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  • ‘In The Heights’ flies high
    ‘In The Heights’ flies high

    Full disclosure: I love a movie musical.

    I love the big production numbers and over-the-top performances. I love storytelling through song and watching scores of extras dance in unison. I love the way that a three-minute song can do the emotional heavy lifting of a half-hour’s worth of dialogue.

    So I was always going to dig “In the Heights,” the Jon M. Chu-directed film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s iconic musical of the same name, currently in theaters and available via streaming on HBO Max. Sure, I had a few minor misgivings – the film had passed through multiple hands on its way to the screen, which is rarely a positive sign – but with Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hughes both onboard, I figured at the very least, we were looking at a high floor.

    But as it turns out, the title is indicative of a lot more than just the neighborhood in which it is set, because by God, this movie SOARS.

  • ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’ badly misfires
    ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’ badly misfires

    There’s no accounting for taste – especially in Hollywood. Concepts like “good” and “bad” are mere abstracts at the highest levels of the movie business. The quality of the product itself is secondary; all that matters is the money. And when a movie makes a lot of money, there’s a good chance we’re going to get a sequel. Even if the movie in question is kind of terrible.

    Hence, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

    This awkwardly-titled sequel to 2017’s mediocre-at-best action-comedy “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” can’t even rise to the level of the rather low bar set by its predecessor. This new offering features Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds reprising their roles as the titular hitman and bodyguard, respectively; Salma Hayek is back as well (she’s the wife). A collection of new faces appears as well, including a handful of folks who definitely should have known better.

    Gotta tell you - it’s not good, folks.

    That first film managed to get by on the energy of its two leads and the chemistry between them, occasionally reaching the level of store-brand “Midnight Run,” but even that sense of fun is long gone in this new entry. Instead, we get a tonally inconsistent combination of smug mugging and bloody violence that isn’t nearly as funny as it seems to think it is, presented to us alongside a confusing and borderline nonsensical plot and a bunch of rote, repetitive and generally uninteresting action sequences.

  • Change of possession - ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’
    Change of possession - ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’

    When a film trots out the phrase “based on a true story,” that can mean a lot of things, from a meticulous recreation of well-documented events (albeit with some dramatic license) to a largely constructed fiction that borrows a couple of ostensibly true elements from a preexisting story. But if the “true story” in question already has a complicated relationship with veracity?

    Well … then you get “The Conjuring” films.

    The latest installment in the increasingly sprawling horror franchise is “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.” It’s the third “Conjuring” film proper, though there have been a number of spin-off/tangentially connected movies as well. Directed by Michael Chaves from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, it’s a continuation of the supernatural adventures of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

    As with any franchise, the law of diminishing returns is in play; this one is no exception. While it does feature some solid performances and a couple of decent jump scares, the truth is that this new offering doesn’t reach the level of the previous two films in the series.

  • ‘Introducing Jodea’ an honest indie effort
    ‘Introducing Jodea’ an honest indie effort

    There are a LOT of movies out there.

    Thanks to the increasing affordability and exponential increase in quality of film equipment, the barriers to entry with regard to filmmaking are lower than they have ever been. It has never been easier to make a film.

    That’s not to say that it is EASY. Making a movie is still a daunting enterprise, and while there are fewer obstacles, certain realities with regard to financing and distribution remain. Filmmakers still have plenty of hurdles to clear.

    In some cases, these indie films prove to be showcases for great work, with the people involved finding ways to stretch every available resource to create something excellent. In those cases, the filmmakers find ways to work with their constraints; their movies likely have their flaws, but their pros far outshine their cons.

    In other cases, well … not so much.

    Unfortunately, the new film “Introducing Jodea,” directed by Jon Cohen from a story by Chloe Traicos (who also stars), falls largely into that latter category. The film – yet another cinematic riff on “Pygmalion” – tries to poke fun at the Hollywood machine while telling an engaging love story, but the effort never quite resonates.

    It’s a good-faith attempt, but the film simply can’t reach the level to which it aspires. And while some of the blame can certainly be placed on lack of resources, the reality is that there’s not enough here. It just doesn’t work.

  • Violence amidst the silence – ‘A Quiet Place Part II’
    Violence amidst the silence – ‘A Quiet Place Part II’

    The cinematic landscape is littered with unnecessary sequels.

    The reality is that in this time of IP franchise building, any original film that achieves box office success is almost certainly going to receive the sequel treatment, regardless of whether the story actually lends itself to continuation.

    Often, that leads to sequels that bear only tangential connection to their predecessors, both in terms of commercial and critical success. To wit – they’re worse and fewer people see them.

    However, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, a filmmaker is able to craft an addition to their initial story that contributes something more to the story being told while also maintaining the spirit of the original, even if that original seemingly concluded satisfactorily.

    “A Quiet Place Part II” – writer-director John Krasinski’s follow-up to his excellent 2018 “A Quiet Place” – falls into that latter category. While that first film didn’t necessarily seem to cry out for a sequel, its success ensured that it would get one nevertheless. And while I think one can argue that this new film is in fact largely unnecessary, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.

    Quite the opposite, really.

    Now, it doesn’t clear the high bar set by the first movie, whose surprising and innovative craftsmanship made it one of the best horror movies of recent years. But it does have plenty to offer, and with Emily Blunt to lead the cast and Krasinski steering the ship, it proves to be quite a successful film.

    It’s bigger and louder than the first film – sometimes to its detriment – but it still manages to expand upon that film’s world, both in terms of the apocalyptic present day and, through flashback, the horrifying swiftness of society’s collapse beneath the weight of an attack by a seemingly invincible enemy.

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