In the Heights ***
Musical drama. With Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins and Leslie Grace. Director: Jon M Chu.
This film is an adaptation of the 2005 stage musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who rose to fame with his 2015 mega-hit Hamilton.
In the Heights is set in the vibrant, close-knit (and mostly Latin American) community of Washington Heights, New York.
The film’s central character, Usnavi (Ramos), is a bodega (corner shop) owner who dreams of returning to his parents’ homeland, the Dominican Republic, but his ties to his beloved community – and in particular his crush, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) – are hard to break.
His story unfolds alongside that of Vanessa, who longs to make it big as a fashion designer, and his neighbours, including Nina (Grace), who doesn’t know how to tell her proud family she’s unhappy at prestigious Stanford University, and Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), who dreams of attending university even though he’s an undocumented immigrant.
As the various characters sing their stories, the viewer is informed, via on-screen text, that there’s going to be a blackout in the neighbourhood.
The countdown adds a sense of urgency to the film’s otherwise meandering and convoluted plot as all the various characters’ arcs move towards the power outage, which serves as the film’s climax.
While the individual musical sequences range from exciting to charming, the film drags in spots. A must-see for musical lovers, but a must-miss for those who aren’t fans of the genre.
– LINDSAY DE FREITAS
2021. 143 MIN. 7-9PG. AVAILABLE ON DSTV BOX OFFICE, GOOGLE PLAY AND APPLE TV+.
Marriage Story ****
Romantic drama. We meet Charlie (Star Wars’ Adam Driver) and Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) in a marriage counsellor’s office. The two characters’ voice-overs read us the letters they were assigned to write about why they fell in love with each other, but they’re too scared to read them aloud.
The film’s title is somewhat misleading: we encounter the couple at the end of their marriage battling over custody of their son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), and this is really the story of a divorce.
But it’s a fascinating journey on which writer-director Noah Baumbach (Greenberg, While We’re Young) takes us, full of twists and turns. The narrative prompts the viewer to ask why these two people are getting divorced when they clearly love each other? And then the unfolding events, conversations and incidents lay bare the bones of a relationship that wasn’t ever going to last.
It sounds depressing – and the film is certainly not a walk in the park – but it’s really a story of so many relationships you can identify with, so much so that many viewers have mistaken it for a true story.
Laura Dern snagged a best supporting actress Academy Award for her turn as Nicole’s lawyer, and the leads also received well-deserved Oscar nominations. Driver’s nuanced acting, in particular, reveals incredible depth of skill.
If this critically acclaimed film passed you by, make the time to watch it. Nominated for best picture and screenplay at the Oscars, Marriage Story is a carefully crafted, intelligent dissection of one aspect of the human condition – and well worth the watch for everyone who’s ever wondered why relationships fail. The answer? It’s complicated.
– LIZ DE VILLIERS
2019. 136 MIN. 13SL. AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX.
Voyagers ** 1/2
Sci-fi thriller. It’s 2063 and Earth is dying. Thirty children with superior intelligence are bred and sent on an expedition to colonise a distant planet, with a scientist (Colin Farrell) along to raise and educate them.
Ten years have passed in space when one of the teens, Christopher (Tye Sheridan from Ready Player One), uncovers disturbing secrets about the mission, which he shares with his friend Zac (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead).
Defying their training, they begin to explore their most primitive natures, including Zac’s attraction to the ship’s doctor, Sela (Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of Johnny), which sends the mission spiralling into chaos.
Thanks to an exciting premise, an initially intriguing script by writer-director Neil Burger (Limitless, Divergent) that avoids some obvious clichés, and a starkly beautiful look created by cinematographer Enrique Chediak (127 Hours, The Maze Runner), Voyagers has the potential to be a great film.
Unfortunately, there are too many plot holes and this “Lord of the Flies in space” misses countless opportunities to properly explore its themes.
The ensemble of talented young actors deliver good performances, as does Farrell, but they’re hindered by limited character development.
Not a bad film but one that could’ve been so much more.
– CAMILLA THOROGOOD
2021. 107 MIN. 16SV. AVAILABLE ON DSTV BOX OFFICE, GOOGLE PLAY AND APPLE TV+.
A: All ages D: Drugs H: Horror L: Language N: Nudity P: Prejudice PG: Parental guidance S: Sex V: Violence