Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt Kick-Off the Summer Movie Season with a Big, Fun, and Funny Action-Packed Adventure that Fully Delivers on its Promises.


Luca Guadagnino Attaches his Latest Exploration of Sexuality, Desire, and Relationship Dynamics to Tennis in this Flashy Zendaya Vehicle.


Alex Garland's Highly-Anticipated Film Upends Mainstream Expectations by Existing more as an Exploration of "Why" than a Blunt Explanation of "How".


Writer/Director/Star Dev Patel Draws From Numerous Sources of Inspiration for his Electric and Exceptionally Executed Debut.


Denis Villeneuve's Grand and Gorgeous Epic is as Insightful about Sincerity and Strategy as it is Engaging on the Broad Levels of a Big-Budget Studio Blockbuster.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 31, 2017

With three new, fairly big releases this weekend we here at Initial Reaction did our best to try and cover as much ground as possible. Given Arkansas doesn't get many (if any) press screenings we are forced to see the new releases on Thursday nights leaving room for only two movies. And so, while Charles and I saw Gold, the latest starring Matthew McConaughey, followed by A Dog's Purpose a few members of our crew saw the supposed final installment in the Resident Evil franchise and shared their thoughts on it. Needless to say, it was a busy weekend. Still, none of these new releases could stop the momentum of Split which finished its second weekend dropping a mere 34% from its debut weekend to deliver a $26.26 million sophomore frame. This stellar performance has earned the film a fantastic domestic total of $78 million after just ten days in release. Coming in second was another Universal release in the now controversial A Dog's Purpose. With an estimated $18.38 million the film more or less performed on par with expectations despite the bad press it received in the weeks leading up to its release. It doesn't hurt that the people who went to see it seemed to like it as well meaning the $22 million picture should have strong enough legs to push it past $60 million domestic making it a wise investment and a potential franchise starter should Universal sees it fit to make a few more of these (W. Bruce Cameron's source material yielded a sequel called A Dog's Journey, so who knows). As for Resident Evil and Gold, both underwhelmed though this was expected as far as Gold was concerned given the would-be Oscar contender was basically dumped as hard as The Founder was by The Weinstein Co. With an estimated $13.85 million this was the smallest opening of any film in the Resident Evil franchise, with The Final Chapter opening lower even than the original 2002 film. And then, way down in the tenth spot we find Gold which mined a $3.47 million opening weekend likely to never be heard from again. As always, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as we have a new review (or reviews) up each week!

GOLD Review

Kenny Wells is a mess and that is pretty evident from the moment he appears on screen hoping to charm the curls right out of Bryce Dallas Howard's eighties frizzled hair, but even as he does this it's easy to tell there is no real thought behind his actions other than what the immediate rewards might be. This is key to understanding the type of mentality we'll be working with for the next two hours as Wells is a man who believes himself lucky to have been born into a family that started a mining company and who intends to carry it on even after the death of his father (Craig T. Nelson). Wells takes the idea from his father that they don't necessarily have to do this for a living as it's a crap shoot of a business, but instead pride themselves of getting to do this for a living. The question they're seemingly missing the answer to though, is the ever-present why? What are they doing this for? Seven years on after the passing of the elder Wells and Matthew McConaughey's Kenny has his men working out of a bar, trying to keep a lid on expenses, and coming up short in seemingly everything, but chiefly in keeping his family's business afloat. As a man who can't help but to try and survive for the next few weeks rather than the next twenty years Wells sees no other option other than to do whatever it takes to keep that business running. He is a man who puts a lot of stock in legacy in the way that he seems to inherently ask himself how proud his father would be were he to still be alive-would he be happy with what Kenny has done with their business? After the rather stirring opening and tone-setting title card fade away it becomes pretty clear that Kenny Wells is in a position neither his father nor his grandfather ever found themselves in. The guy is desperate to find backers for digs that no one believes in and that no one seems to believe will yield any results. Sure, Wells has responsibilities to his employees that are dedicated enough to work out of that aforementioned bar, to Howard's Kay who has stuck with him still and now works at that same bar as a waitress most of the time doubling as his secretary, but the biggest responsibility Kenny feels is clearly to that legacy he is set to taint. And so, Wells takes a chance, a risk-one that could fail just as easy as it could succeed, but one that perfectly encapsulates and sets the stage for how this protagonist McConaughey fully commits to will operate in the mostly entertaining circumstances Gold presents.   


In the opening moments of the latest sun-drenched melodrama from director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Hachi: A Dog's Tale) a dog is born and just quickly a dog is euthanized. It's a strange way to open a PG-rated family film about man's best friend, but was apparently the best way to set the stage for a film whose premise is that of dog reincarnation as narrated by Olaf from Frozen. Sound strange? It is, a little bit, but not nearly as bad as you might think though not nearly as effective as it should be either. This is taking into considering the fact the writers/producers and Hallström don't shy away from exploiting what is arguably the easiest way to elicit tears from your audience-a dog dying. They do this at least four times. And yet, through each of these segments, each of these lives that we see different breeds and genders of dogs lead (all voiced by Josh Gad) there is never that moment that just breaks you in the way you expect a movie like this to do. It seems there was no hesitation in doing what it takes to get the audience to that point, but the execution never matches the intention thus making A Dog's Purpose more of a sleeper than the quickly euthanized pup we met in the first scene.

