Shaft Movie Review

“Shaft” is the current 2019 version of the continuing story of John Shaft that was started in 1971. “He’s a complicated man – But no one understands him but his woman” – you know, the theme song by Isaac Hayes. Well then, “Shaft” later appeared in 2000, when Samuel L. Jackson took over the main role from Richard Roundtree. Read more

The Secret Life of Pets 2 Movie Review


“The Secret Life of Pets 2” is very similar to the first movie in this series (the first one was just named without the “2”). It has mostly the same animated characters, and (mostly) the same actors doing the vocal work of those characters. The same cheerful animation style is used to tell a cute and engaging story about several pets who live in New York City. Read more

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Movie Review


“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is, well – of course – an X-Men movie. That brings with it all excitement (or baggage) that you think of for an X-Men movie. It is part of the new-ish iteration of X-Men, begun in 2011 with “X-Men: First Class”. These are the younger versions of the special Mutant superheroes, including Professor X, Magneto, Beast, Raven, Storm, Cyclops and others. If you are not enamored with X-Men, then your interest level might have already peaked. But since X-Men might perhaps now have a better future integrated with other Marvel superheroes, the outcome may not be “Dark” after all…


Professor X is Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) run a school for the special children in the Mutant community. The Mutants are now well-respected and a big part of the world’s crisis management. Since the ‘bad’ Mutants, led by Magneto (Michael Fassbender) have been self-isolated, there is a peace between the Mutant groups. But when a space rescue mission goes really bad, Mutant Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) takes on some uncontrollable powers. There is concern that Jean is not doing that well. Her fellow Mutants are really upset, including Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp). Jean Grey finds out some things that Professor X has hidden from her since she was a child. She leaves the school and wanders aimlessly.



Jean Grey is being watched by an alien being who has taken over a human form. Vuk (Jessica Chastain) knows that Jean Grey’s new powers are what her race needs to survive, so they will be able take over the Earth. So, the human-looking Vuk and her followers are traipsing around to get Grey and take over her special powers. Jean Grey leaves Professor X but she soon tracks down Magneto. He and his group of hardened Mutants live alone on a deserted island. She finds out that her powers overpower even Magneto, so she leaves him. The military and government agents are after all the Mutants now that Jean has fought and killed a fellow Mutant. Jean Grey has left a path of destruction in her path.



The Mutants are all captured in New York. They are placed in confinement on a train to a Colorado holding facility. But the alien forces, led by Vuk, are ready to attack the train and take over the Mutants. When they get to Jean Grey, they plan on draining all her special powers and destroying all the Mutants. Then they will be free to take over the Earth and wipe out mankind. But will the Mutants still have enough Mutant powers to make “The Last Stand” and avoid an “Apocalypse”? When the “Days of Future Past” are gone by, will the X-Men still be up in the “First Class”? Even when the train is attacked, and many people are killed – will it still be a statistical fact that train travel is by far the safest mode of transportation?


This group of X-Men Mutants has produced some very enjoyable movies lately. Staring with “First Class”, and then “Days of Future Past” – the writing and acting was very enjoyable. The next one was “Apocalypse”, and that one dropped a little in quality. But X-Men has returned to the upswing with “Dark Phoenix”. Of course, being a Superhero/Mutant type movie, it might not be your cup of darjeeling. But the ensemble cast is up to speed, and the production values are really good. There are some really creative fight sequences, and the movie moves along at a quick pace. There a few high points: the acting of Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, the acting of James McAvoy as Professor X, and the acting of Michael Fassbender as Magneto. Some points not as well-developed: Jessica Chastain as the alien Vuk is off-putting, the tragic death of a very popular Mutant is quickly passed over, the choppy editing of the fight sequences. Also, the most glaring missing item – Wolverine!



“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is ready to establish a new common ground for all of the Marvel characters into a more fully-integrated Marvel Universe.


The Souvenir Movie Review

Sometimes, a movie based on a true coming-of-age drama based, on the life of a writer or a director, can be beautiful and moving. But then could also end up like “The Souvenir”, which has a fine setup – but totally misses the execution. When the main character is there in place as a stand-in for the writer/director, you can feel that the message should be delivered thoughtfully. However, here the cast is excellent – but the story meanders and drips out so slowly and in such a convoluted manner that you might kick yourself to stay focused. The level of the actors is so high that they deserve to tell a soaring tale, yet they are given very limited story that barely keeps any interest.

Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is an English woman in her young 20’s. She is working to strike out on her own, using her skills in photography to get into film school. She has some very loving parents, including her mother Rosalind (Tilda Swinton). Julie has a boyfriend who is much older than she is. Anthony (Tom Burke) is somewhat charming and he has a broad education. But he has many woeful character traits. He works for British government in a high position. But he has left his wife, and he cheats and steals. The worst part is that he has a heroin addiction. Julie tries to see past all the bad stuff, and she accepts him with all his flaws.

They are together is a small flat in town. Anthony has strange hours for work and many times goes abroad. Julie is attending school and working on film project. She wants to make a documentary of a now defunct ship-building operation in a nearby town. How has the shutdown of the plant affected the people that remain? But when she has lunches with Anthony and diners with her parents – she is at a loss of words about how to describe her project. Mother Rosalind thinks that Julie could do much better for herself, by getting into a better school and finding a boyfriend who is not as unpredictable.

