BAD BOYS FOR LIFE Review

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Return to Michael Bay's Bad Boys Franchise Sans Bay, but the Chemistry and Passage of Time Help this Third Installment Shine.

1917 Review

Writer/Director Sam Mendes and Cinematographer Roger Deakins Craft a Technically Exceptional Film While not Skimping on the Emotional Aspects of War.

DOLITTLE Review

Robert Downey Jr. Departs from the Iron Man Character for the First Time in Some Time in this Overwhelmingly Bland Adaptation that Clearly Could have been More.

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL Review

The Rock, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan Return in Their Second Video Game Adventure that Continues to Largely Defy Expectation.

STAR WARS: EPISODE IX - THE RISE OF SKYWALKER Review

JJ Abrams Conclusion to the Skywalker Saga is Everything and Nothing at the Same Time; Offering Grand Escapism with Little Heart.

Top 10 of 2019

2019 wound up being a more interesting year than the first six or so months would have led one to believe. There are only three movies on my final list that were released in or before June and only two that I actually saw during those first six months of the year. This, of course, isn't to say nothing of note was released in the first half of 2019 as there were certainly contenders for my top 10 released during those months such as Midsommar, John Wick, Yesterday, The Farewell, The Dead Don't Die and The Aftermath, but more that the overall quality of releases increased significantly in the second half of the year to a point the second half seems to have vastly outweighed the first. This has made it difficult to narrow things down to a finite ten films that I will hopefully consider to still be "favorites" in the years to come. And that is ultimately the lesson I've learned this year in that the subjectivity of these lists is so vast and somewhat superfluous to the point one shouldn't feel a pressure to include films others have labeled as "important"" or "the best", but instead they should include the films that feel-ya know-the most personal to the person making said list. These kinds of lists would also always fare better were they put together in a couple years time rather than in a rush in the last few days of the year as one is attempting to cram in all the end-of-year awards contenders while also catching up on everything that might have been missed throughout the year. Of course, there will be those that slip through the cracks-I'm mad at myself for not yet having caught titles like Luce, Her Smell, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Monos and Fast Color-though I made as valiant an effort as I possibly could, but naturally still managed to miss more than I would have liked to. Along with the point I was trying to make earlier about a composite list of pre-ordained "best of" films comes the fact there will certainly be what some would consider glaring omissions on my list given you've likely heard a lot about them over the course of the last few months and the fact they will certainly make many others year-end lists. I liked Little Women, but didn't fall in love with it; the same could be said of Marriage Story as well as Portrait of a Lady on Fire. 1917 is legitimately a wonder and I completely understand why it will win all of the awards, but is it a film I personally fell in love with and will re-visit time and time again? Probably not. The Irishman, for all there is to adore with it, simply didn't connect with me in a way that I was either incredibly moved or incredibly wowed by. Insightful? Sure. Handsomely crafted and acted? Of course, but it's not the Scorsese I'll point to when someone asks for a recommendation. I couldn't agree more that each of these films possess inspired moments-moments that transcend the art form even-yet much of the conversation around these feel of the moment and what follows are films I hope will remain a part of my life for much longer.

STAR WARS: EPISODE IX - THE RISE OF SKYWALKER Review

If one was to go back and watch the prequels ("...but why?!?" you cringe!) with as objective a perspective as possible, with the allowance of framing them in a new light given the events of the Star Wars universe that have unfolded since their release it's not hard to see that Emperor Palpatine has always played the role of puppet master, at first hedging both sides against one another before fully giving in to his true Sith tendencies and converting a young Anakin Skywalker to follow him on that path. And while J.J. Abrams initial film in this sequel trilogy, The Force Awakens, seemingly had no interest in resurrecting the long, thought-to-be dead Emperor there is sound reason (believe it or not!) in bringing this antagonist back to round out all three trilogies in a way that makes for a resounding stanza...just as George Lucas always intended. It's about rhyme; a recurring metrical unit where the past predicts the future and the future dictates the fate of our favorite characters. There is a great sense of scope and history in these films and while Disney has admittedly fumbled a massive opportunity with these sequels, Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, seeks to try and rectify the lack of cohesion in this latest trilogy and bring everything together through that aforementioned scope and history in a fashion that is both meaningful to our new heroes while imparting the identity of those original heroes to inspire this new generation to continue to work towards the betterment of the galaxy. Yes, The Rise of Skywalker more or less crams two movies into one and yes, it is genuinely disappointing that this series wasn't better constructed from the beginning given how much this world means to so many people, but taken what we're given Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio (Argo) are able to connect the dots in a satisfying enough way where the right questions are answered, some mysteries remain yet feel destined to be unraveled on Disney+ while other inquiries are made that no one seemed to be asking, but are quickly brought up and resolved just as swiftly that it's as if Abrams was taking out double coverage just in case. It's impossible to please everyone and as much as I hate to admit it as a long-time, but not die-hard fan of the franchise, the discourse around these films is often toxic and demeaning. It's okay to simply enjoy whatever brings a smile to your face and more often than not, as I sat experiencing The Rise of Skywalker for the first time, I had a smile on my face.