Of course, Universal knows what it's doing and who the audience is for this type of movie and up until a few weeks ago were no doubt counting on cashing in on the countless dog lovers that flood this great land of ours. It's possible, but is now rather difficult to watch the film without the experience being at least somewhat tainted by the set footage that was released in which a trainer is forced to place a dog in water the canine clearly doesn't care to get in for the sake of a shot. Does the footage strike concern for how movies such as A Dog's Purpose are made? Potentially, sure. Is a bigger deal being made out of what footage we've seen than necessary? Absolutely. Sure, the dog clearly doesn't care to go in the water, but the trainer seemed especially sensitive to this hesitation and we only know if we don't like something by trying it first and that could just as easily be the other side of the coin in this case. I stayed through the credits to see that the film received its seal of approval from the American Humane Society and indeed it did. That's enough for me to trust that what video has been released was likely largely taken out of context if not a massive PR stunt to get more people talking about the movie. Needless to say, dog lovers will likely still flock to A Dog's Purpose and have no reason not to-it's made especially for them anyway.   


In The Founder, Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc favors the saying, "fortune favors the bold," but the question that comes to mind as the The Founder reaches its denouement and shows us not just what Kroc became in the professional world, but who he became as a person is just how bold was this guy? As it turns out, quite. There were risks involved in his journey that were never guaranteed to pay off and he arguably had a vision no one else did-or at least the balls no one else had to risk it all. In the end, fortune obviously favors Ray Kroc, but at what expense to his humanity and decency? Some may say such things don't matter when you're worth $500 million, but in those final moments of The Founder where Kroc rehearses lines for a speech he stole from old motivational records when his wife, who he also stole, walks into the room and he catches her eye that there is a hint of self-awareness; of knowing that there was a price for all that he now looked down upon. Keaton, in all his charming and endearing glory, snaps his face out of the thought that dazed him only for a moment as if to say such was a price he'd gladly pay again and again. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence he tells himself-not talent, not education-persistence. It is in this train of thought, this idea that Kroc is never complacent or content with his life that confounds though as the movie that now tells his life story tends to air on the side of being exactly that-content. Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks) The Founder is a perfectly acceptable slice of cinema as it is obviously well-crafted, hits all the right notes, and features a handful of appealing performances with Keaton being a whirlwind of as much sly charm as he can possibly muster-carrying this thing across the finish line with ease. It's not that there is anything particularly bad about the film, but there isn't anything that is rather exceptional either. Instead, The Founder more or less delivers what is expected of a biopic these days with only slight indications that there was a deeper, more cutting ambition to the project that maybe took a backseat to safety. There have been many a comparisons between The Social Network and this film with its protagonists being ruthless men who take ideas from smaller thinking men and turn them into multi-billion dollar businesses, but where David Fincher's film had a specific tone and a certain state of mind that was in place from the get-go, The Founder never feels as personal or alluring. It, ironically, never feels bold enough to transcend its genre lines.

On DVD & Blu-Ray Today: January 24, 2017

2017 Oscar Nominations

Here we are once again with the 2017 Oscar nominations and while I attempt to limit any coverage of the awards season hoopla (simply because there are so many to cover and too little to care about) the Academy Awards are obviously the biggest show of the season and so it was with great anticipation I awaited this morning’s announcements.What's surprising about this year is just how unsurprising the nominations are. Sure, there were a few both pleasant and somewhat shocking turns with the two biggest being that Amy Adams didn't receive an acting nomination and that Meryl Streep did. No, not really, everyone knows the Academy can't resist a Meryl Streep performance even if no one saw the movie and it was far from her best work. Even Streep knows she is somewhat coasting lately and yet, after not giving her a nod for Ricki and the Flash the Academy just couldn't do it two years in a row. In all seriousness, one of the more (personally) upsetting exclusions this year was that of my favorite film of the year, Sing Street. How it wasn't able to even grab a nod in Best Original Song is beyond me. I haven't heard "The Empty Chair," and I'm sure it's a fine enough track, but I would have given anything to see Sing Street on stage at the Oscars rockin' out to "Drive It Like You Stole It." Of course, the biggest story of the year is La La Land and now that it has tied Titanic and All About Eve with the most nominations ever with fourteen it looks to have a huge night, but just how many of those nominations will secure wins? I could easily see it taking both Picture and Director as well as in many of the technical categories for which it was nominated, but the acting categories are a different story. Ryan Gosling will have to compete with Casey Affleck and Emma Stone has the likes of Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert to deal with. Speaking of the Best Actress category, though I wasn't as high on the film as many, it was great to see Ruth Negga get a nod for Loving. For further analysis as well as my thoughts on this morning’s announcements hit the jump. 

