West Side Story

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana Debose, David Alvarez, Rita Moreno and Mike Faist

Director: Steven Spielberg          

Writer: Tony Kushner (Screenplay) and Arthur Laurents (Based on the stage play, book by)

Synopsys: An Adaptation of the 1957 musical, West Side Story explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Shark, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds.

The mind that brought us E.T., Jaws, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List gives us an updated take on this classic musical. It’s been three years since his last feature release (Ready Player One) and in lead up to this I remember a lot of people thinking that he was a poor choice for this remake. Thinking that they should have gone with a lesser-known minority director to take this one on. Which would have been fine. And as much as I love what Lin-Manuel Miranda is doing (Encanto, Tik Tik Boom) I don’t think there is anyone that could have captured the magic of the era quite like Steven Spielberg did. So, with that in mind I’m happy Mr. Spielberg chose to take this one.

Just as a disclaimer before I jump into it, I need to be honest. I have never seen the original 1961 musical. My opinion is simply of this film and its own merits. I wasn’t even aware of the specifics of the plot outside of the romance aspects that came between rival gangs. So, I was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns that came forth.

What it did well- I thought the chemistry between the characters was enjoyable to watch unfold. The casting of fewer mainstream actors and actresses was a huge plus for this movie. If it were faces of people that we’ve seen say in a recent marvel movie it would have been a detriment to the film. I’ll be honest I was even distracted for the first few minutes by Ansel Elgort because of the few things I’ve seen him in. But that quickly subsided as the movie progressed. I thought the plot moved quickly but the love at first sight relationship between the two leads (Elgort and Zegler) and their Romeo and Juliet subplot worked so well that you went along for the ride. While Ariana Debose stole the show as Anita for the middle portion of the film and the rag tag group of Jets and Sharks fit their roles and did their parts to bring this world to life. But what really drew me in wasn’t the nostalgia which our movie going experiences are over saturated by at point, but the feel, and I guess some would call it nostalgia. The tone, presence and cinematography truly felt not so much like a remake of a 60’s movie but a remastering.

There aren’t any cons that come to mind outside of a few underlying liberal agendas that were present but not too aggressive. For me it was more like, “oh I see what you’re doing there”. There was a character that followed the Jets around wanting to be a part of the gang. They wouldn’t let her because she was a girl, but there was a scene where explains that she isn’t a girl but a boy and makes them despise her even more. They end up excepting her later when she proves herself/himself. I’m only assuming that was a different character arc in the 61 version. There is rampant racism, which is a key plot element, that feels all to relatable to today’s world. And, unfortunately people had to die (SPOILERS) to get the point across that there are more important things to consider about a person than the color of their skin. Advice a lot of people should consider today…just saying.

In summary I would absolutely recommend this movie, I believe it is on both Disney plus and HBO Max. Not sure how that works. The cast was enjoyable the musical throwback was pleasant, they didn’t just try and update it for the sake of being modern and the story is simple and something that I think all of us can get behind.  

Fun Fact

Morbius starring Jared Leto is set to hit theaters in two weeks (April 1st). So unless this is all just one big April fools joke we are about to get another Sony film set in the world of Spiderman, which was originally supposed to release pre pandemic 2020. Let’s get ready for this remembering that they pushed it back three times so it wasn’t fighting the box office with other films. Those films being Venom: Let there be Carnage, Spiderman: No way Home and The Batman.

So good luck Morbius! May the odds be ever in your favor.

Also I think there is a good chance that Jared Leto is a vampire in real life. Think about it…

Marry Me

Marry Me

Release Date: February 11, 2022

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Maluma, John Bradley, Sarah Silverrman and Chloe Coleman

Director: Kat Coiro

Writers: John Rogers, Tami Sagher and Harper Dill

Synopsis: Music superstars Kat Valdez and Bastian are getting married before a global audience of fans. But when Kat learns, seconds before her vows, that Bastian had been unfaithful, she instead decides to marry Charlie, a stranger in the crowd.

This movie comes to us from the vision of Kat Coiro who has directed many things for tv and streaming and is also slated to direct the upcoming She Hulk series for Disney Plus. So let’s get into it and break this down a little. What are the pros to this 2022 RomCom? Well for one thing I think casting Owen Wilson opposite JLO was a strong choice for his every man’s man appeal and quirky subtle sense of humor. To be honest the chemistry between the two of them worked well for the most part. Especially the second half of the movie which was hands down better than the first half. But outside the chemistry between our two leads there isn’t much left for the audience to be entertained by in this self-indulgent glorified music video of a movie. The music is good, but did you expect less, it’s Jennifer Lopez.

