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HIGH UP ‘IN THE HEIGHTS’

When was the last time you were immersed in a musical experience? That’s the magic In the Heights sparks, an exhilarating adaptation of the hit Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes. As our hero Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) awakens and goes through the familiar early-morning motions of opening his street-corner bodega we are drawn into his world and resistance is futile. The Latinx neighborhood prepares for a new day and everyone moves to the infectious rhythms of life. What a way to start a movie! One by one we meet the other inhabitants of this vibrant community in Washington Heights. Most of them have come from the Dominican Republic—from a proud taxi dispatcher to an angelic woman who is everybody’s abuela (grandmother). There’s the girl…

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A QUIET PLACE PART II: A SOLID SEQUEL

Sequels don’t usually get my juices going but this follow-up to the 2018 hit movie makes all the right moves. Writer-director John Krasinski wastes no time in revealing the spindly alien creatures who caused such havoc last time… and gives us ample time to examine the disgusting details of their anatomy. But it’s the human factor–amazing ingenuity and a dogged refusal to surrender—that again takes center stage. Calm and cool-headed as ever, even without her husband to protect her and her family, Emily Blunt sets a great example for her children, an adolescent son (Noah Jupe) who’s braver then he realizes and a daughter (Millicent Simmonds) who refuses to treat her deafness as a shortcoming. A family friend played by Cillian Murphy isn’t convinced that…

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CRUELLA: THE DEVIL YOU SAY

It says something about our times that a story that once featured cute, heroic dalmatians now focuses on their adversary, a larger-than-life villain (just as Sleeping Beauty has morphed into the saga of Maleficent). Parents should note the PG-13 rating on Cruella, which is earned through a series of nightmarish scenes involving death, abandonment, and revenge. Some children may absorb all of this as make-believe but others might have a different reaction to so much dark matter. I fall into the latter category; I was aghast.  In time, I made my peace with the movie, which is long but not dull. The story of an odd little girl (think Wednesday Addams) who’s been wronged and seeks revenge on the woman who ruined her life. Its sprawling screenplay is credited…

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‘THE DRY’ LEFT ME WANTING

The Dry has been a massive hit in its native Australia but may not find as eager an audience here in the States. Based on Jane Harper’s best-selling mystery novel, it stars Eric Bana as Aaron Falk, a federal cop who fled his arid hometown of Kiewarra twenty years ago under something of a cloud. A gruesome murder/suicide involving a boyhood pal brings him back, but he doesn’t receive a uniformly warm welcome. He’s not there on official business but the alleged shooter’s parents fully expect him to use his clout to investigate the matter and clear their son’s name. Director Robert Connolly, who also adapted the novel with its author, paints a vivid picture of a tight-knit community that always seems on edge, especially after…

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RIDERS OF JUSTICE

Riders of Justice is a risk-taking movie that may have you cheering one moment and recoiling the next. Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen takes a big swing by mixing a real-world revenge thriller with a dark-hued farce. It shouldn’t work…but somehow it does. A key reason for its success is Mads Mikkelsen in the leading role, a military man with a formidable presence (shaved head, bushy beard) and a spiky personality to match. He is about as far removed from the likable teacher in Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round as one could imagine… yet it’s that unexpected ferocity that makes this performance so effective.          After losing his wife in a train wreck he is left to deal with their teenage daughter, with whom he has an already-rocky relationship. This…

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HOLLYWOOD VS. SABOTEURS AND SPIES

Hollywood started fighting the Nazis before America did…but two films are seldom, if ever, mentioned in accounts of this isolationist period. Warner Bros’ Espionage Agent (1939) may not be a great film but it is certainly provocative, as I learned from watching the Warner Archive DVD. I also screened an obscure B movie from Republic Pictures called Sabotage (1939) which was rescued from oblivion by Olive Films on Blu-ray and DVD. Both pictures were made when the U.S. was officially neutral and the Motion Picture Production Code insisted that foreign countries be represented fairly—even Germany. Yet Sabotage introduces familiar German-born character actor Frank Reicher as a key figure whose nationality is crystal clear. He is the coordinator of an underground spy network that has set its sights on the town of…

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REMEMBERING NORMAN LLOYD

I am going to miss the sound of Norman Lloyd’s booming voice. It could easily reach the second balcony of any theater, and it never lost its power even as he celebrated his 106th birthday. It belied the fact that he was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Norman claimed that he had a Joisey/Brooklyn accent until he went to work for the formidable Eva LeGallienne, whose repertory troupe was filled with young men and women who spoke beautifully.  “You couldn’t play a whole repertory of work unless you could learn to speak,” he explained, “So I set about to learn and I managed to get what has been called a mid-Atlantic accent.” He graciously welcomed my daughter Jessie…

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