West Side Story (2021): Steven Spielberg Reinvents the Musical Genre Through This Compelling Adaptation

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Welcome to the final installment of Steven Spielberg Month! You know what that means? It is time for shameless self-promotion! If you are interested in checking out more of my Steven Spielberg-related reviews for the month, this is your opportunity to read up on my thoughts regarding “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and “The Post.” With that out of the way, it is time to introduce the last review of the themed event. It is one of Spielberg’s most recent outings, “West Side Story.” I would have reviewed this film last year if I had the time to. Unfortunately, I could not make it happen. Although I am glad to finally be able to give myself an opportunity to release my thoughts on it, and for you to finally find them out. Ladies and gentlemen, here is my review of “West Side Story.”

“West Side Story” is directed by Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, Ready Player One) and is based on a 1957 play by Jerome Robbins. The film stars Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, and Rachel Zegler as Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl who falls in love with New York native Tony (Elgort). These two are caught in the middle of rivaling gangs, conflicting sides, and altering identities. While these two may be star-crossed, the turmoil beyond their relationship heats up.

I saw this movie on December 6th, 2021 during a free IMAX fan event screening in Boston. The screening took place days before the film’s wide release. This was my first time seeing anything related to “West Side Story.” Prior to rewatching this film for review purposes, not to mention after, I still have not watched the 1961 “West Side Story” adaptation, despite its acclaim. The film won ten Oscars, including Best Picture. In recent months, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” sort of followed in its footsteps. The 2021 remake won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in addition to earning other categorical nominations. One such nomination was Best Picture, which the film lost to “CODA,” which I have no problem with as that film was brilliant.

Having rewatched “West Side Story,” it honestly was more fun than it was the first time around. And that says something because that first viewing was a great time. Did I mention that my most recent watch of the film is not my second, but my third time? I went to go see the film in theaters twice, and both times it knocked my socks off. Therefore, it should be no surprise that I am handing the film this much praise.

I am so glad to finally get to talk about “West Side Story” after being busy during the tail end of 2021, partially because it is my favorite musical movie of that year. I had fun with “In the Heights” and I admired “Tick, Tick… BOOM!”, but “West Side Story” takes the cake as the most serotonin-emitting of these films. When I first heard about a remake for “West Side Story,” I had mixed thoughts, and slight indifference as I had not seen the original film. When you announce that you are about to remake something iconic or highly acclaimed as this, it begs the question as to how you can make something that is on par with what the prior material provided. Again, I did not see the 1961 movie, so I cannot compare and contrast these two films together. Although as a standalone movie, “West Side Story” 2021 is one of the most finely crafted creations of the decade thus far. The decade has only started, but if things continue to go in a certain direction, “West Side Story” could end up in my top 50, maybe even top 25 films of the 2020s by the time the ten year span ends.

The cast of “West Side Story” could not be better. Every actor is perfectly placed in their role, they feel at home, and they play their part to the best of their ability. Rachel Zegler is a goldmine of adorableness as Maria. Not only is Zegler a ridiculously talented singer, which is an ability that is somewhat expected in a film like this, but she is also unspeakably beautiful. Every time I glance at Zegler in this movie, I can sense that not only is Zegler happy to be in the movie, I can sense her character is always in the moment. Even during an occasional sense of hardship, every time I look at Rachel, I am, assumingly, as happy as her. She is always either upbeat or expressive, which for a musical, is an appropriate set of emotions. Part of the recently mentioned adorableness not only has to do with Rachel Zegler herself, her character, or her acting ability, but also the costume design.

The costumes in this film are designed by Paul Tazewell, who also designed costumes for the musical “Hamilton.” Tazewell’s designs feel straight out of the 1950s. To go along with the extravagant, larger than life feel of a story like this, some of the costumes feel attractively glitzy. Again, Zegler’s costumes, such as her white dress from the first act, are standouts. All the costumes from the dance in the gym are easy on the eyes. Another one of my favorites is Anita’s yellow outfit that she wears during the “America” scene. It goes well with the atmosphere and the time of day. Everything feels intricately planned.

Speaking of Ariana DeBose, she and Zegler pretty much tie for the greatest performance in the film. DeBose won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Anita, which is undoubtedly deserved. Everything from her physicality to her line delivery to her overall charisma makes for one of the best performances I have ever seen in musical film. The past couple times I watched “West Side Story,” every line out of DeBose’s mouth, even minor ones, made me smile. There is a saying about movies providing escapes for audiences. Anita in “West Side Story” is synonymous with such a philosophy. Every time she spoke, I instantly transported to another world. I am going to continuously debate as to whether Zegler or DeBose gave my favorite performance in the film, but as far as non-lead roles go, DeBose may have given the greatest of them all in 2021.

Despite having story in its name, the story of “West Side Story” is not the most original when you break it down. Not just because it is remaking a 1961 movie based on a 1957 play. If anything it is a spin on the “Romeo and Juliet” formula with different characters and dance fighting. If anything, this latest iteration of the musical is a fantastic spin, and even saying that is arguably an understatement. As I have said before, you can always supply a cliché story, or a story that has been done in the past. What matters is the execution. If you deliver something great with familiar elements, then job well done. This is exactly what Steven Spielberg did, I was on the edge of my seat during scenes that could have potentially come off as goofy. Dance fighting is a concept that to my surprise, successfully highlighted much of the tension between characters. Not only that, but the music used as a backdrop sounded great. It kept my attention.

This movie is shot by Janusz Kaminski, a brilliant cinematographer who has worked with Spielberg for years. The wides in this film are beautiful. The opening sequence is one of the most intriguing of the year based on the camera movements alone. The scope of the film would not be as massive if it were not for some of Kaminski’s long takes. One of my favorite shots of the film is when we get into the gymnasium and see everyone dancing. The camera swoops around the entire place non-stop until we arrive on our core characters like Anita, Bernardo, and Rachel. Looking back on it and what that one moment was able to capture, is jaw-dropping to say the least. Also, if you ever watch the scene, note the use of color. There is a sense of consistency between the colors of various outfits throughout the shot. It almost comes off like a painting. Again, credit goes to Paul Tazewell for how well he handled the film’s costume design.

Musicals, including this one, often thrive based on the spectacle. “West Side Story” has a ton of poppy moments where the cinematography and musical numbers keep my eyes on the screen. That is despite there being a sense of danger throughout the movie. “West Side Story,” at its core, centers around two star-crossed lovers. Although this film effectively encapsulates how their connection affects the people around them. The rivalry between the Jets and Sharks was already heading for trouble, but as soon as we see Rachel and Tony together for the first time, we also begin to see how various supporting characters handle this matter. Even though it should barely affect them on paper, it ends up resulting in increased calamity. As for said calamity, it made for a great movie.

If you ask me, based on everything I presented so far from the costumes to the shot selection to the editing to the acting, this is a sign that Steven Spielberg has brought together one of the greatest directorial efforts of his career. Or, as some might call it, just another Tuesday. “West Side Story” is apparently a part of Spielberg’s childhood, and it shows. The numbers are handled with grace, the characters are well realized, and the aesthetic of the film has a perfect blend between lighter and darker moments in addition to tones. There is no surprise that a sense of passion was present in every scene.

Aside from the cliché elements and familiar story treads, there are not many noticeable flaws with “West Side Story.” This might not be my favorite Steven Spielberg movie, but I cannot help but recognize how massively bonkers and fun this movie is. At the same time, it also successfully hits emotional beats. Performances from Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose highlight this. One of my favorite elements of the film, as someone who watched it perhaps the way Spielberg intended, is that when the characters speak in Spanish, they do not provide subtitles to aid in regard to what they are saying. I have taken a screenwriting class in college, and one thing my professor noted is that dialogue does not always matter. Sure, movies can have great lines that enhance the experience. Whether they are funny, dramatic, or emotionally charging. Although what makes “West Side Story” great is its tendency to use Spanish, a language which I do not understand, without subtitles, and nevertheless compel me into the scenes in which such a language is spoken. Given select moments and the supposed attitudes of various audiences, this sounds like a big risk. As someone who dropped out of Spanish class in high school for Sociology, I have been moved by this choice and its execution.

