6 new films to watch during the Christmas holidays, including “West Side Story”

Hollywood releases its biggest and best films of the year during the holiday season. From animation to musicals, biographies and psychological blacks, here are half a dozen to discover during the Christmas holidays.

“West Side Story”: seamless update of a classic

Steven Spielberg’s revival makes the timeless tale more gritty, deeper, more beautiful and more heart-wrenching than ever before, which, for a remake, speaks volumes. Singing, street dancing, costumes, ensemble, cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim come together with renewed relevance. Considering it stormed Broadway in 1957 and won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture in 1961, it could officially be considered a period play. But its timeless message of love triumphing over bigotry and violence still resonates, especially in today’s fractured world. Set on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” twist finds two young lovers, Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler), thwarted by race and a latent gang feud. of adolescents. On their way is Maria’s brother Bernardo (David Alvarez), leader of the Puerto Rican sharks, who warns Maria to avoid Tony, leader of the white-skinned Jets. As in Verona, the couple’s love is powerful and ultimately tragic. If only gangs could move beyond the “they are not us” mentality to realize that they are fighting the same thing: the gentrification of their neighborhood. Along with superstar Zegler, whose voice is downright lyrical, stars include Mike Faist as Riff, the epitome of toxic masculinity; and Ariana DeBose as Anita, the role for which Rita Moreno won an Oscar in 1962. Speaking of Moreno, she is back as Val, a shopkeeper who gives Tony wisdom. Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”, “Lincoln”) position Val as the moral compass. It’s a beautiful tribute to the 90-year-old actress.

Rated: PG-13 for language, violence and smoking

Where to watch: In theaters

Class: A

Stan (Bradley Cooper) makes a very dangerous alliance with an enigmatic psychoanalyst (Cate Blanchett) in Guillermo del Toro "Alley of nightmares."

‘Nightmare Alley’ darkens

Want some light entertainment for the holidays? Check out Guillermo del Toro’s psychological neo-noir… Just kidding, of course. The film, a remake of the 1947 Tyrone Power classic, has its heart in all dark places. Bradley Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle is a wanderer with a shady past. He approaches a traveling carnival and is loved by aging mentalist Zeena (Toni Collette) and her alcoholic husband, Pete (David Strathairn), who teaches Stan the tricks of the trade. Molly (Rooney Mara) aka Electra catches Stan’s alluring blue eyes after barker Clem (Willem Dafoe) hires him as his assistant. Turns out the circus and its freaks, geeks, and drunks are just training camp. Soon Stan and Molly leave, taking their mentalist act to the tony supper clubs, where the money is pouring in. A member of the audience, femme fatale psychiatrist Lilith Ritter (perfectly in her element Cate Blanchett), enters the scene. “You have a softer line, but you have a racquet, the same as me,” Stanton told him. They are SO good at playing bad. Lilith reveals the secrets of her wealthy clients. Stan wows their minds. Soon Lilith and Stan are above their heads. It’s no big surprise what happens after greed and ego consumes Stan. The film struggles with predictability, including the ending, which really isn’t as explosive as del Toro and screenwriter Kim Morgan believe. At least that’s an improvement over the studio-commissioned original, happily nailed forever. In addition, the performance and neo-noir aesthetic attributed to cinematographer Dan Laustsen and production designer Tamara Deverell are impressive. “Nightmare Alley” is brooding, dangerous and beautiful, but under all the styling there is little substance.

Rated: R for strong / bloody violence, sexual content, nudity and language

Where to watch: In theaters

Class: B

The animated adventure "Sing 2" opens December 22.

‘Sing 2’ gets in the groove

Writer-director Garth Jennings creates the next chapter in the animated franchise with the same ‘let’s put a show’ magic, but adds a bit more depth. It’s not just a bunch of animal music lovers singing a bunch of covers. The ever-optimistic koala Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) is assembling his star cast to mount a dazzling sci-fi review in the “Entertainment Capital of the World.” To be successful, they must persuade a reclusive rock star, Clay Calloway (voiced by U2’s Bono), to join them, or risk the wrath of ruthless entertainment mogul Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale). It is no easy task, but the reward is the gentle reminder of the healing power of music. All the main characters return: selfless mother of 25 piglets Rosita (Reese Witherspoon); porcupine grrrl rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson); British gorilla crooner Johnny (Taron Egerton); and the excitable German pig Gunter (Nick Kroll). The latter is again the climax of the comedy. The most notable numbers are “Where the Streets Have No Name” by the entire cast, and “There’s Nothing Hold Me Back” by Shawn Mendes. There is also “bad guy” by Billie Eilish, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John and “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay. Come for light fun, stick around for over 30 tracks, including U2’s first new song in three years, “Your Song Saved My Life”.

