West Side Story (2021)

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/15/22;
Disney/20th Century;
Musical;
Box Office $38.32 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some strong violence, strong language, thematic content, suggestive material and brief smoking.
Stars Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Brian d’Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Josh Andrés Rivera, Rita Moreno.

Director Steven Spielberg tries his hand at filming a feature-length musical for the first time in his career with a fresh adaptation of the acclaimed 1957 stage version that played on Broadway.

The play, based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, was famously adapted into a film version in 1961 that won the Oscar for Best Picture, so there were serious doubts over whether a modern remake was even necessary.

Spielberg, though, grew up with the music of the original stage version, and felt a 60-year gap between the films was enough time to justify his own take on the material.

The original version, conceived of by Jerome Robbins, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents, modernized Shakespeare’s famed love story to be about rival street gangs in New York in the 1950s — the Jets, who were white Americans, and the Sharks, who were Puerto Rican. Their power struggle is complicated when a Jet named Tony falls in love with Maria, sister of the head of the Sharks.

Rather than re-modernize the play modern day, Spielberg is faithful to the 1950 setting, going so far as to shoot it on film in a way that just looks like it could have been shot back then.

While respectful of the 1961 version directed by Robbins and Robert Wise, Spielberg embraces the cinematic nature of the story’s gang war to great effect, with impeccably staged musical numbers that don’t detract from the romantic nature of Tony and Maria’s story, or the violent backdrop of the life-and-death battle to control the streets.

Ansel Elgort makes for a fine Tony, while newcomer Rachel Zegler carries the day as Maria. Rita Moreno, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing Maria’s friend Anita in the original film, returns to the cast in a reworking of the Doc character that serves as a mentor to Tony.

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The Blu-ray includes a thorough 96-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that is broken up into smaller featurettes that cover individual topics such as costumes, sets, and the staging for several of the songs, which have been slightly rearranged to heighten the emotional impact of the story.

Some of these making-of segments include one of the last interviews with Sondheim, who died aged 91 in November 2021 just days before the new film’s premiere.

Disney Sets Transactional Home Release Dates for ‘West Side Story’ Remake

Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution will release Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic 1961 musical West Side Story through digital retailers March 2, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray two weeks later on March 15

As previously announced, the 20th Century Studios production be available for streaming on Disney+ and HBO Max starting March 2 as well.

West Side Story, which is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, tells the tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City. The remake stars Ansel Elgort (Tony); Ariana DeBose (Anita); David Alvarez (Bernardo); Mike Faist (Riff); Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krupke); Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank); Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino); with Rita Moreno (as Valentina, who owns the corner store in which Tony works); and introducing Rachel Zegler (Maria.) Moreno also serves as one of the film’s executive producers. 

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The film’s creative team includes Kushner, who also served as an executive producer; Tony Award winner Justin Peck, who choreographed the musical numbers in the film; Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and Grammy Award winner Gustavo Dudamel, who helmed the recording of the iconic score; Academy Award-nominated composer and conductor David Newman, who arranged the score, Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori, who supervised the cast on vocals; and music supervisor Matt Sullivan, who serves as executive music producer for the film.

Extas include various making-of documentaries under the banner “The Stories of West Side Story,” including a look at the actors who play rival gangs the Sharks and the Jets, and a tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics to the film’s musical numbers. Bonus features on the digital editions vary by retailer.

Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ to Stream on Disney+, HBO Max Starting March 2

Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-lauded musical feature West Side Story will debut on Disney+ in the United States and most international countries on March 2. 

It will also reportedly stream on HBO Max in the United States.

The film will launch in Taiwan on March 9 and Japan on March 30 on Disney+.

In addition, the ABC one-hour special “Something’s Coming: West Side Story — A Special Edition of 20/20” is available to stream on Disney+ now.

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose) and 11 Critics’ Choice Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (DeBose, Rita Moreno), West Side Story is the winner of three Golden Globe awards — Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy; Best Actress, Musical or Comedy (Rachel Zegler) and Best Supporting Actress (DeBose). The film has also received nominations from the DGA (Spielberg), PGA (Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger), WGA (Tony Kushner) and SAG (DeBose for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role) and has been named one of the year’s top 10 films by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review, the latter having voted Rachel Zegler Best Actress of the Year.

