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.

LITTLE WOMEN Review

"Writing doesn't confer importance, it reflects it."
"No, writing about it will make it important."

It kind of feels like there's more excitement around Greta Gerwig's take on Little Women for all the factors involved than there is necessarily for the final product itself. Gerwig's follow-up to Lady Bird was going to be anticipated regardless, but given she decided to go with an adaptation of the oft adapted Louisa May Alcott classic only added something of an IP stamp to it; a built-in audience of sorts that became more enhanced given the Christmas day release...Sony knows what it's doing. Add to all of this the fact the film reunites the writer/director with Lady Bird stars Saorsie Ronan and Timothée Chalamet while bringing in the likes of Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and Bob Odenkirk to boot and you may as well permanently pencil in a screening of Little Women on your Christmas itinerary from here to forever.

Oddly enough, I recall really enjoying and being somewhat enamored with the 1994 version of this story as my siblings, cousins and I would watch it on VHS on repeat at our Nanny's house when I was probably between the ages of nine and ten. The characters, the lifestyle and period details along with the inherent drama of the piece were all things I can remember being striking about the experience even if, prior to screening Gerwig's film, I couldn't recall many plot specifics. The hope was that Gerwig might find a way to both remind me of what I found so fascinating about that earlier take on the material while undoubtedly bringing her own, unique and deft approach to the themes of gender stereotypes and the balance of family and personal growth that run rampant throughout Alcott's novel.

First Trailer for NO TIME TO DIE Starring Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig is back for presumably the final time as Agent 007 in MGM and Universal's No Time to Die, the 25th film in the long-running British action-spy franchise. While this production has experienced more than its fair share of turmoil, with original director Danny Boyle leaving over unspecified “creative differences,” Craig injuring himself during a stunt and another crew member sustaining injuries during an explosion at Pinewood Studios, this first trailer would show no signs of such trouble to the general moviegoer as it looks both visually and thematically arresting. Directed by Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) from a script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Scott Z. Burns, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as well as Fukunaga himself, the film sees Bond having left active service for a couple of years while attempting to enjoy a tranquil life in Jamaica. This peace is short-lived though, when old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission is to rescue a kidnapped scientist, but of course this naturally turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.    Rami Malek, fresh off his Oscar win for Bohemian Rhapsody, will embody the new Bond villain while Lashana Lynch is a new MI6 agent that has seemingly risen to the top of filling the void left by Bond.  And while that synopsis may sound rather routine as far as James Bond films go once it begins to play out in the trailer-especially given the narrative connections the Craig films have maintained-it is difficult to deny the charm and intrigue of the world as No Time to Die, at first glance, seems to have tapped into how to perfectly balance the classic tropes and trademarks of a Bond film while also moving the franchise ever so elegantly into present day. No Time to Die also stars Léa Seydoux, Ana de Armas, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz and arrives in theaters on April 8, 2020.

Teaser Trailer for BLACK WIDOW Starring Scarlett Johansson

Though it still feels somewhat odd still that Phase IV of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will kick-off with what is-as far as we know-a prequel one has to imagine that in a decade or so the current generation too young to see these early phases in theaters will pay little mind to the actual order in which these films were released and simply watch them chronologically instead. And so, while the MCU might be making good on some things it probably should have done much sooner with the release of Black Widow next summer it would seem this little facet of the films existence will soon be forgotten in favor of either how good or bad the film is. In this first teaser, Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff is heading back to "where it all started" in an adventure that would seem to take place after Civil War, but before the events of Infinity War. Maybe we'll find out how she came into that blonde hair? Either way, Agent Romanoff is on the run and returns to Russia where she is reunited with "family" such as Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova, a character who eventually adopts the Black Widow title, David Harbour as AKA The Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz who is said to be playing another Black Widow, but one who has been through the training and active duty cycle numerous times. Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome) directs with the screenplay written by Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) and Jac Schaefer (The Hustle). If one is to take away anything from this first look at the film it's that the ensemble seems like a lot of fun and hopefully the more grounded, hand-to-hand combat style of the action outweighs that of what Marvel is clearly baking on for their third act which features a multitude of characters falling through the sky while fighting which looks to be...a little silly, honestly. All of that said, it's hard not to be intrigued simply by the nature of the beast, but it will be interesting to see how much the studio, Shortland and Johansson can convince people to still invest in a character they already know is gone. Black Widow also stars O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone and opens on May 1, 2020.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 3, 2019

MARRIAGE STORY Review

"She's a mother who plays. Really plays."

