Wednesday, January 5, 2022

More Movies:


I now begin the New Year as I ended the old---with more movie reviews. Omicron has kept me close to home and alternately watching the new (and not so new) releases, then writing and sending these reviews off to you. Fear not, their numbers are waning, as is my need to provide any “year-end list.”  There may be one or two more in this series and then onward into the new year with continued  good wishes to all.

Being the Ricardos: This is as close to an absolute rave review as you are likely to read. I state that boldly, and up front, as I had put off seeing this movie, fearing I might find myself in the realm of just another Eyes of Tammy Faye (not a happy thought). Never mind that I adore Nicole Kidman… she is too thin to play Lucille Ball, right? And what is my favorite screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, doing with this kind of (I presumed) light-weight material? And whose “bright idea” was it to cast Javier Bardem, the Academy Award winning psychopath from No Country for Old Men, as the charm laden Desi Arnaz?

All that aside, I finally got around to it, and I LOVED it. Did my lowered expectation level help? Perhaps. But having explored that idea as much as I care to let me say flat out, and once again, Aaron Sorkin is a genius. The screenplay is fabulous. The concept of setting this complicated, and wonderful, story within the framework of the filming of a single episode of the I Love Lucy show is sheer brilliance. The direction (also by Sorkin) is straightforward, and  straightforward is perfect for the story that is being told. The sets, costumes, and overall look of the piece are all spot on.

What is most important, of course, is the casting. Can Nicole Kidman play the icon that is Lucille Ball? She can, and she does. Ms. Kidman is exceptional in the part. She radiates the character’s sexuality, her toughness, her compassion, her wit, wisdom, and the leadership skills that turned Lucille Ball into one of the true greats of television history. Kidman is glorious in technicolor and when she is Lucy Ricardo in black and white it is tough to  tell if you are seeing Nicole Kidman or the real deal from the CBS series of the 1950s.

Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance, J.K. Simmons as William Frawley and all the rest of the ensemble are perfection. By the way, does anyone go around saying that J.K. Simmons does not look like the real William Frawley, that he is too tall to play the part? No. That sort of foolishness is reserved for Ms. Kidman who audaciously had the chutzpah to play Ms. Ball.

And what about Javier Bardem? Golden. Perfect casting, and a formidable foil for the woman who plays his powerhouse spouse. He has a real shot at the Oscar for this role, but Ms. Kidman most likely does not, for who will forgive her for daring to play everyone’s favorite TV icon?

See this movie on Amazon Prime Video. It is thoughtful, funny, touching, and completely entertaining.

House of Gucci: If you are into The Housewives of Beverly Hills, you are gonna love this incredible soap opera of a movie. If you want to wait until its theatrical run is over you will eventually be able to pick this up on Amazon Prime. Lady Gaga is faultless in this film, and Adam Driver continues to impress as the male lead. Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons lead a very good-looking group of actors in support.

I do not know where you were in the nineties, but apparently I was so engrossed in my new lifestyle on my then recently adopted Fisher Island, that I completely missed this fantastic (mostly) true story which must have filled every tabloid in Europe and the United States toward the end of the 20th century. I just flat out missed it then—so this entire caper was news to me. What a yarn. What a fun movie director Ridley Scott has delivered.

Tango Shalom: If this were a court of law, instead of a mini court of personal opinion, I would be forced to recuse myself from reviewing this sweet, little movie. Joe Bologna (who co-wrote the screenplay) and Renee Taylor, his wife of over 50 years, have both been great friends of ours for decades. Admittedly, I am a sucker for just about anything they decide to do… all, that is, except for Joe’s too-early-in-life “decision” to make a widow out of Renee. Not funny, Joe … although the funeral, staged and performed by Ms. Taylor, was unquestionably wonderfully poignant, and often hilarious. Joe would have approved. I think he would also have approved and been proud of this movie…directed by his son, Gabriel, with Lainie Kazan joining Joe and Renee and a collection of their pals as players in this film about tolerance and the idiosyncrasies of religious doctrine. The movie has won more than its share of international awards in film festivals in Cannes, Jaipur, and New Delhi for its message of peace and tolerance. It is available for rent or purchase on Vudu, Google Play and Amazon Instant Video.

