My View: West Side Story (2021) PG-13 The classic love story between two young people (Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler) who fall for each other during a turf war in 1957 NYC between the Jets and the Sharks. I am an admitted lover of musicals, a theatre brat who performed in a few during my childhood. I consider the 1961 film to be one of the greatest films of the 20th century, though it has always bothered me that the two leads of the film, Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, as the two star-crossed lovers, vocals were recorded by two others (Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant). Still, the dancing in that film is extraordinary, and Rita Moreno just dazzles on the screen as Anita. I am happy to say that this new rendition of the legendary musical by Steven Spielberg lives up to the 1961 film. Led by a magnificent and glowing performance of Rachel Zegler as Maria and an exciting and beautiful take on the choreography, this film stands up with the classic movie in every way. I absolutely loved Ariana DeBose’s performance as Anita, bringing as much passion and forcefulness to the role as Moreno did in the original. DeBose gives us an Anita who is proud to be from Porto Rico and is willing to stand up to anyone who gets in her way. Ansel Elgort's singing impressed me with his range, though I didn’t get as much turmoil and passion from his performance as I wanted. I love that they gave Rita Moreno a beautiful song to sing, in a role that a man has always played, and it could garner another Academy Award nomination for her for that song alone. West Side Story wowed and thrilled me from the start and gave us a performance by Rachel Zegler that will be long remembered. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again West Side Story Website Now playing in theatres nationwide.
My View: The Unforgivable (2021) R After serving time for a horrible crime, Ruth (Sandra Bullock) just wants to put her life back together, one day at a time, but society won’t forgive her for her past. Her only hope for redemption is finding the young sister she was forced to leave behind. It wastes a good cast and a gutsy, real performance by Sandra Bullock with a plot that feels like it’s from a 1970s TV crime drama. Bullock’s Ruth is a woman who has spent a good part of her life in prison, and it has made her hard and almost unlikable. Ruth has only one thing to live for, to see her sister again, but society won’t allow her to contact her and puts up obstacles along the way to make it hard for Ruth to just make a living, much less start her life over again. There are a lot of great actors in this film, including Vincent D’Onofrio, Viola Davis, and Jon Bernthal, and most feel wasted in roles that don’t allow them to be much more than be a part of the storyline that Ruth must overcome. The Unforgivable's ending is so underwhelming that any drama that the film had is gone by the start of the credits. My Rating: Cable The Unforgivable Website Now playing on the Netflix platform.
My View: Being the Ricardos (2021) R Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) are at the height of their success, with 60 million people watching their weekly TV comedy series, I Love Lucy, and their marriage seems stronger than ever. Their world may be crashing down around them as two stories are about to hit the newsstands that could wreck both their careers and their marriage. It’s hard making biopics about famous people, especially someone so iconic as Lucy and Desi. I loved the writing of this film, feeling that it gives us a great look at what made Lucy, Desi, and the show they created so groundbreaking, funny, and dynamic. It’s an interesting story at a critical and trying time in their lives as both a couple and as performers on a show that was more popular than anything either had done before. The problem is that the two leads for the film are terribly miscast. I thought Nicole Kidman did a fantastic job of portraying the Lucy behind the scenes but did a horrible job of portraying Lucy as the character on the show. The attempt to make Kidman look like Lucy is a bit distracting and takes away from her performance. The real problem is the miscasting of Bardem as Desi. I just never got the feeling for Desi, who he was, and for some reason, Bardem doesn’t process the magnetism that Desi had both on the screen and in person. I did love the performances of J.K Simmons and Nina Arianda, playing William Frawley and Vivian Vance. They are the best thing in the film, with their continuous bickering and their want for both of their characters to have more control over their careers than Lucy and Desi will let them. My guess is that J.K. will get another Academy Award nomination out of this role. Overall, I enjoyed the film because it gives us a behind-the-scenes look at making a classic, but the film doesn’t feel that it will be a classic itself. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Being the Ricardos Website Now playing in theatres nationwide and will be available on the Amazon Prime platform on Dec. 21st.