Initial Reaction: Video Review - SPLIT & xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE
It was a big weekend at the box office as it felt like 2002 all over again as a new, original M. Night Shyamalan movie broke out in a big way earning an estimated $40.18 million. This was enough to place Split as the fourth largest January opening of all-time. This is a big improvement over Shyamalan's last film, the well-received 2015 flick The Visit, which opened to $25.4 million and went on to make over $65 million. If Split is able to continue on the same path as The Visit it would make this Shyamalan's first $100 million domestic earner since The Last Airbender brought in $131.7 million in 2010. Keep in mind, this is all on a $10 million budget as well. So, yeah, I'd say it's safe to say Shyamalan is back with news dropping today that we are definitely getting an official Unbreakable sequel next. Continuing the 2002 trend was the other major release of the weekend-xXx: Return of Xander Cage. As with the Fast films Vin Diesel returned to his second tier action franchise after opting out for the sequel only to return in a time when his own career desired profitable work outside the mothership that is The Fast & the Furious. Coming in at number two Return of Xander Cage garnered an estimated $20 million from 3,651 theaters including up charges for both 3D and IMAX showings. While this was in line with studio expectations I'm sure they were hoping for a little more given the film cost around $85 million to produce. The good news is that the film also brought in an estimated $50.5 million internationally this weekend, finishing #1 in thirty-two of the fifty-three markets it opened for an estimated $70.5 million worldwide total as of yesterday. Personally, I was pleased with the quality of both Split and xXx making this a January weekend for the books. Making it all the better was the expansion of Martin Scorsese's Silence to my neck of the woods as well as the nationwide rollout of The Founder starring Michael Keaton, both of which are worth a matinee if you're not up for something scary like Split or silly like Cage. As always, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as we have a new review (or reviews) up each week!


Silence is director Martin Scorsese's twenty-fourth narrative feature and one the auteur has been longing to make for quite some time. With that, Silence is a nearly three-hour epic that feels as if it has so much on its mind while at the same time not exactly conjuring much thought about anything other than what is physically presented. This is somewhat troubling considering Silence is a movie wholly about spirituality and the fact it isn't so much the traditions and exteriors of a religion or set of beliefs that matter, but whether the individual practices what their faith teaches daily while realizing how best to do so when that faith is inevitably tested. There is clearly a lot going on in Silence and much Scorsese seems to want to discuss, but the final product we've been delivered is so subtle about its deeper meanings and feelings around the people and subjects it is taking on that the viewer really has to reach into the depths of their attention to pull something substantial from the experience. One can counterpoint with the fact that Scorsese simply isn't spoon feeding viewers what he wants them to think and how he hopes they perceive his ponderings, but rather that he gives the facts of these "based on true life" events with limited shades of interpretation to allow the audience to have their own. This is fair. We have so many churches and/or places of worship these days due to the fact so many couldn't let their interpretations settle into an already established denomination, but this isn't the same kinds of conflicts of faith our characters in Silence struggle to comprehend. More, this a film about the thought process, the heart of the teachings Christianity and other religions preach, and how these intangible things define who we are as individuals and the role they play in determining the tone of humanity. There are no concrete definitions, no absolutes, no black or white, but instead Scorsese and co-writer Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York) have adapted Shûsaku Endô's 1966 novel into a meditative film that has the odd distinction of both being completely about what lies beneath the surface yet often times feels only surface level as far as impact and effectiveness are concerned. There is no denying that the film has layers upon layers from which numerous conversations can be elicited while featuring gorgeous photography, a couple of committed and rather brilliant performances, as well as some genuinely heart-wrenching moments that, depending on beliefs prior to seeing the film, will either reaffirm your faith or cast greater doubt than even before. For such factors alone, Silence is a staggering piece of work that should be commended, but on a basic level of raw emotional response the film didn't leave the lasting impression or transcendent experience great sermons hope to accomplish.


It is with great pleasure that I report xXx: Return of Xander Cage is as dumb and ridiculous as it should be. First and foremost I guess it is important to state that there was no need for this third outing in the xXx series, but as with so many franchises these days we get a lot of what we didn't think we needed, but that they're going to give to us anyways. It makes sense given the whole "brand recognition" line of thinking within the studio system at the moment, but while many of the fruits of this line of thinking yield final products as pointless and joyless as expected given their inherently unwarranted status it is nice that every once in a while such thinking yields something as fun and self-aware as xXx: Return of Xander Cage. It has been fifteen years since Vin Diesel took on the mantle of a James Bond figure via the X-Games in what was no doubt intended to be a spiritual successor of sorts to the original The Fast and the Furious as Diesel re-teamed with director Rob Cohen for xXx the year after The Fast and the Furious became a surprise smash. Like he did initially with the Fast franchise, Diesel opted not to return for the xXx sequel in 2005, State of the Union, which picked up Ice Cube as Darius Stone to fill Diesel's Xander Cage's spot in the xXx program with it being reported Cage died in Bora Bora a few years after the events of the original film. And now, as he did with Fast in 2009, Diesel has returned to a franchise he started and then abandoned after efforts outside such franchises haven't worked out as well as the actor/producer/social media champion likely hoped they would. It's hard to blame the guy as he approaches the age of fifty this summer and undoubtedly understands he won't be able to make such movies (or such money) for much longer. The persona Diesel pulled off as Cage at thirty-five already feels somewhat strained here-especially in scenes engineered to make Diesel look like the baddest dude on the planet-but director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye) and his editors keep things moving along at such a quick pace and with so much energy it's difficult to get caught up on any one detail. It also doesn't hurt that F. Scott Frazier's (The Numbers Station) screenplay layers in multiple team members to take some of the pressure off Diesel carrying this entire thing on his aging shoulders while simultaneously becoming another casualty of the Avengers effect where it's now more lucrative and enticing to have a team of xXx-er's rather than a sole ambassador of bad ass.     