Big risk, big reward.

One might as well make the conclusion that this is what the whole movie sounded like from the beginning. A big risk. Sure, when you have Steven Spielberg in the chair, he makes everything look easy. Sure, name recognition is definitely a selling point in modern media. The film did not do well at the box office for various reasons. COVID-19, competition with other movies, and controversy with Ansel Elgort are contributing factors. However, this film is now available to watch at home and if you ask me what movie in the musical genre you should watch nowadays, this is one of the first I can think at the top of my head. It is that good. I do not know if Spielberg will make another musical, but if he does, I wonder how the heck he could top this one.

In the end, “West Side Story” is one of the best musical films of this century. Why should I be surprised that this movie is as solid as it is? Steven Spielberg is at the helm. Then again, maybe I should be surprised. After his many previous monumental successes, Spielberg has yet to create a film in the musical genre. He has done a variety of genres prior to “West Side Story” like science fiction (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), period pieces (Lincoln), adventure (Raiders of the Lost Ark), war (Saving Private Ryan), drama (The Post), and you could even argue that “Jaws” would be considered a horror film. By today’s standards, it is not the most terrifying option on the table, but it has its eerie moments. The man has done everything, and yet he continues to pump out gold. For some filmmakers, this would be an achievement. But I cannot call it that for Spielberg after watching “West Side Story.” As far as Spielberg is concerned, his efforts have amounted to another day at the office. That is how effective of a filmmaker he continues to be. Spielberg could have ended his career at say “Jurassic Park” and have an endlessly celebrated library of films. But that is not the case. His adaptations of songs like “Somewhere,” “Cool,” and “America” have stayed in my memory for a long time, and will likely continue to do so. The look of the film is stunning, the shots are beautiful, and the cast is incredible. Again, I have yet to see the 1961 film, so I cannot confirm if this is better or worse, but I can hardly think of a single problem I have with Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” So much so, that the film is worthy of a 10/10.

Musicals are not my genre, but this is a film that I liked the first time, adored the second time, and found myself eating up by the third time. I am floored by this film’s craft and how extravagantly immersive it is, even when watching it at home. I feel bad for skipping this review last year, but I am more than happy to have gotten my thoughts out by now. Although some of you reading this might not be that surprised that I liked the movie so much, because I ended up nominating it in a few categories during the 4th Annual Jackoff Awards. If you want to see what the film did or did not win, check out the post!

“West Side Story” is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. The film is also available to rent or buy on VOD. For those who have the services, it is also available to watch on Disney+ and HBO Max.

Thanks for reading this review! This is officially the end of Steven Spielberg Month! But this November, we will be seeing the latest addition to Spielberg’s neverending library. That my friends, is “The Fabelmans.” The film is loosely based on Spielberg’s childhood, and the trailer looks phenomenal. Between this and Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” this awards season is likely going to have lots of talk about Hollywood’s self-indulgence. Whether such self-indulgence will be successfully utilized, is a question waiting to be answered.

Also, my next review is going to be for the all DC film “Black Adam.” Be sure to stay tuned for the nine-millionth superhero movie I will be reviewing in my blogging journey. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “West Side Story?” What did you think about it? Or, did you see the 1961 “West Side Story?” What did you think of that? How would you compare the two movies? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Tick, Tick…Boom! (2021): Andrew Garfield Booms the Roof Off in This Marvelous Netflix Original

“Tick, Tick…Boom!” is directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Mary Poppins Returns) and stars Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge), Alexandra Shipp (Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, Straight Outta Compton), Robin de Jesús (The Boys in the Band, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Joshua Henry, Judith Light (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Dallas), and Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical, Powerless). This film is about Jonathan Larson, a young musical composer who lives in New York and is trying to make it big. When trying to assemble and sell his play, Larson must simultaneously balance work, friendships, and trying to create the art he wants people to see.

I feel like such an idiot because I have spent much of the 2010s hearing about “Hamilton,” while everyone talks about it, makes such a big deal about it. “Go watch ‘Hamilton!'” “Go listen to ‘Hamilton!'” “I cannot stop talking about ‘Hamilton!'” I have never bothered with it. I am sure that if I put on a song from “Hamilton,” I’ll find some fun in it. Heck, they even have the recorded version of it on Disney+ right now so it is at my fingertips. But I know that “Hamilton” is part of the reason why everyone knows Lin-Manuel Miranda as one of this generation’s most iconic entertainers. I am all for any story that makes history fun. I just haven’t gotten around to it.

I did however watch this year’s “In the Heights” film which I left feeling very mixed about. On one hand, there are some occasional catchy tunes and some of my favorite shots of the year. There’s one scene towards the end of the film that left me marveled to the floor. At the same time though, the film is rather dense for a somewhat fun musical and goes on for way too long. I did not mind any of the serious matters in it, I just don’t think it is a film that is worth watching more than once.

Either way, Lin-Manuel Miranda is an entertainer that I have known about for years, but for some reason, I have never gotten around to his work. To be fair, I watch a ton of movies. I don’t always seek out plays or Broadway musicals. Those just aren’t my thing. That seems to be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s forte. But this film is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature length debut. Could he take his talents which he used elsewhere and translate them to a project like this? After seeing this film, I can confirm he did.

Miranda develops a movie that sort of made me forget that I was watching a true story. Granted, I did not see a ton of marketing and did not hear much about the film going into it, so I didn’t really know I was watching a film based on actual events. But after realizing that this film was based on real events and watching the film itself, it nevertheless kind of felt like a fantasy. Almost like “Rocketman” in a way, but better. Miranda takes the script of “Tick, Tick…Boom!,” which is very much set in reality, and makes it feel like it set in some blend between that and some fantasy world. “Tick, Tick…Boom!” naturally delivers a compelling narrative that bridges the gap between true events and sequences that maybe one would wish could be true.

Part of this is due to the amazing performance by Andrew Garfield, who carries the movie on his two shoulders. I mean, casting-wise, I think they did a good job on picking Garfield because I don’t want to sound stereotypical, he looks like an artist. He’s down to earth, but also a little crazy. If anything, his interpretation of Jonathan Larson made him come off as a more artistic Steve Jobs, because Jobs was kind of eccentric, a little quirky, and I got that sense from Larson as well. I got the sense that he genuinely loves what he does and Garfield had solid chemistry with everyone on screen including his love interest, Alexandra Shipp as Susan. This film kind of reminded me of “La La Land” because that film’s about dreams and the effects that one can have from said dream taking up much of their lives. Will they be able to achieve it? That’s the eternal question. But there’s also the idea that relationships and connections you have in your life can separate you from having a life in which you desire. Same thing with money. There’s the struggle of being able to make it from day to day, and sometimes you think this may not be the best path. This film wonderfully complicates the struggles of one person achieving their dreams. In a world where “follow your dreams” is often the message of the story or the heartbeat that keeps the story alive, it’s nice to see a movie like this handle this main character desire so well.

I want to do my best to not spoil anything when it comes to “Tick, Tick…Boom!” but I sort of related to this film on a personal level. It’s not my favorite film of the year. In fact, after seeing something else, it’s not even my favorite musical film of the year. But I feel like the screenwriter, or Steven Levenson, either took some advice from a screenwriting class, or acknowledged a common saying that starting writers have to hear. I took a screenwriting class and one of the common things I heard in that class is to “write about what you know.” In fact, if you saw the trailer, you’d know those words are used in this film. The way that the film uses said words arguably makes for one of, if not my favorite line, of any movie I’ve seen this year. I think people will look at a film like “Tick, Tick…Boom!” and be wowed by it. Between the acting, the direction, and the music. It is all combined to make something special. But for me, some sequences are enhanced because I have personally dabbled, or am willing to continuously dabble in the arts. I’m an aspiring screenwriter, and one lesson I will always take from my screenwriting class in sophomore year of college is the advice to write about what you know. I won’t say much about the context of those words being used, but the use of them hit me because of what I’ve gone through in my life and what I may end up going through in the future depending on my career path. A good movie can entertain you. A great movie can entertain you and remind you of your own life. “Tick, Tick…Boom!” definitely comes off as great.

