West Side Story (12A) ****
Being the Ricardos (15) ***
Clifford the Big Red Dog (PG) ***
Steven Spielberg has always wanted to do a musical, but aside from the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, he’s waited until this late stage to scratch that itch. But scratch it with West Side Story. Not so much a remake of the 1961 film as a new adaptation of the original Broadway staging, it approaches the inspired story of Jerome Robbins’ Romeo and Juliet with virtuoso flair, breathing new life into these magnificent songs by Leonard. Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim directing the film. melodramatic story of gang warfare and racist romantic entanglements set against the backdrop of Robert Moses’ controversial plans to reshape New York City by tearing down minority neighborhoods and relocating their residents. Indeed, as the opening notes of Bernstein’s jazzy, finger-snapping opener fill the soundtrack, a wrecking ball is among the first images we see – an ominous symbol of the destruction that will be inflicted on young people. lives at the center of the story.
Fortunately, Spielberg isn’t interested in destroying what has come before, but in refining, deepening, and celebrating what already exists in a way that makes sense for more enlightened times. Along with screenwriter Tony Kushner (Angels in America), he brings modern sensibility and sensitivity to issues of race, class, and sexuality simply into the cast composition and linguistic realities of a story set in a city making team with different cultures. . And yet, it also manages to feel like you’re watching a musical from Hollywood’s Golden Age, a musical with dazzling routines captured in heart-pounding fashion by a filmmaker steeped in cinematic tradition.
Some of that cinematic lore, of course, belongs to Spielberg and it’s a joy to get it at the source. When, for example, star-crossed lovers Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) first meet at a ball, Spielberg sets it up like a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with projectors crossing the bleachers to illuminate this definitive moment of their life as if each character lived his first contact with an extraterrestrial species, which he is in a way. Through it all, Zegler is fantastic as Maria, the Puerto Rican girl whose love for Polish-American Tony will so infuriate her brother Bernardo (David Alvarez), leader of the Puerto Rican street gang the Sharks and thus the nemesis of Tony’s old crew, the Jets. She is complimented by Ariana DeBose as Anita, her brother’s no-nonsense girlfriend, and Rita Moreno (who played Anita in the 1961 film) as Valentina, a new character whose fairy godmother presence allows Spielberg to pay homage to Moreno’s legacy while reinforcing the story’s theme of the need for integration.
Unfortunately, Tony d’Elgort is the weak link. He can sing and dance quite passably, but compared to Broadway graduates Spielberg drafts for supporting roles (Mike Faist as the Jets’ frontman, Riff stands out) he doesn’t really bring the songs to life and his nickname Brando schtick is too. watered down to convince as an edgy romantic hero. But the star of the show is Spielberg: he makes it sing.
Focusing on a week in the life of 1950s American sitcom superstar Lucille Ball, Aaron Sorkin’s Be the Ricardos uses the production of a single episode of Ball’s TV show I Love Lucy as a conduit to explore cancel culture at a time when anti-Communist witch hunts posed a very real and dangerous threat to creative expression. Although you can practically hear Sorkin launch into a self-righteous tirade in the film’s opening minutes of fast-paced dialogue, he quickly widens his scope to explore the personal and artistic pressures Ball faces while working so closely with Desi Arnaz. , her husband. in real life and on the show. Played by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem respectively, Lucille and Desi have a rocky relationship, but Sorkin’s main interest is the extent to which they have supported and understood each other creatively, if not always personally. Structured like a dramatized documentary, it’s interesting up to a point, but Sorkin isn’t always the best director of his own material, and Kidman’s performance is oddly limited by distracting prosthetics.
New team with Jason Statham for the first time since 2005’s Revolver gibberish, Guy Ritchie’s new movie man’s anger is a tense action film undermined by Ritchie’s propensity for terrible dialogue. It stars Statham as a taciturn badass who infiltrates a security firm as part of an elaborate plan to get revenge for a tragedy from his past. Luckily, Ritchie knows how to pull off inventive, hard-hitting action and it’s fun to see Statham back in stripped-down, jaw-dropping form after all those bloated fast and furious movies.
Based on the children’s picture books by Norman Bridwell, Clifford the big red dog is a likeable family film in the Paddington mould, but not quite as charming or well done. Rendered in CGI, the titular dog is a magical pup who grows in proportion to the love his new owner, a lonely 12-year-old girl called Emily (Darby Camp), bestows on him. Naughty dog mayhem ensues as Emily and her irresponsible uncle (Jack Whitehall) attempt to keep the dog’s existence a secret from Emily’s overworked mother (Sienna Guillory) while a sinister biotech company also attempts to get hold of him.
West Side Story and Clifford the Big Red Dog hit theaters December 10; Being the Ricardos is on limited release starting December 10 and streaming on Amazon Prime starting December 21; Wrath of Man is streaming on Amazon Prime starting December 10.
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