BOMBSHELL Review

They may as well have called this Half Baked 2, but not because the idea to make a movie about a group of women who decide to take on Fox News head Roger Ailes (portrayed here by John Lithgow) is a foolish move to make, but more because it's evident a half hour in that the choices here weren't really thought through and not near enough time has passed since these events occurred to accurately depict what might be the interesting ramifications from the fallout of men such as Ailes losing their power; we need to know what a non-toxic atmosphere looks and feels like before acting like we can really assess how bad these toxic ones truly are. Still, this movie exists and it's trying its damnedest to be a political satire via Adam McKay. Given there was much to look forward to about the project outside of simply telling a relevant and intriguing story there was hope that director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents, Trumbo) and screenwriter Charles Randolph (The Big Short, Love & Other Drugs) might find a unique angle on how to infiltrate the chaotic world behind the 24-hour news cycle that would feel fresh if not exactly revelatory. While Bombshell hits the ground running and is happy to welcome the audience into this world before beginning to intricately weave these three individual character plights together it, despite always feeling enticing and always feeling as if it's getting ready to really dig into the meat of what it's here to say, ultimately never comes to dig further beneath the surface delivering a cliff notes-like version of a story the average consumer was likely already aware of. Bombshell is a movie with a great beginning and idea for what it wants/needs to be by the end, but it just hadn't yet developed a sound basis for which these ideas could solidly stand on.

Teaser Trailer for Christopher Nolan's TENET

Warner Bros. has released the first trailer for writer/director Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Dunkirk, Tenet, starring John David Washington of BlacKkKlansman (and Denzel's son) in the lead. This teaser, which feels more like an official trailer, shows off what has been described as a “massive action blockbuster” that will cross multiple genres. While not much can be derived from the footage contained here in terms of plotting it would seem Nolan is very much working in the same tone and world as Inception given the covert style mission Washington's character seemingly is involved in. While no plot synopsis even exists yet for the film the official logline released by the studio reads as, "an action epic revolving around international espionage, time travel, and evolution." Everything sounds pretty in line until you get to those last couple of words and you realize there's no stopping Nolan from going as far as he wishes; be it time travel or dealing with...evolution? Nolan undoubtedly has some interesting things to say on these topics and with his endless amount of tools and given the imagery and set-up shown in this teaser, he seems to also have an interesting way of discussing them. What really stands out here is how the film might be playing with time and people's perception of things depending on times construction in the same way Inception played with people's perception of reality and how the lines sometimes blur between what really happened and what was part of an imagined memory that came to you in the night. Per usual, Nolan has stacked his cast with renowned and pedigreed actors with the likes of Robert Pattinson (High Life, The Lighthouse) and Elizabeth Debicki (Widows) serving as strong supporting players here along with Dimple Kapadia (Bobby), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Clémence Poésy (In Bruges), Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk) and of course...Michael Caine, all co-starring. For all you film nerds and behind the scenes geeks Nolan is also credited as the sole screenwriter on the project and shot the film using a combination of 70MM and IMAX cameras as he re-teamed with Interstellar and Dunkirk cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (who also delivered one of the most visually arresting films of this year in Ad Astra-see it!). Needless to say, this is one of my most anticipated films of next year. Tenet hits theaters on July 17, 2020.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL

If I'm being honest, I went into last weekend expecting Jumanji: The Next Level to do well enough, but I'd be lying if I said I thought it would manage to beat its predecessor or set off an unprecedented weekend run making it something of a breakout sequel. People enjoyed the 2017 re-boot well enough as it served as a pleasant surprise against the divisive The Last Jedi as it, along with The Greatest Showman, demonstrated what serious legs were all about; Welcome to the Jungle legging it to nearly a billion dollars worldwide off of only a $52.7 million opening. The film would ultimately gross over $404 million domestically and it seems Sony's sequel will in fact take it...to the next level. The $60.1 million opening for the film marks the thirteenth largest December opening ever and the largest December debut for Sony. Of course, the film will face the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker this weekend, but given opening weekend audiences gave the film an "A-" CinemaScore along with the fact the film played to a crowd that was only 29% over the age of twenty-five versus the previous installments 45% shows that not only did the sequel bring in a larger crowd, but it brought in a younger crowd putting it in a fantastic position heading into the holiday frame. Internationally, The Next Level added thirty-four new markets after beginning its international release last weekend, pulling in $85.7 million from international markets. The Next Level pushed its total international cume to $152.5 million for a $212.6 million global total. Needless to say, I can't wait for Christmas 2021 when Jumanji: Chinese Democracy opens. The other two new wide releases last weekend, Warner Bros. Clint Eastwood-directed Richard Jewell and Blumhouse's cheap/fast-tracked re-make of Black Christmas failed to ignite the same kind of conversations Jumanji did though, as both films went into their opening weekend with studio estimates pegging them somewhere around the $10 million mark while in reality neither could compete as Jewell only mustered $5 million on a $45 million budget and Christmas pulled in $4.4 million on a $5 million budget. Also of note were a couple of limited releases that performed well last weekend as A24 gave the Safdie Brothers and Adam Sandler's Uncut Gems five initial locations in which the drama delivered the studio's largest per screen opening average ever with $525,498 total for a $105,100 per theater average before the film goes "wide" on Christmas day. Additionally, Lionsgate's Bombshell starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie debuted in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles ahead of its nationwide opening this weekend, where it delivered an estimated $312,000 for a $78,000 per theater average. 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!

