A Double Feature Review! There's a lot to love and also a lot to hate with these two films. Read More!
Being the Ricardos
Being The Ricardos tries to shine through its cast. Specifically, actors Javier Bardem and JK Simmons are terrific, while actress Nicole Kidman does a pretty good job as Lucy. Aaron Sorkin’s script is sharp in dialogue, and the production design glitters. However, Sorkin’s direction and the tone of the film are both inconsistent throughout. I felt like it was a film that ultimately wrestled with itself. There is a lot to love and loathe with Sorkin's Being The Ricardos: a biographical drama film that studies the rise and fall relationship between I Love Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Being The Ricardos marks Sorkin's third time in the director's chair (2017's Molly's Game and 2020's The Trial of the Chicago 7). Over the years, Sorkin has been known for his well-crafted screenplays (Charlie Wilson's War, The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs). Through all of these scripts, Sorkin's attention to detail is strong, and the dialogue is always crisp. Yet, I feel like Sorkin is still trying to find his voice in his directing style. Molly's Game was his first time into new waters, while The Trial of the Chicago 7 was just fine; nothing spectacular.
Sorkin's Chicago 7 was pure Oscar bait in style and craft. Likewise, Being the Ricardos is following the same path as Chicago 7. Looking at the acting: both Bardem and Simmons are simply terrific with their incarnations as Desi and William Frawley. To me, they were the best parts of this movie. While I do love Nicole Kidman and did enjoy her performance here as Lucy, I am still trying to understand why she has become the front runner this awards season for Best Actress. Kidman has already won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and could easily win her second Oscar as well. Kidman pleasantly captured Lucy's charisma and delight on the screen, but I did not find anything that screamed awards here. I guess I am the odd man out on this one. The film's costumes and production designs glittered throughout, flashing some beautiful 1950s vibes on the screen. In the end, there's a lot that works for this picture and a lot that works against it. I guess that award members have chosen to ignore the bad qualities and completely gush over the good.
Being the Ricardos is rated R (Restricted) Language.
Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J. K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, and Clark Gregg.
Don't Look Up
Don’t Look Up is bombastic, hilarious, and messy. An all-star cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, and Ariana Grande) stuck in a disaster comedy by director Adam McKay. Don’t Look Up is a balancing act of laughter and depression. Not everything works, but it dies trying. In the end, Don't Look Up is a fine comedic film. It is by no means amazing nor is it outright terrible. I would be lying if I told you that I did not laugh because I did. There were some genuinely funny scenes in this scattershot picture. In addition, there were also a lot of misses. McKay's film tackles incredibly serious topics like climate change, political discourse, social unrest, and the social media age. I don't think it will change anybody's mind on these topics, but it could at least lead to some discussion. Probably more arguing. At times, Don't Look Up thinks it's more clever than it really is. Personally, I enjoyed Adam McKay more when he did not take himself so seriously with his comedic films back in the day like Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys.
Those days are long gone. While 2015's The Big Short might be McKay's crowning glory at achieving a nice balance of comedy and drama, his later works like Vice and now Don't Look Up become more hamfisted. Our film follows two low-level astronomers (DiCaprio and Lawrence) who must go on a giant media tour to warn the human population of an approaching comet that will destroy Earth. It was nice to see Jennifer Lawrence back on the screen again. She is wonderful and funny throughout. Final thoughts: I would argue that 10-minutes in C'mon C'mon does a better job at showcasing the grim future of climate change for our youth than the entirety of Don't Look Up. Those kid interview scenes in C'mon C'mon really packed a punch. Also, there is in no way, shape, or form that Don't Look Up should be receiving these award nominations. If Don't Look Up does actually receive a Best Picture nomination, then so should Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. I will take that to my grave. In the end, McKay's newest comedic feature has flown in and sent a ripple effect of mayhem through the social media interface. Mission accomplished?
Want to hear more of my thoughts about Don't Look Up? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
Don't Look Up is rated R (Restricted) Graphic Nudity | Drug Content | Language Throughout | Some Sexual Content.
Directed by Adam McKay
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, and Ariana Grande.
