Wednesday, June 30, 2021

In Laman's Terms: 5 Biggest Takeaways from F9's Opening Weekend

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

After months of uncertainty for the domestic theatrical exhibition market, F9 delivered the kind of opening weekend many thought wouldn't be possible after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  Opening to $70 million domestically, it was a debut that seemed like a blast from the past, if the past was 2019. The biggest domestic box office debut in 18 months, it was a solid sign, coming hot off the similarly noteworthy domestic debut of A Quiet Place: Part II, that domestic movie theaters can still thrive even after a long health crisis keeping them closed.

But we're not out of the woods yet when it comes to bringing theatrical moviegoing to anything resembling a new level of normalcy. The debut of F9 is full of good news but also full of interesting developments that aren't inherently good or bad, they're just reflections of the volatile state theatrical moviegoing is in currently. These aren't restricted to just the domestic marketplace either, F9 is a film released all across the globe and its box office performance also functions as a reflection of how international box office territories are also faring in revving up theatrical moviegoing again.

Theatrical-only openings rule

So far, the two biggest opening weekends of 2021, and the two that feel like they belong to the box office landscape before a pandemic shook everything up, are A Quiet Place: Part II and F9. What do the two titles have in common? Opening exclusively in theaters. Forgoing a simultaneous streaming/PVOD debut doesn't automatically make your movie a hit (oh hi The Hitman's Wife Bodyguard) but it clearly doesn't hurt. Keeping things confined to the big screen emphasizes your movie as an event and shows a commitment to the artform of theatrical exhibition.

What'll be interesting to see now is the performance of Black Widow, which is apparently tracking for an $80+ million opening, even bigger than the debut of F9. That would be in spite of the film getting a simultaneous PVOD debut on Disney+. Still, Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are a rare breed, audiences have been conditioned to head out to movie theaters to watch these films for over a decade now. It'll be different for Jungle Cruise, which will likely get its domestic box office heavily impacted by a simultaneous PVOD launch if Cruella coming in way behind other live-action Disney remakes is any indicaiton.

The international box office is still recovering

 While the domestic box office is showing signs of returning to pre-COVID-19 levels, several international territories have a long way to go. Case in point, the United Kingdom. Whereas F9 only dipped 29% from the opening of The Fate of the Furious domestically, in the case of the United Kingdom, the film opened to $8.4 million, a 52% decline from the opening of Fate. What's intriguing, though, is that this F9 opening still provided a boost for the territory. According to Deadline, F9 set three single-day records for a movie released during the pandemic in the U.K. Similarly, openings in Mexico and Brazil were also down from Fast of the Furious but set records for titles released during the pandemic.

This indicates a hard truth movie studios will just have to swallow; things are gonna be smaller for a little while. Not minuscule (wouldn't you like to wake up with $8.4 million in your bank account?) but down from pre-pandemic times. What's important is putting stuff out there in movie theaters that get people into seats and recovering from there. Oh, and most important of all is keeping people safe, that goes without saying, so if people are staying home out of fear of catching COVID-19, well, I say that's a net positive. Clearly, the theatrical exhibition isn't going anywhere after nearly a year-and-a-half of uncertainty. It can hold on a little longer as the international box office continues to recover.

Patience pays off

Right from the start of the pandemic, Universal announced that F9 would be delayed a whole year to the summer of 2021. It was an anomaly among the major American movie studios, who largely delayed titles like Mulan or Wonder Woman 1984 to just three or four months after their initial release date. However, Universal understood better than anyone just how long-lasting the consequences of this pandemic would be. Whereas other movies had to keep bumping their release dates time and time again to accommodate just how all-consuming the pandemic was, F9 was able to stay cozily in the summer 2021 spot, without wasting a lot of marketing dollars in the process.

In the process, F9 has proven the value of patience. Studios that are quick to dump titles to streamers or plop them in too early of a release date are only doing a disservice to themselves and moviegoers. Universal showed that the way forward in the pandemic isn't to panic but to exhibit restraint. Whereas Warner Bros. took drastic moves like that simultaneous HBO Max release plan that alienated filmmakers, Universal had faith in the big screen and their titles and just let things simmer. They may have had to wait for a big box office hit, but the majorly impressive opening weekend of F9 indicates that the wait was worth it.

Moviegoing has returned to being countrywide

During the pandemic, movies that did get a theatrical release, like The War with Grandpa, generally made most of their business in Southern states, namely Texas. In the last three months, with California and New York City reopening their multiplexes, those locations have proven fruitful but they haven't been rampantly popular for all titles. This is a contrast to pre-COVID-19 times, when business for movies that topped the domestic box office tended to have appeal all across the individual parts of North America.

That status quo got reignited with F9, which had its most lucrative theaters from all across the domestic marketplace. Southern states like Texas still contributed a large sum to the movies gross (Texas was one of the five highest-grossing states for F9) but the wealth was spread across a multitude of indoor theaters across the nation rather than just concentrated in a handful of areas. This is how you get $70+ million openers again in the domestic theatrical space.

Tentpole blockbusters are back (for now)

In the summer of 2020, Entertainment Weekly published a piece proclaiming that the blockbuster as audiences previously knew it was dead. This was due to the difficulties of filming large-scale movies under the conditions of COVID-19 as well as the uncertainty of those costly endeavors managing to make their budgets back through a potentially slimmed-down theatrical exhibition sphere. The long-term prospects of these films is uncertainty, but F9 makes a pretty good argument that blockbusters aren't going anywhere. 

Thanks to these kind of films being attached to franchises being have an attachment to as well as positive memories of watching in a movie theater, it shoudln't be a surprise blockbusters like F9 are thriving domestically. It also bodes well for titles like Black Widow and The Suicide Squad opening in the next month or so, which are also attache to long-running franchises. While the blockbuster seems to be on better than ever legs domestically, it should be noted that these are not the only kind of movies that have or should be playing in movie theaters. 

The recent strong box office of foreign-language titles like Dad I'm Sorry and even this weekend's strong opening weekend of I Carry You With Me show that audiences will also turn out for smaller-scale works if they look appealing. Right now, though, the spotlight is on big-budget project F9 and it's opening weekend reinforcing the faincnial viability of blockbuster projects.

