“In the Heights” Review by Chris Ramirez

I saw Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights last night but, by the time I got my backside into that seat, Chris Ramirez had already seen it three times. It holds a special place in his heart, having performed years of musical theater and even recently portrayed “Sonny” in the Dallas Theater Center version. Here’s his review and check out his bio at the end to see what Chris is working on, including a play about pro-wrestling!

This summer, theaters nationwide are showing the film adaption of Lin Manuel Miranda’s 2008 masterpiece In The Heights. I saw it on Broadway in 2009 and, as a Latino, I had never felt the amount of pride and representation in a theater before. The rumor mill said that a film version (starring Lin Manuel Miranda, Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas) was in the works and I couldn’t have been more excited! For years, the movie was stuck in limbo and I lost hope. Lin aged out of playing Usnavi and HAMILTON became the new toy everyone wanted to play with. When the announcement came that the movie was FINALLY being made, you can imagine how enthralled I was. I was even playing “Sonny” at the Dallas Theater Center when the trailer and poster were released!!!  I had the opportunity to see the film and all I can say is it was worth the wait. 
From the second it starts, director Jon M. Chu makes it clear that In the Heights will lean into stylization and magic. I mean…the opening song was executed TO PERFECTION. The films ability to capture Latinidad, community, family, love, culture, and characters within the first musical number had me in ugly tears 4 minutes in. They didn’t stop for the next two and a half hours…and that’s ok! The cinematic style and musical numbers work so well together that you will want to hop up and move those hips with the actors on screen. Speaking of which, the acting in this film is so truthful and heartfelt, you’ll feel as if you know and understand the people of Washington Heights. The dialogue from Quiara Alegrìa Hudes, who also wrote the book for the stage version, is phrased so beautifully. I will be shocked if she doesn’t get an Academy Award nomination. 
If you are a fan of the stage version, it’s important to know that things were cut, moved around, and changed to accommodate the length. This isn’t a bad thing. I actually support every decision and change they made because a direct scene-by scene-copy would not translate well. Jon, Lin, and Quiara also had to move things around for the emotional arc and pacing of the story. Don’t worry, it is still the In the Heights musical we all know and love. There are even some great cameos and easter eggs for long time fans. 
If you are fully vaccinated and get the chance to see In the Heights in the theater, I highly recommend it. This touching story of sueñitos (dreams) and community is one to be shared WITH people. Laughing and crying with strangers when I watched it at a theater is a memory I hold so close to my heart and will not soon forget. It may have taken over 10 years for this to finally come out, but In The Heights delivered and will serve as a reminder that Lin Manuel Miranda created a masterpiece before HAMILTON. I leave you with Lin’s own words, “Esta bonita bandera, contiene mi alma entera, Y cuando yo me muera, entierrame en mi tierra!” WEPA! (This beautiful flag holds my entire soul, and when I die, bury me with it in my land.)

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“Cruella” Review by Dawn Burkes

(Dawn Burkes has written for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,The Dallas Morning News and she currently spends her days at the Los Angeles Times. She is one of my favorite critics in the world so I’m insanely proud she’s letting me share her review here.)

Disney keeps pulling tricks out of the magician’s hat, and this time, they may have pulled out one of the biggest: One of the best parts of “Cruella” is that at some point, you completely forget that it’s a Disney film.

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My Review of “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” (& Why I’ll Never Show It to Anyone)

Sometimes a movie is so bad, you actually leave the theater a little depressed. Other times you get 15 minutes into the film and realize you can’t watch another second without some form of alcohol in your system. If a movie does both of these things, as The Huntsman: Winter’s War did to me, it’s an extremely bad sign.

Maybe that’s why Rebekah Black and I filmed a movie review afterwards that’s so vile, SO OFFENSIVE, it will never be seen by human eyes.

It started out the usual way, with me seeking out lighting that didn’t make us look like Sea Hags. We launched our review with gripes about The Huntsman‘s almost 2-hour run time, and how alcohol made it bearable but also rendered it very easy to sleep through. Then, we just went ahead and tore into The Huntsmen for being vapid.

The pre-Snow White story of evil Queen Ravenna and her sister Freya sounds interesting enough, but the flat writing wrings any excitement out of it. You’re left with a Frozen/Maleficent hybrid, but one that is sloppy and boring. There’s also the problem of truly terrible CGI, which is reminiscent of “Zuul” from the first Ghostbusters movie. Continue reading →

PODCAST: My Review of “The Jungle Book” on Power Hits 97.5

I welcomed a new show to my family of stations today. Robert Elfman from Power Hits 97.5 in Junction City, KS had me on to review The Jungle Book, but he said the segment would need to be 90 seconds long. As you know, brevity isn’t my THING but I think I pulled it off. Thanks to my new friends at KJCK for having me on. I look forward to chatting movies with you again, and to talking really fast!

