Tuesday, December 7, 2021

West Side Story - 3 1/2 Stars - THEATERS - December 10, 2021

Steven Spielberg puts his stamp on West Side Story in the opening frame, as the Jets leap among the rubble of the west side buildings demolished to make way for Lincoln Center.  Stealing cans of paint, the Jets deface a Puerto Rico flag mural, setting up the conflict between lower class white kids (Jets) and newly arrived Puerto Ricans (Sharks). West Side Story tells a story of love at first sight, when Tony played by Ansel Elfort glimpses Maria played by Rachel Zegler.  He's Polish, she's Puerto Rican.  The new version wisely casts Rita Moreno (Anita in the original 1961 film for which she won an Oscar), as Valentina, owner of the local drug store where Tony works.  Moreno gets her moment in a solo of "There's a Place for Us."   Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler have the right chemistry for this fable.  Sometimes Spielberg calls a little too much attention to his directing and staging.  Spielberg rearranges some of the scenes leading to a let down at the end.  Nevertheless, I spent most of the day after West Side Story humming and singing the music.  I bet you will too.  

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Power of the Dog - 4 Stars - NETFLIX - December 3, 2021


Director Jane Campion spins a most unusual revenge tale in The Power of the Dog.  Set in the far west in the early 1920's, Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil, runs a massive spread with his brother George, played by Jesse Plemons.  Cumberbatch, once a promising scholar, takes his anger at being called to return to the ranch on anyone he perceives as weak.  When George marries a widow, played by Kirsten Dundst, Phil finds a new victim.  The arrival of the widow's effeminate son (Kodi Smit-McPhee in a brilliant turn) deepens the tension.  And then a series of unexpected twists conspire to knock you out of your seat.  This is not the western you were expecting.    

2021 Movie Guide

Nightmare Alley - 4 Stars - THEATERS DECEMBER 17TH - Update of the 1947 film noir far surpasses the original.  Bradley Cooper leads a grand cast in the rise and fall of a carney con man. 

The Tragedy of Macbeth - 4 Stars - THEATERS DECEMBER 25TH - Shakespeare doesn't get much better than this moody atmospheric triumph with Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington.  

The Power of the Dog - 4 Stars - NETFLIX - Cruel rancher Benedict Cumberbatch dislikes his brother's new wife and son in a grand epic with a shocking finale.    
Coda - 4 Stars - APPLE TV - 17-year-old girl discovers her passion for singing in Coda, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults. Break out star Emilia Jones soars in this heart warmer about the tension between ambition and family duty.  With Marlee Matlin.  Heart-warming.     

Summer of Soul - 4 Stars - HULU - One of the greatest concerts films ever culled from footage shot during the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival - a series of free concerts held over six weekends in a Harlem city park. The music captures the great cultural changes in society during that time.  The footage intended for syndication languished in the wake of Woodstock - held the same summer.  This is better.  

Come From Away - 4 Stars - APPLE - Video of the Broadway Performance, based on the story of the people of Gander, Newfoundland, who take in 7000 residents on 9/11.  Uplifting. 

Belfast - 3 1/2 Stars - Kenneth Branagh's touching memoir of growing up in Northern Ireland during the Irish civil war.   

West Side Story - 3 1/2 Stars.  Steven Spielberg reimagines the iconic musical in some wildly creative new ways.     
Worth - 3 1/2 Stars - Michael Keeton as Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who distributed payments to victims of the 9/11 attack.  A memorial to 9/11 from a different angle that stay human and avoids sentimentality.  Surprisingly touching.  

Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar - 3 1/2 Stars - HULU. Gloriously silly comedy with Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo.  A Saturday Night Live Skit write large. 

Passing - 3 1/2 Stars - NETFLIX - Provocative story of a Black woman passing for white in 1920's society and her friendship with a Black doctor's wife.  Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga amaze.      

King Richard - 3 Stars - HBO MAX - Will Smith as Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena and his determination that they succeed. 

Being the Ricardos - 3 Stars - AMAZON PRIME - I love Lucy backstage lore revisited with Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem.  J. K. Simmons stands out as William Frawley. 

The French Dispatch - 3 Stars - THEATERS - Wes Anderson shaggy dog tale of three stories within the context of a fictional magazine.  Sometimes flags but often amuses.      

The Card Counter - 3 Stars - THEATERS - Dreamlike thriller with Oscar Issacs as a gambling prodigy wracked with guilt over his war crimes in the middle East.  

No Sudden Move - 3 Stars - HBO Max - Old school crime caper directed by Steven Soderbergh.  Don Cheadle wriggles in and out of trouble in a plot much larger than he knows.    

