Tag Archives: Corey Stoll

REVIEW: “WEST SIDE STORY”(2021 aka the Steven Spielberg revelation) 20th Century Studios

Who would have thought we would see the day where Steven Spielberg makes a musical – and not just any musical, but a remake of the very famous classic “WEST SIDE STORY”. The original which was nominated for 11 Oscars, going on to winning 10 including Best Picture. It was a film that at the time, that defined the acting careers of Natalie Wood and the wonderful Rita Moreno, as well, it further established musical theater phenoms Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (RIP) as bona fide household names. This movie, based on the 1957 Broadway musical, of which I actually have an original poster of that I acquired in the late 1990’s from an agent I worked for as a parting gift – right after I had finally seen the 1961 original, which is of course based loosely on the classic Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet story. Could there really be a bigger challenge for Spielberg after his long and industrious career? Probably not. The question is: Does he succeed?

Original Broadway poster on my wall

Even in our remake/reboot/sequel/MCU clogged movie world, doing a film like this is still a massive undertaking and also a bit fun for some to complain or discuss the “why’s” of any and all big screen reboots, even if they’re brought to life by oh, just one of the greatest directors of the past 4 decades, Steven Spielberg. Having had the filming pushed back for more than a year due to various pandemic-related issues, the last few months have only further primed audiences to wonder exactly this. Why?

Giving a few early answers: Spielberg and his team wanted to cast differently than the original version, he looked into a variety of Latinx stars in the Shark parts i.e., more roles tailormade for actual Puerto Rican actors versus the 60’s where makeup was used to make them ‘look’ as though from Puerto Rico. Also seemingly wanted to lean into the sense of the actual division between people as it were, and the from my understanding, shifting the arrangements of the musical numbers to better reflect the original musical stage production from 1957.

Moving on as all that sounds well and good, adding touchups and all, but something like “West Side Story” stands tall all on its own, so did it really need those touchups? Turns out, yes it did, as Spielberg’s first musical is not only vibrant, rich with colour, somewhat wild, and a satisfying show of an updated version of the classic. While fans might initially take exception at if and how faithful it seems to its predecessor, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner take and use those familiar beats to find some new ones as well, in this classically loved story which is pretty much the same, and the one thing I couldn’t help thinking is it might not actually be the greatest story ever told. Girl meeting boy from wrong side of the tracks, and falling in love in what seems like minutes, then to run away together to avoid family strife and a street gang fight. Which is of course not successful as the fight between the Jets (white immigrants) and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) is one of the major plot points and highlights of the film.

Early on, we get our first conflict between the rival gangs, which introduces us to Riff played by one of the Broadway play breakouts, and truly wonderful in this role is Mike Faist – who as the quick-tempered Jets leader so desperate to protect the neighborhood. Then we have Ansel Elgort as Tony, the former leader of the Jets attempting to find a new path for his life after spending a year in prison for nearly killing an Egyptian immigrant in a rumble, with all the singing skills and charisma of a wet blanket. Rounding out the men’s side is David Alvarez as Bernardo, Maria’s older brother and proud leader of the Sharks – whose goal is to carve out a place in the new land as equal citizens. And then there is Chino, Maria’s ‘date’ to the dance who is clearly enamored with her, played by Josh Andres Rivera. And the dance is also the first run-in with local cops, Officer Krupke (Brian d’Arcy James) and Lt. Schrank (Corey Stoll), neither of whom care what happens to whom, just as long as it doesn’t happen on their watch. But make no mistake here who rules this movie as I’m getting to that. I covered the men and again, Faist as Riff is wonderful and a force to be reckoned with throughout the movie, but the characters of Tony (Elgort), who is dry and listless, and Bernardo (Alvarez), who while he can dance and sing well, there just was something missing from his portrayal and maybe I just had to much 1961 Bernardo (George Chakiris) imagery in my head, but he just didn’t do it for me. In a way most things related to The Jets a bit on the insufferable side, and to be honest, most of The Sharks are as well. And you ask why.. well it should come as no surprise that the ladies here do all the heavy-lifting.

Which leads me into getting into the nitty gritty of this film and that my friends is hands down the three amigas all giving such strong performances. This is Zegler, DeBose, and Moreno’s movie without a doubt. This film is by far ruled in every way possible by first-time star Rachel Zegler as Maria, whose voice is a massive revelation that I don’t think too many saw coming, but it’s also the the other straight-from-the- Broadway production, actress Ariana DeBose as Anita, who is so fierce when she takes the lead on “America”, making one of the most inspiring and fun musical numbers ever on screen. In addition to her singing and beyond terrific dancing skills, DeBose delivers a superb performance in the role that won an historic Oscar for none other than the original herself, Rita Moreno in the 1961 film. Speaking of the one and only Rita Moreno, who is still wonderful and beautiful at 89 years old – she also appears as Valentina, the widow of Doc as she now runs Doc’s Drug Store and is somewhat of a surrogate mother-figure to Tony. It’s certainly no cameo, and though there is no dance number, she does get to sing “Somewhere”, and breaks your heart with her version and this time she is on the valiant end of the rape scene. She is the connect to the original film gives the film a presence where needed.