In the end, “Tick, Tick…Boom!” delivers a big boom and is a pleasantly enjoyable musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda delivers one of the best directorial efforts I’ve seen all year, one of the best casts I’ve seen all year, and one of my personal most relatable screenplays I’ve seen all year. I have never followed Lin-Manuel Miranda, nor have I followed Jonathan Larson. “Tick, Tick…Boom!” made me appreciate both of them. I’m going to give “Tick, Tick…Boom!” an 8/10!

“Tick, Tick…Boom!” premiered in select theaters this November, but it is also available on Netflix for all subscribers.

Thanks for reading this review! I just want to let everyone know that I have more content coming up, which coincidentally, also involves Lin-Manuel Miranda, that being my review for “Encanto!” Stay tuned! Also, I want to wish everyone a happy new year. 2022 is around the corner, which means I will also have my picks for the top 10 best and worst movies of 2021 coming soon. If you want to see this and more on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Tick…Tick…Boom!”? What did you think about it? Also, what is your favorite Netflix original of the year? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Dear Evan Hansen (2021): A Lackluster Adaptation of the Ben Platt-Starring Musical

“Dear Evan Hansen” is directed by Stephen Chbosky (Wonder, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and stars Ben Platt (Pitch Perfect, The Politician), Julianne Moore (The Big Lebowski, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) Kaitlyn Dever (Unbelievable, Booksmart), Amandla Stenberg (The Darkest Minds, The Hate U Give), Nik Dodani (Murphy Brown, Escape Room), Colton Ryan (Little Voice, Homeland), Danny Pino (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Mayans M.C.), and Amy Adams (Arrival, American Hustle). This film is based on the Broadway show of the same name, which also stars Ben Platt, and follows Evan Hansen as he copes with a social anxiety disorder and finds himself falling down a rabbit hole after the sudden suicide of a classmate, whose sister he crushes on.

I have never been exposed to the musical version of “Dear Evan Hansen,” in fact my earliest memory of seeing anything related to it was by first seeing a trailer for this movie in the theater. I cannot remember if it was “Free Guy” or something else, it might have been “Free Guy,” but I saw the trailer before some movie, and it gave a pleasant first impression from the music and supposed balance of lightheartedness mixed in with serious drama. Then people started talking about Ben Platt’s age, which I did not care about at first, but the Internet has this fiendish method of sucking you into the latest trend that I inevitably got a closer look at Platt from time to time and thought, “Okay…”

If you want my honest thoughts on “Dear Evan Hansen” I can tell you right now that I do not have plans to watch this movie again. Musicals are not my preferred genre, but I should also note that my mother, who is probably more likely to watch musicals than me, watched this movie, and she found the tunes lacking in charm and style. She and I agreed that there are certain segments that are oddly placed and it kind of reminded me of when you’re in school, you’re writing an essay, and because your teacher likes rules, they want you to put in a certain number of transitions. Some of the transitions feel out of left field and almost anger-inducing at times. The songs honestly don’t sound as great as I would have expected either. The movie has two periods. Dead air and uninteresting songs. Nothing more.

No, seriously! This movie has some of the worst pacing I felt all year. I do not need all my movies to go bam bam licketdy split on a popsicle stick, but this movie feels absurdly slow in the worst possible way, and it did not need to be as long as it is. The final runtime comes out to 2 hours and 17 minutes. This movie could have been better if it lost five minutes. Even better if it lost ten minutes. Who knows? Maybe it needed to lose a half hour and one or two songs. The movie elongates in certain scenes, wastes its time, not to mention my time. By the end, part of me is surprised I did not fall asleep. I guess if I’m tired I could watch this movie again, it has that going for it. I mean, if some of the dead air was to promote the social awkwardness between one or two people, then sure, I guess the movie did its job. But it just didn’t work for me. For all I know this works better on a stage than it does in a movie, but if that’s the case, it shows that not everything translates to film. When “In the Heights” is longer and I gave it a more positive look than I did with “Dear Evan Hansen,” that’s a bit of a problem. Granted, it’s only longer by several minutes, but still.

As I watched this movie, I kept looking at Ben Platt, then I looked at his face. I kept looking. …And looking. …And looking some more. Obviously, this harkens back to the age problem. When your film’s star is distracting based on his looks, that’s a red flag. I turned to my mom at one point and told her “This guy looks like Jerry Seinfeld.” And I meant THAT Seinfeld from the 1990s. Every other minute as I type this review, I can almost imagine Ben Platt in a Puffy shirt singing his ass off. Do I think Ben Platt is a bad actor? Not really. Although I should note he’s nowhere near my favorite, nor should he be. I’ve only seen him in “Pitch Perfect” just to be clear, and it’s been years since I’ve seen that movie. But at the same time, watching his performance was a tad awkward, not only because of how old he looks on screen, but at times I did not completely buy into some of his mannerisms. There are certain scenes where Platt’s character is a fine embodiment of the movie’s message, but others where watching him is kind of on the cringe side. I do not know what to say. Even in some of the better scenes I would wonder what they were thinking casting him. Yes, he was in the original show, but do we really need him here?

I have a strong feeling that if Ben Platt’s father, Marc Platt, were not producing this movie, there’s a chance that Ben Platt would probably be more involved behind the scenes and let somebody else take the lead role. Look guys, I am all for family members or people who are related getting together to make movies, but my advice is to ease with caution on your projects otherwise you’ll just end up becoming the next Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone. Gosh, “Superintelligence” was a trainwreck.

In a way, I kind of relate to the main character of Evan Hansen because I never had much of a social life in high school, I think to some degree I had trouble talking to other people, including girls. I just think certain parts of Evan Hansen’s character were exaggerated to such a degree that it took me out of the movie. Granted, it is a musical, and musicals have a tradition of being exaggerated, but my suspense of disbelief can only go so high. Plus, the journey itself that Evan Hansen takes, the fact that he’s living a lie to pretend to the world he has a friend so he can feel good about himself and others around him, kind of made my brain shake. There are worse lies you could tell, but it’s hard to relate to the hero or root for him when the objective of the story is to lie about being friends with someone to share a positive message, all the while being a viral sensation on YouTube. It’s like if I went on a world tour lecturing about the dangers of caffeine and what it can do you, then I go back into my hotel and get a couple Diet Cokes from the vending machine every night. I don’t know. This movie’s an enigma. I get that likable characters cannot be perfect, not everyone can be Superman, characters have to have weaknesses, but something about this story, even with the positive message it provides, kind of turned me off by the end. Maybe I am a hypocrite because not too long ago I started watching HBO’s “Avenue 5” and one thing I liked about the main character was how he advertised himself as the captain of his ship, but he got by because he was charming. He was a flat out liar to the public eye, because behind the scenes, he didn’t know anything. I like the main character on the show for that reason and how his story is handled throughout the couple episodes I’ve seen at least. Ben Platt is an okay singer when the movie allows him to be, but his character became less relatable as the story progressed, and when you have a somewhat lackluster main character, then I do not see the point of returning to this film to watch it a second time.

