Additional Bite-Sized Reviews, Dec. 2021: ‘In the Heights,’ ‘Fast and Furious 9,’ and More

Anthony Ramos as ‘Usnavi’ and Melissa Barrera as ‘Vanessa’ in Jon M. Chu’s IN THE HEIGHTS. — PHOTO: Warner Bros. Pictures.

In this edition of my monthly movie and television catch-up article series titled ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews,’ I mostly run you through my thoughts on several different films that I’ve missed throughout the year. That means that I have finally seen films like Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights, Rebecca Hall’s Passing, the latest entry in the Fast and Furious franchise (F9), and much, much more including a Best Picture winner that I missed during the previous Oscar season.


  • What are Additional Bite-Sized Reviews?
    – My monthly movie and television catch-up review series ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews‘ is an evolution of the Overview-article section previously titled ‘What I Didn’t Write About.’ I was originally inspired by film critic Peter Sobczynski’s article series ‘Films I Neglected to Review,’ wherein he writes short, or brief, reviews of films that he hasn’t had the time to write full reviews about. Therefore, in articles such as this one, I will provide my readers with my thoughts on select films, shows, and even classics that I feel like giving my thoughts on, even though I don’t have the time to dedicate thorough reviews to them.
  • Why do the bite-sized reviews not include either a letter grade or a review score?
    – In my full and thorough reviews, I like to score or grade what I watch. But since these reviews aren’t as detailed, I think it is fairer to the films and shows to simply just decide whether or not to recommend them. I guess you could say this is the only type of review that is basically ‘scored’ with the classic thumbs-up/thumbs-down-method on my site.

In The Heights | Film | Dir. Jon M. Chu | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: HBO Max | Recommended?: Yes.

I’m not going to complain because I love that there are so many major movie musicals this year, but it is a little bit of a shame that this movie is being overshadowed by two other live-action movie musicals this year. Now, granted, I probably like tick, tick, boom! a little bit more than this one (for various reasons including Garfield’s performance), and Spielberg’s new adaptation of West Side Story obviously has the others beat on name value alone and all that (I still haven’t seen it due to it, and other Disney-owned films, being boycotted by the largest theater chain in Denmark, as well as the fact that, you know, theaters are closed over here right now).

But, nevertheless, this movie deserves better than to be ignored completely this awards season. Now, I think it obviously has some issues, including its length. While I enjoyed the film, it does go on a little bit too long — the main character even asks if we should take a break halfway through — and I do think the film would’ve been a little bit tighter and easier to appreciate if a couple of characters and songs had been cut. The music may also be hit or miss for people. I like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical style so I enjoyed the songs, but I will say that while some of them ‘popped’ none of them are likely to stick in my memory.

I think this is such a warm and sweet, almost irresistible, cultural tribute. I loved the focus on the neighborhood community, and I loved everything about Abuela Claudia, who reminded me of multiple people in my life. I think there are a lot of characters to see yourself in, and the cast is uniformly solid. I also want to shout out the visual style in this film. Sure, some of the scenes and backgrounds are overly bright or, frankly, look a little bit too much like sound stages disguised by computer animation, but I loved how much Jon M. Chu was willing to let the film be overtaken by moments and scenes defined by their magical, or fantasy, realism. I loved watching streets transform or characters dance on the side of buildings. I always love when movie musicals do that, and Chu showed no fear here.

Reminiscence | Film | Dir. Lisa Joy | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: HBO Max | Recommended?: I think so, yeah.

I think that with a few tweaks this could’ve been a really great film. It’s not just me thinking this, right? As it stands, it does suffer from a dull pace and forgettable antagonists, which is a real shame because I, honestly, think this film almost has all of the makings of a neo-noir cult hit.

The world-building is solid, I like the production design, I think the sci-fi concept is awesome, I really like the cast, and I think the ending really works. So, yeah, there is some wasted potential here, but I kind of liked it all the same. Add it to the list of films that could’ve been great, I guess.

Nomadland | Film | Dir. Chloé Zhao | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Disney+ | Recommended?: Yes.

I know. I know. I’m late to the party. And, frankly, I don’t expect my thoughts to have much of an impact on the overall discussion of the film, nor do I suspect I’ll say anything that hasn’t been said before. But here goes.

I am fascinated by Chloe Zhao’s style. Her focus on isolation in the vast open landscape is intriguing. And I really would be interested in learning more about her fascination with the open and old America. I think there are some genuinely sweet and charming moments here, but The Rider, her previous film, made more of an impression on me, though.

I think I have many of the same notes for this film as I did with the aforementioned film, which I really liked. I’m also, however, not sure if the form is right for the light narrative. Would this be a better documentary? Perhaps.

I do think McDormand is a good anchor for the film, even though I’m somewhat surprised, in retrospect, by how many awards her performance won her. Because for as good as this film is — and it is — it’s not the most accessible thing in the world and her performance isn’t as ‘loud’ as the total number of awards might indicate to you.

I do, however, think that the cinematography is undeniable. It is beautifully shot. Outrageously well-shot. Some of its images are haunting and poetic. Perhaps It’ll work better for me in the coming days or on a rewatch.

Passing | Film | Dir. Rebecca Hall | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: Yes.