SPLIT Review

It's hard to remember, but there was a time when a new M. Night Shyamalan film was an event in and of itself. In 2002, at the ripe old age of thirty-two, there might have been no more hotly anticipated film of the year than the director's fifth film, Signs, but what was only his third feature since defining himself as the auteur he seemed destined to be. Fifteen years later and we are in a very different time and space. After the success of Signs (over $400 million globally on a $72 million budget) the studio system continued to only throw more and more money at the writer/director and increasingly his films became examples of trying too hard to do what his first few features had seemingly done with such ease. After 2008's utterly confounding The Happening it seemed Shyamalan might have given up completely as he then resorted to being a director for hire on projects like The Last Airbender and After Earth, but even in these endeavors he experienced some of the more scathing reviews and certainly some of the worst box office returns of his career. Where was the director to go? What was there to do next that might reinvigorate his career? Did this once glorious storyteller that TIME magazine so famously labeled "The Next Spielberg" even care to continue to put forth effort and/or art into the world or was he done? In one way or another it feels like we haven't had the real Shyamalan with us for some time. That the person he was in his early thirties had been lost to the grueling system and there was no certainty as to whether he'd ever come back. In truth, Shyamalan hasn't taken a break longer than three years in between films since 1998 film Wide Awake and those three years came in between Airbender and After Earth. It was only two years after the nepotism on a spaceship tale that was Will Smith's After Earth that we caught a glimpse of who we thought Shyamalan was and might become again. I didn't write about The Visit, Shyamalan's 2015 feature that experimented with the found footage approach, but it was a deliciously pulpy little thriller that not only provided a signature Shyamalan twist that worked with the rest of the narrative, but melded the humor, the uncertainty, and the tension of the situation in ways that felt organic-as if the marriage of story and image were flowing out of the director like they hadn't in some time and this upward trend in quality only continues with Split. Like The Visit, Split is set in a single location and relays a rather simple story in both interesting and horrific ways. It is a portrait of a character and in being that it explores a subject with multiple personalities it might be something of a twisted self-portrait from a director who was labeled as one thing, attempted to remain that thing until he was told he wasn't good at that thing anymore and then tried something else only to fail thus forcing him to re-invent himself once more.

Final Trailer for LOGAN Starring Hugh Jackman
And so, here we are. The final trailer for the final Hugh Jackman Wolverine movie. Sixteen years after the original Bryan Singer film that arguably launched this wave of super hero domination we are still experiencing and Jackman is putting on the claws for what is said to be his final time. Jackman has gone from a thirty-two year old unknown Australian actor to the now forty-eight year old grizzled face of the entire X-Men franchise. Not a bad way to leave a legacy considering outside of maybe Robert Downey Jr. that he's the actor most associated with a respected for playing a comic book character as best as anyone else ever could. With Logan, Jackman and director James Mangold (Walk the Line) who collaborated on 2013's solid if not troubled The Wolverine have collaborated once again to tell the final story in Jackman's Wolverine arc that will seemingly center around the Old Man Logan storyline from the comic books. To note how far comic book movies have come since Jackman first played this character is to note that X-Men came out in the dead heat of the summer of 2000 surrounded by only the likes of Mission: Impossible II as its closest competition while also being a year where a Mel Gibson rom-com finished within the top five highest grossing films of the year. We will receive Jackman's swan song as the adamantium-clawed mutant at the beginning of March. I'm not complaining though as this final trailer we've received before the film makes its debut is staggeringly epic and makes the film itself look damn incredible. I was excited before, but now I can hardly wait. I've always been a little averse to Mangold's chosen aesthetic as it feels rather generic, but there is some beautiful imagery on display here as well as the chosen song, like in the teaser with Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt," is used to ground the film with a more singular mood and it works. This time around Mangold and co. use Kaleo's "Way Down We Go," to great effect and if you haven't seen the video for the song check it out here. Logan also stars Patrick Stewart (reprising his role of Professor Charles Xavier), Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Boyd Holbrook, Doris Morgado, Sienna Novikov, and opens on March 3rd, 2017.

