20th Century Studios’ ‘West Side Story’ Reboot Is More Proof Hollywood Needs More Original Ideas

Courtesy: 20th Century Studios

It goes without saying that William Shakespeare is among the most influential writers and playwrights in history.  From “12th Night” to “The Taming of the Shrew” to Macbeth” and “even Romeo and Juliet” and so much more, Shakespeare’s works have been done and redone more times than anyone can count on two hands.  20th Century Studios will release a reboot of one of the most well-known re-imaginings of “Romeo and Juliet” on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday in its recent reboot of the classic 1961 musical, West Side Story.  Originally having debuted in theaters in 2021, this latest reboot is a mixed bag presentation.  The reboot’s very presentation makes that clear.  It is both positive and negative.  The musical numbers included in the story are part of that general presentation and are positive in their own right.  They will be discussed a little later.  The cast’s work rounds out the most important of the reboot’s elements and will also be discussed later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the movie’s presentation.  All things considered, they make this latest take of West Side Story worth watching at least once.

20th Century Studios’ reboot of West Side Story, which is itself a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” is an interesting presentation among the seemingly never-ending sea of prequels, sequels, reboots, and movies based on actual events.  It is interesting in large part because of its general presentation.  Unlike so many reboots of other movies out there, the general presentation here actually takes audiences back in time.  This story is set in 1957, and the sets and costumes work hard to make sure that the time period is reflected.  It would have been so easy for the movie’s creative heads to just allow the movie to be another 21st century update, like so many reboots out there today, but they didn’t go that route.  To that end, it is somewhat refreshing to see that they took that proverbial road less traveled. What’s more, the movie in this presentation is a near shot for shot copy of the 1961 big screen classic, so in other words, the general presentation here does not necessarily break any new ground.  It is admirable that the movie’s creative heads would go to such lengths to bring the 20th century into the 21st and pay such tribute to its source material.

At the same time that the reboot’s creative heads clearly wanted to honor the movie’s source material and its fans, that might actually not be such a good thing, either.  If the 1961 movie could be updated without losing but so much of the original, then it leaves one wondering if there was any need to even do this, just for the sake of getting a new, younger generation of audiences interested in the story.  The look of this new update does work to throw back to that of the original movie, but it tries too hard, to be honest.  It all looks so spit shined what with the updated camera technology.  Speaking of that tech, there are so many lens flares thrown in throughout the presentation that audiences will think they are watching a movie helmed by JJ Abrams, not Steven Spielberg.  Audiences who are familiar with Abrams’ works will immediately understand that reference.  It really serves to offset the positive in the effort to take audiences back to the original 1961 movie and further shows the needlessness of reboots.

While the general presentation of West Side Story is a bit of a mixed bag, the movie is not all bad.  The musical numbers from the 1961 movie and its stage adaptations are all here, too.  They come complete with the dance numbers used in those presentations, too.  It continues to show the efforts of those behind the cameras to fully pay homage to the story’s source material and to its fans.  The look, feel, and sound of those musical numbers does just as much to keep audiences engaged and entertained as the story.  The playful back and forth of ‘I Want To Live In America,’ which points out the two contrasting views of the Puerto Ricans is made even more engaging what with the costumes and sets.  The contrast of the happiness and tension between the two sides in ‘Tonight’ makes for its own interest as Maria is so happy while the gang members sing about their determination about the big fight that is going to happen.  On yet another note, Rita Moreno’s mournful number near the story’s finale is just as moving as she recalls the past and examines the state of the city and nation at that point.  These and all of the movie’s musical numbers go a long way toward making the latest reboot of West Side Story worth watching.  When they are considered along with the cast’s work, those two elements and the general presentation all combine to make for at least some reason to give this reboot a chance.

