West Side Story (dir. by Steven Spielberg)


Although it lacks an Overture and an Intermission, Steven Spielberg’s rendition of 1961’s West Side Story flows well and does the story justice. Remakes are tricky things, you know. Stay too close to the source material and you end up with the line for line, shot for shot weirdness of Gus Van Zant’s Psycho. Stray too far from it and you discover something experimental and head scratching, like Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. West Side Story is in the middle of it all. It’s the same story you know and love, just taken from some new angles. I just wish the supporting cast hadn’t overshadowed the leads. My Aunt was a huge fan of the original, and I like to think she might have appreciated this one. It was worth catching it on the big screen back in December, and as of this writing, West Side Story is now available on Disney Plus and other streaming networks.

West Side Story is basically Romeo and Juliet, with two rival gangs (the Jets and the Sharks), fighting for territory in a battered New York City. When Tony (Ansel Elgort) meets Maria (Rachel Zegler), sparks fly between them, but it sets the stage for a dangerous confrontation between both gangs.

West Side Story marks another Spielberg production that doesn’t have John Williams at his side. While it saddens me that the two aren’t working together (and let’s face it, having just celebrated his 90th Birthday, Williams has easily earned a well deserved rest), the music for the film is in great hands. Originally composed by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, the music was handled by David Newman (Serenity) this time around, at Williams’ recommendation. One thing to learn here if you’re new to movies – David Newman is part of the Newman family of musicians that includes Thomas Newman (Wall-E, The Shawshank Redemption and just about any film Sam Mendes made), Randy Newman (Toy Story), and Alfred Newman, who created that 20th Century Fox fanfare you used to hear when watching Star Wars. Things remain mostly unchanged for the songs that were in the 1961 original, but there’s one additional piece (at least to me, anyway). “Somewhere” is sung by Rita Moreno’s character, rather than the leads. Not every song is exactly the same as the original (and it really shouldn’t be), but it’s very close. The only quirk I really had was for my favorite song, “Officer Krupke”, which changes things up just a little. It should be noted that everyone on screen is signing here, whereas in the original, it was mainly George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn who sung their own parts (something I only learned just now in writing about this). I loved the whole element with Riff getting whacked over the head with the newspaper. Every other song has some magic to it, and with Janusz Kaminski as Spielberg’s Director of Photography, there are some fantastic uses of the camera in many shots. Guillermo Del Toro recently raved about the dance sequence, and it’s a great sequence. Sometimes, it’s also the subtle moments. My favorite comes in “A Boy Like That”. In the original, there was a glass door with a blue, yellow and red glass paneling. Spielberg still showcases the color pattern, but with the drapes instead. It was a cute homage to the original, I felt.

I also enjoyed what Tony Kushner did with the script. There’s a lot of Spanish in the film that’s given without any subtitles at all. I’m not sure if that was his decision or Spielberg’s, but for the most part, the feelings are clearly conveyed, whether you can understand what’s being said or not.

Writing is usually supposed to be without bias. I believe the sexual assault allegations against Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) affected West Side Story’s success, somewhat. At my 7pm showing back in December, there weren’t many seats taken up for the film. That, or perhaps musicals aren’t as popular as they used to be (used to be being only a month prior with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tick Tock Boom!). Add to that a Pandemic we thought we were slowly breaking out of only to discover a return with renewed fervor and what could have been gigantic just didn’t seem so. My own biases were in part to blame for not writing about this movie sooner. I didn’t hate the film by any means – I really enjoyed it – I just didn’t want to throw in to the whole cancel culture that screamed “This person did bad things, smite him from our film and shun them from our memories.” (though I suppose by adding this, I am doing just that). Whatever the case, Elgort’s Tony isn’t terrible in any way. Based on his performance in Baby Driver, he would have been my go to pick as well. I just didn’t feel as much for the character as I thought I would, knowing that I found about the actor. Tony’s the only character in this one where I felt they could have swapped in a CGI Richard Beymer and it would have worked fine.

The opposite could be said of Zegler. She has an incredible voice and screen presence, and fits into Maria so well that you might forget you’re watching actors on screen. I hope to see her do more in the future (and while we’re on that topic, let her sit in at the Oscars. What’s one more seat, anyway?)

From top to bottom, West Side Story is stacked with a mix of veterans and young talent that we hope to see more of in the future. Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the original, returns a Doc, the owner of a store (which also makes a nice connection to the previous film). Brian D’Arcy James (Molly’s Game) is on hand as Officer Krupke. Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) plays Lt. Schrank, and that’s about the bulk of the adults you’ll run into other than teachers and the like. For the Jets and Sharks, we have Maddie Ziegler (who is Sia’s Muse) as Velma. We also have Mike Faist as Riff and David Alvarez as Bernardo, who were just fantastic. It is an absolute shame that either actor didn’t gain some kind of recognition during the award season. Thank goodness that at least Ariana DeBose (Hamilton) portrayal of Anita is getting some love. She lights up every scene she’s in, whether it’s dancing or showing grief. She’s my pick for Best Supporting Actress this year, though that position is stacked with some strong nominees.