My View: Don’t Look Up (2021) R Two low-level astronomers (Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio) discover that a comet is heading for earth, and if we don’t do anything, it will destroy life as we know it on this planet. The problem is the President (Meryl Streep) is more concerned about being reelected and her son (Jonah Hill), her Chief of Staff, only cares about his followers on Instagram. The first fifteen or twenty minutes of this film are funny and full of laughs, but then the storyline becomes predictable, the jokes get old, and the film becomes almost obnoxious in its message that the world and our leaders are screwed up. The film wastes a lot of actors in roles that they aren’t meant for. Streep, surprisingly, is the weak point of the film, playing a character that is a cross between Donald Trump and Sarah Palin with absolutely no comedic feel or timing. Jennifer Lawrence also seems a bit miscast as a grad student who appears to be the only sensible one of the characters until she strikes up a romance with a teen skater punk played by Timothée Chalamet. There is zero chemistry between the two, and it brings that storyline down a peg or two because of it. The film feels as it goes along, it loses its way. Is it a farce, a straight-out comedy, or its it a tragedy? I could never figure that out, and by the end, I didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters. If you make it to the end, there is a bonus scene at the end of the credits that one of my fellow critics predicted as they started to roll. That probably tells you all you need to know about this film. My Rating: Cable Don't Look Up Website Now playing in select theatres and available on the Netflix platform on Dec. 24th.
My View: National Champions (2021) R Three days before the college football national championship game, Heisman trophy quarterback LeMarcus James (Stephan James) calls for a boycott of the game in support of his teammate Emmet Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) and all the other student-athletes that play the game without compensation or health insurance. Now, LeMarcus’s legendary coach (J.K. Simmons), on the cusp of winning his first national championship and NCAA, are coming down on LeMarcus to protect the prevailing collegiate athletic system. This is a film with its heart in the right place but never quite figures out how to effectively tell its story. It's a subject that needs to be talked about, and the film does an excellent job of giving us reasons why the system needs to be changed, but unfortunately, it has too many scenes where characters preach to us (sometimes literally), and that makes the film feel slow and clumsy. There is a whole sub-plot between Kristen Chenoweth (playing the coach’s wife) and Timothy Olyphant (playing a college professor having an affair with the coach’s wife) that is pointless and seems to only be there to give a bit of sex to the film. The film never delivers the impact that the film needs while just adding to the confusing plot that seems to write itself into a corner that it can’t get itself out of. The film has an ending that I have no idea why it happened the way it did and does nothing to contribute to the issues brought up in the film. National Champions is a film that feels that once done, it is like a tie in football, which always feels like a loss for each side. In this case, no one wins, including the filmgoer. My Rating: Bargain Matinee National Champions Website Now playing in theatres nationwide.
My View: The Hating Game (2021) R Lucy (Lucy Hale) loves her job except for one thing, Joshua (Austin Stowell), a man that she hates working with and has become her biggest rival for promotion and success. Lucy decides to embark on a ruthless game of one-upmanship with Joshua, but there is one problem. Lucy is beginning to become attracted to him. This film far exceeded my expectations, as I found the film highly enjoyable and loved the chemistry between the two leads. There are sparks between Hale and Stowell right from the start, as you find that they seem to hate each other, but there seems to be an underlying attraction that they will soon not be able to resist. There is a level of attraction and even sexiness to their constant bickering and fighting, as they seem to be on opposite sides in a job that they both love but take very different views on how to do that job. What surprised me was that the film gets a little steamy, as the two realize that their attraction to each other is mutual, and that attraction comes out on the screen. It helps that the two characters seem to be so different. Lucy is warm and cares about her job and the people she works with, while Joshua seems a bit cold and calculated in dealing with people and the job. We soon learn that both have a passion for their jobs and each other. The film does the usual rom-com plot of bringing up an issue that could cause their breakup, but like any good romance, love will overcome all, even a bad boss or two. My Rating: Full Price The Hating Game Website Now playing in select theatres and On Demand.