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Directed by Spielberg from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tony Kushner, West Side Story tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City. This reimagining of the musical stars Ansel Elgort (Tony); Ariana DeBose (Anita); David Alvarez (Bernardo); Mike Faist (Riff); Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krupke); Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank); Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino); with Rita Moreno (as Valentina, who owns the corner store in which Tony works); and introducing Rachel Zegler (Maria). 

‘West Side Story’ Projected to Lead Slow Weekend Box Office

Director Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story is expected to top the North American weekend box office through Dec. 12.

With just one other new release, STX Films’ National Champions, 20th Century Studios’ Story, which has generated positive buzz for Spielberg’s adaptation of the 1957 original Broadway musical, hopes to take advantage of a weekend box office lull before the Dec. 17 debut of Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: No Way Home. That latest superhero actioner has equaled (or broken) most exhibitor’s advance ticket sale records.

West Side Story was filmed in 2019 and set to be released in 2020 until the pandemic shelved the release. The tragic teenage love story that emerges against the backdrop of a racial turf war features a notable appearance by Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar playing Anita in the original 1961 movie. Moreno, who was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, turns 90 tomorrow (Dec. 11).

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Meanwhile, returning box office contenders include Disney’s Encanto, Sony Pictures’ Ghostbusters: Afterlife, United Artists’ House of Gucci, Fathom Events’ Christmas With The Chosen: The Messengers, Marvel Studios’ Eternals, Sony Pictures’ Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, and Paramount Pictures’ Clifford the Big Red Dog.

All are projected to top National Champions, the topical sports drama about a star college football quarterback who encourages a strike by his teammates before the National Championship game in protest over the exploitation of student-athletes in the multi-billion-dollar industry that is NCAA Div. 1 football and basketball. The movie is executive produced by Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, who appears in the film.

Netflix Blows Lid Off Hollywood’s Female Age Ceiling

Hollywood’s age cap on conventional female attractiveness has always been unfairly low when compared to male actors. Netflix appears to be disrupting this industry norm as well.

It just launched a 13-episode reboot of Norman Lear’s long-running 70s-80s sitcom, “One Day at a Time,” co-starring 87-year-old Rita Moreno as an “old-school” Cuban-born mom who hardly looks or acts her age.

The SVOD behemoth earlier this month bowed season four of acclaimed comedy, “Grace and Frankie,” co-starring timeless Jane Fonda (who just turned 80) and 79-year-old Lily Tomlin. Both actors shine with their 77-year-old male counterparts, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston.

But they’re all “teens” compared to Betty White, who at age 96 has inked a deal to reprise her role in a reboot of “The Golden Girls.” The original 80s series co-starred Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty and Rue McClanahan, all of whom have died.

It’s a strong statement in an industry obsessed with youth and millennial indifference toward tradition. A Time magazine study found female actors’ careers peak at age 30 in the number of roles available, compared to age 46 for male actors. The study found that while Sandra Bullock generated more paying roles (14) than George Clooney (2) at age 29 – at age 38, Clooney generated 11 roles compared to six for Bullock.

To watch Moreno guest-star on an episode of “Grace and Frankie” is to watch time stand still. In a career that spans almost 70 years, Moreno held her own among strong personalities Fonda, Tomlin, Marsha Mason (75) and Swoosie Kurtz (73).

Indeed, series creator Marta Kauffmann (“Friends”) has made a point to comedically showcase yesterday’s female (and male) stars coming to grips being seniors in a tech-savvy age — a dilemma no one can escape.

But will Hollywood take note?

Michael Pachter, media analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, says that while Netflix is again pushing the envelope, he believes Fonda, Tomlin, Moreno and White are outliers in an industry still preoccupied by youth.

“The biggest appeal of age is relatability to the target audience, so I presume these actors resonate with a demographic that Netflix is trying to capture,” Pachter said.