Lana Wachowski's The Matrix Resurrections is one of the boldest, most ambitious blockbusters I have ever seen. Action-packed, wickedly entertaining, and full of heart. Resurrections celebrates on new ideas, while Lana reclaims her legacy. Through emotion, spectacle, subversion, and metacommentary, Resurrections takes a stand and succeeds. It’s also one of the best love stories of 2021.
Warning: Minor Plot Spoilers
Welcome back to the Matrix. Nearly two decades after Revolutions that concluded the Matrix Trilogy, Neo (a great Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (a strong Carrie-Anne Moss) are back and in fighting spirits. If you have kept up with the Matrix Trilogy, then you know that at the end of Revolutions, Neo and Trinity died sacrificing themselves in order to save humanity. A sacrifice that brings peace between the humans and the machines. Yet, even the machines could not let Neo or Trinity really die. Hint the name of the fourth title: Resurrections. So, our two heroes have been plugged back into the Matrix. Now in recent years, unfortunately, the Matrix franchise has been somewhat compromised by toxic fandom and right-wing groups, who have shallowly interpreted the "red pill" imagery as a metaphor for "waking up" to a society controlled by liberal elites. Lana and Lilly Wachowski have fundamentally denied this interpretation and have long fought against this. The Matrix franchise has always flourished through big ideas and philosophies through its cyberpunk undercoating.
But one of the most important themes throughout this franchise has been its voice of a trans allegory. The original film and the pill analogy (red and blue) have been analyzed in the context of the Wachowskis' own transgender experiences and exploring one's gender identity. In Resurrections, Neo (Reeves) is living out his life as a video game designer named Thomas Anderson, who has created an entire video game world based on the events of the first three Matrix films called Binary. Yet something is missing from Neo's life, and he can feel it. Neo goes to a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), who prescribes him "blue pills" to take to help Neo suppress these dreams that perceive reality. Secretly, Harris' character is also The Analyst. Yet, Neo is finally tracked down by a new character named Bugs (a fantastic Jessica Henwick) and a program embodying Morpheus (a wonderful Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Bugs and Morpheus reveal to Neo who he really is and extract him from the Matrix. We also get a newly reawakened Agent Smith (a lively Jonathan Groff), who hunts down Neo, Morpheus, and Bugs, and threatens the fragile peace. Resurrections never tries to out due the original 1999 film.
While Reloaded and Revolutions digressed to more heavy-handed action sequences and splendor. Lana knows the ground-breaking achievement that the original film was and still is. But what Lana does do in Resurrections is reclaim her legacy as a director and an artist. Similar to what Wes Craven did to New Nightmare (1994). This is the story that Lana always wanted to tell: one that gives a scathing critique of sequels and reboot franchises. A story that also subverts the audience through its entertainment and spectacle scene after scene. Finally, Resurrections tells one of the most fascinating love stories to come out in recent memory. Neo and Trinity's bond and love will live in our hearts forever. While Trinity's body and mind have been recovered, repaired, and modified, giving her a new version inside the Matrix with a new family. Now, it's up to Neo to break her free. Resurrections not only succeeds as an action-packed blockbuster but also succeeds through its emotional storytelling and heart. Resurrections is Lana's story as a director and an artist that comes full circle in the end. Through the powers of sentiment, empowerment, and freedom, Resurrections is a grand achievement in artistry.
The Matrix Resurrections is rated R (Restricted) For Violence and Some Language.
Directed by Lana Wachowski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Jada Pinkett Smith.
In my opinion, Resurrections had the best trailer of 2021. White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane is chef's kiss.
2021 capped off another fantastic year of film. Yet, cinema is still trying to overcome a pandemic that's still raging. Delayed 2020 movies finally made it to the big screen, and movie theaters are trying to make a comeback. Continuing to go and support movie theaters will keep cinema alive and well. The magic and joy of movies brings an audience together. We cannot let this die. Theaters are a crucial bedrock of movies. Here are my picks of the 30 Best Films from 2021. We'll see you at the theaters. — Arnold At The Movies
Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a slow-burning noir that builds up the thrills. The payoff is worth it, but the runtime needed to be trimmed. However, the visual style, musical score, costume, and production designs are gorgeous throughout. Plus, Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett are always superb and radiant.
