Toy Story 4 Review

Disney and Pixar Upend Expectations with this Fourth Sequel that Comes to Justify Itself in Moving and Necessary Ways.

Child's Play Review

This Re-Boot/Re-Make of the Original, 1988 Killer Doll Slasher Flick is Made Fun by a Game Cast and some Creatively Endearing Choices.

Aladdin Review

Will Smith and a Charismatic Ensemble Bring Director Guy Ritchie's Live-Action Re-Make of the Classic Animated Tale to Life Just Enough to Justify its Existence.

MIB: International Review

Director F. Gary Gray and a Charismatic Cast Featuring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson aren't Enough to Lift this Reboot to the Height of its Predecessors.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 Review

This Sequel to the High-Concept, but Only Mildly Entertaining 2016 Film Tries for More yet Comes up Feeling Emptier than Before.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - JOKER

Everyone knows the story of the week is that of Joker's success despite all of the "controversy" turning out to be a bunch of non-controversy and the film turning in the largest October domestic opening weekend of all-time and the fourth largest opening ever for an R-rated feature with $96 million. This final total, which is $2.5 million above Sunday estimates of $93.5 million, tops the $80.25 million opening of Venom from last year. Internationally, Joker debuted in seventy-three markets and brought in an estimated $140.5 million for a $234 million global debut. Keep in mind, this film was made for "only" $55 million which is insanely cheap by comic book/super hero standards (the other "cheap" comic book movie this year was DC's Shazam!) which can only mean Warner Bros. will be green-lighting several other character studies made as gritty dramas under the veil of comic book characters which-to be completely transparent-is more than fine by me as I found Joker to be fascinating in the best of ways and while I'm completely fine with Todd Phillips' film being a single one-off film as I mostly believe it should be, but I'm conflicted as I'm also dying to see Joaquin Phoenix reprise his role-more specifically in Matt Reeves' upcoming Batman film. While that may not feel anywhere within the realm of possibility Phoenix did tell Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers he's open to returning to the character. “I wouldn’t have thought of this as my dream role. But now, honestly, I can’t stop thinking about it,” Phoenix said. “I talked to Todd a lot about what else we might be able to do, in general, just working together, but also specifically, if there’s something else we can do with Joker that might be interesting.” And if the opening weekend numbers weren't enough to convince Phoenix of the interest in the character, opening weekend audiences scored the film a "B+" CinemaScore with the under thirty-five demo giving it an "A-". Joker currently sits at a strong 69% on RottenTomatoes with a 90% audience score. Opening weekend crowds were 64% male while 66% of the audience was under the age of thirty-five. While it will be interesting to see how Joker plays over the next few weeks as much competition continues to open (this week is Gemini Man, Addams Family and Jexi with Zombieland: Double Tap and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil opening next week) which will naturally bring down Joker's record-setting wide release in 4,374 locations, the widest ever for an October release. As always, be sure to follow the official TAVERN TALK by Initial Reaction YouTube channel as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where you can find a new review (or reviews) each week!

Tavern Talk: Video Review - ABOMINABLE

While I'd hoped to be able to review Roadside's Judy this week on Tavern Talk, the Renee Zellweger biopic about Judy Garland, only opened in 461 theaters nationwide and none of those theaters were in my neck of the woods (in fact, the closes theater playing the film was nearly 300 miles away). While that film will expand this weekend, our only other option for a new, wide release to review this past weekend was that of Universal's release of DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio's animated title Abominable. With Abominable, Universal once again finished atop the weekend box office while also taking second place with Focus Features' Downton Abbey (Focus is owned by Comcast through Universal Pictures, a division of its wholly owned subsidiary NBCUniversal). Downton, now in its second weekend, followed up a strong debut last weekend by bringing in $14.3 million, pushing the film over $58 million domestic and over $111 million internationally on a reported budget between $13-$20 million. Meanwhile, Abominable debuted with $20.6 million, but given it carries a $75 million price tag, the film has a lot of work to do if it's going to justify itself and with The Addams Family just around the corner it needs to work fast. While it doesn't say much for this year's line-up of original animated films, Abominable's performance was enough to earn it the title of "largest opening for an original animated film in 2019" joining Universal's Us and Good Boys as the only original films to open at number one in North American in 2019. Furthermore, this is the seventh Universal title to top the charts this year (eight if you include Downton) which would give the studio the most number one finishes for 2019. Additionally, Abominable earned an "A" CinemaScore from opening day audiences and holds an 81% Tomatometer score and 96% audience score, which could bode well for its the film's potential, especially as alternative programming to this weekend's Joker. Internationally, Abominable is now playing in thirty overseas territories and brought in an estimated $8.8 million over its first weekend for an global total near $34.5 million with several major markets yet to still open in. As always, be sure to follow the official TAVERN TALK by Initial Reaction YouTube channel as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where you can find a new review (or reviews) each week!