HONEY BOY Review

"The only thing my father gave me of any value was pain...and you want to take that away?" 

As someone who is less than a year younger than Shia LaBeouf and grew up watching Even Stevens there was no doubt that Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy was going to be something of an emotional endeavor; a deeply moving experience that would both be reminiscent of while also completely unraveling this element of my early teen years that created nothing but fond memories. This is obviously an extremely personal piece and it's tough sometimes to criticize as much, but thankfully there's little need for that here as LaBeouf relays exposure therapy sessions that helped him work through the trauma caused by his relationship with his father during a specific point in time in a way that pieces together both how he grew into the person he's become as well as exploring how he's moved past it. It's cathartic, sure, but for viewers who can remember how naturally funny and flat-out talented LaBeouf came across in that Disney channel show, Honey Boy also serves as this honest, unguarded piece of insight into the pain behind that comedy.

The film goes back and forth between LaBeouf's time as a child actor (referred to as Otis in the film), when he was living in a motel with his father who would come to set and run lines with him, and the post-arrest version of LaBeouf (Lucas Hedges) as he attempts to immerse himself in this treatment that has him repeating these stories that scarred him until they don't hurt anymore. As played by Noah Jupe, twelve year-old Otis adores his father and seeks his affection unabashedly yet his father, James (LaBeouf), has no real idea what it means to be a good dad or role model; instead James simply dismisses any display of emotion with a distant, "wipe your face, Otis. Don't cry in front of me." It's devastating, but so is most of what we see depicted in the film. Jupe's younger Otis is dealing with this father figure who wants to be good to him, wants to be there for him, but isn't good for his development in any sense of the word (his dad nonchalantly offering him cigarettes and booze at the age of twelve) and it seems Otis understands this, but doesn't know another way to navigate what he's experiencing other than to go along with it. There are key lines that stand out as pure truth that one can tell stuck with LaBeouf from his childhood as well, things such as his father resorting to bragging about the sound of his own piss hitting the toilet. Moments when there aren't really words to describe the amount of tragedy being experienced and within many of these scenarios LaBeouf paints one simply has to let the heartbreak wash over them while knowing this little boy has comes out the other side and is doing better. Alex Somers' fantastic score also helps considerably in allowing said tragedy to flow over and around the viewer rather than overwhelm them.

JUST MERCY Review

The third film from director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle) stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson in the true story of a Harvard-educated lawyer named Bryan Stevenson (based on a book written by the actual Stevenson) who goes to Alabama in the late eighties to defend the disenfranchised and wrongly condemned including Foxx's Walter McMillian, a man sentenced to death despite evidence proving his innocence.

Every single word in that description would lead one to believe Just Mercy is an inevitably powerful film that is both timely and timeless as it touches on the indifference to inequality and justice in our society as its been fated to have been constructed; a world with a “justice deficient” as Stevenson would describe it, so why then...does everything about Just Mercy feel as formulaic as the old gospel hymns referenced within it? There's no taking away that this is a good movie, but there's no denying it goes down exactly as you expect it to also. That isn't to say the story isn't important or to criticize the story the film is telling, but more it is a recognition that Cretton and co-writer Andrew Lanham (The Shack) might have done more to execute this in a fashion not so routine; to find a way of conveying the story in unexpected ways rather than resting on the fact the true story is compelling enough on its own.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 17, 2019

New Trailer for TOP GUN: MAVERICK

It has been some time since I've sat down and actually watched Tony Scott's 1986 action/drama centered around students at the United States Navy's elite fighter school who competed to be the best with one daring young pilot learning a few things not taught in the classroom and yet I'm still anxious to see how that once daring young pilot has evolved in what will be thirty-four years since the original. Tom Cruise is obviously reprising his role in the long-awaited follow-up to Top Gun, but after Scott's untimely death in 2012 it seemed the sequel became even more of an uncertainty. It's kind of amazing that everything aligned in order for this film to have come into existence, but here we are with all the music, motorcyclin' and volleyballin' still intact for a legacy sequel in the vein of Creed that will hopefully earn its place along the highly adored original. Director Joseph Kosinski (who worked with Cruise on Oblivion, but also made Tron: Legacy and the severely under seen Only the Brave) has a knack for slick visuals and, as can be gleaned in this new trailer, has seemingly put an emphasis on the practicality of the flight sequences for-even as I watch the trailer on my iPhone-I know without a doubt I have to see this movie on an IMAX screen this summer. Besides the fact it was penned by Peter Craig (12 Strong), Justin Marks (Counterpoint), and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle), with additional edits by long-time Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie next to nothing is known about the plot of the film and this latest trailer tends to keep things that way. We do know that Val Kilmer will return as Iceman, Miles Teller will be playing the role of the now-adult son of Anthony Edwards' Goose and that Glen Powell impressed producers so much during his initial audition that they created a new, different character just for him. Next to these scant details, this presumably official, but definitely not final trailer for the film merely gives us more of a glimpse at the tone and aesthetic Kosinski has captured as it leans heavily on the familiar imagery that will play on the nostalgia for the original and (hopefully) put the butts in the seats. Cruise seems to be relishing in the opportunity to even make this movie while I'm anxious to see what he does with exploring this character who has seemingly been afraid to move on, but is finally being forced out of said comfort zone by the changing world around him. Top Gun: Maverick also stars Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris and opens on June 26th, 2020.