Ansel Egort (Insurgent, Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars) leads the way as Tony in this latest take of West Side Story.  He is to be applauded for the control that he exhibits throughout the movie.  It would have been so easy for him to ham it up in a moment such as the balcony scene lifted from “Romeo and Juliet.”  He instead did quite well in making Tony’s infatuation with Maria believable.  This even though he clearly is not a teenager and neither is his co-star, Rachel Zegler (Shazam), who plays Maria this time out.  Mike Faist (Wildling, The Atlantic City Story) deserves his own share of applause of Tony’s friend, Riff as his more combative mindset offsets that of Tony’s more peaceful thought patter.  It makes Tony’s fate all the more tragic in the movie’s final scene.  That is not a spoiler, either, considering how well known West Side Story is its own source material are.  Faist’s performance as Riff makes it easy for audiences to love him and at the same time feel so sorry for him for having his mindset.  Much the same can be said of the work of his counterpart, David Alvarez (American Rust, The Stamp Collector, Child’s Play), as he portrays Bernardo.  He is just as set on combat as Riff, and it shows.  He and Faist are both fully believable in their roles, their refusal to work toward peace.  Sadly, so many people in today’s society are still so much like them, so kudos are in order for them in getting audiences to stop for a moment and think about that.  Between these performances and so many others presented throughout the movie, the overall work of the cast proves to be its own positive that makes the movie worth watching.  When it is considered along with their performances of the musical numbers of the positive side of the general presentation, the whole makes this movie a reboot that is worth seeing at least once.

20th Century Studios’ new reboot of West Side Story is an interesting presentation from the Disney-owned studio.  Its interest comes in large part through its general presentation.  The general presentation does not necessarily break any new ground in comparison to the 1961 cinematic presentation.  That is both good and bad.  The musical numbers add their own interest to the new presentation.  That is because as with the general presentation, they also lift from the original, and the performances thereof are fully engaging and entertaining.  The cast’s work in those moments and throughout the movie rounds out the most important of the movie’s elements.  That is because their work is believable, and makes the viewing experience all the more immersive.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of West Side Story.  All things considered, they make this reboot worth watching at least once.

West Side Story is scheduled for release Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.  More information on this and other titles from 20th Century Studios is available at:

Website: https://www.20thcenturystudios.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/20thCenturyStudios

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Celebrating Jon Lord Pays Proper Homage To One Of The Music World’s Great Minds And Musicians

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment/Universal Music Group

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment/Universal Music Group

The music world lost one of its greatest figures two years ago when Deep Purple keyboardist and founding member Jon Lord passed away.  Lord may be gone but his legacy as a member of one of rock’s greatest bands lives on today thanks to songs such ‘Smoke on the Water,’ ‘Soldier of Fortune,’ ‘Burn’ and so many others.  His legacy as a composer lives on to as he crafted his own modern classical works including the now famous ‘Concerto for Group and Orchestra’ among others.  Earlier this year, Lord’s former Deep Purple band mates and his fellow musicians came together to celebrate his rich legacy at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall at the annual Sunflower Jam.  And now fans of Deep Purple and of Jon Lord alike get to experience that celebration for themselves thanks to Eagle Rock Entertainment and Universal Music Group in the form of the triple-disc CD set Celebrating Jon LordCelebrating Jon Lord is a wonderful tribute to one of the great musical minds of the modern era.  The primary reason that it is such a wonderful tribute in its CD form is that the celebrations of Lord’s contributions to the rock world and the classical world are separated into two stand-alone collections.  Another reason that audiences will enjoy this collection is its collective set list.  And last worth noting is the audio mix on this recording in whole.  All three factors together make Celebrating Jon Lord a wonderful celebration of a great man and a great musical mind and one more welcome addition to the library of any Deep Purple fan or classic rock fan in general.

Courtesy:  Eagle Rock Entertainment/Universal Music Group

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment/Universal Music Group

Eagle Rock Entertainment’s new live recording Celebrating Jon Lord is not the first feature to focus on the late founding member of Deep Purple.  The leader in live recordings, Eagle Rock released Jon Lord: Concerto for Group and Orchestra on both CD and DVD last year in separate packages.  The recording focused primarily on what is considered one of his greatest non-rock compositions.  Celebrating Jon Lord does not include this work on either half of the recording.  While it doesn’t include that composition, Celebrating Jon Lord: The Composer presents even more of Lord’s non-rock compositions.  It stands alone from the other half of the concert recorded earlier this spring, “Celebrating Jon Lord: The Rock Legend.  This separation of the show into two packages is the central point of the concert’s CD presentation.  Audiences that want to hear only Lord’s work with Deep Purple can pick up the second half of the performance Celebrating Jon Lord: The Rock Legend.  Those that prefer hearing Lord’s personal non-rock compositions can pick up Celebrating Jon Lord: The Composer .  Sure, it’s a little problematic for those wanting the full concert experience on CD as it means having to purchase both sets.  But it’s money well-spent regardless.  And now that the concert has been released onto a companion Blu-ray, those same audiences can see the entire concert in one single package in place of having to purchase both CDs if they don’t want to have to pay that much for two separate sets. Regardless, both of the CDs offer their own share of enjoyment from start to finish.

