By Lynn Venhaus
Of all this summer’s films, “Luca” might be the one that gives you a serious case of wanderlust – and nostalgia for the summers of your youth.

The playful computer-generated animated feature sweeps us away into two exotic worlds – under the sea and on land – for a fun, fast-paced teenage adventure. You will wish Portorosso was real – not just a reference to Hayao Miyazaki‘s film “Porco Rosso” from 1992.

Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, “Luca” is a sea monster-turned-little boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and scooter rides. Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) shares adventures with his new best friend, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is also a sea monster, and meets Giulia (Emma Berman), who will change his life, and her fisherman father Massimo (Marco Barricelli), while he’s hiding from his fretful parents Daniela and Lorenzo (Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan). Can he still live in both worlds without fear?

Following a long line of Disney dreamers, Luca Paguro is a charmer – coming of age as he straddles his natural sea world and the picturesque fishing village he discovers during an escapade with his new best friend, the worldlier and more mischievous Alberto.

Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph voice parents Lorenzo and Daniela

Luca herds goatfish by day, trying to stay safe, warned by his protective mother (Maya Rudolph) about dangers of the outside world. But he yearns to see what’s out there for himself. When he ventures above the surface, he appears to be a human, but once wet, he reverts to his sea monster scales.

With wide-eyed wonder and an insatiable curiosity, Luca wants to explore the vast universe that he is only now experiencing. It turns into an unforgettable summer on the sun-kissed shores of Italy, set in the ‘50s – captivating us in the grand time-honored tradition of a hero’s far-away journey.

The vivid animation matches the creators’ limitless imaginations, and the swift shapeshifting between the ‘human’ boys and the sea monsters is remarkable. During the credits, watercolor drawings, reminiscent of old picture books, dot the frames.

Pixar’s latest and 24th feature, “Luca,” isn’t as profound or ground-breaking as “Soul,” “Coco” or “Inside Out,” but is a pleasant excursion into a gorgeous nook of land-and-sea, as refreshing as an ocean breeze.

The characters, conceived by director Enrico Casarosa and co-writers Jesse Andrews (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Mike Jones (“Soul”), are distinguished by colorful personalities and exaggerated physical features – whether it’s a brawny dad bod with a thick mustache or a swaggering pompadoured bully in sunglasses.

The appealing voice cast imbues characters with warmth and humor, and particularly amusing are Sandy Martin, Mac’s Mom on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” as the saucy grandma, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the hulking gravel-voiced Uncle Ugo (stay for the credits for more on this imposing creature).

 Tremblay, now age 14, conveys enthusiasm and amazement over everything Luca sees and does. The guileless Tremblay broke through in “Room” (2015) and has followed up with the earnest “Wonder” and the hilarious “Good Boys.” He is a natural fit for the sea creature-out-of-water Luca.

He pairs well with Jack Dylan Grazer, Eddie in the “It” movies, who is the headstrong Alberto, and Emma Berman as the smart and lively Giuilia. Their silly shenanigans recall vintage cartoons – and even “Stand By Me.”

Casarosa’s directorial debut was the lush moonlit “La Luna,” an animated Pixar short shown before “Brave” in 2012 and nominated for an Academy Award. Inspired by his childhood in Genoa for both the short and feature, he has infused this film with a marvelous sense of atmosphere.

Through a big-hearted approach, Casarosa has expanded on the themes of family, friends and community, while also bathing it in a gorgeous glow at nighttime. The lighting here is exquisite.

Cultural touches – on food, lifestyle and landscape – add to the film’s precise sense of style.

The music is another memorable aspect – Dan Romer’s score blends Italian opera, folk music and spirited instrumental pieces to amplify the jolly and jaunty elements.

An original story that may be more of a pastiche and feels like a beach read, “Luca” is an enchanting take on celebrating differences and youth friendships.

If you notice nods to “The Little Mermaid,” “Finding Nemo” and “Pinocchio,” so be it, but it also is an homage to Casarosa’s major influence Miyazaki — plus Fellini and other Italian cinema greats too.

Dive in and just have fun with it, an Italian ice optional.



“Luca” is a 2021 animated feature and comedy-adventure. Directed by Enrico Casarosa, it has voice work from Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli and Jim Gaffigan. Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence, it has a run time of 1 hour, 35 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A-. The film is streaming on Disney Plus beginning June 17 at no extra premium fee.

