Friday, March 22, 2024

West Side Story (2021)

Streaming Service: Disney+
Movie Name/Year: West Side Story (2021)
Genre: Crime, Musical, Romance
Length:  2h 36min
Rating: PG-13
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner, Arthur Laurents
Actors: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Rita Moreno, Brian d'Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Mike Faist, Josh Andrés Rivera, Iris Menas, David Aviles Morales, Sebastian Serra, Ricardo Zayas, Carlos E. Gonzalez, Ricky Ubeda, Andrei Chagas, Adriel Flete, Jacob Guzman, Kelvin Bryan, Carlos Sanchez Falu, Julius Rubio, Yurel Echezarreta, David Guzman, Sean Harrison Jones, Jess LeProtto, Patrick Higgins, Kyle Allen, John Michael Fiumara, Kevin Csolak, Kyle Coffman, Daniel Patrick Russell, Ben Cook, Harrison Coll, Garett Hawe, Myles Erlick, Julian Elia, Tanairi Sade Vazquez, Yesenia Ayala, Gabriela Soto, Juliette Feliciano Ortiz, Jeanette Delgado, Maria Alexis Rodriguez, Edriz E. Rosa Pérez, Ilda Mason, Jennifer Florentino, Melody Marti, Ana Isabelle, Gaby Diaz, Isabella Ward, Eloise Kropp, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Leigh-Ann Esty, Lauren Leach, Brittany Pollack, Kellie Drobnick, Skye Mattox, Adriana Pierce, Jonalyn Saxer, Brianna Abruzzo, Halli Toland, Sara Esty, Talia Ryder, Maddie Ziegler, Andrea Burns, Mike Iveson, Jamila Velazquez, Annelise Cepero, Yassmin Alers, Jamie Harris, Curtiss Cook
IMDb Blurb: An adaptation of the 1957 musical, West Side Story explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds.
Selina’s Point of View:
The original West Side Story (1961) is a classic. Generations grew up watching the Romeo and Juliet retelling and filing it away as one of their favorite movies ever. Considering the time in which it was created, as well as the subject matter, there are some problematic aspects to the original. That made it a great choice for remaking.
I’ve always said there is a place for remakes in our cinematic landscape. Admittedly, more often than not, remakes and reboots can be gratuitous attempts at cash grabs. In the case of West Side Story, Steven Spielberg’s involvement (specifically as director) speaks volumes. Although he’s produced a few questionable sequels and soft reboots, he hasn’t bothered to try and direct any of them. I’m guessing that’s not the kind of thing he wants his name stamped on so prominently.
The first West Side Story had some issues with casting. A lot of white actors were cast as Puerto Ricans and brown face was used in order to make the racial plot work. It’s not something most people hold against the film, because it was a product of its time. However, that left things wide open for someone to bring it into the next century. There are minimal negative feelings toward the original along with an opening of the mind to a new cast.
Keeping the script and the songs as close to the 1961 version was a good idea. A lot of the settings changed, and the cinematography was updated, but the whole thing felt familiar and right. The writers added a deeper reason for the Jets and Sharks to be battling, for instance. The racial aspect is still center stage, but now the film goes further into the gentrification of the area. That fear of being evicted in order for condos to be put up is a familiar one in a lot of neighborhoods – speaking as a New Yorker.
Then there’s Rita Moreno’s new part.
No one was going to be able to outperform the legendary Rita Moreno as Anita. That’s just a fact. That said, she’s not in a position to recreate the part herself. In the original West Side Story, she was iconic. Part of why the movie is so good is because of her Anita portrayal. So, they opted to create a whole new part for her – and I think it was a fantastic addition. It added more to Tony’s story, and the extremely tense scene near the end was made that much better by her inclusion in the aftermath. (If you know, you know.)