New Trailer for POWER RANGERS
I continue to be extremely interested and now even more excited to see how this reboot of the popular Power Rangers TV series turns out. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a huge part of my childhood. As big as Tennage Mutant Ninja Turtles was when Power Rangers came along in 1993 when I was of the tender age of six it captured my imagination and everything I imagined comic books and animated super hero shows to be were they to come to life. With that in mind, we finally get a lengthy glimpse at what director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) has done with the property and how he has both made it new and fresh while drawing from the best (or at least most fun) parts of the series. At this point, Power Rangers was not only a part of my childhood, but the two or three generations that have come since. If all we'd seen from the promotional material prior had made you somewhat cautious much of that should seemingly be laid to rest as this official trailer throws everything a Power Ranger fan could want at you. Israelite and his main cast of unknowns have seemingly found a way to capture the charm and cheese of the original in ways that celebrate the original, kind of goofy series rather than damn it for those reasons. There is nothing but good intentions on display here and I'm particularly excited about Bill Hader as a tiny, sarcastic robot. The one major cause for concern is the same one it's always been and that is the six credited writers on the project. Granted. that list includes the likes of Zack Stentz (Thor, X-Men: First Class), his writing partner Ashley Miller, as well as Max Landis (Chronicle), but it also includes the guys behind Gods Of Egypt, Dracula Untold, and The Last Witch, this really could go either way. Power Rangers stars Ludi Lin, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Dacre Montgomery, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, and opens on March 24th, 2017.

ELLE Review

Director Paul Verhoeven will be seventy nine years old this summer, but if his latest film is any indication it seems the filmmaker has no intentions of letting age force him to be more precious. Of course, the danger in this-to prove you're just as daring or drawn to scandal as you always were-is going overboard in an attempt to defy. Going overboard in ways that can take actions or material from being seen as risky and/or bold to that of pure desperation. With nearly eight decades behind him on this planet one could certainly surmise that Verhoeven has crafted a French thriller concerning rape, betrayal, mystery, and lies upon lies for no other reason than to prove he can still be as shockingly captivating as ever, but such motivation never seems to be the case with Elle. Rather, Verhoeven is clearly only hoping to entertain as much as he provokes. It may seem odd to use the word "entertain" when describing a film that opens with an older woman (Isabelle Huppert will be sixty four this year) being sexually assaulted, but strangely enough Verhoeven opens the film with this shocking act so that the audience isn't left waiting for what has been sold as the crux of the film. Instead, we are dropped into the middle of the assault and then left to discover how there isn't necessarily a right way in which women or anyone who experiences such a trauma are expected to respond. In most instances it would seem the victim of as violent and unforgiving an act as Verhoeven documents and David Birke's screenplay describes would immediately notify the authorities and stay with a close friend or relative in light of being violated in a space they once felt safe, but none of this accounts for how Huppert's Michèle Leblanc reacts. And Verhoeven never takes the stance that his protagonists' choices are weird or wrong in any way, but more that they are interesting in the vein of bringing up more layers of this individual's story thus making the trials and tribulations of Ms. Leblanc all the more compelling and completely engrossing. It's not often with large-scale dramas or potentially cheap thrillers that the director trusts their audience enough to draw their own ideas or perceptions of the acts taking place, but just as there is no precedent for how Leblanc should react to her singular situation Verhoeven never sets a precedent for how he expects us to respond; simply laying out the facts of the story and forcing us to take them in in whatever horrific, alluring, frightening, or seductive way we ultimately do.            

First Trailer for THE DISCOVERY Starring Jason Segel
With the Sundance Film Festival kicking off tomorrow Netflix has debuted the first trailer for Director/co-writer Charlie McDowell follow-up to his 2014 critical hit, The One I Love. The film will have its world premiere at the festival held annually in Park City, Utah and I'm rather anxious to see the reaction this one gets. The One I Love was a fascinating little film with a neat premise about a troubled couple and the implications of societal structures that can drive some of us batty. As a feature debut McDowell's visual style and tone really complimented the story and in re-teaming with screenwriter Justin Lader it seems the two have found something equally as fascinating to explore here. In short, The Discovery is another love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified. To go a little deeper is to understand that due to this discovery the suicide rate has skyrocketed in hopes of getting to whatever this afterlife is all the quicker. It will be interesting to see how McDowell and Lader set up the rules of this universe, if religion plays any sort of role, or if there is a moral code at all that is required to reach this scientifically proven after life, but the absence of any indication as to where the script might lean on such topics is what makes this trailer all the more absorbing. And simply out of personal taste, I love that this movie stars Jason Segel and Robert Redford. They seem like two individuals on a similar wavelength and I can see the father/son dynamic they have been enlisted to play here coming off well if not completely natural. Rooney Mara is also a major part of the cast as Segel's character meets her upon returning to his hometown and the two of them somewhat inevitably fall for one another while each dealing with tragic pasts. The Discovery also stars Riley Keough, Jesse Plemons, and will be available to stream on Netflix March 31, 2017.