In the end, “Dear Evan Hansen” is probably one of the more painful movie experiences I had this year, because unlike another musical adaptation that came out in recent years, “Cats,” I actually had some semblance of excitement for this movie. The trailer looked good. The music sounded good. But the actual movie failed to impress me. It’s boring, it has a main character I related to less and less throughout the film, and honestly the musical soundtrack was a bit lackluster for my taste. When you make a musical and the soundtrack collectively is not even halfway decent, then that’s a failure. This is not the worst movie of the year, I’d rather watch “Dear Evan Hansen” over “Tom & Jerry,” but I am going to give “Dear Evan Hansen” a 3/10.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! Be sure to stay tuned for my review of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” the movie where murder can happen and murder will happen. It’s called Murdphy’s Law! I made it myself. If you want to see this review and more upcoming content, be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account! Also, like the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Dear Evan Hansen?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a role that you think someone was either too young or too old to play when they portrayed the character? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

In the Heights (2021): Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Latest Musical to Film Adaptation Heightens Its Way to the Big Screen

“In the Heights” is directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, Now You See Me 2) and stars Anthony Ramos (Trolls World Tour, Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island), Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera (Vida, Tanto amor), Olga Merediz (Shades of Blue, Orange Is the New Black), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Katy Keene, Smash), Gregory Diaz IV (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, New Amsterdam), and Jimmy Smits (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Son of Anarchy). This film is based on a stageplay by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a book by Quiara Algeria Hudes and is set in the New York City neighborhood Washington Heights. The story follows said neighborhood as they imagine and desire a better life.

I saw this film early. And by early I mean the Sunday before it came out. There were a plethora of special screenings so I thought I’d take the opportunity to attend one of them with my grandma because who does not like free stuff? Part of me was hesitant towards paying to see this film because I am not a musical guy even though I have enjoyed stuff here and there like “La La Land.” Maybe I would have used my AMC A-List, but still. Sticking with the facts, I have been reviewing movies for a long time, I am completely focused on the movies that are coming out as audiences continue to return to the theater (even though apparently “In the Heights” could have done better at the box office) so for those reasons, I decided to check out “In the Heights” for myself. I do not know if I would have seen this film during its actual release (or even on HBO Max), so I figured I’d watch it now just to say “Hey! I saw this!” And I did see it, so let’s talk about it.

I just want to iterate a couple things. First, I have heard nothing but praise for Lin-Manuel Miranda. I have not seen any of his Broadway work. Yes, I have not seen “Hamilton.” I’m sorry. I know it is popular, I know there’s a filmed version on Disney+, but I still have not seen it. I’ve heard a few songs from the musical because my sister was with me in the same place and she was playing them, but I was not the one in control of these songs. With that being said, this movie is my first exposure to ANYTHING related to “In the Heights.” Did it give me a good first impression? Well, I certainly did not hate it. I will start off by saying that the film is fun. There are some good songs, although there are a few that are admittedly forgettable despite maybe some solid execution in the actual film. The opening number set the tone well, a lot of the ones that came later seemed to match that original tone and occasionally, its catchiness. The main jingle of the film still lingers in my head from time to time.

The foundation of the film is not exactly one specific character, although the movie is mainly told from the perspective of Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) who did do a good job by the way. Instead, the foundation is this collection of people who belong to one region of New York City. We see all these people sing about the life they prefer to live over their own. And a couple of the songs in the film captured the emotions of these characters’ wishes. Granted, I cannot quote them. It has been a couple weeks and I do not think I’ll be watching “In the Heights” again anytime soon. But when it comes to pure fun, this film has the proper ingredients from time to time and part of it is because of the soundtrack. Will I remember the characters as some of my favorites by the end of the year? Not really. But the movie does an okay job at making Washington Heights itself feel like its own character per se.

I do want to bring up the pacing though. Now obviously, this is a lively, bombastic musical. So obviously, there will be some quick pace and non-stop music action. There is no doubt about that. I think at times the movie does a really good job at matching the songs to the emotions, thoughts, and actions of certain characters. There is one song towards the end mainly revolving around Olga Merediz’s character that I think was done particularly well and it continues to stick with me. Although there are not as many other songs in the movie, as well put together as they are, that have such staying power. Speaking of staying, I feel like I stayed at this movie a little longer than I had to. I felt like the stereotypical dad who goes to his daughter’s dance recital and constantly begs to himself to just stand up and leave because it is going on for such a long time. Although in my case, I think I am displaying less impatience, even though there was some to display, and more curiosity as to when the lights would turn back on. I say that because there is a lot that happens in “In the Heights” which is amazing to me because I talked to a friend who calls herself “that snob” because she liked the stage version much better than the film. I have not seen anything except the film, so more power to her. She told me they made some changes, and they took some things out. That last statement floored me because this film feels packed to the brim with material. Song after song. Character after character. By the end of the film, when it feels like it has hit its climax, there’s actually like ten, twenty minutes of main material left. And I say ten to twenty minutes because I apparently found out that there is an end credits scene in the film that I did not watch.

There are a lot of good things about “In the Heights.” The cast is likable and talented (although somewhat controversial), the film looks very pretty, the cinematography is some of the absolute best I have seen this year and could arguably receive a few nominations during awards season. No, seriously. There is a sequence by the end of this film that I would buy the Blu-ray just to see if they explain how it was done in the bonus features. Additionally, Jon M. Chu did a pretty good job at bringing his vision to reality. It feels lively, fun, spirited, hyperactive from beginning to end. So even though I was kind of begging for the movie to end as it hit what I was its second or third climax, I was still having fun. I’ll even say there are a couple chuckleworthy lines in it. Granted, it’s not like I’m watching Kevin Hart or something, but there are still some funny lines here and there.

In the end, “In the Heights” has good things in it, but I do not think this film will get any replay from me except for maybe once or twice. If I did not review movies, I would probably not go see this by myself. Once again I will say, I did see this with my grandma just for clarification, but if I were in a situation where I did not review movies and I saw the list of movies playing at the theater, I would probably skip “In the Heights” unless I was with someone who really wanted to see it or if I just wanted a spectacle, which this movie did provide from start to finish. When I talk to a friend who says they took some things out of a movie that I still think is too long… That is not a positive. Granted, I did have fun with “In the Heights” and I do recommend it. But the movie feels like “Return of the King” by the end of it. It feels like it could end, but it’s like a party and there’s that one guest that won’t leave no matter how hard you try to shove them out the door. “In the Heights,” I like you, but you can’t stay here. I’m going to give “In the Heights” a 6/10.

Technically speaking, I would give “In the Heights” a tad higher grade than a 6/10, maybe at least a 7, because it does look beautiful. But when you add in the fact that some of the songs did not stick with me, the characters themselves not all sticking with me either, and a runtime that feels like a turtle occasionally wrote this film despite everything feeling fast, that’s a problem. This is why the film gets positive marks from me, even though I would not consider it to be my favorite of the year. I think there will be an audience for it. It started off getting great reviews and I notice the ads seemed to highlight a bunch of celebrities promoting it because apparently some people trust them more than Variety and The New York Times, so I could see “In the Heights” maintaining a cult status. I do recommend if you are to see this film, maybe go with a couple friends to the theater because one of the big positives of the film that I will mention is that it is best viewed on a big screen. As much as I like HBO Max, this movie is bigger than a streaming service.

Speaking of which, “In the Heights” is now playing in theaters everywhere and is currently available for a limited time exclusively on HBO Max.

Thanks for reading this review! Coming soon, I will have my review for “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the brand new sequel starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, and Salma Hayek. That review will be up soon, that is if I survive long enough to actually post it. Also, this Thursday I will be going to see “F9: The Fast Saga.” It comes out in theaters that day, so I will attempt to have my review up for the film as soon as possible. I will also be reviewing the new Disney+ exclusive Pixar movie, “Luca,” which did come out in one theater in California, so without giving anything away, it will qualify towards my future yearly posts including The Jackoff Awards and my top 10 lists. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account and also like the Facebook page so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “In the Heights?” What did you about it? Did you see the stage version? What are your thoughts on that edition of “In the Heights?” Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Cats (2019): Kitty Litter

EVERYBODY:
Go see “Richard Jewell!” Clint Eastwood has done it again!
Check out “1917!” It’s heart-stopping!
Watch “The Irishman” on Netflix! It’s worth the three and a half hour runtime! It’s REAL cinema!
Hey! “Queen & Slim” is getting positive reviews!
GO SEE “STAR WARS!”
“Bombshell’s” the movie we need right now!
“Frozen II” is a great Disney sequel!
“The Two Popes!” Check it out!
Hey Jack, have you seen Amazon’s “The Aeronauts?”
“MARRRRRRIAGE STOOOOOORRRRRY!”

