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.

ABOMINABLE Review

As with most animated films, Abominable is about a girl who is looking for a purpose. Someone trying to fill a void left by a departed parent, but what is different about writer/director Jill Culton's (Open Season) film is that it doesn't deal as much with this emotional process through the mind of a child as it does that of an older teen/early adult; an individual mature enough to more fully comprehend the ramifications of such a life event than a character like...Nemo. This isn't to say that automatically makes Abominable more interesting or better than that Pixar classic or any of the many Disney animated films that open with or include the death of a parent. What it is implying is the fact the journey we go on in this latest DreamWorks fable while still familiar, hits the recognizable beats with something of a different perspective. It is for this reason that I almost wish the film hadn't resorted to leaning so heavily on the (somewhat unexpected) magical element as contributed by the yeti referenced in the title, but it is this friendship between the mystical creature, Everest, and our protagonist, Yi (Chloe Bennet), that ultimately lends real soul to the proceedings and keeps the movie from becoming a kitschy fantastical tale solely for the kiddos. These magical elements also make for some wonderfully creative imagery that will sweep one up in the themes of perseverance, dealing with loss and the importance of friendship even if such routine topics don't initially strike one as engaging. Great supporting characters such as Peng (Albert Tsai) make for great comic relief and therefore some memorable moments while Eddie Izzard's Burnish, the purported antagonist, is oddly hysterical and childish in frequently hilarious ways even if the movie lets us know too early exactly what it's going to do with the character.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - AD ASTRA & RAMBO: LAST BLOOD

What an odd weekend this was as over at Tavern Talk as we delivered two new video reviews and yet neither movie we discussed topped the weekend box office as Downton Abbey had a record weekend for Focus Features in that not only did the spin-off film top the weekend box office, but it became the studio's largest opener ever with just over $30 million domestic. Having never seen a single episode of the television series I didn't even consider it as an option as far as viewing for fear of being completely lost or reviewing (given I had zero point of reference), but instead was laser focused on the latest Brad Pitt feature from director James Gray (The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z) in Ad Astra while one of our producers and his dad enjoyed (or seemed to) the latest (and presumably last?) Rambo flick from Sylvester Stallone appropriately titled Last Blood. It was in second place where we would find these two films as they battled it out for the silver medal. Second place was neck-and-neck for most of the weekend, but it was Disney's release of the Fox-produced Ad Astra that ultimately edged out Lionsgate and Millennium's Rambo: Last Blood. After Monday actuals came in it was finally determined that Ad Astra in fact finished with just over $19 million from 3,460 locations whereas Rambo came up just short of that with $18.9 million from 3,618 theaters.

New Trailer for FROZEN II

As the parent of a nearly five 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 the audience who originally saw Frozen in theaters is now six years older (and 6-12 is quite the gap), but at the same time my daughter wasn't even born until nearly a year after the first film's release and she loves Anna and Elsa as much as anyone 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, but it seems Disney and particularly directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck (with Lee having penned both screenplays-this time around with Hidden Figures scribe Allison Schroeder) were keen to mature the sequel with that of the audience who it was originally intended for. That is to say that this new, full look at Frozen II offers a glimpse into a more fully realized Arendelle meaning that while the events of the first film took both the characters and the viewer by storm with Elsa's powers, what they entailed and how they immediately affected the people around her the sequel is seemingly here to explain the mystical history of Elsa's kingdom as well as the origin of her powers and furthermore, just how powerful Elsa is exactly. Of course, this movie could be about Sven's pooping habits and it would make a billion dollars, but it's nice to see the sequel to the biggest animated film the box office has ever seen (over $1.2 billion worldwide) be more than just another attempt at another billion bucks. Also of note is the fact the new film will feature new songs from original songwriting and husband/wife duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. 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 Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel Wood joining the cast. Frozen II is set to open on November 22nd, 2019.

AD ASTRA Review

Ad Astra is a Trojan horse of a movie for as mainstream as a film about space exploration wrapped in mystery and starring Brad Pitt sounds like it would be if one is able to expel such expectations set by the marketing and feast on the fulfillment that Ad Astra ultimately embodies given the aspirations of writer/director James Gray's (Two Lovers, The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z) latest work one would quickly come to realize this is a film filled with ideas and questions bubbling just below the surface despite its apparent facade; questions the movie as well as Gray's screenplay may or may not have answers to. Ad Astra is also, and not coincidentally, a film that is as slick in its storytelling as it is its visual representation meaning there is an immediate confidence to the film that speaks to the idea that it knows exactly what it wants to be and where it's going even if, as we go further into the deepest reaches of our solar system, the philosophical ponderings posed by the film seem to be or at least feel more like questions born out of questions that were born out of the writing process. Moreover, the themes and ideas Ad Astra ultimately come to wrestle with being more the products of streams of consciousness writing than they do necessarily questions that pertain directly to the initial idea Gray was chasing. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, as it in fact makes for a rather rewarding experience given the mysteries the narrative offers. The few, distinct answers the film delivers are slight in both comparison and reward to the number of new questions and ideas one's own mind will generate; the thought of the individual experience and reaction to certain material being such that each individual will respond differently, but with valid interpretations and inquiries is a claim not many films-especially mainstream Hollywood space movies with movie stars on their posters-can claim these days. Yes, there have been a number of films about space starring members of the Ocean's Eleven ensemble lately, but neither of those films approach the topic of the stars with as much of a balance in cynicism and optimism as Ad Astra does. Given the Trojan horse comparison, one might expect the subtleties of the film to outweigh the more blunt aspects general audiences require from a space adventure, but there is a specific moment when, like Pitt's character of Major Roy McBride, we come to realize there are more layers to the picture than the ones being highlighted for us and that we can choose to either dig as deep as we'd like or revel in the surface pleasures-both have their perks-but the true reward comes in finding your own place to land.

First Trailer for DARK WATERS Starring Mark Ruffalo

In case you thought you were suffering from some strange case of déjà vu where there was a new trailer out for a movie with the same title as a random horror flick you're pretty sure you saw over a decade ago starring Jennifer Connelly then be confused no more as that was Dark Water while this new trailer is for a movie called Dark Waters! Emphasis on S! This also isn't a drama/horror/mystery based on a Japanese film that spawned from the countless Japanese-inspired horror films of the early aughts thanks to Gore Verbinski's Americanized version of The Ring, but rather this is a straight-up legal drama based on the true story of an attorney (Mark Ruffalo) for DuPont Chemical who discovered that his company was poisoning the residents of a small town for over forty years. Naturally, Ruffalo's Robert Bilott must do what is right and stand up to the evil corporation even if it means losing his job, his reputation, his family or in other words-his entire sense of livelihood, but to go to bed with a clear conscience is of a top priority and Dark Waters looks as if it will provide a very compelling set of actions that will at least lead to what we can hope is Bilott's clean conscience at the end of the film. All of that said, this is also the new film from Academy Award-nominated director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There, Carol) and while I've always been more lukewarm to his films as opposed to critics more my senior it's also not hard to recognize the filmmaker's penchant for putting his own, interesting twist on certain types of stories or genres and hopefully that will be the case here. Focus Features has certainly packaged this as a movie with an important message and as a movie any viewer would benefit from seeing if not necessarily for the entertainment value, but for the information around this story that it's bringing to a wider audience and yet-as far as Haynes' work goes-this looks fairly straightforward; a legal thriller where the little guy must risk it all to stand up to the evil corporation. And while I'm sure there's more to the film than what this first trailer indicates, I'm curious as to just how much of an imprint Haynes will leave on this one. Dark Waters also stars Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, Bill Pullman and opens in limited release on November 22nd, 2019.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - HUSTLERS

Warner Bros. had both a good and bad weekend as IT Chapter Two delivered a strong enough second weekend to retain its number one spot with nearly $40 million, dipping just 55% from its opening weekend and pushing the domestic total to over $153 million. The horror sequel also added another $47 million internationally for a global total that now sits at $323.3 million with both films in the franchise having now grossed over $1.02 billion worldwide on a collective production budget of only $60 million. Not bad, clown. On the other side of things though is the studios other new release, The Goldfinch, which bombed heavily by delivering one of the worst opening weekends ever for a wide release with only $2.6 million from over 2,500 locations; that performance is the sixth worst ever for a film debuting in that many locations. I've yet to see the film, but was heavily anticipating it as director John Crowley's previous film, Brooklyn, was one of my favorites the year it was released. I still look forward to seeing The Goldfinch, but both the poor box office and harsh reviews certainly put a damper on my expectations. Meanwhile, STX Entertainment's Hustlers burst onto the scene with strong word of mouth out of the Toronto International Film Festival last week to deliver the studio's largest opening in its short history with an excellent $33.2 million debut topping STX's previous record-holder, 2016's Bad Moms which opened with $23.8 million. Believe it or not, Hustlers is also the largest live-action debut for Jennifer Lopez as well, speeding past the $23.1 million opening for Monster-in-Law in 2005. Not surprising is the fact the film seemed to play as a "girl's night" favorite given the strong women's empowerment themes as the film's opening weekend audience was made up of 67% female with 69% of that crowd being aged 25 or older. The film presently sits at a strong 88% on RottenTomatoes while opening day audiences gave the film a "B-" CinemaScore. In short, it's not hard to imagine Hustlers landing anywhere in between the $100 to $120 million mark as its final domestic tally. 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!

HUSTLERS Review

"This is a story about control, my control; control of what I say, control of what I do and this time I'm gonna do it my way. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. Are we ready?" And so begins the title track to Janet Jackson's fourth studio record, 1986's Control. It is of no happy accident that this is also how writer/director Lorene Scafaria's Hustlers opens as we are introduced to Constance Wu's Dorothy AKA Destiny, the "new girl" at a strip club in New York City where the women are fast and the money is loose. There's no real introduction to speak of in terms of who Destiny was up to this point in her life, but more Scafaria's screenplay-taken from Jessica Pressler's 2015 New York Magazine article-tells us this is who she is now and despite whatever it might have been that brought her to this point it is now that she is finally ready to take some...ahem, control...of her life. It is more this mentality we are first and foremost introduced to than it is necessarily the character of Destiny, which is why it makes complete sense that she immediately recognizes in Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) an opportunity. Ramona is the headliner of this strip club if you will-the one all the wall street guys pay to see-and Ramona barely has to remove a piece of clothing in order to cover up what is already bare with the cash that is thrown her way. Scafaria and Lopez (along with many choreographers, camera operators and set designers) craft an introduction to the character that not only elicits every single reason Lopez became and has remained a star, but it also illustrates very clearly why-even in the most vulnerable of situations-Ramona has absolute confidence in herself and in her ability to gain...control...of a situation. Ramona commands the room and everyone else in that room knows she commands it which is why Lopez is perfect for the role, but this quality also serves as the reason Destiny, with almost zero hesitation, walks up to Ramona and asks her to mentor her. It is in Destiny that Ramona also sees opportunity: a new, young, beautiful Asian girl is an asset in anyone's hands, but in Ramona's she can set in motion a string of clients that will garner them both a fair amount of cash flow. It is from this initial meeting that Hustlers dives into examining how these women-who are regarded as little more than insignificant pawns on a chess board-are more in control than that of the Wall Street types who fancy themselves the kings, bishops and knights. That is, until the control becomes more about power and Destiny and Ramona's scheme-much like the film itself- begins to fall apart; the weight of what has been taken on becoming too mangled to maintain in any effective manner.   

Tavern Talk: Video Review - IT CHAPTER TWO

IT Chapter Two kicked off the fall box office season with a strong $91 million debut though it failed to match the first film's $123 million opening back in 2017. On a more granular level, IT Chapter Two debuted in 4,570 theaters over the weekend with a per theater average of $19,926 while its predecessor earned about $10,000 more per theater on opening weekend in roughly 500 fewer theaters. There is also the running time to consider as Chapter Two runs ten minutes short of three hours (trailers and commercials not included) while the first film was a notable half hour shorter if not slightly more. Whether this had an impact on the number of shows theaters held is indeterminable as is the number of tickets bought to other movies by underage teens who then snuck into this finale, but the point of it all being that while IT Chapter Two might not have risen to the heights of its predecessor it was still well within expectations, ranking as the second largest horror opening of all-time behind only its companion film. Furthermore, 2017's IT remains the only horror film to ever open with more than $100 million meaning these two films now rank as the first and second largest openings for both a horror film as well as the first and second largest September openings of all-time. Now the question will be how much can Chapter Two leg it to? The first film finished with a domestic total of $327 million with $372 million more coming if from the rest of the world for a global cume of over $700 million. Odds are Chapter Two won't reach those heights, but as far as domestic totals go it's not hard to see the film crossing the $200 million mark-maybe even going as high as $240 million; this is especially true if the competition is right through the rest of the month (Ad Astra, Rambo, and Judy are among the other movies for adults opening in September with no other horror releases to speak of until Joker on October 4th) and into the midst of Halloween season. On the plus side, the film also received a "B+" CinemaScore from opening weekend audiences, the same as the original film, meaning prospects should be largely positive per word of mouth. Internationally, IT Chapter Two opened in 75 markets and delivered $94 million, giving the film a $185 million global opening. 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 DOCTOR SLEEP Starring Ewan McGregor

It's been five or six years since I've seen Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and while it's certainly one of those movie experiences that stays with you I'll definitely be refreshing my memory when it comes to Kubrick's horror classic before venturing into director Mike Flanagan's (The Haunting of Hill House, Ouija: Origin of Evil) adaptation of Stephen King's sequel to both his and Kubrick's seminal work. The story of how Doctor Sleep, the novel, came to be is fairly interesting given in December of 2009, King posted a poll on his official website asking fans to vote for which book he should write next, Doctor Sleep or the next Dark Tower novel. The poll closed on December 31, 2009, when it was revealed that Doctor Sleep won by a mere forty-nine votes. King then posted an update confirming Doctor Sleep was in the works in 2011 and that the plot included a traveling group of psychic vampires called "The True Knot". Eventually, Doctor Sleep was published on September 24, 2013 and now-almost forty years after the release of Kubrick's film which King himself remains disappointed in-we have this film adaptation of the thirty-six year-later sequel King wrote to his original book. All of that said, it would seem a delicate situation to try and craft a movie sequel to said seminal work not only for the reason that The Shining is considered one of the greatest horror films ever made, but also because a sequel is largely only ever just a sequel-"the second one"-and will forever live in the shadow of that original. So, the question is, "how does one combat that? Does one even try?" While I haven't read King's sequel and have no idea as to the critical response or how it was received by general consumers (or, for that matter, how the original novel was received as the film adaptation has always overshadowed the original work in my lifetime) it is comforting to know that someone as well revered and well seasoned in the horror genre as Flanagan is the one who was given the keys to build this castle. Like I said, I haven't read either of King's novels and its been a few years since I've seen The Shining, but as a horror film in and of itself this final trailer Warner Bros. has released offers an intriguing premise and spooky atmosphere outside of its promise of returning to the Overlook Hotel. Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Jacob Tremblay, Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Alyn Lind and arrives in theaters on November 8, 2019.

IT CHAPTER TWO Review

IT Chapter Two is a film with great vision, while also being one that lacks focus. This lack of an anchor, or heart-if you will-is the source of much frustration as it's clear director Andy Muschietti has great ambition for what he not only wants his adaptation to be, but represent; this is to be the modern day equivalent of The Shining, a Marvel-esque sized accomplishment in the horror genre, but while the mission is clear and the intent appreciated it seems Muschietti's bloated sequel to his 2017 introduction to the Losers Club bit off more than it could chew. Rather than purely being the twenty-seven year-later sequel it was assumed to be, IT Chapter Two largely operates in a fashion where the first, more endearing chapter, didn't have to exist. It's nice that it does and of the two is the better film, but this is because that movie-while still sprawling in its scope-didn't have to deal in two separate timelines, didn't have to fully dissect the characters, but more just plant the seeds for them and it didn't have to somehow shoehorn in a story about an ancient ritual that would defeat this cosmic entity that we come to know is Pennywise the dancing clown. In other words, Muschietti's predecessor had the ability to focus on its characters in both its heroes and its antagonist while developing the undesirable, but sometimes symbiotic relationship between the two. In Chapter Two, Muschietti and his editor, Jason Ballantine, never find the necessary groove to make everything the film is trying to accomplish flow with the comprehension necessary to lend the film that needed focus, that necessary anchor that gives the viewer something specific to latch onto so that it connects to-if not everything the film is trying to do-at least one thing that will make it feel more personal and therefore more haunting. IT Chapter Two is such a film of fits and starts that it's almost impossible to find any one thing to latch onto at all, but lucky for us Chapter Two does in fact boast a game cast of adult Losers that make the jumbled narrative bearable while Muschietti's visual prowess remains on impressive display throughout. Furthermore, Bill Skarsgård's performance as Pennywise is still gold, but even in this regard the filmmakers don't take as much advantage of the performance as they should-layering in CGI and not allowing Skarsgård's disturbing portrayal to truly breathe. Like a buffet plate that's loaded with everything that looked good, IT Chapter Two ends up a pile of parts with a single bite out of each-nothing fully digested leaving the consumer full, but not satisfied.

First Trailer for BAD BOYS FOR LIFE Starring Will Smith & Martin Lawrence

There were a mere eight years between 1995's Bad Boys and 2003's Bad Boys II, so believe me when I say I'd thought the expiration date had long since passed for us to get that much requested third film to round out a trilogy of Bad Boys films featuring Will Smith's Mike Lowery and Martin Lawrence's Marcus Burnett and yet...here we are. I'm still somewhat in shock this movie actually exists, has been shot and now has a release date and trailer. It's real and for better or worse in terms of the final result, it feels so good to see Smith and Lawrence together again. Bad Boys II came out the summer after I turned sixteen and though I'd seen plenty of action flicks before, Bad Boys II felt like the be all end all to big, gluttonous R-rated action that just blew me away with its scope, its style, its comedy and everything in between. And while it's taken seventeen years, "better late than never" is the mantra we're going with here as new series directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah were brought in to try and replicate the aesthetic and energy of Michael Bay from a screenplay by Joe Carnahan and Chris Bremner, with a story credit going to Peter Craig (The Town). Carnahan was originally set to direct this third installment, which I think would have been a wise choice given the typical bonkers nature of his movies (Smokin' Aces, The A-Team, Stretch) mixed with the general credibility he lends them in terms of emotional investment, but El Arbi and Fallah seem to have continuing franchises on lock down as they'll next be directing Beverly Hills Cop 4. One can only hope this bodes well for the quality of Bad Boys for Lif3 (I don't know if that's how we're officially writing it, but I like it), but as of right now this trailer delivers everything I could hope to get from a Bad Boys movie in that Smith and Lawrence look to be in good form, the action feels like a priority and they're undoubtedly busting some kind of drug ring; opposing styles/personalities be damned. Bad Boys For Life also stars Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Nunez, Kate Del Castillo, Nicky Jam, Joe Pantoliano and opens on January 17, 2020.