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.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Review

Writer/Director Simon Kinberg Attemps a Re-telling of the Dark Phoenix Saga on a Smaller Scale to Fine Results, but Only Middling Returns.

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.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Review

Director Michael Dougherty and a Grade-A Cast can't Help but Feel Wasted in this Monster Mash with Nothing to Invest in.

Rocketman Review

Taron Egerton Embodies Elton John in Dexter Fletcher's Musical Fantasy Biopic, but the Emotional Resonance of the Songs only Takes this Film so Far.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX

After the barrage of the likes of Avengers, Pok√©mon, John Wick, and Aladdin the expected shortcomings of Godzilla and now both Dark Phoenix and The Secret Life of Pets 2 could have been somewhat gauged after Aladdin took off more than anyone ever expected. Beyond making things more than curious for as to how this will pan out for this weekend's completely up in the air Men in Black re-boot it should also offer the reassurance once again that nothing is guaranteed. This is especially true in regards to the number one movie at the box office this weekend for, despite it being the number one movie at the box office, The Secret Life of Pets 2 opened to less than half of the opening weekend of the original film's $104.3 million (a record opening for an original, animated feature). With $46.6 million from 4,561 locations (the second widest opening ever only to Avengers: Endgame), the film will seemingly have a difficult time at getting to the comparable final totals of $150 or so domestic given we're in the middle of the summer movie season and the juggernaut that will be Toy Story 4 opens in less than a week and a half. Saving Pets 2 is the fact it kept its budget low at $80 million and has already garnered $49 million internationally for a present worldwide cume of $101 million. Pets 2 won't be a loss for Illumination, but we certainly won't be seeing any more sequels in this franchise. We reviewed the latest (and last) X-Men film under the 20th Century Fox banner though, which was an even bigger disappointment this weekend opening to only $33 million. This number makes it the first film in the X-Men franchise to fail to deliver a $50+ million opening and is $30 million less than the $65.7 million opening for X-Men: Apocalypse three years ago (which was disappointing in and of itself). Dark Phoenix could be looking at a total domestic cume under $100 million which be another first for the X-Men franchise, especially considering the CinemaScore was a whole letter grade less than Apocalypse with the film facing tough competition in the upcoming weeks including the likes of MIB: International this Friday and Spider-Man: Far From Home on July 2nd. Aladdin took third with $24.7 million, followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters dropping a hard -67.5% for a $15.5 million second weekend. Rounding out the top five was the Elton John biopic, Rocketman, with a $13.8 million weekend giving it a domestic total of just over $50 million while adding another $13 million internationally for a total just over $51 million and a worldwide gross of over $101 million-not bad for $40 million production. As always, be sure to follow the official Initial Reaction YouTube channel as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where you can find a new review (or reviews) each week!

On DVD & Blu-Ray: June 11, 2019

Official Trailer for FROZEN II

As the parent of a four and a half 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 their audience who saw Frozen at the time of its release is now six years older (and 6-12 is quite the gap), but at the same time my daughter wasn't born until nearly a year after the first film's release and still loves Anna and Elsa as much as any girl 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 (Olaf's Frozen Adventure was a fine enough holdover), but it seems Disney and particularly directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck (with Lee having penned both screenplays-this time with Hidden Figures scribe Allison Schroeder) are keen to mature the sequel with that of the audience who it was originally intended that originally saw it in theaters. That is to say that our first, full look at Frozen II offers a glimpse into what is not necessarily a darker/more grittier Arendelle, but rather a more fully realized existence within these characters in Arendelle meaning that while the events of the first film took both the characters and the viewer by storm with Elsa's powers and what they entailed and how they immediately affected the people around her and the kingdom she ruled given she'd been sentenced to hide them away forever the sequel seems to be getting more at the question of where did these powers come from in the first place and furthermore, just how powerful is Elsa? It's an interesting if not more existential direction to go with an animated sequel to the biggest animated film the box office has ever seen (over $1.2 billion worldwide), but while I fully expect Lee and Buck's sequel to have all the necessary trademarks of its predecessor including new songs from original songwriting and husband/wife duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez it seems it will be fascinating to find out just what else Frozen II has up its sleeve. Given Lee also assumed the head of Walt Disney Animation, after succeeding John Lasseter, last summer it will also be interesting to see what this new film tackles as its chief creative force undoubtedly had complete freedom to do whatever she wished with the story. 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 new cast members Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel Wood in undisclosed roles with the film is set to open on November 22nd, 2019.