By Lynn Venhaus
A cheeky live-action prequel that delves into the down-and-out origins of one of Disney’s iconic villains, “Cruella” is a dark tale of dueling divas hell-bent on revenge.

That’s an unexpected underdog twist – and this glossy reimagining bursts with a bold, brassy attitude.

Estella de Vil (Emma Stone) wasn’t born to be bad, but she was a nonconformist at an early age.

Born with the unmistakable two-tone hair, Estella’s a creative but mischievous child (a spunky Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) who is a handful for her mother (Emily Beecham).

When she strikes out on her own on the streets, that begins her relationship with Jasper and Horace, who are rakishly played by character actors Joel Fry of “Yesterday” and Paul Walter Hauser of “Richard Jewell” as adults — good-hearted blokes. They survive as grifters.

But the future fashionista has a dream and is singled out by superstar designer The Baroness (Emma Thompson), who likes her style – and appropriates it for her collections. Haughty and vain, the Baroness has destroyed everyone in her way – but has she met her match in Cruella? The rebellious alter ego of Estella, Cruella’s punk rock outfits are redefining fashion in 1970s London, and it is game on!

The story, long in the works, was first drafted by screenwriters Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis. McKenna wrote “The Devil Wears Prada” and you see those fingerprints all over this latest chapter in the “101 Dalmatians” oeuvre by co-screenwriters Dana Fox and Tony McNamara.

This is where Emma Thompson takes over, commanding every frame she is in, with personality and pizzazz, as she forges Estella/Cruella’s identity.

A chance encounter with The Baroness von Hellman, the prima donna of haute couture, puts Estella on the path to realize a career as a designer. As played by Thompson, the wickedly evil Baroness is a despicable human and corrupt fashionista. As Cruella learns more, she stakes her claim as  “The Future” of fashion. She takes swinging London by storm.

This is when the movie explodes with fresh and fun outfits in a swirl of black, white and red — the notorious colors associated with all things Cruella. Jenny Beavan’s costume designs are marvelous, a big loud rebel yell of punk-inspired outfits and gorgeous evening garments perfect for dramatic entrances. Beavan’s won Oscars for “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “A Room with a View,” and her use of different fabrics and textures is stunning.

These costumes are worn with flair by two of our best actresses, Oscar winners Stone and Thompson, who have a ball with the campier aspects of their roles — but also vividly create their characters’ dead-serious nature.

As for the Dalmatians that first created the Disney franchise all the way back to 1961, three mean ones appear as the pets of the Baroness. Hence, Cruella’s aversion to the spotted creatures. Estella’s own pet dog is a beloved mutt named Buddy.

Stay past the credits to find more on Anita and Roger, a nod to Pongo and Perdita’s future family.

The source material for all of the successive movies, including the live-action “101 Dalmatians” in 1996 and the 2000 “102 Dalmatians” starring Glenn Close as the imperious villain, has been Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel.

She turned a character’s last name from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” Count de Ville, into this greedy villainess, driving a Rolls Royce and barking orders to her henchman, to fill her insatiable need for animal fur.

Where the franchise is headed after “Cruella” is anyone’s guess – because how would Stone’s character turn into the menacing de Vil that steals the dogs for their fur?

Well, that discussion is for another day, but it’s a logical question – where does it go from here after Cruella takes over Hell(man) Hall?

As for a stand-alone movie, “Cruella” is a vibrant creation with a banging period soundtrack and a game cast.

Just as he did with “I, Tonya,” director Craig Gillespie zigs when you expect him to zag.

The Baroness’ actions are too frightening for young children, so parents be aware. There is nothing remotely cute about this movie.

But as it is Disney, expect lots of merchandise, tie-ins and another one in the works. That’s about the only predictable element to this film.

“Cruella” is a 2020 comedy-drama directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Mark Strong. Rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements and the run time is 2 hours, 14 minutes. It is available in theaters and on Disney Plus for a one-time premium access fee on May 28. Lynn’s Grade: B+

In theaters and on Disney Plus with Premier Access one-time additional fee May 28

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) announced the winners of the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards LIVE on The CW during an in-person/virtual hybrid ceremony hosted for the third time by acclaimed film, television, and stage star Taye Diggs on Sunday, March 4.  The full list of winners can be found below. 

