Steven Spielberg’s WEST SIDE STORY Shares First Look of Ariana DeBose as “Anita”

See her light up the big screen in #WestSideStory on December 18, 2020!!! An adaptation of the original Broadway musical, WEST SIDE STORY explores young love and tensions between rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks on the streets of 1957 New York.  Read more

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”.

Stuck Movie Review

With the popularity of musical films lately, 2016 gave us ‘La La Land.’ 2017 was the year of ‘The Greatest Showman’ and ‘A Star is Born’ was remade, once again, in 2018, naturally, 2019 needed to release something, too. Let’s keep the momentum going! Luckily, Phoenix, Arizona native Michael Berry, who has had a successful career as a director and actor on the stage and on screen, heard the call and did just that. He gave us ‘Stuck,’ starring ‘Breaking Bad’ actor Giancarlo Esposito. ‘Stuck’ is about six people who find themselves forced together when their New York City subway stops moving. Rather than sit there in silence, they get to know one another through, of course, song.

At the outset, it was a musical play written by Riley Thomas. When Berry heard about it, he was in right away to direct the film version. He was hooked by the fact that people everywhere are angry, especially these days, and he could definitely take that premise and make it work. Not only are people angry but through electronics, human beings are getting more and more distant. So, when these six individuals are, begrudging, made to spend time with one another, even connect, things happen that help each of them… heal, honestly. It’ll remind you some of ‘Rent’ in a way but it’s different. Maybe that doesn’t make any sense, but the songs feel the same… sound the same. Don’t let the fact that it isn’t its equal deter you from enjoying it. Nothing can be ‘Rent’ but ‘Rent.’ It came along and blew everyone away and got everyone excited about musicals, even if they had never seen one, and ‘Stuck’ will simply continue to draw interest to the genre. A few things happen at the end of the film that suggests a sequel could result from this effort should they ever get the urge.

The lyrics to the songs are meaningful and reach across lines of culture and race. In fact, the entire film purposefully deals with racism, sexism, class, and grief in several different ways that reflect the current climate rather than attempt to escape it. Some passengers try and help others, but a few arguments happen and are dealt with through gorgeous melodies and verses replacing unnecessary dialogue in songs like ‘Gone,’ ‘Make It Better’ and ‘Draw You.’ I assure you that the ballads will simply delight your ears. The performances, the songs and the incredibly uncommon way to bring us a story such as this, one of harmony and anguish, is worth seeing on the big screen if you can. As I do with most musicals that get released, I’ll be buying this soundtrack the moment I can. You might want to do the same.

*MJW Films and Eammon Films will theatrically release the film on April 19th in Phoenix at multiple  Harkins Theatre locations.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Movie Review

Before I get into the meat of this review, let me tell you a few things about the movie for which I reviewed. ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is a flick with several short stories within the two hour and twelve-minute film. The first short introduces the fabulously subtle Tim Blake Nelson as ‘Buster Scruggs’ in the segment called ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ which, by the way, is fantastic! It’s everything you could possibly hope for. It felt to me very much like one of my favorite Coen Brothers movies, their 2000 hit, ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ Once it started, I could see I wasn’t going to be disappointed so I settled in my seat, ready for another gem which, luckily, I was getting.  I’m watching Scruggs on his horse and I’m loving it. This is what I came here for!

Buster’s scenes are about a singing cowboy and within the songs, some of the most shrewd and imaginative narration develops from this extremely exaggerated character and the situations he finds himself. His self-confidence makes it even funnier. 