Monday, June 28, 2021

I Carry You with Me is rich with emotionally powerful filmmaking


As I Carry You With Me begins, Iván (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vázquez) begin a quiet romance. The societal stigmas against being gay keep their relationship a secret but one they both reassure deeply. However, Iván begins to feel constrained in his home country of Mexico, especially once his relationship with his son is taken out of his hands. To pursue his dreams of becoming a chef, he must travel to America. It’s a journey Gerardo is just not prepared to go on.

As Iván begins his trek to a new land, the memory of Gerardo keeps clinging to his soul, as do recollections of other key events of his past. It’s a demonstration of a key trait in the screenplay by Alan Page Arriaga and Heidi Ewing (the latter of whom directs) concerning how it handles time. I Carry You with Me leaps around the lives of both Iván and Gerardo in a non-linear fashion. Their love, torments of the past, small details from the places where they grew up, they’ve all left such an indelible mark on their souls that their influence can be felt at any given moment. Thus, the story, similarly, can break over to the past at any point.

While this presentation may prove challenging to some viewers, it’s impressive how well I Carry You with Me executes this trait without turning it into a gimmick. Each time Arriaga and Ewing shift back to the past, there’s a concrete reason for it. Meanwhile, the decision to have some scenes set years prior be more mundane elements or conversations strikes an authentic chord in realizing how the most impactful moments of our lives can also be the most throwaway. The non-linear approach of I Carry You with Me is memorable, but it also enhances, rather than overwhelms, the movie it occupies.

Arriage and Ewing’s script does stumble with some overly didactic pieces of dialogue between characters in the second half of the movie. Some exchanges between Iván and Gerardo convey concepts that could have been more powerfully communicated through simpler visuals. This, however, is a minor quibble with a screenplay that otherwise does remarkable work dealing with the angst but also tender joy experienced by the two protagonists of I Carry You with Me. Their lives have hardship, yes, but they do not become vessels for merely turmoil.

These moments of joy are framed with such tenderness by Ewing. She and cinematographer Juan Pablo Ramírez match the considerate qualities of the writing by lending such careful details to how Iván and Gerardo are captured. Often, the duo is caught in wider shots and at a distance, as if to suggest how far they are from being accepted by the societies they inhabit. But extremely intimate shots are utilized for passionate displays of affection between these two men. Their kisses fill up the screen, as do moments where they caress each other’s bodies. The very actions forbidden by those like Iván’s mother dominate the frame and are filtered through a gaze as loving as it is encouraging.

Through these images, were are immersed so deeply in the headspace of the two leads of I Carry You with Me that it becomes clear why Iván can never forget Gerardo. The distinctiveness of the filmmaking properly captures the memorable nature of their romantic encounters. It’s a beautiful intertwining of camerawork and characterization that lends a beating vibrant heart to this romantic drama. That quality is only enhanced through the excellent lead performances, particularly Armando Espitia’s richly detailed turn. Though they may have to carry out their love quietly at first, the connection between Iván and Gerardo makes for transfixing cinema in I Carry You with Me.

Friday, June 25, 2021

F9 forgets where the franchises best strengths lie (SPOILERS)



It's fitting that F9 is the ninth film in the Fast & Furious saga since it feels like nine movies crammed into one. You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck but F9 way overestimates the value of backstory. We're all here to see stunts and a surprising amount of sincerity, not lore.

The basic plot for this entry kicks off with the re-emergence of Jakob (John Cena), the long-lost brother of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). The duo had a falling out years ago in the wake of their father's demise, but now, they've been reunited as enemies. Jakob is after Project Ares, a device that can control all technology devices on the planet. Wanting to prevent nuclear armageddon, Toretto and his makeshift family spread out across the globe to stop him. Along the way, the good guys rediscover that Han (Sung Kang) is actually still alive while previous baddie Cipher (Charlize Theron) is incarcerated in a glass box, observing the brother-on-brother rivalry with intrigue.

Across this plotline, there are recurring flashbacks showing Dominic and Jakob as teenagers, including an opening scene where we watch their father perish in a racetrack accident (an event first referenced all the way back in The Fast and the Furious). The presence of these sequences indicates that F9 is more like a Saw sequel than a Fast & Furious installment. Like many later entries in that torture horror series, F9 is fixated on jumping around time to fill in gaps of mythology that nobody was really curious about. There just isn't much gained from going back to the past so much and it's an especially strange decision since it doesn't inject Jakob with much of a personality.

That's the biggest shortcoming of the picture, the sibling rivalry that serves as the lynchpin of F9 just doesn't work like it should. There isn't much of a concrete personality in Jakob, there isn't even a basic schism in the occupations he and Dominic occupy. They're just both muscular dudes who speak with few words and are holding grudges about the past. The role doesn't even play to Cena's strengths as an actor, which do exist in projects like Trainwreck and especially Blockers. Worse, Jakob is accompanied by a series of yawn-worthy foes, like the pampered son of the lead of a European country and Cipher. The latter character has appeared in two movies and I still couldn't tell you who her personality beyond the fact that she always has the worst hairstyles.

Without much in the way of fun villains or a decent Toretto vs. Toretto dynamic to hinge the movie on, F9 proves to be an only erratically engaging affair. When it does click, though, it's because director Justin Lin really is gifted with delivering automobile-populated scenes of enormous spectacle. He constantly delivers the kind of mayhem you'd see if an eight-year-old had access to a gigantic bucket of Hot Wheels cars. None of it can reach the best set pieces in this franchise, like that opening train heist from Fast Five, but more often than not, the vehicular mayhem in F9 does leave you reasonably satisfied in the moment. 

Meanwhile, the cast is...well, strange this go-around. F9 keeps throwing out new celebrity guest stars as if we're on an episode of the 1966 Batman TV show. Most of these people, like Cardi B or Helen Mirren, actually tease exciting adventures that the movie never follows up on. They're here and then they're gone after a scene, never to be seen again. F9 keeps teasing a lot of fun toys to play with but it keeps leaving them in the toy chest. It's a weird byproduct of Lin and Daniel Casey's screenplay, which is so stuffed with ideas but never fleshes out any of them to a satisfying degree. Cardi B deserved better and so did many of the other undernourished plotlines here. Put these elements front and center instead of all the flashbacks!