"I listen. I play. I put in the time."

The first line occurs very early in Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story while the second comes later-after much change has occurred in the lives of the characters speaking these lines. These lines come from two different characters, but they represent equal recognition of this intangible, but truly difficult quality to possess. It is in this simple connection-this acknowledgement in an admirable sense-that we know from the beginning no matter how ugly things get between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) that they will somehow be mature enough to find those lasting connections, those things that transcend their own relationship, that will allow them to find a common ground not only for the sake of their child, Henry (Azhy Robertson), but for the sake of their continued love story-even if the romance of that love lapsed long ago.

Marriage Story
is in fact a love story, but a love story told through the lens of divorce that takes these two people we come to know on a very precise and personal level that we then watch fall further and further away from one another. The rigmarole of divorce turns things into a very impersonal process overrun by other people's opinions and agendas leaving Charlie and Nicole to ultimately find a way to figure things out on their own...doing so through that kernel of a connection the viewer trusts remains between them. Of course, said connections are more apparent to the viewer as some of Baumbach's best writing and directing moments here come when we see either of the two leads true emotions come to the surface outside of the presence of their former partner; each of them becoming what they needed to be for themselves and for one another while they were married after the fact.

KNIVES OUT Review

"The exception that proves the rule."

The movies are nothing alike in terms of what they're about, how they're directed, tone, nothing. There's nothing similar about these movies at all really except for that, from the moment they begin, there is a sense of supreme assuredness in where they're going and how they're meant to get there. This feeling arises at the beginning of a fair amount of movies because there are so many that begin with such promise yet so many of them tend to lose themselves along the way or lose momentum or more often than not encounter the issue of knowing where they want to go without being sure of the best, most effective way to get there. Nearly three years ago now, when Jordan Peele's Get Out began to play in front of me for the first time on that cold Thursday in late February, I was granted the sense of this supreme assuredness that continued throughout the entirety of the runtime and through to that perfect conclusion. It wasn't difficult to see every aspect had been labored over and planned to a to T; as if not only the script, but the way in which each shot was constructed and how each line was delivered held a certain weight and intention. Every element had seemingly been executed with precise detail so as to convey this strong, specific point of view. In short, Get Out was a movie where every piece held a purpose all of which led to a culmination that fully displayed the power of the narrative, the charisma of the characters and the masterful way in which the filmmaker used the genre he was operating in to make his complex ideas accessible. This is all said not in an attempt to remind readers of how satisfying Get Out is, but to say all of this is very much true of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out as well.

FROZEN II Review

As a parent who has seen Frozen approximately 108,054,523,678,245 times it would be easy to go into a sequel with a cynical mindset expecting directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck to repeat themselves or simply recycle the rather exceptional visual and auditory elements that worked so well the first time, but have been consumed so frequently since that it now seems there was never any other option for what that film was meant to be or be received in any other way than becoming the cultural milestone that it did. There is also the inherent fear that studios will play it safe to the point they will simply re-fashion the first film to include a few new characters and a few new songs that will have the old characters go through the same motions of learning the same lessons, but never actually having them grow in any real or meaningful way. With this film in particular though, this never seemed as if it was going to be a concern-otherwise this sequel would have arrived three years ago. What made the idea of Frozen II exciting from the first teaser was the fact it seemed apparent the writing and directing team were intent on not repeating themselves-at least as far as narrative went-for even though Frozen II ultimately comes to explore many of the same themes touched upon in the original film it isn't doing so in a re-purposed fashion, but more expanding on them-namely, the idea of love not solely being that of a romantic quality, but that this greatest and most mysterious of all emotions is maybe even more genuine when there is no romantic factor to the equation, but is instead a pure, authentic, respectful appreciation of and connection to another being. This is a sequel that is admittedly a tough one to crack as it explores the ripples left over from the first film's complex emotional arcs. Furthermore, there's this idea that the world of Frozen only needed to be expounded upon if there was a desire for it and while the answer to that might seem obvious given the amount of money the first film made when taken on face value there was no real need to fill in further historical moments from the history of Arendelle. Still, Frozen II has many things on its mind and chief among them is allowing its two protagonists to come to terms with how they wound up in the crazy positions the events of the first film landed them in; if Frozen was about Elsa and Anna figuring out who they are then Frozen II is about them figuring out who they were meant to be and how well that aligns with who they've actually become.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD Review