You’re a tad rattled when that segment ends, and we move onto the next. This one is called ‘Near Algodones,’ which stars James Franco. Very creatively and artistically, each segment is treated as a chapter book. It’s clever how it prepares the mind for something special. I watched. I waited and was rather disappointed when that extraordinary tale didn’t quite pan out as I had hoped. It was passable but what the film has already given, you look for here… and it just isn’t there. Its narration and some of the humor fairs well enough but it felt too short to allow you any real time with the characters. You can’t know or care much for them so ending it so abruptly doesn’t work. Perhaps the next will be better. No one’s perfect after all. Well, to my dismay, it wasn’t any better. It wasn’t tragic, but it does lead one to wonder what time it is. We want to and need to learn more about these characters before we move on… but we don’t. This is a sizeable lapse in judgment throughout the feature. 

The third story is called ‘Meal Ticket.’ It stars Liam Neeson and, to be honest, doesn’t feel much like it fits. It’s about a man taking advantage of another man who’s in desperate need of help. When he can be easily replaced, he is… and it the most horrible way. It’s quite depressing and sad. And it gets altogether boring as it repeats itself. I can’t think of a single thing about this section that could be especially celebrated. However, I did enjoy some of the next narrative. It could be seen as dismal but portions of it made me smile. ‘All Gold Canyon,’ starring Tom Waits as a prospector panning for gold, is visually relaxing. A common theme in each film, though they’re separate from one another, arises. You realize that the lead character in each of the segments dies. However, with this piece, the scenery is so beautiful. As the prospector tears up the land looking for his ‘Mr. Pocket’ of gold, you find that the lead isn’t quite as easy to pick out. With what he’s doing, and what will happen to this paradise, it’s the land itself that will die.

There are more chapters, but I’ll end by saying this. Have no fear. Throughout the film, there does appear bits of sparkling brilliance that I have come to expect from the Coen’s. When these moments come the film couldn’t be better. Each of the stories has proficient and competent hands writing and directing them so why wouldn’t we see their unquestionable talent?! We do but that’s also the unfortunate question. Why didn’t we see it more often? These were anticlimactic. With the way most unfolded, it’ll leave you feeling cheated to a degree.

I’ll boil it down for you as to why. The trailer seemed to have promised so much more. Your sheer disappointment in the film as a whole is evident in how much you cling to hope that each tale improves. Your love for their storytelling will keep you hanging in, which I did, do and always will with their work. I believe the biggest and most obvious problem with this is there wasn’t enough time for development. Each story is GOOD and you want MORE so what was the point in leaving everyone hanging? If they make separate films or a series, which could very well be what’ll happen, I’m invested 100%!! And I sincerely hope they do.

A Star Is Born Movie Review

“A Star is Born” was first created in Hollywood in 1937, and then remade in 1954 and again in 1976. So, while this current release is not ‘new’ in that sense, it is a quite respectable addition to the prior versions. This is the story of an alcoholic major star meeting an unknown talent and bringing her talent into the world. Then he watches her flourish, even while his popularity sinks — it is typical melodrama boiler-plate material. That is, unless you have some very high-profile stars play in the main roles and have an incredibly talented director and musical talent. Check off all those boxes for this one!

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is the real thing, being a well-loved singer/songwriter with a country background and a huge following. His fans are not privy to his heavy drinking habits, and his difficult issues with hearing loss. His half-brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) is his manager and he knows all of Jackson’s faults. But he steers him in the right direction, so he can keep up a good front. After a late-night concert, Jackson is being driven to a hotel, but he decides to stop for quick one. He happens into a bar where a young woman named Ally (Lady Gaga) is performing a soulful song. He sticks around and takes Ally with him, while they go to different bars. Ally is discovered to be a songwriter as well as being a damn good singer.

Jackson sends a car out to get Ally in the next few days at her house. Her father Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) is thrilled that Jackson Maine has taken a shine to his daughter. She goes to meet Jackson at a concert. He had taken her song that she played for him on that first night and made an arrangement for his band. He insists that Ally come out on stage to sing it with him. She resists at first, but when he finally does, the audience is ecstatic. Ally becomes a major name overnight, and Jackson and she both begin to tour together. They create beautiful music, both onstage — and in the bedroom.


