Posts Tagged ‘Musical drama’

In the Heights (2020)

Dir.: Jon M. Chu; Cast: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Olga Merediz; USA 2021, 143 min.

Director Jon M. Chu (Filthy Rich Asians) is behind this dizzying adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights (written before Hamilton, when Miranda was still a student), based on the script of the original writer Quiara Alegria Hudes.

Released a year late due to the Pandemic, Heights is a musical extravaganza, combining Hollywood, hip hop and pop, with the narrative serving primarily as a bridge between the dance numbers, brilliantly choreographed by Christopher Scott.

The titular Heights are in Washington Heights, a 40-block ‘hood in New York City, that starts at 155th Street. Originally home to Jewish and Irish immigrants, and is now dominated by Latinos; with Miranda writing very much about his own experience. There is a permanent carnival atmosphere, spiced by social commentary – the fight for the much coveted “Green Cards”, while avoiding the clutches of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), commonly known as ‘Dreamers’.

The action is centred around two couples: bodega-owner Usnavi de la Vega (Ramos) is supported by his sidekick Sonny (Diaz IV), and madly in love with Vanessa (Barrera), who works for fierce real-life couple Daniela (Rubin-Vega) and Carla (Beatriz). Vanessa dreams of moving downtown and becoming a designer, but can’t get the finance.

Then there is Benny (Hawkins), a black guy who is dating Nina (Grace), the daughter of the cab company owner Kevin Rosario (Smits), Benny’s boss. Kevin is helping his daughters through law school at Stanford University, But Nina is unhappy at the ‘posh’ place of learning when she is mistaken for a waitress at faculty meetings. Nina decided to quit to the chagrin of her father.  Benny wants Nina to stay for his own sake, and the knowledge, that she help the fight against the authorities. Finally, there is Abuela Claudia (Merediz), the community ‘matriarch’, who, like many of her generation, wonder whether the sacrifices made for their kids have really helped in realising the American Dream.

Powerful songs”Carnival del Barrio” and the jubilant “96,000 Dollars” really set the night on fire along with a dancing couple in the sizzling set piece outside a tower building, the tenants looking down in disbelief. But the visual highlight captures the spirit of Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams, with 500 extras celebrating summer in the local lido.

In the Heights is intoxicated by its permanent carnival atmosphere, a barely disguised feeling of melancholia permeates this need for make-believe, best symbolised by Usnavi, an unreliable narrator, who relates the story to a small group of children at a more than perfect beach in the Dominican Republic. But overall this is a big party, the plot a side-show with its sleek social commentary, vibrant visuals provided by DoP Alice Brooks. The film strikes just the note for the re-opening of cinemas. It might be overlong, overdue, and still threatened, but relentless in spirit, nevertheless. AS

Irma la Douce (1963) **** Tribute to Andre Previn (1929 – 2019)

Dir.: Billy Wilder; Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Jack, Lemmon, Lou Jacobi, Bruce Yarnell; USA 1963, 149 min.

Three years after The Apartment, Wilder re-united Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, along with his DoP Joseph LaShelle and PD Alexander Trauner (Les Enfants du Paradis) for this funny, endearing feature, set in Paris. Irma looks dated with its stagey Sixties settings and florid interiors, and it’s not quite as biting as the black-and-white New York satire, but Irma La Douce was nevertheless Wilder’s last original work: re-makes and self-indulgence dominated the last, rather shallow seven films until 1981.

Andre Previn won the Oscar for Best Music Score for his original compositions. Irma La Douce is based on the play by Alexandre Breffort, Wilder and his regular co-writer I.A.L. Diamond tell the story of sex-worker Irma (MacLaine), who falls for disgraced ex-cop Nestor Patou (Lemmon), whose attempts to reform the local call girls lose him his job.  Irma’s pimp  His aim in life was to reform the district’s call-girls. But after losing his job, he tries to make an honest woman out of Irma, who gives all her earnings to her pimp Hippolyte (Yarnell), who Patou beats up. angry about this state of affairs that he floors the pimp – and is terrible surprised that Irma now wants to work for him. Bartender Moustache (Jacobi) lends him 500 Franc, so he can play his own double, an English Lord, who only wants to sleep with Irma. But whilst Patou spends the nights with Irma, he has to work during the day in an abattoir, carrying dead pigs. Finally, he has to kill the Lord off – but now, his ex-colleges are wanting him for murder.

Today, Irma is a little quaint, and certainly a little too long at two-and-a-half hours running time. But at the time, it was very brave. The Hays Code was not fooled, and called the feature “a coarse mockery of virtue”. And the Catholic Church send priest to the shooting, wanting to make sure, that no blasphemy happened during the wedding scene. But apart from the above mentioned production values – including Andre Previn’s score – the feature belongs to MacLaine and Lemmon, who just have enough empathy which each other, to pull the unbelievable story off. As for Wilder, he was, for the last time the “Bürgerschreck” (the bogeyman of the establishment) he so badly wanted to be. AS

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