L.A, 2021-12-10 08:00:00. Movie Reviews: A West Side Story, Look no further
West Side Story: 4 stars
The list of films that Hollywood considers sacred and untouchable is short. Only the Punishment Manipulator will attempt to bring back The Godfather. Imagine the irony that would accompany the announcement of the reimagining of “Casablanca” or “Do the Right Thing”.
Until recently I would have put “West Side Story,” the classic 1961 musical that won 10 Oscars, in the top five on my “no go” list. But just as this show featured on “Romeo and Juliet,” a classic if it ever existed, Steven Spielberg takes another look at a memorable movie that TCM fans consider untouchable.
Love at First Sight is set in 1950s New York City against the backdrop of the renewal of the Upper West Side, then a blue-collar neighborhood. Two gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Jets, “the last people who can’t make it Caucasian,” run the streets while the New York City Department of Slum clearing is mowing their lawn. The only thing they have in common is the membership motto “From the Womb to the Shrine”.
Coming here is Tony and Maria (Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Ziegler), star-crossed lovers whose infatuation causes gang friction. “The third world war will begin,” says Anita (Ariana Debus).
Riff (Mike Faist), Tony’s best friend, runs the Nativist White Jets—”everything is taken over by people I don’t like,” he quipped—while Maria (David Alvarez)’s brother Bernardo leads the sharks.
Tony is on parole because he nearly beat a boy to death in a clatter, but he turned a new page. “I want to be different from myself,” he says, “because I was headed to the sewers.” It also comforts the idea that “once you’re a jet-setter, you’re all the way to it.” He wants out of that life, but most of all he wants Maria.
While Rive and Bernardo furiously plot a rumble to resolve their differences, Maria begs Tony to end the violence. “We can’t pretend that what we’re doing didn’t cause this problem,” she says. Tony intervenes, but the situation quickly spirals out of control.
Steven Spielberg’s idea of a “West Side Story” seems rooted in the motion picture musical tradition, but it rocks with current themes. The social consciousness that was revolutionary for musical theater in the 1950s on Broadway is present and expanding. Tony Kushner’s script provides context and backstory to underdeveloped characters and plays on hot button themes of racial hostility, poverty, and violence.
But most of all, it’s about love.
It is love that causes all the problems but it also gives the movie its beating heart. As the couple in question, Elgort and Zegler, are charismatic, wide-eyed romantic personalities. Ziggler is a compelling vortex of design and innocence, with a beautiful voice. Elgort can wrap his mouth around Stephen Sondheim’s sweet words — “Maria, say it out loud and there’s music playing. Say it kindly like it’s almost a prayer” — but they don’t shine like some of his co-stars.
Like Bernardo, Alvarez brings danger, smooth charm, and athletic dance moves to steal his sights. Feist also impresses him as the leader of a hard-line gang Reef. DeBose gives a high performance as Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita; The role intensifies in the third act of the film.
But it’s a returning cast member from the 1961 movie that gives the movie its soul.
Rita Moreno won an Academy Award for her role in the original film Anita. Here you play the role of drug market operator Valentina. Kushner expands the role, making the character the conscience of the neighborhood. She’s luminous in the part, and in a major departure from the 1961 movie, she did a solo performance of “Somewhere,” a hopeful song usually sung by romantic threads. Here it is devastating, played as a song of longing and loss. If the Oscars goosebumps, Moreno will have another statue to put on her shelf.
“West Side Story” is Spielberg’s most compelling movie in years. It reinvents, reimagines, and recreates a classic story with energy, respect, and lots of fingers.
Do not search: 3 stars
Movies about gigantic bodies cruising through space toward Earth almost match the abundance of stars in the sky. “Armageddon,” “Deep Impact,” and “Doomsday” make up the apocalypse scenarios, but no one has such a cynical feature as “Don’t Look Up.” The mystery comedy, now showing in theaters but coming soon on Netflix, paints a grim picture on the nose of how the world is responding to the crisis.
PhD candidate Jennifer Lawrence Kate DiBaseki, an astronomer student who has discovered a comet the size of Mount Everest pointed straight at our planet. Her professor, Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), came to the troubling conclusion that the comet would collide with Earth in six months and 14 days in what he calls an “extinction level event.”
They’ve relayed their concerns to NASA and the White House, but they have met with President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep)’s concerns about optics, costs, and the upcoming midterms. “The timing is catastrophic,” she says. “Let’s sit tight and take a look.”