Rated: PG for coarse material and slight danger / violence

Where to watch: In theaters December 22

Class: B

Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem to star in Aaron Sorkin's

Roll with the ‘Ricardos’

A “particularly scary week” on the set of “I Love Lucy” is remembered in the funny and compelling Aaron Sorkin biographical drama starring Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as her boss husband. orchestra, Desi Arnaz. From reading the table to recording the seminal sitcom, what unfolds over those five days in 1952 includes accusations that Lucille is a Communist, the revelation of her pregnancy (a no-no on the television’s network of the time) and the notorious Desi scams. Sorkin writes with his instant dialogue and frames the study of the couple’s complicated relationship by jumping between past and present to show Lucille and Desi tearing each other’s hair or clothes apart. Between the hubbub, Sorkin inserts those touches and references that are emblematic of Lucy’s – the trampling of the grape, “Vita Veta Vegemin” and “Lucy, I’m home,” Ricky’s slogan. Bigger issues are at stake, such as Hollywood’s meanness towards women, especially actresses over 35, and social and cultural prejudices regarding Desi’s Cuban heritage and the couple’s pregnancy. The rest of the “I Love Lucy” family are there too. Nina Arianda plays Vivian Vance (aka Ethel) and JK Simmons is William Frawley (Ethel’s much older husband Fred Mertz). Tony Hale is perfect as a “you all work for me” showrunner, unsure of himself Jess Oppenheimer. Sorkin’s scribe has a blast playing the tireless, staged writers of “I Love Lucy”, skillfully played by Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy.

Rated: R for language

Where to watch: In theaters; streaming on Amazon Prime on December 21

Class: A-

A scene from "Encanto."

‘Encanto’ enchants

Disney animation “Encanto” musical adventure comes from “Zootopia” directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard. It tells the story of a Colombian family who have magical gifts, with the exception of a girl, Mirabel Madrigal with glasses (voiced by Stéphanie Beatriz). When the powers of the family begin to wane, Mirabel works from all angles to save her family, her village and her dignity. Ultimately, Mirabel may not be able to make flowers bloom or possess super strength or transform time like her siblings, but she learns that being normal can be extraordinary. For a Disney animation, the visuals are breathtaking, in particular the magical “Casita” with its movable tiles and its stairs that turn into slides. The castle, a character in its own right, responds to the mood of the madrigals, with cracks in the foundation when danger looms. The songs are by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the voice cast includes John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama, Maluma, Adassa, María Cecilia Botero, Angie Cepeda, Diane Guerrero and Jessica Darrow. Last week he received three Golden Globe nominations, including one for best song, “Dos orugitas”, sung by Sebastián Yatra.

Rated: PG for certain thematic elements and slight danger.

Where to watch: In the cinema and on Disney + on December 24

Class: B +

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Christmas with Coolidge: “Singles until the end”

native of norwell Jennifer coolidge steals every scene as crazy Aunt Sandy in the Netflix vacation romantic comedy about two guys realizing they’re in love. It all starts when Peter (“Michael Uriah from Ugly Betty”) convinces his best friend, Nick (Philemon Chambers), to pose as her boyfriend on a trip home for Christmas. The film might be the streaming giant’s first same-sex vacation flick, but it has the same old Hallmark tropes that the main character returns to his snow-capped New England hometown (here it’s the fictional Bridgewater , New Hampshire). A love triangle ensues, and the interfering family conspires to work it out as the holiday pageant looms. Coolidge brings her usual fabulous, entering her first scene singing “Joy to the World” in a bodycon leopard print dress. Later, she will don pink taffeta and a tiara. She’s a journey, and Urie and Chambers make a pleasant duo on screen. But the movie, written by Chad Hodge and directed by Michael Mayer, is just ho-ho-hum. Kathy Najimy and Barry Bostwick co-starring. (If you want to see Uriah and Coolidge in a far superior movie, check out “Swan Song,” starring Udo Kier, on Hulu.)

Rated: TV-PG

Where to watch: Netflix

Class: B-

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