On the plus side of things in terms of performances, the main trio from Tokyo Drift returns here in a small capacity and prove to be delightful. Meanwhile, Sung Kang and Nathalie Emmanuel prove to be the standouts among the main cast members, with Emmanuel getting to show some humorous vulnerability in a set piece centered around her character's inability to drive. The rest of the main performers inhabit their respective archetypes with competent but not exactly memorable results. I did like, though, Tyrese Gibson's portrayal of comic relief character Roman Pearce flirting with becoming meta about being someone who occupies a movie. When he talks about how he never gets fatally injured during these world-saving escapades, I half-expected the Electric Mayhem to show up and hand him a copy of the F9 screenplay!

There's a scene at the end of F9 that crystalizes the sincere hopeful spirit that separates this wackadoodle franchise from other blockbusters. Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Pearce have entered outer space in their rocketship car and as they gaze out at the cosmos, Pearce notes that it's incredible that "two guys from the ghetto" got her, to the stars. There isn't even an immediate joke to undercut the moment, there's just this sense of wonder at this moment. When F9 embraces ridiculousness punctuated with cynicism-free awe, it's a lot of fun. Unfortunately, this messier entry in the Fast & Furious family also spends too much time looking in the rearview mirror with those flashback sequences drenched in angst and anger. 

There are at least nine movies jostling around inside F9. If only there was more consistency in quality across those nine features, then this overstuffed feature wouldn't be in need of a tune-up

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

In Laman's Terms: The curious case of watching The Fast and the Furious in 2021

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

Now that I'm writing Features columns for Collider, my In Laman's Terms pieces have slowed down to a crawl over the last three months. Writing those essays on this website for four years helped to prepare me for my exciting Collider gig and I'm so grateful for that. That doesn't mean In Laman's Terms is dead, though. It's been revived to talk about, on the heels of F9 zooming into movie theaters, about that movie that started that whole automobile-centric franchise, The Fast and the Furious

Turning 20 years old this month, The Fast and the Furious is a curious relic of the early 2000s in many respects, and not just because much of the plot revolves around stolen Panasonic DVD players. The whole thing is a clear riff on the 1990s action movie Point Break while the editing, music cues, and even title card practically scream out that this is something from the dawn of the 21st-century. Oh, and then there's the fact that one of the first lines of dialogue in the film involves supporting character Vince calling Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) a "faggot." Whereas Point Break embraced homoerotic tension, The Fast and the Furious immediately sprinkles in some homophobia in the car race action movie.

That's not the only area where this 2001 feature deviates from the Kathryn Bigelow movie it's so clearly imitating. The key difference between the two films is that Point Break is a lot of fun to watch whereas The Fast and the Furious takes until its last half-hour to really generate a pulse. Once Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and company try to pull off "one last job" against a trucker who's wielding a shotgun, The Fast and the Furious teases the kind of high-octane action that would define subsequent sequels. It's a fun set piece that gets a lot of mileage out of the tension surrounding whether or not Toretto and O'Connor and pals can save Vince, whose trapped on the side of a truck.

These characters work just fine as chess pieces to be moved around during car-centered action scenes. When they're not doing that in The Fast and the Furious, though, they're just not that engaging. Director Justin Lin would inject a sincere sense of affection between Toretto and his ramshackle "family". Meanwhile, the constant rivalry between Toretto and O'Connor is a bunch of insufferable macho posturing. From the seeds this movie plants, a more loving relationship would form, but until it does, there's just not much between this duo. Toretto's companions in the world of street racing are pretty forgettable save for one guy apparently having ADD. 

Most amusingly, the women in The Fast and the Furious are quintessential examples of toxic ways for men to write women. Every woman in this universe hates every lady that crosses her path, with one of Letty's (Michelle Rodriguez) earliest lines centering around dubbing two women fawning over Toretto as "skanks." Even later entries in this franchise have serious problems with how they handle women, specifically in how often Fast & Furious movies resort to slaughtering women to generate tension. But something like Furious 7 practically looks like Born in Flames when compared with the treatment of lady characters in The Fast and the Furious.

Interestingly, the dire writing of these kinds of characters stems directly from the lack of imagination that weighs down the whole project. The Fast and the Furious is still stuck in a lane too anchored to Earth and the molds of other blockbusters to establish its own personality. Interestingly, the only time it comes to life before its finale is a scene where Toretto offers up a big monologue about how his father died. It's the one instance of emotional vulnerability in the whole film and at least tries to approach these characters as something other vehicles for generic edgy quips. Future Fast & Furious movies would refine the humanity and cynicism-free poignancy that, 20 years ago, The Fast and the Furious only briefly flirted with.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The only fleetingly engaging False Positive largely lacks a pulse

Lucia "Lucy" Martin (Illana Glazer) wants to have a baby. She and her husband, Adrian Martin (Justin Theroux), have tried everything but nothing seems to click. A visit to Martin's good friend Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), though, provides the miracle Lucy's been looking for. Using his own patented medical procedure, Hindle gets Lucy pregnant. Excitement turns to dread, however, as strange occurrences begin to make Lucy suspect something is up. Could it just be a little bit of mental anxiety brought on by the impending newborn? Or is there a greater conspiracy at play that's looking to strip away her autonomy?

False Positive is a feature with a fine starting concept but not much else. The production is so strangely flat and devoid of personality, it's like someone took the outline of a movie and decided to use that as the shooting script. It especially comes up short as a horror movie. Director John Lee has extensive experience with comedy having been involved in everything from Pee Wee's Big Holiday to co-creating Xavier: Renegade Angel. His inexperience with horror becomes apparent with how heavily False Positive relies on tired jump scares and random patches of dimly-lit space to convey the impression that something scary is happening.

The biggest problem with the film's attempts at scares is that it tries to be a project relying on ambiguity. As Lucy naviagates a streak of horrifying dreamlike scenarios, the viewer isn't supposed to be certain what is and isn't real due to Lucy's doctors telling her she's suffering from "mommy brain." It's an interesting concept to utilize in service of a story all about how women are treated like objects by the people around them. Intirguingly, it's a route that evokes Daria Argento and how he used surrealistic imagery to reflect a specifically female perspective in his classic horror film Suspiria. Unfortunately, False Positive can't live up to its own creative influences. 