Overall, West Side Story was a surprise for me. Spielberg hits the right marks, and I feel you can sit it next to Wise’s production. Whatever mood you happen to be in, you can pick one and enjoy. The supporting cast may overshadow the leads, but not so much that it ruins the film.

Quick Review: Underwater (Dir. by William Eubank)


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“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” – Mark Twain

I wasn’t entirely sold on William Eubank’s Underwater after leaving the theatre.

I’d seen that kind of film before in movies like Alien, Resident Evil, The Abyss, Leviathan, Deep Rising and Deep Star Six. It didn’t feel like it was giving me too much of anything new (especially when compared to last year’s genuinely jumpworthy Crawl), but I have to admit I did spent quite a bit of the film watching it from between my fingers. I’ll give it that. Additionally, I have to give the movie credit for taking no time to get things moving and staying pretty even throughout. Within 5 to 10 minutes of the movie’s start, you’re thrust right into a mix of terror from the unknown and claustrophobic environments. For someone with an attention span as short as mine, it’s impressive to see a film hit the ground running like that. It’s the kind of opening one would expect from one of the John Wick films. Longtime readers here on the Lens know that January really isn’t the month for the greatest films, though every once in a while, you’ll have one or two that dowell.

I think enjoying Underwater may be dependent how much comparing is done between it and older films. If you walk in blind, not expecting anything and are just looking to be entertained, you may enjoy the film more than I did. Do you absolutely have to rush to a movie theatre to see it? No, I don’t feel you do. Give it 3 months and you’ll have it on Digital/Blu-Ray. Would I run back to it in the theatre? Nah. If you’re a Kristen Stewart fan, or if the film’s something you’re genuinely interested in, have at it.

A group of miners find themselves struggling to survive after their rig suffers intense damage. Their goal is to reach a set of escape pods that can take them to the surface, but reaching it poses a set of challenges. The team comes to find that they may not be alone in the depths, which adds to their problems.

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Kristen Stewart navigates the ocean depths in William Eubank’s Underwater.

The cast does well as can be expected, with Kristen Stewart (Charlie’s Angels) taking the lead as Norah, the team’s engineer. Joining her are Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) as the Captain, Jessica Henwick (Marvel’s Iron Fist) as  the biology scientist, John Gallagher, Jr. (Hush), Mamoudou Athie (The Get Down), and JT Miller (Deadpool) as the comic relief.  JT Miller in particular voices what would be the audience’s take as a fellow who just wants to get out of the situation. It’s Stewart and Henwick that carry the most weight with the film, and they handle it well. Their characters are smart and try their best to make it through the situations presented to them.

Visually, Underwater’s deep sea sequences have an interesting feel to them. Some of them feel more like the shaky cam shots from As Above So Below. There’s a bit of claustrophobia with watching certain scenes from behind the helmets. The monsters themselves are reminiscent of the ones you’d find in Cloverfield or The Mist with a number of jumpscares throughout. There’s very little in the way of blood and gore, since the film is PG-13.

I would have liked a larger body count. For the size of the rig, part of me expected to see more then just the 6 or 7 characters we have. Seeing more individuals face the creatures or the crumbling buildings could have added a bit of weight. That’s just a nitpick. The Nostromo was huge, yet only had a crew of seven.

Overall, I enjoyed Underwater more than I thought I would. It spends a lot of time doing things that other films already did, but does so in such a way where it’s not entirely wasted.

 

The New Mutants has a new date and trailer.


Marvel’s The New Mutants was a film that was supposed to come out in mid 2019, but was pushed back. The New Mutants focuses on a set of kids in a hospital and takes more of a horror/drama stance that’s similar to F/X’s Legion.  It’s a little different for Marvel, and fits for the Fox banner.

The New Mutants, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, Alice Braga, and Charlie Heaton, is set to premiere in cinemas on April 2020.

Ryan Reynolds improves his game in the Free Guy Trailer


You have to hand it to Ryan Reynolds, he knows how to market his projects. In the course of a few days, he made an advertisement for a TV that linked to a new film and his gin company, Aviation Gin. He also made a separate commercial for Aviation Gin starring Monica Ruiz, who everyone knows as the wife in the Peleton ads. Now, 20th Century Fox reunites Reynolds and his Green Lantern co-star, Taika Waititi in Free Guy.

Free Guy has Reynolds playing an NPC (Non-Playable Character) in a Video Game that is due to be shut down. Using classic video game items like power ups, guns and dance emotes, Reynolds’ character decides it’s time to level up. While we’re not sure of where this all goes, it’s good to see Ryan bring some of that Deadpool flair under the Disney umbrella.

Free Guy, Directed by Shawn Levy (Date Night), is set to release on July 3, 2020.

Cleaning Out the DVR #24: Crime Does Not Pay!