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not so much about Mr. Rogers as it is about how the ideas and values Mr. Rogers taught permeated through unto others. Fred Rogers was, among many things, the host of a children’s television show, but he was seemingly first and foremost a psychologist who just so happened to practice through the veil of a children’s TV show. He used this platform to help children better understand the world around them, but as director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) conveys in her new film it wasn’t just the children who could gain something from Mr. Rogers' lessons in grace and humility. The movie works as well as it does not only because it takes a unique approach to the profiling of a very famous person, but because viewers are immediately endowed with the weight of Lloyd Voegle’s (Matthew Rhys) situation and quickly become invested in the complicated relationship he has with his father and how that fractured relationship has affected him in recently becoming a father himself. There is nothing that is necessarily revelatory or even terribly unique about Voegle's story (based on journalist Tom Junod's 1998 Esquire cover story), but Heller and screenwriters Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue pull us into the inherent drama of Voegle’s situation with the idea this could be anyone in any situation, but given the nature of his job it is someone like Voegle who was allowed the opportunity and access to Mr. Rogers needed in order to tell this type of story. This is Voegle's movie, make no mistake, as he is our lead whereas Tom Hanks' Mr. Rogers is merely a supporting player, but the arc that Voegle experiences is that of someone who's become a cynical adult and a relentlessly gloomy adult at that into someone who believes in the authenticity of Fred Rogers and therefore hopes to heal and better himself because of it. It is through his encounters with Mr. Rogers that Voegle is reminded of a childhood he could care less to remember, but Rogers doesn't so much care to remind him of his own childhood as he does encourage him to remember what it felt like to be a kid in the first place. We were all children once. This is Rogers’ mantra and something he reiterates time and time again in the rare moments he does return the favor and speak. And though A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood might not be the faithful adaptation of Fred Rogers' life as it was purported to be in the marketing it very much captures the essence of who this man was and how the way he conducted his own life helped countless people navigate theirs.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - FORD V FERRARI

Fox's Ford v Ferrari more than lived up to expectations as it topped the domestic weekend box office with $31 million. The performance was well ahead of industry expectations and was no doubt boosted by the "A+" CinemaScore opening weekend audiences granted the film. That audience was largely male as men made up 62% of ticket-buyers with 79% of all tickets sold being to those over the age of twenty-five. Internationally, Ford v Ferrari brought in another $21.4 million for a $52 million global debut on a $98 million budget and while that may seem a steep hill to climb this thing is going to play like gangbusters over the Thanksgiving holiday and maybe even well into December. Needless to say, the James Mangold-directed feature starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon isn't an "opening weekend" type of film, but is more an old-school studio programmer whose appeal will last far past the first three days of release. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Sony's attempted re-boot of Charlie's Angels as the Elizabeth Banks-directed actioner starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska failed to reach even the lowest of expectations, meaning the third place finish for the film might suggest the overall performance of the box office. This new iteration of Charlie's Angels was expected to open anywhere between $12-13 million (the 2000 re-boot starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu was made for $98 million and made $13.7 million in its first day of release on its way to a $40 million opening weekend), but it was unable to hit even double digits, delivering a disappointing $8.6 million debut. The $48 million production received a "B" CinemaScore from opening weekend audiences, which suggests it's not terrible, but more that people just didn't care. Internationally, the film garnered an additional $19.3 million for a $27.9 million global debut. The other new wide release of the week, Warner Brother's The Good Liar, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren delivered on expectations with a $5.65 million opening. Last week's box office champion, Lionsgate's Midway, slipped to second in its second week with $8.75 million and a domestic cume that now tops $35 million. Paramount's family friendly Playing with Fire, held extremely well in its sophomore frame adding another $8.55 million for a domestic total that now stands at $25.4 million on a $30 million budget. Rounding out the top five was Universal's Last Christmas with $6.7 million, pushing the film's domestic cume to $22.6 million on a budget of $25 million. Internationally, the film added $8.6 million for a $13 million overseas cume and a global total that now stands at $35.5 million. And finally, Joker became the first R-rated movie to ever top $1 billion at the global box office. 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!