ME:
Hey guys, I’m going to review “Cats!”

*Beat*

…Awkward. No matter what happens, this will unite us all. It’s time to review the NON-“Star Wars” movie coming out this weekend, because this is what I was able to see early on this week. Let’s get this s*itshow overwith.

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“Cats” is directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, The Danish Girl) and stars James Corden (The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Emoji Movie), Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, Philomena), Jason Derulo (Everybody Dance Now, Drop the Mic), Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, Thor), Jennifer Hudson (The Voice, Dreamgirls), Ian McKellan (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Good Liar), Taylor Swift (The Lorax, The Giver), Rebel Wilson (Jojo Rabbit, Pitch Perfect), and Francesca Hayward. The plot of “Cats,” if there is one in this damn thing, is that a bunch of cats that look and walk like humans compete against each other to be the one to earn another life… That’s the best way I can describe this movie without cringing. Because holy s*it. THIS IS PUTRID.

Going into “Cats” on Tuesday night, I had two screenings to choose from. “Cats” being one of them, obviously. The other one happened to be “Bombshell,” which I said to you all that I would review. Well, expect a delay on that, when I finally got my RSVP for “Cats,” I could not pass it up, and by that I mean I wanted to wait to see “Bombshell” with somebody else, because as far as I know, there is probably not one person that would want to see “Cats” with me. Did I have any plans to watch “Cats” originally? Absolutely not. In fact, if you follow the Scene Before Facebook page, and if you aren’t following it, CLICK THIS LINK and give it a like! Anyway, if you have kept track of recent happenings there, you may have noticed this recent post…

Well guess what? I ended up dragging myself on the underfunded transportation system in the Boston, Massachusetts area, put my ass in a cinema seat, and here we are. But let me just say, I did not go into “Cats” blind. I went in having seen bunches of the marketing, including the main trailers, which honestly just creeps me out the more I think about it! I had little to no real anticipation of this movie, even though I was expecting some decent numbers and neat visuals at times. Did I get those in the end? Kind of. The visuals were nifty, but the numbers are honestly forgettable. I have never seen any other related “Cats” material, not the play, nor any other adaptation. So this movie ultimately took my “Cats” virginity. As someone who has had their first “Cats” experience of any kind, I cannot imagine myself returning to this franchise in the near future. This movie BROKE me to no end. It’s honestly up there with some of the most anger-inducing content I have seen all year. In fact, I am honestly kind of glad I went to see the movie as early as I did. I love the moviegoing experience, and going to see a movie early, depending on the film is honestly kind of thrilling. I was in a theater containing some people who were enthusiastic. One person had cat ears on, some were Taylor Swift fans, and I think the best part about this movie is that the occasional reactions from people that were given with a hint of sarcasm. There was this one moment around the first act where this guy just belted out a snarky laugh and a bunch of us played along because I think a surprising number of attendees thought this movie was going to suck balls and we had almost no expectations for it. Maybe we collectively thought this movie was cheesy or a waste of time. Who knows? The point is, if I went to see this movie in perhaps January during a dead afternoon, it probably wouldn’t be as fun or lively. The only thing I probably would have felt at that time is pure anger. Being in the environment of a free screening before a movie opens definitely helps.

BUT IT DOES NOT TAKE AWAY FROM THE CRAP I SUFFERED THROUGH!

I have been noticing something about our current moviegoing audience. We seem to enjoy two things nowadays. Granted, that’s an understatement, we seem to enjoy lots of things in reality, but the two of the commonalities I’m seeing from the general moviegoing audience is spectacle and nostalgia. There’s definitely an argument to make about “Cats” being one of the more nostalgic movies of the year. It’s based on a hit musical from the late 20th century, which was inspired by poetry from T.S. Eliot. I think a lot of older audiences will gravitate towards this film, plus younger theater admirers. And I will point out one thing that I think could have ended up being a positive about this film, specifically the prettiness that’s intact. From the marketing, there have been a lot of shots that looked nice, the neon signage everywhere kind of adds a nice touch, the film is visually appealing on the surface. And throughout, at times, I dug it for its visuals. That’s probably the biggest compliment I can give.

Earlier this year, I reviewed “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” which is one of the worst blockbusters I have witnessed in recent memory, especially when considering how FANTASTIC the trailers were leading up to its release. To this day, the only compliments I can give the film are some of the shot choices and the appealing visual effects. That’s it. “Cats” is kind of like that. Granted, I did not like the “Cats” trailers, but you probably get my point. However, the good news is, and it honestly PAINS me in the ass to say this… I’d rather watch “Cats” again. As a movie, it is technically competent. Not to mention, competently… BOOOOORRRRRRRING!

This movie technically has a plot, but when it’s presented on screen, it’s an utter mess! It’s a nice looking mess, but a mess nevertheless! I guess we’ll call it a hot mess! The movie undoubtedly is trying to rely on the spectacle provided from each number. I didn’t expect this movie to lack singing, but the singing in this movie is ENDLESS. OH MY FREAKING LORD! A good portion of the numbers are… borderline OK? I guess? But I don’t feel like I will end up remembering them. The only numbers that truly stood out to me was the one where Taylor Swift’s character was introduced, most likely because there were a few people in the crowd who were ecstatic over seeing her on screen and one heavily revolving around Laurie Davidson’s character of Mr. Mistoffelees, which I won’t go into. Again, I went into the movie not knowing much about “Cats,” so I’m gonna be somewhat vague with the material.

I am not even in the mood to go into the characters, because for one thing, there are a lot of them. It’s overwhelming. I am willing to bet that if there were fewer characters, this movie could be a tad more interesting. I will say though, even though “Cats” itself is somewhat visually attrractive, it is simultaneously off-putting. I don’t know about you guys, but I didn’t ask for a movie where Ian McKellan plays a live-action, human-like cat that is licking a plate. It’s something so unimportant, yet so horrifying. Much like the numbers, there is perhaps not even a single character that ended up standing out. Many of the characters feel like they have little to no layers, and the only thing that could end up being memorable is all of the “digital fur technology” that went into this pile of crap they call a movie.

I do not seek out musicals that often. I don’t usually watch all that many films that are heavy on musical numbers, but if I had to compare “Cats” to any other film, I’d say one of the closest examples I can give is Michael Bay’s “Transformers.” For the record, they are COMPLETELY different on almost every single level in terms of plot, genre, and character motivations. But one of the biggest compliments I can give to “Transformers” is the visuals. The effects are nothing short of amazing. I think even people who don’t like the newer “Transformers” movies can probably agree that the visual effects are nice to look at. Now, I personally enjoyed the first “Transformers.” It’s a fine action movie if you ask me, but I know the franchise is not always the most pleasing to everyone. The story is basic, repetitive from one film to the next, and some would say it almost doesn’t even matter when there are tons of explosions and American flags everywhere.

This movie doesn’t really shy away from comedy. I mean, what do you expect when there’s a seemingly sarcastic laugh during my screening? Only thing is, the comedy just doesn’t work. In fact, the jokes I remember are random cat puns. They might have been the only jokes in the movie, and they sully the experience entirely.

Why did I go see “Cats?” Well, I wanted to wait to see “Bombshell” for one thing, but I thought this would be a fun film to review. It’s one of those one of a kind, crazy experiences that I will end up remembering, but not for the right reasons. Personally, I don’t ever see myself watching “Cats” again, and I had no plans to get a cat in the near future, but this movie has officially eliminated any possibility of me wanting a cat, because if I am ever presented with an opportunity to get a cat, part of me would not stop thinking of this piece of trash. And in other news, Taylor Swift is in this movie, that picture above is of her. And SPOILER, the movie DOES NOT go into how many cats she broke up with.