I thought this was quite good. It has gone a little bit under the radar, I think, which is a shame, but this is definitely one of the more interesting Netflix films this year. The black-and-white aesthetic does a lot for the film, and, in any case,, it makes a lot of sense for the film. It’s confidently and smartly made by Rebecca Hall, who is obviously most known for acting, in her directorial debut.

It’s also extremely well-acted. I think Ruth Negga was particularly great here (one of the greatest supporting performances of the year?), but it is definitely not as nuanced and internalized as the performance Tessa Thompson had to give, and she, too, deserves a lot of credit. I can definitely see the film netting a couple of nominations at the Oscars. It ought to. It’ll also be interesting to see what Rebecca Hall does next because her stylish and smart debut shows a lot of promise.

Wrath of Man | Film | Dir. Guy Ritchie | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Viaplay | Recommended?: Yes.

This movie really surprised me quite a bit. I watched it on a whim because I enjoy some of Guy Ritchie’s films and because I wanted to watch something ’new’ that was burdened by awards season hype late on a Sunday night. The dialogue (and perhaps the delivery of said dialogue), and some of its early scenes, made it feel very much like a disposable bare-bones B-movie, but something about this relatively familiar revenge premise really got to me.

It has hard-hitting brutality, some really well-tracked and well-designed shots and action scenes, and its story’s no-holds-barred crime world felt richer than I anticipated it to be. It ended up as possibly one of my favorite Jason Statham films. His relentless revenge-fueled character with a fascinating backstory reminded me of both John Wick and Taken, though it’s probably not as good as either of those series’ first films. The thing that turned this good film into a great film, to me, was the way it was structured, which allowed for different perspectives that truly enriched the overall narrative.

I thought this revenge/heist flick was excellent, even though I had expected it to be a bit more jokey a la The Gentlemen. Instead, it was much more like S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete and Ben Affleck’s The Town. Also, for some reason, as I was watching the film, I kept thinking that this must be Taylor Sheridan’s favorite film of the year. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been thinking about Mayor of Kingstown too much,

F9: Fast and Furious 9 | Film | Dir. Justin Lin | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: | Recommended?: No.

I really struggled with F9. I’ve enjoyed this franchise for what it is, but with Fate of the Furious — the previous entry — it felt like what was once fun, fresh, and exciting had become tired and too exaggerated for its own good. With F9, I have to say that I felt similarly. Now, I agree that it’s silly to talk about realism when it comes to this franchise since most of what happens is unrealistic. But, with F9, I had a really tough time in trying to suspend my disbelief — or, as some might say, turn my brain off. It felt like there were no stakes at all. All of these human characters were invincible, they could do anything, and even characters that had died in the past (i.e. Han) could be resurrected without much of an actual explanation.

Why should we care at this point? I thought it was extremely difficult to become emotionally involved here, which is coming from someone who cried at the end of Furious 7. On top of all of this, I thought it was a bit of a slog. So many scenes are drawn out, there are so many characters and subplots, the film even keeps on returning to this needless flashback to get us to care about John Cena’s new character. This bloated film was too busy and too crowded and too convoluted to make me engrossed in the overall story. I just didn’t care, and it lost me so many times. Frankly, the funniest sequence in the entire film is the one where John Cena’s character keeps on zip-lining through Edinburgh. I thought it was hilarious, though I’m sure they didn’t intend it to be.

As a side-note, I really want to know how Thue Ersted Rasmussen, a relatively unknown Danish actor, got the role of Otto. That’s a really significant part. He must’ve knocked his audition out of the park. Good for you, Thue.

Cry Macho | Film | Dir. Clint Eastwood | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: HBO Max | Recommended?: Mixed thoughts.

I liked The Mule, also directed by Clint Eastwood, more than most people did, so I was hopeful that Cry Macho would also work for me. Ultimately, I have mixed thoughts. I would’ve liked the film to be more reflective, and I wanted more scenes like the one in which Eastwood’s character gives his ‘this macho thing is overrated’-speech.

In general, the film is quite generic. You’ve seen this kind of film dozens of times before. It even kind of reminded me of this year’s The Marksman, but the Liam Neeson-vehicle is more of a by-the-numbers action-thriller whereas Cry Macho has some surprisingly sweet moments here and there. I thought that the first hour of the film was a little bit rough, though. I think the seams are showing in certain scenes, and sometimes the acting isn’t convincing in the slightest. But the sweeter moments in the second half of the film were quite refreshing to me.

Prayers for the Stolen (Noche de Fuego) | Film | Dir. Tatiana Huezo | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: Yes.

Prayers for the Stolen, the Mexican selection for the upcoming Academy Awards, is an eye-opening and, frankly, terrifying coming-of-age film about the lives of young women in an area controlled by what I assumed was some kind of cartel. It is a quietly startling slice of life film that gives you an idea of what it’s like to grow up in a place where parents have to sacrifice so much to protect their children from human traffickers.

I thought the ending was really hard to watch and horrifying. It is a film that’s probably going to sit with you for quite a bit, but I also think it’s a difficult film to recommend for various reasons. For one, the subject matter is really difficult and tough, but the film’s slice of life narrative may also make it more difficult to engage with for your average streaming subscriber. But if you are at all interested, then I highly suggest that you check it out.

– Reviews Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

2 thoughts on “Additional Bite-Sized Reviews, Dec. 2021: ‘In the Heights,’ ‘Fast and Furious 9,’ and More

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