First Trailer for BIRDS OF PREY Starring Margot Robbie

One of the few highlights of 2016's Suicide Squad were a handful of the performances, namely Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Robbie's performance made her feel tailor-made for the part and her portrayal was one of the few things that made that film come alive. There was no question we'd be seeing her character again, but in what incarnation and capacity was uncertain. David Ayer's Suicide Squad made nearly $750 million worldwide, but the shake-ups in the DC Extended Universe that occurred post-Suicide Squad left a lot up for debate as to where planned projects might end up and what characters might make it through to the next phase of Warner Brothers' plans for their cinematic universe of caped crusaders. Enter Birds of Prey, a movie that will continue the story of Harley Quinn after the events of Suicide Squad, but a movie that will also arrive in the DCEU after audiences have just experienced Aquaman and Shazam which, as you might already know, present quite a different atmosphere than anything done under Zack Snyder's guidance. Directed by Cathy Yan who only has one previous feature under her belt (2018's Sundance stand-out, Dead Pigs, a satire which reportedly blends drama and comedy well) and written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee), the film has been pretty secretive as far as plot or story is concerned with much of the speculation coming from the cast of characters known to be involved. Speaking of that cast, what is known so far is that joining Robbie will be Jurnee Smollett-Bell playing Black Canary, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli AKA Huntress and Rosie Perez as Gotham City detective Renee Montoya who are on a mission to save Ella Jay Basco's Cassandra Cain (one of the original Batgirls) from baddies Victor Zsasz and Black Mask as played by Chris Messina and Ewan McGregor. Though Harley Quinn has always been associated with Joker since her inception on the nineties Batman animated series, Birds of Prey will see her break loose of Leto's interpretation (keep in mind this has nothing to do with the Joaquin Phoenix film opening this week) and as can be seen in this first, official trailer both Robbie and Harley Quinn herself seem to be having a blast without having to be tied down to a man. It's hard to be all in on this one given the fantastic (fantabulous?) trailer for Suicide Squad which ended up being a rather disappointing film, but other than the title character and producing studio/distributor this film doesn't seem to have much in common with that one. Here's to our cautious optimism being rewarded when Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Miss Harley Quinn opens on February 7, 2020.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 1, 2019

Tavern Talk: Video Review - AD ASTRA & RAMBO: LAST BLOOD

What an odd weekend this was as over at Tavern Talk as we delivered two new video reviews and yet neither movie we discussed topped the weekend box office as Downton Abbey had a record weekend for Focus Features in that not only did the spin-off film top the weekend box office, but it became the studio's largest opener ever with just over $30 million domestic. Having never seen a single episode of the television series I didn't even consider it as an option as far as viewing for fear of being completely lost or reviewing (given I had zero point of reference), but instead was laser focused on the latest Brad Pitt feature from director James Gray (The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z) in Ad Astra while one of our producers and his dad enjoyed (or seemed to) the latest (and presumably last?) Rambo flick from Sylvester Stallone appropriately titled Last Blood. It was in second place where we would find these two films as they battled it out for the silver medal. Second place was neck-and-neck for most of the weekend, but it was Disney's release of the Fox-produced Ad Astra that ultimately edged out Lionsgate and Millennium's Rambo: Last Blood. After Monday actuals came in it was finally determined that Ad Astra in fact finished with just over $19 million from 3,460 locations whereas Rambo came up just short of that with $18.9 million from 3,618 theaters.

New Trailer for FROZEN II

As the parent of a nearly five year-old I have seen Frozen more times than I care to think about and am both genuinely surprised as well as kind of appreciative that Disney has taken the six years they have to bring a sequel to the big screen. On the one hand, surprised as the audience who originally saw Frozen in theaters is now six years older (and 6-12 is quite the gap), but at the same time my daughter wasn't even born until nearly a year after the first film's release and she loves Anna and Elsa as much as anyone could. So, there is no shortage on the key demographic who are more than happy to see more of these characters no matter the iteration, but it seems Disney and particularly directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck (with Lee having penned both screenplays-this time around with Hidden Figures scribe Allison Schroeder) were keen to mature the sequel with that of the audience who it was originally intended for. That is to say that this new, full look at Frozen II offers a glimpse into a more fully realized Arendelle meaning that while the events of the first film took both the characters and the viewer by storm with Elsa's powers, what they entailed and how they immediately affected the people around her the sequel is seemingly here to explain the mystical history of Elsa's kingdom as well as the origin of her powers and furthermore, just how powerful Elsa is exactly. Of course, this movie could be about Sven's pooping habits and it would make a billion dollars, but it's nice to see the sequel to the biggest animated film the box office has ever seen (over $1.2 billion worldwide) be more than just another attempt at another billion bucks. Also of note is the fact the new film will feature new songs from original songwriting and husband/wife duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Frozen II will see the return of Kristen Bell as Anna, Idina Menzel as Elsa, Jonathan Groff as Kristoff, and Josh Gad as Olaf along with Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel Wood joining the cast. Frozen II is set to open on November 22nd, 2019.