No magic or supernatural elements this time around for del Toro. Instead, del Toro uses the power of dark storytelling to capture your soul. Del Toro's re-imaging of the classic 1946 novel is a marvelous addition to the cinemas. This is the second adaptation based on author William Lindsay Gresham's novel. The first film came out in 1947 and was directed by Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel, Dark Victory, and The Razor's Edge). Now, del Toro will argue that this version is not a remake of the 1947 noir but is instead a re-adaptation of Gresham's novel. "Well, what it is is that book was given to me in 1992 by Ron Perlman before I saw the Tyrone Power movie, and I loved the book. My adaptation that I’ve done with [co-writer] Kim Morgan is not necessarily—the entire book is impossible, it's a saga. But there are elements that are darker in the book, and it's the first chance I have—in my short films I wanted to do noir. It was horror and noir. And now is the first chance I have to do a real underbelly of society type of movie. [There are] no supernatural elements. Just a straight, really dark story."
2021's Nightmare Alley is del Toro's first noir feature; while he was still able to add in small elements of horror throughout. A psychological thriller and neo-noir picture that has del Toro's masterful craft written all over it. Nightmare Alley might not live up to the same heights as 2006's Pan's Labyrinth or 2017's The Shape of Water, but it does not have to. Nightmare Alley is still a special gift crafted by a master. Our story follows a man named Stanton Carlisle (a strong Bradley Cooper), who's down on his luck at the moment. Yet, Stanton stumbles upon a traveling carnival in the Midwest. The owner of this carny is a man named Clem (a haunting Willem Dafoe), who allows Stanton to join. Soon, Stanton attaches himself to clairvoyant Zeena (a marvelous Toni Collette) and her alcoholic mentalist husband Pete (a great David Strathairn). By studying their craft, Stanton finds his golden ticket to success. By using his newly acquired knowledge, Stanton makes his way into the wealthy elites of 1940s New York society. By his side is Molly (a wonderful Rooney Mara), who leaves the carnival to help pull off these mentalist schemes.
All is well, that is, until Stanton decides to plot a con against a dangerous tycoon (a stern Richard Jenkins) with the help of a mysterious psychiatrist (a radiant Cate Blanchett). Nightmare Alley leans heavily into its actors and their ability to grab ahold of your attention scene after scene. The chemistry between Cooper and Blanchett will burst out of the screen. I was very happy to see Blanchett receive a SAG (Screen Actors Guild Awards) nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. Blanchett has the ability to capture an audience's attention on the screen and never let go. She's a force of nature in this film: so mysterious, so captivating, so alluring. Alongside these great performances are a haunting musical score (Nathan Johnson), an eerie cinematography (Dan Laustsen), and gorgeous costume and production designs (Luis Sequeira and Tamara Deverell). The runtime definitely could have been trimmed, yet I was engrossed with the story the whole time. A story that, when it comes full circle, might leave you a little cold. Such is life. Del Toro's Nightmare Alley is a feast for the eyes and a master at work.
Nightmare Alley is rated R (Restricted) For Nudity | Language | Some Sexual Content | Strong/Bloody Violence.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, and David Strathairn.
Delightful and colorful: Disney’s Encanto shines brightly. With gorgeous animation and a beautiful message from the heart, Encanto will sweep you off your feet. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs are vibrant, and its representation is important. In the end, Disney’s Encanto is simply magical.
There's a little magic in all of us ... almost all of us.
Disney Animation Studio's 60th film is enchanting and beautiful from start to finish. Directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard (2016's Zootopia) take our audience to the mountains of Colombia. Here, we follow a multigenerational Latinx family with magical powers, well, except for 15-year-old Mirabel (voiced by a wonderful Stephanie Beatriz). We'll get back to Mirabel's magic-less powers soon. The Madrigals are an extraordinary family hidden deep into the mountainside. Here, they have their own magical candle that attains supernatural qualities and has created a sentient house, the "Casita." The Madrigals live here, along with an enchanted hidden town sheltered by tall surrounding mountains: an “Encanto.” And as Alma Madrigal's (a strong María Cecilia Botero) family keeps growing, they too are gifted with supernatural powers from the magical candle. Yet, Mirabel was never given any unique abilities from the candle like super strength, or talking to animals, or seeing the future. However, Mirabel soon may be the family's last hope when she discovers that the magic surrounding the "Encanto" is now in danger. Encanto has a superb voice cast consisting of all Latinx actors (Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, and Wilmer Valderrama). Many of the voice actors are of Colombian descent themselves.