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL Review

Much like the challenges a sequel faces in trying to stand on its own while recapturing the magic of what made the original so special, the teenage characters we met in 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle have found it difficult to completely move on from their own experiences within the video game world; longing to reclaim such feelings of empowerment and intelligence while not being constrained by their earthly forms-the separation of this experience and actual reality has been tougher for some more than others. This is especially true for Alex Wolf’s character, Spencer, who has spent his freshman year at college feeling completely invisible and unworthy of the long-distance relationship he and Martha (Morgan Turner) are having to actually work for. In this way, Jumanji: The Next Level begins not by jumping straight back into the central gag, but instead by offering a surprising study of why someone in their seemingly logical mind would want to risk their life by going back into the game in the first place. This was always going to be the conundrum for a sequel to the reboot (I feel ridiculous writing that, but it is what it is) as there was no choice other than to either have the same people return to the game or have the video game land in new hands, but regardless of who would be controlling the avatars Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black were still going to be the stars. And so, in Jake Kasdan’s sequel (co-written by Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg) this somewhat weighty approach is taken in order to explain how another sequel is even possible and while this along with The Rock’s Danny DeVito impersonation, Hart’s superb turn as Danny Glover and Awkwafina’s eventual turn as DeVito are all equally appreciated The Next Level ultimately skimps on the weight of the main idea that’s powering it (not to mention it being the one facet that might allow a hint of the original Jumanji’s tone to seep into this new series) in favor of broader comedy and bigger set pieces. It’s not that these aspects are bad, cheapen the experience or even feel lazy, but more that The Next Level is very much like vanilla ice cream that could have sprung for sprinkles or syrup, but chose not to not because of cost or fear of diluting the inherent flavor, but more out of convenience. Safe without being boring, fun without being interesting, The Next Level is simply fine.

UNCUT GEMS Review

What is maybe the best aspect of the exceptional Uncut Gems is the fact that yes, this is very much Adam Sandler doing something outside of his standard routine, but this isn't Sandler playing serious simply for the sake of proving he can in fact act when the material calls for it. No, this isn't sad or depressed Sandler simply for the sake of being taken seriously, but instead the Safdie Brothers (Good Time) have somehow lured the Sandman into giving both a layered, physical performance while also remaining one that plays off the inherent charm and charisma Sandler naturally possesses. Moreover, he's used perfectly here. So perfect in fact, it's hard to imagine anyone else in this role besides Sandler.

In Gems, Sandler is a jeweler in the diamond district in Manhattan. He’s ingrained in the Jewish community there and he's also a gambling addict. He has a wife (Idina Menzel) and several children, but he also has a girlfriend (Julia Fox) who works with him in his shop during the day and hustles for The Weeknd at night. Sandler's Howard Ratner pawns jewelry from his store to pay off bookies and accumulated debt some of the time, but most of the time he’s using that money to place bigger bets in something of a small scale Ponzi scheme. Context clues aside, the focus of plot comes into view when a giant opal that has been mined from the caves of Ethiopia comes into Ratner's possession. Ratner has plans to auction the rock off as he believes it to be worth untold amounts of money, but he first brings it to the attention of Kevin Garnett (via Lakeith Stanfield's character who will vouch for Howard's product to potential high dollar clientele such as Garnett). The NBA star can't seem to pass up the opportunity to own the stone as he believes it to bring him some type of luck (the film is set in 2013 when the Celtics were facing the Sixers in the Eastern Conference finals) with Ratner making one bad choice after another; deepening his debt rather than his pockets.

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!