The separation of the Sunflower Jam concert celebrating the legacy of Jon Lord is among the most important factors in the success of this triple-disc live recording.  Just as important of note is the recording’s overall set list.  On the rock side, audiences are treated to a number of classic Deep Purple tunes which Lord helped bring to life.   Some of the best of those classics include the bluesy ‘I’m Gonna Stop Drinking,’ the full-on rocker that is ‘Burn’ and the much easier-going almost funk-style ‘Things Get Better.’  On the classical side, anyone that has any familiarity with the world of classical music will most certainly appreciate that collection’s first two songs.  ‘Fantasia,’ which opens the classical portion of the concert, bears very clear influence from Aaron Copland and to a lesser extent, Eric Osterling.  And its Indian-influenced opening measures aside, ‘Durham Awakes’ feels like something that came right out of the Broadway rendition of author Arthur Laurents’ book West Side Story with its complex, multi-part arrangement.  It’s the type of thing that would make Leonard Bernstein proud if he were alive today to hear it.  It’s one more example of what makes the collective set list of these two collections such a joy.  There are plenty of other songs from which listeners will find their favorite(s).  Simply put, there is not one back performance throughout the concert regardless of which side of the show one prefers.  Altogether, it’s one more reason that fans of Deep Purple and of classical music and classic rock alike will enjoy this recording in whole.

The separation of Celebrating Jon Lord into two separate halves and the set list of each half of the concert together make this recording a true joy for any Deep Purple fan and any fan of classical music and classic rock.  Neither of these factors would mean anything on the recording’s CD packaging however without one all-important aspect.  That aspect is the recording’s audio mix.  It is noted in the booklet included with Celebrating Jon Lord: The Rock Legend that Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson and Lord’s former Deep Purple band mate Glenn Hughes actually “endangered the Albert Hall Architecture with ultra-passionate and furiously energetic versions of two Mark 3 Deep Purple classics, ‘You Keep On Moving’ and ‘Burn.’  That’s saying something, especially considering Albert Hall’s massive size from ceiling to floor and stage to doors.  Luckily, as powerful as Dickinson and Hughes were on these pieces, those charged with balancing the levels handled their duties expertly.  Though, that power does still show through at least to a certain extent whether in a car or on a radio.  That in itself is a tribute to the work of said individuals.  Much the same can be said of their work balancing the levels when powerhouse singer Steve Balsamo took the stage to perform on Lord’s composition ‘All Those Years Ago.’  Balsamo exhibits such control over his instrument.  He soars when it’s time to really hit those key moments.  He holds back just enough in the more reserved moments, too.  The audio engineers make those moments come out even more with their work here.  They exhibit just as much talent and expertise throughout the remainder of the concert.  Audiences will hear that expertise for themselves when they pick up either or both of these recordings for themselves.  The concert’s high quality audio mix, coupled with the show’s set list and its separation into two halves, leads to one more live recording that adds to Eagle Rock’s reputation as the leader in live recordings. It also adds even more to the reputation of Deep Purple and Jon Lord as one of the music world’s best bands and best musical minds.  Altogether, it proves Celebrating Jon Lord to be a wonderful celebration that any true music lover will appreciate.