In fact, let me specify about my experience of watching this film. This was a film that felt embarrassing to say the least. It’s well-crafted, but embarrassing nonetheless. Whenever I go see a film, I usually order myself a popcorn and soda to keep myself up. I didn’t do that this time. I don’t know, I guess I wasn’t in the mood for it. Maybe it’s because I was busy talking to a friend I ran into, but that’s not the point. The overall experience of seeing “Cats” feels like a dream. Because I became increasingly sleepy, increasingly bored, and the movie itself became more irrelevant than the door close button on modern elevators! There is a part of me that wanted to laugh, but it felt really hard, because at the same time, what I really wanted to do was leave. This movie overstays its welcome, even giving itself an opportunity to hammer in one final number that is so bad that it’s good. And when those stinking credits FINALLY came on screen, I let out a bellowing “THANK GAAAWWSH!” Because again, the movie broke me to shreds. You know how I said I didn’t get any popcorn or soda for this movie? Upon the leaving the film I had one thought in mind. I need popcorn, because I felt like I dredged through this movie in the same way that Bart Simpson would dredge through homework. I felt like part of my well-being has been erased. This was a well-earned treat for myself. By the way, the popcorn was f*cking satisfying. It made my cat nips go hard.

In the end, “Cats” is perhaps the most competent borefest of the year, and that really says something because… “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” was a thing. And that’s the absolute worst thing about “Cats.” It looks charming, it looks presentable, it looks nifty. Some of the camerawork is nice. But between some of the questionable editing, lame-ass script, and nearly nonexistent plot, this movie made me angrier than that kid from “Looper” whenever something goes wrong for him. I would rather poke my own eyes out with my own two hands than go see this movie again. The ensemble has a lot of big names including Idris Elba, Ian McKellan, and James Corden, but not even that could save the movie. In a way, the more I think about it, it almost makes the movie worse. Remember that movie, “The Circle” that came out a couple years ago? It’s like that. It had a list of respectable actors including Emma Watson, John Boyega, Bill Paxton, TOM FREAKING HANKS! To know that these people took on this film specifically, makes my brain leak a little bit. Again, visually appealing, but it’s not enough. I’m going to give “Cats” a 2/10. Part of me wants to give this movie a 3/10, I really do. But now that I’ve had a little bit of time to marinate, this is up there with some of the most frustrating, not to mention forgettable, movies I have EVER seen during my time on this blog. Did the crowd reactions add something? Kind of. But not entirely. To me this was just a waste of time. The only ways that this movie could end up as a 1 is if it didn’t look pretty, if the acting was the worst I’ve ever seen, or it weren’t for a couple of halfway decent moments. Nevertheless, this was an insufferable experience, and I know “Star Wars” is not getting the best reviews right now, but this is actually making me excited for “Star Wars.” I think the only way I could have ended up enjoying “Cats” is if I was perhaps very young and this was one of the first movies I have watched. Maybe one of the first in the theater. Because as long as there are cats doing things on screen, why should I care about anything else? How am I still alive? I don’t know! It’s amazing! Even so, I’m done talking about this garbage, let’s move on!

Thanks for reading this review! Stay tuned guys, because I am going to have my review up for the next film that will inevitably make a billion dollars, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” I’m going to my local IMAX theater on opening Thursday, I cannot wait! How will the film turn out? I do not know for sure, but I am endlessly curious, so let’s do this! May the force be with us! Be sure to follow Scene Before with an email or WordPress account if you want greater access to the blog, and be sure to stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “Cats?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite movie that is cat-related? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Blinded by the Light (2019): The Boss Shines in Luton

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“Blinded by the Light” is directed by Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice) and stars Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Guhr (Goodness Gracious Me, Howards’ Way), Meera Ganatra (PREMature, The Question), Nell Williams (Game of Thrones, London Town), Aaron Phugura (Doctor Who, Informer), and Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones, Into the Badlands). This film is inspired by a true story and is about a Pakistani teenager named Javed who lives with his family in the United Kingdom. Said family usually leaves all control and decisions to their father, life is becoming increasingly tough, and this teenager, who has a passion for poetry and writing, is forced to study and follow a path his father is trying to set upon him because it is “safe,” “expected,” and “the way he likes it.” At the same time, he is introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen, he connects the music to himself, his life, and his struggles.

I barely knew anything about the film “Blinded by the Light” before going into it. In fact, when I decided to go, it was very last minute. I was doing an impromptu train ride into the city, when all of a sudden, I saw a time for a movie on my phone that was most certainly calling my name. I was almost debating on doing something else entirely until this unexpected matter came into play. I saw ads for this film on TV and I was somewhat impressed by what I saw. Granted, I was not automatically hypnotized or compelled into buying a ticket, but if I were in a situation where I had to watch this film, I wouldn’t feel like I was being held against my will. However, I chose to buy a ticket with hard-earned money, so I strapped myself in for whatever was ahead. And one thing was for sure in the very end, I had a great time! In fact, after seeing the epic fail that is “Yesterday” over a month ago, this is just what I needed. I think The Beatles are probably better, and without argument, more culturally important than this film’s music-related subject, Bruce Springsteen (not saying I don’t like him, but still). Nevertheless, I feel as an audience member, this movie did more to honor the legacy and pay respect to Bruce Springsteen than “Yesterday” did to “The Beatles.” Interestingly though, similar to how “Yesterday” had tons of Beatles music and wasn’t mainly about The Beatles themselves, the movie is not specifically about Bruce Springsteen in general and instead focuses on someone who can qualify as a fan.

This fan’s story by the way was more fascinating than it needed to be. It focuses on how his family is close (which to his view, is too close), how he is being kept from living the life he anticipates to achieve, while also being a reminder to viewers to work in order to achieve dreams. Speaking of Javed, I think Viveik Kalra did a really good job with his portrayal and I would not mind seeing more from him.

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Speaking of excellent portrayals, I think the best acting job in the movie has to be from Kulvinder Ghir, who plays Javed’s dad, Malik. He was able to express himself as an overworked, tired, occasionally obnoxious, and pushy parent who wanted everything to go his way. As for relating to the character, I cannot really say that’s possible for me. For one thing, I am not a parent. But let’s say I was just to set an example. I would want the best for my children, I would want them to succeed, but I also would want them to be happy and follow a path that doesn’t feel forced upon them. Granted, I know there are certain customs set upon various families, but I would be understanding in a number of cases if one were to object to a certain custom. No turkey on thanksgiving? That’s one less turkey to kill! Skipping out on watching the Super Bowl? Football’s not for everyone! By the way, football is overrated and I am tired of talking about it at this point! Maybe I relate a lot more to Javed since I am in his age range, but I think there are reasons to understand where Malik is coming from. He wants the best for his son, not mention his family, while also perhaps keeping them safe.

Another great thing about “Blinded by the Light” is that while it does pay tribute to Bruce Springsteen, that doesn’t even feel like the main part of the movie. I think that’s a good thing because yes, his music can be fun to listen to, but it can take away from the story. It’s more about Javed and his relationship with the art of writing. It’s about how he wants to chase after his dreams and make himself happy. Although I will say one thing regarding The Boss and it is a slight problem. There are a couple moments that almost took me out of the movie, where it would almost turn into this Bruce Springsteen-related musical. The movie felt kind of grounded in reality for the most part, so seeing something like that almost threw me off. Having a musical vibe can work for a movie like “Rocketman” because the marketing kind of implied there would be fantasy elements in the film making the musical scenes seem kind of fitting, but not in “Blinded by the Light.”

And to be honest, that recent thing I mentioned may be my only problem with the entire film, or at least the only one that stands out front and center. Because if that was taken out, I would completely be focusing on this film’s well put together pacing (although one particular scene dragged a little), the collectively excellent chemistry, and the immense sense of joy that I have achieved while watching it. This is one of those movies where I walked out with a smile on my face. Also, I may be biased, but as a writer, this movie sort of made me want to appreciate all that I have done thus far in my life regarding the subject matter, and made me look forward to what I had in store. While I won’t go too far into it, there is this teacher in the film that if I had her for an English class or something, I would never want to get out of her sight. I’d show her my writing, come to her for advice, allow her to be honest about what I have done. She’d be honest about what I’d do, but it also seems as if she’d be appreciative. And having seen this movie, I would like to give a shoutout to everyone who has made a bad movie. Unless I am possibly talking about a film that you regret doing and probably never wanted to be part of in the first place, just remember, that film may be crap, but it is your crap. I give loads of flak to everyone who made “The Emoji Movie,” but you guys finished it, and gave it a release. It’s your movie, and you should be proud to have something be a part of your artistic history. It may not be good, but at least be proud of what you have done, even if I eventually called it the worst movie of 2017.