AD ASTRA Review

Ad Astra is a Trojan horse of a movie for as mainstream as a film about space exploration wrapped in mystery and starring Brad Pitt sounds like it would be if one is able to expel such expectations set by the marketing and feast on the fulfillment that Ad Astra ultimately embodies given the aspirations of writer/director James Gray's (Two Lovers, The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z) latest work one would quickly come to realize this is a film filled with ideas and questions bubbling just below the surface despite its apparent facade; questions the movie as well as Gray's screenplay may or may not have answers to. Ad Astra is also, and not coincidentally, a film that is as slick in its storytelling as it is its visual representation meaning there is an immediate confidence to the film that speaks to the idea that it knows exactly what it wants to be and where it's going even if, as we go further into the deepest reaches of our solar system, the philosophical ponderings posed by the film seem to be or at least feel more like questions born out of questions that were born out of the writing process. Moreover, the themes and ideas Ad Astra ultimately come to wrestle with being more the products of streams of consciousness writing than they do necessarily questions that pertain directly to the initial idea Gray was chasing. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, as it in fact makes for a rather rewarding experience given the mysteries the narrative offers. The few, distinct answers the film delivers are slight in both comparison and reward to the number of new questions and ideas one's own mind will generate; the thought of the individual experience and reaction to certain material being such that each individual will respond differently, but with valid interpretations and inquiries is a claim not many films-especially mainstream Hollywood space movies with movie stars on their posters-can claim these days. Yes, there have been a number of films about space starring members of the Ocean's Eleven ensemble lately, but neither of those films approach the topic of the stars with as much of a balance in cynicism and optimism as Ad Astra does. Given the Trojan horse comparison, one might expect the subtleties of the film to outweigh the more blunt aspects general audiences require from a space adventure, but there is a specific moment when, like Pitt's character of Major Roy McBride, we come to realize there are more layers to the picture than the ones being highlighted for us and that we can choose to either dig as deep as we'd like or revel in the surface pleasures-both have their perks-but the true reward comes in finding your own place to land.

First Trailer for DARK WATERS Starring Mark Ruffalo

In case you thought you were suffering from some strange case of déjà vu where there was a new trailer out for a movie with the same title as a random horror flick you're pretty sure you saw over a decade ago starring Jennifer Connelly then be confused no more as that was Dark Water while this new trailer is for a movie called Dark Waters! Emphasis on S! This also isn't a drama/horror/mystery based on a Japanese film that spawned from the countless Japanese-inspired horror films of the early aughts thanks to Gore Verbinski's Americanized version of The Ring, but rather this is a straight-up legal drama based on the true story of an attorney (Mark Ruffalo) for DuPont Chemical who discovered that his company was poisoning the residents of a small town for over forty years. Naturally, Ruffalo's Robert Bilott must do what is right and stand up to the evil corporation even if it means losing his job, his reputation, his family or in other words-his entire sense of livelihood, but to go to bed with a clear conscience is of a top priority and Dark Waters looks as if it will provide a very compelling set of actions that will at least lead to what we can hope is Bilott's clean conscience at the end of the film. All of that said, this is also the new film from Academy Award-nominated director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There, Carol) and while I've always been more lukewarm to his films as opposed to critics more my senior it's also not hard to recognize the filmmaker's penchant for putting his own, interesting twist on certain types of stories or genres and hopefully that will be the case here. Focus Features has certainly packaged this as a movie with an important message and as a movie any viewer would benefit from seeing if not necessarily for the entertainment value, but for the information around this story that it's bringing to a wider audience and yet-as far as Haynes' work goes-this looks fairly straightforward; a legal thriller where the little guy must risk it all to stand up to the evil corporation. And while I'm sure there's more to the film than what this first trailer indicates, I'm curious as to just how much of an imprint Haynes will leave on this one. Dark Waters also stars Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, Bill Pullman and opens in limited release on November 22nd, 2019.