West Side Story:  Musicals are a very big deal in the Rosenzweig/Gless household. Sharon claims to know the lyrics to more Broadway shows than anyone on the planet; I can verify that as only a slight indulgence into hyperbole. Me? I could sing just about every patter song from the Gilbert & Sullivan oeuvre at something like the age of three (and somewhere in my late brother’s collection of such things there is a recording of me doing just that). Prior to COVID there was hardly a musical to hit the boards on Broadway that Sharon and I did not see. Ms. Gless and I fell in love during a performance in London of Phantom of the Opera (you can read all about that in either Sharon’s book, Apparently There Were Complaints, or my own tome, Cagney & Lacey… and Me). I spent my 80th birthday treating my family to Hamilton on Broadway, tried desperately (and failed miserably) during my career in Hollywood to launch television specials of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti as well as Stephen Sondheim’s Follies and Assassins.

I have been overjoyed at Hollywood musicals that improved upon their fabulous stage versions (The King & I, Oklahoma, Cabaret), and have yet to get over the experience of being in the theatre in New York during the premiere weeks of Funny Girl, Hamilton, Pippen, and A Little Night Music. Full disclosure: I also (as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) voted for the 1960s version of West Side Story as Best Picture of the Year.

Now comes Steven Spielberg; one of the greatest film makers of this or any generation. My reaction upon seeing a sneak preview of Raiders of the Lost Ark was to call my broker to buy stock in Gulf & Western (then the parent company of Paramount Pictures Corporation). Is there a better family film experience than E.T…or a better movie in its genre than Jaws?

Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, along with the masterpiece of film making that was Lincoln, easily fill out a landscape of incredible accomplishments that stand as monuments to Mr. Spielberg’s incredible gifts.

Do I have a problem with Spielberg wanting to remake an Academy Award winning film from a generation past? I don’t think so. Especially if it helps to popularize a form for a generation that did not (I thought) properly embrace La La Land. Millions and millions of folks have come to occupy the planet since Bob Wise and Jerome Robbins brought Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story to the screen. And as good a filmmaker as he was, Wise was never in Spielberg’s league. As if to top it off, Spielberg brought Tony Kushner (Angels in America) to the party to update (upgrade?) the screenplay. There was also the effort to make the whole thing more politically correct by being conscious of the ethnicity of the actors who would be singing and dancing throughout the film. All well and good.

What then, could possibly go wrong? Two sets of numbers particularly stand out: 2:36 compared to 1:52. The running times of the film’s two versions. The music is the same, the dance numbers are all of matching length, the plot is identical, yet the Spielberg version is 44 minutes longer. That is an eternity of… what? Mostly dialogue, and it bloats the film, slows it down, and adds a weight this movie did not need. There are other problems with this latest version… but it is difficult to overcome that excessive three quarters of an hour.

Among those “other problems:” Jerome Robbins is sorely missed. The choreography in the new film owes a great deal to his vision, but it is lacking the diligent attention to detail that was so evident in the motion picture choreographed and co-directed by the late Jerry Robbins.

Bob Wise may not have been in Spielberg’s league as a director, but his beginnings were as a top film editor, and the editorial style of the original production enhances the Wise/Robbins version in ways that are lacking in Spielberg’s. As usual, Michael Kahn is Spielberg’s editor. He has been nominated many times for Academy Awards in his field (winning three Oscars) and deservedly so, but (to my knowledge) he has never edited a musical before and… well…it shows.

Finally, there are the casting contrasts: this new film lacks the dynamism of  the Academy Award winning duo of Rita Moreno and George Chakiris who, as Anita and Bernardo, simply popped off the screen in the 1960s. As to Tony and Maria, the two young leads of this Romeo & Juliet homage, they are every bit as good, or better, in this latest version… particularly Rachel Zegler who is fundamentally superior casting for this role than was the incredibly talented Natalie Wood.

Bottom line: see it. It is a good movie, and an exceptionally talented, well-meaning bunch poured a lot of themselves into it. But… after you see it, go to Amazon Prime, where for under four dollars you can rent the original. It is certainly worth the money as well as the hour and fifty-two minutes of your time.

Barney Rosenzweig

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