• West Side Story -- Photo 20th Century Fox
  • Being the Ricardos -- Photo Amazon Prime Video
  • And Just Like That -- Photo HBO Max

Steven Spielberg’s spectacular re-invention of “West Side Story” makes the classic “Romeo and Juliet”-inspired musical his own, subtly revising Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim’s 1957 Broadway hit, along with Robert Wise’s 1961 Oscar-winning screen adaptation.

In the Upper West Side in the 1960s, gang violence erupts in the slums of a crumbling cityscape with palpable tension between the Anglo Jets, ruled by brawl-loving Riff (Mike Faist), and the Puerto Rican Sharks, controlled by the boxer Bernardo (David Alvarez).

These thugs mill around Doc’s store, run by Doc’s weary widow Valentina (Rita Moreno), who lets ex-con Tony (bland Ansel Elgort), co-founder of the Jets, bunk in her basement.   

More complications arise as a ‘forbidden’ romance blossoms between Polish-American Tony and Bernardo’s naïve younger sister Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler), just arrived from Puerto Rico to live with Bernardo’s fiery girl-friend Anita (Afro-Latina Ariana DeBose).

Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner, who adapted Spielberg’s “Munich” and “Lincoln,” puts a new spin on Arthur Laurents’ book, acknowledging the effects of urban renewal/gentrification and re-imagining the way familiar songs are used – like having 90 year-old Rita Moreno sing “Somewhere.”

For those with short memories, Rita Moreno won a Best Supporting Oscar as Anita, beating Judy Garland (“Judgment at Nuremberg”) and Lotte Lenya (“The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone”).

In another stroke of genius, Spielberg recruited Jason Peck, the New York City Ballet’s resident choreographer, to stage dazzling dance sequences, paying tribute to trailblazing director / choreographer Jerome Robbins.

Problem is: for six decades, this musical has been performed and revived repeatedly. If you haven’t seen it, it’s probably because you were in it. It’s considered a period piece, compared with “Hamilton,” which appeals to Millennials/Gen Z.

Plus, because of the continued Covid threat, many older movie-goers are reluctant to return to theaters, preferring to wait for home-viewing. And it’s frustrating that the Spanish dialogue has no English subtitles.

Nevertheless, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “West Side Story” is a visually stunning 9 – in theaters only and worth a trip to see it on the big screen.  It’s one of my 10 Best of the past year.

Growing up in Hollywood with a director / producer father (S. Sylvan Simon) who often worked with Lucille Ball, I had the pleasure of knowing her…which was why I was absolutely stunned that Nicole Kidman was not only able to embody her exuberant physicality but also to capture the vocal nuances and tonal essence of the determined woman she was – in “Being the Ricardos.”

During the stressful week that this behind-the-scenes story takes place, Lucille Ball (Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) are threatened by shocking personal revelations, a political smear, and CBS’s concern over cultural taboos as they’re preparing a pivotal installment of “I Love Lucy.”

Set in 1953, Sen. Joe McCarthy was terrorizing Hollywood with his Communist witch hunts. Lucy & Desi are into the second season of their groundbreaking sitcom when, unexpectedly, on his Sunday night radio broadcast, powerful columnist Walter Winchell suggests that Lucille Ball is a Communist.

Utilizing flashbacks, writer/director Aaron Sorkin not only delves into Lucy & Desi’s romantic and professional relationship but also reveals their behind-closed-doors interaction with co-stars Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) and William Frawley (J.K. Simmons), who played neighbors Ethel & Fred Mertz.

“I’m not funny,” Lucy often claimed. But she was brave, and she certainly knew how to play funny.

Married for 20 turbulent years, America’s favorite redhead and her philandering Cuban band-leader were far more fascinating than the fictional Ricardos, as Sorkin delves into the darker aspects of their lives. As years went by, their commitment to “I Love Lucy” was the only thing keeping them together.

Many claim the last kiss they ever shared was the last kiss of the last episode of their last show.  Shortly afterward, Lucy filed for divorce and bought out Desi’s shares of Desilu Productions. As studio executive, Lucy later launched hits like “Star Trek” and “Mission Impossible.”

Admittedly, this film is minor Sorkin but Aaron Sorkin (“West Wing,” “The Social Network”) is cagey, droll and voraciously smart.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Being the Ricardos” is an intriguing 8 – in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime It’s one of my 10 Best for 2021.

Six sassy seasons and two movies later, “Sex and the City” is back, streaming on HBO Max in its new incarnation: “And Just Like That.” Yes, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) have remained close friends.

The awkward absence of spunky Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) is addressed, explaining that she’s in London.  Actually, these mid-50s ladies-who-lunch are far more concerned with aging: specifically, their hair. Miranda’s gone gray, Charlotte maintains brunette, and Carrie finances extravagant streaks.

But that’s not the big surprise. Since there’s been extensive news coverage, I don’t think it’s a ‘spoiler’ to report that Carrie’s husband, beloved Mr. Big (Chris Noth), dies in the first episode after an exercise session on his pricey Peloton bike. An unfortunate product placement, Peloton responded immediately: “Mr. Big lived what many would consider an extravagant lifestyle – including cocktails, cigars, and big steaks – and was at serious risk as he had a previous cardiac event in Season 6.  These lifestyle choices and perhaps even his family history were the likely cause of his death. Riding his Peloton Bike may have even helped delay his cardiac event.”

Significantly, Peloton’s stock price fell over 11% the day after the series premiered.  In full damage control, Peloton produced and released a parody commercial with Chris Noth and instructor Allegra (Jess King) within 48 hours. That’s crisis management!

But, wait – there’s more! After Chris Noth was accused of sexually assaulting several women in separate incidents, Peloton quickly dropped that ad.

Back to the series: Grief-stricken Carrie remains as self-centered as ever. The former newspaper sex columnist has become a social media maven, podcasting with a weed-smoking, bisexual, non-binary comedian (Sara Ramirez).

Attorney Miranda wants a Master’s degree as a human rights advocate but stumbles awkwardly when she discovers her professor (Karen Pittman) is Black. And social-climbing Charlotte is guilt-ridden for shaming Carrie into attending her daughter’s piano recital instead of vacationing with Big.

FYI: Actor Willie Garson died during production, which is why his character, Stanford Blatch, is written off in the fourth episode.

On the Granger Gauge, “And Just Like That” is a somber 6, streaming on HBO Max.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.