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


Matthew Vaughn has Officially become a Director of Diminishing Returns with this Overstuffed and Laughably Corny Slog of a Spy Caper.


This Trip back to North Shore High Justifies itself by still being Sharp in its Observations of Vacuousness.


Writer/Director Cord Jefferson’s Feature Debut Splits the Difference Between Searing Satire and Emotional Family Drama Coming out a Winner in Both Respects.


Emma Stone is Daring and Mark Ruffalo is Hilarious in this Surreal Fever Dream of Philosophy and Attempting to Understand our Nature through Unorthodox Methods.

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!


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!


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!


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!

JOKER Review

Joker is no The Dark Knight, but much like in Christopher Nolan's second Batman film, the music in writer/director Todd Phillips' origin story about the Clown Prince of Crime plays as critical a role as any living, breathing human character. The score in Joker is so critical in fact, that Joaquin Phoenix's titular character breaks into dance at multiple points in the movie; the music and movement serving as an expression of certain emotions Phoenix's Arthur Fleck is otherwise unable to convey. The first time Arthur kills another person he actually ends up killing three people and though it could be argued the first two were in self-defense, the third death was not only unnecessary, but it is one Arthur seeks out and is determined to have for his own sense of satisfaction. Naturally, Arthur flees the scene for fear of being caught, but once he dumps the weapon and composes himself he slowly begins to move his feet as if a ballet dancer practicing the battement tendu position. As Arthur's arms move into second position composer Hildur Guðnadóttir's score begins to swell and these chords and motions only serve to amplify the liberation the character feels. Liberation of one's self after taking another's life is certainly dark, but it also isn't anything we haven't seen from comic book characters-especially villains-before and Joker certainly isn't the last time we'll see it either. What is it then, that makes this specific instance of revenge from a man beaten down by society both so egregious and compelling as has been highly documented in the cultural response to the film? Is it that Arthur Fleck's trajectory resembles that of any number of mass shooting culprits? This seems a given, yes, but more it is the level of joy-and not only joy-but satisfaction that Arthur and his eventual alter ego come to gain from the act that has incited concern over both the portrayal and promotion of such a man. Sure, Phillips and Phoenix have intentionally crafted as gritty, raw and grounded a movie as any film inspired by comic books has dared to be and in that type of portrayal there is inherent shock to be found (you saw The Boys, right?), but while Joker and its screenplay wrestle with what exactly it's trying to say it stands to make a statement about how this product of certain circumstance inspires a man to become what he believes necessary to remedy others from those same, undesirable circumstances. That's not to say he's right, but what is maybe most unsettling about the film and Phoenix's performance is that Arthur believes he is. 

Tavern Talk: Video Review - ABOMINABLE

While I'd hoped to be able to review Roadside's Judy this week on Tavern Talk, the Renee Zellweger biopic about Judy Garland, only opened in 461 theaters nationwide and none of those theaters were in my neck of the woods (in fact, the closes theater playing the film was nearly 300 miles away). While that film will expand this weekend, our only other option for a new, wide release to review this past weekend was that of Universal's release of DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio's animated title Abominable. With Abominable, Universal once again finished atop the weekend box office while also taking second place with Focus Features' Downton Abbey (Focus is owned by Comcast through Universal Pictures, a division of its wholly owned subsidiary NBCUniversal). Downton, now in its second weekend, followed up a strong debut last weekend by bringing in $14.3 million, pushing the film over $58 million domestic and over $111 million internationally on a reported budget between $13-$20 million. Meanwhile, Abominable debuted with $20.6 million, but given it carries a $75 million price tag, the film has a lot of work to do if it's going to justify itself and with The Addams Family just around the corner it needs to work fast. While it doesn't say much for this year's line-up of original animated films, Abominable's performance was enough to earn it the title of "largest opening for an original animated film in 2019" joining Universal's Us and Good Boys as the only original films to open at number one in North American in 2019. Furthermore, this is the seventh Universal title to top the charts this year (eight if you include Downton) which would give the studio the most number one finishes for 2019. Additionally, Abominable earned an "A" CinemaScore from opening day audiences and holds an 81% Tomatometer score and 96% audience score, which could bode well for its the film's potential, especially as alternative programming to this weekend's Joker. Internationally, Abominable is now playing in thirty overseas territories and brought in an estimated $8.8 million over its first weekend for an global total near $34.5 million with several major markets yet to still open in. 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!

First Trailer for BIRDS OF PREY Starring Margot Robbie

One of the few highlights of 2016's Suicide Squad were a handful of the performances, namely Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Robbie's performance made her feel tailor-made for the part and her portrayal was one of the few things that made that film come alive. There was no question we'd be seeing her character again, but in what incarnation and capacity was uncertain. David Ayer's Suicide Squad made nearly $750 million worldwide, but the shake-ups in the DC Extended Universe that occurred post-Suicide Squad left a lot up for debate as to where planned projects might end up and what characters might make it through to the next phase of Warner Brothers' plans for their cinematic universe of caped crusaders. Enter Birds of Prey, a movie that will continue the story of Harley Quinn after the events of Suicide Squad, but a movie that will also arrive in the DCEU after audiences have just experienced Aquaman and Shazam which, as you might already know, present quite a different atmosphere than anything done under Zack Snyder's guidance. Directed by Cathy Yan who only has one previous feature under her belt (2018's Sundance stand-out, Dead Pigs, a satire which reportedly blends drama and comedy well) and written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee), the film has been pretty secretive as far as plot or story is concerned with much of the speculation coming from the cast of characters known to be involved. Speaking of that cast, what is known so far is that joining Robbie will be Jurnee Smollett-Bell playing Black Canary, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli AKA Huntress and Rosie Perez as Gotham City detective Renee Montoya who are on a mission to save Ella Jay Basco's Cassandra Cain (one of the original Batgirls) from baddies Victor Zsasz and Black Mask as played by Chris Messina and Ewan McGregor. Though Harley Quinn has always been associated with Joker since her inception on the nineties Batman animated series, Birds of Prey will see her break loose of Leto's interpretation (keep in mind this has nothing to do with the Joaquin Phoenix film opening this week) and as can be seen in this first, official trailer both Robbie and Harley Quinn herself seem to be having a blast without having to be tied down to a man. It's hard to be all in on this one given the fantastic (fantabulous?) trailer for Suicide Squad which ended up being a rather disappointing film, but other than the title character and producing studio/distributor this film doesn't seem to have much in common with that one. Here's to our cautious optimism being rewarded when Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Miss Harley Quinn opens on February 7, 2020.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 1, 2019