“Nomadland” led the winners in the film categories, taking home four awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chloé Zhao, and Best Cinematography for Joshua James Richards.  Zhao is the first Chinese woman to win as either director or writer. 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” followed closely behind, winning three categories including Best Actor for the late Chadwick Boseman, Best Costume Design, and Best Hair and Makeup.  Best Actress was awarded to Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman,” which also earned a Best Original Screenplay win for Emerald Fennell.  Best Supporting Actor went to Daniel Kaluuya for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and Best Supporting Actress to Maria Bakalova for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”   

In the series categories, “The Crown” took four categories, the most of the night, winning Best Drama Series, Best Actor in a Drama Series for Josh O’Connor, Best Actress in a Drama Series for Emma Corrin, and Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Gillian Anderson.  In the comedy genre, “Ted Lasso” won all three categories for which it was nominated: Best Comedy Series, Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Jason Sudeikis, and Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Hannah Waddingham.  “The Queen’s Gambit” took the prize for Best Limited Series, and its leading lady Anya Taylor-Joy won Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television. 

The race for “Best Comedy Special,” which was dominated entirely by Netflix nominees, resulted in a tie between “Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill” and “Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia.” 

As was previously announced, John David Washington presented this year’s SeeHer Award to his “Malcolm & Marie” co-star, Zendaya.  The SeeHer Award recognizes a woman who embodies the values set forth by the SeeHer movement, to push boundaries, defy stereotypes and acknowledge the importance of authentic portrayals of women across the entertainment landscape. 

After leading the nominations, Netflix also won the most awards of any studio/network with a total of 14.  Amazon Studios and Searchlight Pictures each won four. 

Critics Choice Awards are bestowed annually to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement.  Historically, they are the most accurate predictor of Academy Award nominations. 

The 26th annual Critics Choice Awards show was produced by Bob Bain Productions and Berlin Entertainment.  The CCA is represented by Dan Black of Greenberg Traurig. 

Follow the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards.  Join the conversation using #CriticsChoice and #CriticsChoiceAwards. 

FILM CATEGORIES 

BEST PICTURE 

Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST ACTOR 

Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST ACTRESS 

Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman (Focus Features) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR 

Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros.) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 

Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Studios) 

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS 

Alan Kim – Minari (A24) 

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) 

BEST DIRECTOR 

Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY 

Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman (Focus Features) 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY 

Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY 

Joshua James Richards – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN 

Donald Graham Burt, Jan Pascale – Mank (Netflix) 

BEST EDITING – TIE  

Alan Baumgarten – The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) 

Mikkel E. G. Nielsen – Sound of Metal (Amazon Studios) 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN 

Ann Roth – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS 

Tenet (Warner Bros.) 

BEST COMEDY 

Palm Springs (Hulu and NEON) 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 

Minari (A24) 

BEST SONG  

Speak Now – One Night in Miami (Amazon Studios) 

BEST SCORE 

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste – Soul (Disney) 

SERIES CATEGORIES 

BEST DRAMA SERIES 

The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Josh O’Connor – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Emma Corrin – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Michael K. Williams – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Gillian Anderson – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST COMEDY SERIES 

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Jason Sudeikis – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Catherine O’Hara – Schitt’s Creek (Pop) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES  

Daniel Levy – Schitt’s Creek (Pop) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Hannah Waddingham – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST LIMITED SERIES 

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) 

BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Hamilton (Disney+) 

BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

John Boyega – Small Axe (Amazon Studios) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Anya Taylor-Joy – The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Donald Sutherland – The Undoing (HBO) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION   

Uzo Aduba – Mrs. America (FX) 

BEST TALK SHOW 

Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC) 

BEST COMEDY SPECIAL – TIE  

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (Netflix) 

Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia (Netflix) 

BEST SHORT FORM SERIES 

Better Call Saul: Ethics Training with Kim Wexler (AMC/Youtube) 

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA)  

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics and entertainment reporters. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.  

By Lynn Venhaus
Oh, so clever and profound, “Soul” tackles life’s Big Questions with whimsy and warmth.

An inspiring ode to mentors and finding our ‘spark,’ this original screenplay by director Pete Doctor, co-director Kemp Powers, and Mike Jones is a fresh take on a subject we generally ignore.

Docter, the genius behind Oscar winners “Up” and “Inside Out,” has gone into new territory while the animators have done stunning, next level work we’ve not seen before.

As the first African-American lead Pixar character, Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher whose true passion is jazz. So, when he gets a shot at performing with the revered Dorothea Williams Quartet, he thinks fate has finally smiled on him. However, destiny had another crossroads in mind – and he has wound up in the “Great Before.” He is paired with a wisecracking infant soul (Tina Fey), trying to figure her life out. Traveling between realms allows him to discover what it means to have “soul.”