X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX Review

After experiencing the full-on force of a solar flare in the opening action sequence of writer/director Simon Kinberg's X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Sophie Turner's Jean Grey describes the after effects as if feeling like "everything is turned up." One might think this is a subtle way of hinting at the mantra of the movie itself, but in reality Kinberg and Dark Phoenix have taken the opposite approach and scaled things way down in comparison to Apocalypse. And I don't mean down in terms of quality, necessarily, as-let's be honest-the X-Men films have been all over the map in terms of quality over the years, but more simply in terms of the scope. Plus, after the disappointment that was Apocalypse, there wasn't much further down one could go quality-wise. While there was hesitance in approaching Dark Phoenix with anything more than slight optimism (and even that felt generous) given the rumored re-shoots, the attempt to re-tell this notable comics saga, as well as the multiple scheduling changes there was still this glimmer of hope given this was Kinberg's opportunity to finally take the reins meaning there might be some type of newfound energy to the characters and, given where the previous film had left off, some newfound enthusiasm for the world that was being built. And in many ways, this is true of the film as it is apparent from the get-go that Kinberg is taking a new approach to this world and to these characters both aesthetically as much as he is dramatically. In terms of what this fresh approach brings to this X-Men universe is the fact that, for the first time in a long time, it feels as if there is a clarity to what is transpiring-both in terms of the visuals and the direction of the story. Needless to say, Bryan Singer's aesthetic had begun to rely more and more on CGI while his stories felt more based on ideas that were fun in the moment without considering the bigger picture (I'm looking at you, timeline). With Dark Phoenix, there is this lucidity that pulses through the film's veins as it strives to at least try different, more interesting things with the surplus of characters in its possession. As is usual, some get the short end of the stick while others who are not necessarily worthy of the focus receive too much screen time, but while there are some major qualms to be had with Dark Phoenix there are also some serious highs that deserve acknowledgment. As someone who didn't grow up on the comics, but was instead introduced through the animated series and subsequent live-action films, this unexpected swan song of an X-Men film delivers enough of the familiar to make one happy and, surprisingly, enough of a renewed approach that shines new light on oft repeated arcs to make one kind of wish this wasn't the last time we'd see this particular group of mutants on the big screen.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS & ROCKETMAN

In a rather packed weekend for new releases the biggest of them all failed to hit expectations while two, more minor releases decided to rise above them. When speaking of the biggest of them all I'm of course referring to Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the massive follow-up to 2014's Godzilla and 2017's Kong: Skull Island. Warner Brothers' monster mash came in at the lower end of studio expectations finishing just short of $48 million while Rocketman and Ma topped expectations. Ma, specifically, launched with over $18 million domestically on a $5 million budget. Overall, the weekend saw the top twelve deliver nearly $170 million pushing the summer box office past $1.137 billion making the yearly box office just -8.5% behind last year as we enter the halfway point. With $47.7 million King of the Monsters fell short of the studio's $50-55 million expectations as it declined day-to-day after a $19.6 million Friday. This isn't great news as it is a far cry from the $93.2 million opening of the 2014 reboot and even fell well short of the $61 million opening for Skull Island in 2017. Worse, Skull Island had a much smaller Thursday night preview grosses ($3.7 million as compared to King of the Monsters $6.3 million) and still managed a larger opening day ($20.1 million) while holding better throughout the weekend. This doesn't bode well for WB's continued Monster-verse as King of the Monsters will face some steep competition in a new X-Men film and Secret Life of Pets sequel this weekend, a new Men in Black movie next weekend, and Toy Story 4 the week after that. It's a good thing director Adam Wingard's (The Guest, You're Next) Godzilla vs. Kong is already in post-production and slated for release next March or we might not have seen this quadrilogy conclude as originally intended. On the other end of things, while Aladdin held strong in second place with a $42.8 million second weekend and a domestic gross that now totals over $190 million, the R-rated Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton finished in third with $25.7 million well ahead of the $18-20 million studio estimates. More promising than this strong start though, is the fact the film received strong reviews from critics as well as an "A-" CinemaScore from opening weekend audiences. Given the film will have little to no competition in the "movies for grown folks" category save for the wide release of Late Night next weekend, it seems Rocketman has no choice but to remain steady. Internationally, Rocketman grossed $19.2 million in its second weekend for an international cume of $31.2 million and a worldwide total of over $63 million. As always, be sure to follow the official 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 AD ASTRA Starring Brad Pitt