Celebrating Jon Lord is a wonderful musical celebration of a wonderful musical mind.  The separation of the concert’s audio side into two halves lets audiences choose which half they prefer more should they prefer one half of the show to another.  The set list itself proves that both sides of the concert are well worth the purchase in its audio side.  The work of the concert’s audio engineers balancing the concert’s audio levels is nothing short of expert.  All three factors together make the audio portion of Celebrating Jon Lord a welcome addition to the library of any Deep Purple fan and lover of music in whole.  That is not to discount the booklets that come with each half of the concert.  The booklets that come with the CDs offer their own additional insight and enjoyment to the experience, making it even more worth hearing.  Those wanting to hear the concert’s audio side can pick up either collection now or both as they are available in stores and online.  The CDs’ companion Blu-ray presentation is also available now.  More information on these releases and others from Eagle Rock Entertainment is available online at:

Website: http://www.eagle-rock.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/EagleRockEnt

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

From Dust To Dreams A Concert Dream Come True

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Las Vegas is typically known by its nickname, “Sin City.”  The other “city that never sleeps” is dominated by gambling, girls, and much more.  Because of that reputation, few people would ever associate the famed city with a center for the performing arts.  But there is in fact a center for the performing and cultural arts in Las Vegas now in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.  Thanks to PBS, audiences that weren’t able to be in attendance at the celebration of the center’s opening can now re-live the concert event any time that they want.

from Dust to Dreams: Opening Night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts chronicles the celebration held in honor of the center’s opening.  What can be said of this performance but it was an impressive show from a who’s who of the music and entertainment community.  Performers the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Mavis Staples, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and more than can be named here took part in the two-hour long celebration of the arts coming to Las Vegas at long last.  Host of the Tonys and star of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother served as emcee of this presentation.  What’s interesting to note about his presence in this performance is how much different it was in comparison to what audiences have become accustomed to from the actor.  This isn’t a bad thing, either.  If anything, it only serves to heighten the enjoyment of the overall presentation.  Add in expertly mixed audio and video, and audiences get what is in retrospect one of the best live recordings of 2012.

The very first thing that can be noted of from Dust to Dreams is that it opens and closes in fine fashion.  The opening number performed by trumpet player Arturo Sandoval.  Sandoval’s performance was an outstanding opener for the two-hour event.  His control over his instrument shows the result of his years of training.  This is especially the case when he hits the final high note of his opening number.  Far too often, some overzealous performers hit high notes in songs, thinking they sound good.  But in reality the performers in question are blasting out the notes, resulting in a very harsh sound.  That wasn’t the case with Sandoval’s performance.  His performance got the energy flowing and set the bar for what was to come through the rest of the show’s performances.

The performances that follow that of Sandoval hold the bar quite well.  Whether the medley of songs from Man of La Mancha and West Side Story, the classic country of veteran artist Willie Nelson, or even the more rocking sounds of John Fogerty, this show spans the musical spectrum and will entertain audiences of all ages and musical tastes.  Adding to the enjoyment of the concert is the presence of emcee Neil Patrick Harris.  Yes, Harris was more subdued in his hosting duties here than as host of the Tonys.  But this was an entirely different event.  Even the performers had their time on stage limited as there were so many performers.  What’s more, Harris did offer his share of pretty funny jokes when he was on stage.  Audiences need to keep this in mind in considering his performance as emcee of this event.  In doing so, those same individuals will enjoy the laughs that Harris shares when he is on stage.

The performance of host Neil Patrick Harris and that of the show’s performers make from Dust to Dreams quite the enjoyable live recording.  One would be remiss though, to ignore the importance of the show’s audio and video mix.  Going back to the show’s opening number by Arturo Sandoval straight through to the show’s closing number, the audio and video have been expertly mixed.  There are some songs that absolutely soar throughout the course of this program.  And then there are other, more subtle pieces that were captured so well.  Whether one has a home surround sound theater or not, one can still experience so much.  Those that do have home theater systems will appreciate the performances even more.  That’s because the picture will look crystal clear on an HDTV and the sound will sound just as clear.  This is especially true for those with surround sound.  It is these aspects that make the overall presentation on this DVD so enjoyable.  In retrospect, it makes this collection of performances one of the best live recordings of 2012.  From Dust to Dreams is available now.  It can be ordered online direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=13233132&cp=&sr=1&kw=from+dust+to+dreams&origkw=from+Dust+to+Dreams&parentPage=search&searchId=1374600.

Fans of PBS and its programming can keep up with all of the latest news, releases and more from the network online at http://ww.facebook.com/pbs and at http://www.pbs.org.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.