In the Heights - 3 Stars - DISNEY PLUS - Written before Lin-Manuel Miranda stunned the world with Hamilton, In The Heights feels less ground breaking but entertaining nevertheless.  Family and romance and the dream of a better life motivate the residents of Washington Heights.  Some of the musical numbers would make Busby Berkeley proud. 

Annette - 3 Stars - AMAZON PRIME - Wildly creative musical with Adam Driver as an aggressive comic who marries opera star Marion Cotillard.  Their daughter inspires murder and exploitation. 

Mass - 3 Stars - ON DEMAND - Two families who lose children to a mass shooting share their grief.  Strong acting, especially Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton.  

The House of Gucci --- 2 1/2 Stars - Lady Gaga married a member of the Gucci family and the fireworks begin and go on for a long time.   

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain - 2 1/2 Stars - Amazon - Benedict Cumberbatch as eccentric turn of the century British artist, who specialized in cats.  Quirky, cute, and a little slight.  

C'Mon C'Mon - Juaquin Pheonix goes on an NPR style road trip with his bratty nine-year old nephew.  
Spencer - 2 Stars - THEATERS - Kristen Stewart makes a credible Princess Diana in a depressing meditation of the  unraveling of her marriage to Prince Charles and her dislike of life in the royal family    

The Eyes of Tammy Faye - 2 Stars - THEATERS - Jessica Chastain goes over the top as over the top Televangelist Tammy Faye Baker.  This story overlooks the victims of the scams pulled with husband Jim Bakker, played by Andrew Garfield.   

Respect - 2 Stars - THEATERS - Jennifer Hudson covers Aretha Franklin's greatest hit in a by the book bio-pic.  Long and slow and a little too pat telling a rise and fall and rise again tale.  

The Green Knight - 2 Stars - THEATERS/ON DEMAND - Widely praised fantasy with Dev Patel as Sir Gawain who faces beheading by the Green Knight.  Dark, slow, and tedious.

Old - 2 Stars - M. Night Shyamalan's latest sci fi horror twist.  A slow boil at best.    

The Many Saints of Newark - 1 Star - HBO MAX - The Sopranos it aint.    

Reminiscence - 1 Star - HBO MAX - The excellent Hugh Jackman can't save this run of the mill sci-fi film noir, with Rebecca Ferguson as a femme fatale with an agenda.    

Monday, November 29, 2021

Cmon C'mon - 2 Stars - THEATERS - nOVEMBER 24, 2021

 C'mon C'mon hooked me with one of the best coming attractions trailers of the year in which Juaquin Phoenix reads from the children's book Star Child.  That segment turns out to be the best moment in an otherwise annoying adventure.  Phoenix visits his sister, played by Gaby Hoffman.  She must leave her nine-year-old played by Woody Norman in order to care for her bi polar husband.  Work intervenes, and Phoenix must travel to New York, and then New Orleans for his NPR style program.  The kid comes along and behaves badly, throwing several tantrums.  Some may find this moving.  A little-known uncle bonds with his young nephew and helps out his estranged sister.  I found it exhausting and irritating.  Go at your own risk.  

Friday, November 26, 2021

The House of Gucci - 2 1/2 Stars - THEATERS - NOVEMBER 24, 2021

I can give you a quick one-word review of The House of Gucci.  Long---check your watch at the two-hour mark long as you wonder "Is this thing ever gonna end?"  Parts are quite fun.  The House of Gucci tells the true family feud of the Gucci family:  betrayal, financial malfeasance, ambition, sex, outsiders versus insiders, and paid for hit man ordered murder.   Lady Gaga plays Patrizia Reggiani who sets her sites on Maurizio Gucci as played by Adam Driver.  Al Pacino shows up as a favorite uncle and Jeremy Irons plays a disapproving father.  Lady Gaga is especially interesting on a big screen.  She's a fine actress and has something that compels you to watch her.  She has great chemistry with Adam Driver and gives it her all, in spite of an over long not very creative script. I'm thinking the filmmakers went for a feminine take on The Godfather.  They missed.  The script goes chronological and as the clock ticks chooses to skate over twists and turns that left me thinking "what?"  I thought Gucci might be an Oscar contender, but now I'm thinking maybe not.   It's a diverting way to kill two and a half hours.  

Saturday, November 20, 2021

King Richard - 3 Stars - HBO MAX - November 20, 2021

Will Smith finds the kind of uplifting inspiring story he excels in as Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venue and Serena Williams.  As King Richard, he drives them relentlessly, preaching of getting ahead, gaining respect, and overcoming racism.  King Richard paints a fairly complete warts and all portrait.  Williams pushes his daughters so hard, I wondered what what would have happened if the daughters didn't cooperate. Of course, we know they did, growing into world champions.  King Richard's tennis segments are exciting and easy to follow.  Early home video of the sisters in training with their father add a nice ending touch.