New Trailer for CATS

Universal Pictures has released a new Cats trailer and, well, I'm sure based on the reaction to the first trailer you can guess how things went down with this one. What's crazy to me is, that despite remembering very vividly having a VHS tape of the stage production and very vividly recalling watching certain pieces of it, I have no idea what the Broadway musical is about much less whatever Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his collaboration with Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) on the screenplay might amount to. Whatever it might be, bad or good come the end of the day, an ambitious take on the long-running production seems to be what we're in for at the very least; and if there's genuine emotion and clear desire to make something real out of what is clearly a silly premise-I can get down with that. The ultimate thing is, despite the online backlash over the look of the titular characters (instead of using makeup to make the actors look like cats, Hooper and co. utilized new performance-capture technology to create entirely CG felines), I don't personally find it that distracting. I mean, c'mon-the now highest grossing movie of all time features a talking raccoon and a giant purple hero eater as its antagonist. Like that film, Hooper's Cats boasts a star-studded ensemble led by Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, and Taylor Swift and it is with musically inclined names such as these combined with the fact Hooper has more than a little experience in the musical genre (he also directed the Hugh Jackman/Russell Crowe Les Miserables) that one is led to believe there might be some genuinely cool ideas and effortlessly strong executions within this puzzle of a premise. And say what you will, but the production design here is kind of jaw-dropping while the clips of the musical performances we see look to be really well done, so why all the fuss? Is it simply because it's CGI cats doing these things? Sure, I get it, but if that's the only case against it yet the Broadway musical has somehow managed to be a long-running hit I have to imagine there is an audience out there who isn't as bothered by as much as the community on the internet who is ready to damn this thing to hell before it even arrives seems to be. I wouldn't say I'm necessarily excited to see Cats, but I'm certainly intrigued and not going to not see it based purely on the fact the character designs make me feel uncomfortable. I tend to appreciate Hooper's aesthetics and "on-the-ground" mentality meshed with the larger than life prowess of his visuals and I can only think that will be ratcheted up to eleven on this one. Cats also stars Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, Francesca Hayward and opens in theaters on December 20th, 2019.

FORD V FERRARI Review

Ford v Ferrari is what one would call a well-rounded picture. Meaning, that it is wholly and completely a feel-good movie while also carrying a significant amount of weight. In other words, it will break your balls and your heart at the same time. It is big, flashy and somewhat indulgent large-scale studio filmmaking in the most classic sense of the idea as director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Logan) casts two larger than life personalities to portray two larger than life personalities against the backdrop of an historical event that is globally appealing yet couldn’t feel more American at its core. This is somewhat ironic given the type of racing Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale’s Ken Miles are seasoned in and the kind the Ford Motor Company is interested in engaging in is far more popular in the rest of the world than it is the United States, but like I said...well-rounded. While Ford v Ferrari boasts an impressive ensemble cast and truly immersive racing sequences that sometimes almost literally put you in the driver's seat the film is at its best when focusing on those two larger than life personalities and dissecting these men who, in many ways, are rightfully convinced of their own certainty but who take blows to their egos when they have to deal with things they aren’t expressly exceptional in. Whether it be Shelby coming to terms with his fragile mortality, Miles dealing with the bureaucratic nature of corporations as his intelligence and skill come face to face with entitled money and extending even to Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts, who's terrific) as he-someone who has every reason to believe he's in full control of every aspect of his life-is humbled in an instance where he comes to not only realize, but understand that there are things he simply can't understand and will never be able to control. Ford v Ferrari isn't necessarily about the tampering of men's egos and it doesn't aspire to explore the manifestations of as much through these cars and the amount of risk being taken by their drivers, but more it seems to seek to better understand these people through this thing they've given their life over to whether it be out of passion or inheritance. With such strong attitudes and strong points of view on display these characteristics are naturally lent to the film itself giving the entirety of the production this sense of confidence and control; both of which a good movie and a good driver require in order to be successful.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - DOCTOR SLEEP

We were somewhat off in our guestimate over at Tavern Talk last week concerning what would come in atop the box office as we, like most folks, assumed it would be Doctor Sleep, the adaptation of Stephen King's sequel to The Shining, starring Ewan McGregor and directed by Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House), but we all know what assuming does and that old saying couldn't have proven more true over last weekend as the $50 million budgeted Doctor Sleep turned in an extremely poor $14 million performance over its first three days of release. Initially, Doctor Sleep was tracking to launch with $25 million or more, but ended up finishing in second to fellow newcomer, Midway, a Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) directed WWII flick about the clash between the American fleet and the Imperial Japanese Navy which marked a pivotal turning point in the Pacific Theater during the war. This makes for another disappointment in a string of disappointments for Warner Brothers as, outside of Joker and IT Chapter Two, the studio has had a a number of underperformers this fall including Motherless Brooklyn, The Goldfinch, Blinded by the Light and The Kitchen. On the bright side, Doctor Sleep did score a "B+" CinemaScore from opening day audiences, which is solid, but the fact this opened just after Halloween along with the fact crowds were 57% male and 74% over the age of twenty-five suggests people simply weren't interested in a horror film that put all its eggs in the "forty year-later sequel to a classic" basket. People know The Shining, sure, but do they still care about it? Apparently not. Internationally, Doctor Sleep opened in sixty-eight markets over the last two weeks and presently stands at $20 million internationally for a global total of just $34 million. Needless to say, the film has a lot of ground to cover and not much time to do so as the market will only continue to be flooded both with more adult a family friendly fare the closer we get to the Thanksgiving holiday. In another surprise turn, Paramount's family comedy Playing with Fire starring John Cena beat out Universal's holiday-themed Last Christmas for third place with an estimated $13 million while the Emilia Clarke/Henry Golding rom-com made about $12 million from an audience that was 65% female and 65% over the age of twenty-five. Rounding out the top five was Terminator: Dark Fate which, in its second weekend, scored around $10.8 million for a domestic cume that now stands at $48.45 million while adding another $29.9 million internationally for a global tally just shy of $200 million. 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!       

