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In the Heights

‘In the Heights’ is based on the 2008 hit musical Broadway stage show. It’s no surprise that’s caught Hollywood’s attention given the popularity of other stage to screen musicals. ‘Jersey Boys’, ‘Dreamgirls’, ‘Into the Woods’ are several that have weaved their melodic magic on cinema screens. The trick for similar works is to make them stand out from the pack. ‘In the Heights’ bursts on screen with vibrant colour and entertainment value befitting a theatrical spectacular.

Living in a tight-knit Dominican community in Washington Heights New York, Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) dreams of big things. Owner of a grocery store which he runs with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz). Usnavi’s friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) is one of the few in the area who doesn’t speak Spanish. This puts him at odds with his girlfriend Nina’s (Leslie Grace) father Kevin (Jimmy Smits). While dealing with personal dilemmas, Usnavi and his friends chase their goals and hope to break free of what they think is a humdrum existence.

The most important aspect is that ‘In the Heights’ succeeds at not feeling stagey. That’s ruined several movie musicals, with its limited locations making for dull viewing. Whilst primarily set within a section of New York, the streets and surrounds are effectively used. This adds visual interest even when the story drags. Pacing is the main issue making ‘In the Heights’ less dynamic than others with its excessive two and a half hour run-time. It generally makes up for it with dazzling musical numbers effectively conveying the character’s emotional dilemmas.

Musicals like ‘In the Heights’ aren’t necessarily noted for acting. It’s mainly how the performers sing and move that’s important. ‘In the Heights’ is graced with a solid ensemble making the script’s world come to vivid life. The central theme of chasing dreams and the consequences of doing so are well explored. Like any good musical, ‘In the Heights’ has something to talk about amidst its spectacle, enabling it more depth.

In spite of the glacial pace in telling its tale, ‘In the Heights’ is a satisfactory watch. It’s refreshing seeing a newish musical give things a go against endless Andrew Lloyd Webber theatrical juggernauts. That factor alone is a bonus with realistic honesty deftly interwoven between its musical escapades.

Rating out of 10: 6

CURRENTLY SCREENING IN CINEMAS

Get On Up

Musical biopics should be viewed with caution. When an estate owns the rights to an artist’s music, they have the power to demand a more flattering portrayal of their prize. Several films have bowed to this with only a brave few having the courage to ‘reveal all’. ‘Get On Up’ is a biopic of famed singer James Brown – dubbed the Godfather of Soul. Within the confines of legality, it tells as much truth as allowed without becoming a ‘Walk Hard’-style parody with the interest level consistent.

Before walking on stage for a concert, singer James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) reflects on his life. Remembering days as a child, with his mother Susie (Viola Davis), through to his first forays into the business with his best friend Bobby (Nelsan Ellis) and manager Ben (Dan Ackroyd). As Brown recalls his past, faces from that time return to haunt him in ways he never imagined.

‘Get On Up’ is a superficially stylish remembrance under Tate Taylor’s steady direction. Unlike most in the genre, ‘Get On Up’ uses a non-linear time-line. This reflects the scattered genius of Brown’s psyche with his emerging talent clearly seen throughout the years. Although there’s a feeling much more could have been said about his life, the screenplay gives a reasonably raw overview of a talented but very flawed individual.

There’s no question ‘Get On Up’ belongs to Boseman. Even if the story doesn’t delve as much into its subject’s life as you’d wish, Boseman exudes genuine charisma as Brown. He conveys Brown’s dynamic energy and spirited determination, especially surviving the often shocking racial prejudices of the era. His co-stars are equally fine with the music, staging and costuming first rate.

‘Get On Up’ is the type of biopic where you wish more was said. A longer mini-series may have fleshed out the story better. With his recent passing, ‘Get On Up’ now stands as a testament not only to Brown but also to Boseman. He was gone far too soon but like Brown’s music, Boseman’s contribution to entertainment won’t be forgotten by his many admirers.

Rating out of 10: 7

CURRENTLY AVAILABLE TO RENT ON YOUTUBE.