Tipping Point: Our picks and pans ('West Side Story,' 'Nightmare Alley')
West Side Story
This new version of the classic Romeo-and-Juliet musical might not be quite the perfect piece that reviewers made it out to be, but it’s still extremely good (if, dare I say, a little long, at two hours and 36 minutes). Tony Kushner’s script makes the story feel current, and even if Steven Spielberg’s direction can seem a little too staid, the man sure knows how to make an engrossing work. Best of all, the songs from the iconic score still retain their power, particularly “Somewhere” and “Tonight.” The new faces here — Rachel Zegler as Maria, David Alvarez as Bernardo, and Ariana DeBose as Anita — spark on screen. Ansel Elgort is solid as Tony, though his singing voice is rather ordinary. And with her turn as the sagacious Valentina, Rita Moreno continues to show why she’s a natural treasure.
— Kristina Dorsey
Some of us like being immersed in the melancholy of this time of year. There's that "In the Bleak Midwinter" song/poem, for example, although that seems to be trotted out as a Christmas carol. Whee! Well, take a listen to "Departure Tapes" by Nosound leader Erra. Written spontaneously as he contemplated the loss of his father, the tracks on "Departure Tapes" combine cascading piano lines, plucked or hushed strings and wordless seraphim voices, somber French horns and woodwinds — all hauntingly rendered in the Key of Sorrow. It's the musical equivalent of a painting by Casper David Friedrich of a crow pecking at a solid sheet of ice that's formed on the lid of a coffin that, for some reason, is sitting in a frost-laced, otherwise empty January cornfield under a sky the color of a bruise. I love it.
— Rick Koster
I almost left this film noir early on, after a tormented circus geek bit the head off a chicken. But I’m glad I stuck with it; this movie from director Guillermo del Toro — which is dark and boasts a pessimistic view of humanity — has haunted me since. Bradley Cooper plays a drifter in the 1940s who finds a home in a travelling carnival, full of freaks and fakes, where he learns how to pretend to read minds. He develops his act and eventually leaves the low-rent carnival, becoming a mentalist in luxurious, high-price venues. But his scams become more elaborate as he is egged on by a psychiatrist played in a very stylized 1940s film way by Cate Blanchett. While the movie builds to almost camp levels of drama and violence, the final scene is devastating.
— Kristina Dorsey