While Encanto's animation is gorgeous and its storytelling is rich: the film's songs are also vibrant and full of life. These songs incorporate genres; such as salsa, tango, hip hop, reggaeton, and folk music. Miranda and composer Germaine Franco (2017's Coco) also made use of the traditional music instruments of Colombia when writing and composing these lovely songs. The soundtrack consists of songs like The Family Madrigal, Waiting on a Miracle, We Don't Talk About Bruno, and Dos Oruguitas. While We Don't Talk About Bruno has recently reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Encanto received three Golden Globe nominations, winning Best Animated Feature Film. Bush and Howard's picture has also been nominated for 8 Annie Awards (Excellence in Animation). I also enjoyed that Encanto kept the story grounded inside and around the "Casita." There was no grand adventure — like previous Disney affairs — but there was a rich and deeply emotional story that blossomed within the Madrigal family. More animated films like 2016's Moana, Coco, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Encanto need to be made by Disney. These animated films are deeply rooted in culture and share the voices and stories of people of color with the whole family.
Encanto is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Some Thematic Elements | Mild Peril.
Experience the magic of Encanto, now streaming on Disney+
Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard
Starring Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, and Wilmer Valderrama.
From the singing to the dancing, from the cinematography to the production design, director Steven Spielberg's West Side Story shines brightly through the night. Spielberg's WSS reminds us why we fell in love with musical theatre in the first place. One of 2021's best films.
Tonight. It all began tonight. I saw you and the world went away.
Director Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is a marvelous re-adaptation of the classic 50s stage musical. Spielberg’s West Side Story is a more gritty approach that radiates throughout. Rachel Zegler is a born star. Her voice as Maria will hit you like a shot to the heart. Likewise, Ariana DeBose and Mike Faist are phenomenal as Anita and Riff. DeBose and Faist steal every scene they are in. The musical numbers, cinematography, camerawork, and production values will sweep you off your feet. Spielberg’s first musical is simply wonderful. I hope it’s not his last. In my opinion, West Side Story is also top-tier Spielberg (Jaws, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, and Munich). West Side Story has been a cornerstone for musical theatre for a little over 60 years now. Though, that is not to say that West Side doesn't come with its set of problems. The original 1961 movie adaptation won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, but it also used brownface.
White actors were portrayed as Puerto Ricans, with the exception of actress Rita Moreno (who was the only Latina of Puerto Rican descent). Sadly, brownface was used by white actors to darken their skin for the Puerto Rican roles. Yet, this musical still somehow established greatness in its musical numbers, choreography, and production designs. West Side became a landmark for musical theatre. The 1961 movie, in some respects, felt like a wrestling match between brilliance and offense; by trying to overcome its more problematic themes. To this day, the 60s version is still able to both impress and frustrate at the same time. Yes, something can be both great and deeply flawed. Spielberg's version corrects the wrong by actually casting Latinx actors to play the Sharks (David Avilés, Sebastian Serra, Ricardo A. Zayas, Carlos E. Gonzalez, Ricky Ubeda, Andrei Chagas, Adriel Flete, Jacob Guzman, Kelvin Delgado, Carlos Sánchez Falú, Julius Anthony Rubio, Yurel Echezarreta, and David Guzman). Spielberg was committed to every actor playing a Shark be of Latin descent, and I applaud him for that.
While, Actor David Alvarez (an Afro-Latino of Cuban ancestry) plays the Sharks' leader, Bernardo. Alvarez is marvelous as the hot-headed Sharks' leader. Alvarez showcases Bernardo's pride and pain as a Latino immigrant trying to survive the racial tensions boiling over in New York City. Actress Ariana DeBose (an Afro-Latina of Puerto Rican ancestry) plays Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita. The role of Anita was previously played by "the great" Rita Moreno, who went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Moreno has passed down the torch to DeBose now. DeBose's interpretation of Anita is both fierce and spellbinding. She captures your soul from the first scene she is in, never letting go. DeBose has a good chance at winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress like Moreno did, and I will be rooting for her the whole way. Moreno was given in a new for for this film, as Doc's widow, Valentina. At 90, Moreno's singing of Somewhere was beautifully done. The Jets leader is played by bad boy Riff (a phenomenal Mike Faist). Faist helps elevate the supporting cast, along with Alvarez and DeBose. Riff is a character who is incredibly unlikable, but Faist's brilliant performance makes him hard to resist. Faist is that good.