Lee and Glazer's screenplay doesn't go anywhere especially unpredictable with all this ambiguity. The small cast means that it's easy to pick out who our villains are early on. Even worse, the horrifying "dreams" Lucy has are full of imgary that's more derivative than terrifyingly impenetrable. False Positive bets big on viewers deriving their entertainment from being kept on the edge of their seat. Unfortunately, without much in the way of successful ambiguity, the film as a whole suffers. There's not much else here to back up the drought of uncertainty.

Long stretches will go by without much in the way of either terror, laughs, interesting characters, or even just memorable filmmaking. False Positive isn't a terrible movie but it is a forgettable one, a shame considering it hails from the mind of Ilana Glazer. The creativity she exhibited throughout her time on Broad City fleetingly emerges here, mainly in low-key scenes where Glazer's gift for capturing authentic human behavior can really shine. Mostly, though, this is one of those horror films that just reminds you of past movies rather than creating something new and exciting.

If there is a high point of False Positive, though, it's its last ten minutes. Is it worth sitting through the whole movie to get there? I'm not sure, but when the gloves finally come off and the blood starts pouring, False Positive finally gets a pulse. It's also here that Lee engages in some totally out-there imagery that would have been right at home on Xavier: Renegade Angel. Despite being so detached from reality, all these strange occurrences and visuals do a great job of getting inside the head of Lucy. The only major downside to this finale is that it'll leave you wondering why the rest of False Positive couldn't have this same mixture of gonzo energy and characterization.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The generic PIXAR title Luca struggles to find its sea legs

Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay), the lead of PIXAR's newest animated movie Luca, is a sea monster living with his very sheltered family. All he wants is to go above the surface, where he'll transform into a human boy. He just wants to be where the people are. He wants to see 'em dancing, walking around on those, what do you call them? Oh, right, feet! But that's a big no-no in his household, with his protective mom Daniela (Maya Rudolph) explicitly telling her son "You think you can do these things, but you can't Luca!"

Everything changes for Luca when he stumbles onto another sea monster boy named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a free-spirited kid who lives above the surface with no fear. The duo becomes fast friends and soon plan to take their antics and dreams of owning a Vespa scooter to the local town of Portorosso. However, the townspeople here hate sea monsters with a burning passion. There are some good folks here, like spunky local girl Giulia (Emma Berman), and also a chance to score enough money to win a Vespa by winning a big race. Complications arise, though, through the town bully Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), who will win the race at any cost, as well as Luca's parents deciding to go look for their son. 

The works at PIXAR Animation Studios have always tipped their hat towards Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. Remember the Totoro plushie in Toy Story 3? Luca is certainly trying to channel the spirit of those films and not just because its Little Mermaid-variant premise evokes Ponyo. The focus on children navigating fantastical elements intruding on "normal" society and especially the low-key story vibes make it clear what movies inspired director Enrico Casarosa. Strangely, though, he and screenwriters Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones seem to have missed what made those films special in the first place.

Namely, Luca still wants to adhere to tenants of traditional dramatic storytelling and that's just not what Studio Ghibli projects are about. Not all of them, of course, (Princess Mononoke or The Wind Rises are the obvious exceptions) but the Studio Ghibli titles Luca is most clearly evoking are hangout movies. Even the one with the pig who flies planes in World War II is mostly about character interactions rather than a mad race to save the planet. There's a tranquil quality to something like My Neighbor Totoro. Luca, meanwhile, is never confident enough to just chill out. 

It stills needs a cartoonish bad guy who makes Chick Hicks look as intimidating as Anton Chigurh. It still needs a predictable "all is lost!" moment at the end of the second act. Worse, it also doesn't realize that the laidback Ghibli efforts are all about delivering gloriously stylized imagery that could only be accomplished in animation. Who needs to follow the "Save the Cat" method of storytelling when you have a Catbus? Unfortunately, Luca roots its characters in the real world for much of its runtime. It's all so much drab reality. PIXAR's done a great job of replicating what a real coast-side Italian city may look like but I can see that on a postcard. The lack of visual imagination is the apotheosis of how Luca wants to be a Studio Ghibli movie but doesn't understand what makes them tick.

To be clear, Luca isn't underwhelming because it isn't a Studio Ghibli movie. It's just that how misunderstands its creative inspiration crystalizes flaws that would be problematic under any circumstance. For example, the animation. Oh, if only PIXAR was interested in using computer animation as something other than a promotional reel for how well their Renderman software can create realistic-looking backgrounds. Aside from human character designs that look a little more Aardman-esque than usual PIXAR humans and one delightfully grotesque uncle sea monster character, there's not much to write home about in Luca's visuals. Brief fantasy sequences and hand-drawn renderings of the characters in the end credits are the high points of eye candy in the film. They also taunt the viewer with how much better Luca could have looked if it went in a bolder creative direction. 

As for the story, it's all pretty lightweight. Luca is a very bog-standard affair without much in the way of either subversion or loving embodiment of classic storytelling qualities. It's just more mechanical than anything else. Some of the gags that get wrung out of Luca's parent's obliviousness towards children once they come up to the surface did get me cackling, as did the visual gags revolving around a suspicious cat named Machiavelli. Plus, there are some conceptually nice, if familiar, moments of poignancy in the third act. Still, even this comes with an asterisk, as the derivative nature of the characters means that big tearjerker moments in the finale are never as emotionally affecting as they should be. 