As the clock approaches complete destruction, Dipasky and Mindy go public, but their dire warnings on the hilarious news show “The Rip” – “We keep the bad news light!” – You go unheeded. Social media focuses on Dipascoe’s panic, creating images of her face, while Mindy calls the “Doomsday Aide Bedroom Prophet.”
As the comet heads toward Earth, the world is divided between those who want to search for the next catastrophe and do something, and deniers who believe that scientists “want you to look up because they’re looking at you through their noses.”
Chaos erupts and division widens as the comet approaches its target.
It is not difficult to find parallels between the events in Don’t Search and recent world events. Director and co-writer Adam McKay explores the reaction to global affairs through the lens of Fake News, clickbait journalism, science skepticism, the political spin, and social media. In fact, the topics that McKay touches on don’t really play like irony at all. The outrage on social media, the outlandish decisions people make in the top positions, and the influence of tech companies all sound like reality as if ripped from today’s newspapers.
The time has come, but it may have come at the right time. Social irony is important and common—Saturday Night Live has been doing it for decades—but Don’t Look, while brimming with good ideas, often feels like an overkill. The comet is a fantasy, at least I hope it is, but the reaction to it and the upcoming disaster seems like something I might see on Twitter before the lights went out in the theater.
It feels somewhat real to be pure satire. There are laughs all the time, but it’s the serious questions that resonate. When Mindy catches up on TV for her “Network” moment, “What the hell happened to us? What did we do to ourselves and how do we fix it?” the movie becomes a beacon. Sarcasm comes easy – let’s face it, the world is full of easy targets – but he asks tough questions and in the frustration of a world going mad, when MacKay points out that we’re broken and don’t appreciate the world around us, he shines through.
Despite the big, flashy Hollywood names above the title and many laugh lines, “Don’t Look Up” isn’t an escape from reality. It’s a serious movie that’s meant to be entertaining, but it really wants to make you think.
Konk Ricardos: 3 stars
“Being Ricardos,” Aaron Sorkin’s newest look at the most famous TV couple of the 1950s, is in theaters this weekend and in Prime Video December 21, a character study examining a particularly bad week on the set of the sitcom “I Love Lucy.”
In 1953, 60 million people were watching I Love Lucy weekly. The show was so popular that supermarkets had to change their opening hours. Big box stores used to stay open late Mondays, but switched to Thursdays because no one was shopping on Monday nights while Lucy, Daisy, Fred and Ethel were.
Real-life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who stars in the movie Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem, are the biggest stars of TV as they prepare to film the fourth episode of their second season. Tension hangs over the group as a result of two news stories about the couple.
The first is Confidential Magazine, a sleazy tabloid that specializes in scandal-hit journalism, which accuses Daisy of having an affair in a controversial article titled “Desi’s Wild Night Out.” Most incriminating, another report indicating that Lucy is a communist, is under investigation by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee.
The accusation against Daisy causes trouble at home, but even a whiff of communism around Lucy can lead to a stench that will ruin their careers. Hollywood blacklist looms.
“You and I have been through worse than this,” Desi says reassuringly.
“do we have?” She asks.
It is set like a pseudo-documentary, where modern-day people keep the story progressing while flashbacks show the event. We learn how the couple met, and their volatile relationship—”they were either ripping off each other’s clothes,” says writer Madeleine Pogue (Linda Lavigne), “or ripping each other’s heads off.” – and how the show and Lucy’s perfection are more than just a professional interest. “I Love Lucy” has been the glue that holds her marriage together, especially during troubled times.
It can be difficult to portray familiar characters on screen. With the endless reboot, Lucille Ball’s face and comedy get iconic, but Kidman and Bardem wisely chose not to imitate the stars. They have behaviors and fleeting resemblances to Lucy and Desi, but this is about the character, not the caricature. For the most part, this is a behind-the-scenes drama that wisely strays from the replays of scenes from “I Love Lucy” that have burned into people’s imaginations. Instead, what we get are interpretations of these characters that combine their collective charisma with their intense feelings and talents.
What emerges is a scattered picture of fame, creative control, and the power of the press. Sorkin juggles many of the moving parts, but by the time the final credits are out, it’s hard to know exactly what point he’s trying to make. Ball has been given deserved credit as a lead and Arnaz’s business acumen is celebrated, but other clashing plot points feel stacked together. Any one of them—communist fear, Daisy’s alleged betrayal, Lucy’s pregnancy or infighting—would have sufficed as a compelling backdrop to Lucy and Daisy’s story. Instead, the movie feels packed.
“Being the Ricardos” does justice to the legacy of its themes, features Sorkin’s trademark pages, quick dialogue, but it splits in too many directions to be really effective.
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