Initial Reaction: Video Review - PATRIOTS DAY & LIVE BY NIGHT
It was a strange weekend at the box office as the release schedule saw the debut of three new wide releases and three expansions from limited release to wide and as a result, most suffered due to overcrowding. I didn't care to see any of the new releases though given the solid performance of The Bye Bye Man I may check it out should I have some free time this week. I also wouldn't mind seeing Sleepless, but that feels like more of a rental on a rainy day than anything else. That said, Bye Bye Man was the top performing new release of the week garnering a $13.38 million three-day weekend with an expected $15 million plus total for the four-day, which would more than double the film's $7.4 million budget. Of course, this was only good enough for fifth place as the rest of the top five was filled with holdovers with Hidden Figures still reigning at number one bringing in another $25 million over MLK weekend putting its domestic total near $60 million. This is big news for the late to the game Oscar offering as it looks to become a serious contender in the awards race. The other big story of the weekend is also in line with the current awards season as La La Land more or less went bonkers over the holiday weekend racking up an impressive $14.5 million three-day total from 1,848 screens, including the 148 IMAX theaters it expanded to this weekend. The Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone musical is expected to top $17 million by the end of today setting its domestic total near $80 million. And though we're still waiting on Silence to be released in my neck of the woods the two other major expansions this week were Peter Berg's Patriots Day and Ben Affleck's Live by Night which we reviewed on Initial Reaction. Neither set the box office on fire, but the Mark Wahlberg-led Patriots Day about the Boston Marathon bombing came out the better of the two scoring an estimated $12 million for the three-day weekend with a hopeful $14 million for the four-day. That said, the film did score an "A" CinemaScore during its limited run and an "A+" during its national breakout this weekend meaning the legs on this thing could be good with the fact it only cost $45 million to produce also being on its side. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Affleck's Live by Night as it brought in only $5.4 million from 2,822 theaters after playing on only four screens since Christmas Day. As always, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as we have a new review (or reviews) up each week!  


The problem with Live by Night is that it is both too much and never enough. Ben Affleck, who has proved himself a strong storyteller in his screenwriting and directing skills, certainly has a fine ambition in his latest effort, but it simply never seems to pan out the way he originally imagined it. This is to the point that Live by Night is as big, extravagant, and sexy a gangster drama as one could hope to get made in the studio system today and yet the story is nowhere near as compelling as it should be to make the amount of effort put into the costumes, production design, and other period details matter. The question on my mind as the film came to its one too many endings-none of which are satisfactory, I might add-was, "how did this happen?" How did a filmmaker such as Affleck, with a story he himself adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel (Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River, Shutter Island, The Drop), in this time period, and with a star-studded cast that features stand-out performances from the likes of Chris Messina and Elle Fanning end up sinking as quickly as a dead body attached to a boulder in a river? There is seemingly never a clear answer as to how so many promising parts can come together to form a subpar whole, but with Live by Night the majority of as much seems to fall on the script never knowing exactly what type of story it wants to tell and as a result, the momentum of the pacing never finding its footing well enough to keep viewers invested. There is always more material in a novel than a two hour movie can handle and it seems rather than relay what was more or less the same story the source material was telling through the prism of a single perspective or theme that Affleck instead attempted to cram in as much of Lehane's novel as he could resulting in the film feeling more than overstuffed while still leaving the viewer hungry for more. When talking of adapting a book for the screen director David Fincher said, "The book is many things. You have to choose which aspect you want to make a movie from." It seems Affleck might have learned a thing or two from his Gone Girl director as this lack of a singular viewpoint is exactly what Live by Night is missing; delivering so many characters, ideas, and plot strands it's hard to care about any of them.


One goes into Patriots Day with a certain expectation of what they believe will be delivered to them. We're all familiar with the story. Heck, if you're of legal age to see an R-rated film in theaters (meaning this one) then you were at least fourteen when the Boston Marathon bombing happened on April 13th, 2013. There is this expectation that the film will take us through these events we're already familiar with adding the caveat of getting to better know some of the individuals involved. When it becomes apparent what director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon) is doing though, it's not difficult to realize this is going to leave a greater mark than expected. With Patriots Day, much like with his previous two efforts with Mark Wahlberg, Berg has crafted a narrative around recent history that could very easily have been a kind of simple procedural; taking us through the day's events step by step and doing little more than adding a personal aspect to a story the whole world has already heard, but rather than allow this lack of time or perspective to hinder his film Berg allows this immediacy to relate to who he knows will make up his audience in stirring, emotional ways. There is a tinge of jingoism that builds throughout the film and becomes what is probably too obvious by the time Berg tags his film with interviews with the real life people we've just seen portrayed on screen, but that doesn't mean it isn't effective. It's a bit much, extreme even, but it works in the films favor more than it doesn't. It is in how much Patriots Day ultimately moves its audience not by simply taking us through the moments, but rather by expertly crafting a narrative around key individuals and bringing each together until they are tied in unison; some in expected and others in genuinely surprising ways. It is not so much what is being conveyed, but how the context of such moments is set-up and carried through that make the emotional heft of this thing as great as it ends up being-and it can be a tough one. The film does have its shortcomings-mostly in that it fails to better characterize its antagonists instead painting them as monsters, and deservedly so, but with no insight into their mentality or personal justification we are led to believe we should lump them into the Muslim stereotype that has become associated purely with terrorism. This stereotype can certainly prove true, but if you're making a whole movie around the reactions to these guys actions then we need a slightly more perceptive take on them. The movie also runs just a tad too long. At two hours and thirteen minutes Patriots Day begins to show its running time in the third act when the momentum slightly stalls and we feel the otherwise expertly structured film unravel just a bit.