The voice acting, meanwhile, is mostly serviceable, even if it's puzzling why there are so few Italian performers in the cast. Meanwhile, Dan Romer, in his most high-profile film composer gig yet by far, delivers one of the more generic scores in the PIXAR canon. Like so many aspects of Luca, these orchestral melodies could have been picked up and tossed into any old movie. The whole production is too familiar for its own good and lacks the conviction to dip its toes into more creatively intriguing waters. One of the more disposable PIXAR films, it's better to give Luca a pass and just watch one of the many wonderful family-friendly Studio Ghibli titles instead. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Tribeca Film Festival 2021: Ted Bundy drama No Man of God is a chatty but engaging affair

As No Man of God begins, FBI agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) is working with a group of other agents to pick the brains of well-known serial killers. While picking out their next assignments, Hagmaier volunteers to cover the incarcerated Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby). His colleagues dismiss this as a fool's errand given that Bundy has, in the past, made it apparent he won't talk to any law enforcement personnel. However, as Hagmaier sits down with Bundy, the two do develop a rapport. Hagmaier has an unassuming nature that's able to create a bridge between himself and Bundy. As the two continue to talk over the next few years, though, Hagmaier can't help but wonder if he's the one getting info out of Bundy or if this serial killer is seizing an opportunity to exploit Hagmaier.

Directed by Amber Sealey and written by C. Robert Cargill under the pseudonym Kit Lesser, No Man of God differentiates itself from other films about Bundy through its small scale. This doesn't just manifest in how the film largely takes place in a few locations. It also extends to the presence of Bundy himself in the story.  Bundy occupies the same role here that Mr. Rogers did in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood in that he's a supporting player whose existence impacts a protagonist the audience can relate to it. A little bit goes a long way and taking this road with Bundy certainly helps to separate No Man of God from other movies that plaster every frame with this serial killer. 

The film's approach to Bundy is also unique, mostly in how pathetic the guy comes across. Since No Man of God starts with him already incarcerated, the audience views Bundy mostly as a rat trapped in a cage. He's constantly creating excuses for who the real villains in this situation are while he also exhibits a lot of confidence...right up until the moment someone like Hagmaier calls him out on his BS. Then he collapses like a house of cards. It's a unique approach to this horrifying figure that's handled nicely by Luke Kirby. He lends a quietly creepy quality to the character even when Bundy's just walking to an interrogation room. Even better, moments where the character explodes feel natural in the hands of Kirby.

Playing opposite Kirby's Bundy is Elijah Wood. With those big blue eyes and a child-like face, Wood has always functioned well as an everyman who is dwarfed by everything happening around him. That makes him a good fit for the role of Hagmaier, a guy who is pretty much open from the start that he's a small fish in a big pond when it comes to interrogating Bundy. Wood and Kirby have good unpredictable chemistry together in their scenes together. This is especially true in the third act when they each portray the drastically different ways their individual characters perceive their rapport. Sealy and Lesser opting to keep the focus of the film primarily on conversations between these two turns out to be a wise move given how engaging these performances are.

Even with a restricted scope at her disposal, Sealy deals out some memorable visual flourishes, including quick jumbled montages of home video footage that lend insight into the mindset of Hagmaier. I also liked how she framed the women characters that come in and out of the movie. They're never filtered through a gaze meant to reflect points-of-view of the two male leads. Instead, they're captured in shots that emphasize the fact that these women have their own interior worlds. One particular shot of entailing the camera slowly moving in on an assistant to a preacher while Ted Bundy speaks is an especially good example of this. While a man who snuffed out so many women rambles on, Sealy's camera focuses on a lady keeping herself together as the interview drones on.

Visual elements when No Man of God isn't confined to Bundy's prison are much more pedestrian. For instance, simple scenes of dialogue between Hagmaier and his colleagues are distractingly captured through constant cuts that disrupt the flow of their conversations. Meanwhile, the low-budget nature of the production is especially apparent whenever the story cuts back to Hagmaier's FBI office. There's also a bad case of clumsy expository dialogue in early scenes in the screenplay, particularly by Robert Patrick as Hagmaier's superior. Even with these shortcomings though, No Man of God works more often than not as a distinctive production, an especially impressive feat given just how many Ted Bundy movies are out there.

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Thin Blue Line is eerily eternally relevant documentary cinema

Dallas, Texas doesn't have the best reputation in cinema. Aside from True Stories, it's hard for me to remember a movie that positively reflects this city. Now, I love Texas, and I do love Dallas,  Texas, but I'm also conscious of its flaws. To put it gently, this sort of negative connotation that Dallas has taken on in cinema isn't exactly unwarranted. Especially since that reputation largely has to do with how it handles marginalized groups, such as people of color, women, and the wrongly imprisoned. It's not that movies have a "liberal agenda" to ruin Dallas, Texas, it's that cinema is often an artform used to provide a voice to the voiceless, including those persecuted in Dallas, Texas. 

Case in point for all these concepts: the 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line. This project chronicles how Randall Adams was arrested for the murder of a police officer in the 1970s. Though Adams maintained his innocence, a man by the name of David Ray Harris placed him as the murderer in question. This sealed the man's far. Adams was soon put in prison for life for a crime he insists he didn't commit. This documentary examines the factors that actually led to Adams being locked up as well as troubling circumstances that indicate this man is innocent. It's a fascinating investigative drama unfolding your very eyes. 

Nowadays, many of the techniques pioneered here in The Thin Blue Line are commonplace. Filmed recreations of real events, that are practically guaranteed to show up in any crime doc. The method of having interview subjects speak while looking directly at the camera, that's also standard procedure now for all documentaries. While these tools are common now, their execution here still impresses decades later. Having folks like police officers deliver their anecdotes like this, for example, still resonates as a thoughtful way of creating a bond between the viewer and the on-screen subjects. The urgency of the subject matter they're discussing is enhanced by their intimate framing.

Also remaining as timelessly captivating as ever is how director Errol Morris draws back the curtain to reveal just how dwarfed Randall Adams was in his crusade to prove his innocence. Little by little, Morris paints a vivid picture of how many people were predisposed to believe this guy was the man behind the murder. This is especially true once Dr. James Grigson enters the picture. Famous for how many patients he diagnoses as being sociopathic enough to get the death penalty, this guys track record is what clinches Adams' fate rather than any actions on the part of Adams. This portrait of how systemic institutions end up being the motivator for imprisonment rather than the actions of an individual, Jesus, it's just heartbreaking.

