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West Side Story

Steven Spielberg provides a cinematically spectacular remake of the original. The story is the familiar one – Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) meet at a school dance and fall in love, a taboo where racial boundaries are clearly defined and never crossed. I remember seeing the original, but thankfully that was so long ago that I didn’t have to compare this to the previous one; I could just enjoy what the show had to offer. It really is quite dazzling – the sets pop with color, and the camera catches the entire sweep of a scene with …

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Belfast

Kenneth Branaugh directs this semi-autobiographical story of young Buddy growing up in Belfast in the 1970s, an era characterized by enhanced violence between Protestants and Catholics. Buddy’s dad works in England and returns home every two weeks to be with his family. In between, Buddy navigates, with the help of his mother and grandparents, the political uncertainty around him, as well as his first love and the growing discontent between his parents. I liked the movie. It reminded me a lot of Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s look back at his own childhood, in that both directors used black and white to …

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King Richard

Will Smith plays Richard Williams, who wrote a playbook that guided their daughters, Venus and Serena, to world champion tennis players. Will Smith is great; I don’t find him terribly convincing in many of his roles, but he immerses himself into this role as a father driven to his daughters’ success, both on and off the court. After watching the movie, he plays exactly the right character: Someone who is just as focused on making a name for himself as for his daughters. This supreme focus and self-centeredness, which he plays so well, detracts somewhat from the overall story. Their …

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Onward

In this animated film from Pixar, Ian and Barley, two brothers who lost their father to an illness, are given the opportunity to have their father back for one day through the use of an old magic wand. When the spell becomes botched, the brothers set off on an adventure to find the magic stone that will result in being able to see their dad. I liked the movie mostly for its message about parenting and being about to recognize the amazing things we do without even realizing how amazing they are. I would not consider this a film that …

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Soul

In this latest animation effort from Pixar studios, Joe Gardner is a music teacher at a public school in New York City who is a piano player constantly dreaming about jazz music. One day, he gets his break when he gets an opportunity to play with Dorothea Williams, a renowned musician. On the way to his debut, he suffers an accident and, through a series of events, finds himself assigned as a mentor to a particularly precocious spirit who can’t seem to find his way to becoming a body on Earth. The film is quite stunning. The animation is superior; …

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Wolfwalkers

This is the latest animated film by the same director who created The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Robyn and her father Bill have stationed in Ireland in 1650 at an outpost overseen by a cruel ruler. Robyn dreams of hunting wolves, like her father. One day, Robyn meets Mebh, who turns out to be a wolf walker, a creature who by day is in human form but at night can leave the sleeping body and roam the world as a wolf. This is a really beautiful film. The story is based on Celtic legend but feels …

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My Octopus Teacher

This documentary follows a year in the life of Craig Foster. Having run against some difficult times, he takes to the snorkeling in the kelp beds of South Africa and befriends an octopus. Through the course of the year, Foster puts together a beautiful collage of life in the kelp beds while researching the life of the octopus. It felt a bit strange sometimes, as it seemed sometimes that the attachment was a bit closer than it should have been, almost romantic, but what stands out is the depiction of the cycle of life Foster captures with his lens. The …

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Blinded by the Light

Javed is 16 and yearns to be a writer. He writes poetry and keeps a journal to the dismay of his father, who emigrated to the UK from Pakistan to have a better life for his family. The film takes place in Thatcher’s England of the 1980s when economic woes rocked the country and jobs were hard to find. One day, Javed discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, and his world completely flips. The topics the film covers, such as generational culture clash, racism, and economic blight, aren’t particularly new. What makes this film singularly stand out are two things. …

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Alpha

Kodi Smit-McPhee is Keda, a young man who is next in line to become the chief of his tribe. His father has been pushing him to success, but Keda is not really a hunter. One day, Keda and his father go out with the other males from the tribe in what will be his initiation as a successful hunter. While rounding up a herd of bison, Keda finds himself separated from the others and facing a charging bison. The bison ejects Keda over the cliff, and his father believes him to be dead. After befriending a wolf who was abandoned …

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Paddington 2

This film picks up where the first left off. Paddington, the bear, is living happily with his London family, the Browns (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are the parents). It is Paddington’s aunt’s 100th birthday, and he wants to get her something special. Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent) at the antique store shows Paddington a pop-up book of London, which Paddington decides he wants to get his aunt, but he has to work and save up a lot of money to buy it. The desire to buy the book launches Paddington into a series of adventures. I loved this movie, which …

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