And while this is the update Spielberg version, you have to give kudos to Justin Peck for some truly masterful work that builds on the brilliance of what Jerome Robbins originally created. It’s not perfect by any means, but the casting of a more actual ethnic cast – as in no makeup to make anyone ‘look’ like something they are not, to the role ‘Anybodys’, a non-binary, always watching things, character played by Iris Menas, to the Spanish dialogue without subtitles where the strong acting and situations make clear what the scenes are whether you do or don’t speak the language. But for my mind, if you’re going to do a re-make and make positive changes, then why keep the slurs of character words still in there – why make a scene completely of Jets where they gain sympathy in the police station. But again, these overlooked parts is what made it not perfect for me – still highly enjoyable, with just beautiful dance scenes where you see such colour and grit.

At the end, you realize it’s a nostalgic, yet contemporary version that may not have you completely charmed in one way or another, but it WILL have you in awe with the story, dancing, music, acting, and story.

Grade: B+

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Review Screening ~ Monday, November 29, 2021 Courtesy of @RosasReviews as her guest.

“WEST SIDE STORY” from 20th Century Studios is in theaters beginning on December 10, 2021

Insta REVIEW: “FIRST MAN” (2018) Universal

Just done watching #FirstMan after a long torturous drive from the Westside to #UniversalCityWalk .. and an even more arduous journey home…I can say I DID IT!!. And got myself a #VoodooDonut to add and they are just as good as everyone says.

Okay okay..I’m getting to the part about the movie.. it’s a foray from #DamienChazelle into space that I never imagined could be so tense, frought with sadness and despair, and yet delves so well in what can only be described as stunning filmmaking chronicling mans marvels and mishaps leading to the ultimate achievement – the first man on the moon. #RyanGosling is solid here, but without his supporting cast of #ClaireFoy #CoreyStoll #JasonClarke #KyleChandler #EthanEmbry #PatrickFugit #LukasHaas #PabloSchreiber to name just a few – are the keys to the lock of this film and his character.

From a technical standpoint the films wows in almost every aspect though there is a lot of shaky-cam work that never bodes well for me personally (headache inducing), but considering its about space and everything that that entails, including putting you in the astronauts helmet, I should have been expecting it.

All in all the almost 2 1/2 hour run time is filled with only a few momentary bumps in the road. This makes it three in a row for Chazelle as I have no doubt some of this will have some Oscar nods..#Whiplash is still hands down my personal favourite, but this one also educates you in the history of man’s exploration into space and is visually effective.

Grade: B
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Media Review screening courtesy of Universal Pictures

REVIEW “THE GOOD LIE” (2014) – Warner Bros.

good lie

Let me preface this review by saying this is not my cup of tea type movie. I never understand the brutality that one religion can enforce on others all in the name of their god or whatever it is.  It saddens me and sickens me what humans will do to each other just because of a certain belief so needless to say I knew going into this screening that it was going to be hard.  I will say had this remained a more documentary style movie, it would have probably been even more heartbreaking, but a much better done movie.

 

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The film tells the story of children who are orphaned by the brutal Civil war in Sudan that began in 1983.  They travel hundreds of miles on foot in search of safety and what goes on during this trek will break your heart and as always during movies like this, it makes me think about how good we really do have it and complaining about the silly things in life, are just that..silly.  Two brothers, “Mamere” (Arnold Oceng) and “Theo” (Femi Oguns) are sons of the Chief in their village in Southern Sudan.  When an attack by the Northern militia destroys their home and kills their parents, as is custom, the eldest son Theo is forced to assume the role of Chief he tries to lead a small group of the young survivors, including his sister “Abital” (Kuoth Wiel) away from all the killing and fighting. Yes, in these places they kill children without a thought or care to it.  Theo tries to do the best he can protecting them and hiding from the soldiers, but the terrain of the desert is just too much and has other dangers in store for them. As the battered group makes the trek to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, they meet other fleeing children, “Jeremiah” (Ger Duany), and “Paul” (Emmanual Jal).