Then there's the similarly gradual but dramatically compelling way Morris frames the ever-growing crime streak of David Ray Harris. Initally presented in the film through the lens of law enforcement officers who simply saw him as a "rowdy" teenager, The Thin Blue Line eventually reveals just how many acts of cruely Harris committed between killing that police officer and finally getting arrested. The undeniable tragedy of how all that brutality could have been wiped off the map if the cops had just done their job, it's unshakeable. The fantastic pacing in The Thin Blue Line's reveal of the larger canvas of crime Harris is involved in makes that final audio-recoridng of his confession all the more bone chilling.

That particular scene is one of the more unforgettable in The Thin Blue Line, as is a recounting of testimony during the fateful trial about how police provide a "thin blue line" between peace and anarchy. It's a warped view of the relationship between police and citizens that diefies law enforcement, places them on a pedestal. It's a point-of-view that's only gotten more mainstream as the years have gone by, much to the detriment of our most vulnerable communities. The top-class filmmaking in The Thin Blue Line is eternally impressive, but it's chill-inducing how the films portrayal of corrupt systemic police work is similarly timeless.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Madchen in Uniform is somehow even more than "just" a landmark piece of queer cinema


There is this widespread notion that queer people only existed in the modern world. The LGBTQIA+ community is something created in the late 20th-century, because, after all, marginalized populations only exist when they become prominent in pop culture. In reality, queer people have existed for as long as people have existed. Colonial perceptions of sexuality and gender have ensured that these approaches to human sexuality have long been stigmatized. But they've always been there. Case in point: the 1931 feature Madchen in Uniform, which makes no bones about being about queer character. 90 years ago, queer cinema was alive and well.

Manuela von Meinhardis (Hertha Thiele) has been stricken with quite a lot of tragedy in her life, including the loss of her mother at a young age. As Madchen in Uniform begins, she's dealt another harrowing blow. She's now stuck at an all-girls boarding school with a bevy of strict teachers overseeing the institution. However, a warm light at this institution appears in the form of Fräulein von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck), a teacher who takes Meinhardis under her wing. A bond forms between the two that eventually begins to take on romantic shades, much to the chagrin of Mother Fräulein von Nordeck zur Nidden (Emilia Unda). She doesn't want these teachers to even see the students as humans, let alone form romantic attachments to them.

What strikes me most about Madchen in Uniform is just how distinctly modern it is. Not just in its approach to sexuality but also in its filmmaking. The camerawork, for one thing, is so alive, it's never staccato, it's always on the move. Then there's the impressive editing, which includes a beautiful recurring shot where the faces of Meinhardis and Bernburg are overlaid on top of each other. There's even an ending that eschews tidy wrap-up's in favor of a more ambiguous complicated finale. These all feel ripped from cinematic approaches that wouldn't be common for decades to come. If you showed this to a modern audience, these elements could keep even the most staunchly anti-black-and-white-cinema moviegoer glued to their seat. 

It's a testament to the craftsmanship here in Madchen in Uniform that the whole thing feels like it could work in a 2021 movie theater. It's also a reflection on the nimbleness of classic cinema filmmaking. Not all films in this era adhered to the same visual norms, there was a bounty of different creative perspectives flourishing here. On the part of Madchen in Uniform director Leontine Sagan, her perspective is one informed by empathy for young women and the way society irons out their distinctive qualities. Under the watch of zur Nidden, students here are forbidden from sending letters, speaking their minds, and doing anything else that would suggest autonomy. Within this film's central location, Sagan has crafted a physical manifestation of how misogynistic ideas of what women are "capable" of spread and fester.

At the same time, Sagan delivers thoughtful rebukes to these norms. Moments, where Meinhardis and Bernburg do find comfort in one another, are shown to be moments of peace in a constant war on individuality. It's a war known only too well to those in the queer community. You can't even walk down a hallway without worrying about coming off as too "gay" or perhaps indicating a gender you don't publicly identify as. Sagan understands the small ways society breaks down LGBTQIA+ individuals but she isn't just focused on queer misery. She also lends a sense of specific detail to the moments where queer characters do find joy, such as Meinhardis being over the moon over Bernburg lending her a pair of undergarments (Meinhardis didn't have any, you see).

Also, thoughtful emerging on a thematic level is Madchen in Uniform's climactic depiction of what happens when the oppressed work together as a unit. Up until this finale, I didn't fully absorb how much of the teachings at this school were about dividing these girls against one another. Society tells women from the get-go that other ladies are your enemies, be at their throats instead of being their pals. But once Meinhardis is so stricken with grief that she contemplates suicide (from a perch whose height is reinforced to an appropriately woozy degree through Sagan's exemplary camerawork), it's women working together that ends up keeping a tragedy at bay.

It's a touching sight that caps off the proceedings on a note as urgently relevant today as it was in 1931. Let people be themselves. Let women became their own people. Stifling all that individuality only leads to misery. Madchen in Uniform conveys such important concepts with filmmaking so impressive that it makes this production a must-watch even beyond its incredible level of importance to the queer community. 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It see's a once creative horror series settling for averageness

A lot of long-running horror franchises start out with an initial installment that was a departure from the then-norms of the horror genre. These films are able to sustain so many sequels because that inaugural feature resonated so deeply with audiences as something truly different. Saw, for instance, was a wild deviation from all the reheated horror remakes dominating theaters while Paranormal Activity was itself a departure from the torture genre Saw spawned. The next link in this chain was the 2013 film The Conjuring. This title was a breath of fresh air from microbudget found-footage movies told through shaky-cam. This was thanks to the presence of well-known actors like Vera Farmiga and very thoughtful camerawork that emphasized how something spooky could be lingering in the background of a wide shot. 

What was fresh in 2013, though, has become far more familiar, and as a result less eerie, in 2021. Like so many long-running horror franchises that started out breaking the mold, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It sees a horror going from bone-chilling to being the kind of predictable fare other horror movies subvert.

This installment in The Conjuring series takes the actions to the 1980s, with Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) overseeing the exorcism of a young boy. The event seems to rid the child of the demonic entity, but in reality, it's been passed onto Arne Johnson (Ruairi O'Connor). A kindly young man, Johnson ends up murdering his landlord under the possession of a demonic entity. The Warrens urge the use of "demonic possession" as the primary defense for Johnson, but, of course, nobody believes them. They're gonna need proof. This leads the Warrens to head out on a search for clues, which leads to the discovery of a demonic totem placed under the house that the initial young boy lives in. This item kicks off a mystery to figure out who is responsible for siccing a demon on Johnson before Johnson is sentenced to death.

