WHAT TO SEE WITH VAL: Don’t Look Up, Being The Ricardos & West Side Story

Reviews by Valerie Cameron

Movie releases for December 10th 2021

Don’t Look Up 

Rated R 

Director Adam McKay is not known for being subtle. Former head writer for Saturday Night Live, writer and director for Anchorman, Talladega Nights and The Big Short, shows us that he has a distinct comedy style and usually something to say about what is going on in the world. McKay gives us a very different kind of disaster movie with political satire “Don’t Look Up.’  

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a college professor, Dr. Randall Mindy. Dr. Mindy is an unsure professional father and husband from a small town. One of his astronomy graduate students, Kate Dibiasky, is played by Jennifer Lawrence. She discovers a comet in our solar system that is headed directly towards earth. The comet is not just any kind of comet, it is what’s known as a planet killer. As they come to terms with what a big deal this event is, they get pulled into a whirlwind of politics, press, social media and well…. inexcusable human behavior.  

Along with DiCaprio and Lawrence we have Meryl Streep who plays the President of The United States. Johan Hill who plays the son of the president and also Chief of Staff. These two characters are very reminiscent of well-known political powers with added dramatics. Streep is a President fueled by fame, social media likes and who they know. It is over dramatized and, in your face, yet at the same time feels so real and familiar it sometimes gets dramatically uncomfortable.   

Then we get to the media portion of the movie. Kate Blanchette and Tyler Perry play television entertainment news anchors who care more about the entertainment and likeability factor of their show then actually telling factual news. McKay is pulling on all of our vulnerable emotions and defensive thoughts from the past 4 years. Even though this story takes place in a more futuristic timeframe, there is no mistake that this movie is a parallel universe from what has been going on in our current world.  

There are some really great moments in the film, some great writing and defiantly these actors getting into places we have never seen them before. What I like about this movie the most is that it shows human behavior at its best and worst. Yes, it is over dramatized sometimes to a point of utter ridiculousness. And there are a few times in the middle of the movie that it gets messy and a little off course. I can forgive most of that because I think it goes with exactly what point this movie was meant to make. Even if the world is coming to an end all around us, we as humans will find a way to politicize and monetize it. Are we our own worst enemy? 

This movie is stressful, funny, at points compellingly accurate while being totally asinine. Most people who go to see this film will relate in more than one way. You will feel angry, sad, thrilled and ultimately fired up by the time you leave. Discussions will be had and arguments will be made, I do not think this is the best movie of the year, but I do think it is worth a watch. Director Adam McKay had something to say with this movie and he was not shy about it. The actors all leaned in and made it one of the most entertaining movies of the year. I wish that he would go back through and tighten up the story and editing a bit. All in all, Gutsy.  

Grade B-

Being the Ricardos 

Rated R 

I love Lucy is an iconic show, that even now, 64 years later most people know what you are talking about. What many people don’t know is how hard Lucille Ball worked for her carrier. How hard she worked as a wife and as a creator. This movie gives us great insight into the world of Lucy and Desi and what they went through to be on television and tell the stories they wanted to tell.  

Nicole Kidmen totally disappears in the roll of Lucille. She is great at showing how hard working, smart and no-nonsense she was. She showed that Lucy was not just a funny lady, but a sexy and talented actress. In my opinion she was better at playing Lucille than Lucy but I am only nit picking. This was a great fit for casting and it was nice to see Kidman back doing something that pushes the boundaries of her talents.  

Desi Arnez is played by Javier Bardem and totally embodies the essence of Desi. Desi was every person’s guy. Ladies loved him, men wanted to be him or work with him. His smile closed deals. But even with all of his success and talent he could not get a leading role on television back then because he was a Cuban American. So, he meets Lucy, a strong talented woman who wants to play in the big boys pool of the 1950’s and she marries a Cuban American and they both want what they want. And they get it. It was so original for its time. To have a person of color and a woman be the spotlight of a show was just unheard of.  

One of the best parts of this film is getting a seat at the table. We, as an audience, get to see what happened behind the senses. And the director took such care in knowing that the audience loves all of these characters but also wants to know what we don’t know. There is a lot many don’t know. You get all of the secrets and hard times and who hates who and who is struggling.  But it is told in the most human way that we can still love our memories we hold so tight.  

This is a spoiler free review so I don’t want to get into too much of what makes this movie relatable. Two of the shining lights of this film are J.k. Simmons, William, and Nina Arianda as Vivian or as most of know them Fred and Ethel Mertz. Their behind-the-scenes dynamic is tense and it is incredible to think they went to many ears acting like they loved each other, all the while hating each other off screen. These two actors played them so well. One of the things I wish I would have seen more of was J.K. Simmons.  

If you are a fan of the show, I think you will be more than satisfied with this movie. It was warm and emotional and reminds us that we are all human. 

Grade B+ 

In theaters December 10 and on Prime Video December 21.

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story 

PG-13 

I am going to start right off by saying YES! Like many I absolutely loved the original West Side Story movie. When it was announced that it was going to be remade, I was like “why?” find a new story to tell Hollywood. And then I found out that the reason I went to film school, Mr. Steven Spielberg himself, was directing…. well, I still was not sold. I mean if anyone could make a great film, it was him. But again, why do we even need to touch it? Then the casting came out. Who will be playing Tony? Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver and A Fault in Our Stars, will play the iconic character. New comer Rachel Zegler will play Maria.  

So not much to go on right? Spielberg and the amazing music from the great Stephen Sondheim will have to carry this thing.  

Movie night comes and we open up on The Jets and 1957 New York City. From the minute they entered the screen I was memorized. The Coloring of the film was beautiful and the wide camera shots painted the picture that the music was telling. Actor Mike Faist as Riff was a breath of fresh air and by that, I mean he was the streets. An unconventional smaller tough guy that made every scene more interesting when he was in it. Then what I was dreading the most, the dancing. The original movie was so fun, colorful and the choreography is the reason why so many theatre/dance kids have wanted to be in any production of the show they could get their hands on.  

I have been a Choreographer since I was 13 years old and then I went to film school at 17, so when you get dance and film together, I can be a prickly pear. For me Spielberg has always had a way of making scenes in his movies feel intimate or exciting but capturing the dance and movement is not the same. There is a moment when The Jets are walking down the street with one adding into the bunch after another and then the moment hits when they start dancing together. The city hovering around them and I knew it was going to be a great ride.  

The great casting does not stop at Mike Faist. David Alvarez as Bernardo did more than hold his own and brought a new shine to the character. Now let’s talk about Rachel Zegler. Yes, she is captivating the minute you lay eyes on her but then she opens her mouth to sing and you are wondering where she has been hiding. She sings, acts, dances and feels more like a Maria than the original (no hate mail please).  

I don’t know if you noticed but we didn’t see Ansel Elgort sing in any of the trailers for this film. All I could think about was, either he is a great singer and they want a big reveal or he is awful and they will rely on the other cast to pull him along. In all honesty I was surprised at how good he is. He is not amazing and he is defiantly not super interesting but he is a good singer and gets the job done. Anyone signing next to Rachel is not going to outshine her and I think this choice was perfect because he was a bonus to her. She was the gem and he was there to support her.  

Now for my absolute favorite, Anita. 

Since the first time I saw the original movie, I was in love with Anita. She was colorful and spunky and made her own moments. It was one of the first and only times I felt like I saw someone close to me in a movie. Unapologetic and strong but loving and intuitive. And Ariana DeBois is Anita through and through. In this movie you get two Anita’s because Rita Moreno, the original, is in the movie as well. I could write an article just on these two, but I don’t want to give too much away. The use of Rita in this movie is thoughtful and powerful.  

You might be saying “but Val we already know the story”. You do, but Spielberg makes enough changes that new audiences will be able to relate to it and past fans will appreciate the care that was taken with the story, the characters and New York. Steven Spielberg wrote a love letter to West Side Story with this movie. Teaching us that in the big world changing and evolving around us, we all create our own smaller stories. We create fights and issues that feel like they are so big. At the end of the day the petty issues we have are small compared to the bigger picture.  

Bravo 

Grade B+ 

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