12/10 Movie Trip

Paul McGuire Grimes from Paul’s Trip to the Movies shares another batch of reviews!

BEING THE RICARDOS (In theaters, Amazon Prime December 21)

Writer Aaron Sorkin has tackled trailblazers like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Now he’s peeling back the curtain on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at a tumultuous time in their marriage and career in his new film Being the Ricardos. Sorkin pairs down their extensive life and career into a one-week period from a Monday table read of “I Love Lucy” through a Friday taping. Tapped to play Lucille is Nicole Kidman who finds her life upended when rumors spread about her being a communist. At the same time, her husband, Desi, is battling rumors of infidelity. If that wasn’t enough Lucille’s pregnancy threatens the rest of the show’s production schedule.

-Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy

-It’s hard not to go into Being the Ricardos with a certain set of expectations depending on your knowledge and love of Lucy, Desi, their show, Aaron Sorkin or the casting. It’s almost best to go in with an open mind as writer/director Aaron Sorkin takes a very focused look at one piece of their story.

-The framing structure of the film has members of the writing staff breaking the fourth wall and narrating the film looking back at what happened that week.

-Sorkin wastes no time and reminds us of his frantic pacing kicking the film off by teasing the heightened stakes up front. As a director, he still manages to find levels in his story easing up during the more intimate moments of Lucy and Desi’s marriage to the tension filled meetings with network executives and producers when Lucy and Desi fight to have her pregnancy included in the storylines. According to one executive, “You can’t have a pregnant woman on television.”

-Sorkin reminds us that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were very different than the Ricardos and his cast commits to that shying away from impersonations unless we’re seeing them filming the show.

-Nicole Kidman commands the screen as Lucille Ball adapting that husky voice and makes Ball someone who knows exactly what she’s doing and fights for it every step of the way whether she’s questioning script beats, physical comedy choices, and the appearance of their marriage. Some could consider Ball difficult, but Kidman demands our respect for her.

-Javier Bardem captures the pure charm of Desi Arnaz making him cocky and someone who thinks he’s invincible but also someone who loves his wife. Bardem and Kidman don’t necessarily look like their counterparts but the essence and drive of these two is fully captured.

-Aaron Sorkin takes some liberties with the timeline of these events in order to fit it into a one-week production schedule. It’s a smart creative choice to pay homage to the plight of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz instead of falling into trap of too many biopics who give us the Wikipedia page on screen.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS

 

ENCOUNTER (In Theaters)

Riz Ahmed stars as Malik Khan, a former marine, who believes a non-terrestrial microorganism is living inside us using the human body as a host. He continues to see the effects of this threat believing it’s taking over the planet. He takes his two boys on a road trip hoping to save them from this threat. The film also stars Octavia Spencer as his parole officer.

-Encounter is a puzzling film as it starts off like an episode of The X-Files but veers out in a different direction. It’s a film that lives in the present as we’re not given flashbacks or visions but rather the audience learns about Malik’s past once government agents put an all-points bulletin out on Malik’s location.

-His background is slowly revealed in the dialogue taking the audience on a mysterious ride as to what is happening to Malik. This happens about 45 minutes into the film when we’re introduced to Octavia Spencer’s character Hattie who is Malik’s parole officer.

-Octavia Spencer is strong with the material that’s given to her, but I would have liked to have seen more from this character given she’s really the only one who seems empathetic toward Malik.

-The road trip portion of the film makes for a compelling duality as it’s great to see a father’s love for his two sons, but it becomes this unravelling for Malik. Malik’s tender demeanor with them paints a different picture than the threat the FBI feels toward him. There are scenes featuring blatant racism from cops and vigilantes.

-The complexity of the role gives Riz Ahmed plenty to play with as he’s a war veteran who’s facing a series of psychological issues. It’s a compelling performance from Ahmed giving Malik a tug and pull for the audience as we’re left trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t for him and whether he’s an actual threat to society.

-At least that’s Michael Pearce’s goal for the audience as he juggles a few different genres and themes. He needed to lean in a little harder in certain directions. Is this a sci-fi story, a story on PTSD, a story on alienation?

-There’s a lot stacked against Malik, but I wanted to feel a little more empathy for him. The story could have been stronger if we had been questioning the truth the entire time, but that mystery element fizzles away with unanswered questions.

RATING: 2 out of 5 TICKET STUBS

 

WEST SIDE STORY (In Theaters)

The combination of Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner working with the classic musical by Steven Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and Arthur Laurents comes with massive expectations knowing the caliber of these creative geniuses. Let me reassure you that their adaptation of West Side Story is potent and more relevant than ever before. As the snaps and percussion of Leonard Bernstein’s score ring out, Spielberg opens the film in the ruins what will be the Lincoln Center area. The local gang of White Americans known as the Jets, led by Riff, deface a mural of the Puerto Rico flag fueling their feud with their rival gang known as the Sharks, led by Bernardo. Their feud continues later at the school dance. It’s there though where Bernardo’s sister, Maria, and Tony, who’s a former Jet, meet and fall in love at first sight. Their affair may be strong, but it will test whether the Sharks and the Jets can ever come together and end their feud.

-Starring: Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose Mike Faist, Rita Moreno

-West Side Story is Steven Spielberg’s first musical and he’s working with Tony Kushner for the third time after Munich and Lincoln. Some may wonder why there’s a remake of such an iconic film, but this is really acting as a new adaptation of the stage musical which happens all the time in the theater world.

-Spielberg and Kushner trust and believe in the material and let it speak for itself without mucking it up with a new timeline or design concept. They keep it in the period and narrow in on how its themes and specific lyrics continue to ring true today.

-While the original film cast white actors as Puerto Ricans, Spielberg knows representation matters and has every Latinx character played by a Latinx actor.

-This doesn’t feel like a simple Romeo and Juliet love story anymore but the racial divide between how Americans don’t consider Puerto Ricans as their own. The rousing song “America” hasn’t been changed but you can hear its themes of white privilege right out. Kushner makes a change with “Somewhere” giving it to Rita Moreno’s character Valentina who gives it a new emotional weight and reckoning.

-The music and orchestrations are lively and are complimented by Justin Peck’s exquisite choreography paying ode to the iconic work by Jerome Robbins.

-Spielberg has an exceptional ensemble on his hands many of whom are upcoming actors making a name for themselves with this film. Ariana DeBose is worthy of an Oscar for her take on Anita. She’s fiery, full of passion and absolutely nails “A Boy Like That” Mike Faist is another standout with his performance as Riff.

-As Maria, Rachel Zegler is a complete knockout bringing out her playful and romantic side for Tony. The only downfall comes with Ansel Elgort as Tony. Elgort has a lovely singing voice but there’s a blank slate on his face missing the facial expressions to feel that Tony is as in love with Maria as she is with him. I was missing the drive and hesitation within Tony.

-West Side Story is a massive success in a year full of great stage to screen musicals like In the Heights and Tick, Tick…Boom!

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS

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