Chu, Miranda’s “In the Heights” soars to cure box-office ills

Keomi Key, Melissa Barrera, and Anthony Ramos in In the Heights / Warner Bros.

Most film pundits believed it would take a big-budget action movie to rekindle the movie box-office after it suffered from its own Covid-19 induced illness for more than a year.

They may be right.

“Top Gun: Maverick” soars into theaters for the rescue on June 26, and Disney’s latest Marvel film “Black Widow” follows on July 9, but after watching “In the Heights,” the stunningly beautiful and joyful new musical directed by Jon M. Chu from Quiara Algeria Hudes’ screenplay and featuring music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the box office might just explode before either of those films open.

The film, set in the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York, is a jubilant movie filled with color and charisma that’s as disarming as it is enchanting.

It’s virtually impossible to sit through this film without smiling, laughing, and just reveling in the engaging characters brought to life by the abundance of talent splayed across this amazing production.

The music, choreography, and cinematography combine mercurially into a cure-all for film lovers suffering from withdrawals of missing the theater experience over the last year. This truly is a great movie to re-introduce yourself to the theater experience.

The film is about fulfilling dreams, all kinds of them. Though it does depict some pain, suffering, struggle, and loss, the movie deftly makes the point that those obstacles are what makes the triumphs and little victories of life that much better.

This film features a star-making performance by Anthony Ramos as Usnavi, who plays the narrator and a key role in the story as a shop owner who dreams of returning to his homeland of the Dominican Republic to open his own business there.

His love interest is the lovely Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who works as hairdresser, but dreams of being a Park Avenue designer if she could only get the chance.

Leslie Grace portrays Nina, a young woman home from Stanford for the summer or possibly forever after a bad experience with a roommate. Her supportive boyfriend Benny is played engagingly by Corey Hawkins. Jimmy Smitts lends a small but strong performance as her father Kevin. Miranda also lends some comic relief as a street-corner Italian ice salesman.

All their stories intertwine just before and during an area-wide blackout and over the possibility of one them winning a $96,000 lottery prize. That said, the plot is incidental to Miranda’s spicy and enticing songs, and the truly amazing choreography.

The movie was absolutely uplifting and joyful, which is just the kind of tonic we need after figuratively being boarded up in our homes for too long. The movie is playing on HBO Max for the first 30 days of its release, but this is a movie that absolutely begs to be experienced on the big screen.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 23 min.
Grade: A

New in Local Theaters

In the Heights (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 2 hr. 23 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (watch trailer) / (PG) 1 hr. 23 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight

Queen Bees (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 1 hr. 40 min. / Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle

Censor (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 20 min. / Malco Pinnacle

Classic Corner – Top Gun (Malco Razorback, 112 Drive In)

Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in Top Gun / Paramount Pictures

In anticipation of its long-delayed “Top Gun: Maverick,” which will finally debut on June 26, Paramount has released the original Tom Cruise classic on the big screens once again.

“Top Gun” is playing tonight through Sunday at the 112 Drive In and this week at the Malco Razorback.

Cruise was already a star when “Top Gun” debuted in the summer of 1986, but the film skyrocketed him near the top of the A-list stratosphere, and he has amazingly held that position for 35 years.

Is “Top Gun” Cruise’s best film?

That’s subjective. I’d rate “Born on the Fourth of July” or “Rain Man” as better films, but “Top Gun” is a slick package as produced by billion-dollars team of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott.

With an appealing soundtrack featuring the Oscar-winning “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin, riveting cinematography, and a gung-ho attitude, the movie is a whole lot of fun.

Cruise’s recklessness yet precession as fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell makes him a compelling character. He and his Radar Intercept Officer Goose Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) are sent to TOPGUN, the Naval Fighter Weapon School in Miramar, Calif., and their training comprises the bulk of the film.

There Maverick becomes rivals with Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and falls in love with the stunning Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), a Top Gun instructor, whom he at first strikes out with in a classic scene where he croons the Righteous Brothers’ 1960s hit “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” but does make an impression.

The dogfight footage in the film remains engaging and thrilling even so many years later, and when a certain tragedy happens, it truly tugs at the heart.

For whatever reason, “Top Gun” is a film I did not see in theaters when it originally opened. I’m looking forward to rectifying that situation at some point this week.