So, Julie attends school and meets with Anthony from time to time. They take a trip to Venice. But the little apartment also gets robbed one day. And then later Julie finds a shady character hanging out in the flat, waiting for Anthony. This other guy was looking to score some heroin, and he wants to get some from Anthony. Julie chases him out. But she is worried that Anthony is hooked up in something that is really bad. Anthony is defiant, but later on, he succumbs to the addition more and more. He is on a final downward spiral, and even Julie’s help will not save him. Julie works and struggles to get her documentary completed. Rosalind stops over quite often to see if there is something she can do, or if she can loan her some cash.

The resulting movie is a repetitive series of little scenes from Julie’s life. It is all well and good. But there is nothing compelling or nothing that drives any of the characters. So, the result is two hours of inaction that lead up to a non-conclusion. People pass into the Julie’s life, and people pass out of it. She does not take a hard stand much of anything. Even when Anthony is abusing his situation and taking advantage of Julie – she does not do anything. She remains a passive observer of her own life. This is far from a dramatic, edge-of-your-seat immersive experience. You just sort of see what is happening. The direction is such that the movie becomes a meandering stream of random events.

The acting of Honor Swinton Byrne (as Julie) and Tilda Swinton (as her mother Rosalind) is very believable. But of course, Tilda Swinton is the actual mother of Honor Swinton Byrne, so that is a little like typecasting. Tilda is highly respected and accomplished actor. It seems like her daughter, Honor, will be quite capable of following along that path that her mother has opened for her. Tom Burke has a very difficult role, since he is playing a charming cad who is on a downward slope. He just keeps getting worse and worse, as his character gets consumed by his addition. But it does not help that he is basically a ten-pound sack of manure out in the sun for several days…

When you participate in something meaningful, you might want to bring home a little reminder of what you accomplished. But when it comes to seeing this movie, you might pass on the chance to pick up “The Souvenir”.

In the Phoenix area, this movie will open exclusively at the Harkins Scottsdale Camelview…

Aladdin Movie Review

“Aladdin” is a new Disney live-action adaptation of the original Disney 1992 animated movie. The story is the ultimate in wish fulfillment, after all – who couldn’t use a Genie that can grant you three wishes? But the very successful animated version had several things going for it. There was a great story. There were great songs. And it had the great vocal talent of Robin Williams. With the updated version, it has two of those three.

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a ‘street rat’ in the desert city of Agrabah in a vague Mid-Eastern country. He is thief and a street hustler, making friends of the other poor folks in town – all while avoiding the palace guards. His little helper monkey Abu is with him everywhere. He runs into a person pretending to be just another poor beggar. But she is really Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) who can never escape from the palace to see the people in the street.  She is saved by Aladdin from a dangerous situation, and he goes with her to the palace.

Later that night Aladdin sneaks in and finds Jasmine with her loyal servant Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). But he is captured by Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the trusted consultant to the royal Sultan (Navid Negahban).  Jafar and his equally evil parrot Iago find that Aladdin might be the one to get a special Lamp out of the Cave of Wonders. This Magic Lamp is said to contain a Genie, one that can grant three wishes to the owner of the Lamp. Aladdin is able to get the Lamp, and it is almost stolen by Jafar.

Aladdin finds the Magic Lamp does hold a Genie (Will Smith). He is all Big and Blue and he is waiting to take Aladdin’s order. He tricks the Genie to get them all out of the Cave, including a new member of the group – a Magic Flying Carpet. Aladdin does not want much, but he does want to meet and impress Princess Jasmine. Maybe if Genie turns Aladdin into a Price, then he could have a chance. Sure thing, he becomes Prince Ali, from Ababwa. The Sultan is very impressed, as well as all the people of Agrabah. But Princess Jasmine thinks that something is a little off with this new Prince. Jafar knows it is Aladdin and he begins scheming about how to seal back that Lamp.

Dalia is impressed with Prince Ali’s man-servant, who is actually Genie. Genie also becomes smitten with Dalia, so they both want Ali and Jasmine to get something going. But Jasmine thinks Ali is holding a secret, so he takes her on the Magic Flying Carpet to see the world, a ‘Whole New World’, that is. But before Aladdin can confess who he really is, Jafar decides to eliminate him form the picture. Genie is able to save Aladdin, as another wish gets used up. Aladdin had promised to use his final third wish to set Genie free, but that might not happen.

Jafar become more evil and more powerful, as he takes over from the Sultan. Hes has grabbed the Magic Lamp and he is now in control. Genie is no longer able to help Aladdin, so Aladdin and Jasmine might as well call the whole thing off. But does Aladdin have the street smarts to convince a powerful sorcerer like Jafar that he could become even bigger and more powerful? Could that be a way out for everyone?

This version of Aladdin has a nice cast and it redoes all of the great songs from the original animated version. There is even a new song for Princess Jasmine – one that gives her a stringer voice in her situation. Will Smith seems out-of-place at first as Genie. But within 15 minutes he takes this version of the Genie and makes it fit with his charm and sassy attitude. Naomi Scott has a very soaring voice that works wonders with her Jasmine songs. Mena Massoud is also charming as Aladdin and has a good voice.

Guy Ritchie as the director and co-writer is used to movies that have a rougher edge. His family-friendly version still has a couple of his visual traits (super slo-mo camera work). But most of the dirty and gritty features of his other films are glossed over with wild and bright costumes and bazaar scenes. The big musical numbers have a wild and over the top feel, like a cross between a Vegas show and Bollywood.

Remakes are becoming a big thing at Disney Studios, but rather than getting “A Whole New World”, this one just serves up “A Whole Lotta Sameness”.