal based French Lebanese community that have all emigrated to Canada following the civil war that ripped Lebanon apart for a decade in the 1980’s.

Another Lebanese tradition is that the woman must look after their husbands first and with family gatherings, there has to be sufficient food to feed everyone including all the relatives. Houwayda is also trying to establish her own identity as a philosophy academic and as a woman away from her clinging family while trying to deal with her unpredictable sister Joelle who keeps leaving her husband to come and live with her.

Having grown up myself with a Lebanese paternal grandmother and attending Lebanese gatherings in the expat community in both Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa, I easily related to this film easily especially all the family foibles, the chaos and the general excitement. Not to mention the glamour.

The Sticky Side of Baklava is a light-hearted comedy that takes a comic look at an immigrant community in Montreal as they struggle to blend into a larger Canadian society while still retaining their Lebanese heritage. The scene at the family brunch with three men trying to change a faulty lightbulb is hilarious.

Set in Montreal and Montpellier, catch The Sticky Side of Baklava online at the Durban International Film Festival, a light-hearted comedy which is both American, European and slightly exotic in nature. This film gets a rating of 7 out of 10 and is recommended viewing.

A Poor Man in a Free Democracy

The White Tiger

Director: Ramin Bahrani

Cast: Adash Gourav, Rajkummar Rao, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Verdent Sinha, Kamlesh Gill

Film Rating 8 out of 10

This film is only available on Netflix

When Aravind Adiga wrote the novel, The White Tiger, which went on to win the Man Booker Prize in 2008, his brilliant and bustling novel about contemporary India, he dedicated his work to the American film director and producer of Man Push Cart Ramin Bahrani.

So it was only apt, that Bahrani adapted the acclaimed novel for the screen and directed it, scoring him a 2021 Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay for the film version of The White Tiger, but losing out to the masterful adaptation of Florian Zeller’s play The Father by Zeller and Christopher Hampton.

In the flurry of fine films released in the first half of 2021, The White Tiger slipped under the radar and never braved a flourishing theatrical release, only to be quietly released on Netflix on the 22nd January 2021.

The White Tiger is an exuberant tale about an impoverished man Balram that escapes the clutches of his rural poverty stricken Indian village to find a job working as a driver for a wealthy family in Delhi at the peak of India’s re-emergence on the world economic stage at the height of the country’s IT boom in 2008.

Director Ramin Bahrani’s film version could have been edited, but features capable performances by Adarsh Gourav as Balram, Rajkummar Rao as his master Ashkok and the Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Pinky Madam.

Mumbai born actor Adarsh Gourav deservedly received a 2021 Bafta nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of the ambitious Balram who realizes that one wrong move, could lead to the death of his entire family back in the countryside, where his extended family live in abject poverty ruled by a his grandmother played by Kamlesh Gill.

Balram’s fascinating journey takes him to the plush Delhi high rises where he goes from serving and idolizing Ashkok in a subtle homoerotic way to taking advantage of this wealthy man who bribes influential politicians with impunity and is poised to take advantage of the IT boom that happened in Bangalore, whereby Western tech companies used the Indian city as a call centre hub as the Tech giants outsourced their customer support capabilities to an emerging economy with an abundant supply of cheap labour, which modern India so readily provided.

The White Tiger is a vibrant, brutal tale of how a poor man in the world’s largest free democracy becomes the master of his own destiny.

Highly recommended viewing, especially for those that have read the novel, The White Tiger gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is available to watch on Netflix.

The Aries Project

F9: The Fast Saga

Director: Justin Lin

Cast: Vin Diesel, Charlize Theron, John Cena, Helen Mirren, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Finn Cole, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Anna Sawai, Thue Ersted Rasmussen, Shea Whigham, Michael Rooker, Vinnie Bennett  

Thank you to United International Pictures for the Media Preview at Suncoast Cinemas, Durban of F9: The Fast Saga held on Wednesday 23rd June 2021

Taiwanese-American director Justin Lin who helmed the sequel to the original Fast and the Furious film, called Tokyo Drift returns to direct the ninth instalment of the Fast and the Furious franchise, F9: The Fast Saga, which is an action film infused with speedway nostalgia.

F9: The Fast Saga focuses on Dominic Toretto’s childhood and the death of his father and the fractured relationship with his younger brother Jakob. The younger version of Jakob is played by rising star Finn Cole who appeared in the TV series Animal Kingdom and Peaky Blinders. Dominic’s younger version is played by Vinnie Bennett.