Indiefest: To What Remains (2021) Documentary about Project Recovery, comprised of a team of scientists and researchers who have dedicated their lives to searching the world over to find, recover and repatriate the remains of American servicemen and women who have been missing in actions since WWII. In just one area, around the island of Peleliu, over 200 Allied planes were shot down during World War II. Many of the airmen that died in those battles were never recovered, leaving their families to grieve and wonder what happened to their husbands and fathers. A group of dedicated men and women have taken on the task of trying to locate the wreckage of those downed airplanes and find the remains so that their families can give their loved ones a final resting place. The documentary follows a group of searchers as they look for a known downed plane in an area around the island of Peleliu, where the fierce fighting for control of the tiny island went on for three months. The film shows us how hard it is to locate the wreckage, even with the latest technology, such as underwater drones. This ‘needle in a haystack search makes it all the more remarkable when the searchers find a plane and then even better when they find the remains of the airmen who flew those planes. We see the extraordinary efforts that this search takes and their impact when those remains are brought home. To What Remains is a touching film about a group of remarkable men and women who have dedicated their lives to bringing home the fallen heroes of the past. My Rating: Full Price To What Remains Website Now playing in select theatres.
Indiefest: The Real Charlie Chaplin (2021) Documentary on the life and work of one of the greatest filmmakers of any generation, the legendary Charlie Chaplin. I am a huge silent film fan, though I am a bigger Harold Loyd fan (Safety Last, The Freshman), but it’s no argument that Chaplin took silent films from its infancy of just pure entertainment into the realm of art. This is a film that gives us the behind-the-scenes story of Chaplin, an incredibly complicated man, who hid behind his creation, ‘The Little Tramp.’ Using interviews with people that knew him, including his children, and a legendary interview with Life magazine in the mid-60s, the film gives us a glimpse into the private life of Charlie and his journey from a young teen performer on the stage to the biggest film star, who became more famous than anyone in the world. I loved the behind-the-scenes footage and photos of some of his legendary works, including scenes of Chaplin shooting one of his masterworks, City Lights. The film does deal with some of the dark sides of Chaplin’s life, his many wives, his tendency to woo his co-stars, many who were way too young for him, and his troubles with the blacklist times of the 40s. The Real Charlie Chaplin is a fascinating look at a man who gave us great films but seemed never to find the happiness or satisfaction he seemed always to be looking for. My Rating: Full Price The Real Charlie Chaplin Website Playing on the Showtime platform starting Dec. 11th and On Demand.
Indiefest: White on White (Blanco en Blanco) (2020) At the turn of the century in Chile, Pedro (Alfredo Castro) has been hired to photograph the wedding of a wealthy landowner on an isolated ranch. While waiting for the wedding to happen, Pedro becomes increasingly fascinated with the land owner’s soon-to-be wife and the people the landowner has taken the land from. The cinematography of this film is breathtaking and adds to the overall doom and misery that Pedro becomes involved with. Pedro is an artistic man who becomes trapped in a world where misery and killing are an everyday occurrences. He has been hired by a man he will never meet and becomes more and more entwined in the harsh, daily life of living on the ranch, where outsiders take the land from an indigenous people that they hunt down and kill, taking their ears as proof of their death. From the long shots that seem to go on forever to the white-out conditions, the country appears to be fighting back against these interlopers, with Pedro trying to survive in a world that doesn’t care about him and his pictures. Pedro has become a lost soul among other lost souls. My Rating: Full Price White on White Website Now playing in select theatres and On Demand.
Forgotten Film: Cry Freedom (1987) PG The story of the friendship of South African journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) who becomes friends with Steve Bilko (Denzil Washington), a black activist fighting the South African government during Apartheid. When Donald begins an investigation into the death of Steve, he and his family are forced to flee the country that they love. Unfortunately, the emphasis of the storyline is on Donald Woods and his family and not on Bilko because, at the time, Kevin Kline was a much bigger star than Denzil. Still, it’s an important story that is well done by an Oscar-winning director (Richard Attenborough); I just wish that Washington had been more at the forefront of the film. My Rating: Full Price Cry Freedom Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of National Champions: Hygiene Production Assistants
Coming Soon to Screen Near You: A Journal for Jordan (2021) PG-13 When Dana (Chanté Adams) first meets Charles (Michael B. Jordan), she doesn’t think he is her type. However, after a few dates, she realizes that there is more to Charles than meets the eye. They fall in love, get married, and are about to have their first child when Charles is deployed to Afghanistan. Before he leaves, Dana gives Charles a journal to fill with his thoughts for his son to read after he is born. It will be how Charles's son will get to know his father. You had me at ‘directed by Denzel Washington and starring Michael B. Jordan. A Journal For Jordan Website