The prospect of doing a courtroom drama but one that involves demonic possession is, admittedly, an enticing affair for trashy horror entertainment, even if using a real-life case that involves an actual deceased person feels like the wrong kind of exploitative. Screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick isn't content to keeps things confined to an imprisoned Johnson, though. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It has way too big of a scope for its own good. In cutting between all the clue-hunting (which frequently entails separate storylines for Ed and Lorraine) and also occasionally cutting back to an incarcerated Johnson, Johnson-McGoldrick fails to keep the tension up. In trying to tackle several different plot threads, few of them leave an impact.

The biggest victim of this storytelling flaw is the characters. Johnson just isn't set up as an interesting character beforehand. He's a broad caricature of home-spun country boy niceness that I'm surprised he didn't have a straw hat and a piece of wheat sticking out of his mouth. Despite Ruairi O'Connor doing his best to inject tangible humanity into the part, I just never got invested in his plight. The generic mystery surrounding the demonic totem takes away time that could be spent exploring Johnson's mindset while being behind bars and dealing with a demon. Without getting a feel for the interior world of Johnson, the major ticking clock of The Devil Made Me Do It lacks urgency.

Worse than that, though, is that the big scary set pieces of this particular Conjuring installment lack imagination. One of these sequences takes place in a morgue and director Michael Chaves doesn't do anything particularly interesting visually to differentiate this scene from the countless other scary scenes that have used this same locale. A similarly generic underground tunnel is the forgettable backdrop for the climax. Even worse, Chaves is far too much of a fan of just ramping up lots of noise and wind to indicate when audiences should be scared. The creeping sense of dread that marked the better scary scenes in the first two Conjuring movies is gone, here replaced by just beating the audience over the head when we're supposed to be gripping our armrests.

If there is a bright spot here, it's that Wilson and Farmiga continue to be enjoyable in the lead roles of the Warrens. The flashes of realistic lived-in chemistry in their rapport are nice and each actor has an agreeable aura to them. The costumes and sets are competently realized, even if the 1980s costumes didn't seem as differentiated as expected from the 1970s attire of the first two Conjuring movies. Best of all, The Devil Made Me Do It doesn't even run 105 minutes before the credits roll. Still too long, but thank God it's not over two hours. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It isn't an outright bad horror sequel. Compared to so many bad horror sequels, it's painless enough. But it's also a woefully generic film without much of a pulse or any real scares to offer. What a far cry from the original film, which really felt like a bolt of the blue.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Bo Burnham Inside is equal parts hilarious and harrowing


How exactly do we make art about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

The last thing most people wanna watch right now is more stuff about this global health crisis, especially since it's still raging in most countries around the world and is still a problem in the United States of America. Still, just because viewers largely want escapism when they watch pop culture doesn't mean one can't comment on the state of the world. You can have entertainment with recognition of real-world trouble just as easily as you can have peanut butter mix with chocolate. 

Interestingly, I've found the few movies that have successfully commented on the COVID-19 pandemic to be comedies. Maybe that's the only way we can comment on the ludicrousness of this situation, which includes people refusing to take the bare amount of precautions against this disease. In a grim thriller, this whole event might seem too outlandish. In the confines of a comedy, though, well, the COVID-19 pandemic just feels like another wacky situation Borat would get into or the typical heightened scenario that a road trip comedy like Recovery might incorporate under any circumstance. 

Further fueling this theory of mine is the incredible success of Bo Burnham: Inside, which sees the comedic doing a stand-up special within the confines of his own home. The pandemic is keeping Burnham indoors but it isn't stopping him from creating new pieces of comedy. The ongoing health crisis looms large over the entire production, but Burnham avoids the easy jokes about toilet paper shortages or mask discomfort. Instead, the pandemic is used as a springboard for greater reflections on the shortcomings of modern existence. These include the awkwardness of sexting, the exciting but even more terrifying powers of the internet, and a self-centered personality getting in the way of being an ally to marginalized groups. 

Throughout it all, Burnham never leaves a single room in his house, though don't expect to discover visual stagnancy in digesting Bo Burnham: Inside. Each new segment employs a fresh visual scheme evoking everything from 1980s training montages to live Twitch streams to children puppet shows. The latter aesthetic comes in one of the most hysterical sequences, in which Burnham sings a happy song about "how the world works." It's clearly supposed to be a riff on Sesame Street and other educational programs. Doing a darkly comic variation on this formula has been done to death, but Burnham makes this concept feel brand new thanks to him tackling such a dark approach to the relationship between puppet and puppeteer.

You see, Burnham's simplified approach to the way the world works gets totally undercut by the sock puppet Socko. He may have a cutesy voice and name, but Socko doesn't mince words in explaining the horrors of modern society, including how "all cops and politicians" are in the service of "corporate elites" rather than wanting to help everyday citizens. In a great piece of dark comedy, Socko's rebellion against Burnham's conformist simplicity gets cut short once Burnham threatens to put this puppet back on his foot. Disturbing, hysterical, all told with a catchy tune you won't be able to get out of your head and impeccably detailed visual flourishes. This little segment manages to be a microcosm of everything that makes Bo Burnham: Inside so special.

Also impressing throughout the special is its open vulnerability, an element expanding upon the closing verses of his Can't Handle This number from his last stand-up special, Make Happy. A line from that song that does "You can say anything if you make it funny, make it rhyme" was running throughout my head while watching Inside as Burnham tackles os many brutally dark topics, including suicide, without alienating the viewer. He makes it funny. He makes it rhyme. But he also makes it insightful. He manages to juggle all of these tonal ingredients without losing sight of authentic introspection into what makes him tick as a person. 

This achievement ensures that the thoughtful and poignant parts of the piece can land properly rather than feeling out-of-place. Even a hilarious (and eerily accurate) ditty called White Woman's Instagram makes time for a genuinely touching digression about one lady dedicating a caption to her long-deceased mom. In the middle of all the silliness and inspired comedic lyrics, Burnham does touch your heart and looks at  the people he's satirizing as, well, people. Though cut off from the world due to the pandemic, Bo Burnahm: Inside shows this comedian hasn't lost sight of the humanity of others.