DOCTOR SLEEP Review

How does one craft a forty year-later sequel to what is widely considered one of if not the greatest horror film of all time that is also based on a sequel novel by an author that didn't appreciate the aforementioned film adaptation? In other words, how does one approach making a film based on a book that is the sequel to the original source material as well as being a sequel to the film adaptation that the author of both novels didn't care for? Tricky, right? Complicated? Complex? Beyond difficult? Sure, it's all of these things and while I've not read any Stephen King in some time (we're talking probably high school) and wasn't aware the master of horror had penned a sequel to The Shining in 2013 it seems inevitable still that this is where we are six years later with the one hundred and fifty-two minute Doctor Sleep. In the same amount of time since King's follow-up was released, writer/director Mike Flanagan burst onto the scene with a feature length adaptation of his short film, Oculus, that paved the way for him to become Netflix's go-to guy for original horror content as the filmmaker not only produced original films for the streaming service like Before I Wake and Hush, but also got his feet wet with another King adaptation in 2017's Gerald's Game then going on to oversee the wildly successful TV series, The Haunting of Hill House, that premiered to rave reviews last year. This is all to say that Flanagan has developed a style all his own and more importantly-a penchant for gauging the type of scares and imagery to best represent the horrors of a given story-meaning he's able to grasp the characters and their circumstances in a way where the scares aren't for the sake of the genre, but are in fact appropriate and even further, indicative, of the type of narrative being disclosed. Flanagan does this through soft, but illuminating character moments in which he latches onto certain aspects of an individual bound to serve a significant role in the story he's telling and then track the arc of said character trait through the more genre-specific events that naturally tend to enlighten the character to this side of themselves they may have either not previously considered or wanted to face in ways that are emotionally compelling and thematically resonant. Thus is the case with adult Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) in Doctor Sleep as Flanagan's now distinctive approach blends with the style of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film and the tone of King's writing to create a well-rounded, expertly balanced yet equally effective journey that is both everything fans of the original film might have hoped for as much as it is wholly its own endeavor; a bridge between who we were meant to be, who we become and the resilience necessary to counteract the detrimental and absolve one's self of their past in order to continue to shine.   

Tavern Talk: Video Review - TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

After something of a lag in major releases last week, the first weekend in November kicked off the final two months of the year with what was supposed to be a bang, but while there's no doubt the movie itself contains many an explosion, Terminator: Dark Fate was little more than a whimper at the box office. One might even say it suffered a...dark fate (ay dios mio!). Though September and October offered several solid contenders for the awards race and as Joker continues to do monster business (dropping only 30% in its fifth week of release and remaining solidly in second place while closing in on $300 million domestic) it is November and December that tend to see big, non-stop major releases and awards contenders opening week to week. With a budget of $185 million, Tim "Deadpool" Miller's shot at a sixth Terminator film (the third in a decade) opened to only $29 million over the first three days coming in well below industry expectations which had the film pegged for a $40+ million opening. Internationally, the film made $73 million from forty-eight markets, including $28 million from China alone bringing the film's international total to $94.6 million and a $125.6 million worldwide cume. While Paramount and whatever international distributors are handling the film will hope for a solid second weekend to at least break even on the production budget, odds aren't in the films favor as a trio of new releases open this week for a variety of demographics, but the R-rated follow-up to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, could take a real bite out of Terminator's potential audience not to mention its theater count. The film will also open this weekend in Japan, Norway, Poland, Taiwan and Bolivia, so here's to hoping those international numbers show something resembling consistency. As stated, Joker came in second with $13.5 million while adding another $38.8 million internationally, pushing the film's overseas total past $637.7 million for a worldwide cume that now sits at $936.9 million. For the biggest story featuring a new release though, we have to skip past Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in third ($13 million for an $85 million domestic total thus far) and go to fourth place where we find Focus Features' Harriet, the Harriet Tubman biopic starring Cynthia Erivo (Widows), which opened in 2,059 locations and scored an $11.6 million opening (a per theater average of nearly $6,000) on a budget of $17 million. The film received an "A+" CinemaScore from opening day audiences and this along with the fact the platform releases for The Lighthouse, Jojo Rabbit and Parasite continue to do strong business despite limited engagements hint at a strong awards season ahead. As always, be sure to follow the official TAVERN TALK by Initial Reaction YouTube channel as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where you can find a new review (or reviews) each week!

Tavern Talk: Video Review - MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

This weekend saw the release of two new sequels in Disney's Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Sony's Zombieland: Double Tap and TAVERN TALK shot reviews for both as we highlight the Disney sequel this week given it topped the box office while you can look for our video review of Double Tap tomorrow. With essentially $37 million, Mistress of Evil opened atop the weekend box office, but failed to reach either studio or industry expectations as that number is just over half of the $69 million opening of the 2014 original. Internationally, Maleficent launched in all major markets, bringing in an estimated $118 million for a worldwide total that now sits at $157 million on an estimated production budget of $185 million. Needless to say, this one will have a lot of ground to cover over the next few weeks to earn its spot as the "go-to" theatrical option for family Halloween entertainment. That said, and though this sequel skews a little older than the first film, there isn't another major release with less than a PG-13 rating for another month when Frozen II will decimate everything in its path. This open playing field combined with the fact that those who did decide to see the film in theaters opening weekend did in fact enjoy it are all positives pointing towards not exactly a fairy tale ending, but a "good enough" one. Opening weekend audiences gave the film an "A" CinemaScore as it currently holds a 96% audience score on RottenTomatoes as well. In second place, Joker continued to post impressive numbers and strong holds as the R-rated comic book film from Warner Brothers dropped only 48% in its third weekend for $29.3 million and a current domestic total of $250 million. Internationally, the film added another $77.8 million for a $490 million global cume and a worldwide total that is now north of $740 million. In third is where we find Zombieland: Double Tap as the film delivered on the high end of industry expectations, bringing in almost $27 million over the three-day weekend. Of note is the fact the sequel actually debuted higher than its predecessor, outpacing the unadjusted $24.7 million opening total of the 2009 original, The decade in between certainly factors into the comparison, but inflation aside this is one the year’s few direct sequels to open bigger than its predecessor. Double Tap received a "B+" CinemaScore from opening day audiences and like Maleficent, will presumably benefit from the Halloween holiday, but given the film is only playing in seventeen overseas markets and has grossed almost $35 million worldwide on a production budget of $42 million it seems Sony shouldn't be too concerned and go ahead and consider this a win. 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!

Final Trailer for STAR WARS: EPISODE IX - THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

It's hard to believe the monumental finale of the Skywalker saga is officially upon us, but maybe more surprising is the fact that-as a devoted Star Wars fan-I'm only cautiously optimistic about how good the film might turn out to be and only mildly intrigued by where the story will take us  after 2017's disappointing (for me) The Last Jedi. Needless to say, both excitement and expectations have been tempered for this last installment. If it's not obvious already, I was not a fan of Rian Johnson's middle chapter in what is seemingly the third and final trilogy in the main series of Star Wars films as it almost irreverently disregarded everything writer/director J.J. Abrams set-up in 2015's The Force Awakens. And while Abrams is back to complete this trilogy he began four years ago one cannot help but feel much of the air has already left the room despite the fact what we have seen so far seems to deliver what longtime fans of the franchise want and what I can only imagine is equally intriguing to those who enjoyed Johnson's take on the universe as I have to believe they are as equally intrigued as to where the story could go after where Johnson left it. While story, character, and plot details have been incredibly mum we do know the story does not pick up immediately after the events of TLJ and concerns the core group of new characters going on an adventure together. Here's to hoping lowered expectations lead to a greater reward. Abrams and Lucasfilm director Kathleen Kennedy have continued to discuss the importance of practical versus visual effects in this trilogy as a whole and while there is certainly no lack of special effects in this trailer one of the best things one can say about the aesthetic of this trailer is how grounded it actually feels. Legacy players like Anthony Daniels, Lando Calrissian himself Billy Dee Williams, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher will return for this final chapter as do new generation cast members including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong'o, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, and Billie Lourd while this film will also feature newcomers Naomi Ackie who we know plays a character named Jannah along with Keri Russell and Richard E. Grant. The film will also introduce us to BB-8's new friend, Dio. Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker opens on December 20th, 2019. Get your tickets now!

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL Review

For a movie that primes its audience to experience a tale of villainy and "pure evil" as incarnated by the title character of Maleficent (Angelina Jolie returning), Maleficent: Mistress of Evil largely doesn't fulfill its promise as the character is a mistress in the sense she's in a position of authority or control, but never does she wield these positions in ways one would exclusively associate with or consider to be "evil". Misunderstood, sure, but evil? Nah. Like the 2014 original, this sequel is more telling the audience a story we were unaware of concerning the character with the intention of ultimately altering our opinion of her and gaining a newfound sympathy for the character as her representation in the 1959 Disney animated classic was apparently a by-product of those circumstances and not "the whole story"; a reputation built off a single perspective of not only an isolated incident, but one with some justification as far as Maleficent's emotions were concerned even if her actions never could be. While that 2014 film was more or less restricted by the original tale of Sleeping Beauty (we've seen the iconic cursing of the baby moment in live action, so let's move on) this second chapter in Maleficent's story breaks free of those constraints and pushes the narrative past Aurora's (Elle Fanning, also returning) sixteenth birthday and on into adulthood where she is now set to wed the re-cast Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson instead of Brenton Thwaites) as they start a life of their own together whereas Maleficent had now inadvertently become something of a mother figure to this young woman she originally cursed and has therefore only recently come to feel as if she's gained the genuine love of what she might describe as a family. Jolie's Maleficent exudes this gracefulness as embodied through the strong presence of Jolie herself as she is not only a warrior and commander, but a woman who is complex in her deep, emotional feelings that the film demonstrates are also possible for someone of such strong nature to possess. It is this characterization and the breaking of such long-standing archetypes that truly allows this sequel to outshine not only its predecessor, but the majority of these live-action Disney re-makes or re-tellings. Director Joachim Rønning (Kon-Tiki, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) takes over from Robert Stromberg and brings with him an aesthetic less reliant on big, CGI spectacle (though there is still plenty of this) and a visual prowess more interested in broadening the scope of the world the first film only hinted at. At the same time, Linda Woolverton's screenplay brings together a trifecta of female characters that serve as the heart and soul of the themes of the narrative coalescing in a sequel that not only surpasses the quality of the original (which, admittedly-was not a high bar) by doing everything that original wanted to do, only better.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - GEMINI MAN

