God bless Lin-Manuel Miranda for bringing a Broadway musical to our homes (or movie theaters) two summers in a row. If you are a fan of Hamilton, In the Heights is a must-watch, full of Miranda’s wordplay and heartfelt storytelling.
The musical tells the story of the predominantly Latino Washington Heights neighborhood and its residents as they struggle to make ends meet and work for their dreams amidst discrimination, gentrification, and, eventually, a blackout. Told through the eyes of bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), the ensemble includes a salon owner, Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega); an aspiring designer, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera); local business owner, Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), and his daughter, Nina (Leslie Grace); as well as Usnavi’s young protege, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV); and the neighborhood abuela, Claudia (Olga Merediz).
Although In the Heights deals with heavy themes around race, class, immigration, and gentrification, it has a light touch and a playful sensibility. By focusing on the characters’ dreams, the songs wrap all of the issues they face up in the context of individual people trying to build meaningful lives. Furthermore, these individual stories are strongly tied to the story of the community as a whole, and the rich connections between the characters create a world outside the confines of the story. The character development is superb and the writing is as witty and beautiful as you would expect from Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Take that great writing and bring it to life through outstanding performances and you have one of the best movies of the summer. As an anchor and narrator to the story, Anthony Ramos is charming and thoughtful. At turns wistful and ambitious, he shows outstanding range. The ensemble features so many wonderful actors it is hard to name a standout, but there were certainly no weak links. I thoroughly enjoyed it and expect that I will be listening to the album all summer.
In the Heights was written by Quiara Alegria Hudes based on the Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was directed by John M. Chu. It runs 2 hours 23 minutes and is rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive references. It is playing in theaters or on HBO Max through July 11.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It chronicles the famed demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) as they once again have the most sinister discovery of their careers, helping Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) prove that he was under the devil’s influence when he committed murder. To be brief, most of the plot does not make sense if you really think about it. I thought that maybe I missed the Warrens connecting the dots, so I asked the friend who watched the movie with me, and she verified that there were, in fact, many plot holes. In a franchise with such a growing and complex “universe” that seems unusually sloppy.
Fortunately, the plot did not have to make sense for this installment of The Conjuring to be plenty scary and entertaining. The movie starts with a stunning exorcism scene and includes many jump scares and disturbing, disorienting sequences. It is not ultimately so scary that it kept me up at night, but the terror is well-crafted and even includes visual nods to horror classics such as The Exorcist, Psycho, and The Shining. The first Conjuring movie is genuinely the most scared I have ever been in a theater, and while this movie does not come close, I was still glad to have a friend watching with me.
In all, the story suffers from having too many pieces—the exorcism, a curse, a crime story, and some romance—and they do not all work together well. Perhaps the biggest feat of the franchise is rebranding the dubious Warrens into a love story. At any rate, as corny as The Conjuring is at times, it is still a very scary, fun watch.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It was written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and directed by Michael Chaves. It runs 1 hour 52 minutes and is rated R for terror, violence, and some disturbing images. It is running in theaters or on HBO Max until July 4th.