 The plot revolves around a broken-hearted Kat Valdez who doesn’t do anything spontaneous or exciting. Her life is driven by teams of people who tell her where to be when to be there and what to wear. Not even kidding a section of this movie details quite literally that she has no idea how to do anything at all, like open a door, she must break through a window. Or even use a blender without the forethought of putting on the lid. Which is silly in most movies Chevy Chases- Man of the house, but here it makes her look as though if left on her own she would be dead in a matter of days. Owen Wilson plays Charlie a math teacher and single father just trying to get through life, being constantly reminded that he lost all the joy in his life after his divorce. And if I had to critic this element I would say it is “FINE” the dialogue between them is enjoyable enough to be passable for viewing. The unfortunate part is everything else. The cinematography and the choices they made in regard to the look and feel were deliberate in possibly the worst way. Kat Coiro has spent most of her directorial catalog in the realm of television, and this is something that is evident in this film. It feels like it deserves to be seen on Oxygen or ABC.  Quick cuts and many angles that look as though they are films from the perspective of cell phones. Unnecessary and overrated.

  There are many themes that I think distract from the plot of this movie. That is the modern concepts of wokeness. There was much intentionality in diversity of cast and character, which I have no problem with just to be clear. But the underlying theme of this woman being held back in the music industry and struggling in a male dominated industry was so overbearing I couldn’t get around it. Our lead is so popular and prominent that she gets whatever she wants even to the point of some random man being willing too legally marry her on stage. She wants for nothing except a man who will be wholly devoted to her. Then add to that, this character is played by one of the most prominent and powerful female artists of my lifetime. So even if it was a struggle to get to the top because CEO’s don’t want you there, you are there. In a position to create change for the future.

 So our desire too relate to this character doesn’t come from a very real place of being betrayed by those that we are supposed to trust but rather the “SYSTEM” and the “AGENDA” that is trying to hold you back from the things that you want. Even though I state again. You have everything you could ever want.

It’s time to ask the question. Do RomCom’s still work the way they did in 2001 (The Wedding Planner) or 2005 (Monster-in-Law). Back when all Matthew McConaughey had to do was take his shirt off as click bait in a trailer to get young people to flock to theaters. Let’s be honest, these movies were never intended to be something that was to have a lasting effect on their viewers. They were intended to have some semblance of relevancy to our lives. A dream. A love interest that doesn’t see you. And make you feel good as you walk out the theater thinking there is still a chance.

I would have to give MARRY ME a middling recommendation and a low expectation regarding return on investment. Even if that investment is simply your time. Or maybe just go back and watch Maid in Manhattan again.  

Just a thought

I’m sitting here learning more about running internet ads and watching Avengers: Endgame. Over the course of the last few weeks Vera and I recently watched the three movies leading up to Zach Snyder’s upcoming Justice League remake. (Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad and Joss Whedon’s 2017 Justice League).

I’m sitting here thinking about the differences between these two powerhouse markets. Trying to figure out why Marvel seems to have nailed down a fool proof method of storytelling while DC seems to abound in foolishness and falling short.

CAP just picked up mjolnir!

Sorry didn’t mean to get off topic. The biggest difference that I’ve noticed is characterization. Warner Bros. and DC seem to want to take as many shortcuts as possible to create a world that feels fleshed out and real. Well as real as a world with superheroes can feel. They haven’t taken chances that are risky and invested in them whether they pay off or not, instead choosing to play it safe and predictable with cookie cutter story and cardboard cutout characters and if Marvel is an example of anything it is that, taking chances. With more hits than misses to date.

It goes to say for any story, but gives us characters we can relate to (even if they are aliens from another planet). Give them flesh and blood and motivations and failures. Man of Steel is a well made and focused movie, and there are elements of Batman v Superman that I think work but nothing in the DCEU world gives me goose bumps as much as Captain American finally saying Avengers Assemble. So for now I guess we’ll have to wait and see what Zach Snyder can do recreating a story that’s already been told. But lets take care to flesh out our characters in as many films that its going to take to tell the story to its fullest potential.

GO ZACH!!

Fun Fact #11

Jon Favreau has said in an interview that there are 1490 rendered shots using CGI in his 2019 remake of the Lion King. He also added one live shot actually filmed in Africa to see if anyone could tell the difference. It is actually the first shot of the movie that begins the Circle of Life. WOW! What a visual masterpiece.

Independence Day and Independence Day: Resurgence

(AS ALWAYS SPOILERS AHEAD)

So a friend of mine asked me to pen my thoughts on a familiar classic called Independence Day starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, and Jeff Goldblum. This movie as well as its sequel were written and directed by Roland Emmerich, it was his original story. The first movie came out in 1996, it is rated PG-13 and has a 145 minute run time. This and so many movies like it in the mid to late ’90s are a special kind of movie. Their action is top-notch for their time, the caliber of actors they attracted were best in their class and the comedic timing is so on point and so on the nose that they can’t be taken too seriously. It cannot be denied that this movie is hilariously entertaining, and having not seen it, I wanted to watch the sequel and see if that magic in a bottle could be recreated. Independence Day: Resurgence came out in 2016 and is also rated PG-13 and it has a 120 minute run time. It has a cast of mixed faces, new characters and old favorites. The likes of whom are Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, Maika Monroe as well, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Judd Hirsch reprise their respected roles. One of the main differences I noticed about this movie upfront before the viewing was that Roland Emmerich was not the only one to write this newer iteration, and it wasn’t just one or two, but five different writers, which is noticeable. So here is my review of not one but two Independence Day films. Do they hold up to our current day? Should they be remembered?

