Had the musical been released last June as originally scheduled, and had there been no pandemic, director Jon M. Chu's film version of In the Heights would no doubt have felt like what it feels like today: a sweet, touching, frequently thrilling bash in which the guest list simply reads “Everybody.” Arriving now, however – and for we Illinoisans, debuting on the very same day the state's COVID-19 restrictions were lifted – Chu's big-screen opus feels like more than a party; it feels like liberation.

There are two absolutely excellent moments in the new horror film The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Both moments are scary as all get out and boast images that even this longtime genre fan had never seen before, and Julian Hilliard appears to be a remarkable young actor. If director Michael Chaves' fright flick were actually about that kid and his supernatural turmoil, this second sequel might've really been something.

Like me, you may have been missing the sounds of large movie-going crowds laughing together, or sniffling together, or screaming together. Yet it wasn't until my weekend screening of A Quiet Place Part II that I realized what I've really missed at the cineplex over the past 15 months is the sound – or rather, lack thereof – of a sizable audience making no noise at all.

One of the few professional perks to the pandemic hitting when it did was that I had an excellent excuse to avoid reviewing several spring-of-2020 titles I was quietly dreading, among them the computer-animated Scoob!, an update on the numerous Scooby-Doo series I didn't enjoy even as a kid. As if to punish me for my relief, however, director Tony Cervone's movie opened this past weekend at both local cineplexes and both area drive-ins, all but forcing me to finally cave and watch the damn thing. So I did. It was actually pretty good. I suppose I had that coming.

So I was watching the new horror flick Spiral, a continuation of the lucrative/ludicrous Saw franchise, and after the first 15 minutes had passed, I realized that the strangest thing was happening: I was laughing. Out loud. Frequently. And not derisively.

While there are certainly more noxious performance traits than an obvious, incessant need to be loved, Billy Crystal expends so much energy strong-arming us for adoration and sympathy in this sentimental dramedy that I occasionally found it hard to even look at him. At least Tiffany Haddish is on hand to occasionally make the guy look good – and by “good,” I really mean “less insufferable.”

It turns out that the preview goosing us with the promise of Incredibles-esque fun isn't at all necessary, because TMvtM proves so clever, so exciting, and so consistently riotous that it already feels like a computer-animated comedy classic. It's literally been years since I've laughed so hard at a movie, and I didn't even need a crowd of equally delighted cineplex patrons to keep me roaring – though I sure wouldn't have minded one.

Honestly, I didn't mean to eavesdrop. But while heading toward the cineplex auditorium housing the non-rom-com Together Together, I found myself walking about 15 feet behind a couple whose conversation practically brought me to (happy) tears.

By all means, enjoy the big trademarked ape laying into the big trademarked lizard, or all nine-and-a-half hours of the reconstructed Justice League. Crummy movie or not, I'd rather spend my time watching Thunder Force's Jason Bateman attempt to hold a wine glass with enormous crab claws, or Melissa McCarthy imitate Jodie Foster in Nell a quarter-century past that gag's expiration date.

While Voyagers' PG-13 rating is already a hint that Neil Burger's futuristic thriller won't emerge as the daring, nasty good time it keeps threatening to be, the problem isn't so much the movie's rating as it is its blandness. Thanks to Alien, we know the deal with screams. But as it turns out, in space, no one can hear you yawn, either.

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