Back in the present, Dominic Toretto confronts his younger brother Jakob played by wrestler turned actor John Cena as they fight it out within a ring of international espionage.

Jakob has fallen under the spell of a Georgian dictator’s son, Otto wonderfully played by Danish star Thue Ersted Rasmussen. Toretto assembles the old crew back including the gang from Tokyo drift Han played by Sung Kang and Sean played by Lucas Black along with Roman and Tej to provide some laughs played respectively by Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges.

The girls are well represented in the gang with Letty, Mia, Ramsey and Elle played respectively by Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel and Anna Sawai. There is also the arch villain: the hacker Cypher played by gorgeous South African born Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Monster).

The story swiftly whisks audiences around the world from Tokyo to Tbilisi, from Edinburgh to the Caspian Sea. The stunts in F9: The Fast Saga are amazing, drawing a lot of inspiration from such 007 films as The Man with the Golden Gun and the latest Christopher Nolan film Tenet, although not quite with the some elegant flourish.

Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the escapism of this action packed full throttle adventure with a stellar cast including some cameo appearances again by Kurt Russell as Mr Nobody and Oscar winner Helen Mirren (The Queen) as Queenie.

Family is at the centre of F9: The Fast Saga as the Toretto brothers battle it out only to realize that they are pawns being used in a more ambitious plan to find a powerful encryption device called The Aries Project which if unleashed on the world’s orbiting satellites, would wreck digital havoc globally.

If viewers are a fan of the Fast and Furious franchise, then go and purchase a ticket in a cinema and watch it on the Big Screen now. It’s amazing but strictly for fans of the eight previous films. Thankfully I have been a fan since the first film was released in 2001.

F9: The Fast Saga is an ideal popcorn film, filled with action, laughter and off the wall stunts, with a story that treats its characters with respect while paying homage to the drag racing franchise. This film gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. Go and see it and enjoy.

Dominican Dreams

In The Heights

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Dias IV, Daphine Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanca, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Olga Merediz, Marc Anthony

Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu takes on the ambitious project of adapting a Broadway musical In the Heights into a film adaptation and unfortunately the finished product while dazzling and funky has limited appeal and should have been edited considerably.

In the Heights was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda who has a small cameo role as a cool drink seller and based upon the novel by Quiara Alegria Hudes, is set exclusively in the mainly Puerto Rican and Dominican neighbourhood of Washington Heights in Spanish Harlem, New York.

Last seen in a supporting role in the Oscar winning A Star is Born opposite Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, Anthony Ramos expertly takes on the main role of Usnavi as a young thirty something Bodega owner who runs a mom and pop store in the heights with the help of his naughty but sharp cousin Sonny wonderfully played by Gregory Dias IV. It’s refreshing to see the talented Anthony Ramos headlining a film.

Audiences should watch out for a cameo by Jennifer Lopez’s ex-husband Marc Anthony as Sonny’s drug fuelled deadbeat father.

Usnavi starts off the film by telling a story to his young children and their friends about the community of Washington Heights and soon the screen explodes into a dazzling dance sequence of exuberant characters and a community which is proud of its Latino roots even if their economic advancement is often stymied by the affluent New York establishment.

With the exception of Sonny and Usnavi’s Cuban grandmother Abuella Claudia played by the brilliant Olga Merediz, the rest of the characters are portrayed with flippant glamour and without much depth including the love interest between Benny played by Corey Hawkins (Kong: Skull Island, BlackKKlansman) and Nina Rosario played by Leslie Grace.

Even well-known actor Jimmy Smits (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Nina’s father Kevin Rosario who is desperate to uplift himself out of the Latino community he is born into, does not get enough screen time or suitable characterization. The conflict between Nina and her father is deepened by her terrible experience at Stanford, an Ivy League University in California.  

The dance numbers in In the Heights are uneven, some of them are excellent especially the sequence with Claudia on a subway train channelling her Cuban immigrant roots while others are terrible including the rap number in the communal swimming pool.

As the story unfolds, the film does not find its feet until the second half when New York is plunged into a three day blackout during a summer heatwave. When the blackout occurs, the real depth of In the Heights ironically shines through.

In the Heights is an enjoyable musical about a section of the Latino community which seldom gets a spotlight shone on them. Despite some good performances, In the Heights at 2 hours and 23 minutes could have been drastically edited.

If viewers love fun musicals then watch In the Heights which gets a film rating 7 out of 10, but this area specific musical has limited appeal.

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