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We’re way overdue for a Cleaning Out the DVR post – haven’t done one since back in April! – so let’s jump right in with 4 capsule reviews of 4 classic crime films:

SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (Warner Brothers 1930; D: John Adolfi) – Early talkie interesting as the screen debut of James Cagney , mixed up in “the booze racket”, who shoots bootlegger Warren Hymer, and who’s penny arcade owner maw Lucille LaVerne covers up by pinning the murder on daughter Evalyn Knapp’s ex-con boyfriend Grant Withers. Some pretty racy Pre-Code elements include Joan Blondell as Cagney’s “gutter floozie” main squeeze. Film’s 60 minute running time makes it speed by, aided by some fluid for the era camerawork. Fun Fact: Cagney and Blondell appeared in the original Broadway play “Penny Arcade”; when superstar entertainer Al Jolson bought the rights, he insisted Jimmy and Joan be cast in the film version, and…

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You’re Killing Me, Smalls!: Let’s Play in THE SANDLOT (20th Century-Fox 1993)


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Baseball movies are as American as apple pie, and everyone has their favorites, from classic era films like THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to latter-day fare like THE NATURAL and FIELD OF DREAMS. There’s so much to choose from, comedies, dramas, and everything in-between. One of my all-time favorites is 1993’s coming of age classic, THE SANDLOT.

Like most baseball movies, THE SANDLOT is about more than just The Great American Pastime. Director David Mickey Evans’ script (co-written with Robert Gunter) takes us back to 1962, as young Scotty Smalls has moved to a brand new neighborhood in a brand new city. His dad died, and his mom (Karen Allen of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE fame) has remarried preoccupied Bill (young comedian Denis Leary…. hmmm, I wonder what ever happened to him??), who tries to teach the nerdy kid how to play…

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A (Not-So) Brief Note On WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT (20th Century Fox 2004)


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Sometimes while scrolling through the channels one come across a pleasant surprise. So it’s Saturday afternoon,a thundershower has cancelled my plan to hit the beach, the Red Sox don’t start for awhile, and I’m clicking the old clicker when I land on WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT. I wasn’t expecting much, just a way to kill time; instead, I found an underrated little gem of a comedy that kept me watching until the very end.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT is an undiscovered classic or anything like that. It’s just a solidly made piece of entertainment about small-town life starring Ray Romano (riding high at the time thanks to his successful sitcom EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) and Oscar winning Gene Hackman. Romano uses his nebbishy TV persona to portray Mooseport, Maine’s local hardware store owner “Handy” Harrison, who gets involved in a mayoral campaign against Hackman’s Monroe “Eagle”…

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The Great American Pastime: IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH (20th Century-Fox 1942)


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Major League Baseball’s Opening Day has finally arrived! It’s a tradition as American as Apple Pie, and so is IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH, a baseball movie about a lousy team in Brooklyn whose new manager takes them to the top of the heap. The team’s not explicitly called the Dodgers and the manager’s not named Leo Durocher, but their improbable 1941 pennant winning season is exactly what inspired this charmingly nostalgic little movie.

When Brooklyn’s manager quits the team, dowager team owner Mrs. McAvoy seeks out ex-player Frank Maguire, who seven years earlier was run out of town when an unfortunate error cost the team the pennant. She finds him running a club out in the sticks, and convinces him to come back to the Big Leagues. He does, bringing along his faithful bat boy/sidekick ‘Squint’, and just before the season’s about to begin, Mrs. McAvoy abruptly dies. Her family…

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RIP 20th Century-Fox (1935-2019)


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The failing Fox Film Corporation merged with Darryl F. Zanuck’s independent 20th Century Pictures in 1935, and quickly joined the ranks of the major studios of the day (MGM, Paramount, Warners, Universal, Columbia). Over the decades, the trumpet blows sounding the logo for 20th Century-Fox  became familiar to film fans around the world. Now, the studio has been purchased outright by The Walt Disney Company, and will be just another subsidiary to the House The Mouse Built. In tribute to 20th Century-Fox, Cracked Rear Viewer presents a small but glittering gallery of stars and films from the vault of that magnificent movie making machine, 20th Century-Fox:

20th Century-Fox’s first release was the bizarre drama “Dante’s Inferno” starring Spencer Tracy

Sweet little Shirley Temple was Fox’s biggest star of the 1930’s

Warner Oland as sleuth Charlie Chan was popular with audiences and critics alike (here with Boris Karloff in “Charlie Chan…

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Campus Kooks: The Ritz Brothers in LIFE BEGINS IN COLLEGE (20th Century Fox 1937)


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I haven’t posted anything on The Ritz Brothers since January of 2016 , so when TCM aired a trio of their films this weekend, I chose to review what I consider their best solo effort, 1937’s LIFE BEGINS IN COLLEGE. This was their first name-above-the-title movie, and features Harry, Jimmy, and Al at their zaniest, with the added bonus of comedienne Joan Davis as a kooky coed with her sights on Native American football hero Nat Pendleton.

Collegiate musical comedies were a popular sub-genre in the 30’s: COLLEGE HUMOR, PIGSKIN PARADE, COLLEGE SWING, COLLEGE HOLIDAY, et al, so it seemed the perfect milieu for the Ritzes to showcase their peculiar brand of nuttiness. The story is typical campus corniness, as George “Little Black Cloud” Black arrives at Lombardy College (crashing his motorcycle for an entrance) wanting to join the football team, and immediately developing a rivalry with football team captain…

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