It seems as if I first heard about James Gray's Ad Astra a little over a year ago when it was scheduled for release in May of this year, but the premiere showing at the Cannes film fest was canceled and the rumors were that the opening may be delayed until the fall depending on the Fox/Disney merger and how everything shook out with that. Well, it seems the fall it will be as 20th Century Fox (as now owned by Disney) has released the first trailer for Gray's follow-up to his critically acclaimed, but seemingly little seen The Lost City of Z (you can stream it now for free if you have an Amazon Prime account). The filmmaker has also had good luck with critics in his 2007 and 2008 releases of We Own the Night and Two Lovers, but neither of those lit the box office on fire either and I'm curious as to what it is that might keep the hordes away given Gray tends to attract some pretty big names to his movies. For instance, Pitt has been eager to work with the director for some time as he was originally scheduled to star in The Lost City of Z, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Gray has worked with both Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix multiple times, but not even when he paired those two in that aforementioned 2007 crime thriller was he able to tap into a wider audience. I say all this with the hope that Ad Astra is the turning point for the filmmaker. Gray, who wrote the original screenplay with Ethan Ross (Fringe), has seemed to craft nothing short of a fascinating mystery/sci-fi film that isn't so much going to be leniant on the "fiction" part and instead be more grounded in its approach to discussing extraterrestrial life forms. In the film, Pitt plays an astronaut who travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his father and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet; ultimately uncovering secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the universe. This sort of thing is right up my alley. I love when movies really go for it in the vein of something like 2001, The Tree of Life, or Interstellar, and this film seems as if it will fit really well into that line-up. It's also encouraging that films like Gravity, The Martian, and the aforementioned Interstellar have done well financially in a similar release landscape as this film will face. Ad Astra will also star Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, John Ortiz, Kimberly Elise, and opens on September 20th, 2019.

Official Trailer for FORD V. FERRARI Starring Christian Bale & Matt Damon

While Walk the Line was unfortunately released under the shadow of Ray, I always found it to be the more arresting film and have since been a loyal fan of director James Mangold; cheering him on as he made his way through the super hero genre with the character of Wolverine and coming to re-define the genre in many ways with Hugh Jackman's farewell to the character in 2017's Logan. Mangold has of course had his missteps (we won't harp on Kate & Leopold), but I didn't seem to mind Knight & Day as much as most and thought the 3:10 to Yuma re-make was quite fascinating. In his latest, an adult drama in the purest sense of the phrase, Mangold reunites with Christian Bale to tell the story of two men, American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Bale), as they battle corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game, Edge of Tomorrow) along with Jason Keller (Escape Plan) with the screenplay itself being credited to Mangold, it's almost surprising a movie like this can still be made on the scope it has and with the grandeur this production seems to entail (this thing looks amazing) while not having been backed by Netflix or Amazon. Rather, 20th Century Fox is breaking out these big guns this awards season as this was originally scheduled to be released this summer, but was pushed back for a better chance at awards consideration. The film will no doubt be touted as Mangold's follow-up to his critically and commercially successful Logan that features two "movie star" names at the top of their games telling a fascinatingly wild story that will appeal to a variety of audiences alike. A film version of these events has been in the works for some time as the story goes that Shelby and Miles were dispatched by Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) themselves to build an entirely new vehicle from scratch that could finally defeat Ferrari. This is all to say that while Bale and Damon look to be at the top of their game if the trailer is any indication the true scene-stealer will be Tracy Letts as Ford II as he gets to close out this teaser in pretty fantastic fashion. Ford v Ferrari also stars Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Ray McKinnon, Noah Jupe, and opens on November 15th.