Newcomer Rachel Zegler (who is of Colombian descent) plays the role of Maria, and she dazzles in every scene. Zegler learned about the audition through social media and won the part after a difficult process. She has already gone on to get a part for Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and she will also be our new Snow White for Disney's live-action adaption. Zegler is a born star, and her voice is pitch-perfect. Alongside Zegler is actor Ansel Elgort, who plays Tony, Maria's first love in this modern re-imaging of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Now, I won't beat around the bush here with Elgort, who was accused of sexual assault back in the summer of 2020. The principle of photography was already done for West Side when this accusation came out, so we cannot magically wipe Elgort away. But this is something that needs to be discussed going forward. Strictly judging Elgort's acting and singing in this film alone, Elgort actually has a decent voice. He was able to keep in tune with Zegler throughout. Though Elgort's vocals are still no match compared to actors Zegler, Alvarez, DeBose, and Faist. Elgort's acting is decent; sometimes he shines while other times he comes off a tad wooden. West Side really excels through its supporting cast. And when this film decides to wow, it wows.
Screenwriter Tony Kushner (Munich and Lincoln) crafts the script with delicacy and relevance. Kushner also updated some of the song lyrics, song order, and locations from the 50s stage musical and 60s film. The lyrics to this landmark musical were written by the late Stephen Sondheim (Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Into the Woods) — who knew how to wonderfully craft a show. I would also argue that the 2021 version is not a remake, rather a re-adaptation of the source material. Kushner's screenplay follows more closely to the Broadway script of West Side Story than to the 1961 film. While Spielberg’s approach feels more gritty and realistic, that doesn't take away from the film's beating heart and pride. Spielberg also made specific decisions to keep the accents of Bernardo, Anita, and Maria for authenticity. Here, Spielberg wanted to show that Bernardo, Anita, and Maria are newcomers to New York City and are still learning English, explaining the accent. Spielberg also decided not to use subtitles when Spanish was being spoken throughout this picture. I really enjoyed seeing this on the screen: especially when the actors would switch back and forth between Spanish and English. This reminded me of my younger sister, Tatiana, who is Colombian-American and is also bilingual. Tatiana can easily jump back and forth between Spanish and English so beautifully.
So for me, seeing this translated on the screen in this fashion was very pure and genuine. Spielberg said, "out of respect for the inclusivity of our intentions to hire a totally Latinx cast to play the Sharks' boys and girls. ... If I subtitled the Spanish, I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish. This was not going to happen in this film, I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it." West Side also prevails in its cinematography, camerawork, and production design. Janusz Kamiński's (Schindler's List, War of the Worlds, and War Horse) cinematography is a marvel, while the camerawork swings and swooshes through the streets of New York. The production and costume design might be a little more muted than the colorful 60s version — however — that does not mean that it's not great. These designs are still pretty spectacular and deserve to be praised. Along with the tap-dancing choreography are the breathtaking musical numbers: consisting of Balcony Scene (Tonight), America, Maria, I Feel Pretty, and Gee, Officer Krupke. At 75 years old, Spielberg is still a master of cinema, always in control of his craft. I hope he makes another musical in the near future. West Side Story is a wondrous tale of love, pride, and betrayal. It's a film that I saw in theaters twice because I was so captured by its intimate beauty. Radiant and magical, Spielberg's West Side Story is a musical that needs to be experienced on the big screen.
Here is my personal Ranking of Spielberg's filmography.
West Side Story is also Glynis' No. 1 film for 2021.
West Side Story is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Some Strong Violence | Brief Smoking | Strong Language | Suggestive Material | Thematic Content.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Ansel Elgort, Mike Faist, and "the great" Rita Moreno as Valentina.
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