The first film takes place in 1996 and is the story of an alien invasion that intends on destroying the earth and everyone on it. It takes the actions of a ragtag group to save the human race from extinction. The second movie takes place 20 years after the first and is set in a world where since the aliens were defeated in the first movie and left technology behind on earth, mankind advanced quickly and united together as one people. But were unprepared for the return of those same aliens looking for revenge. These stories are basic, which is good for them. It leaves time for us to know more about the characters in them. One of which does a better job than the other.

 Let me quickly give a review for the first, then I’ll break down the second. I must admit that it has been quite a while since I have seen that first film. Probably over a year. Even though I revisit that speech every Fourth of July! “We will not go quietly into the night, we will” sorry I get distracted every time I think about it. As I shared off the top the mix of humor and action is in perfect balance in this movie, they seem to know right when to infuse character quirks and clever dialogue. It seems like all these actors are in some way just playing themselves in this movie which I think is awesome. The only thing that isn’t balanced as well, is the more dramatic moments that are less believable. But the chemistry between cast members makes up for those areas that lack emotion. I.E. the death of the president’s wife. I must say that watching it again this time I did not enjoy it as much as I have in the past. There are a lot of characters in this movie and it’s jumping around so much that we don’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with some of the more interesting ones. It also makes the first half of the film drag some. There isn’t as much Will Smith in this as I thought I remembered. Maybe that’s because it was marketed as a Will Smith movie and the height of Will Smith entertainment. So the disparity because of lack of time is sad, but in turn that is why all the scenes where our characters are together interacting with each other are the best moments in the movie. A good example is Randy Quaid’s character, and for the first half of the movie I wished they would have just taken some of that out, it wasn’t until his interaction at the end that made that payoff worth the first half of the movie. Whereas almost the entire movie we had Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch together and their interactions propelled the story. All in all this was a fun movie to revisit and will always have a special place in my heart because of when it was released and growing up watching it. It is a perfect movie for its time, but not to be compared with movies that have come out in the last 10 years.

 Independence Day 2, on the other hand, is a completely different story, well that’s kind of a pun actually, this movie is a beat for beat retread of the first story. But anyways this movie picks up 20 years after the last. Literally taking place in 2016. It brings us old characters and new ones (the children of all our main characters). All of whom became important people in the new post alien invasion world. Our new characters are skin deep and some are carbon copies of characters who died in the previous film. There is a character in this movie that is supposed to be the reincarnated version of Harry Connick Jr.’s character in the first movie. Only he’s far more annoying than Harry was, and our returning cast of characters that we loved from the first, minus Will Smith because he was to busy to do this movie. Lets be honest he could smell how bad this script was before reading a page, not like that’s stopped him before though, After Earth.

Captain Steven Hiller’s son becomes an incredible pilot. President Whitmore’s daughter becomes a presidential aid and Jeff Goldblum becomes uninteresting. Something about this late 2000’s era of action films really substitute creativity for lazy writing thinking that it’s giving us new and cool ideas. I’m talking to you Jurassic World. All the new characters have nothing truly interesting to say and our old friends seemed to have regressed instead of lived lives between the last movie and this one, and if they had lived lives why do the writers choose not to tell us about it. A big question I have from this movie is about Margaret Colin’s character, where is she? Why has David completely moved on from her and interested in other women when in the first movie they go out of their way to express to us that she was the love of his life and he wanted no one else. Just seems outside of his character. And other than that we do not learn anything new about him. The most interesting people in this movie were Brent Spiner because they give us back story that we didn’t know in the previous movie and Liam Hemsworth, even though as I said, his character wasn’t given any depth. This screenplay thinks that all the viewers want to see is sci-fi action. Which was okay, but at the end of the day that is not enough to sustain an intriguing story. They opened up with the speech from the original movie, given by a man that we cared about, Bill Pullman. “We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore” sorry again. It’s such a good speech.

 This version follows the beats of the original movie which made it nothing but predictable. Unfortunately the speech given to us by William Fichtner who played someone with zero motivation in this movie, didn’t quite live up. Going back to the point I made off the top, having so many writers on the project it is obvious to see that this movie didn’t know what it wanted to be.

 So for the few small areas that Independence Day lacks in makes up for it in all other areas. Still an enjoyable action alien adventure that I will go back to. But its follow up I must say I will not. And unfortunately I paid money to watch it. It is just sad to think about how some of these more recent films are given to us on the premise that we might not be able to understand something deeper than the surface. I would still like to see interesting relate-able character growth even in these fantastical films. So yes REMEMBER THAT MOVIE, but if you can help it don’t waste your time on its lackluster follow-up.

As always thank you guys for reading. Please leave a comment, let me know what I left out. What is your favorite part of that first movie?

“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  James 2:17-18