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PODCAST: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” Review (w/ a healthy dose of profanity)

Rebekah Black and I saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice last night, then recorded our thoughts about it. I don’t want to give anything away, but we got pretty worked up and eventually started peppering the review with our favorite swear words. That’s why you probably shouldn’t listen to this around your kids and if you listen at work, turn it down REALLY low. Enjoy!

MOVIE REVIEW: Disney’s “Zootopia” Has Heart & A Message…& a SLOTH!

Judy Hopps is a bunny with a dream. She wants to move to the big city and become the first ever Rabbit Police Officer, but no one believes she can. Even Judy’s parents tell her to give up her dream, but she’s a tough cookie who keeps on trying.

Sounds like a trite little bedtime story you’d read to your kids, but don’t be fooled. Zootopia is anything but trite with directors Byron Howard (Tangled, Bolt) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) steering the ship. Throw in a writing staff that includes Jim Reardon (WALL-E), Josie Trinidad (The Princess and the Frog) and Jennifer Lee (Frozen), and you just might have a classic on your hands. Because Zootopia isn’t just about Judy Hopps’ struggle to realize her dreams or the discrimination that holds her back. At it’s heart, Zootopia is about the ignorance and FEAR we are all capable of, and how often we let it guide us. Continue reading →

MOVIE REVIEW: “The Witch” (& The Dreaded Curse of High Expectations)

It was the summer of 1999, when I saw The Blair Witch Project for the very first time. I remember standing in line to buy tickets with a friend, and how nervous we were. There’s nothing better than a movie that’s so scary, you’re actually scared to see it. We bought our tickets and curled up in our seats, just waiting to be terrified.

Our disappointment was deafening.

Not only was The Blair Witch Project not scary, they never even bothered to show us the witch! I was so mad when I left the theater that day, but a strange thing happened. I watched the very same movie months later and it scared the crap out of me. That’s because high expectations can ruin an experience, and they can suck the “scary” out of almost any scary movie.

I tried to keep my expectations low for The Witch. I heard conflicting reports about just how scary it was. Critics ran from the theater screaming “Scariest movie EVER,” when it was screened at Sundance last year, but just as many came out shaking their heads in disappointment. I was aware of all of this and knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but they ran amok anyway. Continue reading →

PODCAST: Movie Chat for 1/22/16 (“The 5th Wave,” “Dirty Grandpa,” & “Son of Saul”)

This week on the Podcast, I review The 5th Wave, Dirty Grandpa and Son of Saul. I’ll also talk about the #OscarSoWhite controversy, since Straight Outta Compton is now available on DVD. I’ll also answer some emailed questions about The Martian, because people are still asking me if it’s appropriate for kids. It really all depends on your kid…and just how much you swear around them. I’d also like to share this article with Scott from Dallas, who asked if I knew how solid the science behind The Martian is. Scott, bless your little heart for assuming I’m smart enough to answer that question. Instead, here’s an interview with Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, because HE would know! http://www.cbsnews.com/news/neil-degrasse-tyson-science-behind-the-martian/

MOVIE REVIEW: “The 5th Wave” (From Yet ANOTHER Young-Adult Book Series)

I should probably go ahead and tell you that I am a fan of Young Adult novels. I feel pretty weird admitting it, being a full-grown mother of two but YES, I enjoy reading the same books as my daughters. I have NOT, however, read Richard Yancey’s 5th Wave series, but I plan to after seeing it’s rave reviews. I also have to assume, after seeing The 5th Wave, that the books are MUCH better than the movie.

Chloe Grace Moretz plays Cassie, a plucky high-schooler whose world is turned upside down when aliens try to take over the planet. They do so through a series of waves, which include earthquakes, floods and disease. The final wave, intended to wipe out the remaining humans, is WAR. The aliens’ plan of attack though, has to be one of the WORST I’ve ever seen in a book or on a screen. I can’t say what that plan is without giving too much away, but it must have sounded far better in writing. Continue reading →

MOVIE REVIEW: “Son of Saul” (And You Thought “The Revenant” Was Tough)

People keep asking me if The Revenant is really that violent. YES, The Revenant is rough, but it isn’t the most violent movie I’ve seen this year. In fact, I thought Beasts of No Nation was far more disturbing, and covered my eyes AND ears to escape the onscreen violence. I thought it’d be years before I sat through anything that unnerving again, but then came Son of Saul.

This Hungarian picture is about the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz during World War II. These prisoners were forced to clean out the gas chambers after they were used for executions, but it usually wasn’t long before they were executed as well. Saul is a member of the Sonderkommando. He keeps his head down and tries not to see the bodies of the dead, until he recognizes a face among them. After that, his only wish is to have a proper burial for the body, even if it interrupts plans for a secret rebellion. Continue reading →