9 December 2021.
WEST SIDE STORY ****
One is very protective of a beloved classic like the original Leonard Bernstein/Robert Wise/Jerome Robbins 1961 musical, loosely based on the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet. It has been a favorite of almost everyone, one of the great musicals of all time, and a ten-time Oscar-winner.
So one goes to this new version with excitement, yet trepidation. Fear not, for the great Stephen Spielberg, being both the emotional and responsible director that he is, has handled his remake with kid gloves. He has done it with tremendous respect for the story, the dances and the characters, but above all for the core of the film, which is the pure and undying love of Tony and Maria. I believe the song – “Maria” – has never been so beautifully sung, with so much ardour. His choice of Ansel Elgort (magnetic in “Baby Driver”) and Rachel Zegler (the radiant newcomer of Colombian/Polish background) as the lovers is perfect, as they literally glow with the pristine beauty of young emotions. And all the singing is their own voices.
Spielberg’s other brilliant choice is having brought back Rita Moreno, the original, spicy Anita, as the wise, elderly owner of the candy store where Tony works. Her very presence brings both warmth and gravitas to the story. You may remember that she won an Oscar for her role in the original version, and she is an executive producer in this latest one.
The dances are still precise and furious (the finger-snapping is untouched!) despite a different choreographer (Janusz Kaminski), and the film offers a fresh look at the New York of the 1950s with spectacular cinematography, set design, and a scenario written by the celebrated playwright, Tony Kushner. They have also made sure that the ethnic roles are played by ethnic actors. We will not all agree on the merits of each new performer, but this Spielberg version is a vibrant tribute to the first one, 60 years after the fact. Oscars, here they come!
(I have to insert here the fact that mobs of critics and bloggers are generating ‘holier than thou’ mass attacks against Elgort, whom they are accusing of being a predator, and of being awful in the role of Tony, with many insults thrown in. I felt he was excellent, as he was in “Baby Driver”. But these days it has become too easy to accuse anyone and ruin a career, for once you get a nasty flow going, everyone jumps on the bandwagon. It’s like a contagious fever and it’s despicable!)
DON’T LOOK UP ****
What irreverence, what a look at our society today ruled by the almighty media and social networks that influence the ignorant masses, done with much hilarity in-between.
And hilarity is needed here in this frightening premise of a gigantic comet that is hurtling towards earth and will hit us in the next six months!
With shades of Lars von Trier’s brilliant but depressing take on the moon shooting towards earth in his 2011 “Melancholia”, and other blockbusters dwelling on the same troubling theme, screenwriter and director Adam McKay (“The Big Short” and “Vice”) has chosen to make this Netflix production a sort of social satire of the world as we know it.
He has managed to assemble an amazing cast of stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Kate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Mark Rylance and Timothee Chalamet, each one better than the other, to inhabit the various characters he has created. It’s really a tour-de-force of intelligent and biting commentary on all our foibles, from the shy astronomer (DiCaprio playing against type), to the brash U.S. President played with gusto by Meryl Streep, a ravishing Cate Blanchett as a TV commentator, and a Steve Jobs character marvelously done by Mark Rylance.
It’s a hoot, a warning, a thriller and finally an emotional lesson to us all, and will remain with you as you walk out laughing…
See it on the BIG screen, for that comet deserves a big venue.
OU EST ANNE FRANK? (Where is Anne Frank?) ***
The Israeli director of serious animated films such as the politically innovative “Waltz with Bashir” tackles here the imagined life of the little girl who wrote the famous diary about her days hidden in an attic in Amsterdam during WWII.
With colourfully sophisticated animation he delves not only into Anne’s character, her family and surroundings, but also Kitty, the imagined soulmate that Anne was writing to. And he interweaves and somehow compares the events of the 1940s with the modern-day situation of street kids and the on-going, tragic plight of desperate immigrants. A good history and moral lesson for the whole family.
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.