Despite having to fill such big shoes, Ariana DeBose did an amazing job. I thought I’d be missing Moreno the whole time, but there were really only a few very short parts that brought my mind back to her predecessor. That might be an insult for a different film, but in West Side Story, I assure you that no one could have done better.
Ansel Elgort wound up being a pretty decent Tony. I was worried about him. I can blow a little hot and cold on my interpretation of his work, and I was just hoping this would be on the warmer side. He must be a fan of the original, though, because he brought it together. David Alvarez also brought Bernardo back to life in a way that his predecessor didn’t.
The standout for me, and this may be a hot take, was Rachel Zegler. I thought she was better than Natalie Wood. Putting race completely aside, I simply thought Zegler was the better actor. The final scene of the 1961 version is tense and terrifying. There’s a pit of dread that grows throughout Maria’s monologue and it leaves you in your thoughts. In this new version of West Side Story, it’s straight-up ugly-cry inducing. You still get that pit of dread in your stomach, but the sense of sadness is so much more palpable.
I don’t think a remake of West Side Story could get any better than this. It was phenomenally done, and it’s a prime example of what films should be remade, and how to do it.
Cat’s Point of View:
West Side Story is one of those tales that has become an indelible part of musical theater – and, I dare say, our culture in general - in a profound way. There are many that have not seen the Broadway production or prior cinematic treatment, and yet are familiar with the music and general story premise.
I, for one, am among those that had never experienced this re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet before via stage or screen. The music, showcasing the lyrical genius of Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021) and the music compositional brilliance of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), has been something I’ve encountered throughout my life. The songs have popped up in the most expected places – take “I Feel Pretty,” for example. Parodies or different versions of the song have appeared in productions such as Sesame Street (1969-), Friends (1994-2004), and even The Simpsons (1989-).
I digress…
It was high time that I remedied this hole in my knowledge of both cinema and musical theater via their convergence with this remake. It’s been on my ever-growing to-watch list since its announcement, after all. As soon as I learned that this remake of West Side Story was a passion project for Steven Spielberg (War Horse, Ready Player One, The Fabelmans), I was sold. The combination of such a classic story, wonderful music, and my favorite director was a convergence impossible to ignore.
This retelling of West Side Story was everything I hoped it would be and then some. It was superbly cast, impeccably shot, well-choreographed, and given the respectful treatment that such a classic deserved. It showcased its relevance in the modern day with our widening societal divides just as it did in its original runs while racial tensions were also at a boiling point.
West Side Story is exactly as I imagine it would appear in my mind, had I imagined the Broadway story taking place in the real world instead of a theater stage.
I’d go so far as to say that this version of West Side Story has cemented itself as a modern classic, and I’d give it a firm recommendation to anyone that enjoys musicals or musical theater.
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 92%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 93%
Metascore – 85%
Metacritic User Score – 7.1/10
IMDB Score – 7.1/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5
Movie Trailer:

