With Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” he manages to offer up a brilliant, dazzling, and engrossing epic retelling of the original musical. It’s stunning how much Spielberg is able to suck us in using the elements of dance as important and crucial moments of exposition in lieu of endless dialogue. To say that “West Side Story” is a surprise, is an understatement. While Spielberg is a wonderful director, there’s never been any indication he could deliver on a musical. But with his version of “West Side Story” is gives us the classic tale of star crossed lovers, and a race war amidst the back drop of New York. Except what Spielberg does is beautifully recontextualizes the entire tale of the Jets and the Sharks for Modern audiences.
While director Edgar Wright is still fresh in to his career and has churned out so many superb films, his ambition has managed to help elevate him in to a better filmmaker, one of bigger substance and larger scale. “Last Night in Soho” prove it, as it feels like that poppy bizarre sixties thriller that we might have actually seen in the sixties. Perhaps starring Natalie Wood? Maybe Peggy Lipton? “Last Night in Soho” has everything going for it; it’s the type murder mystery that audiences have been craving. It has a unique horror bent, and Wright has delivered on pop culture cult films like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”
In a really crappy summer and a pretty hectic year in Hollywood, one of the bigger releases in 2021 was “In the Heights.” It’s a movie I’d been looking forward to for a long time, since Lin Manuel Miranda is one of my personal heroes. It’s finally brought to film by director Jon M. Chu after being in literal development hell since 2008. Jon M. Chu is no stranger to films involving dancing and urban settings, thankfully, and we’re given an absolutely dazzling, emotional, and energetic musical.
The COVID Pandemic has changed a lot about what we love about New York City; over the years it’s become something of an environment where opportunities have dwindled and the sense of community has been lost. From Gentrification and the Exodus of its residents, the city just isn’t familiar anymore. “In the Heights” is that reminder that once upon a time New York was about tight knit communities sticking together and beating the odds. And it’s a call to the idea that maybe it all can be reclaimed.
Where as a lot of teen movies focus much on the coming of age and rites of passage for young men through their sexuality, “Cuties” is ballsy enough to be cut from the same cloth. It’s a film that explores almost the same themes but in a more complex arena that’s based around femininity and growing up. While the silly ballyhoo around “Cuties” has been much ado about nothing, “Cuties” is a bold, important drama comedy. It’s ultimately about a young girl who is trying to figure out what kind of woman she wants to be, and never realizing that either route she chooses in life is going to be filled with obstacles, tough questions, and ultimately living with the path she’s chosen.
The nineties had a weird trend where studios took classic films and attempted to rework them in to contemporary trash films. Pamela Anderson starred in a “Casablanca” remake with “Barb Wire,” Vanilla Ice tried for his own “Rebel Without a Cause” remake with “Cool as Ice,” and oddly enough Paul Verhoeven aims for a remake of “All About Eve” with the cult Joe Esterhas anomaly known as “Showgirls.” Simultaneously lambasted and praised for being so unabashedly stupid and sleazy, Verhoeven attempts to hide a narrative better suited Skinemax than world wide release in theaters beneath thin art house veneers that fool no one.
For a movie that’s almost as old as I am and features many a flat tops and pastel vests, “House Party” is a movie that’s barely aged. In fact, it’s a movie that so many studios have tried to duplicate but never quite have captured the same magic and enthusiasm. There’s just something about “House Party” that’s kept it a vessel of pop culture, hip hop, and comedy that was shifting from the eighties and in to the nineties. Not even the sequels lived up to what is basically the perfect party movie when all is said and done. The movie advertises itself in the title, but while the movie is centered almost completely on a party, it’s also a pretty excellent coming of age comedy.
Twenty five years too late, “Cats” is that kind of Broadway hit that may have worked wonders on the stage but fails spectacularly when it’s given a very literal adaptation on screen (e.g. “Jersey Boys”). I say that as someone that’s never liked “Cats” or really ever seen the big deal behind it. I barely stayed awake during a production airing on PBS back in the mid-nineties, and I only fondly remember it thanks to a classic TV ad that played around the clock in the eighties and nineties. “Cats” has always been that production I hope studios would stop trying to put on to the big screen.
And sadly, here we are. Oh the horror.