Teaser Trailer for CARS 3
In always looking forward to what Pixar might come out with year after year it was always going to be something of a disappointment when the inevitable Cars 3 came around and we are. This summer we will not be graced by a new, inventive piece from Pixar nor will we see a sequel to one of their more beloved films (Ratatouille 2, anyone?), but rather we will have the only trilogy capper in Pixar history outside of Toy Story for what is easily the weakest two films on the studios slate. The cards have been dealt though and despite the fact it always seemed the Cars franchise was something of a "baby" to Pixar and Disney chief creative officer John Lasseter it seems even he is too busy now to mess with this third installment as Brian Fee (a storyboard artist on the first Cars) has taken over and has seemingly delivered a much darker film than what its predecessors might have indicated. The worst thing about the previous two Cars films is that they are more or less forgettable, especially when compared to their peers. It may be that Fee is attempting to break that stigma around the franchise with this third film by going in an unexpected direction and if the first teaser was any indication-things are definitely not looking the way I imagined a Cars 3 would look. This meaning that rather than the bright colors and zooming sounds of stadiums packed with racing and cheering automobiles that instead we have a story dealing with Owen Wilson's Lightning McQueen attempting to prove to a new generation of racers that he's still the best race car in the world. That first teaser showed us McQueen crashing on the track with the tagline, "From this moment. Everything will change." Pretty grim for a franchise that has made its name on merchandising and brand appeal rather than tapping into genuine emotion as most Pixar films do, but we are. With this new trailer we get a better idea of what Cars 3 will look and sound like and while I'm intrigued by the implications of what the movie could actually be about there is still a lack of any excitement. Cars 3 also features the voice talents of Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Larry the Cable Guy, Katherine Helmond, Cheech Marin, Paul Dooley, and opens on June 16, 2017.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 10, 2017

WHY HIM? Review

John Hamburg hasn't directed a feature film since 2009, but that film was I Love You, Man. Seven years and several television directing gigs later and Hamburg has delivered Why Him? Personally, I love I Love You, Man. It has become one of those reliable movies you can put on at any given time and are guaranteed to laugh and enjoy while having the added bonus of intelligently breaking down the barriers of masculinity and the weird culture surrounding male friendships. This automatically sets up an expectation that the follow-up won't be nearly as good, especially based on the rather outlandish trailers we received for Why Him? The thing is, it wasn't that I Love You, Man had a more seasoned or credible screenwriter, but in fact Hamburg himself seemingly had a lot to do with both screenplays with his co-writer on Why Him? admittedly having more promising if not limited previous works on his resume whereas Hamburg's co-writer on I Love You, Man, Larry Levin, has such credits as Doctor Dolittle and Dr. Dolittle 2 to his name. Of course, comedy does and doesn't have a lot to do with the writing as the funniest jokes in the world can be written down, but if they don't have the right people to execute them they'll still fall as flat as the worst types of jokes. What is on the paper provides only a basis for the type of comedy hoping to be obtained as well as a launching pad for talented comedians and improvisational actors to take the material to new heights. And so, it isn't that I Love You, Man necessarily had better writing going for it, but rather that it was a novel premise that thrived on the chemistry and appeal of its two stars. Why Him? doesn't necessarily have as interesting a dynamic at its core and its stars aren't nearly as charming as Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, but that doesn't automatically render the film a failure on the comedic front. By all accounts, Why Him? is a perfectly accessible broad if not rather crude comedy that utilizes said broadness to relate to whole families in Middle America, teenagers, and older parents that walk into the film because the trailers featured a scenario familiar to them or because they saw the guy from Breaking Bad being funny. Why Him? is a perfect example of why mainstream comedies both work on certain levels and why they can easily fail on so many others. Though it may not garner me much credibility I rather enjoyed Why Him? to the point I'm not grumpy enough to get mad at a movie for failing to be as introspective about the dynamics it means to document while instead making up for such a lack of substance with easy laughs.