Bobby gets upset at Jackson for not taking the music seriously, not using his hearing aids and for using prescription drugs with his alcohol. He quits as his manager, and he wants Jackson to sober up and become a man. Jackson still has enough money and talent to do what he wants to do, even if what he wants becomes self-destructive. Ally sees a big part of this, but she believes that Jackson will settle down and get himself right. But she also meets a big music producer named Rez (Rafi Gavron) who wants to make Ally into a superstar. This involves more elaborate dance numbers in concerts, and changing her hair color for various tours. Ally is unsure, but Jackson says it is all good, so she starts to become a huge star.

An older retired musician named Noodles (Dave Chappelle) is Jackson’s friend. He convinces Jackson to propose to Ally. They are married and there are various tours and recording sessions that follow. Jackson spends more time at his house, while Ally is away touring. He dunks himself deeper into the bottle, rather than making himself useful and more productive. His star begins to quickly fade, as stories of missed concert dates and awkward behavior in public. Rez, Ally’s manager and guru, thinks that she needs to dump Jackson, before he brings her down. Bobby meets up with Jackson, and also tries to convince Jackson that the bottle will take him to his grave, just like it did to their father.

Everything is going right for Ally, and her debut album is being honored at the Grammys. Jackson is to be there for a tribute song, but they take away his voice. The producers want him to play guitar, but not sing the song. Disheartened, Jackson drinks more than usual. His actions are seen in front of a national audience, and he totally humiliates himself. But it is harder on Ally. Jackson promises to dry out and become a true believer for Ally’s Army. But he remains on a destructive path, and he cannot pull himself out of a tragic downward spiral.

This movie bears the stamp of Bradley Cooper all over it. He stars as Jackson, but is also directed and co-wrote the movie. It is a complete work of passion for Cooper, and his portrayal in this movie proves it. He transforms himself into a realistic hard-drinking, gruff-throated singer. His vocal quality resembles the voice of his co-star Sam Elliott. Elliot is also wonderful to watch in the handful of scenes that he is in. But Cooper is a rare talent to be so effective in all those different areas.


Lady Gaga is also good in playing Ally. There are several events that somewhat mimic her real rise to stardom. But in all truth, Gaga is a superstar vocalist performer, one that is now performing ‘acting’. But most of the acting is playing a fictional version of her real self. Bradley Cooper changed himself to become a singer, but Lady Gaga is a singer who is acting at being a singer.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga star in a profound yet tragic love affair. Hope there’s no ‘Bad Romance’!

The new trailer for “Mary Poppins Returns” has arrived!!

In Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” an all-new original musical and sequel, Mary Poppins is back to help the next generation of the Banks family find the joy and wonder missing in their lives following a personal loss. Emily Blunt stars as the practically-perfect nanny with unique magical skills who can turn any ordinary task into an unforgettable, fantastic adventure and Lin-Manuel Miranda plays her friend Jack, an optimistic street lamplighter who helps bring light—and life—to the streets of London.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is directed by Rob Marshall. The screenplay is by David Magee and the screen story is by Magee & Rob Marshall & John DeLuca based upon the Mary Poppins Stories by PL Travers. The producers are John DeLuca, p.g.a., Rob Marshall, p.g.a. and Marc Platt, p.g.a. with Callum McDougall serving as executive producer. The music score is by Marc Shaiman and the film features all new original songs with music by Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman. The film also stars Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks; Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks; Julie Walters as the Banks’ housekeeper Ellen; Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and introducing Joel Dawson as the Banks’ children, with Colin Firth as Fidelity Fiduciary Bank’s William Weatherall Wilkins; and Meryl Streep as Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy. Angela Lansbury appears as the Balloon Lady, a treasured character from the PL Travers books and Dick Van Dyke is Mr. Dawes, Jr., the retired chairman of the bank now run by Firth’s character.




Hashtag:          #MaryPoppinsReturns

In theaters nationwide December 19