Monday, March 18, 2024

Riddle of Fire (2024)

Movie Name/Year: Riddle of Fire (2024)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy
Length:  1h 53min
Rating: PG-13
Director: Weston Razooli
Writer: Weston Razooli
Actors: Lio Tipton, Charles Halford, Weston Razooli, Lorelei Olivia Mote, Austin Archer, Abigail Sakari, Phoebe Ferro, Charlie Stover, Danielle Hoetmer, Rachel Browne, Skyler Peters, Andrea Browne, Lonzo Liggins, Chuck Marra, Colleen Baum, Sohrab Mirmont, Kent Richards
IMDb Blurb: Three mischievous children embark on a woodland odyssey when their mother sends them on an errand.
Selina’s Point of View:
The trailer for Riddle of Fire was interesting if a bit cutesy. So, that’s what I was mostly expecting from the film. A cute little fairy tale, with a little-kid twist to it. Possibly with the shock value that comes with kids causing havoc and doing things you’d mostly expect from teens.
Instead of something simple, funny, and cute – I got something that was deep and full of whimsy. A fairy tale that had an air of danger. It was so much better than I’d even hoped. That says a lot, because it made #8 on my Top 20 movies to look out forin March. My hopes were already high.
I love the way Riddle of Fire was shot. There was a constant green tint that gave everything a very Celtic flair. It made the use of fairies and witches seem at home, though the magical language seemed to be Greek. It was a mash-up of lore that worked to make something that carried an ethereal feel to it.
There’s no way I can talk about Riddle of Fire without including my thoughts about Lio Tipton (Warm Bodies, Vengeance, Why Women Kill). I adore them. I think Tipton is extremely under-rated. They are one of those actors I would follow to just about any project. I have since Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) – despite most of their scenes in that movie being written in such a cringey way that I have to hide through the second-hand embarrassment the whole time.
I digress.
Lio Tipton has a range that not a whole lot of actors can boast. If you look at their early career, it seemed as if they were going to be typecast – but something sent that off the track and now you can really see how well they do just about everything. Their performance in Riddle of Fire was flawless.
Where kids’ acting is something I opt to only discuss in certain situations, I don’t mind talking about it here.
Naturally, kids are less experienced, and you need to have a different set of expectations for them. That’s just a fact. The kids in Riddle of Fire fit the feel of the film. I believed what they were selling me enough that their performances felt right for the fairy tale setting.
Weston Razooli (Anaxia, Jolly Boy Friday, Trials of the Red Mystic) made their full-length debut in Riddle of Fire. It’s a hell of a statement. There’s a bit of a tweak that can be made here or there, a scene that could be removed or altered, but it’s a damn fine debut. It’s high quality and feels as if a much more experienced director was at the helm. I will absolutely be looking out for more from him in the future.
I would recommend Riddle of Fire to anyone with a love for fairy tales.
Cat’s Point of View:
I absolutely adored Riddle of Fire.
That being said, I did have a few reservations when I first watched the trailer. I wasn’t sure where the film would land on the scale of watchability or if the story would come together. I had a few questions, but I was intrigued, and very excited that we got a chance to take an early peek at Riddle of Fire to offer a review.
This story is a bit of a re-imagining and twist on the “kids with bikes” adventure genre. These particular kids had dirt bikes rather than traditional bicycles, and they were armed with paintball guns rather than slingshots or home-made gadgets. I appreciated this new spin.
I was struck with some serious nostalgia as I watched Riddle of Fire. It was a bit of a time capsule bringing me back to a time when kids had more freedom (and general safety) to roam during the summer and get into all sorts of shenanigans. We just had to be back home before dinner.
Riddle of Fire was whimsical with its touches of fantasy – right down to the Celtic-like font that illustrated the credits and necessary captions and even the, what sounded like, Greek (if not Greek-adjacent) words of magic. It was a tale of immortal reptiles, bandits, and nomad fairies.  There was even a challenging quest for a special potion of healing in the form of a pie, which offered an excellent framework for the adventure to unfold.
I loved the humor and the thrill of the hunt, as well as the potential danger that the kids found themselves in. It was a test and testimonial for their friendship. The story stirred so many heartwarming feelings. Even the way that Riddle of Fire was filmed was an excellent strategy to deliver this modern fairytale. 
The fact that Lio Tipton (Warm Bodies, Why Women Kill, Vengeance) was involved with the film was another draw for me and one of the sparks for my initial interest in this production. I’ve been a fan of theirs from figure skating to America's Next Top Model (2003-2018) and into acting. Their journey has been a joy to watch and I really appreciate the depth they brought to their character here in Riddle of Fire. I was actually intimidated by the intensity of the look in their eyes at a few points.
When kids are involved – especially generally fresh and untested talent – things can be a bit unpredictable and sometimes the performances don’t quite hit the right note. It's just a bit of performance roulette that comes with the territory. In this case, the lack of some polish just enhanced the wild and unsupervised freedom of these mischief makers within the story.
Weston Razooli (The Book of Three Snakes, Trials of the Red Mystic, Jolly Boy Friday) really knocked this out of the park as a feature film debut as writer and director. I was, frankly, surprised that this was his first full-length outing. Of course, Riddle of Fire wasn’t flawless, but that just means he has so much room to grow into his craft. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Riddle of Fire will be reaching theaters with a limited release premiering Friday, March 22nd. I’ll definitely be rooting for this movie and hope it performs well.
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 89%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score –None
Metascore – 49%
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 7.0/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 4/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4/5
Movie Trailer: