SHAFT. Isaac Hayes' Theme from Shaft is a certified slapper (that's what the kids are calling them, right?). Trouble is, so is John Shaft, at least as characterized by Richard Roundtree in the original movie from 1971. (I haven't explored the quick succession of sequels, TV movies or the kinda-sorta sequel in 2000, starring Jackson as the nephew of the Roundtree character and directed by John Singleton.) It's been a while but I remember coming away with the distinct impression that the character was a misogynist and a brutalist, unburdened by morality or emotional nuance. He was a product of his place and time, a manifestation of the abandonment, blight and decay of New York City in the 1970s. Of course, he was also intended as a symbol, an avenging angel against its violent decrepitude. I'll be the first to admit that I, a white boy from Northern California, don't have much purview on the cultural context for 1970s Harlem or the popular art that depicts it. But Shaft always stuck with me as problematic: an ostensible defender of his community who plows through it with guns, fists and phallus. So 2019, when we hopefully find ourselves at the beginning of a renewed fight for awareness and equality, seems to me like an odd moment to roll this relic back out. But Shaft is part of our collective cultural consciousness; even people who don't think they know the theme song actually do. And it's Samuel L. Jackson, so I couldn't not go, could I?
This time he plays John Shaft, son of John Shaft (Roundtree) — anyone complaining about spoilers can keep it to themselves; he's in the trailer — a crusading cop who left the force under a cloud and struck out on his own as a private detective. Then, in the '80s, he found love with Maya (Regina Hall) and they had a baby. Shaft's milieu being what it was/is, though, Maya felt compelled to leave and raise the child somewhere safer. And so she did, cultivating in her son a sensitivity and sense of fairness that she hoped would serve him well. (We see, in a perhaps unnecessary montage, his father's presence as defined by Christmas gifts of porno mags, condoms and a Lawrence Taylor Super Bowl ring). Her parental instincts would seem affirmed by her son's trajectory: Present-day JJ (Jessie T. Usher), an MIT graduate, works as an analyst with the FBI based in New York City. He forswears violence, respects everyone equally and shops at the Gap. His life becomes complicated, though, when he reunites with a childhood friend named Karim (Avan Jogia), an Army veteran who has struggled with self-medication. Karim ends up dead under suspicious circumstances and JJ finds himself overmatched in his attempts to investigate. So, of course, he calls on his estranged father for assistance. Together they unravel a frankly hackneyed plot involving a veterans' assistance organization, a sinister bodega and trans-continental heroin smuggling network. There's some background noise about the elder Shaft's old nemesis and a will-they-or-won't-they with JJ's lifelong friend Sasha (Alexandra Shipp). And, of course, Maya re-enters the picture.
Taken on its own merits, this Shaft is a serviceable if under-written action comedy (there's violence aplenty, though the execution leaves something to be desired). There's an attempt to bring the Shaft mythology into the light of the 21st century but it fails, laden as it is with winking homophobia and easy sex jokes. I wouldn't expect a "woke" Shaft (maybe I should?) but this one's stuck awkwardly between eras, unable to recognize or acknowledge his own position, straining — unsuccessfully — to contextualize itself. R. 111M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE. The music and mythology of Bob Dylan has always been a part of my consciousness; I suspect this is true for many of us. I explored his catalog in earnest as a pre-teen, enamored with his early electric stuff. But I moved on to other things without parsing my relationship to the music or Dylan's place in the cultural landscape. And so Scorsese's new documentary struck me as a bolt from the blue. It presents a deceptively straightforward portrait of Dylan and Co.'s 1975 tour with footage from the road and present-day interviews (a number of which are apparently scripted and fake). While the movie doesn't answer any questions about Dylan's identity (nor does it pretend to), it captures the sheer magnetism of the man as a performer. The live performances depicted here are beyond compelling, revealing an artist who comes to singular life, eyes wild, face caked in stage makeup, while performing his songs.
There's also a great deal of ambiguity, the staged interviews being only one example. Scorsese goes to great lengths to place the tour within the context of an America in conflict with itself on the eve of its 200th birthday and to subtly incorporate almost fevered notions of identity real and manufactured, of masks on masks. It bears re-watching, even if one only goes back for the songs. TVMA. 142M. NETFLIX.
— John J. Bennett
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
ALL IS TRUE. Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Ian McKellan in a drama about William Shakespeare returning to his family in his last years. PG13. 101M. MINOR.
ANNA. Trash-ass Luc Besson returns to lady assassin stories with Sasha Luss and Helen Mirren. R. 119M. BROADWAY.
BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER (1999). Natasha Lyonne stars in a comedy about a teen sent to a conversion camp. R. 85M. MINOR.
CHILD'S PLAY. Aubrey Plaza and Mark Hamill take a stab at rebooting the killer doll horror. R. 90M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
DIRTY DANCING (1987). Swivel with Swayze. PG13. 100M. BROADWAY.
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO. Drama about a young man (Jimmy Fails) who tries, with his best friend (Jonathan Majors) to get back the family home his grandfather (Danny Glover) built. R. 120M. MINOR.
TOY STORY 4. Go ahead, little toys (lights cigarette), see if I have any soul left to crush. Starring Tom Hanks, G. 100M. FORTUNA, MINOR.
ALADDIN. Live-action Disney remake with (hopefully) less racism and a hotter Jafar than the original. Starring blue Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and Marwan Kenzari. PG. 128M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM. John Chester's documentary about starting a sustainable farm with his wife Molly Chester illustrates challenges with great, if unflattering, footage that could have done without his voiceover narration. PG. 91M. MINOR.
THE DEAD DON'T DIE. Director Jim Jarmusch puts the dead in deadpan with Adam Driver and Bill Murray in a zombie-filled comedy-horror. R. 105M. MINOR.
GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. Kaiju cage match for the planet with Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah. With humans Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe and Millie Bobby Brown. PG13. 131M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM. This installment outdoes itself with world-creation and giddily satisfying action sequences as Keanu Reeves outruns an international assemblage of assassins with Halle Berry and more dogs. Also starring Laurence Fishburne and Anjelica Houston. R. 130M. BROADWAY.
LATE NIGHT. Mindy Kaling plays a newbie diversity hire in an all-white, male writers room for a stale late-night show hosted by a prickly icon (Emma Thompson). R. 102M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MA. Octavia Spencer stars as a woman who lets the cool kids party at her house and then turns scary. R. 99M. BROADWAY.
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth dip out of Asgard to revive the alien-friendly franchise and suit tailoring with Emma Thompson. PG13. 104M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE RAFT. Danish documentary about a 1973 floating social experiment that was supposed to examine sex and violence but veered closer to mutiny. NR. 97M. MINIPLEX.ROCKETMAN. Elton John biopic promising sex, drugs, glittering sunglasses and rock 'n' roll with the greatest hits soundtrack to match. Starring Taron Egerton. R. 121M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2. This sequel lacks the charm, inventiveness and sweetness of the original, despite a strong cast that includes Patton Oswalt, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart and Harrison Ford. PG. 86M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
SERENGETI RULES. Documentary reflecting on the work of a group of scientists who studied the dynamics of survival in nature in the 1960s. NR. 84M. MINIPLEX.
X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX. Simon Kinberg's do-over of the Marvel plot where Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) turns dangerous has the cast but not the character development and emotional power it needs. With James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. PG13. 113M. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill