Toy Story 4 Review

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

Child's Play Review

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

Aladdin Review

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

MIB: International Review

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

The Secret Life of Pets 2 Review

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

ANNABELLE COMES HOME Review

Annabelle Comes Home, the third film in this particular series and seventh in the ongoing “Conjuring universe” is either as good or mediocre as one might expect it to be depending on their level of expectation walking in. For someone such as myself, someone who hasn’t seen either of the previous Annabelle features due to the poor reputation of the first, but also enjoys an entertaining horror flick with a sly sense of humor Annabelle Comes Home turned out to be something of a bonkers, go-for-broke genre flick that ends up being a lot of fun due to the fact expectations dictated this would be no fun at all. Those going in expecting anything more might be slightly underwhelmed given the typical beats the slim outline of a story adheres to as well as a certain lack of grimness that typically permeates from this series. With such tempered expectations though, it’s not difficult to see why the trio of McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, and Katie Sarife become so endearing to the point all the mini-teasers for every other upcoming “Conjuring universe” movie hardly countered the sympathy the audience builds for each of the three girls simple yet effective character arcs. As executed by Conjuring-verse writer and first-time feature director Gary Dauberman, Annabelle Comes Home might make you wonder what the budget on fog machines alone was, but it also genuinely escalates in a way that by the time the film reaches the aforementioned gonzo third act it feels earned and not simply like an obligation. Additionally, Dauberman does a fine job of imitating James Wan's (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring) sweeping sense of menace as the first-time filmmaker opts for more practical scares than CGI spirits. There is a glaring exception to this no CGI rule in the "Black Shuck" folktale from the British Isles, but otherwise Dauberman and his team use a combination of elaborate make-up, simple camera tricks, and some of the most intense sound design ever configured in order to not just create these creatures, but truly craft their presence. Furthermore, it is in both the attention to and appreciation of detail at the level executed here that Annabelle Comes Home turns out to be less a rote reel of horror cliches and more a fun twist on the "house of horrors" concept; the scares getting increasingly more elaborate the deeper one goes while feeling more a rush of excitement and adrenaline as opposed to actual terror by the time it comes to an end. 

Tavern Talk: Video Review - TOY STORY 4

As stated last week in this post, it was expected that after the general downturn in profit and excitement for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and MIB: International that Toy Story 4 would reverse the case of sequelitis that was plaguing the summer of 2019 and to some extent...that was true. The $200 million Disney/Pixar production debuted with $118 million over the weekend and marked the largest opening in the franchise's history, but also came in well below expectations as well as the openings of other recent Pixar sequels such as last year's Incredibles II ($183 million) and Finding Dory ($135 million) in 2016. Furthermore, Toy Story 4's opening would be less than Toy Story 3's $110 million opened weekend in 2019 adjusted for inflation. With the studio setting their expectations around the $140 million mark prior to the weekend, the pundits went even higher given the film was generating rave reviews, scoring a 98% on RottenTomatoes and an 83 on Metacritic, that were reported to be coupled with record-breaking pre-sale figures per Fandango.com which stated the film was outperforming the sales of Incredibles II. All that to say, an opening north of at least $160 million didn't seem out of the question. So what happened? Per Forbes' Scott Mendelson this seems to be due to the fact that, among other things, "this wasn't the long-awaited second installment of Brad Bird's Incredibles series, nor was it the somewhat surprising first/only sequel to Andrew Stanton's Finding Nemo. This was the fourth Toy Story movie, one existing after the rather perfect series finale that was the final scene of Toy Story 3." And this makes sense, this has been a series going on for some twenty-four years now and while all three of the previous Toy Story films undoubtedly get repeat plays in the average home with children the age of their target audience-those children also have more Pixar options now and more specifically, Pixar options that are exclusively "theirs". All of this taken into consideration, the film is still the fourth-biggest animated launch of all-time and adheres to Pixar's general rule of quality that it will likely equate to strong legs over the next month until The Lion King opens. In other new release news, the Child's Play re-make came in second with an estimated $14 million on a reported budget of around $10 million which is good news considering the film received a "C+" CinemaScore from opening day audiences suggesting this thing will fall like your typical horror flick over the next few weeks. The only other major release of the week was Luc Besson's Anna which opened outside the top ten as the Lionsgate release of the Summit action/thriller debuted to $3.5 million on a reported budget of $30 million. On the plus side, the film did receive a "B+" CinemaScore, so maybe there is a shot at life in a post-theatrical run? What did you see this weekend? Let us know in the comments and 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!

TOY STORY 4 Review

Toy Story 4 is necessary. Know that first and foremost, that not only is Toy Story 4 a necessary addition to the franchise that launched Pixar, but a meaningful one as well. One wouldn't be at fault for thinking the animation studio has been somewhat off its game over the past few years as it turned into a sequel factory of sorts and churned out entertaining enough diversions to more creatively satisfying original films as that's kind of the fact of the matter save for the occasional Inside Out or Coco. Since Toy Story 3 in 2010 Disney and Pixar have released ten films counting this latest Toy sequel and of those ten films six have been prequels or sequels. These have all been of a certain quality, mind you-as even the third Cars film allowed Pixar's most underwhelming franchise to go out on more of a high note than not-and yet, Toy Story 4 feels like the true return to form the studio needed and that audiences were waiting on. With original creative mastermind John Lasseter only credited as a story contributor among a barrage of other contributors it was up to screenwriters Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) and Stephany Folsom to crack the story as Inside Out screenwriter and frequent Pixar voice actor Josh Cooley was tasked with his feature directorial debut being the fourth installment in this consistently excellent series. No easy task, but to circle back to the beginning of this review is to reiterate that the most difficult obstacle to overcome with a fourth Toy Story film would be that of justifying its existence. Toy Story 3 ended in such a way that it not only wrapped up the story of these toys and the child they'd belonged to for as long as either of them could remember, but it gave closure to those who'd grown up with the first two films and were now transitioning into adulthood themselves. Almost another decade later and the characters of this world are as endearing as ever with Stanton and Folsom's narrative zeroing in on Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) as he learns that being in charge doesn't always mean being in control. While there were seeds of doubt as to whether or not Cooley and the gang (ah thank you) could find what more there was to be said with these characters and this world, what transpires in Toy Story 4 ultimately provides the necessary comfort to the truth spoken by Toy Story 3; if that previous film eased the transition from adolescence to adulthood then this latest (and presumably final?) film discusses how one adapts to their new role in a mature and positive way.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL

The summer seems to have taken a turn for the more "relaxed" as, for what feels like the third straight weekend in a row, the supposed "big" release of the week has come in below expectations. In the tradition of Godzilla and Dark Phoenix, MIB: International went into the weekend with Sony projecting a modest $30 million return and that is right where it landed hitting just over the mark with $30,035,838 in weekend actuals. This is the lowest opening in the franchise by over $20 million as all three previous installments opened over $51 million. Luckily, Sony budgeted responsibly with the $110 million production as International fared better...well, internationally. With $73.7 million from thirty-six markets, the film had a global debut just over $102 million and with a few weeks worth of breathing room as far as target demo is concerned Sony should simply hope they recoup the marketing budget in the next two weeks and then hand this one over to the cable/satellite companies to replay until they convince us we really missed out on something with this one. Disney/Pixar's Toy Story 4 opens this week and only another Annabelle and Danny Boyle film open next week, so it's possible. Of course, Toy Story 4 is set to invade 4,500+ theaters this weekend which will undoubtedly cut down on the some 4,200 screens MIB opened on last week. The other major new release of the week, 2019's Shaft, starring Richard Roundtree, Samuel L. Jackson, and third generation Shaft, Jessie T. Usher, finished outside the top five. Warner Bros. was expecting the film to debut around the $15 million mark, but was only able to muster $8.9 million from its 2,952 locations. While the budget is unknown on this one I kind of doubt we'll be seeing another Shaft feature any time soon. Both Late Night, Amazon Studios big purchase out of Sundance this year, and Jim Jarmusch's zombie comedy The Dead Don't Die expanded this past weekend as well with the former coming in at number nine with $5.1 million and $8.2 million overall-not great given Amazon paid $13 million for it out of the festival-while the latter opened outside the top ten and will, by default, be Jarmusch's biggest film to date as The Dead Don't Die has now earned $6.3 million worldwide on a budget that can't have been much more than that if that much at all. As always, be sure to follow the official Initial Reaction YouTube channel as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where you can find a new review (or reviews) each week!

MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL Review

From the outset of director F. Gary Gray's (Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the FuriousMen in Black re-boot one can gauge there is a certain indifference to the project and if not necessarily an indifference, but a lack of creative care towards the film. This can be gleaned from nothing more than the opening credits which only goes so far as to ape the font of the original without bothering to try and emulate the objective. The opening credit sequences of the Barry Sonnenfeld trilogy would each attempt to emphasize perspective in this world in which the Men in Black existed, whether it be seeing said world through the eyes of a flying "bug" or by actually playing with perspective so as to upend expectations and re-enforce that not everything is as it seems and furthermore, not everything is as we might assume. I recall these opening credit sequences because not only did they play into the story the rest of the movie would be telling, but they played into the themes of the whole series: that this, our world-no matter how big and alone it might seem to us at times, is actually only a small part of a much grander scheme. The majority of the first three MIB films take place in and around New York City and yet they do their best to emphasize time and time again how vast the universe is outside of themselves even if what is happening within the events of the film might have epic repercussions on this, our third rock from the sun. With MIB: International, despite going bigger in terms of operating on a global scale the film can't help but to feel much smaller-especially in comparison to that original film-both in terms of scale as well as its ideas. This is to say, the seemingly carefully plotted opening credits of the previous films are no more and have instead been replaced with text over the movie just as it would have played were the opening credits not present at all. This may feel rather finicky, but as it is noted that Gray and his team took little time to consider the legacy of the franchise and the little details that made the original so special-and more importantly, work as well as it did-it only makes it more clear as to why there isn't necessarily any care taken to carry said legacy forward in any meaningful way. Rather, MIB: International ends up feeling like exactly what it is: a rushed and uninspired riff on a proven formula that cares more about the how it's been received in the past as opposed to the why it was received that way in the first place.

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

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

On DVD & Blu-Ray: June 11, 2019

Official Trailer for FROZEN II

As the parent of a four and a half year-old I have seen Frozen more times than I care to think about and am both genuinely surprised as well as kind of appreciative that Disney has taken the six years they have to bring a sequel to the big screen. On the one hand, surprised as their audience who saw Frozen at the time of its release is now six years older (and 6-12 is quite the gap), but at the same time my daughter wasn't born until nearly a year after the first film's release and still loves Anna and Elsa as much as any girl could. So, there is no shortage on the key demographic who are more than happy to see more of these characters no matter the iteration (Olaf's Frozen Adventure was a fine enough holdover), but it seems Disney and particularly directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck (with Lee having penned both screenplays-this time with Hidden Figures scribe Allison Schroeder) are keen to mature the sequel with that of the audience who it was originally intended that originally saw it in theaters. That is to say that our first, full look at Frozen II offers a glimpse into what is not necessarily a darker/more grittier Arendelle, but rather a more fully realized existence within these characters in Arendelle meaning that while the events of the first film took both the characters and the viewer by storm with Elsa's powers and what they entailed and how they immediately affected the people around her and the kingdom she ruled given she'd been sentenced to hide them away forever the sequel seems to be getting more at the question of where did these powers come from in the first place and furthermore, just how powerful is Elsa? It's an interesting if not more existential direction to go with an animated sequel to the biggest animated film the box office has ever seen (over $1.2 billion worldwide), but while I fully expect Lee and Buck's sequel to have all the necessary trademarks of its predecessor including new songs from original songwriting and husband/wife duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez it seems it will be fascinating to find out just what else Frozen II has up its sleeve. Given Lee also assumed the head of Walt Disney Animation, after succeeding John Lasseter, last summer it will also be interesting to see what this new film tackles as its chief creative force undoubtedly had complete freedom to do whatever she wished with the story. Frozen II will see the return of Kristen Bell as Anna, Idina Menzel as Elsa, Jonathan Groff as Kristoff, and Josh Gad as Olaf along with new cast members Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel Wood in undisclosed roles with the film is set to open on November 22nd, 2019.

X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX Review

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

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

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

First Trailer for AD ASTRA Starring Brad Pitt

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

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

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