Despte the fact the second weekend of October sported three new, major wide releases there was no chance any would be dethroning Joker as the Clown Prince of the box office given the film not only ended up topping the weekend box office domestically, but also both internationally and worldwide. The $55 million production has already generated $563.6 million globally in its first twelve days and will likely pass $600 million before its third full weekend of release even begins. The film has been holding incredibly well day to day as the film dropped a mere 13% from its first Monday to this past Monday. The film is already the seventh highest grossing movie of the year so far and shows no signs of slowing down even as major studio releases such as the Maleficent and Zombieland sequels hit theaters this weekend alongside a slew of platform releases for Oscar hopefuls in the likes of Jojo Rabbit and The Lighthouse. This week on TAVERN TALK by initial reaction though, we discussed what was presumed would be the biggest of those aforementioned newcomers in Ang Lee's collaboration with Will Smith in Gemini Man and yet it was actually UAR's animated The Addams Family that led the way with a solid second place debut delivering an estimated $30.3 million over the three-day weekend. Meanwhile, Paramount's Gemini Man landed in third as Lee's action-thriller that was more an excuse to play with and explore the limits of this technology that created a younger and fully CGI version of Smith ballooned the budget while not necessarily adding anything to the overall movie-going experience given less than a handful of theaters were able to play the film in 3D and at the higher frame rate as intended. Rather, I assume that the majority of those who saw Gemini Man this weekend saw it as I did-in regular ole 24 FPS and in your standard 2D, 4K theater. This is all to say that had the film been made because it wanted to tell a certain story rather than utilize a certain piece of technology a debut of $20.5 million wouldn't be a big deal, but given the film cost $138 million the story is a little different. Internationally, Gemini Man debuted in five markets earlier this month and expanded to fifty-eight last weekend from which it brought in $31.1 million for an overseas cume that now totals $39 million and a current worldwide sum of $70.1 million. The film has yet to open in Japan or Taiwan, where it will open on October 25, but needless to say-this was not exactly the kind of "Big Willie Weekend" Lee and nor the Fresh Prince were hoping for. 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!

GEMINI MAN Review

There are few things more disappointing than a movie that moots the charisma of Will Smith. And yet, somehow, Ang Lee's Gemini Man manages to not only do this, but do so as the film literally doubles the amount Smith while equally subduing the level of charm the movie star typically brings. Gemini Man is a science project of a movie in which Lee once again tries to make a case for the practice of utilizing higher frame rates as opposed to the traditional 24 frames per second, which is pretty much how all movies have been shot since moving pictures and sound collided. As with his previous feature, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the filmmaker shot Gemini Man at 120 frames per second and though only a handful of theaters in North America will be able to show the film in this intended format Lee continues to insist this is the way of the future of cinema or more appropriately-the next step in salvaging the theater-going experience. To this point, Lee's intentions are obviously admirable as he is experimenting in these techniques to try and enhance the immersiveness of the theatrical experience and it might even be further to this point that Lee has tried to implement such techniques through as generic a genre thriller as Gemini Man, but despite the technology (and this is something Lee should have learned on Billy Lynn) the level at which an audience is immersed in a film and the experience of movie-going as a whole is still rooted in the basics of story and character. That's not to say the core concept of Gemini Man doesn't have potential-films cut from the same cloth such as Looper, Minority Report or even The Terminator to a certain extent have all succeeded in different ways while more or less using the same tools-but here, the premise seems to simply be an excuse to try these new advancements in the field of filmmaking; essentially making Gemini Man a crapshoot of a movie that will help the film industry figure out what works and what doesn't. Furthermore, in the age of properties and brands being bigger than old school movie stars Will Smith is still arguably still one of the biggest celebrities if not movie stars on the planet still as well as being one of the most charming and likable personalities to boot, but in Gemini Man all of that presence and personality is squandered in a movie uninterested in who Smith's character is. Gemini Man ultimately feels less like a step forward in any aspect of its production and more like a regression in the ability of Lee to tell a compelling story with or without all the bells and whistles.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - JOKER

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