Movies I’ve recently seen: West Side Story ֍ Don’t Look Up ֍ The Power of the Dog ֍ The Last Emperor ֍ & The Edge of the World

I’ve been trying to see as much Oscar bait as I can lately. That means that I’ve seen some very good, new movies. And that’s why the new films on this list are better than the vintage movies.

A West Side Story (2021)

I’ve seen the 1961 version maybe seven times, but I never cried at the end. This time, I cried. When I heard that Steven Spielberg was remaking West Side Story, I figured it would be better than the 1961 original. But I had no idea just how much better it would turn out to be. Even the dancing, which I thought was untouchable, was improved by choreographer Justin Peck’s dances, which look like violence instead of ballet. As the star-crossed lovers, Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort run rings around Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer. Thanks to Tony Kushner’s screenplay, the characters are filled in and believable. The Puerto Rican characters don’t look like white people dipped in mud. Leonard Bernstein’s score is still fantastic. And, of course, there’s Rita Moreno, still magnetic.

I watched the movie at The Grand Lake‘s gorgeous Theatre 1. For the first time in two years, I saw a picture in a real movie palace. But the theater was very cold; I needed to keep my coat on.

A Don’t Look Up (2021)

A large comet will smash into Earth in six months, destroying all life on the planet…unless we can change the comet’s course. But no one seems to take this seriously in Adam McKay’s very dark comedy. The two scientists who discovered the comet (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) can’t make people take this problem seriously. The President is no help; she’s a skinnier but female Donald Trump (Meryl Streep). The cast also includes Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, and Timothée Chalamet. Stay through the credits and you’ll get a treat.

I saw this film at the Shattuck‘s Theater 1, which has a pretty good screen.

A- The Power of the Dog (2021)

It didn’t take me long to figure out how this movie would end, but I was wrong. I like that. In 1925 Montana, a non-functioning family is running a ranch. One brother is more businessman than cowboy (Jesse Plemons). His wife is an alcoholic (Kirsten Dunst). But the other brother (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the real problem – a piece of major macho, to the point of rarely bathing. No one likes him, and there’s a reason for it. Another worthy film from Jane Campion.

I saw The Power of the Dog at one of the Shattuck‘s best theaters, number 4, which has a very big screen,.

A- The Last Emperor (1987)

Bernardo Bertolucci created a rare film – an epic with a passive and unlikeable protagonist who helps the rise of fascism. Yet you come to care for this mediocre manchild, because of his strange childhood. He’s the last Chinese emperor, Pu Yi, who ascended to the throne at the age of three, at the beginning of the 20th century. What makes Pu Yi such a unique protagonist is his almost complete passivity. He does not make history, but merely allows others to use him as a patsy. And yet the film gives him something like a happy ending. Wonderful cinematography by Vittorio Storaro.

B The Edge of the World (1937)

This early Michael Powell feature shows us the people scratching a living on a small island off the coast of Scotland. There’s not much of a story, although there are some very suspenseful sequences involving the beautiful but dangerous cliffs. The visuals are astonishing, and I often wondered how they shot some of these scenes safely.

I saw The Edge of the World at the BAMPFA, where they screened from a “restored” 35mm print. (I’m not sure what kind of restoring they did.) You can see this film, and this print, again on Sunday, January 9, at 5:00pm.

D+ The Music Lovers (1971)

Ken Russell’s Tchaikovsky biopic won’t tell you much about the composer’s life. Much worse, Russell seems to be much more interested in images than people. There are festivals, beautiful landscapes, unpleasant sex scenes, and an insane asylum that I hope wasn’t based on research. The basic concept, a homosexual man married to a nymphomaniac, could have been much more interesting. The music, of course, is wonderful. With Richard Chamberlain as Tchaikovsky and Glenda Jackson as the wife who wants every man she sees.