In the end, “Blinded by the Light” is a movie that I didn’t entirely ask for in the first place, but having seen it, it is probably the film I needed right now. It’s fun, it’s joyous, it’s attention-grabbing, and it is probably my favorite music-related movie that has come out over the past year. It’s better than “A Star is Born,” it’s better than “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it’s better than “Rocketman,” and it’s DEFINITELY better than “Yesterday.” “Blinded by the Light” shows who’s boss! I’m going to give “Blinded by the Light” an 8/10. Thanks for reading this review! This weekend is the release of “It: Chapter Two.” For those of you who have followed me on Scene Before, I have not reviewed “It” when that came out, in fact I still have not seen that movie as I write this. I don’t think I’ll get around to talking about that, but I am going to do my best to talk about “It: Chapter Two” as soon as possible. I might go see it this weekend, but if I don’t, I’ll definitely be seeing it the following weekend. After all, possibly other than “Joker,” “It: Chapter Two” could end up being the biggest R rated title of 2019. I have to stay in the know about these things, it’s my duty! If you want to look out for my “It: Chapter Two” review and other upcoming content, follow Scene Before via an email or WordPress account, and if you want to dedicate more time listening to the movie reviewing moron, click the link to my Facebook page and give it a like! I want to know, did you see “Blinded by the Light?” What did you think about it? Or, what are your thoughts on Bruce Springsteen? Do you have a favorite song of his? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Rocketman (2019): Elton John: The Musical

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“Rocketman” is directed by Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle, Bohemian Rhapsody) and stars Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Sing), Jamie Bell (Fantastic Four, Jumper), Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, Bodyguard), and Bryce Dallas Howard (Spider-Man 3, Jurassic World). This film is based on a portion of the life of music icon Elton John. It goes over his origins as an artist, as a person, and as someone who eventually must overcome various personal weaknesses or quirks.

I don’t know much about Elton John as an artist, and he’s not the first musician I go to when I need some music to soothe the mood. It’s not to say I hate him, but unlike other artists including AC/DC or Metallica, I just don’t think to myself, “Oh yeah, Elton John! I’ll leave myself on this station for him!” However, going into this movie, I did have some expectations. One of them, specifically the least important expectation, is that it would be better than “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Why? Because “Rocketman” came out the same weekend as that movie, I already saw “King of the Monsters,” and now I unfortunately can’t unsee it. As for other expectations, I did think that “Rocketman” would be rather fun and maybe not as much a downer type of film compared to other music-related biopics. For one thing as an example, unlike the main character of last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Freddie Mercury, Elton John is still alive. It’s not like we’re going to see a movie and feel like it is asking the audience, “Oh, remember him?” I’m not saying I’m bored of the whole “memory” thing, if you remember the movie “Ray,” I thought that was one of the best movies of the 2000’s and it showcased some serious downs of Ray Charles’ life. Even with that being said, I was still expecting this movie to go in a slightly different direction. “Rocketman” from the trailers looked vibrant, immersive, while at the same time, a true escape from reality. After all, one of the movie’s taglines is “Based on a true fantasy.” And I certainly did get a true escape from reality, almost a little too much. “Rocketman” is based on true events, and I know a lot of movies don’t have every detail of accuracy when it comes to basing them on reality. But “Rocketman” went into a direction that I for one did not see coming. The Wikipedia page for “Rocketman” describes the flick as a “biographical musical film.” I was expecting “biographical,” but not “musical.” In fact, this movie’s early attempts at being a musical kind of felt forced. It did become slightly more acceptable and a tad less cringeworthy as time passed, but due to my limited research on the film prior to seeing it, not to mention having certain expectations, this kind of came off as a surprise.

To put this in a short amount of words, if you went into “Rocketman” thinking you’re going to get a glimpse of what happened during Elton John’s life, I must point out that you are in fact going to get that. But it is all surrounded by tons of musical numbers, some of which kind of felt admittedly cringeworthy at first. It almost made me think I accidentally bought tickets for a Disney flick or something! Although that would be kind of amazing because this is rated R. And as the movie went on, the numbers actually almost became the biggest highlight. After all, while I am not a musical guy, one thing I can appreciate about certain musicals is the spectacle, which at times, this movie truly does have. It pulls you into the lively, flashy concerts, and takes an idea that I usually think would not fit in a biopic, but somehow the crew would manage to make it all work.

Also, Taron Egerton as Elton John? Hell yeah. I bought it completely. Definitely one of the best performances of the year so far. But it’s not even summer yet so I cannot confirm or speculate how many awards he’s going to win. And I have a feeling that part of why Egerton may have encapsulated the essential elements of Elton John is because the two have previously interacted with each other. If you remember 2017’s “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” which to me was a fun, but slightly disposable action flick, Taron Egerton plays the main character. During that film, Elton John made an appearance as himself.

Don’t go breakin’ my heart? More like, “Go breakin’ some bones!”

Does Egerton have a shot at an Oscar from here? I dunno, we’ve still got time to wonder. But much like Bradley Cooper in “A Star Is Born” from 2018, one of the biggest praises I can give to Taron Egerton is that he does his own singing. I never saw Taron Egerton as a singer, and the fact that he even made the effort to sing on his own is magnificent. Big thumbs up from me!

I also admire the direction that this film tends to go, because the way it starts off, it’s almost glamorous, almost as if I went to see a movie that takes place in a cinematic universe where all the contestants from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” team up to fight crime. Then without going into spoilers, it turns out to be… well, not that. I mentioned that this movie isn’t really the most “downer-like” of biopics, but some serious stuff manages to happen in one overarching part of the story, not to mention other parts of the film. I’m not saying the film is having trouble knowing what it wants to be, in fact, I think the tone in its entirety works for a movie like “Rocketman.” It’s big, it’s exciting, but also at the same time, slightly grounded in some sort of reality here and there. I guess I am not that surprised to see an Elton John film. A lot of famous people will get their own movie if their story can be told while being interesting and profitable. But what I am somewhat surprised by is the fashion in which we managed to get a movie like this. Because for those of you who don’t know, Elton John himself has an executive producer credit for this film. While he didn’t direct or write the film himself, this almost must have been a glimpse back, not just for the audience, but for Elton John more than anyone else. I have seen some of the film’s marketing, but I can’t say I knew everything about it going in, so let me just say, consider my last statement and see how this movie is presented. Trust me.

And I do mean this, “Rocketman” has the flair of Elton John himself, whilst presenting some peaks and valleys from his youth. He had trouble living with his parents, not to mention getting care from both of his parents, especially his father, who is nothing short of a jerkface with an extreme lack of tact.

One last thing, I also really like some of the scenes where Elton John has to present himself and his musical talent to executives. I thought those were some of the better parts of the movie and there’s one scene where an executive just keeps criticizing every music-related choice Elton John is making. It’s kind chuckle-worthy, maybe even funnier than that.

In the end, “Rocketman” is not the best movie of the year, but it probably qualifies as the most interesting. It’s quirky, it has spectacular direction, and a stellar performance by Taron Egerton. It’s no wonder that Egerton likely had John’s blessing, and if they make another movie together, whether it is another “Kingsman” or something completely different, sign me up! I will say however, to me, this is probably going to be a movie that does not have much replay value. A lot of the movie’s standout scenes, at least to me, may make for good YouTube clips, but unless I needed something to watch on a big 4K TV, I probably wouldn’t go straight back to watching “Rocketman” this instant. It’s kind of a one-off, but it’s a good one-off. I’m going to give “Rocketman” a 7/10.