The music score is glorious, with hypnotic other-worldly compositions by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and jazz compositions and arrangements by Jon Batiste.

Batiste, the band director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s house band, Stay Human, did the piano performances for Joe in the film – his unmistakable long lean fingers gliding over the 88 keys with such joy. The man exudes optimism every time he tickles the ivories.

“Soul” is geared towards parents more than children, but lessons can be extracted for older youth.

The small moments of life are celebrated, as are the colorful personalities we meet along the way – trombonist Connie, mystic Moonwind, seamstress Melba, barber Dez, obsessive-compulsive accountant Terry, and all those Counselor Jerrys.

Tina Fey is a delight. While Joe and Soul 22 are on their big-city escapades, which are fast and funny, the ‘no-body’ discovers Earth isn’t boring – although she refers to it as “this hellish planet,” but one whiff of pizza and she’s stuffing herself with New York City street food.

Steve Pilcher’s production design of a teeming New York City is remarkable, as is his ethereal Great Before, a mix of pastels and golden lights.

In much the same way as Thornton Wilder’s prose resonates in “Our Town” — “Oh, Earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you…”, “Soul” will stay with you.

And in true Pixar fashion, one must remain for the credits – and they don’t disappoint. The production crew credits appear in the beads of Terry’s abacuses, and the infant souls play games.

Instead of the production babies’ list, they’ve titled it “Recent You Seminar graduates.’

This trip to the astral plane is “Dedicated to all the mentors in our lives,” and is to be savored.

“Soul” is a fantasy animated feature film directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers. Starring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, Phylicia Rashad, Graham Norton and Questlove, the film runs 1 hour and 40 minutes and is rated PG for thematic elements and some language. Lynn’s Grade: A. Now streaming on Disney Plus at no extra charge.
Lynn’s Grade: A

By Lynn Venhaus
A sweeping, sprawling epic adventure brimming with elegance and emotion, “Mulan” triumphs as one of Disney’s best makeovers.

The vibrant live action remake features gorgeous panoramic views, stunning symmetry, a bold palette and strong, colorful characters to advance the action.

The epic tale of China’s legendary warrior is brought to life in this live action re-imagining of the 1998 animated film. A fearless young woman, Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu) risks everything out of love for her family and country when the Emperor of China (Jet Li) issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from northern invaders. As the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, Mulan steps in to take the place of her ailing father, and masquerades as a man. When she harnesses her inner strength and reveals her true potential, she becomes an honored warrior and saves the dynasty.

Yifei Liu

A star is born in Yifei Liu, who commands the screen in much the same way as Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman in recent DC movies, You can’t take your eyes off of Liu, who depicts how brave and strong Mulan is. She also did 90 percent of the stunts, and showcases remarkable martial arts skills.

Much of the original has been scrapped to start over with a culturally appropriate story that involves more realism in characters – and a cast of Asian actors. Gone is Mushu, the dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, and others that aren’t necessary here.

This 2020 version is not a musical like the 1998 animated film was. However, the musical’s original song “Reflection” is used over the credits here, first sung by Christina Aguilera in English and then sung by lead Yifei Liu in Mandarin.

Suggested by the poem, “The Legend of Mulan,” this bracing spectacle is laser-focused on the talented warrior who happens to be a girl, born at a time when only men were in combat. Tomboy Mulan is expected to get married to bring honor to her family, but instead Hua Mulan takes the place of her ailing father in the Imperial Army who must fend off the Rourans’ attempts to take over. She must disguise herself but her martial arts abilities are too strong to hide, and eventually, she shows what a powerful and swift fighting machine she is. In other words, she has great ‘chi’ energy.

Nevertheless, she is conflicted about her lie, as honesty is part of the warrior’s code. She wrestles with the consequences of her actions, but truth wins out.

The screenplay is by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who are married and responsible for the three rebooted “Planet of the Apes” films as well as “Jurassic World,” along with Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin. They cut to the chase, conveying culture and conflict specific to the story.

The ensemble is strong, with good work by Tzi Ma as Mulan’s father Hua Zhou, Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, Yosan An as Mulan’s soldier friend Honghui, Jet Li as the emperor, Jason Scott Lee as Bori Khan and Gong Li as the witch Xianglang.