 

 

Thirteen years later, the now young adults names are finally on the ‘list’ and they are given the opportunity to leave the camp and resettle in America.  Upon arriving in Kansas, they are met by “Carrie Davis” (Reese Witherspoon), who is an employment agency counselor who has been enlisted to help find them jobs—no easy task, when things like straws, light switches and telephones are brand new to them and watching them adapt brings along a few lighter touches in the film.  Although Carrie seems to have kept herself from any emotional entanglements in her life, these refugees, who desperately require help navigating the most basic aspects of what we take for granted every day, and rebuilding their shattered lives, need just that.  Somehow they endear themselves to her, she puts herself out on a limb and enlisting the help of her boss, “Jack” (Corey Stoll) steps in to get them all reunited with a few Hollywood made twists.   good lie 1

While I get that they need some Hollywood names in this film as its a Ron Howard/Brian Grazer movie and to get it green-lighted etc..For me, it lost some of the realness of the story in doing so, though it still sends a message. I would have liked to have kept it more real-life as some of the actors are actual Sudanese refugees. Arnold Oceng, newcomer Kuoth Wiel. Ger Duany and rapper Emmanuel Jal, who were both former child soldiers and lost boys,and Femi Oguns.  Rounding out the cast are with a few comedic moments is Sarah Baker as volunteer “Pamela Lowi”  Mike Pniewski as Mamere’s boss, and children of real-life Sudanese refugees Peterdeng Mongok, Okwar Jale, Thon Kueth, Beng Ajuet and Kejo Jale as the younger lost boys who’s performances I enjoyed so much and made the stark reality of the movie come to life.

Does the film take a tough story and turn in into mainstreem movie, yes it does. And while the film itself is only so-so, it does serve a purpose with it’s message along with some definite tugs at your heart.  Together, the Lost Boys and these unlikely strangers find humor in the clash of cultures, and heartbreak as well as hope in the challenges of life in America.

Grade:  C-  (below average)

(See grading scale)

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REVIEW: “THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU” (2014) Warner Bros.

this is where

I went into this movie knowing it was another one of the genre of ‘family dysfunction’ movies that either go over really well..or not.  With the cast at hand, I really was looking forward to at least a somewhat decent flick and expected some top-notch dark, comedic moments.  And Jane Fonda.. Can I just say how badly I want to look like Jane Fonda when I am her age..hell I want to look like her NOW.. But truly, even with the almost always funny, Jason Bateman & Tina Fey, sadly nothing could save this movie from being completely mediocre.     this is where 2

This whole middle-class.suburban angst type genre movies were all the rage about a decade ago, but it’s tapped itself out as there’s only so many movies about the upper classes and their problems that you can take if they’re not bringing something new to the table. “THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU” doesn’t fit the bill, in that’s it’s an incredibly familiar story we’ve seen done too many times before and it’s become rather boring and lackluster.  The rundown of the film is the ‘heard it so many times before’ story of the kids coming home to reunite in the wake of their father’s death. No one wants to be really be there, and the fighting starts almost immediately.starting with the newly separated son “Judd Altman” (Jason Bateman) having been called home by his sister “Wendy Altman” (Tina Fey), with him having just a few months earlier been cheated-on by his wife, “Quinn” (Abigail Spencer) caught in the act with his boss “Wade Beaufort” (Dax Shepard) no less. but then able to find quirky new love interest who just happened to have a crush on him years back, “Penny Moore” (Rose Byrne) within hours of his return ~ can we just give a big YAWN here already?!  And to make it somewhat even less plausible, though the father was an atheist, everyone is told by family matriarch “Hillary Altman” (Jane Fonda) that they all must stay as he wanted them to ‘sit shiva’, which from what I understand is a Jewish religious custom where the family sits & receives guests for a set amount of days. So you would think at least some comedy would ensue here riiiigghhtt??!!!  *sigh*

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The funeral is an awkward affair to say the least. Judd’s older brother “Paul Altman” (Corey Stoll) has taken to his new role as the head of the family with an overly-controlling bullying attitude and whose wife “Alice” (Kathryn Hahn) is comically desperate to get pregnant. Wendy is busy with her two children, considering that her husband “Barry” (Aaron Lazar) is an inattentive workaholic and makes her want to run back to her past also with the brain-damaged boy next door “Horry Callen” (Timothy Olyphant). The rest of the Altman family ranges from oh soooooo annoying youngest brother “Phillip Altman” (Adam Driver) the bratty black sheep of the family, who comes with his rich older girlfriend in tow “Tracy Sullivan” (Connie Britton) who happens to be a psychiatrist just like his mom..yeah you get the jist where that is going.  One thing we do get plenty of is Fonda’s smothering mother and her grotesque boob job, with the boobs almost so comic that they feel out of place in some somewhat serious moments. They provide easy laughs, but this itself suggests a problem, when they are the funniest thing of the movie.

 

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So, yes there is a surprise at the end of the movie that only ever so slightly redeems it, but at that point, it’s basically too little too late.  Bateman’s performance is decent, Fey’s also, though you don’t get ‘comedy’ from either of them and no one’s is outstanding in the least. By far the most annoying character & portrayal comes from Adam Driver, when I would have liked to have seen say Olyphant’s character of Horry more developed as at least as the bit we got of him, was interesting.  To be honest, this isn’t the worst movie out there right now by far, but I think audiences are expecting more from it than they are going to receive, especially now that we are gearing up for the year-end slew of Oscar contenders sure to come.  This movie will not be one of those contenders.

Grade: C-  (below average)

(See grading scale)

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