But before we go any further, I do have to bring one thing up, I went to see this movie with my mother and sister, and as far as I know, this is probably the most anticipated my mother in particular has ever been for a film. And she had a ball watching it. In fact, she brought up something I would have never expected to have ever heard from her. She mentioned the movie “brought her back to her childhood.” I don’t talk about my family life much on here, but this came off as a shock to me because my mother, at least when I’m in the room, NEVER gets nostalgic over anything. And out of all the nostalgia bombs arriving in theaters today, there are few, if any, that ever brought my mother back to her youth. I think only exception in my entire life when it comes to this sort of thing would have be 2015’s  “Pixels” because it inspired my mother to play an 80’s playlist. I’m just glad that in this postmodern era of media, it’s not just people like myself who obsess over “Star Wars” or “The Incredibles” can return to the days of being a kid. Even my own mom, who to my knowledge, never tends to go back in time, just experienced time travel.

Thanks for reading this review! I just want to let everyone know that I scored a couple of passes to go see “Men In Black: International” next week, which is the first spinoff in the popular “Men In Black” film franchise starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, who coincidentally, worked closely together in “Thor: Ragnarok.” I also want to remind you all that if you have not checked it out already, I recently released my 300th post on Scene Before, which is a glance at my Blu-ray collection. It features a YouTube video going over every single solitary copy I own including special editions like 4K, 3D, Steelbook, etc. To view the post, click the link right here! Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “Rocketman?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite song by Elton John? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again (2018): Having the Hour and Fifty-Four Minutes of My Life

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“Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again” is directed by Ol Parker (Now Is Good, Imagine Me & You) and stars Lily James (Baby Driver, Cinderella), Amanda Seyfried (Ted 2, Mean Girls), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife, Chicago), Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye, The Matador), Dominic Cooper (Preacher, Captain America: The First Avenger), Colin Firth (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Love, Actually), Andy Garcia (Ocean’s Eleven, The Godfather: Part III), Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote), Julie Waters (Brave, Paddington), with Cher (Moonstruck, Mask), and Meryl Streep (The Post, Sophie’s Choice). This movie is the sequel to 2008’s “Mamma Mia!: The Movie.” Five years after the events of the original film, Sophie learns about past events involving her mother, while the movie chooses to simultaneously focus on what the movie’s universe would call present events.

This “Mamma Mia!” installment might as well only be made because of how much money the first one actually made. Based on words I’ve heard just the other day, I’ve been totally shocked by the numbers of the first “Mamma Mia!,” finding out it has actually brought in a total of over $600 million at the worldwide box office. Funny enough, it was never #1 at the box office on ANY of the weekends of its run! Seriously! “Iron Man” came out the same year, it was #1 on both its opening weekend and its second weekend, and yet it still made less than “Mamma Mia” did during its entire run! Now that we have that we have this sequel, I must ask… Will the box office numbers be as high as this film, or is this one giant fluke? The answer, will have to wait because this movie, when it comes to its official public release, is only a short number of days old. Another question I found completely unanswerable is “How was the movie?”

Upon walking out of the theater, I couldn’t even answer how the movie truly was. I could confirm I didn’t like it, I thought it was somewhat flawed. But at the same time, it was kind of fun. This movie is not necessarily just another bad movie, it’s also the kind of bad that to me, didn’t really make me hate myself. But part of me wondered why. Sure, maybe certain musical segments were well choreographed, I guess there were some chuckleworthy moments here and there, and there was also times where I just admired the main locations of the film. In fact, part of why I actually enjoyed myself very much may have been due to watching the film in the IMAX format. If I went to see “Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again” in a regular theater with a normal screen, I would have probably enjoyed myself a bit less than I did in my circumstance of viewing this film. I had low expectations going into “Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again,” and just because I enjoyed myself, doesn’t mean I thought the film was anywhere near absolute perfection. It just means I don’t want to bang my head on a wall for an hour.

The biggest problem I have with “Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again” is just that it’s kind of confusing. Granted, part of it be my fault as a viewer, because I’m willing to bet if I saw the first film, this sequel would be a lot more crystal clear. I won’t go into detail because the movie just came out and not everyone has seen it yet, but I just felt like there were maybe a huge amount of clutter in terms of characters, plot lines, etc. Granted, you can argue “Avengers: Infinity War” has that same issue, but the thing is, that movie plays out like a TV show. Everything has been leading up to it, if you’ve seen MCU movies released prior to that one, you’d probably have some sort of connection with the characters based on their journeys, and the way the screenplay and direction came together in that film made it feel like a thrill ride. “Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again” expands the story of the franchise, but it does that by including something that doesn’t really have much stakes attached to it. For a film like this, that might be a weird complaint, but I just didn’t really care for anyone in this film. Again, I didn’t watch the first installment, so I may be cheating with that statement. But I just found this film boring at times because it felt like it was a story that just had so much going on with occasional interruptions from musical numbers.

If you know me in person, chances are you’d know that I love thinker movies, I love movies that make you figure out what’s going on, movies that don’t give you all the answers right away, movies that rely on being complicated therefore making them come off as a fun puzzle. I love movies that don’t make you feel stupid! Although, one complaint I can’t believe I’m saying here is that I thought this movie was a bit more complicated than it had to be. Was it intentional? I doubt it. In fact, I feel like the only real intention of this sequel was to get money. This movie goes back and forth in time, only to make me wonder which character is which, and which part of my brain hurts the most. I think if the movie really wanted to tell its story from a perspective that goes over both the past and present, it should have really had some more work done during the edit. What should have been done is if you want to go over a past event, you should color grade or put a filter over the footage to make it look old-timey. I wouldn’t call something like this dumbing down, but I would consider it to be hint of help or aid for those who don’t even know what’s going on.

As far as the movie’s characters go, I’m not even gonna go into detail about a lot of them. To make a long story short, most of them are rather quirky, and have their own individual qualities that make them who they are. If you’re expecting to see Meryl Streep in this movie, you do get her, but as far as actually getting HER, don’t expect much. Because the movie mainly focuses on a younger version of her character (Lily James).

Having seen Lily James play this younger version of Donna, I can kind of buy into her interpretation of the character, and I’d say she did a fine job with the role for the most part. But in all seriousness, this does beg a question. The question I have to ask is… Is Lily James the next Meryl Streep? Granted, you don’t really need to be a powerhouse actor to be in a movie like this. It’s recommended, but that’s not the biggest thing that I’d say you need. In fact, in some cases, your ability to sing would probably have a higher importance. I do think Lily James is an alright actor. I haven’t seen her in much, but I’d say she’s an alright actor nevertheless. But here’s the thing, will the Academy see this movie and forever think of Lily James as that one actor to nominate every single year no matter what she does? I’m not sure how much longer Streep has in terms of her career, but if you consider how many times she’s been nominated for some award throughout her life, it only makes me wonder how many James is bound to get down the road.

But in all seriousness, I feel like the only things I can truly appreciate in “Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again” is that it exceeded my expectations, it was well choreographed at times, and it had some neat location choices. Other than that, it’s just a bunch of sequences shot on a camera placed together in a certain order for the sake of calling something a movie. It’s not good, and while I’m not in the target audience, I gotta be honest, I just didn’t think this was worth my time.

In the end, “Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again,” spectacle-wise, doesn’t fail to impress, but on every other level, it’s not on par with what I’d call a proper movie. I mean, it has its audience, they might as well enjoy the film, good for them. This movie to me however, it was boring, although in reality, it ended in a much quicker rate than I thought it would. Maybe it’s because it almost felt like nothing happened. If it weren’t for a few pluses sprinkled in or seeing this movie in IMAX, I probably would have lost all sanity. With that being said, I’m going to give “Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again” a 4/10. Thanks for reading this review! This Wedneday I’m going to see “Skyscraper,” so expect a review for that pretty soon, and speaking of that, be sure to follow my blog so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, have you seen “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” what are your thoughts on it? Or, which of the “Mamma Mia!” films do you like better? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!