Director Niki Caro, who helmed “Whale Rider” in her native New Zealand, and in recent years “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “McFarland, USA,” captures the grandeur and excels at the battle scenes, but maintains an intimacy that makes us care about Mulan’s plight.

The cinematography by Mandy Walker is stunning – and hopefully we can see this on the big screen someday.

While the intense action has merited the first PG-13 for a Disney live-action remake, older children can appreciate the devotion to family theme as well as not accepting limits to what you can do in life. Its focus on empowerment and inclusion is also timely and important.

“Mulan” is an action-adventure directed by Niki Caro and starring Yifei Liu, Jason Scott Lee, Tzi Ma, Donnie Yen, Yosan An, Jet Li, Gong Li. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, the run time is: 1 hour, 55 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A-. Disney Plus is releasing it Sept. 4 for a fee of $29.99. In December, subscribers to the streaming channel will not be charged an additional fee.

By Lynn Venhaus

The movie “Hamilton” meets the moment! Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s game-changer remains a vibrant experience five years after opening on Broadway. Its brilliance shines brightest with the original cast, and its synergy is a thing of beauty.

The cultural phenomenon “Hamilton,” the most nominated musical ever on Broadway and winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, had two performances recorded on June 25-26, 2016, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City. This is after the musical won 11 Tony Awards, one shy of the record, and while the original cast was still intact. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, is the central figure in this retelling of history and political scheming. It also includes Hamilton’s family and romantic drama, based on Ron Chernow’s biography.

Miranda’s masterpiece is a hopeful reflection on the ‘unfinished symphony’ that is America – he presents a history lesson, inside view on the messy political process and an amalgam of modern and Broadway styles of music in a grand and glorious way.

Miranda, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, also stars in the title role. He cast black, Latino and Asian-Americans as the characters – “it is about America then as told by America now.” This ensemble is the gold standard – particularly Tony Award winners Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, who resents the ambitious Hamilton’s easy climb; Daveed Diggs as loyal Lafayette in the first act and cocky Thomas Jefferson in the second; and Renee Elise Goldsberry as fiery Angelica Schuyler, whose sweet sister Eliza marries Hamilton; plus nominees Christopher Jackson as an imposing George Washington, Phillipa Soo as the kind-hearted wife Eliza and Jonathan Groff, who makes the most of his nine minutes as the snooty and catty King George.

Hamilton’s a fascinating human, and his journey keeps us riveted through his personal evolution and the birth of our nation. His rivalry with Burr adds a complexity – their flaws, fears, desires and regrets fuel the story. Odom has some of the show’s best songs – “Wait for It,” and “Non-Stop,” and his introduction “Talk Less” is memorable.

Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B, pop and traditional Broadway show tunes, “Hamilton” is a revolutionary moment in theatre, and you won’t be able to get those songs out of your head: “My Shot,” The Story of Tonight,” “The Room Where It Happened,” “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Our Story,” “History Has Its Eyes on You” and “The World Turned Upside Down.” The Cabinet Battles are comical and thought-provoking at the same time.

The Schuyler Sisters have a sensational introduction – and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones), and the songs “Helpless,” “Satisfied,” “Burn” have real depth from a female point of view. “It’s Quiet Uptown” will tug on your heartstrings.

Already, the staged musical has had profound impact on culture, politics and education, and you will see why, as Hamilton the movie transports the audience inside the Broadway show in an intimate way. (I spontaneously broke into applause a few times).

As for the ‘film’ part, we might not be in the room where it happened (Richard Rodgers Theatre) but what it lacks in the palpable energy only live theater produces, it trades for the emotions you connect with in the close-ups.

Declan Quinn’s cinematography and Jonah Moran’s editing gives us a crisp perspective. And the skill of that team — Thomas Kail’s seamless direction, Alex Lacamoire’s exquisite orchestrations and conducting, Andy Blankenbuehler’s fluid and innovative choreography and Manuel’s smart and clever words and music — are a swirling mix of craft, art and talent.

With use of steady-cam, crane and dolly, the multiple cameras create a view you would not have seen – even if you been fortunate enough in the first couple of rows. We also benefit from it being performed before a live audience – their reactions give ours some vitality. Lafayette’s line: “Immigrants – we get the job done!” produces the loudest applause.

I saw the musical once two years ago, on its first national tour at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, and even with its cavernous 4500 seats, was gobsmacked. It was among the best theatrical experience ever – and lived up to the hype.

