From director Jon M. Chu (Crazy, Rich, Asians) and musical mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), comes a film about a block known as Washington Heights: where the streets are made of music and little dreams become big. Lying just outside of the 181st street subway stop is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, Broadway’s Hamilton and A Star is Born), the charming and upbeat owner of a bodega in the neighborhood. Usnavi saves every penny he earns in the hopes to purchase his late-father’s business in the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, a looming power outage lurks around the corner. The film also stars Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton), Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Olga Merediz, and Jimmy Smits with Lin-Manuel Miranda making a few cameos himself. There are honestly a lot of characters in the movie and to write a concise plot summary is difficult.
While watching Jon Chu’s In the Heights, I couldn’t help but think of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). Both stories are set in New York during a sweltering summer and are primarily made up of minority characters. Musical beats are both prominent features in the two films, although characters don’t sing and dance in Spike Lee’s joint. In the Heights and Do the Right Thing also speak to contemporary issues regarding race and politics. Where Spike used the extreme heat of the summer to represent the increasingly hot tensions between the Black community in Brooklyn and an Italian family-owned restaurant (and between the police as well, of course), the heat in In the Heights is hardly felt. Perhaps the movie is too sing-songy to have the same striking force that Spike’s film did in the late-eighties, a film as relevant today as it was then, but to criticize a musical for having too much singing would be…stupid. Instead, I will point my finger at the eye of Chu, whose visual flair and vibrance of color sugar-coats any hard-hitting facts the film presents.
During a protest for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) late in the film, Sonny, a younger cousin of Usnavi and an undocumented immigrant, realizes he won’t be able to attend college considering his lack of citizenship. Nina, a Latina attending Stanford, describes to her father some of the hostility and unconscious biases she has had to face at a predominantly white university. These moments speak to some of the struggles the Latin American community face today. However, they are quickly swept away underneath the hip-hop of the musical numbers and quasi-surrealism that lights up the screen. And while yes, In the Heights surely does light up the screen and work like magic, the political heft of the film is always too quickly removed. Unlike the storytelling of Spike Lee, it is too easy to breathe while watching In the Heights for it to be anything more than a cinematic replica of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original penning.
In the Heights is in theaters and will likely return to HBO Max at some point
After surviving and escaping a slate of increasingly deadly escape rooms, Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) head to Manhattan to confront Minos, the corporation that designed those escape rooms. What Zoey and Ben don’t realize is that is exactly what Minos wanted them to do, as they are unwittingly trapped in another series of killer escape rooms. The two survivors must solve and fight for their lives once again, this time with other former champions of Minos Escape Rooms by their side.
The Escape Room series has begun to resemble what a PG-13 spin on Saw would look like. Characters are trapped in these elaborate escape rooms designed to torture them, and one by one they are picked off until there is a lone survivor. When the original Escape Room released in January of 2019, I had no expectations; it was a January horror movie after all. However, the film was surprisingly fun for what it was. Now a couple years later, studios have rushed out a sequel that is bigger and more deadly. Escape Room: Tournament of Champions continues a story that grows in scope and complexity, while remaining close to what made the first one a hit: puzzles that mean life or death.
I wasn’t much of a fan of the actress who portrayed our selected main protagonist in the first film. In my original review, I described her as annoyingly panicked and overly screamy. In the sequel, I found actress Taylor Russell to be much more tolerable. Her character Zoey has become more confident, and in turn she keeps her cool throughout the film. This development was much needed, especially if the Escape Room movies are to become a trilogy. Zoey acts as a leader of the group of “champions” and she has distinguished herself as the face of the franchise. The one pitfall to her newfound solidified position, however, is that she is protected by plot armor. I have little fear for Zoey’s life. Logan Miller is once again solid and likeable as Ben. Ben has become the clear sidekick to Zoey, tagging along with her on her quest for vengeance against Minos, despite being happy just to be alive after the events of the first movie. But hey, a blood debt is a blood debt.
If you were a fan of the original Escape Room, you’ll likely be a fan of the second one too.