Initial Reaction: Video Review - HIDDEN FIGURES
Happy New Year! We are a week away from celebrating our one year anniversary here at Initial Reaction and couldn't be more excited about the weekend as here in Arkansas we will finally be getting a chance to see Martin Scorsese's long-awaited Silence as well as the latest from Ben Affleck in Live By Night. We will undoubtedly also try to see Patriots Day as it expands as well leaving little room for stuff like Monster Trucks, the Jamie Foxx vehicle Sleepless, and what looks to be typical January horror fare in The Bye Bye Man. All of that said, this first week of January brings another expansion as 20th Century Fox took Hidden Figures from a limited release to nearly 2,500 theaters and when the final numbers came in today it was declared the box office champion as well as the first film to knock Rogue One from its top spot since debuting in theaters on December 15th. With a final total of $22.8 million, about $1m more than Sunday estimates, Hidden Figures bested Rogue One by a mere $800,000 as the Star Wars Story pulled in a still solid $22 million on its fourth weekend in release. This is a pretty big deal for Hidden Figures though as it was never really the ranking that mattered for, as box office pundit Scott Mendelson so finely stated, the fact the film earned $22.8 million in its opening weekend is a, "huge win for the notion that movies about women, (and) women of color no less, can be not just critically acclaimed and award-worthy but also multiplex-friendly box office hits." Mendelson goes on to say how this shouldn't be a surprise, but naturally much will be made that this type of programming is what eventually dethroned Star Wars. All of that aside, Hidden Figures certainly earns the praise it has garnered as it is a well-made crowd-pleaser with solid performances all around. As always, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as we have a new review (or reviews) up each week!


I won't pretend to know anything about the Assassin's Creed video game series or, for that matter, much about video games in general given the last one I played was probably Crash Bandicoot on the original PlayStation circa 2001. This is to the point that I'm typically indifferent to the idea of video game to film adaptations especially given most tend to be financial failures with the few I've seen being rather forgettable as well. It is with this Assassin's Creed adaptation though that my interest was piqued as not only had it attracted Michael Fassbender to star in another potential franchise, but that it also gave Fassbender cause to recruit his Macbeth director, Justin Kurzel as well as cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, it felt as if there might be a chance to break the mold. Despite the fact Kurzel somewhat shortchanged Shakespeare's story he indisputably made a visually stunning representation of The Bard's play and with Assassin's Creed coming from a medium very much based on the visual storytelling element it seemed as if this was a logical choice and that both Kurzel and Fassbender were very much intent on keeping the same visual style intact. That's what Kurzel does best, that's why Fassbender imagined he would make a good fit. They do, but the fact the visuals the film offers via its flashbacks to Spain in 1492 aren't the highlights of the film speak to how much better this is, but still how much better it could have been. Granted, the sequences in Spain are certainly the most breathtaking in terms of visuals and contain well-paced and seemingly well executed action sequences, but they aren't developed nearly as much character-wise as the other sections of the film. This is all to say there is an interesting premise here. Like I said, going into the film I had no idea what the objective of the game was or even who or what the titular assassins or their creed might be, but as we get to better know Fassbender's Callum Lynch (a character apparently made up specifically for the movie) we come to better terms with this world that three screenwriters have seemingly cobbled together from what I assume are the most interesting parts of the game. Faithful or not though, Assassin's Creed, the film, is an average enough action flick that has a core idea it certainly could have done more with and in more interesting ways, but takes shortcuts around the deeper questions posed by its central premise while hoping to garner enough return so as to potentially explore such questions and ideas in a sequel that will likely never happen.


Hidden Figures could have easily been one of those films that plays things right down the middle. Mainstream to the max. A standard structure with a likeable cast delivering an uplifting and equally heartwarming story that inspires us all to live our lives in something of a better fashion and to many ends-it is exactly that. That may sound as if I'm coming out the gate reducing the film to cliché via expectation, but it is how Hidden Figures both uses such identifiers to its advantage without reducing itself to those overused thoughts that make it charming while still routine. Exciting while ultimately a little obvious. It is a film with just the right amount of sass and just the right amount of authenticity to meet somewhere in the middle between a made for TV movie and that of a larger budget biopic, but this time with three central characters rather than just one formerly famous person. What Hidden Figures does so deftly is suggest how well-known its three protagonists should be rather than playing off how well known they clearly aren't. That their accomplishments are far greater than anything any musician or actor might be able to contribute to society, but due to the fact their profession is much less attractive (and their circumstances even less so) than performing on stage they seem fated to go down in history with little to no recognition. As these things tend to go though, Hollywood can't ignore a good underdog story, but when this is true in terms of something as large as the legacy of both the three individuals whose lives this film chronicles as well as all the women and women of color that these three stand to represent, such Hollywood reliabilities aren't always such a bad thing. From the director of the safe, but pleasing St. Vincent comes another competently made piece of cinema that exercises its big heart and sentimental streak in ways that are familiar, but that are executed so well and with such strong characters that it's impossible not to find yourself drawn to the satisfying journey Hidden Figures takes us on. Juggling three individual arcs with multiple facets within each and a scope that deals in the space race of the 1960's Hidden Figures is certainly a much more ambitious project than that of director Theodore Melfi's previous film, but one that he handles with assured grace as in only his second feature Melfi has proven he has the rare talent of crafting movies that are unabashedly feel-good while not allowing the saccharine aspects to overstep their boundaries forcing the story and the characters that craft that story to be as authentic as the beats are familiar.