The sight of Burnham stuck in one room using a piano to belt out comedic tunes will remind viewers like myself of Burnham's very first YouTube videos. But Bo Burnham: Inside is no retread of the past. If anything, this whole film is a reflection of how far he's come as an artist both visually and in terms of the themes he tackles. All of that plus reinforcing that the COVID-19 pandemic is best tackled in comedic movies.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

There are practically 96,000 reasons why In the Heights is simply glorious


When I was but a few hours old, my Uncle Doug held me in his arms and he softly sang to me the opening song of Oklahoma! I suppose I was doomed from the start to be a fan of musicals. Beyond my own emotional attachment to the genre, though, I've often wondered, why do I, and so many other people, like musicals? Is it just the spectacle of the whole thing? Is it the earworm tunes? The dance choreography? It's all those things to one degree or another but what makes musicals extra special is their frankness. Subtle details can be found all the time in these productions but this is an art form built upon the concept of frankness.

In musicals, people wear their hearts on their sleeves. They belt out their interior desires over a cliff. There's something indescribably wonderful about watching a piece of art unafraid to say what's in its mind. Even better, the explicit nature of musicals can even put certain emotions and experiences into words that you never would have been able to explain otherwise. This quality is even more important when applied to In the Heights, an adaptation of the 2008 Broadway musical of the same name. This musical is about the residents of Washington Heights and covers people who don't normally get to have their stories told. Systemic racism and byproducts of it like gentrification keep these voices silent both on the stage and off it. 

Now, not only do these denizens get to voice their opinions, they get to sing them to the heavens. Watching In the Heights use the core traits of a musical for this purpose is utterly miraculous.

Though all sorts of Washington Heights residents get the spotlight throughout In the Heights, the lead character of this piece is Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos in an instantly unforgettable turn), who runs a little corner bodega with his adolescent cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). Usnavi has dreams of rebuilding his dad's beachside bar in his home country of the Dominican Republic and also of maybe asking out Vanessa (Melissa Barrera). His crush has her own dreams of moving out of Washington Heights to pursue her sewing ambitions. Seems like everyone on this block has their big dreams. Case in point: Usnavi's best buddy Benny (Corey Hawkins), who has dreams of being wealthy, while Nina (Leslie Grace) has returned home from Stanford with dreams of never returning to that college where she feels like an outsider.

There are lots of characters to juggle in In the Heights but screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes juggles them all quite fluidly. There's a realistic nature to how Usnavi, Benny, Nina, and everyone else's lives occasionally cross paths, like trails of water sometimes intersecting. Doing this enhances the authenticity and also serves as subtle but effective reminders of why these plotlines are all inhabiting the same movie. Rather than coming across as overstuffed, Hudes' script instead feels like an authentic portrait of just how many complicated stories reside in one neighborhood.  On top of all that, the individual characters are all so entertaining to watch that one never minds how many perspectives are explored throughout In the Heights.

Uniting all these storylines is one key ingredient: great music. In the Heights is all about tunes first and foremost and it delivers on this emphasis. Delightfully, Hudes and director Jon M. Chu have opted to translate all those songs to the world of feature films with massive doses of magical realism. The lives of Usnavi and company are so vivid and full of excitement that they cannot be contained to gritty reality. Thus, hand-drawn animated flourishes representing everything maps of New York City subways to lightsabers are used in certain spots. Another memorable set-piece sees the passionate romance between two characters reflected through dance choreography that literally defies gravity.

The best use of heightened musical storytelling comes in the showstopper Paciencia y Fe number, in which the whole life of the character Abuela (Olga Merediz) is compressed into one three-and-a-half-minute tune. It's like the Married Life montage from Up in how it manages to cram a rich life into a short span of time. This quality is visually reflected through Abuela navigating both a subway train and a train platform that is constantly shifting through time. Watching it, I truly felt like I was watching something I had never seen before, a quality only strengthened through Merediz's emotionally devastating performance. Who needs to be rooted in discernable reality when you can create stylized storytelling this magnificent?

In the Heights is a modern movie musical that makes no bones about what it is. The songs are not generic pop ditties that somehow made their way into the mouths of on-screen characters. It doesn't constantly trip up its plot trying to explain why strange things are happening on-screen. And it most certainly has no time to apologize for being a musical. Instead, the production concentrates on giving us enjoyable characters we can root for and more eye candy than you can shake a fist at. Those visuals are executed under the deft eyes of director Chu and cinematographer Alice Brooks. Both of them do impeccable work making sure the energy of these various musical numbers is maintained through appropriately lively camerawork.

The buoyancy and fun in In the Heights echo classic musical movies, but the emphasis on the perspectives of various marginalized groups ensures that this is no retread of older features. There are people way more qualified than me (like Monica Castillo) to talk about how the film handles its depiction of the Latinx community. But something that did strike me about In the Heights is how it's one of the rare modern major Hollywood movies to focus on working-class people. So many of our present-day features solely idolize the rich while demonizing people who advocate for change. 

But in In the Heights, our hero, Usnavi, is a cashier, the kind of essential worker that is helping us all get through the pandemic. An early montage showing how Usnavi has to deal with everyone at the counter from people sobbing to a guy spilling his side everywhere resonated as 110% authentic to this former Walgreen's cashier! In addition to reflecting tragically under-highlighted figures in both our workforce and in cinema, it's those kinds of specific details that beautifully populate the whole world of In the Heights. Every background character, every prop on a shelf, every piece of food on a dinner table, they're all so singularly realized that they all seem to have their own rich story. It's quite wonderful how In the Heights creates an immersive quality to a depiction of the everyday world. 

Thanks to my Uncle Doug, I've loved musicals for (literally) my entire life. I've loved musicals for so long that it's impossible to pinpoint a singular concise reason why I adore them. Watching In the Heights, though, is like a 142-minute-long reminder of the joys this artform can produce. I mean, just that 96,000 tune alone is a symphony for the eyes, the ears, and the soul all at once! Why do we love musicals? Experiencing In the Heights on the big screen with a big crowd, you'll understand why in your bones.