This view has new opportunities for discovery, to marvel at Manuel’s attention to detail and his nimble storytelling. The recurring themes and repetitive nature of the score add texture to the rhythms and harmonies, and the cast’s enunciation and verbal dexterity is remarkable.

In 2009, Miranda was invited to the White House to share what he was working on during a night of poetry-inspired entertainment. President Barack and Michelle Obama were a little taken aback by his concept – a hip-hop concert album about the founding father who is on the $10 bill. OK. Well, the rest, as they say, is history.

And Manuel has made history. An Emmy, Tony and Grammy Award winner, among his theatrical accomplishments — he wrote and starred in the Tony-winning 2008 musical “In the Heights,” was co-composer and lyricist with Tom Kitt and Amanda Green for “Bring It On!” in 2011 (produced by Mike Isaacson-led Fox Theatricals) and at Stephen Sondheim’s request, wrote Spanish dialogue and lyrics for the 2009 Broadway revival of “West Side Story.”

“Hamilton; An American Musical” opened at the Public Theatre on Jan. 20, 2015 and moved to Broadway that August. Because of the demand for tickets, he created the “Ham4Ham” lottery ($10 tickets for first couple of rows), but those who couldn’t get to Broadway or afford the sky-high ticket prices, can see the next best thing. The unforgettable theatrical experience has been made accessible for an even wider audience to appreciate.

The lighting design, by Howell Binkley (Tonys for both “Hamilton” and “Jersey Boys”), is effective on screen. Paul Tazewell’s costumes and David Korins’ deceptively simple brick-lined set designs of scaffolds, catwalks and staircases add to the show’s signature style and cohesiveness.

The film was slated for an October 2021 theatrical release, but the decision was made to stream through Disney Plus ($6.99 a month subscription or $69 for the year).

What a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of our nation and see its impact today, after a grave period of uncertainty, unprecedented pandemic and level civil unrest not seen in 50 years. It feels more urgent as a call to action, to keep this great American experiment a righteous one.

The care and skill that went into this production is obvious. “Hamilton” deserves a standing ovation in every living room across this great country of ours. The musical makes America more beautiful this Independence Day weekend.

“Hamilton” is a filmed musical directed by Thomas Kail, starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, Christopher Jackson and Jonathan Groff. Rated: PG-13 for language and some suggestive material, it runs 2 hours 40 minutes with 1-minute intermission. Lynn’s Grade: A Streaming on Disney Plus beginning July 3.

By Lynn Venhaus
In the first of eight books in Eoin Colfer’s successful fantasy series, 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl wants to restore his family’s fortune, so he holds Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), a fairy and captain of the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance force (LEPRecon), for ransom to exploit the magical Fairy People. In the second book, he allies with the Fairy People to rescue his father. from the Russian Mafia.

Are you with me? At first, he’s a villain and enemy, but as the series continued, he developed and changed into an anti-hero.

The movie, in adapting the first two novels, has substantially changed the story, but if you haven’t read them, you wouldn’t know. However, you can tell that it is a disjointed, disappointing adaptation that will neither satisfy franchise readers nor introduce a compelling story to new fans.

In short, this Harry Potter wannabe is a mess. Resembling bits of Marvel, Star Wars and Fantastic Beasts movies, there is no clear vision in this chaotic mishmash – just a hodgepodge of strange folk that fails to sustain interest, even with all the CGI bells and whistles at their disposal. I am not sure even director Kenneth Branagh knew how to give this story some pizzazz.

Miscasting is a real problem here. Ferdia Shaw is a bland as the lead character who apparently, is a criminal mastermind – but you don’t sense that at all. Josh Gad, as Mulch Diggums, a giant among the tiny folks, and Judi Dench, in a gender-bending role as Commander Root, effect gravelly, growling voices – why? And Gad’s character, in an attempt to make wisecracks and be flippant, got on my last nerve.

Both Colin Farrell and newcomer Lara McDonnel are the film’s saving grace, but they can’t do much about the story’s lack of appeal. Screenwriters Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl do the source material a disservice. It has been in development since 2016. That is the first red flag. The rest of the problems indicate this is a big waste of time.

This film was set to open in theaters but is now available on Disney Plus.

“Artemis Fowl” is a fantasy, sci-fi film directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Colin Farrell, Josh Gad and Judi Dench. It is Rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some rude humor and run time is 1 hr. 41 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: D.
Available on Disney Plus streaming service as of June 12.

This review appeared in Webster-Kirkwood Times.