ROCKETMAN Review

“I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues” is one of my favorite songs of all time. Like, I would rank it as being among one of the best song's ever written...that's how much I love it. My mother's side of the family being from England I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Elton John was. It’s not so much the lyrical content itself that moved me as a young man for I couldn’t have grasped what Bernie Taupin was expressing through his lyrics, but there was always something about the tone of the music and the clarity of the melody in an Elton John song that would inherently move myself and countless others, obviously. I don’t know what exactly was meant by, “And it won't be long before you and me run-to the place in our hearts where we hide,” but I know how it made me feel; I know that it made me stop and take more time to recognize what was happening in my life at that given moment and realize that no matter what stage of life I’m in that it won’t be that way for long and to cherish those moments as life isn’t measured by how long we have, but by what we do with the time we’re given. A little deep, right? To say that I was hoping for the same type of emotional reaction to director Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman is accurate and while it would be largely impossible for a two-hour visual interpretation of Elton John’s life to measure up to such high hopes there was the optimism that Fletcher might be able to pull it off as the opening moments of the film suggested this wasn't your typical musical biopic. Sure, we begin with the Elton John of the early eighties entering rehab with it serving as a platform for John to reflect on the entirety of his life, but while the framing device may be familiar you've never quite seen it service the story as it does in Rocketman. Fletcher's film is a full-on fantasy in many regards meaning this isn't a movie about Elton John's life as it actually happened, but the story of Elton John's life as Elton John remembers it. This setting of expectations paired with the flashing through of John's childhood that culminates in "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and a full-on, flat-out, undisputable musical number complete with dance interludes gives the impression that Fletcher mastered how not to just convey the events of his subject's life, but capture the essence of what it might have been like to live as Elton John. From this moment on though, Rocketman never gains the same momentum that it bubbles over with during "Saturday" and though it offers some technically inventive filmmaking and creative interpretations of several Elton John classics the film itself is never as emotionally moving or rousing as the songs themselves. 

First Look at Disney & Pixar's ONWARD

Disney and Pixar’s Onward will mark the studio’s first non-sequel release in nearly three years and is one of the reasons this may have just shot to the top of my most anticipated list for 2020. I know, I know-I won’t get too excited given the spring release date immediately marking this as something of a second-tier release, but Zootopia had the same vibe and that film turned out, well...fantastic. Directed and written by Monsters University’s Dan Scanlon, the film is set in a suburban fantasy world where two teenage elf brothers embark on a quest to discover if there is still magic in their world. And “their world” is the emphasis here as the this first look teaser, more than anything else, sets up what could be an immersive new environment as Scanlon has combined the tropes of the fantasy genre with that of the pure, yet completely cloaked truth that sits within suburbia. The creativity we tend to take for granted now or at least have come to expect nothing less than with Pixar is on full display here whether it be in the mer-people lounging in their Dollar General pools, garden gnomes actually doing some gardening, or those beautiful, mythical creatures we refer to as unicorns scavenging through trash the acclimation of this fantasy world into something more resembling our own is pretty fantastic. It's also inspiring that Scanlon seems to essentially have been given full creative control from top to bottom on this as he is the sole screenwriter credited as well. This may not seem like a big deal, but animated films and especially ones with Disney involved often have a team of writers weaving together the narrative as the film enters different stages of production. While Disney and Pixar know how to make an animated film that works, there is no disputing that, it will be somewhat refreshing to have an experience that seemingly comes from a single, hopefully clear perspective. Scanlon, who has said this story was inspired by his relationship with his own brother, has enlisted the help of current MCU stars Tom Holland (Spider-Man) and Chris Pratt (Star Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise) to voice the two brothers, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus will provide the voice of their mother. Octavia Spencer also stars with Onward set to open on March 6th, 2020.